23 in 2023

I had every intention of publishing this post on January 1st, but failed! Luckily, I’d put a lot of thought into the following already, so here it goes–out into the interwebs and ready to keep me accountable.

Taking inspiration from others, I decided to put together my list of 23 in 2023: 23 goals I want to accomplish this year. Some are small, indulgent plans while others are big and life-impacting. So here it goes.

23 Goals for 2023

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with Jim every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with Jim
  8. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  9. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  10. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  11. Run an in-person 5K race
  12. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  13. Go sugar-free for a week
  14. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  15. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day
  16. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  17. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation
  18. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  19. Keep a personal budget of $250 per month
  20. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  21. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  22. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  23. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Because I love to segment and chunk a list into categories, I focused on several different areas of my life for this list.

Focus 1: Stronger Relationships

First, there are the relationship goals that focus on spending time with my family, expressing my love, and growing my faith. There are seven of these relationship-based goals.

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with my husband every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with my husband

Focus 2: Better Physical Health

And then there are the health goals, which range from cooking more to building a better, healthier body. There are eight goals here, but the most important ones to me are Numbers 2 and 7, losing weight and stopping my binge eating behaviors.

  1. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  2. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  3. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  4. Run an in-person 5K race
  5. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  6. Go sugar-free for a week
  7. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  8. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day

Another goal that needs to be on this portion of the list is to identify the cause of my migraines and find some type of regimen that keeps them at bay.

Focus 3: Improved Mental Health

Obviously it’s integral for me to achieve better mental health. 2022 was a year filled with anxiety, more so than depression, so I’m keyed into the importance of better mental health. There are only two goals on this portion of the list, but they’re really important.

  1. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  2. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation

Focus 4: More Creativity, Less Spending

This last category of my 23 in 2023 is a catch-all of how I want to be more creative and more discerning about my entertainment. Some of these are very indulgent – like growing my Bookstagram (@jessicareadsmanybooks), but hey, they’re still goals.

  1. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  2. Keep a personal monthly budget for entertainment (i.e. books)
  3. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  4. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  5. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  6. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Next Steps

So how is my progress so far? Well, it’s the fourth Sunday of the year, and we haven’t been to church yet. I’ve gained about 2.5 pounds, but I have walked/jogged 21 miles each week, and I’m pretty consistent about writing morning pages (or sometimes evening pages). I have started keeping weekly goal lists and monitoring everything so that I can make adjustments and see progress.

Do you have goals for 2023?

The Vibrant Years

Book Review: The Vibrant Years by Sonali Dev

With gorgeous writing, amazing characters, and deep representation, The Vibrant Years by Sonali Dev is an excellent read about family, womanhood, and choosing your path. I really enjoyed reading this book, especially because of the exploration of Indian culture and how each character finds their way amidst social expectations.

The Vibrant Years is a great read that is full of humor and heart, and it’s a Mindy’s Book Studio pick! I received my copy from Dart Frogg Communications in exchange for my honest review.

What I loved about The Vibrant Years

The Vibrant Years is a beautiful character study of three Indian women finding their authentic selves against social and cultural norms, all the while finding romance (and failed dates) along the coastline of Florida.

  • Bindu, the matriarch, loves her daughter-in-law Aly and her granddaughter Cullie with a ferocity that only she can show. But when she receives a gift from someone in her past, Bindu fears that the family she has built will fall apart.
  • Aly finally started to pursue her dream of becoming a newscaster, but she lost her marriage in the process. Now, she continues to face barriers in the workplace and questions whether her lack of romance will be forever.
  • Cullie channeled her genius into an app that helps her and thousands of others improve their mental health. But now her (married) ex-lover and her boss are trying to change her vision. She must invent a new app to keep her dream alive.

When an unexpected event occurs, Aly and Cullie rally around Bindu. Soon the three women are on journeys that are both hopeful and humorous.

Five Stars for Someday, Maybe

Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli – A Five-Star Book Review

What would you do if you lost the person closest to you? And how would your response be if that person chose to leave by suicide? That’s what Eve, the protagonist of Someday, Maybe, must experience when she finds her husband, Quentin, in a pool of his own blood. Eve doesn’t know why her Q died by suicide. All she knows is grief at this unimaginable loss.

What I Loved about Someday, Maybe

This book, the debut by Onyi Nwabineli, is a deeply moving novel about grief, family (both born and found), and grappling with death. I loved Someday, Maybe for so many reasons, including the characters, the writing, and the message.

The Characters

Much of this book is a character study of a widow who is entrenched in guilt, shame, and loss as Eve tries to understand why Q would die by suicide. He did not leave a note, so there is no evident answer, despite Eve’s efforts to find the reasons. I loved Eve’s journey as her actions and thoughts were realistic and uncontrived. And, just as important, I loved the side characters in this story. From Eve’s Nigerian parents and grandmother, to her headstrong sister Gloria and her blunt brother Nate, to her best friend Bee and the people she meets along the way, these characters are four-dimensional, true-to-life loved ones who help Eve find her way. And then there’s Aspen, Q’s mother and Eve’s antagonist. Somehow Nwabineli makes this snobbish, hateful woman a realistic portrait of a mother in grief, too.

The Writing

I highlighted so many passages in Someday, Maybe. Not only are Nwabineli’s words powerful and impressive, but she fits together sentences and meanings, uses metaphor to show us the pain Eve feels, and lets us sit in Eve’s grief alongside her. This is one example:

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Onyi Nwabineli (Someday, Maybe, pg. 337)

The Message

Reading this book at the end of December 2022 (and finishing it on January 1, 2023) felt especially timely as we saw news of Stephen Laurel “tWitch” Boss’s suicide. News story after news story have posited questions about tWitch’s death by suicide, as the dancer and DJ appeared to have a happy family, career, and life. But it’s not our place to know all the details of why. It’s our job to have empathy for his family and friends, letting them grieve and share if/when they are ready. Also, it’s our job to understand that whatever outward presence a person shows is not always a true indicator of their internal thoughts, struggles, and feelings. That is the message that I felt carry through Someday, Maybe. Eve doesn’t understand why Q died by suicide. She feels shame for not being able to save him and shame for not seeing beneath his charismatic, successful exterior and place as her husband of more than a decade. She blames herself for not knowing he was in pain, and her journey in this book walks us through those stages of mourning and grief.

There aren’t enough adjectives to properly describe how much I loved Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli. Please just take my word for it, and pick up this book to experience on your own.

Get Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Maggie Holt doesn’t want to go home again. In fact, she desperately wants to avoid revisiting the rambling house that she and her parents fled years ago. But, at the reading of her dad’s will, Maggie learns that not only did Ewan never sell that mansion, but now it’s hers.

A house-flipping designer by trade, Maggie is determined to get in and out of the house as quickly as possible with as much profit as she can. You see, the house is a Hell House, full of mystery and vengeful spirits, if you believe the book that Ewan wrote shortly after the family escaped a near death experience. Maggie doesn’t believe her father’s stories and resents him for profiting off of the their family’s pain, so she’s more concerned about the memories being in the house will bring rather than the spirits that may still be present.

I really enjoyed this book, my first from author Riley Sager. I can’t share too much without spoiling the plot, but I can tell you that reading this book at night definitely left me feeling spooked. I rarely read horror or scary books, so this was way outside my comfort zone. I’m glad I was pleasantly surprised and have since purchased two more Sager books for my to-be-read shelves.

What I liked About Home Before Dark

  • The writing: Sager can tell a story! This is a very atmospheric novel, and I could feel the setting around me. The pace was fast but not too fast, and the story kept me turning pages.
  • The format: Home Before Dark is a book-within-a-book. Maggie is the protagonist and present-day narrator, but we get Ewan’s point of view with alternating chapters taken from his novel about the Holt family’s experience. This format was a great narrative device to move the story forward.
  • The characters: I love an unreliable narrator, and Home Before Dark gave me two! Maggie is resentful and her blocked memories made me question her truth. Separately, we learn early on that Ewan Holt made millions off his book about the house, and that poses an ethical question of what the real story is. I didn’t know who was telling the truth, and that kept me engaged.

In short, Home Before Dark was a great read. It’s spooky and fast-paced, and I look forward to reading my next Sager book.

All the Stars for Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
A Five-Star Book Review

Do you enjoy video games? I played Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt when I was a kid (yes, I’m that old), but I’ve never gotten into console games. Well, I did have a couple periods of life in which I was obsessed with The Sims and Candy Crush. I’ve never felt compelled to dig deeper into games. I’m much more interested in finding another book to read.

Given my general disinterest in gaming, I was hesitant to pick up Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (Tomorrow x3) by Gabrielle Zevin. But, as they say: #BookstagramMadeMeDoIt. And I am so glad it did!

Tomorrow x3 is a longform character study of two friends, Sadie and Sam, who met just before they became teenagers in the 1980s. They bonded over their love of video games while Sam and Sadie’s sister Alice were in the hospital, but then lost touch until they run into each other in Massachusetts during college. That chance meeting begins a journey of friendship as they build a groundbreaking new video game, Ichigo, and eventually form their own company, Unfair Games. Tomorrow x3 is a love story about these friends who never become romantically involved. It is a beautifully written, complex novel that shifts time periods, perspectives, and even brings you into the world of video games.

What I Loved about Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

  • The characters: Sadie and Sam are the protagonists within the book, and they are flawed but fully developed characters who made me root for them as well as yell at them for poor decisions. However, my absolute favorite character in the novel was Marx, Sam’s Harvard roommate. Marx could have been a 2D side character, but Ms. Zevin brought him into the story as a real, human character. He is innately a good person who wants good for his friends, and that was so impressive. When I first started reading the Tomorrow x3, I thought Marx was going to be a stereotypical envious third wheel, but he’s not. I loved him!
  • The representation: This book addresses race, mental health, disability, and sexuality. The representation is so well-represented here, and the author really refined each character’s struggles and experiences.
  • The plot (and its sideplots): This book could have been a linear story told from two points of views – Sam’s and Sadie’s. But it’s not. There are flashbacks and shifts that create a more layered story. It brought so many nuances to the characters. What was also important to me is that the gaming industry was part of the story, but only as it benefits the characters and the plot. Those gaming sections brought more to the story.
  • The writing: I highlighted so many passages in this book! Ms. Zevin is an amazing writer. Not only does she deliver beautiful prose, but also she leaves little moments of foreshadowing throughout the book. I love when an author uses that narrative device in a smart way. These moments weren’t blatantly obvious in the book, but I could tell when Ms. Zevin wanted us to prepare for something that was going to happen soon.

I was worried this book wouldn’t feel accessible to me because of the video gaming aspects, but it was so enjoyable. There is clearly a reason why Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is getting accolades this year, including being named the Book of the Year by Book of the Month! I highly recommend this one!

Meeting the People We Hate at the Wedding

Book Review: The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder

When I saw that Allison Janney and Kristin Bell are amongst the cast of the movie adaptation of The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder, I pulled my copy off my shelf and pledged to read the book before I watch the movie starring two of my favorite actresses.

I will keep this book review short because I have to admit that it wasn’t a win for me. Ginder is a good writer, I fully recognize, but the book was slow and didn’t come to a full resolution.

About The People We Hate at the Wedding

When Alice and Paul receive invitations to their half-sister’s English countryside wedding, their first action is to price out the wedding invites, setting the understanding that both are resentful of Eloise’s money. After all, the three’s mother, Donna, has spent Alice and Paul’s lifetimes wishing that she’d never left France after Eloise’s father had an affair. Alice and Paul grew up seeing Eloise as the perfect, privileged half-sister who has coasted through life. Thus, neither are overly keen to participate in the marital celebrations.

Through a series of events that, in my opinion, take up way too many pages of prose in this book that’s just over 300 pages long, Alice and Paul do go to the wedding in England, but their resentment of Eloise and their mother, as well as their own life events, make the trip much more complicated.

My Thoughts While Reading the People We Hate at the Wedding

I love a flawed character. I’m here for their mistakes, opinions, and (hopefully) growth. But Donna, Alice, and Paul do not make good decisions. Let me clarify that: their decisions don’t make sense.

Donna is still mourning the life she could have had with Henrique, her first husband and Eloise’s father, but she plays a melancholy victim. She’s not a fully developed character and seems to star in misaligned vignettes rather than act as the matriarch.

Alice is having an affair with her married boss and struggling to deal with a past, horrific trauma. She was the most likable character for me, but she kind of disappeared at the end of the novel.

Paul resents Donna for how she reacted after his father, Bill, died. He doesn’t know that Bill was a bigot who refused to accept Paul’s homosexuality and only remained quiet because Donna threatened to leave Bill after Paul came out. That’s a terrible experience, but Paul plays victim to his arrogant partner, Mark, and has a tendency to explode in frustration and anger. He’s both dramatic and passive, making me want to yell, “Express your feelings in a productive way.”

Eloise appears to mean well, but she’s not an altruistic person. She uses her money and influence to help her siblings, but doesn’t do it solely out of the goodness of her heart. She wants their approval and acceptance, which is reasonable. However, her final story arc was inconsistent and felt forced.

The People We Hate at the Wedding wasn’t for me, but I recognize that others may love this book. I still plan to watch the movie, and I’m glad I read the book first. This is a rare case of I hope the movie is better than the book.

Anti-Fat Bias with Aubrey Gordon

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

I first heard of Aubrey Gordon when I started listening to her podcast Maintenance Phase. She and cohost Michael Hobbes discuss wellness and weight-loss trends, fads, and policies to find out what’s true, what’s a myth, and what’s just flat-out ridiculous to learn more about how society is obsessed with diet and wellness culture to the detriment of our health. I love their tagline, “Wellness and Weight Loss, Debunked and Decoded,” and I come away from each episode with new ideas and understanding, which is an interesting experience as I try to get healthier and lose weight for my own benefit.

So, when I started reading Gordon’s What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, I knew I’d learn more about diet culture, and I certainly did! As a fat woman who has always felt less-than because of my plus-size body, who has been ashamed to be in public because of my weight, who has fluctuated in weight throughout the last 14 years, I embraced this book with a desire to feel more in control of my body.

Important Note: Gordon defines herself as fat and uses that terminology throughout the book, not in a pejorative way but in a descriptive manner. Therefore, I’m following her lead in that language within this review.

What I Liked About What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat

  • The Vulnerability: Gordon shares personal experiences with anti-fat bias that are both heart-wrenching and infuriating.
    • She is open about being a fat woman and shares stories of times when other people have shamed her for being fat, like when a man threw a fit in a plane because he was seated next to her, when people have told her she shouldn’t be wearing an outfit, and perhaps the most passive-aggressive woman actually took a melon out of Gordon’s grocery shopping cart and told her that she didn’t need the sugar. The fact that so many strangers feel superior enough to take agency over Gordon’s body was eye-opening, as was her overall message that her experiences are not anomalies.
    • Another truly impactful part of this book for me was Gordon’s discussion of how fat women are assumed to be less desirable and therefore more culpable in sexual assault and abuse situations. She wrote all the words I wish I’d read when I was 18, a Size 14, and kept quiet about my sexual assault because of my shame.
  • The Research: Gordon’s book is short, less than 200 pages of essays, but it is full of research and footnotes. While I found some sections to be a bit too dense, I loved that this book wasn’t just a memoir about fatness and personal experiences. Gordon is a brilliant researcher, and so much of the book reads like investigative journalism, which gives way to fully understanding what anti-fat bias is, its pervasiveness across society, and how policies should change to rectify how companies and individuals treat body size.
  • The Messages: Gordon’s message that anti-fat bias is prevalent in nearly every aspect of society. She’s not afraid to take on tough topics that we’ve accepted as the rule, not the exception, like the BMI; the calorie-in, calorie-out weight loss model; the expense of nutrient-laden food; and the constant recommendations of how/why/when to lose weight.
    • Also, I appreciated that Gordon doesn’t assume that everyone should embrace the body positivity movement, especially as others (namely thin white women) have switched the movement to further establish their thinness superiority.

If you’re looking for a weight-loss motivation book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Fat is not it. If you want a book that will help you to understand the reasons why anti-fat bias remains prevalent and destructive, then this is it. And, if you want to learn more, I highly recommend the Maintenance Phase podcast with Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes.

A Deadly Family Game

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman

A Five-Star Book Review

This was my first Catherine Steadman book, but it won’t be my last. I loved The Family Game for many reasons, but most of all, it is a fast-paced thriller that kept me questioning and guessing, which makes for an excellent read.

Synopsis of The Family Game

Harriet (Harry) Reed is a British author who has found success in her own right. Then she met Edward Holbeck, the first son of the Holbeck empire, and the charming man sweeps her off her feet, leading to her move to New York City as she struggles to finish her next novel. When Edward proposes, Harry eagerly accepts. The only trepidation that she, and Edward, feel is Harry’s impending introduction to the rest of the Holbeck family.

Edward has distanced himself from the family conglomerate of communications, logistics, and massive power. He is careful to warn Harry that his parents, Robert and Eleanor, and siblings: Matilda, Stuart, and Oliver, can be overwhelming and often cross boundaries. But the newly engaged couple has much to celebrate, and Harry would be lying if she wasn’t intrigued by the family’s wealth and prominence.

As Harry tries to adjust to the thought of joining the Holbeck family, she is drawn toward patriarch Robert and quickly learns that this family plays many games, some friendly and some not.

What I Loved about The Family Game

  • The plot: I generally lean toward character-driven storylines, and The Family Game is full of well-developed characters. However, the plot is what shined for me. This is a good plot. With twists and turns and questionable actions, Steadman’s story is a wild journey, and I can’t give away too much without spoiling the book, but I’ll give a few examples here:
    • Immense wealth passed down from a 19th century patriarch’s monopoly during the Industrial Revolution.
    • A castle razed from its original land in Hungary and rebuilt by hand in the countryside of New York State.
    • Krampusnacht. That is all.
  • The characters: Not only is the narrator, Harry, a complex protagonist, but the entire Holbeck family is nuanced and unreliable. Everyone has more motivations lingering underneath the surface.
  • The writing: Steadman is my kind of writer. Her prose isn’t sparse, but it is directly and elegant. She writes sentences that you know are foreshadowing for the rest of the story, but you don’t know why. She moves the story and characters along quickly, and she doesn’t bury a reader in unnecessary details.

The Family Game is a twisted thriller full of family drama, hidden truths, and complex histories. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend you pick it up if you’re looking for an exciting ride.

Killing The It Girl

The It Girl by Ruth Ware

A 5⭐️ Book Teview

This was my first Ruth Ware book, and it definitely won’t be my last! I really enjoyed the story, the writing, and the twists of her newest book, The It Girl.

What I Loved about Ruth Ware’s The It Girl

Hannah Jones is the lead of the story. She is haunted by the murder of April, her best friend and roommate, at the end of their first year as Pelham College students at the University of Oxford. Almost a decade after the murder, Hannah is married to Will, who was April’s boyfriend, working in a bookshop, and is six months’ pregnant with Will’s child. Despite running away from Pelham, she is consumed by April’s death and questions who the killer really was.

The time shifts in this book do wonders to love the story along. It’s not a new writing construct to switch from before and after defining events for characters, but Ware does it beautifully, making us understand the dynamics of Hannah’s friend group, her Pelham experience, and how her life is defined by what happened to April.

The setting makes this story! I love a book with an academic setting, and what has more academic prestige than the University of Oxford? Ware uses Oxford masterfully in The It Girl, as the university is a rich, mysterious background player for Hannah and her friends.

Overall, this was a great read, a perfect thriller and whodunnit for my taste! I hope you’ll pick up this one soon.

Take My Hand for a 5-Star Read

Sometimes an author gives the amazing gift of a beautiful read that is page-turning and educational. Dolen Perkins-Valdez did exactly that with her 2022 book, Take My Hand.

The Tuskegee syphillis experiments are a horrific, tragic part of US history. It’s still unimaginable to think of what doctors did to Black men in Alabama for 40 years (1932 to 1972). It’s reprehensible.

But that’s not the only story of its kind. As Ms. Perkins-Valdez explores so eloquently in her novel, the involuntary sterilization of Black and poor girls and women was commonplace in the US as recently at the late 20th century. Take My Hand is based on the true case of Mary Alice and Minnie Relf, who were sterilized without their consent by US government workers. In the book, the sisters are Erica and India Williams, and the narrator is Civil Townsend, a 23 year old nurse in Montgomery, Alabama, who champions these children, their father, and their grandmother as she is desperate to right the terrible wrong that took away the girls’ fertility.

What I Liked about Take My Hand

  • The writing: Ms. Perkins-Valdez is a talented author who moved between the past and the present with ease and who crafted a story that is not only about tragedy but also about love.
  • Civil’s journey: Civil is a motivated young woman who is determined to make a difference as a nurse. She deeply loves the Williams family and must grapple with boundaries while trying to help them.
  • The sisters: Erica and India have a deep bond, particularly because India is not verbal, placing more responsibility on Erica. These girls are children facing experiences that adults haven’t witnessed, and their story is beautiful.
  • The message: I knew about forced sterilization in US history, but I didn’t know how far it went. This book opened my eyes to so much more, and, unfortunately, it is apropos for what is happening in the US in 2022.

In short, please read this book. It will stay with me for a long time.