My 10 Favorite Books of 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016

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I read 101 books this year. Yes, really. Damn. If you want to see all of them, check out my monthly "What I Read In..." posts... or just tune in to this one for the best-of.

I've broken down this list into two parts: the three best books I read this year, a number chosen simply because there are three that stand out, in my mind, above all the rest. Next is a list of honorable mentions, books that I enjoyed, liked, & even loved, though they didn't quite match up to the caliber of the first three. And here they are!
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2016 in Review: A Look at the Year Everyone but Me Hates

Friday, December 30, 2016

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Aside from the part where this year was awful, it was, for me, kind of wonderful. I feel like I'm supposed to feel guilty for saying that, given the fact that the world seems to be falling apart right now, & I am certainly not immune to global ills - but on a small, personal level, 2016 was, well, pretty damn great.

Last December, I boldly declared 2015 my best year ever, but this one wasn't far behind. Without further ado, a look at my 2016 in review.
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At the Very End, 2016 Did Me Dirty

Thursday, December 29, 2016

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My favorite book when I was a kid was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I have always had a penchant for dramatizing bad news, reacting as though the world is falling apart, & that book has always helped to remind me that, well, "Some days are like that. Even in Australia."

I've been channeling that book a lot today. 

Backstory: I purchased my iPhone 5s brand new on the day it came out in fall of 2013, standing in line at the Dupont Circle AT&T store on a visit to D.C. just before I decided to move back. With the help of a sturdy case, that phone has lasted me more than three years - but in recent weeks, I knew the end was near. It started shutting off at 35%, certain apps froze at random, stuff like that. It usually worked OK, though, so I said I'd ride it 'til the wheels fell off.

Yesterday, the wheels fell off. When I arrived home after a quick shopping trip at Crocker Park (where, incidentally, the nearest Apple store is located), my phone flashed about a dozen colors, like those old cable testing screens, then glowed neon green & shut down entirely. No amount of charging has brought it back to life, & indeed, I fear its life has come to an end.

No problem! Annoying, for sure, but I knew it was coming. I made an appointment at the nearest Genius Bar with an upcoming appointment (about half an hour away) & headed out this afternoon, written directions in hand & a little flutter of excitement in my heart for the new iPhone I was soon to own (a few thousand dollars be damned).

I was barely out of my driveway when my low tire pressure light went on - light, aggressively. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. Something was wrong, indicated not just by that sound but by the painfully loud sound of metal scraping pavement.

Talk about riding it 'til the wheels fall off... I'd blown a tire. That's what I get for using that phrase, apparently.

OK, so, problem: I wasn't going to make it to Akron to snag a new phone, but without one, how was I going to call AAA to come fix my tire?! Do I even still have AAA? I sent a tweet to my BFF Lindsey, who kindly called my mother at work & asked her to jump on Facebook messenger with me. My mom, in the midst of a busy workday, called AAA on my behalf, & she Facebooked me an hour later to say they were nearby.

Lem, a very friendly AAA roadside assistance tech, made haste in switching out my busted tire for my spare tire. But get this: The spare tire is kind of flat, too, & to top it off, Lem's air pump wasn't working. So now I have to make haste myself & gingerly drive my car with its flat spare to the nearest tire shop (once I figure out where it is).

While waiting for Lem to arrive, I took the plunge & decided I didn't want to drive any more than I had to & instead ordered an iPhone via Apple online. It's supposed to be delivered to me tomorrow.

While I am feeling very Alexander at the moment, I'd like to take a second to list a few things for which I'm grateful, because I'm trying to make that my new jam. In this madness, I'm grateful for:
  • Decent weather for waiting outside for a repairman to come, especially in December;
  • Being (mostly) able to afford a new tire & a new iPhone at the same time;
  • The fact that the blowout occurred on my own street & not halfway to Akron, on the highway;
  • The two kind strangers who offered me help while I was clunking down the road on a bad tire;
  • The lovely Sara, who offered via Twitter to call AAA for me from California;
  • My BFF Lindsey, who called my mom at work & talked me through car & phone options;
  • My mom, who called AAA for me even though she was slammed at work;
  • The typically curmudgeonly barista who gave me advice about rims for future reference;
  • And, of course, Mike, who always keeps me calm when I'm the spazziest
So, yes, there's still plenty to be thankful for, even on bad days. But all I can say is: Damn, 2016, you cold. I'd been defending you! But some years are just like that, I guess. Even in Australia.
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This Blog Was Featured in the Washington Post!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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I forgot to share this exciting news when it happened a few weeks ago, but whoaaaa, this is awesome. When I came home from my big trip to Peru last month, I wrote about how some of my conversations there about the upcoming Trump presidency inspired me to make charitable donations back home. I published that post on #GivingTuesday, a designated day of global giving, in the hopes that it would inspire others to do the same.

Later that day, I got an email from a writer for the Washington Post's Inspired Life section, dedicated to weeding out & raising up positive stories - stories about compassion, caring, giving, & all the good things in the world that we sometimes forget to look for now that we're despairing about a fascist future. The reporter, Colby, found my blog post (no idea how!) & wanted to know if she could interview me about the giving practices.

The result of that conversation was an article titled "‘It’s unprecedented in our history’: Trump’s election inspired millions in nonprofit donations," & it's since been shared on social media by Planned Parenthood, CAIR National, The Trevor Project, & even my favorite author, Celeste Ng. The piece begins:
When Kate Bigam left for a vacation in Peru days after the election, she knew there’d be no avoiding questions about Donald Trump. So she decided that for every Peruvian who asked her about the new U.S. president-elect, she would learn a bit about that person and then donate to organizations inspired by those conversations.
Like many Americans, Bigam, a 32-year-old from Cleveland, felt compelled to do something tangible in response to an election that she feared left many groups and many issues vulnerable. On her personal blog this Giving Tuesday, Bigam shared the eight groups she’ll be contributing to and why. She’ll be donating to the National Alliance on Mental Health after meeting a psychiatrist. She’ll be donating to the Immigrant Legal Resource Society on behalf of a Latino immigrant living in California. She’ll give to EarthJustice for the tour guide who took her up Machu Picchu.
Read the whole thing online from The Washington Post - & then go forth & donate! I'd still love to hear what nonprofits are getting your hard-earned dollars this year & in the year to come. 

P.S.: On a related note, this afternoon, I won the "Get to Know Yours Coworkers" quiz that my boss hosts every year as a part of our departmental Hanukkah party. Instead of a prize, the winning employee asks the rest of our team to donate to a nonprofit of his or her choice. It was my honor to play today for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland, which I've just gotten involved with. Stay tuned for more about my experiences with my new "little sister," N, a 14-year-old from Cleveland Heights. So excited to get to know her!
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2016 In Books: A Look at What I Read This Year, By the Numbers

Sunday, December 18, 2016

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At the start of 2016, I set out to read 30 books throughout the course of the year, but when I hit that goal pretty quickly, I decided to try to double it. Now, in the last few weeks of the year, I've read 94 books in total, more than tripling my original goal. Last year, I decided I wanted to read more, period; this year, I did it.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone asked me, somewhat incredulously, "How many hours a day do you devote to reading?" The answer is... whatever I feel like on any given day? Some days, I don't read a single page; other days, it's all I do. I haven't been watching much TV lately, probably because Mike doesn't, & so my natural default has been to hit the books. In a separate post closer to the end of the year, I'm going to share a post summing up my 10 favorite books read in 2016; in the meantime, here are last year's 15 favorites.
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All I Want for Christmukkah Is...

Saturday, December 17, 2016

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Honestly, I feel weird even writing a wishlist this year. The world is kind of crappy right now, to say the least, & I don't feel like I have any business talking about expensive items I wish I owned. But I suppose there's no harm in dreaming, wanting, or wishing - as long as materialism doesn't reign supreme.

That said, after I wrote out this list, I thought "My God, I am the most boring human in the entire world." This is hardly a wishlist worth blogging about - & yet, here I am blogging about it.Without further ado, here's what I'd be buying myself this holiday season if I found lottery winnings in my stocking.
  1. J. Crew monogrammed pajamas: I've always wanted a pair of coordinating pajamas, & a monogram makes these cozy, navy jammies extra-personal. I know I'm jumping the gun a little bit, but I'd love to get a set monogrammed with my soon-to-be new initials, KBK. (J.Crew, $105)
  2. Himalayan salt lamp: I have no idea why I want one of these, or even where I would put it, but the glowing amber color just seems so cozy, somehow. Himalayan salt lamps are said to emit negative ions, creating an effect similar to an ionizer & purifying the surrounding air. (Amazon, $34)
  3. iRobot 650 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner: Apparently I've become a person who asks for household items for the holidays. Damn it. But come on. Roombas are so cool, & having one would save me so much work, & did I mention that Roombas are so cool?
  4. An appointment with Cardinal Maids: I don't mind cleaning, but I really can't stand deep cleaning, the kind where you get on your hands & knees & scrub. Unfortunately, I live in an old building with old hardwood floors & plenty of nooks & crannies that need lots of cleaning. I would love to hire someone, even just once, to do a really solid apartment cleaning.
  5. Fleece robe: Again with the cozy! I'm not wedded to any particular robe, I just want one, period, preferably in a dark color & in some comfy material like fleece. Perfect for lounging around my chilly apartment. (LL Bean, $79)
  6. A wireless printer: I don't know enough about technology to even know what kind of wireless printer I want, but I know I'm tired of walking to the library every time I need to print a label to send off one of my Poshmark packages. I'd love a printer that's not big & clunky, since my "desk" is usually the kitchen table.
  7. A Practical Wedding: I'm a little bit overwhelmed by the idea of wedding planning, which is probably why we haven't done much of it yet. It's also why I'm so intrigued by this book, which a Twitter friend recommended as an alternative to all the girly, prissy, over-the-top, Knot-driven, wedding industry jumble. (Amazon, $10)
  8. Fujifilm Instax Mini: I used to be such a sucker for Polaroids, but now that those have gone extinct, this little guy is the next best thing. On the night of our engagement, someone had one of these at a bar, & they snapped the worrrrst photo of us as a newly engaged couple. What a keepsake! I want to be that girl at a bar, snapping tiny Polaroid memories. (Amazon, $60)
  9. Hot Buttered Rum candles from Bath & Body Works: Truth be told, I'm a little embarrassed to love a scent from Bath & Body Works - it just feels so '90s! - but this candle smells decadent. I bought a bunch on sale after Christmas last year, & now I'm all out - which means that I'll be loading up again soon. 
  10. Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Eau de Toilette Spray: I once received a sample of this scent in a Sephora delivery, & I had already fallen in love with it by the time I realized it's a men's cologne, not a women's perfume. Nevermind that. I would totally wear it anyway.
Like I said: Goddamn, I'm boring. Is... is this what adulthood is going to feel like from here on out? Asking for home appliances & medicinal lamps & a maid service? I can't even come up with a freaking article of clothing or a piece of jewelry or a pretty Etsy print? I just want candles & planning books & computer accoutrements?

I don't know about you, but I'm feelin' 32. Happy holidays, y'all.
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I Have a Lot of Unpopular Opinions. Here are 30 of Them.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

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Maybe you've seen the Facebook meme going around, the one asking people to comment with their "unpopular (non-political) opinions"? I'm not usually one for memes, but I loved reading the responses my friends posted (131 of them!) when I asked this question on my own Facebook wall.

I found it so interesting, in fact, that I decided to write out as many of my own supposed unpopular opinions as I could think of. The result is the list below, which is, uh, kind of long. In my defense, I don't think I'm a disagreeable person, just a little... particular, perhaps.

So. Give it a read-through, & then tell me: What are your "unpopular opinions"?
  1. I don't like meat on bones, ketchup, mustard, cooked carrots, steak, or any kind of eggs.
  2. I do not enjoy the ocean - being at it or in it.
  3. I don't think Parks and Rec, The Office, or Broad City are funny.
  4. I love winter. Yes, including snow. And I reaaaally don't enjoy summer.
  5. Wedding planning is not particularly fun.
  6. I used to own a Mac laptop, & I didn't like using it at all. I couldn't wait to go back to a Dell.
  7. I'm not super interested in Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.
  8. When I wear nail polish, I feel like my hands are suffocating. 
  9. I don't know if I ever want to own a house. 
  10. I don't think engagement rings are a worthwhile investment. If I hadn't already owned an heirloom engagement ring, I would've just asked Mike to buy something inexpensive off Etsy.
  11. I don't like being barefoot, & I wear socks to sleep. 
  12. I don't have any particular fondness for chocolate or for most other sweets.
  13. I may want children (not sure yet), but I have no real desire to ever be pregnant. 
  14. Having hardwood floors is awful; I really want carpet.
  15. I think '90s music is the best music & country music is the worst music.
  16. I prefer thin, cheap toilet paper. I think the thick, cushiony stuff is both weird & wasteful.
  17. Going into a Sephora overwhelming & stressful.
  18. Super-popular cities Chicago and Los Angeles hold absolutely zero appeal to me.
  19. I can't make it through nonfiction books that aren't memoirs.
  20. For the most part, I am not interested in wearing colors or patterns.
  21. I do not enjoy cooking. Like, at all. 
  22. I couldn't get into The West Wing, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, or Mad Men.
  23. Having a real Christmas tree is a pain in the ass. 
  24. I don't mind being super pale, & I have no interest in tanning.
  25. American cheese slices are delicious.
  26. Having a dog is not worth the effort it takes. And cats are better, anyway.
  27. Grey's Anatomy is still a good TV show.
  28. I usually prefer cheap beer to craft beer, & I can't stand the taste of hops.
  29. Velvet looks & feels absolutely disgusting. It is not luxurious.
  30. Global catastrophes aside, 2016 was a really lovely year for me.
Your turn! 
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Estoy Aprendiendo a Hablar Español

Monday, December 5, 2016

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When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to learn Spanish. I had this picture book of images with both the English & Spanish translations beneath them, which didn't help me with sentence structure but did ensure that at age 7, I know how to say "butter" en Español. Very useful. (It's la mantequilla, by the way.)

I bugged my grandmother to to take me to Mexico for my thirteenth birthday (because I didn't know Spanish was spoken anywhere else). I planned to be a Spanish-to-English translator when I grew up. And like I already told you, I convinced my mom to take in a foreign exchange student from Peru - & after that, another from Venezuela.Needless to say, I was pretty into Spanish.

In an effort to become fluent, I took eight years of language lessons from middle school through college - but then my interest totally waned. It's been ages since I've even tried to speak Spanish - which is why, when visiting Peru, I was shocked by how much of it came back to me when I had to speak it in a pinch.

Through my limited language skills & surprisingly adept hand-acting abilities, I was able to communicate with most vendors & hospitality industry folks (many of whom speak English, but plenty of whom do not). I also received multiple compliments on my accent, even when my sentence structure wasn't on-point, which is a great start. But actual conversations were near impossible; at Paolo's wedding, I had to ask bilingual guests to help translate (including a 13-year-old girl who learned English by watching Full House reruns sans subtitles).

Still, I came home with a newly revitalized interest in learning Spanish. Even though I barely knew enough of the language to get by, I felt inspired by my conversations in Peru & by my enthusiasm for speaking Spanish even after all these years. Since getting home, I've since started using the Duolingo app every day to try to better my Spanish skills, taking at least 1-0 minutes out of every day to practice.

For your entertainment, here's a list of my seven favorite Spanish words thus far:
  1. El zanahoria (carrot)
  2. La mantequilla (butter)
  3. Los zapatos (shoes)
  4. El almuerzo (lunch)
  5. A la izquierda (to the left)
  6. La maracuya (a kind of passionfruit) 
  7. Miercoles (Wednesday)
Duolingo says I'm now 5% fluent in Spanish, which means I can speak basic phrases, like, "The cat is grey" & "My mother eats cheese on Sundays" - you know, the really important stuff. Now I've just got to figure out which Spanish-speaking country to visit next to try it all out in!

Do you speak any other languages? Got any tips for learning a new one? 
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What I Read in November

Thursday, December 1, 2016

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I didn't get much reading done during my trip to Peru in mid-November, but I still managed to make it through nine books, including two YA reads. It was yet another good month on my bookshelf; no duds in the bunch!  

And before we get into my reads, just a quick note that today is my favorite day of the month: Book of the Month Club's book reveal day! Use my referral code to get three months for $30, plus a BoTM tote. I'm obsessed & know you will be, too.

Now, onto it. And tell me: What are you reading? 

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

This was a good enough read, but I really wanted to like it more than I did. When a sleeping infant disappears from her crib one night, her parents are the main suspects. What will the secrets they're hiding from one another reveal? It was a fast-paced story, but the writing felt elementary: short sentences, a lot of action but very little emotion. I probably wouldn't pick up another book by this author if this is her usual writing style. ★★★★☆

Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone 

Still not sure how I feel about this BookBub buy, which some Goodreads reviewers have characterized as a "psychological thriller." I think it's more along the lines of the women-finding-themselves genre, set to the tune of a mystery. Evelyn learns that her husband, a renowned psychiatrist, is having an affair with one of his patients, a local teacher, & that together, they've committed a terrible crime. Evelyn is conflicted between healing & pursuing revenge - & ultimately does both. ★★★★☆

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

It took me just three hours to finish this YA novel about a teenage girl with a rare illness, which is equal parts family drama, angsty love story, & "Whoa, OK" twists. It was a little unrealistic, but that didn't keep me from enjoying the characters of Madeline, who's allergic to the outdoors, Olly, the next-door neighbor she loves from afar, & Carla, the nurse who's cared for her her whole life. It's also peppered with diary-style doodles drawn by Yoon's husband, which I loved. ★★★★☆

Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door by Roy Wenzl, Tim Potter, Hurst Laviana, & L. Kelly 

A real uplifting read, right? I know, but I've had a longtime interest in serial killers (less creepy than it sounds, I swear). This was an incredibly written account of a decades-long hunt for BTK killer Dennis Rader, & the telling of the story is a collaboration - as was the case, in many ways - between Kansas journalists & investigators. It was difficult to read, of course, but a fascinating one. ★★★★★

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Proving that she's way more than just a pretty Hollywood face, this Orange is the New Black actress puts pen to paper to tell the devastating, painful story of her family's real-life immigration struggles. When she was 14, Guerrero's parents were deported to Colombia, leaving her - a born-and-raised Bostonian - to grow up fast &, eventually, to try to take on the broken system that failed her family. Well-written, spunky, heartbreaking, honest, inspiring... a real must-read. ★★★★☆

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Dunbar is one of 10 black students to attend a previously all-white high school in Virginia; Hairston is the daughter of the bigoted editor of the local newspaper. When they're paired together for a school project, they have to face their differences & rethink their belief systems, & then, plot twist: They begin to fall in love. This is a really out-of-the-box look at racism, queerness, hatred, love, fairness, & a whole host of other serious topics wrapped up in one really well-done YA novel. ★★★★☆

Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

Another YA book, this one about a college swimmer who is one of five survivors of a plane crash in the Rockies. I started to read it on the flight home from Peru & then thought better of it! It was so well-done, so gripping - it flashes between Claire's days trying to survive & her time at home trying to recover - but I found the ending so disappointingly lacking that it colored the whole story for me. ★★★☆☆

Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica

I read & (mostly) enjoyed Kubica's debut novel The Good Girl in April, so I was eager to try her next book. It was strangely compelling even though I found it, at times, to be overwritten & rambling (& the main character to be a total idiot). Kubica has a way with words & such a way with cliffhangers; this book literally kept me reading until hours past my bedtime because I just couldn't put it down until I knew how it ended! ★★★★☆

Before He Kills by Blake Pierce

This book needed a better editor, as I spotted multiple typos while reading, but the story itself was well-written & entertaining enough. It's the first in a new mystery series featuring 25-year-old ingenue Detective Mackenzie White, & while much of it felt predictable & a little bit trite, it was compelling enough, again, to keep me up at night to see what came next. For $4, I may buy the next book in the series. ★★★☆☆

Comment to tell me what you're reading, then add me on Goodreads to keep in touch & see what I've read in months past.

Please note that my "What I Read in..." posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but please also don't judge me too harshly for including them.    
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