Mid-Month Reading Update

Happy middle of November! I can’t believe that we’re already in the middle of November, which means Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? What are you doing this year?

I’m already thinking about ours and planning a super low key Thanksgiving with me and my husband. Instead of the traditional meal, I was thinking of making some of our comforting favorites. Anyway, I’m getting off topic.

This month is shaping up to be a “ignore all the books you need to read and read whatever you want” kind of month. I’ve read four books, put down one book, and in the middle of two books. My reading life feels really uneven lately, which isn’t the greatest feeling in the world. But at the same time, I feel like the first half of the month was also just me sitting and refreshing the election polls in the US to see the results of the presidential election. So while I want to read more, I was doing a lot more viewing on my phone. I hate weeks like that, but I’m hoping it turns around in the second half of the month.

Let’s get into the books I’ve read so far:

What I’ve Read

So far, all romances or women’s fiction. I thought that November would be a little bit better in terms of my mental health, but with the elections and the number of cases of COVID going up, I’m just a stressed out mess. I knew I wanted to read something, so I picked a few light reads to listen to while I worked on my knitting projects.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

I was pleasantly surprised with this one especially since this book came out during the summer and I was expecting it to be much more light-hearteded and “fun.” And in many ways, it was but in other ways, it was the story about two young people who both went through some emotional turmoil and needed guidance and a boost from each other to grow beyond what has happened in their lives. I also really liked the conversation between genre fiction and literary fiction. It’s an interesting topic because one is always considered low brow while the other is considered high brow. In my opinion, what you read is what you read. You can put whatever intellectual label you want on it, but a good or bad book can’t hide behind a label.

Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim

I was a fan of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, so I picked up Roselle Lim’s second book. Overall, it was a fun and quirky story that will make you so hungry. I really liked this one for its depictions of Paris, the food, and also the magic. It’s usually books like this that fill me with a little warmth and tell me that everything’s going to be okay. I think it’s because I always imagine a world with a lot of magic in it (if you’re willing to see it). Reading a story that feels real in so many ways, but with that little hint of magic reaffirms my love of romance in the world and I most definitely needed a little reassurance in the past few weeks.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

For some reason, I went into this one thinking it would be an enemies-to-lovers romance. I think it’s because it has two strangers coming to live in an apartment together. I thought it would be a little of the “odd couple” trope where one is a neat person and the other is a messy person. Turns out, I was wrong on all accounts. The story is quite interesting being a story about two people living in the same apartment, sleeping in the same bed, and never setting eyes on each other. With opposing schedules, it works out for them and the little post-it notes they shared with each other was way too cute.

Heartstopper Volume 1 by Alice Oseman

I received a copy of this one for promotion later this month, but I couldn’t help sit down and read it. It took me twenty minutes to get through this one. There aren’t many dialogue bubbles or a lot of dialogue in general, but what Alice Oseman is able to convey without words is what makes this graphic novel really good. The faces on the characters and the juxtaposition in the situations they are in bring so much life to the story without having to spell it out to the audience. Also, the feelings are SO REAL. Charlie and Nick’s journey through their friendship and then the possibility of it being more really made you root for them. What they felt fit exactly in with how I felt when I had a crush or liked someone. It was so authentic that it will whisper at your heartstrings. I will probably read the second volume before the end of the month!

Currently Reading

Of course, there were books that I assigned myself to read this month and I’m so glad that I only put three books on my TBR. They were The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter, Black Sun by Rebecca Roanrhose, The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan.

I’m in the middle of The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter. So far, it is soooo good. Honestly, I’m putting Evan Winter on the level of Brandon Sanderson. I’m not comparing the two because both their stories are completely different with different characters and situations, but Evan Winter is one of those prolific fantasy authors that really digs into the world building and delivers a hero’s story of revenge and military might. It’s for sure a military fantasy, but it also has that cast of characters that you can’t help but to have a favorite. The main character, Tau, isn’t some Mary Sue and works doubly hard to beat out people who are

I’m not usually the type of person who reads multiple books at once, but since I took a break from Rage of Dragons to allow my mind to settle down, I wanted to read something in between. So I picked up The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren. So far, it isn’t my favorite Christina Lauren, but that’s okay. It’s light-hearted and fun to read, so I don’t mind a bit that it’s not the best. I’ll probably finish this one sooner than later so I can make room for my current read.

How I Make the Time to Read

How I Make the Time to Read

If you’re a huge fan of reading like I am, then you want to spend as much time as you can possibly muster into reading your book. You carry it with you everywhere you go. You open your e-reader app on your phone whenever you’re forced to wait anywhere. You might even create a space for yourself without any distractions for optimal reading.

So how do you make the time to read? Well, let’s first talk about how much time do you have?

I currently spend about 3-4 hours a day reading. It works out for me because reading is what I do and share here on the Internet. Despite not really having a full time job, I still manage to fill my day with content to create, messages to follow up on, and then take care of things around the house. But it gives me a good chunk of my day set for a project or two and that’s where the reading time comes in.

I know not everyone gets 3-4 hours a day. I know some folks only have 30 minutes a day to read, but what if I told you that 30 minutes is enough? Check out this YouTube video about time and reading:

There’s a lot to take away from this video, but the biggest takeaway is that if you allot yourself 30 minutes a day to read (and that could be a meal, that could be an audiobook on the drive home from work), then you can read way more books than you imagined. When you do the math, you’re able to read much more with just 30 minutes a day. I feel like I’m selling you on an ab routine, but like any skill in this life it requires practice. Once you’ve built a habit of reading daily for 30 minutes, then you’ll find that reading everyday is manageable and your reading life will thank you.

The biggest component to this is you must make time to read. Similarly to working out three times a week or spending an hour on the phone with your mom every Sunday, you build a habit to reading every single day. Pretty soon, you’ll see that you want to read more and dedicate even more time to reading. Like any habit, you must build it. It won’t come to you easily, but if you can spend three hours on Tiktok everyday and somehow still do your job and spend time with your family, then you can also read a book for thirty minutes.

The other major component is finding the right books for you. We are inundated with so many books all the time. Not only do you see recommendations at bookstores or with your close friends, but now with social media there’s an overabundance of recommendations. New books are published every week and thousands upon thousands of books are published every year. So how do you choose the right book for you?

That requires you looking at yourself and figuring out the genres you like to read. Do you want to gather more knowledge? Perhaps nonfiction is right for you. Do you like a little more escape and read something light and easy? Then maybe a romance novel is for you. The advantage of having a thousand books being published yearly is that there are thousands of choices. You don’t need to rely on the New York Times Bestseller list (although that gives you a good idea of what to read next or put books on your radar) because the choices are endless. Amish chaste romances? Got ’em. Thrillers featuring a female character that somehow is also an amateur detective? Done and done. Fantasy novel based off the retellings of some obscure folklore from Eastern Europe? You know it exists. The biography of that one dude who won that one battle during The Revolutionary War? Yeah, it’s there. Figure out what works for you and read those books.

Here are some other tips and tricks that I also use whenever it comes to a reading session. Of course I don’t enter a reading session without the proper tools and perhaps these tools will also help you when it finally comes down to reading.

Set a reading time

Figure out how much time you can dedicate to reading and then make the habit of reading everyday. For me, I set my time for the hours between 2PM and 6PM. Depending on my day, it might be more or less, but those are my undisturbed reading hours. I don’t look at my phone. I sit up in a distraction-free space. My husband even knows to respect those times because that’s when I’ll be the most focused.

The first part of creating a healthy habit is to actively do it. Actively set up the time. Actively focus on the book. Habits take a while to develop (from my experience, it’s about a month), so keep reading and keep setting up a time and eventually you’ll see yourself just sitting down and picking up the book without having to actively make the time for it.

Make it an event

You’re about to sit down and read, so you might as well make the most of the moment. Make yourself a cup of tea. Set up some cookies. Get into your pajamas and pull up that comforter you love to wrap yourself in. Light some candles. Throw up an ASMR room on your iPad or put on a calming playlist. Creating space for yourself to read and get lost in a story is important especially if you have many distractions around you. It’s also a form of self care. Giving yourself the time to read and making it an event with your favorite treats, drinks, and whatever else you want is similar to that of taking a long and luxurious bath. You’re treating yourself to a lovely session, so might as well reap all the benefits.

Worry less about how much you’re reading and more on what you’re reading

The major piece that always makes me read less is trying to figure out how much to read. If I assign myself 200 pages in a day (which I don’t. Yikes), then I might feel beholden to that. It might jack up my stress and anxiety and then I’ll feel failure at the end of the reading session because I didn’t reach my goal. Don’t worry about when the story will end (unless the book is boring, then end the story right now), but allow yourself to be immersed in it. The story will eventually end as all stories do, so just enjoy the journey. You’ll eventually get to the destination.

Stop when you feel like it

While you may assign yourself only 30 minutes a day to read, you’re also not held to that. Like assigning yourself pages to read, assigning yourself time could be just as stressful. Allow yourself to take breaks. Give yourself the space to not read if your mental health isn’t optimal. Reading is meant to be enjoyed and while we’re here trying to develop the habit of reading daily, stopping after 10 minutes isn’t going to be the end. The only time you should worry is if the book will keep your attention. If you’re not into the book, then dump it. There are far too many books to choose from in this world for you to read a story that you’re not enjoying. Enjoy your reading.

Use a focus app like Forest to keep off your phone

If social media and your phone pose as your biggest distraction from reading, I highly recommend a tool like Forest. This app basically forces you to not look at your phone. You set your time to focus, grow “trees” on the app while you’re away from your phone, and if you ever check your phone or close the app, you lose the trees you’ve grown. It also comes with a myriad of different trees to pick from, settings for music, and you can even compete with friends on how much you can stay off your phone.

I use this app daily because I constantly check social media. It’s a habit of the job! So, putting the focus app on makes sure that I don’t pick up my phone unnecessarily. And I do take breaks. Once I’ve reached the time I’ve set, I take a little 15-minute break to see what’s happening on the Internet.

And if you can’t manage that or if your mental health has been crap because the pandemic, the election, the end of the world and 2020, then audiobooks might be for you. Having the mental power to read a book might just be out of your reach at this point and that’s totally okay. The unpredictable future of our lives really takes it out of all of us and it’s double if we’re struggling with work or finding a job. Audiobooks is like having someone read the book to you. You still retain the story and still get deeply into it, but you don’t have to use the additional mental power to read and comprehend at the same time.

But most importantly, enjoy it. Reading is for you and our worlds always make a way to collide with each other and the restraints we put on ourselves with other components of our life can make reading even more difficult. Enjoy reading because it’s really a gift that keeps on giving.

I hope this blog post helped! Here’s some other blog posts I’ve written about the subject:

What I Did Last Week

What I Did Last Week

Happy Monday! Last week, I decided to take some time off to recharge. I was trying to decide if I should post something about it, but I decided to just go ahead and take the time off. Let me tell you, it was time so well spent.

I feel like I’ve been taking more mental breaks lately, but I’m not surprised. This year and the pandemic has drained so many of us with all the restrictions, the weary future, and made me rethink a lot of what I do here. So taking some time to decompress, center myself, and refocus has been immensely helpful. Something about being present in the moment and enjoying everything that’s happening around you rather than being cooped up in your phone really breaks you away from stress especially doomscrolling.

But you’re probably curious as to what I did while I was away. I will say, I didn’t just sit in front of my TV all day (even though that was a large component of my time off). I kept busy and I wanted to share a little bit of what I saw with you.

Finished the pieces of the cardigan I’ve been knitting. It’s almost done! I just need to block the pieces and then sew them together. I hope that the sweater turns out cozy because the yarn wasn’t that fun to work with. Also, I messed up and restarted often with this piece, so I’m excited for this labor of love to be done with.

Read a bunch of romance/women’s fiction novels. Well, this year has put me back on romance and womens fiction novels. It’s funny because I can see myself at the same time last year talking about how I won’t be reading these books anymore. And here we are, one week into November and I’m three books in.

Specifically, I read Beach Read by Emily Henry, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim, and The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary. I think my favorite was The Flatshare because that’s just an experience I’ve never had before (sharing a one-bedroom apartment with a stranger that you share opposite schedules with so you never see each other and leave cute post-it notes all over the place with your conversation). I was expecting it to be an enemies-to-lovers with some more passive aggressive notes sent to each other, but this book really surprised me and filled me with joy.

The other books I read were exceptional as well. I felt Vanessa Yu was an embodiment of me and Beach Read had some interesting conversations about books and their genres. All three were quite entertaining and kept me happy while I was away.

Worked on my Animal Crossing island. This one is silly, but I was watching a documentary on a gardener who owns one of the most beautiful gardens in the entire world. It has inspirations from all over the place and grand French landscapes that reminded me of my time in Versailles. I wanted to recreate that landscaping a little with my Animal Crossing island (since where will I find the money and land to actually create a lush garden?). The results look good, but I’m still working to improve it and finally get my five-star rating.

Took a walk on the beach. Bucky and I were chatting about how we don’t spend enough time outside. We haven’t gone on many hikes and we haven’t gone to the beach at all since the pandemic broke out. So we made a date to meet at 4pm and head out to the beach for a little 1:1 time with the sunset.

I absolutely loved this time especially since we went to the dog beach. Watching little friends running around and having a great time while the sun nestled behind the horizon is levels of comfort that I wish I could have everyday. The sun’s rays are also exceptional at this time of year as the weather finally cools down.

Started doodling in my journal. This was sort of a leap, but I started to doodle in my journal. It came about because I wanted to buy one of those little printers for your phone. I thought to myself “well, I could always try and draw it” and now my journal has silly little doodles of food I’ve eaten and moments I want to remember. Of course, the photo of the thing looks better than my drawing, but my journal is for myself so I can do whatever I want.

Bought a book. I’ve been trying really hard with only buying books that I’ve read, but a book I’ve had my eye on for a while went on sale and so I picked it up. It’s Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zao. I heard a lot of things about this book (both the good and the controversial), but I can’t resist a dark fantasy novel and this sounds really intriguing with some good representation.

Caught up on my Korean Dramas. I’ve been obsessed with Tale of the Nine-Tailed, which is a fantasy drama about the nine-tailed fox. It features some of my favorite Korean drama actors and has some excellent fantasy and romance elements to it. I feel like the show did a good job of mixing Korean folklore within the K-drama outline. The show is also only 11 episodes long and at this point I’m just waiting for that final episode to premiere. If only American TV could be as good as this show.

Organized and purged my massive TBR. I’ll write about this one later since it’s a pretty big project and I have a lot of takeaways, but I went through my entire existing TBR and removed a lot of books from it. The whole idea of this purge is to focus my physical books to the ones I will most definitely read. I want my collection of books to match what I’ve actually read and having over 200 books that I haven’t read The rest will be donated or given to friends and I’ll borrow those books from the library. I have a feeling I’ll eventually re-purchase books in the future, but only if I loved it so much that I need to have it in my collection.

I hope you had a wonderful week and weekend. Can’t wait to see what this week has in store!

How Knitting Saved My Reading Life

How Knitting Saved My Reading Life

Recently (and I’m sure you’ve heard this from me a few times let alone our entire universe), I’ve been struggling with reading. I’m more attached to my phone than my book and usually those outcomes are never good. Mostly because when I’m attached to my phone over a book, I’m reading about the news. I’m doomscrolling. I’m updating my phone every few seconds swiping up on apps hoping some miracle piece of news will tell us all that we can finally rest easy.

Sadly, that’s not going to happen and the more I look at my phone, the less time is dedicated to reading. But even when I’m reading a book, I’m not really there. I’m off thinking about what I read on my phone. I’m literally thinking about my phone! It’s this vicious cycle of doomscrolling and not reading that I want to escape from so badly. My husband and I have been talking about how we consume so much content on the Internet and how much of it affects us in so many ways. But the reality is that while I’m looking at my phone, I’m not doing something productive like reading a book.

Last month, I was in such a slump from reading that big science fiction novel that I just didn’t want to read anymore. Every time I picked up a book, it felt like such a chore to get myself to pay attention. I felt like a robot on auto-drive reading the pages, but not really absorbing or engaging with the stories. I think this is the first low I’ve had in a really long time. Let’s not even discuss the level of sadness and depression I feel because of the pandemic and everything going on in the news.

So, recently, a friend of mine told me that she’s been staying off her phone by knitting. She was telling me that she would borrow audiobooks from the library, listen to them, and simultaneously knitted a bunch of sweaters and hats. I thought to myself, “wow, it’s been years since I knitted.” And I think I stopped knitting because I moved to a city that doesn’t require anymore than a light jacket or hoodie during its colder months.

But thinking back on when I was knitting a lot, I realized that I did it to keep my hands busy. I used to believe the old adage “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” and while I wasn’t getting into a lot of trouble, my hands always seem to fidget when I’m absent-mindedly sitting on the couch watching TV. So I took up knitting to keep my hands busy while I watched TV at night. I never considered reading books while knitting because how do you pay attention to a story when you’re focused on a knitting project?

I realized the key is audiobooks here. So I decided to try it. I put on an audiobook using my library and Scribd.com and started working on a hue-shift blanket I started working on a long time ago.

It felt just like riding a bike. It was incredible how easily I fell back into the pattern of knitting and purling while getting through my audiobook. I suddenly find myself finishing off one knitting project and moving on to the next; my audiobooks following along with me as I went. My fingers moved deftly creating tension and release with every stitch. I could feel myself coming back to myself. It was wild. After I finished my blanket, I started a cardigan. It’s funny because I’ve been knitting for years, but I’ve never made a piece of clothing. These pandemic times really make the hard stuff look like an easy challenge to tackle.

And the one thing I noticed the entire time I was knitting and listening to an audiobook, I didn’t pick up my phone once. I was lost on a faraway planet or sent to another dimension. I was knitting but also dreaming up fantasy worlds and falling in love with romance or on the edge of my seat in a thriller. I was captivated and reading my books.

I was in the zone. I was reading and getting deep into these wonderful worlds authors created while also creating a piece of work I can own for the rest of my life. The feeling of creating over consuming is so invigorating. I felt creative for the first time in a very long time and I didn’t want that feeling to go away. I can see myself really getting through my books and reading and enjoying it because I have something to keep my idle hands busy. For the first time in a few months I wasn’t conscious of what was being said online or in the news. I somehow separated myself from the Internet and rewarded myself with something productive with a physical creation set as the outcome.

I took a deep breath and sighed so much relief from myself. I plan on continuing to read my books via audiobooks (and obviously the books I physically own because they need love to) and knit. I’m so glad knitting was brought back into my life and while most folks were crafting all the way at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s finally my turn to join in.

And I realized that it’s important to listen to your mind and body. It’s important to give yourself room to do other things when you can’t focus or concentrate. I think the biggest takeaway for me in this situation is that there’s room for flexibility in your life as long as you keep thinking about ways to find it.

What’s something you’ve been doing outside of reading these past few months?

Welcome to #FallforFantasy

Welcome to #FallforFantasy

Happy October, everyone!

Every fall, I dedicate the seasons finally cooling down and entering winter with some great fantasy reads. Personally, I’ve been calling it “Fall Fantasy.” I don’t dedicate my entire TBR to reading fantasy books, but there’s always an emphasis to read the fantasy books I’ve been meaning to read. There’s always a reread of some of my favorites. And there’s always something new and interesting being published.

This fall is no exception, but I did want to bring you along on the journey. That’s why I’m launching #FallForFantasy! It’s not really a hashtag, but a series of blog posts and Instagram posts about reading fantasy books. Fantasy is such a great genre and I couldn’t recommend it enough, but I know that it’s not easy to read and some books are so over your head that you’re clueless by the end of the book. What I want to focus on during these months is getting you into fantasy books that work for you. There’s tons of great stories that won’t slump you or frustrate you with its jargon and I want to highlight those books as we head into the holidays.

My objective this year is to give those new to the genre or those who are casual readers fantasy books that will match their tastes and bring them closer to enjoying this incredibly rich genre. There’s so much you can learn about the world through fantasy books and the funny thing is that it’s all made up. It’s incredible how deeply you’re able to relate to a character without fully knowing the world they live in. Also, it’s a great escape while we’re all stuck at home. I hope that I entice you with some great reads, good feelings, and a comfy cozy autumn.

Over the next three months, I’ll be sharing some fantasy recommendations for new and experienced fantasy readers. I’ll be cozying up to some yummy treats and seasonal fun moments. I’m also launching my fantasy book club on Patreon. You’re more than welcome to head over there and join my “Simone and Her Book Club” tier!

As for this hashtag, it’s for you! Share with me your favorite cozy moments, fantasy books you’re reading this season, or recommendations you started because of me. I will share all of it on my blog and Instagram to promote the season, the books, and the great moments we’ll be having together.

Hope you enjoy me this fall as we explore some incredible fantasy novels!

I’ve Gone Digital: How I Keep a Digital Book Journal

I’ve Gone Digital: How I Keep a Digital Book Journal

Over the years, I’ve told you about my reading journal. It’s a physical journal I kept while I read to jot down notes, put my thoughts down, and have a single place I can turn to see what I’m reading.

But I have a confession to make. I’ve gone digital…and I love it.

The reason I switched from analog to digital is really simple. I type faster than I can write, which means my thoughts get written down faster. I think A LOT and having a page or two dedicated in my notebook made the entire process really messy. So I created a Trello board for myself and I organized it in a way that keeps me up-to-date with my reviews, gives me space to write my endless thoughts on a book, and organizes my blog, my Instagram, and my Patreon content. There’s a lot of stuff I put out into the world and this allows me to do just that.

Before I get into it, I do want to mention this wasn’t my idea. I got the inspiration for my Trello board and how to set it up from Book Bumblings. Their Trello board is more extensive than mine and you can check out their blog posts for the original idea.

What is Trello?

A screenshot of my Trello page. Some of the cards are blanked out because they are upcoming blog posts.

Trello is basically an organizational tool used by many companies to keep track of what projects to work on. They’re are these columns you can make with each column representing a group of tasks. It could be a big project with smaller tasks that you need to manage. This allows you to manage that, collaborate with your coworkers, assign tasks, make comments, and keep your projects on track.

For my reading needs, I’m a one woman show so I don’t need most of the tools they provide (and most of those tools require payment). Instead, I use this to organize the reads I’m reading, the books I need to review, blog posts that I want to write, and other tidbits related to content work on social media.

Creating one board is free. I think adding more boards requires more money, but if you’re working on your blog solo then this might be perfect to keep you organized.

How I Organize My Trello Board

What works for me is this assembly-line system. Each column represents a step in my writing process and each card either represents a book or a blog post I want to write about. You can move cards either by dragging and dropping them or you can choose the column to move the card. I really like this method because then you see the cards move from section to section. It’s like a perfectly coordinated symphony. Everyone knows exactly what they need to do and where to go, so there’s no guesswork. It just flows!

On the far left, I keep all the books I plan on reading that month. Each book I read gets a card with the title and the number of pages in parenthesis. When I start to read the book, I move it to the Currently Reading section. Each card has a description section where I basically jot down my notes on the story and my thoughts. This is the most convenient part of the entire process. Because instead of setting up a page in my journal to write these notes, I have this digitally. This also works great on the go because you can download the Trello app to your phone and make notes when you’re not close to your notebook.

When I’m ready to write my review, I move it to the To Review column. This is more organizational for me so I can keep track of what needs a review and what I’ve already worked on. On each card, there’s a section to add a description. I literally use the description section to start my review. It’s all super rough mixed in with pieces of the story I wanted to keep in mind, but when it’s finally time to write my review I’ve already got something started and can easily add or edit from there.

An example of how I write my reviews for a book before they go on the blog

The To Post section is where I keep all my blog ideas. I didn’t want to mix them in with the book reviews because my book reviewing process and my blog post writing process are quite different. Each card is a different blog post idea I had. In the description section, I start off with the bigger parts of the blog post I want to write. I eventually just copy and paste what I have there and use that to start the blog post. It makes putting these posts together much easier than sitting with a blank page trying to make it work. It’s also great when you’re worried your work will suddenly disappear while you’re writing it.

When I’m done posting my blog post or if I’ve finished my review, I’ll move all those cards to my Done pile. It’s the most exciting thing to put things in the Done category. It’s like a checklist where you satisfyingly put that checkmark on your To Do. You get stuff done and to see them physically move off your plate really helps psychologically. The best part of the Done pile is that none of those cards get deleted. They accumulate there so I can always go back and visit the messy thoughts I had about a book.

I also have a section for anything Extra. This includes things I might have skipped from months before, work I plan on doing in the future, or ideas that don’t really flow with the theme of what I’m creating.

Final Thoughts

To be honest, this Trello board has become one of my favorite tools for blogging, writing, and creating content for you all. I’m able to keep track of what I want to write, I never run out of ideas (maybe more steam for writing things), and it’s all neatly organized in one place, which is so important for me. As much as I loved keeping a physical journal of all my book thoughts, I found myself getting lost a lot. I had ideas written in tiny margins and reviews that spanned over four pages and onto post it notes. It was so messy that I felt my life was messy because of it. Now my physical journal is an actual journal and To Do list for my day. This also keeps my To Dos super simple because I know exactly what needs to be worked on.

You can use this Trello board in any manner you’d like! If you mostly work on your own or if you have a team of people working with you, this is a great way to keep track of everything. The best part is that I can download the app to my phone and make changes on the go. That’s always good when ideas strike me at any time. I would highly recommend checking out that post from Book Bumblings. It’s pretty comprehensive and shows you how to use tools like the calendar or labels. I tried using labels but I kept forgetting what each label meant lol.

I hope this gives you some ideas on how a digital journal might benefit you over a physical one. I won’t stop journaling (that’s physically impossible, I believe), but at least the book part of my journaling life is a bit more organized.

Patreon Picks: How I Create My Monthly TBR

Patreon Picks: How I Create My Monthly TBR

Today I’m sharing a new feature to my blog: Patreon Picks. Every couple of weeks, I’ll be asking my patrons on Patreon what blog post they would like to see. I shared a few different suggestions and they all voted. And the votes are in. This week’s Patreon Picks is a look at how I pick my monthly TBR. I just recently shared my TBR for September too, but excited to get into the details on how I decide which out of the dozens of books I want to read.

If you would like to read this post and would love to participate in Patreon Picks, head over to my Patreon page and join the Simone and Her Books community!

I Like Big Books (And I’ll Tell You Why)

I Like Big Books (And I’ll Tell You Why)

Big books. Chonkers. Doorstoppers. They come in various names, but the one thing we all love about them is that there’s a lot of story.

And somehow, I do. I’ve read many big books and don’t really shy away from them. From character-driven literary fiction novels to epic fantasies filled with tons of world building and character development, each big book holds it’s own weight when it comes to story.

But for some reason, many of us are wary of them. We don’t stay away from them, but there’s most definitely a hesitancy to start them. I know exactly how that feels because I’ve felt it before. Even now when I start a new big book, I need a big cup of tea and a deep breath to get myself ready. What are your methods of coping with big books?

I think when I was younger, I worried that big books meant a lot of big ideas. There were going to be concepts covered that I won’t be smart enough to understand. I worried constantly that the language and writing style would be too much for me. There’s also that massive worry that a big book will take me forever to read.

Then I realized that I was picking books from the wrong genre. I think finding a genre that suits your taste will make reading a big book less daunting. I probably won’t read another big Donna Tartt story, but I’ll happily read 1000+ pages of Brandon Sanderson. If it’s a big fantasy book, then I know what to expect because I’ve read enough fantasy to know what most authors write about. Knowing your genre and choosing a book that matches your taste will most definitely put you in the mood to read it more than reading something outside your taste.

Also, knowing your authors. If there’s an author that you’ve read before and you love their work, then perhaps picking up their bigger novel won’t be too worrisome. You’ll already know the writing style and language. You’ll already know that the author’s great at what they do and you’ll expect that in a big book too.

I don’t think there’s any advice I can give on how to get into a big book. You just need to dive into it. You need to tell yourself “I’m reading this big book and I’m starting now.” I know it’s easy to say, but when you don’t worry about how many books you read a month or if you’re keeping up with whatever book trend is out there, picking up a big book becomes a less daunting task. I’m still trying to give myself grace and forgiveness when I don’t read enough, so this is something I continue to practice on my own.

I took a poll on my Bookstagram account to see what were the biggest hurdles for people who don’t read big books or for people who love big books, but find themselves putting it off. I got a lot of responses, but many of them cover the same issues. I’ve broken them down into three big main issues. I hope you enjoy it!

The biggest concern was time

Ah, that elusive clock that we all set our lives on. As a slow reader, I am always gauging how much time I’m spending with a book. Because I read so much and have a dedicated daily schedule for reading, I tend to feel more pressure to finish a book so I can start the next one. It’s actually a big issue for me and I’m not kind enough to myself for not reading others.

But I think that the biggest thing I learned about reading a big book is just savoring it. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Yeah, I can be putting off the other books I need to read or I feel that weird ache of knowing I’ve been spending too much time reading a book. But more times than not, I devour the big tomes. I absolutely stuff myself with story and I fall so deeply in love with them. Giving big books a chance allows you to deeply explore a world you didn’t anticipate before and I absolutely love when a book can pull me out of reality especially when reality is not looking so good.

For the most part, many readers are concerned that reading a big book will take away from the time spent on other books. Big books take dedication and hours to read and when you’re the type of reader who’s reads in the car waiting for the kids or on the commute to work, then it might not be advantageous to read a big book. Most readers would rather read smaller books (around 300 pages) and get them read quickly. I can totally understand that. There’s a certain psychology around accomplishing a task like reading a book and if the book is short, then it’s more manageable.

What also helps is audiobooks. With audiobooks, you don’t have to set dedicated time to reading the book. You can be reading them in the car. You can read them during your lunch breaks. All you need is your listening device and a pair of headphones. I even thought reading complicated fantasy or science fiction would be tough via audiobook, but you kind of get used to it. And if you’re like me who listens to books at 2x speed, then you’re actually finishing the book in half the time. This is a big hand especially when you’re on a reading schedule.

But I think the most important thing about reading a big book is making the time. It won’t be an easy task, but if you dedicate at least one book a month to a bigger read and schedule out the rest of your other reads, then you’ll see how you can make time for both the big books and the little books. I think the biggest advice I can also give you is not to feel intimidated by how many books you’re reading. It’s always about the quality not quantity. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Reading 10 books a month may be a great feeling, but reading 3 big books in one month might introduce you to an epic world you didn’t know before. You can also always make up for lost time the month after.

There’s also the intimidation factor

Many bookstagrammers wrote that they don’t like reading big books because they are…big. I completely get that. How am I going to read this big tome when I’ve got a week to read it? I mark out the pages. For example, if I’m reading a big 500-page book and I want to dedicate 5 days to reading it, then I can mark out 100 pages a day to read. Of course, those are big numbers, but do whatever works for you. Read 50 pages a day for a couple of weeks. Read 10 pages a week for two months. Breaking out the book into more manageable chunks will not only resolve your time spent on a book, but also make the book a little bit less intimidating. Do whatever works for your reading life. Make sure you’re enjoying it. Because there’s nothing worse than reading a big book that you’re not into.

My other trick is to get bigger books on my e-reader. With readers like Kindle, I don’t see a giant book. I see a tiny reading device. I can easily remove the percentage and page numbers so my focus is more on the story than on the book. I always surprise myself when I read this way because I find that without the distracting page number or percentage, I immerse myself in the story and get deeper into the book. It’s also a blessing to your fingers who don’t have to hold a giant book while you read it.

The last thing people mentioned is whether the book has substance

Books with a ton of filler and very little substance are difficult to gauge from the synopsis. This is very difficult to discern from just the outer package. You have to actually read the stories to ensure it’s not full of fluff. All you see is the giant book and your patience wearing thin. And there have been some big books that bored me to tears. I remember reading Anna Karenina and skimming a lot of those harvesting scenes because listening to Tolstoy describe how grass grows is as painful as watching grass grow.

Adopt really good DNF rules. DNF (did not finish) is not a bad thing. In fact, I highly recommend folks to have rules around when they will DNF a book. For example, I always give a book 100 pages to impress me. If there’s something within those 100 pages to keep me reading, peak my interest, or intrigue me, then I’ll keep reading. There’s really no point in reading a big book if you’re not captured by the first 100 pages. That time can be better used reading something else.

However, I think the main thing you’ll also need to do is get comfortable with lulls in a story. While I haven’t come across an entire book that’s super slow, there’s definitely going to be fluff or filler in your story. Many contemporary authors understand that readers don’t want to know how grass grows. They’re more concise delivering a story that may have its lulls, but ultimately keep you reading. Don’t be worried about filler pages because sometimes they’re not necessarily filler. It could be a bit more character development or world building the author is adding. Hopefully the author has a good editor that helps to keep things tightly written than loosely slow and repetitive.

All of this to say, read the big books. There’s no magic about how to read them. You just need to motivate yourself to do it. I like to motivate myself by adding the big tome to my TBR and making sure it gets read before the end of the month. I try my hardest not to put them off because of its size or its substance because if I did, I probably wouldn’t read any big books.

The biggest component of the big book is that you’re getting more story. If you’re the type of person who loves getting lost in a book, escaping reality, or learning about something new, then big books are exactly for you. Just because a novel is twice the size of the average doesn’t mean that there’s some magical thing happening that other books don’t have. It’s just more story. Take your time. Drink your big glass of tea. Enjoy that big breath of air when you first begin. Because as much as I love an average size novel, there’s something way more romantic about being lost inside a big old book. Also, it does help that I get some arm exercises in (lol).

Four Years of Writing About Books // A Reflection

Four Years of Writing About Books // A Reflection

This August marks the fourth year I’ve been on bookstagram and blogging about books. It’s been such an incredible ride thus far and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this experience.

When I first started making bookish content for the Internet, I was in a way different space than I am today. I was working way too much traveling for my job and spending a lot of time by myself. I lived in hotel rooms. I ate a lot of meals alone. I wanted to make some friends, but having trouble doing so because I couldn’t always go out for dinner or coffee with them. So after perusing bookstagram as a casual viewer, I decided to start my own account including this blog. For the blog, I knew that I would always spend time writing about things. I didn’t think anything would come from it, but I did it anyway to at least have the credentials to request books from Netgalley.

Now, I write and read and share full time. I love coming here everyday than going to the office. I love chatting with the lovely folks I’ve met through this community and engaging with people who understand me. It’s truly a blessing for me to be here and do this with you all. This hasn’t been an easy four years. I’ve been met with a lot of my own personal roadblocks. First off, I’ve never considered writing full time. It was something I imagined I would do for a publishing house or a company, but I never thought I would be writing for myself full time.

Secondly, getting myself off the ground was very difficult. It took a lot of energy to be engaging, writing content, and reading the books. I felt like my personality and my writing style were also roadblocks. I’m always worried I come off too weird or not personable. Race played a small role in it too with that nagging thought that maybe people don’t like me because I’m Asian.

But once I got the momentum, figured out how I want to present my work and thoughts, and basically created a system of making content and reading books that it started to get a little bit easier. I say a little bit with such a grain of salt because I still combat with my insecurities everyday. I still combat the feeling that people don’t understand me or I’m too weird. I find myself still backing out of blog posts or deleting stories because I don’t think it’s good enough. I still hate my photography. These are feelings I try and overcome on a daily basis and because of my overthinking brain, I think about this a lot. I think about this before bed. I think about this the moment I wake up. I think I might even dream about this.

But what I’ve learned in the time I’ve been here is that you can’t please everyone. Some folks will think you’re weird and think that the topics you bring up are a little out of their wheelhouse. Some folks won’t like your content because you post the same kind of things. Some folks won’t like your aesthetic or your opinions or you. The biggest learn I’ve learned in my four years is that I should be writing and working for myself. I make content that I would appreciate and I would love. What I’ve realized from being myself and working for myself is that there are more people who are similar to you than people who don’t like you. The people who don’t like you or are just plain trolls are loud, but they are minimal. You’ll find that there are more people who enjoy you for you. It’s still something I’m getting used to.

A lot has changed since I came on here with the intention of writing book reviews and bookish content. I feel my blog is an extension of what goes on in my head packaged to make sense, of course. LOL. I’ve used blogs since I was 14 years old writing about my daily life and terrible poetry on sites like Livejournal. Remember those days? Back in those days, I was writing for the 10 IRL friends that I had trying to figure out if my friends have had relations with certain crushes and the like through their words. I even found out I had a secret admirer through a blog post they wrote and I read. It’s kind of surprising when someone names you as their crush and would gladly move to America (they lived in Australia at the time) for me. Ahhh, the good old days.

Of course, things have changed and blogging here is much different than when I was 14. Now I write for a much bigger audience who values my input and has interesting conversations with me about books and reading. It’s still a place to find book reviews, but sharing what’s happening in my life and what’s going on is a different little tidbit I never considered for myself. And that part is something that I want to extend further in the future. I’m always thinking up of ideas for posts here and while I’ve been a little shy to share them immediately, I do plan on fully investing in that part soon.

And the wild part is that I’ve read more in these past four years than I think I’ve ever done in my life. I wasn’t a big reader when I was a kid. I only got into it when I became an adult and only after a year or so post-grad. My boss at the time was the lifesaver who shared with me some great books that she thought I would love. I’m thankful for her suggestions everyday because from the spark she set in my heart, I’ve molded and made my own. In a year, I would have read 2-3 books when I was a kid. Now I read over 100 books a year, which tiny Simone would have been so surprised by that little data point.

Books have brought me comfort that music did as a kid. When I was younger, music was everything to me. I even have the tattoos and degrees to prove it. But as time moved on, books somehow took the place of music and what drives me are excellent stories written with a ton of heart. I love a good story that transports you to another world, makes you consider different perspectives and lives, and makes us all dreamers. Finding the genre that works for me was also super exciting because I finally have a place where I can adore almost every book I read. When you know what genre you like, it’s very difficult to find a book you don’t.

What’s been the most surprising part about this entire endeavor is that I’m still learning. I’m testing myself and experimenting with my own reading to see what works and what doesn’t work for me. I’ve also been changing the way I write my reviews and focusing on creating content that will not only entertain, but relatable. I’m always trying to make TBRs a thing for me and I’m always considering ideas for bookstagram and beyond.

The final thing I want to reflect on here is the community. While we have our disagreements on stories and opinions, they’ve never been met with vitriol or passive aggressive nonsense that I see all the time in other communities. Perhaps it’s because the book community knows that books can be interpreted differently and what someone gets out of a book might be different depending on the person. But the discourse is always exciting and I love hearing other people’s opinions and what they picked up from a book even if I didn’t like it or don’t fully agree. The community is one of the main reasons why I do what I do because engaging with you all and hearing your thoughts and creating content that you can relate to is important to me and I don’t plan on stopping that any time soon.

So, thank you for being with me for four years. Thank you for engaging with me and being open. I can’t wait to see what the next four years have to offer. Cheers!

My Reading Journal and How I Write Reviews

My Reading Journal and How I Write Reviews

This is going to be a two-for-one post because my reading journal is also where I keep my notes for book reviews. I’ll first share how I keep my reading journal and then I’ll share how I write my reviews.

There’s a billion ways I’ve seen people take notes. Some folks keep it all in their heads. Other folks write in margins of the book and tag pages with book darts or tabs. Even further, other people just take notes on their phone. The first step is to find the best way for you to organize your thoughts.

I love having the book journal because I like having all my notes in one place. I also love being able to go back and see all the books I’ve read. Granted, I also have a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I read, but I also love reading how I felt and what the books were about.

First off, the tools:

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

My philosophy when it comes to journaling is use whatever materials you like. Journals are made for you, so design them however you want to design them. Make them feel good for you because you’re the one archiving your thoughts into a physical place.

I write my notes in two separate columns; a plot side and a thoughts side. The plot side is riddled with spoilers and points from the book. This side is mostly for me so I’m reminded of what happened in the book and can reference that in my reviews. I don’t include the spoiler parts and if the plot would spoil the book, then I try to avoid adding them to my reviews.

The thoughts side is where I put down…well, my thoughts. Characters I like, how I think the book is going, and some dislikes. Glaringly obvious issues that made me cringe or questions I asked myself. I really love writing this stuff down so when it comes to review time, I can easily recall those points. I hate it when I write a review and forget something I wanted to add, then have to go back and add it in. Usually I forget to add it in.

I also like to start each page with a few notes to myself. For example, I note if the book is a reread or if I’m doing a buddy read with someone or how I came across the book. I really like making my reviews more personal by adding a little about why I started reading this book or if I’m doing a specific challenge. I just think it gives my reviews a little more of a personal touch than facts.

The best part about this is that it fosters more thinking and thoughts. For example, if I write a note saying I read a book for a reading challenge, then I might be inspired to write about the challenge later on. Inspiration comes from anywhere, so writing down my inspiration inspires more!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

For decorating my book journal, it’s really all over the place. I love working on my handlettering skills by writing out the title of the book with marker. Sometimes I decorate the page and sometimes there’s too many thoughts for me to sacrifice that space. I like using colorful pens to match the book cover colors. This is really just me doing what I like and you should be inspired to do the same!

As for writing reviews, I like to think of readers when I’m writing a review. What information will make it easy for the reader to read and understand if the book will be for them? For me, that’s writing style, characters/plot, and overall feelings.

How is the writing style? I always think of this one first. How was the overall reading experience and did the writing get in the way of that? Think about the pacing, the perspective, and other little attributes of the author’s writing. Does it read quickly? Does it drag in the middle? Is there representation and did it do it properly?

How are the characters/plot? Is it riddled with tropes? Is it based on actual events? Providing some plot or points in the plot that you loved or hated will help. Which characters did you love? Which characters made you seethe with hatred?

What are your overall feelings? Would you recommend this book? I feel like everyone has an overall feeling about a book even if it’s short or just the rating. If you were to elevator pitch this book to a friend, what would you say?

I also like to get inside the author’s head. What were they thinking when they wrote a specific section or why they wrote a character a certain way. I like to figure out where the author was when they were writing the book to help better understand what I read. Here’s some more things I like to keep in mind:

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Only include a summary if the synopsis doesn’t do a good job explaining the book. I hate being in the dark about a story and I most definitely dislike vague synopses. I like sharing a little bit of the story I read so that other readers can get a good idea of it too. I get wanting to create buzz about a book, but it doesn’t help readers make the crucial decision on whether to actually read it. However, I avoid including synopsis if it will spoil the book or if the book is so long I can’t condense its plot into a few sentences.

Avoid bashing a book. I don’t know what it is about the Internet and opinions, but people love expressing them online especially if they’re a negative opinion. I don’t have any problems with negative reviews. I don’t mind if books didn’t work for someone or it made someone feel uncomfortable. I don’t mind if the book did have a great plot or you didn’t resonate with the characters, but please don’t continuously talk about how terrible a book is. These kinds of reviews really help no one with understanding if the book is worth their time. It’s also really unproductive to just hear someone complaining without resolve or reason. Usually if I see a Goodreads review riddled with eye-rolling gifs, I just scroll past it. Bashing a book means you’re going through special means to make sure the author feels terrible for writing their book. I never know if I should read a book when the review just stomps it into the dirt.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Include content warnings for sensitive readers. In 2020, we all have our thing. I don’t think there’s a human in the world that isn’t going through something at this very moment. I have my thing and because we all have our thing, we should be mindful that some subjects may warrant bad feelings. When I’m reading reviews, I want to know if there are certain triggers included in the story. This allows me to either prepare myself for the content of the book or make me reconsider reading the book all together.

There is a belief that including content warnings are a spoiler. I don’t believe that. I don’t think you’re spoiling a book if you note there’s a rape scene or the content deals with suicide. If anything, it makes the reader more aware and prepare for the scene if they choose to read the book. I would much rather know what I’m getting myself into than blindly go into it and trigger myself.

You don’t need to be a cunning writer to write reviews. I see a lot of folks go through a lot of work to sound like a professional book critic in their reviews. I love the eloquent writing, but I don’t think it’s a per-requisite to writing good reviews. Good reviews allow the readers to understand the book better. What did you like and what you didn’t like will help make up the minds of other readers. You can write it in a very professional style, but I love reviews that read like I’m talking to my friend. And of course I take friend’s suggestions over a professional reviewer.

But generally, just share your thoughts! They don’t have to be the most erudite things. Honestly, reviews should be written not only for the reader but for yourself. If you have thoughts and need to share them or write them down, go for it! There’s no hard and fast rules, but I do hope that the points I mentioned help give you some sense of what goes into writing a review. Be honest. If you didn’t like the book, share why you didn’t like it. If you loved the book, share that too. No one should find fault in either of these kinds of reviews and if people disagree, then people disagree.

The big takeaway in all of this is that books aren’t made for everyone. It’ll either be a hit or a miss and that’s just human nature. Make the reviews for you and what you’ll find is that others felt the same way.