Why Do I Dread Writing Reviews?

Hello and welcome back to my blog!

Today’s post was supposed to be my weekly review… but lately I’ve been struggling way more than usual with writing reviews. Instead of forcing myself to write up some half-assed review of a book I’ve read lately, or posting another review from my backlist, I thought I’d talk a little bit about why writing reviews is such a struggle for me.

We can all probably agree that reviews are a staple of a solid book blog.

Back in 2017, when I started my first bookish blog, I started out by posting only reviews. I’d made it my goal to read more diverse authors, so I also made it my mission to share with others what made these books so amazing—and what, in my opinion, didn’t work. Back then, I didn’t really have a set format for how I wrote reviews; I just wrote about whatever came up in my reading.

As I progressed as a book blogger, and particularly this year as I started this new blog out of the ashes of the old, I revamped the way I write reviews. I started keeping notes about story, craft, characters, and other elements of the books I read.

For me, the act of writing a review serves two purposes: (1) it allows me to spread love and appreciation of a book or warn other readers of potentially harmful content; (2) it helps Future Christine remember what I loved about a certain book.

Without at least a bullet-point review of what I’ve read, there’s no way I’ll remember why I gave something three stars instead of four. The ratings become meaningless without the explanation of why they were given.

For the past couple months, though, I’ve been really struggling to show up and write up reviews.

Back in April, I procrastinated until I had no choice, then sat down and slapped up reviews for the blog and Goodreads out of sheer desperation. Because I’d procrastinated so long, I then got behind on all the other posts I wanted to get up in the coming weeks. And honestly, I still haven’t fully recovered!

If you’ve noticed, my reviews in May have been pretty scant. Other than Queenie, about which I felt/feel so damn passionate, I just haven’t had as much to say about what I’ve read. I don’t want to show up and repeat what’s already been said by so many bloggers before me—especially if the rep in a certain book isn’t even close to my own experiences. Who am I to say whether or not racial rep is accurate? Who am I to say whether or not autistic rep is realistic or harmful?

Over the past week, I’ve been doing some deep thinking about who I want to be as a writer, the kinds of stories I want to write.

I realized that I’m not really reading the kinds of books I hope to write one day. Being in the bookish community, it’s easy to be surrounded by people who are mostly reading the same books. For whatever reason, it seems like I mostly follow people who ready almost exclusively YA books.

Even though it took me a long time in my adult years to accept my love of YA, I’m reaching the point now where reading YA isn’t enough. I appreciate how many diverse stories there are available in the YA category, but I want more adult books that have diverse representation as well.

I want more literary fiction that’s not just about cisallohet white folks. I want books that are written in a challenging way, that make me question everything as I’m reading. I want books where history is palpable and real and important. I want books that are impossible to review.

And yet: I can’t just stop reading YA—I’ve already got too many sitting on my owned-TBR shelf! And I can’t just stop writing reviews either.

If anything, I think I need to be conscious about what I read in a new way. I need to balance the ease with the challenge, the fluffy with the literary. I need to change the way I write reviews, too. If writing out long reviews is too intimidating, maybe it’s okay if I just do bullet reviews on Goodreads for a while. Maybe it’s okay if I only post reviews when I feel truly compelled to write down my thoughts on a book in long form.

I might not win as many ARCs this way. It might take me that much longer to grow this blog if I’m not blogging the way other people blog.

Still, I’d rather do things my way, remain true to who I am and what I want to write about, than conform to anyone else’s expectations—even if those expectations are somewhat self-imposed.

Do you dread writing reviews? How do you overcome procrastination with blogging? Do you have a review system you think might help me? let me know in the comments! And if you want review-writing inspiration, check out this post by my good friend Marie @ drizzle & hurricane books. Until next time,

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Am I Afraid to Read Fantasy?

Hello, and welcome back to my blog! Today, I’m bringing you another bookish discussion.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite a while. Coming back to the book community after a long hiatus, I see a lot of hype around new and upcoming YA fantasy/sci-fi books. And while I grew up on Harry Potter and became obsessed with The Lord of the Rings and later A Song of Ice and Fire, I definitely read less fantasy now than I did when I was younger. Even when I intend to read outside of contemporary genres, it still seems like I avoid delving into fantasy worlds. I started asking myself, am I afraid of fantasy stories? and if so, why?

I’ll be the first to admit that contemporary is my comfort zone.

No matter the age category, contemporary fiction is incredibly easy to jump into. I don’t have to know anything beforehand; it doesn’t require a map or a glossary or even (usually) a family tree. Contemporary is safe (mostly).

I’ve been reading contemporary fiction, without really thinking about it, as long as I can remember.

The fantasy stories I read as a kid are technically urban fantasy: they’re based in the real world, with some fantasy elements thrown in. As a kid, though, I craved the kind of stories I could easily insert myself into—and shied away from stories where I couldn’t picture myself. As a teen, I read a lot of Sarah Dessen books, with sweet romances and relatable main characters whose shoes I could easily step into.

As I got older and entered college, I abandoned even contemporary in favor of a mountain of classics. This wasn’t so much a choice as the dictatorship of my English degree. By the time I graduated, I was reading on average a book a week, all of which fell into the category of classics.

After earning my English degree, I felt a lot of pressure to read things that were Important, things I Should Read rather than books that drew me. I spent a lot of time forcing myself through the great literary authors of the past that I’d missed in school, as well as more current writers of important.

I spent way too many years reading a bunch of middle-aged white guys. In order to break up the monotony of these stories, I indulged in YA contemporaries and romances, books that helped me escape the desperation of my life for the hopefulness of someone else’s.

It was only when I discovered book blogging for the first time back in 2017, when I learned about the push for diverse books, that I began to really embrace my love of YA.

I discovered that I wasn’t actually the only 20-something who was still clinging to YA like a lifeline. I learned how many amazing YA authors wrote diverse stories, often about their own experiences with being marginalized in wider society. I discovered book bloggers who were actively promoting these books. And…I realized how many diverse fantasies were out there that I just hadn’t encountered before.

So why exactly am I afraid to read fantasy?

One of the biggest reasons—or rather, my biggest excuse—is that I read for character above all else. I’ve said this a million times, but if a main character can draw me into their world, I don’t care what that world is or what genre I’m reading.

Fantasy and sci-fi, in my experience, tend to be more plot-driven.

Yes, characterization is important, because that’s the entry-point to the story. But I find that often fantasy can get away with having characters who don’t really have much going on, aside from the fact that they’re out there fighting monsters, or demons, or vampires, or ghosts, or whatever the case may be. Especially in the YA fantasies I’ve read, there’s a tendency to leave the main character a little flat, since that’s the presumed reader’s point of entry into the story, and thus it’s easier to imagine yourself in the character’s shoes.

Another reason I struggle to read fantasy is because of the time investment.

Most of the fantasy books I see recommended are incredibly long series of books that are 500+ pages each. Because I’m the type of person who will forget what happens between books, I’d need to binge the whole thing. As a book blogger, I don’t feel that I have the time to devote to one series of books like that. Hell, I haven’t even finished reading the two sequels to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before! I’m awful at committing to a whole series, even though I know I’ll enjoy the process.

But the biggest reason I’m afraid of fantasy? World-building scares me.

Stay with me now. I know this sounds like a pathetic excuse, and it totally is. But think about it: how much world-building or description really goes into a contemporary novel? Not much. The author just has to describe things well enough to relate to what you, the reader, experience in your everyday life. In a fantasy novel, though, the writer has to describe what the world looks like, how it works, and give you enough to go on so that you can imagine what the character sees.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read world-building that blew me away. As a writer, description is definitely my weakness, so I can certainly appreciate when its done well. I know that world-building is so necessary to a good fantasy story, so it’s not that I think it should be left out. It’s just that, for me, knowing I’m going into an unfamiliar world stresses me out, rather than makes me excited for the adventure.

Now that I’ve come clean, though, I’d like to commit to reading more fantasy books in the coming months.

Just because contemporary is my comfort zone doesn’t mean I should be content to stay there. Just because (I think) I want to write contemporary doesn’t mean I have to only read contemporary either. The best way to become a better writer is to read—everything. So here are some non-contemporaries I’m looking forward to reading soon.

What is your go-to genre? What genre are you afraid of, or would you like to read more of? Do you have any amazing fantasy books you can recommend (especially to someone who avoids fantasy)? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

Why Do I Feel So Guilty When I Don’t Like A Book?

Hello, and welcome back to my blog! Today I’m bringing you another bookish discussion, in which I talk about my guilt regarding books I just don’t care for.

I think most people who consider themselves readers have struggled with a book at one point or another.

With so many different types of readers and books available, it’s inevitable that each of us will run into a mismatch at some point. Not every book can be a 4- or 5-star read for every single person. It’s just not possible. The question is, what do you do when you’re just not feeling a book?

Recently, I went on a NetGalley requesting spree, despite the fact that I was pretty sure I’d get rejected by most of them. Surprisingly, I did get approved for a couple ARCs. I started reading one right away…and I was pretty quickly turned off by it.

I’m not here to bash this book. Suffice to say: I had high expectations based on hype in the community and on Goodreads, despite (or perhaps because) of the fact that the author is well-known in the bookish world. I gave this book a few chapters to change my mind, but ultimately the writing style and characterization were just too much for me to stomach. I decided to mark it as DNF* and move on with my life.

*For those who aren’t aware: DNF stands for Did-Not-Finish, a book you started reading and ended up giving up on partway through.

What followed my decision to DNF this book was a whole load of guilt.

As a blogger, I feel like it’s my duty to at least write mini-reviews for every single book I read; I also feel like I’m obligated to review ARCs, since they’ve been sent to me for a reason. In general, I try to only DNF books when the content is especially hurtful. It’s hard to write a negative review for a book when you’ve only read about 10%, and I also feel like it’s my duty to call out problematic books when I encounter them, regardless of how small my following is.

In thinking about this book, I realized my guilt stems partially from the fact that I’ve been treating blogging (and, by extension, reading) as a job, rather than a hobby.

Yes, publishers send out ARCs with the hope that bloggers like me will review and share and generally hype up the book, prior to and right around the release date. ARCs are, on the part of publishers, an investment. In some small way, publishers are investing in me and my blog, without really knowing much about me or my blog, most likely.

At the same time, I’m not really being compensated for this blog. Of the ARCs I’ve received in 2019, an overwhelming percentage of them were sent to the bookstore where I work. Had I not picked them up, maybe one of my coworkers would have, but more likely than not they wouldn’t have been reviewed in any formal way. More likely than not, these ARCs would’ve sat on someone else’s shelf, unread—whether at their home, or the small shelf in the break room where all the ARCs get dumped.

Ultimately, when I’m obligating myself to review these books I don’t really want to read, I am the only one placing this expectation on myself. I am the one who’s turning this blog into a job; and I’m the only one I’m hurting by these attitude.

In the coming weeks, I want to re-focus my energy on finding joy in my blog and in my reading.

If that means I skip over some ARCs I’m not in the mood to read, so be it. If that means I DNF a couple books that just aren’t for me, then that’s what I’m going to do. Ultimately, this is my blog, and my life, and it’s far too short to waste time on things that aren’t bringing me joy.

Things That Make Me DNF a Book

  • bad writing and/or an obvious lack of editing—I know ARCs are meant to be uncorrected proofs, but there’s a difference between a few typos and something that’s obviously an unedited draft
  • a flat main character—if I can’t really name a meaningful characteristic of the protagonist from the first couple of chapters, I’m just not motivated to stick with it
  • too much info-dumping that leads to more confusion about the world, rather than clarity
  • problematic representation of marginalized identities—race/ethnicity, disability, mental health, etc—that isn’t addressed in the text
  • outright biphobia—because I just don’t have time to get hurt by the books I read
  • an everygirl main character who someone gets the hot guy to fall for her—because it’s 2019 and I’m over it

Do you believe in giving up on books you’re just not feeling? What makes you DNF a book? Let me know what you think in the comments! Until next time,

How Un-Hauling My Books Changed My Life || A BESpring19 Discussion

Hello and welcome back to my blog!

Today I’m joining in on Bookending Spring, an event hosted by Clo @ Book Dragons and Sam @ Fictionally Sam. This seasonal event brings together the book community to talk about all things spring cleaning/organizing—be it your blog, your bookish life, or anything at all. For more info, you can check out Sam’s announcement post.

This prompt for this post comes from the lovely Haley @ The Caffeinated Reader’s prompt on “Learning to Let Go” which explores ways to let go of books you don’t need anymore.

Some of you may know that I have blogged before.

Back in 2017, I went through a period of blissful unemployment which is when I first got involved in the book community. Alas, my very fortunate circumstances were temporary, and my then-fiance-now-husband and I ended up packing up our things to move across the country and back to my homeland of Oklahoma.

Instead of doing the traditional route and renting a truck to move, Seth and I bought a retired wheelchair-accessible school bus and converted it into an RV.* We weren’t sure what was next for us in life, but we knew we wanted to be able to live minimally and, if possible, live out of the bus** itself. Which meant, of course, that I had to get rid of a bunch of my things.

*I did some posts about this which are long gone…but if that’s something you’re interested in seeing re-posted here, I mean, let me know?
** Whom we affectionately named Gus.

Getting rid of clothes I don’t wear is easy for me. Getting rid of books, on the other hand, is heartbreaking.

Still, it had to be done, and in 2017, I did it. I unhauled almost every single book I owned, with the exception of a few that I saved, either to re-read at some point, or for my 8-year-old niece to read when she’s old enough.

How I Un-Haul

  1. Sort books into two piles: ones I will read again, and ones I definitely won’t read ever again.
  2. Set aside books from college that I might reference at some point, like my literature anthologies and old sociology books. Those have to stay, regardless.
  3. Sort books I will read again into ones I’m actually intending to re-read soon versus ones I loved so much that I would hypothetically read again. The hypotheticals can get boxed up.
  4. Ask my friends if they want any of the books I won’t read again.*
  5. Sleep on it. (Always a good idea when doing anything drastic.)
  6. Donate remaining un-haul pile to the local library. See also: selling them to a used bookstore, leaving them on a street corner** or in your old apartment for the next tenant to find.
  7. Repeat yearly, or as necessary.

*I skipped this step in 2017 because everyone I knew was at least 90 miles away, and I didn’t have money for shipping. This would also be a great time to do giveaways…provided I actually had enough of a following for something like that.
**yes, I’ve done that before, because homeless people need to read too!)

By the time I moved back to Oklahoma, I had less than 20 books that weren’t boxed up. I probably could’ve kept even fewer books, but I wanted A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings, and Anne of Green Gables to watch over our passage, so those came on the bus with us.

Now, I’m a firm believer in the power of un-hauling.

Even though I live in a decent-sized apartment, I refuse to let my book population get out of control. Yes, I always want more books. But I also look through the ones I have every once in a while and realize how many I will probably never read again.

Un-hauling my bookshelves has change the way I currently acquire books.

Before, I loaded up my Kindle and physical shelves with books I wanted to read, even if I probably wasn’t going to get around to reading those books for months or even years. I’m still guilty of the occasional book buying spree* but I try to ask myself questions before I purchase something.

  1. Is this a book I can read through the library for free?
  2. Is this a book I have heard only amazing things about from my blogging friends and therefore one I’m likely to be flailing over and possibly read again?
  3. Have I been considering buying this book for a while now, or is it a new release I’m impulse-buying because it’s in front of my face at work?

*I work in a bookstore, which is like an alcoholic working in a bar, tbh.

I bought so many books in the early part of this year that I put myself on a book-buying ban until my birthday in early May.

Granted, I broke the ban a couple times* but for the most part I’ve been really strict with myself. Even better, I have a running tally in my head of books I can’t stop thinking about reading, and I’ve got enough cash back on one of my credit cards to have a gift card sent out. When my birthday gets here, I will be able to buy myself presents in a way that’s well thought-out instead of impulsive. Which means I will likely (hopefully) not have buyer’s remorse with my birthday presents!

*Book of the Month was running a special and I really wanted to join, okay?

Books Currently on my To-Buy List

How do you manage your book collection? What is your favorite way to un-haul books? Do you plan your book purchases ahead of time or impulse buy? I would love to hear your thoughts! As always, thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,

Why I’m Embracing My Love of Self-Help Books + My Recommendations

Hello bookish friends! Welcome back to Lady Gets Lit!

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Today I’m bringing you another bookish discussion! One of my goals this year is to write more discussion posts, whether it’s about books, writing, or mental health.

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to Self-Help books.

When I was about ten years old, I went through this phase where I was obsessed with Chicken Soup for the Soul. I read the one for kids, then I read the one for pet owners, then I read the one for pre-teens, then I read the one for teens (which definitely scarred me a little bit). Why did I love these books so much? Because as cliched as the feelings were, they rang true to some extent. Reading them was cathartic in a way I didn’t know how to articulate.

I’ve been in the closet about my love of Self-Help (or, as we call it at work now, Personal Growth) books for a long time.

As I got older, I started to realize how these types of books essentially say the same thing in a variety of ways. In some ways, Self-Help capitalizes on human emotions and struggles. These authors claim to have all the answers to the problems of being human, yet most of their advice boils down to things we could figure out on our own.

More than that, Self-Help gets a bad rap as being pretty hokey, encouraging you to live like you’re already rich, manifest your own destiny, and other (potentially harmful) ideas. As someone who grew up Christian, these ideas sound a lot like the oft-touted “pray about it!” that appears in religious circles. Some of these solutions aren’t necessarily practical for most people.

For a long time, I resisted the pull of Self-Help. Instead, I went to therapy, I made compulsive to-do lists, and I asked a lot from myself. And then, on a whim—and because I could read it for free—I picked up You Are A Badass.

Jen Sincero’s book didn’t change my life. I read through it pretty quickly, and while I found myself nodding along at certain points, I didn’t necessarily buy into all of what she says. Most of the advice is recycled and reformatted from what other writers have said time and time again. Additionally, much of her advice erases the experiences of people dealing with mental health issues; for instance, she insists on having a positive attitude, which is nearly impossible for me when I’m in the midst of a depressive episode.

I didn’t love You Are A Badass, but it did spur me on to read more.

Here’s the thing: there’s a reason Personal Growth books are so popular—because many people are always looking for ways to become better than they are currently.

There’s a lot of unhelpful, cheap trash in the Self-Help genre. It’s not always possible to quit that job you hate, to treat yourself like you’re already as wealthy as you hope to be. Not everyone can (or should) manifest their own destiny.

And yet, there’s a lot of hope in these books. There’s a lot of wise advice that is only repetitive because, for many of us, it takes repeating for it to really sink in.

So I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned along the way—even if it’s cheesy and repetitive. Because I’m done living in the closet with my love of Self-Help / Personal Growth.

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things I’ve learned from self-help books

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled – Life sucks, but once we accept that life is hard, it ceases to be hard.

Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird – You will never achieve success or happiness as a writer if you only write out of the hope of becoming published. You have to love writing, otherwise it’s not worth it.

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness – The key to mindfulness is to try and be fully present with whatever it is that you’re doing—even if it’s washing the dishes.

Jen Sincero, You Are A Badass – Don’t let anyone else define your self-worth, and don’t waste your time chasing external validation.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way – I am allowed to nurture myself.

Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – You can’t possible care about everything, so choose your values wisely and don’t waste your time on what’s not valuable to you.

Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, Make Time – There’s power in choosing one thing each day that you’re going to focus on and then setting aside time specifically to do that. Also, delete all the distracting crap off your phone.

Erin Falconer, How to Get Sh*t Done – Beyond just getting clear about what you want (not what other people want), narrow your goals to three big things. You can’t possibly do more than that, but if you’re specific about your Big Three, you can focus your energy on accomplishing them.

Rachel Hollis, Girl, Wash Your Face – When you make promises to yourself that you can’t keep, you’re training yourself that your words don’t matter, and that you don’t matter. Stop lying to yourself.

bonus: self-help books on my TBR

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Do you read Self-Help books? Who are your go-to authors for inspiration? Are you a closet fan of a category of books? I’d love to hear from you!

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Reading Challenges: My Thoughts + How I’m Challenging Myself in 2019

IMG_0473Welcome to my very first book-ish discussion! One of my goal for this year is to get back into blogging, so I decided to try and work in more discussions about bookish topics.

The idea for this post comes from reading other bloggers talking about reading challenges: why they like them or hate them, and what challenges they’re interested in. I was specifically motivated by Simone @ Simone and Her Books as well as Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku’s guest post on my friend Wendy’s blog.

When I started thinking about reading challenges, I wasn’t really sure how I feel about them.

In the past, I’ve generally avoided tying myself down to any specific challenges other than the yearly Goodreads challenge of seeing how many books I can read. I don’t really consider myself a mood reader; in fact, I generally like focusing my reading in a particular direction for a month at a time. Still, I’m not good at limiting myself to one topic completely and I’m petrified of falling short of my goals.

Right after Trump got elected in 2016, I was inspired to really diversify my reading.

As a white straight-passing individual, I realized that I needed to take it upon myself to read diverse experiences in order to really understand my own privilege. So when I first started a book blog called The Story Salve, I participated in the Diverse Reads 2017 Challenge. This involved monthly mini-challenges that focused on a particular aspect of diversity, and I discovered a lot of great books through the suggested reading list. Although I tried to read at least one book from each category, I still allowed myself to read books outside the challenge as well, so this worked well for me.

Since coming back to blogging last month, I’ve been trying to think about how I want to be involved in the book community.

I’m not really one for Twitter (tbh, it gives me a lot of anxiety trying to keep up with the conversation), and I’m not really all that popular as a bookstagrammer either. Even though I don’t like limiting my reading choices, I think it would really help me to get involved in some challenges, if only because it’s an amazing way to connect with other bloggers—namely, you! if you’re reading this.

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Challenging Myself in 2019

The Unread Shelf Challenge

I love Whitney’s Instagram, and I have a book buying problem, so this challenge is great for me. It’s really flexible with your lifestyle too: basically, you count up how many unread books you have and set your own goal about how many you want to read. Since I have about 50 unread books, my goal for this year is to read at least 25 of them. Whitney also posts monthly challenges as well, where you select one book based on a prompt and either read it or ditch it after the month is over. I started this one at the beginning of 2019, and as of this posting, I’ve read 9 books from my Unread Shelf!

rwc2019-igThe Reading Women Challenge

Hosted by the lovely ladies of the Reading Women podcast, this challenge is all about “reclaiming the other half of the bookshelf.” Particularly when I was just out of college, it was so easy to get sucked into the world of white male literary fiction. As a Women’s Studies grad, I’m a huge fan of this challenge. It comes with a set of 24 prompts, and the goal is to complete as many as you can. Some of them will be relatively easy (like reading a YA by a woman of color) while others will require a little more seeking out, but I’m excited about that process as well.

#OwnVoices 2019

I discovered this through Feed Your Fiction Addiction’s masterlist of challenges, which I highly recommend if you’re looking to add on any challenges. This one is just on Goodreads and comes with 26 prompts to track. I love this idea because, while I want to read diversely, I definitely want to focus on reading books by marginalized authors specifically.

2019 Year of the Asian Reading Challenge

badge_tapirI discovered this through the lovely CW @ The Quiet Pond, one of my favorite diverse book blogs, but I’ve seen YARC around on a lot of blogs this year. While I was initially anxious about signing up for such a specific challenge, this one takes place over the whole year as well, and comes with some neat monthly prompts. I really like the set-up of levels as well, so everyone who participates even by just a couple of books is included! I’m going to challenge myself to read 20 books.

Book Blog Discussion Challenge

2019-discussion-challengeThis challenge is hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction AddictionNicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction & Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a blogging challenge so I’m really excited to join this one. In starting this new blog, I decided I want to focus specifically on discussions, so this will be a great challenge to keep me motivated in writing more posts! The goal is to write one discussion post per month and link up. Since I’m always looking for more blogs to follow and connect with,  the link up will be the best part of this challenge.

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Do you participate in reading challenges? Why or why not? What challenges are you doing this year/month? Let’s connect in the comments!