Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2020

I am once again hopping onto the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge from Long and Short Reviews (see how good I am so far at posting more often?)

This week’s topic:

Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2020

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Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is the third and final book in the Seeds of America trilogy. I’d been waiting literally years to get my hands on this book, as I loved the first two installments. Ashes is the final volume telling the story of Isabel and Curzon, two young African Americans, as they navigate the dangers of the American Revolution in an attempt to rescue Isabel’s little sister from slavery in the south.

The Gown by Jennifer Robson


The Gown is a fictionalized account of the royal wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip (before they were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip). I’ve been binging on Netflix’s “The Crown” for a while, so this is right up my alley.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

News of the World is a new title for me. Set in the days after the Civil War, it follows a news reporter into unsettled territory of the Great Plains as he attempts to return a young girl to her family.

The fall of Gondolan and Beren & Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien

If you didn’t already know, I’m a Tolkien fan. I’ve read Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and the Silmarillion multiple times.

For fun.

A few years ago, Tolkein’s son, Christopher Tolkien, began working to take some of the tales from the Silmarillion and, using his father’s extensive notes, flesh them out into proper novels of their own. I am giddy to finally own Beren & Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin, as I already own The Children of Hurin.

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Who doesn’t love a good story about Alexander Hamilton? My Dear Hamilton, however, provides a glimpse into the very private – and elusive – experiences of Eliza Schulyer Hamilton in the years before and after meeting and marrying America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. The authors completed impeccable research to flesh out the character of a woman often overlooked in the history books, but whose story is compelling in its own right.

So what about you? What books are you looking forward to reading this year?

My Goals for 2020

2020 is upon us, and with it the obligitory Yearly Goal Setting Post.

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This year, I’m piggybacking onto the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge, hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

So what’s on tap for me this year? I’m trying to be conscious of the fact that I have a new baby, which obviously changes a lot in terms of how much time I have for any sort of goal setting. But here goes.

Writing

Obviously I want to try and do more writing this year. This includes submitting the historical romance that placed 2nd in three 2018 contests (yes, I know that was a goal last year, too). I also need to return to the first installment in my Sweet Somethings spinoff trilogy, which has sat in First Draft Limbo since last February.

This also incorporates freelancing. I had several excellent freelance writing gigs the past couple years and I want to keep that up, in addition to my independent contractor work with Newsela.

As an extension, I would love to finally set up a copyediting business as well. This has been sitting on my chairside table for over a year. I should probably start perusing it:

Ultimately I would love if I can make enough with my pen, so to speak, to cover Babycakes’s school expenses and maybe a little extra.

Reading More Books

Or just reading books.

More on that later.

Cooking

I love to cook and bake, but haven’t had time to do much of either since I went back to work in 2015.

Okay, since Babycakes was born and then we moved to Charlotte and most of my kitchen stuff stayed in boxes for almost a year.

Being a stay-at-home-mom again for a while will, eventually, give me time to cook and bake again like I used to. For now, it helps that I am now the owner of an Instant Pot:

Apparently I can make yogurt with it? I’m also interested in the fact that I can also apparently sterilze baby bottles with it.

Being Mommy

Of course this year, I want to focus once again on being Mommy. I am officially on maternity leave for the rest of the school year, and then we have to reevaluate our plans beyond that. But I have a 5 year old in kindergarten, and I want to volunteer at her school. And of course, Sugarpie is here.

I also hope to not only finish filling out Babycakes’s baby book, but also keeping up with Sugarpie’s.

what are your big goals for 2020?

The Back-to-School Balancing Act

Today I wrapped up Day 6 of my fifteenth year in education. Honeymoon period notwithstanding, I am already 99% less stressed out than I was at this time last school year.

I’m not exactly sure what’s got me feeling different. I definitely haven’t lessened my workload, having taken on some curriculum-related responsibilities at the district level that I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve slacked off on the past couple weeks.

(Word is I’m not alone in the slacking department. I think everyone’s gotten a bit behind. We’ll catch up.)

It’s certainly not due to a stress-free summer, because that has definitely not been the case. I feel like I barely had summer break this year. I had all these grand plans to relax with books, take a nap on my screened in back porch, take my daughter to the little local beach on Lake Norman. None of that happened.

So why do I feel so much better going into this school year, after a year that had me questioning my career trajectory?, I’d like to think it’s because I’ve started thinking very carefully about the level of balance in my life and the way I’m choosing to self-care.

I’ve take a few smallish steps toward ensuring that I not only keep a decent work-life balance, but that I also take care of myself and better manage my stress.

  1. No bringing school work home. One thing I’ve always sucked at, especially at the start of the school year, is bringing the school day home with me. In past years, it hasn’t been a big deal because I didn’t have a tiny person reliant on me. If I had to spend an hour or so grading papers or making presentations, whatever. No biggie.  But I need to protect my planning time at work, use my workdays to the max, and keep school work at school so I can devote my evenings and weekends to my family first, and then to my writing.
  2. Use a planner. This is a small thing. When I was in college, I was great about my planner. Assignments and tests and meetings and everything else were all written down. For a long time, I’ve valued a good desk calendar at work with upcoming important events jotted down from September to June. We have a family wall calendar that is full. But my personal planning game tanked somewhere around 2008, and I never really got it back. This year, I have vowed to turn that around. I bought a nifty 18-month calendar that not only has monthly and weekly pages – which are already filling up at an alarming rate – it has monthly goal setting pages and weekly exercises in self-reflection. And stickers! It comes with stickers, y’all!
  3. Eat better and sleep more. It’s been a struggle to step away from the soda and junk food (I type as I snack on Milk Duds), but I’m trying. I need to be more proactive in packing my lunch and making sure I eat a breakfast with enough protein to get me from 6:30am to 12:05pm (when I finally can sit down to shove my proactively packed lunch in my mouth in twelve minutes flat). Sleep is also essential to deal with, since my school day is shifted fifteen minute earlier. I’ve got to put a 10:30 bedtime in place and stick to it.
  4. Treat yo’self. Read a book that has nothing to do with work. Get a pedicure. Get my hair done. Soak in the garden tub. Play the piano. Snuggle those extra ten minutes with my child at bedtime – it’s as good for me as it is her, because we do have so little time together during the work week.
  5. Keep moving. I’d gotten into a good routine of taking a 20-minute walk right after putting Babycakes to bed, but that’s dropped by the wayside since school started. I guess I could argue that since my job isn’t sedentary that I shouldn’t stress too much. But I want to try and build in a solid time to exercise. If I can get the commute home done by 4:15 (possible most days if busses are on time and I’m in the driver’s seat by 3:50), I think I can squeak in a short workout of some sort as soon as I get home.

The work-life balance is important, and I’ve known for a long time that my balance has been way off. I feel like I can figure it out this year. I’m optimistic about my students, I’m excited for new idea and opportunities on the horizon, and I want to make these positive changes in my life.

So here goes the balancing act!

The Obligatory New Year’s Goal Setting Post (Happy 2018)

It’s been a while since my last post – holidays, you know how it is. This December seemed to fly by, and I swear lost a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas break. As for the holidays themselves – a whirlwind. To sum it up, we drove to Western PA and Upstate NY to visit family, and the following shenanigans occurred:

  1. Power went out on Christmas day, requiring my uncle to dig his grill out of over a foot of snow. He and my cousin proceeded to finish cooking Christmas dinner – a ham, a pot of sauce and meatballs, and a pot of homemade macaroni – on said grill. Neither snow nor lack of electricity will keep hungry Italians from their food. (Of course, the power came back on literally ten minutes before everything was done cooking.)
  2. It was freaking cold. Like single digits. And we just barely missed a huge lake effect storm in my hometown that dumped about 3 feet of snow overnight.
  3. Babycakes caught a 24-hour bug at the tail end of everything while we were at my in-laws’, which of course hit at 3am. So we were doing a bath and hair washing and bed-linen changing in the middle of the night. The only bright spot is that I happened to decide to sleep on the air mattress with the hubs, rather in the bed with Babycakes. Otherwise I would have gotten a face-full.
  4. We drove 10 hours (give or take) from PA to NC praying Babycakes wouldn’t puke in the car. Fortunately the worst that happened was that we ran out of windshield washer fluid just north of Beckley, WV, and had to go to THREE different gas stations before finally finding a place that wasn’t sold out.
  5. Every adult in the house has subsequently gone through some version of that same 24 hour bug. It’s been rough around here the past few days.

So I was very ready for 2017 to end.

Now that 2018 is here, it’s time to set some goals. Remember, if you’ve read past New Year’s goal-setting posts, I don’t really do resolutions so much as make a plan for things to accomplish. This year, I’m keeping it simple.

  1. Implement Operation Self-Care. I blogged a couple months ago about how I’ve been struggling with stress management, wellness, and so on. I have a general plan in mind and have been chipping away at a few small steps. Now it’s time to put things fully into motion. Improve my nutrition (or at least start taking vitamins regularly again). Fit in exercise. Sleep better. Soak in the garden tub while burning candles that smell like the beach. Read more books. Breathe.
  2. Survive the school year. This sounds more doom and gloom than it is. I’m involved in a couple very cool initiatives with the district Social Studies department, in preparation for a coaching role I’ll be undertaking next year that I’m very excited about. But it’s busy and a lot of work. And then there’s the actual teaching part of my job. Guess who realized this morning, thanks to a coworker’s Facebook post, that she didn’t actually write any plans for January 3rd-5th?
  3. Secure at least one new book contract. I’ve been a bit between projects since HE TAKES THE CAKE came out in June (and the print edition should be out later this spring or early summer, FYI). I submitted a historical romance to Avon Impulse at the beginning of September, but don’t expect to hear back until March. If March comes and goes with no word, I’ll start shopping it around elsewhere. In the meantime, I’ve just finished plotting a trilogy that spins-off THE ONE I’M WITH. Now to write it.

And that’s it! Three pretty simple goals that I think are manageable.

Bonus points if I figure out how to clone myself so I can still teach history but also stay at home with Babycakes and write.

Welcome to 2017

I hope everyone has had a fun and refreshing holiday season, whatever holiday(s) you may celebrate. My own holiday hiatus was insane, between work and writing and family. But now that the cookies are gone and the confetti has settled, it’s time to get back to business.

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And as usual, that means it’s time for the annual….

Goal Setting Post!

I took a quick peek back at my goal setting post for 2016 and found, well, I didn’t do so hot.

Resolutions and me tend not to get along well.

That said, let’s take a look at some goals for this year.

  1. Finish Sweet Somethings Book #4. It took me a while to really get into this last installment, despite the fact that it’s been plotted since, like, February (I went back and forth over whether Book 4 should have come before THE ONE I’M WITH, so I had both plotted way early on and sort of went “eeny, meeny, miney, mo” with them). I have a soft-ish deadline to get the draft to my editor by the beginning of February, so once again, this is a no brainer of a goal. It’s non-negotiable.
  2. Have at least one hour-long writing session a week. I’ve struggled to pin down writing sessions once September rolled around, when I started a new position at a new school. Much of my extra time has been spent building a kick-ass online course platform for my 7th graders. However, since I’ve streamlined a lot of how my in-school planning time is being spent, I’m doing less at home and more at work. So that’s helping.
  3. Peddle my post-Civil War historical romance. I did some serious editing over the summer, and still need to do some touch ups (plus write the damn synopsis and query letter). But once Sweet Somethings Book 4 is in the bag, I can devote some time to this project and start making the rounds with the manuscript.
  4. Return to the “Magnum Opus”. I actually spent a good chunk of time this summer looking at Volume 1 and marking some areas that still need a bit of spit and polish. And I spent a full day’s work just reading through the mess that is Volume 2 (OMG THE HEAD-HOPPING!!!!). So at least I’m up to speed on what I actually wrote…four years ago…
  5. Flesh out some short synopses for future project ideas. Several years back, I started compiling a list of novel ideas, but most have just the barest basics of a plotline. I’d like to sit down later this year and build on a few of the frameworks, in part to decide where to go next.
  6. Be better at promotional opportunities. This encompasses a lot of things. In addition to the standard stuff I do around a new release, I’m also going to start hitting up review bloggers, looking into getting print releases into local bookstores (and potentially setting up more signings), participating in local author events, and doing more online promotional events, like the Romance Writers Gone Wild Facebook event I did in November.

As far as writing goes, I think I’ll leave it at that. Yeah, a couple of those are repeats from last year, but I don’t think I’m being overly ambitious with this list.

2016 proved a very tumultuous year in Casa de Rowan, for a variety of reasons, but overall our year has us moving in a very positive direction as a family and professionally. I have high hopes for 2017 to continue in that same vein.

And just to get you all excited, Sweet Somethings Book 4, HE TAKES THE CAKE, is slated for a spring release. Lots more details to come, so make sure you keep an eye on my socials, the blog, and sign up for my email newsletter to stay in the loop!

Here’s a little taste to jump start your craving…

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Mmmm… Red Velvet…