January was a big reading month for me, but coming off of the amazing books I read at the end of last year (see that list here) I knew I wanted to kick off 2019 by diving right in. Below, what I read this past month, plus what I’ve got on my shelf for February:
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena: To be fair, I think this is about what I expected out of this book. A thriller that follows two sets of neighboring couples and a central crime – I think that if the writing had been stronger I could have felt more captivated by this. That being said, if you’re generally thrilled with thrillers this one isn’t without its exciting twists and turns. All in all I’d give it a ‘B’.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: An American classic I had somehow never read, I’m so glad I made time for this. I think sometimes we forget to go back to the classics, favoring newer fiction that’s “popular” instead – and at nearly 600 pages including plenty of jargon from the mid-1800s this wasn’t necessarily a breeze to read. But the story itself is timeless and was certainly a pre-cursor to a million novels that followed. Louise May Alcott, a feminist and suffragette, proved that women’s stories and voices were important, even if her characters were just living everyday lives. Sidetone: I can’t wait for the new film adaptation to come out at the end of this year. Could there be a more perfect Laurie than Timothée Chalamet?!?
I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon: All in all really interesting if you like historical fiction – since there was a lot of true history to be learned from this one. This book follows the story of a woman claiming to be Anastasia Romanov – the young Russian princess who was believed to have been killed, along with her entire family, during the Russian revolution on the early 1900s. It flips back and forth over the span of 40 years telling a captivating story. I was definitely most invested in the early Romanov story since I know admittedly so little about Russian history. After I was finished this book I actually went on to do some internet research to learn more about the family’s story – I love a book that teaches you something you never even knew you would be interested in.
A Wild Swan And Other Tales by Michael Cunningham: From the author of The Hours (a book I love) this is a collection of well known fairy tales, with a modern (decidedly adult) twist. They’re short and simple so I ended up reading a few each night before bed and it was a fun way to end the month after a few heavier books. Added bonus – there are really cool black and white illustrations every few pages that help bring the stories to life.
SHOP THIS MONTH’S BOOK CLUB:
Since it’s a short month I narrowed my reading list to just two stand-out books for February. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – translated into English but originally an Italian novel – that I’ve heard great things about. It follows the story of two women growing up in Italy over the course of their lives and is apparently the first in a trilogy set to become a TV show. And Becoming by Michelle Obama – on my list for month’s now and I can’t wait to dive in.
At the beginning of this year (largely from the hype of seeing so many other people mention it) I decided to take a month off from all drinking and all shopping. I didn’t even think that much about it – aside from the fact that November and December always feels extra indulgent and expensive. But now looking back, I can honestly say that it affected me much more than I anticipated. Below – the truth about my “Dry January”.
No Alcohol: This was the big one. To be clear, I don’t have a drinking problem and we’re all adults here so I’m definitely not passing judgement on anyone’s habits but my own. But in an average week, I probably have a drink at least half of the days. Sometimes more. Sometimes just a mindless beer while I watch TV after a long day at work. And if it brings me happiness I’m fine with it. But sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes it was that one extra nightcap that left me feeling tired and sluggish in the morning. Or knowing that I had all those extra calories that I hadn’t even really savored in any real way.
How I Did: I didn’t make it all 31 days without a single drink. I had about 4 total throughout the month – once on our staycation uptown, another out to dinner to celebrate our friends’ recent engagement and the other two times when Adam went out to dinner. I don’t regret a single one of those drinks. I was in the moment, really enjoying myself and the single drink I had each time. But every other weekend night and every single weeknight I didn’t have a drop.
Results: I honestly feel like my entire mindset to drinking has kind of shifted. Which is pretty drastic since I’ve been drinking consistently since I was 18 and aside from giving up vodka around 25 (a story for another day) I’ve never really given it much thought. I really enjoy drinking. Brewery tours when we travel, trying out craft cocktails at cute bars around the city, popping a bottle of champagne to celebrate with Adam – all in. But now I feel like I can recognize it as something I’m choosing to do with intention rather than doing out of mindless habit. And that feels nice.
No Shopping: This felt laughably easy compared to the no drinking thing. To be fair, I probably don’t go shopping as much as it looks like I do and I definitely shop less than the average fashion blogger. But still – for the past few years there’s been this Instagram-induced syndrome that feels like I need to always have something new to keep up in some way. And I hate that bloggers likely cause other average women to feel that same deficiency. I want to buy something because I truly love it and it sparks joy and I’ll wear it, not because I need the latest and greatest to feel like I’m enough. But there is plenty in my closet already and instead I want this to be the year I’m focusing much more on my financial health than the new arrivals section of my favorite websites.
How I Did: I successfully made it! At least I’m counting that I did. In reality I bought exactly two things all month: a new nude bra (desperately needed) and a replacement set of sheets after our other spare set ripped at the laundromat. Neither was a fun impulse purchase and while I could have probably squeaked by until February – I really kind of had to pull the trigger on both of those asap.
Results: I shopped my closet much more and never once felt like “I had nothing to wear”. Funny how that works. Also, I was able to set aside a few extra dollars to go towards my bedroom makeover project that I’m working on. Something that will bring my more longer lasting joy than a random new sweater would have. Again I think it comes back to intention. Buying things with more thought and purpose and less carelessness towards my savings goals and a society-backed need for consumerism. A mindset I feel excited about carrying with me all year long.
Phew – that was a lot but I wanted to share since some of you have asked how I did! How are you all doing on your own resolutions?
To be clear – I am by no means a skincare expert. Until I was well into my mid-twenties I used to wash my face with nothing more than water and then slap on whatever CVS brand body lotion I had lying around. That being said, in the past few years (quite frankly because some incredible brands sent help by way of samples) I’ve started to try out a more elevated skincare routine and really in the past year feel like I’ve settled into a rotation of products that work for me. I feel grateful I’ve never had any major skin problems as far as on-going acne, eczema, etc. so I can’t speak to if any of these are miracle workers in those arenas. But as far as being a woman in my early 30s dealing with fine lines, dark circles and a New Yorker winter that feels intent on wreaking havoc on my skin – all of these are really going to battle for me.
I honestly don’t usually wash my face in the morning – but a spritz of this Aloe Rose Water Mist always makes me feel refreshed and awake. You can also mist it onto your face (even over make-up!) throughout the day for a nice little refresher.
Hands down my favorite morning moisturizer – it strikes a perfect balance between being thick enough to really moisturize but still airy enough to not feel super heavy under make-up. Honorable mention to this moisturizer with SPF50 which I’m more prone to use if I’m not planning on wearing make-up since it’s on the thicker side.
If I feel like my eyes are puffy or I’ve got dark circles (aka I didn’t get enough sleep or had more than 2 drinks the night before), I’ll dab this coffee bean cream around my eyes. It has a really smooth consistency and the natural caffeine helps de-puff and make me look more awake.
A few days a week I add a couple of drops of this sunless tanner to my moisturizer. It’s not dramatic, but definitely helps give a little bit of a tinted glow that my face otherwise really lacks in winter months. Bonus points for also acting as an anti-aging serum.
Once all of that soaks in, I use thistinted moisturizer (similar to a bb cream) in place of foundation. It’s a nice, semi-sheer base that smooths out discoloration and uneven skin. Plus it doesn’t dry out or cake throughout the day.
A great drugstore find, I start with these micellar water make-up remover wipes. These are the only ones I’ve found that don’t leave my skin feeling strangely greasy or create a weird stinging sensation (does that happen to anyone else?). These are super gentle and it works well to get off eye make-up or super saturated lipstick.
Next I use this pre-biotic filled Superfood cleanser (it has avocado, pumpkin and broccoli seed oils – like a salad for your face) to give a good clean feeling and add some nutrients to my skin.
Once or twice a week I use this pore exfoliating mask to help keep my pores clear and prevent any minor breakouts. It doesn’t dry out my skin but leaves it feeling really deeply clean and smooth.
After cleansing but pre-moisturizing, I alternate between this hydrating serum and this facial oil. Between the two its a good balance of hydration without adding too much oil that could potentially make me break out. Ideally I don’t even need to moisturize after all of this because my skin is fully hydrated already.
I finish out the whole routine with this lip treatment meant to moisturize lips and help with fine lines around your mouth. Not only has it ended my chapped lips once and for all, but the metal applicator tip kind of plumps up my lips making them feel nice and full (at least as naturally full as my fairly thin lips can get) and moisturized when I wake up in the morning.
I really need a day between Saturday and Sunday. Most of this weekend was spent catching up on chores/errands, organizing the apartment and generally hitting re-set after last weekend’s staycation uptown and a very busy week at work. Below, a few things on my mind before we head into another week.
I’ve become completely consumed with researching art to buy for the apartment. Up until now we’ve mainly had a few personal photos framed and some travel memorabilia but I really want to diversify our walls and start building a collection of art. Thinking of sharing a full post of (affordable) sources once I finally pull the trigger and start purchasing.
I’m on a mission to watch a few more Oscar contenders before the big show – ‘A Star is Born’, ‘Beautiful Boy’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ are all on my list. See the full list of nominations here.
I’m planning a winter skincare post this week including 5 morning products and 5 evening products I really love. This facial oil is a stand-out right now for my increasingly dry skin.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain was one of the best books, hands down, that I read in 2018 (see my full review here). I loved this series of interviews with the people that knew him best.
If I wasn’t on a self-imposed shopping ban this month, I’d be hitting up the Mango end of season sale. So many good classic coats and sweaters. Because let’s be honest, winter isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
It’s been since September since my last #SteeleMaidenBook Club post (where did October, November and December even go?!), but I’m back and planning to be able to stick to a more regular, monthly schedule for these posts in 2019. If you want to see everything I reviewed in 2018 – you can find those posts here. Below, what I read this Fall (hint, some of the best 4 books I read all year) plus what I’ve got on my shelf for January. Happy reading!
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer: This novel follows the life of a young, millennial woman throughout college and the beginning years of her building a career in New York. Touches on the complexities of relationships (both female friendship and romantic involvements) and the ultimately what kind of drive, motivation and sacrifice it takes to rise to the top in any given industry. I really liked this overall, however I will say that I didn’t love it as much as I loved Wolitzer’s earlier work The Interestings. Maybe it was because I never really connected with the main character? Either way there were some interesting side stories here and I think it’s worth a read for sure.
Calypso by David Sedaris: Consistently one of my favorite authors, Calypso felt a bit different than some of Sedaris’ earlier memoirs in that he’s middle-aged now and has been dealing with some of the messier bits of life (his mother’s death, sister’s suicide, the hurdles of being in a multi-decade relationship). He handled the topics with his signature mix of bizarre hilarity and self-depricating honesty. Highly recommend.
Marlena by Julie Buntin: I picked this book up on a whim from one of my favorite little bookstores back home in PA and was so pleasantly surprised. The novel focuses on the life-shifting friendship of two young high school aged girls – and while the specifics of the storyline are likely not one many of us can relate to (I hope, as things get fairly dark), the feelings of the magic of those types of friendships are really universal in my opinion. Also just really beautifully written. Totally exceeded my expectations which is the best kind of book to me.
Educated by Tara Westover: I had high hopes for this book after reading so much great press and it didn’t disappoint. Tara shares her real life story of growing up in rural Idaho to a family of extreme Mormon preppers (meaning they feared the government, banned modern medicine and forbid the children from receiving a formal education as they prepped for a Y2K-like fall-out of society). Not only are the specifics of this story unbelievable but it’s also an incredible tale of one woman’s bravery to fight for the education that she deserved. Everyone should read this book.