October 2019 Book Reviews

If I could subtitle this blog post, I would have called it “October Book Reviews: I’m going to stop reading book jackets”

This month, I only got through 2 books and both times, I felt like the book cover affected my reactions and experiences. It didn’t mean I hated the book, it just changed things for me in some way and made me wish I had read the book without any preconceived notions. Like, I wish I had just picked them up and started reading immediately!

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

The Golden Hour: A Novel by [Williams, Beatriz]

Oh Beatriz Williams, how I (usually) adore thee. I have loved previous books of hers (A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant) so I was excited to pick this one up, but overall it was somewhat disappointing. I mean, it was alright, but I didn’t love it like I wanted to. The novel is roughly 460 pages and while I loved the last 100ish pages, I was pretty bored for a lot of the book. If it wasn’t written by an author I love, I believe I would have stopped reading long before I got to the good stuff. I just wasn’t that interested in the stories and it took me so long to finish. And in this case, the book jacket was misleading because I feel like the inside cover doesn’t really describe what to expect from the majority of the book. The book toggles back and forth between the lives of two women in two separate eras (early 1900’s and WWII) who are connected by one man. It is historical fiction, so it was interesting to read this fictitious take on some events in history I hadn’t previously heard of. I very much enjoyed those parts! Once I decided that this book wasn’t going to be my favorite William’s book, I started skim reading a bit and not worrying too much about soaking up every detail and the book became more enjoyable. I also found the storylines picked up some speed as the book progressed and the last 100 pages were honestly great. Overall, this book falls solidly as a 3/5 stars – didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, and I wish it was about 75-100 pages shorter (or that some of those pages were reallocated towards a longer ending, as the final wrap-up actually felt really rushed). It was just an okay read. If you’re interested in Beatriz Williams, I’d definitely recommend her other books first.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I love a good psychological thriller, and that’s what I thought this book would be. After reading, I would label it more as an intriguing mystery with psychological elements. Does that make sense? Typically when I read thrillers, I’m on the edge of my seat, my heart is pounding, I’m maybe even creeped out for the majority of the book. I wasn’t creeped out reading this book, but I was still very interested in the mystery!

Theo Faber is a psychotherapist working at a psychiatric unit with a patient named Alicia Berenson. Alicia is a former artist who shot her husband five times in the face and then never spoke another word. Theo is determined to work with Alicia and get her to open up about the murder and finally speak again. I was definitely intrigued by this premise and found the story to be fascinating and un-putdownable. I absolutely flew through it and loved it! That being said, I have one beef: the reviews! The book jacket is covered with reviews from those who read it saying things like “shocking twist,” “mind-blowing twist,” “a twist that will make even the most seasoned suspense reader break out in a cold sweat.” I wish the cover didn’t have these reviews because when I read a book expecting one huge, mind-blowing twist, then the whole time I read it I am coming up with possible explanations for the oncoming twist. I analyze every possible explanation and so when the shock comes, I often have guessed it as a possibility. So was the case with this book – the twist was one I had at least considered, so it wasn’t completely earth-shattering. I will say, there were many elements that I hadn’t guessed at all and I was considering SO many options that I was still surprised by much of the book and highly recommend this as a great read!

 

That’s that for this month! I think I’m going to start just picking up books based solely on recommendations and not read the covers at all. Have you ever done that? I’ll try if for the month of November and report back!

September 2019 Book Reviews

It’s that time of the month again – book review day!

It goes without saying that my life is pretty busy these days, so I’m not getting through as many books as I was before, although to be honest I’m just glad I’m able to read at all! I was kind of expecting to not be able to finish any books during this stage of two kids under the age of two years old. But then I discovered this:

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Turns out, there’s a lot of time I’m just sitting on the couch breastfeeding and the Boppy pillow makes a perfect book rest! I was able to get through two full books this month and they were both excellent so I’m excited to share them with you today. Here we go!

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

If you’ve been following my book reviews for a while, you know that I’m a bit of a historical fiction junkie. I love all types of historical fiction, but my favorite are the books that are based off of actual people or events that I haven’t known about before reading (books like The Alice Network, Before We Were Yours, etc.) This book falls into that category and I could not put it down. The book follows Lale, a young Jewish man from Slovakia who is taken to Auschwitz. Once there, he is given the role of tattooist and is made to mark all the new arrivals with their numbers. Since his role is so important, he has some special privileges and uses them to help out his fellow prisoners, particularly a woman named Gita. The author had interviewed Lale before his death and so the story was a re-creation of his experiences at the concentration camp, many of which were utterly horrifying. No matter how many times I read a novel about the Holocaust, I am still shocked and sickened by the depths of cruelty that occurred. There were parts that were very hard to read, but the story itself was gripping. Lale’s determination and courage are truly remarkable and I was inspired by the small acts of kindness that made such a huge difference to those they were bestowed upon. There were even moments that were romantic and sweet. It feels strange to say I enjoyed it, because it was difficult subject matter, so I will say that I was fascinated and highly recommend it.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Sylvie Lee is a smart, successful daughter of Chinese immigrants who travels to the Netherlands, the place where she spent seven years of her childhood, to visit her dying grandmother and afterwards . . . she disappears. Her younger sister Amy is distraught with worry and heads to the Netherlands in search of her sister. Her desperation only increases as she encounters a slew of unanswered questions and limited police help. The more people she meets, the more it seems like no one is telling her the full story. It’s hard for me to sum up this book without giving too much away because it touches on so much: family, cultural difference, racism, life as an immigrant family. I will say that the first half started out very slowly for me. It felt like I had only questions and no answers, and I wasn’t even sure I cared enough to find out. I was kind of annoyed by Amy and how sheltered and naive she was. BUT. Around the halfway point, things took a turn and got very interesting and I was hooked! It became a true mystery for me; I was intrigued and flew through the second half. Overall I really enjoyed this read and definitely recommend it!

What have you been reading lately?

August Book Reviews

Good morning friends!

Life with a toddler and newborn has been a bit hectic, so I’m just now getting around to my August book reviews even though we’re halfway through September already (how!?) Better late than never, right?

I got through two books last month before I had to put my reading on pause for last-minute baby prep and welcoming Vi into our family. Now that we’re settling into a *little* more of a routine around here, I’m hoping to get back into reading more! Might be wishful thinking, we’ll see how that goes… 😉 In the meantime, let’s look at what I read in August!

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The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

In the last couple months I’ve read and loved The Forgotten Room and The Glass Ocean, both written by a trio of authors. I decided to check out the individual authors work and since I’ve already read a lot of Beatriz Williams, I tried out this book from Karen White.  In this novel, Melanie is a realtor who has been gifted a historic home in Charleston, SC by a man she barely knows. While she sets about fixing it up to hopefully re-sell, she receives help from Jack, who believes the house may be hiding something of incredible value. As they work together to restore the house, it becomes clear that the house holds many secrets, and not all the secrets are willing to rest in peace. At times, the pace of this book seemed to drag and it took a while for me to decide if I even liked what I was reading. I wanted to figure out the answers to some of the mysteries laid out early on, so I kept reading and did start to enjoy it more as revelations were made. There were things I liked and things I didn’t. I enjoyed the fact that a lot of historical elements were brought in and I wanted to learn the truth behind what happened in the house. I didn’t fall in love with most of the characters like I wanted to and I felt like I had to do a lot of reading to get to the “good” stuff in the latter part of the book. I also wanted a little more closure at the end, but I believe this book is part of a series so it makes sense that some strings were left untied. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I’d read something else by Karen White but I’m not dying to. It just fell pretty middle-of-the-road, decent read territory for me.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Now THIS book is going to stick with me. It was recommended to me by Justin’s cousin and I didn’t know much about it other than the facts that she loved it and that it was set in India. I spent 3 1/2 months studying abroad in India in college and have maintained an interest in the beautiful, complicated country ever since, so I checked out the book.

Oh my.

I did not know what I was getting into. This story is about two girls, Poornima and Savitha, who form a close friendship in childhood, but due to a devastating event, are separated from one another. The story chronicles their individual stories and how they always keep the faith to try to find their way back to one another.

This story is gripping, tragic, hopeful, and heartbreaking. Each girl shows a strength and resilience that is remarkable and inspiring, and the author writes in a way that kept me absolutely captivated, even when the content dealt with horrific events. The girls experience some of the worst of humanity, and their stories were difficult to read at times. Even though this is a work of fiction, it’s written in a way that seems very realistic (and unfortunately, I know enough about life in India for low-socioeconomic girls to know that their stories could be true, which is hard to fathom and process while reading). The story still manages to uplift and I admired the grit and willpower of each girl to keep going even when their situations felt overwhelming. Overall, I think this book is a compelling read and I highly recommend, (with the caveat that it does deal with heavy topics like human trafficking, sexual abuse, and extreme gender inequality, so if those topics are triggering for you, you might want to choose another read). 

Whew! That’s a wrap on August’s books. What have you been reading and loving lately?

July 2019 Book Reviews

Book review day is here!

Even though we have one more day left in July, I’m already through all my books for the month so I’m sharing my book review a little early. I read some really good ones this month and I’m excited to share them with you!

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The Latte Factor by David Bach

I listened to a lot of podcasts on our babymoon and one I really enjoyed was an episode of the Rise podcast where Rachel Hollis interviewed David Bach about how anyone can be financially free by following a few simple principles and changes in daily habits. I really enjoyed the podcast, and one of my 19 for 19 goals is to learn more about finances, so I was eager to read this book. To be honest, I didn’t gain much new wisdom from it. It is set up like a little mini novel where protagonist Zoe, whose finances are a mess, learns some very simple lessons about investing, saving, and living the life she wants by making small changes in her spending habits from a man named Henry whom she meets with in a coffee shop. Having listened to the podcast, I felt like I had already heard the high points of Bach’s message and most of the book was Zoe’s “story” and not so much financial information. I think this book could be a great resource if you are coming into it with the desire to change your financial situation but don’t have a lot of knowledge in saving/investing/budgeting/etc. Personally I felt like it was a little oversimplified and didn’t give me much new information; however, the concept of “the latte factor” is one that Justin and I have discussed multiple times since I first told him about it after listening to the podcast and I think it’s a great concept to keep in mind when you think about daily spending habits!

The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger

Annabel is living in Switzerland where her husband, Matthew, works for Swiss United, a lucrative, offshore bank. After Matthew’s plane crashes in the Alps, Annabel is left with many questions and few answers and decides to investigate the crash herself. Meanwhile, journalist Marina gets a hot tip on a story from her mentor and just as she begins to dig . . . her mentor ends up dead. She begins to look into Swiss United and soon uncovers some dangerous information that powerful people are willing to do anything to protect. As the women’s stories progress two things become clear: their stories are intertwined and they are both in danger unless the truth comes out. This thriller was unique for me in that I’ve never read anything involving lucrative wealth and offshore financing, and it kept me on my toes throughout. I always love novels that alternate narrative perspectives and this one was fast-paced and exciting. I never knew which characters were trustworthy and that added to the suspense for sure. It was definitely a page-turner for me and I really enjoyed it!

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

In June, I read The Forgotten Room by this trio of authors and really enjoyed it so I was excited to learn that they also co-authored another book together and quickly checked it out from the library. The Glass Ocean centers around the tragedy of the sinking of the Lusitania and is written from three different female perspectives: Caroline, a wealthy passenger traveling on the Lusitania with her husband, Tess, a con man’s daughter who is hoping to pull one more job aboard the ship and then start fresh in England once the ship docks, and Sarah, a historian and author in 2013 who has opened a trunk filled with everything that her great-grandfather, a steward on the ship, had on his possession when his body was recovered from the ship’s wreckage, including some items that may have a huge impact on history. If you’ve been reading my book reviews for any amount of time, you know by now that I am a big fan of historical fiction and this book did not disappoint! I enjoyed reading all three women’s stories and the possibilities of wartime espionage and deception kept things interesting as the plot twisted and turned until the end. There were plenty of surprises and revelations to keep me hooked. Once again, I was impressed by the writing of these three writers and highly recommend this one!

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I really enjoy Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books and had heard nothing but great things about this one so I was very excited to finally come off the waiting list at the library and dive into this one. This one might be my favorite of hers yet! Daisy Jones and the Six was one of the most prominent rock bands of the 1970s until they broke up inexplicably after a concert and never got together again. The book is set up as an interview-style oral history where members of the band and others who were associated with them are interviewed about their beginning, rise to fame, and eventual demise. At several points during the book I had to remind myself that this book is fiction and these weren’t real people – it is written in a way that just makes the whole thing seem so real! I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the interview-style writing but I actually loved it and flew through the book. There were some surprising moments that I didn’t see coming and I found myself really invested in the band members. I will put in the disclaimer that it is about a 70’s rock band so sex, drug use, etc. is a big part of the band’s life. If that’s not your thing, well, be warned. Overall, I really enjoyed this read and highly recommend it!

My TBR list is currently very short, so if you have any recommendations for what I should read in August, send them my way! I’m going to try to get at least a couple read before baby comes and then . . . we’ll see. Ha!

May 2019 Book Reviews

It’s book review day! Whoo hoo!

Because May was so chaotic with selling our house, packing, moving, and traveling, I only got through three books this month but I feel like that’s pretty good all things considered. Plus I had a good mix of genres so overall I was happy with this month’s choices. Let’s get to it, shall we?

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is my all-time favorite author so I saved this book for a vacation read and took it along with me to the Bahamas. The plot all centers around a unique house in the English countryside that captivates everyone who encounters it. We follow along with several different characters and their experiences in and around the house from summer 1862, where a mysterious murder takes place, to 2017 London, where an archivist stumbles across some items linked to the house and that very summer. There are several characters and major events happening in between the two time periods and we jump back and forth between perspectives and see how some stories even overlap.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kate Morton is my favorite. She writes historical fiction in an absolutely mesmerizing way and each book always hooks me in and then blows me away with reveals I never saw coming. There is always a moment where I’m reading and have a “OH MY GOSH” moment that forces me to go back and reread. Justin even joked after I finished this book that I was doing the “classic Sarah re-read” because about 20 minutes after finishing the book and processing the ending, I had to go back and start at the beginning and flip through to piece together things I missed the first time around. Have I sold her enough? I love, love LOVE Kate Morton. That being said, this book left me feeling unsettled. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say that I was really hoping for a little more with the way everything got wrapped up and was loving the book until the last 40 or so pages (and the book clocks in at just under 500 pages, so that was a lot of enjoyable reading). It’s always disappointing to love a book and then be let down by the ending but I still remain loyal to Kate Morton and even still recommend this book because her writing is just so spellbinding. Just maybe use your imagination and change the ending a bit, or read one of her other books such as The Lake House or The Secret Keeper!

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Saints for All Occasions

I’ve read a couple others books by this author in the past (my favorite was probably The Engagements) and when I saw this on another recommendation list I added it to my stack. This book follows two Irish Catholic sisters, Nora and Theresa, who immigrate to the United States from Ireland in the 1950s. While they initially have a very close bond, circumstances happen and choices are made that ultimately affect their relationship and lives. The plot is broken up into a few different time frames, beginning with their travels from Ireland to the US and ending in 2009, where Theresa now lives as a nun and Nora has four grown children. To be honest, after about 70 pages, I was pretty bored and wanted to quit. I pushed through a little bit longer and I’m glad I did, as the book picked up once it jumped to the present time frame and introduced Nora’s children. I enjoyed how the author wove together each story and unique perspective and while there were really no shocking plot twists, there were enough things happening to keep me engaged the rest of the way through.  I will say that while there was some closure at the end of the book, I wanted more. I finished it with a slightly dissatisfied feeling and wish there had been one more chapter at the end. Overall, this book fell in the “okay” range for me: not highly recommended but a solid read.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming

I’ve tried to incorporate a little more nonfiction into my life and I really enjoyed this memoir (thankfully, because I was on the wait list for a long time). Every single life on this earth looks different and as a white girl raised on a farm in rural Ohio, it was fascinating to me to read about the experiences of someone whose childhood looked starkly different. I gained a lot of respect and admiration for Michelle and all she has accomplished in her lifetime so far. As for the political aspect, I do not engage in political discussions online but will say this: I enjoyed this book purely as a compelling look at the intricacies of one woman’s life. Politics is obviously a huge part of her life, but I felt like she spoke of all her experiences in an honest, relatable way.  The book is a pretty long and hefty read but I was interested and it kept my attention the whole way through! If you enjoy memoirs I definitely recommend adding this one to your list.

I feel like now that we’re really digging into summer, I need some great summer recommendations to add to my reading list. Let me know if you have any good ones!

 

April 2019 Book Reviews

It’s time for my favorite post of the month: BOOK REVIEW DAY!

This month I read three books and they were all very different from one another, but I enjoyed them all! If you’ve read any of them, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are so be sure to comment at the end. I think they are all goods ones for discussion!

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One Day in December by Josie Silver

With “December” in the title, this may seem like an odd choice to read in April, but it wasn’t! The story isn’t focused on Christmas at all and is enjoyable at any time of year. Laurie is riding the bus home from work one day in December (get it?) and at a bus stop, her eyes lock with a man waiting outside. She instantly feels an intense connection to him, but alas, he doesn’t get on the bus and they aren’t able to meet. She is certain she’s  fallen in love with this mystery man and spends the entire next year searching all over London hoping to run into him again. She does get to finally meet him the following December . . . when he is introduced to her as Jack, her best friend Sarah’s new boyfriend. The book follows both Jack and Laurie’s perspectives over the next decade as they navigate friendship, missed chances, new opportunities, and choices made along the way. Now that I’m finished, I can say I really loved this book, but there were a few points where I was worried I would end up highly dissatisfied. I don’t want to give too much away, but there were times when I really wanted the story to go one way or another and the end result I hoped for kept changing! This kept things interesting though; I wasn’t necessarily always rooting for one specific scenario and instead just hoped that however it wrapped up made sense to me. I did really enjoy this story and think it would make a great beach read this summer!

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Back in December, I reviewed The War that Saved My Life and loved it so I was excited to read that the author had written a sequel. This young adult story picks up more or less where the first leaves off with Ada undergoing surgery to fix her clubfoot. After the surgery, Ada struggles to reconcile all the ways in which her life has changed since she first left London to seek refuge in the country. World War II is now in full swing and she moves to a new cottage with her brother Jamie, her guardian Susan, and surprise of surprises, Lady Thornton herself. What none of them realize is they are about to get another house guest who won’t be very welcome. This story once again was incredibly well-written and so poignant. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, but it made me feel all. the. feels. and I teared up several times throughout. You get so invested in the characters and their relationships: their struggles become your struggles and their triumphs become yours too. I really enjoyed this story and highly recommend it to both 5th graders and 50-year-olds. It is a story for all ages!

The Possible World by Liesle O’Halloran Schwarz

My friend Kaitlin read this book as part of her book club and she asked me to read it too to discuss my thoughts. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I dove in without much context and was immediately sucked in. This story follows three characters and alternates between their perspectives: Clare, a woman about to turn 100 years old in a nursing home and is reflecting on her life, Ben, a six-year-old boy who has just experienced an unimaginable trauma, and Lucy, the ER nurse who tends to Ben when he is brought to the hospital. As their stories unfurl, it becomes evident that their stories are inexplicably connected to one another. I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say that a few chapters in I knew this would be a book that once I finished, I would need to go back and re-read parts of to see what clues I missed the first time around. I was right – I did do exactly that! I will also say that I thought one of the character’s backstory/current life wasn’t really necessary to include so much of. I felt like there was a lot of extra information in those chapters that didn’t really pertain to the rest of the story and could have been left out. I also wish the ending had a little more to it; I felt like it wrapped up really quickly and felt a little abrupt. All that being said, overall I did enjoy this read! It’s a unique premise and enchanting story.

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know what you thought or what you read this month. I’m always looking for great recommendations so be sure to share if you have any good ones!

 

 

March 2019 Book Reviews

It’s time for my favorite post of the month – my book reviews!

I read four books this month and they’re kind of all over the place. Two non-fiction and two fiction. One memoir and one self-help-ish. One about a plane crash and one that crashed in other ways for me. It was a fun mix of reads! Let’s dive in!

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Outer Order Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

It’s no secret that I love Gretchen Rubin so I’ve been anxiously awaiting her new book for months. It finally came out in March and I snapped up a copy (you know I’m excited when I actually buy the book instead of check out from the library) and flew through it.  This is a very quick read chuck full of inspiration for making small choices and changes towards clearing clutter to make more room in your life for order, calm, and happiness. In other words, pretty much all my favorite things in one place. 🙂  I started off underlining little nuggets of wisdom that particularly spoke to me, but I quickly realized that I would be underlining most of the book so I had to stop. It was just full of tips, tricks, and smart little hacks. I’ll stop gushing now because I think my inner nerd is showing  (ha!), but I really loved this book and will likely incorporate it into a full blog post at some point in the future. I highly recommend it if you need a little push in the right direction to make changes, big or small, towards a less cluttered life.

The Secret of the Irish Castle by Santa Montefiore

I happened to see this book on the shelf as I was checking out at the library and it peaked my interest but I had a lot of books already so I didn’t check it out. Then on another trip, I saw it again on a different shelf and took that as a sign I should read it. I’ll be honest, this book did not meet my expectations. It really seemed like it was going to be my jam: historical fiction, WWII Europe, family secrets and mysteries, what’s not to love? The Amazon blub even raves that it is “perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams” and I adore both authors. So I was pretty disappointed when about 70 pages in I kind of just wanted to quit reading. This story just fell flat for me. There are SO many characters and plotlines and it feels really soap opera-y and hard to keep track of. I did find out afterwards that it’s part of a series, so maybe it wouldn’t have seemed so overwhelming and confusing if I had read the other books too? I don’t know. I kept reading because one storyline did interest me and I wanted to see how that particular one turned out. Overall, I felt like this book was just okay, but I really don’t have any interest in reading the rest of the series.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

I started this book because it was the first chosen book of the Happier Podcast book club and I was instantly intrigued. The author takes a DNA test without thinking much about it and is rocked to her core to find out that the father who raised her was not actually her biological father. Since both of her parents are deceased, she begins a journey of research and discovery to find out as much as she can about the truth of her origin. Her memoir is poignant and thought-provoking and touches on the deeply held beliefs we hold about ourselves. I could not stop talking to Justin about it as I was reading, and I’ve brought it up in several other conversations with other people since. It was just absolutely fascinating and I think it would make an excellent book club read! Highly recommend!

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

I wouldn’t say I have a fear of flying but I definitely have increased anxiety on planes so a book about a plane crash is not exactly my normal pick. I enjoyed this one though! The plane crash actually happens very early on in the book and the rest of the story jumps back and forth between the lives of the victims before the crash and the present day where a team of agents try to unravel the mystery of why the plane crashed. A media circus forms around the two survivors of the crash: a four-year-old boy who is now worth millions and a man who swam them both to safety. Controversies and theories form about the man who was an unexpected passenger in the first place and he alternates between victim and suspect throughout. This book is part mystery, part thriller and I got really into it! There are some characters you root for, some you despise, and there were enough surprises to keep me guessing until the end. Overall, this was a good read!

That’s a wrap on my March reads. What is on your reading list this month?