my fave summer reads of 2017.

Word on the street is that I missed National Book Lovers Day.

I know, I know — I’m so embarrassed.

If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a serious book lover, so the fact that yesterday’s celebration was so far off my radar feels to me like a failure to wish my mom a happy birthday or to celebrate Valentine’s Day (and I love Valentine’s Day). I can’t believe I didn’t know anything about it until I checked Twitter in the late afternoon to see that just about every one of my favorite authors and publishing pros was sharing their thoughts on the books that had changed their lives. Way to drop the ball, Alli. Way to be out of the loop. (picture me slowly dragging my hand, palm-down, from my forehead to my chin)

I know everything is supposed to be super immediate and quick these days, but I can’t let the opportunity pass to share some book recommendations — even if it’s a day late.  I’ve been planning to put together a summer reading list before the end of August, anyway, and I don’t think there could be a better time than National Book Lovers Day (or, well, right after that) to do it.

Here are five books I’ve read and loved this summer. Consider this your cue to run, don’t walk to wherever you buy your books and pick up any titles that aren’t already on your shelf. While these were my favorite summer reading books, I’m sure you’ll love them just as much as I did any time of year.

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#1: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker: Any book that tops my list is bound to be driven by incredible characters, and this is no exception. I loved the quirky and creative world of The Animators, and I truly fell in love with main characters Mel and Sharon. (Also, I hate to tell you that there’s a twist at the end, because then you’ll know to look for it… but it’s such a good twist that I just have to give it a shoutout. I promise you won’t see it coming, even with this subtle spoiler.)

wangs#2: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang: I picked this up for our trip to Turks + Caicos at the recommendation of a friend, and I have to admit that it was a total surprise for me. The Wangs is the perfect mix of relatable familial dysfunction, laugh out loud hilarity, and twenty-first century cultural commentary. Also, who else gets addicted to a good road trip story?

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#3: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: It’s been a long time since I fell so head-over-heels in love with a book written in interconnected stories and criss-crossing perspectives. If you’re looking to really get into the thick of a family’s history (we’re talking about some serious baggage here), this is the book you need to curl up with ASAP.

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#4: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: Every once in a while, you find a piece of historical fiction that breaks your heart and gives you hope and makes you feel totally gutted — all at the same time. I’m still 100 pages away from finishing Lilac Girls, but this book has already made me feel all of these feelings (and more!), so it more than deserves to be included on this list.

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#5: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss: I’ve already sung the praises of this book several times here on the blog, and each time I mention it, I find it harder and harder to describe just how much I adored it and why it’s easily my new favorite title (like, ever). Read it. Please just read it. Then call me or email me or text me so we can talk about it right away.

What an amazing summer of reading it’s been, friends! As far as I’m concerned, any season that brings me to this many great new reads is an incredible success.

How about you? Have you read anything that you’ve just loved recently? I’d love to hear more in the comments below!

(Please note that, while I’ve included Amazon links for each of these books to make your life easier, I am also super in favor of you heading out and supporting your local bookseller. If there’s one in your neighborhood, don’t forget to help them out. They’re doing such important work in our communities! )

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our first book club meeting.

Since I used to work in publishing, I’ve always wanted to start a book club. Over the years, various friends have told me that they would also love to find a reason to read more, so I’ve toyed with the idea many times, but it wasn’t until recently that I finally decided to make it happen. The book club was one of the “personal projects” I wanted to prioritize when I started freelancing, and while it was a little slow to get off the ground, we finally had our first meeting this past Tuesday!

The book club includes a small group of friends, most of whom live right here in Brooklyn. When I first put everything together, I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring together multiple friend groups and to get to know a few friends of friends who I don’t get to see as much as I would like.

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Putting this winter storm to good use as a photo backdrop!

We chose our first book back in mid-November when we were all feeling very fired up about the election results (although, to be honest, I’m more fired up now), so we chose How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. Given the concerns we all had around issues of respect for women, we thought our first book club meeting would be a great opportunity to read something powerful and feminist, so we chose a book from Emma Watson’s book list.

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I never blogged about my experience at the Women’s March in January, so this seems like the perfect opportunity to share my favorite photo from that day — especially since I marched with a few other friends who are in the book club! That’s me on the left in the blue hat : )

Almost three months later (I know, I know, we dragged our feet a little), we finally had a chance to meet and discuss the book this week. The whole group was more or less in agreement — while the author had some funny observations and an interesting voice, we didn’t love the fact that she tried to position the book as some sort of feminist manifesto or universal rule book on how forward-thinking women should act.

Personally, I thought the most interesting takeaway was Moran’s musings on all of the things that women overthink or analyze or worry about — and that men don’t. It’s definitely changed my perspective on a few things, especially when it comes to sending professional e-mails! I’m working hard at not getting myself all worked up over asking questions or asserting myself, because I think that most men in the working world do those things without a second thought. As strong women, I think this is something that we could all keep in mind!

Even better than the book talk (which was great, because I do miss that about my publishing job!) was the chance to hang out with some of my creative, funny, interesting, and compassionate gal pals. Of course, I already knew how lucky I was to have such great friends, but I genuinely believe there’s something about discussing a book that really brings out people’s smartest and feistiest sides. Plus, we got to eat some really good snacks and drink plenty of wine on a Tuesday night, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that : )

I’m already excited for our next meeting in mid-March! We decided to read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about.

Do any of you belong to book clubs? Would you want to read along with ours? Let me know in the comments below!

monthly goals recap –> january + february.

It’s (somehow) the start of a new month (how did that happen???), which means it’s time to check in on my goals for January and start looking ahead to February. Here’s a recap from last month:

  • Work on my book outline. √ YES! This process is still slow-going, but I’m happy to say that I’ve at least gotten started. I spent the first half of the month researching best practices for book outlines and then started working on research and an outline in Scrivener during the back half.  
  • Hit 45 blog posts. As of today, I have 43 posts (this is my 44th). While I didn’t technically “achieve” this goal, I’m not going to count it as a failure because I actually feel really good about the pacing of my posts this month! Would you like to see me post more or less often? Feel free to let me know in the comments below (or contact me elsewhere)!
  • Run 5 miles. √ YES! Half marathon training is officially underway!
  • Read at least 3 books. I’m very close to finishing my third book from the month of January, but I didn’t quite get there. To be fair, I’ve been reading pretty hefty books — but I need to do a better job at making time for reading, which is still one of my favorite things to do.
  • Confirm first copyediting/copywriting gig. √ YES!
  • Write another piece for Bustle √ YES! I pitched a few pieces to Bustle earlier in the month that didn’t quite land, so I wasn’t feeling too confident about this goal. At the very end of the month, though, I had an unexpected opportunity to write this piece about the late, great Mary Tyler Moore and what her show (and its theme song) means to me.
  • Break into at least one new outlet. Not this month!
  • Keep weeknights sacred. √ YES! I’ve been doing a much better job at this so far in 2017. Matt and I are really enjoying having more time together during the week just to spend time together and recharge.

Yesterday, I wrote out my goals for February in my Passion Planner (which I’m still loving, by the way). Here is what I’m hoping to accomplish in the next (short) month:

  • Successfully launch the Bulldog Yoga blog. I’ve been hired to launch and run the blog for an amazing yoga studio near Philadelphia. The content will go live in the middle of February, and I can’t wait to see all of our hard work come together! (P.S. If you live in or are visiting the Philly area, you should definitely check out Bulldog.)
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I got to spend a day at Bulldog Yoga earlier this week… how cute is Gracie, the mascot?

  • FINISH my book outline and start the writing process. I thrive off of organization and structure, so I’m hoping that once I have an outline in place, I’ll be able to jump into a first draft a bit more easily. The outline process is more labor-intensive than I would have expected, but I think it’s going to be key to my success on this project.
  • Write another piece for Bustlereally enjoyed working on my latest piece for their Feature section, so I’m definitely hoping to pitch and write for them again. Let’s get some momentum going!
  • Feel strong and healthy in my first month of half marathon trainingA few days into my training program, I’m already feeling great! My goal is to keep myself healthy so that I can make the most of my runs and lay good groundwork for the rest of my race prep.
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This morning’s run!

  • Continue pitching to Refinery29In early January, my essay about “quitting The Bachelor ran on this amazing site. I pitched a few more concepts to my editor there mid-month, and none of them were exactly the right fit, but I’m going to keep trying in February.
  • Break into a new outlet. The constant freelancer’s goal!
  • Read at least 3 books. I’m going to get my reading mojo back!
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The next books on my reading list. Let the record show that there is not a “light read” among them!

  • Finish our wedding album! I started creating our album (using the amazing photos from Bri Cibene Photography) in mid-January, and I’m hoping to have it finished and ordered by the end of February. I’m having so much fun making it — the only problem is that I want to include all of the pictures and there just isn’t space!
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Here’s a sneak peek at the first full spread of our album!

What are your goals for February! I’d love to hear about them in the comments section!

monthly goals recap —-> december + january.

Last month, when I shared my goals for December, I promised I would use this blog to help keep me accountable. If I’m going to stay honest, it seems only right that I come clean about what worked for me last month… and also what didn’t work so well. Here’s a recap of my December goals:

  • Cut down on sweets before the holidays. √ YES! For the first two weeks of December, Matt and I both eliminated sweets from our diet. It made it a lot easier to enjoy our favorite treats for the rest of the month (especially on a day like the cookie swap), because I was feeling less reliant on sugar.
  • Break into at least one new outlet. √ YES! I had my first articles published over on Bustle and Refinery29.
  • Run five miles. Unfortunately, not so much. I was sick in the middle of the month and the antibiotics made me feel pretty crummy at the gym, which set me back. I was up to about three miles before the end of the year, which I can’t say I’m totally proud of.
  • Hit 35 blog posts. Debatable. I had 34 posts by the end of December. Can we count it as a success?
  • Confirm first copyediting gig. I still have some feelers out there for copyediting, but I wasn’t able to officially lock anything up last month.
  • Write another piece for The KitchnI haven’t had any new articles actually posted on The Kitchn, but I did have some pitches accepted by the editor. I actually turned in three more essays this morning! I can’t wait for those to go live so I can share them with you.
  • Expand the reach of Finding Plan A. √ YES! It’s harder to measure this goal, but I did get more great feedback (from new voices) on the site in December. As always, I’d love for you to continue to share the blog, and don’t forget that you can subscribe so it comes directly to your inbox (instructions here)!
  • 20 pages OR a substantial outline for my book. Once again, this goal fell to the wayside. I need to work harder this year to make working on my book a priority.

I jotted down my goals for January earlier this week, which I’m excited to share today. In my last goals post, I talked about how much I love using a paper planner, and I actually just bought a new one that I can’t wait to start using. It’s called a Passion Planner and I think it’s going to be super helpful in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to structuring my goals. It just arrived in the mail yesterday so I haven’t gotten a chance to get it all set up yet, but I’m planning to dig into it this afternoon. I’ll share more in the next week or two, because I have a feeling I’m about to become obsessed with it.

In the meantime, here are my goals for January:

  • Work on my book outline. This is a carryover from last month. Instead of putting pressure on myself to start the writing process, I’m setting the more reasonable objective of having an outline.
  • Hit 45 blog posts. Let me know in the comments (or contact me elsewhere) if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see me post about this month!
  • Run 5 miles. I start my “official” training for this year’s Brooklyn Half Marathon later this month, so this should help keep me on track.
  • Read at least 3 books. Something that I’ve really struggled with since leaving my job in publishing is making time to read. When I was working in the book industry (and spending more time commuting by subway), I was reading an average of one book per week. My reading hobby has definitely suffered over the last few months. I LOVE books, so I’d like to make this a priority again.
  • Confirm first copyediting/copywriting gig. I’m rolling this one over from December.
  • Write another piece for BustleI’d love to build up my portfolio with this great site!
  • Break into at least one new outlet. I think this will show up pretty consistently on my list of monthly goals, because I want to continue to diversify my writing and expand my network.
  • Keep weeknights sacred. Before the holidays, I was having a really hard time saying “no” to social events during the week. While it’s important to me to spend time with friends regularly, I also want to make sure I’m prioritizing time with Matt and down time at home where I can step away from my office. We all need to recharge.

What are your goals for this month? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below?

five great books for gifting + reading

I’ve decided that I REALLY like being a work-from-home girl at this time of the year.

I’ll be honest with you — last week was a tough one. Coming down from a few days of Thanksgiving celebrations during which I was surrounded by my family (plus our pets), it was hard to get back into the swing of things, especially when I tend to spend so much time alone in my home office. Add in a lot of rainy weather, a few frustrating personal situations, and the general bummer that I’ve always felt between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays (doesn’t everyone feel that?), and I just wasn’t feeling my best. Things are off to a much better start this week, not only because I’m feeling great about work, but also because life is a lot more festive around here after our Sunday of holiday decorating!

When I worked in a big office building in downtown Manhattan, we had doses of holiday spirit here and there — beautiful decorations near the front door, a string quartet that would play during lunchtime in the lobby every Friday — but there’s something extra special about spending my work days in my own little wonderland. Matt and I LOVE the holiday season, and after we went a little crazy with decorations last year for the first December in our new apartment, we upped the craziness a tiny bit this time around. As I write this, I have a glimpse of the decorations in our main room, PLUS we picked up this slightly  tacky little guy for my office.

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(I’ll spare you the rest of the photos of our decorations for now. If you’d like me to post more about them, let me know in the comments below!)

With this time of year also comes lots of gifting! As you can probably guess, I’m a big fan of buying books as presents, and since my corporate gig was in publishing, I’m also used to getting plenty of requests for recommendations. I’ve decided to share with you five of my favorites from the last few years. Any one of these would make a great gift…or a great read for you if you’re planning to curl up with a book this holiday season!

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#1: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: I love anything this author writes, but this is my favorite of his novels. It’s a hefty book at over 600 pages, but it’s completely engaging and perfectly written. I read it over a holiday break in college, and I would recommend you do the same!
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#2: The Mothers by Brit Bennett: Along with many of my former colleagues, I was lucky enough to read this book a few months ago, and ever since, I’ve been itching for it to hit stores so I could recommend it to everyone I know. This is a really special read about female friendships, love, and race. The writing is stunning and I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

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#3: The Andy Cohen Diaries by Andy Cohen: On a MUCH lighter note, I breezed through this book on our honeymoon in June, and it was so much fun. It’s pure pop culture and froth, told through the interesting perspective of Bravo producer Andy Cohen. If you or anyone on your gift list is a fan of celebrities or a (closeted) Real Housewives fan (like me), this is a great choice! I recently read Andy’s more recent book, Superficial, but I preferred the Diaries.

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#4: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak: Markus Zusak is best known for The Book Thief (another complete game changer of a book), but I always like to give a shoutout to I Am the Messenger. I’ve given this to a few non-readers in my life who have all raved about it.

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#5: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld: I read this for the first time when I was in high school and have continued coming back to it every few years since then. There are so many coming-of-age stories out there, and this is by far my favorite. Plus, it takes place at a boarding school, and who doesn’t love that?

(I haven’t included links to buy here, because I’m a big believer in buying your books in whatever way makes you most likely to read them! That being said, if there’s an independent bookstore in your area, don’t forget to check out their selection this holiday season :))