The Sunday Salon: My August Book Stack

July turned out to be a decent month for reading, better than expected, which is a good thing since I was in a bit of a funk a month ago.  I finished six books this month, five from my July book stack, and an impulse read: E.F. Benson’s Miss Mapp (review coming soon).  I’ve actually read six and a half books — as July draws to a close, I’m still reading The Stories of Edith Wharton, this month’s “short and sweet” bedtime reading.  As much as I love Wharton, I’ve found these stories hard going — they’re all rather depressing.  And maybe I’m getting a little burned out on short stories after reading them all year.  I haven’t given up on this book, I’m just taking it more slowly.

Now, what have I chosen to guide me through the dog days of August?

  • A Few Green Leaves, by Barbara Pym:  This is August’s group read over in the LibraryThing Virago Group, where we’re reading one Pym each month in honor of her centenary.
  • Chatterton Square, by E.H. Young:  Young always brightens my mood with her stories set in Radstowe (aka Bristol).  This Virago Modern Classic is also on my Classics Club list.
  • Chorus of Mushrooms, by Hiromi Goto:  BuriedinPrint recommended this book ages and ages ago, and I went off in search of a copy, only to allow it to languish on my shelves.  Time to remedy that!  Besides, I read so much American and English literature, it’s nice to mix it up sometimes.
  • Questions of Travel, by Michelle de Kretser: This novel won the Miles Franklin Prize at almost exactly the same time that I received it as a gift from a dear friend.  It’s been calling my name ever since, so this is the first book I’ll read in August.

Of course I’ll keep working my way through The Stories of Edith Wharton, and I’m also looking forward to reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel, Americanah, which I’ve requested from my local library.

What books are you looking forward to reading in August?
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The Sunday Salon: Taking Stock at Mid-Year

How can this year possibly be halfway over?  Or could it be the best is yet to come?  Either way, I’ve been taking stock of my reading and blogging lately, and here’s where things stand …

I’ve read 28 books so far, with one 5-star read (read my review of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life).  This is a snail’s pace compared to every other year since I began blogging.  I’ve paid more attention to work, family, and other hobbies. As I consider my 2013 Reading Resolutions, it seems like my reading interests might be heading into some different directions.  I’m still reading a ton of classics (11 from my Classics Club list already!), and I’m keeping up with my short story project, reading one collection each month.  But I’ve read far fewer literary prize winners & nominees (just 2 Bookers, and 1 Women’s Prize), and I’ve been enticed by some recent podcasts to explore some recently published literary fiction, which I’ve kind of ignored in recent years.

I’ve also been reading much more for myself, with less involvement in the book blogging community.  Even my Sunday Salon posts have become less frequent.  And I’m in a serious “book review funk.”  I’ve posted short comments on two recent reads over on LibraryThing but just didn’t feel like writing full reviews to publish here.  I’m not sure exactly what that means for this blog, but for the time being I’m not going to force myself to do something that feels like a chore.  I might write the occasional post summarizing several books, or pop in on Sundays for The Sunday Salon.  And hopefully someday I’ll get my “blogging mojo” back!

So now we are deep into “summer reading season,” and I have an interesting stack lined up for July:

  • The Sweet Dove Died, by Barbara Pym:  Over in the LibraryThing Virago Group, we’re reading one Pym each month in honor of her centenary.
  • The Stories of Edith Wharton, Vol. 1:  This is my short story project choice for July.  I just love Edith Wharton, so I’m excited about reading her stories every night before bed.
  • Taking Chances, by M.J. Farrell (Molly Keane):  Keane is one of my favorite Virago authors, and this book is on my Classics Club list.
  • One by One in the Darkness, by Deirdre Madden:  This is an early Women’s Prize nominee (back when it was the Orange Prize), that came highly recommended from … someone, I can’t remember whom!  Oops.  Well, anyway, July was once a big month for reading Oranges, so I’m hoping to get through a few.
  • May we be Forgiven, by A. M. Homes:  This is the 2013 Women’s Prize winner.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple: No, this one’s not in the picture, because my daughter took it with her on a trip. We are both planning to read this 2013 Women’s Prize nominee in July, and I’m looking forward to comparing notes with her.

I have a habit of choosing more books each month than I finish — a holdover, I suppose, from speedier reading years.  But who knows, maybe this month I’ll manage it!

I hope your summer reading is going well.  I’ll see you around here sometime …
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The Sunday Salon: My June Book Stack

Whew!  It’s hot here in Pennsylvania.  I know it’s June but we had a late — and very short! — spring.  My garden is going crazy, so this weekend I’ve spent the cooler morning hours tending to my vegetables and flowers.  I’m trying to squeeze in some reading time around all my usual weekend errands and chores.

Although May brought some stressful events on the personal front, it was a great month for reading, as expected.  My book stack included Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, my book of the year so far (read my review), and I discovered E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series (read my review of Queen Lucia).  Honestly, I don’t think I can top that but I’m still looking forward to working my way through June’s stack.

From top to bottom:

  • The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro: This is my book of short stories for June.  I have to say I didn’t get on well with Ms. Munro earlier this year, so I’m slightly apprehensive about this but we’ll see.  When I began writing this post I had a little last-minute scramble when I realized the first short story collection I chose was actually a novel.  Oops!  Back on the TBR pile it goes; I’ll get to it in a couple of months.
  • Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope: This is the fourth in Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, which I have on my Kindle.  This is also on my Classics Club reading list.  I’m reading it now and it’s delightful.  Several characters have returned after a one-book hiatus, and it’s like running into old friends.
  • A Word Child, by Iris Murdoch: This book is also on my Kindle.  I’ve meant to read it all year, and it’s been on my monthly stack before, but I just haven’t been in the right mood for Iris.  Will June be different?
  • The Mother’s Recompense, by Edith Wharton: This Virago Modern Classic is also a Classics Club selection.  Wharton is one of my favorite authors and my last encounter with her was pretty abysmal (read my review of The Buccaneers here).  I hope this book is more true to form.
  • Revelation, by C.J. Sansom: Summer is a great time for mysteries, and I have so enjoyed the Matthew Shardlake series set in Tudor England.  This is the second to last book and the last one on my shelves.  I’m sure I’ll get hold of the last book eventually, but I’m in no hurry because then I won’t have any more left to read!

In May I was a little ambitious, and named one more book to read if I happened to have time.  Well, I didn’t get to it, so I will continue to “think ahead” and say, someday I’ll get to 2012 Booker Prize nominee The Lighthouse, by Alison Moore.  But if I’m honest with myself, that’s not likely to happen this month either!  I’ve really been neglecting my beloved prize nominees, but on the flip side I’ve read some pretty good stuff!

What book are you most looking forward to this month?

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The Sunday Salon: My May Book Stack

Welcome to May, everyone!  Between warmer weather, a garden that needs lots of attention, and new work responsibilities that tire me out during the week, my reading time has diminished and my reading mood is shifting toward lighter fare.  I’m excited about the books I have lined up this month and I can’t wait to share them with you.

Taking a closer look:

  • .Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson: This is my current read and I am so, so excited about it.  I requested it from my library, and was something like #70 in queue.  After reading many excellent reviews from LibraryThing members, bloggers, and major media outlets like The Guardian and the New York Times, I caved and bought the Kindle edition.
  • The Means of Escape, by Penelope Fitzgerald: Continuing with my short story project , this is my choice for May.
  • A Glass of Blessings, by Barbara Pym: 2013 is Pym’s centenary year, and the LibraryThing Virago Group is reading one book each month.  I’m only reading the books I haven’t read before, and this is one of them.
  • Queen Lucia, by E. F. Benson: this is one of the acquisitions mentioned last week, and this is the first in a series.  I understand they are comfort reads, and that sounds like just what the doctor ordered.
  • A Single Man, by Christopher Isherwood:  I’ve had this on my stacks for some time, after friends heartily recommended it.  I’ve heard the film with Colin Firth is also good (is there anything starring Colin Firth that isn’t?), but I’d like to read the book first.

That’s probably as much as I will be able to manage in one month.  But I’ve thought ahead just in case.  If I find myself short of reading material, I’d like to read 2012 Booker Prize nominee The Lighthouse, by Alison Moore.  My library doesn’t have it, so I’d probably download it to my Kindle.

Have you read any of these books?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

What are you planning to read this month?

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The Sunday Salon: In Which I Fall of the Book Acquisition Wagon

I’ve been absent from the Salon for a few weeks now. Nothing’s wrong, I’ve just been busy with work, family, and the garden.  My last Salon post was a recap of my first quarter reading, in which I gloated over having read more books than I acquired in the first quarter of the year.  And then, in the space of a few weeks, I managed to completely blow that reading resolution.  I fell victim to a particularly potent combination of Paperbackswap and my Virago-reading friends on LibraryThing.

First, one Virago reader posted two books on Paperbackswap which happened to be on my wish list:

Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth — yippee!

As it happened, this same Virago reader was going through some serious house cleaning.  A few days later, four more Viragos became available.  These are lesser-known works (at least to me), but I’m not picky when it comes to Virago collecting.

Clash, Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumberger, Life Before Man, and The Grain of Truth

And then, for reasons I can’t really explain, I decided it was time for me to read E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series.  Paperbackswap  to the rescue again!

Queen Lucia (vol 1) and Lucia in London (vol 3)

I have to say that when these Moyer Bell editions arrived, I was smitten.  They are in mint condition and the covers are gorgeous.  I suddenly felt I had to have the complete set — they would look so pretty on my new bookshelves!  I promptly ordered volume 2 from Amazon (I have no restraint!), and wishlisted volumes 4-6 on Paperbackswap.

Oh, and I just happen to have 2 more Viragos on the way from Paperbackswap.  I can’t believe my luck!

That’s 11 books altogether, all in a few short weeks.  And I’ve read … erm … 4 books so far this month.  Oops, so much for that reading resolution!

But really, can you blame me?
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The Sunday Salon: First Quarter Progress and a View of April

Best wishes on this Easter Sunday, for those who celebrate it.  It also happens that we are now 1/4 of the way through 2013, which is a good time to check progress on my 2013 Reading Resolutions, and then look ahead to April’s reading.

So far this year I’ve finished 13 books.  I haven’t had any 5-star reads yet, but have read several good, solid 3.5-4 star books.  I’m well into my 14th book, Sarah Grand’s The Beth Book, which I’m reading for the Classics Spin.  The challenge was to read the book by April 1.  Um … did the rules say I had to finish it by then?!  I’m bending those rules just a teensy bit, and will count this one as a March read.  So that’s 14 books in the first quarter, just off the 5-books-a-month pace that became my norm in 2012.  Now let’s take a look at those Reading Resolutions:

  1. I will read more books from my stacks than I acquire. YES!  I did it!  First of all, I only added 5 books to my library this quarter.  And all but one of the books I read came from my stacks.  The other was from the library.  Huzzah!
  2. I will continue making progress on all reading projects, but especially the Booker Prize, Women’s Prize, and Virago Modern Classics.  I’m doing OK with this one, except for getting distracted by other books in January and not reading a single Women’s Prize/Orange Prize book as I’d planned.  Well, there’s always Orange July.
  3. I will continue to foster community with other book bloggers.  I’m really enjoying The Classics Club, and had fun with a group read sponsored by my book buddy Rebecca from Love at First Book.
  4. I will read more short stories.  I’m really happy with this one.  I started the year with a stack of 9 short story collections on my nightstand, and through a simple bedtime reading routine I’ve managed to finish 3 of them.

So what does April have in store?  The other day I caught Woody, my 5-year-old yellow lab, checking out my book stack:

He was curious about my reading plans, so here’s what I told him.  From top to bottom:

  • The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:  Adichie’s two novels, Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus, were absolutely great.  I’d like to read these short stories before her new novel, Americanah, comes out later this year.
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald:  My husband read this last month, and is really grumpy I haven’t gotten to it yet. I want to make hubby happy, of course, and I’d like to read it before the seeing the new film.
  • The Misses Mallett, by E.H. Young:  I have several of Young’s novels in my Virago Modern Classics collection.  They are a delight, and this story of three spinsters and their niece sounds like a fun read.
  • The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner:  Welp, This was on my March stack because of a LibraryThing group read, but I got so caught up reading Anthony Trollope that I didn’t get to this one.  Every time I checked in with the discussion thread I could tell people loved it.  So, April it is!

And finally, there’s The Dinner, by Herman Koch.  This book isn’t in the photo because I’ve requested it from my local library.  After nearly a month, I’m finally at the top of the queue.  I’m really intrigued by this dark, disturbing book that everyone seems to be talking about.

So that’s it for me — a pretty good year so far,

How is your 2013 reading so far?
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The Sunday Salon: Let’s Get Social

If you visited last week, you’ll know I joined the Great Google Reader Freak-out and obsessed about how to follow blogs in a post-Reader world.  I’m experimenting with a combination of Feedly and Twitter to find what works best for me.

And then I realized I was only considering one side of Google Reader’s demise: how would I follow blogs?  An equally important question is, how will current Reader subscribers follow me?  It’s community that makes blogging worthwhile!  Well, first let me be crystal clear:  you will still be able to follow this blog via RSS.  If you use Feedly, your transition from Google Reader will be seamless.  And any alternative RSS reader worth its salt will allow you to import your Reader subscriptions.

There are lots of other ways to find reviews and book chat, and everybody has a personal favorite.  So this week I took stock of the social part of my blog and did a little housekeeping.  You can find links to social sites over in my sidebar, beneath “Currently Reading” and my rating system.  Here’s a run-down:

LibraryThing is one of my favorite sites.  I joined to catalog my books, and found a wonderful community of like-minded readers.  I post book reviews on each book’s page, and on a personal thread in the 75 Books Challenge group.
@lindsayla18 I publish my blog posts on Twitter, re-tweet links to interesting articles, and occasionally tweet a random thought.  I really enjoy the conversational aspect of Twitter, too.

I’ve always published posts to my personal Facebook pageand will continue to do so, but this week I created a page just for the blog.  The content here is similar to Twitter.  I use the Hootsuite dashboard which makes it super easy to publish simultaneously on multiple social platforms.  So if you spend a lot of time on Facebook, I hope you’ll visit and “like” my page!

Follow Me on PinterestWith Pinterest, we digress from things bookish.  Yes, I pin the covers of books I read and review, but you’ll also find knitting, gardening, and cute cats and dogs. 🙂

This has nothing at all to do with books, unless you count the library of knitting books and magazines I’ve cataloged on Ravelry.  And links to recent blog posts appear on my profile.  But I know a lot of book bloggers also knit, and I’d love to be a Ravelry friend and chat about yarn, techniques, and creative projects.

I hope you’ll check these out — I look forward to “seeing” you!

Meanwhile, I’m still reading Doctor Thorne and At the Owl Woman Saloon.  I’m really ready for something new!

How about you — what are you reading this week?
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The Sunday Salon: On “Reading it all,” … or not

Two weeks ago I shared my March over-commitments with you, and now that we’re halfway through the month I can say with complete certainty that I will not make it through everything I hoped to read this month.  I have three books on the go now: one for my short story project, another for a LibraryThing group read, and a third for a group read hosted by Rebecca @ Love at First Book.

From left to right: At the Owl Woman Saloon, Doctor Thorne, and In the Woods

Tess Gallagher’s stories are poetic and beautiful.  Doctor Thorne is typical Trollope and good fun, and In the Woods is a gripping crime novel.  The vast differences between these books make it somewhat easier for me to read them concurrently, but I can’t help feeling frustrated that I haven’t finished a book yet this month.  I still hope to read The Beth Book, by Sarah Grand, my pick for the Classics Spin.  But I’ll have to defer The Word Child, by Iris Murdoch and The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner.  The latter was a LibraryThing group read, but it seems like a lot of folks are slow to start.  With any kind of luck, the group read will still be going when I get to this book.

So there I was feeling frustrated about not being able to read it all, now, when suddenly my Google Reader exploded with news of Google Reader’s retirement on July 1.  I was quickly distracted from reading books, and found myself obsessing on reading about Reader!  Feelings ranged from outrage to resignation, and I pored through several articles recommending alternatives to my beloved RSS reader.  I even test drove a couple of services, ultimately deciding that “plan A” is Feedly, which I use today, and which the company claims will seamlessly adapt when Reader disappears.

But wait.  Not so fast.  Along came The New Yorker, questioning the value of RSS feeds in the first place.  And suddenly I saw myself not as a hip and hyper-connected blogger (which I surely am, LOL) but as a luddite, clinging to a cute but clumsy bit of retro tech.  In Farewell, Dear Reader, Joshua Rothman wrote:

Reader was made for absurdly ambitious readers. It’s designed for people like me—or, rather, for people like the person I used to be—that is, for people who really do intend to read everything. You might feel great when you reach Inbox Zero, but, believe me, it feels even better to reach Reader Zero: to scroll and scan until you’ve seen it all. Twitter, which has replaced Reader (and R.S.S.) for many people, works on a different principle. It’s not organized or completist. There are no illusions with Twitter. You can’t pretend, by “marking it read,” that you’ve read it all; you don’t think you’re going to cram “the world of ideas” into your Twitter stream. At the same time, you’re going to be surprised, provoked, informed. It’s a better model.

Does anyone else find this mind-blowing?  I am constantly in pursuit of “Reader Zero,” so much so that I usually find myself scanning post titles, reading one or two, starring a few more  to read later, and then marking all as read and breathing a sigh of relief.  And I do this several times a day, lest I miss something.  Then I hop over to Twitter, and find many of my fellow bloggers there, tweeting the same posts I just saw on Reader.  But they’ve also been chatting, and I’m usually too late to join in — the conversation moved on while I was busy “marking all as read.”

So I took a hard look at my Reader subscriptions and shifted the news I’m most likely to “mark read” to Twitter.  Instant relief — no pressure about keeping up with those anymore!  Now I’m considering shifting as many sources as possible to Twitter, and using Feedly only for my blogging friends who aren’t tweeting yet.

It feels kind of liberating already: no pressure to read it all, and I might even free up some time to read my books!

Do you still use RSS?  Would work Twitter for you? 

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The Sunday Salon: Jane Austen at the Flower Show

Today is the last day of the Philadelphia Flower Show, an annual extravaganza devoted to gardening and horticulture.  This year’s “Brilliant!” theme revolved around all things British.  When I visited the show last Sunday I was ready to take in all the pomp and circumstance, and all the grandeur.  In addition, acting on a tip from the Jane Austen Society of North America, and the serendipitously timed Classics Club March Meme, I was also keen to discover a bit of Jane Austen at the show.  More on that in a minute.  The day before visiting the Flower Show, The Classics Club posed this question:

Do you love Jane Austen or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”? (Phrase borrowed from Mark Twain).

  1. Why? (for either answer)?
  2. Favorite and/or least favorite Austen novel?

If you follow this blog, you’ll already know I love Jane Austen.  Just search on her name, and you’ll find reviews and thoughts.  I’ve read each of her novels once, and am working my way through the cycle again.  A two-year-old post, Why I read Jane Austen, answers the Classics Club’s first question and since it’s one of my favorite posts, I see no reason to write another!  My friend Tui described her love for Austen in a way that really clicked, and started me on my own “reread one each year” plan:

Every winter at some point, I reread a Jane Austen and have for decades. Why? Every time I do, something new comes out of each book but also it is like walking and talking with a good friend, sharing her observations of everything from nature to people.

Before I started rereading, I considered Persuasion my favorite Austen novel.  But now I’m not sure.  I’ve reread Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, and with each one I discovered new gems and insight I missed the first time around.  I don’t think I can name a favorite, or a least favorite!

Now, about the Flower Show.  The first thing visitors see is this huge replica of Big Ben, visible from just about anywhere in the show:

At one point, you might think you’ve stumbled into the London Underground:

In the midst of all these larger-than-life exhibits, I turned a corner and came across a row of faux shop windows and doorways, all decorated in British themes.  And suddenly, there was Jane, courtesy of the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Eastern Pennsylvania region:

I loved this small cottage entrance adorned with the opening line from Pride and Prejudice. Poking out of the letterbox is a missive addressed to Lizzie Bennett — no doubt from Mr. Darcy!  There’s a lovely stack of books with a cup of tea close at hand, and of course the inevitable silhouette of Jane herself.

This was a lovely oasis amidst the throng of visitors, just as Austen’s novels can offer a nice quiet space to escape from the busy-ness of everyday living.  Be sure to stop by The Classics Club or follow #ccmeme on Twitter, to see what others are saying about Jane Austen.


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The Sunday Salon: My Over-committed March Book Stack

What was I thinking?  Back in December, March seemed so far away and I gleefully committed to two group reads.  In February I added two more commitments for March that sounded like too much fun to resist.  And then there’s my short story project, and a LibraryThing Iris Murdoch group offering further temptation, and I fear I’m rather over-committed.

The good news is, I really enjoyed reading through my February book stack.  I re-read a Jane Austen novel, finished my second collection of short stories, read an immensely enjoyable Tudor mystery,  and savored a novel by the great Molly Keane.  As I write this, I’m nearly finished with Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters, which has also been a very good read.  Quite a satisfying month.

But March … oh, March.  Again, what was I thinking?

 photo AF06BC27-7AF2-41B4-9ACE-8362CF1B7F7E-4913-000005C3304B1095.jpg
From top to bottom:

  • Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope:  This is on my Kindle, thank goodness, because print editions are over 900 pages!  This is for a LibraryThing group read. Several of us read The Warden and Barchester Towers, and wanted more.  But 900 pages more?  Good heavens!  CORRECTION: The Penguin Classics edition of this book is 592 pages.  Still …
  • The Word Child, by Iris Murdoch:  Also on my Kindle, and now vying for the “most likely not to be read in March” award.
  • At the Owl Woman Saloon, by Tess Gallagher:  These are my bedtime short stories for the month.  I’m not going to let my other commitments send my short story project off track!
  • The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner.  Another LibraryThing group read.  I picked this up in a used book sale two years ago, not long after reading Angle of Repose, which was terrific.  The group read inspired me to dust it off.  Now will I read it?
  • The Beth Book, by Sarah Grand: This is my pick for the Classics Spin, and the rules say I have to read it by April 1.  Eek!
  • In the Woods, by Tana French: My book blogging buddy, Rebecca @ Love at First Book, is hosting a group read in March.  As with the Stegner, the book was already on my shelves.  I really want to read it.  It seems like it’s just meant to be, doesn’t it?  Want to join me? It’s not to late to sign up!

Since I’ve been on a 5-books-per-month pace for a while, and one of these books is huge, it’s doubtful I can get through them all.  Oh, and did I mention I completely succumbed to hype and requested a book from the library, too?  Granted, I’m #46 in the queue but I’ve moved up about 10 spaces in the past week so it’s possible it will be mine before the month is out.  And then what will I do ?!!

To begin with, I’m not going to worry about it.  I’m just going to dive in and do my best.  Short stories will continue to serve as bedtime reading.  I’ll be glad if I get through half of Doctor Thorne, and I don’t mind spreading that out over two months.  Rebecca suggested a schedule for reading In the Woods, which looks manageable too.  I’ll have three books on the go at any one time, which is a real change for me.  But I’m up for the challenge … wish me luck!

Do you have any challenging commitments this month?
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