Author Archives: holtfan

Virtual Conference Speaking

Me: “So, just to verify, these are new homeschoolers?”

Conference Organizer: “Yup, most of them are considering switching mid-year and that’s mainly who needs the basic legal advice.”

Me: “Great, and just to verify, how long were you thinking for speaking and then questions?”

Conference Organizer: “I’ve got nothing till your colleague presents in an hour.”

Me: “You want me to speak for an hour?!”

Conference Organizer: “Say, 45 minutes, max.”

Me: “…”

Conference Organizer: “How long is your presentation?”

Me: “Uh, I’ve been clocking in around 11 minutes?”

Conference Organizer: “Oh, well, that’s good too.”

I managed to stretch it to 15. Off to a lovely start this virtual conference season!


(Actually, she was really great about it and didn’t actually expect me to go over 20 minutes.)

Not A Romantic Comedy

“And then,” I informed my sister on the phone. “I had to drive all the way home because I left my purse at home for the first time ever and of course that would happen on the day I need to show my driver’s license. But I got in the car and discovered I needed to get gas. But then I couldn’t because, obviously, I didn’t have my wallet. And then…” the story went on. I was having a supremely aggravating day.

“You know,” replied my sister. “If this was a movie, everything you listed would be just the start of a grand adventure or a meet cute or something wonderful. So, keep an eye out for that.”

And so I did. She was right, it was a good attitude shift. But alas, if it was the setup to a romantic comedy, apparently we’re still in the establishing shots.

Quarterly Breakfast

Turns out, my organization has quarterly breakfasts where we all troop over to the college-next-door’s cafeteria, eat mushy cafeteria eggs, and recognize all the newbies. Newbies like me.

Nothing to make you feel welcome like being forced to stand and give an impromptu speech in front of two hundred of your closest co-workers.

Actually, it wasn’t too bad and I got to sit with people from outside my department, which I appreciated. But I also wonder if anyone has ever tracked turnover rates with this particular hazing ritual?

Homeschool Famous

Quarterly Goals

Each quarter, my work creates an incentive to help employees meet their various physical/mental/financial/health goals. You set the goal and if you meet it, you can win vacation hours or cash. It is a good idea. You have to choose an accountability partner and pick at least 4 goals ahead of time. But week 1 in and I’m not proving particularly successful.

I chose for my goals:

  • walking 30 minutes a day
  • studying Spanish 30 minutes a day
  • flossing
  • cooking 3 recipes a week

So far I have…flossed.

Thankfully I have 11 more weeks to go. But it is rather demoralizing to be one week in and not particularly inspired by any of my goals? (I did think about making the goals sleeping 8 hours or reading or blogging daily or taking vitamins but all those felt like cheating because I do them normally.)

Happy Birthday, Bethany!

It is my sister’s 21st birthday ❤ And honestly, she’s the coolest.

Image may contain: 3 people, including Anna Buchmeyer and Bethany Buchmeyer, people standing and outdoor

I know I wasn’t the easiest person to live with my final year of law school/summer as a new attorney. I was in a stressful/not always healthy place. Bu she put up with all my drama…and also me bailing on her three months into our new lease.

My moving to Virginia really shook up her life (and resulted in her moving back in with our parents) and I don’t give enough credit to how graciously she handled it. So, thank you, Bethany. For giving me the chance to pursue my dreams without feeling guilty. I am lucky to have you as a sister and a roommate.

Here is to 21! May it be full of delightful surprises, unexpected blessings, and good wine. ❤

How I Read So Much

To wrap up my “final thoughts” on 2020, I thought I might dive into how I read so much. I get asked the question fairly often and I guess it makes sense. I read 400 books in 2020. How? Some of the answer simply boils down to my living situation. Some of it I can to credit to speed-reading or listening. But I’ve been a speed-reader for years and if you look at the last decade, something clearly shifted in 2018. I went from averaging a respectable 150 books a year to over 200. Then over 300. And now 400. And I can’t really credit myself. But listing the factors…

  1. Stage of life. I live alone. I’m in a new city where I don’t know anyone and never get invited out. And COVID restrictions mean that even if I would like to go out, there are not many options. Heck, half the time I show up to a church on Sunday morning I find it has been canceled. All that equals lots of downtime to read.
  2. Personal tastes (and lack of hobbies.) There is no way to say it without sounding pretentious, but I don’t watch TV or movies. I get bored. I don’t mind watching with other people. Then I can discuss it and feel more engaged. But to pull up Netflix and try and watch something? Doesn’t work! I used to find K Dramas a good outlet but ever since DramaFever’s demise, I have struggled with even them. And also I have no other hobbies excepting my daily blog post.
  3. I read when stressed. I use books as a coping mechanism. With a few exceptions (say, it is the end of the year and I want to hit particular goal…), if you want to know how I’m doing, check on how many books I’m going through a day. It usually means I’m in denial and refusing to process through something negative. Law school was stressful…hence why my reading spiked in law school.
  4. I speed-read. And speed-listen. I am going to circle back to the speed-listening thing in a later point. But it is rare to find an audiobook I don’t listen to at 3x speed. And as for speed-reading…I once picked up a book on it and was surprised to find it was basically the scientific version of what I was already doing. You don’t read the full word, you take in a sentence or a paragraph at a glance. Of course, the level of difficulty impacts how fast you can go. Fiction reads easier than nonfiction. But it is worth looking into.
  5. I don’t finish books I don’t enjoy. Generally. There are obvious exceptions, like if it is a classic I really feel I ought to read even though I hate it (* cough * Candide * cough *) or if I’m itching to write a really blistering review. But I’ve discovered that if I’m not gaining something from the book, it usually means I need to set it aside and come back to it later. Or find a different format. What I don’t like as an audio might be perfectly fine in print. It is worth the effort to take the time and find a format I vibe with.
  6. I read multiple books at a time. Like, a minimum of 6. At least one or two for every app and a handful in print. If I’m really enjoying one I might intentionally set the others aside and finish it. But more often I’m steadily reading a bunch of books at the same time. At the very least, I always have the next book I plan to read in mind.
  7. I don’t read a lot of print. Most of the books I read are electronic. This was the single biggest change in 2018 and the one that has been spiking my numbers ever since. I downloaded my library’s OverDrive app. (Otherwise known as the Libby app.) And the Kindle app. And the Google Books app. From a practical standpoint, my access to books became instantaneous. Everywhere I went, thousands of books came with me. Stuck at the airport? Not a problem, I could tuck into a cozy mystery series. Waiting between classes? Time to ignore the existential dread with a little Georgette Heyer. Not ready for bed but wanting to veg? Time for a Berta Ruck novel. And because my access to books expanded, my access to different authors and genres expanded as well. It took some trial and error. Timing holds, finding decent freebies, learning when to read on and when to give up. But with each year I’ve gotten better and my reading has expanded. And now I’ve even got a list of books I re-read each year that I pluck from all the different apps, none of them available to me in print. (Between Kindle and Hoopla and Libby and Kobo and Nook and Play Books and Project Gutenberg and I’m sure something else I’m forgetting, my phone is basically just reading apps. But I do also make extensive use of my Kindle.)
  8. I use audio books to get through books I’m not enjoying in print. Audiobooks are a lifesaver for getting through the classics. I doubt I would have managed Anna Karenina or Wives and Daughters or Vanity Fair without them. Perhaps it is because I am an audible learner. Perhaps because the fast speed forces me to pay attention and not let my mind wander. Whatever the case, I love audio books and according to scientists the human brain registers them the same way it does traditional reading. While I listened to audio books before my discovery of the Libby app, once again I need to credit that technology with transforming the way I listen to audio books. I get through books so much faster now and I have access to so many more. I also use Hoopla and YouTube for my audio books. (Though both only allow 2x speed!)
  9. I use Goodreads as a motivator. You know how you get a little endorphin hit every time someone likes your Facebook post or Instagram picture? Well, that’s me with Goodreads. I average about 6 likes a review and I definitely get a chemical rush every time. It is why I think I haven’t been able to get into podcasts, even though I’ve tried. I can’t slavishly track my numbers with podcasts like I can books. There is no sense that I’ve achieved a goal I set or moment of excitement when I get feedback from friends as I process through what I heard or read. I mean, is that a healthy reason to read so much? Probably not. But I’ve got to give credit to Goodreads for being a huge motivator. It also has introduced me to countless good books over the years.

My overall point with sharing all this is to say that while life circumstances and practice have made me a reader, technology makes it possible for me to read as much as I do. Ebooks and audiobooks transformed the way I read. I’m bad with math so I won’t hazard a percentage increase in my book reading but it must be well over 200% since I started making use of my phone as a reading device. And while I acknowledge there is a dark side to consuming books at the rate I do, I’ve written about it before and perhaps will again, the ability to get through so many books opens so many new worlds. I don’t think I could give it up if I tried.

I guess my follow up question…have you had a similar experience? Do you use e-reads and audiobooks and do you find access to them helps or hurts your reading? What are factors that help or hurt the number of books you read?

My Least Favorite Reads of 2020

Despite the number of books I read last year, I only rated 11 of them 1 star! Here are my least favorite reads of 2020:

Plato, Not Prozac!: Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems by Lou Marinoff

As the catchy title promises, this book is a pitch for “philosophical counseling” over medicated therapy. The main thesis is that most of the problems being treated by psychiatry/psychology/religion could better be treated by throwing a random life philosophy at a person instead. And I do mean random. The author takes a smorgasbord approach, borrowing heavily from all types of Eastern and Western philosophy, throws in a few quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, and of sits back to see what sticks. Unfortunately, the result is both boring and uninspiring.  

It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office by Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox

Very, very dated. Published in 2005, the authors loudly wonder why Hillary Clinton never ran for president. Hmm. Didn’t really reveal anything new and overall irritated me with its supercilious tone. Further, the “academic” writing style did much to mask the the readability of the findings, resulting in the authors point-blank stating their very messaged conclusion to get their highly doubtful point across.

Rose O’ the Sea by Countess Barcynska

Published in 1920, I don’t know if I can think of a single redeeming thing about this book. The story follows the naïve, “innocent” heroine, Rose, who cares nothing for money and only wans to work with flowers and live near the sea. So, she does the obvious thing and moves to London. There her sweet innocence makes everyone around her become a better person…except for the ne’er-do-well young wastrel who tries to kiss her. His Dad goes to apologize and ends up falling in love with her himself. They get married. But don’t worry, family gatherings won’t be awkward because the ne’er-do-well dies of wasting disease after committing the crowning sin of marrying a * gasp * actress. He does repent on his death bed, though, ’cause Victorian moralizing got to moralize.

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

A fairly popular mystery that occurs at a Sherlock Holmes convention, I found this one immensely disappointing. The characters are universally unlikable, the intertwining plots boring, and the solution downright disappointing. I found the main character particularly egregious as he demonstrates no social skills or interesting personality traits besides a boorish ability to destroy crime scenes. Yet somehow he is joined by a Female. A perky, wide-eyed, you-really-hope-she-is-the-villain-because-no-one-should-show-this-much-interest-in-a-human-lumpasaurous type Female. But alas for dashed expectations…and the dignity my gender.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

This book is basically a cheerleader shouting the same peppy phrases over and over again with some pseudo-psychology and pseudo-economics mixed in for good measure. The segment on Marxism especially made me want to go bang my head against a wall.  If you are looking for something with substance to help you pursue your dreams or advice on where to start, this is not a great resource unless you want someone yelling at you that rules are for losers and job-security for cowards.

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Do not let the pretty, innocent cover fool you. This is a graphic romance novel all dressed up to look like historical fiction. It may try to be more with its very heavy-handed “be on the right side of history and give women the vote!” theme. But all it succeeds in doing is sullying the names of suffragettes.

Loyalty’s Web Joyce DiPastena

If looking for a historical mystery with the suspense of a Blue’s Clues episode, then look no farther. What the story lacks in intrigue it makes up for in drama fueled entirely by irrational females, pointless miscommunication, and flagrant mistrust for no reason. To be fair, I’d probably have liked this one a decade ago because it is a squeaky clean romance and no judgement if you liked it. But yeah, I am not going to go out of my way to recommend this one.

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

The story attempts edgy by focusing on the twisted relationship between an obsessive school teacher and his successful student. Unfortunately, it mostly just feels awkward. Read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by the same author instead.

Her Best Match by Tamie Dearen

I suppose I didn’t expect much from a Kindle freebie, but I gave into the promise of a clean, cute office romance. Except instead of sparks flying, I got to read about a bunch of blithering idiots. The heroine, despite being a widow with two grown-up daughters, has the maturity of a 16-year-old. She lands a secretarial job for a fabulously wealthy CEO. Even with insta-love, a love triangle, and a meddling mother, the story could have wrapped up at the 40% mark. The  pure effort the plot takes to keep the couple apart is truly something else. Except that it wasn’t really extra plot. It was just stupid misunderstandings that keep going and going and going until you wonder how any of these people accomplish anything.

Candide by Voltaire

It is satirical. It is historically relevant. And it is trash.

Old World Murder by by Kathleen Ernst

A cozy mystery set at Old World Wisconsin with references to Madison, Eagle, and Waukesha County landmarks?! So much potential! But alas, I’ve not been this disappointed in a Wisconsin-themed story since The Coincidence of Coconut Cake tried to pitch cheese curds as the food of love. To name a few issues: the timeline is super confusing, the romance utterly unbelievable, the faux-feminism offensive, the last 10% of the book superfluous, and the focus entirely on Swedish ancestry. Swedish! Like this is Minnesota or something! Excuse you, it is New Berlin, Wisconsin, not New Stockholm.

Favorites of 2020: Patricia Briggs

Much like Mary Stewart in 2019, Patricia Briggs stood out in 2020 as an author who took me by surprise. I devoured her books. In fact, I read 22 of them. But unlike Stewart, she is not an author I am going to recommend to everyone. She’s not even an author I would have recommended to myself in past years. In fact, there are many days she is not even an author I want to admit to reading. So, take all that as my disclaimer, my caveat, and my confession.

Because, yes, Patricia Briggs writes books with werewolves. And I read them.

Actually, quite a few people do, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed joining a fanbase that is both loyal and rabid this past year.

Though she writes fantasy novels as well, Briggs is primarily known for her two paranormal/urban fantasy storylines set in the Mercy Thompson Universe. The main one follows Mercy Thompson, a werecoyote who works as a Volkswagen mechanic in Washington. She lives next door to a pack of werewolves, used to work for a gremlin, and sometimes fixes vehicles for a local vampire. Normal stuff. Except life tends to treat poor Mercy as a punching bag and she eventually becomes the go-to investigator for most of the suspicious paranormal activity in the area as the series progresses.

Interspersed in Mercy’s series is another series called Alpha and Omega. This one follows Mercy’s foster-brother and his wife (both werewolves) as they deal with werewolf relations on a more…national scale. I actually prefer their books but for the sake of this post I am going to focus on Mercy, since her series is the main one.

Here are three reasons why I think this series succeeds so well:

1. Clear good v. evil. There might be morally gray characters. In fact, everyone is morally gray. There might be monsters. Actually…they’re all monsters and they know it. But those monsters choose how they behave. And vampire, werewolf, or human, those decisions (and not what they are) make them who they are.

2. The stories stand alone—and can do so because of the fantastic world building. Now, the books don’t stand alone in that you could pick up Book #7 without the preceding 6 books for context. (I mean, you probably could, but you’d be confused.) But each book gives the reader closure. There is an intriguing, overarching plot to this series but each individual book tells its tale and stops. No cliff-hangers. And no need to go run out and buy the next book…but you want to run out and buy the next book because you know you will get a story that advances the character arcs, tells an epic tale, and presents a new, interesting villain.

3. Finally, Briggs’s stories are entertaining because they are never formulaic. Well, they are in the sense that Mercy finds herself in some sort of trouble with a paranormal being and has to find a way to escape. But the author shakes up the formatting. The actual villain might remain hidden for at least 80% of the story. Or he might show up in chapter 1. The drama might happen on her home turf, or take Mercy somewhere totally new. Sometimes Briggs shakes things up with the type of supernatural being; sometimes she changes it with reveals or character arcs. But she usually keeps things different and therefore interesting.

Now, is this my favorite series in the world? No. Should you go out and read it? Probably not if this isn’t already your cup of tea. It is dark, edgy, and has truly atrocious covers. But this series also taught me not to discount a book solely because of the ugly cover. (Oh wait, don’t judge a book by its cover?) Or the embarrassing genre. (WEREWOLVES.)

And I have to say, for everything 2020 was and was not, discovering the Mercy Thompson series was definitely a plus. (Except for the graphic novels. They were SO UGLY. WHO SIGNED OFF ON THEM?!)

2020 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reads (Part 4)

I read 400 books in 2020. Here are my remaining favorites:

The Odyssey by Homer

I actually liked this one a bit better than The Iliad. I like the way the story plays chronologically, starting with Odysseus’s son and then filling in backstory through Odysseus relating his memories. It kept things fast paced and right in the middle of the action. Made me glad I wasn’t born a woman in Ancient Greece, though. What a sucky time to be alive.

All The Queen’s Sons by Elizabeth Kipps

A gender-bender 12 Dancing Princesses retelling! I’ve mentioned this one on my blog before but seriously–I think this one is a delight and well worth picking up for lovers of fairy tales. It is a short but charming tale of a feisty shoemaker’s daughter who is determined to solve the mystery of the prince’s worn out dancing slippers.

No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleezza Rice

Looking for a general but through overview of the foreign policy that defined George W. Bush’s presidency? Look no farther. Pick it up on audio book if the size intimidates you. (It intimated me!) It is worth the read. I found this memoir particularly fascinating because the moments she describes defined my childhood. She describes 9/11 from the perspective of someone in government at the time. Though if I have one complaint, I wanted more of Rice’s perspective. This is not a memoir where the writer overshadows her subject. While Rice sometimes references the unique role she played as a single, black woman as Secretary of State (particularly when meeting with traditional Islamic rulers or responding to Hurricane Katrina’s race issues), she rarely does so overtly. But because of that, I found I listened closer to see how she engaged with her male colleagues or dealt with confrontation or handled being a single woman in politics. A powerful read.

The Fall by Albert Camus

I once saw a video essay that described Camus as “the angst you feel the summer before going to college when you’re stuck at home but know there must be something more out there.” He’s so angsty. And normally I am not down for angst. But this is the sort of angst that rings true to life. I don’t think it tells the whole story. My worldview certainly encompasses more. But I can’t help admiring how beautifully Camus summarizes the despair of realizing how messed up mankind is without more.

The Dancing Star by Berta Ruck

Berta Ruck never ceases to amaze me with how modern her fluffy, romantic novels read. Not modern in a scandalous sense…but rather, as this book itself begins: “Here is a story of the conflict between Love and Ambition. An old conflict? Old for men. Fairly modern, however, for women.” Career or family? Here is the whole dilemma laid out in 1923! The story follows Ripple Meredith, a gifted dancer caught between her traditional family and fiancé (Love) and her passion for dancing (Ambition.) But other themes also come into play, including sacrifice, passion, purpose, and “getting a chance.” Ripple’s mother sacrifices so her daughter can “get a chance” before settling down with the first nice young man to catch her eye. You can read it as a social commentary or just for the adorable romance, because it has both and there is a delightful romance. This might be my favorite Ruck novel yet…but then again, I think I say that about every one I read.