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2020 In Reading

2020 In Reading >> Life In Limbo

2020 was not my best year for reading. When the lockdowns first hit in March here in Toronto, I found myself dealing with so much uncertainty as a self-employed person. I was pretty stressed and not sleeping well, and another side effect was that I couldn’t really focus on anything besides the necessities: my business and my mental health. Reading, as much as I love it, fell by the wayside.

So for big chunks of the year I wasn’t reading much, or at least not anything remotely challenging. I read a lot of romance novels. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance novel! I just normally like to diversify my reading life a little bit more than I ended up being able to this year. Challenging materials were harder to get into until the initial few months of the pandemic had passed, and by then I was very behind on my reading goal.

All in all, I still read a lot of books this year! I’m not actually disappointed in my reading this year by any means. It was just very different, as so much of 2020 was. Slower, harder, more fractured, more sporadic. Which is kind of a metaphor for the year in general, don’t you think? 😂

My Goal

When I started 2020 I set a goal to read 111 books. It sounds like a lot, but at the pace I had been reading, it was right on track with how much I’d read the year before. I didn’t think it would be too hard to meet my goal, while still reading a wide variety of subjects and authors.

I was wrong, lol. As I mentioned above, I quickly fell behind on my reading goal when the pandemic hit, and I’m still having trouble getting back to the pace that I love and that makes me feel good. A lot of my evening reading time shifted to become time for learning and studying, anti-racism and business skills, primarily. 

As I approached the end of the year, I decided to make my goal more realistic for where I was at. I changed it to 70 books, which is actually less than I’ve read in the past seven years. Still, 70 books is absolutely nothing to scoff at and I’m proud that I was able to prioritize this beloved habit of mine despite all the madness swirling around me.

What I Learned

1. Pull, don’t push

I’ve been saying this for years, but 2020 was the year when it really hit home. If I really want to read more, I need to make sure I have really good things to read. When I’m reading a great book that I can’t put down, I read more! I make time for it, no matter what else I might be doing. If you’re trying to read more books this year, make sure you’re choosing ones that pull you in, not ones you have to push yourself to read. 

2. Read fiction at night

Reading non-fiction often feels like work, no matter how important or meaningful the topic might be. I always find myself wanting to take notes or pay rapt attention to soak up the wisdom, and I don’t always have the energy for that at bedtime! So I’ve moved to reading great stories before I go to bed, as they’re often more compelling and don’t put me to sleep instantly. I save the non-fiction for daytime reading, even sometimes building it into my work day if I have a quieter day of work.

3. Books are better shared

2020 was a tough year, and I found myself more than ever feeling grateful for the bookish conversations I was able to share with my loved ones. I’m part of a great book club, and our discussions of the books we read always help me process more of my own thoughts and get more out of each reading experience. I also love talking about books with my partner more informally, sharing our thoughts is always so fun and meaningful. And of course, nothing is better than recommending a great book to a close friend, my sisters, or my mom (who has been reading up a storm this year!) and then getting to connect about what we’ve both read. I love it and want to remember to do more of it.

My Favourites

2020 Books >> Life In Limbo

1. Know My Name by Chanel Miller: A truly heartbreaking but beautifully written account of one woman’s experience of rape, the fallout, the justice system, and her life afterwards. Chanel is an incredible writer and this whole book felt so important and poignant for me.

2. Burnout by Amelia & Emily Nagoski: I love the Nagoski sisters (did you know Emily also writes super hot romance?!) and this joint effort about stress is an important read for anyone feeling chronically stressed and tired. The concept of completing the stress cycle is simple but crucial. This podcast interview is a great summary if you want to learn more before reading!

3. Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I took so many notes while reading this book, it just felt so refreshing and empowering. The central message is that we all need to learn to disappoint every single person around us before we disappoint ourselves. How powerful is that? So many great stories and teaching concepts inside, I think it’s a must-read.

4. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I loved this fun, sexy book about love between the First Son of the USA and the Prince of England. Such a delightful read! It reminded me a lot of The Royal We.

5. Severance by Ling Ma: I read this book (about a deadly pandemic that sweeps the globe) pretty early on in the pandemic, and yet it was surprisingly less depressing than I thought it might be. I actually enjoyed reading about a similar situation to what we were going through, and the stresses therein, while enjoying a story that was different enough to not heap on the fear. Very compelling. It reminded me of Station Eleven!

6. Attached by Amir Levine & Rachel Heller: This book just casually changed my life. I learned a lot about attachment theory in school, but only about how it impacts kids. Reading about how the theory persists into our adult romantic relationships and close friendships was fascinating and provided me so much clarity and insight as I entered into a serious relationship. I’m anxiously attached, and let’s just say: it shows sometimes. Super helpful if you find yourself dealing with the same relationship issues in every relationship you’re in.

7. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert: Another POSITIVELY DELIGHTFUL romance with a Black, chronically ill protagonist – identities that aren’t typically represented in romance. I actually listened to this one on audio and adored the accents and voices. Very sexy too, I am now a huge fan of Hibbert’s writing.

8. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd: This was my favourite book of 2020, and the one I have recommended most often since reading it. It’s a powerful, emotional, vibrant story about the (fictional, but possible) wife of Jesus of Nazareth. She is given a personality that resonated so deeply with elements of my own, a backstory, a passion, a vocation..it is beautiful and an incredible piece of writing. I loved it with all my heart. This interview with Sue Monk Kidd about it was also very good.

9. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline: I still think about this novel more often than I expected to. It’s a (slightly) futuristic story about settlers harvesting the bone marrow of Indigenous people in order to dream, and the Indigenous fight to survive under the intense colonial violence they’re subjected to. It is not all that far removed from our current reality, not to mention the history of violence this country has already inflicted upon Indigenous people. It’s a powerful book: adventurous, exciting, heartbreaking, heart-lifting. I loved it.


Gosh, I love to read. Reflecting on my year in reading is always such a joy. I love looking back and seeing what stood out to me out of everything I read, what persists in my mind and in my heart. Reading is an axe for the frozen sea within us, as Kafka said, and all of the books on this list have made me a better person in what has been a particularly challenging year. I am so grateful for this habit and for the stories that change me.

You can see everything I read this year right here, and as always you can follow along with what I’m reading over on Goodreads here! Happy reading, everyone.

PS. For even more bookish blog content, click here.

28 Favourite Things

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

Another year has gone by, which means it’s time for my annual accounting of what I’ve been up to and what I’ve loved over the past year of my life. I have to say that this year was by far my weirdest birthday, because I was social distancing from the people I love and the world as we know it was closed down. It was still special and definitely memorable, but strange for sure.

But as much as the world feels surreal right now, some traditions remain the same. No matter what, I know I’ll be happy to have this time capsule of memories someday. So without further ado, here are 28 things I loved when I was 28.


28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

TikTokThis is a recent addition to my life, but such a wonderful one. I resisted downloading it for a long time! Little did I know just how hilarious I would find it, or how much I would love learning dance choreography again, or how much joy it would bring me during a global pandemic. Bless TikTok and its weird, hilarious ways.

Sheertex TightsWatch out, these tights are no joke. They are essentially indestructible by human hands and yet very comfortable, which makes them the best tights I’ve ever owned. They *can* snag on a sharp point or toenail, so you still have to be careful, but even if they get a snag they won’t tear or run the same way regular tights do. These were expensive, but very worth it.

The DailyOver the last few years, whenever I’d go to New York to visit Katie, we’d listen to The Daily in the car and I always loved it. But it wasn’t until this year that I listened to it religiously at home as well because of the impeachment trial, the democratic primaries, and now the coronavirus. This is the only way I consume the news now and I am eternally impressed at the professionalism and the coverage they bring to tough issues. (My favourites are the episodes with smart kids.)

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

Essie Gel CoutureThe only nail polish I’ve ever found that even comes close to mimicking the look of shellac manicures at home. I get compliments on my nails all the time because of this stuff! Make sure to get the top coat too, because it makes a huge difference.

Dymo Label BuddyI found mine at a Salvation Army in Hamilton for 99 cents, but you can get one on Amazon for less than $20. These are SO MUCH FUN and are the perfect way to label things in a cool-looking way instead of a dorky-looking way (which, for the record, I’m still fully on board for). I bought black embossing tape to go with mine and now all my bottles look very chic.

Bon Appetit | I figured out how to download my favourite magazine for free onto my iPad (using the app RB Digital and my Toronto library card!) and it’s been so fun to get back into reading the issues each month even without a subscription. I adore the subculture of Bon Appetit and am also recently loving their YouTube channel too.

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

Glasslock ContainersWhen I successfully started doing meal prep (inspired by this YouTube channel), I bought myself these as a ‘reward’ for having done my meal prep for a month straight. They keep things fresh for me longer than my (also beloved) Pyrex containers, and are so satisfying to open and close.

Tiny SpellsThis email newsletter is such a delight. Little self-care prompts, with a bit of witchiness thrown in for good measure. I rarely do all (or any) of the things she suggests, but just reading it helps me feel calmer and happier. It’s fun, and thoughtful, and there are a lot of emojis.

Wild Woven Shower Curtain | I have this gorgeous hand-painted and botanically dyed shower curtain hanging in my bathroom and it makes me happy every time I see it. Pink polka dots make everything better.

Uniball Jetstream 1.0mmI have been a fan of the uniball jetstream pens for years now, but I’ve always bought the retractable ones. This year, I was introduced to the regular version by my friend Priyanka, and I have been hooked ever since. I still absolutely love both, but taking the caps on and off these ones is pretty darn satisfying. And if you haven’t written with either of these pens: you are in for a treat!

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

The Introspective RetrospectiveThis was such a fun project to work on with my friends. To reflect on 2019, we each came up with two deep & meaningful questions to ask the other women in our coven, and I packaged them together in a fun PDF with lots of emojis. Then we made it available to anyone who was interested, and were blown away by the response! So delightful.

WhatsappAfter YEARS of resisting, I am now a Whatsapp convert. The ability to quote texts is killer, and searching in a conversation is so easy. (With iMessage, the search function NEVER works properly and it’s impossible to find what I need.) I’m obsessed and trying to convince my bestie to move our text convo over to Whatsapp so we can search & quote to our hearts’ content.

Airpods ProAnother thing I resisted for a long time, mostly because I really don’t like the look of the first-generation Airpods (I can’t unsee this meme 😂). But after a lot of research and my regular headphones glitching on me one too many times, I finally bit the expensive bullet and got these. I have never once regretted it and in fact am totally obsessed with them. They make it so much easier to have calls, to do chores, to go for walks, etc, especially in winter when I had to wear mountains of hats & scarves that have a tendency to get tangled.

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

Knix | I had big love for Knix this year! I now have several pairs of their extremely comfortable underwear, a few of their amazing bras, and this super-cute, very comfy pyjama set. Their fabrics are amazing and so is their customer service. Big fan!

iPhone HolderSuch a simple device, but it comes in handy a lot more than I expected. I can use it for filming Instagram stories and TikTok dances, but it’s also helpful if I’m FaceTiming! This was an excellent use of $22.

Alexandra Gater’s YouTube ChannelI am totally obsessed with Alexandra’s style and makeovers. She specializes in renter-friendly updates, and her suggestions are always fun, colourful, and inspiring. She’s taught me a lot about home decor and watching her videos always makes me want to improve my own living space in ways big and small.

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

My Blue Coat | By some miracle, I found a mint-condition cashmere & wool coat (this $500 coat, to be exact), in royal blue (a great colour for my skin tone), at Value Village for a grand total of $21.99. I still don’t understand how it happened (Sonja helped), but I do know that this coat has been such a joy for me. I love the shape of it, and it’s so stylish and warm. Praise be!

Maker’s Clean Cloths | For years I used crappy cloths and paper towels to clean my house, but this year I finally upgraded! I have the Small Space Kit from Maker’s Clean and it’s amazing. My favourite is the glass cleaner cloth, because it leaves my mirror so clear and shiny, but all of them are great.

Human DesignLet it be known that this was the year I became interested in the quirky, odd, but helpful concept of Human Design. It’s kind of like astrology, but weirder somehow. And yet, I’ve found it so helpful and interesting to learn more about the framework – it’s really helped me inform how I live in the world. If you’re curious, start here or here.

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

East RoomMy friend Kate is a member at this coworking space, and has been good enough to let our mastermind group meet in the space each month! I could not be more obsessed with their aesthetic, attention to detail, branding and vibe. It feels so good to be there, especially when I’m so used to working from home. So much light, so many plants, so many people up to interesting things. I love.

Value VillageThis was the year I really became obsessed with the glory that is thrifting at Value Village. Up until this pandemic hit, it had really become one of my favourite pastimes to head to the big store near me and putter around while listening to podcasts. I have found so many beautiful, unique things to make my apartment feel more special! I can’t wait to get back there.

Radford FaceThis year I did some work with Victoria Radford and her management team, and was given their beautiful moisturizer as a gift. I adore how it smells and how it feels on my skin – it’s a dream. I’m also a big fan of their lip tint glow!

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

Wandering AimfullyAfter many years of admiring their work, I finally joined the Wandering Aimfully program this year and have been completely blown away ever since. Jason and Caroline are consistently delivering value, and doing so with heart and empathy and intelligence. I love being a part of the community, I love their coaching style, and I love all the resources I haven’t even had a chance to dive into yet. Such a great investment.

Burberry BritUntil this year, I hadn’t worn perfume consistently since high school. But I was so thrilled to find my new signature scent (or one of them!) this year with Burberry Brit. I’m so obsessed that I get excited when I re-wear a shirt that I’ve previously worn while wearing perfume. Is that weird? I just love the way it smells and it makes me feel so polished.

Romance novels | While this technically made this list last year, I have to put it down here again because this was really the year of romance for me. I now have a romance novel book club (!) with two friends, plus a spreadsheet of all our favourites. I also listened to this amazing podcast about why reading and writing romance novels can actually be a sacred practice. It’s become a feminist issue for me! Romance novels are disparaged because they are an art form by and for women, and hence in our culture, they must be “stupid”. I’ve had a very enjoyable time proving that belief wrong this year.

28 Favourite Things >> Life In Limbo

JoyfulI absolutely adored reading this book, which is all about the biological factors that bring humans joy: colour, surprise, abundance, and more. Her explanations of each of these elements was such a delight, and I’ve been thinking about the content ever since. Her Instagram account is very wonderful too.

Amazon Alexa | I have the Echo Dot, and while I am only scratching the surface of what this technology could probably do, it’s brought me a lot of joy this year. I love being able to ask for a song at any time, and have definitely listened to a lot more music as a result. I also like waking up knowing what the temperature is outside, or being able to get reminders about what’s on my calendar. Simple but helpful.

Zoom | Last but not least, this was the year I was most grateful for my Pro Zoom account. Thank goodness for stable video calls that don’t glitch (much) and can have practically unlimited participants. I don’t think I’d be getting through this pandemic without it.


And there you have it! 28 things I loved while I was 28. It is always so much fun putting these lists together. I mostly do it for myself, so that I can remember my life in more detail, but I also hope that something on this list can bring you some joy or delight as well. These days, we need all the lovely things that we can get.

If you’re curious, you can also see my favourite things from when I was 27, 25242322, and 21.

Tools I Use to Run My Business

I had a comment on a post several months back asking for more information about how I began my freelance work and the tools I use to run my business. The reason it took me so long to write a post in response was that I was busy doing the work itself! Usually after a long day on the computer, I try to take my leisure time away from screens, which means that posts get written around here a little less often. Fortunately, again and again in my life I am reminded that, like Glennon Doyle, I read to inhale, and write to exhale. So, finally, here we go! Here is a comprehensive list of the tools and services I use to run my current business, as of September 2017. You can learn more about my work here.

Tools I Use To Run My Business >> Life In Limbo

Note: there are a couple of affiliate links in this post, but my opinions are always and forever my own, and this post is not sponsored by anyone except me myself and I.

Websites: Bluehost + WordPress

I’ve written about my love for these two services before, but I’ve been using them both in conjunction since I first started a self-hosted blog back in 2009! A lot of people are switching to Squarespace these days, which makes sense because it’s pretty and drag-and-drop. If you only have or need one website, I would recommend it, especially for beginners. If you’ll be building more than one website (ie. I have my blog, my personal website, my former podcast website, etc), it’s far more cost-effective to go with WordPress, and the service is a lot more robust.

Time Tracking: Timely

Most things I use to run my business are completely free, because I like to keep things simple and lean. Timely is one of the services I’m happy to pay for, because I’ve tried most of the other options and they’re just not as good, not as well designed, and not as easy to use as Timely. I can manage all my clients within one platform, bill my time at various hourly rates, and run a timer for the exact length of time I’m working on a project. Trust me that it’s the best.

Invoicing: Wave Apps

I don’t use most of the (many!) features available from Wave, because I do my accounting the old-fashioned way: in a spreadsheet (albeit a Google one!) and ask to be paid by either e-transfer, Paypal or direct deposit. But I do like their invoices, because they are easy to create and look professional. I save all mine as PDF and send by email manually. That said, I’m hoping that Timely (see above) will come out with an invoicing feature soon!

Banking: Tangerine

I switched to Tangerine right when I became a full-time freelancer, and I’ve never looked back. Tangerine is only for Canadians, but I would encourage you to look into no-fee bank accounts in your country and go through the process of switching. So far I’ve saved about $200 in fees alone since making the transition, which is a non-trivial amount!

Communication: Inbox for Gmail + Slack

There is not much more on this planet I love more than I love Slack. If you are working with any size of team, I recommend using it. Hell, even if I was working 100% alone, I can still think of features I’d like to have access to (their Posts function is great for storing ideas or lists). I cannot recommend anything more highly! I have now been responsible for getting two separate work teams onto Slack, and the productivity increase and stress decrease in both cases has been palpable.

I run all my email through Gmail accounts, and Inbox is my favourite app for my phone (with all the notifications off, of course!). I especially love their function to ‘snooze’ emails to come back at an appointed time, since I operate under Inbox Zero as much as possible.

Graphic Design: Photoshop + Canva

I have a monthly subscription to Creative Cloud for Photographers, which comes with Photoshop and Lightroom for around $11 a month. If you’re just starting out: don’t even bother. Canva is amazing, has so many interesting and well-designed templates, and is really easy to use. It makes creating graphics something that just about anyone could do in just a few minutes.

Tools I Use To Run My Business >> Life In Limbo

Personal Management: Todoist + Bullet Journalling

I’ve tried a lot of different to-do list apps, and have settled on Todoist (for now) on account of enthusiastic testimonials, mainly from my friend Isabelle, who is incredibly organized and productive. It’s loosely based on the GTD model, which I am reading about right now, but mostly I like that it is very fast and very simple. If I had a larger team to manage or in-depth projects, I might use Asana, but for my own personal stuff this is perfect.

And of course, my brain likes paper far too much for me to be 100% digital! I use a bullet journal that is not even a little bit artistic or fancy – it is extremely basic and utilitarian, which works for me. I mostly use it for lists of ideas, goals, quotes, and planning out a week at a glance. Anything that doesn’t really fit on a “to do list” but I want to capture somewhere goes here.

Storage: Google Drive

I like Drive way more than Dropbox for most things, although I do have a great Dropbox setup going for sharing files with one of my clients that syncs directly from my computer. For most other things, I like Drive. I don’t save many emails, so I still don’t have to pay for Drive! Yay!

Music: Spotify

I now pay for Spotify Premium and I have never once looked back. Once it was pointed out to me that I listen to music for my entire workday, and that I was hearing annoying ads every 20 minutes, it was an easy choice to spend $10 a month.

Tech: Macbook + Over-Ear Headphones + Ergonomic keyboard

I love all these things, but I didn’t buy them all at once, and none of them are strictly necessary to start your own business. I have a refurbished Macbook that works like a charm, and I take care of it well because it is my livelihood. For my work, it’s important that my computer work fairly quickly, and that it can handle video and audio editing programs without becoming a sloth. But Sarah of Yes and Yes uses a cheap laptop and swears by it!

The headphones I have are so great: I wear them every morning at the café I work out of and they’re noise-cancelling enough to help me focus. I mainly wanted over-ear headphones because my ears were literally bleeding from wearing pointy earbuds all day long, and asked for a quality pair for my birthday, but any kind of headphone that doesn’t irritate your ears would work.

Lastly, my keyboard and mouse are a huge part of the reason that my chronic back pain has subsided – I am no longer hunching all day long.


Whenever possible, I look for tools or solutions that are cheap or free, and that work well. I am always looking for ways to pare down or streamline, especially when it comes to unnecessary business expenses, but I am also open to spending money to get something that works and makes my life easier.

What’d I miss? What else would you like to know about the way I run my business? Do you have any tools you would recommend to me?

Book Club: January + February

Book Club 2017: January + February >> Life In Limbo

I love to read, and I love to talk about the books I like best with other people. Every couple months here on the blog I choose my favourites from what I’ve read lately and write about them. As always, you can see everything I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out what I’m reading in real time at #stephlovestoread on Instagram.

My reading life took a bit of a back seat in February as I focused on some new career opportunities and – let’s be honest here – watched way too much TV in the evenings rather than curling up with a book. For that reason, it’s been good motivation (and lots of fun) to be part of a book club again: so far we’ve read Homegoing and The Happiness Equation, and this weekend we’re meeting to discuss Sapiens. All three have been great, and it’s always nice to deepen my love of reading by joining a group to talk more about books!

I read several good books over the past couple months and thoroughly enjoyed all of them! To keep things short, I’ll just mention my top 4 recommendations here, but you can always follow along on Goodreads.

Book Club 2017: January + February >> Life In Limbo

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

It’s no secret that I love Mark’s writing – he’s made many an appearance in my inspiration posts. I listened to his new book as an audio book at the very beginning of the year and really enjoyed it. He always shares a lot of interesting and counter-intuitive ideas that I haven’t heard many other places before, and his book was no exception. I really like how realistic and practical he is, which sets his book apart from other self-help stuff. Don’t let the aggressive tone of the title put you off (he explains more about why he uses the F word so much here) – despite the impression the cover gives, it contains lots of helpful advice and perspective shifts for just about anyone (aka: not just white, male entrepreneurs).

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

I’ve read many a book about World War II, but never one quite like this one. I think what I liked best about it is how the author really takes her time telling the story, in the sense that the book spans several years worth of time for the characters. She doesn’t really skip over parts, nor does the book describe details in excess, so what results is this really beautiful depiction of their lives, each getting its due but not lingering. Any section of the book could have easily been its own novel because it was so interesting and rich, but instead she weaves them together to do something even more evocative: show characters who are not solely defined by their experiences during the war. So many books about wars are only about that brief moment in the characters’ lives – in this book, she puts the characters fully into context, so you experience along with them the slow creeping up of the war and the growing hatred of that era. Getting to ‘know them’ before the travails of war is also a powerful narrative tool, because you get a true sense of the indignity and horror of ordinary people being ripped from their lives. Oh, and it’s a beautiful love story. This was a terrifying book to be reading right around the time of the U.S. inauguration and in those first scary weeks.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The best thing I can say about Jandy’s books is that they make me physically feel things. Reading them is so much fun that it makes me giddy – it makes me feel like I’m the one falling in love, not the characters. I read I’ll Give You the Sun in December and it made my list of Best Books of 2016, and as soon as I finished it I put this one (her first novel) on hold at the library. What else can I say except that these books are fun, lovely, and highly romantic. I can’t wait for her next one to be released! It’s meant to be coming out in 2017 at some point.

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

A chilling thought experiment about what might have happened had the Southern United States not abolished slavery while the Northern States did, had they compromised to avoid the Civil War. It follows the logic that the North was motivated to preserve its human values while the South wanted to preserve its ‘business interests’. It’s pretty sickening to imagine, though it also serves as a stark reminder that history could easily have gone a different way, not to mention the fact that slavery was not abolished particularly long ago, all things considered. It also doesn’t feel all that far-fetched, which is of course appalling and sad. I think it was well-written, even if I disagree somewhat with the idea of a white man writing about the experiences of people of colour – it made me wince a couple of times.


You can see all my book recommendation blog posts here.

What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? Tell me your recommendations! 

 

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