Thursday, December 31, 2020

December 2020 Wrap Up

 Wrap up and send off! 2020 has been a pretty crazy year. Hopefully next year will be a little better.

Let's start off with some short book reviews.

Title: These Ghosts are Family
Author: Maisy Card
Narrator: Karl O'Brian Williams
Synopsis: Stanford Solomon is getting on in years and he decides to share his secret with his family that will affect all of their lives--he is actually Abel Paisley who was pronounced dead decades ago. His daughter from Jamaica turns up to be his home health aide and is under the impression that her father is dead. The stories of several different people meet and entwine together.
Thoughts: This was a book club selection. It was strange because it was hard to define a plot line, but it was very good and it was interesting. We discussed it and the consensus was that those of us who read it (we have two selections every month and most of us only read one) liked it. The ending was interesting to discuss. And the narration was very good!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: V. E. Schwab
Synopsis: Addie is desperate to change her fate, so she makes a deal with one of the world's darker entities for total freedom. But he twists her wish (as they do) so that she will always be forgotten. She perseveres through 300 years and ultimately arrives in New York in the present day. It is here that she meets someone who remembers.

Thoughts: I have been hearing raves about this book all year so I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I generally love her books, so I expected to like this one. And I did! It was strange and interesting and went much faster than I expected. It was a very interesting book and I liked Addie's creativity in finding ways to leave her mark.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Mr. Dickens and His Carol
Author: Samantha Silva
Narrator: Euan Morton
Synopsis: A fictional story about Charles Dickens. He is coming off of a book which was a flop and ends up more hard-off for money than he is used to. In order to bring in some money, his publishers convince him to write a Christmas story.
Thoughts: I had mixed feelings about this one. I didn't enjoy Charles' character very much and had a hard time getting through to the end. But I really enjoyed the last few chapters of the story.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Title: Booked for Christmas
Author: Lily Menon
Synopsis: Sophie is a romance writer and preparing to throw her annual Christmas party in her remote cabin. One unexpected guest shows up, the critic Evan Wolfe. Evan has written several reviews of her books that have been less than complimentary. But a huge blizzard traps them together in the cabin for the weekend. What starts out with harsh exchanges turns into something else.

Thoughts: So, I enjoyed most of her young adult books. I thought I would give this a try. It was really not for me. I don't love romance stories and books, this one was no exception. It felt contrived mostly, but it was a short story so I stuck it out.

Rating: Generously 2 out of 5 stars (Sorry, I will stick to her YA in the future.)

Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Narrator: Tim Curry
Synopsis: I don't think I need to describe this classic!
Thoughts: One of my annual re-reads. I still love it and I still imagine the characters as Disney mice and ducks.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrator: Rebecca Lowman

Synopsis: Georgie loves her husband, Neal. And she know he loves her. She's pretty sure, anyway. At the last minute, her job requires her to stay in LA to work and Neal takes their daughters to Nebraska for Christmas. Georgie all but moves back in with her mother, who thinks Neal left Georgie, though Georgie argues that this is not true. Desperate to connect with her husband, she keeps calling but can never get through. Until she tries her old yellow rotary phone in her childhood bedroom to call Neal's landline. And she gets through! To Neal in the past, during the Christmas week he had broken up with her and gone to Nebraska alone. Georgie hadn't talked to him the whole week, but he showed up to propose on Christmas morning. But now she is talking to past Neal. Is she supposed to change something? Fix something?

Thoughts: I LOVE this book. It is one of my very favorites. I cry all the way through the last few chapters (they are short chapters, its OK). I just love it so very much. After I finished reading it, I turned around a listened to the audiobook. So technically, I read it twice this year.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Title: Royal Holiday
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Narrator: Janina Edwards
Synopsis: Vivian is convinced to travel to England with her daughter who has been hired to do holiday design work for some of the English royalty. While she is here, she meets handsome Malcolm, who has been working for the queen for years. An unexpected romance blooms between them.

Thoughts: This was a book bail for me. As I said, I don't really enjoy romance, but I wanted to try it because it was the holidays and it seemed nice and appropriate. But I just couldn't do it. It was contrived and convenient, which I don't much care for. I have heard good things about it though. If you like romance stories, you might enjoy this one.

Rating: None

Least favorite book read this month: Not counting Royal Holiday? Booked for Christmas
Favorite book read this month: Landline (of course)

It is also the end of the year. I read 87 of 80 books this year, which was great. I didn't quite complete the alphabet challenge, but that is alright, it was a bit of fun.

In 2021 I hope to read 75 books. My main reading goal next year is to finish some series that I never got around to reading the last book. 

And in January, I hope to participate in this Instagram challenge (or parts of it) hosted by a person I follow and a couple of her acquaintances. Check it out here and feel free to participate and/or follow!

I wish I could say I had other New Year's Resolutions, but I don't really. I want to say I will work out or I will eat better, but with my job the way it has been, I know I can't keep those. So I guess I will say that I will try to do better.

2020 was a strange year. In some ways, my life didn't change too much since I had recently moved here and didn't know anyone or any places to go. So I didn't go anywhere. And then the pandemic happened and I still didn't go anywhere! My work life blew up to insane levels though. On one hand, I suppose it is good job security, but on the other hand it is exhausting. Luckily it is mostly work that I enjoy doing.
Because of the pandemic, several of my friends started meeting virtually and we have been meeting every week since March. While I would love to see them in person or be able to grab dinner or a drink, it has been really nice to feel so connected to them. We haven't been so involved in each others' lives for quite some time I think. That is something positive that came out of all of this and I am very grateful.

On Christmas Eve Kevin proposed to me and I said yes (obviously). He is the best person I have ever met and just the type of person I want to spend my life with. I feel very lucky. And it was a nicer way to help ring in (unintentional pun) 2021.

I hope 2021 brings good things (better things anyway) to everyone. We survived 2020. Happy New Year!

Monday, November 30, 2020

November 2020 Wrap Up

Another whirl-wind month. It went so fast. Let's see.

I am still working a bunch of extra hours each week, but I did take a few days off near the middle of the month, which was very nice.

The election has really been something else this year. I can't wait until next year, though.

Because of the pandemic, we won't be able to see family and friends this holiday season, so I have been working on getting holiday gifts together so I can send them out.

And this month was a bit lack-luster in the reading department. I only finished two books, though I am nearly finished with two more. But here are the whole two that I finished!

Title: Jackaby
Author: William Ritter
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Synopsis: Abigail arrives in a small port town in America where she meets R. F. Jackaby, a unique sort of private detective who can see supernatural creatures.  In search of a job, Abigail becomes Jackaby's assistant. Her first case is to help investigate a series of gruesome murders that are not all they appear to be.
Thoughts: This book has interested me for a while. Plus, I needed a "J" book for the alphabet challenge. I listened to this as an audiobook and I actually think that was a mistake. I hated the way the narrator read Jackaby's character. So I know that isn't the author's fault, but it made it a rougher experience. I thought the story was pretty good though, I would consider reading more of the series.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Title: The Tower of Nero
Author: Rick Riordan
Narrator: Robbie Daymond
Synopsis: After saving New Rome and rescuing various oracles, Apollo and Meg must now confront Nero and Python. He and Meg realize that they may not survive this mission. Luckily for them, they have some unexpected allies.
Thoughts: This series has not been my favorite of Rick Riordan's books. I don't mean that in a bad way, I just love his other series' more than this one. Don't take this for "I didn't like this book/series," I still love all of Rick Riordan's books. That being said, I was happy to see some more familiar characters and experience some new adventures.  I think this series was darker and maybe more serious in some ways than some of his others. I don't know why I feel that way, but I do. I did tear up a few times, so it must have been pretty good.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5 stars

Favorite book read this month: The Tower of Nero
Least favorite book read this month: Neither, really

Alphabet challenge: I completed "J" this month! And that is probably all I will manage to do. I have holiday books that I want to read in December, so I am not planning to finish Q, U, and Z. That is alright though.

I have now read 81 books towards my goal of 80 books, which feels great after not meeting my reading goal last year.

December is starting though, and I always love December. For one, it is my birthday month. Also, Christmas and Hanukkah are coming up, which I always enjoy. I love the decorations and the festive air (and it sometimes makes me wish we got more snow down here so it would add to the atmosphere! But that would also mean I need to drive in it, which I am less of a fan of). December also means winter/holiday reads. Here is my TBR for the month:
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • Booked for Christmas by Lily Menon
  • Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
  • A Universe of Wishes by Dhonielle Clayton (editor)
And if I have time, I will try to read a book for my book club if I think I can finish by early January. Then I can go to book club! Remotely, of course. But January will mark a year that I have been in the book club, so that's pretty cool.

That's about it for my November. What are your social distancing holiday plans? I want to have a digital holiday party where we can get dressed up, hang out, and drink cocktails via zoom or a similar platform. What do you think?

Sunday, November 1, 2020

October 2020 Wrap Up

 My favorite month. Which is a little different during a pandemic. But I have still enjoyed the decorations, crafts, movies, gifts, and especially my spooky reads.

My mom and I exchanged haunted house advent calendars. We bought two from Michael's and we each took one home and painted it. Then we filled the little drawers with goodies and mailed them to each other. It has been a cute and fun way to celebrate the month! Here is the one I sent to her: 

I also had several little gifts for Kevin and he was sweet enough to give me several Halloween gifts, too! He also got into some of the decorations, so we both enjoyed the month together. On Halloween, we took a gingerbread Christmas village and made it a gingerbread Halloween village. And I got to FaceTime with my mom to see her in costume as well as my brother, his daughter, and his girlfriend in their super cute jellyfish costumes! And I got to chat with four of my best friends virtually and just hang out.

Work continues to be killer. I've lost a decent amount of weight due to working in the B3 so much. I've been trying to gain it back by eating Halloween candy ;) Despite that, and how hard it can be, and how much it makes my back and sometimes my legs hurt, I actually enjoy working in the B3. It is something that I always wanted to do and I'm still glad that I get to do that and get to work with infectious diseases, which is my scientific passion. So even though some days/weeks are hard, I do feel like I get a lot out of it. 

I had a list of books that was rather ambitious. I knew I wouldn't complete them all, but I did read some great ones this month! Here are some short reviews. (Maybe consider some of them for your spooky reads next year.)

Title: The Sundial
Author: Shirley Jackson
Synopsis: Following the funeral of one of the Halloran family members, Aunt Fanny has a vision foretelling the end of the world. But everyone in the Halloran mansion will be saved. The Halloran family and their guests figure out what it will mean to be the only ones left on earth.
Thoughts: This was a book club read. We always have two books to choose from (and some people read both) and I picked this one because it is Shirley Jackson and because the book club meet was at the beginning of October. I enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but hadn't read anything else by her. This book was... strange. I read it very quickly and thought about it in between. I'm glad I read it as part of a book club because we had some good laughs discussing it. Even though I found it odd and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, it was definitely interesting and I enjoyed it over all.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Title: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
Author: Kiersten White
Narrator: Katharine Lee McEwan
Synopsis: Elizabeth Lavenza becomes companion, best friend, and confidante to Victor Frankenstein. To be saved from her abusive caretaker and secure her future with the Frankensteins, she has to become exactly who they need and want her to be. Behind the facade, she is calculating, smart, and quick. But who is she really?
Thoughts: I loved this book. It was so weird and creative. I loved the mashup of the classic story with Mary Shelley herself. It was clever and I really enjoyed it. If you like Frankenstein (or even if you didn't like it), this book is still enjoyable. I only read Frankenstein once, years ago, and didn't much care for it and I don't remember enough of it. But I was always interested in Mary Shelley and how she came to write Frankenstein. Despite not loving the book, I do admire Mary Shelley. And this was just a great new perspective on the whole story.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Horrid
Author: Katrina Leno
Synopsis: An author letter came with this book that I am going to copy here: "Have you ever seen a flower so beautiful you wanted to taste it? Read a book so perfect you wanted to rip a page out and eat it? Loved something so much you wanted to consume it, to let it live inside you forever? This is a story about those obsessions, and about spooky autumn nights, and about old family secrets. This is a story about a girl with a little curl of hair right in the middle of her forehead. This is a story about what it means to be consumed--with love, with beauty, with fear. Maybe read it with the lights on..."
Thoughts: This was the September Owlcrate book (and this box has been one of my favorite Owlcrates, too). I don't like horror, despite my love of Halloween, so I was skeptical, but it sounded really good. Plus, I have always loved the poem about the girl with a curl  in the middle of her forehead: "And when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid." And it is young adult, so I figured it would be more "horror-lite." But I did not get the ending and the redemptions and wrap ups that I was wanting. But that was oddly OK with me for this book. It was creepy and weird, but I must have enjoyed it because I ate this book up! (Not literally.) It was strange. Not my normal read, but I liked it and I am glad I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Strange Practice, Dreadful Company, and Grave Importance.  
Author: Vivian Shaw
Narrator: Susanna Hampton
Synopsis: Greta Helsing is a doctor, but her clientele are a bit different: vampires, ghouls, mummies. She treats the undead (or "differently alive," as she says in the second book) and provides them much needed medical care. But a cult of violent monks, crazy vampires, and creatures from alternate universes are causing mayhem and going after the very creatures that Greta cares for. She and her supernatural friends might be the world's only hope.
Thoughts: These were re-reads because these books are fun. I enjoy them and I like the references to other classic horror stories. I own the books and decided to listen to them this time around. It was nice to hear how some of the names are pronounced (or can be pronounced, I suppose). This series has gotten me to read other classics like the Vampyre and Varney the Vampire. I recommend this series for sure.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Eventide
Author: Sarah Goodman

Synopsis: Following the death of their mother and the subsequent madness of their father, Verity and her younger sister, Lilah, are sent to a small town in Arkansas. But once they arrive in the small farm town, they are separated as Lilah is adopted by the local school teacher and her uncle, and Verity is sent to work on a farm until she turns 18 in a few months. But there are strange things happening in the town. And the general suspicion the local people have for the woods is just weird. Until Verity starts to uncover old secrets, including old secrets about her own family.

Thoughts: This came in a book box I tried in October (Unplugged Book Box). It sounded like a good book for October, so I picked it up. Parts of it seemed historically inaccurate. It was an alright story, but not my favorite. I still liked it enough to finish it, but thought it was just OK overall.

Rating: 2 1/2 to 3 stars out of 5

I worked on reading more of Varney the Vampire, but the whole collection is soooo long and old-fashioned. It is going to take me several Octobers to actually finish it. I also started A Wicked Magic, but didn't get very far, so I will pick it up again next year. I started Jackaby, also, but I am far enough in that I will finish it in November.

Favorite book read this month: Probably the Greta Helsing trilogy
Least favorite book read this month: Eventide
I have now read 79 books towards my goal of 80 for the year. I will consider raising my goal a little.
 For the alphabet challenge, I completed letter E, started letter J, and I will probably count V for Varney the Vampire, even though I didn't finish it. 

That's all for October. I hope everyone else had a good spooky month!