Sunday, January 31, 2021

January 2021 Wrap Up

Something I forgot to mention in my yearly wrap up and goals for this year was my intention to make sure I read books by diverse authors and especially Black authors and/or about Black people and other POC and women. Also books by/about LBGTQA+ authors/characters. It’s a small thing, but I want to take steps towards being a better ally. I think I did pretty well last year and I already have some good lists for this year. I saw other people tracking such things last year. If I can find a good way to do so, I will, but only so I can make sure that I am reading diversely.

January 2021. What a month. It has been kind of crazy.  But I am overjoyed by the administration changes and the steps that have been taken in the right directions. I feel more proud to be an American than I have during the last four years. I also have officially completed my Covid vaccination series, which is very exciting!

We lost handsome little Hades during the month, which was very sad. He probably had a brain tumor. He declined and left us very quickly and it seemed like he didn't suffer much if at all. On the plus side, I managed to finally get all three of them in the same cage without any problems or fighting! So Hades got to spend most of his last days with both of his brothers. When I was home to supervise him, that is, because I was afraid he would fall from the top levels of the cage that his brothers were occupying. Hades always wanted to be up there with them of course. He is very missed.

We took in a kitten on New Year's eve that we are nearly positive our neighbors dumped (they had a cat and suddenly they don't anymore). He is a handful. We haven't decided to keep him. Except we are buying him toys and food and litter and everything kittens need. I made vet appointments to have a check up/vaccines and also to get him neutered ASAP. He is a demon, but he is also very cute. So it seems that he is unofficially officially staying. I am thinking that he will be named Marshmallow.

It has been a bit over a month since Kevin and I got engaged. I have been doing a bunch of research. But mostly I have found that planning a wedding is difficult during a pandemic and when our families live in different areas of the country. So we have not made any real plans, but we need to wait until life seems more normal so we can have all our friends and families present wherever and whenever the wedding happens. And I'm still a little in awe of the fact that he wants to marry me and I am very happy.

Work has been... kind of rough. There have been some things going on that have been great and I am working with one lady who is mentoring some of my team who is SO complimentary about my work and my abilities. It is satisfying and encouraging to be so well thought of. However, the work we are doing has made my work life very different and, in some ways, very hard and discouraging. All in all, I still get to work with infectious diseases and in high containment facilities and I still love doing those things.

And now we can look at books I read this month.

Title: His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope
Author: Jon Meacham
Narrator: JD Jackson
Synopsis: This book follows the early life of John Lewis. Raised into religion and a natural preacher and empath from a young age, it seemed natural for him to become so involved in civil rights. The story follows him through all of the early protests and marches that Lewis participated in and the overall impact he and his fellows had.
Thoughts: This was a book club selection for December to discuss at the beginning of January. I managed to finish it just in time. I'm so glad this book was chosen because I had wanted to read it. It was so good. One of those books that really should be required reading. The only disappointment was that I wanted more! Which I suppose means I should read an actual biography.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Translator: Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Narrator: Beata Pozniak
Synopsis: Janina is an aging Polish woman who lives in a remote village near the Polish border. She teaches English in the village part time, helps her friend and former pupil translate William Blake's poems, studies astrology, and loves animals more than people. Then one of her few neighbors winds up dead in his own home. After that, more people turn up dead under strange and sometimes suspicious circumstances. Janina feels that she has insight due to her study of astrology, but no one will listen to a reclusive old woman.

Thoughts: This was a book club selection for January which we are preparing to discuss. Part of what made me choose this book was this part of the synopsis: "[this book] is a provocative exploration of the murky borderland between sanity and madness, justice and tradition, autonomy and fate. Whom do we deem sane? Who is worthy of a voice?" The main character was very interesting. She was unique in her thoughts and actions, but she has reasons for it all. We see it all from her eyes and it is hard not to sympathize with her concerns. Overall, it was strange but I rather enjoyed it.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5 stars

Title: Among the Beasts and Briars
Author: Ashley Poston

Synopsis: Cerys is the daughter of the royal gardener in Aloriya and best friends with the soon-to-be-queen. Aloriya is kept safe from the evils and curses of the woods that surround the country by the crown the monarch wears. But Cerys had an encounter with the forest at a young age and has a touch of secret magic as a result. But then the woods comes for the people of Aloriya, turning people into monsters. Cerys, with her only companion--a fox--head into the woods to find a hidden city to ask for help.

Thoughts: This was an Owlcrate book and it is such a pretty book! I have read most of Ashley Poston's books, I believe. Her Heart of Iron duology is one of my favorites. And the Once Upon a Con series is just fun. I enjoyed this book, but I have to admit that it wasn't my favorite. I did like way the story ended mostly. And really, I mostly just loved the bear.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 stars

Title: City of the Plaque God
Author: Sarwat Chadda
Narrator: Vikas Adam
Synopsis: Sik wants nothing more than to have a normal life and help his parents run their family deli. But then Nergal, the ancient Mesopotamian god of plagues, comes looking for him. Luckily, he is saved by Belet, the obnoxious new girl from school who, it turns out, is the adopted daughter of Ishtar, goddess of war and love. Ishtar and Belet take Sik under their wings and go on quests to defeat Nergal.
Thoughts: A Rick Riordan presents book about a plague god and Mesopotamian mythology? Yes please! I knew nearly nothing about Mesopotamian culture and mythology when I started this book. Parts of it were sad and heartbreaking ("Heroes don't come in this shade, Sik." Ouch times a million). And some parts were fun and just interesting. If you like mythology, I think this is definitely worth the read!

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5 stars
Title: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
Author: Jessica Townsend
Narrator: Gemma Whelan

Synopsis: Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, doomed to die by her twelfth birthday and blamed for any and all bad things that happen anywhere near her. Just before she is due to die, she is rescued by the eccentric Jupiter North who spirits her away to Nevermoor. Once she arrives, Jupiter enters her into a competition to enter the very prestigious Wonder Society. But she doesn't even know what her knack is. But she knows that if she doesn't get in, she is as good as dead.

Thoughts: I am so glad I finally read this. I finished it just in time to include it on my January reads. But I loved it. It was unique and fun and kept me interested the whole time. I can't wait to read the next one.

Rating: 4 1/2 stars out of 5 stars

Favorite book read this month: Tough choice. His Truth is Marching On and City of the Plague God and the Trials of Morrigan Crow
Least favorite book read this month: None really. Lowest rating was Among the Beasts and Briars, but I still enjoyed it.

So far this year I have read 5 books towards my goal of 75 books.

I tried to participate in the bookish photo challenge on Instagram this month, with pretty mixed results. Some days were better than others, but I mostly did not have nearly as much time as I would have liked. But it was still fun to do the little bit that I did.

I have to say, February promises to be pretty insane for me. A big study starts on the first that I am leading for my team and it is all in the high containment facility. I am excited because I love the work and because I am happy to be leading it. But it will also be horribly exhausting because I the schedule will be rough for at least a week or two and I will have other responsibilities that I cannot hand off to anyone else. So I will have a lot on my plate and much of it will be unpredictable. But I will do my best to have something worth blogging about at the end of it all!

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?