Sunday, May 31, 2020

And Then We Read Some More - May Books

2020 Reading Goal: 42/100

1. All Systems Red,  2. Artificial Condition, 3 Rogue Protocol, 4. Exit Strategies, Martha Wells - Tor has been pushing the Murderbot novellas for a long time, but I resisted.  As you all know, Science Fiction is generally not my thing.  However, Becky Chambers has changed my mind on that subject a bit, and so when Tor offered these for free in anticipation of the new stand-alone Murderbot novel I decided to try it.  (I forgot to download #4 for free...but I was happy to pay for it because I enjoyed the first three so much.) Turns out, I love Murderbot.  What a fantastic character!  Excellent plot pacing, and enough character work that it feels like more than just action-adventure.  I don't know that I've ever read anything quite like these books.  I'm not much of an action-adventure book person normally, but these were a perfect, absorbing distraction during a stressful time.  Kudos.  

5. A Darker Shade of Magic, 6. A Gathering of Shadows, 7. A Conjuring of Light, V.E. Schwab (audio) - This was a reread of a much-loved series, and I enjoyed every stinkin' minute of it.  Lila Bard remains one of my favorite fictional characters, and I love her to pieces.  There's an excellent blend of standard fantasy tropes and unique worldbuilding which makes it a super fun read.  Thank you, as always, to Daniel Boone Regional Library, which has amazing digital services...including their audiobooks through Libby!

8.  Untamed, Glennon Doyle - I love Doyle's social media presence, but I was only m'eh about her first book and I didn't read her second.  I've heard speak about this book in multiple interviews, though, and was intrigued.  To my surprise and delight, it wound up being a pretty profound reading experience.  Lots to think about - including some things for my own personal growth and some parenting ideas. 

9 Network Effect, Martha Wells - The reason why TOR offered those first four novellas for free is because they published this book, the first full-length Murderbot novel.  I wasn't really planning on buying it immediately, but hey...these books were awfully satisfying and seemed to be just what I wanted in the moment.  I'll agree with the NPR review I read - expanding to full novel size meant everything was bigger, but that nothing was lost in that translation. 

10.  The Book of Delights, Ross Gay - I've been reading this book of mini-essays for a long, long time.  My dear friend Carrie of Skylark Bookshop gently pushed me into buying a copy shortly after it was released, and I've been savoring it slowly every since - reading a bit here and a bit there as the mood struck.  It's a gorgeous book...language and poetry and the every day made magical.  I've gifted it twice, and will very likely gift it more.  Now that I'm done?  I'm leaving my copy next to the bed so that I can revisit from time to time. The book itself is a delight. 

11.  The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel (audio) - What do I think?  Hmmm.  I think Mandel is very talented at character building.  I think she's got a beautiful knack for language.  I enjoy the way she tells stories - unfolding them gently in bits and pieces through shifting perspectives and timelines.  I also think that this subject material is not at all the sort of thing I like reading, I'm glad I didn't buy it, and I'm glad it wasn't any longer.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement...but not exactly a non-recommendation either. 

12. The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (audio) - While I adored Jemisin's earlier works, I am probably one of only 10 people who really hated her multiple award-winning The Broken Earth series.  (Sorry) Fortunately, the library is an amazing gift to all of humanity and is perfect for sampling books one is cautiously optimistic about.  And.....two hours in, and I'm buying a copy.  This is an amazing, amazing book.  I absolutely adore urban fantasy/myth when it's done right - and here it's done right.  Curiously enough, I'm not at all a city person, but I fell a bit in love with New York through this book.  While I do not want to get into specifics, I will also say that the current events happening at the time of my reading reminded me of why it's so damn important to read books written by and about people who are not like you.  I've said for many years that my college education (English and Classics) gave me the twin gifts of compassion and empathy because of the books that I read.  I wish people understood how important that is.  

Thursday, April 30, 2020

When in Quarantine, We Read - April Books

2020 Reading Goal: 30/100

1.  Tess of the Road, Rachel Hartman - Oh.  My.  This book has been in my wish list since I read about it in NPR's 2018 Book Concierge.  I've checked it out from the library several times.  I don't know why I never got past the first couple of pages.  I made a snap decision to buy a copy as I was perusing my wish list, and I started reading it the very next day.  And.  Oh.  My.  I adore Tess.  I adore this book.  I adore Rachel Hartman and must-read her Serephina books.  This is a coming of age book and it's a book about healing from trauma.  It's a book about learning how to be yourself and making your own path in the world.  I'd both love to have a sequel, and I'm quite happy to send Tess off into the world on her own.  This book is 100% going on my Best of 2020 list!

2.  The Night Country, Melissa Albert - I'm disappointed.  I adored Albert's first book, The Hazel Wood, but the sequel just didn't live up to it.  It's not good when I start a book, read the first 25-50 pages, and then don't pick it up again for another month.  I will admit that the payoff at the end was good - but it took too long to get there, and I had trouble caring about any of the characters for the first half.  The tone felt kind of whiney for a while, and that was annoying.  I don't know.  I think Albert was trying to say some of the same things that Hartman was saying - but she just didn't get there.

3.  Fledgling, Octavia E. Butler - I have an odd relationship with Butler.  On the one hand, I recognize her literary genius and appreciate her importance.  On the other hand, with the exception of Kindred I've never particularly enjoyed reading her work.  I picked up Fledgling from a sale table some time ago, intrigued by the description of a story about a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire with amnesia.  It's been on the to-read pile for a very, very long time, though.  (Never a good sign.) Needing a bit of a fairy tale break, I picked it up the same night I finished The Night Country.  To my surprise, I was very quickly pulled into the story and felt compelled to read it as quickly as I could.  Much as it fascinated me, though,  the experience felt very cold.  There just wasn't any emotional warmth to the book at all, and thus no way to connect with the story or the characters.  It was more like reading a great anthropological study than a great novel.  Having said that, I did love this very unique take on a vampire story.  I thought I'd read it all.  I was wrong.

4. The Mermaid's Child, Jo Baker - I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was intrigued by the title and description, and I had loved Baker's Longbourn.  It's a story about an often abused young woman who's looking for her mother, who may be a mermaid.  It's a fantastical tale that stretches the limits of belief, while at the same time bearing so much truth that it hurts.  Curiously, it's my second coming of age novel this month.  I wish the ending had been longer.  It felt right, but it also felt pinched off too soon.  I wanted to know more.

5. The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi (audio) - I had big expectations based on my reading experiences with Chokshi's earlier books.  Unfortunately, those expectations were not met....which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy this book, it just wasn't what I had hoped it would be.  For starters, it's a heist, which is never my favorite.  Second, Leigh Bardugo did it way better with her Six of Crows duology.  Way better.  Finally, the interesting things really didn't happen until the end, when the group dynamics were upended a bit.  I'm undecided as to whether or not I'll read the next book.  (Although I have preordered it...which I can cancel.)

6.  A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit - Lordy.  I have a love/hate relationship with Solnit.  Her writing is gorgeous, and her stories are beautiful.  But.  I quite literally struggle to stay awake while reading her books AND I don't seem to retain anything.  It's not good when you pick up a book and can't remember what you read the day before.  I so want to love Solnit.  I recognize her importance in the literary world, and I do admire what she does.  It's just so boring to read, though.  (Note: While it's true that I seem to need reading material that's high in the engagement factor right now, this is a problem I've always had with Solnit.)

7.  The Queen of Nothing, Holly Black (audio) - Finally, the trilogy is completed!  Felt right to use audio as I listened to the first two books while training for long races.  (Strong memories of where I was when listening to the first as I was training for my first marathon!)  I really like Black's fairy tales, which are every bit as complex as the world of fairy should be.  Light and dark, dangerous and seductive...a caution as much as a temptation.  I forgive Jude for the character qualities which annoyed me in the second book.  I'm also delighted with plot details and character growth on multiple levels.  Quite satisfying.

8. The Queen of All Crows, Rod Duncan - I really enjoyed Duncan's first trilogy about Elizabeth Barnabus, a young woman who moves through a gaslamp Victoriana as a man or a woman as the situation needs.  Elizabeth was a fabulous character in that trilogy, engaging and fully-formed.  It was a series I stumbled across and picked up by instinct, and I loved it!  So here we go with the start of the second series, and it was - well - just ok.  Duncan has clearly grown bored with the world he built, so he's moving his character away.  While the ocean world he built was interesting, it never really captured me as the first books did.  (Hello Waterworld...)  I do still love Elizabeth, though, enough that I read this quickly and then bought the second book.  But.... (See below)

9. A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine - This made all of the best of 2019 books and is now up for a Hugo.  I ordinarily don't read science fiction, but for whatever reason, this snagged my attention.  So what did I think?  Hmmm....  I think I read this more with my thinking brain than with my heart.  While I do think it's an excellent book, I also found myself impatient at times - as if it needed some editing to condense it a bit. Ultimately I enjoyed it...but I also don't feel a burning desire to read that sequel. 

Unfinished:

1. The Outlaw and the Upstart King, Rod Duncan
- and here we are.  The second book stunk so bad that I didn't finish it.  I just hated reading it, in large part because we shifted from Elizabeth's perspective to that of an entirely new character that I didn't like or enjoy.  AND, Elizabeth was practically unrecognizable.  The whole thing was set in a new location, and the culture of that location was extremely violent in a way that was offputting.  Huge disappointment.  Huge.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The World Changes, But I Keep Reading: March Books

2020 Reading Goal: 21/100

In the last month, our world has gone completely sideways.  Much has changed, and most assuredly we're going to find a new normal when we come out on the other side.  My family has been fortunate.  Thanks to my job we were more aware than most of what was coming and were able to prepare.  (It's been a bit like watching a tsunami approach.  Now that the wave is here, though....) . Our jobs are uniquely well suited to working from home, and our kids are old enough that we aren't having to act as teachers.  We're taking this one day at a time, which is all we can do. 

I'm finding that one thing that helps is to bury myself in my books.  So here you go...and let's see what the numbers look like when the quarantine is over. 

1.  Imaginary Numbers, Seanan McGuire - I really enjoy the way McGuire has organized her Incryptid books - following a specific family member for a few books and then moving on to another.  It's a pretty spiffy way of making sure a series doesn't get stale, while giving fans more of what they like.  This is her first book about Sarah, and it was a lot of fun!  (I refer to this McGuire series as her 'popcorn' books. ) Sarah, not being human, is an interesting character with a unique point of view.  At the same time, I will say that the overall plot maybe stretched the margins a bit much, which is saying something for these books.  We're clearly set up for the next Sarah book, so it'll be interesting to see where it goes.

2.  Follow the Lady (novella), Seanan McGuire - I very much appreciate that McGuire has begun adding a novella to many of her works.  It's always nice to get just a little bit more.

3.  Nevertheless, She Persisted, Flash Fiction Project by TOR - TOR offered this freebie, and it gave me a fascinating read.  The book is made of very short stories - usually just 2-4 pages - by various well-known authors, all of which start with that very famous phrase.  If nothing else, it told me a very great deal about the writers.  For certain, it gave me a lot to think about.

4.  Cursed, Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller - This was a book spa (Skylark Bookshop) selection, and it's a beautiful book.  When it was introduced to me, one of the things pointed out was how unusual it feels in the hands.  It's true, it's heavier than it looks, and the cover and pages all have an interesting and noticeably different than usual feel.  Inside there is artwork by Miller, both black and white and color prints.  True, it's not my preferred style, but I appreciate what it lends to the story.  The story itself is a version of the Arthurian legend built around Nimue, and it left me wanting so, so much more.  Wheeler managed the magic trick of making the characters new and unique while still honoring the traditions.  I will and will not be ok if there's no sequel.

5.  The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coats (audio and print) - Yes, this is a book everyone should read.  No, I didn't particularly enjoy it.  I think there's perhaps enough wrong with the world right now that it was too heavy of a book to read, too real, too many bad things that you know happened.  When the world is different, I may revisit.  Coats is an amazing writer, and his work is important.  (Also a book spa book, and one I was going to ask for if it hadn't already been in the pile they pulled for me.)

6.  The Paper Magician, 7. The Glass Magician, 8. The Master Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg - These were also book spa recommendations.  It was a curious case of, 'we haven't read these, but they are right up your alley.'  I didn't actually bring them home that night (they were missing the first book) but they were never far from my mind.  I ordered the first online, and then had Skylark get me the second two last week.  I burned through all three books in four days.  They were delightful!  What I loved is that the magic was very, very different than anything else I've seen.  It was sweet and charming, and a tiny bit old-fashioned for fantasy.  I'm impressed by the world-building and the creativity that went into the magic.  At the same time, I'm a bit conflicted about the central relationship.  On the one hand, the way it was set up because of the plot of the first book felt very special and wasn't something I'd seen before.  On the other hand, it is a teacher/student situation which is really not ok.  Just now, though, I need escapist books and this did just the trick.

9. Inspired, Rachel Held Evans (audio) - I've been missing Rachel lately, which is perhaps an odd thing to say about someone you only met once.  She passed last year during Easter time, and so she's been on my mind.  My heart has also been heavy because of our current world situation.  I happened to have an idea one night....what if her books were available through Libro.fm?  Even better, what if she happened to be the one reading them?  I checked the next day, and to my great joy discovered that they had her books, and that she did, in fact, read them.  Inspired is my favorite of her works, a book that brings me great joy and reminds me of why I love being a Christian.  The time I spent listening to Rachel read me her book was exactly what I needed. 

10. We Unleash the Merciless Storm, Tehlor Kay Mejia - For the second book of this doulogy, we switch from Dani to Carmen's perspective.  It took some time to get going, but once it did it was highly satisfying.  As with the first book, there were some aspects that felt overly simple...but Mejia is such a good writer that I was swept along anyway.  I think she's a writer to watch, and if this is any indication, she's only going to get better and better.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Two for One: Reading in January and February

2020 Reading Goal: 11/100

January:

1.  Catch and Kill, Ronan Farrow (audio) - Yeah, if you want to get mad, read this book.  I listened to it while running, which is probably what kept me from punching things.  #metoo has exposed just how bad things are for women...this book takes it a step further to expose just how bad the cover-up to protect powerful men is.  Farrow's reporting is meticulous and detailed, and I have the utmost respect for the work he's doing.

2.  Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire - Wayword Children, Book 5.  I feel my entries about McGuire are a tad repetitive. Such a fantastic series.  I have some very near and dear friends who call me "Changling" which may be why I relate so strongly to this series about found families and children who find magical doors that take them truly home.  Perhaps the books aren't packing as much of a punch as we get further into the series...but that's ok because they are still magical.  Also, there's a team of 'horses' in this book who fill my soul with delight.

3.  The Secret Chapter, Genevieve Cogman - Um.  So she decided to write a heist book for the series, and, well, I enjoyed it...but also hope this is the only time she does that.  Enjoyable, but maybe a tad less so. Wondering if the series is going stale, sincerely hoping not.  (Big shout out to both writers who know when to quit and those who can keep the quality up book after book after book!)

4.  The Tiger's Daughter, K. Arsenault Rivera - All I can say is Wow.  This is an amazing introduction to this writer for me, and I am so glad I stumbled onto this book.  (I can't remember how.  Probably a recommendation list somewhere...and/or it was on sale.) I've tried to describe it to multiple people.  It's a fantasy based on historical Asian culture - although I don't know enough about Asian history to be able to accurately pinpoint when and who is inspiring this book other than to say it's pre-Industrial revolution for sure.  It's a book about kick-ass, powerful women.  Seriously, the women are the true fighters.  It's incredibly detailed.  It's an epistolary novel, which you know I'm a sucker for.  It's a tender, very sweet, very intimate love story.  And this was just the first book.  I've two more to go!

Unfinished: 

How to do Nothing, Jenny Odell - It's a gorgeous book, and I think the message is one that our culture desperately needs.  It's also a message I'm totally on board with and don't need any convincing about - which is why I didn't finish the book.

February:

(book spa)

1.  The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue and 2. The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Mackenzi Lee - The first of my book spa books, I started with #1 because I was in a place where I just wanted something fun to read.  The day after I finished the first I ran up to the bookstore and bought the second.  Sooooo much fun!  It's a little bit Indiana Jones and a little bit Jane Austin and a little bit anachronistic and a little bit fantastical and a whole lot queer.  Can't wait for the third book!

3.  Growing Succulents Indoors, Cassidy Tuttle - I'm obsessing more than a little bit about succulents these days, thanks to two coworkers who share the same obsession.  I'm a collector at heart, so I'm in for a penny, in for a pound, and having gathered (ahem) more than a reasonable amount of succulents in a very short time I decided I wanted to learn more about how to care for them.  It's a short ebook with some good advice, particularly when supplemented by her videos and website.

4.  The Phoenix Empress, K. Arsenault Rivera - Lordy, I love this trilogy so, so much.  Where the first book was told almost entirely through a loooooong letter, this one shifts perspective back and forth between our two protagonists, filling in details of the time they spent apart and moving the overall pieces forward.  So good. 

5. Stormsong, C.L. Polk - This is a delightful sequel to Polk's amazing Witchmark.  She's definitely a new writer to watch!  To carry the story forward, we switch to the sister of our protagonist from Witchmark, Miles.  Grace is a little bit harder to like, but no matter.  Super fun book, excellent worldbuilding, great characters!

6. Golden State: A Novel, Ben H. Winters - And book spa book #2!  I was intrigued by Carrie's description of it being not only one of the best books she'd read in the last year, but also the rare case of a writer being able to truly stick the landing with what I refer to as a 'concept' book.  (By which, I mean, a book that can be considered all sorts of genres - speculative fiction being the most common - which is built around a single, interesting 'what if' sort of idea.) (And for the record, Carrie is right.  There are an awful lot of books that start with a bang and then end with a whimper.) What I can say about it a few weeks later is that I'm intrigued enough to try more of Winters's work, and am still thinking a great deal about the ideas presented in Golden State....but it's not quite my sort of book, so I'm conflicted. 

7. Circe, Madeline Miller (audio) - Last year I realized that I wanted to start collecting audiobooks.  Not many - just a few beloved books that I wanted to listen to over and over again.  In order to do that, I now have a membership with Libro.fm, which allows me to support my local bookstore, Skylark Bookshop.  Circe was a top pick of mine the year it was published, and I was absolutely delighted with the wonderful reader for the audio version.  It was a luxurious experience, which I enjoyed very much.  Interestingly enough, Greek Mythology seems to be poking its nose back into my life....

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

When Life Throws You Lemons...You Read!

2019 Reading: 93/80, a complete success!  Huzzah!  

I broke my wrist on December 8, which severely limited what I was able to do with my self.  So, once I came out of the surgery/drug-induced haze...books!  The good part?  It was another month of amazing books, thanks in part to end of year recommendations.  Seriously, if you haven't explored it you simply must visit the NPR Book Concierge.

1.  This is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (audio) - Oh my.  I wanted an audiobook and thought I'd try it since it keeps getting a LOT of glowing praise from many sources.  (Multiple best of 2019 lists.) There were times that I grew almost embarrassed listening because the letters were so deeply personal and intimate.  I felt I shouldn't be intruding.  It's gorgeous.  You should all read it.  (Side note:  It reminded me a lot of Jenny Offill's The Department of Speculation - it's short, deeply intimate, philosophical, and beautiful.)  The premise is preposterous, and yet it works beautifully.  

2.  The Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo - I think part of why it took me so long to get into this book was that I was so disappointed by Bardugo's last - even though the two are nothing alike.  I also found the prologue a tad off-putting for some reason.  Fortunately, I did not give up.  Once I found my way in I was hooked, and could barely tear myself away.  This is Bardugo's first foray into 'adult' novels and away from her Grishaverse.  If this is how she starts, I can't wait to see what happens next.  (Also, I both do and don't want a sequel.  The door is open, but I honestly am not sure how I feel about her crossing through.) Also very deserving of its place on 2019 Best of lists!

3.  The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal - Kowel wrote her "Lady Astronaut" series as a prequel to a brilliant short story that I read some time ago.  It's a delightful book - an alternate history in which humans must go to the stars after an extinction event (which I know doesn't sound delightful...but trust me.) What I love is that it's a woman who's the smartest in the room.  What I love is that she's confronted with her privilege and grows. There are two more books in the series, and while I'm not rushing to read the next I am looking forward to sitting down with it someday.  

4.  Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, Michael Marshall Smith - Honestly, I don't remember why I picked this book up?  Sale table?  Blurb on cover by respected author?  (I think both.) What I found was an utterly delightful story about a girl, her grandfather, and the devil.  My one quibble - Hannah is 11 in the book, but she generally comes across as a lot younger.  Several times I was surprised when her age comes up.  Perhaps Smith doesn't know girls that age?  It's a good story which feels very modern folklore, and I'm glad I read it.  

The next three books were in my wish list, and when I discovered they were all on sale I bought the three of them in one fell swoop...and proceeded to read them all in just over 24 hours.

5.  Mightier Than the Sword, K.J. Parker (novella) - Again, no idea where I picked this up, but suspect it was a recommendation from somewhere.  I will admit, I fell a bit in love with the narrator, who values books above all else and gave the knowledge he found in them the credit for his ultimate success.  It could have been a typical sword and conqueror sort of book...but it wasn't.  (And I'm not usually into 'boy books,' so the fact that I loved it says something.)

6. Magic For Liars, Sarah Gailey - This came from the 2019 NPR Book Concierge.  I really enjoyed the magic school/detective novel mash-up - made for a fun read.  I also enjoyed the fact that this particular magic school was a whole heck of a lot more realistic than certain other fictional magical boarding schools - in large part because the teenagers were actual real teenagers.  Our protagonist, Ivy, was compelling (if a tad cliche), and the ending was both satisfying and slightly annoying.  All in all, this falls into the popcorn read category for me, and there's nothing wrong with that.

7. We Set the Dark On Fire, Tehlor Kay Mejiaz - Oh my.  I could not put this down.  (Was a serious problem when I had to leave for work for the day.) First in a dulogy, and now I have to wait until February for the next book, and that sucks.  To be fair, it's not a perfect book.  Dani and Carmen's turn from school enemies to love interests feels unearned and out of the blue.  Actually, a lot of Dani's emotional arc feels a tad too easy/sudden/unearned.  Having said that, though, I couldn't put it down.  I LOVE the myth that starts the book, and I love the revolution within!

8. The Archive of Alternate Endings, Lindsey Drager - Another 2019 NPR Book Concierge find, I was deeply intrigued by the premise of this experimental novel which plays with the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale as it's told across time in conjunction with Haley's Comet.  (Yes, really.)  It's pretty darn amazing, and I have a new appreciation for a fairy tale that's not ever really been a favorite.  It surprised me when it moved into a story of the AIDS crisis, moving me to tears with the compassion and love at its core.  The siblings and the witch are not what you expect.  Kudos to Drager.

9.  A Beginner's Guide to the End,  BJ Miller and Shoshana Bergen - I heard an interview with Miller on Fresh Air, and given some family issues was intrigued.  In all honesty, this was a pretty fast skim through.  For sure it's a how-to book about putting your affairs in order and making end of life decisions.  Much of it was information I had learned elsewhere, but there were some really helpful pieces that I'm going to put into effect in my own life.

10.  13 Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, Laura Ruby - Another brilliant 2019 Book Concierge find, this was the first book I put in my want to read queue and I'm super glad I bought it immediately and didn't wait.  It's the story of two sisters left in a German Catholic orphanage in Chicago during WWII, as told by a ghost who watches over them.  Ghost and girls have to figure out how to become themselves.  Deeply compelling and emotional, and another book I just couldn't put down.  It's particularly poignant when you read the afterword and realize that the orphanage is real and the author built this story from her mother in law's real life story.

11.  The Deep, Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes - And one more 2019 book concierge.  A few things.  This book started as a song, and became a book through what all authors describe as an epic game of telephone.  It's based on mythology surrounding pregnant African women who were thrown overboard during transport during the slave trade...and ugly, awful truth that is made beautiful.  I had actually heard a writer friend talk about this concept a while ago.  Ultimately, she chose not to turn it into a story or book because she knew that she culturally didn't have the right to touch it.  So my response to this book?  It was another top pick from the concierge, I was super intrigued, I read most of it during long baths (which felt appropriate), and I felt compelled to write to Rivers Solomon to tell them how brilliant they are.  It's such a beautiful book.  I think I need to read it again. 

Unfinished:

1.  The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie - I know, I know...everyone loves Leckie and this is on all of the best of 2019 lists.  I'm trying, I really am.  I think she's a really good writer, and I love what she does with gender...but I find it really difficult to make a connection with her books.  1/3 of the way in and I just don't care about any of the characters...not good.  

2.  Midnight Never Come, Marie Brennan - I adore Brennan's Lady Trent novels, but in all honesty, I've been disappointed in everything else she's done.  There are a bunch of books in The Onyx Court series, and I had truly hoped to enjoy them.  On paper, they sound good - Elizabethan reality interacting with Elizabethan underground fey.  In reality, I made it through 1/3 of the book and was so bored that I decided to give up on it and delete the rest of the books from my queue.  

3.  The Wall of Storms, Ken Liu - Truth, I think Liu is a brilliant writer, and I had eagerly preordered this book as soon as I finished the Grace of Kings  I've tried to start it a dozen times, and I just can't.  Too much time passed between the first and the second book, and even more has passed since.  Much as I appreciated that first book, it didn't stick well enough for me to really remember much - which makes it a challenge to get into the sequel, particularly because these are massive books that cover big timespans with lots and lots of characters.  When you find yourself sighing every time you pick up a book to try to read it, only to put it down after a dozen pages or so...it was time to give up.  

4. Traitors' Gate, 5. Shadow Gate, 6. Spirit Gate, Kate Elliot - She's truly one of my favorites, but for whatever reason, I've just not been able to sink into this epic series.  I made it about halfway through the first book (and these are 800ish page books) and just don't want to go back.  Maybe someday.  2,400 page epics just aren't something I have the time, energy, or interest in just now.

Clean Up:

I took some time at the end of the year to clean up my book wish lists and reading queue. 

I cleared anything that was iffy from the wish lists, taking particular care to rethink the 'already read' books.  The list isn't really any shorter, thanks to my annual end of year book hunts (NPR Book Concierge) but it does feel more focused now.

I then moved a good 20 books from my to-read shelf to the unfinished shelf.  Almost all of them were purchased on the sale table, most of them slightly off-kilter from what I normally read.  As they've failed to actually grab my attention - and many of them have been in the queue for more than a year or two - it was time to let go of expectations.  I don't feel guilty at all.  Just as I no longer push myself to complete books I don't love, I'm not going to force myself to read things that just don't seem interesting.

The end result - all in all, should I buy or find nothing else in 2020, I have a wish list and queue that I could actually get through in one year.  Progress!  

Friday, December 27, 2019

2019 Resolution Report

New Year's Resolutions are tricky things.  They can be a joke or they can be something that's emotionally harmful.  They can be reasonable and realistic or they can be realistic.  And I love them.  I love new starts and fresh beginnings and the idea that I could do better...be better...try again.  So in January I set some goals for the year to come, and in December I look back to reflect on my progress.  

So how did I do this year?  Let's take a look:
  1. Continue to do the very hard, but very good work that I began in the fall of 2018 in therapy.  Yes, yes, and yes.  I worked with my therapist up until I started my new job and will be going back after the holidays to continue working.  This has been one of the most profoundly helpful things that I've ever done for myself - in part because I found just the right therapist.  I'm changing patterns that needed to be changed, and the rewards are beyond measure.  
  2. Have my second foot surgery asap.  The second surgery was in February.  My new feet are gorgeous and - more importantly - are pain-free.  It absolutely was the right decision, and I'm grateful for all of the support that I got during that six-month-long process, tough as it was.  
  3. So that I can get back to running and tap asap.  I started running again in May, and it's been a more challenging return than I anticipated.  While I did complete both the Roots N Blues and Great Go! Halloween 10k's this fall, my performance wasn't what I had hoped it would be.  I decided a reboot was necessary, so I signed up in October for the Fitness Protection Program LLC's Rebuild Plan.  I absolutely love the plan and was starting to see some real progress...right up until I broke my wrist.  Running will start again in January.  (sigh)  As for tap, I did not go back this fall.  I miss it, but circumstances are such that a return just didn't work out in my schedule and budget.  Maybe next year.  
  4. Read a minimum of 80 for the year. 89 and counting as of the writing of this post!  and there's still time!
  5. Complete 12 knitting projects. So, so close.  In fact, I would have made it if I hadn't broken my wrist.  I completed 10 projects this year, and there are two more that are close and would easily have been finished had I had the last three weeks of the year to work on them.  Might have even managed a bonus project. 
  6. Rebuild the blog. Sort of.  It needs more contemplation for the next year.  I just can't quit it, but I also don't really have the time and energy to rebuild what it used to be.  
  7. Meditate every single day.  Nope.  Made it through about 1/3 of the year. I chose not to renew my subscription to Headspace for next year, although I might come back to it.  I actually do really enjoy meditating and I feel it's beneficial...the habit just didn't stick, and I'm not going to beat myself up over that.
  8. Devote more time to my work with the church.  Mixed bag.  I do still love my position and have renewed for next year.  I am happy with the ways I participated this year.  But.  As an extreme introvert, I'm finding more and more that Sunday morning is just hard for me.  I need that time to myself to regroup and refresh for the week to come.  The older I get, too, the less meaningful traditional Sunday mornings are for me.  I'm not sure what that means or where I'm going...but I'm honoring the truth of it.  
  9. Continue to seek ways to improve my health.  Yes and yes.  I went to the Mayo Clinic, which moved me a big step in the right direction by accurately diagnosing my sleep issues and pointing me towards potential answers.  Late this year I also found a local GI specialist and will continue with some more testing in January.  No definitive answers...but I'm in a better place now than I was a year ago.  Of significance - my new job, which has greatly reduced the load of stress I was under.  
  10. Build my skills on the ukulele!  Sadly, no.  I just wasn't able to make it a priority because of everything else going on.  Still in love, still want to improve. Guess what's going on the list for 2020!
  11. Declutter and purge the house.  Actually made a fair amount of progress on this, thanks to the inspiration from Marie Kondo's show on Netflix.  I'm very pleased with the work we've made in this direction, even as circumstances didn't get us quite as far as I'd hoped.  It does feel good to start focusing on what matters!
  12. I have some financial goals which I'm going to keep private.  New job, working on those goals.  Very happy with my progress.  
Overall, I'd call that success!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Beautiful Month of Books

Drumroll, please.... 2019 Reading Goal 82/80!  Huzzah! 

1.  The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl, Theodora Goss - This is the third book in the Athena Club series, and while I didn't enjoy the second book much I still felt compelled to keep reading.  Fortunately, this one - while not living up to the legacy of the first - is miles better than it's predecessor.  Goss must have had a better editor this time around, because the book was more focused and fun.  Worth the read for sure.  Kind of hope she's done with the series.

2.  Mothers, Daughters and Body Image, Hillary McBride - I listen to The Liturgists podcast, of which McBride is one of the hosts.  (It's an amazing podcast - all about the world as viewed through the lenses of science, religion, and art.)  McBride is a therapist, and I have really enjoyed and valued her contributions on the podcast.  Her book has been on my to-read list for a bit, and it felt natural to read after listening to the Liturgists episode on what it is to be a woman.  What I really loved about this book is that McBride approached the subject from a different angle than what I've typically seen. She sought out women who had a healthy and positive relationship with their bodies and based her research on what had gone right in their lives and with their relationships with their moms to create that relationship.  (McBride is herself someone who's had an eating disorder.)  The resulting book is one that I found both helpful and profoundly hopeful.  I also saw myself and my girls in so many places that I was often left in tears while reading.  If you are struggling with your own body image, and/or if you want better for your girls than what you inherited, this is the book for you.

3.  The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern - We've waited 8 years for another book from Morgenstern, she of the marvelous The Night Circus.  (Which I have multiple copies of, thank you very much, and read about every other year.)  Morgenstern has said that it took her a long time to get her first book and it's characters out of her head, and given how beautifully her second book came out I'm glad she gave herself the time.  With the exception of one perfect hat tip to her first book, The Starless Sea is all it's own.  There is still the gorgeous language, the characters you fall in love with, and the dreamy atmosphere that truly makes you feel like you've been transported to another world.  Morgenstern's writing is so beautiful that it makes me weep.  I am fortunate enough, thanks to my local bookstore, to have a signed first edition.  (Also, I must find myself a necklace with a bee, a key and a sword...)

And here's where I fell down the rabbit hole.  End of year book lists have started to make their rounds, and I pulled about 10 recommendations from the Tor.com newsletter.

4.  To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers - This was already on my wish list, though, as I adore Chambers.  (Seriously, even if you don't think you like SciFi, you should read her.)  I read this perfect little novella in one day, and then wished I could do it all over again.  The best books invite you to ask yourself deep questions, and I find myself still pondering over several that this brought up.  Many thanks to the friend who thought to recommend Chambers to me.  I can't wait to see what she writes next.

5.  The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow - This was already on my wish list, although I can no longer remember where I first encountered the suggestion.  Having a second recommendation from Tor...I bought it immediately, and jumped into it right away.  I literally just finished it 30 minutes ago, and I immediately went to Facebook to put out the recommendation.  (Which is something I have only done a few times before - always for books that I KNOW people will love.)  It's my pick for best of the year, just that simple.  Doors must be very popular right now, and it's interesting that I wound up reading two books this month about Doors.  (I'd be willing to bet that Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children novellas started the trend, although these were probably in the works before her first was published.  Such literary trends are fascinating to me.)  Such a beautiful book, for so many reasons.  Beautifully constructed, gorgeous language, multiple plot surprises (which almost never happens to me), characters that are so real that they jump off the page, and an ending...well, an ending that left me jumping out of my chair and pacing the house in excitement.  That doesn't happen often.

And now, my friends, I have an epic book hangover.  After such an amazing month I just don't know what to read next - or how anything else will compare!