Monday, December 31, 2018

December Wrap-Up and Plans for January


Reading


Highlights were Nine Perfect Strangers and Jane, Unlimited. It was a month of distractions so I kept bouncing around and picking up random things which is how I also ended up reading some random self-help books.

Listening


The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory was a fantastic audiobook, and exactly what I needed during a month with so much going on that I was feeling really distracted and unfocused.

Otherwise I just listened to my regular podcasts like By the Book, Code Switch, and Unlikeable Female Characters. I got a bit away from listening to Slow Russian, though I did manage to catch a couple of episodes.

Watching


I'm sure you'll agree it's the Blue
Velvet poster in the background
that really makes it festive.
I watched some of my favorite Christmas movies: White Christmas, Elf, and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. I was hoping to also watch It's a Wonderful Life at some point (you know, the most depressing Christmas movie ever made) but didn't get to it.

On the day I considered watching It's a Wonderful Life, and I ended up instead watching Dumplin' on Netflix, which was fantastic and way more uplifting. (I listened to the audiobook a couple of years ago and posted about it here.)

I also started watching Salt Fat Acid Heat, which is a four episode series based on this book. I've heard some people say that this show really improved their cooking. I'm not getting that sort of applicable information out of it, but I am enjoying it.

I was going to continue watching Parts Unknown, which I've neglected for a while, but now the first several seasons are gone from Netflix. This was especially upsetting as I was making a point to watch them in order rather than skipping ahead to the ones I was most interested in, which was obviously a huge mistake because there was an episode about Russia that I now can't watch. So I'm going to watch the seasons that are there, but start with the places that most intrigue me. I've watched Antarctica, which was great though there wasn't much food in the episode.

Cooking


I made a couple of new-to-me dishes, including the Caramelized Broccoli Soup from Dinner by Melissa Clark. The only reason I picked this recipe is because I had some extra broccoli and potatoes hanging around, but I'm so glad I did! It took me longer than it should have (what doesn't?) but it was delicious! I'll definitely be making this soup again.

Maple-roasted tofu
I also made a cake I've been wanting to try since I got my bundt pan, the Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread Cake from Smitten Kitchen. I couldn't find dark molasses, so used a mixture of regular and blackstrap. But the cake wasn't cooking on the inside so I had to leave it in the oven longer and it got kind of burnt on the outside. I don't know what the problem was, but it was very disappointing.

Otherwise, I mostly made old favorites, like the Spicy Corn Quesadillas from Moosewood Cooks At Home and the Mashed Potatoes with Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy from Vegan With a Vengeance.

Oh, I also made a sheet-pan dish called Maple-Roasted Tofu from Dinner, and basically ruined the pan. That's the problem with these sheet-pan dinners that are all the rage. How the hell do you get your pans clean with all that burnt-on sauce? I asked Facebook and ended up buying a Silpat baking mat, which I haven't yet used but which kind of begs the question of how to get burnt-on sauce off of that. At any rate, it was tasty and the only thing I cooked this month that I remember to photograph.

Doing


Modeling the new blood crown
Work has been a bit trying, as they say. Starting in mid-December, the elevator has been out of service for a major overhaul and will continue to be down until mid-January. Have I mentioned that my office is on the fourth floor? So that has been fun and of course makes it difficult/impossible to do anything that involves moving large quantities of books from one floor to another. Also, everyone has been out either for holiday vacations or other reasons. So there's not enough coverage for the reference desk and I'm completely unmotivated the rest of the time.

However, I bought my department a crown so we can take turns wearing it when we feel like we need a boost. We're calling it the Crown of Blood and Misery, which would also be a great title for a young adult fantasy novel.

I've gotten together with friends on various occasions though, including an afternoon outing with a group of friends to see Mary Poppins Returns, which was a lot of fun!

Also this month I saw my first Boston sportsball game, which was totally unplanned, but I went to a Bruins game. It was fun! There was more punching than I expected, but you know, get more than 3 men in one place and they can't help but erupt into violence...ok, maybe that's an exaggeration but sometimes it feels true.

The Museum of Fine Arts had some great exhibits nearing their end and I hadn't been there in a while so one day I headed over and caught the Winnie-the-Pooh exhibit, which I felt like I should see since everyone was raving about it. It was ok, but definitely geared towards all the screaming, shrieking children that were there. I was super excited for the French pastels exhibit though, and I only wish I had gone earlier so I could have visited it for a second time. I also really enjoyed the propaganda exhibit.

Christmas was our regular dinner out at Eastern Standard in Boston, but this year we also had Christmas Eve at Eric's dad's house. It was a very late evening but we had a ton of delicious traditional Venezuelan food which I forgot to photograph. Sorry! Too busy eating!

The month is ending with hosting a New Year's Eve party tonight which I'm really looking forward to!

Plans for January


I'm going to start seeing a physical therapist to take care of shoulder pain that has been plaguing me since around July, maybe earlier.

I've also been working on my new planner which I'll start using in January. I'm going back to a DIY-style planner, though it's not exactly a Bullet Journal as I'm not strictly following that format. My only concern is that it's a larger size than I've used before. It will be great space-wise for writing everything I need, but will it fit comfortably in my bag for carrying around? We'll see.

In late January I'll be going to see a production of Othello. I'm looking forward to it and sorta feel like I want to read it first but I have not yet made any move to do so.

How was your December?

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Proposal

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018), narrated by Janina Edwards

Jasmine Guillory busted into the romance scene earlier in the year with her debut, The Wedding Date, and already has a second book. The Proposal stars Carlos, best friend of The Wedding Date hero, Drew. His love interest is Nik, who he meets after she experiences a humiliating public marriage proposal at a Dodgers game in the opening scene. Nik was in a casual (she thought) relationship with a pretty actor who spelled her name wrong on the Jumbotron when proposing, and after she turned him down he stormed out. All eyes (and cameras) were on her until Carlos and his sister Angela helped her ditch the paparazzi and escape from the stadium. Nik invited them to have a drink with her friends, after which she and Carlos couldn't stop thinking about each other.

Nik, with the encourage of her best friends Dana and Courtney, decides that Carlos would be a great rebound. Happily, they agree to keep things casual because neither of them wants a relationship. Of course this is a romance so things don't stay casual, and that's the point of conflict for the novel.

Nik has a great group of best friends in Dana and Courtney, and when Nik begins receiving threatening texts from her now-ex boyfriend, they agree to take a self-defense class with her. This was a pretty excellent side story, especially when Nik, a journalist, decides to do a story on the owner of the gym. Plus they all loved the class, which made them feel strong and empowered, and - in one of my favorite scenes - Nik ended up putting her newfound fighting skills into action before the story was over.

Carlos had his own life stuff going on here as well. He's very close to his sister Angela and their cousin Jessica. Jessica is pregnant and has been prescribed bed rest because of problems with her pregnancy. Carlos is a doctor and really shouldn't be so anxious, but he is. He decides to buy her some reading material and runs into Nik at the book store; it turns out that just like Jessie she enjoys true crime, and she gives him some great book recommendations. Carlos feels like he has to take care of his family because his father is dead, and he also wants to keep Nik separate from them since they are only dating casually, and these both become points of contention.

I loved a lot of things about this book. Carlos is what Sarah from Smart Bitches would describe as "emotionally fluent" and I liked that about him. I also appreciate that the conflict wasn't based on the characters being stupidly neurotic or not having one conversation that would have fixed everything. It was about what happens when two people decide to keep their relationship casual and then start falling for each other, and one of those people in particular doesn't feel ready after their last romantic catastrophe. Carlos and Nik spent a lot of time eating delicious things, and it made me want to eat tacos and cupcakes and enchiladas (more than I already do) and I am generally just a big fan of food-prominent romances (see also: Bet Me, A Bollywood Affair, The Wedding Date.) I especially appreciated that Nik didn't scold herself for eating well or even feel guilty about it. Which brings me to...

Feminism. This book has it. So much. Everything from emotional abuse to why Carlos feels the need to be "the man in the family" now that his father is dead. One thing I appreciated a lot about his relationship with Nik was that neither of them was jealous or controlling, even in a "cute" sort of way like in some romances (and which I never actually find cute.) There was a great conversation about how ads and other media always portray women hiding their spending from their husbands ("Don't tell my husband I bought this! Haha!") as though it's a joke we're all in on and it's perfectly normal. One woman was in a relationship with a guy who retained tight control on their finances, but because she thought it was normal she remained in the relationship much longer than she should have. Those "don't tell my husband" comments have always irked me and I'm so glad it was addressed. Also, did I mention that Nik punched a guy who deserved it? That was very satisfying.

In summary, Jasmine Guillory is amazing and I will probably read anything she writes. I noticed that I gave this a higher rating on Goodreads than The Wedding Date, but that may have been my inconsistency and not that the previous book wasn't as good. I remember liking it a lot. Is it possible that this one was even better? Yes, maybe! If you like romance or chick lit or feminism or books with a lot of food in them I highly recommend checking this one out. The audio version was great too!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Jane, Unlimited

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (2017)

This is one of those books that I was highly anticipating, but then when it finally came out I somehow didn't get around to reading it. Then it kind of fell off my radar for a while until fairly recently when somebody mentioned it and my interest was renewed.

Jane is a young woman raised by her Aunt Magnolia after her parents were killed. Aunt Magnolia was a very adventurous photographer and has recently died on an Antarctic expedition. Jane is invited by her acquaintance Kiran to her family's mansion and Jane remembers her Aunt Magnolia making her promise that if she was ever invited to Tu Reviens, she'd go. Once there, she sees a number of suspicious happenings and tries to decide which to investigate. Here, the story splits into five different paths, each representing a different choice Jane makes at that juncture.

Cashore explains that the concept for the book was originally going to be an old-school straight-up Choose Your Own Adventure, but instead she chose one decision point and one story for each path chosen by Jane. This could have very easily fallen flat, but I'm happy to say that it worked for me and I enjoyed all of the stories. Ok, maybe some of them more than others, but each was compelling or entertaining in its own way. There were so many different things going on in that house, and each story delved into one part of it, though there was crossover to the other goings-on. Different characters featured in the stories too, so we got to know some of them better in some plotlines than in others.

I loved Jane and how she was at loose ends without her beloved Aunt, yet still an intrepid and curious explorer. She wanted to get to the bottom of the mysteries at Tu Reviens! Kiran's family, their staff, and friends were mysterious and quirky and Jane didn't know who to trust but she sallied forth and took risks that paid off. Jane was also an artist who made beautiful, inventive umbrellas. She was kind of attracted to Kiran's twin brother Ravi, but also kind of attracted to one of the house staff, Ivy. Soon after arriving at the house, she quickly developed a very close relationship with the resident basset hound, Jasper.

Altogether I found this novel to be a very fun surprise! It's quite different from Cashore's other books, which are also very good, but I think this one is more my cup of tea. Splitting off into different stories was risky and it could have been confusing to read, but it wasn't. Each story was different enough that I didn't find it hard to orient myself and keep the plot straight. I didn't want to put it down. I hope we don't have to wait too long for her next book, especially now that I've learned from this post that it takes place on a ship in the Arctic. It already sounds like my kind of book!

Friday, December 21, 2018

2019 TBR Pile Challenge



It's time it's time it's time! It's time to make a book list for 2019! Yay!

As you may know, I've been doing the TBR Pile Challenge for many years and it never gets old. In fact, there were a couple years when Adam at Roof Beam Reader wasn't hosting it and I just did it on my own. This reading challenge works for me and I can't let go of it.

The way it works is this: you make a list of 12 books (and 2 alternates) that have been languishing on your TBR pile or list for more than a year and try to read them in the upcoming year. Right now this means books I've been wanting to read since before January 1, 2018. I don't own a lot of books myself, so most of mine are from my Goodreads "to read" shelf, which I stopped using for a while and started again in mid-2017. Most of these are from that list, but a few are books I do have copies of sitting around.

My 2018 list is here, and as you can see from my linked reviews, I read all but one book on my main list and both alternates. Which counts as a win! It was such a great list too - I can't believe how long I put off reading some of these amazing books. Here's hoping this year's list is as good.

1. Nefarious Twit by Tony McMillen (failed in 4/19)
2. Shattering Glass by Gail Giles (finished 1/18/19)
3. Version Control by Dexter Palmer
4. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (finished 3/17/19)
5. We Are All Shipwrecks by Kelly Grey Carlisle (finished 5/18/19)
6. Caroline: Little House Revisited by Sarah Miller (finished 2/19/19)
7. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (finished 2/3/19)
8. Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
9. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (finished 3/10/19)
10. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (finished 5/28/19)
11. Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright (admitted defeat 2/17/19)
12. Paradox Bound by Peter Clines (finished 4/28/19)

My two alternates:

1. The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
2. My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

This is a very different list from last year. For one thing, I've only got three nonfiction books on the list, and one of those is a memoir. Two of them are fairly short, though Prairie Fires is apparently over 600 pages. Yikes. The only other books over 400 pages are Pachinko, Red Sister, and Version Control and I'm not super worried about them because they're all fiction and still under 500 pages.

I am most excited about Pachinko and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, because I've heard so much about them! And most intimidated by Prairie Fires, now that I realize how long it is. I'm so interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder though. As you can see I've also got another book about that family on the list - the novel, Caroline: Little House Revisited.

As usual, as I complete and post about the books on the list I'll update the list above with links to the reviews. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A few nonfiction self-help books

I've read a few books of advice recently that I started, not knowing if I'd finish, skimmed bits, but then ended up reading most of. So here's a rundown!

Are u ok?: A Guide to Caring For Your Mental Health by Kati Morton (2018)

Written by a marriage and family therapist, this is a basic guide to mental health, knowing when to get help from a professional, what kind of help is available, and what it's like to see a therapist. There are also a few chapters on particular issues like toxic relationships and communication problems, which honestly felt a little out of place. It would have made sense if they were in their own section. I suspect this guide was written for young people as it mentions seeing your school counselor, but that was the only indication and I think it's probably helpful to anyone. I haven't seen this sort of guide before and some of the most helpful bits were about seeing a therapist, how that might work with insurance, why you always have to leave a message when you call, and what it's like when you go for an appointment. Practical, useful advice.

A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson (2018)

At my workplace we've got at least three non-binary staff members, and recently every department was given a copy of this book because people have been struggling with pronoun usage. This is a very short quick comic-style guide to what it all means, why it's important to use the pronouns people tell you to use for them, and tips for practicing using the pronouns and recovering when you make a mistake. Fun, friendly, informative guide!

Your Best Year Yet!: A Proven Method for Making the Next Twelve Months the Most Successful Ever by Jinny Ditzler (1994)

I just heard a quick mention of this book somewhere - possibly in the Facebook group for the By the Book podcast? - and since it's December and I'm thinking about goals and setting up my new planner and whatnot, I thought I'd check it out. I wasn't planning to necessarily read it all, but I ended up doing so and completing the exercises by answering questions about my past year and what I accomplished as well as disappointments, and using this to formulate goals for the new year. I don't know if the goals are different than they would have been anyhow, to be honest, but I found it useful and heartening to look over the past year at everything that happened. (It was a better year than I had thought.) Each chapter was about one of the questions and explained what it meant, why it was important to answer, and how to answer it, sometimes with other helpful exercises included. At the end is a Best Year Yet Workshop section, which confused me because it seemed to just be a shortened, more concise version of the whole thing. I wondered if I was meant to read the chapters but not answer the questions yet and then do it all at the end? Yet the chapters seemed to be telling me to do the exercises as I went along. I also found that, like most self-help books, there was a pretty heavy focus on money. It was just in the examples, so it didn't really affect my experiences, but it bugged me. As I worked through, I sometimes felt like it would have worked better had I answered previous questions differently. But I *always* have that experience in any exercise where you answer a question and then use that answer for something else. The examples are so neat and tidy! But my life and experiences aren't. Anyhow, it was still helpful.

Whew! That's a lot of advice! And generally just a lot of nonfiction to be reading basically all at the same time. But I got something of value out of each of them. I really like getting advice about things and then just taking what I need and find useful, and not worrying about the rest.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (2018)

Nine people arrive at a health resort called Tranquillum House, hoping to change their lives, heal wounds, or lose weight. The methods promise to be unorthodox, but this group has no idea what's actually in store for them.

First we meet Frances, a romance novelist whose career seems to be on the wane and who has just been the victim of a scam artist. Next is Lars, a lawyer who makes a hobby of visiting health resorts like this one (well, not quite like this one.) Young couple Ben and Jessica won a lottery and it's destroying their lives. The Marconi family have suffered a loss they seem unable to recover from. Tony is a former athlete trying to deal with news he's just received about his health. Carmel is a stay-at-home mother of four whose husband left her and has remarried, and who is obsessed with her weight.

Then there's Yao, who we meet in the prologue when, as a paramedic, he is called to help a woman in distress. That woman is Masha, former corporate executive and now owner of Tranquillum House, where Yao now works.

The ten-day retreat begins as it always does. There's meditation, healthy food, a few days of complete silence. But then Masha introduces some experimental elements to the retreat, and things do not go as expected for anyone.

The story shifts between perspectives of all these many characters, which could have been confusing but isn't at all. They're not all represented equally - Frances is the predominant narrator here, with other characters' perspectives peppering the story. We get to know the first couple of characters before more are introduced, and this makes it easy to keep everyone straight. It also helps that they're all so different from each other.

I liked Frances a lot. Twice-divorced, being a romance novelist doesn't mean she's idealistic about love. She says early on "Once you knew everything there was to know about someone, you were generally ready to divorce them." Her most recent book didn't sell, and when she learned the man she was ready to move overseas for wasn't who he claimed to be, she decided she needed some help. A friend had visited Tranquillum House and highly recommended it. Frances decided to try it, though she wasn't completely sold on all the ideas. For instance, she snuck in some contraband wine and chocolate, which was immediately confiscated.

The Marconi family were Napoleon and Heather and their daughter Zoe. Her twin brother Zach had died just about three years ago, and none of them were dealing with it well. The parents were incredibly overprotective of Zoe now, and all three of them harbored guilt over Zach's death but didn't talk to each other about it.

Oh, and Masha had some pretty intense secrets of her own. Also, she is batshit crazy. All of the characters were compelling in their own way, and seeing them together in a situation that became rather desperate was the best part of this novel.

Even though Moriarty's books have dark, serious themes they are always so much fun! She creates such vivid characters and intriguing situations but she's also very funny. They're just a joy to read and this newest offering is no different. If you've enjoyed her other books, this is a must-read, but I'd also recommend it to someone trying her work for the first time.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (2013)

Since this has been made into a popular movie, you probably know the basics. Nicholas Young is bringing his girlfriend Rachel Chu to Singapore for the summer because his best friend is getting married. But he hasn't told Rachel much about his family, who are extraordinarily wealthy and inhabit a social sphere that Rachel probably doesn't realize exists. He thinks there will be no problem with this. It's as though he's never actually met his own family or friends before.

His cousin Astrid - one of the two characters I like in this book (the other being Rachel) - tries to warn him, but Nick is pretty stupid and won't listen to her. So of course Rachel is caught completely by surprise, his family won't accept her, some of his acquaintances decide to try and sabotage their relationship, and basically it's like a terrible reality show with a tacked-on happy-ish ending that doesn't actually make sense.

These people are mostly all horrible and nobody actually learns anything during the course of the story. Nobody grows as a person or learns anything new. Perhaps Nick realizes he should have been more forthcoming with Rachel, but that's it. (Minor rant: he also "learns" that if a woman breaks up with you, you should continue to pursue her until you get her back, because obviously women do not know what they actually want and no probably doesn't mean no.) Everyone is completely self-centered, vapid, and uncaring about anyone not in their social sphere. It's hard for me to like anything about that.

The writing was a bit forced in parts, too. For one thing, grown women in this story are constantly giggling at odd times that don't make sense. Some of the dialogue was also a big unrealistic, such as when Rachel discovers a nasty prank in her room, a kind person asks if she's ok, and she says, "No, no, I'll be fine. I'm just shaking involuntarily." Hello, let me narrate my signs of distress right now.

Here's what I did like: I liked Rachel and Astrid and their stories. Astrid was having marital difficulties (spoiler: they were fabricated, which was a totally cheap plot point), and was the only wealthy character who was anything other than a collection of eccentricities slapped together on the page. Rachel, as a "regular person" was the only other one I could really relate to. She has this great boyfriend but he hasn't shared much about his life, keeping some pretty key information from her and then just setting her down into the middle of it all and leaving her to deal with it. I felt bad for her. Nick was ok, there just wasn't much to him and, as I said, he's kind of stupid.

I also liked the settings, which were mostly in parts of Singapore and Hong Kong. As you may know if you've been reading this blog for a while, I visited Hong Kong in 2012 and I really like reading books that are set there. That's probably one of the reasons I ended up reading this, and I did enjoy reading about parts of Hong Kong that I recognized.

I also like the cover design. Simple, yet eye-catching.

I don't even know what made me pick this book up, to be honest. I don't enjoy wealthy entitled people being horrible, but I guess I hoped there would be more to it. Especially given that it's over 500 pages long. Surely there would be some real substance here. There's not.

I almost put the book down several times in favor of something else (I had the new Liane Moriarty on deck!) but wanted to find out what would become of Astrid's marriage. It wasn't really worth it. And once again, I always find much more to say about a book I don't really like than one I do. I'm actually rather curious how the movie compares and I may still see it, since most of this is about the settings and clothing and I think it might be visually entertaining. Have you seen it? What did you think?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Working Stiff

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell (2014), narrated by Tanya Eby

I bought this audiobook impulsively when Audible was having a sale and I was in the mood for memoirs. I had never heard of this one, but was intrigued by the description as it says she worked as a medical examiner in the wake of 9/11.

Judy Melinek intended to be a surgeon, but the grueling schedule wasn't for her (and, to be honest, didn't sound like it was very healthy for her patients either.) So she quit her residency and began working as a forensic pathologist in New York in the summer of 2001. Mostly, the book was more thematic than linear, with chapters focused on different types of deaths like homicides, suicides, accidents, and those from substance abuse. She talks about her experiences performing autopsies, the things she looked for, and what she learned.

It was about 3/4 of the way through the book when she talks about 9/11 and its aftermath. Although that was what reeled me in, and I was initially disappointed that it wasn't more of a focus of the book, I found everything about her job so fascinating that I'm glad she shared so much of it. Obviously 9/11 was a huge catastrophe, but what really set it apart from her other work was the scale, and the need to devise a different workflow. The actual work was similar, except that there were a lot of, um....incomplete bodies, which affected the organizational system. I'm not going to get more specific here because it goes into a territory that is not going to be comfortable for a lot of people.

So that's one important thing to know about this book. It's pretty graphic, and it has to be in order to get a feel for what Melinek's job is actually like. If you are easily grossed out or upset by things having to do with the human body, things that can happen to it, and vivid descriptions of horrific deaths, this is not the book for you. However, I find this kind of thing fascinating. And so does Judy Melinek. Of course she was affected by some of the things she saw. There was even one situation in which she paused over a body bag containing more than one small child (from a plane crash that happened just a couple of months after 9/11), and a coworker quickly volunteered to take that job. He knew she had young children.

Mostly though, she wasn't bothered, and it didn't make her worry more for her family. She saw a lot of death and knew that the more horrific accidents were actually pretty rare. She's just extremely interested in the human body and loves learning more about it, and happens to not be especially bothered by dead people. She talked a lot about her mentors and what she learned from them, and she also touched on her father's death when she was a teenager and how that has shaped her view of suicide and affected how she interacts with the families who are left behind.

It was a fairly short book (the hardcover edition is 258 pages) and the narrator was great, so I was pretty engrossed and flew through it. It was a great impulse buy and exactly what I wanted to listen to at the time. If you're interested in this kind of science, or just like learning about unusual jobs, I recommend it.

Friday, November 30, 2018

November Wrap-Up and Plans For December



Reading


I finished The Fifth Season in early November, which is the final title that I'm reading for my TBR Pile Challenge, and then plowed through the rest of the Broken Earth series. There's one more book on my challenge list but I'm not feeling inclined to read it so I'm done for the year.

This month I also finished Alisha Rai's excellent Forbidden Hearts series with Hurts To Love You. Rounding out the month, I read The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, which I loved, and started reading Crazy Rich Asians. The jury is still out on that one because sometimes reading about extremely wealthy, entitled people is just annoying but it's too early to really say yet.

In general it was a pretty good reading month!

Listening


Socks that I mention below.
While reading the Broken Earth series, I needed something less dark so I listened to The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, then started on Working Stiff by Judy Melinek which I impulsively bought on sale through Audible and had never heard of before. Melinek is a forensic pathologist, and this book is a glimpse inside a profession I know very little about.

I finished Last Seen, the podcast about the Gardener Heist. It was so fascinating, and now I want to learn more about art theft in general.

I also started listening to a podcast called Unlikeable Female Characters, which is SO up my alley. They talk about unlikeable female characters from books, movies, and TV so it sure to have wide appeal.


Watching


An early season of The Great British Baking Show appeared on Netflix and we watched that over the course of a week. It's listed on Netflix as The Great British Baking Show: The Beginning, though it's not actually the first season and I'm mystified as to why we're getting it in such a strange order. This was a good season except that they kept doing odd informational segments on things like the history of gingerbread houses and eel pie and it was not even always relevant (I really thought that technical challenge was going to be eel pie, but it wasn't. Why did we need to learn about the history of eel pie?) I really wish all the other seasons were available because watching this show greatly improves my quality of life. Please let me know if there's another happy-making food show out there because I need it.

Cooking


After making the Smitten Kitchen Blondies again for a get-together and the Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies for no reason, I decided I needed to stop the baking because it really does not fit in with my plans to eat a more healthy diet.

One-pot Mujadara
I made a couple of new things from Melissa Clark's Dinner, including Winter Vegetable Hash with Jalapenos and Fried Eggs, which didn't come out the way it was supposed to but was still tasty, and the One Pot Mujadara, a fairly easy meal of lentils, rice, spinach, and delicious crispy-fried leeks. I'll be making this one again, I'm sure.

For October's Cookbook Club at work we cooked from Smitten Kitchen Every Day, which I then purchased. Earlier this week I made the Wild Mushroom Shepherd's Pie and had serious issues with the recipe. You cook some mushrooms and then add a significant amount of liquid, then simmer it until the liquid reduces to a thick gravy, "about 10 minutes." Well, Deb Perelman apparently has no sense of time because I simmered for 35 minutes before giving up and throwing the Shepherd's Pie together and into the oven because I was starving. This monstrosity took me 3 hours to make and came out more like soup. The flavor was great though, and the leftovers thickened up a little. But seriously, can you please test all of your recipes? Thank you.

A couple of old favorites that I cooked include the Hot and Sour Braised Tempeh, a delicious noodle dish from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, and the Gingered Winter Vegetables from Vegan With a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I've never been vegan, but that cookbook is great and has been one of my go-to cookbooks for years!

Doing


Eric and I went with another friend to a fun event called Tavern Night, held at the Boston Tea Party Museum. We sat at a table with an actor portraying Sam Adams, and ate delicious foods, drank hot buttered rum, sang songs, and even learned a old-timey dance.

I celebrated an early Thanksgiving in Maine with family. They all work in health care and often work on holidays so we celebrate whenever they are available to get together. Have I mentioned that my sister has a llama? That's a photo of her on the right (the llama, not my sister.) The lighthouse in the photo below is at the end of the road I lived on growing up.

I spent real Thanksgiving watching episodes of The Great British Baking Show in my pajamas before going out to a restaurant in the evening. Which honestly was pretty great.

I finished TWO knitting projects! I posted about my sweater already, but I also finished a pair of socks. I've started more socks now, but in a much prettier colorway. (I mean, I love black, but sometimes you need to mix it up a bit.) Black is very hard to photograph, but nevertheless I've include a pic to the right.

Work has felt really busy, and I'm on the Social Committee this year which means planning the staff holiday party which is a total nightmare and I want to stab everyone. The end.

Plans for December


December is that very special time of year in which I try to remember what my goals were for the year, and then determine whether or not I fulfilled them. (Usually not.)

I need to set up my new bullet journal planner thingy, which I started planning ages ago, set it aside, and now I don't recall what I had in mind. I'll go back and look at my notes and drawings which I'm sure will be some combination of helpful and mystifying.

Traditionally, I don't do much for Christmas except decorate the house a little and watch lots of Christmas movies, then go out to eat on Christmas Day. There's only two of us and we used to cook, but it was a whole lot of effort and then we were just exhausted and cranky by the time we ate alone in our kitchen. Anyhow, I really want to plan some other festive activities as well, but I don't know what. Going to a show? Making fancy cookies? I have no idea.

We'll be having a New Year's Eve party though and that is basically planned at this point. It's just a matter of cleaning the house and buying some booze. I've got a few days off leading up to New Year's Eve so it shouldn't be a problem to have everything ready.


How was your November?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee (2018)

"I have just taken an overly large bite of iced bun when Callum slices his finger off."

From this very first line, I was enraptured by the new novel by Mackenzi Lee. It's a sequel to A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, but although I think you should read that one because it's great, it's not necessary to have read it first. The main character in the first book was Henry "Monty" Montague, and this second book is about his sister, Felicity.

Callum is the baker for whom Felicity works, and after she sews up his finger he proposes marriage. But Felicity has always wanted to be a doctor and is not interested in marriage or romance, so after a failed attempt at talking her way into medical school (which won't admit women) she follows a lead and dashes off to Austria in search of her long-time idol, Dr. Alexander Platt. Platt is about to marry Felicity's former best friend Johanna, with whom she parted under less-than-friendly circumstances. Felicity is only able to make the trip with the help of a third woman, a Muslim pirate named Sim, who is absolutely deserving of her own book. Sim has her own motivation for making this trip and, once revealed, the trip develops into a much different kind of adventure.

So I love Felicity: her determination, her intelligence, her sense of justice. I also love that she is not perfect. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the feminism, and it is just as complicated here as in real life. Felicity and Johanna grew up with a matching interest in science and the natural world, but when Johanna started to get interested in things like fancy dresses and social events, Felicity judged her for it. When they reconciled, they had some things to work through and had a great conversation about assumptions and how a person can like pretty dresses and science at the same time.

But she's not just smart and kind of judgmental; she's funny too. In one of my favorite passages, Felicity is trying to change out of her dress in a hurry without any help and it's a struggle.

"I can't even reach the damn buttons running up the back, let alone unfasten them. I keep turning in circles like a dog chasing its tail, trying each time to stretch my arm just a bit farther while holding on to the deranged hope that perhaps if I catch the buttons by surprise they won't dart away from me."

The other two women are also fantastic characters, complicated and imperfect, and this makes them very real and makes the story even more exciting.

A big part of The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue was the romance between Monty and Percy, but this follow-up is not a romance at all. Rather, it's an adventure story with strong themes about friendship and I am totally here for it. In fact, it's strongly suggested that Felicity is asexual/aromantic. Her disinterest in Callum's marriage proposal isn't about him specifically, but about her. She wants to live alone but be surrounded by friends as she pursues her work, and she says that kissing (people of any gender) really does nothing for her. As much as I love a good romance, it's refreshing to have a historical teen adventure novel that is just that. Not everything has to be about romantic love and not everybody has to have it in their life.

This was a super fun story that I enjoyed a lot, and really got me out of the bleak place that The Broken Earth Series took me (and I loved that series, but needed an antidote). It's a teen book so the writing style is light and fast-paced, but there's still a lot going on and lots to think about. It was also different enough from the first book that there's not that pressure to be as good at the same kind of story, if that makes sense. I'll definitely be looking out for whatever Mackenzi Lee shares with us next.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday Knitting

Way back when Barack Obama was president,* I started a sweater. That was in May of 2016. It is not insignificant that we had just gotten a dog the previous August, because my knitting has slowed down considerably since then. Time is a factor, sure, but the larger impediment to knitting these days is having a grabby many-toothed beast at my side at all times, wanting to know what the hell that thing in my hands is and needed to both smell and taste it. So these days, I need to steal away and do my knitting alone behind closed doors, usually while listening to podcasts or audiobooks rather than my old way of knitting while watching tv. This is all to say that it has taken me almost 2.5 years to knit this goddamn sweater.


And yes, the sweater is lying on the floor for these photos because if I were to wait until a good time to get modeled photos it would probably be another six months. The weather has been crappy, I don't have a picturesque background nearby, and my skin is a mess. So this is what you're getting.

I can tell you that the sweater fits okay, though it's a bit long and hugs my butt in a way that's not exactly flattering. But usually they end up stretching a bit width-wide, which shortens it length-wise so the final verdict on fit isn't in quite yet.



It came out pretty well, I think. It's a bit rumpled in the photos. I blocked it out all nicely, but then it was folded up and even shoved in a suitcase for a trip to Maine and back without even being taken out. I haven't worn it yet, I don't know why.

I picked this pattern because I love the interesting textures in ganseys, but this had the added challenge of a hood and a front pocket. I've been down that road before with my Rogue Sweater (pic to the right because it was pre-blog and I had photos on flick that now aren't showing up. Honestly I forgot I even had a flickr account.) I love the idea of a hoodie more than I love an actual hoodie. They look great, but are impractical to wear with a coat because what do you do with the hood? It always seems to get in the way. that's an awful lot of work to put into something that isn't practical.

However, I'm happy to say that both the hood and front pocket came out pretty well. The pocket is formed in a rather complicated way, and I had to go back and rip it out and re-do it because I attached in such a way that it didn't lie flat. I'm glad I took the time to fix it because I would not have been able to live with it like that. That was a hard lesson I've learn from the past - a lesson learned, in fact, from the above pictured Rogue. There's a cable pattern going around the hood, joining on the front neckline and I made a major mistake in the cable that is front and center on the sweater. I still wear it (I wore it a couple of days ago, in fact) but I see it EVERY TIME and it makes me so annoyed. But that was one of my first sweaters and remains one of the most complicated and I didn't know how to go back and fix it and then be able to continue without losing count of all the things I was doing at one time.

How did this turn into a post about a different sweater?

Here's a closer photo of the patterns on the front.



Oh, you'll notice it has a couple of buttonholes but no buttons. Well. For this I would have wanted buttons in the same color as the yarn, but how would I go about finding buttons in that exact shade of mustard yellow? I have no idea, but I'm sure I'd never actually button the neck so I decided not to even bother trying. I made buttonholes in case I ever changed my mind.

So there you go: my first finished knitted thing in quite a while. You know, I actually also recently finished a pair of socks and even took photos, but socks don't really need an entire post so I'll put those in my monthly wrap-up, which will come (hopefully) in less than a week.


*How I long for those days. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Hurts To Love You

Hurts To Love You by Alisha Rai (2018)

At this time last year I read the first book in this series, Hate To Want You, moved on to Wrong To Need You this past spring, and now I've finished the trilogy. I've been very good at finishing the series I've started recently!

The heroine of Hurts To Love You is Eve Chandler, the youngest of the Chandler siblings. She is often referred to as "Baby Chandler" which she likes as much as any grown woman would. Eve wants people to start taking her seriously and treating her as an adult, and that includes her long-time crush, older guy Gabe Hunter. When Eve was in college - not many years ago - she hit on him in a bar when she was drunk and he rebuffed her, but she is determined to try again with him. Now is the perfect opportunity, because they'll be together for a week as Livvy and Nicholas (from the first book) get married. The wedding party is meeting up to stay at a house together in the days leading up to the wedding, but for various reasons, most people are arriving late which means that Eve and Gabe have some time alone together.

Gabe is the son of the housekeeper for the Kane family, so he grew up very close with Livvy, Jackson, and especially the now-deceased Paul. Gabe is more of a one-night stand kind of guy than a relationship guy, but this is a romance novel so obviously that is going to change. He sees Eve for the first time in a while when they meet for a wedding cake tasting. Livvy is sick and can't taste anything and Nicholas is, I think, out of town on business so the two of them are standing in for them. This is the moment when Gabe realizes Eve is no longer inappropriately young for him.

Despite her wealth, Eve is driving for a ride-share company and has been making sure she is there to pick up Gabe when he needs it, but she does so in disguise. She's trying to make her own way now that she no longer works for the family business, but she's also doing market research for her own company, which will be a competitor for Ryde. She feels a little bad for stalking Gabe, but doesn't realize that Gabe may become attracted to his driver "Anne" and that might make him conflicted about Eve.

So the romance is all well and good, but as with the other books in this trilogy Rai has done such a great job with all the family drama and character development that is really what I'm here for. I love Eve. I love her imperfections and her determination to prove herself, and the way she gives herself pep talks because she is trying to be more confident and assertive. She grew up being bossed around and emotionally abused by her father, and she is no longer having it. Her brother Nicholas is over-protective and keeps treating her like a child and she will not take that anymore either. She is done trying to please everyone, and through the course of this book she is all about acknowledging what she wants and taking steps to get it. She gets some great sisterly advice from Livvy about this, too, which really bolsters her determination. I really love Livvy.

I'm less in love with the guys in this book. Nicholas really seems like an ass, even though I liked him in his own book (Hate To Want You). The way he treats Eve is really grating, but there's a fantastic conversation in which Livvy lectures him about how Eve is an adult and he needs to treat her like one. It was a really good feminist moment (and not the only one in the novel.)  Gabe is fine, but I find it hard to trust a guy who doesn't like sweets. He hates sweets. What is wrong with him?

Oh, but the family story! This has been a long arc through all of the books and I am very much here for it. I love a good family saga. The relationship between the Chandlers and Kanes began as a business partnership and friendship, weathered the imprisonment of one of the original partners in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, and was essentially destroyed when Eve's mom and Livvy's dad were killed in a car accident together and there was a lot of fallout including the Kanes being robbed of their part of the business. The two families have been enemies since then, and this wedding between Livvy and Nicholas is the first official reconciliation between them. A lot is riding on this. Some members of the family want the old animosity put to rest, but some - like Nicholas and Eve's father - cannot bear the thought of the two families reuniting. In the course of the book, we learn even more about the fraught history of the Chandlers and Kanes as more secrets are revealed.

I'm actually a bit sad that the series is over because I've gotten really invested in these families. Alisha Rai is one of the better romance writers I've come across and I follow her on Twitter and I've really enjoyed her interviews on the Smart Bitches podcast. I'll be looking out for her next book, for sure!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N.K. Jemisin (2017)

During the course of The Obelisk Gate, we learn that nobody in Essun's time knows that the Earth used to have a moon. Alabaster implores her to learn how to harness the power of the obelisks because the moon is in long orbit and rarely nears the Earth. But soon it will be near enough to the Earth that maybe it can be knocked back into the old trajectory. This is the crux of The Stone Sky - Essun needs to try to achieve this feat, which hopefully will end the Seasons once and for all.

But she is where we left her at the end of the last book: traveling from the destroyed community inside the geode to another place where they all hope to live. Unfortunately, they're going in the opposite direction of where Essun's daughter Nassun last was - not that it matters, because Nassun is traveling too. She is also learning to harness the power of the obelisks, but for a very different purpose. Also in this final volume, we get a really great back story - that of Hoa, the stone eater, back when he was....well, not a stone eater. This story reveals what caused the moon to be knocked out of its orbit in the first place.

There is so much great stuff in this book! I had been dying for the back story, and of course was anticipating the moment Essun would attempt to get the moon back to its rightful place. It was so tense though, since Nassun's plans were pretty opposed to Essun's and only one of them could be successful. Also, Essun was slowly turning to stone as Alabaster did in the last book, which is a side effect of harnessing the obelisks in this way. So she had to be very careful using her powers because each time she did, another part of her would turn to stone. She had to really pace herself here.

The relationships between characters in this series are complicated, and watching how they develop was one of my favorite aspects of the story. In a Season, many things are suspended and times are desperate, which means you really, really want your community as a whole to survive because your own life depends on it. Those who are commless don't last long. Survival is the most important thing, but it's a given that not everyone is going to survive. This necessarily affects interpersonal relationships and means that leaders often have to make very tough decisions for the good of their community. Essun was in rough shape while she was traveling, but knew she wasn't going to get much of a break. She also had a lot of tension with Ykka, the leader of the community Essun inadvertently helped to destroy. I also really loved the relationship between Essun and the stone eater Hoa. And of course, Essun and Nassun were headed for the same place at the end and they didn't really have an awesome mother-daughter relationship in the best of times. So, there was a lot going on here!

I may have mentioned this before, but this is the first time in a very, very long time that I have read a series start to finish, one right after the other. Surprisingly, I didn't feel like I needed a break at all (even though the story was so bleak!) and I didn't get tired of it or wish it would hurry up and be over. Generally I'm pretty impatient and always thinking about the next thing, but I was so invested in what was going on that I wasn't at all in a hurry to leave it. In fact, I'd love another visit to this place - after the things happened at the end of this book I really want to know what everything was like for everyone going forward.

N.K. Jemisin has a book of short stories coming out later this month called How Long 'til Black Future Month, which is one of the best titles I've heard in a while. Of course I'm already on hold for it, but I was very excited to learn yesterday that one of the stories takes place in the world of the Broken Earth series, so I will get to revisit it after all!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by N.K. Jemisin (2016)

Since this is the second book in a series, there need to be spoilers for the first book, The Fifth Season.

For one thing, Damaya and Syenite are names that Essun used during different periods in her life, so the three stories are really all one story. I didn't talk much about the plot of that book, but it begins with a huge rift in the Earth that is bringing on a Fifth Season. At the very end, Essun is reunited with Alabaster, who is slowly turning to stone, and he asks her if she's able to call the obelisks to herself yet, and if she's ever heard of a moon. The Obelisk Gate picks up during this same conversation, and Alabaster explains that she needs to find out if she can control the obelisks, and it's very important and related to the moon.

The book moves back and forth between Essun's story and that of her 8-year-old daughter Nassun, who disappeared along with her father at the beginning of The Fifth Season. Nassun has pretty powerful powers of her own and her relationship with her father is strained at best. He's taking her to a place he's heard of where they may be able to "cure" her, but that's not what this place turns out to be all about. Nassun meets her mother's old Guardian, Schaffa, though she does not know that he knew her mother. Schaffa has changed since those days and he and Nassun work together to train her and she continues to discover new ways her powers work.

There were some very cool things in this story, such as a whole community that lives inside a geode. I kind of hope this is made into a movie someday so I can see it because it sounds spectacular. Plus everything involving the obelisks was kind of cool, though I admit I'm still a little unsure about the role they play - we see ways in which they are used, but I'm wondering how they will relate to the larger picture. I also liked everything about the stone eaters - I have a hard time not picturing them like the weeping angels from Doctor Who, but I find them so delightfully creepy.

In a way, I think this books suffers a little from being the second book in that I didn't feel like the plot was furthered as much as I would like, but there was a lot going on and many new elements introduced, so I ended up liking it as much as the first. Last weekend I decided to grab The Stone Sky from the library when I went into work on Monday, but I ended up being out sick and someone else got our copy before I returned. I requested a copy from another library and was afraid I wouldn't get it before this long weekend. But I got it just in time, which is great because I need to start on it immediately! I'm really, really looking forward to seeing where this story goes in the final book!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018), narrated by Carly Robins

Stella Lang is an econometrician, developing algorithms to predict customer purchases, and makes a ton of money doing it. She works seven days a week because she has no social life. Her parents want her to settle down and get married and have some kids, but she doesn't even like kissing. She has Asperger's and many parts of dating are distasteful to her, and her past experiences have been terrible. She decides she needs help from a professional, and hires escort Michael Phan.

Michael works as a tailor in his family business so he can be near his mother who has cancer. He dreams of being a fashion designer, but first he needs to get out from the debt he's accrued because of his mother's illness. So he started escorting to make extra money to put towards these expenses.

Predictably, Stella and Michael develop a relationship that goes beyond one of escort and client. But of course neither wants to admit that they've developed real feelings for the other, and they both have secrets they're keeping from the other. Michael doesn't usually see a client more than once, to guard against the possibility of an attachment, but Stella manages to talk him into having a fake relationship with her so she can practice that. While they both start having feelings, neither thinks the other will reciprocate. Michael sees Stella as socio-economically far above him, and Stella thinks Michael is so attractive and sexy he could have any woman he wants, so why would he want someone so awkward?

So, there's a trope in romance that I hate, when the heroine dislikes or is uninterested in sex until she meets the hero and his magical penis and she's suddenly having multiple orgasms. It's not because she has gained experience or worked through her issues or learned more about her own body, it's tied explicitly to the guy who, quite frankly, isn't doing anything super special. It irks me to no end. In this case, I know the reason things went so well with Michael is because he's so patient with her sensory issues. He doesn't know for quite a while that she's on the spectrum, but he's just a considerate lover. It's his job, after all. It makes sense in the context. It still annoyed me.

Otherwise, I found this story delightful. I especially like Michael's Vietnamese family and how they embraced Stella even though she committed a major faux pas the first time she ate with them. (They were microwaving food in plastic containers and she refused to eat it and said they shouldn't either because it's poison.) They saw past her inadequate social skills and got to know her as a person, and when they realized that having so many people in the house and the tv on and someone playing the piano was sensory overload, they toned things down a bit.

I found Stella's quirks pretty charming. She owned the exact number of outfits she needed to get through the week and they were all variations on the same thing, she owned only one kind of underwear, she had an unwavering bedtime routine, and was just super practical about everything. She was practical and logical and I am a big fan of those things. I also loved Michael - he was so thoughtful and kind and would do anything in the world for his mother. He and Stella were both interesting people and I really enjoyed getting to know them and was rooting for their relationship to work (and yes, of course I knew it would work out in the end!)

I listened to the audio version and it's exactly what I needed as a counterpoint to The Fifth Season, which was excellent, but so dark. The narrator had a bright, upbeat tone that was perfect for the book. I should also mention that the author is on the autism spectrum herself, which I wondered about as I was reading. There were a couple of moments where I wondered if things were realistic, but I'm guessing they were. I know authors usually do research but when it comes down to how the characters actually think and the things going on inside their heads, I believe it more if I know the author has a shared experience with that character.

The Kiss Quotient has been getting a lot of buzz, and I can see why. If you like cute, quirky contemporary romances, give it a try!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin (2015)

As far as I can tell, this book takes place in our world but far, far in the future. There is one big land mass called the Stillness, ironically, because it is unstable, shifting and moving and filled with geological cataclysms. Every now and then one is catastrophic enough to cause a Fifth Season, during which the sun will be blocked out for months or years, and civilization dies leaving only enough people to begin again when the Season is over. The people live in a constant state of disaster preparedness.

There are people in this world called orogenes or, disparagingly, roggas. They can sense and control movement within the earth, stopping or causing earthquakes, and moving the earth's plates. There are three stories about orogenes in this book. One is about Essun, a woman who's toddler son has just been murdered by her husband. One is about Damaya, whose parents have just reported her and she is removed by a Guardian who watch over people like her, keeping her under control while teaching her how to effectively use her powers. The third story is about Syenite, paired with a man named Alabaster to hopefully breed and create another person with the same powers. Although orogenes are powerful, that power can be controlled by Guardians and orogenes are basically treated as slaves.

It took me quite a while to get into this book. I was initially rather disoriented and confused, but also intrigued. The world-building was pretty amazing even if I didn't quite understand it. After finishing I went back and read the prologue again and it made much more sense this time - I sort of wish I had done so earlier in the book. There are still things I'm a little unclear about, like the role of the obelisks that hover in the air, but I expect some of this will become more clear in the next book, The Obelisk Gate.

It's very dark, and an unpleasant world to be in, but nonetheless compelling. Getting to know the characters and their motivations is a big part of what I like about this book, particularly since they're all in such desperate situations. It's also kind of a tough book to say much about without spoiling it.

I'm very grateful to a coworker who told me I should be sure to have the second book on hand because I would want it when it finished. Initially I wasn't sure I'd move on to the second book, or maybe not right away (this is an unpleasant world and I thought I might want to read something light and funny between books) but I'm glad I heeded my coworker's advice. I went home on Friday with close to 100 pages left, thinking I might finish it over the weekend and instead finished that evening.

I've already moved on to The Obelisk Gate and should have a post about that one before too long!

This was on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge and is probably the final one that I'll read. The remaining title is NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, but my interest has waned in favor of some of his other work. But since I read both of my alternate titles, I can consider the challenge completed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October Wrap-Up and Plans for November



I've been having a thematically fall month: baking, reading horror novels, waking up in the dead of night by a spider crawling across my face...I wish that last one was a joke. It's not.

Reading


I've finished eight books if you count the two I finished at the very beginning of the month, Catherine the Great and The Arrangement. After I finished those, I really wanted to read some horror because it's October and that feels like I thing I should do. I went with Slade House by David Mitchell, which was already on my To Read list, and was excellent. So creepy! Then I impulsively grabbed The Girl With All the Gifts which has been on my radar for a while, though I didn't realize it was going to be about zombies. Still, it was pretty good.

Shoutout to the new novel by John Green's brother Hank which I enjoyed a lot. I also finished the Wayfarers trilogy finally. I wanted to finish that before starting on the Broken Earth series, and I needed to do that soon since The Fifth Season is on my TBR Pile Challenge for this year. The Fifth Season has taken me a bit to get into - it was hard to even orient myself - but the world-building is pretty stellar and I'm really liking it now. I grabbed the second one from the library because I was warned that I'll want to have it on hand when I finish the first.

Listening


I only listened to one audiobook this month, Can't Nothing Bring Me Down, though I did just start The Kiss Quotient at the very end of the month and like it so far.

I'm still chugging along with all of my usual podcasts, which is partly why I didn't listen to many audiobooks. I was sad to hear that Panoply is no longer producing podcasts which means that By the Book is looking for a new home. I'm confident they'll find it though because they've gotten a lot of attention and seem pretty popular.

Watching


Pretty sky over my neighborhood.
I watched Pride and Prejudice when I was home for Columbus Day (which is actually called Indigenous Peoples' Day in my city and I'm a fan of the change, but old habits die hard.)

One Saturday I was sick and watched To All the Boys I've Loved Before on Netflix, which was good but I don't love it as much as many people apparently do. Honestly, I couldn't get over the wealth of everyone in the movie. The lacrosse, the ski trips, the gigantic house the main family lives in. That same day I also began the newest season of Call the Midwife.

I think I've mentioned listening to the Slow Russian podcast, but this month I started watching some of their YouTube videos, which I like a lot, especially since they're very short. It's fun to actually see things in Russia, like a typical apartment and also the host Daria's grandmother's dacha (country house.)

Cooking



I can't believe how much I baked this month. I made two more bundt cakes: the lemon version of the America's Test Kitchen Classic Bundt Cake (I made the regular version last month) for a work party, and the Marble Bundt Cake from Smitten Kitchen Every Day for Cookbook Club at work. I divided the batter SO unevenly on the marble cake that it was mostly chocolate, but you know, not one person who ate it complained about that. Also, it came out of the pan beautifully, as you can see, but then you melt chocolate and creme and pour it over the top and it looks rather messy (yet delicious.) But I think it would also be delicious without the extra chocolate.

I also made the Moosewood Fudge Brownies from Moosewood Cooks at Home (twice, I think), Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Brownies from a recipe on the package of baking chocolate, and Blondies from Smitten Kitchen. I used only chocolate chips as add-ins in the blondies and I swear there were more chips than batter. They came out very well, I think - gooey and butterscotchy and I may have to make them again sometime soon. In less sweet baking, I made the Whole Wheat Quinoa Bread from America's Test Kitchen Bread Illustrated. I love this bread, though it's kind of a pain to make since you have to cook the quinoa first.

Smitten Kitchen Blondies
I cooked some actual food too! After the Beef Stroganoff Disaster of last March I wanted to try this dish again. The recipe has you add sour cream to a hot bubbling pot and didn't mention tempering it first so it didn't separate, so it ended up looking rather ugly (though it tasted fine.) This time I was more careful but, alas, the results were similar. This led to an obsessive search for different Beef Stroganoff recipes and I'm very surprised to see how wildly they differ. It was overwhelming. I may just let it go for now.

Years ago when I had a book group that met for brunch, I often made Strata from a recipe I found online somewhere. I think I got tired of it, but recently decided to try it again one weekend when I had a lot going on. It was delicious! I need to get that back in my meal rotation. (But not too often or I'll get tired of it again.)

Doing


I don't think I had many social plans this month. The aforementioned Beef Stroganoff was a dinner I cooked with a friend at my house. I also went to another friend's house to watch a Red Sox game and have drinks and snacks. It was that game that lasted about 17 hours, but I had left by 10 anyhow since I had to work the next morning.

I think all I've been doing at work is training new people, and at home the dog has been misbehaving a lot, which I think is due to the sudden drop in temperature. Plus I was sick one weekend, which is always a bummer (why can't it be a work day?) So it's been rather a mixed bag, I guess.

Oh! My sweater - the one I began knitting back when Obama was president? I finished it. I finished it! I just need to wash and block it and get some good photos. I'll share more soon but here's a little preview on the right, taken right after I sewed in the first sleeve.

Plans for November


My plans primarily involve drinking tea and reading books while snuggled up under an afghan and I hope to continue this until approximately April. And the mid-term elections are something to look forward to, at least I certainly hope they go the way I want them to. I'm getting together with friends and it will hopefully be more fun than the last time we got together on an election night, which actually was fun until the results started coming in. Also Thanksgiving, I guess. I'm heading to Maine for what I call Fake Thanksgiving since we often do it on a different weekend, like this year, depending on when everyone has to work.

How was your October?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3) by Becky Chambers (2018)

This third and final book from the Wayfarers series is set among the Exodus Fleet: the last humans on a dying Earth who left to seek a better life elsewhere in the universe. It's hundreds of years later, they've made contact with other planets, and many Exodans have left the Fleet to make lives for themselves on planets, as planned. But many remain aboard the huge self-sustaining ships, continuing the only way of life they've ever known.

We meet the Fleet's Archivist, Isabel, who is happy aboard the fleet with her wife Tamsin, both of whom are getting older now. Eyas is a Caretaker, the Exodan equivalent of a funeral director, devoted to her work but also thinking about what more she wants from her life. Kip is still a teenager and longs to leave the Fleet. Sawyer, on the other hand, grew up on the planet of Mushtello but comes to the Fleet seeking a change. Tessa has two young kids, and the novel opens with a prologue, set five years earlier, when her youngest is witness to the largest tragedy ever to befall the Fleet. One of the ships has an accident resulting in its destruction and, along with it, the death of more than 43,000 people.

I was about halfway into this book and really struck by the lack of plot. It was more slice-of-life than anything, and it took me a while to get to know the characters since it moved back and forth between them. When all was said and done, some things did happen and lives were changed and huge decisions made, but it was definitely not an action-packed story. This may be why I didn't love it as much as the other books in the trilogy. Don't get me wrong, it was still 4 stars on Goodreads, just not 5.

Becky Chambers really has a knack for building worlds and characters, and it's pleasurable just getting to know them. The Exodans are in such an interesting position: they no longer have a home planet, as we are currently many generations beyond those who first boarded the Fleet, yet the Fleet wasn't planned to be a permanent home for humans. There is so much hesitation and disquiet among the Exodans because of the tension surrounding those who have left the Fleet and want to leave and those who want to stay. For instance, Tessa has had no plans to leave, but her daughter Aya really wants to go to a planet. And then there are those like Sawyer who grew up human on a non-human planet and then move to the Fleet but don't know how to fit in. The Fleet is dwindling in numbers and they need to plan for their future. They've also depended a lot on technology from other species, and they are well aware of ways they've benefitted from the Galactic Commons and the fact that they haven't given back. It's still a pretty insular community too - Tessa has an alien visitor come stay with her to observe how their community works, and it's very novel for a non-human to be aboard. It's all really very interesting to think about.

If you haven't read any Becky Chambers yet, I highly suggest giving this series a try! I'm very much looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.