Monday, April 12, 2021

2021 Q1 Quarterly Goals Update

It is time for me to do a quick check of my first quarter goals for 2021. Strap in because it's a wild ride. 

Area One: Health

1) Two yoga classes of thirty minutes or more twice a week 
    January: 9
    February: 10
    March: 14 
    Total: 33 
    I've met this goal quite handily.
2) Three other fitness classes/fitness activities of thirty minutes or more per week 
    January: 12
    February: 13
    March: 13
    Total: 38
    This is one workout shy of the goal. I will count 97.4% as A work here. 
3) Tracking goal
        Q1: Liquid intake using Aqualert - I did this for like two days before I deleted the app because I 
        was so annoyed with it.  I think these tracking goals may be impossible for me.  

Overall, I'm pleased with my number of workouts. This doesn't count the large number of 15 minute "move and stretch" classes that I do during my lunch breaks, nor does it include the hours and hours that I walk with Hannah. I know there's some cliché that folks became much less active during Covid, but I have found it's actually a lot easier to get movement when I'm working from home.  
        
Area Two: Financial
1) Track what I spend my money on each month - I did this with the dog and cat last year, but I'd like to extend it to see where my money is going (I'm modelling it after monthly budget updates from Stephany Writes) - I did it! January, February, and March posts for your viewing pleasure.
2) Put $500 into our savings account each month and $500 into my retirement accounts - Okay, this is complicated. 
    January: $900
    February:  $950   
    March: $1125
    Total: $2975
This is only $25 off what I'd hope to accomplish in the first three months, so it's pretty good. What's not good is that most of that is going right into our savings account because I can't figure out how to add money to my retirement accounts and I keep saying I'll deal with it and I mean it, but I honestly am stressed about it, so there you go. I'd give myself a C- on this goal.

Financial goals are going okay, I think.  

Area Three: Communication
1) Continue to post to my blog twice a week 
    January: 14 posts
    February: 13 posts
    March: 14 posts
    Total: 41
This is actually more than three times a week, so I crushed this.

2) Continue to send snail mail to my uncle K, aunt D, and my mom once a month, plus one other person who will be chosen on a rotating basis - Sure?  I did send out letters in January, Valentine's Day cards in February, and St. Patricks' Day cards in March.  Crushing it.
3) Keep a list of the books I read - Yes! Here's the first quarter book list. It's actually pretty unwieldy doing it by quarter and I wonder if it would be better if I did a monthly book list instead. Let me know if you have a preference. 
4) Keep a list of the snail mail I send - Hm. I did this in January and then just sort of stopped doing it. I'll have to get back on the train in the second quarter.

Communication goals are on track. Yay!

Area Four: Personal Improvement
1) Brush Hannah and Zelda's teeth every day
    January: Hannah 31/31, Zelda 30/31
    February: Hannah 27/28, Zelda 26/28
    March: Hannah 27/31 (I ran out of toothpaste and went to half a dozen stores looking for more only         to end up just ordering it on Amazon), Zelda 30/31
This is so much better than I have ever done before. I now have a system for when to brush their teeth and they expect it now and (mostly) cooperate.  This is a nice place to be in for their dental health.
2) Do a 30-day challenge every month
    January: Meditation every day using the Headspace app on my phone - 31/31 days. It was great. 
    February: 30-day core challenge - 19/28 - You're going to start noticing a downward trend in my stats     from here on out.
    March: This insane good posture in 30 days challenge - 0/31 - I decided to restart the core challenge,     but I only even did that for a few times in the month. I'm realizing that I haven't done anything yet in     April, either. I better get started.
3) Duolingo every day - Yes! I am well over a year of doing practice every day.  Woot! 
4) One house project every month  - Ha ha! Well, no.  We got a new dehumidifier for the basement and that's about it.  I'm really terrible at this goal.

So my personal improvement goals are a mixed bag.  Let's hope for some gains in the next quarter, although that is definitely unlikely from what I'm seeing so far!


Wednesday, April 07, 2021

March 2021 Expense Report

 


Okay, so here we are, about 25% of the way through the year. Whew.  2021 has been a blast so far, hasn't it?

Biggest expenses:

This month my biggest expenses continue to be savings, groceries, and pets. I had some other larger categories, including bills and charitable giving.

Breakdown:

Bills (9.5%) - This includes water/sewer and some insurance payments.

Cars (1.6%) - I had to get gas for both cars once during the month. I am thinking that when I get together with Dr. BB to go over spending allotments, I might take on our car payment since I'm supposed to cover our car expenses and they've gone down dramatically since the start of the pandemic.

Charity (11.8%) - There were a couple of large charitable donations made. You know, there's a lot of bad things happening in the world and if I can throw some dollars at it, I guess I'll do my slacktivism from the couch.

Eating out (1.1%) - I ordered takeout for lunch once and stopped to get coffee a few times.  

Gifts (1.5%) - My niece had a birthday and I picked up a present for a friend who has a birthday in April.

Groceries (20.6%) - We've gotta eat.

Health and personal fitness (4.1%) - This category is almost entirely made up of dental expenses, but I also have my monthly fitness passes.

Pets (11.9%) - Damn, the girls are pricey.  Food for both of them this month, toothpaste, I bought birdseed for our outside feeders and included that in this category, and there was a grooming appointment, and some medications purchased.  

Savings (33.4%) - I still can't figure out how to get money into one of my retirement accounts, which actually kind of makes me nervous about if I ever want to take the money OUT and that was a goal for March that never got done, so I guess I'll roll that over into April.  In the meantime, our shared savings account is looking healthy, my Christmas fund is growing away, and I'm pleased with my savings progress.

Other (2.1%) - This is the category I added household expenses, a book I bought for book club when the library hold just took too long, and some fancy earring backs that I ordered on a whim.  Since those were my only "whim-related" purchases, I feel fine about this category.

Wrap-up/things I want to buy:

I'm actually pretty frugal and since I rarely leave the house, I feel pretty good about how "essential" my purchases were in March.  I do have a rather long list of things I'd like to purchase soon.  Ready for it?

1) A buffet/hutch/sideboard for the kitchen - This has been on my list since we moved in. There's currently an old IKEA bookshelf there, holding our microwave, cookbooks, and stand mixer, but it's bowing under the weight of the KitchenAid, isn't really big enough, and I hate the way it looks.  Once I'm fully vaccinated (fewer than two weeks left, yo!), I'll be hitting antique shops.

It's not great. It was a temporary solution, but the longer we live here, the more I think it's going to be this way forever. No. I won't let it. I'll get it fixed by the end of 2021.


2) A two-tiered shoe stand for our mudroom - We currently have a rubber tray and it's not large enough and the shoes have taken over the room. There's one from LL Bean that I like a lot, but it's sold out.  I'm going to buy one before the end of this calendar year, I just know it.

Sadly, it's not available. But isn't it great?

3) New towels for our bathrooms - We've had our towel set since we got married and they are all old and raggedy.  The seams are coming undone. They roll in strange directions.  I'd like to replace all the towels, bathmats, washcloths, and hand towels, and donate our current ones to the Humane Society. I also want to go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and TOUCH all the towels before I buy anything.

4) So much personal care - I'm imagining that my personal care budget is going to skyrocket in April. I'm planning on getting a haircut, eyebrow wax, and pedicure as soon as I'm fully vaccinated.  I'm also considering ordering some shower oil from L'Occitane during their friends and family event.  I normally only use shower oil during the winter, but I do love that stuff.  

Monday, April 05, 2021

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

 

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder, is a lyrical, dreamy novel that is inexplicably hard to describe. Our unnamed protagonist lives on an unnamed island writing novels with unnamed characters. But this island is strange because things get "disappeared" and then most people on the island slowly lose memories of those things. At first, it's just things like perfume and music boxes, but then the roses are disappeared. Then the ferry is disappeared and there's no way off the island. Then the books are disappeared.  What is going to happen to our heroine?

It's a fascinating look at the power of the state to suppress thought. If you take away tangible things and you can't use words and phrases, it has the power to change your very thought. We see this in the use of slurs today - if we don't use words that denigrate entire groups of individuals, those words will slowly go away and then the stereotypes of those ideas will also erode in use. And, generally speaking, that's a good thing. But we also see it the way that we talk about other things, particularly in the political arena.  There seems to be a discourse that it's left/right, liberal/conservative, good/bad, without really examining the nuances and in betweens. It's what causes misunderstandings about the differences between communism, socialism, democratic socialism, and fascism.  Maybe it's because I'm married to a political theorist, but the discourse is so filled with anger and hate and absolute wrongness that it makes me wonder what has happened to civic-minded disagreements.

Back to the book, though. There's this melancholy feeling suffusing it that fairly seeps off the page. It's beautiful and feels like poetry, but the overall impression is suffocation by prose. By the time you get to the last page, you know what the ending is going to be because there's no other possible ending, but that's not bad, it's just...sad.

Notable lines:

" 'If you read a novel to the end, then it's over. I would never want to do something as wasteful as that. I'd much rather keep it here with me, safe and sound, forever.' " (page 17)

There is something about the anticipation of reading a good novel. There's also something delicious about having finished a novel and knowing its secrets.

"To tell the truth, the sound of the bell had terrified me ever since I was a little girl. It reminded me of the groans of a dying man." (page 126)

The church by my house rings bells every fifteen minutes, 24/7. There's also the addition of hymns for services on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. And don't get me started on the extra bells during services like weddings and funerals. Suffice to say, I would like to go to the bell tower and go all Luke and Lorelai on those things.



Friday, April 02, 2021

2021 Q1 Book List!

 1/1: Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts (inexplicably already on my Kindle, 2010) - The last entry in the Bride Quartet. I think this series is Roberts at her best and this is the best book of the best series.

1/2: Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh (library ebook, 2015) - Fourteenth book in this series.  I love the messages that this book is all about - we need each other to survive and that should be celebrated, not pushed back against.  

1/3: Allegiance of Honor by Nalini Singh (library ebook, 2016) - Fifteenth book in this series.  I thought this book was a bit weak - there was a lot of catching up with characters and not a lot of time developing all of them, but it's sort of a transition book between the characters we already know and a new generation of people, so I'll let it slide.  

1/5: The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle (library, 2006)

1/6: Storm Front by Jim Butcher (library ebook, 2000)

1/7: Silver Silence by Nalini Singh (library ebook, 2017) - I both loved and hated this, the 16th book in the series. On one hand, I really loved both the male and female lead. On the other hand, the whole thing felt vaguely rushed, particularly when the robot all of a sudden decided she wasn't a robot. Oh, well. I love these books. If you're a person who is into paranormal romance, this series will scratch your itch.

1/9: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (library, 2018)

1/11: Ocean Light by Nalini Singh (library ebook, 2018) - I loved (LOVED!) getting to know the ocean changelings. I thought the whole "going to die in two weeks exactly" subplot was lame, but overall a worthy addition to the series.

1/13: Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh (library ebook, 2019) - A pet cat dies early in this book and I was sobbing.  Singh definitely has me in her hooks.  I thought that the trauma of the main female character was too easily dismissed, but I'm enjoying watching all the ways Singh writes to show that every person is necessary to the well-being of everyone else.  

1/13: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (library, 2007)

1/16: Kindred by Ocatvia Butler (library, 1979)

1/16: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher (library ebook, 2001)

1/18: It's In His Kiss by Julia Quinn (library ebook, 2005)

1/21: Lover Avenged by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2009) - Seventh book in The Black Dagger Brotherhood. I do not care much for stories that try to make drug dealers sympathetic, so it wasn't surprising that I just mostly wanted this book to end so I could get to the next one.

1/23: Lover Mine by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2010) - Eighth book in The Black Dagger Brotherhood. I've been waiting for John Matthew's story and this did not disappoint.  On the whole, there are some super annoying things about this series, from its dumb namedropping of designer brands to way too much emphasis on drug use, but Ward is a genius at writing characters I care about, even if I frequently think that those very same characters are probably bad (evil?) people. I'll keep reading, of course.

1/24: Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas (library ebook, 2006)

1/25: Lover Unleashed by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2011) - This was the worst book of the series so far. Manny and Payne are two characters who have barely been mentioned before and it didn't seem like they had earned their own books. Plus, there were two side stories (Band of Bastards and Jose/Veck) that don't seem to be related to anything else in the series.  Disappointing.

1/26: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Turston, translated by Marlaine Delargy (library ebook, 2018)

1/27: The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (library ebook, 2019) - Look, I don't like the enemies to lovers trope, so I didn't enjoy this book at all.  

1/30: I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott (library, 2017) 

1/30: Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson (library ebook, 2020) 

1/31: Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells (library, 2018) 

2/2: Exit Strategy by Martha Wells (library, 2018)

2/5: Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell (library ebook, 2020)

2/6: Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (library, 2019)

2/9: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (library ebook, 2019)

2/11: Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2012) - Tenth book in the series.  I have very mixed feelings on this book, to be honest. On one hand, I appreciate that Ward takes time to examine ongoing relationships and the struggles that John Matthew and Xhex had were interesting and seemed real.  As for the main couple of Tohrment and No'One?  It's too rushed - Tohr needs to deal with his grief and No'One needs to deal with the trauma related to her sexual assault.  Why was this done in one book instead of build-up over several books, as Ward has done with John Matthew/Xhex and Qhuinn/Blay?  Argh. I have so many opinions because I like this series a lot. 

2/13: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (library, 2006) 

2/13: Van by Sawyer Bennett (library ebook, 2017) - The highs were below zero during Valentine's Day weekend, so I spent A LOT of time on the touch. Who doesn't want to read about a hockey superstar with a secret past identity?  Bennett is the queen of easy to read sports romances.

2/14: Mine After Dark by Marie Force (library ebook, 2018) - This is #17 in the Gansett Island series. I love Force, I love Gansett, and I want to live there with all these amazing people.  

2/14: Yours After Dark by Marie Force (library ebook, 2018) - #18 in the series. I'll just take my Marie Force fangirldom and sit on the couch, thanks.

2/15: Trouble After Dark by Marie Force (library ebook, 2019) - #19 in the series. Look, I didn't love this one.  Force is running out of characters on the island and both of these characters are new to the island. This book has an incredibly high ranking on Goodreads, but I will take Grant and Stephanie from Falling for Love over this couple. 

2/18: Dream with Me by Kristen Proby (Kindle book, 2020) - This is the first book in a new branch of the With Me series, so it's book #1 of the O'Callaghans, but book #13 of the whole series.  It was...fine. Some of the With Me books are so great (Rock with Me, Play with Me), but these last ones have been so lackluster.  This was a reread for me and as I read, I kept thinking about how very little conflict there actually was in it.

2/19: Imagine with Me by Kristen Proby (Kindle book, 2020) - The second O'Callaghan book.  A couple who bickers is not my favorite trope.

2/20: Network Effect by Martha Wells (library, 2020)

2/21: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (library, 2019)

2/23: Sabriel by Garth Nix (library ebook, 1996) - A much beloved book that was not for me. There was some interesting world building, but the whole thing felt dreary and scary and I will not be reading any further into the series.

2/26: Alpha Night by Nalini Singh (library ebook, 2020) - The most recently published book in the Psy-Changeling Trinity.  A pretty good love at first sight book if that's a trope you're into.

2/28: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (library, 2020) 

3/1: Lover at Last by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2013) - This is the payoff for sexual tension built after six books?  Ugh. Ward, I TRUSTED you and you violated my trust. How dare you put Blay and Qhuinn on the backburner of their own book?  

3/3: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord (library, 2020)

3/5: On the Way to the Wedding by Julia Quinn (library ebook, 2006)

3/6: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (library, 2005)

3/7: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett (library, 2019)

3/9: The King by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2014) - I'm absolutely loving how Ward takes the time to go back to couples that have already had standalone books with their happily ever afters to show difficulties in coupledom. I thought that the frank conversations about why or why not to have children between Wrath and Beth were refreshing, although I do get sort of upset when "have a baby, of course" is the default answer. Anyway, I do appreciate Ward dealing with real issues - this dumb paranormal series actually digs deeper into truly difficult topics than most contemporary books I read.

3/13: The Shadows by J.R. Ward (library ebook) - Controversial book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I think Ward has earned it since we're at the thirteenth book in the series, but I can see why some diehard romance readers would get upset with this when one of the tenets of the genre is broken. I'm not particularly invested in iAm and Trez as characters, mostly because we only really know of them through Rehvenge, the druglord who everyone knows I am not crazy about, so it doesn't really upset me, but I'd like for Ward to move away from them for a bit.

3/17: Blood Kiss by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2015) - This is technically the first of the Black Dagger Legacy series, but the reading order for the Black Dagger Brotherhood includes BDL books, so I guess I have to read them, too. The Brothers reopen the training center and this series will focus on the new recruits. This book was about Paradise and Craeg and was pretty boring, tbh. I don't care about these people.

3/19: The Beast by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2016) - Fourteenth Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I 100% love that Ward goes back to couples who have already had their happily ever after and examines some issues that they may have. I hate that the issues are always "how to have children" and that the solution is always "figure out how to have a child." How about a child-free HEA?  Why isn't that allowed?  

3/19: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (purchased at my local book shop, 2020)

3/21: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (library, 2017)

3/22: What You See (Son of the Survivalist #3, 2020) by Cherise Sinclair (Kindle purchase) - I love Sinclair's Masters of the Shadowlands series, but this series is leaving me pretty cold. I'll probably read the next book in the series because the character seems pretty compelling, but I'm not loving it so far.

3/23: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (library, 2016) 

3/24: Blood Vow by J.R. Ward (library ebook, 2016) - This is technically the second in the Black Dagger legacy series. It spends far too much time on the trainees I absolutely do not care about, but we do spend some more time with the OG Brotherhood. Not my favorite book, but I like the introduction of this new character and how Ward handled it.  

3/26: Rescue After Dark by Marie Force (library ebook, 2020) - Look, I love my time on the Gansett Island, but Force has dealt with addiction and domestic violence issues before in a lovely way. This book is not that.  It is a predictable romance novel story with very little tension between the two main characters. It was perfectly acceptable for a 2021 read, but is not Force's best work.

3/28: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (library, 2018)

3/29: The Chosen by J. R. Ward (library ebook, 2017) - Hm. I think Ward learned from her non-HEA in The Shadows and then shoehorned in a very unrealistic ending here. I think that the characters in this book would be unable to reconcile their very different priorities and this ending would not be a thing that happened.  Oh, well. I'm going to keep reading because I love these characters.

Total: 56


Last year I didn't keep track of books I didn't finish, but this year I'm going to try to do so.

Books I Didn't Finish

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (library ebook) - I thought this was a boring look at a multi-verse with an uninteresting person as the lead. It gets great reviews, so it's the book for someone, but not for me. DNF at 46%.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (library ebook) - Another beloved book that just was so much exposition and not enough interesting plot. DNF at 24%.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall (library) - This take on Sherlock Holmes just never grabbed my attention. It sat on the table for weeks and I was actively looking at my phone rather than the book, so I eventually just gave up on it. DNF at page 42.

The Long Way Home by Cathryn Parry (library ebook) - I downloaded this because I wanted something light and frothy to read. It wasn't as light or frothy as I wanted and the characters weren't intriguing enough for me to continue. DNF at page 137.

Tris's Book by Tamora Pierce (library) - The second book of The Circle of Magic quartet just didn't do it for me. I left it on the table to read at breakfast and found myself reading whatever was on my Kindle instead of this book, so I guess I won't be reading any more of this series. DNF at page 68.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (library ebook) - Why is everyone in these old-timey books so unlikeable? I don't like enemies to lovers in modern fiction and I don't like it here, either.  DNF at 10%.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (library) - I was reading this and it felt awfully familiar. Turns out I already read it, but hadn't removed it from my TBR list.  It's a good book, but not enough of a favorite for me to reread it.

The Clique by Lisi Harrison (library ebook) - Just...no. Reading about mean girls does not transport me.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

March 2021 Podcast Roundup

 


The brilliant Nate DiMeo from The Memory Palace recently re-released "Butterflies," an episode all about another brilliant man who thought he was doing good for the world, but whose legacy is much more complicated than he would have thought while he was alive.

Not to be the basic bitch of podcast listeners, but Planet Money is currently in the middle of a series called "We Buy a Superhero." I was not impressed by the premise at first, but PM has a history of buying ridiculous things (a barrel of oil, a toxic asset, etc.) and making interesting stories about the process, so I went in with mixed expectations. The third episode of the series, "Resurrection," is when I really started to get on board. The team finds the perfect superhero, Micro-Face, a superhero with a microphone on his face!  They talk to the wife of the man who created the character and that interview might be the most touching thing I've listened to in weeks.  If you aren't sold of PM as a podcast, give these shows a try.


Death, Sex, & Money had a show from The Experiment on its feed and I thought it was worth drawing attention to both the episode the podcast itself. The podcast is a collaboration between The Atlantic and WNYC focusing on how the experiment of the United States as a country and its democratic republic government is working.  It's a new podcast, started in January of 2021, so there isn't a huge backlog to get through and the topics are wide and varied and usually include a historical component, but not in a boring way.  

Anyway, the particular episode I was introduced to is called "The Volunteer" and it's all about how, in the final days of the Trump presidency, thirteen federal inmates on death row were executed by the federal government after no federal executions had taken place for thirteen years.  This is the story of a man who volunteered to be with two of those men as they were murdered in the role of spiritual advisor. I'm someone who has slowly grown less and less sure of the morality of the death penalty over time and this story may have tipped me right over into a fervent anti-death penalty crusader.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

 

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal is an alternate history story. What if Dewey had defeated Truman, a meteorite had destroyed a good chunk of the eastern seaboard, including Washington, DC, and a climate crisis on Earth precipitated a huge effort to jumpstart US efforts to get to space? We follow Elma York, a former WASP pilot and mathematician extraordinaire, as she tries to become an astronaut.  Along the way, we deal with mental health issues, racism, climate change denials, and so much sexism that it fairly dripped off the page.

Pros:

1) Elma and her husband Nathaniel are a great example of a married couple. They have their ups and downs, but in the end they always communicate with one another (eventually) and their relationship is strong. It's actually pretty rare to find examples of legitimately real, but happy couples in fiction, at least when the relationship isn't still in the newlywed phase. It is a reason I am a fan of the absolutely ridiculous and yet somehow real-to-life vampire series The Black Dagger Brotherhood - the ongoing portrayals of married life feel lived in and yet are hopeful about marriage, honesty, and how hard life can be even if you have a supportive partner.

2) Kowal's accurate portrayal of ongoing sexism permeates the novel. This gets critiqued a fair amount, actually, because it's never-ending. But, that's how it is, isn't it? I feel like a lot of those critiques are coming from men who've never had to deal with people looking at their chests all the time, let alone double-thinking about every decision you make from whether to wear a dress or lipstick to what message the curl of your hair is sending or from incredibly privileged women who are oblivious to how they are regularly treated.  It's incredibly frustrating to read about Elma's experiences and see the same low-level microaggressions over and over again, of course, but that's the point. 

3) Kowal's writing is not fantastic. I didn't underline a single sentence as something standing out to me. But it's imminently readable and, considering that this book talks about mathematics and space travel, that's an incredible achievement. Kowal is also a master at using scenes to represent many things all at once, not just as plot devices. Elma and Nathaniel take a day to do touristy things in Chicago and they run into someone that Elma knew when she was a child.  In this scene, Kowal shows how Elma and Nathaniel are workaholics and they are struggling being away from the office, that they're very sheltered in their lives from what others in the country believe, and we also learn what the pulse of the country is like outside of the sheltered world of rocket launches. 

This book won the 2019 Hugo and Nebula Award for best novel, so I don't think I'm sharing anything that is giant news or anything, but Kowal's work(wo)manlike writing is probably the best type of writing for this type of book.  She tackling weighty issues, but she's just doing so in a simple way, allowing readers to do what they will with them.  If her writing had been more flowery or extravagant, I think it might have distracted from the world she was building.

4) Despite the fact that this book is about some incredibly weighty issues, it comes off as hopeful and joyful in the end. I won't go so far as to say it's a happy ending - the Earth is still in crisis and the planet will not be able to sustain life for much longer - but it didn't leave me feeling like there was never going to be an end to the suffering. I immediately put the next book in the series on hold at the library.

Cons:

1) There are some absolutely spot-on critiques that this book is preachy. It's true. While Kowal doesn't come right out and say "sexism is bad - racism is bad - climate change is destroying the planet," the transparency of the parallels with how life is right now are glaringly obvious.  So while I wrote earlier that her writing allows readers to do what they will with what's on the page, it's not as if the readers have to stretch themselves to think about what that might be, either. I think this is a legitimate complaint, but I liked The Book Thief and you can't get much more moralizing than that, can you?

2) The book has odd pacing. The first bit is absolutely gripping because we're almost immediately thrown into the action of the meteorite hitting and how Elma and Nathaniel deal with it, but then there's a just a bit where not a lot happens and then everything happens, and then nothing and it kind of goes like that. If you thought we were going to make it to Mars by the end of this book, I have to admit that you're going to be sadly disappointed. I kind of liked the slow parts, though, because they were all about world building. Sometimes those slow parts, like the example of Elma and Nathaniel hanging out in Chicago for a day, were necessary to allow the more gripping parts to happen. The pacing is an issue, but I don't think it excludes the novel from being quite good.

Overall, I liked this book. I understand that it might not be for everyone, but I went ahead and ordered the next book from the library and I'm excited to see where Kowal takes in this journey.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

 

You all know I love a good story about ships on the water.  

(I actually searched my blog for this topic and I stumbled upon my entries about when my mom and I went on this epic lighthouse journey in July of 2106 and I almost cried because I haven't seen my mom in so long and I used to go to new places and see people.  Feel free to join me in my nostalgia for five years ago when things were simpler and I went to restaurants in Alpena, Michigan.)

Remember how much I waxed on and on about In the Heart of the Sea?  I just like to read about maritime adventures (again, I really like them to be focused on the Great Lakes, but I'll read longform articles about the Mary Celeste or what happened to the lighthouse keepers on Eileen Mor).  So Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys ended up on my to-read list because I had heard it was about a disaster at sea and Sepetys is a native Michigander. I assumed (incorrectly, as it turns out), that it was a fictional account of a Great Lakes story.  

Spoilers galore ahead. You've been warned.

Salt to the Sea tells the story of four different people as they end up on a German ship named the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, fleeing from the Soviets. We have Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a Polish girl who is pregnant as a result of a rape by a Russian solider; Florian, a forger whose main allegiance seems to be screwing Adolf Hitler as hard as he can; and Alfred, a truly despicable character who is a bottom-run Nazi sailor. Each chapter switches POV and is brief, from only a couple of paragraphs to maybe six or seven pages.  

The first death of the book happens on page six and it doesn't get any easier. It was a tough read.  And then?  Then you think things are going to be okay because they make it to the Wilhelm Gustloff and then THE SHIP IS TORPEDOED. I knew this book was about a disaster, there's even a picture of a empty ring buoy on the cover of the ship, but I was still UTTERLY SHOCKED.  

The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is real, my friends. This is a fictional account and Sepetys did such a good job of immersing me in the innocence of the characters that I didn't even see it coming.  No one knows how many people died on board, but a conservative estimate is that more than 9,000 souls perished in the tragedy, making it more deaths than the Titanic and Lusitania combined by an order of magnitude. 

Anyway. This book is incredibly heart wrenching, but it's also incredibly well done. Also, I will not be getting on any boats in frigid winter temperatures any time soon.  So, right after you're done rereading In the Heart of the Sea, read this book. It's worth it.

Notable lines:

"She was quite pretty and smelled like fresh eggs..." (page 7) - What?  How is this a compliment?  I mean, I guess it's better to smell like fresh eggs instead of rotten ones, but...

"I had been assigned to the Gustloff's enclosed sundeck for the day. It was being outfitted as a maternity ward. How inconvenient for women to become pregnant during a war. Quite thoughtless of them." (page 144) - This is just an example of how Sepetys is able to write how horrible Alfred is without writing "Alfred was a lazy, no account, mean-spirited Nazi."  I mean, just brilliant.


"The woman in the mirror was frightening, especially when I realized that she was me...I scrubbed at the dried blood and grime beneath my fingernails, thinking of the remorse I would never be able to wash down a sink." (page 223) - I frequently find myself staring at my image in the mirror while I'm brushing my teeth, wondering how I became the person standing there.