My Favorite Books of 2020

So I read a lot this year, like a bunch, most of which due to the early pandemic. I read 140 books this year (woohoo!). For the most part I read a lot of wonderful books that were delightfully written. However, few had the extra spark of a favorite with any emotional or potent connection.

Honorable Mentions

  • Check Please: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu : This is the conclusion to a graphic novel series about hockey, baking, and love. It is incredibly sweet and has multiple healthy romances.
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge : I am not really one for non-fiction but I really enjoyed how this broke down argument. I stayed in each topic and was totally engrossed from the history of race discussions to the personal stories.
  • Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce : This is the 7th book in the Emerlan world by Tamora Pierce. To be truthful Tamora Pierce’s books always feel a little like home to me so it’s cheating a bit. I really liked the growth of the characters and class structure. I liked all new magic and it was a well-written kind of creepy.
  • A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos : This was one of the most unique fantasy worlds with family magic and deep blood feuds. We follow Ophelia in an arranged marriage to a distant ark, called the Pole. It’s a magical political game.
  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow : This is an urban fantasy that focuses on sirens and black women. Tavia is a young siren who hides who she is with the help of her best friend, Effie. When the murder of siren is again justified due to “credible fear” things begin to change for them. It is smart, scary, and powerful.

Top 10

10. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: This a middle grade historical fiction novel that wrecked me. Two children escape their abusive mother in the London evacuations of WWII. They find themselves staying with a woman who has closed herself completely off. It is a really hard, but beautiful story about recovery and family.

9. A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy : This is the most slept on fantasy. The magic system is intricate. The politics are ruthless. There are two princesses pitted against each other and a protagonist that is scared to survive. Please read it!

8. The Deep by Rivers Solomon: This is a book about mermaids and generational trauma. I don’t know how to describe it better. It is a must read with an incredibly unique and powerful story.

7. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I resisted for a while the hype of this romance. If for some reason you have missed it, this is the story of the first son of the United States and the Prince of England. I believed in Henry and Alex. I believed in their families. It is a one-sitting, heart-warming, edge-of-your-seat read.

6. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This is possibly the most high concept book that follows two families down generations. We open with half-sisters Effia and Esi in Ghana. Effia is married off to an English colonizer who owns one of the slave ports and Esi is imprisoned and sold into the Atlantic slave trade. Each generation was so beautifully written and despite following almost 20 different characters each voice was unique and impactful.

5. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin : Really the whole Broken Earth trilogy is stunning and grim. It is a a masterful work of storytelling and world building. It was a really satisfying conclusion. The world also expanded in a way that was astonishing but not blindsiding which I feel is a hard line to walk. Highly recommend, if you like fantasy even a little.

4. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I cried at a work event reading this book. We follow twins which I love, in a dual timeline which I LOVE. There is so much about grief, love, and art. It is just took me in fully into the emotional rollercoaster of Noah and Jude (the twins).

3. Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi : This is written like a fairy tale. Whichwood is so darkly and whimsically atmospheric. Laylee is fated to wash the dead as the mordeshoor after her father abandoned her following her mother’s death. There is suffering, friendship, prejudice, failing, and ghosts. I think about this roughly once a week.

2. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: Suffragettes and witches. That’s the whole pitch. I just want to talk about this book and these sisters. We follow three sisters that have been exiled from their family home and find themselves trying to make their own way alone when they find each other again. In addition, the chemistry between the two main couples could set a person on fire.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune : I think this will end up on so many favorites list this year but truly it made my heart swell. It is a beautiful story of magic and family. A social worker is assigned to an isolated group home to determine if the children there can be trusted or will bring about the end of the world. I CANNOT oversell it!

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2021 Goals and Moving Forward

I have done my yearly goals on this blog for the past several years. While for the most part I have stuck to them I think announcing goals into the void can help hold myself accountable. After this past calendar year it feels impossible to prepare for the world that is coming, like it will continue to zig and zag in every direction (murder hornets anyone?). I feel like it is impossible to plan anything, but these goals are mostly small and habit oriented.

Home Goals:

  • We moved into a new apartment this year but it has been hard to feel like home. I don’t know if this is because of the stress, due to being unable to explore the neighborhood, or because we are messy. I really want to start making more of an effort:
    • Add all pictures to the walls and more home decor
    • Start our herb garden
    • Sweep every other day

Professional Goals:

  • I am very lucky that this year I kept my job in a year of mass layoffs. I also gained a lot of responsibilities to my position and started attended networking events within the position. I still want to look for ways to find a solid career path towards figuring out what I want to do forever by:
    • Create a list of recommendations
    • Actively network in work and with our partners
    • Start taking graduate school classes

Health Goals:

  • I got weird in terms of health this year. Between stress, family issues, and lockdowns it has been hard to be, let alone feel healthy. However, I am regularly drinking water and taking vitamins and moving my body everyday. This year I hope to go one step further:
    • Eat at least one cup of vegetables everyday
    • Sleep at least 7 hours a night
    • Find an exercise that works for 1 hours a week

Book Goals:

  • Reading is basically my number one hobby. I read a lot, I read about 140 something books this past year and bought a bunch as well. I did better on diversifying my reading, as well as intentionally reading more LGBTQ+ books. I want to continue to grow and be more in this space as it is what I truly enjoy.
    • Read 120 books over the year
    • Read at least one non-fiction book every month
    • Participate and complete (1) the Around the Year book challenge on Goodreads
    • Put my money where my mouth is and have at least 1 of every 2 books I buy be authored by a person of color.

General Goals:

  • I truly love baking and want to start baking at least once a month, if not more.
  • Connect with friends more frequently
  • Go back to therapy (this could be in health but truly has more to do with follow through than anything else)

Let me know if you have any goals for the upcoming year. Happy 2021!

Pleasure and Accomplishment

Something I have a big problem with especially on my time off is the feeling like I am wasting my time. I feel this a lot when I spend the day watching TV, coloring, reading, etc. There is nothing to show for the day. I know there is work in the future but the time, but relaxing and pleasure is a genuinely positive way to spend the day. Honestly, in the past it is has made me feel really bad at the end of the day, even though it has genuinely made me feel at peace and rest while happening.

I feel like when my dad watches another movie towards his year goal or my partner and his squad win a new round. I can appreciate the joy and the accomplishment in what they do. I have a really hard time giving myself that same patience and permission. I think it’s really hard to because there is some much going on with work (even on vacation) and that can be done around the home.

I am really lucky that I get a pretty genuine break from work this year between Christmas and New Years. I am trying really hard to constantly remind myself that it is okay not to get anything “done”. But it is really hard to maintain that mindset day to day, especially in a time where we mostly have to stay home. so there is no full way to break up the day.

Wish me luck in giving myself a break.

Christmas Prep

This year has been hard and long and I have lost most sense of time. We had previously been planning on traveling south to visit my family for about a week or so. My partner and I and family all decided it would be best not to travel down because we would have to stop multiple times along the route and someone would have to come into our apartment multiple times to cat-sit. My immediate family is also currently in a pod with my grandmas and my aunt. We decided it would be best not to put any risk and do a Christmas in July when it is a little safer for us personally.

With just the two of us, plus the cat, it has been hard to make it feel like Christmas. We have been doing the regular work and maneuver around the pandemic as best we can do order food or go on long walks. We recently had our first snow storm of the year. So at least it will be a snowy Christmas. In that spirit we are preparing for Christmas and making the best of it we can.

One, we are making sure we do a deep purge of old clothes, especially, hats, coats, scarfs, and sweaters to donate to our city. Wave 2 and blizzards hitting at the same time is really bad and it seems like the most direct thing we can do immediately. As well as donating food each time we go grocery shopping.

Two, a lot of baking. We started with apple pie. We are doing two batches of cookies in the next few days. We basically are doing our best to make the apartment smell like Christmas: cinnamon, chocolate, pork cracklings, garlic rosemary, etc.

Three, Christmas entertainment. We have been starting on the Christmas movies before bed. We don’t listen to a lot of music together but in the car it has mostly been orchestral carols just trying to set the mood.

I hope you all are enjoying whatever holiday you celebrate and are able to take sometime for yourself to relax.

Cabin Fever kind of…

It took nine months but I am here. I feel it. It hits me mostly at the end of the work day that I have no where else to go but here. My cat and I have developed a velco-like relationship. And the only other person I am going to physically see is the same person I have seen every day for nine months. Honestly, we have run out of new games to play and I lose at every card game every single time. Does anyone have a rec for a card game it’s easy to cheat in?

At first in March through the summer it was easier. There were was purpose through work and we already had a pet and didn’t have to scramble to find one. There was good weather to walk safely in daylight hours outside. However, I think now it would have been easier to manage the cabin fever then versus now when we are working, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and it is freezing and dark.

I think work has made my cabin fever all the worse. Previously, when I was feeling overworked or overstressed I didn’t have to stay in it. There is no where to go, I never actually get to leave work it just is paused for a short period of time. It’s not just that I can’t leave my home but I can’t leave my work. It seems like the world is so small right now.

Anyways, I think it is going to be a hard winter. I hope you all are doing well and stay warm.

I need a break

So life is overwhelming me a little at the moment. This is the first day since September that I haven’t been working at least a little bit since The second week of October. I have been recently gained a lot of new responsibilities at work which is exciting but also I still have my old work to do and because of hiring freezes I can’t get the official promotion and pay raise.

I feel like it has just been a lot to keep up with deadlines and responsibilities in a reasonable time frame. Plus, my home and relationships and everything else that needs time and attention.

There aren’t enough hours in the day or mental capacity in a human being. So I am taking a break from work and from our apartment. We are going up to visit my partners family for three days. To step away from the internet and people and the apartment.

I know when we get back there is going to be even more to do, but it feels necessary. I don’t know if I can keep running this marathon like a sprint.

Books about Found Family

As we head into the holiday seasons. We find us spending more and more time appreciating the family we have whether they are the family we are born into or the family we chose. I thought I would highlights books about families that aren’t born but ones are created.

The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce (Middle Grade) : This series revolves around 4 children, who find themselves alone in the world, discovering strange powers and finding a home at a school of magics.

The Twelve by Cindy Lin (Middle Grade): After Usagi’s sister is taken by the most recent round-up by the Dragon Lord to capture all those with Zodiac powers. She teams up with others to learn the history of her powers and save her sister.

The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi (Young Adult): Séverin is a hotelier in late 1800s Paris. He has spent most of his life looking for a way to reclaim his birthright within the Order. The is given the opportunity to do so but only by completing the impossible. This is a crew that have known each other their whole lives and it reads like it.

A Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (YA/Adult): Rosemary Harper needs to escape and she finds her path off her planet on a crew of the Wayfarer. The crew takes on the dangerous but lucrative job to tunnel wormholes in the galaxy. It’s a really exciting and heartfelt space adventure.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (Adult): Linus lives a quiet unassuming life in the middle of a hectic city. He works as a social worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He is sent on a mission to evaluate a home that is housing 6 “dangerous” children. Linus is supposed to determine whether the children and their caretaker, Arthur, are a danger to each other and the world.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Adult): Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced by the Bolshevik court to a lifetime imprisonment in the Metropol hotel. Despite never having worked a day in his life, he develops deep bonds with the other staff and guests over the years.

TV Shows to watch based on your current political feelings

As the US General Election approaches, I know a lot of people are feeling a lot of feelings about the state of the world, including fear, frustration, hope, and exhaustion. I thought it would be fun to recommend TV Shows based on how people are currently feeling.

Side note: Early voting has started in many states please vote if you are eligible to.

“Things can and should be better”

  • Madam Secretary (Netflix/CBS All Access)
  • West Wing (Netflix)

“Things are fine”

  • The 100 (Netflix/CW)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
  • Snow Piercer (TNT)

“Why is everything so political?”

  • The Fosters (Prime Video/Hulu/Freeform)
  • Brooklyn 99 (Hulu/Peacock)

“Everything is political!”

  • Equal (HBO/HBO Max)
  • Dear White People (Netflix)

“Politicians are the problem”

  • The Politician (Netflix)
  • Scandal (Hulu)

“I want to move to Canada”

  • Kim’s Convenience (Netflix)
  • Schitt’s Creek (Netflix)

“I want to make a difference”

  • The Mayor (not currently on a streaming platform, but so good so keep an eye out)
  • Parks and Recreation (Peacock/Fubo)

Top 10 West Wing Episodes

West Wing is my favorite show of all time. I genuinely picked my major in college based off of this show. There are so many good episodes, in fact a majority of them are good. Here is my list of my 10 favorite episodes, because this was a hard choice I included some honorable mentions. If you’ve seen the show let me know your favorites. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • The DebateSeason 7 Episode 7
  • La PalabraSeason 6 Episode 18
  • In the Shadow of Two Gunmen Part 1 +2” Season 2 Episode 1 &2
  • Dead Irish WritersSeason Season 3 Episode 15
  • 20 Hours in America Part 1 + 2Season 4 Episode 1 & 2

The Final Countdown:

10. “Celestial NavigationSeason 1 Episode 15 — I really enjoy the formatting of the episodes where it is narrated in present and flashbacks. It has a lot of great humor with an emergency dental surgery and one of my favorite Toby moments with Mendoza.

 9. “LiftoffSeason 6 Episode 4 — CJ’s first day. This was an episode where I felt empowered and felt like I was in it with her. Also, the introduction of a one Congressman Santos (aka America’s favorite Jimmy Smits)  

 8. “EllieSeason 2 Episode 15 — One thing that really works about West Wing is that characters and administrations are not wholly good. Ellie highlights President Bartlett and the Bartlett administration’s flaws. I love this episode it is so heartfelt and highlights wonderful political issues from decimalization of marijuana, Social Security, censorship, and a family in the spotlight.  

 7. “Angel Maintenance”  Season 4 Episode 19 — This is one of the only Will focused episodes I liked. It’s such a tight episode and I loved the humor of episode. It’s so tight and we got to explore dynamics like CJ and Will that we don’t normally get to see. 

 6. Jefferson Lives” Season 5 Episode 3 – This was the episode that I knew Elizabeth Moss was going to have a long career. All the Bartlets’ and Charlie’s performances were wonderful. It was also such an interesting transition for our West Wing with Russell’s introduction and Donna becoming unsatisfied in her job. It stands out because it mixes the lingering effects of the kidnapping with the high stress of finding a VP. 

 5. “Election Night” Season 4 Episode 7 — This is such a funny and charming episode. As Bartlet is elected for a second term, Donna goes on a crusade for principal. A lot of Sam’s relationships are explored as he doesn’t want to admit a promise he had made. This was before we were stuck with Will forever and was still likable. 

 4. “In Excelsis DeoSeason 1 Episode 10 — This episode has some many wonderful shining moments. I think it highlights the heart of each character. Toby with the homeless vets. CJ and Danny. Sam and Josh breaking the lines for Leo. It defines the moral compass for a lot of our central characters in addition to the holidays. 

 3.  “Two Cathedrals” Season 2 Episode 22 –  Bartlett has told America the truth and we work our way to one of the best finales. It is a wonderful episode with Jed becoming Jed as a teen with the help of Mrs. Landingham. As well as one of the finest speeches in series with Bartlet’s rail to heavens. 

 2. “Memorial Day” Season 5 Episode 22 — Donna is my favorite character. I love the panic of one timeline mixed in with Donna’s trip to Gaza as she becomes more confident and comfortable with her new position. The information of what is really going on in Gaza versus the debates after catastrophe.  I think I just like dual timeline episodes.  Plus, Leo and Jed’s dynamic in this episode is *chef’s kiss*. 

 1. “RequiemSeason 7 Episode 18 —  This is probably one of the most wonderful series finale episodes of all time (even though it’s 5 episodes before the end). Due to the funeral all the characters are brought completely together one last time to reflect. It’s a start contrast to see where everyone has ended up, but a beautiful performance by the full cast full of laughter and sorrow.

September Wrap Up

September was a pretty slow reading month for me. I had a lot going on at work as well as personally, following my move to a new apartment and a death in the family. However I did read 5 books, most of which I enjoyed (3 – 5 Star; 1 – 4 Star; 1 – 3 Star). Let me know if you’ve read any of these. I’m just sorting these by date finished.

Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Renni Edo Lodge (Non-fiction) – 5 Stars: I really enjoyed this book. It was passionate and the book was broken down by arguments people make to deny systematic racism.

The Pride of Chanur by C.J Cherryh (Science Fiction)3 stars: I feel incredibly neutral about this book which is bizarre for me. I probably wouldn’t have finished if not for book club. There is a crew of all-female cat-like people who take aboard a stranger. You may like if you are into very classic sci-fi.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (Non-fiction) – 4 stars: This is an incredibly important issue and should be required reading for most Americans. The reason it is 4 stars is that I personally had a harder time following the timelines.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (Magical Realism/Young Adult) – 5 Stars: After Leigh’s mother commits suicide Leigh knows nothing for certain except that her mother has turned into a bird. This is a highly emotional story but beautiful in the end.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi (Fantasy/Middle Grade) – 5 Stars: Alice Queensmeadow feels alone. This is a beautiful and whimsical story that also creeped me out more than I expected. Slight Alice in Wonderland retelling with actual magic and friendship.