Book review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really dislike vampire novels. I find them clichéd and silly (other than Bram Stoker’s Dracula, of course). And, if it weren’t for the fact that Robin McKinley is one of my favorite fantasy writers, I wouldn’t have read this one either.
But I’m glad I did. This book is a bit different than many of the author’s other books. The language of the book is more colloquial than is typical, and her world building is a bit more casual, too. Also, unusually for her, the book is narrated in the first person. But the plot is interesting and original and ambivalent. And, as a baker myself, I like that the main character is also a baker. (She’s evidently also a morning person–we do NOT share that character trait.)
Vampires are a central theme in this book, obviously, but not either good and or evil. And the book is a thoughtful study on what happens when you are confronted with a stereotype that you discover not to be true.
It isn’t perhaps my favorite of the author’s books, but it is perhaps the most thought-provoking of her works so far. I would have given it 3.5 stars but rounded up as she is one of my favorite fantasy authors.

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Christmas 2020

In an act of foolhardiness, we decided to go to Hawaii for Christmas. This was foolhardy for several reasons: first, Hawaii has imposed some stringent covid testing requirements in order to be permitted to come; second, there were no non-stop flights to Honolulu due to the lack of flights, which added another wild card to the equation; and, third, we would have to be masked for the entire set of flights.

We decided to rent a house, feeling that it would be safer, especially for Jim’s mom, who was coming as well. It was a beautiful house in the Portlock area, right on the water, with plenty of space for everyone.

Hawaii’s testing requirements were that you have to have a negative covid test within 72 hours of your departing flight to Hawaii from an approved partner. We ended up taking 2 different tests from 2 different partners. Jim received his negative test on Thursday morning, but the rest of us didn’t receive our test results until late Thursday night (our flight to Honolulu left Friday morning). It was rather stressful. But at least we were all negative!

It was a very different trip to Honolulu than any of our others. We rarely left the house, other than to exercise or go grocery shopping. Jim and I did our traditional 7 mile walk around Diamondhead every morning at oh-dark-thirty. (Hawaii is the only place where I am a morning person, and that’s only because we don’t generally bother to change time zones.) We “rented” surfboards (and it’s in quotes because the surf shop actually just lent the surfboards to us without charge), and Marcus went out surfing every day.

Yinan and I taught everyone how to play mahjong, and we now have mahjong addicts as children. Yay for parenting!

The weather was sunny and 80 degrees every day except for the day we left. Not a bad way to spend Christmas!

view from the house

Christmas in Hawaii

Christmas star

Thanksgiving 2020

As with everything this year, Thanksgiving was a little different than usual. Instead of the usual 20+ guests crowd, we had 11 people total, 9 adults. Everyone had tested negative before they arrived. (The new prerequisite: don’t bring a side dish or flowers—bring a negative test result.)
Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 11 is barely cooking Thanksgiving dinner at all. It was a surprisingly unstressful experience. We actually ran out of things to do at around 4:00 pm that day.
Our Thanksgiving menu is as follows:

Thanksgiving 2020 menu
Thanksgiving 2020 spread

Whatever the constraints, it is still a holiday that celebrates thankfulness and gratitude. We are indeed fortunate in our lives, and in this year of all years, we feel grateful for our many blessings.

Book review: “Wintering” by Katherine May

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We all have times when our preferred action is to crawl into a dark hole and never come out again. Grey skies and cold, dreary weather makes us even more likely to burrow. In “Wintering,” the author offers us solace for our desire to burrow deeply and the reassurance that we will at some point want to return to daylight. It is a perfect book for these times.
The author reaches her nadir at a time when she and her husband both have health problems and her son is having difficulty coping at school. In learning to deal with these issues, the author explores how different cultures cope with physical darkness, wondering if there is a metaphor between physical darkness and metaphorical darkness. She embarks on an interesting journey, full of cultural exploration, contemplation, and coping mechanisms.
In the end, the reassurance the author offers is that such dark times are a normal part of life and a cyclical journey. Eventually, you emerge from your hole and discover that the sun still shines and joy still abounds in the world. In times like this, it is worth being reminded of this truth and in beautifully rendered prose at that.

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19th Birthday Disneyworld Trip

Because Marcus (wisely) decided to take a gap year instead of attending college in the fall, we decided that his birthday needed celebrating and what better place to celebrate someone’s birthday than at Disneyworld?
Disney felt very safe with hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations everywhere, socially distanced lines, and everyone masked. (And when someone—usually an adult—wasn’t masked, a cast member was always quick to remind them.)
There were some constraints (no park hopping and no Fastpasses) and not everything was open, but we rode all of the rides we wanted to ride and then some. We even managed to get on The Rise of the Resistance our first day there. And, of course, a Darth Maul lightsaber was a must have as a birthday gift. Marcus even discovered the perfect Magic Band for himself—it’s a Stitch in Hawaii band, combining two of his favorite things.
Disney, even under the constraints it was operating under, is still the happiest place on earth.

Graduation Celebration – Pandemic Style

We had a high school senior last year, and graduation in June happened virtually, as it did for so many others. The school did its best by having the high school administrative team personally deliver our son’s diploma and by putting on a lovely virtual graduation. But we were determined to have some kind of celebration for him in August.
We decided, of course, that the best place to celebrate such an accomplishment was at the Inn at Little Washington. We had 21 people at 3 different tables, with families generally sitting with each other. Marcus selected the menu, so it included his favorite dishes at the Inn. (This was consistently pointed out by Jim, who noted that not all of his favorites were on the menu.) The event was beautifully done (it was the Inn, after all), and the food was amazing. Jim gave a lovely toast, Rem (his best friend) gave an amazing speech, and Jade actually gave a lovely off-the-cuff speech as well. Marcus, not surprisingly, rose to the occasion and gave a wonderful, heartfelt speech, mentioning everyone there by name and explaining why he was grateful to them. It was all pretty perfect, under the circumstances. And while it wasn’t necessarily the party we would have had for him if we could, being Marcus, it was more than enough.

Book review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have never read anything by Sarah Maas before, but this book looked interesting and so I thought I’d give it a try. I am so glad I did! The book is best described as a romance tucked inside a fantasy novel. The world-building is convincing and interesting (there are a few new nouns for different types of creatures, but it is very manageable). The writing is confident and sure-handed. The author ran a bit of a risk with this book (will romance readers find it too much of a fantasy novel? will fantasy readers find it too much of a romance?), but the book is lengthy enough to satisfy both types of readers. (Unless you like short books, that is.)
The main character is in serious need of a good therapist, and while I’m a bit unenamored with angsty novels, it was never enough to discourage me from reading the book. The pace is excellently done, and the atmosphere the author creates is intense, and all of these factors combine to result in a well-written book that is a really fun and excellent read. (The only downside is that if you’re hooked, there are 2 more (lengthy) books in the trilogy and a 4th book that is a related spin-off.) 🙂
It will be worth it.

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Book review: The Feather Thief by Kirk Johnson

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For those of you who enjoy “Moby Dick” as a tale of obsession, welcome to a real-life version. This book takes you into the world of rare birds, their feathers, and the obsessive world of the Victorian era art of salmon fly-tying. Specifically, the book starts with a lengthy and detailed history of rare birds and their collectors. It then moves into the role of feathers in the salmon fly-tying. And, finally, it discusses the lengths to which salmon fly-tiers will go to obtain feathers from endangered birds for their flies, including stealing from the Tring Museum in Britain, resulting in an incalculable loss to ornithological history.
The book is both a history of rare birds and a biography of the twenty year old thief and what may (or may not) have led him to break into the Tring to steal hundreds of specimens. Unfortunately, there are no satisfactory answers–only a peek into the dark underworld of fly-tying and a young man’s obsession.

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Book review: A Great and Glorious Game by Bart Giamatti

A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti by A. Bartlett Giamatti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I like baseball (a lot), but I don’t love baseball. (College basketball is my true obsession.) But Bart Giamatti’s essays about baseball makes me wish that I loved baseball as much as he did (if that is even possible). And his essays certainly make me appreciate baseball and its “deep, resonant pauses” more than I did before.
Even if you aren’t a fan of baseball or sports, in general, the author’s writing–deep, profound, yet accessible–makes this book worth reading. His love for baseball informs every sentence he writes, and his respect for the history and what the sport means to the fans–young and old, immigrant and 10th generation–is evident in his passion and his enthusiasm. I only wish I could write a tenth as well as he could.
From Yale professor to Yale president to National League president to baseball commissioner, Bart Giamatti’s musings on baseball reflect the country as it is and the country as it would like to be. Never would I have thought that I would give 5 stars to a bunch of essays on baseball. Read this for yourself and see why it is beyond well-deserved.

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Book review: Murder on Black Swan Lane by Andrea Penrose

Murder on Black Swan Lane by Andrea Penrose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first novel in a mystery series with an interesting premise. The hero, Lord Wrexford, is a member of the aristocracy and very scientifically minded. The heroine, A.J. Quill, is a satirical artist, who seems to know facts about the murder before the police or Lord Wrexford discover them. The murder of a priest brings them together, working in tandem (kind of).
The plot is an intricate one and while I figured out the villain halfway through (which I try never to do when reading mysteries), I like the main characters, I like the plotting (and the plot), and I like the time period. I also tend to give authors the benefit of the doubt in the first of a mystery series, and this book is well written, which is promising.
I’ve already bought the second in the series! 🙂

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