My Favorite Books of 2021

This year was a weird reading year. There were not a lot of bad books, but there weren’t a lot of stand outs either. In 179 books, most were three or four stars. I found that while I read a lot outside of my comfort zone, I found that there were fewer standouts. I found that I read a lot of epics and tried to keep things a little quicker and lighter, especially considering the year I had. I am including a breakdown of feeling and genre below from Storygraph. What was your favorite book of the year?

Adult

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – This was a beautiful and haunting historical fiction. For lovers of books and tragedy.

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Lacey Lamar and Amber Ruffin – I felt guilty about laughing, but it is a must read if you live in the United States. Witty and important.

Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian – A character study of one of my childhood favorites. It gives a great understanding of the Arthurian legend while still being new.

White Ivy by Susie Yang – Dark, gothic, and shocking. If you aren’t sure you are into to thrillers this was so gripping and I have recommended it to everyone I know.

The Red Threads of Fate by Neon Yang – The Tensorate series is so high concept, but I loved the grounding of this book in love and grief. The whole series is excellent, but this was my favorite so far.

New Adult

The Princess Search by Melanie Cellier – Ugly Duckling retelling meets romance and politics. I loved that this was a story about processing trauma that wasn’t focused on forgiveness.

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi – Sisterhood. Insurance fraud. Food-filled pages. You will cry but it is worth it.

The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce – This is the start to the third series following our young mages from the Winding Circle. I was so impressed by how authentically they grew up, their relationships when coming back together, the uniqueness of their magic, and how sex positive it was.

Young Adult

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas – A perfect coming of age story plus ghosts. It’s a super fast-paced story about love, death, and community.

The Emerald Sea by Richelle Mead – This is conclusion to the Glittering Court series. It was a great story of survival. There were a lot of safe choices that the author could have made, but they didn’t. I also deeply loved the relationship.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust – This dark, new fairytale was such a beautiful read. It was magical and traumatic.

Anna K by Jenny Lee – This modern day Anna Karenina has stuck with me for most of the year as a favorite. I was amazed at how authentically they modernized it, while still being true to the tragedy of the worlds then and now.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani – I think Goose Girl retellings are slowly taking over the favorite slot. I absolutely loved the world. Alyrra was my favorite protagonist of the year. Her sense of justice, kindness, and quick thinking made her so engaging.

Middle Grade

Eva Evergreen, Semi Magical Witch by Julia Abe – Purest little hearts. A perfect mix of Klaus, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Kiki’s Delivery Service (three already existing favorites). I cannot recommend this book enough.

The School Between Winter and Fairyland by Heather Fawcett – I do have a full review of this book, but it was such a refreshing take on both the chosen one and magic school tropes. A great adventure of prophecy and family.

How we leave our cat for holiday

We have a very old cat, but we are people who like exploring and like visiting family, especially over the holidays or long weekends. As the holiday season is approaching we planning to be gone for a little less than a week 2 months in a row. I thought I would share how we prepare our home and our cat for us to be gone.

  • Water: We use a water bubbler pretty regularly, but we fill it up when we leave on vacation. It can hold and cycle about three days worth of water. We then fill up his regular water bowl and depending on if we are going to be gone more than 3 days an additional container of water and a Tupperware of ice. In summer they are both ice.
  • Heat:: So we are really lucky in that heat is included in our admittedly high rent because we can leave the heat on to a more reasonable level versus a minimum level. We typically leave it around 71 when we leave in the winter. In the summer, we leave it at 80 but leave on fans and make a cool spot under are bed with a fan always going.
  • Activity: Our primary activity is cuddling, but we do want to make sure he is able to use his mind and hunting skills when not sleeping. We typically hide treats around the apartment for him to sniff and pull out. Keep his toys in our catnip container for at least 24 hours before we leave. Then set up his scratching boards and window toys.
  • Clean: Mostly we make sure there is no clothes or fabric on the floor and set up a second kitty litter tray is we are going to be gone more than half a week (it is actually our travel one).
  • Food: We do a day of wet food for when we are leaving and then a half a cup dry food for everyday we will be gone including that first day.

My Favorite Crime Procedurals

What is a procedural? – A procedural is a show that follows typically the procedures of an occupation (typically creme, legal, or medical). These can be watched as a series but are made so that for the most part they can be watched independently (a story arc an episode). Due to this format it can get repetitive and formulaic. Below are some of my favorites of the genre. Do you like procedurals?

Rizzoli and Isles (7 Seasons)

This Boston-based show follows a homicide detective and the chief medical examiner. The show follows the crimes they work and the relationship between the two women. The crimes do tend to cover the gambit, but even when they do start to get repetitive because about a third of each episode focuses on the family and relationships of the leads it never feels boring or predictable. In general, it is just a very heartfelt show despite the genre.

Psych (8 Seasons)

This is the funniest of the shows. It follows a two best friends, one of which uses his observational skills and eidetic memory to pretend to psychic, as they start a detective agency. Gus and Shawn often are trying to figure out if there even is a case just so they can get paid. It is a super funny and fast show. The core cast is great and the relationship between all 6 (including Lassie, Henry, Jules, and the Chief) just grows over the seasons.

LA’s Finest (2 Seasons)

This Bad Boys spinoff lived up to the franchise. It was fun, brutal, and fast. All of the procedural episodes also took part in a large umbrellas case that each season revolves around. Fair warning this is a show you are going to want to binge as each episodes ends in a cliffhanger to lead into the next. However, any thing starring Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union is a must-watch. Their performance and chemistry is worth the commitment of at least the two existing seasons.

Veronica Mars (3 seasons; 1 spin-off movie and 1 spin-off season)

The mid-aughts show follows a teen P.I and her friends. Each season has an overall crime plot that is filled throughout the season with smaller mysteries. Often these are not major or violent crimes episode to episode, but the overall themes of the season can be quite brutal. This is mystery meets teen drama and it works.

Criminal Minds (tentative) – (15 Seasons)

This is tentative because there are FIFTEEN seasons and I am only partway through season 9 so I don’t feel that I can fully say 100% yes. This follows the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) from the FBI. They work on serial crimes throughout the country. This has a larger focus on psychology and sociology which is always fascinating. I do think they try really hard to balance recognition of negative police structures, mental illness, and socio-economic factors. Part of what keeps this show fresh is that we also follow the unsub or the victim for part of the episode while the team is trying to find them.

Monsters at Work: Hit or Miss

The Premise: Monsters at work takes place after Monsters Inc (2001). The series follows Monsters Inc after it reopens to transition to use Laugh Energy instead. The whole company is trying to figure out it’s new place and how to work under new leadership. The new character we follow is Tylor Tuskman who was hired as a Scarer fresh out of Monster U. In the chaos no one thought to let him know the job no longer existed. When he shows up to Monsters Inc. he gets reassigned to the quirky facilities team, MIFT.

My Review:

I was really looking forward to this show as I am huge fan of the films and of the cast of this show. Unfortunately, it felt like the show knew that. I have this theory that you can figure out if a show is for you in three episodes. In my opinion, the show is rather forgettable. All the new characters are “weird” and intense, but they don’t have storylines of their own. Splitting the show with Mike, Sully, Celia, and Roz from the original series feels like it is splitting focus and doesn’t really know it’s own intentions. Mike and Sully even though it supposedly months later are figuring out for the first time how the new company should run and how to be in charge. The most heartfelt episode was episode three but it came it waves and for me too late. It feels like the show has yet to find it’s own heartbeat and direction.

How to Watch: Disney + (steaming service)

2021 is over? Here comes 2022!

I personally have no grasp of time regularly, but I can’t seem to comprehend that 12 months have past. So much has happened, but also nothing has happened and no one has aged and time is an illusion. This year was a rough one. My health took a huge physical toll, and my mental health soon followed after contracting COVID-19 in the spring. Work was overwhelming. I was granted a promotion for the job I was already doing, but it required doing it in addition to my current job after a work force reduction (aka 1/3 of our company got fired). Most of this year was 60 hours work weeks, that I wasn’t really being compensated for, which cycled back around to the mental health.

That is not to say I am not grateful for still being here at the end of 2021. I am grateful that my job is still here. That I got to celebrate 5 years with my partner. My cat celebrated his 19th birthday. We turned 25. I got to visit for my hometown for the first time in 2 years. I saw my extended family for the first time in almost 5 when we got together to celebrate my grandfather’s life. I read and watched a lot of new and old stories. I got to take my baby sister on college tours. My hope is that now that we have started to recover our emergency fund, are vaccinated, and are feeling settled life will start to improve and we can do things to actually improve our lives instead of try to function with in them.

Goals moving forward to next year:

  1. Read 156 new books this year (roughly 3 a week)
    1. At least 1 non-fiction a month
  2. Watch 52 new movies (I am including long-form documentaries, but not mini-series).
  3. Get past an intake interview with a therapist.
  4. Start volunteering, where ever we decide to live when our lease is up. Our plan is to start settling down once this lease is up, and while I work for a volunteer organization it just doesn’t feel the same doing it for a living.
  5. Leave the house once a month for a date night, day, hike, etc.
    1. Certain promises were also made about weekly game nights.
  6. Start investing,
  7. Cook more. Try a new recipe from one of our cookbooks at least once a month. I love cooking and baking, but having the time and clean kitchen to do so has been hard this year.

Fall Seasonal Wrap-up

The fall season (9/21-12/21) has officially come and gone. And at least in the northern hemisphere, winter is heavily upon us. The fall was a decent-reading time I completed 46 books in the last three monhs. I am practicing self-care by DNFing this season more than ever (those are not reflected in my review). Unfortunately, I felt like the special and engaging reads were farther between than I would have liked. Plenty were good and a lot were in my regular interests, but they just didn’t grip me. However, I feel like I am ending the year on a solid footing, ready to leap into a new year and new stories.

Target Level# of Books
Middle Grade14
Young Adult22
Adult10

Stand-Out Reads

  • The Emerald Sea by Richelle Mead
  • Thorn by Intisar Khanani
  • The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah
  • Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
  • A School between Winter and Fairyland by Heather Fawcett
  • A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee

My Favorite Christmas Movies

Tis’ the season! We are a week out from Christmas so my household will be setting the mood for Christmas. Here are all of what I will be watching (and forcing others to watch) to make it feel more like Christmas! What is your must watch of the Christmas season?

  • The True Classics:
    • Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
    • A Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)
    • Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
  • The Modern Classics
    • The Santa Clause (1994)
    • Klaus (2019)
  • To-Be Classics
    • Jingle Jangle (2020)
    • Prep and Landing (2009)
  • Christmas Eve Mandatory Viewing
    • Elf (2003)
    • Die Hard (1988)
  • The Best of the Best
    • A MUPPETS CHRISTMAS CAROL!

The School Between Winter and Fairyland by Heather Fawcett (Spoiler Free)

Summary

Twelve-year-old Autumn Malog is a servant at the enchanting Inglenook School, where young magicians study to become the king’s future monster-hunters. Along with her Gran and three too many older brothers, she works as a beastkeeper, tending to Inglenook’s menagerie of terrifying monsters.

But when she isn’t mucking out the wyvern stalls or coaxing the resident boggart to behave, Autumn searches for clues about her twin brother’s mysterious disappearance. Everyone else thinks he was devoured by the feared Hollow Dragon, but Autumn is convinced she’s heard–and glimpsed–him calling to her from within the castle walls. But who will believe a lowly servant?

So when Cai Morrigan, the “Chosen One” prophesied to one day destroy the Hollow Dragon, comes to her for help, Autumn agrees on one condition: Together, they’ll search for her brother and uncover the dark truth at the heart of enchanting Inglenook School once and for all.

Rating: ✨✨✨✨✨

My Thoughts

I have been having a really hard time picking up books that I am loving lately, but I was entirely enchanted by this read. This is a switched take on a boarding school and chosen one tale. Our two main characters, Autumn and Cai. could not be more different in their social status or their understanding of the world. However, their stubborn beliefs and talent make them logical allies and interesting friends. The family dynamics felt really authentic and I liked that they showed siblings that weren’t friends but still loved and supported each other.

The world was nothing super new, but I felt like we were getting to see a new side of it, through the Malogs who are decidedly not “special”. I think the monsters were super engaging and endearing. However, due Autumn’s relationship with the monsters of the world make scary situations with them feel tense but not threatening. I felt that this was a story that grew really well and was really well paced especially for a stand alone. It was not a magic bullet ending, but definitely a satisfying one.

In general, this was incredibly charming story that made me laugh and gasp as an adult. I feel like it would be appropriate for 4th grade and up. I would definitely recommend for anyone who is interested a tenacious protagonist, flipped tropes, and figuring out the moral compass of the world.

Holding Space in Holidays

It is the holiday season. There are thousands of obligations surrounding the months of November and December. There are things to buy, extra school or work to prepare for time off, the sheer amount of people, and dealing with everyone else celebrating at the same time. It is really hard to manage in the brain, but also as you are processing everything else that is happening. Whether that is dealing with family, grief, health, or anything else, in our structural holiday season there isn’t a lot of space to take care of yourself.

I find it really hard to “on” all the time: chatting, smiling, actively listening, happy, and engaged. I think now that I am an adult and also working and managing our holiday budget and schedules that is only more true. I love presents and holiday food and all the movies. I also this year am really appreciative that I am getting to see family and friends considering the end of the world has just been happening over the past 2 years. Despite all these joyous items, I don’t always want to be in the holiday mood, watch something else, listen to other music, or simply be sad.

One thing I am really working on this year is holding space. To rest, to do something different, to be by myself. Not going to lie my partner and I practiced secret signals before Thanksgiving and will be using them again;. I also found turning in before I felt tired gives me time to reset. I know several friends and coworkers take on totally seperate projects to work on that have nothing to do with the holidays so when they genuinely need a break, they can turn to writing, editing, building a computer, making die, etc.

How do you hold space for yourself during the holidays?

The Other Side of the Interview

I have done so many job interviews over the years, for almost 7 years I have been interviewing regularly, whether for college, internships, or jobs. I have read interviewing books, listened to experts, done trainings in the interview (confidence and the handshake). To this day, the TikTok algorithm shows me interview tricks. However, until this last month I had never been on the other side of the table. To participate in the interview on behalf of the organization to be the one to extend out an offer and to have to make this decision.

Now, I am not the be all end all of this decision and I am not organizing the interviews, but I have a say, got to write questions, and am part of the discussion with my department and HR. I was really surprised by what when in behind the scenes. The interview is supposed to give both parties (sides) a way to move forward and feel confident accepting and offering the position. Each question relates to a quality of work and the position itself: goal setting, DEI, relationship building, passion, etc. I was really surprised by this, and how much it worked to find the information in the interviews.

What I was most surprised by were where the red flags flew. I thought there might be people that were rude or I didn’t feel were qualified, but that didn’t happen. People were polite, professional, and looking for a job that was the best fit for them. The red flags were raised consistently in the answers for continuous learning and conflict resolution. To preface with what was asked for one after hearing about a successful project they were asked ” Knowing what you know now, how would you improve the project if you were to do it again?”. We frequently run events multiple times a year or at the least annually and we want to know that someone can keep growing and improving for attendants and for our organization. Later in the interview, they were asked “Tell us about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker and how you resolved it.” Our work is largely subjective in it’s contents and people approach topics very differently there is no one correct way, disagreements happen and we want to insure that this is a person that understands that and can work and collaborate with others.

The Audacity! I know that you are only told to brag about their accomplishments but my goodness. I on so many interview forms was just like no. We only had 2 candidates genuinely answer the continuous learner with something real and logistical. Everyone else, said I should have charged more to reflect it’s quality or I should have spread it to more people because it was so excellent, etc. I mean truly we had one person talk about personalization and one talk about prep time and I was so relieved.

Similarly to the conflict question, I am thrilled you were right and have good instincts. However, the idea that you just push and push or start without getting approval on a large budget project makes me afraid! Just say I pulled the data, I conducted a poll with our area of service to show this is correct, I asked our volunteers who would had to implement, we COMPROMISED. You can absolutely be right, but the answers put people at the bottom of my list to hire.

We are making our final decisions today regarding who will receive the first (and hopefully only) offer. It was a pretty stressful experience, but I hope we are making the right judgements. I think my main tip from this side of the table is focus on how you are to work with as well as the level of work you do. These are people you are going to be with 40ish hours a week and no one wants work to be harder than it has to be.

Halloween Candy Book Tag

I love Halloween and I was looking for a tag that reflected by favorite piece of it: the candy! I found this one which I really enjoyed created by Book Adventures with Katie on Youtube. Personally my favorite is anything involving nougat, which doesn’t have a question on this tag but I felt it covered all the classics. What is your favorite Halloween candy?

Reese’s Cup: Classic YA book everyone loves

I feel like for this I am going to have to go with the Hunger Games. I reread these over the past year and it really holds up. From what I have seen it looks like it is going to continue to be a classic for a long time.

Sour Patch Kids: Grew on you over time

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler. I think that this book in general has very unsettling themes but it took me a while to get into. By the end, I was totally committed to the book.

Bubble Gum: Great at first but “lost its flavor” over time

For this I am going the the Throne of Glass series. The flavorful moments that were satisfying but were too few and far between as the series went on and unfortunately I lost my taste for it.

Candy Corn: Polarizing read

I genuinely do love candy corn and someone how ended up with the only other person my age I know who also likes it. However for this one I am going with a book that made me feel polarized by not liking it. That was The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. So many people love this author and I love the idea of dark academia but I did not like and I have found this tends to be a totally love or totally hate.

Laffy Taffy: Made you laugh

I should read more joyful books, I don’t really remember the last time a book made me laugh. The only thing that comes to mind recently is some of the short stories from Once Upon an Eid, an anthology edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed. In general the stories were beautiful and joyous but the special holiday chaos of “Yusuf and The Great Big Brownie Mistake” and “Eid and Pink Bubble Gum, Insha’ Allah”.

Sucker: Cliché but sucked you in

I’m not going to explain myself but the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, or at least the original trilogy.

Fun-size: Short and sweet

Again, I need to read more positive books because I had to reach back to some of the classics. Coming in at 110 pages (or at least the version I have) I am hitting this off with The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I know that not everyone would consider it “sweet” but I think it is heartwarming and you leave the book with a positive feeling.

King-size: Gave you more than you thought you needed

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi was one of my most surprising reads of the year in a really good way. I was expecting a darker coming of age story but I was really impressed by the complexity, the relationships: romantically, with family, and with herself.

York Peppermint Pattie: Refreshing read

I like to use graphic novels to refresh the brain. Lately I have been moving through the Orange volumes by Ichigo Takano and The 5 Worlds series by Mark and Alexis Siegel.

Krackel/Mr. Goodbar: Underrated read

I never know exactly what this is asking so I have prepared an answer for each option. A book I think people rated under its value is White Ivy by Susie Yang. An incredible contemporary thriller surrounding privilege. A book that I think not enough people have rated (read) is Each of Us a Desert.

Twix: Told from dual perspectives

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal is a of the hyped-variety but a great dual perspectives. It absolutely deserves the hype it gets and the perspectives genuinely feel different and give you new insight to the story.

Twizzlers: A book you want to be made into a movie/show

My cheating answer is the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard, but that is already being developed for TV, so hooray! My non-cheating answer is The Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow. It is such an engaging and timely story. The world has already been expanded in The Chorus Rises and I would love to be able to continue to explore it on a show.

Dune (2021) – Movie Review

Dune has been one of the most hyped movies of the year with huge press and marketing leading up to its release. Now, it was a faithful adaption of the novel or at least the most faithful adaptation from a book that I have seen in recent years. However, it was not a good movie. It was a beautiful film, but it didn’t work.

When it comes to book to movie adaptations there is always a hope that the it is a detailed and exact translation from page to screen. In Dune, the book, so much in terms of the worlds themselves was left up to the imagination in visuals the function only was described. The movie did a beautiful job bringing the world, the people, and technology into a visual format. It did a great job maintaining the relationships especially between Paul and the main adults in his life (Leto, Jessica, and Duncan). Some of the dialogue was lifted straight out, which was very exciting.

However, so many of the genuine story elements felt compromised for the grand feelings and the world building visuals. There are three main story lines in the plot of Dune: the coming of the Kwisatz Haderach, the fall of the House of Atreides, and the control of Arrakis and the Spice there. Several of these plot points involve tension leading up to them because there is quite a lot conspiracy and tension. I found that we were largely missing that information and it let the tension go turning it from a political space drama to an adventure colonialism story. Now I really liked the explicit colonization framing, but I was really missing the intrigue of the Emperor’s plan, the foreshadowing of the betrayal, and the importance of the spice trade (they cannot give Arrakis up and still function as an empire). They also stopped the story half way through. None of the story arcs were complete! Only the fall of the house of Atreides hit it’s climax but everything else was unfinished. Not even to a clear transitional point, just stopped. I can understand that they want a sequel and to turn it to a film series, but it left a very unsatisfying taste in my mouth.

Ultimately, I do want more adaptions to get this budget and I think it is clear the filmmakers know Dune well. However, I was missing a lot of story elements that make watching movies engaging and make Dune specifically fun to be in.