Ideas For Staying Sane While Social Distancing

Hello friends.  At my house, we are officially starting week two of working from home, and my first grader, after “enjoying” April vacation, will be starting online learning.

I have literally no idea how I’m going to make this work.  Conduct virtual meetings, interviews, numerous phone calls, and teach my child math, reading, music, library, art, health, and gym?

 

Dr Evil

I don’t mean to complain.  I realize that I’m lucky to even have a job right now, and my hearts go out to those of you who are filing for unemployment, even if it’s temporary.

That being said – I’m also lucky to have a child who’s relatively clever and can probably do a lot of this with minimal supervision (but still, she deserves better than that).  Either way, it’s a daunting task, and worse, I have no idea how long we’ll have to keep this up.  My understanding is that some states have already closed schools for the rest of the year.

My plan right now is to figure out some sort of schedule for her and stick to it.  Make it as much like school as I can, with a planned lunch hour where she and I and our chihuahua can get out of the house for a bit and away from our screens.

But what about all those other hours we are home?  I know many of us are having trouble concentrating enough to read, and there are only so many decent shows to binge.  So here are some of the things my daughter and I are doing to try and keep ourselves sane.

Diamond Painting

Diamond Painting

This is probably one of the most relaxing, mindlessly fun activities I’ve discovered in recent months.  You can find kits for less than $15 on Amazon and they will keep you busy for many, many hours depending on the size.

The downside, I realize, is some children will find this boring, or simply not have the level of focus required to sit at a table and stick plastic gems to a page.

Cooking and Baking

Birthday-Cupcakes-With-Sprinkles-500x375

With restaurants across the country closed for dine-in services (I hope we were all able to stock up on food), what better time to take up cooking?  My daughter loves helping me in the kitchen, and I love a good meal (and a good dessert).  Admittedly, baking is not even remotely my strong suit, but it’s more about the decorating for the kids anyway.

Some of our favorite things to make include: Tacos (make them kid friendly and bite size by using Tostito’s Scoops as your shell), Pizza, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Mac and Cheese.

Virtual Family Game Night

65609494 - the colorful word trivia on wooden table

I actually stole this idea from a coworker.  His family is using ZOOM to video conference with his family and play trivia games.  Trivia questions are easily available for free online and players could take turns prepping and hosting the game.  

Build a Fairy Garden

Fairy Gardens

My daughter and I have been doing this every spring since she was three years old.  We typically incorporate plants or flowers into ours, like above, but I would imagine those might be hard to come by right now.  (Don’t worry, fairy gardens are still cute even without real plants.)  You can purchase some fun fairy furniture online, or even better, you can make some yourself using items from around the house or found in your back yard, like the DIY furniture found in this video.

Virtual Tours

Sunset over the Louvre - Paris

Okay – admittedly, I stole this idea from two sources.  One was a random list of stuff I could do at home with my daughter and the other was from a team building exercise we did at work.

There are plenty of museums offering free virtual tours (including the Louvre!).  To make it more interactive, pick your favorite piece, and do your best to recreate it.  My seven year old is super passionate about her artwork, so this is something I’d absolutely love to take advantage of while we are stuck at home.

Quilling

quilling-paper-art_500x309-r

Quilling is taking strips of paper, rolling them up into different shapes, and gluing them down to make a picture.  Again, kits like this can be found on Amazon for less than $15, and have everything you need to get started.  Some of the shapes are more difficult than others but otherwise this activity isn’t as difficult as it looks and the resulting pictures are very pretty!

And of course, I hope we’re all getting outside for some fresh air.  I’ll be very happy when the weather is warmer in our neck of the woods.

What are you all doing to keep from going stir-crazy?  Have you got any fun ideas we can try at our house?

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Pandemic Fiction

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

For some I know this topic will hit too close to home right now, and I don’t blame you.  Feel free to skip this and go on to the next link.  But if you’re like me, with a black, and often inappropriate sense of humor, you might be craving every pandemic book you can get your hands on right now.  Some of these I’ve read, some of them I haven’t, but I hope everyone finds something interesting.

And if speculative plagues are less your thing, here are a few historical and nonfiction plague books:

 

I realize this list is far from comprehensive – have I missed any of your favorites?  Are you reading pandemic fiction now or avoiding it?

 

Book Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Rating:  ★★★★

I am not going to give you either a blurb or a summary of events here.  I think the blurb is super spoilerific – so if you can go in blind, please go in blind.  I’m going to avoid spoilers here as much as possible.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with The Glass Hotel.  I read Station Eleven last year via audiobook and it was one of the few audiobooks that managed to capture my attention for the full eleven hours.  For an untrained audiobook listener, that was a big deal. I was even more amazed that I could so completely enjoy a book that lacked any serious plot direction.  It was the characters and the snapshots of their lives driving me onward, and I’m happy to report The Glass Hotel is structured similarly.

The book meanders from one POV to the next and back again.  For the most part, I enjoyed all the perspectives, even if I enjoyed some a smidge more.  These are fully realized characters.  We follow them through the high and low points of their lives.  We bear witness to all their ugly sins and fatal flaws.

Reading print instead of listening, I had the opportunity to appreciate Mandel’s writing in a way I previously hadn’t.  It is compulsive. It flows beautifully.  It’s accessible and literary all at the same time.  It convinced me that I need to read pretty much everything she has ever written.

As for the story, well, I found it to be a good bit darker than I remembered Station Eleven being, despite the fact that this contains no apocalypse inducing pandemics.  Most of the characters aren’t the sort you’d want to be friends with, and they leave other characters devastated in their wake.  Especially haunting considering parts of this were based on a true story.

The are some speculative, supernatural elements to this story – but ultimately I’d categorize it under contemporary literature.  It’s not a significant part of the book.  In retrospect, I wish she’d done a little more with that piece, fleshed it out just a bit, given us more of a reason for it’s inclusion.

The ending for some characters is slightly ambiguous. Not so much that it annoyed me but it just felt a little anticlimactic.  Despite the darkness of some events, Mandel still manages to end it on what feels like a hopeful note. Ultimately, my complaints are minor  and I found most of the novel completely engrossing, and ultimately difficult to put down.

Despite my numerous comparisons to Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel stands on its own, and I highly recommend picking up if you enjoy Mandel’s writing.   It releases on tomorrow, March 24, 2020, and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Book Review: A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone #1) by John Gwynne

A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads):  A race of warrior angels, the Ben-Elim, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands, but their peace is brutally enforced.

In the south, hotheaded Riv is desperate to join the Ben-Elim’s peacekeeping force, until she unearths a deadly secret.

In the west, the giantess Sig investigates demon sightings and discovers signs of an uprising and black magic.

And in the snowbound north, Drem, a trapper, finds mutilated corpses in the forests. The work of a predator, or something far darker?

It’s a time of shifting loyalties and world-changing dangers. Difficult choices need to be made. Because in the shadows, demons are gathering, waiting for their time to rise…

I picked this up because I’ve been meaning to read Gwynne for awhile.  I meant to start with the first book set in this world: Malice, but I was trying to decide whether I wanted to request the third book in this series for review.  One of my GoodReads buddies told me I really should have started with Malice in order to fully appreciate this book.

But I’m not really sure it would have helped any.  When I first started reading, I was very happy.  We started with a battle and lots of action, the characters felt unique and fun, the pacing and chapter length were perfect for me.

However, the novelty wore off relatively quickly.  The action slows down after those initial few chapters, and Gwynne’s writing style isn’t one that necessarily agrees with me. For starters, I should mention the reason I’ve dragged my feet on this one for so long:  angels and demons have never really been my thing.  I find the black and white line of “good” and “evil” between them superficial and incredibly boring. I like my villains with a soft side and my heroes with shades of gray.

To be fair to Gwynne, his angels, or Ben-Elim, aren’t necessarily pure of heart.  They don’t preach endless forgiveness and do react with extreme cruelty to “lore-breakers”.  But then, evangelism really sort of irritates me too.  And the demons are exactly as one note as you would expect.

I did enjoy some of the characters, namely Drem and Sig.  Riv and Bleda’s storylines felt extremely YA to me- the warrior training, the lore learning, petty rivalries, and of course, the stupid love triangle.  I feel like there might be a fifth perspective I’m missing, and that sure does say a lot doesn’t it?  Considering I only finished a week ago.

Gwynne’s writing isn’t bad, and my issue with it comes strictly from a personal preference.  The characters all have inner monologues, which we are told, and which are italicized.  I know it’s not the first time I’ve seen inner monologues written down, however, here, for some reason they felt highly unnecessary and broke the flow of the writing.  Worse still, they seemed to become more frequent as the book went on.  I just didn’t like it.

What I did like about this book, aside from the angels and demons, was that the world-building is a lot of fun.  There are different tribes and regions, giants riding bears, magical swords, rich histories… And Gwynne more or less delivers it without it feeling info dump-y.  Newcomers to Gwynne can easily pick up this book and read it as if it was first book set in this world, even if returning fans might appreciate it a little more.

There are some gut wrenching emotional moments, so he succeeded in making me care at least.  I am still undecided as to whether I will continue the series.  I borrowed book two alongside book one, and with my local libraries closed, I’m able to keep it much longer than expected, so I might.  I don’t think I’ll be requesting the ARC because I want to be free to leave these books behind if book two doesn’t agree with me.

I know this series is well loved by many, and it’s entirely possible that I wasn’t in the right mood to read this, so take my review with a grain of salt.  A Time of Dread can be found on GoodReads if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

Have you read A Time of Dread?  What did you think?

 

 

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Title: Phoenix Extravagant  Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Author:  Yoon Ha Lee

Publisher: Rebellion / Solaris

Genre: Fantasy

Length: 416 Pages

Release Date: June 9, 2020

Blurb: For generations the empire has spread across the world, nigh-unstoppable in their advance. Its power depends on its automata, magically animated and programmed with sigils and patterns painted in mystical pigments.

A symbol-painter – themselves a colonial subject – is frustrated in their work when their supply of Phoenix Extravagant dries up, and sets out to find the source. What they’ll discover is darker than anything they could have imagined…

Why I’m Excited for it:  Despite the difficult learning curve in Ninefox Gambit, I absolutely fell in love with the unique and complex world building and the flawed and yet weirdly lovable characters.  Though I am also eager to return to The Machineries of the Empire, I’m also excited to see what Lee does with a new world and new characters.

It also sounds like another fantastic blend of science fiction and fantasy with magic powered robot (dragons?).  Either way- I absolutely can’t wait for this!

Which new releases are you looking forward to?

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Someday, when I bust out of this reading slump, or conquer all these ARCS, I’m going to read whatever strikes my fancy for a month.  So there’s likely no sticking to this list.  Here’s what I’m excited about, ARCs or No.

11-22-63 Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen King – Planned buddy read with the fabulous Nicole @ Book-Wyrm-Knits!  I’m holding you to it. End of May.

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi – This was gifted to me by the equally fabulous Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy!  Thank you!  I can’t wait to read it.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway – Gnomon was a mind bender that made me work for it.  While I think I’ll put this off until my reading slump is definitely over- I’m eager to get back to his work.

Full Throttle by Joe Hill

Full Throttle by Joe Hill – Now that I’m thinking about it, a Joe Hill anthology is probably exactly what I need to dump the slump.  Short attention spans aren’t really an issue in a book of short stories.

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee The Machineries of Empire

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee – I want to get this read before I forget what happened in Nine Fox Gambit!  (For a review that explains the Machineries of the Empire better than I ever could, please check out Ola’s review at Re-enchantment of the World.)

Killing Gravity by Corey J White

Killing Gravity by Corey J. White – This was a Tor Freebie not too long ago.  It’s a novella so perfect for the amount of attention I seem willing to give books lately, and one that’s been on my radar for awhile.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel – This is one of the few ARCs I have that I am still super excited for!  It also is neither fantasy or sci-fi, so it will give me a much needed break from the genre.

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon – This is another that falls outside my usual genre, but I’m eager to get to it.  I’ve heard great things about Lawhon and historical fiction usually makes me all happy inside.

The Last Kingdom Saxon Stories 1 by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell – Keeping with the theme of Historical Fiction (and in my desperation to seek out comforting reads in turbulent times) I’m eager to reread this.  Especially since the final book in the Saxon Stories was recently announced.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones – Because Horror.  That’s it.

 

We all know I’m not likely to stick to this TBR… and there are probably 30 other books I could put here.  What have you got planned for the spring?

Discussion: The Dreaded Slump

Hello friends!  I hope wherever you are you have everything you need and you are keeping healthy.

This past Saturday marked two weeks since I finished a book.  I’ve been trying to read the same damn book for over two weeks.  The book isn’t terribly long or even that bad.  I’d like to blame it on limited time- but I don’t have all that much less time now than I did a few months ago.

I’m hoping it’s not really a reading slump but at the same time, I’m just not as excited about reading as I used to be.  It could be that February was chock full of mediocre books.  It could be that I’m feeling the pressure of getting through all ten ARCs I have due (although I should note, ten in a month is typically doable for me).  It could be that my job is emotionally draining and I really just need to stock up on creative strategies for zombie killing now that all my paranoid delusions fantasies are coming true:

Z Nation Cheese Wheel

(Too soon?)

Maybe it’s all of those things.  Maybe it’s none of them.

Either way- I’m feeling frustrated (and perhaps a little disappointed) with myself.  Am I just picking the wrong books?  Will it even get better when I’m freed up to go back to mood and buddy reading?  Complicating matters, I’m not enjoying books I had fully expected to love, and I’m questioning whether I even like the fantasy genre any more.

Lucy Shrug

It’s come to a point where I feel like so many of these books just sound the same: hero goes on epic quest, displaced princess saves the world, enemies to lovers romance!  I feel like I’m missing out on the witty banter and exciting action scenes that once seemed to come to me so easily, Six of Crows, The Greatcoats, The Thief.  In short, where have all my favorite books gone?

Maybe I’m so stressed out that I don’t feel like I have time to read complex world building and deep characters.  I want all flash and no substance.  Things I don’t have to think about.

Anyway.  It’s enough to make me want to reread all my old favorites: The Last Kingdom and Under the Dome, Too Like the Lightning and maybe even an Anita Blake novel or three.  Yes, this slump has reached vampire orgy levels of desperation.

What I came here to ask, is what are your methods for coping with reading slumps?  Is it okay to put the ARCs aside for a week or two to get back in the groove?  Do I reread an old favorite?  Change up my genre?

Send Help Gif

Can’t Wait Wednesday: The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Title: The Evening and the Morning The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

Author:  Ken Follett

Publisher: Viking

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 720 Pages

Release Date: September 15, 2020

Blurb: It is 997 CE, the end of the Dark Ages, and in England one man’s ambition to make his abbey a centre of learning will take the reader on an epic journey into a historical past rich with ambition and rivalry, death and birth, love and hate.

Thirty years ago, Ken Follett published his most popular novel, The Pillars of The Earth, which has sold over 27 million copies worldwide.

Now, this novel, the prequel, will take the readers on an epic journey that will end where The Pillars of The Earth begins…

Why I’m Excited For It:  This week I discovered that there are not one, but two new books in beloved series that are releasing this fall (the other one I’m saving for a future post).  The Pillars of the Earth and its sequels are some of my favorite books of all time.

They feature large casts swept up in endless drama, romance, scheming villains, the roller coaster ride of the character’s triumphs and defeats… I’ve often described these books as medieval soap operas, all centered around the same fictional church and town.

Now it seems this book is set during the Viking age, and you already know how I feel about that.  It’s the prequel I didn’t know I needed.

Have you read any of The Pillars of the Earth books?  Are you as excited for this as I am?

Book Review: The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

Rating:  ★★★1/2

In a future heavily shaped by numerous deadly flu pandemics (wow did I choose the wrong time to read it!), a company called Metis has begun uploading the consciousnesses of the dead, and then downloading them into robots called ‘Companions’.  These companions are most typically used as caregivers to the elderly or the young, but they can also be leased from Metis by the family of the dead.

It’s a theme that’s been covered before.  In this iteration, we follow the story of several characters whose paths all intersect in interesting ways.  Primarily this is the story of Lilac, who suffered a traumatic death and went on to become a caregiver.  Lilac has never really obeyed her security protocols.  Something makes her different.  She was one of the earliest companions, and it’s not long before she’s breaking free and trying to find people she once knew as a human.

In the blurb, The Companions is compared to Station Eleven.  And it isn’t completely wrong, though I think ultimately, Station Eleven was much better done.  This is a largely character driven novel, with a very thin semblance of a plot holding it together.  I don’t mean this in a bad way- I actually did enjoy the meandering pace and drifting nature of the plot.

The writing was okay.  Not particularly memorable but that means it isn’t particularly bad either.  I ultimately deducted a star for the ending, which felt rushed and strung together in a bunch of random scenes to tie it all up and put a bow on it.  I really didn’t understand what the author was getting at with what Nat was doing, or even the relationship between Nat and Gabe in the end, and really had no clue what Rachel’s real purpose was with her chapter.

I read an advanced copy, downloaded electronically several months before release, so I’d have to check to see if it was re-written at all to make it more cohesive.  If it was- this could easily have been a 4 star read.

Thank you to the publisher for the electronic review copy.  The Companions released on March 3, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

Book Review: Surrender by Ray Loriga

Surrender by Ray Loriga

Rating:  ★★★

Surrender is a dystopian novel reminiscent of many a book that came before: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I don’t know when I’m going to learn my lesson.  I really didn’t like any of those books.  They are depressing and dark, and ultimately rather hopeless.

I’d like to tell you this is different…

I’d like to tell you that.

And I can’t.

We have our two unnamed (how original) protagonists.  The wife and the husband.  Their sons, whom they are very proud of, are away at war.  They adopted a boy they go on to name Julio, who appeared out of nowhere one day and lives in their basement since the protagonists don’t want the zoning agent to find out.  Eventually, the war creeps too close to home, and the zoning agent forces them to evacuate.

*cue doomsday music*

Anyway.  This new city seems pretty great at first.  It’s made of this cool new substance extracted from urine.  You get to shower next to your neighbor in the morning because the walls are transparent.  Intimate time with your significant other is spent that way too.  Left or right, up or down, you can see everyone doing everything all the time because somehow the tyrannical government found a way to shut off the night.  Surrender takes privacy loss to a whole new level.

This book is on the shorter side, but it didn’t take me any less time to read it.  It was very slow and I had to push myself to read more pages knowing I just wanted to be done with it.  It picked up for a little while at the end, then there was mass confuddledom and then it ended.

The moral of this story is: Life’s a bitch and then you die.

Shrugs.

I sort of wish I hadn’t wasted time on it.  It wasn’t badly written, but the tone of the book doesn’t seem to fit the occasional swear word that’s thrown in for seemingly no reason.  (Coming from someone who has no filter on her own mouth, that’s a problem.)  You’ll want to shake the MC at some point. Then you’ll want to shake his wife.  And others.

There are some interesting notes here considering perspectives- things aren’t always what they seem, and yes, we wear blinders, and yes, government is full of propaganda meant to bend those perceptions.  I liked those parts.  The characters felt real enough, I just wished we hadn’t been so distanced from them given their lack of names and the wife’s weird personality shift in part three.

Anyway- I’d recommend this to people who liked those three books I named at the beginning.  For my part I can say I actually did enjoy this more than those, just not enough to love this book.

Surrender released on February 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who provided an ARC for review.