Favorite Things, January 18, 2021

Still not feeling like it’s a new year, or like I’m a new me. You know, like you’re supposed to feel in a new year? But I did manage to be a little bit productive this week. I cleaned some things, I wrote some things, I made sure my son got his homework turned in on time, I fed my children. Sometimes I even showered. And I still found things to enjoy.

Before I get into it, though, since it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, anyone reading this might consider supporting a charity/non-profit that does work in line with Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy. There’s the obvious Poor People’s Campaign, which carries on Mr. King’s legacy with the goal of “shifting the moral narrative, impacting policies and elections at every level of government, and building lasting power for poor and impacted people.” More locally, where I live in the Las Vegas area, there’s the JET Foundation, which works to “change the life trajectory of those in the community by providing academic, youth development, and health and basic needs support for families.”

Whatever you choose, hopefully, even with social distancing still in place, we can all find ways today to honor Mr. King’s legacy of helping those who are underserved in our society.

Now, as far as my favorite things go, in FOOD, this Tom Kha Gai recipe by Seonkyoung Longest, really hit the spot for me and wasn’t that difficult to make.

(Photo description: Titled “Authentic tom kha gai,” the photo looks down at two bowls of tom kha gai soup beside one bowl of rice.)

While cooking that, I listened to this Life Kit Sesame Workshop PODCAST, “What to Say to Kids When the News is Scary,” which I found informative and very appropriate for our times.

(Photo description: a logo for NPR Life Kit, Sesame Workshop made up of a several green squares placed next to each other to form a rectangle. In some of the squares there are images, like the muppet Elmo, a small gardening shovel holding a small potted plant, a green clock, the Sesame Street sign, and illustrations of a figure in a dress and a figure in pants holding hands with a child’s figure between them.)

When it comes to PEOPLE, author Rin Chupeco made my week by giving me amazing feedback on my query letter for my Lesser Demons book. (I won a query critique by participating in a KidLit for Luzon fundraiser campaign for hurricane relief in the Philippines.) You may enjoy their book The Bone Witch, a beautiful, lyrical read.

(Photo description: The cover of the book THE BONE WITCH by Rin Chupeco. On a dark blue-ish purple background, a girl with dark hair sits at the edge of a rocky cliff, looking into the distance. Under the title, there is a skull, missing its jaw bone and the words “Let me be clear, I never intended to raise my brother from the grave…”)

Another great person, singer Dionne Warwick has been killing it on Twitter, and, consequently, making the world a more enjoyable place.

(Photo description: Dionne Warwick tweets “Did you really read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway?” with a meme from Anchorman of Will Ferrell smoking a cigarette and the caption “I DON’T BELIEVE YOU.”
(Photo Description: Twitter handle @annstapshoe tweets, “I had a dream last night that I was back in high school and @dionnewarwick was my music teacher.” Dionne Warwick responds, “This wasn’t a dream. Your assignment is late.”
(Photo description: Twitter handle @D1LFH4NK asks Dionne Warwick “bestie what are your thoughts on c*lin jost”. Dionne Warwick responds, “The person who sits next to Michael Che?”)

ANIMALS had their day in the Twitter sun this week too, thanks to Joaquim Campa who compiled this thread on animals interrupting nature photographers. Worth looking through the whole thread.

(Two photos. On left, a woman (Liba Radova) lies on her stomach in grass, holding a camera. A baby deer stands on her back, and a baby wolf nuzzles her arm. On the right, a man wearing a coat and a beanie lies on his stomach on a rocky beach. He holds a camera and a small seal lies across his lower back.)

Stayed up later than I meant to most nights, listening to MUSIC and pretending it was helping me go to sleep instead of supercharging my brain waves. Thanks to my binging of HBO’s Insecure (mentioned in last week’s favorite things), my ears were blessed by the song “Plastic” by Moses Sumney.

My husband Jordan sent me Olivia Rodrigo‘s “Driver’s License” song, which I think a lot of people have been buzzing about. (Language warning–don’t watch with the kiddies?)

Jordan (my primary source for good musical entertainment) also showed me “Sugar Drum Fairies” with Travis Barker and BYOS, which I know is a Christmas song, alright? But it’s fun, so I’m including it on my list.

NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! introduced me to Phoebe Bridgers. It’s very possible I’m the last person in the world to hear about her, but I’m sold now. My favorites at the moment are “Savior Complex” and “Motion Sickness.”

Other things I’m loving this week:
– Sleep
– 3 day weekends
– Naps
– Catching up with old friends, even if it’s just over text
– Sleeping in
– Pants that grow with my COVID lockdown body
– Did I mention sleep?

Favorite Things, December 42nd

I’m not the first to make the observation that it hasn’t really felt like a new year (see the not-very-original “December 42nd” joke in today’s title). Everything in day-to-day life has been the same as it was before January 1, and the world certainly isn’t looking improved or new in many ways yet. However, though this last week was incredibly discouraging, there were some great things too. To mark the new year, I wanted to start compiling my favorite things from each week–a sort of exercise in gratitude, since that’s supposed to help keep depression at bay–and it actually wasn’t that hard to come up with a list of good things from last week.

For instance, in BOOKS, there was the release of Volume 4 of Beth Brower’s Emma M Lion series. It’s a historical speculative fiction series, set up as the journal entries of a young woman in a somewhat fantastical and utterly charming (fictional) neighborhood in London in 1883. Intriguing gentlemen and rogues abound.

(Cover of Beth Brower’s book THE UNSELECTED JOURNALS OF EMMA M. LION: VOL. 4. Title is printed on a background of red, bordered by a floral decal in each corner.)

There was also Girl Gone Viral, one of Alisha Rai’s Modern Love romances which was the perfect mind cleanser after such an intense week.

(Cover of Alisha Rai’s book GIRL GONE VIRAL. Title printed large over a background of seafoam green with an illustration of a phone screen showing an Instagram post of a man and a woman together.)

In MUSIC, I fed my ears with Yaeji’s “Raingurl” (brought to my attention by my husband).

(Musician Yaeji stands, looking toward the left, wearing a transparent raincoat and holding a transparent umbrella that is lit up with LED lights. Screenshot captured from her music video “Raingurl.”)

And Boy Pablo’s “Hey Girl” (recommended by a friend).

(Boy Pablo sits on soccer/football field and stares off into distance. Screenshot captured from the music video for his song “Hey Girl”)

In TV, I’m currently a little obsessed with the HBO show Insecure. It’s witty, and engaging, and painful in the best way. Also, I love Issa Rae’s makeup and clothes and basically everything about her.

(Creator and producer of HBO’s INSECURE Issa Rae looks to camera. Photo credit Michael Owen Baker for the New York Times.)

Other things I’m loving this week:
– Not being a white supremacist
– The officers who put their lives on the line to keep people safe at the Capitol
– The political leaders who value our constitution over their own political goals
– GEORGIA! And all the people that did so much hard work to get the votes for Warnock and Ossoff so that we can hopefully have some progress in our legislature instead of the maddening standstill that’s been going on for so many years.

(Founder of Fair Fight Action Stacey Abrams elbow-bumping Senator-Elect Raphael Warnock. Both wearing cloth masks over their mouths and noses. Photo credit Stacey Abrams’ Instagram account.)
(Founder of Fair Fight Action Stacey Abrams elbow-bumping Senator-Elect Jon Ossoff. Both wearing cloth masks over their mouths and noses. Photo credit Stacey Abrams’ Instagram account.)

February Comfort Reads

One of these things is not like the others, haha. No really. I read a ton this month. At least, way more than I probably should have, considering what other responsibilities I could have been attending to. And since—what with reacting badly to new meds and also reacting badly to a routine dental procedure—I spent a large portion of February feeling really sick and really sorry for myself, most of what I read last month ended up being my go-to comfort: Georgette Heyer. (Every book except one.)

I grew up on Georgette Heyer. You could almost say she was my first ever comfort read, if you ignored my earlier obsessions with Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club and Lloyd Alexander and many others. So, I guess, she was more like the comfort of my puberty years, and she’s stuck with me since then.

I wouldn’t put her in the same category as Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club, though. Those books were fun, but I’d say that Georgette Heyer was more like masterful. A master of dialogue, of story structure and development, of vibrant and lovable characters. I talked about her a little in my list of Romance Novels You’ve Got to Read, but here are some of my thoughts, specifically, on her books that I (re)read in February:

the-unknown-ajaxThe Unknown Ajax:

This is a book I accidentally inherited from my grandma (as in, I borrowed it and never remembered to give it back), who was the owner of a large collection of Heyer books, and who, I believe, spurred my mother’s love of Heyer. (Who then introduced me to Heyer in turn.) Plot: The Unknown Ajax is about Anthea and Hugo, who are essentially ordered to marry each other before they’ve even met. Once Anthea has Hugo’s assurance that he will not offer for her, she decides it’s alright for them to at least be friends, and before she knows it his presence in her life has become indispensable. Anthea’s witty and willful and Hugo is hilarious and kind and far, far more competent than anyone imagines him to be—which makes for some excellent humor. Oh, and there’s also a dose of adventure and intrigue, so how could you ask for more?

cousin-kateCousin Kate:

I think this is one of Georgette Heyer’s closest homages to a classic Gothic romance, although the heroine, Kate, is more practical and perky than the dramatic heroines of most Gothic romances. Plot: Kate is penniless and in the middle of trying to find a paying job, when her wealthy, titled aunt appears out of nowhere and invites her to stay with her and her husband and very handsome son in the country for the summer. It sounds like an ideal situation, but once she’s there, Kate discovers that her aunt’s intentions for her future are just a little bit creepy. Enter the alluring, trustworthy cousin-by-marriage Phillip, and the real adventure begins. The only thing that this book could really use more of is banter between Kate and Phillip, because, let’s be honest, that’s primarily what we all read Georgette Heyer for.

the-talisman-ringThe Talisman Ring:

Okay, this one is definitely in my top ten Heyer books. It is pretty nearly perfect and I go back to it again and again. Sarah Thane is one of my favorite heroines ever. Soooo funny. I wish I could be her when I grow up. The banter between her and Sir Tristram Shield is so great, and there’s very nearly enough of it. Plot: When Tristram is asked by his dying uncle to take care of (by marrying) Eustacie, his much younger, hilariously dramatic, French-born cousin,  she thinks (being so very dramatic) that her only choice is to run away and become a governess. In the midst of her escape she accidentally runs into another of her cousins, Ludovic, who has been in hiding since being wrongfully accused of murder. She finds him in the midst of an act of smuggling–which gets him shot. In her efforts to help him escape the law once again, they cross paths with the intrepid and fun-loving Sarah Thane who insists on being part of their adventure. Together with Sir Tristram–who never really wanted to marry Eustacie anyway–the three of them set about trying to prove Ludovic’s innocence (of the murder) so that he can live a normal life again. Heyer’s handling of plot tropes that would normally be absurd or cheesy is first-rate. She turns them into the perfect balance of fun and hilarity. This is one of her “older” heroines too (late twenties—so OLD, ha ha!), which always seem to be my favorite.   

fredericaFrederica:

Now this one—it’s probably in my top three Heyer books. It’s more subtle, I think, than most of her others, and I guess you could say it feels more filled out too. More complete. The romance develops more naturally and delicately. The characters feel more real to me, in many ways. Every time I read it—and I read it probably once a year—I feel sad to see it end. Plot: Frederica, with three younger brothers and one younger sister, has been managing her family’s affairs for years, ever since her father grew sick and subsequently passed away. In an effort to give her younger, extremely beautiful sister a chance at an excellent marriage, Frederica brings the whole family to London and enlists the help of her very, very distant cousin, the Marquis of Alverstoke, to get them started in polite society. Frederica believes herself to be an old maid and plans on never marrying, and Alverstoke only gets involved with her for the sake of annoying a couple of his sisters, but before he knows it he’s falling in love with her and her entire family, and little by little Frederica realizes she’s in love with him too.

arabellaArabella:

I think I had only read this once before now. I bought it with my birthday money, since I was in such a Georgette Heyer mood this month, but to be honest, now that I’ve read it again, I think it may be one of my lesser favorites of hers. The characters have potential to be incredibly charming and the idea of the plot is a lot of fun, but it just isn’t as masterfully executed as most of her others. I think the “show don’t tell” adage is kind of annoying as a writer because I think how you write a book depends on what the story needs (rather than quippy writing rules), but I do think this book was a little heavy on the telling. I’d love to see it made into a movie, though… And I’d probably still recommend it to anyone who is simply in the mood for a fun romance. Plot: Arabella, daughter to a vicar and eldest of a whole horde of other children, is invited to stay with her rich godmother in London for a season. All the hopes of her several sisters are pinned on her marrying well (so that she can help them marry well too), and she sets off with the best of intentions, but on the way she encounters the arrogant and incredibly fashionable Mr. Robert Beaumaris, who annoys her so badly that she pretends to be a rich heiress to try and put him in his place. He is so amused by this that he decides to make her “all the rage” in town, giving her his particular, (usually) much sought-after attention, which she accepts cheerfully enough, telling him that she’s well aware that being seen with him can only help her socially. Tumbling into one entanglement after another on Arabella’s behalf—all because of her avid philanthropic tendencies, which make it impossible for her not to act when she sees injustice being done—Beaumaris discovers he’s falling in love with her despite himself. And Arabella—who still thinks he believed her lie about being an heiress—is sure that he would never love her if he knew the truth. (Note: can I just say how glad I am that they started doing these new book covers? I used to be too embarrassed by the old covers to take them out into public, haha.)

And now for the thing that is not like the others…

station-elevenStation Eleven:

This is definitely not a romance novel, ha ha. Though it is written with a lot of love for its characters. It was given to me for Christmas by my cousin and good friend, who can always be counted on to gift great books. Plot: It’s the story of, essentially, the before and after of a disease-ignited apocalypse. I can’t say I’m typically drawn to the post-apocalyptic genre in a general way, but Station Eleven is a work of art. It weaves together the stories of so many characters who are all connected in important but also subtle ways, managing to make each character matter to you—make each of them incredibly human—sometimes through the smallest of vignettes. The book is chilling and compelling and beautiful. I loved every second of it, and when I hit the last page I thought my heart was going to explode. I think I would like to live in the mind of the author for a little while, just to see what it’s like in there.