February and March Mini Book Reviews

I’m a few books behind to reach my overall goal of 60 books for 2022. I blame getting slowed down by books that felt like a chore to read. I’m hoping to get out of a rut in spring.

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams book cover

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Wow! Leonor recommended this in her newsletter and she didn’t let me down. Eva and Shane are at the center of this teen lovers reunited romance. As teens they were both misfits, but as adults they are successful literary fiction and fantasy/romance writers. While there are really heavy themes and topics (self-harm, addiction, generational trauma to name a few), Williams handles these with sensitivity, wit and humor. I also liked how she also poked fun at literary genres and divisions in publishing.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley book cover

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

I was hooked on this thriller/mystery from the beginning. I was reminded a bit of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. Both books start with a dramatic murder at an event, but the victim isn’t clear. The timeline shifts to a few days before and multiple narrators share their perspectives. I liked the kinda supernatural elements (real or imagined) on the remote island, pacing and satisfying ending. I read some of the book, but mostly read via audiobook.

Midnight in Mexico by Alfredo Corchado book cover

Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent Into Darkness by Alfredo Corchado

This book reminded me why I gravitate toward narrative non-fiction. Midnight in Mexico is part memoir, part history of the drug war in Mexico. Although he is a reporter, he becomes a character in his own story when a US investigator tells him there’s a contract on a US journalist and Corchado is on the short list of possible journalists. That wasn’t even the first time his life was threatened. Recommend this if you want to learn more about recent Mexican history and enjoy memoirs mixed with narrative non-fiction.

Book cover for L.A. Weather by Maria Amparo Escandon

L.A. Weather by María Amparo Escandón

I saw a description of this book as “fun and fast-paced.” Um, no. I was stressed from the very beginning when Escandón matter-of-factly describes how two three-year-olds fall into a backyard pool while under the care of their grandmother. Throughout the book, which is set over a year, we get to know the rest of the wealthy Alvarado family, Oscar, Keila, and their three daughters who are professionally successful and in seemingly stable relationships. The pacing is a bit slow and overall the book left me feeling stressed and uneasy. That said, reading this made me want to go back to and re-read Escandón’s previous novels which I liked at the time: Esperanza’s Box of Saints and Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Co.

Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chavez book cover

Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez

It took me a while to read this and found myself getting bored and forgetting plot points. Ultimately, I found it okay. Tere is a single woman who lives with her mom in a town near El Paso. Her social life revolves around a Pedro Infante fan club, her best friend, and an ill-advised relationship with a married man. She’s messy and she knows it. I may have liked this more if I knew Mexican Cine de Oro better or was a Pedro Infante fan myself. Tere frequently recounts major plot points and analysis from Infante’s films and those sections were distracting without really advancing the story.

Song of the Shang by Jeffery Renard Allen book cover

Song of the Shank by Jeffery Renard Allen

When I first heard about this novel several years ago, I was intrigued. Allen tells the story of Thomas Green Wiggins, an enslaved man born in the nineteenth-century with prodigious musical skills. Once I started the nearly 600-page novel, I found it difficult to follow and the pace frustratingly slow. Allen writes from multiple perspectives from Tom’s parents to guardians and those profiting off his skills in a fictionalized US (which was weird, because Tom actually lived). If I had not listened to the audiobook, I probably would have abandoned the book. 


Can’t Let Go

I listen to several daily news podcasts in an effort to keep up with everything going on. One of those is the NPR Politics podcast. The hosts sign off with something they can’t let go of, which is usually a pop culture or human interest story from that week.

So, what can’t I let go of? Well, my Wordle streak.

I started playing in early January and quickly got hooked. After a couple of days I switched from playing on my work laptop to my phone. Like many others, I played religiously. Sometimes I’d share my score on Twitter or instagram. Almost daily I’d share it with Sean in a friendly competition.

I also started playing more games inspired by the original Wordle. So that a daily habit of a few minutes got much longer. This is my current list:

  • Nerdle – you have to figure out the math equation
  • Worldle – guess a country by its shape
  • Quordle – guess 4 words in 9 tries
  • Octordle – guess 8 words in 13 tries
  • Antiwordle – avoid guessing the word
  • Absurdle – adversarial version
  • Wordle en español (I’m new to this one)

As I played longer, I started getting really invested in keeping my win streak going. Then the NYT bought the game and people on social media swore it got harder. I mean, suddenly words like ultra and ulcer came up back to back.

But I had a problem. My almost 5 year old iPhone was starting to have problems and the battery was dying quickly. Sean kept telling me I should go to the Verizon store for my upgrade.

But I didn’t want to give up my Wordle streak by playing on a new device. I even thought I’d upgrade but not trade in the old phone so I could keep playing Wordle on the old phone. When I went to the store I mentioned this to the salesperson helping me and he doubled the trade-in value.

It turns out I can let go of the official streak for the right amount. At least I have my screenshot.

Do you play Wordle? Are you into the spin-off games?


Postcards by Xavi

One of the good things that has come out of the past 5 months is Xavi improving in his drawing skills. Back in the spring, Sean took some of Xavi’s latest drawings he made following YouTube tutorials, photographed them, and printed postcards to send to the teachers and classmates he really missed. They were a big hit!

In July, I posted the following on Instagram after trying to console Xavi who has very upset over not drawing a perfect dinosaur. He also wants to be famous and earn money. I saw an opportunity and suggested he sell his postcards for $1.

Spinosaurus illustration

Less than a day later, we were sold out. Xavi’s cards went to supportive friends and family. Even though we can’t travel, Xavi’s artwork and greetings can cross state lines and even go to Canada.

We have more now! If you’d like to order one or more, fill out the Postcard Order Form.

Postcards scattered with dragons, anglerfish, dinosaurs and trains

I can’t promise they’ll get there soon due to Xavi’s motivation to write his notes and USPS slowdowns in service (sigh…), but they’ll get there!


Day seventy-seven

I told Sean yesterday, “When do you think we will stop counting these days?” It was a day after I got an email about being able to schedule a haircut at a local salon as our region is in phased reopening.

Is this over? Should I just stop counting?

Counting has been one of my new routines and ways to cope with the many changes. I started counting on Saturday, March 14. This day feels significant because this was when the big shifts happened for us. The university announced a pause for the semester and that all in-person courses would go online and resume following spring break in early April. Our schools closed, somewhat abruptly on March 13th. I still went to work on Monday and Tuesday, but I knew by then that it was only in preparation for officially working from home on March 18th.

The numbers are on our family calendar. It’s somewhat odd to see them next to other events we expected this spring such as Xavi’s first grade spring concert and my work’s year-end award’s dinner. Still, those are a nice reminder of past good times and friends and family who we consider community.

Sometimes just keeping count makes me laugh or put things in perspective. On day 19, I laughed and felt a little sad when Archie hugged the plant I brought home. On day 22, I marveled at how many times Xavi could have breakfast. On day 36, Archie told me “I’m tired of you.” These days, it’s less funny. On day 71 I told Xavi to “shut-up”. Xavi rightfully responded, “Mom! You’re not supposed to say that!” When I apologized a few minutes later, he had already forgotten my offense. On day 76 I wrote: “Sidewalks are being installed in my neighborhood and the noise from construction vehicles makes it tough to concentrate on work. Between this and the heat (no AC and need to re-install the window unit), I’m missing my office.”

And today, while reflecting on some of the kind words friends have shared about how my blog inspired them, I finally decided to get back to blogging.

I won’t stop counting, so on day 77 I’ll note in my bullet journal: got back to blogging.


Sub zero

When I was in my early 20s I became good friends with a guy who was born and raised in Chicago. It was through him that I learned that what really gets you in the winter isn’t the actual cold, it’s the windchill.

Of course I had little knowledge of what that meant. I was from LA, land of 60 degree and sunny January. My Chicagoan friend called it summer and summer light.

Winter fun

But in my fourth and coldest upstate New York winter, I know what windchill means. I know that I can’t just look at the highs and lows. I need to know what it’ll feel like. Do I need to cover up my face like a ninja? Will the pea coat do or do I need the full-length down coat?

Today I was thankful for that coat, a gift from my in-laws the first Christmas after we moved. And for heat in my home and job. And daycare that was open on a day when local schools were closed due to the cold.

It’ll be cold until April. I’m used to that aspect, but hopefully I won’t need to break out the long coat much in the next few months.