Category Archives: Weekly Updates

a lit-el forecast

5.1.21

I have a lot to cover here, so this might run a little long. Feel free to skip around for whichever pieces of the post catch your interest. I generally try to bold the subject of each paragraph/section of these weekly updates so that it’s easier for you to pick and choose what you want to read- hopefully it helps!

It’s been a busy week, and either I’ve overexerted or am still adjusting to the vaccine or not quite as healthy post-covid as I thought because I’ve had a flare up with a lot of headaches and fatigue again. I’m lining up yet another appointment to make sure it’s nothing new going on, but other than needing to rest my brain a lot I don’t feel like I’m dying or anything, which truly feels like something to be grateful for these days, so I’m coping all right.

Even though it’s been a bit of a struggle (and my reading has definitely suffered for it but I’ve made my peace with that), there’s been a lot else going on, too. Planting season is in full swing on the farm- all of the corn is in the ground now so we’re onto soybeans. There’s a picture in this week’s 365 updates of the planter being refilled, with my dad making a little bonus appearance.

Also in The 365 is a puzzle I’ve been working on for a while and finally finished this week. It’s a cool concept- the specialized ‘birthday edition’ New York Times puzzle, depicting the NYT front page on the day I was born. I love the idea but unfortunately I got some pretty disappointing content on my front page. The articles include: US effing up in Iraq and fatally attacking own helicopters, mismanagement of a railroad line that left thousands stranded in bad weather, tobacco companies testifying in Congress that cigarettes aren’t addictive, a hospital settling on insurance fraud and patient abuse charges, and a Navy top admiral granted full pension in a 20 to 2 vote after a sexual harassment scandal (only one woman was on the panel). This last one was actually pretty grim to read in 2021; apparently something happened in 1991, when naval aviators sexually assaulted “scores of women” and then the investigation was bungled thanks to this admiral; this article goes on to say that “it was not clear” why the one man against giving full pension voted no. (Like, it couldn’t possibly be that he didn’t want to reward a man for allowing a lot of women to be violated without recourse for justice, right?) There’s also not a single woman in the bylines at all. One piece about the Vatican approving altar girls might seem like a victory, but then the article goes on to note that while the Vatican officially accepts them, many churches still oppose allowing girls this role and ultimately each bishop gets to make the choice for his own diocese. We are also reassured that women are still banned from priesthood. So. It was a thoughtful gift and fun to assemble at least, if not to read. I hope others who try this ‘birthday edition’ puzzle have better luck.

Cat of the Week is actually not my cat anymore; Fran(cis) was born on the farm, and is a brother to Heath (who featured in last week’s update) and Fuzzbutt (who featured several weeks ago), but I gifted him to an irl friend in need a few years ago (he’s 4 and a 1/2 now). They’re a perfect fit and I’m so glad they have each other. I don’t get to see them in person often so when I made contact this week I had to get a picture!

I had a bit of a TV binge while my brain was mush this week; I downloaded all 8 of the Shadow and Bone episodes from Netflix so I could even watch while I was waiting in the fields away from wifi, lol. I’ve actually watched the whole season twice already and can definitely foresee revisiting it again. And thus…

My week in film:

  • Shadow and Bone ssn 1 [2021] – I just loved this. It’s a great watch. It’s not flawless, but it is possibly the best YA fantasy adaptation I’ve ever seen. The acting. The filmography. The plotting! Combining Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy with her Six of Crows duology was the absolute best idea; I liked the Grisha books but loved the SoC duology so I initially wanted to watch this mainly for the crows, but I ended up enjoying every single minute. I was a little disappointed we don’t get to see more of Kaz as an individual yet (he’s my fave character), but Inej and Jesper are absolutely fantastic and so many hints are dropped for deeper characterization and plotting to come that I’m already so excited for season 2! Yes, Alina is still naive and annoying and self-centered, but I do not have a problem with unlikable characters and I find her believable enough that it works for me. She fits the story. And…I’m team Malina, apparently against the grain. To be clear, Malina has nothing on Kanej for me, but I’ve always liked Mal and I think the show does him more justice than the novels. I also (please do not cancel me) like his actor better than the Darkling’s. Sorry, Ben Barnes stans. Barnes is a great actor! And the Darkling is such a fascinating character! I’ve been going around saying “make me your villain” all week! But I have no desire to see Darklina as endgame. Anyway, the first watch was a fun binge and the second time through cemented this adaptation as a real favorite for me. Milo and the crows and Malina (in that order) gave me life this week. I need more. If you do too, you should check out Hadeer’s review, which is more coherent and detailed than my ramblings here and hits the nail on the head about the show’s racism.

My week in books:

  • How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones – 4 stars. I thought I’d finish this like, last Sunday, but Ive barely been able to read at all and just managed to wrap it up before the end of the month. It’s a tragic historical fiction tale set in Barbados, very focused on generational trauma and class divides on an island populated by impoverished locals and wealthy tourists, with a huge wage gap between the two groups. I’ll have a review coming very soon, but the tl;dr is that while the characterization could’ve used a little work, the writing is sharp and compellingly readable. I think it’s an apt fit for this year’s Women’s Prize shortlist.
  • Consent by Annabel Lyon – ongoing. I’ve barely made a dent, but I already love the way Lyon writes about sisters and I have a feeling I’m going to love the character dynamics and prose going forward.

My week in posts:

Another thing you might have noticed happening this week was the announcement of the Women’s Prize shortlist! In case you missed it, the six books on the shortlist are (with links to my reviews where applicable): The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones, and No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. That’s 3 titles from my wishlist, and a shocking 5 of 6 from my prediction list! The title I guessed wrong was Ali Smith’s Summer, which I haven’t read yet, though I did include the title I missed, Unsettled Ground, as my runner-up guess, so I came very close! This was especially surprising and exciting for me after also guessing 5 of 6 shortlist titles correct last year– apparently I’m on a lucky streak! (Watch me tout this record as proof of my abilities next year only to get every guess wrong, haha.)

In any case, I’m actually pretty pleased with this year’s shortlist. Unsettled Ground is the only title that made the cut that doesn’t necessarily feel like shortlist material to me, though that’s based on reviews as I haven’t read the book yet myself, so that assessment may change. I didn’t especially like No One is Talking About This but I didn’t hate it either and I think it makes a decent, topical addition to the group. I’m thrilled for Transcendent Kingdom and Piranesi and even more eager now to get to The Vanishing Half. I’m disappointed Detransition, Baby (by Torrey Peters) didn’t make the cut as it sounds excellent, though I’m still planning to read and review it regardless. Exciting Times was a longlist favorite for me, and I would perhaps have rather seen it advance than Unsettled Ground, but that may be down to personal taste. Exciting Times didn’t quite make my prediction list either so while I stand by my high rating I can’t say I’m surprised by the snub. I’ll likely have more to say once I’ve completed my shortlist (and longlist) reading, so I’m aiming to continue through the list in May and share a wrap-up post to conclude the whole experience when the time comes.

Speaking of wrap-ups, April ended this week, which means it’s time to do a quick round-up of my April reading. It was another low month for me, unfortunately. My April stats from Storygraph (you can follow me there @ literaryelephant):

I read 5 books in April, 3 literary fiction and 1 historical fiction all from the Women’s Prize longlist, as well as 1 unrelated nonfiction book. Storygraph is still showing about 100 pages more in my page count than I’ve marked in my bujo page tracker, and I do count the afterword and acknowledgement pages and whatnot if I read them, which I usually do, and I check that I’m logging the correct edition every time, so I’m not sure how Storygraph is coming up with so many more pages than I am. It will be interesting to compare the difference at the end of the year.

The books I’ve completed this month (linked to reviews where applicable) are:

No 5 star reads this month, although Made in China came close.

I completed only 1 book from my April 5-book TBR, though I don’t feel I was off track, exactly. I read three library books this month, which don’t always make it into my TBRs if they aren’t in my possession at the start of the month though I still need to prioritize them, and even though I didn’t stick to my 5-book TBR exactly, it was filled for April with Women’s Prize books and I was definitely reading along that theme so it wasn’t exactly that I lost focus. I still intend to catch up with my outstanding TBR books as soon as I can.

Speaking of catching up…

Because I’ve read only about half as much as usual the last two months, I am now considerably behind on my reading goal for 2021. I’m not too worried, because I’m still hoping my brain health will even out in the not-too-distant future and give me a chance to binge some great reads. Ideally, over the summer. Of course, the number of books anyone reads isn’t isn’t really important for its own sake, though I’m very competitive with myself and would be frustrated to miss my reading target for the first time since I started setting a yearly goal. It’s only May though so it’s too early to get stressed about it, and I won’t beat myself up about failing a target I’m just not capable of hitting at the moment. All we can do is the best we can do.

Looking ahead…

For the upcoming week, I should have at least two posts coming up, and this week I say so with more certainty. I very nearly finished a book tag I wanted to post yesterday, but then was called away to help deal with a flat tire before I could answer the last prompt; expect to see it on Monday. I’ll also have my review of How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House coming up very soon, because I borrowed a library copy and generally prefer to write my reviews before sending back my library books, which helps keep me prompt with those. Whether I manage to post more than that will likely depend on how much reading and writing my brain is up to the challenge of completing. I’ve given up trying to guess what will happen, it’s proven impossible. I’ll do what I can.

As for reading, I’ll ideally be finishing Consent and continuing on with my Women’s Prize reads– I’ve got Unsettled Ground, The Vanishing Half, and Detransition, Baby left, and I’ve not yet decided what order I’ll be reading them in so this week’s reading could include any of the above.

I’ve also not entirely decided on my May TBR, because while I am prioritizing my final Women’s Prize reads those have featured in previous 5-book TBRs (or in the case of Unsettled Ground I just don’t have a way of photographing the eARC into my usual TBR photo setup and am petty enough to omit it for that reason) so I won’t be including those books in this month’s list, and won’t start reading this month’s list until I’ve completed those reads anyway.

Furthermore, May is AAPI heritage month so I want to prioritize some books by AAPI authors in my TBR; I’ve chosen my two May BOTM titles to fit this goal, but of course they haven’t arrived yet, and I’ve got another AAPI-authored title on hold at the library that also isn’t in yet. So while I do have some titles in mind, and a few others on hand if these new ones don’t show up in a timely fashion, my list isn’t finalized yet; I’ll aim to sort this out before my next weekly update (this one’s gotten quite long anyway) and share my May TBR then.

Are you reading or posting about any books from Asian American authors for May? If you’ve read any recently or have an exciting title on your TBR, I’d love more recommendations!

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

4.24.21

I skipped mentioning a Cat of the Week in my last update because the only cat that featured was Matchy, curled up in a sleepy ball, and it didn’t seem like the best way to introduce her. This week I got a rare lap cuddle with her so she’s making another appearance (legs for dayyyys)! I’ve already talked about how she was named for her matching eye marks (this photo is a bit deceptive, her markings are symmetrical) while her brother Patchy (they’re both 2 1/2) was named for his asymmetrical eye patch marking. At some point I’ll try to get them side by side so that the names will make sense, but Matchy isn’t big on human contact so she’s a bit difficult to grab photos of! Hence needing this documented proof that a lap nap occurred.

And below Matchy is Heath, who has been stripey and cute for 4 1/2 years already; he comes from our era of candy bar cat names. Heath’s funny story is that a couple of years ago he disappeared from the farm- he’s a big tom who thinks he’s the king here and when the weather’s nice he has a tendency to wander and expand his territory, so it’s not unusual for him to go missing for a day or two and I wasn’t worried at first. But he was gone for THREE MONTHS, and then we logged into the local humane society’s website for unrelated reasons and found Heath on their front page! Our local humane society is 20 miles from the farm, and we’ve never figured out how or why he ended up there. Furthermore, it turned out he was only with the humane society for one month, which leaves plenty of his time unaccounted for. He got updated shots and good care while he was gone, seemed totally chill about it all and no worse for wear. But of course instead of roaming free in the great outdoors he was living in a cage while he was with the humane society and they called him Corey, so it’s become a running joke here that we had to break him out of prison under a false name! Fortunately this seems to have curbed his craving for adventure.

In other news, my reading this week has been incredibly bleak:

  • Made in China by Amelia Pang – 4 stars. The only reason this nonfiction wasn’t a 5-star read for me comes down to the fact that it has to cover so much information in such a condensed space, which makes it a bit confusing to follow at times; but a full history of modern Chinese politics and forced labor is beyond the scope of a single work and it’s not Pang’s fault that this is a major issue with so little mainstream coverage, which made it a very difficult book to rate at all. As always though, I rate based on my personal experience with a book, not as a reflection of the book’s merit or importance of the topic. This is an incredibly depressing revelation of human rights violations ongoing today and I’m going to have a ton to say about this in an upcoming review. It’s a very dark and difficult read, perhaps even the most dark and difficult book I’ve ever read, but it should 100% be mandatory for everyone- and especially first world consumers- to know about what is going on with forced labor right now.
  • How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones – ongoing. I’m nearly finished with this one! And it’s also pretty bleak. If not for library due dates coming up, I would not have read these two books back to back. The upside to this one is that it’s fiction. The downside is that it deals with themes of generational misogyny and trauma, to the extent that there’s not much more to these characters than their pain, but aside from this small hiccup in characterization it’s an incredibly well-written and compelling story, and (thankfully) more literary than I’d expected.

Related to reading, I managed to catch up on three review posts this week! Those included:

All three are titles longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize. I am not planning to read all 16 books from the longlist this season, but I’ve got a handful left on my TBR and intend to round up and rank all of the longlisters I’ve read as soon as I finish. I’m expecting to pick up 12 or 13 of the longlisted books in total, though my plans could change slightly once the shortlist is announced- which is happening this upcoming week on the 28th! I definitely won’t be finished with my journey through the longlist before then, and thanks to my health issues this March and April I haven’t been able to be as much a part of the Women’s Prize reading community as I have been in the past. I’ve missed a lot of prize-related content, sadly. Between that and not having finished my longlist reading, I won’t be sharing a separate shortlist prediction post this year, and so I’ll share my few shortlist thoughts here!

From what I’ve read so far, I’d most like to see Transcendent Kingdom, Piranesi, and Exciting Times advance. These have been my 4 and 5 star reads so far. My 3 star reads, Burnt Sugar, Luster, and No One is Talking About This, I wouldn’t *mind* seeing on the shortlist, though I’m not rooting for them. I expect How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House will fall somewhere in the 3-5 star range for me, as well. The only lower rating I’ve had thus far, Small Pleasures with 2 stars, I definitely don’t want to see advance.

There are also a few longlisted books that I have yet to read but have high hopes for, which make up a portion of my shortlist wishlist:

  1. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  2. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  3. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  4. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
  5. Consent by Annabel Lyon
  6. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

But my actual shortlist prediction (and there’s no way I’m going to top last year’s record 5/6 correct guesses) is as follows:

  1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  2. Summer by Ali Smith
  3. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
  4. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  5. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
  6. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

I definitely feel a bit out of the loop as far as general public opinion on many of this year’s titles and what the judges might be going for as to overall tone and topics. I just haven’t read enough books or reviews or reactions to have a solid grasp of the whole, but it’s fun to take a stab at it nonetheless. It is perhaps optimistic to hope for half the shortlist to be comprised of writers of color when the longlist didn’t skew that way, but I think these are some really strong books that deserve the recognition. I also wonder if one of those England-set white-authored domestic mystery novels might make the cut since there were three of them on the longlist, but (in my limited view) none of them seem like a good shortlist fit. If I had to pick a runner-up, I suppose it would be Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground by default from those mystery novels, since I didn’t like Small Pleasures and don’t want to support Amanda Craig, who supports she who must not be named. I do still intend to read (and hopefully enjoy) Unsettled Ground, and I know many readers love Fuller’s writing, though personally I’ve not yet dipped into her work.

However it turns out, there’s a good chance I’ll be reading the shortlist and posting a winner prediction between the shortlist and winner announcement dates! There are only three books from the shortlist that I don’t really want to read- Craig’s The Golden Rule, reasoning stated above, and just because they don’t sound like my type of book at all, French’s Because of You and MacMahon’s Nothing But Blue Sky, though a shortlisting could persuade me on one of those, possibly. I’m also uncertain about my plans regarding Smith’s Summer. I do hope to read and enjoy the entire Seasons Quartet, of which Summer is the fourth and final book, but as I haven’t even started the series yet I can’t say for sure whether I’m actually interested in reading them all or whether that would happen before July 7 (the winner announcement date). I’d like to read at least the first book in the series before then to get a better idea of the set.

And now that I’ve been rambling on about the Women’s Prize long enough that I should probably have just made these remarks into their own post, I’m going to move on to my plans for the upcoming week.

I’m hoping to get at least three more posts shared, ideally my reviews of How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House (prior to the shortlist announcement if possible) and Made in China (because I just really need to talk about this book), as well as a book tag I’ve got pending. Next week’s forecast will probably include a brief round-up of my April reading, since next Saturday is the first of May (how?!). I’ll likely share my May TBR in next week’s update as well; I would’ve liked to include it here, but this post is long enough already and my reading has been erratic enough that my future plans aren’t finalized through May yet.

Even this next week looks a bit hazy- I’m planning to continue my Women’s Prize reading, but that’s all I can say for sure. I suppose top contenders for my next reads are: Annabel Lyon’s Consent, Torry Peters’s Detransition, Baby, and my eARC of Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground. (Please weigh in with recommendations!) Either way, I’m planning to continue my Women’s Prize reads until they’re finished, so these will all be coming up and I want to review as promptly as possible as I work through the rest of the list.

Anyone else getting excited to see what will be on the Women’s Prize shortlist? Which title do you most want to see advance?

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

4.17.21

It’s been a busy week on the farm. Spring planting is underway in the fields, even though we seem to be in another cold snap (which means fewer walks, sadly) and even have a chance of snow coming up again next week. I also got my first vaccine dose (Moderna) this week, just in time for my birthday! It was a low-key celebration, but my sudden eligibility for the Covid vaccine truly felt like a gift. (Catch me cheesing with my vaccination card in The 365!) I have been fatigued ever since I got the shot, but I’m not entirely sure whether it’s a symptom of the vaccine or just another relapse of my lingering Covid symptoms, which have been coming and going like this for a full year now. I remain hopeful that being fully vaccinated will help relieve my long-lasting symptoms once and for all, and am feeling better on the whole than I did in March, but for now I guess health is still a work in progress.

On the plus side, I’ve gotten enough brain functionality back following my second bout of Covid last month to make a happy, near-full return to reading and blogging. This past week I’ve caught up on an entire month’s worth of posts I’d been neglecting in my WordPress reader (I did not realize it had gotten that bad!), and while I am still reading slightly below my “usual” daily page count for novels, I’ve worked back up to a steady pace that suits me well at the moment. Most of my photos for The 365 this week showcase my resurfaced zest for reading, including the three books I’ve been reading this week and a small book haul: I had a birthday credit through BOTM to spend (and let myself max out my box), and then ordered Melissa Broder’s Milk Fed on the side because I just really wanted it.

I’ve now surpassed 100 photos in The 365, which seems like a good time to reflect a bit on how it’s going. The project has changed a bit from what I originally envisioned, mainly, in that it has become a sort of “slice of life” photo-a-day project moreso than a way to pinpoint and record joy in my daily life. At some point I just had to admit that I am not joyful 365 days of the year, even when making an effort to find something joyful. A joyful photo project was a good idea, but was never going to work for me in 2021. Furthermore, I do not have the energy every day to think up a unique, beautiful photo toward some nice aesthetic (I seem to have abandoned Instagram altogether for now), and being stuck around home 99% of the time means I’ve resorted to a repetitiveness in my photos that I originally tried to resist. To be honest I’m getting a little bored with The 365 and am not sure another 200+ days of photos is going to push this in a new and interesting direction, but dammit I’ve come this far! I’m hoping that being vaccinated, getting my health back soon (hopefully), and seeing some warmer summer weather on the horizon will help liven things up, but at this point the jury’s out on whether The 365 will survive all the way up to 365.

This week’s reading:

  • Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers – 2 stars. This Women’s Prize longlister started out on shaky ground for me and ultimately disappointed at almost every turn instead of capitalizing on its wealth of potential, unfortunately. Nevertheless it was an easy read when I needed one, and after a couple of weeks of struggling with reading at all it was surprisingly fun to engage properly, even if only to curate my list of complaints.
  • No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood – 3 stars. Bit of a mixed bag. There are some fantastic one-liners for our time in here and some insight into a genetic disorder I’d never come across before (Proteus Syndrome), which I appreciated reading about. And yet the story felt so disjointed that it didn’t suit my personal reading taste especially well. I can this being an incredible book for the right reader, but it wasn’t quite the right fit for me.
  • Made in China by Amelia Pang – ongoing. This is a nonfiction book about labor camps in China and how they are fueled by cheap consumerism world-wide. It’s taken me a few tries to get well and started with this one because it’s very info-heavy (difficult with Covid-brain) and starts right out in the first chapter with a bit of torture, which I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to sit with in recent weeks. Now that I’m accustomed to the bleakness and reading regularly again, I’m getting properly into this one at last and I can already tell (about 50 pages in) that this is going to be one hell of an impactful read.

I also managed to post something for once! I wanted to prioritize blog hopping since I was so behind, but I did catch up in time to finish an Actual Review for the first time in a solid month. In case you missed it, I shared some thoughts on:

  • Luster by Raven Leilani, a Women’s Prize read

I have big plans looking forward, but I have to admit up front here that how much I accomplish next week regarding books is going to depend on how busy my family is with planting corn and what my energy level will look like in whatever free time I have outside of that. Assuming we’re delayed with snow and that my recent fatigue is vaccine-related and will therefore wear off soon (big assumptions, but let’s go with it) I am aiming to finish Made in China this week and pick up Cherie Jones’s How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House as my next Women’s Prize read this week.

I also have three completed Women’s Prize reads with notes started for reviews, and if possible I’d love to catch up on all of those. If it turns out to be a golden week maybe I’ll even put together some answers for the book tag I’ve got queued up. If this doesn’t all end up happening in the next seven days, I do still expect to power through this list before the end of April, so my thoughts on Exciting Times, Small Pleasures, and No One is Talking About This will be coming soon.

It hardly makes sense to me that I’m 7 books into the Women’s Prize longlist right now when I feel like I’ve hardly even looked at a book since the list was announced, but I’ll take it! I’m not sure I’ve read enough to do a full shortlist prediction, but I am getting curious, so please drop below any longlist titles you expect to make the cut!

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

4.10.21

Hello! It’s been a weird two weeks; I ended up taking a break from reading and blogging that I hadn’t really been intending but nevertheless found very helpful. For those waiting on an update, sorry for the delay and thanks for being patient with me; my family members are all doing pretty well and I am feeling much better. I am being kinder to myself though about letting things take the amount of time I need for them rather than trying to push through to keep to a schedule, so my presence here may still be somewhat sporadic for the next few weeks as I (hopefully) continue to improve.

But on the plus side, after struggling for a few weeks with my second bout of Covid in March and into April, I think this turn of events has actually helped clear out some of the lingering symptoms I’ve been unable to shake for the last year. I am feeling physically better this week than I have felt since pre-pandemic days, have gotten back into reading and writing, and have been taking long walks and appreciating my health. The good thing about having felt slightly under the weather for a long time is that on my best days now I feel absolutely gleeful about just feeling “normal;” I don’t think I’ll ever again take for granted just waking up and feeling like myself. Even though my fatigue and brain fog have been mild compared to most accounts of them that I’ve seen, I just haven’t felt fully present since I had Covid last spring, and getting a more complete recovery this time is pretty exciting in the wake of all that. Also exciting- this past week my state finally made me eligible for the vaccine! I called the first day the call center was open, and even though it took seven tries to get through I did in the end get an appointment for both doses, the first of which will be coming up this week. Yay! Unfortunately my family seems to have taken their recent illness as further reason not to get vaccinated, but I’m trying to make peace with the fact that there’s only so much I can do.

Since I missed last week’s update in order to rest and recharge and care for my family, I have two weeks of photos to share today from The 365. I’m so grateful that the weather is finally nice enough to be spending time outdoors, so most of these photos are from walks I’ve taken since my last post. Sorry they’re so gray, but even though it has been warmer out my walks seem have doubled as a game of chicken with perpetual rain clouds. Luckily, I only got wet once, and it was a drizzle rather than a soak.

In addition, two weeks means two Cats of the Week. First up is Shrill (first cat photo, closed eyes) who is two years old and aptly named for his voice, his one fault. Otherwise, he’s such a dainty snuggly boi and will sample every available lap to find the best sleeping spot. It is an honor to be chosen. Next (second cat photo, eyes open) is Robin, ten months old and named after Batman’s Robin because he’s such a little sidekick. Whatever you’re doing, he’ll be right there to “help.” (This is sounding uncharitable toward the original character, but cat Robin definitely has a knack for getting his nose in the way.)

In my absence last week I also missed sharing my March reading stats, so I’ll add a few here. I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that March was a low point for me reading-wise. According to Storygraph, I read nearly 2,000 pages, but actually I keep my own record of pages read day to day and my bullet journal shows closer to 1,200 pages for March. The difference, I think, is A Court of Silver Flames, which I read the bulk of at the end of February but finished in early March, so Storygraph counted those 700+ pages toward March even though I didn’t. Interesting to note, I think, but I’m sure by the end of the year those month-to-month fluctuations should even out. Now that I’m doing weekly reading updates instead of monthly wrap-ups, I no longer feel like I have to finish whatever I’m reading on the last day of the month and start a new book on the 1st to keep things neat, but I do always start as fresh as possible on Jan 1st.

And honestly, maybe I would’ve read more throughout March if, while ill, I hadn’t been trudging through such *checks notes* dark, mysterious, challenging, and emotional reads. Lol.

It was necessary to make one particular adjustment to my reading in March, though: no nonfiction. I started one but just didn’t have the brain power to keep it up.

Unfortunately, my ratings took a hit last month, as well. While I only actively disliked one of the books I read, I had no 5-star reads and struggled with a couple of books that definitely suffered for how unusually long it took me to finish them. And while I would say a 3-star rating is still good, it’s not… inspiring. It’s not a rating I tend to aim for, and thus always feels slightly disappointing even if I would still recommend those books to the right reader, so seeing 2 and 3s make up more than half of my reading shows a lack of excitement for me, even if most of my reading wasn’t particularly “bad.”

Here’s what I finished reading in March:

  • A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas – 2 stars.
  • The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, translated by Diane Oatley – 3 stars.
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – 4 stars.
  • The Butchers’ Blessing by Ruth Gilligan – 4 stars. (review pending)
  • Luster by Raven Leilani – 3 stars. (review pending)

April has also been off to a slow start for reading but I am picking up speed and gaining optimism. I’m behind on my reading goal for the year, but not too concerned about it at this point. I’m more frustrated that the shortlist date for the Women’s Prize is fast approaching (April 28th) and I’m lagging behind in reading and reviews for that, but it is what it is.

Here’s how my April reading has been going so far:

  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan – 4 stars. I really liked this Women’s Prize longlister. Dolan’s prose is incredible, the messy MC shockingly relatable, and the complex three-way relationship tense and fun. Full thoughts coming soon (hopefully), but I’ll say for now that the book is divided into three sections, one of which worked much better for me than the others, my only real complaint here.
  • Made in China by Amelia Pang – ongoing. I’m mentioning this nonfiction read about forced labor in China related to US’s imported goods just to keep it on the record, even though I’ve hardly touched it in the last two weeks. I am looking forward to getting back to this soon.
  • Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers – ongoing. Another Women’s Prize longlist read, though I’m less enthusiastic about this one. I’m about halfway through and so far it’s just… fine? I’m discovering that stories set in the 50s just do not really work for me. It was a bad time for women. The plot is slow-going in this one but in its favor it’s undeniably easy to read, which is what I needed this week.

As for posts, I haven’t shared a review in weeks and can’t guarantee exactly when they’ll start cropping up again. I have been working on my Luster review and have notes started for my other pending reviews because I forget things too quickly not to jot down some immediate starting points. Hopefully I’ll get something finished this week and fall back into the groove of it. I am also very behind in blog hopping, and I feel bad posting new stuff without looking at anyone else’s so that’s a priority as I catch back up here.

That’s all for me for now, I think. Drop your current Women’s Prize thoughts below if you’ve been reading any of the longlisted titles- I am eager to jump back in and see where everyone’s at!

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

3.27.21

First off, thanks very much to all who left kind notes in the comments of my last weekly update, where I mentioned I was dealing with an ongoing issue. Things seem to be steadily improving and I’ve found it helpful to read about others’ experiences so I’m going to share a bit about mine. CW: Covid-19; feel free to skip down to the picture section of this post if that’s a stressor you don’t want to read about at the moment.

So the thing is, I live very near my family and work with them on our family farm (for now). Since we’re very rural and working together frequently, it made sense last March for us to start isolation together. Unfortunately, over time the rest of my family has become less concerned about the virus and more careless about following health guidelines, and though they knew I was still being cautious they chose to deny what was going on to keep from upsetting me instead of giving me a chance to change their minds or at least keep myself healthy. So a couple of weeks ago, two of my family members got sick, and they continued exposing me (and others, to a lesser extent) for a full week before one of them had worsened enough to call in to our local clinic and take it seriously. I’d already been around them unknowingly for a week before they tested positive for Covid and decided to take it more seriously.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about my family and their actions and symptoms because it’s personal, complicated, and not entirely mine to share. I’ll say that one of my family members has now been diagnosed with long-haul covid, talked over the phone with the clinic about being hospitalized if their symptoms got any worse, and has been unable to do much of anything other than sleep for the last two weeks. The rest of my family (including a sibling who got sick independently at college at the same time and came home to recover) has already or seems to be making full recoveries, at varying speeds.

As for me, I was only actually sick for one day this time. I had a low fever, a mild headache, was sore around the ribs (probably my lungs), and really tired. No cough, no sore throat, no loss of taste or smell, no nausea or digestive issues. But the lingering fatigue has wiped me out so much more than that one day of illness did, and this has made me realize something: I think I’ve had a mild version of this fatigue for the entire past year. I thought I had been careful on my trip to New York last March right before the lockdowns, but I was suspiciously sick about ten days after I came back home, and that felt a lot like my one day of illness this month, so I’m pretty confident now both bouts were Covid. Last year, I was sick for about three days, and tests were not really available in my area, nor did I want to go in to the clinic and potentially expose anyone, nor was I sick enough to need medical attention in the first place, so I was not tested and recovered alone in quarantine at home and mostly kept it to myself. I thought I was fully recovered. But feeling this deeper fatigue for the last week or so, I’ve realized that all of my out-of-character book slumps and difficulty concentrating and keeping up with things that are usually enjoyable for me has probably not only been 2020/pandemic stress like I thought but mild lingering fatigue and/or brain fog. How I’ve felt this month just feels like a more concentrated dose of the same thing I’ve been feeling on and off for the last twelve months.

It comes and goes, I have days where I feel perfectly fine, and others where I feel like my mental wheels are spinning and spinning and not getting any traction, and until I get up in the morning I have no idea which way each day will go. For me, it’s felt like an absence more than a negative presence (like a fog), if that makes sense. I’m not feeling any need to sleep more than usual, and I’m not having difficulty accessing my thoughts and memories. They’re just not meaningful thoughts, more often than usual. It feels more like I’ve been mentally drained of substance, left empty, and whatever energy or excitement or spark of activity is usually going on in my brain is just silent and still more often than not over the last several months. This symptom is mild and sporadic enough that I thought it was just pandemic stress and reading slumps, but on my good days I feel just as much energy and excitement for my normal interests/activities as I always used to, so now it makes to me sense to me that this might be Covid-related and if it goes away in time I’ll feel like my usual self again. Since this is slightly different than the cognitive aftereffects I generally see come up in medical info about Covid or even in personal anecdotes about the illness, and because finding and reading those personal anecdotes has helped me make sense of what’s going on with me and feel less alone in it, I wanted to share here what my experience has been in case this might help someone else. And to point out that I’m 26 years old, have been in great health most of my life, and even though I was only mildly sick this has still all been a significant disruption spanning more than a year of my life, so like… isolate. Get vaccinated as soon as you can. Don’t assume it can’t happen to you, and do what you can to keep from spreading it to anyone else.

The good news is that the fatigue from this latest bout has been lessening over the last few days and today I’m feeling back to normal (at least for now). No idea if that will continue tomorrow, but I’m feeling optimistic about things trending in the right direction. I think the worst of it is over, this time. And I’ve seen some reports of the vaccine actually helping alleviate long-haul Covid symptoms, so I’m feeling hopeful for myself and for everyone else who’s been dealing with aftereffects.

Unfortunately, the kittens that have been helping me cope this week have also turned out to be a sad wild card- the batch of five is down to four. Unfortunately this seems to happen occasionally with farm/outdoor cats. They don’t seem to be sick but sometimes newborn outdoor kittens just… don’t make it. Since one of these didn’t, I’m worried about the rest. But the other four do seem to be doing well so far, and I’ve gotten a few pictures of them into The 365 to celebrate! Sorry no faces made it into the pictures, but their eyes aren’t open yet anyway. The kittens are in a new box now with a soft clean blanket and the mother cat seems to be taking diligent care of them. That’s Mama Cheesecake resting her head on my knees while I sat with one of the kittens during the box transfer!

And because I wasn’t sure if/when I’d get kitten pictures to share here, I also grabbed an earlier photo of Mitts as Cat of the Week- she’s the tuxedo cat in the first picture (and there’s no interesting naming story here, Mitts or Boots and such are pretty common names for cats with white feet. We’d already had a Boots). At five years old, she’s one of the oldest cats on the farm right now; before we adopted her as a half-grown kitten along with her mama, we had only a couple of old toms left (one of them is still here, over 10 years old now!). Of course, with a couple of new female cats around, our cat population exploded very quickly after that. Mitts seemed to hate motherhood and we needed fewer kittens so we got her fixed and now she’s happier than ever. Her favorite thing is to go through doors, every time you open them. She’ll literally go back and forth between the same two rooms for minutes at a time if you just keep opening and closing the door for her.

As for books, it’s necessarily been a slow reading week while I’ve rested my brain. And I’m sorry to say I didn’t manage to read a single blog post, either. I thought I’d be able to catch up on a good day, but it just wasn’t in the cards this week. Next week, I hope! My scant reading these last few days has been:

  • Luster by Raven Leilani – 3 stars. The second half of this book took me most of the week to finish. It’s a worthwhile addition to the Messy (Millennial) Women category, I think, but even so I didn’t always enjoy the read. It’s a character study with a tendency to feel very plotless, and while a lack of direction is suitable for this character it’s just not a reading experience that tends to work well for me, even if Leilani’s prose and social observations are delightfully acerbic. Not a top Women’s Prize contender for me, but I’m glad to have read it, would recommend it to those whom the premise appeals, and will be keeping an eye out for future work from this author.
  • Made in China by Amelia Pang – ongoing. This is a nonfiction book about the forced labor camps in China that make for cheap imported goods at the cost of human rights. I’m only about twenty pages in but this is a topic I’ve been wanting to learn more about for a while and I think I will appreciate the rest of the read.
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan – ongoing. My next Women’s Prize longlist read, though I’ve only read a couple of pages so far. The writing is off to a good start but at this point I don’t really have anything more to say.

Though it’s been a slow week of page turning, I am gearing up for better reading days to come. I’ve acquired a few more Women’s Prize books and worked them into my 5-book April TBR, which is as follows:

  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters. Three women in a complicated relationship (including a breakup on one side and a pregnancy on the other) each try to find their way forward after one of them decides to detransition and live as a man. A Women’s Prize longlister I’m very eager to pick up!
  • Consent by Annabel Lyon. This Women’s Prize book features two sets of sisters- one of those being twins- whose relationships to each other are built on disproportionate dependence. Two of these sisters meet and unite under grief and a desire for revenge. I’ve heard good things!
  • Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. A feature writer in 1957 meets with a family who claims their daughter is the product of a virgin birth. As the journalist investigates the situation, she becomes personally invested and entangled with the family, even as her work creates turbulence in their lives. This sounds like another very promising Women’s Prize title!
  • These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong. A YA retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which I picked up from BOTM to round off a post I’ve been working on about YA retellings (and added to my TBR to keep some momentum going in my quest to catch up with my BOTM backlist). This one’s historical fantasy set in Shanghai, and it sounds incredible!
  • Passing by Nella Larsen. I recently ordered a copy of this classic to read alongside Brit Bennett’s Women’s Prize longlisted The Vanishing Half; it looks fairly short and I’m eager to compare and contrast, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to wrap up with both books next month!

Since I’ve finished reading Luster and want to stay on top of my Women’s Prize reviews, I’m hoping to get a post up about it this next week. Aside from that small goal, my only other plan is to keep reading as much as I can, and maybe catch up on blog hopping within the next few days as well. I’m not sure whether I’ll finish my two current reads before the end of the month or complete any other posts this week, but in my next weekly update I’ll share a few stats to wrap up my reading from March, as usual upon The Changing of The Months.

I want to close with another thank you, to everyone who’s been patiently sticking with me even in times when I need to read or post or comment less than I’d like to. Even if I can’t keep up all the time, blogging and participating in this community is a major highlight for me and I very much appreciate being able to share and chat with you all, and being met with kindness at every turn. You’re wonderful people. Thank you.

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

3.20.21

This last week has been… a Time. There’s been an unfortunate development in my life that is ongoing, so I’ve not been as active here as I wanted and I might not be able to fully catch up until the unfortunate development is resolved. I will probably be able to say more in my next weekly wrap-up; it doesn’t seem like any cause for panic at this point and I’ll stick to blogging as much as I can (including answering comments and reading others’ posts), but just in case I suddenly go on hiatus I wanted to let you all know that I’m mostly fine, just dealing with an issue.

On a much better note, the stray yellow cat who started hanging around the family farm last fall had kittens this week! She’s been here almost 6 months and we held off naming her because she was full grown and tame when she arrived and we would’ve given her back to her previous owner if we’d been able to find them. But no one has claimed her, and now that she has kittens on our farm it seems likely she’ll stay. We’re calling her Cheesecake, and we’re pretty excited about the kittens- there haven’t been any yellow cats on the farm in over twenty years! They’re tucked back in a hard to reach box so unfortunately I can’t even get any pictures yet, but I think there are five: two yellow and three calico. This has by far been the highlight of my week (and I so badly needed a highlight); I’ll get them into The 365 at the earliest opportunity.

In the meantime, Cat of the Week goes to Chester and Carla this time around- they’re both nine months old (and siblings of Jaws, for those playing along at home who may remember her from a few weeks back!). Chester is the long-haired cat on top of the box, and was named after Chester Cheetah the Cheetos mascot because the milk he drank as a kitten somehow stained his face fur orange, which was… one of the most hilarious and bizarre things I’ve ever seen happen to a kitten. He’s gotten better at getting food into his mouth instead of on it, and his cheeks are white again. His sister, standing to the right, is named after a predecessor called Carl who had the exact same face. (Still has, I’m sure, but he was adopted onto a new farm when we were frankly overrun with cats a few years back so he’s not in my life any more.)

For those less cat-obsessed, I’ve also captured a snow drift (two more snows here this week, although it’s warm enough that they both melted the following day), some spring-vibes self-care, and my March BOTM books (my box arrived very late this month for some reason). I also made puppy chow / muddy buddies; it’s usually one of my favorite winter snacks but I almost forgot about it this year! I had to make a batch before the snow was gone completely. I know mine doesn’t look as white as some other recipes; I like to heat the chocolate high enough to basically melt the powdered sugar. It’s tastier and less messy to eat imo, even if not quite as snowy-pretty.

My week in books:

  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – 4 stars. This labyrinthine genre-bender was such fun to read, and a great addition to the Women’s Prize longlist this year! It’s short, quick, and mysterious, and manages to tie its many features together with some great thematic depth. It won’t be for everyone, but if the synopsis appeals at all I’d highly recommend giving it a go. I’m also adding Clarke’s previous publication, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, to my TBR.
  • The Butchers’ Blessing by Ruth Gilligan – 4 stars. Another very high 4; this is a sad, hauntingly beautiful tale of the BSE (mad cow disease) crisis in the 1990s, wrapped into a tale of Irish tradition and folklore. This is the story of the last days of the Butchers roaming the Irish countryside, slaughtering cattle to honor an old curse in the face of modern skepticism and even violence from those who don’t believe. It is a story of legacy, modern greed, deeply embedded political strife, and so much more. I look forward to talking more about it in a dual Irish-based review to come.
  • Luster by Raven Leilani – ongoing. I’m just about halfway through this and it’s short so I should be able to finish it soon. I am enjoying the prose and the main character’s voice a lot so far. Leilani is definitely an author to watch.

Posts from the week:

I shared two reviews featuring recent reads.

Plans for next week?

Up in the air, both for reading and blogging. I know the next book I pick up will be Naiose Dolan’s Exciting Times, a March TBR book for me and my fourth Women’s Prize read this season. I’ve also got a library book due in early April that I’d like to get to as soon as possible: Amelia Pang’s nonfiction Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods. I’d like to review Luster when I’m finished with it (same for Exciting Times) to stay on top of my Women’s Prize reviews, so this will be my next blogging priority.

And speaking of exciting times, Aries season commences! (That’s my season, and I love it.) Any fellow Aries here that I don’t know about?

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

3.13.21

This week, in The 365, we have: my favorite spot to stop and take a photo when I’m out on a walk (it’s still brown and damp and drab this week but I had to celebrate the weather being nice enough to walk that far; expect to see more variations on the same photo throughout the year), my sourdough starter on the rise (I baked cinnamon rolls again!), a good writing day (I didn’t write all of those words in one day and I should’ve been working on other things, but I was on a roll this week and feeling great about it), some 2021 Women’s Prize titles from my shelf (announcement day was Wednesday), and the Folklore album (which I pictured earlier this year when it arrived in the mail as a belated Christmas gift, and have now spent enough time with to have solid favorites: Mirrorball, August, The One, This is Me Trying, Illicit Affairs. Probably in that order, even though I’m pretty sure Mirrorball as a top favorite is an unpopular choice).

Cat of the Week is Hershey. She’s about 3 and 1/2, and her name comes from a period when all tabbies on the farm were given candy bar names. She’s my small spaces cat; if you leave a box, bag, or basket untended for even 10 seconds, even if she’s asleep in another room, you will invariably come back and find that she’s claimed it. If you leave a cupboard or drawer open, she will climb inside. She’s the one I have to check for before I start the washer or dryer or close the fridge. There is no small space or soft perch she misses. Her favorite thing lately is prying open the cupboard under the bathroom sink that doesn’t quite latch properly and hanging out behind the cleaning products. Luckily she likes to return to her favorite places habitually, otherwise I’m not sure how I would ever find her around the house.

From start to finish, this week I watched:

  • Cursed ssn 1 [2020] – My journey through Arthurian legend retellings continues with this 10 episode Netflix adaptation of a recent YA novel (of the same name). I have not read the book but am considering doing so now to see whether it stops in the same place- the show ends on a big cliffhanger, smack in the middle of a lot of political drama, but a second season has not yet been confirmed. Anyway, this is a bit soapy and overdramatic a la Once Upon a Time (though slightly more complex, dark, and gory, not quite as child-friendly), with some scenes that prioritize emotional impact over… a sense of reality? In other words, it always feels like a fiction, even though I thought the acting was really pretty good. The script just feels a little forced and oversimplified in places, and I would agree that it probably best fits the YA age range. Even so, the political and interpersonal dynamics here are really intriguing and impressive, including some connections between characters and backstories I’ve never seen attempted before, which made it a really fun watch. I’d be fully on board for a second season.

Though the great reading week I predicted ended up being more of a great writing week, I did manage to turn a few pages. This week I read:

  • The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, translated by Diane Oatley – 3 stars. As I thought, this turned out to be a story I liked more in concept than execution. It’s an impactful tale about the effects of humans on nature, and the possibly very dire consequences of such- specifically related to the mass extinction of bees. It also examines three parent/child relationships. I liked the ending of the book a lot more than the beginning, once it is revealed how the three threads of the book are connected and what happened with the collapse of the bee population, but the family explorations never quite came together for me or felt particularly engaging. I thought about tying this in with another climate change dystopian novel for a joint review (Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy is high on my list) but knowing I’ve got several other reading projects underway and am now distracted by the Women’s Prize that could be a long time coming, and since I haven’t posted a review in a while I think I’ll just talk about this one individually, sooner rather than later.
  • The Butchers’ Blessing by Ruth Gilligan – ongoing. I was hoping to finish this one this week but got excited about Women’s Prize books (and my procrastination writing) and was derailed. Nevertheless, I was immediately hooked by the prologue and am loving the atmosphere and characters of this one, so I expect I’ll be happily returning to it very soon.
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – ongoing. One of the titles I was most excited to see make the WP longlist this year, I was suddenly too eager to wait. I don’t really know what to say about this one yet. There are two men in a labyrinth, and though events do occur the focus is really just on unraveling who these men in the labyrinth are and why they are there, through small clues about how they live and interact with one another. I love a good puzzle and all things bizarre so I’m completely hooked and have a feeling this is going to be brilliant. I’m only about 60 pages in, but it’s a 250 page book and I need to know, so I’ll probably devour the rest tonight or tomorrow.

Posts from the week included:

I meant to get at least one review up last week, and I have a solid draft of The History of Bees underway, but I ended up spending most of yesterday afternoon having a long conversation with an old friend instead of finishing it and then didn’t want to post it within just a few hours of this one, especially when I’ve had so few posts up lately. In consequence, that review will be coming up early next week. I want to pair The Butcher’s Blessing with another Irish book so those reviews will wait a bit for my reading to catch up, but I will share a few thoughts in my next weekly update as usual (assuming I’ll finish reading it this week, which is apparently a bold claim these days but I’m feeling good about it). Piranesi I will likely be reviewing individually next week– it’s utterly unlike anything I’ve read, so I’m not coming up with any good pairing ideas and will just let it stand alone- and so the Women’s Prize ranking games will begin!

I’m hoping I’ll be able to finish both of my current reads and start a third book this next week, but I’m not fully decided on which one it will be. Another short Women’s Prize book from my March TBR, probably, which would be either Raven Leilani’s Luster or Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times.

Any other Women’s Prize readers picking up 2021 longlist titles this week?

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

3.6.21

Only 6 photos for The 365 here this week, because last week’s bonus pic of Chip, who you may remember took an unauthorized drive off the farm and has fortunately been well-behaved ever since his lucky return, ended up being my 365 photo for last Saturday. You can follow this link to last week’s update if you missed it, but I’ve decided not to repeat the picture here just to avoid redundancy.

I did have another cat photo this week though, so Chip is sharing the Cat of the Week title with Patch, who took an adorable floppy-pawed nap beside me a couple days ago. He got his name from the eye patch marking over his left eye; as a kitten he and his sister looked very much alike, except her eye markings match and do not look like patches, so the two of them were named as a duo, Patchy and Matchy. The names were cuter when they were tiny kittens, but I’m around them enough that these are two who get all kinds of nonsense nicknames so it’s fine. I’m sure Matchy will come up later in The 365, and Patchy has already appeared because he likes to nap nearby, but he’s just too cute to pass up imo, though I’m definitely biased- he’s one of my faves.

Also in The 365 are my brother’s chickens enjoying the warmer weather this week, some Stranger Things Funkos I love (don’t judge the non-organization of the books in the background too harshly, it’s my overflow shelf where books that are the wrong size to fit where they actually belong live temporarily), and a monthly bujo spread for March. My bullet journal is definitely functional rather than fancy; my spreads look similar all through the year with a different color to help differentiate each month; March’s color is a bright mint, and it’s already improving my mood this month.

In other news, I think I’m re-entering reading mode! I hate to jinx it too early, but the weather has finally been nice enough to melt most of the snow and make being outdoors actually appealing again; it seems to have been just the boost I needed. I struggled through most of the week until temps finally rose above freezing, so I ended up sticking with ACOSF to be able to keep turning pages even when I couldn’t really engage my brain. But I also read half of The History of Bees in one go yesterday and am getting generally excited about books again this weekend, so I’m optimistic! Here’s a quick run-down on my reading week specifics:

  • A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas – 2 stars. I was neither planning nor planning not to read this book, it just happened to be shiny, new, and ubiquitious at a time when I needed something low-stakes, and it fit that bill. I have no doubt Maas fans are going to continue to love this series, but I think my reading taste has changed enough since I started ACOTAR that this was never going to be a top-tier read for me in 2021. I probably won’t do a separate review, so I’ll just touch on my main complaints now. 1) There are more cringe-worthy sex scenes than plot points in these 700+ pages so it just reads like thinly veiled porn. I don’t mind a few explicit scenes but personally I’d rather have angst than excessive smut. No shade to others who may be looking specifically for this content. 2) I swear the sexism just gets worse with every volume of this series. I think a drinking game based on phrases like male pride, arrogance, smugness, etc. would be deadly. I know Maas uses ‘male’ and ‘female’ as nouns as a way to show these characters aren’t human men and women, but it is… awful to read. She would’ve been better off making up new terms, but either way there should be more than two genders in play. Even beyond terminology, misogyny seems to be what makes this whole world spin, so enter with caution. 3) The rules of operation in this world are too fluid. So much of the plot is driven by characters accidentally using magic in ways they didn’t intend and don’t understand, not to mention new world-changing magical items somehow appearing 4 books into the series. Maas is clearly improvising as she goes rather than building on what’s already in place, and it’s all a little too convenient and unbelievable for my taste. And 4) Nessian’s relationship is basically Feysand Take 2. I was hoping that fresh character perspectives might push this series in some new, interesting directions, but instead it just feels like a repeat. If Feyre had been the eldest of her siblings and Rhysand had been born Illyrian rather than High Lord, this would have been their story. The personalities are… exactly the same. It’s boring. And far too long.
  • The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, translated by Diane Oatley – ongoing. I’m past the halfway point now and this is… fine? It’s an environmental dystopian story with a focus on multi-generational family issues, and I don’t have any complaints about the plot or the prose so far. I’m just not finding it particularly inspiring. It seems to be lacking that necessary attention-grabbing spark. Even though I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this book (so far) I think it’ll end up being something I end up appreciating more in theory than execution, but am hoping for a little more excitement with the ending.

Before I move on from the bookish wrap-up, this past week was the end of a month so I want to share a few stats. As usual, February was a slower month for me. I want to say that’s because it’s a short month, but in all honesty I think I just get sick of winter around this time of year and become less productive until the seasons start looking a little less bleak. I’ve definitely been in a slump, but fortunately feel that I’m finally on the mend now, mentally. Hopefully February will have been my worst reading month of the year, so I can keep going up from here!

In February I finished 6 books, and surprisingly 3 of them were YA- a little out of character for me! One of those was a borderline MG reread that didn’t live up to my past appreciation, but the others were books I was perfectly happy to read as an adult and are series I’m planning to continue (ACOSF I finished in March and would call NA so it’s not featuring in these stats. I am not adding the next ACOTAR book to my TBR, but to be fair ACOSF never made it to my TBR either). In adult reads, I completed a true crime/memoir, a “romance” (or sports book, as Melanie and I have decided reality dating should be categorized), and an antebellum LGBTQ+ historical fiction novel. 5 of my February reads were written by women, and 2 were written by Black authors, featuring Black History. Here are a few visuals courtesy of The Storygraph!

It seems I’ve logged my reads as slower than usual in February, and I’m wondering now whether the slump and winter blues might have influenced how I was categorizing my reads last month…

But I’m not going to let myself feel bad about “only” reading 6 books when all but one of them were over 300 pages, and one over 500!

The full list with rating breakdown (and links to reviews where applicable) is as follows (watch my reading mood deteriorate here as well):

  1. Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford – 5 stars
  2. One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London – 4 stars
  3. The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. – 4 stars
  4. Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – 4 stars
  5. Anna K by Jenny Lee – 3 stars
  6. Avalon High by Meg Cabot – 2 stars (reread)

The end of the month put me at 15 books read so far in 2021, 1 book behind schedule for my reading goal of 100 books this year. I’ll take it.

It was a slow month for me with blog posts as well, and once again I’ve had no posts between weekly updates. I believe my only posts all month have been these lit-el forecasts and the three review-type posts linked above.

Looking ahead, I am planning to post a Women’s Prize longlist reaction including tentative reading plans after the list announcement on the 10th, and if all goes well I should have at least one review coming up this week also. As for reading, I expect to (finally) finish The History of Bees this weekend and move on to Ruth Gilligan’s The Butchers’ Blessing, which I need to finish before it’s due back at the library. I have a good feeling that I’ll be able to start and possibly even finish a third book this upcoming week too, and will probably aim for something else tbd from my March TBR.

Was February a slower reading month for you too? If so, do you think it’s the length of the month for you, or something else? I’d love to chat!

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

2.20.21

I am honestly not even sure where the last week has gone. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between projects and have kept busy, although I don’t feel like there’s much to show for it at the moment. I’ve been on an Arthurian legend kick (more on that in a minute), I made a decent sourdough bread, and have been enjoying the gradual increase of temps after this month’s brutal cold snap.

Cat of the week is Jaws. She seems to think people are just bigger cats, so when you try to pet her she tackles your hand the same way she tackles her siblings. Mostly playfully, but she does approach teeth first- the name doubles as a warning. But she’s not mean at all and does love to cuddle, as soon as she closes her mouth! She’s eight months old and long-haired, so extremely fluffy.

And a milestone this week- I’m 50 pictures into The 365! That’s like, 48 photos farther than I thought I’d get without forgetting, so I’m excited about it. There are definitely some repeating patterns emerging across the set (books, cats, baths, sunsets), but I suppose I should have expected that- when I find something I like or that makes me happy, I tend to stick with it.

My week in film:

  • To All the Boys: Always and Forever [2021] – meh. These movies (found on Netflix; this is the third in the To All the Boys series) are so cute and aesthetic, and the New York trip that the characters take in this one basically let me relive my own first-time trip to the city last year. And the messages are good! It’s all good. But this is the first film of the set that I felt didn’t cover nearly as much as the book, and even though I have always been Team Kavinsky it was kind of boring having the other boyfriend options removed from the story here. I enjoyed the watch, but wished it would’ve done a bit more.

My week in books:

  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – 4 stars. This was EXCELLENT. There were a few rookie maneuvers in the presentation (most notably, a boatload of info dumping) but the themes and characters are on point and it’s such a strong debut. This King Arthur retelling is YA fantasy, but its set on a college campus and many of the characters are in their upper teens or older so while it’s an appropriate book for young audiences I think it’s an easy book for adults (even those of us who don’t reach for YA as readily) to love as well. There’s some very well-placed, mature commentary around racism, trauma, grief, and the ways we hold on to history, and all of it plays so well into the Arthurian legend plot Deonn is building. But it does end on a cliffhanger and the second book isn’t out yet (I’m not sure whether this will be a duology only or a larger series), so I’m now DESPERATE for the sequel.
  • Avalon High by Meg Cabot – ongoing. This is a reread and I’m not actually sure whether I’m going to continue. It’s another YA King Arthur retelling I only picked up because I needed something to tide me over after Legendborn and if I do finish the reread it’ll be a 2 or 3 star rating at best. I loved this when I was twelve, but the writing leans more toward MG even though the protagonist is 17, and there’s a lot of stereotyping and general adult-writing-a-teen issues going on. This book was published in 2006 and does not really have any place in 2021; it’s outdated and I wouldn’t recommend it even to more regular MG and YA readers, but I do enjoy recalibrating my past reading experiences and expect I could finish the second half in like, an hour, so. I might.
  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White – ongoing. You guessed it- another King Arthur retelling. This one’s for adults and seems to be a classic, but there’s some humor involved in the narration that I’m not convinced is going to work for me. I’m 7 pages in and whether I continue this one or reshelve it to try again at a later date will probably depend on whether I can find another outlet for my Arthurian lore craving or find a way to let that go for now. I don’t actually want to rearrange my reading schedule enough to fit this book into my life right now (it’s long) but I needed something Arthurian and have limited options. It’s been years since I’ve been this into King Arthur so I’m somewhat out of the loop and could use some help rounding up good retellings to help me cope until Deonn’s next release! (I was desperate enough that I even dug out a VHS tape titled ‘Camelot’ from my childhood movie stash, only to discover that my VCR player has entered the tape-eating stage of its dwindling lifespan.)
  • Anna K by Jenny Lee – ongoing. I read another 100-ish pages of this YA Anna Karenina retelling this week, and have reached the angsty portion of the story. I do love angst. I have a few complaints about this book that I’m waiting to voice until I see whether they’ll be resolved or given some meaning, so it’s a mixed bag but still fun.

My week in posts:

None! I’ve got a good draft done for my review of Robert Jones, Jr.‘s The Prophets but didn’t come back and edit it in time to post before the end of the week. I almost let myself feel bad about this, but part of the reason I wanted to lean away from posting individual reviews of every book I read this year is that I have a tendency to use those individual reviews as an excuse to procrastinate on other things and spend too much time on my blog when I really should be focused elsewhere. I love blogging and staying connected with all of you lovely fellow readers, but… I also had a pretty good week not posting anything. I won’t make a habit of this but it is helpful to take a step back now and then.

So what’s on the docket?

I want to clear off my currently reading shelf; I quite liked reading just one book at a time earlier this year and I know picking up multiple reads is a slippery slope that can quickly get out of hand. So I’m aiming to make Anna K my main priority and probably finish it this weekend; in addition, I may or may not finish Avalon High but either way I’m not taking that reread into next week with me. I also need to make a decision on The Once and Future King; if I do stick with it (has anyone here read it? should I keep trying?), it’ll probably be a secondary background read at most, at least for now. I need to get back to my actual February TBR, which I think will mean picking up Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees this week and then going from there.

As for posts, my review of The Prophets should be up Monday or Tuesday, and then next week’s forecast will include my March TBR. Most of what I’ve been reading lately will contribute to theme-focused or comparison posts, so even though February seems to be a bit of a dry spell for my blog I do still have some exciting ideas on the horizon that I’m steadily working toward, King Arthur aside.

What’s your favorite legend or lore to read about over and over again?

The Literary Elephant

a lit-el forecast

2.13.21

A rare selfie in The 365 for this week! Don’t get too excited, it’s mostly for comedic affect. I do not really like taking pictures of myself very often so I probably won’t include many in my photography project this year, but for now a bundled-up selfie was preferable and at least a little warmer-looking than yet another photo of snow. And I did knit the scarf myself so I was pleased to be able to test it for coziness! It passed. (Please don’t judge me too harshly for the fact that my coat is torn and none of my clothes match, I live in the middle of nowhere and it is literally too cold to get cute just for a photoshoot.)

I’ve realized I often include at least one cat picture per week in The 365, but they’re rarely the same cat; I’m caretaking a lot of cats these days, both indoors and outdoors, and some of them have funny names so going forward I’ll specify my feline subjects. This week’s cat feature is FuzzButt. 🙂 She’s the best mama kitty on the farm, and earned her name as a kitten for her incredibly thick, fuzzy fur. She doesn’t look like such a puffball now that she’s four but she’s still very plush to the touch.

As for books, I’ve had kind of a hard time staying focused on reading and writing this week so progress has been slow:

  • The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. – 4 stars. This is a beautiful (though incredibly sad) book that examines LGBTQ+ experiences (primarily but not limited to the plight of two gay Black men) in the context of US slavery in (probably) the 1830s. There’s also some focus on religion. I think the author offers an impressive level of nuance here and shows some of the deep pain of Black men and women in this time period without ever resorting to simplistic ‘all white is evil’ or ‘Christianity is objectively bad’ views, even while portraying them as the villains in this tale. I also really liked the book’s structure, theoretically, though my main issue here was finding it episodic in a way that made it easy to put the book down at any point and harder to pick it up and get back into the flow of the overall story.
  • Anna K by Jenny Lee – ongoing. This Anna Karenina / Gossip Girl mashup is a mixed bag for me so far, just over 100 pages in. Ultimately, it’s trying to do a few different things that I’m not entirely convinced are compatible. It’s YA, but I can’t really imagine anyone enjoying this book on its own, without first loving Anna Karenina; I’m not saying no teens are reading that classic, but I suspect that’s a somewhat narrow field. I am also not sold on Anna Karenina characters repackaged as uberwealthy Gen Z teens, especially with as loyal as they seem to the original cast? A 17 year-old boy in 2019 NYC who’s called Count Vronsky just… does not quite compute for me. BUT holding this up to the classic has been highly amusing and it’s a surprisingly addicting read so far. It’s angsty and ridiculous. I guess I’m here for it.
  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – ongoing. I’m almost 100 pages into this YA King Arthur fantasy and quite enjoying it. I was a little taken aback with how abruptly we’re thrown into the magic here and expected to just accept it right off at face value, but I’m rolling with it. The characters are intriguing and the magic is compellingly mysterious so far, with a dash of social commentary thrown in from the Black teen protagonist. I think I’m going to like this a lot. I was fascinated by King Arthur stories as a kid so I’m eager to see what Deonn will do with the plot- it’s a 500 page book, so I’ve barely scratched the surface yet.

I also shared two long-ish posts recently:

I haven’t watched anything since my last update but I do plan to catch up this weekend with the newly-released Always and Forever on Netflix, the third and final installment of the Lara Jean To All the Boys trilogy, because you’re never too old for a cute teen romance!

My reading plans include finishing Legendborn, which is due back at the library next week, and then I’m not sure whether I’ll take the time to finish Anna K or keep that one on the sidelines and start something new. I want to get back to my February TBR soon, and also want to pick up Rumaan Alam’s We Leave the World Behind before the end of the month for my upcoming post on last season’s National Book Award fiction shortlist. So my week could go a few different ways, depending on my mood and whether I’m having a more productive reading week.

I’ll be sharing a full review of Robert Jones, Jr.’s The Prophets in a few days, and that might be my only post for the week. With a lighter posting schedule I hope to do better about keeping up with comments and blog hopping, since I failed at that last week.

Happy Valentine’s Day, or Galentine’s Day, or Sunday, to all. 🙂

The Literary Elephant