Sunday Sum-Up: February 21, 2021

There’s a question people around here tend to ask when the weather gets extreme: “Is it _____ enough for you?”. Fill in the blank with ‘hot’ in the summer, ‘windy’ on a blustery day, ‘wet’ on a rainy day, etc., etc..

This past week, the key word was ‘cold’. And yes, it was cold enough for me. A bit too cold, actually.

-26°F. And that was after sunrise, when things had warmed up a bit. Tuesday morning, the city reached -31°F which was just two degrees shy of the all-time low temperature. And let me tell you, having to scrape the frost off the car’s windshield when it’s -26° is no fun at all. In fact, it’s nearly frostbite-inducing, even with good gloves on. But my hands recovered quickly and the car started up right away (though it informed me of its displeasure about having to start up on those cold, cold mornings with passive aggressive false alarms in the dashboard’s display), and I got to work with no problems. And neither my work nor my home neighborhood had to deal with the rolling blackouts that crossed the city for a couple of days to help conserve energy throughout the region.

And while my radiators had a hard time keeping up thanks to the sub-zero temperatures, I had a space heater to help keep the apartment’s temperature above 60°F, so with the addition of sweaters, slippers, and fingerless gloves, I stayed comfortably warm at home.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

My fuzzy blue bathrobe was a required accessory at home, and anytime I took it off, one of the cats would invariably lay claim to it. Sure, they have fur to keep them warm (and their beds next to the radiators), but how can they resist a soft and fuzzy bathrobe that’s already warm?

They can’t, obviously, so we occasionally had disputes over who got to use the bathrobe. Sometimes I won, and sometimes I just had to get another sweater out of the closet.

Now that it’s “warmer” (relatively speaking; it was 22°F yesterday afternoon when I went outside– without a coat– to get the mail at work, and it felt positively spring-like), both the cats are spending their days flopped out on the floor or on the bed. Sidney likes to lay claim to my bed, while Mina will sprawl out on the wood floor next to her little bed. I don’t understand it, either.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

Opium and Absinthe was a fun dash through Gilded Age New York. It features the threat of vampires and goes from society’s highest tiers all the way down to the bottom, showing how life wasn’t always sweet for the women of the upper class– and especially not for Tillie Pembroke, who would rather go to a library than go shopping. But after suffering a broken bone in an accident, she is given a prescription for laudanum that leads to an addiction that some in her circle are happy to enable. The same day as Tillie’s accident, though, her sister Lucy is murdered– apparently by a vampire. Thanks to the recent American release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, vampire-fever is high in New York, and Tillie is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of her sister’s death. But opium is clouding her mind more with every passing day, and she’s having a harder time telling fact from fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. Tillie is a phenomenal character that you want to root for all the way through, even when she’s doing something stupid. And with the way Kang lays down her clues, it’s hard to guess who can be trusted and who might be a murderer. I definitely recommend this book.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautifully written, but often brutal story. It deals with Black lives in Harlem in the 1970s. When the story opens, Tish is visiting her fiance, Fonny, in prison to tell him she’s pregnant. The news makes them both happy, but anxious at the same time. Fonny is in prison on a false charge, after all, and getting him out of there is a long shot thanks to a criminal justice system that is rigged against Black men. As the story unfolds, Tish tells how she and Fonny first met as children, how they grew up together and fell in love, how her family welcomed Fonny into the fold, and how the circumstances arose that landed Fonny in jail on a false charge. I wouldn’t call it an entertaining book. That’s not what it’s meant to do. But it provides insight into Black perspectives and lives, and shows us how times haven’t really changed all that much since the 1970s.

The Councillor is a debut novel by Australian author E.J. Beaton, who has previously published an award-winning poetry collection. In the brilliant book, The Councillor, scholar Lysande Prior is tasked with selecting the new ruler for the kingdom of Elira after the death of the Iron Queen, Sarelin Bray. Lysande was an orphan raised to the upper echelon of society thanks to her intellect. She became a close friend of the queen and was devastated by Sarelin’s murder. Now the weight of the kingdom is on Lysander’s shoulders, as she must find out who killed the queen and decide who will best be able to defend the kingdom now that the rebellious White Queen is rising up again to threaten Elira with her strange magics. Though The Councillor is slow-paced, it is a beautifully written story that is full of sensory detail and assumes that gender and LGBTQIA equality are baked into the world. Which we need more of in fantasy novels, because if you can develop a magic system and populate the world with dragons, goblins, and other fantastical creatures, they why must there also be the same patriarchal values that we had in the thirteenth century? Don’t try to tell me “it’s for historical accuracy”, because if your characters have magic or there are talking dragons, then the notion of historical accuracy has already flown out the window. If this sort of quality is what we get from Beaton in her debut novel, then she is going to have an amazing career.

What I’m Currently Reading:

I am still enjoying this novel and hope to finish it up in the next couple of days. It’s fascinating how the characters all seemed to come together with a mutual understanding of events, but after a couple of weeks and thanks to their own particular flaws, the agreement is starting to unravel and information that should have stayed within the circle is starting to leak. Meanwhile, we’ve finally encountered the mysterious Lydia Wells, and she remains mysterious. What are her goals? What are her motives? Does she really have any friends, or is she as cold-blooded as most of the men think she is? I don’t know yet, but I’m hoping I’ll find out soon.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

  • Intrigues (The Collegium Chronicles #2) by Mercedes Lackey
  • The Lays of Beleriand (The History of Middle-earth #3) by J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien

Intrigues is the next book for the Reading Valdemar project hosted by Jackie at Death by Tsundoku and Mel at Grab the Lapels. I had forgotten about it last week, but on Wednesday or so, I remembered that it was going on. Fortunately the library had the ebook available, so I downloaded it but had to wait until I finished reading a couple of the other books I was already reading at the time. Since I finished The Councillor last night, I’m ready to start Intrigues. It won’t take long, as Lackey’s books are the literary equivalent of cotton candy. I’m just hoping there will be more of a plotline than there was in the first book, Foundation.

The Lays of Beleriand is another collection of Tolkien’s drafts and notes for the stories that would eventually make up the First Age of Middle-earth in The Silmarillion. These stories are older than The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings and went through many, many versions before Tolkien’s death in 1973. Their most complete forms make up The Silmarillion, which the earlier drafts ended up in the first History of Middle-earth volumes. I am going to be so familiar with Beren and Lúthien by the time all is said and done…

I didn’t do a lot of work on my fuzzy crochet blanket, though I did start on the fifth skein. It’s turning into something that resembles a blanket (and keeps me warm), rather than just being a big square of fluffy crochet. It’s going by pretty quickly, and now that I’ve got the hang how to find the proper loops for the stitches in this super textured yarn, it’s a lot easier to churn out the rows and get it closer to being done.

I didn’t do a lot of writing, either. Thanks to long, thematically heavy books this week, I spent most of my free time reading rather than writing. So while I did get some pages done on chapter seven of my current work in progress, I got a good deal less written than I would have wanted to. But I think my reading load will be a lot lighter this week, so I’m hoping to get lot of writing done. It should go pretty quickly, too, since I’ve already fully mapped out the next three scenes, so I know exactly what I’m going to be doing with the setting and dialogue. I love it when things come together like that. Now it’s just a matter of getting it on to the page.

Photo by Kyle Roxas on

5 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: February 21, 2021

  1. You’ve been making some good progress through the History of Middle-earth. How do you think reading these will affect your future rereads of LotR? I wonder if the extra context and history they provide will alter or enrich your outlook of different scenes or characters. I look forward to starting these.

  2. So far, I don’t think it’s going to affect my reading of LotR in the future because I already know the stories of Beren and Luthien, Turin Turambar, Tuor and Idril, Earendil, etc. But later on, when we get into things like The Shaping of Middle-earth and whatnot, there will be a lot of smaller stories that I’m less familiar with, so that will definitely affect my interpretation of LotR. I just don’t know how yet. I guess we’ll see in December, assuming I manage to read the entire history series!

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