Diverse YA & MG reads from 2020

This story was published the week of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and I didn’t feel like writing or posting. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that this short list of books represents what America means to me. Immigrant stories, learning about racism and antiracism, overcoming defeat and achieving dreams. Maybe even more fitting, I’m typing all this while watching Inauguration Day coverage on TV. American flags, national anthems, feeling hopeful and optimistic.

For the past few years I have made a point of focusing my reading on books by women and POC. There are good stories that deserve to be told. I don’t want to get on a high horse around this. But I do believe it is important to walk the walk and talk the talk. If you don’t know what or who to read, you can start with this list (if you enjoy young adult reads), and I also suggest making use of The Seattle Public Library’s “Your Next Five” feature. You can tell a librarian (all via web form or email) what books you just read or enjoyed, and they’ll give you recommendations. Be upfront that you want to read POC authors and they will find you a book. Or, you know, your local independent bookstore. Or, if you must, Twitter.

Or start with this: Great Diverse Reads of 2020

I wrote a thing about cats and dogs

So, if you haven’t heard the biggest news, get ready: We got a puppy! That is actually old news. Bailey has been a part of our family since October. But taking care of a puppy sure did occupy a great deal of space in my head, so I was thrilled when Carly, Lead Editor at GOBankingRates.com, suggested a piece about budgeting for your new pet.

I focused on cats and dogs since they make up the majority of pets in U.S. households. If you must know, 86.9 million households in the U.S. report having a pet. That is a lot of pets.

Anyway, this one was very fun to write and research, and I included a couple of examples of pet expenses that I have heard about over the past year from friends. That comes at the very end.

Give this a read: How Your New Cat or Dog Will Impact Your Wallet

“How Your New Cat or Dog Will Impact Your Wallet”

And, please follow Bailey on Instagram:

I wrote a thing about spending and saving

2021 is getting off to a sluggish start. I’m still wrapping up the stuff from the last year that I wanted to mention on the blog, like this piece that I wrote for GOBankingRates.com. Funny thing, a year ago I was working with GBR as a publishing partner, reviewing their content, suggesting edits and pitching their stories to my fellow editors for promotion.

Today, I am freelancing for them, writing stories that once upon a time I may have been reviewing.

It’s the circle of (work) life.

Read it here: 2020 in Review: What Parents Spent and Saved This Year

Grateful for the opportunities to work with an awesome editorial team at GBR!

Happy New Year!

My favorite books from 2020

It’s been a while since I listed out some favorite books of the year. My last post like this was in 2016. Egads! This would be an odd year to resurrect it, because 2020 was not a productive year of reading for me. According to Goodreads I have read an average of 62.33 books a year over the last 9 years. In 2020, my 10th year of keeping track, I only read 29, fewer than half of my usual rate. One would think that, by staying at home 95% of the time for 10 months straight, that one might read more, but there seemingly was much to do that wasn’t reading.

photo credit: https://www.pexels.com/@dom-j-7304

The last few summers I participated in Seattle Public Library’s Book Bingo which guaranteed at least 24 books read over the summer, but I skipped it this year. There was other pandemic activities to be had, such as knitting, bread baking, remote learning supervision, job searching, coding, and then puppy life. Puppy life is really something, right?

I read a lot of YA and middle grade books, and reread some favorites due to some of the pieces I wrote for ParentMap. So, my favorite reread is definitely Are You There God, It’s Me Marageret, and I already wrote about that.

Here are some of my favorite books from 2020. The list is shorter this year. See above paragraphs about how I didn’t do as much reading

Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid.

A young black woman finds herself in the center of controversy when she is accused of kidnapping a child she babysits for. An engaging and realistic look at how we view race, white privilege, and woke culture.

Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Two teenage girls who have never met are met with devastation of a loved one after a plane from New York to the Dominican Republic crashes. Surprise twist is when they learn they share the same father.

Written in free verse, this novel does a beautiful job at describing the lives and challenges and the emotional upheaval for these two girls. Also, I wrote a little bit about it already, in an upcoming piece that I’ll link to when it’s live.

Big Summer, Jennifer Weiner

This was one of the few books I actually wrote a review for on Goodreads, so I think that meant I liked it! Weiner is known for her chick-lit hits, but for her last two novels, I feel like she’s made a stretch out of that zone and has gone exploring a bit. Big Summer starts one way that seems familiar and then takes a twist into mystery, which is refreshing coming from the author. I think the unexpectedness of it is what made it so enjoyable for me.

I will end this post with one observation, which is that there are a number of franchises/series I have been reading, some for the past 10 years, that published within their respective series in 2020 that left me less impressed than usual. I won’t give names. Okay, I will. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is slowly killing me. I am still trying to get through the final epic. I am not sure if it was me, or the books themselves. Normally, my faves, including Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs and Sarah Maclean knock them out of the park. I’m deciding if it was the mood I was in (like for all of 2020), or the books themselves. I’ll have to do some rereads in 2021 to make my final decisions. So, there’s that.

Follow me on Goodreads.

My favorite pandemic books

I am compiling (in my head, of course), a short list of my favorite books from 2020, but until I get that done, here’s a #TBT from my Instagram account, which is private.

I did this Insta Story back when we all thought we’d be out of the office, or out of school, or out of whatever for, like two weeks. Two weeks somehow turned into two months, then the rest of the year.

These books popped up into my head again recently because over dinner the other night my family had a fun discussion around what we would do if/when a zombie apocalypse (or, any apocalypse) were to occur. I have, due to a lot of fiction reading, given this a lot of thought and felt I had a lot to contribute. My daughter’s first instinct, she said, was to head to the middle school she now attends, which I found interested because it is first, further away from us than, say, her elementary school and second, still very unfamiliar to her because even though she’s a student there, she’s never taken a class in person there. I do think she’s got the right idea, though. Schools, malls, airports are all ideal locations to consider for the long haul.

Anyhow, here is a photo flashback of some flu pandemic novel recommendations, with a little added detail that I didn’t include in the original story:

FWIW, Instagram stories is my preferred storytelling method on social media.
The Stand by Stephen King
The Stand, by Stephen King (“You never forget your first”)
I read this right after the release of the TV mini-series adaptation that starred Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald. The version of the paperback I bought, which I got from the airport, had the two actors from the series. I think I have reread it once, and rewatched the old series, or at least seen parts of it. I have no plans on watching the new version that is now airing.
The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller
The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller.
I read so much that sometimes I forget books that I’ve read, but The Dog Stars has definitely stuck with me through the years. I think it was one of those books that I had in my queue at the library, and by the time I got it off the Holds list, I had forgotten everything about why I had it in the queue in the first place. When that happens, and then you get hit with a great story, well that’s always a memorable one. I really liked the post-pandemic lifestyle the main character lived, in the airport hangar. This is when I started keeping notes on living through these types of things.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. This was recommended to me by a friend, who also lent me his copy. You are just going along, reading all of these different storylines, knowing at some point they will connect, but not entirely sure how, when suddenly it comes and you are just, like, Wow. I very much like to allow books or stories happen to me, vs trying to guess what will happen. It is a much more appealing way to enjoy a surprise twist.
Year One, by Nora Roberts
Year One, by Nora Roberts. Is there anything that Nora Robert can’t do? This novel was not only pandemic creating chaos, but also supernatural and magical. But I remember it for the post-pandemic parts, of the life and society that’s built up from the destruction. I’m seeing now that the entire series is much more magical and fantastical, and since it’s Nora, probably a little sexy. I’ll have to add them to my queue.
Severence, by Ling Ma
Severance, by Ling Ma. This has a cool twist on the panedmic, with the added Zombies that are spooky but not deadly. Memorable to me because it reflected a millennial generation perspective, which the others did not.

I wrote a thing about my favorite 80s movies

The headline of this blog post is a bit of a lie. “Hoosiers” is not one of my favorite movies from the 80s. And I didn’t see “Fame” until I was writing this piece. But “Fame” is really good! And the other movies I wrote about in this piece are ones I really truly love.

Best ‘80s Movies to Watch With Your Teens

I’m not going to talk about every movie covered, because you should read the story! But one common theme I am seeing as I look back is how much I connected with these films despite the now very glaring fact that none of the main characters of these films looked like me. So obviously devoid of Asian-American teens, as if we didn’t exist.

Okay, I’ll say this one thing about this one film. Dead Poet’s Society takes place in the 50s at an all-boys (and all-white) prep school. I suppose the only thing I really had in common here was that I was also in prep school at the time. My sophomore English teacher revealed to our class that he would watch this movie before the school year started to get pumped for teaching. Like, is that weird? I remember being a bit mortified that I liked the same movie as him. Probably not that weird.

Those students went through the emotions that I was going through at the time. Learning to express myself in front of others; trying to figure out who I was. Big for me was is dealing with imposter syndrome. So, yes, I identified with a film about white boys in the 50s.

Anyhow, please read this very fun piece I wrote for ParentMap.

I wrote a thing about family-friendly podcasts

While I only listen on occasion nowadays, the increase in podcast listening for me definitely spiked when I was commuting to Redmond via a shuttle. The fellow commuters around me were doing all sorts of things. Some were doing email, others were playing games or social media-ing. Of course there was that one woman that ALWAYS took a conference call. UGH. I did all of those things, but usually while I was listening to something.

That’s the nice thing about podcasts: you can listen AND do something else, like knit. Or workout. Or drive. Or you can just listen.

Finding podcasts that I could listen to in the car with my kiddo was a bit more challenging, but during the peak of her Greek Mythology phase we discovered Greeking Out which is super-engaging for young and old audiences.

I also love The Anthropocene Reviewed, which has the distinct honor of airing an episode that made my cry while I was working out at the gym.

Anyway. All this to introduce a story I wrote for ParentMap, where I listened to a bunch of fun kid-oriented podcasts, and some podcasts for the older set. Give it a read, and a listen!

Great New Podcast Recommendations for Kids & Families

Great New Podcasts Recommendations for Kids and Families via ParentMap
https://www.parentmap.com/article/popular-new-podcast-recommendations-kids-and-families

I wrote a thing about what I read when I was a kid

Quick background to share about this piece I wrote for ParentMap earlier this month. I got a puppy while writing it, and at one point I was so sleep deprived from waking up every two hours in the night to let the puppy out to pee that I was nervous I would not finish it. But I did, and here it is:

MIDDLE-GRADE BOOKS FROM THE 80S THAT ARE STILL WORTH READING (ParentMap, Oct. 16, 2020)

Some more background. I informally polled friends on social media of what they remember reading when they were in 4th thru 7th grade. A lot of my elementary school friends came out of the woodwork to share books I remember us all reading and loving. It was fun to see many patterns emerge from around the nation. Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary were among them, but also Baby-Sitters Club (which truthfully, I missed out on, but have enjoyed catching up with via the graphic novels and Netflix series) and Sweet Valley High. Also lots of old-timey stuff, like Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, and for some more “mature” readers, V.C. Andrews and Danielle Steele! Oh yes, I did read Flowers In The Attic, but it wasn’t quite something I could write about for ParentMap.

Anyway, give it a look. And tell me what you read when you were this age!

Because 2020

This won’t be shocking news to those in my Microsoft circle. Earlier this summer a group of extremely talented people were let go from my group, including me. There was an org decision to invest more in algorithms that could program and publish the web product I have been a part of for one-and-a-half decades. Such is life in tech. Microsoft News made significant advances over the past several years, and there are still more yet to come.

For someone with “excellent written and verbal communication skills” I have had a hard time putting into words what it has meant to say goodbye to Microsoft after 16+ years. It took time away to understand how much of my identity I had wrapped into my career. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to gain some of that identity back.

I am grateful for the good and bad days because I wouldn’t be who I am without the whole package. I’m proud of the product and features we released, of the problems we solved and experiments we tried. I cherish the friends I made, going all the way back to my very first days as a contractor. I am a better manager because of managers I had. I experienced authentic leadership that made me want to be a better employee and better person.

I am still writing my next chapter. If you or someone you know is seeking a content manager with excellent written and verbal communication skills, among many other skills, hit that Messenger button, find me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter (or is now an awkward time to ask for a follow?). Email or text or call if you must. Even if I’m not the right fit, I know several editors and managers who could be your next awesome hire.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Cha

You know what’s really hard to do? It’s hard to recommend a book to my daughter. I was an avid reader growing up. Read what are now some classic authors, but back in the 80s, were just books. Beverly Cleary was a go-to. Cynthia Voight. And, of course, the one and only Judy Blume.

Over the years I have tried in earnest to convince my kid that these are books and authors she should read. They are great books. But, here’s what I learned pretty quickly: I am NOT COOL, therefore my book recommendations are also NOT COOL.

I did manage to sneak a few things in. I read Freckle Juice to her out loud at the right age (still such a great book!). We listened to part of Henry and Ribsy on a car ride down to Portland once. I also learned to acquaint myself with some newer, hipper books so I could try to be, at the very least, hip to the past century.

This has resulted in a few successes, most notably Kate DiCamillo and Rebecca Stead (I try not to brag, but I read “When You Reach Me” months before my kid did, begged her to read it, which she wouldn’t. When she finally did and agreed it was a good book I did not “I told you so!” her too bad)

I now know I just need to leave her be and she’ll read who she wants to read. She liked Harry Potter, but she LOVES Percy Jackson. Has begged me to read the full series, all three of them (THREE??). I’m two books in, after two years.

She read another book titled Ban This Book, used that junior fiction novel to learn about a whole slew of books that had once been banned, THEN went and reserved or borrowed a whole bunch of other books from the library. And that’s how we ended up here:

Are you there, God? It’s not me, it’s my kid!

To my surprise one day about a month ago, I was alerted that Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, was ready to be borrowed from the library.

Readers, I was honestly nervous. She was going to read about PERIODS. Which, now that I think about it, why was I so nervous? She had just finished The Hate U Give, is a much more powerful story. I am unsure what made me so nervous. Maybe that this book seemed like something my mother wouldn’t have wanted me to read. As a mother, was I supposed to shield her or something?

She read it in an afternoon. And she liked it, thought the bust exercises scene was hilarious (also confirmed with me that it doesn’t really work), and then went on with her day.

I decided a few nights later to tuck into it (read it in about 90 minutes. I remember it being much longer!), and I need to say this … Margaret still slaps!

The cover of Are You There, God?
as I remember it, back in the 80s

The friend drama is as real today as it was back then (Nancy is still a mean girl), as are the crushes. I had actually forgotten one of the biggest controversies of the storyline, where Margaret researches different religions and tries to figure out who/what she is. This blew me away, as I feel like it could be very representative of where my family stands today.

Blume also updated the references to the sanitary napkins. I remember her descriptions even back when I read it being dated, so I was glad to see she took the time to make this relevant, decades later. And, to be honest, like, what a sneaky way to let girls know how to use a pad. I see what you’re doing, there, Ms. Blume, and I 100% approve.

The kid has already moved on from this book to her next thing (rereading her Baby-sitters Club graphic novels, thanks to the recent Netflix series). But this book has stayed with me for a little longer. My kid is growing up. She will start middle school next year, and at some point my relevance and importance in her daily decisions will diminish. It is a hard pill to swallow. Perhaps this is why I long for us to connect with books.

Guess it’s time to crack open that third Percy Jackson.