Playing Catch Up on my Spring Reading – Books #18-22

After last month’s lengthy and much needed blog post, I realized I needed to play catch up in other regards as well.  I would like to spend more time on the creative, personal, as well as fun, but I cannot do that if I let these older reviews I put off clog my blog space.  Not to short change any of them, mind you, but after so much time, I cannot do them much justice in their own lengthy posts anyway.  So, here are some short rundown’s on 5 of the books from my Spring Reading.

Really, all I need to say here is that I have yet another example of a book that just really isn’t quite up my alley.  Tananarive Due’s The Good House is not a bad book, but it isn’t really my style. In short: Angela Toussaint hopes that returning to her Grandma Marie’s house, the house of her youth, will bring her some peace, but tragedy follows. Five years later, she returns, hoping to face the demons of her son’s death and let them go.  But ghosts and real demons follow, and Angela is left to puzzle out the pieces and solve the mystery her son’s death.

A haunting tale, with horror and mystery, you would think I’d embrace it.  But truthfully, I didn’t connect to the characters or story as much as I thought I would.  I know this is more me than the quality of the writing or the story itself. It is an interesting tale, but it is a little predictable with too nice of a bow on top.  It reads more as ghost-story written for the NON-ghost crowd rather than them being the primary audience.

Next up we switch to a very different genre, young adult fantasy.  Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L. Jensen is a bit of a misleading title. On the eve of leaving her home town to study music with her mother, Cecile is kidnapped and forced to marry the Prince of the Trolls.  Trapped under the mountain, where a powerful witch has cursed them, the trolls hope the marriage between human and troll will lift their 500 year old curse.  When it doesn’t, Cecile is thrust into a confusing world of politics, betrayal, and unexpected love.

With such a summary, it is no wonder I picked it up: fantasy, music, politics…wooo! However, it is also still a young adult novel…I should have kept that in mind.  Music, or singing, has VERY little to do with the novel, and the annoying romance tropes of “pretending to hate each other” play out here.  But, the politics and intrigue are interesting. The world is interesting, if a little flat, and while I want to see where she takes her version of “trolls,” I’m not necessarily sure I like it.  I might read the rest of the series eventually, but I’m not in a rush.

The next book, #20, was a bit of a surprise for me.  Rysa Walker’s Timebound was one of those free E-books I picked up on a whim. It took me about a year to actually decide to read it, and I didn’t expect much.  However, I was incredibly impressed.  Is it great literature? Definitely not. But, it does embrace originality.  Kate is given a strange glowing medallion and told that she has inherited the ability to travel through time. She doesn’t believe it for a second until her world is turned upside down with time shift.  Kate must then travel to 1893 to prevent a murder that threatens her entire future without altering it further.

Overall, it’s a quick, fun read that doesn’t over complicate (or over simplify) time travel and it’s theoretical problems.  Plus, through in a little YA romance, historical fiction, and good old adventure/mystery, and you can’t go wrong.

I know I said I’d NEVER read Jim Butcher, but I gave in since one of my very best friends kept recommending it. So for #21, I gave in and tried Storm Front, book #1 of the Dresden Files.  Harry Dresden is a Wizard for hire, a Paranormal Investigator. The Chicago PD comes to him for help with a dark double murder where black magic is involved, and it’s up to Harry to stop him

Honestly, with my preconceived notions of this series, it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would.  However, I’m still not a huge fan. I’ve been told it gets better, but Dresden is a bit misogynistic, having a thing for the damsel in distress.  I’ll give Butcher some credit though, his women aren’t necessarily weak and the world is intriguing.  I’d like to understand more of his method of urban fantasy.  Still, the story is fairly flat and not really my thing. Eventually, I’ll probably try some more (see Cort…I keep my promises eventually)!

I picked up this book basically because it was an Audible Daily Deal, but I am SOOOOOO happy I did.  Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise, is not only incredibly informative, it’s a well written analysis of our popular culture.  Essentially, it’s a biography of the Star Wars franchise, not just one person but the entire dream, development, cultural obsessions, fandoms, etc.  It embraces all aspects and doesn’t shy from questioning the creative vision when needed. Really, it’s a lovely balance of fact, fun, and analysis.  If you like Star Wars at all, I HIGHLY recommend it.

More coming soon….I promise!

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Silence Can Be Telling

Silence can be telling.

It suggests a coming storm; the calm before the thunderclouds burst and send forth a deluge.

It implies inner peace; a moment of meditation and thought on the mountain above the valleys of turmoil.

It reeks of fear and tension; the shadows formed from unspoken truths between brothers, sisters, enemies, neighbors.

It speaks of hope; the unsung dreams of millions yearning for something they cannot yet reach.

Mostly, silence tells us nothing without us.

For we are the ones speaking in the silence:

…dreaming…hoping…fearing…warning…

Photo by Mitch Dobrowner

My silence is no different.  It has been all of these things and yet none of them.  For I am the one who ultimately must make use and meaning out of my silence.  Last time I entered such a phase, not even writing for myself, I was in a darkness that has continued to haunt me to this day.  Self-doubt, fear of failure, the fraud police, and self-hate all kept me from seeing my way through.  As I’ve written before, eventually I found a way, but it’s easy to forget how much those shadows can cling.

For months now, the silence and shadows have been creeping back into my life, dimming the light a little.  Even as I have finally opened up about my struggle with depression, fear, self-loathing, and self-loving, I have found myself sinking again.  Life began to feel like wading through muddy water.  For awhile I was fatigued each day for no reason, physical reactions to my mental state.  I’ve isolated myself…just a little bit really…and I second guess myself at most turns.  My effectiveness at work has suffered (I hide it well so I don’t know how many even notice), and my motivation in general is stunted.  I’ve stopped caring as much (though the important things, my friends, family, creativity…I still care about those).  It doesn’t help that I’ve been at a crossroads in my life, trying to make decisions and move forward only to constantly have it thrown back at me that I might just not be worth it…or even adequate enough to consider (or warrant at least a response).  It only makes the shadows darker, makes my head foggier, my heart heavier, and my hope a little smaller.

You see, for the first time in years, I’ve actually thought about self-harm.

There, I said it.  The words that I’ve refused to say aloud.

Not suicide, nothing dangerous, not even cutting…but the thought of it…that feeling it might somehow…some way…release the built up pain and anxiety and fear for even just a moment.  In that moment…to feel the hope again, to feel grounded.

Let me be clear, I’ve never harmed myself.  The closest I’ve come is digging my nails into my arms…holding myself so tight that it helps me focus on the pain on my skin instead of the pain in my head and heart.  For most of you, and most of the people I try to explain this feeling to in person, it sounds completely and utterly crazy.  I’ve longed for someone who could say, “I understand.”  I have yet to find that person. Yes, I realize this urge is a problem.  It’s the same feeling I had the first time I asked for help back in high school.  I had that thought, that urge for pain, and I went sobbing into my mother’s arms.  I didn’t understand it at 17.  At 31, I’m starting to get it.

Once again, it’s this hope for release that has made me remember to stop being silent.  So here I am.

My final realization that I needed change came just over a week ago.  You see, this girl I knew, a beautiful 23 year old wonderful person, died.

Suddenly.

We weren’t close.  I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in years, but I did babysit her when she and her sister were small.  She lived next door to my cousins, and the four of them were the best of friends, which is how I ended up taking all of them to the pool or playing pretend in living rooms.

I was already stewing in my own emotional bile when this happened. I didn’t expect her death to impact me as much as it did.  However, the sadness and fatigue became deeper, darker, and I just couldn’t see through it all.  I guess, in the cliched way, it was my bottom.

I don’t want to be the 31 year old with no hope or motivation.  I don’t want to be sitting in the darkness glaring at myself.  And I don’t want to be afraid anymore.  I want to let go of the self-loathing and that fear of failure and discover positive moments hidden in the shadows.  I want to know that when my end comes, that I have lived, truly lived, and left something positive and real in my wake. I just hope I have years upon years to do so.

And so I’ve made a start, by talking: To my husband, my family, my friends. I’ve started to let them see this darkness, because it exists in me.  It will probably always be here, and if they can love that part of me too, then I have one less thing to fear, one less thing to loathe, and one more reason to see love within.  Also I’m going to start counseling, because that third party can help if I’m willing to let them.     I am definitely willing.

Already, little things like talking, writing, going out and actually doing have made a difference. I’m rediscovering the simple love of family: talking to them, being with them.  I’ve reached out to hopefully develop some new, fun, positive friendships.  Even a little wonderful private Facebook community has ended up being the best support group…something I hardly expected.  In there, I don’t need to speak to feel the outpouring of compassion and hope and to also feel the camaraderie with those who are struggling as well (sloth hugs to you beautiful folks).

So, the changes have begun, but it is just a start.  The difference this time is that I won’t let myself stay silent.  I’m holding myself accountable by being vocal.  This is no cry for help or attention.  Here, I am sharing my pain and fear, shedding the shame of it, and embracing hope.

I guess I made meaning in my silence after all.

Book #24 – The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

Alright folks, batten down the hatches, I’m going rogue!

Okay, not really, but I AM jumping ahead. I can’t wait…seriously…it’s not happening on this one folks. I know my last review was book #17, but I seriously just finished book #24 in my year of reading, and I can’t put off talking about it…especially since there is a Worldbuilder’s Indiegogo campaign going on for JUST THIS WEEK! Geeks Doing Good FTW!

Patrick Rothfuss has been warming my heart all over this year.  His short little novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things certainly is no different. I know, I know. The diehard fans all cried a little when it came out..”What?! It’s NOT Kvothe?! It’s not BOOK THREE?!!! GAH!”  Still, most fans are also excited just to have more of Rothfuss’ work, and personally, this novella is just a treasure trove of joy. Plus, the artwork by Nate Taylor is not to be missed.

First of all, you need to know, obviously this book has almost nothing to do with the main storyline of The Kingkiller Chronicles.  It’s a short character development piece on Auri, one of the more mysterious, odd characters of the series and also one of Rothfuss’ favorites (and mine). He doesn’t hide the fact that this is very different. He’s not shy about the fact that he knows his fans are impatient for book three.  In fact, in his introduction he seems to almost warn people away in a, “be ready, you may not like it, but I like it…and these other people like it…so here it is…maybe you’ll like it” kind of way.  I’ve seen the reviews, I’ve heard the mixed reception.  In fact, two of my friends who read Rothfuss way before me each had what were probably common reactions. One basically said “It’s okay, but come on, just write the next damn book!”  The other, “It’s not what I expected, it’s alright, but you…you’ll love it.”

He. Was. Correct.

I’ve loved Auri from her first introduction. A story entirely her’s is long overdue, at least for my wandering, word heavy, poetry hungry mind.  Rothfuss weaves his magic in a strange yet simple third person narrative of Auri’s life in The Underthing.  Auri is preparing for a visit with Kvothe (rather, for a visit with him).  She has seven days until his arrival, and the Rothfuss invites the reader to follow along, to discover how Auri fills her days, the challenges she faces, how she survives, and simply, to experience a taste of how she sees things and really lives them.

Is she a bit off-kilter? Yes. Is the Underthing a beautiful dream-home. No. Does this story have a typical plot structure (beginning, middle, end…etc.). Also, NO.  Does it work. YES.  Auri seems to dance through life, not let it drag her down. And yet, this dancing is not always lighthearted or safe or even a dance of joy. It is something like dancing on the edge of the darkness, living in that space between dream and awake…where you don’t know which way you would rather turn.  Auri lives constantly in that space, and Rothfuss creates that space here. From what I’ve seen,Taylor’s artwork also helps to flesh out this almost-shadow reality where Auri seems to gleam and glint in her own light. Yes, like many of my books, I listened to the audio (I’ll get there in a moment).  But, I’ve already broken down and ordered my own (autographed) edition…yes, I really do love it that much.

However, getting to the audiobook, it honestly probably couldn’t be better! Of course, it helps that it is read by none other than Rothfuss himself (though Nick Podehl reads both The Name of the Wind & Wise Man’s Fear and I am kind of in love with him as a reader… seriously…I just purchased my fourth book with him as the narrator).  Usually, I am hesitant of author readings. Sometimes they are amazing (this is a case in point), but let’s be honest, to make an audio book come alive, sometimes there also needs to be a level of distance from the creator.  In this case, Rothfuss’ love of Auri shines through, and he makes the 3.5 hour audiobook an incredible experience where the poetry simple slips in and out even more clearly! It might also be that he just has a great reading voice (despite the second thoughts he expresses on his blog).  I actually wonder if some people who couldn’t handle reading this book would do better listening to it. The words and phrasing are so fluid that the book almost begs to be heard.

If you haven’t gotten it by now, I have a love for beautiful words and phrases and poetic sensibilities…and strangeness.

I can’t recommend this book enough (though, yes, you might not like it). Even if you haven’t read the other books, you may find yourself gloriously surprised here.  The Slow Regard of Silent Things stands alone as its own little work of art.  Jason Heller over at NPR sums it up nicely:

“Slow Regard is its own defense, a charming, lyrical meditation on the meaning of home: how we define it, how we carry it with us, and how we deal with the lure and fear of what lies beyond.”

Whether you are a fan or not, I urge you to go look at the Geeks Doing Good 2015 Campaign on Indiegogo. Three days in, and they’ve already raised over $100,000 for Heifer International. Rothfuss has declared it “The Year of the Gear in honor of Auri and The Slow Regard of Silent Things (it makes sense if you read the book).  There are all sorts of lovely wonderful things, and it’s all for a good cause.  I’m trying not to dump my entire wallet over there actually…because yes…I am having an obsessive moment.

“When all the world was a palimpsest, it was a perfect palindrome.” ~The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss.

Book #17 – Saga: Volume 4, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Wow, I’m managing to do more than one review in a week! Woo! Who knows, I might be able to catch up sometime soon…maybe…possibly…

okay, probably not…

On to another graphic novel:  Saga: Volume Four by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.  If there is any new graphic novel or comic series you start reading this year, SAGA should be it.  Image Comics is producing some stellar work lately (This is Robert Kirkman’s label, of Walking Dead fame) and Vaughan’s work is among the best.  Beautiful art, classic story (lovers from opposite sides of a galactic war), intertwined with some twisted characters, difficult decisions, and a strange, ever growing intergalactic system.

The comic is ongoing, and each volume collects 6 issues into one collection.  The world keeps growing, and sometimes the characters can be difficult to keep track of.  However, if you were to read them more regularly, as each serial came out, it might be simpler to track.  Likewise, you could just wait until more of the series is developed. I’m sure we’ll see these volumes turned into larger compendiums.

Volume 4 lost my interest a bit in part because it introduced addiction and infidelity into the main characters’ relationship.  I understand the desire to add a personal struggle into the already existing universal issues, but it felt almost forced.  However, Vaughan and Staples have a strong track record, and I think they’ll use it to build the adventure part of the tale (which seems to always seems to be expanding).

If anything loses your interest in the series, it might be the constant action and jumping between our characters.  While there is depth and beauty and violence, and LOTS of action, the story could do with a big more grounding.  However, we’re still early on in the series. There is so much potential and so much to enjoy in Saga that I’m not ready to give up on it yet. Instead, I’ll impatiently wait for the next one, just like everyone else.

Book #16 – On Immunity: An Innoculation, by Eula Biss

A little outside my norm, but Eula Biss’ book, On Immunity: An Inoculation, is well worth the deviation.  Biss takes on the highly publicized Anti-Vaccination movement that has been sweeping the US, and yet she does so in a non-agressive, completely approachable way.  I cannot recommend this book enough! Whether you simply want to know more about vaccines and their history, or you’re really debating to vaccinate your children, Biss provides answers.

As a mother herself, Biss talks directly to the audience most directly affected by and directly causing the current vaccine/no-vaccine issues: The Parents.  She points out the fears of parenting: the worrying over what is right and wrong, what will cause your children harm, what will save them…where do you draw the line?!  These are natural, normal, and completely understandable. Just because you want the best and safest route for your children does not make you crazy for worrying over things you’ve been told may harm them!  However, Biss does not shirk her responsibilities: sometimes, the reward FAR outweighs the risk, as in the case of vaccinations.

Biss’ main thesis is that vaccinating is far safer and effective than not vaccinating, but it is alright to have questions and be cautious.  She sprinkles in history, science, ethics, and the moral issues surrounding vaccinations.  All of these serve to not only inform but to hopefully show the doubting reader an answer: choose vaccines, because even with the worries, they’re worth it.

My review may be short and glowing, but I can’t talk too much without telling you her entire book. In short, I recommend it for those interested in understanding how vaccines developed and why people fear them. More importantly, I definitely recommend it for those afraid of vaccinating their children. Biss really does a stellar job of targeting her audience without alienating them.  Give this book to anyone you know who doesn’t understand why vaccinations matter!

Top Ten Books From my Childhood Currently Still on my Shelf

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Another week, another list from The Broke and the Bookish! This week was a freebie, so I had to think it through a little bit. So, my freebie list is a little bit lengthy in description, mostly because it’s difficult me for me to make up my mind on these things!

For this week, I looked on my shelf of young adult/children’s books, one’s I actually read sometime between the ages of 8 and 14 (or somewhere around there), which I still regularly return to. Knowing where my reading interests are now, it might be surprising how very little fantasy sits on those shelves (or made it to this list). Instead, it’s filled mainly with historical fiction, with a smattering of others mixed in!

1.  Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson, has been around since 1980, and it won the Newberry Medal in 1981.  More importantly, it is an amazing story! A classic book, I fell in love with it at a pretty young age. I reread it regularly, and I cannot recommend it enough.

2.  One More River, by Lynne Reid Banks introduced me to conflict in the Middle East at a fairly young age.  I was obsessed with World War II and all the different aspects around it. This followed naturally into the founding of Israel and the formation of kibbutzs.  Lynne Reid Bank really gets the point of view of a young adult while giving some striking perspective on life in Israel and the war with Jordan.

3.  Afternoon of the Elvesby Janet Taylor Lisle will long remain one of my favorite books.  It is about imagination, friendship, and the importance of seeing through to what people need and where they are hurting.

4.  Sarah Bishop, by Scott O’Dell.  So, I know this “historical fiction” is really just fiction.  However, the strong independent woman living in the woods fighting off the witch accusations certainly captured my imagination.  O’Dell always excels survivalist stories!

5.  The Giver, by Lois Lowry.  What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? A classic, well loved by many, it certainly has had an impact on young adult literature and probably the life of many a child, including me. I admit, I haven’t read the rest of the series, partly because the first one means so much to me.

6.  In My Father’s House, by Ann Rinaldi.  Okay, so there are actually a LOT of areas in history I loved as a kid…this one is the Civil War. No wonder I now work at a historic site…this is all starting to make sense

7.  The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare.  So, I obviously also had an obsession with the witch trials. Hell, I still do. Maybe I should do a list just on those books…Anyway, this is fairly light fair even for the subject matter, but it is still gripping.

8.  I am Regina, Sally M. Keehn.  Okay, okay…the pattern continues…now we’re onto stories of Indian Captives. This one is supposed to be based on fact, but I know much of it is pretty much just imagination. Still, the themes for my younger self are here as well.

9.  Horror at the Haunted Houseby Peg Kehret.  Finally we break the cycle!  A piece of fluff sitting on my shelf!  Simple, short, mystery (with a hint at the ghostly).  Perfect little popcorn tale, then and now.

10. Ozma of Oz, by L. Frank Baum.  Alright, so I have only read a random few of the massive series that is Baum’s Oz.  I love this one the most, and that is in large part due to the AMAZING film Return to Oz.  I love the 1985 film. I even have a chicken ornament named Billina.  Yes, this is my life and I’m proud of it! I really do recommend the book (not just the movie).

**Bonus, because not currently on my shelf for some odd reason…

The Big Lie: A True Story, by Isabella Leitner.  The list made me rethink this missing book in my library. This was my first book on the Holocaust, which I read in Second Grade. I can’t find my copy! What happened!!! While I have many, and I do mean MANY, books on the Holocaust (I did mention my WWII obsession), this one was definitive largely because it was the first, and it was perfectly written for a young audience.

Security Blankets: Passing the Time and Serving the Soul.

We all have our security blankets: books, music, exercise, movies, television shows. You know what they are. Those things, habits, hobbies, you cling to as a little piece of comfort. Sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re perfectly healthy (but may be a guilty pleasure), and sometimes they’re just plain awesome.  Mostly on this blog I discuss one of those blankets, my love of reading & books. Disappearing into a story is a surefire way to calm myself down and jumpstart my creative spirit.  But, there are other things I cling to that I love, that not only comfort me, they make me who I am.  I thought it was about time to blog about them, just a little bit…

It’s best to start with the reason I’m even reflecting on these security blankets: my umpteenth rewatch of Battlestar Galactica.

Of course, I mean the 2004 version, which I will always hold dear as one of my favorite shows.  I regularly get into arguments over this show. Some people I know don’t quite agree with my obsession, and that’s just fine.  For me, it holds all my favorite things: science fiction, politics, gender issues, religious/myth debates and universe construction.  Like any good sci-fi, it isn’t afraid to tackle some heavy issues. It has it faults, and it gets a little heavy handed later on, but whenever I am stressing, watching BSG in the background is a way to refocus.

Sticking with the TV theme, my other long lasting boob-tube obsession is Joss Whedon, most notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This probably really dates me.  Buffy came out when I was finishing up middle school, so I was the prime target audience.  I didn’t finish the actual entire series until much later, but I’ve now rewatched the whole thing, just like BSG, over, and over, and over, and over… Whedon writes complex characters, and I love the witty dialogue (I know this is a hot button issue for non-Whedon fans). Of course, there are also strong women, interesting romance (problematic romance really), and plenty of cheese alongside the horror.

Back when Buffy first appeared on air, I also was introduced to what remains for me a rather guilty pleasure: The Spice Girls. They may come across as rather corny now, and very…VERY 90s. If there is anything in this world that SCREAMS 1990s, it is the packaged pop of groups such as Backstreet Boys (another favorite at the time), NSync, and The Spice Girls.  I don’t listen to them very often, but when I do, I feel like I’m 14, just past the worst of my awkward pre-teen years, feeling as if I can conquer anything for the first time in my life.

Okay, so it seems I”m regressing..I went from college to high school to middle school.  Why not go one further back to grade school days: Coloring.  Yes. Coloring.  I know, it’s making a resurgence lately, and I’ll throw in my Hipster card of: well my friends and I were on this train before it was cool again. But who really cares?!  I credit Annie with this resurgence in our circle (circle of two right now).  I’ll also group this with drawing, doodling, and art in general as a soothing and creative past-time.

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Okay, one last item, and this time I’ll jump back up to adulthood: Cooking & Baking.  I’m not great chef, but I take pride in conquering the kitchen. Most days, I come home from work and cooking dinner is there to be done. For me, that’s not so bad. Sure, I don’t enjoy it all the time, but putting on a movie, an audiobook, or a podcast, or music, and bouncing around my kitchen while I cook is just plain soothing.

No one bothers me (in fact, just don’t wpid-0508152046.jpginterrupt my cooking…just don’t). I go into a zone, and my cuttingboard, oven, pots, and pantry become my canvas. I usually only cook for two, but I LOVE to share these creations. Yes, partly, I like the praise. Really though, I just want to share the results. Food is soothing. It brings most people comfort and brings up memories or new experiences. My husband and I like to try creating new things, and together the kitchen is an experimental workshop for our ideas (or the ideas of others we then play upon).

wpid-1224142024.jpgBaking is the longer version of this zen moment. Usually, bread, but complex pies, cinnamon rolls, pretzels, you name it…baking is as zen a moment for me as cooking. Plus, then I get to shove sugar and carbs at people (which maybe I shouldn’t enjoy so much).

And that’s my random collection of “security blankets.” There are others, some I shouldn’t rely on so much (I do so love a good cocktail or homebrew), and others that I could do to practice more often (hiking, writing, etc.).  I’d love to hear what some of you may enjoy. What do you watch, listen to, read, or do when you need a security blanket, a moment of relaxation?