Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The wasp diaries, Conclusion/Epilogue

With the aid of some extremely toxic wasp killer, my painting, my broom, my shoe, and a lot of hands-shaking-in-mortal-fear that somehow did not manage to dislodge the damn wasp (thank goodness, but was it growing ROOTS or what?!), I almost killed it and then, like the coward I am, left it to suffocate and die in agony in the hallway while I ran into my room and locked the door. 

Yes, I did cry a few hysterical tears. 

No, I did NOT stuff anything under the gap in the door because even though my imagination gets a little feisty sometimes, I didn't really believe that it would claw it's way down 10 feet of hallway and into my apartment and then lie on the floor outside my bedroom door, stinger up, so that I would step on it with my bare feet in the morning. 

Yes, I did keep checking the hallway every time I absolutely had to use it to make sure the thing was 1) still there and 2) dead. 

Eventually, it was.  But I still couldn't bring myself to retrieve the corpse and flush it down the toilet.  Because of reasons.  That are not rational at all. 


For now . . .

The wasp diaries, part 16

Even though you are being very well-behaved, I'm sorry, but you just have to go.  If you won't remove yourself from my painting so that I may kill you, I will be forced to move you and then kill you.  Don't make me do this.  You have 24 hours.

The wasp diaries, part 15

I wonder if I'm starting to suffer from some sort of Stockholm Syndrome.  The longer you live here with me, the more I start to feel sorry for your dark fate.  How can I be both the prisoner and the executioner?  Oh, wasp, please die of natural causes in your sleep.  Really soon.  So I don't have to add your blood to my bloodguilt for your 33 kin, slain in 2011.

The wasp diaries, part 14

Maybe this whole experience is a sign.  Maybe it's a metaphor.  Maybe it is a symbol.  I just wish that's all it was an not also an actual, physical wasp.  Metaphors can be very powerful, but they can't sting you.  Not literally, anyway.  And they can't send you to the hospital with anaphylactic shock.

The wasp diaries, part 13

You are not going to turn into a butterfly, no matter how much you do that thing where you sit there, breathing and pretending you are wrapped in a chrysalis or whatever it is you are doing that is not moving to a place where I can ruthlessly slay you.

The wasp diaries, part 12

I have to tell you I'm praying for you, wasp.  Specifically for your sudden death (involving your body falling in an obvious place where I can find you, collect you, and give you a burial at sea).  You should know this is not normally how I pray for folks who are not uninvited, stinging-insect guests.  I would hate for you to judge me.

The wasp diaries, part 11

What does it do all day?!  Part of me hopes it just sits there, dying, not moving, but that must be insanely boring.  For some reason, I imagine it waiting until I lock the door, giving a huge, waspish, $#!%-eating grin, and then licking everything it can while I'm gone.  Methodically.  One thing at a time until it has licked everything. 

Do wasps even have tongues?  If not, I imagine it doing the wasp equivalent of drooling or putting boogers on everything, like babies or small children.  I think maybe this wasp is negatively affecting my mental state.  I should probably kill it soon.

The wasp diaries, part 10

You have good taste in art, probably literally because you seem to have decided to live out the rest of your natural life on my painting.  I feel a little bit of guilt when I see you there because I wonder if you are aware that it is the site of a massacre of your fellow wasps, perpetrated by the maintenance guy in my absence even though I asked him not to crush any of your fellows on my painting since I didn't think random, wasp-internal-goo colors matched the overall aesthetic. 

I wouldn't have known about the slaughter if he hadn't told me he did it.  Proudly.  The way cats bring you dead mice.  Sigh. 

I wonder if their ghosts haunt your dreams.

The wasp diaries, part 9

Maybe it is a pilgrim wasp.  When it first came, it had a few random, wasp-like episodes of buzzing around and bouncing off the ceiling, with special attention paid to the smears of goo that are the only evidence left of the Waspocalypse, so maybe it was on a tour of famous wasp death spots in our apartment building, but now it seems to be meditating deeply on the main showpiece in my apartment: my precious painting, which it has turned into some kind of icon to contemplate.  I hope it learns its lesson or whatever SOON and can then die enlightened and happy and in an obvious place where I can find it and dispose of its earthen vessel with all due ceremony.

The wasp diaries, part 8

I'm really glad you're very mellow and all for a wasp once you get settled in someone's apartment, but I can't help but think it means you're plotting something. 

The wasp diaries, part 7

I know, rationally, that you have a tiny insect brain and are not some sort of wasp ninja, but when I leave my sealed bedroom in the morning, the first thing I do is look for you to be sure you're not sneaking up on me.  And you're not.

You never are.

You are just sitting there.

On my painting.

Where I can't kill you.

The wasp diaries, part 6

Is it a monk wasp?  After being forced to face its own mortality, is it now--in stillness and cold silence--contemplating the nature of the universe of my painting? 

The wasp diaries, part 5

I really hope you appreciate the money I'm wasting keeping the apartment cooler than I usually do for my comfort, wasp.  To be honest, though, it's really all for my benefit in the end.  Cold wasps are less angry and less agile and mobile.  Which, damn it, is probably why you are just sitting there and not having little wasp flipouts anymore.  But I don't want to be hot and cranky (and scared out of my mind)any more than you do. 

The wasp diaries, part 4

You seem to be a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre of anime, wasp.  I can't say I'm surprised.  But are you really going to watch the ending with me?  Seriously?  It's going to be brutal.  And it might give me ideas.

The wasp diaries, part 3

This is like some sort of Mexican standoff (probably not if I look up the actual definition of Mexican standoff, which I would do if I wasn't afraid to use my computer since it puts you at about 110 degrees relative to my position and thus just out of my peripheral vision).

The wasp diaries, part 2

Are you some sort of new, tiny, ground-surveillance drone?  If so, you must be bored out of your skull.

The wasp diaries, part 1

It is an anti-muse really.  Difficult to be creative while also trying to watch out of the corner of my eye and be ready to dive out of the way should it go off like a stinging firecracker.  The fly trapped in here with us makes things orders of magnitude worse because every time I see or hear the fly, I bolt until I identify it as the fly, think dark thoughts at it, check to be sure the wasp hasn't used the distraction to close in on me, and sit gingerly back down to "create."  With hair-trigger reflexes.

The wasp diaries - July 2013 Introduction

One day in late summer, on the day I got my wonderful, new, comfortable chair, a single wasp entered my apartment.  And though I knew it was only an insect with a tiny insect brain and no evil motives, I really resented that it had invaded and was laughing gleefully as it prevented me from relaxing in my chair. 

I was determined to kill this wasp immediately, using all of my wasp-slaying expertise, hard-won  during the http://themiles2go.blogspot.com/2011/08/irrational-fear-of-wasps.html Waspocalypse http://mooninautumn.blogspot.com/2011/10/waspocalypse-2011-continues.html of 2011, a mysterious plague of wasps I survived by learning to put aside mostly irrational fear and using my cork-sandal as a wasp-slaying weapon that would insulate me from their wrath long enough for me to totally crush them.  Wasps 0, me and the maintenance guy: 33. (I called him in especially when they came in multiples.) 

For the first day, my new, unwanted houseguest would have the occasional, seemingly random freakouts that wasps have.  It would start buzzing like a tiny, angry power tool and would bounce off walls and ceilings, never quite landing, so I could slay it.  Jerk.  And then, as they all do eventually, it settled to sleep on my prized piece of art, a lovely blue and black floral painting done by a former roommate.  And it didn't leave.  Until I finally gathered the guts to kill it even though it hadn't really threatened me since that first day.  Yes, I totally felt like an evil jerk.  Because that's what they do to you: they mess with your head until you can't think straight anymore! 

The following posts are excerpts of my thoughts as I dealt with this singular infestation.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Picadilly (Anna Mae Wong)

You know how sometimes you are looking something up for a good reason, and then you are dragged down the copious bunny trails of wikipedia and end up somewhere completely different and unexpected, and you write poetry about it?  Okay, maybe you don't write poetry, but maybe you've gotten dragged down the link black hole.  That's how I got to this movie.  Rudolf Valentino -> Sessue Hayakawa -> Anna Mae Wong.  (Surviving decent films that Netflix had.)

One thing that drives me nuts about silent films is that they don't have cards for all the dialogue.  The characters on the screen have a long, intense, obviously important exchange, and they they post, like two lines of dialogue, and you just want to rage because you want to know what they said, and there's no way to find out.  The music also tends to drive me bonkers because it's usually cheap, synthesizer-created music, and I remember when I was working at a bookstore when a lonely, old customer kept me on the phone for over an hour talking about his glory days playing the organ is silent movie theaters, when that's how they provided the music.

Picadilly is long, a bit scattered, and incredibly soapy, but Anna Mae Wong's power as an actress is very much on display.  I find myself really wishing she could have been allowed to act in The Good Earth, not because I feel that her heritage would necessarily have allowed her to show a more accurate portrayal but because I think she should have for once gotten some reward from Hollywood out of her ethnic heritage (and her guts, dedication, and hard work).  I've no doubt her performance would have been just as Oscar-worthy as the Caucasian woman who was given the role because the male lead was white, so he couldn't kiss a woman of Chinese descent.  Not that I'm bitter.  Not nearly as bitter as those "ethnic" actors and actresses during the bad old days of anti-miscegenation laws . . .

I am also puzzled by the naked breasts on the movie cover because the version I saw did not involve any such image (thankfully).  I guess even in the 20s, it was a sad truth universally acknowledged that nudity sells.

Born Into Brothels: you have probably never seen the cycle of povery this clearly

This is a hard documentary to watch for a lot of reasons.  Sure, the subtitles are not always there, rendering much of the experience of watching difficult and the experience of comprehending impossible, but one of the hardest reasons is because it forces you to face the fact that some parents do not, in fact, want what is good for their children: they do not want their children's fortunes to improve, for their children to have better lives than they have had.  Some parents want their children to have the same lives they have had.  Some parents want their children to suffer as they have; some parents don't see a reason why their kids should have better lives than they have had to endure.  This is a very hard truth to be faced with. 

Maybe, to be fair, the truth is more that some parents think that what's good for their children is to have the same lives they've had, no matter how awful and crappy said lives are.  Maybe the truth is that the tradition, the repetition of the historical pattern is what they value, and that they think anything that seeks to change that is, in fact, bad.  Maybe, even though the caste system was abolished last century, its hold and its basic idea that people are born into their station and to desire anything else is wrong still grip the people hard.  Maybe this is one of those painful cultural differences not explained very well because it's not part of the story the creators are trying to tell. 

But after watching this documentary about a small group of kids born in brothels and how the intervention of a journalist with cameras changes (and doesn't change) their lives, I'm angry and more likely to be fired up by the former than the latter.  This is violent, brutal, tragic, powerful stuff well worth a watch if you haven't come from the kind of crushing, cyclical poverty it brings to life.  Do yourself a favor: slap yourself in the face by watching this; realize how hard life is for folks who live very different lives from yours, and then find some ways you can help make things better somehow.  (I recommend child sponsorship because it helps the whole community and usually doesn't involve sending kids away from their families.) 

Just keep a lot of tissues on hand if your compassion runs to the weepy variety (and if the subtitles work).

The ad copy talks about how inspiring and uplifting it is.  I can't say that's not true at all.  There is much to rejoice at: the way that kids can live terrible lives and still have an eye for beauty, still have curiosity, still have hope. There are even some who triumph and escape (at least temporarily).  But I was left haunted by the way many of these kids are trapped and prevented by their parents from finding freedom and better lives. 

Some folks got angry because they saw the film narrative as "westerner comes and tries to save the backwards non-westerners by taking their children away," but, frankly, I don't know how anyone could live in that environment and not get pulled under by it because of their love for their family.  Sometimes letting someone go is the only way for them to get the training they need to become a doctor or an engineer or a scientist or a photojournalist or a writer or some other career that requires a lot of concentrated work and in the end might allow a family to not have to resort to prostitution to keep itself afloat.  (I think here of folks like John Scalzi, who had to get a scholarship to a boarding school that let him get away from his crushing childhood poverty in order to help himself HAVE a future outside of it.)  Poverty exerts its own gravity,no matter what culture you live in, and sometimes extreme measures are the only way to escape it and do good in the end.

Basically, I don't recommend watching without your critical faculties engaged, because documentaries are carefully crafted pieces of creative nonfiction.  Some of the one and two star reviews on Amazon bring up some good points and make me want to go get some other perspectives, but what I managed to pull out of my viewing of this film stirred me to action, and I think that's not a bad thing.

If you've seen the film, what was your stronger reaction?

The Broken Crown: bringing the epic beginning after 5 prequels

The Broken Crown by Michelle West (The Sun Sword Book 1 of 6): Yeah, it's much more like the Hunter duology than The House War.  I lent these books to a friend of mine, and, though she said they were really hard to get into, she read them all and liked them in the end.  My respect for her has grown because I have no idea how she did that.  I mean, seriously.  If I didn't know from 5 other books what I do, I don't think I could follow the stories at all (or trusted the author to pull everything together in the end, for that matter).  The brief interactions and relationships between these people wouldn't have been as rich and poignant, and I would have been left with dry pieces wanting to know more. 

Maybe I sell myself short and my natural curiosity (and slowly increasing mental abilities) would have compelled me to read on to see if they author followed through, the same way I pushed through the Hunter books.  I'm glad I didn't have to find out, glad I waited and stumbled serendipitously into things in chronological order just as she is finishing up with these characters for now.  There are so many new characters and plot threads here, which is expected, and the appearances of cross-over characters make such sad and rich sense.  This early in, I've no real idea of where things are ultimately going, but I really trust this author to give me a great story and multi-dimensional characters I will crave to know more about.  I'll probably look around for short story scraps after I finish the books because I will snap up any additional information about these characters. 

What a gift this author has with characters, with making even the ones who appear briefly come alive as real people with pasts and (sometimes) futures, not just characters who interact with each other to push the story forward.  Too bad they take so much mental effort and time to get through. 

My main complaint at this point is that the cast of characters is not helpful.  People you need to look up later aren't on it, and people you don't know/care about/haven't met are in the most awkward and poorly organized way.  If the character is important, he or she should be listed in alphabetical order, with only the information you've learned in the book.  If the character is not important, the character should probably not even be named in the narrative and definitely shouldn't take up space in the cast list.

However, the cover art is a triumph.  I adore cover art that actually reflects the books content, especially when it shows events that happen late in the book, because then I can keep looking at the cover and wondering what it's depicting, and then, when the event happens, I can know it's the exact one on the cover.  Lovely and significant: excellent combination.

The House Name: the joy of secondary characters

The House Name by Michelle West (The House War Book 3 of 5?): We're in the thick of the events of Hunter's Death now, and this book leaves off right around where the events of that book do, but now we're in possession of a lot of information and characters we didn't have/need for the story of the Hunter duology.  16 years pass between this and the beginning of the Sun Sword series.  The entire Sun Sword series takes place before the 4th book of The House War series.

I find myself hoping that The Sun Sword is written in a narrative style much more like The House War, but the timing makes me think it will be more like the complicated, multi-POV sprawl that was the Hunter books.

At this point, I'm so invested, I don't care.  I just want to know more about these characters and what could cause there to be an epic 6-book series after the new facts this book revealed about what seemed to be the victory at the end of Hunter's Death . . .

City of Night: How long can you make me cry over the upcoming death of a character?

City of Night by Michelle West (The House War Book 2 of 5?): He's not dead yet, so you know that each page you read brings you closer to the monster at the end of this book, er, the death of an increasingly complex and beloved character or two, but you can't stop reading because you have to know what happened, to honor their deaths, rendered more full and significant and important here in this series.  Oh, the agony. 

I think one of my favorite things here is the way the events in Hunter's Death are expanded on so beautifully.  Not only are events from that book seen from other points of view, but the spaces between them are filled in by new characters and detailed scenes that you only realize were missing when you read them.  This kind of technique takes some serious skill. 

When I was reading Hunter's Death, there were no missing pieces; everything was crafted and fit together to advance the narrative.  Sure, I wanted more details about all the awesome characters, but that was because they were awesome and multi-dimensional, not because there were holes in the plot or the story.  When I read this book, the addition of characters who never made an appearance in Hunter's Death didn't feel tacked on (and doesn't make Hunter's Death seem cagey and manipulatively selective); they just felt whole for the current story being told, which, while it does have some parallel time covered with Hunter's Death, is not the same story.  I hope I am conveying just how difficult this sort of seamless interweaving is.  If not, sorry.  Because it's incredibly tricky and managed here seemingly effortlessly.

Oh, Rath.  You are one of my favorite kinds of protagonists: the ones who think they are scummier than they really are, the kind so damaged they can't really allow themselves to acknowledge that they might be doing great things for good reasons, the sort who don't share these deeds with the people they care for because they would hate for those people to think well of them.  It hurt so bad to get to know you, and it was a privilege.

The Hidden City: Oh, Rath, you are awesome

The Hidden City by Michelle West (The House War Book 1 of 5?): So I turned to the internet to find out if I could read more about the Hunter series characters, and the Internet did not disappoint.  It told me that I should read the first three books in the author's newest series (The House War), then the entire Sun Sword series, then the next books in The House War series.  And so, I steeled myself to read more complicated, interwoven narratives with multiple points of view and narrators.

Apparently, the author got over that as she aged and gained experience as a writer because the 3 points of view are clear, distinct, smooth, and never needlessly mysterious.  (The key seems to be staying out of Evayne's head, which--to be fair--might only be possible because the author established Evayne in other books.)  I read with an air of sad anticipation because several characters in this book had died or were not around later (in the Hunter books), so you knew they were doomed.  You knew they died; you just weren't sure how or when, so it was kind of like Hunter's Oath all over again (waiting for the guy to die while trying not to like him).

The author made this endeavor easier by making some of the minor doomed characters less distinctive and endearing.  (She has learned focus, oh yes, she has.)  Rath, however, came alive breathtakingly, as did a major doomed character who was both harder and easier to love the more you got to know her. If you can handle the impending, nasty doom of characters you grow interested in, you will probably love this book for the new light it sheds on some of the characters mentioned in Hunter's Death.

Hunter's Death (Revenge of the Shiny Cover)

Hunter's Death (Hunter Book 2 of 2) by Michelle West:  When last we left this author, I was irritated that the book I thought was going to be a standalone--one I could use to test the waters for this author beloved of a beloved former co-worker before I committed to the massive 6-volume epic saga my co-worker friend adored so much--was, in fact, not a standalone.  Despite my irritation with this deception, I knew I was going to read the sequel, not just because it had a shiny cover but also because, knowing this main character was going to buy it in a horrific way and still getting to like him anyway, I felt (book nerds out there probably understand this) like I owed it to . . . someone . . . to see him through to the bitter, tragic end. 

Which did not come at the end of the book, like I sort of expected, but somewhere closer to the middle, causing some nice folks at the gym to be a bit concerned even though I kept my reaction to just copious tears and not actual sobbing or anything.  Maybe I should get some shirts that aren't threadbare and 15 years old if I am going to keep reading sad books at the gym because it's hard to blot the tears and snot with something that isn't actually absorbent . . .

Anyway, the plot threads all came together, as a new protagonist was added to the mix in the second book (probably to make up for the impending loss of the nice guy protagonist).  Things between all the plot lines began to tighten their weave as the book progressed, and the ending was horrific, sad, and complete for the story being told.  What made it even better was finding out that characters from this story are woven into two other series, one that is currently in progress (maybe just ended). 

One thing the author really does well is creating living, breathing characters that you are desperate to know more about.  And then she writes more about them in other series.  Sure, the chronology is snarly and complicated and woven through all the series, but I don't really care because I get more time with the characters who are still alive (and even some who died).  More about that in reviews to follow.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Copper River

b Copper River by William Kent Krueger:  . . . which leads us to this book, which starts just a short while after the previous one left off.  For the first time, Cork's story takes place mostly outside of Tamarack County in Michigan's UP, where the author experiments with point of view (positively) and also with the situation of the protagonist being mostly immobilized for the duration. 

Some folks didn't like this one because the main characters were a couple of teenagers, and Cork couldn't do a whole lot of, you know, action since he couldn't actually stand up for the first half, but I still found it interesting, mysterious, and full of unexpected twists and turns.  It does end the saga started in the last book sadly and conclusively.

Mercy Falls

b Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger: Again, it sort of sucks to be married/related to the main character of a mystery series.  Anyway, there's a really grisly murder, and Cork must figure out what the heck is going on. 

Eventually, they will run out of past loves for his wife, but, until then, they're always an interesting thing to throw in the mix.  Twisted family relationships and people who don't really understand love, a lot of suspects, and a sort-of mob boss make this one pretty wild. 

The author starts the book off with a present tense amnesiac scene prologue and then goes way back and then takes you up that point where events unfold very differently from the first perception you have starting the book cold.  In an interesting twist, this book ends on, well, not exactly a cliff-hanger, but there is no real resolution the way there has been in the past.

Blood Hollow

b Blood Hollow by William Kent Krueger: What a heart breaker.  Seriously.  Like, really seriously.  Reservation heartthrob and troublemaker is accused of the murder of his former rich, white girlfriend who left a party drunk and disappeared right before a blizzard.  Before turning himself in to face trial, he goes on a vision quest and meets Jesus.  Rumors that he's a miracle worker after his Jesus vision start circulating, and things become a circus.  No one is really willing to believe he's turned his life around except Cork.  Things hidden are revealed, and they are so sad and dark.  The denouement was relentlessly heart-breaking, especially with the final epilogue.  Man, I wish things could have shaken out better. 

The funniest (unintentionally) review I read of this book complained of relentless product placement.  I realized later that she thought that what we writers call telling details were product placement somehow.  Oh, lady, product placement is when they pay you to do it.  A telling detail, as I understand it, is when you choose something that locals recognize because that choice says something that deepens the character and brings him more to life.  I am nearly certain that Minnetonka Moccasins did not pay Krueger to make it the butt of an amusing, recurring joke made by the natives, and he probably doesn’t have corporate sponsorship from Leinenkugels. 

Purgatory Ridge

b Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger: Man, it sucks to be the family of the main character.  Bad things are just guaranteed to happen to you.  In this case, Cork's wife and son are sort of accidentally kidnapped, and Cork finds himself in the unlucky position of sheriff investigating kidnapping of rich lady and son (and his family members) while also being the husband and father of some of the victims.  The main antagonist (the one who gets the most page time) is a dark, sad, and beautifully drawn character who makes bad choices with good-ish intentions due to bad company, and I was really on the edge of my seat right up the unexpected ending.  This one was remarkably tense.  Also, it's tough to be the main character, 'cause Cork really ends up in the hospital after this one.

Much Fall of Blood: History with added dragons!

b Much Fall of Blood by Lackey, Freer, and Flint: Dragons!  And Mongols!  I had no idea we were going here.  None at all.  We follow the knights way far east, where we meet a Mongol princess in disguise doing her best to save the life of her brother (heir to the khanate [khan-ship?]) and teaming up with our favorite prince of the Holy Roman Empire (who really is slowly and realistically turning into a really good man) and his awesome Icelandic bodyguard (and a stupid, young rascal from the Middle East).

Meanwhile, there's this guy named Vlad, some shape-changing wolf people, a couple of dragons, and some super-evil folks, one of whom unexpectedly totally dies.  Strategy, tactics, awesome practical jokes, possessions, a wedding, an unexpectedly useful female secondary character, hordes of Mongols, blood, weddings, good and evil, and dragons.  Good stuff.

This Rough Magic

b This Rough Magic by Lackey, Flint, and Freer: Well, Benito went a bit crazy.  Not that I blame him because I'm kind of angry at Maria for her choice at the end of Shadow of the Lion.  I thought Benito was really starting to pull it together and would have been great . . .  Well, anyway.  Maria chose to marry someone safe and uninvolved (i.e. not Benito), which is sad because you know from page 1 of this book that this husband will surely die, so you don't want to like him.  (That is not really a spoiler because it is SO obvious, even if precisely when he's going to die is up in the air).

It's horrible for me as a writer/reader because I know he needs to die because Maria and Benito are frickin' destined to be together, and I feel bad about that because he really is a nice guy, and then when he did die, I was sad but also happy.  It's complicated.  And not really a spoiler.

The location for this chapter of the story is Corfu; there's a new ancient land power lurking in the background, Maria has a baby, and you do find out whose it is.  Other highlights include a character unexpectedly falling in love (and falling really hard), betrayal, a siege, and terrible and evil people doing very bad things. 

Shadow of the Lion

b Shadow of the Lion by Lackey, Freer, Flint: This is a narrow but epic historical fantasy sort of thing.  Written by a team of three authors (some with a better grasp of punctuation than others) with tons of characters and complex, interweaving narratives, Shadow of the Lion is not for the faint of heart.  It is pretty awesome, though.  The complexity made this a slow stop-and-go event for me that dragged on over several months, but I am a sucker for alternative-historical fantasy in general but especially when the emphasis is more on the historical. 

Sometimes the world-building in this sort of book is a tad muddy; we're not precisely sure where history diverged, and we're not sure what the fantasy elements are.  This book makes these things pretty clear from the word GO, and the changes are inspired.  Magic is real and given a certain amount of respect and acknowledgement by the church.  When this change is made, a lot of the crazy things the monastic knights did and many of the wacky superstitions of the time actually make sense.  It's a very nice trick: to make history more sensical by adding fantasy elements to it (just like that word I made up there). 

There is intrigue, action, betrayal, drinking, whoring, church, state, old land Spirits, good and evil, hidden identities, danger, madness, and a ton of characters of all kinds that kind of make you hate it every time the point of view changes.  Centered in medieval Venice (and the lion of St. Mark legends).  Good stuff.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Using the Best Medicine, Part II

Whether you have fibromyalgia, chronic pain, mitochondrial fatigue or some other exhausting and painful long-term health condition, the doctors agree on this: laughter is important.  Keeping your sense of humor exercised is as important as keeping your body exercised.  Here are some of the books I've been reading lately to keep my laugh muscles limber.  (Slightly longer reviews are linked, if they exist.)

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: This one's cheating because it's not really a book.  I mean, it is.  It started out as a comic in Japan, but what I saw was the first two seasons of the animated cartoon.  I cannot recommend it blanketly because if you try to watch it unprepared, you will stop speaking to me.  Random, tasteless ultraviolence collides with unlikely poses, highly questionable costume choices, and 500% teenage testosterone SHONEN SHOUTING!!!!  It's loud, dumb, definitely bizarre, and sometimes it makes me laugh so hard I can't even figure out how to respond.  It is somehow both incredibly predictable and highly dependent on non-sequiter at the same time.  The mind boggles.  At least the anime is slightly less over-the-top with the nipples than the manga.  In fact, one traumatized friend pointed out that this was one of a handful of fighting anime where the females wear way more clothing than the males.  For whatever that's worth.

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth: I had to ban this one from the gym (where I read while exercising) because it kept making me fold up in helpless laughter in the middle of stair climbing, and I was afraid I would 1) hurt myself or 2) be kicked out of the gym for extremely weird behavior. If you love and adore Nancy Drew (or Hardy Boys) books and think they are the finest literature ever, you will not like this book.  If you enjoyed your time with Nancy, the boys, Tom, Trixie, the Bobbsey Twins, etc.--but you are aware they were not exactly high art--and you have a sense of humor and a tolerance for sensationalist confessional novels or parodies of these things, you may need to ban it from the gym, too.

Hyperbole and a Half: I kind of want to teach a writing class based on this book: a hilarious, profanity-laced, essay-writing class perhaps.  If you don't "get" Allie Brosch's style of crude and ugly illustrations combined with sharp wit, dumb physical comedy, self-deprecating insight, and superb story telling, you will not like this book any more than you like her blog.  If you don't mind the way she can go from incredible comedy to serious tragedy, and if you don't mind longer-form essays, you may have to join me by rationing your consumption of this book to avoid reading too much, laughing too much, and having trouble with your asthma.

Using the Best Medicine, Part I

Whether you have fibromyalgia, chronic pain, mitochondrial fatigue or some other exhausting and painful long-term health condition, the doctors agree on this: laughter is important.  Keeping your sense of humor exercised is as important as keeping your body exercised.  Here are some of the books I've been reading lately to keep my laugh muscles limber.  (Slightly longer reviews are linked, if they exist.)

The Unlikely Disciple: Yes, it's hardly a laugh a minute,  but as someone who attended a similar institution, imagining the awkward situations Kevin Roose got himself into as an undercover journalist sometimes reduced me to helpless giggles (usually alternating with embarrassment at some of the subculture shenanigans those evangelicals get up to).

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: Another blog turned book, this one isn't quite as successful at the transition as Hyperbole and a Half because it's a regular, short form blog, not actual essays like Hyperbole.  However, it is still a hilarious, sometimes heart-breaking, always profanity-laced, self-deprecation fest that made me laugh and cry (usually at the same time, which is so dangerous)  The fact that I kept reading despite the danger should tell you how compelling it was.  Then again, when you can't seem to get more than a couple of hours of sleep a night, and you use this book to keep you company until you can't keep your eyes open anymore, I'm not sure the book itself necessarily has to be compelling.

Axe Cop: I cannot really tell you how wrong this comic is.  It is so, so wrong.  And so, so accurate if you have ever dealt with small children and the weird and horrible stories that they produce (even if their parents don't let them read fairy tales).  "Written" by a 5-7 year-old and drawn by a 28-30 year-old brother, Axe Cop started as a web comic, but Dark Horse has incarnated it in physical form.  I have to ration it because too much in one sitting is a bad idea (starts to seem less funny in large quantities).  (Sort of like small children, actually . . .)

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Lesson Is . . .

I thought the moral of the story was going to be this:  See, if you are kind to yourself and don't push yourself by trying to carry too much, your shoulder will hurt less!  Instead, the lesson appears to be: HAHAHAHAHA, your trunk is frozen shut, and you can't get to your toilet paper when you need it even though you bought it ahead of time for once! 

I guess that's a corollary to the one I've been learning every day for the last nearly 11 years (to quote a lovely, tired, anonymous employee at OWCP): "Sometimes you do everything you're supposed to, and you still get screwed."  Can I be done learning that lesson yet?  Please?  : /

Anyway, now the lesson is self control because if I flip out and start kicking and yanking at the trunk door, I will hurt myself and probably still not get the trunk door to open.  The other lesson is toilet paper conservation.  Breathe in, breathe out . . .

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How to Save a Life (epigraph by Flannery O'Connor)

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (audiobook):  And this, THIS, is why I read fiction.  Because I can read the quote about how we need to be kind to everyone because they're all fighting battles, and I can nod and feel that twinge of sympathy, of empathy and compassion like a kick in the tail to remember to try a little tenderness.  But this story, alternating between two voices transforms that gentle kick in the butt into a brutal punch in the gut.  THESE ARE THE KINDS OF BATTLES PEOPLE ARE FIGHTING.  Their anger is not about you.  Your kindness matters.  Your restraint when you could start yelling in frustration at the customer service lady matters.  Because people are dealing with things like this and worse every day, and you never know what odd behavior is a result of these terrible things you know nothing about, love, kindness, tenderness, and grace are never wasted when you give them to others as a gift.  They say the sermons we preach the most are the ones we need to hear the most.  Amen.  I need to hear this a million times a day, every time I open my mouth, every time I sit down to write.  I need to write it on my forehead and bind it on my wrist, etc.

As for the audiobook itself,well done.  Had a few minor problems with the production, but overall it was very good.  They had different readers play each of the POV characters.  This worked very well because the voices were very different and appropriate for their parts.
  • They don't let you know when a disk is over, so it just goes from the last track back to the first one, and you loose the thread of the story.
  • They didn't always make it clear whether something was thought versus said aloud, which in this story was VERY important and the lack of clarity was often very confusing.  (When I read my copy of the book some day, this will not be a problem, and I will have their voices in my mind, which will be a win.)
And this is why I read YA: because the process of thrashing your way to better understanding and better choices doesn't simply stop when you become an adult.  Maybe coming of age novels resonate with adults not just because they bring nostalgia but because they remind us it's always been this hard.