I’m Reading Flamecaster

Hey everyone, just thought I’d share the book I’m reading with you right now. It’s the start of a new series, Shattered Realms, called Flamecaster. It’s the latest offering from Cinda Williams Chima, and not that this is the only reason I chose to write about this specific book, but she did sign my copy of it at a signing event just yesterday. Of course I have a picture. Look!

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Like I said, I didn’t just write this entry to show off my new best friend… I mean book… um… Look, though, she signed it with my name and everything in silver sharpie! Look at that kick-ass title page! Look!

Okay, sorry, I’ll calm down. I still get pretty geeked out when a writer I like signs a book for me . Chima has written two separate series before this one, both YA. I started reading them in high school and, especially with the novels in the Seven Realms, found myself utterly unable to stop, even now that I’m a senior in college and apparently only supposed to be reading mind-numbingly dense theory on stuff so abstract I’m not even sure I’m in an English class anymore.

Flamecaster takes place in the same world of the Seven Realms novels, a medieval fantasy land like set up, and it’s this incredible world that makes these books a good sell for anyone that enjoys good fantasy. Chima is perhaps one of the only people I’ve come across that have written what I might call Game of Thrones for teenagers and kids. No, it’s not a sex thing. I mean, you can tell, just by reading a chapter of one of the books in this world, that she put a lot of time and care into creating as fleshed out and realistically complex a world as possible. Yes, it has wizards and magic in it, but really you should consider a bonus the actual real world was too dumb to put in our own lives.

The people, too, are amazing. Their descriptions show how Chima carefully crafted them and the world they belong in. Not everyone is blandly describe as “pale, with green/blue/violet eyes” depending on how important they are. Not only that, but she made a choice I greatly admire in any novel, especially a period medieval one. Both males and females have prominent positions in things like the military of these nations, the wizard academy, etc. Sometimes they’re even simple background characters, but that small pronoun or name attached to a female soldier who died fighting off the Arden armies or marched around at Oden’s Ford just makes me feel good, like I don’t have to keep trying to see something, or someone, that isn’t there.

That’s not to say their aren’t some countries in these realms that are more restrictive towards women’s roles than others, but it’s a touch I would’ve loved to see when I was a wee one reading my first fairy tales and wondering why all the by knights get to do all the cool fighting and stuff. The choice at once brings more diversity into and texture into the world she’s created and pleases the part of me that only got into feminism so I could find chain mail and armor in my size and go off to slay, or even tame a dragon. I’m still looking into trying to get that done after graduate school.

But, right, back to the book. From what I’ve read of my brand new signed copy, (did I mention that I got it signed? Yeah, sorry, I’ll stop… silver sharpie!) It looks like another solid entry with a new cast of characters, and it mentions of at least some of the old characters from the previous books in this world. There’s action, intrigue, rebellion, everything you’d want in a YA book, or any book.

Chima also promised new stuff, like travelling and pirates in the series, some sailing the high seas and all that. I’m excited to see how she chooses to build up this already fascinating world in the stories to come, and definitely recommend people check it out. Reading the Seven Realms books first will add a nice background knowledge, but it definitely isn’t required to get into this exciting new and emerging series.

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Learning to Love (Some Books) Again

Sometimes, I develop an unsavory connection with certain books through no fault of the book itself. I’m talking mainly about books that have been forced down my throat by teachers until my gag reflex activated, metaphorically. That’s a pretty hard thing to pull off with a book lover like me. Still, there are some books I refuse to speak to after a bad experience like that. Some, though, I’ve learned to love again. I’ll share a couple of those titles with you so you can learn from my harrowing journey from hate to love, or at least tolerance, in the world of required texts.

The Scarlet Letter

Everyone gets forced to read this for American lit in high school, and I’ve never heard one person say they were happy about it. Your English teacher just shoves this pilgrim book down your throat because they want to pretend there were real American authors before Mark Twain, (not that I know lots of high school kids who loved Mark Twain either.)

For me, it was especially bad, because I had that book taught to me by one of the most wretched and foul English teachers I’d ever had in my life. I remember one day, when she was absent and we had a sub, I happily doodled her flying around a village like an evil specter, sucking the souls out of virgins to stay young, which is what I imagined she was doing with her day off.

Really, though, when I don’t have an evil demon teaching it to me, I can say Nathaniel Hawthorne isn’t a bad writer. I later had to read a short story by him, Young Goodman Brown, and I felt his work really gave deep emotional insight into the lives of our weird and almost kinkily prudish ancestors. Yeah, you wear that red letter. You’ve been a bad girl, haven’t you, you dirty puritan you. I heard you showed someone your ankles in the woods last night, you slut! We Americans need to remember our very sexually confused and repressed roots.

Beowulf:

The first time I read this long-ass poem, (what the ancients called an “epic,” I believe,) I had no problem with it. I mean, there’s some cultural and historical divides you have to work through when reading the oldest know English language text known to man, but it was nothing I wasn’t up for, especially when the protagonist gets to fight weird troll monsters and dragons.

Then, I had to read it again, and again, and again. I think, all told, I’ve had four different teachers assign and teach Beowulf to me, in high school and college. I guess being the first known written story in the English language, (not that you could recognize it as English; it’s so flipping old,) makes it important, but come on. Four freaking times?

The more I read it, the more I felt sorry for the first bad guy Beowulf kills, Grendel. It says right in the text itself that Grendel just didn’t like how much noise the crazy partying Danish guys were making in their new Hall, partying like some Skyrim frat pledges. “Hey guys, could you keep it down? It’s after quiet hours” was basically my catchphrase during my freshman year of college. I like it quiet. Granted, I’ve yet to go on a murder spree to quiet dastardly partying college students, but until I go through my last midterm and finals week, I’m not ruling anything out.

Neil Gaiman saved me from hating this admittedly thrilling poem forever with his short story, The Monarch of the Glen. It was a really good, slightly skewed retelling of Beowulf, because retelling classic legends on, but telling them slant, is what God put Gaiman’s beautifully messy head on this green earth to do.

Pride and Prejudice:

This one I haven’t even ever had to read for a class. Maybe if I was British I would have, but I guess Scarlet Letter or Catcher in the Rye got shoved in its place instead. No, it wasn’t a teacher that ruined it, it was the people who presented the book to me.

I’m still pretty convinced that, if they find out you are a female English major who hasn’t read and looooooooved Pride and Prejudice, they will put you to death. Don’t ask me who, just, they. The judgers, the same ones who will only give me another year or so before they put me down for not reading Ulysses.

That, plus the way girls like to geek out over Austen books nauseates me sometimes.

Specifically, I’m talking about a very specific form 0f Austen geek out that always reminded me too strongly of my Twilight phase. Basically, how some women idolize the romantic interest and giggle while buying up all the “Team Darcy” paraphernalia always made me want to gag. I knew, realistically, a book that had been read for hundreds of years would have more going for it than a lead man who simply must be portrayed by Colin Firth, from now and forever unto the end of time, but I just really didn’t want to read a book it seemed most people only liked for the totes dreamy lead, especially after I realized how truly infantile Twilight was. That association just left a bad taste in my mouth, especially when they did that weird thing when the reprinted classic romances, like P&P, Jane Eyre, and even Romeo and Juliet, to have Twilight-like covers, with same font and everything. That made me feel like I was watching a parent trying to feed their kid broccoli and spinach chopped up into brownies.

Then, I made myself actually read the book, and found out it was, in fact, a better love story than Twilight, and not just  in the sad and pathetic meme way that phrase implies. There are some genuinely well rounded characters, and relationships that explore issues of willful ignorance put up in a person’s head by the two title elements. I guess “Team Darcy” fits better on a t-shirt better than “Team in-depth exploration of willful biases involving, gender, class, and other preconceived notions about a person.” You’d use up all your rhinestones trying to bedazzle that.

 

Hopefully these three success stories will help you learn to love some classics you’ve been to hard on, especially the ones you haven’t spoken to since high school. Go on, try them again with an open mind and heart. You might be glad you did.

Happy National Library Week!

Hey everyone, did you know this was National Library Week? Guess I should’ve tried to let you know sooner. Are you having flash backs to Mother’s Day or Father’s Day? Don’t worry, there’s still time. Run to Hallmark to grab a card and flowers! Go, before they think you don’t love them!

Just kidding. As far as I know, gifts are not required for National Library Week. I mean, I didn’t check too closely anyway, because I wouldn’t be in any sort of shape to give my local library anything nice.

“Oh, hey, that nice college girl left us a chicken flavored Cup Noodle! What a sweetie!”

No, National Library Week is more of a time to appreciate everything libraries do for us. Libraries generally have programming and the like this week to celebrate that. I try to treat any and all libraries in my vicinity beca second home to me, so I am definitely the sort who should be thanking libraries for all they’ve given me. Hopefully that will be as good if not better than instant ramen packets with bows tied on them.

Libraries are a place I can walk in almost anytime and be welcomed. They don’t ask for money or special membership. Anyone is encouraged to come in, and I’m lucky enough that these amazing, welcoming buildings all have books in them, and people ready to help you find whatever book you want. It feels like a crazy miracle when I take a step back and look at it like that. As far as I know, there’s no place you can borrow a free puppy or motorcycle, so libraries really are a special place, and I’m lucky enough to be in love with what they have to offer. Not everyone else with a passion can say the same.

There’s this chair in the public library I hang out at now. It’s a low down, comfy, reading chair in a sunny reading room. My name’s not on it or anything, but I’d sit there every time I found some spare time to spend and a good book to sit down with, (okay, that second one isn’t so hard.) I went through some pretty dark times when I first came to the neighborhood. Sometimes, the only thing I could look forward to was sitting down in that chair and reading for a while. Sometimes, I wasn’t even sure I could get any joy out of that, but I kept coming, day after day. Chair buddy was always there. Chair buddy didn’t care how I felt or looked when I slouched over to sit down and read a while. It accepted me and my tired ole butt every time. I fell in love with that chair, and I suppose the library as a whole, because of how good it felt just to have a place that welcomed me whenever I came in, especially when I didn’t feel all that welcomed anywhere else.

As much as I love books, I love even more that there is a place, or rather, hundreds of hundreds of places across the country that will welcome me and my love of books, regardless of how many Cup Noodles I can or cannot get them for their special day.

If you feel the same way, now’s the perfect time to let them know. Happy National Library Week.

When to get the Audio Book

I recently had to decide whether I should get a new book on audio or in print form. It was a tough decision for me, and one I realized I hadn’t necessarily discussed on this blog. I’ve discussed how I sometimes enjoy audio books and e-books in addition to regular print books, but I feel I haven’t yet addressed what makes me go for an audio or print version of a book, beyond simple convenience, which is probably the main factor in my decision, but not the only one. And naturally, of course, because I’m just such a genius in general, you may well want to heed my advice when considering whether or not to pick up an audio book.

1. The Reader: Who reads the book? That’s one of the main things that draws me towards a certain audio book. Some people just have voices so beautiful and rich that I follow them around like voice artist groupies. Jim Dale, the narrator of the Harry Potter audio books, is one such voice many people might be familiar with. Sometimes, listening to a series with the same narrator for each book can make that voice actor sound like home, a reason I love James Marsters (Yeah, Spike from Buffy, for real,) as the narrator of the Dresden Files. Another voice I love is Neil Gaiman, as he often narrates is own books.

That brings me to a tricky subject: authors narrating their own books. Sometimes it works out great, like with Gaiman, who has a voice that sounds like what cats feel when you pet them just right and they have to purr. IT’s that ultimate listening experience, the creator of this world giving you your own personal story time. On the other hand, and I won’t name names here, sometime writers just aren’t meant to be voice artists, and their performance goes either just so-so or terrible. This can happen when a famous writer or otherwise famous person writes a book and the gimmick of having them read the book is just too good to pass up from the marketing standpoint, even after the whole thing’s been recorded and they sound like a robot that had to stay up all night recording. Still, though, it’s a gimmick I usually fall for, because I just love it too much when it gets done right.

2.The Print Book’s Make-up: Okay, this one comes down mostly to practicality. Check out the print version of the book before you decide. How thick or heavy is it? Could you carry it around with you all day if you wanted? Sure, I’ve lugged some big books around with me, but sometimes that just isn’t worth it, like when I have to travel or I just really don’t wanna.

I got a copy of Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please ages ago, but only recently started “reading” it when I got the audio book, because the book was published on weirdly heavy, fancy glossed paper that made it too heavy for me to comfortably lug around, even though it fit in my purse.

Sure, you could also use this argument for getting the book on your e-reader, but I download most of my audio books straight onto my phone anyway, so that’s still one less thing I need to have with me.

3. Checking the Library: Books on CD can be insanely expensive if you want to try and by them yourself. Sure, Audible solves that by simply making you pay a monthly prescription to get whatever audio books you want, but there’s an even better way. Libraries.

Sure, you can go to the library and check out a book on CD for a car ride or your ancient walkman, if you like, but libraries are actually pretty forward thinking with technology these days. If you have a library card, then chances are you can borrow audio books, for the same number of days your library lets you borrow a regular book, from a website, straight onto your phone, and you can renew them and everything. I get most of my audio books this way, using the website OverDrive, which provides the service to a bunch of libraries, and I don’t even need to leave my house or talk to people, always a huge plus for me. I’d say my inner cheap introvert loves this site, but who am I kidding, that’s my outer persona too.

I ended up getting a print version of the new book I was mulling over, because it was right there in the bookstore looking at me so forlornly, but I went through all these thoughts in my head before I bought it. You might find it handy to do this next time you go on a book hunt too.

Romancing the Phone

I enjoy reading books written by stand up comedians. They’re usually fun easy, and breezy. It can be interesting to experience humor from a comedian you like in a different form than you might be used to, a memoir or essay type collection instead of stand up or sitcom acting. That’s why I picked up the book Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, whom I absolutely adored on Parks and Rec. Ansari promised to discuss the weird quirks of modern romance, dating in the digital age and so forth.

What I found when I cracked open the book really surprised me. No, not in an “Aziz Ansari unveils freaky fetishes in romance book way,” but in a “Wow this comedian just worked with real scientists researching human behavior in modern romantic scenarios then published a book on his findings, and its still funny too,” kind of way.Because that’s what Modern Romance is, and that’s what Aziz Ansari did.

I’m not really sure there’s a precedent for this kind of thing. Sure, Aziz still cracks plenty of jokes and tells plenty of stories throughout the whole thing, but even more he discusses studies done by his team and data gathered by other professionals in legit studies. It’s a highly informative read that really looks at how online dating, smartphones, and the 21st tech wave in general have changed the romance game, a big surprise for me, but  definitely a pleasant one coming from Ansari.

Astonishment aside, I definitely found the book helpful. It’s not the sort of book I would normally read without someone like Ansari at the helm of it, but I felt like he gave some really useful advice regarding online dating and keeping relationships together in the digital information.

The book tackles how exhausting the new sort of dating scene can be, how people’s expectations have changed regarding sex and relationships, and what we can do to help ourselves when facing these problems.

Basically, the books says the new dating sites and social media in general give us way an incredibly vast amount of choices in all aspects of life, including dating. As nice as that is, our brains don’t really know what to do with this much information and find it really hard to remember that those profiles, messages and bits of info on a screen are a real person, which can lead to general fatigue and exhaustion with the process.

I’ll admit I’ve tried online dating before, and stopped for almost the exact same reason a whole lot of people seem to be struggling in the studies and focus groups Ansari facilitated. If you’re not careful, it becomes a full time job, and a boring and tiring one at that. In that way, the book really resonated with me. The fact that Ansari goes beyond just bemoaning how crazy these smart phones make things nowadays and actually proposes ways to deal with modern romance was another thing.

As a millennial, I’m also used to older people yelling at me that wifi is the reason the bees are dying and then hissing and limping away when I pull out my smartphone. Loads of people have complained about phones and computers changing things, often comprehensively so, but loads of them only end by throwing their hands up in exasperation and nothing more.

Ansari does not condemn the way things are; he even says he’s glad to be alive in a time when people have more time and means to explore what they want to be with. While exploring what this means for different people, he’s careful to always talk about how people deal with these different situations, and what the best way to deal with them probably is.

For example, when he discusses how people get so tired of messaging and messaging each other with online dating apps, he does some digging, and finds some experts with useful info. Apparently, experts find that the longer message exchanges go on between two people matched on Tinder or OkCupid, the less likely people are to develop a real relationship. They recommend  meeting for a first date after exchanging only a few messages each. That’s the sort of thing I could find useful if I ever decided to do online dating again, and reading this book almost made me want to.

You don’t have to be into the dating scene to read this book. It still provides a fascinating snapshot of a rapidly evolving world and the people reeling inside it. However, if you are looking for a partner, this could be a really hopeful read, one to give you a second wind and some good advice, in case you’re starting to falter.