Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reading...Cinder


Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) I've heard a lot of people rave about Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, and its sequels Scarlet and Cress, but until recently I'd held back reading them. Possibly out of some kind of strange stay-away-from-the-hype rebellion. Regardless, when my Facebook book group picked it to read, I was excited for the excuse to get it from the library.

Cinder, as you can probably tell from the title, is a loose retelling of Cinderella. We have a girl who is worked like a slave by her guardian and the guardian's two daughters. Although one daughter is friendly and kind. You have a handsome prince, and a ball. And....that's about where the similarities end. Cinder is a cyborg, fused with machine parts when she was 11, with no memories of life before. She lives in a future New Beijing, where she's a mechanic with dreams of escaping her life of servitude. Citizens in New Beijing are thinking about three things when the book opens: the Prince's annual ball, the currently incurable epidemic that plagues earth, and the unwelcome visit of the queen of Luna (the colony on the Earth's moon, populated by people who have evolved into a race with science-that-looks-like-magic, and can create glamours and influence people's minds). Cinder meets the prince when he comes to her to get an android fixed, becomes an unwilling then willing test subject for scientists looking for a cure for the disease, and becomes far more involved in Lunar-Earth politics than she'd like to be.

The story is fun and fresh, although I saw the "twist" coming a mile away. I'm not sure how surprising it's supposed to be, but for me it wasn't at all. Aside from that, the story is well-crafted and fast paced without being rushed. I like the world she's created, and while Cinder is clearly the beginning of a series, it's also a great and complete story on its own.

But one of my favorite things about the book is the character of Cinder. She desperately wants freedom, and just wants to be left alone. She's put in positions to be bold and daring, but she wants none of it. She's a true reluctant hero, but as the story progresses she finds the courage and character to do what she needs to, even at great embarrassment and personal cost. In my opinion, this makes her one of the bravest heroines I've read about in a while. And while there is some romance, this first-in-the-series doesn't have a happily ever after...yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Bottom line: a little bit fairy tale, a little bit sci-fi, and a lot of fun

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Journaling

It starts out fairly predictably: a small, special notebook. Possibly with a key. Each entry beginning with "Dear Diary." In my case, it's full of angst....but not because my life is all that dramatic, but because my pre-teen self doesn't see the need to write about the mundane aspects of life. I have yet to discover the beauty in capturing the ordinary.

As I become less of a pre-teen, I am no more disciplined and my pages reflect that. I spend more time writing (melo)dramatic stories than writing about real life. Those days where I absolutely must take pet to paper, it's generally because of a build up of emotion that desperately needs an outlet. I am angry or sad or extremely excited.

Post-college, I have a brief unemployed period where I decide that I should spend that time usefully -- as in developing some writing discipline. And there is born my writing journal -- a place to ostensibly do writing exercises, start stories, and essentially journal fiction (which is what I love). That...didn't last long. Like most people, I struggle with self-discipline, and any writer will tell you that the number one thing you need to do to be a successful writer is get your butt in a chair (or on a couch, or whatever) and write.

In my 20s I begin what seems to be a lifelong quest for the perfect "system." You might ask why. Why has journaling become so important to me? so necessary to "figure out." Partly because of the romantic writer within me who feels like "real" writers journal. There's the narcissist who likes to act like she's the star of her own novel or movie or t.v. show. But more than that, there's the practical reality that I have experienced the joy of journaling, the benefit for me personally in getting things out of my head and onto a piece of paper (or computer screen...whatever). My writing benefits (practice putting pen to paper) and my mental health benefits. Now, this search for the perfect system is not limited to journaling, by the way. Cleaning, cooking, Bible study, exercise...I have fallen prey to the myth that the perfect system or tool will make whatever it is I want to do regularly effortless. I am learning that a good system can make things easier....but the only thing that is effortless is inertia.

But low and behold, somewhere along the way I settle into a rhythm of journaling that works for me at this moment in my life -- 1. No pressure. If I go weeks without journaling, so be it. 2. One notebook. Everything jumbled together: creative writing, rants, exclamation points, lists, goals, dreams, planning, prayer lists, notes from a lecture or class, notes FOR a class. Right now, this is what works for me, because I finally identified what journaling is for me at this moment in time: it's my way of keeping my brain organized, of processing information, of documenting things I don't want to forget, of getting those pesky thoughts out of my head, and occasionally giving in to a momentary burst of creativity.

Do you journal? Why? What works for you?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Tuesday list

This is the height of randomness today, but it's just where my brain is at!

1. Family came to visit this weekend to celebrate the munchkin's first birthday. (how has it been a year again?). We had a full house and fun was had by all! Of course, now the munchkin wonders why there aren't 2 or 3 people to play with at all times.

2. 22 Weeks. I figure it's about time to mention that I'm expecting another baby -- due September 9. So if my posts seem....slightly disjointed I can blame baby brain AND pregnancy brain!

3. Which leads me to this: let's talk about cravings. I haven't had any weird cravings, but I am extremely susceptible right now to suggestion in the area of food -- if a character on a t.v. show is eating something that looks yummy, I want. And once I get a hankering for something I can't. make.it.stop until I've had some. Ice cream, check. Potato chips, check. Melty cheese, check.

4. Breyers Gelato Indulgences really are very good.

5. Going out to a movie this weekend, and so far none of the theater's near us have their schedules for Friday and Saturday posted. So weird.

6. In knitting news, I started a Christmas stocking and discovered that I really kind of dislike knitting on double pointed needles. Oh well! It seems like it'll go pretty quickly. Relatively quickly.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reading...Red Rising


Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Darrow is the Helldiver of Lycos. A miner in the depths of Mars, Darrow and his fellow "Reds" harvest the mineral needed to terraform and colonize Mars. Their world is a harsh one, but it's the life they were born to, members of the lowest caste in a strict caste-based society ruled by Golds. But Darrow's wife Eo dreams of a better life, a life with more justice, more freedom, more choices. She dies a martyr in a simple act of rebellion, after urging Darrow to fight for better. Still reeling from his grief and anger, Darrow is kidnapped by the Sons of Ares, a rebel group intent on fighting against the caste system and rule of the Gods. He learns that the world he thought he knew was nothing but a lie intent on keeping the Reds docile slaves. But the rebels have a plan for their angry young miner: turn him into a God and send him to the Institute that trains the Peerless Golds, the elite among the ruling class. Put himself in a position to lead a revolution, not just a rebellion. So Darrow becomes what he hates, his rage fueling him as he enters the Institute, a glorified war game whose purpose is to teach and harden the best and brightest of the soft aristocrats. Darrow begins to learn that life as a Gold is more complicated than he thought. He makes enemies and even friends, and learns that their "school" isn't all that it seems. And in the process becomes truly Peerless.
It was an interesting experience reading this book. As I told my book group, at times I was simultaneously bored and glued to the page. To be fair, dystopian fiction in general isn't really my jam, but I thought maybe it was more than that, so I tried to break it down a bit. The things that didn't work for me: the writing at the beginning felt a little flat and one-note. It's very dramatic and supposed to be heartbreaking, but I just didn't feel it. And it took me a while to really get interested in Darrow as a character. I felt at the beginning that he was just kind of a one-note guy. Talented and handsome and angry and abused. Blah, blah, blah. BUT...ultimately, the were a lot of things that did work for me: For one thing, if Darrow was kind of a flat character for me at first, some of the secondary characters that show up began to breath life into the world, and they began to make Darrow more interesting too. In addition, I really enjoyed the world that the author created. The authors nicely sets up the evolution for this reality -- you can see how the world got from point A (our reality) to point B. The world is heavily influenced by the structure of the Roman pantheon and culture, which I found creative. I also liked the plot, and it's the plot that kept me going past my initial ho-hum reaction. It was exciting and dark and brutal, and I just really wanted to know what happened. Which means I'm definitely going to get my hands on the next book Golden Son.

Bottom line: a solid dystopian novel with an exciting plot and interesting world. Definitely worth a try.



Monday, April 20, 2015

Reading...Bird by Bird

A friend of mine recommended Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott many years ago, and I see it pop up frequently on what-to-read-if-you-want-to-be-a-better-writer lists. And there is a reason, because this book is fantastic. I was probably a chapter in, and already thinking "why did I not read this sooner!" It sat on my shelf for almost 10 years, and I kept kicking myself for not picking it up sooner. 

In this book Lamott shares with readers what she teaches at her writing workshops. She shares what she's learned over decades of writing, essentially saying this is what works for me and for most of the other writers I know. She starts at the beginning, discussing the craft of writing, the work of telling stories. She talks about writing as a vocation, a calling -- and how that affects life and relationships and how writers see themselves. She talks about why we write, about the lure of publication, but how we need to write for more than just that. 
 
This is the first book of Anne Lamott's that I've read, but I want to go to the library and grab everything she's done. She's funny, gracious, generous, and sarcastic. 

Bottom line: if you're a writer and haven't already picked up this book, do yourself a favor. If you're not a writer, you might just enjoy it anyway!

Monday, April 13, 2015

No accounting for taste

Sometimes, it seems like there's a book (or author, or series) that everyone seems to rave about and I just can't bring myself to join the club. But I've learned there's no need to apologize for that -- not everyone has the same taste, and not every book is for everyone. There are a lot of things that might turn me off of a book: the writing style, the plot, and yes, even the characters. I hesitate to admit that these days, particularly because apparently there's a lot of discussion out there on "unlikable" and "likable" characters in fiction. Stacked and Book Riot  have both written or hosted thoughtful posts on the subject. And I get where they're coming from, especially when people use the "unlikeable" label on a character in a way that continues to put unfair pressure on young people (girls in particular) to be "perfect." 

That said...

Sometimes in real life, I just don't want to spend time with a person, and sometimes I don't want to spend time with a fictional person either. And I get what this author is saying when she points out that reading books with characters we don't like can help us to be better human beings. It can help us stretch and grow and maybe even be a little more compassionate. And I often read books with characters I don't like (on a side note: does anyone agree that there's a difference between "characters I don't like" and the current use of "unlikable character"?). But in that case, there's something else compelling about the book that keeps me going. Sometimes, even that so-called "unlikable" character is compelling enough that I want to read about them. 

But sometimes, I just don't want to spend time with that character/characters anymore. There is nothing about the story or secondary characters to keep me interested, and I just respectfully walk away. And you know what? I'm not sorry about that. Yes, I feel bad for not liking your book, but there are probably a bunch of people out there who love it. And that's awesome. It's just that sometimes I feel the need to tell people: it's okay to not like a book. It's okay to not like a character in a book. And it's okay to decide to spend your time somewhere else.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Monday list

Today is a list making day. We went out of town this past weekend and got in relatively late last night. So today's a catch-up and make lists kind of day. My to-do list is growing ambitiously long, but maybe I can keep some momentum this week. All that to say, that I was going to post something witty and clever tomorrow, but in the spirit of the day I thought it seemed an appropriate day to post a nice little list of things that are making happy today:

1. Weddings. Our Easter weekend travel was to attend the wedding of a dear friend. It's the second wedding we've been to in the past month or so (this being the start of wedding season after all), and I just love weddings. Saturday's event was lovely, sweet, intimate, and personal. It was a privilege to share the weekend with our friends-who-are-family.

2. Easter pictures. Following some advice in Accidental Creative, I've been trying to make my social media use more minimal and deliberate (for example: check Facebook only once a day for a set number of minutes instead of mindlessly throughout the day), but I can't stay away from all the adorable Easter weekend pictures of friends and family. Spending time celebrating spring (new life), fun, and happy times with friends or family is, in my opinion, a fitting way to celebrate Christ's resurrection. Bring on the joy!

3. Iced coffee. I busted out the Toddy brewer last week and made a batch of iced coffee. It's warming up here in South Texas, and I've been craving iced coffee like nobody's business.

4. A washer and dryer at my house. Sometimes, it's the little things. Although, one could argue that this is a big thing. I'm always thankful not to have to go do laundry somewhere else, and it's something that's stuck in my mind today.

5. Technology. I often have a love-hate relationship with technology, but after a wonderful (if too short) visit with out-of-town friends or family, I'm always reminded about how great it is to have so many ways to keep in touch with people who don't live in the same town or city.