Monday, August 17, 2015

Reading...The Program

The Program (The Program, #1) The modern world is faced with a new epidemic: teen suicides. One in three teenagers in the world of The Program commit suicide. It's treated as an infectious disease, and scientists and doctors around the world scramble to come up with a cure. A few states -- including Oregon, where the story is set -- have implemented the Program, an in-patient treatment where the patients' infected memories are removed and they are returned to society calm, happy, and well-adjusted. At least, that's the theory. And it certainly seems to be working. The Program carefully monitors and watches teenagers for any signs of depression and "infection." Parents are encouraged to turn their children in if need be. But not everyone wants to have some of their memories erased. Not everyone sees these alterations as a good thing. Sloane and James are trying to be careful. Despite the infection of close friends and the suicide of Sloane's brother and James' best friend, the two try to keep each other grounded and stable...long enough to turn 18 in less than a year, when they can be free from the Program's reach. But their grief and the stress of trying to keep it hidden and put on a happy face eventually get to them, and eventually the Program gets to them as well. 
I'm pretty picky when it comes to dystopian novels these days, but this is a pretty good one. It's a little heavy on the teen angst, but I think appropriately and realistically so. I mean, you're talking about a book about teen suicide, grief, the idea of true love, and all the intense, passionate emotions that just come as part of being 17. And I think the book does a good job of highlighting the importance of validating and working through strong and tough emotions, of getting REAL help when needed -- not just forcing people to put on a happy face and say everything is ok. 
I also think the author did a great job of creating a truly disturbing and terrifying atmosphere. I spent a good chunk of this book stressed. out. Worried for our main characters. Creeped out by the Program handler who is clearly smarmy and gross (and yes...proves to be just that). Distrustful of people who aren't as they seem, and horrified by the forced medication and manipulation of the patients. 
Oh, and it's not a stand-alone novel. A few things are resolved at the end, but it's definitely not a fully satisfying ending.  
Bottom line: if you're in the mood for a dystopian novel, this one won't disappoint. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Reading...The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The Slow Regard of Silent Things (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2.5) The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss is a unique novella that is less story and more character study. It's a snapshot in the life of Auri, a minor (if you simply go by page count) character in Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles. It's not a book for everyone -- if you like plot and action then you may not like it. But if you like really getting to know a character then it's pretty great. If you appreciate words and beautiful writing, it's pretty great. I will say, that it doesn't really stand alone. It's best read if you've read the other books in Rothfuss' trilogy. So...maybe the shortest and least helpful book "review" in history, but it's what I've been up to!

Friday, July 31, 2015

A little creative writing

So, for two days I worked on a blog post relating to a rewatch of Gilmore Girls that I'm in the middle of. And then I realized I kind of hated it. So instead, I'm going to post a little snippet of a potential romance that I wrote when I needed a break from the novel I'm perpetually working on. It should be noted that this is a rough first draft's not perfect, by any means. Enjoy!

Not allowed

Liam O’Donnell lay in his bed across town, doing his own avoidance routine. He listened to the sounds of his roommate Trevyn getting ready for work, and wondered what the odds were that Trevyn would say anything about last night if Liam were to emerge from his hole.

Last night. It seemed like a good idea at the time. A text blast: hey, Beta Radio’s playing downtown tonight, who’s in? It was a week night, but only a few bowed out due to early morning work commitments. Liam had gotten to the bar early, grabbed a drink and sat in the back with his laptop, finishing up some freelance work that was due in a couple of days. A couple of hours later, he glanced up from the screen as he saved his progress and saw Holly walk in the door. Her long, burnished gold hair hung loose around her shoulders. Liam thought she must have come straight from work, since she was wearing a soft orange sweater, tailored gray skirt, and heels, rather than her usual jeans and flip flops. Of course, she looked amazing, whatever she was wearing.

He watched as she stood in the back for a moment, glancing around the bar. A column and the back of the booth blocked Liam from her view, and he debated standing up and waving to her. Things between them since the breakup were usually fine, but definitely more fine in a group of people. Plus, if she couldn’t see him, he could watch her unguarded.

A big table close to the stage opened up, and Holly made her way there to snag it. Just as she was draping her jacket over the back of a chair, the bar door opened again and Trevyn and Elaine walked in, laughing loudly. They waved at Holly and made their way to her, Trevyn gesturing grandly, Elaine still giggling. Trevyn did tell the best stories. Liam stayed put, watching as a few more friends arrived. He watched Holly laughing and hugging everyone, watched as they all ordered drinks and a few ordered food, most having come from work since the show was pretty early. He saw Holly continually glancing around, and Liam told himself that maybe she was looking for him. But he knew, as her gaze occasionally paused on a good looking guy here and there, that she was looking for someone new. Fresh. Different. Holly was a dater – she liked having fun, and she liked to do it with new people. She went on a lot of first dates. Liam and Holly had dated for two months, and it was the longest she’d ever been with the same person.

Eventually, Liam packed away his laptop, slung his bag across his chest, and walked toward his friends. He was greeted with the usual hellos and hugs and backslaps.

“I thought you were getting off early,” Trevyn said, mouth full of chicken nachos. “Where’ve you been?”

Liam patted his bag. “Had some freelance work to finish. Deadline.”

“Well, there are no more nachos for you. You’re out of luck.”

“I’ll survive,” Liam said drily. Trevyn was a bit of a health nut. He played basketball in a weekly game with work buddies, and was in a flag football league. Six-pack abs, rock hard arms…the works. He had a kind of young Idris Elba thing going on, and he joked that he had to eat healthy to keep up appearances. But he had a weakness for nachos. Well, nachos and Britt’s donuts, but at least you could only get those nine months out of the year.

Liam hung his bag over the back of his chair and asked the waitress who’d just arrived for another pint. He leaned back in his chair and looked around the round six-top, at which eight of his friends were crowded around. Trevyn, Elaine, and Mike sat closest to the table, Trevyn and Mike polishing off their nachos while Elaine ate a burger and fries. Then there was Chris, Trina, Hannah, Hannah’s friend Brent, and of course Holly. All of them except Brent had been friends since their freshman year at UNCW. All Yankees lured South by the promise of beautiful beaches and warm weather. Trevyn and Liam had been friends since junior high, and neighbors in a small town in Wisconsin. They'd met Mike and Chris on move-in day. Mike came from Indiana, and Chris from Ohio. They’d all bonded over a love of Mountain Dew and Pepsi (an enigma in North Carolina’s Coke and Sun Drop crowd), and braved the freshman waters together. Trevyn met Elaine and Hannah in his biology class their first semester, and when the six of them started hanging out, they’d brought along Trina and Holly, fellow Midwestern buddies from their orientation group.

After the initial – it’s so nice to have met people with the same taste in music/movies/books/food – there was a brief period of awkwardness where nearly everyone fumbled through some almost hookups, before deciding that they were all better off as a group of friends. Of course, Holly and Liam broke that unspoken code, but that was many years later so the breakup didn’t have quite the same effect it could have in college.

And then they’d all stayed, gotten jobs, moved in. The beach town had delivered on its promises, and no one had wanted to shovel feet of snow every winter or give up year-round access to the beach. It was a pretty common occurrence in Wilmington – come for a degree, stay forever. Bugged the locals, but it helped keep the economy going.

“Hey, gorgeous.” Liam caught a whiff of gardenia perfume as Holly slid into the chair next to me and gave me a hug.

“Hey there,” Liam replied. “How was work today?”

She made a face. “Let’s not talk about that. The newest professor is completely full of himself.” 

Holly had an art history fellowship through UNC Chapel Hill that allowed her to work at UNCW as a adjunct while doing research on her dissertation. She’d been afraid that she’d have to move after she’d been accepted, but the committee had agreed to let her work under one of the professors in Wilmington and just drive to Chapel Hill once a week for meetings and lectures.

Liam raised an eyebrow. “More so than the rest of them?”

Holly smacked his arm. “Yes! Don’t be mean. How about you?” she asked. “How was your day?”

“Long,” he replied. “Mostly client meetings. Dave likes to schedule them all in one day, because he hates himself and the rest of us.”

Holly laughed. “Poor thing. Well, what are you working on right now?”

Liam told her about his projects, noticing as he did that while Holly was certainly listening – commenting and asking questions – her eyes kept up their constant scan of the bar. It was the first thing that started coming between them when they were dating: Liam getting hurt at her seeming innatention. He remembered several fights during evenings out. It still bugged him a little, but he knew he had no right to ask her to stop. Instead, he just cut his work commentary short.

Before too long, everyone was talking with everyone else, but Liam felt like he could only half concentrate on the conversation because the other half of him was acutely aware that Holly’s chair had migrated closer and closer to his. That her left side was pressed against his right side as she leaned into the group’s conversation, gesturing to make a point. She laughed at something Brent said – Liam hadn’t heard the joke – leaning even more into Liam, her left arm now resting across his back. He wondered if he could shrug her off without making a scene, maybe get up and go to the bathroom. But as he was wondering this, the band took the stage, and the low bar lights got a bit lower. Liam felt stuck. He didn’t want to get up now, he didn’t want to make a scene – and extracting himself from Holly would do that, he knew from experience – but his nerve endings were lit up, and he wasn’t allowed to feel that way anymore.

The band was fantastic, as usual, and Liam tried to concentrate on the music. Not on the smell of gardenias, or the silk of Holly’s hair against his jaw as she rested her head on his shoulder. Not on the feel of her skin as she wrapped her arm around his. He caught a few of his friends eyeing him, Trevyn giving him a pointed look that said buddy, just pull out, you’re embarrassing yourself. As if it was that easy. It should have been that easy. And no, when the music was over and everyone stood up to head home – work night after all – he should have followed Trevyn out the door. Not said “Okay” when Holly said “I’m wired! Let’s go walk along the water.” Not let her wrap her arm around his waist as they walked out the door and along the boardwalk. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy her company as they walked mostly silent along the moonlit river. It’s that he enjoyed it too much. That when he walked her to her car and said goodnight, all he wanted to do was wrap her in his arms and kiss her senseless. And that wasn’t allowed anymore.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Reading...One Plus One

One Plus One
Why hello there, internet. Long time no see. Apologies for my absence....I was busy being sick...and then getting ready for camp. And probably just kind of being lazy a few days in there too. It's hard to get back in the groove when you've gotten out of it. 

Anyway...while camping in the sweltering heat with a bunch of teenagers for a week may not sound like everyone's idea of a vacation (it was awesome, by the way!), I did do one traditionally vacation-y thing last week: I read a book! A whole book, start to finish. 

You may remember how much I loved Me Before You. After I finished it, I just wanted more Jojo Moyes, so I immediately placed One Plus One on hold at the library, and it conveniently became available just before camp. I'd say it's not as technically well-written as Me Before You, but it's every bit as enjoyable. Jess is a single mom struggling to make ends meet and care for her doesn't-fit-into-this-small-town-slightly-goth-but-very-sweet stepson and her quirky and maths-crazy daughter (who perhaps has a touch of Asperger's? It's never really gone into in the book, but could be a possibility). Ed is a wealthy programmer and tech geek who is getting ready to go to trial for insider trading. He's laying low per lawyer's instructions and Jess is trying to get her daughter to a Maths Olympiad in Scotland. Jess and her friend -- who work as house cleaners -- have been cleaning Ed's coastal house for quite a while, but their first in-person encounter doesn't leave much of a favorable impression. When Ed happens to come along when Jess's plans get derailed, he offers to give her, the kids, and their huge dog Norman a ride to Scotland. 

One Plus One is a love story, a family story, a story about finding your tribe, about optimism and disappointment. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A (very random) Tuesday List

1. I've been thinking about running today. There are several things I miss about running -- remind me that I miss running when I'm getting back into it and complaining every step of the way -- but today what I miss is is that whole-body-tired-muscles-wrung-out-but-in-a-good-way feeling.

2. Have I mentioned how much I love iced coffee in the summertime? Mmmm...hits the spot.

3. I'm waiting for some holds to come in at the library, so in the meantime I've been in the mood for a reread. Specifically Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Have you read it? Fantastic.

4. Some lovely friends from church told me the other night that they want to play with Christina for an afternoon to give me a break. What a treat! I can't decide if I want to take a long nap, putter around the house alone, or go out and get a pedicure and maybe do a little solo shopping. I'm leaning toward the latter -- it's really hard to reach my feet these days.

5. Less than two weeks until Sooner Youth Camp! For one week I won't be the only one in the room sweating! (everything they say about pregnancy in the summertime is true)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reading...Me Before You

I remember reading a lot of good reviews of the book Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes when it came out a few years ago. Somehow, it never made it into my hands then, but when I came across the ebook on sale, I snatched it up. Over the weekend I finally started reading it...and could not put it down. It's engaging, extremely well-written, thought-provoking, funny, and very sad.

Louisa (Lou) is a 26-year-old woman living in a small English town with her parents, her grandfather, her younger sister, and her sister's 5-year-old son. She has a boyfriend of six years and a job she loves at a cafe. It's a quiet life, but she's happy. Her life is shaken up when the cafe where she works closes. Job prospects in her small town are slim, and eventually comes down to a choice between pole dancing and becoming a caregiver/companion for a quadripelegic. Although neither is all that appealing, she takes the caregiver position. It's a six month assignment, and pays remarkably well. She shows up on her first day expecting an elderly client. Instead, she meets Will -- 35, beligerant, sarcastic, unhappy, and sometimes downright mean. She decides it's going to be a long six months.

Will used to live a big life -- head of an international corporation, world-traveler, adventurer, lady-charmer. He worked hard and played hard, until one rainy morning he crosses the street and gets hit by a motorcyclist. In an instant, his life shrinks to the size on his chair, his small house, and his almost constant pain and discomfort. Will refuses to accept a life that's different, to move forward and make the best of things. He views his life as a prison, and one that will only get more painful and restrictive as time goes on. Will has decided that he has only one choice that is still his to make -- the choice to live or not. And after a failed personal attempt at suicide, he's made an agreement with his parents -- six months and they'll take him to a clinic that performs medically assisted suicides.

Despite being so different, eventually the two hit it off. Lou is quirky, clever, bubbly, and transparent. She's one of the only people who Will feels treats him honestly, not walking on egg shells or making all of his choices for him. During their six months together, Will begins to open Lou's eyes to the world beyond their tiny town, and pushes her to go after what she wants, and not settle just because it's safe and comfortable. Lou brings light and laughter into Will's life, practically forcing him out of his house and reminding him that there's life beyond his four-walls. It's an unlikely relationship, but the two begin to care about each other very much.

But life doesn't always have a happy ending, and Me Before You doesn't either. At least, not in one sense. Instead, like life, the ending is...complicated.

This book deals with heavy, fairly controversial stuff. But it also has friendship and family and love. It's being made into a movie (which comes out this year or next) and the author is working on a sequel.

Bottom line: it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought this book was great.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Thursday list

Rejoice! This list is not nearly so random as my last one.

Me, hubby, and the one and a half kiddo live in Houston, Texas. Technically, we live in unincorporated Harris County, meaning we have no mayor/city council/town selectment/etc., and the county is our local government aside from the government-like Independent School Districts (which is what really defines the communities in the unincorporated areas of the county). So, we live in the Klein Independent School District, and our address is Spring. But to make it less confusing, just say we live in the Northwest Houston 'burbs. Hubby and I lived about five miles away from our current house for three years after we got married. Hubs grew up in the Klein area, but I was (and still am) a Missouri girl living in a Texas world. That said, I've come to appreciate a lot about my adopted state, and this gigantic, sprawling, mega-metropolis we call home. And as we've been back almost a year now, I'm starting to remember and re-aquaint myself with some of the things I like...and don't as much.

Four things I really enjoy about living in (the Northwest) Houston (suburbs):

1. Diversity. Even out here in the 'burbs, there are a lot of people who don't look like me, or talk like me, or have the same background as I do.

2. Proximity to...a lot. There's a lot to do in Houston. A lot. Museums, NASA, concerts, theater, sports, the zoo, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, cultural enrichment, shopping, eating. If you're up for a drive, Galvaston isn't too far away, and for us, Lake Conroe or Huntsville State Park are pretty close too. I'm the first to admit that I don't take advantage of it all, but I feel lucky to have it all at my fingertips.

3. Food. Maybe I want this to be it's own category because of the crazy pregnancy appetite, but the bottom line is if you can't find delicious food in the Houston area, then you just aren't trying hard enough.

4. Confidence. Houston is not a perfect place, by any stretch of the imagination. But Houston doesn't pretend to be anything it's not, and doesn't act like it's got anything to prove. In a lot of ways, that's refreshing. Sometimes problematic? Sure. But I like that kind of confidence but not arrogance is something I appreciate in people -- why not an environment that encourages it?

Now, before you start thinking maybe I've spent too much time being are four things I dislike about living in (the Northwest) Houston (suburbs):

1. It's a swamp. Seriously. Houston's population didn't take off until the invention of air conditioning. This should be a red flag, people. The climate is sub-tropical. So basically, we're talking humidity and bugs. Sure, you can grow beautiful tropical plants and year-round produce. But seriously, so. many. bugs. And sweat.

2. Sprawl. Houston epitomizes U.S. tendency for urban sprawl. This tendency isn't entirely surprising if you think about it: the U.S. is huge. The national identity was formed by people seeking freedom and space and independence. There's space...why not use it, right? So, I get why so many U.S. cities are built/designed/evolve this way, but it's not my favorite.

3. Abysmal mass transit. This is closely related to point number 2. Closer to the center of town, I think the bus system is a bit more functional and practical. And a lot of people use the commuter buses around this area. But residents in the 'burbs just don't care about mass transit. They don't need it, and they don't want it, and they wouldn't use it. I think this is a little short-sighted and narrow-minded, but I'm in the minority here.

4. Pedestrian un-friendly. Again, closely related to sprawl and transit. Thankfully, our neighborhood itself is great -- sidewalks, trees, safe pedestrian access to the elementary school, neighborhood pool, community center, and park. But once you leave the neighborhood, you're going to need your vehicle. I understand why it's that way -- this has a lot to do with that whole unincorporated county thing, as well as the whole it's-hot-as-heck-out-here -- but I adore living places where I can walk or ride a bike to at least a few things like the pharmacy, grocery store, library, and maybe a restaurant or two. I will say that there is currently a really nice paved trail that is a little more than halfway done that runs along Spring Creek not to far from us. The trail currently runs connects a few parks, shopping centers, and a public library. Not ideal, but at least there are some active-minded folks around here!