Not the Usual Sunday Post

img_20181110_151315.jpgIt’s been a busy weekend with an essential oil party, a birthday party, some major picking up around a massively disorganized house, putting together two special projects for school, shopping for furniture for the kids’ rooms (today), and hosting a family dinner (today).

As such, today’s Sunday Post is not going to be as organized as usual. Instead, I’ll tell you a bit about my reading experience over the past week. First off, I only finished one book – God Save the Queen by Kate Locke. I read it in its entirety, but I always had to prevent myself from skimming. I felt like the story could have benefitted from some serious editing. The story – which is unique – just dragged on and on for me. Ideas were continually repeated and it just took too much of awhile for each thing to happen.

classicsofamericanSimultaneously, I just kicked off my foray into Classic of American Literature, an 84 lecture series that costs something like $500 for a CD through Great Courses, and I bought through Audible with my monthly credit.

I’m also still reading Jeremy Benthams’ Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, but to be honest, I’m having trouble finding the right time to read. I like the subject matter, looking at morality in relationship to imprisonment is truly interesting. But I have to be in the right mindset to read philosophy, and that mindset is not at 10 o’clock at night after a long day of work. Unfortunately that’s really the only time I have to read right now.

I’ve been stuck on two books for about a month now: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy. I hate to not finish books. It seriously makes me feel all yucky inside. But I’ve already read The Bell Jar years ago (and didn’t much enjoy it then) and I just don’t care about what’s happening in Miss Timmins. If anyone has any sage reasoning on why I should continue either one, speak now or forever hold your piece.

How’s everyone else’s reading going?

 

R.I.P Wrap Up Post

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I love fall. I love Halloween. And I love the spooky, creepy, strange, macabre, so R.I.P is my kind of fun. The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

This year, I said I would read four books for the event, but I actually managed to squeak a few more in:

  1. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
  2. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
  3. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
  4. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  5. A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
  6. A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas
  7. The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

 

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I also said I would watch a movie to fit the challenge, but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to watch a single movie this month! To be honest, tv shows are more my thing these days since I have such small chunks of free time.

I will say though that I hope to watch Last Year at Marienbad soon. I’ve seen it at least twice before and I teach it in Intro to Film, but I could do with a re-viewing.

 

Sunday Post: Now it’s November

The Sunday Post hosted by the Caffeinated Reader is an opportunity to share with the blogging community what bookish things are happening in our world. So what have I been doing?

introtoprinciplesmoralsReading | In the last week, I have finished the third Lady Sherlock book! Just a marvelous series, and I sincerely thank Amanda, from The Zen Leaf, for recommending it. I just started Jeremy Bentham’s An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation as part of my “read the book before listening to the Partially Examined Life podcast” plan.

Listening |As I was eagerly anticipating November 1 and my Audible credit, I killed time bingeing Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities – a wonderful 2 stories in 10 minutes podcast – and immersing myself in Dr. Jordan Peterson’s podcast. I love listening to this brilliant man so much I now have all of his books on my wish list for Xmas. I’m pretty sure I snuck in one episode of Lore and one episode of the Partially Examined Life as well.

On November 1, I browsed Audible like a crazy person before settling on Classics of American Literature (a Great Courses) which includes 84 lectures paired with a 389 page sort of textbook (an outline of the lectures with a few extras). I’m totally geeking out.

Blogging| Last week I was MIA but this week, I have a few posts pre-scheduled. On Tuesday, I share a few memories of my great-grandparents. I was lucky enough to know them and they’ve been on my mind lately. Then on Thursday, my R.I.P Challenge wrap-up post will publish. I have a bunch of books waiting to be reviewed, so fingers crossed I get around to one or two this week.

candyDoingEating Candy. No seriously. We have soooo much candy from Halloween. My grandparents’ house gets about 300 trick-or-treaters a year, and this year I thought I was responsible for providing all the candy. So did my aunt. As such, we ended up with a lot, a whole lot, of leftover candy which somehow managed to make it back to my house along with all the candy the kiddos got on our two-hour trick-or-treating extravaganza. I shall gain weight. Much weight.

Smelling | So I recently boarded the essential oils train, and I must admit that while I don’t feel like oils will solve all of life’s problems, I do very much enjoy the smell and the way they put me to sleep. Right now, I have a blend of Citrus Fresh, Eucalyptus, and Copaiba going and it’s just heavenly.

Thinking | Holy crap it’s already November. How did that happen?

Wondering | Has anyone ever read the Kate Locke series Immortal Empire series? If so, should I read it?

Loving | As always, it’s the kiddos.

 

 

 

Sunday Post: Here Comes Halloween

The Sunday Post hosted by the Caffeinated Reader is an opportunity to share with the blogging community what bookish things are happening in our world. So what have I been doing?

Reading | I’ve been a reading fool. Which is super wonderful. In the last week, I powered my way through Annihilation, the first two books in Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, and two audios. Four of those even count towards my R.I.P challenge. What a wonderful week!

Watching | My tv viewing is a mish-mash now that the regular season has started, but to be honest, I’m not loving on anything in particular. Anyone have a new show they absolutely adore?

How I feel while binge-watching – Focused and Awesome

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How I feel watching a bunch of different shows at once – Unfocused and Kind of Dorky

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Listening |I finished Gladwell’s David and Goliath through Audible and have been eagerly waiting for November 1st ever since to get my next read. In the meantime, I did listen to an Audible original, Jonathan Maberry’s “Lullaby”.

Blogging |Last week, I posted reviews of Seraphina and Shadowscale, and then I took the rest of the week off.

Doing | Halloween prep! The kids love driving around looking at decorations, so I’m something of an expert on all the spooky houses in town. We have all the candy, treat bags, drinks, and crafts at their school ready-to-go for Wednesday. Costumes have been chosen, random decorations are up around the house, Halloween socks are on our feet, and pumpkins have been decorated.

 

 

 

Seraphina and Shadowscale

seraphinandshadowscaleRachel Hartman’s Seraphina and Shadowscale. Ah, what to say about this duology. I read both of these books this past July and I have been unable to write a review ever since. Even now, as I type, I really have no clue how to articulate my thoughts, so let’s start with the overarching plot shall we.

Dragons and humans have been at peace for forty years after an era of war between the two. When the story begins, the dragons and humans are about to celebrate the anniversary of that treaty with a delegation of dragons visiting the human-run city of Lavondaville in the kingdom of Goredd. Seraphina, as assistant to the wonderful Viridius, court composer, is at the heart of preparations. She becomes further embroiled in the affairs of dragons and humans when she finds herself in a position to aid the prince and princess in their efforts to solve their uncle’s death and decapitation, suspected to be the work of a dragon, an event which could severely harm the tenuous-at-best relationship between humans and dragons.

And so begins the two-book tale which revolves around Seraphina’s role as mediator and peacekeeper between the world of dragons and that of humans, and in the civil war between two groups of dragons, those who want the treaty to continue and those who would much prefer to go back to the old ways. SPOILERS LIE AHEAD Seraphina is half-dragon, half-human, and much of the duology revolves around her trying to find and gather together others like her. Their unique perspective and their unique abilities position them to end the growing tensions and attacks between the two warring parties. Her attempt to bring them all together is complicated by one of her kind, an insidious and frustrating half-dragon who can worm her way into the minds of others and who does so with the express intent of, like Seraphina, drawing all the half-dragons together. Unlike Seraphina, Jannoula’s interests do not lie in peace, but in domination. I loved this focus. I loved the way both Seraphina and Jannoula are, on the most basic of levels, looking for family, looking for others like them. Both are operating from a position of almost desperation for acceptance and love; however, their very different upbringings has shifted their ultimate desires quite drastically. SPOILERS OVER

The world Hartman has created is wonderfully and intricately built, the characters are heartbreakingly complex, and the story feels perfectly illustrative of many real-world problems we have today. I think my problem articulating my thoughts for so long is directly related to how amazingly complex this story is. If you haven’t yet read it, I suggest doing so!

Sunday Post: Alone Time Please

The Sunday Post hosted by the Caffeinated Reader is an opportunity to share with the blogging community what bookish things are happening in our world. So what have I been doing?

theminiaturistReading | I finished The Miniaturist, and to be honest, I can not wrap my mind around my feelings on it. I read it, I enjoyed reading it, some of the intricacies of the story were truly intriguing, and yet I was very underwhelmed throughout, as if constantly waiting for something to happen which would tie it all together. Hopefully I’ll work it all out and then get a review together soon. I’ve pretty much given up on Miss Timmins School for Girls, as in I haven’t read a word of it in weeks, so we’ll see if I pick it up again.

Listening |I’ve been loving podcasts so very, very much for the last year, that I decided, on a whim really, to join Audible. For my first book, I figured I’d play it safe and get a book narrated by a podcaster I enjoyed, so I started listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. It’s exactly like listening to his podcasts, so I am loving it.

Blogging |Last week, I posted reviews of Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation and V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series. This week I have a review for Seraphina and Shadowscale finally going up after three months of putting it off – not due to a lack of enjoyment. I just couldn’t figure out what to say. I’m not sure what else will be going up as I haven’t had time to write any other advance posts. 🙂

alonetimeWorking | Work has been a whirlwind these past two weeks between the TYCA conference and then meeting after meeting after meeting. I am involved in a bunch of projects which is a love-hate relationship for me. I truly enjoy the work; I love the idea of continuous quality improvement; and I’m excited about these projects. Simultaneously, the time these projects is added on top of my normal workload which is a full-time job in and of itself. Also, it means way less alone time in my life overall which is rather stressful for me. I feel like I haven’t had time to recharge as I haven’t been alone for about 13 days now.

Anticipating | I have big dreams of at least one afternoon, possibly Wednesday, where I will have approximately three hours between leaving work and having to pick up my kids. Three blissful hours of alone time where I am determined to not grade anything, clean anything, or even answer a phone call. I may just sit in silence and quite literally do nothing.

 

 

Girl in Translation

girlintranslationGirl in Translation by Jean Kwok was the One Division, One Book read for the Spring 2019 semester where I work. Basically, that means we were encouraged to assign the text in our classes and we held events around the themes of the novel. I chose to include the text in my American Literature since 1865 course – which worked out perfectly as I was determined to teach only one white male author in the entire semester.

The story is, in essence, about a rather quintessential story of modern day immigration. Kimberly Chang and her mother move to Brooklyn to be near Kimberly’s aunt, a detestable woman I will probably rage about later on in this review. But back to the summary. They do not find a land of opportunity; instead they find themselves living in squalor, working in a sweatshop, and struggling to stay alive.

The story is an odd and wonderful combination of the naivete of a child as Kim talks about boys she likes and the struggle to make friends and the hardship of a poor immigrant as we see Kim working and living in conditions so far outside the acceptable range of experience as to be horror-inducing. Then we throw in the difficulties faced by so many trying to balance acclimation, acculturation, and tradition. And an Aunt like Aunt Paula. Okay, so I didn’t even make it very long before talking about the elitist, snobbish, selfish, horrible, horrible woman. She pays for her sister and niece to emigrate from Hong Kong and then promptly puts them to work in her garment factory while housing them in a vermin infested apartment with no heat. I can’t imagine treating people the way this woman does.

Kim, and her Ma, knows that the only way they will survive is if Kim saves them by “making it” in America (i.e. kicking ass in school and becoming a doctor or a lawyer), so Kim studies and studies, all the while working at the garment factory as well so that she and her mother can eat. At times, this exceptionalism did annoy me though. Kim is brilliant, and thank god she is because this story would have been quite different had she been of average intelligence. While I appreciate the idea of life-improvement through education – I am, after all, a college professor – I also sometimes get annoyed at hardship-to-success stories that have geniuses as their central characters. While Kim certainly studies hard, she has a natural intelligence that is her true lifesaver. We see her succeed in the full knowledge that without this, she would miserably fail – as so many others in her position have throughout history.

The students in my American Lit class appreciated reading a book from a very different perspective than their own – and they really enjoyed the comparative discussions we had between this, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and the film Winter’s Bone. They did, however, feel the book was a bit tedious at times, and many of us had conflicting feelings about the ending.

V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series

shadesofmagicV.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in ages.

In the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, readers are introduced to Kell, one of the last of the Antari. While everyone in Kell’s London is capable of magic, the Antari are like the gods of magic, capable of traveling between worlds, specifically three different Londons: Red, Grey, and White, all set in 1819, all geographically similar, but all wildly different. Long ago, the doors between the worlds had been open, but when a fourth London, Black, was overrun by magic in a very concrete demonstration of absolute power corrupts absolutely, the doors were closed to save the other three worlds – or at least to save Red London. Kell travels between these worlds, serving as an ambassador for the kingship of Red London and sidelining as a purveyor of otherworldly items – which is strictly forbidden. When he unwittingly smuggles an item from Black London into Red London, he sparks a chain of events with far-reaching consequences.

Kell is joined on his adventure by Lila Bard, a thief with dreams of being a pirate, who finds herself embroiled in a world she never imagined as magic does not exist in her London, Grey London. The antagonist in this installment, Holland, is the only other Antari Kell knows of, the Antari of White London, a brutal land run by Athos and Astrid (two of the most wretched characters ever).

I think, at its core, this entire series is about the possibilities, responsibilities, and dangers of power, and the first book does a great job setting this up. The second book, A Gathering of Shadows, furthers this theme as Red London gears up for what is in essence a magical Olympics, the Element Games, also known as a great event to bring all our main characters together. But the darkness awoken in Black London will not rest until he has consumed the other worlds, and Kell et. al. have a lot of work in front of them to save Red London. In the final book, A Conjuring of Light, the darkness finally reaches Red London, bringing the fight right to Kell’s front door. I wish I could tell you more, but honestly there is just no way to talk about these books without spoiling something. There is so much to love in this series – the strength of all characters regardless of gender, sexuality, or status, the extremely complex and real relationships, the number and depth of the subplots alone is extraordinary.

The writing is superb, the world building is intricate and imaginative, and the characters are simultaneously relatable and wholly unique. I cannot recommend this series enough.

Quiet: the Power of Introverts….

quietbookcoverSusan Cain’s look into the world of the introvert is downright fascinating. This book was suggested to me ages ago – I think back when I was blogging at eclectic/eccentric – but it languished upon my shelves for a decade until my cousin Hannah recommended I read it. We both have introverted daughters and it seemed like a way to understand them, and ourselves, better.

I am an introvert. You can check out my personality type post if you’d like. Much of this book spoke to me. I prefer being alone; I get exhausted by social events and large crowds – although I do not dislike them nor am I uncomfortable in them;

What I found fascinating was Cain’s explanation of how we came to the Extrovert Ideal. She provides an overview of the path that led us to idealizing and idolizing those who are extreme extroverts which consequently has us diminishing the importance and respect given to introverts. We quite literally train our children to be extroverts through education and culture.

I was very happy she included a section explaining that not all introverts are shy. I am not a shy person; I’m actually a TMI person who will talk to you about personal information at our first meeting. I might even touch you as I am a touchy-feely kind of gal as well. Things change a bit if we are not one-on-one though. I can sit in a group of 20 people and join right in the conversation – if it’s on a subject I am passionate about. For example, conferences in my field of study are fantastic opportunities to delve in to critical conversations. BUT, but. If you want me to make small talk at an evening out with acquaintances, I’m slightly anxious and quite bored. And finally, I need my alone time. Desperately. That’s how I know I’m an introvert. I feel horrendous if I don’t have time to myself daily.

I have learned how to pretend to be an extrovert quite well, and Cain spends a lot of time talking about this phenomenon. She even uses a college professor as an example which works perfectly for me. When I tell my classes I am an introvert, they don’t believe me. How can I be a professor if I (and I quote here) “don’t like people” or “am scared of people”? Ah, the misconceptions about introversion.

Cain does a great job of both dispelling those misconceptions and offering great anecdotes and profiles of introverts who have made a difference. I highly recommended reading this…introvert or not.

Stephen King’s The Gunslinger

gunslingerI am embarrassed to admit that I read this book, the first in King’s The Dark Tower series, way back in December 2017. This was before I started to get back into blogging but considering the timing, it seems like it should have been one of the first books I reviewed…and yet here we are, 10 months after finishing the book and I’m finally writing a review.

Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger, is the protagonist of this epic tale which spans 8 novels – King thinks of them as one novel. Deschain is set up as a good man who has been thrust into extraordinary circumstances, a man on a quest to defeat the man in black, a sinister bringer of destruction. The story takes place in a world that feels like our world turned upside down, a futuristic western in which the world is dying and has been for a very, very long time. Our world still exists and it is even possible to travel between worlds, which happens to young Jake Chambers who finds himself stuck in the middle of Deschain’s revenge narrative.

I fell in love with this slow-roll of a story. Even if we ignore the fact that the characters are absolutely fascinating – which we shouldn’t – we have a setting so intricately designed, so essential to the story, and so oddly mirrored in our own that it is worth reading for that alone. For example, the song “Hey Jude” by the Beatles appears in Roland’s worth with slightly altered lyrics

Also, this book is like a mash up of some of my favorite genres. I mean it’s a post-apocalyptic western fantasy novel focused on one man’s obsession. It’s people with extraordinary powers fighting their way through a desolate landscape with a laser-sharp focus I find intriguing. And to top it all off, what’s happening is remarkably unique. I am, in no way, capable of predicting this story. I do not at all feel like it is a regurgitation of the same old-same old.

Many people do not at all feel the way I do. The book is criticized for being too slow, for being too disjointed, and on and on. Others, however, love this book to the point of fandom. This seems to be a remarkably divisive book. You’ll love it or you’ll hate it.

Anyone who wants to sum up the book, hell the series, uses the opening line of this installment, and I just can’t help but do the same:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

I suggest you follow as well.