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Do Classics Really Stand the Test of Time?

Books Wallpaper

The answer to this question isn’t a simple yes or no. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I’ve noticed that we’re still having the same debate when it comes to school curriculums and literary circles. The argument seems to be stuck in this place — the classics are THE CLASSICS, and they deserve respect; versus they’re ancient and unrelatable and more boring than that weird old comment about drying paint. As a parent, a former childcare assistant, and now a library aide, and a lifelong reader and writer, I have a broad perspective on the topic.

The short of it, I feel, is: The classics are not relatable to much of Gen Z. The world they’re growing up in is SO VASTLY different from Western society even 50 years ago, and certainly 100 and 200 years ago, I really don’t see the point of Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald or Twain being in academic curriculums right now. I’m not talking about teaching history. History has important value, and it’s often separate from literary merit.

I do believe many teachers have taken advantage of trying to combine the two subjects. But I truly don’t feel this is effective. There’s a major problem with attempting to view history through the lens of literature penned in a particular period; cultural ways and ideals shift over time, and constantly thinking of an author as prejudiced or bigoted based purely on the century or decade they were living in means many current readers find no redeeming value in their fiction.

The best English teachers I had were the ones who focused on the common threads of greatness — how certain authors portray themes and characters that resonate with all different sorts of people — while also making it clear these authors were flawed human beings.

So, if I’m insistent on temporarily removing history from teaching the classics (a tall order, I admit), which titles can we find to still have relevance and connection in this modern age?

My first thought is to replace (at least for a couple of generations) the books (with definite merit) that have simply been discussed to death. Let’s expand our list of possibilities.

Instead of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I love, by the way), how about Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which presents a broader and more contemporary conversation on slavery and racial relations.

Rather than Frankenstein to cover the fear of mortality (dark and gross and scary), let’s use Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, which has a charming, thought-provoking, and heartstring-tugging plot and characters.

Charles Dickens (one of my own favorites) and the Brontes are guaranteed to come up in any classics list. So let’s give them a well-deserved rest, and explore The Book Thief for our dose of orphans and tragedy. (Erm, sorry for saying it so plainly?)

Animal stories like Call of the Wild are frequently used to teach us more about being human. But too many of these involve pets dying, often tragically, and just traumatize readers of all ages. Can we take these out of the equation altogether for a while? Let’s all read the original Winnie the Pooh instead.

Long-suffering dystopias such as 1984 and Farenheit 451 have absolutely been succeeded by a big new crop of modern publications, The Hunger Games of course being one of the most famous. But my personal choice is Legend by Marie Lu or The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

Mental illness and disabilities have notoriously received terrible representation since, well, forever; so I think this is another area where we should be quite careful with selections, especially with classics. Honestly, since we’re still having issues with proper rep even in titles released in 2021, the jury of me remains out on how to address this glaring discrepancy.

What can we keep?! (I hear some of you yelling). Consider works that haven’t received as much of the spotlight — Brave New World (Huxley); Far From the Madding Crowd (Hardy); Northanger Abbey (Austen); The Picture of Dorian Gray (Wilde); and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Dickens) come to mind.

And of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is an ongoing conversation that we’ll undoubtedly revisit at least once or twice more in my lifetime alone. The “next wave” of what we value as a society is nowhere near cresting. Issues that we only began approaching in literature 30 or 40 years ago are still developing (acceptance of disabilities are a definite example here). I’m sure that by my retirement, even the definition of “classics” will have altered, maybe dramatically.

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Setting the Record Straight

Stained Glass North Yorkshire, Caryl Hallett

I’m about to discuss a topic that I never thought would be considered controversial, but here we are. The subject is whether or not my writing counts as religious fiction purely because I include mentions of angels and demons, the Bible, and church ceremonies in my books.

In the last few years, I’ve received some criticism for writing “Christian fiction that isn’t Christian enough,” as well as for writing “Christian fiction that makes use of magic and fairies.” On the other side of the coin, I’ve also gotten negative reviews based on the fact I wrote “fantasy that mentions Christianity.” All of these remarks really rankle me, for different reasons — but also for one very big, very important, common factor: None of them are correct.

And here’s why: I don’t write Christian fiction. I’ve never marketed or branded myself as a specifically Christian author. My religious and spiritual beliefs do fall under the Judeo-Christian umbrella; I was more or less raised Catholic, and that influence has stayed with me strongly as an adult. But I’ve always intended my writing to focus on the plot and the characters and their story. I don’t have an agenda; there are no hidden messages in my work.

I simply write mostly clean fiction because: A) Many people I’m related to read my work, and the idea of my children/parents/aunts and uncles reading lots of swearing and love scenes that I penned makes me feel very weird; and B) I don’t prefer that sort of thing in my own reading. I tend to select other authors’ titles with a PG-13-ish rating. I’m not one for censorship, but I’m also allowed my personal preferences.

And the major reason I included mentions of the characters’ religion or their families’ religious backgrounds is purely because it’s part of life. An estimated 85% of the world’s population subscribes to some sort of religion, whether in traditions and rituals, an active spiritual faith, or a combination thereof. So the idea of ALL fiction characters EVER just not being religious in some capacity simply due to it not presently being “politically correct” is moronic.

In the case of my fantasy series, most of the characters come from Jewish or Catholic or Protestant ancestors, so that’s their frame of reference for morals, traditions, holidays, and the like. They don’t discuss their personal beliefs or speculate on theological matters, because that’s not part of the plot. I consciously made that decision before I started drafting. I wanted to tell the tale of a family who runs a warehouse of magical artifacts for a secret organization that keeps humans safe from dangerous otherworldly creatures. Period.

My readers tend to range from admittedly religious to not-at-all-but-clean-fiction-preferring. I’ve received praise from teenagers to senior citizens. I have readers who love fantasy in many forms, and those who are new to the genre. All of them either appreciate that I don’t shy away from the fact an Anglo-Saxon family living in Ohio would — demographically alone — most likely have a Christian-ish background, and that I include references to Jewish holy texts (because my secret organization was founded in ancient Israel); or they don’t seem to take offense to it.

The fact that I’ve been called either “too Christian” or “not Christian enough” by a few critics — on both sides of the “fantasy should/should not include religion” debate — indicates to me it isn’t my work that’s the issue; it’s the gatekeeping of literary genres based on human-led schools of thought.

My work can’t be easily pigeonholed when it comes to the evangelicals, since I don’t outright bring up God, in a specific or non-specific format. The same could be said for the apparent atheists who feel fantasy doesn’t need to be “spoiled” with mentions of (gasp!) a church holding a funeral.

When it comes to my sales, I’ll be very blunt: I would much rather sell to readers looking for a fun fantasy than to people who will only buy a title based on the author’s religious affiliation. I do know some of my readers greatly appreciate I’m not afraid to bring in references to the Bible or the Torah, in the same book as faeries and magic. And I’m not afraid to mix the two; I really feel it doesn’t constitute a crisis of faith or church practices, as traditional teachings warn against humans getting too involved in cosmic powers they can’t understand or control, and all the magic-users in my series are non-human creatures, or hybrids that are only half-mortal. JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis broke the mold, and set the standard for mixing religion and fantasy, long before I came along. They were facing the same questions, and nowadays are considered sin-free, “Christian fantasy” authors.

However, like Tolkien, I’d prefer to be known as a fantasy writer first.

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It Calls From the Sea: Blog Tour

It Calls From the Sea: An Anthology of Terror on the Deep Blue Sea - Kindle  edition by Publishing, Eerie River, Chris Bannor, Chris Hewitt, Christopher  Bond, Dan Le Fever, David Green,

Good morning, everyone! Does the suspense and horror fan in your life need some new summer reading? Are you hoping to dive into (ha, yes, I did) more short fiction? Then consider this collection of ocean-themed spinetinglers!

Summary:

Prepare to die. The sea awakens.

Within the Mariana Trench, a research vessel’s crew is threatened by a mysterious force. A father and daughter’s holiday by the ocean turns deadly as a sinister creature stalks them. A group of friends learn that some things should remain in the ocean. Filled with a sense of wonder, a young biologist discovers a new species of kelp, but with disastrous consequences.

It Calls From the Sea is an all-original anthology of twenty brutal tales of horror from the deep blue sea.

Eerie River brings you another round of insatiable horror. There is no end to the terrors we have in store and there is nowhere left to hide. Get comfy, this is going to be a wild ride.

Here’s a taste of what’s in store for readers with this snippet from the story “Dead Ships” by author Georgia Cook:

It washed up at dawn, drawn in on the morning tide from around the curve of the bay; a fishing boat, small enough for a cabin and a crew of three, but of no make or name we recognized. It curved gently towards the beach, its path haphazard and aimless, engines silent and windows dark. By the time it hit the shingle and plowed to a juddering halt a small crowd of us had gathered on the dockside to watch.

There’s something about an empty boat–something dragged in off the tide like that, all slow and sedate–you get to feeling it after a certain time at sea, like a second sense. That’s why none of the old fishermen made a move when it finally came to rest; they already knew what we’d find.
Perhaps it started with the snow.

Great, driving fistfuls were we got that month; merciless, relentless, day after day. A frigid wind howled it down off the clifftops, swamping the roads and transforming the surrounding hills into impenetrable, white monoliths. Nobody arrived in town, nobody left; that’s how things go around here come winter.

There’s a saying in these parts that it takes a special kind of madness to move here from out of town, and another kind to stay. The seas and the cold breed a particular type of person–it settles in the bones, then squeezes the lungs; sharp and cloying in every breath. This far north the cold is bitter. Or perhaps it started before that, and none of us noticed.

Some of us tried to sail that week, but only made it as far as the curve of the bay before we were forced to turn back. Battered by the gale and the driving snow, there was no thought of casting our nets. Cutting through the snow was like cutting through ice; nothing in either direction but tumbling flakes and shifting, black sea.
We watched the snow fall, watched it settle on the water and sink, and out of it all we watched the boat arrive.
Philip Abernathy was the first to climb abroad, shimmying up the side like a boy climbing a drainpipe. Twenty-three that May–newly promoted, the youngest Constable in a town of sturdy fishermen and grey-faced old men–possibly he felt it his duty to take charge, or at very least be the first to check. He was, after all, vastly on his own up here until the snows cleared and the mountain roads became accessible again. He’d been our Constable for all of two months, and up until then had contended with nothing worse than the odd Drunk and Disorderly on a Saturday night. It was too cold, too dark, to expect any trouble worth hurrying for

This collection is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0924PHP9F

And there’s a giveaway for a gift card! Open to anyone who wants to go for it!: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f260/

So, load this up on your e-reader before heading out to the beach! …Or…maybe just for a cozy staycation on dry land…


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The YouTube Discussion Updated

Exploring the tech-infused world of Horizon: Zero Dawn - CNET

I phrased it like that because I’m pretty sure I did a post about YouTube and its pros and cons a few years ago. (If you feel like hunting through my archives and you find it, go you.) Anyway, I do recall that several months back, I started thinking how much our YouTube viewing habits have changed in my family…and thinking that I should write a post about it.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER, RIGHT?!

So, I do believe it’s unquestionable that YouTube has gone from being a niche market to an established force in the entertainment industry. There are literally thousands of people who actually make a decent income from filming and uploading videos to this site. Some of them are even household names. Including in my own household. White Fang introduced Muffin to legit legends such as DanTDM — who has been around since my oldest was the age my youngest is now.

Muffin has discovered plenty of his own favorites — like Unspeakable, FGTeev, and Kindly Keyin. Gaming Beaver’s videos on Jurassic World Evolution taught my kids how to play that game. The other day, even a Brianna and Preston Playz video about Minecraft had me cracking up.

Gone are the days of awkward Ryan’s World videos, worries that Muffin will want in on the Ice Bucket Challenge, and whatever the hell that thing was when people put a ton of rubberbands around a rotten watermelon until it exploded. YouTubers have found their own flows — whether they enjoy doing travel vlogs, putting a fun spin on general life things, reviewing movies, playing computer games, or making an entire channel from the POV of their dog. The platform doesn’t need to prove itself as unique or worthy of attention anymore.

And while I realized that the novelty, as such, has worn off for my family, I’m also very aware that now this platform has found a fixed place in our lives. We could do without it — but we really, really don’t want to.

A few years ago, I also started complaining about how crap TV shows were getting, and how the age of streaming services was seriously leading me to consider alternatives. Not that YT actually has formal episodes of shows (most channels don’t, at least), but it has definitely filled a previous void left by the lack of enjoyable weekly content.

It isn’t just us, either. YT is a major reason everyone sometimes randomly breaks into, “Ba-by Shark, do-do-do-do!”, and why the word “viral” is used in conversations not pertaining one bit to illness. YT absolutely helped us all get through the lockdowns without losing our sanity.

Not that it’s all fun and giggles, unfortunately. Like any industry’s celebrities, some YouTubers behave badly. (Logan Paul, anyone? UUUUUUUGH.) If I never see another video from the Spy Ninjas or Grace and Stephen Sharer, it will be too soon. And the fact that Ryan’s Toy Reviews has expanded into a literal empire of merch and even a Nick Jr show — all before the kid was 7 years old, for Lord’s sake — does not sit well with me.

But it’s a concrete fact that YouTube is here to stay.

At least for the foreseeable future.

And honestly, even with the downsides, I really hope it’s even longer than that. Content made directly by content creators establishes a bond between viewers and vloggers that simply does not exist when the media is pre-recorded and heavily edited with non-realistic effects. Scripted dialogue, even when delivered brilliantly, will always have its limits to how real people relate to it. Theatre and rehearsed performances are wonderful. But they also have their place, and their boundaries. YouTubers are actual people — your neighbors, co-workers, students, relatives. It’s why we’re so drawn to these individuals or families that look and act a lot more like us than the Hollywood elite.

It’s one of the biggest things we’d miss if the platform went away.

Although, as I just said, that isn’t in the cards anytime soon.

Thankfully.

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The One With All the Reminiscing

nice Park wallpaper by Mr__Wanted - e2 - Free on ZEDGE™

Lately I’m finding myself reminiscing a whole lot about TV.

I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s the time of year, and the fact that, for decades, we all tuned in to see the season finales of our favorite shows every spring. So, force of habit.

Or maybe it’s a mix of that and the realization that I’ve been watching so much Netflix lately, I don’t have any highly-anticipated season finales I have to wait for.

For the record, I LOVE on demand TV and streaming services. I ADORE not having to wait 7 agonizing days for the answers to whatever questions established in previous episodes. Can you tell I grew up in a pre-internet, pre-Tivo age?

But the other thing that has really hit home for me isn’t just the way we watch TV now; it’s what we expect from TV.

With all the hype recently around the Friends reunion special, I caught myself remembering many moments of a show I certainly watched, and could appreciate what it meant to many people, while still not absolutely loving it myself. (Sorry, fans. Nobody throw things.)

And I saw a thread on Twitter about “which shows do you think were cancelled too soon?”, and that brought to mind a number of programs I hadn’t thought about in a while, but I definitely agreed with some of the sentiment expressed there. (In case anybody’s wondering, my top 3 in this category are Houdini and Doyle, Midnight, Texas, and Stitchers.)

The difference, I feel, between a show like Friends, which was a formulaic sitcom with characters many viewers related to and developed bonds with, and programs advertised in, say, May of 2021, is the intention. The writers, directors, and actors of Friends hoped to make a show that would engage audiences for half an hour a week, and be enjoyable enough that they’d come back next week and the week after that. It worked — mostly because the undeniable chemistry between the six leads was authentic, and immediately something viewers connected to — but also because, in a world that was growing increasingly complicated, such a show about, at its core, simply friendship was a beautiful escape.

Nowadays, every.single.thing has to have an agenda. Every.single.freaking.episode of whatever is about social justice, racial justice, gender inequality, political issues, headline news, and all the garbage that our world is constantly on fire with. Now, before anyone jumps all over me for that comment, let me make crystal clear: I believe it is important to address these things and hopefully make progress on them. I am quite aware that sometimes media and entertainment have helped pave the way for big changes in society and culture, and I support art and artists encouraging tolerance, growth, and peace. HOWEVER. I also believe we don’t NEED a soapbox literally shoved down our throats for valid points to get across.

I remember when dramas handled topics such as racial tensions, LGBT rights, domestic abuse, terminal illness, PTSD, and civil war refugees with dignity. I remember when the storylines focused on the bonds between the characters and how they grew as individuals, and the weekly plots were almost a backdrop.

These were the stories that stood out to me, that made me think, and feel, laugh, and cry.

There are pretty good reasons I don’t watch much new TV. And having real life plastered all over my fiction is one of the biggest.

But also, it’s because a lot of what’s presented in television striving to be realistic still isn’t…right.

At the risk of needing to shield myself from rotten tomatoes: again, let’s look at Friends. It wasn’t even filmed in New York City. None of them have accurate accents. In the early seasons, there was NO way they could afford apartments in Greenwich Village. These were also adults dating in the age of AIDS, and somehow not caring at all that they slept with apparently hundreds of people before finding — or finally keeping — their lifetime partner, and the serious risks they were exposing themselves to.

Now, I know I just said above that we don’t need our entertainment to be totally believable. But, if it doesn’t even show up on our radar, how much are we going to care about the characters, and keep tuning in?

How do we strike a good balance between totally unrelatable and too heavy?

I don’t know if I have an answer.

I just know that plenty of other programs figured that out in the past. And that means nowadays, I miss good TV.

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This Moth’s Thoughts on the Grishaverse

Carrie on Twitter: "Four reasons to watch #ShadowAndBone except its just  Jesper Fahey.… "

A long time ago, I read Shadow and Bone and part of Six of Crows by then-new author Leigh Bardugo. It wasn’t a great experience. On the one hand, I appreciated the Russian-themed worldbuilding. On the other, I never fell in love with Bardugo’s characters, the way many have; and her apparent sanctioning of intense violence and flagrant law-breaking never sat well with me. Despite the fact these things turned me off so much that I’ve never finished reading either series, I was interested in the premiere of the Netflix show, “Shadow and Bone.”

I can pretty much sum up my thoughts on the show in the gif above. That scene was among my favorites — and it isn’t in the books. The show effectively demonstrates the seriousness of Alina’s situation — she didn’t ask to be the Chosen One, but she is, and she was used by a really evil dude and now the fate of the whole world is in her inexperienced hands — while putting in a number of lighter moments, such as the invention of Milo the Goat.

The characters were overall more relatable, less Superhero In An Instant (Six of Crows was particularly unbelievable for me in this regard), and the plot had been streamlined and was easier to follow (I really struggled with Bardugo’s writing style). The special effects were well done, and the pacing in each episode was decent. As a TV show, it was fun.

But just under the surface, all the reasons I couldn’t connect to the source material were still there.

Here are my major complaints with the Grishaverse:

Alina is the biggest Mary Sue EVER. She’s even worse than Bella Swan. Yes, I just said that. Especially in books 1 and 2 of Twilight, Bella is *aware* how much she’s playing with fire by being attracted to Edward. Alina Starkoff, in comparison, is the MOST naive, MOST helpless, MOST so-unlikely-to-be-the-Chosen-One-that-OF-COURSE-she’s-the-Chosen-One in the history of YA fantasy. When Bella does become a vampire, despite her earlier misgivings (and some definitely questionable plot devices), she embraces her new role. Alina is NOT a spunky young orphan trying to make her way in the world. She NEVER STOPS WHINING. She gets to leave the battlefront of an extremely dangerous war, and is taken to a lavish palace where her every need is met, and she cries and cries that she’s let her friends down. Alina has been given the chance to save her country — which will certainly help out her friends in the army! — and all she does is moan about discovering her amazing powers and being revered as a saint and…just, everything.

There’s a bloody love triangle with 3 equally unlikeable people. I was really over love triangles before they’d truly gained momentum in YA fic, so I kind of just went with it and placed my own bets on the outcome. (For the record, I was Team Jacob, and Team Gale.) But in Alina’s case, I literally DIDN’T CARE whether she chose the Darkling or Mal — mostly because I hated all three of them. If all of our protagonists had died, I would’ve considered that a fitting ending to the Grisha trilogy.

The sympathetic portrayal of the Darkling is unsettling. The Darkling is an egomaniac who wants to take over the world. Yes, he started out as just a power-hungry individual from a marginalized community, and yes, there were injustices against the Grishas that they didn’t deserve. HOWEVER, once he crossed the line from wanting to defend his people, to killing whoever got in his way, whatever the cost — which he absolutely did, long before Alina entered the picture — the idea of presenting him as a “misunderstood” character is greatly disturbing.*

*The only thing Bardugo does right, in my view, with the Darkling is making it clear the narration supports Alina defeating him, and that as a boyfriend he would be very abusive and controlling. But I maintain my conviction that the presentation of him as a narcissistic murder who’s also a natural leader just looking for respect for his peers is NOT okay. It means there are fans who actually ship Alina and the Darkling, a relationship based on deceit and manipulation. The indication that Alina may one day be able to forgive the Darkling for his crimes because of how he suffered in his past, regardless of his own very terrible actions, is concerning to say the least.*

When you can’t even cheer on the heroes of the tale. For me, this applies to both Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows. In the first, Alina is the WORST candidate for Underdog Heroine. In the second, Kaz Brekker is described by the narration itself as the most cold-hearted bastard — so why in the hell would we root for him to succeed?! I can handle flawed protagonists, even morally gray characters with tragic backgrounds. But when you’re actively hoping they all get killed as you read, this is a problem.

All in all, I don’t regret the week I spent watching the Netflix adaptation, but I wholeheartedly stand by my dislike of the source material. And in a way, I do still feel bad that I never could connect to these stories, when so many people have bonded. It’s the strange dichotomy of my life — I appreciate the fandoms of popular series, understand their passion; and yet, my own beliefs on why a program or novel is not for me will remain iron-clad.

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Does A Book Dragon Really Change Its Reading Scales?

Bookwyrm by Chromamancer on DeviantArt | Book dragon, Dragon pictures,  Dragon art

I was out of control. I’d acquire a stack of library books, all due at the same time, add to the bunch of subscription box books I hadn’t yet read, spend a few days reading the first few pages of the library selections and tossing them all aside, and still not getting to the books I already owned. Put this cycle on rinse and repeat, in an infinite loop.

This was the cycle I was stuck in, even before the start of the pandemic. I couldn’t get into anything I tried to read. I was frustrated with overdone tropes, recycled plots, one-dimensional characters, series whose lives were being unnecessarily prolonged by greedy publishers. The joy of finding a new title or author had been sucked out of me. Cynicism was setting in, and growing.

So, my New Year’s resolution for 2021 was, simply but profoundly: To change the way I chose books.

I set some ground rules right away: Try to find brand-new-to-me authors. If I stumbled back on a title or series I’d started but abandoned years ago, and it was feeling right for the present moment, jump on it. If it was the latest in a series I’d struggled with in the past, let it go. If popular genres aren’t working anymore, explore further afield.

Also, if I bought it, if it’s sat on my shelf for more than 6 months without being touched, time to move it to the top of the TBR.

I was the bookdragon equivalent of a leopard trying to change its spots — focusing, appropriately, on changing my reading scales.

The scales that shone with delight over Terry Pratchett and Maggie Stiefvater could absolutely keep glowing. The ones that got a little grayish over too much high fantasy and mystery novels ballooning to 500 pages deserved some sprucing up. The ones that turned black with disappointment, regret, or angst over the dystopia craze and vampires turning sparkly were allowed to fall off and die peacefully.

I also decided I want to listen to more audiobooks, explore more anthologies, and get back to requesting ARCs. I determined the focus needed to be on what I really wanted to read, rather than stabbing blindly in the dark and snatching up everything I made contact with.

In some ways, I’ve had success so far. There’s an anthology of short stories ARC on its way to me. I finally read The Lunar Chronicles, and enjoyed it. I discovered an awesome YA fantasy, City of the Plague God. For my book club this month, the topic is non-fiction, and that’s definitely more palatable via audio format.

On the other hand, I’m discovering that some losses will have to be accepted. One: I do believe I have exhausted the library system. Better take a year off from searching for titles that just aren’t owned by any libraries in my area. Two: Audiobooks are great, but with the big switch to apps like Audible for many people, libraries are carrying less CDs, and that’s a huge issue for me, since I don’t own a cell phone or tablet. Three: I still hate the tropes I already hated, and styles I already found dull are still boring when a narrator is reading the text out loud.

And the temptation to put off reading the books I already own, in favor of smothering myself with piles of borrowed copies, still exists.

But I refuse to give up. I was much happier when I focused on reading stuff I knew I’d like — and then occasionally be let down — instead of trying to consume every single popular title out there, and then feeling confused or sad when they fell woefully short for me.

And life is too damn short, don’t we all know by now.

So, I probably won’t finish as many books per year as I had been. Oh, well. I’ve already banned myself from joining new subscription boxes or programs. So my wallet will thank me. And I honestly don’t mind maintaining my status as the only person in the book club who reads fantasy. (Yes, I know!)

And therefore, I press on!

Just give me a few minutes to rearrange that stack of brand-new hardcovers collecting dust in the corner and make room on my shelves for the haul I brought home last weekend. They won’t fit next to the Terry Pratchett or the Maggie Stiefvater, because of the library discards I brought in the week before that.

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Is It Too Soon To Get Out of the “Pandemic Mindset”?

Marshall Point Lighthouse & Museum

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As we turn a corner with the vaccine rollout and lower rates of sickness in many areas, while I’m certainly grateful for that, I can’t help wondering that “going back to normal” isn’t a particularly great idea.

I have the potential to be a worrier by nature. My inherent anxiety and heightened sensory perception means that I’ve spent most of my life in a consistent sense of impending panic, because too much overstimulation sends my nerves into a frenzy — and in the world of 2019, there was more than enough of that. Life had become nearly frenetic, with everyone pressured to keep up a ridiculous pace, all in the pursuit of more money, more things, more experiences. I couldn’t do all that — mostly because I’m disabled and can’t work full-time, so the money bit was always missing, but also because I knew getting too involved in too much was bad for my health. So I was trying really hard to stick to my limits — and still on the verge of being overwhelmed.

While this last year has absolutely been difficult and not something I ever would have chosen or suggested (“Hey, I know how to get some peace! Let’s have a worldwide pandemic and make everybody slow the hell down!” said no one ever) — I have to confess, one thing I will miss is the idea of relaxation becoming socially acceptable.

As much as I truly appreciate the lessening of restrictions that may soon mean the chance to travel, to see people I haven’t in a long time, go somewhere other than home, I’m also pretty apprehensive about how “normal” we’ll get, how quickly. There were plenty of things about the “normal” we were in that I didn’t care for. Everyone keeps banging on about how much “things have changed,” and I have to wonder, have they really?

The amount of pressure my children used to be under to perform at “average” levels at school has absolutely altered; the need to protect their mental health is understood by a greater number of people than ever before, after nearly a year of “regular” folks feeling completely despondent and hopeless. Many people have admitted they would actually prefer to continue working remotely. Delivery is now seen as a beautiful thing, not as a nuisance additional charge.

And yet. More sports are opening up to spectators. All sorts of businesses are providing customers with services beyond curbside and virtual. Tourism may actually be a thing again. Some of this I’m ready for myself. But just the other day, I also found myself longing for the days when library patrons had to make appointments to browse, and the rules, although seeming strict, kept everything flowing with precision and a concrete sense of accomplishment when tasks were completed every day.

Attempting to dive straight back into “how life was” feels…dangerous. The things I used to worry about — huge crowds, traffic jams, a shortage of supplies, cancellations without a clear idea of rescheduling — are the things everyone worried about last year. So often in the past I was told that I was overreacting. The world’s foremost scientists didn’t consider it an overreaction.

We’ve been told repeatedly the past several months that “life will look different going forward.” So why are we seeing what seems to be a bunch of the same old, same old as reopening expands?

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Do You Ever Go Back To A Book You Didn’t Finish?

Original Abstract Art Landscape Painting Canvas Acrylic Moon | Etsy

I have become a chronic DNF-er. Several years ago, I decided life was far too short to waste it slogging through books that weren’t holding my interest (or even worse, were actively offending me). But, a while back, I opted to return to a few titles that I’d never finished, but kept coming back to my memory, and giving me a little push. One of them, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, has since made my top 10 of recommended YA fantasy reads. So, taking a risk on going back to previous DNF’ed books can be worth it.

Lately, I’m in a reading quandary. I don’t like the publishing trends since about 2017 (the overused tropes, obvious soapboxes, one-dimensional characters, recycled plots), so trying to read anything newly released in the last few years has been not much fun at all. At Christmas, I purposefully hunted down selections at Barnes and Noble that were unfamiliar authors, unknown titles (with one exception). To be brutally honest, I have yet to start any of them, because disappointment is already niggling at the back of my mind (based totally on the recent pattern, I wholeheartedly admit).

So, recently I decided to do something I never do: Go back to a series I started ages back and then abandoned.

Somewhere in the 2010s, I read the first few pages of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder and Cress, and got confused and not drawn in, and just let them go. I didn’t realize at that time that The Lunar Chronicles is a sequential series, and that all the fairytale retellings tie together. (I guess I really need all my YA fantasy books to be numbered!)

Anyway, I had the chance to acquire paperbacks of the series, and I felt, why not? The Lunar Chronicles hit the mark for my reading criteria in 2021: Not already read it, not a victim of current trends, two of my preferred genres (speculative fiction and fairytale retellings).

I am so pleasantly surprised.

I could not put down Cinder, hurried through Scarlet, and am eagerly proceeding to Cress.

These books are WOW. Marissa Meyer didn’t pull any punches when it came to touching on the darker subtext of the original tales (such as abusive families and relationships), and she also took on serious topics from the modern era (like plague, war, and oppression), without getting preachy or tangential. Now I understand why this series topped all the bestseller lists.

These characters behave like real people — they experience difficulty and loss, and react in ways I could see actual humans reacting. Cinder and Scarlet are anything but Mary Sue types; Kai and Thorne and Wolf definitely aren’t white knights. Just like in real life, their motives make sense, but unexpected complications get in the way of plans and initial choices.

The plot threads all weave together with few loose ends, and each storyline is well-crafted, so you can follow the individual tales and keep track of the far-reaching “grand scheme,” and not get lost on either.

I probably won’t read anything else until I come to the last page of Winter. I need to know what happens next to Cinder and company — and that’s something I haven’t said about any series in a very long time.

I’m beginning to think I should stay away from new releases for a bit…until they’re not so new. Maybe then I’ll be over the hype, over the worry of being let down, and more ready to evaluate these books on their own merits.

It certainly worked this time!

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The KC Warlock Weekly: Review and Blog Tour

The KC Warlock Weekly: Book One: Accused by M.N. Jolley

Hello again! Today I’m on the blog tour for the indie publication The KC Warlock Weekly by author MN Jolley.

Summary:

My name is Levi. I’m a journalist, I’m autistic, I’m bad at magic, and I swear I didn’t kill her.

Research for the paper usually falls into a few basic patterns. Someone in the city says there’s a troll under Buck O’Neil Bridge, or they’ll call just so a friendly ear will listen to them complain about a pixie infestation.

That sort of content carries me through slow news weeks. It’s rare that I uncover a murder.

Being framed for murder, though? That’s a first.

With the Wizard’s Council hunting me for a crime I didn’t commit, I’ve got no choice but to solve the murder and clear my name. If I don’t unravel this case, nobody will, and I’ll go down for it so hard I might never see the light of day again.

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This was a fun, interesting read. It’s an Own Voices self-published novel with an autistic protagonist. While this is rare in itself, it’s also rare (unfortunately) to find a book that has this established and presents an accurate portrayal of said narrator. Levi stims, has coping mechanisms for sensory overload, struggles with worrying about communication difficulties, and prefers to spend a lot of quiet time alone (except for his cat).

Levi is also not written as a character that should be pitied by the reader — and this is a MAJOR departure from adult fiction’s current focus when it comes to autism. Levi simply tries to lives his life the way that works best for him, and really doesn’t care too much about what other people think of that fact. This was so refreshing it hit me really hard at first in the reading.

The urban fantasy plot is at once familiar and unique; magic is real in a real-world city, but many people aren’t aware of this. Jolley jumps into his premise with no apologies, using a lot of realistic dialogue and sensible exposition (not many info dumps here) to slowly build the world and introduce the characters. Much of the story is told through flashbacks, but shifts in time between the past and present are clearly marked in the text, so it’s pretty easy to follow.

As someone who meticulously edits her own work (and does so partly because being on the spectrum means I’m hyper concerned about plot holes or lapses in continuity), I did notice a few minor things that I would’ve liked to see flushed out a little more. BUT, don’t let my Persnickety Bookdragon eye turn you off; this is a very well-written, well-played-out novel that explores common tropes (like mythological creatures or beings) with a fresh view. It’s part detective novel, part traditional low fantasy, with a smidge of budding romance, a fair amount of Kansas City location references, and an excellent look at an autist having an unexpected adventure.

There is a giveaway link at the bottom of the page, for a signed copy (shipped within the USA).

If you’re at all interested in Own Voices and/or the urban fantasy genre, do check out the author’s links below. The KC Warlock Weekly is the first work I’ve read by this author, but he has other publications out as well, so, go, explore!

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M.N. Jolley is an author based in Kansas City. When he’s not splitting his attention between far too many half finished hobby projects, he writes fantasy novels, with a particular fondness for any conflict that can’t be solved through brute force alone. He is currently working on “The KC Warlock Weekly” and “The Sacrosanct Records”, because even in writing he can’t be pinned down to working on just one project at a time!

The KC Warlock Weekly: Book One: Accused - Kindle edition by Jolley, M. N..  Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

From the author:

The book is free to download on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, and on his website. He believes in media accessibility, as he doesn’t want to gatekeep who has access to his stories. Instead of selling his books, he has a Patreon and a Ko-Fi that he requests readers make donations to to support his writing.

https://mnjolleywriting.com/download-links/

https://www.patreon.com/mnjolley

https://ko-fi.com/mnjolley

Giveaway link: https://woorise.com/mnjolleywriting/kcww-giveaway