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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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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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

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How Many Chances Do You Give An Author?

The 37 best books of 2020: our top reads from every genre | Times2 | The  Times

This is a question I’ve been wrestling with a lot in the last few years. I used to decide that only reading one book by an author, unless it was a truly awful experience, isn’t really giving that writer a fair shot. But after repeatedly being let down by the same individuals on a matter of several titles, I think the time has come to set a new limit on how long I’ll continue to torture myself. The following is a list of my most recent lines in the sand, and my reasons why.

(Disclaimer: Taste is subjective, so please don’t feel bad if I’ve happened to bash an author that really makes your day. Life is too short to spend a lot of time on stuff that we aren’t getting much out of, and I look at discussion posts like this as an opportunity to think through what does and doesn’t work — for myself — and for us all to share thoughts that may indeed lead us to our next favorites!)

Matt Haig:

The Humans by Matt Haig

I’ve heard really great things about Matt Haig’s books, how they’re so prolific — writing with the same wit and humor and poignancy for children as well as adults — and how they make you think without being preachy or irritating. But after just not feeling very engaged with How To Stop Time or The Midnight Library, I found myself disappointed yet again by The Humans. This author’s style ranges from (I feel) very dull to frustratingly confusing, and I realized pretty quickly — I’d never even heard of him 18 months ago — that his entries in speculative fiction are definitely a no-go for me.

V.E. Schwab:

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue - Kindle edition by Schwab, V. E..  Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

I know this is certainly going to be a let down for some of my followers, as Schwab has a solid and beloved reputation among spec fic readers, but after not being able to follow 80% of the Monsters of Verity duology, and nearly falling asleep slogging through A Darker Shade of Magic, I believed The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue would be my last attempt with her. Sure enough, while I found the style to be a big step up from my previous dalliances into Schwab’s bibliography, the plot still fell prey to the slow, strong build and then drop-off-a-cliff-into-nowhere ending that I feel characterizes her stories. Maybe other readers really enjoy that approach, but for me it’s greatly unsatisfying.

Sarah J. Maas:

A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, 5): Maas, Sarah J.:  9781681196282: Amazon.com: Books

Now, believe it or not, I’ve actually just been accepting it as a universally acknowledged truth among Maas fans that there’s a whole lot of s-e-x in her books — because, while previously trying to read A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass, I didn’t even get to the steamy scenes, as I developed such a strong dislike of the protagonists in each series so early on, I didn’t continue! I considered trying Crescent City, but it isn’t in our library system yet, and since A Court of Silver Flames features a different protagonist from the rest of that series (someone I might not hate!), I gave it a go.

And…well…er…WOW. I think there was less X-rated content in A Song of Ice and Fire. No wonder every Maas publication is well over 500 pages, since it appears to be written into her contract that copious amounts of graphically described bedroom action shall receive more text space than world-building or character growth. Okay, then…moving on…

Patrick Ness:

Chaos Walking, a Review – The Nerds of Color

After A Monster Calls went down in my reading history as one of the most disturbing novels I’ve ever finished, I got really mad when I saw the trailer for the new “Chaos Walking” movie (with Tom Holland! of current Spiderman! fame), and learned it’s based on a trilogy by (damn it) Patrick Ness. I did decide to give The Knife of Never Letting Go a try, and I just…won’t ever get on board with the “gritty realism” aspect of dystopia. I’m an adult, I’m completely aware that life is not always pleasant, and can often be downright crappy. But this is EXACTLY why I read fiction that focuses on the better side of humanity, not the worst. And it seems that Patrick Ness is determined to make us all hate other people (and he will NEVER get a pass from me for letting the dog die).

So, sorry for that dramatic end note! Unfortunately these are a few more authors crossed off my list, which means I’m back to the tried-and-true (at least Maggie Stiefvater’s new title is being released long after my book buying ban is over!) while hoping to find happy surprises among a whole new crop of writers I’ve never heard of! Best of luck with your own TBR, everyone!

R.E.A.D. – Reading and Engaging with Animals Daily – Animal Welfare League  of Trumbull County, Inc.

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Mini-Reviews: Recently Read, Watched, and Raged Over

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian: Probert, Tim, Probert, Tim:  9780062990471: Amazon.com: Books

Because it wouldn’t be one of my reviews if there wasn’t some raging! Yes, although I swore to myself I’d post more positive content this year (since everybody knows the world sucks right now and we could all use more sparkly joyfulness), this moth will also never give up on her crusade to force common decency back into the human species. (Don’t remind me that this may be a futile endeavor. My heart won’t rest unless I try.)

Anyway, let’s start with a good one! Last month I finished a graphic novel for the first time ever! It was book 1 of the Lightfall series, entitled The Girl and the Galdurian. This book is DELIGHTFUL. The illustrations are lovely, and really do add to the telling of the story (the opposite of which has been a big struggle for me with this genre/format). There’s a quest, but the boring bits are cut out! The protagonist has an anxiety disorder! Which isn’t fixed overnight! And the adventures make sense! And the action doesn’t go at a breakneck pace! This tale of Bea and her found friend Cad on the search for Bea’s missing grandfather is a charming and easy read. Recommended for novices in the format and fans of the genre. It’s classified as a juvenile title, but it’s enjoyable for adults, too!

Think Again by Adam Grant: 9781984878106 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Think Again is a non-fiction account and discussion on why we think what we think, and whether it’s healthy or damaging to change our mindsets — and why people don’t alter negative thought processes. I found it very interesting that, as an autist, someone who supposedly “struggles with rigid thinking,” I already follow several of the patterns/methods recommended by this author for adjusting one’s thoughts. It was also interesting to read about the research that’s quickly confirming people’s biases and prejudices come mostly from an emotional desire to fit in with their family and community, and not actually from logical reasoning or real life experiences. Since I tend to change my mind based on actual people I know or things that happen to me, I’d appear to be the “goal” for civilization moving forward, according to the author. Hmm. I’m the future…

Amazon.com: The Push: A Novel (9781984881663): Audrain, Ashley: Books

The Push was by far one of the most disturbing novels I’ve ever read. It starts off very interesting, as a portrayal of a young mother who came from a neglectful family background and was worried that she couldn’t break the cycle with her own children. But before a quarter of the way in, the reader is given definite hints that either the narrator is unreliable, or that something truly insidious is going on under the surface. As the story progresses, it goes from depressing to trying to be a suspenseful thriller, to slamming headfirst into dark psychiatric territory, and the repercussions for the main characters being COMPLETELY FREAKING STUPID are just horrific and rage-inducing. The ending is straight out of a Japanese horror movie, and I just sat there shaking my head (literally! not figuratively) for about 5 minutes straight after finishing the last pages. Usually I don’t like to boycott, but this author is definitely going on my hit list, for sheer moronic writing. You simply CANNOT write about such serious circumstances as violent mental illness in children (yes, you read that right) without treating it properly — and this story absolutely does not!

Bridgerton (TV Series 2020– ) - IMDb

What a disappointment this was! I got all excited about the premiere of Bridgerton on Netflix (also, now that my household subscribes to Netflix! finally being able to watch all these exclusive originals!), and then was totally let down. I had no idea that what started as a charming period drama would turn into legit smut! I know for many viewers, this is totally fine, and maybe even expected or hoped for (since I later found out there’s a lot of erotica in the books). But for me it was too inappropriate, too jarring from the setting, too twisting the Jane-Austen-esque storyline to Regency era sex education, and I just…what the hell-ed myself practically into oblivion. After watching the entire first season and finding that much of the character development was put on hold to make plenty of runtime for the bedroom scenes, I determined that, for me at least, this was a failed experiment and if there are further seasons, I won’t be watching.

FGTeeV Presents: Into the Game!: FGTeeV, Rivas, Miguel Díaz: 9780062933676:  Amazon.com: Books

From the sublime to the ridiculous, as they used to say…or, from the very unexpectedly inappropriate to the family friendly and wholesome — but, hey, I do want to end on a good note! This was a purchase for Muffin (before my book buying ban, don’t worry!), because he loves this family’s YouTube channels. Another graphic novel (much of which the child successfully read by himself!), Into The Game combines fantasy with the real world without losing sight of what’s really important, which is family and trying your best and not giving up. I have a lot of respect for people who put their kids on YouTube because they genuinely enjoy making videos, not just to make money, which this family embodies. They deserve the accolades and fans.

And that’s all for this time! I’ll be back soon! Have a great weekend, everybody!

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City of the Plague God: Awesome YA Diverse Fantasy With History, Heart, Humor, and Hot Sauce

City Of The Plague God - By Sarwat Chadda (Hardcover) : Target

Welcome to the first book hangover of 2021!

City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda is also the first YA fantasy I’ve read in easily 2 years that didn’t disappoint me, and really made my heart soar. I have so many positive thoughts in my mind about this one, all jostling to be let out first. Let’s see if I can organize them at least a little!

The rundown is: a teenage Muslim American protagonist in New York City, Sik, who’s convinced the legends and mythology from the ancient home lands of his ancestors are just that, gets a startling visit one night from a god of plague, Nergal. Nergal claims Sik’s older brother, Mo (who has been dead for at least a year at the start of the story), stole a sacred relic from Iraq the last time he was there. Nergal wants it back. Sik has no idea what’s going on. Chaos and adventure ensues.

My terrible summary does not do this novel justice. It is AWESOME. I enjoyed it SO much. For me, it hits all my high points: Sik is an ordinary kid, thrust into extraordinary circumstances, forcing his best to come out and thrive. He’s still grieving the accidental death of his beloved older brother. He worries he won’t be enough for his parents. He wants to make his mom and dad proud. Sik spends his time after school working in his family’s restaurant.

THIS BOOK HAS PARENTS! Sik and his partner in saving the world, Belet, have parents who CARE, who ENCOURAGE, who believe in their children and try their best to be GOOD guardians. Even when the plague god creates catastrophe in the city and families are separated, there are still ADULT MENTORS in the story to help Sik and Belet figure it out.

There’s no romance! While I personally like a sweet budding romance, or a pairing with obvious chemistry, I’m really tired of the trope of teenage couples needing to have epic love affairs. Sik and Belet are friends, and there are tiny hints that one day more might develop, but there is no pressure on either main character for this to happen. And since they’re supposed to be about 14, this is perfect!

These teenagers act like teenagers! Sik and Belet don’t act like they know it all and can handle everything on their own; they reach out to the adults and older adolescents in their lives for guidance. I cannot stress how refreshing this is to read. One of my biggest complaints for months now is that the teens in YA don’t seem to need grownups, which is the most ridiculous premise (as any parent would know!). Yes, City of the Plague God is a traditional going-on-a-quest, coming-of-age tale, which does mean Sik has to go it alone at more than one perilous point. BUT he always gets help, eventually, from someone who is older than him and that he can look up to as a role model. There’s none of this laughable notion that Sik can save literally the whole world all by himself. THANK GOD!

The references to Sik’s family being Iraqi refugees are human, heartfelt, and not West-shaming. There was a war, it was terrible, people came to America to find a new life. THAT’S the focus of this subject. It’s excellent.

Oh, and because the Azizes run a Middle-Eastern restaurant, every time Sik mentioned food, I drooled and howled at the heavens above for a kebab with mint yogurt sauce.

The text is well-written, with non-purpley prose that still uses enough adjectives to set the scene, in an easily flowing first person narration that just carries you along on the adventure. The story takes us from modern day Manhattan to a land of monsters and myths, and then back to a city rife with disease and disaster.

The timing of this publication is eerie. Back when it was written, and pitched, I’m sure the author was not imagining the ravages of Covid 19; but there are scenes very reminiscent of what we experienced at this time last year, with people looking for scapegoats to blame, wearing masks, businesses and public transportation shut down, thousands of people gravely ill. I know this is what happens when an ancient plague god stakes out a vendetta on a local mortal… But I have to applaud the publishers for deciding to release such a novel now, when so many kids and teenagers feel overlooked or frightened or helpless in the pandemic. Despite the fact Sik is a fictional character and he faces a different struggle than our own, he and his situation are utterly relatable.

And he receives aid from supernaturally-charged winged cats. Here, book, take my heart; just leave me the tissues.

AND THERE’S A HAPPY ENDING! I won’t reveal any spoilers — gosh, I’m already scared I may have said too much with regards to the plot! — but I AM ALL THE FLAILS over this entire book! We get plenty of humor, pop culture references, a beautifully positive portrayal of Muslims, a sensitive and healthy approach to grief, great family and friend relationships, and a wonderful young narrator to root for. Several times throughout I laughed or grinned or teared up. Well done, Mr. Chadda, so very well done!

When my book buying ban is over, this will be one of my first purchases! I’m off to make room on my shelves!

Seriously, everyone who likes YA urban fantasy should pick this one up! Let’s get City of the Plague God on the bestseller lists!

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I Have Major Issues With The Kiss Quotient

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There are plenty of stereotypes about autism. Some of them are actually based in fact — for example, many of us don’t like making eye contact, small talk, or shaking hands, and are intense introverts. But, just like with all stereotypes, many of the ones about autism have developed over years of misunderstanding or intolerance for our sensory and neurological conditions. And since autistic individuals have been fighting for literal decades now to break apart the cliches and gain a foothold in actual acceptance, I still get really ticked when I see these stereotypes being reinforced — especially when the cliches are pushed under the guise of “increasing autism awareness.”

Recently I heard some buzz about a romance novel series by author Helen Hoang, which begins with The Kiss Quotient, and features an autistic protagonist. Bloggers have been giving this series glowing reviews, so I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately, I was incredibly disappointed.

From literally page one, the protagonist, Stella, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is being pressured by her overbearing (and quite ableist) mother to find a man and give her grandchildren already. This is a ridiculous notion, since Stella freely admits she doesn’t like babies, because she can’t handle hour-long crying fits and the horrible smells from diapers and the lack of sleep. AND — the biggest obstacle — she doesn’t like sex, because she’s had bad experience with previous boyfriends. ALL OF THIS IS ESTABLISHED BY PAGE 5! And yet, because romance-novel’s-gotta-romance-novel, Stella comes up with a plan to get her mother off her back: She will hire a male escort to teach her to become more comfortable with men touching her, so that she can at least acquire a boyfriend and present the resemblance of what her mother demands.

Okay, here’s my response to this: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stella has Asperger’s. She’s very sensitive to unusual smells, touch, voices, and experiences. A woman with Asperger’s syndrome would NOT hire an escort, a complete stranger, to be PHYSICALLY INTIMATE with her. This is the STUPIDEST premise to a novel with an autistic protagonist struggling to find love YET (and I’ve come across some real train wrecks).

But OF COURSE this facade proceeds, with the (naturally totally hot, compassionate, loyal-to-his-little-sisters-and-mom) male escort HAVING NO IDEA Stella is autistic (despite it being revealed later that HE HAS A COUSIN ON THE SPECTRUM). And OF COURSE Michael falls in love with Stella, and the fake relationship becomes real, and his family loves her, blah-de-blah-de-blah..

Oh, and by the way, for a supposed “chick lit” offering, there’s a fair amount of downright smut in this novel. The seemingly innocent title is COMPLETELY misleading — the smut (not romance, it’s erotica) begins before page 40, and pretty much just continues. Yes, it’s a novel involving a male escort — but those of us reading it aren’t his clients, and we can live without the details.

One of my biggest complaints (other than the fact this book never should’ve gotten the green light from a publisher) is that the author herself has been diagnosed with Asperger’s — and yet she wrote a book that no one on the spectrum can relate to. Stella inwardly complains about strong smells and tastes, about not understanding social cues or other people’s emotions, but it’s all lip service: She is not outwardly autistic very much at all. She never stims, never messes up her words, never has a meltdown. There’s one scene where she starts to have a panic attack in a nightclub, but it’s related more to the fact she sees another woman hitting on Michael than to all the people, the lights, the noise (which certainly had a big impact on me the one time I went to a nightclub!). But then 2 chapters later, she manages to stave off an impending meltdown after being introduced to Michael’s entire, loud family. Too many of us would never have accepted such an invitation to begin with, knowing it would push our limits over the edge.

Stella is also — in spite of supposedly having “all these flaws” — an impeccable dresser (she pays a tailor for the most “functional” yet most comfortable clothing), a top employee at her company (because her job involves developing algorithms *massive eye roll*), and fabulously wealthy because she sees no need to spend her money on anything other than the bare necessities. GIVE ME A FREAKING BREAK! Even career-successful autists have passions and desires to engage in things not connected to their job, that cost money — like hobbies, collecting stuff, decorating our bloody house! The idea that Stella doesn’t even have furniture because “it’s not functional, since I’m always at work” (as is actually stated in one scene) is just DUMB. This author has ridiculed the very population she claims to belong to.

And I just CAN’T with that level of garbage.

By the halfway point, I wanted to literally throw the book at the wall, so I DNF’ed and this series went on my hit list.

I’m so tired of needing to put series on my hit list.

Publishers! The next time you feel the need to release a title involving an autistic protagonist, pick a submission by an #ActuallyAutistic author whose bio suggests they’re really a potato or a stack of books in a trench coat. KEEP YOUR ABLEIST EDITORS AWAY FROM IT. Bring in beta readers who are fellow potatoes, or, even better, awkward wombats. STOP TAKING OUT MENTIONS OF STIMMING, SHOW MELTDOWNS, and forget you ever heard the word “savant.” Give the narrator a job in English, horticulture, or domestic animal care. QUIT with the insulting concept that we will never have any close friends, significant others, or pets at the start of the story.

And for the love of God, DO AWAY with the crappy idea that our autism is a condition to be gawked at and pitied (Stella repeatedly refers to her social awkwardness as “her disorder”), and that our anxieties can be resolved with luuuuurve (or, in the case of The Kiss Quotient, awesome sex). Many of us do, in fact, have wonderfully caring and supportive other halves; and we STILL have sensory issues that simply being in a committed relationship will not change; we STILL tend towards introverting because it saves our auditory and processing sanity. Even a low dose of medication or a bunch of well-practiced coping techniques will NOT “cure” our physiological makeup.

I’m going to go take a nap after all this exhausting crap. See you all later, everyone.

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