The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Kiersten White

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein revisited through the eyes of Elizabeth Frankenstein.

I read Frankenstein about twenty years ago and honestly, I barely remember much from the book itself. I remember some of the class discussions afterwards, but that’s it. If I had remembered it well, I most likely wouldn’t have read this book. I tend to dislike retellings or reimaginings of classics except in very specific circumstances. So I have no idea if this book follows the events of the original, no idea if it touches on the same elements, no idea if it follows the same timeline, no idea if it introduces the same characters. I have to take it as its own entity, with the original Frankenstein far in the background.

And I’m not sure I liked it. There were certainly many interesting elements, and I liked the idea of following Elizabeth through the story. One big thing got on my nerves, though, and eventually caused my interest to fade. There were too many flashback sections that served to fill in exposition backstory. I would have loved to see those integrated into the story instead of being a constant stop in the flow.  By the time I was just past the halfway point of the book, I almost gave up on it. I think I kept reading purely because it was a quick and easy read, even though I kept getting annoyed. By the end, while it felt like a good story, I missed the deeper, thicker elements of the original. This felt like just a story, not a philosophical and religious struggle, or even a gender-related struggle, which is what it seemed to imply in the beginning.

I don’t know. I guess I was just disappointed. I loved White’s Vlad the Impaler series so much. It was thick and rich and full of intricacy, and I wanted this to be the same. I think it could have been the same. But it wasn’t, not for me, and in the end, it would have been better had I stopped reading at the point when I realized the book wasn’t going to work for me.

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Posted in 2018, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday Coffee – Ghost Stories

Audible has started giving away two of its Original productions to members each month. This month, I picked a nonfiction listen for November, and a short ghost story for RIP. The audio was just over half an hour long, so I put it on one morning to accompany my walk. The story – Lullaby by Jonathan Maberry, narrated by Scott Brick – was deliciously creepy. It’s so rare to find ghost stories in the traditional sense of the word. Not thrillers or mysteries or supernatural horror, but full-on ghost stories with subtle hints and maybe-just-a-coincidence and all the details left to the imagination. Because the imagination is a scary place. Just think about the ghost stories we tell as children and how we can’t fall asleep afterwards, even though we know it’s not real.

When I was a kid, the best creepy stories came in my grandmother’s basement. There were no windows in the basement, and there were rooms full of pickled things (food, but hey, as kids, rows of jars pickling things are scary!), and there was a buzzer that scared the crap out of us every time the adults used it to call us upstairs. We told stories and terrified ourselves, especially after the lights went out and we were literally in complete, total darkness. The taxidermy deer and bear heads on the walls took on a sinister air. Once, we shined flashlights into the bear’s glass eyes, saw movement in them (our flashlights!), and were terrified that there were spies looking out at us. This is the stuff of creepy horror childhood, and Lullaby had exactly that feel.

I love this kind of book. I had chills nearly the entire time I listened and walked. I crave more of this kind of story, better even in longer, novel form.

Posted in Book Talk | Tagged | 5 Comments

Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor (audio)

Warning: Mild spoilers for Strange the Dreamer, but none for this book.

Now that Lazlo has awoken his abilities and Sarai is “differently alive,” everything has changed. Lazlo faces a choice: betray the person he loves, or betray the entire city he loves, including all of his friends. It’s an impossible choice, one he can’t make, and as he tries to puzzle through to a new solution, a new enemy comes to call.

It has taken me a long time to decipher what I want to say about this book. I loved Strange the Dreamer and have read/listened to it three or four times since it released. The book is subtle and heavy on friendships and full of so many threads that have to find their way to each other. It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Muse of Nightmares was one of my most anticipated books this year, even more so not knowing if it would come out at all in 2018. I preordered the audiobook the second it was available, and likewise began listening immediately on the release date.

Let me start by saying that this lead-up makes it sound like I’m disappointed in the book, or that I disliked it, neither of which is the case. I loved it from the opening chapter, where we meet new characters, and new storylines emerged. The suspense from the end of Strange picks right back up in the Citadel, so that the beginning of the story is flush with tension. All throughout, I kept wondering how things would tie together, and how there could be so many hours left in the audiobook when it seemed like the end was so close. Then a new thing would happen, and my predictions would unravel, and the story would go places I hadn’t expected at all. I found myself several times begging characters (aloud) to step up and do what they could to repair or save situations. “Come on, Minya! Come on, Suheyla!” And the ending was just perfect. I thought this was a trilogy, but it appears to be a duology instead, with a closed off story and the potential to unlock future stories set in Taylor’s series of worlds.

The problem I’m having now – with the book, with writing a review – is that I feel like I’m too close to the book to properly evaluate it. The same thing happened when I read Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the third book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. When I first read it, my remarks were that it felt rushed and random toward the end, that threads didn’t come together. I admitted that this was probably my own fault, reading too quickly so that the last 200 pages were a blur. And indeed, when I went back and revisited the book via audio three year later, nothing felt rushed or random or hanging. Everything came together well, and the story was picture perfect throughout. While I don’t have quite the same quibbles with Muse of Nightmares, I have the distinct impression that it’s the same situation. I listened to that audiobook in two days, dropping everything to just keep listening. I rushed instead of savoring. And some things nagged at me: a plot element seemed too convenient; some of the more serious elements (like death) were handled too casually for my liking; so much of the story took place on the Citadel with the same five characters instead of an even spreading around through the cast.

There are beautiful things too, though. The bond of sisters who can only rely on each other. The toll it takes on a person to endure years of hate in order to protect others from the same. The regrets in realizing you’ve missed opportunities, and the discovery that change starts at this very moment, not at some time in the past that you’ve missed. There is ever-expanding love and friendship; there is newly awakened mothering instinct; there is the struggle between the need for vengeance and the grief that is left when you realize you’re too late to the fight. So much in this book, and I just need time to process it all.

I’ve already begun a second listening of the story, with the aim of going a lot slower and really soaking up all the elements. While I don’t think that it’ll entirely dispel my discomfort with a few things – that, I imagine, won’t come until I look back at the book after a year or two of distance – it’s been helping me to get my thoughts and feelings grounded. As I said above, I did love the book and series. I just wish I loved this second book as much as Strange the Dreamer. One day I will, I know that for sure. But for now, I can’t seem to fully wrap my head around the entire book and the giant narrative world that it encompasses.

Performance: Steve West reads this series and does an absolutely amazing job. I’ve only listened to three books that he narrates, but he’s fast becoming one of my favorite audio narrators.

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Running Part 3: Starting Over

Part 1: C25K
Part 2: Peak

After we moved to Boston in 2014, I pretty much quit running altogether. I hadn’t done much for a year before that move, first because of training injuries, then because of abdominal surgery. After we moved, though, I quit altogether. I was new to the area with none of my normal training routes and a heck of a lot of depression, anxiety, and other mental health and family issues. I only ran once the entire year in Boston, at the end of May 2015. It was entirely unexpected. On the short walk home from my doctor’s office, I decided to pass my house and keep walking because the weather was so nice. I was wearing regular clothes/bra, boots, and makeup, my hair was up in a flimsy clip, and I was carrying a purse. In the middle of that walk, for no reason at all, I just started running. For a mile. It was probably stupid in many ways, but I made it through an entire mile of running and I was so proud of myself despite how stupid I looked during and after, ha! That’s my excited-but-also-chagrinned face above, after said run.

My family moved back to San Antonio that summer (2015), and I broke my foot shortly afterwards. They thought it was just a sprained ankle, and while it healed, I tried to strengthen it by doing my indoor C25K again. [Note: this was suggested by my doctors, about twelve weeks after the sprain, when they thought I should be fine to strengthen the ligaments and tendons.] Needless to say, this didn’t work out well. Nor did it work too well when I retried in the fall of 2016, another indoor C25K while living in Wisconsin. My foot just kept hurting – and it also kept going numb like when I had that first stress fracture I mentioned in my last post – so I finally insisted on an MRI and they discovered the bone was actually broken. For six months, I wasn’t allowed to do any exercise but yoga, but my foot finally healed after that. (Yay!) I went to the track a few times and did running intervals (above), but then we entered our Summer of Nightmares and started moving across the country again, so running came to a halt.

It was a fitful thing, this running restart. Back in Texas, I did the first couple weeks of C25K out on my local trails. Unfortunately, by then my weight was too high for the impact on rocky ground and all the hills. One of my feet hurt with what I thought was plantar fasciitis, but which turned out to be a lower back/hip issue causing strain on the foot. I put running on hold, worried about more injuries, and focused on yoga and walking.

This spring, I began back at where I started the first time: indoor C25K, laps around my bedroom, easy pace, low impact, slow slow slow. Then construction happened, and of course like everything else, my program was put on hold for five months. I got in a few runs – this picture is from the day I made it through the hardest C25K day (jump up to 20 mins nonstop running) – but mostly I had to quit after mid-May. After vacation last month, I picked back up, and finally made it to the end this week. Of course, I’m not running a full 5K indoors – probably more like 2 miles max. And it’s nothing like running outside, which still kills me right now. But it’s a start. Hopefully once I can lose some weight, I’ll get back out to my trails and start making myself a true, outdoor runner again. Maybe next spring.

I cannot wait until I’m out there running 5Ks again. I’ve already made a goal to do one 5K per month during the school year (walking is fine!), and I hope to one day be back to that peak running self that I discussed in Part 2. Perhaps one day, there’ll be a Running Part 4 post to discuss that success!

Posted in Wellness | Tagged | 7 Comments

The Longest Books I’ve Ever Read

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday asks us about the longest books we’ve ever read. The following list is not my favorites of the longest books I’ve read, just the longest. Actually, it’s split pretty evenly between liked and disliked. Also split pretty evenly between classics and modern books. Kinda cool!

  1. The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas: 1536 pages. I. Hated. This. Book. So. Much.
  2. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo: 1329 pages. This one was amazing, and I listened to the 60-hour audiobook with relish.
  3. Oathbringer – Brandon Sanderson: 1243 pages. Let’s just hug this book. A lot.
  4. A Storm of Swords – George RR Martin: 1177 pages. I pretty much skimmed this one through, and quit the series after it. I loved the two previous books but not this one.
  5. Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson: 1088 pages. Probably my favorite book in existence. I’ve read/listened to it more than 20 times in the last two years.
  6. Bleak House – Charles Dickens: 1017 pages. Oh god no, please no.
  7. The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson: 1007 pages. This is my least favorite of the Stormlight Archive, but it was still really good.
  8. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy: 964 pages. Please just die already.
  9. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray – 912 pages. Oddly, this is the only book in the bunch that I’m neutral on. It was okay, though a bit too long for my tastes.
  10. An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser: 896 pages. This one is phenomenal and reads like it’s half the page length.

Are you a fan of large books? Which are your favorites?

topten

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Posted in Book Talk | Tagged | 3 Comments

Sunday Coffee – No Real Autumn

They say that San Antonio had the wettest September on record this year. August and September are often times of sudden rains/floods here, after months of drought through the summer. But this September, we broke the record for most rain in September by mid-month. By the end, we had nearly 20 inches of rain through the month. It may not be much compared to some areas, but here, it’s massive. Flooding, road damage, construction delays, and tons of humidity.

It’s this last one that has basically nullified San Antonio’s chance for a real autumn. Sure, it might be 15 degrees cooler than the summer right now, but the heat index is still way up there, and it’s soupy outside. Chest-constricting soupy. There was one day after we got home from vacation that I went out for a walk because the morning temp had finally dropped to 72. The humidity wasn’t as bad that morning, and I relished it. The next day, the temp was just as low, but I walked outside excited only to find that it felt like 85 and sweltering out. Not okay!

Unfortunately, this is a trend that plans to continue. Autumn is never long in San Antonio. We get a bit of small relief in September (temps in the high 80s instead of the high 90s, with mornings dropping to the low 70s), and then sometime in October we have a few weeks of gloriously cool days. Then suddenly we drop into the 40s, and we start the winter rollercoaster of 40-50 degree swings. Not uncommon to wake up to temps in the 30s and then to have them hit 80s by afternoon. You learn to dress in layers in San Antonio. But those few weeks of autumn days, days when we can keep the windows open overnight and actually turn off the a/c (a thing which is still unthinkable at the moment) – I live for those. I live for the cool morning walks and bright crisp days. And this year, it looks like we’re not going to get any of them.

(Fall 2012 on a muggy morning in early November)

This humidity is stripping away our days of autumn. Every day our temps look beautiful and feel awful. Right now it looks like we might have at least a few days of fall (in two weeks), but I’m not very hopeful. We had that hope for this weekend too, and the cool, dry front never made it this far south. Boo. I want a chance to wear those three-quarter-sleeved shirts and light sweaters, and I may not get it this year.

Of course, there’s no controlling the weather, but I’m just sending out this light wish into the universe: Please at least let us have a few weeks of autumn. Please? I suppose in the meantime, I’ll keep playing with Halloween decorations and RIP books and pretending we might see a few leaves change color at some point before the traditional windstorms of November rip them all away.

Posted in Personal | Tagged | 8 Comments

The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

Hal is struggling to get by in the years after her mother’s death, reading tarot cards for tourists and dodging loan sharks who want their money repaid. When the notice of her supposed grandmother’s death arrives, with promises of potential windfall, Hal decides to step into the roll. The only plan is to walk away with enough money to get her out of the hole, but she has a lot more coming to her, in more ways than one.

A couple years ago, and read Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, and didn’t enjoy it. When I saw this one at the airport bookstore on our way out to vacation last month, I thought it looked exactly like my kind of book. I really like books with elements of the occult. But I really like books that are set on cruises, too, and since Cabin 10 (set on a cruise) failed me, I decided to go a safer route that day in the bookstore. I ordered this one from the library instead.

Turns out, it was good. Really good. Read-it-in-a-day, drop-all-else good. The pacing was excellent, the characters were fun, the mystery was well woven. I did guess the answer long before Hal did, but it never felt like it was obvious from page 1 or anything. And I enjoyed Hal’s journey along the way. The book wasn’t perfect – some continuity errors bothered me (like a character using Hal’s nickname long before Hal ever told her) – but it made for an enjoyable afternoon, and I’m glad I gave Ware’s books a second chance.

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