Sunday Coffee – Vacation Talk

Hello everyone! After three weeks of (mostly) silence, I’m back! It was a much-needed break and a good vacation, but now I have a lot to catch up on. To note, I went ahead and marked all posts in Feedly as read before this morning, so if there’s been anything cool I ought to hear about in the last few weeks, please let me know! Leave me links to your blogs or comment on how you’re doing. I’ve missed my blog-friends!

As for my extended vacation, I’m happy to say that I got to do many of the things I set out to do in San Antonio. I drove around my old neighborhood in town, visited my old library (where my librarian friends told me they’d be happy to renew my card even though I live in WI now, so I can keep checking out e-audiobooks!), ate at a few of my favorite restaurants, saw a lot more of my family than I thought I’d get to see (including some who just happened to be in town), hung out with a few friends, spent a lot of time in bookstores, and just generally relaxed.

Some surprising good notes: Despite lots of eating out, I also had a lot of really good home-cooked meals with a much wider variety of produce than we have available in northern WI at this time of year. I could just feel the way my body sucked in all that nutrition I’ve been lacking up north. I also got in tons of exercise, walking around neighborhoods and doing yoga for 15- or 30-minute stretches most days. Compared to the first half of February, I was much more active! Unfortunately, the one thing I didn’t get to do was the 5K that I went down to Texas for. Ironic, huh? I signed up, got my packet, bought some fantastic new shoes to use…and then the morning-of, it was storming, and between super-wet ground and a rocky trail, I opted not to risk further injury to my foot. Boo. At least I still supported the cause!

Anyway, I hope to be more present here soon, and I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone! Love y’all! 🙂

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White Sand Volume 1, by Brandon Sanderson and Rik Hoskin

white-sand-v1From Goodreads: On the planet of Taldain, the legendary Sand Masters harness arcane powers to manipulate sand in spectacular ways. But when they are slaughtered in a sinister conspiracy, the weakest of their number, Kenton, believes himself to be the only survivor. With enemies closing in on all sides, Kenton forges an unlikely partnership with Khriss – a mysterious Darksider who hides secrets of her own.

When I reviewed Arcanum Unbounded last month, I mentioned that there was both an early draft of this story and a partial look at the graphic novel version. At the front of the full GN, there’s a passage from Brandon Sanderson that discusses how the early story draft was eventually fleshed out into full novel, but never edited or published. When approached about a GN concept to adapt, he chose this novel. Rik Hoskin wrote the script and Julius Gopez illustrated.

I’m in two minds about this story. The first is purely due to the fact that this is a GN. I’m not the biggest graphic novel fan, and when I do enjoy them, it’s generally because the artistry in them has a larger, more fluid style. This was more traditional in terms of action-stories, and style that I often find confusing and frustrating. I think if I hadn’t been exposed to that early story draft, I would have been severely confused by the GN. Already I was far more confused by the sections that occurred after the plot of the short story finished. So in terms of graphic novel, this was not my favorite experience.

On the other hand, I love this story, world, concept, and cast of characters. I loved these when I first read the early draft in Arcanum Unbounded, and I love these even though they come through (to me) stilted in their current form. My brain tries to look beyond the pictures and tries to put the story together in a more fluid style. (What I wouldn’t give to be able to read the full novel version!!)

So it was a mixed experience, but hey, it’s Sanderson, and Sanderson is worth a mixed experience periodically. I’ll definitely keep reading on in the series, even if graphic novels aren’t really my thing.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Visual | Tagged | Leave a comment

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

caravalNote: I’m just back from vacation and have a couple backlogged reviews. I’ll be back to the blog in a more substantial way this weekend. In the meantime…

From Goodreads: Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

You know how sometimes you come across a book that you really think you should like? That you keep reading because something keeps making you hang on, while at the same time so many things are bugging you? And in the end, you wish you’d just stopped reading because it would have been better not to need to review a book in that condition? Yeah. That.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Caraval, and I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to one of my favorite books ever, The Night Circus. To get that out of the way immediately, let me just say that this book was not at all like The Night Circus in my opinion. Yes, the Caraval games take place at night, but that’s literally the only similarity. I recognized that quickly, though, and so I didn’t find the book disappointing because it wasn’t a second Night Circus.

Honestly, I couldn’t say why exactly the book didn’t work for me. There was something about it that felt young. Not as in, this is YA and so it feels young, but that the characters, world, magic, writing, mysteries, all of it felt like the bones of a really great story when I wanted a lot more of the meat. The thing is, I don’t think it was a bad book at all – I just know it wasn’t the book for me, and I don’t think it would have been had I read it at another time, in another mood, etc. The story was enticing enough to keep me reading, though I knew from the first couple pages that it wouldn’t work out in the end. I kept thinking maybe something would change, that the world would get deeper or richer, and I’d be swept away. The magic left me untouched, though. Ah well.

Posted in 2017, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Gone Fishin’

img_7483Well, I haven’t really gone fishing, nor have I really ever gone fishing in my life, owing to an intense fear of fishhooks, not to mention I doubt I’d get much enjoyment from the activity even without that fear. But insofar as that phrase means “vacation,” it applies to me. As in, in two days, I will be on a plane down to San Antonio to visit friends and family for several weeks. Woohoo!

I considered drafting and scheduling posts for when I’m gone. I’m sure I could write up tons of posts about the interaction of the new cat-triangle in our house, haha! In the end, though, I decided to simply unplug – at least from the blog and most social media – while I’m on vacation. I’m sure I’ll have tons to talk about when I return in March. In the meantime, here’s another picture of Nimi, aka Nimita, aka Nimichanga, just to make this post more interesting. Ha!

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Y’all have fun these next few weeks! I’m going off to enjoy 70 degree weather for a bit. Ciao!

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Sanctuary

About eighteen months ago, I began to KonMari my house based on the principles in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The experience took several months, and I learned a lot about myself during that time. I figured I was about due for a refresher when we moved into this new house. Obviously, in moving, everything I’d done in terms of storage and knowing where everything was at no longer applied. I didn’t know where anything was, and of course, a person changes over time, and I figured it was time to go through the KonMari stages once more.

Except…as it turned out, I didn’t need to. In her book, Marie Kondo talks about never needing to tidy again. She says that she herself goes through her house twice a year just to refresh things, but that it takes only a tiny amount of time because she already knows exactly what she does and doesn’t love. As it turned out, the same applied to me, even after a cross-country move!

Now, I won’t even begin to claim that my entire house falls under the KonMari rules. I live with four other people who have their own way of interacting with the world. While I generally know where everything is in our kitchen, that’s mainly Jason’s domain. The same applies to my boys’ bedrooms, and things like tools that I don’t really do anything with. However, when it comes to the living room, my bedroom, and the office (mostly), I know exactly where everything is, and I’ve created my own personal sanctuary in those places.

bedroom-1 bedroom-2

My bedroom is my own. Every single thing here brings me joy. Sure, there are some pieces of clothes that I need to donate and some things I don’t use as often, but they are so few and far between that I feel no compunction to weed them all out immediately. They’ll wait. This is where I do my yoga in the mornings, lights off, sun coming in through the window. It’s perfect.

liv-rm-1 liv-rm-2 liv-rm-3

The living room, of course, doesn’t just belong to me. The movies, books, and decorations belong to us all. Yet, I make sure this room stays a refuge. The shelves are organized and lovely. I keep the floor clear and the couch cushions straight. We finally got curtains for the room, light gauzy things that help with the room’s airy feel. This is my second sanctuary.

office-1 office-2

The office is a work in progress. Some of the furniture in it is cobbled together and needs to be replaced with pieces that aren’t falling apart. Everything is not quite settled into its resting place. The walls are mostly bare, and the room needs repainting. However, the curtains are of the same light gauzy kind as the living room, and the sun shines through to me when I work on my blog in the morning. I have all my little sentimental pieces in sight, and I’m excited about how the walls will eventually look. The world map has pinned all the non-US places I’ve visited, and will eventually have strings leading from the pins to photos from those trips. On the adjoining wall, I plan to put up a US map for the same purpose in the future. Eventually, the office will become a third sanctuary.

dining

And while the rest of the house is more communal space than personal sanctuary, I did add one more touch to make me feel at home. As I sit at our dining room table, I face a wall of photos above a lovely piano that my husband and son like to play. The dining room – with three teen boys – is often a messy, haphazard kind of place, but that wall is my own personal little retreat, bringing a bit of calm and happiness into a chaotic world.

I’m really grateful that I first heard about Marie Kondo’s book back in 2015. It’s amazing to see her words come true, that when you keep the things that bring you joy, you remember where everything is, and it’s no trouble to keep your space tidy.

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Wellness Wednesday #45: Nimi

buttonFebruary hasn’t gone well in Mandaland. I had the one, brief spurt of energy on the second, and tried to keep up the momentum, but some health issues got the better of me. I’m in the process of working with a doctor on them, but for about a week, I was unable to do yoga or any exercise due to this particular ailment. Coupled with some rollercoaster temps and the general fug of sluggishness that comes from being unable to move much, I’ve been feeling far more depressed than usual. I admit, I huge chunk of my brain just threw up my hands when it comes to February and said, “I’ll start again after I’m home from vacation.”

One part of my brain rebelled, though, and said it wanted a small bit of happiness. That part started looking at cats. Yes, I already have two cats, but 18 months ago, when Gavroche entered our lives, he became an integral part of my therapy process. I knew I wanted a third cat to complete our family, a cat that I could smother in love, and a cat that would become a playmate for Gavroche so that Ash wasn’t being harassed all the time. I figured I’d wait until after vacation to get that kitty, but then Jason took me out for Valentine’s this past weekend, and we fell in love with Nimi.

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Nimi was a stray of unknown age, though the vet estimates around two years. She was recently spayed and just became available for adoption this past week. We watched her in the social-cat room, and saw a few necessary things. First, she didn’t mind other cats at all. Second, she didn’t mind not being the cat in charge, which is good since Ash is definitely our alpha-cat. Third, she didn’t let other cats push her around, either. Fourth, when she warned other cats, she didn’t use her claws, just gave them a warning paw. And fifth, when we had to carry her for fifteen minutes while we filled out paperwork, she obviously didn’t like being held still, and wiggled a lot to try to get free, but never lashed out at us with teeth or claws. I’m not sure how a cat goes through two years of living on the streets and becomes this people- and cat-friendly, but hey, I’m not complaining!

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We decided to foster-to-adopt, to make sure things didn’t go crazy when we brought her home. Ash, of course, would take some time to get used to her, and Gavroche maybe a little, but you never know how these things will go. We predicted fairly correctly, though. Ash hissed and growled for a day, then took to mewing uncomfortably whenever she came too close. Nimi didn’t let him intimidate her, but also didn’t challenge him. She gave him a wide berth but never backed away. Gavroche sniffed curiously and tried some intimidation tactics, but Nimi just kept lying in her spot looking up at him like he was weird, not in the least bit scared. By the time a day had passed, we were able to let Nimi walk around the house without an escort, though the other kitties kept a bit of an eye on her:

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We did have one incident the day after Nimi came home. Right around lunchtime, she disappeared. We spent two hours looking for her, and I was terrified that she’d managed to escape while we brought in groceries, despite us being very careful. I was teary and panicking by the time she finally showed herself again. She’d crawled into the plumbing behind my shower and into the rim of the bathtub. !!! Crazy girl. Obviously we need to work on getting a decent access panel in place so we don’t lose her like that again!

It didn’t take a week to know she was perfect for our home. Nimi officially became part of our family yesterday.

adopted

She is such a pretty girl. Mostly tortoiseshell, part whatever-else, she’s full of color splotches all over, some big, some small. As we brought her home, Jason told her a story. He said that he thought she had been a cat many times, hundreds of times, and that each of her little colorful patches with the history of another cat she’d once been, so that she carried the wisdom of lifetimes of kitties with her in her skin.

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The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout (audio)

sociopathSubtitled: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

Four percent of the population – about one in every 25 people – has no conscience. They are not all criminals, serial killers, or the Hitlers of the world, which is what most people think of when they hear the word “sociopath.” Sociopathy is more complicated than that, and this book acts as a primer to this disorder, also known as psychopathy and anti-social personality disorder.

There was a whole lot jammed into this very short book, so I’m going to review this in bullets:

– Sociopathy doesn’t necessarily make a person unlikable. Often, in fact, they are charming and can easily fool and manipulate others. We always think of villains as sociopaths – think Voldemort, who has no connection to anyone and cannot love, which is essentially the definition of not having a conscience – but there are many non-villains that fall under this definition as well. In popular fiction, for instance, characters such as Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller, Jay Gatsby, and Sherlock Holmes would all fall under the sociopath umbrella.

– Speaking of Voldemort, I’d like to contrast him with Bellatrix, who unlike Voldemort, does appear able to connect with other human beings, thereby having a conscience. This does not mean she is incapable of doing many horrible, evil things. It just means that when she breaks her moral code, she feels remorse, shame, and guilt. Her moral code is ridiculously skewed, but she does show attachment to others and the ability to feel true emotions. This illustration points out that not all crime and evil in the world is committed by those without a conscience.

– This leads me to one point in the book that I disagree with. The book says: Unless under the spell of a psychotic delusion, extreme rage, inescapable deprivation, drugs, or a destructive authority figure, a person who is conscience-bound does not – in some sense he cannot – kill or rape in cold blog, torture another person, steal someone’s life savings, trick someone into a loveless relationship as sport, or willfully abandon his own child. I think this blanket statement is far too simplistic. I don’t believe conscience is all-or-nothing. While the nothing part may be there, in terms of sociopathy, I think that people can range from having a very weak conscience to a very strong one, and that moral codes can take many forms. (Bellatrix, of course, was under the spell of a destructive authority figure!)

– There were two things in this book, published in 2005, which I found extremely relevant to our country’s political climate today. The first were a series of different quotes about sociopathic leaders, and the ways to spot them. While I have no idea if our current president qualifies as a sociopath, some of these quotes are very apt today, in a way that is terrifying to me:

Using fear-based propaganda to amplify a destructive ideology, such a leader can bring the members of a frightened society to see the its as a sole impediment to the good life, for themselves and maybe even for humanity as a whole, and the conflict as an epic battle between good and evil. [Note: the its being whoever the leader reduces from human to nonhuman.]

Quote from Benjamin Wolman: Usually human cruelty increases when an aggressive sociopath gains an uncanny, almost hypnotic control over large numbers of people.

The politician, small or lofty, who menaces the people with frequent reminders of the possibility of crime, violence, or terrorism, and who then uses their magnified fear to gain allegiance, is more likely to be a successful con artist than a legitimate leader.

– The second and more complex of the two relevant bits has to do with the psychological training that military folks undergo to make subverting the conscience possible (thus making soldiers able to kill when at war). This goes back to the its quote above. Part of this training involves dehumanizing the enemy. It’s done by belittling local customs and culture, by presenting leaders of the other faction as Voldemorts, by emphasizing the moral imperative of us vs them. Which leads me to a disturbing question that the book, published in 2005, did not address: What happens when 15+ years of war leads to millions of people undergoing said training, and then coming home post-duty to readjust to civilian life? Can you just undo all that dehumanization? Or does the media emphasis on Middle East = Bad, America = Good, Muslim = Bad, Christian = Good, Arab = Bad, White = Good continue to feed that dehumanization? Are we slowly populating our country with more and more people who think in terms of us vs them, and diminishing the consciences of people who then commit destructive acts of violence under this influence? Can this, in part, explain the rise in hatred and hate crimes against at least one group of people? For me, this is a very disturbing idea.

There is so much more in this book. Illustrations on how various kinds of sociopathy look, comparisons of sociopathy vs narcissism vs attachment disorder, biological research into the genetic portion of sociopathy, warnings signs and ways to deal with the sociopaths you meet in your daily life, the ways that rates of sociopathy vary across the globe, etc. It’s funny – I feel like I’ve written tons here, and yet I also feel like the book only scratched the surface on this topic, making me want to read more in-depth research and writings on the subject.

Performance: This audiobook is read by Shelly Frasier, who did an excellent job. I was engaged the entire time and listened to the book in one afternoon.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , | 8 Comments