The Light Fantastic (Discworld #2)

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The Colour of Magic (Discworld #1)

One-hundred and eighty nine pages are all that make up this second installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and so as a palate cleanser after reading the giant tome The Name of the Wind, I picked it up ahead of starting the next whopper of a book, Children of Blood and Bone. Spoiler alert, I ended up reading Children of Blood and Bone first, but here we are.

I have never done any kind of drugs. Not even cigarettes. Considering that I grew up in extremely rural Maine where I have memories of at least two marijuana busts in mine and the neighboring towns and at least 4 of my family members smoked around me, this is a minor Christmas miracle.

Keep that in mind when I say that The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic are each what I imagine it would be like to be so high on cocaine that you create your own reality. These books move so fast and are so random-yet-well-planned that I can only conclude that Terry Pratchett was either VERY HIGH ON SOMETHING when he wrote them (i.e. Aaron Sorkin and the first 2 seasons of The West Wing) or he is a fucking genius.

Reading this book was like being spun around on a tire swing, then brought to an abrupt stop, forcing me to attempt to stay still until the world around me stops spinning.

Reading this book was like having one too many cups of coffee and then getting REALLY PRODUCTIVE.

It’s a bunch of non-sequiturs that magically come together to form a cohesive story that is only 180 pages long. You are taking a hilarious, weird, fantasy drag off of Pratchett’s mind joint and you will enjoy every moment.

 

 

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha #1)

Children of blood and bone

As a fan of Leigh Bardugo, I began reading this novel already familiar with the idea of a persecuted magical population. The basic story is this: the evil king murders the maji (full magical beings) and finds a way to keep diviners from maturing into maji. So it’s been some time since magic even existed at all.

There are four major characters, all teens and tweens: Inan, Amari, Zelie, and Tzain. Inan and Amari are the prince and princess, Zelie and Tzain are children of a murdered Reaper maji and live with their father in squalor. When Zelie goes to the capital city to sell fish and is bombarded by a thief trying to escape the palace guards (think Jasmine in Aladdin – in disguise) she and Tzain find themselves in possession of the princess Amari as well as an ancient scroll that causes any diviner that touches it to gain their magic back instantly.

In pursuit of Amari and her newfound friends is her brother Inan, who is a very angry young man who is hellbent on gaining his father’s approval and leading a strong and magic-less kingdom. His constant mantra through the first half of the book is “kill the girl, kill magic” – referring to Zelie, who appears in his dreams and who he can literally smell. He calls her soul “sea-salt scented.”

So anyways the trio is on the run and they come across an old maji at a temple who explains that they hold the key to restoring magic to the lands forever. All they need is the scroll that they already have, a bone knife, and a sunstone. Those three relics and someone to perform the ritual will give magic back to all from whom it was stolen by the king. But they must complete the ritual by the next moon phase, which only gives them like 8 days or something like that. That becomes their mission as they continue to try to outrun Inan and his soldiers.

That’s the basic idea of the story. Now I’m about to give a few spoiler-ish things that I found troubling about the book and that knocked me out of the story.

Love stories
Why is everything a love story? Why is that necessary? And not only that, why do we feel like we have to be in such an all-fired rush as to make people fall in love with each other in less than an hour? And, specific to this book, how am I supposed to believe that Inan, who is all about murdering Zelie, is somehow all of a sudden sympathetic to her pain AND wanting to bone her? This gave me such whiplash that I didn’t just distrust the characters, I lost faith in the story.

It reminded me of the Avatar: The Last Airbender (the Nickelodeon cartoon series NOT the terrible live-action movie) where Zuko is the fire nation prince that hunts Aang, Katara, and Sokka down to murderize them to retain the fire-nation’s hold over everyone and prevent Aang from becoming the Avatar, the being that can wield all 4 elements and take down anyone who is evil. It would make ZERO SENSE if Zuko IMMEDIATELY caught up to them and suddenly wanted to help. The cartoon sends him through a redemption arc separate from the good guys, giving us time to understand him as a more complex character, which makes his gradual acceptance into the group later more palatable.

Inan literally burns down Zelie’s and Tzain’s ENTIRE VILLAGE and then like 3 days later he’s in love with her and they’re making out hot and heavy against a tree during a festival that they stopped to waste a day at even though they are under a pretty intense deadline. This is a huge problem for me.

Party time!
There is a part of the story where the four main characters come across an oasis of magi/diviners. They are under a HUGE time crunch to complete this magic restoration ritual in like 3 days but they stop to help the group of magi throw a big party. They stay and get all dressed up and there are a couple of pages just about make up and hair styles and…well it just wasn’t believable to me. Unless it is a trap of some kind, these maji should have given them supplies and hurried them on their way and celebrated once magic was actually restored. Oh no the king’s soldiers caught up to us and captured us because we stopped running! I can’t believe it! *shocked face*

***

These two issues weren’t enough to stop me from reading through until the end, but they were enough for me to have an aversion to reading more of the series. Every so often I run up against YA novels or series that have this problem, and it’s one that I might not have cared about when I was younger, but is a huge hiccup for me now. I’m okay with drama, I’m okay with heated romance, but I need to believe why it’s there. If I don’t believe it, I don’t necessarily want to read it.

The magic system is interesting, but not original. The characters will feel like ones you’ve seen before. Honestly I was thinking the entire time “man I could put this down and read the Grisha trilogy or Six of Crows and get the same experience.”

What makes this book important and different is that it sets these familiar elements in entirely African characters and locations. In this book Yoruba is the language of magic. The gods that maji pray to are linked to African mysticism. So yes while the book may seem derivative, representation is important. Young black readers will be able to read this and see themselves as magical. They can find someone in this book to relate to or aspire to be or cosplay as. It is a connector to heritage and a conversation starter. This is perhaps its only redeeming quality: it takes existing content like the Grishaverse or Avatar: The Last Airbender, and writes the same story for a population underrepresented in popular culture.

Based on the non-enjoyable elements I described above, I personally would not recommend this book. It asks you to take too much for granted and I think that’s just asking too much when you are already operating in a fantasy realm.

 

Mailbox Part 2: The Clustering

Sunday the husband and I went to see another new construction subdivision. We called ahead and were assured that these homes would have individual mailboxes. Excited because they had some floorplans we really liked, we made our way north for a noon appointment.

The saleswoman, who seemed more interested in telling us how busy she was and how she was working all alone and that it was going to be “that kind of day,” informed us that there would be a cluster mailbox there as well. And because the universe has a gigantic sense of humor when it comes to my life, another person was there viewing the model home that works for a company that put in mailboxes, and explained to us that it is a federal mandate that new construction not have individual mailboxes.

An article from 2013 in the opinion section of CNN’s website talks about when the Post Office was figuring out how to cut costs. It appears as though the choice was between getting rid of Saturday delivery or eliminating house to house mail delivery for all future generations. Local developers could opt to contest the decision with the local postmasters, but apparently new homes lacking their own mailboxes have been a thing for the past 5 years.

And this doesn’t just affect us. Another article I unearthed brings to light the effects that this policy might have on the disabled and the elderly. The law states that mailbox clusters can be no more than a block away from the houses that it serves, but what if you couldn’t walk all the way there? What if a mailbox cluster is not accessible? How does a federal mandate about mailboxes jive with federal law against discriminating against people based on age or disability?

My increased understanding has only increased my anger. The “greatest generation” has benefited from retirement plans, affordable homes, social security, medicare, among other things, and come to find out that as our society declines the simple convenience of mail coming to my house is now also beyond my reach. And yet I am the whining millennial, the spoiled brat, expecting that everything be handed to me. You know what? Yes. I expect that my mail come to a box at the curb of my residence. IT IS THE LEAST I EXPECT FROM A HOME THAT I OWN.

Now I know that I can add “individual mailboxes for single family homes” to the list of shit that should be a given, a right, something all people should have, but somehow don’t get to have in this After Times garbagescape that we inhabit. No thing is too small apparently, to be taken from us and our children. It’s like an endless chain of “well at least it’s not…” At least I can still have my own home. At least it’s only a duplex. At least I get an apartment for just my family. At least I only have to share this home with one other family….and on and on. All in the name of cost cutting and saving money for…well, someone.

Since 2013 we have elected Trump. Flint, Michigan still can’t drink their water. Our EPA is working actively against its mandate, allowing for the poisoning of our land, waters, and air.

It’s funny how it starts with the little things during times of safety. Stuff that slips under the radar, that seems helpful. Then again, a frog in cold water never suspects being boiled alive if the heat is turned up slowly enough.

Until it’s too late.

On Writing

On writing

Since NaNoWriMo 2017, I have had a story knocking around in my mind. I can see it. I dream about it. Unfortunately every day I’m too tired to sit down in the evenings to write more of it. But it’s still there. This summer my plan is to set a daily word count goal and hit it while I have the time and energy to get it down on paper. Before then I wanted to read about writing, to get an idea of process and motivation, and the first little book on the docket was On Writing, Stephen King’s 2000 memoir about the craft.

Reading about King’s lower middle class upbringing brought me back to my roots. Granted I didn’t grow up in the 40s and 50s, but Maine is slow to change and so some of the conditions he describes are still familiar to me. Reading about the University of Maine Orono and teaching in Hermon brought me back to my own college days. Reading about his journey was like traveling back in time, back to Maine, back to my childhood. I devoured that part of book with the excitement that accompanies recognition. I know those places! I know those things!

His personal story includes his change in fortune with the successful sale of his first novel, Carrie. Following this we take a short journey through his battle with addiction to drugs and alcohol, and then through to sobriety and how he discovered that writing doesn’t require outside influences, that it’s always inside you. I know it sounds a little woo-woo, but the way he wrote about it makes you believe that it is 100% true. His struggle back to health and writing after being hit by a speeding van is a story most Mainers are familiar with, but hearing it straight from King brought it to the present again. It was difficult to read.

I enjoyed his personal history just as much as his advice on writing, which begins about a third of the way in. His writer’s toolbox containing grammar, vocabulary, style is individual to each person and shouldn’t be used to shame others. He implores us to avoid passive tense and adverbs. And perhaps the most important advice of all for me is to have a set routine so that I always write at the same time every day, and always until a word count is met. Not only this, but also that I should be in a room with a door that I am my family are comfortable with me shutting to show I am serious about working on writing.

I was given a gift by this book, and that gift was permission to write a book even though I don’t have an MFA or even a degree in English. I can be a teacher and a reader and a writer and as long as I take the time to write and am open to the editing process, this could happen for me. I just have to tell a good story. More importantly, I have to tell the truth. When I closed On Writing, a light had been turned up to 100% brightness inside me and my characters roared even louder, demanding to be brought to life.

Hold on guys, the summer is almost here.

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

Language of Thorns

Six of Crows

Crooked Kingdom

Shadow and Bone

Siege and Storm

Ruin and Rising

The Language of Thorns was released at the end of 2017 as a follow up to Bardugo’s release of Crooked Kingdom in 2016. It is a collection of six stories that would be the fairy tales for the children in the universe of the Grisha. There is a beauty/beast type tale, a Hansel and Gretel type tale, and a little mermaid type (this was my favorite). The other three were brand new and just as wonderful.

Adding to the beauty of the words in this book were the illustrations. They snaked along the margins of the pages, and as the story progressed, so did the pictures until all margins were full of gorgeous art, and every story concluded with a full page artwork which represented the conclusion of the story.

Leigh Bardugo is a creative genius. Her stories introduce alternatives, realism, and valuable lessons to life situations that we often keep hidden or refuse to acknowledge. These stories would ask children to face hard questions, much like the original Grimm Fairy Tales might have, but Bardugo adds a feminist flair to familiar fantasy. And as always, we learn that magic may be wonderful, but it always dangerous and always comes at a cost.

If you are already a fan of Leigh Bardugo you cannot leave this book out of your collection (I’ve placed it on my Christmas list!) and if you are not already familiar with her work I have linked all my reviews of her work above. Read those, and then let The Language of Thorns be the frosting on the cake. Bardugo is an author not to be missed. Go get you some.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1)

The Name of the Wind

I am not sure anything I write about this book would do it justice. I wish I could just say GO READ THIS BOOK RIGHT THIS MINUTE and be done with it and let it stand on its own two feet. But that’s not how book reviews work and it’s definitely not what you come here to get, so I’ll cover just a few things with the central idea being that this is one of the best books I have ever read. Period.

The story is set up as a story within a story: we meet an innkeeper named Kote who begins to tell his life story to the regional Chronicler – a keeper of records and stories. We find out that his real name is Kvothe and he is a man of legend hiding out in this small town. He agrees to tell his life story across three days (which seems to line up with a trilogy of books, the third of which fans have been waiting on since 2014 and don’t seem likely to get anytime soon).

The story is written as though some great storyteller was performing it for you live. That’s the only way I can describe how it felt to read. My mind creates a movie to accompany any book I read, but for this particular book is was so easy and so beautiful that I didn’t want to push pause. I was 100% entertained and delighted every time I picked up the book. Imagine riding in a well-oiled sports car driven by an expert driver along winding roads – the journey through this book is exciting, yet smooth. Exhilarating yet dangerous.

I appreciated that there was very real danger in this book. The rules behind the magical practice are unique and it was fun to learn them. The enemies are considered mythical, and those that encounter them rarely survive, so the fact that our hero walks away as a child and seeks them in his studies at the University makes him something of a laughingstock among the professors at first; they think he’s obsessed with children’s boogeymen.

His constant poverty adds a lot to the suspense of the book. For most of his life he is one step away from being murdered, going hungry, or dying in a gutter. He survives on a healthy diet of smarts, perseverance, and luck. I appreciate when an author deals with this issue realistically – at no time does Kvothe come into a windfall. He scrimps and saves, steals and deals, works and performs, and you’ll feel exhausted as his need for funding dogs his every step along the path to learning and independence.

I related to Kvothe so hard throughout this story that when a lady came slamming into the picture it was disorienting. Denna (Dianne, Dennae, etc. – she goes by many names) is a constantly disappearing, coy, smart, beautiful woman that Kvothe gets obsessed with and chases all over. She comes and goes as she pleases and disappears on Kvothe many times. I think he thinks he loves her, but they don’t ever do anything (I don’t think they ever even kiss) and she’s seen in the company of many other men while she’s friendzoning Kvothe. My reading pace slowed down significantly when she came on the scene, and while I still enjoyed the book, it wasn’t as compelling when it became 65% about this girl.

It ends with a shady creature coming into his tavern, speaking a weird language and picking a fight with the locals, so his first day of giving his story comes to an end. It doesn’t feel like much of a cliffhanger, but you’ll definitely want to stop by the Waystone Inn in book 2 to hear more of Kote’s story.

Some asshole put the book on hold at the library and it looked like I wasn’t going to finish it, but I liked it so much I bought it, fools. This book is 98% fresh on Angry Angel Tomatoes and you should go find it immediately. WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE, HURRY!

Mailbox

I haven’t wanted to talk about this publicly much, but something happened this weekend that was so unexpected  that I wanted to tell the story.

The husband and I have decided that it is time to test the waters of home ownership. We are looking to answer such questions as what kind of floor plan we like the best and where we would like to live because at the present moment we don’t have the luxury of entertaining the question of how much we can afford, which seems to be $250,000 or less.

We know we want new construction. We know we want a one-story. We know we want at least a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 car garage, but we’re hoping to bump into either a 4 bedroom or a 3 with den that we can afford. We want a yard that we can put a fence up in. We want a screened in lanai. We want a home with efficient windows, insulation, and appliances.

Those are basic desires. I’ve discovered that I enjoy a setup that includes kitchen, dining, and living room in a kind of square, like this:

Screenshot 2018-04-14 at 4.39.02 PM

Salespeople want to talk to us about tile and cabinet knobs and counter tops, but really at this point we’re just seeing what a new house is like and what we like. And also could you let us know what the required down payments and closing costs are? I’m sure there are plenty of schmucks that get roped in on stainless steel appliances but if I can’t come up with the cash at closing we’re all SOL regardless of whether we selected the basic or premium tile for the back splash in the master bath. We’re at the “can we do this at all stage” not the “I want white cabinets instead of brown” stage.

Today we took the dogs to get groomed, and near the groomer there are about four different housing subdivisions that are building and selling. We looked at three today.

One was a builder in the community where we would really prefer to live. They only have 3 floor plans available at the moment, and we saw two of them. One was a little above our price range at $266,000 and the other was below, but smaller than we would like, at $247,000. This particular builder only gave $5000 toward closing costs and expected more both as a deposit and as a down payment. So it’s probably not the direction we’ll go.

The second community we saw was a gated community with an actual, human security guard. We balked so hard at that, and when the salesperson asked us about it, Scott said that we don’t want to live in a community of scared white people who believe that a metal gate and a “security guard” gives them any more safety than the rest of us.

We don’t want a gated community.

The third community was a little bit north for our tastes, but the prices were lower for more square footage. So adding an extra ten minutes to our drives to work might be worth it to save $40,000. The saleslady was very pleasant, and the model home was very nice, with a layout that we liked. It turns out we could get a 4 bed with den for the same price as the 3 bed in the community more south. We were very optimistic to say the least.

But then we saw something strange on the way out. There was a structure like you would expect to see at the front of an apartment complex. (Picture not actual location.)

mailbox

So we called the saleslady back, and asked politely what the fuck was up with the giant mailbox center at the front. We were informed that none of the houses have their own mailboxes, and that this makes it easier for the postman to disburse mail.

Now look.

I have been poor my whole life. I know the doors that are closed to me and the ones that hold danger only meant for the desperate. There are doors that hold cheap approximations, meant to create the idea of luxury yet somehow still let the German cockroaches in. I know what it is to live off credit cards and how to turn $30 into two weeks of groceries.

When I finally break through the door that leads to an actual home that is mine, IT IS GOING TO HAVE A FUCKING MAILBOX. And if being poor means I have to wait and save longer, I will get a home that is an actual home and not just a cheap home that is more like a unit in an apartment complex. I am not so wrapped up in the American “dream” that I would give up having control over my own fucking mail. The postman has driven from house to house this long, he can drive to my house too.

I have to admit that as deal breakers go, I did not expect one to be whether I have a mailbox. I thought it would be something stupid like whether I could have a garden tub or not. It just goes to show that sometimes the smaller things are the most important, that something like not having a mailbox can seem like an indignity. Like if I’m so poor that I have to buy there, I’m not responsible enough to receive mail at my home. Or people who live there don’t trust people that might be poor enough to have to buy there, and they’re willing to give up having a mailbox to prevent thievery on their doorsteps. Either way it’s fucking insulting. Making it easier for the postman my fat ass.

At the same time though, I recognize that it is just a mailbox. What I need to explore in the time that I have is why its absence seems to be so important to me. Important enough to possibly pass up a wonderful home for one less so, and more expensive. A mailbox isn’t worth $40,000. So why is it bothering me so much?

So we’ve decided that there are enough new builds going up around us that we can probably afford to wait a little longer than we had originally planned to. We had talked about trying to prequalify in June, but I think we’re going to push that back to September or October at this point. It’ll give our credit more time to recover from all the insanity from last year, it’ll give us more time to save up our own money to maybe do whatever “buying down” the interest rate is, and we’ll be able to finish out our lease here instead of breaking it, making moving into a new home happen for us around April or May of 2019. And we can more clearly identify our priorities and make a better, less rushed decision about what is right for us.

It still feels like I’m meddling in something out of my depth, or reaching for something I don’t deserve or can’t afford. But we won’t know if it’s possible if we don’t try, and I think we’re stable enough at this point to at least try.