Friday, October 21, 2016

Reading...The Way of All Fish and Fangirl

The Way of All Fish I am a big Martha Grimes fan, mostly her Richard Jury detective series. She has a few other non-jury books and series, but the only one I had read until The Way of All Fish was it's companion Foul Matter. Both books are a kind of dark comedy set in the publishing world. There's plotting and back stabbing and hit men and neurotic or not-so-neurotic authors. Ruthlessness and a bit of hijinks. I thoroughly enjoyed Foul Matter when I read it many years ago, but I have to say I only moderately enjoyed The Way of All Fish. On the positive side: Grimes' spot-on descriptions and elegant writing, well-drawn characters, good dialog, and an interesting plot. On the negative side: I feel like the book spent a lot of time on the set up. Like, 2/3 of the book easy, maybe even 3/4 of the book felt like a set up for the last third or fourth. There was a relatively large cast of characters, and I kept getting mixed up and bogged down. I enjoy a good slow paced book, but this book felt like it was slow paced when it should have been fast-paced. So it wasn't bad, per se, it just didn't hit the sweet spot for me.  
Bottom line: if you're a fan of slow-paced con stories, you might enjoy this, but it's not my favorite Grimes story.

Fangirl Fangirl is the story of Cath, a girl who'd rather be writing Simon Snow fanfiction than just about anything else. Cath and her identical twin Wren are off to their freshman year of college. Wren can't wait to get out and experience life, but Cath would rather stay home and keep an eye on their dad -- a loving single father who struggles with bipolar disorder. Cath would rather spend her days in the fantasy world of Simon Snow than just about anything else. But Cath moves into her dorm room and begins a year that will surprise her. A year of learning to make friends, branch out, and let go (just a little). She discovers a lot about writing and how collaborating can be fun and fulfilling, and how sometimes writing something one hundred percent of your own making is scary and hard. 
Fangirl has a lot of stuff going on: family drama, mental illness, romance, and your basic college stuff -- roommates and professors and classmates and ethics. I know some readers thought the book would have been better had there been maybe one less "issue", but I thought Rowell did a great job of keeping everything realistic. Seeing Cath's journey during her first year away from home was delightful, and yes, at times sad and somewhat painful. But that's life, right? Funny and heartwarming and sad and painful all at the same time. 
Rowell also really did a great job with the relationship dynamics in this book. Cath and her sister Wren, Cath and her Dad, Cath and Wren and their mom, Cath and her roomate and classmate and friend and love interest. All of it really felt true and genuine. And I like that there wasn't just one relationship focus. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention one of the most fun things about the book, and that's the shout out to "fandom" -- the ins and outs of being a super fan, connecting to other fans, writing or reading fan fiction. Anyone who's ever loved a book or tv show or movie or artist in a somewhat all-consuming way will appreciate that aspect of Cath's life and the way Rowell wrote it.
Bottom line: pick this book up if you are in the mood for something sweet, poignmant, and a little bit funny.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Wednesday List

1. Wednesday podcasts day! My two favorite podcasts -- Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey and Marriage is Funny both post new episodes on Wednesdays. The real challenge is picking which one to listen to first!

2. Speaking of podcasts, there were two episodes of Happy Hour that really encouraged me this past week. The first, was last week's guest Jana Magruder . She and Jamie were talking about age and how they were really enjoying this middle season of life (late 30s, 40s). They talked about the confidence that comes at that age that can't always manufacture when you're young, and how it really feels like there's so much life left to life. And Jana mentioned Julia Child -- an icon, a successful woman by anyone's standards -- who had never even been to France until she was 37. What a good reminder that in our youth-obsessed society, there are so many good seasons in life, and you can invent or reinvent, discover new passions or refine long-held passions at any time. I turned 37 this week, so it seemed even more timely.  I also listened to a back episode this week with the author Sally Lloyd-Jones.  I LOVED listening to this guest. She was so gentle and funny and wise and interesting. She talked at one point about approaching life trying to be excellent in everything you do. She applied it specifically to artists of all kinds, but really to anyone in whatever you're doing. You can't be perfect, and shouldn't try to be because you never will measure up to that. But you can bring excellence and strive for excellence.

3. I finished The Way of All Fish finally, and will post my thoughts on it soon. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, so it's nice to have started something new and something that I think will be a little quicker of a read (Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. I'm late to the party on this one, but I've given up on being in the first wave of readers for most things)

4. A short-long list (is that a thing? Well, it is now). Happy hump day!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Reading...The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (The League of Princes, #1) Welcome to the land of Fairy Tales. Where the Princes Charming have actual names, the Princesses don't need saving, the biggest villain in all the kingdoms is a 10 year old sociopath, and the Bards take plenty of poetic license when retelling a story.

The Hero's Guide is a delightful middle grade (3-6 grade) book that turns some of the classic fairy tales on their head. We may know the "official" version of how Prince Charming (Frederick) freed Cinderella from her wicked stepmother, but what do we REALLY know about Prince Frederick, or Princess Ella, Rapunzel and Prince Gustav, Snow White and Prince Duncan, Briar Rose and Prince Liam?

The Hero's Guide picks up after the "Happily Ever After," where life isn't happening exactly how you might expect for the Princes and Princesses. The witch from Rapunzel begins plotting an evil scheme, and Princess Ella sets off to figure out what happened to her kingdom's Bard and find some adventure in the process. Prince Gustav sets off to prove himself to his 16 older brothers, Snow White tells Prince Duncan to go take a walk, Prince Liam discovers his own kingdom loves gold more than they love him, against his better judgement (and the advice of his father) Prince Frederick sets off to find Ella. Before long, the Princes have banded together to save the day, but things don't exactly go according to plan.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is fun and funny, and doesn't take itself too seriously. If you know a big kid (or are ocassionally a big kid yourself) who likes fairy tales, pick this book up. It's the first in a series, so the fun doesn't have to stop!

The Friend

I've always wanted to be the hero. Doesn't everyone feel that way at some point? We all want to be the one who saves the day, the one who can do it all.

But some of the most-loved stories aren't just about the hero or heroine. Where would Frodo be without Sam. Harry without Ron and Hermione (and Luna and Neville...). Sherlock without Watson. Rand without Mat and Perrin. Rory without Lane. Lorelai without Sookie. Buffy without Willow and Xander? (we know that at any rate: self-destructing in a major way). And Star Wars isn't just about Luke or Darth Vader.

Sometimes, we're the one carrying the ring. Going through the fire that nearly destroys us. Sometimes we're the one with the power, responsibility, and the burden that comes with it. Sometimes we're the one that life knocks down a few times. But sometimes, we're the person standing right there making sure that our friend comes through the fire. Picking them up when they can't go on. Reminding them that despite everyone and everything that seemingly has it in for them, they are loved. Providing magical backup, an extra gun hand, a getaway ship, a silent hug and listening ear, or a loving kick in the pants. (and sometimes even a well-timed moment of comic relief). The friend fills in the gaps, because even heroes can't do it all alone.

I've had conversations with teenagers when they begin to realize that a lot of their friends or peers experience some pretty awful stuff. People whose lives are not marked by trauma can start to feel guilty. But I remind them that someone has to stand along side those who are hurting and broken. Someone has to be the friend. It may not be glamorous, but it's so necessary.

Sometimes, we're the protagonist. Sometimes, we're the friend. And it all makes a good story.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Monday List

1. So far, season six of Star Trek: Voyager is the best one, despite the fact that Janeway has a few moments where I really want to punch her in the face. Overall, I'm digging it.

2. Current library book: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Middle grade (i.e. roughly 3-6 grade) fairy tale that is already funny and fun.

3. Girl's weekend coming up! It'll be nice to relax and refresh and have some fun with friends.

4. Sandra McCracken has a new album out. God's Highway.  She's one of my favorite artists, one of the few that fit every mood. Melancholy, happy, relaxed, tense...if I can't figure out what to listen to, she's a sure bet.

5. New picture book author discovery: Jez Alborough. Hug is a favorite around our house, and I found another at the library: Tall. Hang out in the jungle with Bobo the baby monkey and some of his buddies. Very few words (one each, in fact) but  wonderful stories.

Happy Monday, y'all!

Friday, September 16, 2016


You might think by that title I'm going to say something about the changing of summer into fall. Well...not really. Partially because in South Texas it's still basically summer until well after September 22. And partially because of a really great podcast I listened to recently.

I've mentioned before that I'm basically addicted to The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. This podcast is just like sitting down with a friend as she talks with someone who is doing really interesting things and listening to their story. It's inspiring and entertaining, and I love it. A lot of Jamie Ivey's guests -- and Jamie herself -- talk about walking through different seasons of life. It's not a new concept, but it's good to remind myself of. It's so easy to compare ourselves to others, but how freeing to remember that my season at the moment is different from yours. Of course, if I can stop comparing myself to someone else's life, I often get caught in the trap of comparing myself to myself. "Now" self versus "five years ago" self versus "vision" self. But five years ago was a completely different season of life. And the brilliant thing is...seasons change (unless you live in least, they just change a little differently). So maybe you love the season you're in right now -- embrace it! love it! savor it! Because it will change. Maybe there are things you don't love about the season you're in right now. Take comfort knowing that in time, it will change.

One of the Happy Hour guests in an older episode I recently listened to made a comment about seasons of life that really stuck with me. She was talking about becoming a new mom, and Jamie was asking her what encouragement she could give to new moms who felt like they were struggling to figure out what that meant in regard to their sense of self and identity. The guest, Jo Saxton, said that after she had her two girls, her best way of making the transition into that new stage of life was to make a very specific delineation. She said that she "set her stones in the sand" like the Israelites, building memorials to remember what God had done. She acknowledged very specifically that she was entering a new season, but she set her memorial to be grateful for the season she had been in. For everything she'd done and experienced there. And for her, this conscious movement and remembrance and gratitude gave her more freedom to look forward and embrace a new stage of life.

I recently finished reading the Old Testament books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and have begun reading the Psalms, and I think that's why Jo Saxton's comment really resonated with me. Time and time again, you see the Israelites remembering, memorializing, and being very deliberate about acknowledging what God has done and what he will do. It's not a looking backwards in regret for things you didn't do or opportunities you didn't take (if only I knew then what I know now! blah, blah), and it's not looking backwards in longing and dissatisfaction. It's looking back so we can learn, grow, and better look ahead. Looking back at good times that give us confidence in our present or our future. It's looking back at bad times that give us hope that dark seasons do come to an end.

Make no mistake: these are things I struggle with pretty regularly. I get caught up in my own head a lot, and my head could sometimes use a little touch of Vulcan logic (why yes, I AM binge watching Star Trek on Netflix). So learning to keep my perspective in all seasons and being grateful in the process is just that: a process, a goal. And it's a good time to remind myself that even in Houston, fall comes eventually.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Wednesday list

I know, I know...two Wednesdays in a row. Don't get used to it. Nothing consistent going on around here. 

1. I hope the merchandisers at Target are getting compensated very well, because they certainly do their job well. I haven't been to Target it a while, and I forgot how much willpower it takes to walk through that store and not buy ALL THE THINGS. Seriously, the home organization department alone (freshly stocked I'm sure for back to college/school/fall) was calling my name. I just kept inner-chanting: almost debt-free, almost debt-free.

2. I need some more coffee. 

3. I'm reading Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling). It's the third in the Cormoran Strike detective series. If you're a fan of detective novels, I'm a fan of these. They can be a little grim and gritty -- not graphic, necessarily, but this third one is a touch gruesome. I may have to quit reading it right before bed. But Rowling is so talented. I heard through a friend of mine that they're making a BBC series out of them, and I'm pretty excited.

4. I know better than to long for cooler weather in Houston in September, but I'd settle for anything below 85 at this point -- temperature or humidity. I think we might get a brief reprieve at the end of next week. Please, God.

5. The down side to doing any kind of clothes shopping with kids is that I hate dragging them into the dressing room (especially if they're in a cart, like at Target). So inevitably, I guess on my size, guess wrong, and end up having to go back to the store to return or exchange it. Which is also super annoying! Today, it was a running tank top. Ugh. When will I learn. It's one reason I've started taking the advice of a blogger I follow: find a couple of web sites with free returns. Buy two sizes, then return the one that doesn't fit! Or, I'm addicted to ThredUp (online consignment store. Hello! Saving money, saving the environment, and cute clothes!). Free returns if you apply it to store credit. Like in-person consignment stores it sometimes takes a tad longer to find what you want, but I can search while in my jammies watching Netflix. 

6. I went to Half Price Books the other day to shop for baby gifts. Of course I walked out with two books for myself! Looking forward to some paper and ink once I'm done with my library ebook. A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty and Fan Girl, by Rainbow Rowell.