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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Touch the Dark

I've been reading so much nonfiction lately that I hit my end: I had to read fiction.  So I grabbed Touch the Dark by Karen Chance, a book that I was planning on reading right before I ended up with a bunch of nonfiction library books I had to get through first.  So yesterday I grabbed it for something to read while waiting for my doctor's appointment.  I read a good chunk of it there, then came home and just kept reading, finishing it at like 3 or 4am. 

Touch the Dark is the story of Cassandra Palmer, a seer who was raised by vampires.  She's been on the run from the one who raised her for years (she had previously gone to the cops and effectively destroyed his then business dealings and he wants revenge).  Realizing he's finally found her, she's about to run again but this time she wanted to say goodbye to her roommate (this was the first time she had someone else dependent on her and didn't want to leave him in the lurch).  The vampires catch up to her at the club where he works, but he manages to fend most of them off because he happens to be a vampire too (Cassie is right betrayed because she had no idea).  He takes her to the Vampire Senate, where they want to offer her protection in exchange for her help. 

From here things get a bit weird for a bit.  Cassie has a ghost helper, Billy-Joe, who tells her the guy who killed her parents is nearby. So she hops out the window to go talk to him (and maybe kill him? I honestly don't know what her plan was here). I thought the guy was a vampire and Cassie didn't really have much luck dealing with multiple vampires on her own, but it turns out he was a satyr (which was extra weird because she had just been talking to the ghost about faerie and how faeries couldn't exist when this satyr shows up, so I don't know).  Anyway, the vampire guardians and this crazy mage find her somehow (magically?  I don't know, wasn't very clear), then there's a showdown in the parking lot with them and Cassandra versus the satyrs who turn out to be part were-rats.  Plus some evil (?) mages show up too.  Cassie and Billy-Joe work some magic of their own, accidentally popping Cass out of her body and into the past.  After she gets back from that adventure, she pops out of her body to possess one of the evil mages.

After that craziness passes, the good made, Pritkin, freaks out because Cassie shouldn't be able to do the things she just did and therefore must be a demon.  He attempts to kill her right in front of the vampires, who don't take too kindly to that (but can't kill him because that would start a war with his mages).  They eventually manage to convince him that Cassie is not a demon (and suggest that he was sent to kill her because he has a one-track mind).

Somewhere around here, it's revealed that Cassie may be the heir to the Pythia, a powerful seer who is sort of the arbiter between the various supernatural factions.  Mircea, a powerful master vampire, tries to have sex with Cassie, believing it's the only way to make sure she is a suitable candidate for the Pythia's power (there's a rumour going around that the power won't go to a virgin).  There's a super long sex scene where he agrees to answer her questions in exchange for pleasuring her (it's kind of weird and goes on forever - over like two chapters).  She's into him, but keeps refusing sex because deep down she doesn't want to be trapped with the Pythia's power.

Before Mircea can actually do the deed, they're interrupted because the Senate is under attack.  Around here, Mircea and Cassie travel back in time because they've figured out that the bad guys are doing the same: they're travelling back in time to change the past so events go the way they want to.  They have sex in the past in other bodies (because why not?) then have a showdown with the bad guys: Rasputin and the missing heir to the Pythia (a seer who was trained from birth to become the next Pythia).  Cassie hopes the missing heir is under Rasputin's coercion, but that appears to not be the case when the heir attempts to murder her.  Time stops and the actual Pythia (who is dying) shows up and tells Cassie that too bad for whatever she wanted, she is going to be the new Pythia (it turns out the whole losing your virginity rumour was just something a seer from the past started because people weren't letting her take a lover. I thought that was funny).  So Cassie and Mircia stop Rasputin and the heir (who get away), and save their future. 

As you may have gathered from my synopsis, this book was weird.  Very weird.  I didn't think I liked it too much at the beginning, but then Billy-Joe showed up and it got pretty fun.  Billy-Joe was a gambler who thought he was god's gift to women - some of his banter back and forth with Cassie was hilarious (Cassie was the only one who could really talk to him).  Since no one else could really see him, he made a great spy, but Billy-Joe being who he is, he had a habit of wandering off and otherwise not being super reliable.  He was just fun.

I liked Mircia (he's a master vampire who is related to Dracula) and Louis-Cesar (another master vampire, and the dueling champion of Europe) as well.  The way the two different master vampires were was pretty fun, and I felt like Chance really nailed how Mircia would think of mortals.  Also, putting together Louis-Cesar's past from the snippets of memory Cassie Saw was rather fun.  But outside of this, the book felt like a bit of a mess plot-wise, almost like it needed to be split into two to be more coherent (or just heavily edited to be more coherent?  I don't know).  I read the synopsis for the next books in the series and they didn't really sound too appealing, so I'm probably not going to read any more.  But that's okay.  I'm glad I gave this one a try, and had some fun along the way. :)

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder

I don't know what's up with my memoir-reading lately.  But after finishing Naked, Drunk, and Writing, I started reading A Two-Spirit Journey: the Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby with Mary Louisa Plummer.  A Two-Spirit Journey was hands down the best memoir I've read (or attempted to read) in a long, long time. 

A Two-Spirit Journey starts out by giving Chacaby's family's history, then jumps right into her own.  She was born in a tuberculosis sanitarium, then fostered/adopted by a French family.  Her maternal grandmother found her and adopted her, bringing her to their reserve north of Nipigon.  Chacaby had a good childhood with her kokum, but had a hard time with many other people (partially due to her two-spirited nature, which other people did not respect the way her kokum did).  Chacaby had a particularly difficult time once her mother came back into her life; her mother often beat her.  She also suffered horrible sexual abuse and torture from other members of their community.  But the worst came from her husband, whom her mother arranged for her to marry (against both her wishes, and her kokum's).  That man hit her, refused to accept their daughter as his own, and caused the premature birth of their son.  Chacaby eventually walked out on him, taking the children with her to Thunder Bay.  Her life took a downward spiral thanks to alcohol, and her children were put into foster care.  Eventually Chacaby fought to get herself sober, using AA's twelve step program.  She then dedicated her life towards helping other people, both women and youth, reclaim their own lives by getting off the streets and getting sober.  But Chacaby's eyesight, which had always been bad, eventually caused her to lose her job.  But she remained upbeat no matter what life threw at her, eventually finding real love with some extraordinary women.

There's an afterword that explains how the book came to be.  Chacaby narrated her life's story to Plummer.  Plummer is a social scientist who used rigorous methods to ensure Chacaby's life story was useful for social scientists.  There is an interesting discussion about first person accounts written down by other people, and some of the difficulties Chacaby and Plummer had to overcome to make the book readable (when Plummer tried to make it verbatim, some of Chacaby's grammar didn't come across well on the written page).

While I was drawn right into Chacaby's narrative, I found that it lost a little something at the end, when she was trying to summarize and conclude the book.  Other than that, I thought that it was an excellent read.  Chacaby has been through so much in her life, and it is so inspiring that she manages to remain positive in spite of everything. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay

Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay by Adair Lara is a writing book I've had FOREVER that I just never got around to reading.  I've tried reading it here and there over the years, but for some reason never got very far.  I'm not interested (right now anyway) in writing a memoir, but I would like to learn more about personal essays, which is why I kept attempting to read it.  I finally buckled down and actually read the whole thing (even the stuff about memoirs) over the last few weeks.

Lara is concerned with both personal narrative essays and memoirs (which are basically longer personal narrative essays).  She starts the book off with the essay, talking about how to craft one, coming up with your angle, your tone, and using images.  She takes a break to talk about getting yourself to write and the value of writing buddies before moving to talk more in depth about writing memoirs.  While I'm not interested in writing one myself, I found her discussion of memoirs quite interesting, especially since I was also reading Cait Flanders' memoir The Year of Less (and it was, in my opinion, full of all the things Lara said NOT to include in your memoir - like making yourself out to be the victim and not having a satisfying conclusion - your memoir should be you looking back at the events long after they have ended, not you looking back at events while still in the middle of things).  If I hadn't read Lara's book, I don't know if I would have been able to put my finger so easily on why exactly I didn't like Flanders' book.

That being said, I still feel like I'm floundering a bit as to the writing of a personal essay.  Her advice on the actual crafting of it didn't quite gel in my mind.  I'll probably have to give it a try and/or reread that chapter another time before it does.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store

I don't actually remember putting The Year of Less by Cait Flanders on hold at the library. But the subtitle made the book sound interesting: I wanted to know how she managed to stop shopping for a year, and also about her giving away her belongings (I've been decluttering on and off for the last few months, so hearing about how someone else dealt with things interested me).

I got the book on Monday.  I read the entire thing that night (it's pretty short - only like 216 pages). And I'm honestly not really sure why I did.  I wasn't overly engaged with what was going on (this review by Rhonda on Goodreads actually sums up my feelings rather well). It was late when I finished reading the book, so I was going to write about it on Tuesday.  But I forgot about it until now because I honestly didn't care about the book at all - it was really forgettable. :(

The Year of Less does give an overview of Cait starting her shopping ban.  She comes up with rules for it - what she will let herself buy over the course of the year of her ban, with everything else not allowed.  She also starts purging her belongings around this time.  That wasn't very exciting because she apparently isn't attached to things at all, so there was no struggle to get rid of anything. 

The majority of the book isn't really about her giving up things though...it's more about her addictive personality and her past (including alcoholism and her weight struggles), her travelling (she goes travelling a lot with the money she saves), and about the impending divorce her parents are suddenly going through.  The stuff around the divorce was rather unfortunate from a writing perspective - Flanders paints herself as the victim (she is depressed by her parents' impending divorce to the point of being unable to deal with life), plus the book ends with the divorce still ongoing (except for a little note in the conclusion or epilogue or whatever it was at the end of the book).  I'm currently reading Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara (I've been reading it on and off for the last few weeks because I'm currently interested in personal essays) and making yourself the victim and not having a satisfying ending because you're still struggling with the events in question are big no-nos for writing memoirs.  It's also rather unfortunate, because The Year of Less could quite easily be about Flanders coming to terms with the divorce, rather than all the other things in the book.  As it is, The Year of Less is, unfortunately, a very surface-level book.  It's a very forgettable read that's not really worth your time. 

*

I should add that at the end of the book there's a bit of information about doing your own shopping ban.  If you're interested in doing your own, you might want to check that part of the book out.  But it's honestly pretty common-sense.  And if you really needed tips, you can just google something like "do your own shopping ban" instead of perusing The Year of Less.  Heck, Flanders' site is the top result of that Google search, so you can just read her short post about it there if you want, it's got all of her rules.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Plastic Purge: How to Use Less Plastic, Eat Better, Keep Toxines Out of Your Body, and Help Save the Sea Turtles!

I found Michael SanCelments' Plastic Purge awhile ago at the library.  I've had it out for a few weeks, meaning to start reading it, but never really finding the time.  So finally I started it a few days ago, thinking I'd finish it before Earth Day (which I just managed to do!); I thought it was fitting since this year's Earth Day is all about plastic awareness.

Plastic Purge is an excellent starting point if you are new to trying to use less plastic in your life.  The book has four sections: history of plastics, science of plastics, a break down of what SanClements calls the "Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" plastics (aka medical devices/technology, toxins in common plastic items, and the ugly single-use, disposable plastics), and a guide for purging some bad and ugly plastics from your life. 

The history section was quite interesting.  Plastics haven't been around for all that long, so SanClements gives a brief overview of how they started (and more importantly why humans were very keen on inventing it).  He also chose a couple of interesting case studies to look at in a little more detail: nylons and Tupperware.

The science section is arguably the most difficult to understand because there's a little more technical information than in other sections (plus a lot of acronyms are introduced here that appear in later sections of the book; it's a bit confusing at times keeping the different plastics straight).  But SanClements manages to break everything down so it's easy to understand; even if science isn't your strong point, you'll be able to follow along just fine. In this section, he talks about how plastics are produced, how much energy is needed to create them, the different types of plastics, recycling plastics (this was a really interesting section - I didn't realize that some plastics are not at all recyclable - the plastic symbol has the recycling arrows, so I always thought they all were!), and some information on bioplastics.  I think this section of the book was probably my favourite because I really learned a lot from it.

The third section was just a brief rundown of why some plastics are "good," "bad," or "ugly."  From the book's synopsis, I expected this section to be a bit longer than it was; even though it was short, it was concise and informative.  As I already mentioned, good plastics are used in technology and medicine; SanClements isn't saying that your smartphone or camera is a bad thing, nor is he advocating that you purge all plastics from your life.  He just wants you to be aware that not all plastics are created equally.

The final section contained guidelines to help you purge bad and ugly plastics from your life.  SanClements didn't want to make an exhaustive listing of what products are bad; instead he set out to help you think about what you're bringing into your home.  He also gives some alternatives for some common plastic items like bags at the grocery store (or for picking up your dog's droppings), children's diapers, water bottles, and much more.

A major complaint I had with the book is that it is American; some of the tips SanClements has aren't applicable here in Canada (like shopping at Whole Foods - not possible here). But even though that's the case, the book is still an excellent starting point for reducing your plastic waste.  I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

War for the Oaks

Well, since I've been on an urban fantasy kick lately, I decided to give Emma Bull's War for the Oaks a shot.  War for the Oaks caught my eye at a little bookshop a year or two ago; it's apparently one of the pioneering works of urban fantasy.

War for the Oaks is the story of Eddi McCamdry, a rock and roll singer and guitar player.  She decides to leave her boyfriend and the band they were in together; her friend, Carla, who is the drum player, decided to leave the band too.  Carla was driving Eddi home, but Eddi decides to walk the rest of the way; on her walk, she is drafted into a war between the Fae.  For their war to be serious, they need a mortal tied to the war.  The Seelie court decided that Eddi would be their mortal.  So they assign her the phouka, a shape-changer who can be either man or dog (and the one who was responsible for Eddi being drafted into the war in the first place) to guard her.  The phouka refuses to leave her side, so Eddi decides (at the suggestions of both Carla and the phouka) to start a band.  Carla knows a keyboarder, but neither of them know a good lead guitarist or bassist, so they put an ad out and attract some first-rate talent: shy Hedge who only mumbles while speaking but is a fantastic bassist, and handsome Willy Silver, who plays a mean lead guitar and electric fiddle.

Eddi is right off the bat attracted to Willy.  She takes him to bed after their first date, even though that's normally not her style.  But at the first faerie engagement at Minehaha Falls, she discovers that Willy isn't human.  And he wasn't exactly playing fairly with her emotions.  She later discovers that Hedge also isn't human.  She gives the two of them the same choice: they can stay in the band if they want to, but she refuses to keep them if they're just forced to be there by the Seelie queen (the Lady).  Both agree to stay, and hence the band Eddi and the Fey is born for real.

Meanwhile, Eddi slowly finds herself falling for the phouka.  He's a trickster sort of fae, constantly getting on Eddi's nerves for the heck of it.  But he has always been straight with her.  During the first engagement, when Eddi is formally bound to the battlefield, the phouka gives her an ointment which lets her see through faerie glamour; she looks around in wonder and finds the phouka looking exactly the same as he always does.  The ointment allows her to go onto the battlefield without being coerced (the phouka even admits that if she had chosen to run at the end, he wouldn't have stopped her then - but she chose to stay due to his friendship).  They manage to survive the first engagement, even with the phouka giving away their hidden position to save the Seelie fighters from being ambushed on their flank.  Eddi even comes to the rescue of the brownie Meg, who ends up cleaning Eddi's apartment for her.  It isn't until the summer solstice though that the phouka and Eddi finally admit their love for one another (and Eddi takes a bit to convince because she's afraid it's just another game to him).

The summer solstice fae party also brings Eddi the information that the Unseelie queen, the Queen of Air and Darkness, has captured Willy.  She wants the Seelie queen to give her the next battle in exchange for Willy's life.  The Lady refuses, but Eddi pleads with her not to let the Dark Queen know.  Eddi instead comes up with a daring plan that will save Willy from the Dark Queen's clutches.  It requires the help of all of her friends, including Carla, her keyboarder (who is also Carla's boyfriend), the phouka, Meg, and Hedge (who was actually feeding information to the Dark Queen - he agrees to give the Queen false information for Eddi).  They rescue Willy, but he dies in the battle that follows; that prompts Eddi to challenge the Queen of Air and Darkness to a fair duel.  The Dark Queen accepts, and names her challenge: at Eddi and the Fey's next show, they will have to fight for the audience.  The Queen will use her magic to stop the audience from dancing; Eddi must use her to get them to dance.  The duel was supposed to be just between the two of them, but the Lady comes to spectate and names Eddi her champion.  Now if Eddi wins, the Dark Queen and the Unseelie court must leave Minneapolis.  But if the Dark Queen wins, the Seelie court must leave; plus the Dark Queen will take the phouka's life.

So there's a concert, and Eddi wins.  The end.

Honestly, that was literally how the book ended.  I was getting near the end and wondering how it was going to wrap up in so few pages.  And then it just sort of did, in a really hard to follow but quick musical magical battle.  Which was an honest shame, because prior to that I was rather enjoying the book.

I think my enjoyment was largely thanks to the characters.  I liked the phouka, especially at the beginning of the book.  Well, even at the end, where he had fun lines like "I'd thought in terms of seeds, you see, and never dreamed that what I had loosed on the Court was a madwoman with a crowbar."  But pretty much all the "main" characters, like Carla, or Hedge, or Meg, were interesting people populating the world.  Oh, I should also mention that the city was kind of a character in this book too.  I really wish I knew Minneapolis a bit more to have followed along with where everything was taking place better.

One thing that was rather a quirk of the book was the preoccupation with how people were dressed.  The fashion itself was straight out of the 80's (like turtleneck sweaters - I'd almost forgotten they existed until Eddi decided to put one on).  But Eddi details like every outfit she's in, or the phouka wears.  I can't think of another book that I've read with that much detail on clothing.

Other than the weird abruptness of the ending, I also didn't like how the book was a bit lax on time cues.  It would jump like a month or month and a half forward with little warning, which made it a bit hard to follow at times (until it would finally let you know where abouts you were in time).  The story is all linear (thankfully!) so you wouldn't think this would be that much of a problem, but strangely it kind of was.

Overall, I did enjoy War for the Oaks.  The story still holds up rather well in the urban fantasy genre, even though the book is like thirty years old (it's just a little bit dated, that's all.  Nothing wrong with that though - it shows the 80's rather well).  I just wish the ending hasn't felt so rushed.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Local Habitation

So I seem to be on an urban fantasy kick lately.  I recently ordered some stuff for my cat from Amazon.  To get the free shipping, I decided to get myself the second October Daye book, A Local Habitation.  I was going to read it over the weekend, but decided to get through Hunting Ground first.  Once that was done, I jumped into the second Toby Daye adventure.

This time around, Toby is asked by her liege, Sylvester, to investigate his niece's County.  His niece, January, stopped calling him a few weeks ago.  For faerie political reasons, he cannot go himself.  So he sends Toby and Quentin, a pureblood who is fostering at his court, to investigate.

Toby and Quentin arrive to discover there have been several murders in the County, and January insists that she has been leaving Sylvester messages but HE hasn't been returning her calls.  When another person from the County is murdered, Toby and Quentin realize they may be in over their heads.  The murders are odd for many reasons - there are distinctive markings on the victims, their blood is dead (there is no memory left when Toby and Quentin both try to use the blood magic that is inherent to their bloodline), and the night haunts haven't been taking the bodies (usually these fae creatures take the bodies and leave a sort of mannequin that looks human behind, so normally the fae can call in mortals to investigate the death without fear of the bodies giving them away.  Not so in this case). Then when Toby tries to get Quentin out of there, his escort arrives without a car, right after Toby's car is totaled. The County is also a strange place - there is a dryad living in the tech tree, and no one seems to be telling Toby and Quentin everything they know, making it really hard for them to do their job.  

A Local Habitation was a bit of a mess.  The characters seemed to go out of their way to get murdered.  Toby repeatedly told the people of the County not to go off alone, then pretty much EVERYONE did.  Spoiler: most of them got killed for their troubles.

There were also two characters, brother and sister pair Alex and Terrie, who seemed obviously to be two people in one body.  Alex was only around during the day, and Terrie during night.  You never, ever saw the pair together.  But Toby never remotely figured this out - she had to be shown it near the end of the book.  They also seemed to be some sort of succubus/incubus thing, inspiring the opposite sex to love them; Toby sort of clued into that part way through the book, but still couldn't figure out what they were.  It was lame.

Overall, A Local Habitation was just okay.  I enjoyed it well enough, but wouldn't recommend it to anyone because it isn't great.  I've seen in other reviews on Goodreads that that seems to be the consensus - A Local Habitation is everyone's least favourite book in the series.  But book three is supposed to be phenomenal, so I'll be looking for that in the future.