Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Best Books to Read With Your Closest Friends - Part 2

A year and a half ago I wrote the first post in this series. A year and a half. Oy. Well, here comes the second post, better late than never. Here's a continuation of the list of books that are particularly good for reading with friends. 

I've often praised Rubin here and on Filthy Casket. I can't help it. She is so, so wonderful and, as far as I'm concerned, the best author of her genre. The Happiness Project is a self-help/memoir and it offers so many insights on becoming happy and sustaining happiness. Rubin isn't one of those sappy authors nor is she one who only gives pretty New Age one-liners. She gives solid ideas and advice. She looks at what great thinkers have said about happiness throughout history and puts those theories to work. She herself forms a happiness project and documents it, so we get a real idea of how things work. It sets up a good system readers can follow, though it's flexible enough that it can be tweaked to meet each individual's needs. I think it's great to read with friends mostly because it'd be fun to do happiness projects together, and it'd be a way to stay accountable once you start the projects. I also think it'd be cool to go through the chapters and compare and contrast which elements work best for each friend.

On that same line of thought...

2. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

This book of Rubin's is specifically about habits. It's great to read with friends mostly for accountability purposes (assuming you're reading with forming/changing habits in mind).

3. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

I absolutely loved this book. It's about war, love, politics, and more. It's one of those books that, in my mind, should be just as revered as some of the classics. It's written as stories which ultimately link together in some way, which I kind of think is getting old (it just seems as though so many writers are turning to this style now). But this style, as well as Marra's writing, makes it a good choice to read with friends. It's also wonderful because some of the stories, particularly the first and the last in the book, can be interpreted in different ways. In her review, Liz mentioned that some of the stories left you wondering what really happened - she's totally right. It was one of the most interesting parts of Marra's book. In fact, after we both read it, Liz and I talked about our favorite stories and it turned out we interpreted things in completely different ways, which made it all the more fun to discuss. Books that do this are definitely good to read with friends.

4. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Ah, these books. They're wonderful and I don't understand how anyone could dislike them. They're terrific to read with friends because they're epic, they share great truths, and most importantly, after you all read them you can have a movie marathon with some pizza and wings.

5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This, I think, is my favorite read of 2016 so far. This is good to read alone, of course, but it's good to read with friends because, as most dystopians go, there are quite a few moments when you ask yourself what you would have done in the character's shoes. Oh, I've figured out the next step in reaching the prize (unimaginable money) - do I tell my friend how to complete the step, too? Oh, a corporation is threatening my life because they want the prize - where do I run? It was fun wondering what I'd do if I happened to be the protagonist, and I bet it'd be even more fun to talk about it with friends. Plus, it's a good outlet to vent frustrations with capitalism - a theme that's all too apparent in this book.

I don't know if many people like reading books with friends, but I know I do. I love when a friend and I can talk about all the awesome (or awful) things that happened in a book, or discuss the different ways we interpreted it, or in the case of Rubin's books, help each other with follow through and advice. There are a lot of advantages to reading with friends, and these are some of the books that offer the most opportunity for good fun. (It doesn't hurt that this is something you can do long-distance, too!)


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

July Into August | 2016

This is my littlest brother. He's less crazy than he looks here.
This month has been effing crazy. It's been a little bit of a physical and mental roller coaster ride. There's been some good - like registering for classes and going hiking and swimming a bit more and losing weight - and some bad.... like a bunch of doctor appointments. And a broken car.

I don't usually mind the doctor visits anymore. I'm used to them, and my other option is withering away, so, what am I gonna do, really? The problem is that I do not feel like my doctors are fully paying attention to my health as a whole picture (so my obgyn giving me something that causes depression despite my history of depression or my GI not considering everything from my other appointments in the last year, etc). So I'm dealing with that. The other problem is that, whether it's true or not, I feel like we're getting nowhere. I've been dealing with this liver stuff for almost a year and we still don't know what's up. I had an appointment a month ago with a specialist to talk about potential options (liver biopsy, going to a medical center with a good hepatology department) and we set up a follow up appointment, which I went to yesterday. And at yesterday's appointment there was nothing new to talk about. I ended up getting a ton of blood work done (more extensive studies of blood levels having to do with the liver) but I was totally under the impression that had already been done. Guess not. I'm hoping that it'll shed some light on the problem.

The car issue is almost funny. A few months back I mentioned how basically the entire thing was rusted (the undercarriage, I think it's technically called??), which I didn't know to look for when I bought it. So we first got the front fixed because it was completely unsafe to drive (it was literally wobbling - not shaking, wobbling) and that was a pretty penny and now the back part is starting to go. We knew it would happen, it just sorta has bad timing. I asked the mechanic if it was safe to drive and he said, "Well, you're fine driving around town and everything. But don't go on the interstate. You take this on the interstate and you're gambling your life. So no trips to Asheville." 

Guys, guess where my school is. 

I told him and he said it's okay if I take the back roads. So it'll be slow going. 

Me making my way to school.
But just trying to think about the good stuff. Like school. And continued weight loss. This is a shitty picture, but here's what I look like now: 

Mind you, some of the weight loss is probably due to medicine/sickness since I'm not putting that much effort into it, but.....whatever.

My goals for the last month went pretty good. I read a ton of books (over my goal of six), I finished reviewing The Underland Chronicles (though my reviews sort of sucked since it's been nine months since I read the books..... must start reviewing things sooner). I went outside more than usual, although it's been raining a crazy amount here, which makes it even more difficult. I posted five book reviews (over the course of that month and a half). I've not been eating wonderfully, but I've managed to still not go back to the horrid eating habits of days past. I wanted to lose ten pounds but only lost six, but that's okay. I started those depo provera shots which my doctor warned might make me gain weight (and I have noticed an increase in appetite at times) and I still managed to lose something, so I'm counting that a win.

My goals for this month...

1. Lose ten pounds (just keeping this a standard).

2. Read five books. 

3. Write seven book reviews. 

4. Keep up on bullet journaling.

5. Write the second posts in at least two unfinished series (maybe the Harry Potter vs. Hunger Games and Books to Read With Friends series??). 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Book Review | The Underland Chronicles (Book 5)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote up a little review of how I felt about the fourth book in The Underland Chronicles - Gregor and the Marks of Secret. I loved it and thought it was a good continuation of the series, if a little slower paced than the other books. I also mentioned not remembering quite as much detail since it's been months since I've read the books... it's obviously the same deal with this book. But I think I can still give a pretty decent idea of what this book is about and whether or not you should read it (you should!). 

Like I've said in each of these reviews, this series is amazing. (For those who like kidlit/have kids and are familiar with it: this series is better than Percy Jackson but not quite as good as Harry Potter.) It tackles discrimination, oppression, war, right vs. wrong, morality, and this time, fate. By now Gregor has fought in Underland several times, trying to do what is right (and to be honest, just trying to figure out what is right). He learns of a prophecy that calls for his death (this story line is sort of getting old? I say this as though it ever stops me from reading anything...) and must decide if he's still willing to fight. I guess I won't give the answer away but it's pretty obvious considering it's a novel... 

But anyway. We once again deal with Solovet and her grimy tactics. She's basically America. She wants to look good and fair and all, and she says she stands for justice and peace, but... she tries to "achieve" justice and peace by, like, violent tactics. So... 

Gregor is not a fan. 

A lot of this story is simply battle. We still have some issues and we're not entirely sure who is bad and who is good. I think the ending is mostly a morally sound one. We do not get to know every detail about what happens once the novel is over (big things like "does peace last?" and small things like "what happens to Luxa and Gregor?"), which annoys me a bit. But I thought we were given some clarity on the war and on morals and I think the "right" things happened. (I'm trying and failing to describe this without giving anything away.) Essentially, none of the bad guys truly win. The morally bad characters - whether obnoxiously, Donald Trump-esque bad like Bane or more subtly, Hillary Clinton-esque bad like Solovet are ultimately seen for what they are. It is a dark, hard ending. There are major losses. I cried and I imagine it'd be difficult for kids, but that's true of this story in general once we hit the third book. I'd want to read it with a kid instead of them reading it alone. 

So this whole time we have one species fighting another species, some species driving other species out of their homes, species trying to kill off other species, etc. etc. And throughout this whole thing we see some members, particularly of the oppressor groups, employ awful means. There is little regard for life by these characters, and especially for life that doesn't resemble their own. (Sound familiar? Regalia is America, for real.) And at the very end of the series, our young hero Luxa and the scrappy Ripred, a rat leader, do something completely unprecedented and totally moving (to me, anyway) to change the way things are done and I don't think Collins could have given us a better ending. I don't want to spoil it so I can't say much more, but I think Collins just ended it on such a good and appropriate note. 

Overall as a series these books teach readers to question war, to stand up for the oppressed, to wonder about free will, and to choose good. I don't think it gets much better. I really think I might like this series better than The Hunger Games. I 100% recommend it. 


Since Liz and I now have a book review blog (Filthy Casket Book Reviews!), this can be found over there, too.
Reviews for earlier books in The Underland Chronicles:

Gregor the Overlander (Book 1)
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Book 2)
Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (Book 3)  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Literary Baby Names: The Sequel

After posting the list of best names for each letter of the alphabet the other day a few of my friends told me how much they loved it. For me that's sort of the equivalent of laughing at lame jokes - you encourage me to continue. And so here we are with another baby name post. What a world.

I wrote a list of literary baby names months ago. I enjoyed it and I love a lot of those names, but it was quickly done and I don't think it's thorough enough. And also I just want to come up with more. :)

1. Jane appeared on that list, but I want to use it again. Of course Jane Austen is a great literary namesake. But now that I've read Jane Eyre, I am positively smitten with using Jane as a nod to the book and the character. What a good source for inspiration, that book.

2. Forest. I guess I'm starting this post with names I've already suggested. :) I've mentioned that Forest is probably my favorite Harry Potter name. The Forest Again is my absolute favorite chapter in the entire HP series (and I've heard that it's J.K. Rowling's favorite chapter, as well). It's the chapter in which Harry is willing to sacrifice himself so that Voldemort will be mortal again. I don't know that we could ask anything more from a character than to bravely face death in order to save others. If naming your baby Harry seems too obvious a nod to the books, Forest seems like a good option to me.

3. Hugo is one of my favorite names. I recommended it last time, but I want to offer it up again, this time for Victor Hugo. Not only a terrific writer, but a man who stood for freedom. Win-win.

4. I've long loved the name Eleanor (a love that began after learning about the wonderful first lady), but the alternative spelling, Elanor, is a sweet nod to Lord of the Rings. The companions first saw elanor, a star shaped flower, when they stayed with the elves of Lorien. Sam then named his daughter Elanor. It's a pretty, feminine name that honors epic fantasy. Can't do much better than that.

5. Cora names seem to be picking up steam. A nice literary option is Coraline, after the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. This was a suggestion from Liz. I love the name but haven't read the book, but she says the story and character are worthwhile.

6. Lewis. Louis is a great name for a boy, but the different spelling makes for a brilliant, doubly important literary name. First, it's a nod to C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia among a million other things. And then there's Lewis Carroll. It's his pen name, yes, but it's the name he's known by, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is favored my so many people (including Liz!). Lewis is such a great option to honor two amazing writers.

7. And while we're on Lewis Carroll, there's always Charles, another two-fer name! It was Carroll's given name and it's the appellation given to Dickens, author of the best books ever. Charlie is a cute nickname, too.

8. But maybe you want to name your daughter after either of those authors. There's Carol or Caroline or Charlotte. They're all related names, and any would work as an honor name for a Charles.

9. Bronty. Hear me out. I'd probably never use this as a first name, because I'm a wimp. But there are people who name their sons Rider and Axel and Dash - you get the point. I think this makes for a super cool name to honor any of the Bronte sisters, or any of the books they've written. (I would use Bronte as a middle name for a girl or a boy.) I've heard Bronte pronounced Bront-ay rhymes with hay and I've heard it Bront-ee rhymes with me. Either works, but I think if you're going for that cool, edgy vibe for a son, the ee sound is the way to go, which is why I'd use the y spelling - avoids some pronunciation issues.

10. On a similar note, I think it'd be fantastic to name a son Austen for Jane Austen. I've noticed that parents are willing to give their daughters traditionally masculine names, but they seem unwilling to give their sons names that are used largely by girls (even if the name started off as a boy name). It seems like the same thing happens with name inspiration. Girls are given names for male figures or for stories that feature a lot of men (like LOTR), but fewer boys are named after, say, Pride and Prejudice. I'm assuming this is another symptom of our culture's devaluation of femininity, thanks patriarchy. Go on with your bad self and name your boy Austen. Jane's books are beloved by too many to ignore.

11. Elwyn. This isn't my style so I'd probably never use it, but there are plenty of people who are bolder than I am, and they can use it. It is the first name of E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, and he edited The Elements of Style, which is pretty cool if you're into writing. It's a male name, but I think it'd be nicer on a girl. And bonus points: it has a definite LOTR feel to it. (White's middle name was Brooks, which seems like a gender-neutral [though much more boyish?] name that would work well today.)

12. Ah, I've mentioned this before, but I really love Conrad (/Konrad). The name means "brave counsel" and as such I think it makes an excellent moniker, one that could call to mind some of the greatest characters, like Dumbledore or Gandalf.

13. Okay, so I may be on the Jane Eyre Train right now (Must I ever get off?), but I'm going to go ahead and suggest Rochester. He is a problematic character at first, yes. But I think his story is one of redemption and his growth warrants applause. In my book that's enough. Surname-names seem popular which makes Rochester wearable, plus there's the adorable nickname: Rocky. (Edward works too, and it can sort of be a Narnia name, for Edmund.)

14. Louise or Louisa for Louisa May Alcott. Alcott could work if you're into surname names, too. Little Women is consistently cited as a favorite, so this seems like a no-brainer.

15. A Christmas Carol is beloved by pretty much everyone, right? Even those who don't celebrate Christmas love the story. I don't think Ebenezer is going to be wearable any time soon, but that's okay because I think the real winner of a name here is Timothy. Tiny Tim, aside from being adorable in the movie, embodies the spirit of the play and of the season, and his line, "God Bless us, everyone!" is known round the world. Timothy wouldn't just make a good literary name, it'd also make a good seasonally appropriate name for any boy born around Christmastime. (For that matter, this can be another case for Carol/Caroline!!)

16. Fitz or Fritz. I heard the name Fritzraldo once and I was blown away. I don't think I've ever heard a cooler name in my entire life. But if you're not too eager on Fritzraldo, Fritz is a nice alternative, and I think Fritz or Fitz both make good names to honor F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know The Great Gatsby remains a favorite for a ton of people, and either of these names are super wearable for a boy born in 2016.

17. Lux or Luxa. This is another name that I wouldn't be brave enough to use, but I think it's pretty cool. Luxa is a major character in The Underland Chronicles. It's a children series by Suzanne Collins. I wouldn't say it's as good as Harry Potter (nothing is!), but I actually think it's better than The Hunger Games. It questions war and preemptive tactics and discrimination, etc. and has lessons that are so good for kids to learn. If I met someone who named their daughter Lux or Luxa after this series, I'd be seriously impressed.

18. My last suggestion is absolutely my corniest suggestion: Penny. There are a lot of people who use word names for their babies now, but if you don't love the idea of naming your baby Writer or Poem (though Poet and Soliloquy are on my guilty pleasure middle name list), Penny is a good compromise. It's a "real" name... but it can also be a play on the word "pen," as in "putting pen to paper" or "penning a great story." I know, corny. BUT ALSO SWEET. If I met someone who was named Penny for this reason I'd immediately assume her parents were awesome.    

THIS WAS FUN. Any names to add? I'm sure I'll be back obnoxiously soon with Literary Baby Names: Part Three. Just to warn you all. This gets more and more fun with each book I read.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review | The Underland Chronicles (Book 4)

Whoa. It has been nine months since I posted the review of the third book in this series. Nine months! I could have gestated a child in the time it took me to get my act together enough to post this review. A HUMAN CHILD. That's how long I've procrastinated. 

And unlike a child, which would have grown stronger and more defined over time, the nine month break means my memory of the book is fainter, the impression it left lighter. Which makes for a lackluster review. Lackluster, my middle name.

Despite all that, my overwhelming feeling toward this book is that it was fantastic. I don't remember as many details as I did two minutes after reading it, obviously (and my computer did me a solid and deleted my general review of the whole series). But I remember the plot well enough (and was smart enough to dog-ear pages with quotes that struck me) and I definitely remember the themes Suzanne Collins explores and I know that I finished this book feeling like I absolutely needed to get my hands on the fifth book. I appreciated Collins even more than I already did after reading this book. I still am awed by her ability to talk about war and politics in ways that are appropriate for kids (and still interesting for adults). Somewhere between reading the third book in this series and the fourth book, it occurred to me that I might like The Underland Chronicles more than I like The Hunger Games.

The fourth book, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, is a bit different from its predecessors in that we don't have a direct prophecy or end point this time. The plot is a bit more mysterious and open ended. Basically, Luxa (I gave some character descriptions here), the future queen, is sent a message of distress and she and Gregor go searching for an answer. They find out that the mice of the Underland are once again being driven out of their homes by a more powerful species. (Sound familiar? Collins' stories are political ones.) But when she and Gregor explore, they realize that (spoiler alert - though this isn't a huge reveal and won't ruin the series for anyone, probably...) this time, the mice aren't just being driven out of their homes; they're being murdered. It's a genocide orchestrated by the Bane and the rats. We see some more character development in this one, especially with Luxa as she begins to truly come into her role. Ultimately, she declares war on the rats.

Needless to say, this book is dark. It's the darkest in the series, in my opinion. If I had kids, I'd want to read it with/to them. I wouldn't want them to read it alone. That said, I still think it's an age-appropriate exploration of war and politics and hatred and fear.

And if you happen to be reading it now, be prepared for some scary real-life parallels:

"He will find followers, because he’s the Bane. He’s got the white coat, and the size, and enough hatred brewing inside him to wipe out the Underland as we know it. Most rats will overlook the fact that he’s unbalanced, because he’ll be telling them exactly what they want to hear. They’ve been starved too long, and then so many died from the plague... especially the pups. No, the gnawers won’t care who he is or what he does if he brings them revenge."

Familiar, right?

While it's a not as conclusive as the previous books, it's still pretty excellent. It's sad, of course. But we get to watch as our characters consider whether there are things worth going to war over, if there are things that justify killing. (And as the series goes on, I tend to think that most of the "good" characters make the right decisions, which is why I think this series is so good for kids. Like it or not, we're currently living in a war-obsessed country and I think it's great for kids to question such values. This book will prompt those questions.) It's also nice to see the characters face trials bravely. Obviously courage and bravery and sacrifice are good things in books and in real life.

Neville knows. He would like The Underland Chronicles.
So basically, loved this book. I didn't love it as much as the third book, but it's an important step in the series and sets us up for the fifth and final book. It doesn't work as a stand alone novel, though, so you'll have to start from the beginning. A very good place to start.

You won't regret it. Go pick up this book/series, pronto.

Since Liz and I now have a book review blog (Filthy Casket Book Reviews!), this can be found over there, too. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Best of the Alphabet: Baby Names

I stumbled upon a new name-blog a few nights ago and was pumped. It's got all sorts of cool stuff, from name suggestions to "sibling sets" to old birth announcements for twins named Lloyd Joel and Boyd Noel. Anyway, add to this discovery a dash of boredom and a sprinkle of, ahem, loopiness from medicine and we've got a new Baby Name List idea: favorite names for each letter of the alphabet. Liz, my long-suffering friend who oft puts up with my baby name craze decided to participate too! As has Dana!!!! (She doesn't get as many obnoxious baby name convo requests from me as Liz does - she's more my "Harry Potter questions in the middle of the night" person - but we have talked about names and we may or may not have once fought over "Teddy," eventually deciding I'd use it for a boy and she could use it for a girl.) This list doesn't include all the names we love, just our very favorites for each letter. (I also didn't want to include any names I would never actually use, which is why the letter U, for example, has no names even though Ulysses and Urban are fine names.) In cases of multiple favorites, the very best is in bold. Without further ado.....

A Names

Charlotte: Annie (as a nickname), Agatha/Ambrose, Augustine
Liz: Abigail/Alexander
Dana: Abigail, Adelaide, Adeline/Adam

B Names

Charlotte: Beatrix, Bernadette/Bosco, Benjamin
Liz: Bonnie/Benjamin
Dana: Beatrice

C Names

Charlotte: Caroline, Clementine/Clement
Liz: Claire/Cooper
Dana: Christian, Cecilia/Christopher

D Names

Charlotte: Della/Donovan
Liz: Daisy/Daniel
Dana: Dana (lol jk) Diana, Daphne/David

E Names

Charlotte: Evangeline, Eliza, Eleanor/Edward
Liz: Emelia/Elliot
Dana: Emma, Emilia/Elijah

F Names

Charlotte: Felicity/Francis
Liz: Felicity, Fern/Flynn
Dana: Flannery/Fred, Fitzgerald, Fitzwilliam

G Names

Charlotte: Genevieve/Gabriel, Gerard
Liz: Genevieve/Griffin
Dana: Georgiana, Georgia/George, Greg

H Names

Charlotte: Harriet/Hugo
Liz: Hattie/Harper/Henry
Dana: Helen/Henry

I Names

Charlotte: Ignatius
Liz: Isabelle/Ian, Isaac
Dana: Imogen/Isaiah 

J Names

Charlotte: Jane/James, John
Liz: Joanna/Jacob
Dana: Jane/Jack, James

K Names

Charlotte: Kate, Kit (both as nicknames)/ Konrad
Liz: Katherine/Keagan 
Dana: Kendall/Killian 

L Names

Charlotte: Louise/Lewis (honorable mentions: Lucy, Loretta)
Liz: Lydia/Liam
Dana: Laura, Leila/Levi 

M Names

Charlotte: Margot, Magdalene/Martin
Liz: Molly/Mathias
Dana: Madeline, Magdalena/Mason 

N Names

Charlotte: Noelle/Nicholas
Liz: Nora/Nathaniel 
Dana: Nova/Noah 

O Names

Charlotte: Ottilie/Oliver
Liz: Olivia/Oliver 
Dana: Ophelia/Oliver 

P Names

Charlotte: Pepper, Philomena/Patrick
Liz: Piper/Parker
Dana: Priscilla, Penelope/Peter 

Q Names

Charlotte: .........
Liz: Quinn/Quentin (I guess...) 
Dana: Quinn/?

R Names

Charlotte: Rose
Liz: Rachel, Ruth/Russell 
Dana: Renesmee.. JK. Rose/Ronald

S Names

Charlotte: Stella/Samuel
Liz: Sophie, Sadie/Samuel (honorable mention: Sybil)
Dana: Savannah/Samuel 

T Names

Charlotte: Tilly (as a nickname)/Theodore
Liz: Taylor/Theodore
Dana: Theodora (Teddy)/Theodore 

U Names

Charlotte: .........
Liz: .........
Dana: ........

V Names

Charlotte: Victoria
Liz: Virginia/Victor
Dana: Vada, Virginia

W Names

Charlotte: Willa/William
Liz: Winry/William 
Dana: Winnie/William

X Names

Charlotte: Xavier
Liz: ........
Dana: ........

Y Names

Charlotte: ..........
Liz: .......
Dana: Yael/.. 

Z Names

Charlotte: Zellie
Liz: Zinnia/Zachary 
Dana: Zinnia, Zoey/Zachary

So I guess it's a win for Oliver, Theodore, William, and Samuel. ;) This post was super fun to write. I loved seeing all the overlap (Magdalene/a! Felicity! Henry!) and I got a kick out of how surprising some of the names were (still not over Dana's choice of Greg or Liz's pick of Griffin). I like that even with a decent amount of overlap, you can still sense our different styles.

Also, Keagan will forever remind me of kegels. BUT YOU DO YOU, LIZ.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sterling, Castile, Dallas, BLM

I've gone back and forth over the last few days on whether or not to write anything about the killing of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the officers in Dallas. I've addressed Black Lives Matter before (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 if you're interested) and I still feel the same way: the movement is righteous and we need to continue to assert that black people matter. I don't have anything very eloquent to say, but I decided I'd jot down a few random thoughts, especially since my audience is largely white. And lately there seem to be a lot of Confused and Angry White People. 

The Dallas shooting was horrific and tragic. I am heartbroken for the officers (and protesters) who were shot and for their families. I have no reason to believe they weren't good people. 

If you think less of Black Lives Matter after the Dallas shooting, you're wrong. The movement has spoken against the violence, they did not sanction or plan it, and they value all life. And even if those things weren't true... 

Black lives would still matter. No matter what happened or happens, regardless of how you or I or anyone else feels about tactics, you should still know and understand and state that "black lives matter." Because for the past 300 years and even today, the law does not value or protect black lives. The first step in rectifying this problem is to acknowledge it and address it. 

It is possible to grieve for the officers and still argue that we need to radically change how policing is done in this country. 

It is possible to dislike, to hate violence but to understand how it happens. I personally wouldn't want to engage in violent actions* (unless it's in self defense or to actively defend someone else), but I also don't know what it is like to be a target of state violence. I can choose to not be violent and also not denounce an entire movement because there are some folks who think violence is the best tactic. 

Pick a method of resistance that suits your strengths and find out how you can help the larger movement.

You can understand how a person(people) is angry without wanting to justify violence born of that anger. Part of being a semi-intelligent adult with complex emotions is understanding something even when you don't particularly like it. It is entirely possible (maybe necessary?) to wish those officers were alive and that the shooting in Dallas never happened but to also understand the rage behind it. Shooting unsuspecting police officers cannot be justified in my mind. But the rage? The rage is justifiable. 

If you are sad about Dallas but didn't mourn over the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, check your priorities. 

If you think the use of war tactics and materials are necessary after the slaughtering of those officers, but didn't think protesting was necessary after the slaughtering of the 565th and 566th people killed by police this year, check your priorities.

If you were outraged at the killings of Cecil the Lion and Harambe the Gorilla but not at the killings of black men by people who were sworn to protect them, just unfriend/unfollow me. Find Jesus. (So, like, half the people I went to hs with.)

I'm angry at the killing of those police officers. I'm angry that black people continue to be unjustly targeted and killed by police. Get it through your head that you can be both. 

Get it through your head that racism is real. 

Get it through your head that not all cops are good. 

Get it through your head that change is hard but necessary. 

Stop saying "all lives matter." It's defensive, it's detracting, and it's bad logic. If I say "cheeseburgers are great" it in no way means "hamburgers are awful." A hamburger can be perfectly lovely with the right condiments.

And, the most important thing: listen to black people. LISTEN TO BLACK PEOPLE. Stop denying statistics and stop denying their very experience.    

(Also: It is not okay to kill suspects with robot bombs.)

I've been praying for Alton and Philando, and for Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, and everyone else affected. But we need to do more than pray. If you're white and you've been silent so far, I'd urge you to get involved. I believe there will be a day when things like this no longer happen. 

*I don't support violence against people. Property, however? Fuck property. People>property. At this point I am all for breaking windows. Before you think I'm a loon, I'll ask you your thoughts on the men behind the Boston Tea Party. If you see them as heroes, then don't tell black people or white allies not to cause chaos. If ruining property is the way to make the state care about people, then that's what'll happen. Don't blame the protesters, blame the state which continues to undervalue human life. They/we are trying to make changes via peaceful protesting. If that doesn't work, then overboard with the tea, as it were.  


Friday, July 8, 2016

June Into July | 2016

Eight days in and I'm finally writing this month's post.

I haven't prioritized blogging at all lately, and for the most part I'm okay with that. I've been sick a lot, I've been in the hospital twice this month, so when I'm feeling good I'm more interested in reading or hiking or doing yard work to try and make that $$ than I am in blogging. I'm sure this will change as summer fades, but for now it's what's up. 

But I'm not ditching it all together. I'm still trying to keep up with some book reviews over on Filthy Casket. And I'm going to try to get at least one blog post up over here per week, but I'm not stressing over it. 

Since I wrote last month's post so late, I'm just going to cheat and extend those goals through this month. #ambition #not They were: 

1. Get outside more So far so good.
2. Read six books I've read eight and a half! I'm on a reading roll. Give me some butter. This month I'd specifically like to chip away at my summer reading list
3. Post five book reviews I've done two so far.
4. Finish the reviews of the books in The Underland Chronicles I've not done any since making that goal...
5. Eat better meh, somewhat so far.
6. Lose ten pounds I've lost three at this point.

So those are my goals for the rest of the month. 

I wanted to keep this post short and I don't have a ton to say, but it seems wrong to not mention some of the things going on right now. For the moment I'll leave it at just saying that my heart is heavy for Alton Sterling and his family, Philando Castile and his family, and the officers and protesters shot in Dallas and their families. And especially for Cameron, Sterling's 15 year old boy, whose sobs haven't left my mind since the night I heard them on TV. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Book of Esther

Hey ya'll (smh, truly assimilating to the south). I normally keep all of my book reviews over at Filthy Casket, but I loved this book so much, I had to post some of it over here, too.

Badass, feminist, imaginative, historical.  

I devoured this book. Or maybe it devoured me. 

Let me start by saying that this book is a lot. Barton's writing is awesome, but dense. The vast majority of the reviews I've read for this book mention "info-dumping" and the use of other languages without translation. They're not wrong, but... I almost feel as though these reviewers can't have actually finished the book. The first chapter is the hardest. I put the book down twice (to pick up Harry Potter, of course) because I just couldn't get into the first chapter. But I finally pushed through it, and hot damn I'm glad I did. I went on to finish it in two days because I could not put it down

THAT SAID, I don't necessarily recommend you immediately drop everything and buy the book. Rent it from your library. Or finish this review and read other reviews before dropping $25 on it. 

Because the people who didn't love this book bring up good points. I've seen folks complain that there are too many mystical elements. There are animated clay figures called Golems. There are mechanical horses in the 20th century. There's a man who was born a woman but transformed into a man when he prayed for it while bathing. There's also the fact that hundreds rally behind a teenage girl, willfully following her into war. Naturally, people complain that it's a lot to believe. To which I say: just get past it! In the beginning of the book I also struggled to believe everything that was put in front of me. But once I just stopped thinking so hard about it (it's historical fiction, after all), I was able to just relax and thoroughly enjoy the book.

The other major complaints I've seen, and which I feel I need to address before telling anyone to go buy it, are the complaints of language and too much info. Barton uses language throughout the novel that most of us won't understand (Hebrew? Yiddish? Combo? I don't know.) She often translates it, but not always. It was occasionally frustrating, but mostly I thought it was easy enough to understand through context. When I couldn't guess the meaning, I just... got over it. It really doesn't happen enough to distract from the story. Despite not always understanding the occasional blurbs of other-language, I understood and followed the plot. It didn't interfere with character development or rising action or, or, or. And yet, many, many people seemed to really dislike this feature of the book. So I figure it's worth mentioning. If you think this would bother you, it might not be worth reading. And then there's the issue of "info-dumping." There were some parts of the book that were just crazy laden with info - I don't mind it. I thought it was necessary to the story. But if you are more a dialogue and action guy or gal, it's something to consider. For all the info-dumping, though, I thought it was paced just fine. I never got bored.  

And yet, I really, really want to urge everyone to try this book out. It's one of the best books I've read in the last year (up there with The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra and The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy). The writing was perfection - the kind that makes you think of silk and caramel and hot chocolate and tea and blankets and that attic from A Little Princess. I know you know what I mean. 

~Break to go watch A Little Princess. My dear, dear Sara.~ 

Read the rest of my review over at Filthy Casket! 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

May Into June | 2016

ugly but very productive tomato plant
The blogette hit 10,000 views a few days ago. It's not like that's a ton of views considering it's been around a few years, but I've basically been assuming Liz was my only reader. So either Liz has been here 10,000 times or more than a couple of people read it. ;) Anywho, it's a tad exciting. The blog isn't wildly popular, nor do I want it to be (unless it's so popular that I can make a living writing about Harry Potter baby names). But it is fun knowing there are a few readers that enjoy (or hate-read???) this space.

It's June 16, so I really shouldn't even bother writing this month's post, but hey. Better late than never, yes? It's been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now.

May was alright. I was in the hospital again, but didn't have to endure any 2+ day stays, so that was cool. I feel like my health is declining, but also like I'm becoming more resilient? I've been doing yard work and handyman-ish jobs to try and keep up on the bills. There are days/times when I can't do anything, but on my so-so days I'm alright to go work. I've been trying to push through the pain a bit more. I'm not great at knowing when that's a good idea or not, though. Sometimes I'll try to get out and either work or just get some fresh air and then I'll deeply regret it a few hours later when I'm puking or writhing in pain. Other days I push through the pain and then feel great.

I had an endoscopy and a colonoscopy since I have the body of a 50 year old, apparently. The docs were hoping to get hints as to what's going on with my abdomen (and especially my liver), but they weren't totally convinced they'd find anything. They mostly thought it was prudent to check things out. They did find some abnormalities... but nothing (as far as I know yet) that would explain the liver issues. The one thing I really, really complained about (to my friends, not to my doctors) was the colonoscopy prep. I wasn't concerned about the effects of the solution. I knew it'd suck but like, everyone has had the stomach bug, so whatever. (Gross to write about on a blog? Probably! Sorry, three readers.) But the taste of the solution. I literally cried throughout the process of drinking it. It made me gag and puke and I can't explain how hopeless/helpless I felt the entire time. It's really a pathetic feeling - "This nasty drink is going to be the end of me! I literally cannot do this. I cannot."

But. Yesterday I found out that the polyp they found was precancerous, so... I will never again complain about getting a colonoscopy. Before it was biopsied, the doctor who removed it told me he was glad I had the procedure because normally colon cancer in young people takes longer to diagnose since colonoscopies aren't usually performed until age 50. He has a 32 year old patient who has colon cancer. Even though we hadn't known it was precancerous at that point, he was relieved I had it removed. I'm super glad, too. After I typed it out to some of my friends yesterday it hit me that, like, holy shit! Had I not had this procedure I might have gotten cancer five years from now. I'm looking at colonoscopies every few years now, which sucks, but again... can't complain.

By the way, regarding the prep: I figured out a tolerable way to drink it. I read on a few different sites that it was better cold, but that putting ice in it was a big no-no. So I tried putting the bottle I used inside a bowl that was filled with ice, but that didn't help. I also was told by friends and by the internet AND by the pamphlet that a straw might help... I drank two liters with a straw and cried the whole time.

Eventually, I did two things that seemed to help. I filled up water bottles and put them in the freezer for 15-25 minutes. This way they weren't frozen, but they were ice cold. I won't say it made the solution okay, but it made it much less "kill me now." Also, I got rid of the straw. I don't know why the straw made it worse for me, since a lot of people seem to prefer it. But I was much, much better at just chugging an entire almost-frozen bottle than I was sipping through a straw. I'd get them down in about 7 minutes. (Chug for like 30 seconds, try not to gag, give yourself a pep talk for two minutes, chug for 30 seconds, repeat until done.)

Also, and I realize this sounds corny, but I was finally just like, "Jesus, you gotta help me." I think I was more polite than that, but really. I don't care what anyone says, drinking this was hard. I'd prefer enduring physical pain for a little while than drinking this poisonous crap. I felt stupid asking God to help me drink bowel prep solution, but like, whatever. Maybe that was a lesson. Nothing too small. I'd have tried the whole "offer it up" thing, but I was too busy gagging to think any coherent thoughts while actually drinking.

went to google to search for an appropriate gif for my prep-solution-prayer. found this instead.
As for last month's goals... 

I didn't do too bad. I called my friends. I didn't send letters to my friends, though. On my list! I think I read five books? My goal was six. But I read Half Blood Prince twice. Does that count? ;) I wrote four book reviews in May, which is four more than I wrote in April - excellente. I lost around 10ish pounds. Not only did I look into classes, but I enrolled at a nearby community college. I did not go kayaking, but I spent most of the month sick, so... (I'd be physically capable of kayaking on some of my good days, but I'm not keen on being out in the middle of nowhere, in a body of water, alone, and then having one of my severe attacks. Maybe I'll grow a pair at some point. We'll see.)

weight loss progress pic
And this month's goals:

1. Try getting outside more. I'm in pain, but like... when I'm below a 6 on that 1-10 scale I can try a little harder to get out.


3. Post five new book reviews.

4. Finish the book reviews for the Underland Chronicles. It's been months since I wrote the review for the third book. Let's not make it years.

5. Eat better (+ more fiber).

6. Lose 10 pounds. This is when things get tricky. Losing weight is always hardest when I'm closest to my goal weight. I'd like to reach 180 by late September, assuming my health doesn't get even more wild.

That's it for now. ;)


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Going Back to School

Whew. Just a little over a year ago I wrote about my plan to go back to school. Well, it's taken me longer than I'd have liked, but last week I enrolled at a community college in a nearby city and in the upcoming weeks I get to meet with an advisor to register for classes. I'll be taking physics and a math course (not sure which one yet - don't really fancy jumping right into calculus after 6+ years of not learning math, so might take pre-calc algebra first).

On the one hand, I'm really excited. On the other hand................. slightly terrified. I'm worried about what happens if I go back and end up really sucking at all of this. Also, I am not very healthy. In fact, I have to stop lying to myself. I keep saying that I'll get better soon, but in reality, my body seems to be getting worse. My liver enzymes are nice and high, my abdominal pain has spread so that it's now on both sides and in my chest and back (it used to mostly stay confined to the right upper quadrant). I don't know if it's related, but two months ago my legs were fine and now they're terribly sore to the point where I have trouble lifting them at times. When it started, it was mainly happening at night (felt as though I had done insane work outs, even though I hadn't) and now it happens during the day, too. My nausea medicine knocks me out, so I sometimes end up wasting an entire day sleeping. So that's all problematic. But I'm trying to remain optimistic. Late next week I'm having two procedures done, and the doctors are likely going to take biopsies. I'm really, really hoping they figure out what is wrong. 

And if they don't (knock on wood, because I don't want to just be stuck with mystery symptoms and bad blood work forever), then I'm still anticipating going to school. I'm only taking two classes, so I should be able to manage that schedule even if I'm still sick. I considered just putting it off another semester, but decided against that. It has been a long time since I've felt like a normal human being and I really need to do things again. I don't want to put it off indefinitely. Ain't no way to liiiive. 

I'm also nervous about some practical obstacles. My computer is falling apart, literally. It's held together with electrical tape at the moment, and I can see its innards. Wires and metal galore. But I can get by without a laptop for a while, hopefully. The bigger concern is my car, which is becoming less and less safe to drive unless I get it fixed. (I'm not just procrastinating on getting it fixed - it's likely to cost over $1000 and nobody has that type of money.) I get mad every time I think about it, because it turns out the dealership sold it to me like this. Nice of them!! The school is about 40 minutes away, so a car isn't optional. I'm going to try to work things out over the next couple of months. 

Despite all that, I'm still just pumped. It's been such a long time since I've done anything with any sort of purpose. It's exciting to actually work toward one of my bigger goals (and hopefully get on the road to being independent again - thankful that I've been able to live rent free, but... I also miss not living with family). And maybe one day I'll end up working to solve problems such as these. ;)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

link love

a little irony for your Sunday evening
This week was a rainy one in NC. Today we've finally had sun (although... I actually love the rain, so maybe I shouldn't say "finally") and I've been itching to get out but it's rough right now with the pain and with the meds and with the side effects of the meds. I've tried to completely stop pain meds, sort of against my doctors' advice (they just think I should not be in pain if I don't have to, which is fair, but I'm scared of pain meds). But the nausea meds knock me out. Which is great at night, though, because I've got trouble sleeping. Although... the last two or three nights have been odd. I'll lay down and start reading and can't go more than twenty minutes. Maybe I need a different book? 

Or maybe I need to spend less time on the internet? I admit I've been staying on later and later. But sometimes it's hard to look away when there's just so much. LIKE:

This most excellent Harry Potter quiz, of course. I got Hermione Granger the first time I took it a few days ago, but when I retook it just now, I totally got Albus Dumbledore. Win. (Speaking of Buzzfeed quizzes, did you see how you can make your own quiz and have your friends take it? My friends all took the quiz about me, and the most they got right was THREE QUESTIONS. For comparison, on theirs I got 4, 6, and 7 right, so... suck it.)

I've been craving adventure a little bit lately. On the next sunny day when I'm feeling good I'm going to take my kayak out. And one day... one day maybe I'll be brave enough to ride a motorcycle on the edge of a mountain. Probably not. But it is fun to watch. Also adventurous.. tattoos! I plan on getting a second tattoo one day and it will most likely be HP-related, so I enjoyed scrolling through these. I love the Weasley's car in the whomping willow!!!!!

I cannot get over this bachelor (...or I guess, contestant). He looks like the lovechild of Ashton Kutcher and Shia LaBeouf, with a dash of Dax Shepard for good measure. 

I am feeling dreadful about the upcoming election, so I almost hate to talk about it. But I can't avoid it altogether and sometimes I wouldn't want to, like in the case of this woman's obituary, which claims Ms. Mary Anne chose to go be with God rather than vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Can't. And as someone who is still hoping Bernie will win, I liked this article about his great chances of beating Trump (with wider margins than Hillary can hope for) and this one that says Clinton supporters should really stop bullying Sanders supports for not jumping on the bandwagon.

Equally frustrating as the election: Drew, a tv show about.. you got it, Nancy Drew, is not going to air. Why? Because it's "too female." Yeah.

Happier things, happier things.. Meg at Pierced Hands is one of my favorite bloggers. I loved her recent post about the nature of the Holy Spirit. Click on over. (I also loved the Disney short movie that she included. Adorable.)  

I enjoyed this article over at Verily which talks about ways exercise can help women specifically. (Also, Verily is on fire. Check out these cute work outfits! And this article about singleness and Jane Austen!)

This new show, Speechless, looks good. And I love Minnie Driver. 

LOVED this article about Charles Dickens' ability to come up with names for his characters. You know I love names. And writing. Best of both. 

I laugh at most of the hashtag segments on The Tonight Show. This one about weird neighbors did not disappoint. 

I'm not too ashamed to admit that I watch and thoroughly enjoy Grey's Anatomy. I liked this article over on Slate about why it's actually a good show. (Although we don't have to pretend it's the stuff of giants.)

Lady Gaga posted an image and talked about the Eucharist, and a bunch of Catholics (and other Christians) went crazy. They basically went on about how she's not a true Catholic and we shouldn't be happy about her and that she shouldn't be receiving the Eucharist at all... ugh. I liked this counter argument

I'm crushing on this book, these sandals, and this dress.

And to wrap this up - if you're the praying type, keep this man and his family in your thoughts. They just lost their new baby. And this family as well - a young father of five has stage four melanoma and they have to keep travelling between states for treatment. 

til next week