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Review: Princeps’ Fury

Princeps’ Fury by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought I had read this book a long time ago; turns out I was definitely mistaken, or at least I’d forgotten how great it was! This book really deepened the Codex Alera lore and did a great job “zooming out” on the rest of the world outside of Alera. It’s got military tactics, sea voyages, and cleverness aplenty. I highly enjoyed it!

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I Miss the Anonymous Internet

I can’t stop thinking about this article in The Atlantic about a group of women who met online and became friends in an Internet forum, eventually meeting in real-life and staying friends.

I miss that kind of internet. I missed the MySpace phase, but had both a blogger and a LiveJournal–under pseudonyms, of course. I loved that they were journals, and it felt sort of secretive and powerful that they were also available for real people to read. But eventually real people I knew were reading those, and an element of self-censorship. At least one college friend forgot he had told people about his online journal and made some awkward confessions with bad ramifications.

But then I found my way to semi-private Internet forums. There, I could be myself (or not), and talk about the things weighing on my heart. I could be honest. And the forum was moderated, which, although it led to a good amount of complaining, meant that overall the conversation was positive. People were friendly. Relationships were forged. It was a place to connect–while staying safe and protected. You only had to reveal as much as you wished.

The downside was that others looked down on you for having internet friends. You couldn’t go around telling people you spent all your time talking to strangers. You’d just tell the real-world people in your life, “a friend of mine…”, leaving out the pertinent detail that you don’t know this friend’s real name, location, or face. You know them by an affectionate but goofy-sounding username.

I even got so far as making a friend in another country. He invited me over–and I visited him in England.

(I told my friends he was a pen pal, which is about 80% true.)

But that kind of community doesn’t seem to exist now. Or, at least, if it does, I’m not part of it. Facebook and Google, and to a lesser degree, Twitter, are the big behemoths in the Internet, and they decided to make the push for transparency. Real names became the mandate (once, when I forgot my password, Facebook required that I upload a copy of my drivers’ license in order to unlock my damned account.)

But with that kind of transparency comes a loss. There are things you don’t want to broadcast to your whole network. So you self-censor, show less than everything. In a world where everything you say it shown to everyone you really know, you say less and less of the whole truth.

Sure, transparency in social media seemed like it would be good, but in lieu of the ability to wear our masks, we have made our lives look like the masks. I’ve made and kept far fewer friends with those kind of deep connections since the transparent social media era–even as my friends list and Twitter followers burgeoned.

I miss those small, safe pockets of unfamiliarity.

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Review: Year One

Year One (Chronicles of The One, #1)Year One by Nora Roberts
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“Well, that’s unexpected.”
That was the running theme for this whole book, for me. I’m not a typical romance reader, but this was romance/thriller/apocalypse and came highly recommended, and I’m glad I gave it a shot! The plot twists were like riding an old-school rollercoaster; you’d think you knew where things were going, then whipla, you’re onto something else. That’s what is both good and bad about this book.

I love the concepts here. A curse/plague spreads globally, very fast, mutating so scientists can’t get a grapple on a cure. At the same time, magic starts to spread through the land, creating beauty and power in new and mysterious ways.

Great premise! So much potential. I loved the big ideas here, but then–maybe because I came to this as a fan of apocalypses rather than romances–I had a lot of pragmatic questions that were brushed aside. It also felt like the pacing was weird; things were slow at the beginning, but toward the end of the story I felt like things were being “said” not “shown,” in a much more creator-speaking-to-reader-just-go-with-it kinda way. I get that some of it is supposed to be jarring–it’s an apocalypse! But it sometimes felt like Roberts didn’t feel like really committing to the ick of the storyline, so she’d sort of zoom in and out to focus on the bits she cared about.

I also felt like the pregnancy plots would be really annoying to any pregnant woman or mother of infants. There’s a woman with three infants who never so much as blinks at having to keep them all fed in the middle of a disease-filled wasteland. There’s personal strength and then there’s that insanity.

A lot of the magic also tended toward the deus-ex-machina level; boom, magic fixed that problem, move on, let’s not stop to think about the fact that this woman just sprouted wings. And, as a fantasy reader who is used to “elf” and “fairy” being a literal race/species, it was a little weird for humans to start describing themselves as these without any explanation whatsoever (at the very least, I’d have liked a clarification: are we talking Christmas elf or Lord of the Rings elf here? It matters!).

Also, she spells magic “magick” the whole time and that drove me nuts.

But I liked the story, broadly speaking, and I hope it’s an entrypoint into fantasy and dystopian fiction for the romance-lovers out there. Unfortunately, the dissonance on some of the ideas was a little too much for me, so this is the last I plan on reading of this series.

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I think I have to admit it to myself. I’m burned out. NaNoWriMo this year felt more like drudgery than fun; I haven’t felt like returning to the keyboard since. Even scrolling through the high-drama world of writer-Twitter has been exhausting lately. I’ve started and yet not finished two books since January (in my defense, both are over 1,000 pages long–Brandon Sanderson is not a brief fella).

I’ve been thinking a lot about this article: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. At first, I read it with derision: my generation has been blamed and exorcised for so many things, I went in jaded. And the small things don’t hit me. I don’t have a problem crossing things off my list–in fact, today, I sat down to write this, but also a) cleaned the dog’s poo outside, b) printed a return shipping label, c) checked on missing info for my taxes, d) started a photobook, and e) found the article so I could link it here.

But how I feel about all those tasks? Ugh. Right on the money. I’m exhausted but I feel like I can’t stop, either.

After reading that article, I realized I have had 9 jobs in 10 years. NINE. All white-collar (a thing that is rare and lucky). Some simultaneously. Lots of overlap. Lots of hustle. Plus I wrote and published two books in there as well. That’s nine jobs of at least three months of getting to know the office culture, of scrounging for vacation time (and the money to go on one), plus trying to suss out whether they’re being fair with raises (spoiler: the last one wasn’t), trying to meet people, trying to keep up appearances while making ends meet. That’s… that’s a lot. In 10 years, I’ve only been unemployed for a total of two months–which, granted, I’m lucky for that as well, but that’s another sign of the relentlessness.

I think my train may finally have run out of fuel.

But of course it can’t. It still can’t. It’s not like I can just tell the IRS I’m too burned out to do my taxes. So all the “must-dos” still get done, but all the things that feed my spirit, that make me feel good, dissipate into the ether. I’m emotionally starved. No wonder I can’t produce.

Of course, I feel bad for not producing, too. So many cutesy stupid memes out there say to be a “real” writer, you MUST write every day. Well, I haven’t written anything for myself in three months. I’ve done a helluva lot of writing for money, but that is a totally different beast. So IF you must write every day, and I haven’t for three months…well, I guess I’m not a writer right now. And that’s another thing to feel guilty about, on my emotional prisoner’s rations.

I’m tired. I want to go on a retreat away from everything. I want to sit in a hammock for a week and have someone else come in and automate all the things on my to-do list so they vanish on their own.

I don’t know how to make all this work, and some days I’m really tired from trying.


…NINE jobs in 10 years. That’s ridiculous!


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Everything No One Warned Me About Earrings

About a year ago, I got my ears pierced—for the first time, ever. This makes me a cultural oddity; a woman who had gotten into her early 30s without ever having worn earrings. Here, it’s not uncommon for girls in kindergarten to be taken to have their ears pierced, and some even take their infants. It’s seen as an intrinsically female thing; without pierced ears, are you feminine?

What Took So Long?

My reasons why not are pretty basic: my parents didn’t think it was appropriate when I was little, then when I was a preteen and all my friends were getting it done, they told me I wasn’t allowed until I was 16 and “could make my own choice.” But by the time I was 16, it didn’t seem like that big a deal. In fact, it started to feel sort of counter-culture, being the only girl who didn’t have pierced ears. I sometimes joked that it would be a good way to identify me if I were a victim of a horrible accident: I’d be the only one without pierced ears. My aunt was horrified when she heard I didn’t have pierced ears, and sent me multiple pairs of clip-ons—because, again, it just isn’t done for a girl to not have earrings. But clip-ons hurt like the dickens, and I am not the one to suffer needlessly, especially just because someone else thought I ought to, for fashion. I also sometimes joked that I could tell if someone knew me well by whether or not they gave me earrings as a gift; a few boyfriends definitely fell into that pitfall, but again, it’s just assumed that woman have pierced ears. It’s the default.

But then again earrings are the most convenient mechanism to display stealth nerdiness. It’s a way to quietly rebel from the norm; you’re dressed business-casual, but there, hidden under your hair—unicorn earrings. Or Star Wars ships. Or a pendant that says “SherLOCKed.” All the coolest nerdy jewelry, it seemed, was for pierced ears.

When I get anxious about something, my default is to research it, so I tried to research ear piercing. Basically, there just isn’t a lot of information out there. There was no information about standard pricing, a huge variety of information about piercing children’s ears, and some about getting the more unusual piercings, but next to nothing about being a grown damn woman getting your ears pierced for the first time. Most everything talked about getting piercings at places like Claire’s, and that you shouldn’t because it did Bad Things. And most of the women I asked didn’t remember much, if anything, about the experience: after all, it had happened when they were children, at places like Claire’s.

Finally my sweet husband got tired of my fretting about it, and packed me into the car to take me to a highly reputable tattoo parlor/piercing shop. That in itself was very anxiety-inducing for me: What if they tattooed me by accident?

Getting Pierced

Well, it was fine. It was way more expensive than I had thought—about $150-200 for the piercing itself, plus you HAD to buy special gold earrings from their shop, plus a bottle of saline solution to clean your ears with—about $600 total. But the piercing specialist—herself so studded with piercings I doubt she is able to go through airport security—was very kind and professional. She helped me get situated in the dentist chair/massage table piercing chair, helped me mark the spots on my ears where she would put the piercings, explained how her tools worked, readjusted the marked spots to make sure my ears were level.

She was also mildly astonished that I was an old lady without having ever gotten my ears pierced, but she covered it well. I appreciated that.

The actual piercing barely felt like anything. Like a mosquito bite, then a little warm. It was easy as pie. It wasn’t until later in the day that it felt a little sore, throbbing. It was incredibly easy and definitely not a fuss at all.

The Routine

The piercer also explained the rigorous cleaning they expected of me. No pools or baths for six weeks (which was agony to get through for me, baths are delicious!), plus twice-daily spray with the special saline or ridiculously dunking my earlobes in a warm salt water solution. I can’t imagine how kids do it. It was bad enough getting myself to do it. And, most frustratingly, it wouldn’t be healed for six months. Six months before I was allowed to switch out the earrings! For someone who was only doing it to get to wear cute earrings, that felt like an absolute eternity.

Plus on top of that it wouldn’t be until 9 months, at least, that my ears would be “really healed.” Until then, I had to always have earrings in my piercings. That meant, when I did get to change them out, I was suddenly going from never doing it before to doing it all the time.

I obediently followed the routine, sprayed and dunked and didn’t submerge (thank goodness I did it in winter, or summer would have been a real trial). It was both extremely horrifying and also satisfying when I was first able to remove the teensy expensive gold earrings, to see them caked with skin gunk even all my assiduous cleaning hadn’t been able to reach. (Bodies are gross, I can’t believe we’re allowed to do this kind of thing.)

People Actually Live Like This?

But the real stuff I didn’t know didn’t come until after that six-month mark, when I finally got to try out different types of earrings. I didn’t realize all the things people (women, mostly) go through all the time with earrings. Like it’s no big deal. Such as:

  • There are things on the back of some earrings, particularly dangly ones, that are meant to keep the earring on. You shouldn’t throw these nameless plastic doohickeys away or you WILL lose an earring somewhere in the office.
  • Heavy earrings actually hurt. Sure, they are fun at first, but over time it will feel like your head is dragging down.
  • Even non-heavy earrings sometimes make you feel like this. Earrings will be the first thing you take off when you get home; shoes are second.
  • Dangly earrings will constantly tangle in your hair. This makes them less cute.
  • Getting dangly earrings stuck on your jacket/sweater/anything can make them pull. And hurt.
  • Studs are fine but the ones with pointy edges will poke you. Stars are awesome but so pokey.
  • Flat cellphone faces are the worst for earring wearers. It’s so much harder to talk on the phone when you have to hold it out at an angle to get it close to your ear without hearing the scritch thunk of the earring over whomever you’re speaking to. It’s a huge bother.
  • It’s also a huge bother to take off earrings for a work phone call.
  • Sometimes, for no discernable reason, an earring will refuse to go into the piercing. Trying harder just makes it madder. You end up with both earrings properly in, but one ear red and slightly swollen.
  • It is possible to spend quite a lot of money on Etsy all at once to stock up on earrings.
  • Buying earrings from Claire’s is a rite of passage. Realizing why you shouldn’t buy earrings from Claire’s comes only after learning from personal experience.
  • (See above) There are levels of quality of earrings. Your ears can tell when you cheap out.
  • Even when you are very new to the earring game, it is possible to quite quickly become known as “the one with quirky earrings” at work. Then you have to buy some normal earrings to blend in.
  • Related to the above: Some women wear the same earrings every day, which just makes you wonder what the point of it all is anyway.
  • For some reason, the year you get your ears pierced, no one will get you cute earrings for Christmas, even though it seemed like an obvious gift idea.

I enjoy my small but mighty earring collection now, but I don’t always know it was worth it. I wear earrings every day, but am still sort of fascinated at this cultural tradition. (And when I watch shows like Vikings, I wonder how ancient folk did it. Ouch! Ear aches!)

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Facebook Be Gone

I very quietly went on strike from Facebook recently. The news reported—for what feels like the 400th time but may officially only be the third major incident—that Facebook “accidentally” gave away private information. Not that the platform was hacked; that they “oops” let companies have access to photos, posts, and even direct messages that people had posted. Vast, unknowable amounts of information, and I’m supposed to believe that no one at Facebook realized it might be a bad thing to let companies have anything but a free-for-all. The company chafes at allowing users to actually control their privacy, then when we do, it “oops” gives it away. For millions of users.

So I just quietly stopped checking it. I didn’t say anything, just moved the app to a hard-to-reach folder on my phone to break myself of the habit, and stopped going (I’ve already stopped using the desktop site as the phone merges with my hand or at least my pocket, and I had never glommed on to the Messenger app).

I am an administrator on two groups, so I am unable to delete or otherwise hamper my personal account—Facebook doesn’t allow that, must keep your personal one going if you want any other kind of account at all. So I’m just going dark.

I figure I can’t stem the tide of the information that they already have on me, but at least I can stop feeding the habit.

(Sidenote: I have a friend who never got on Facebook, who is now gloating that she was right all along. But Facebook probably has a “shadow profile” for her anyway, as her friends have talked about her and posted pictures of her. She hasn’t stopped them from knowing about her or leaking her information, as she thinks…but at least she has helped stem the tide.)

But while I think this is the right decision, I’m frustrated, too. I joined Facebook when it was college-student-exclusive and called “TheFacebook.” It was a touchstoen and a great way to meet people. It was a way to keep in touch. Facebook is very good at two things that seem to be otherwise lacking in our increasingly digital-exclusive world: maintaining distant or passive social connections and organizing groups. Both things are proving hard even with Facebook’s influence, and may be treacherously hard without it.

For example, my cousins have never been very well-connected with me, but through Facebook I could see when they went on trips, or had new achievements in their lives. I could cheer them on from a distance, send a reassuring “like” or wish them happy birthday. Now, I’ll have to rely on that old-school technique: waiting for my mom to tell me a half-remembered snippet months later. It’s not a great swap.

I miss the old internet. Back before we all realized how cruel people could be, before countries had really gotten the hang of spreading lies and misinformation to harm other countries, before shitposting and cruel groups proliferated, it feels like there was this golden era of interest groups. I made genuine friends over some forums; sometimes we crossed over and sent real gifts. I even went to London and stayed for a week with a friend I otherwise knew exclusively through an internet forum (he is a dear man, and I am forever grateful he let me disrupt his life for a week!).

It doesn’t feel as likely for that to happen now. Several of those types of forums have closed forever, and the replacements—Facebook/Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit—all seem far more surface-dwelling. The user bases are wide and so not very deep.

And here I am pulling away from those replacements, too. Will I be the only one still in the non-digital space, trying to meet people, connect, arrange groups? Sometimes it feels that way. But I don’t want to be complicit in the wholesale theft of the information that is integral to who I am. So I have no choice but to leave the door open only the slightest of cracks, and do my best to muddle through.

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Extra Extra

Artsy and creative people are often told to get out there, march to their own drum, be an original and true to themselves, no matter what. To be artistic is, in some ways, to be “extra.”

But if you are in marching band and just break out your own snare and march around to your own drumbeat, what will happen? You’ll run over the clarinets, get crushed by the sousaphones, and kicked out of marching band.

Sure, wearing a cape to school might be the right flair in a teen rom-com, but in real life you’re going to be sitting by yourself at the nerd table.

Being extra is only a good thing in narrowly defined channels, and people who are different are way more likely to be mocked for it than praised. It’s not something to aspire to.

So it creates a paradox. Creatives are told that this outward show of creativity is a requirement for being who they are, but anyone with any awareness will also learn that standing out from the crowd in this way will just make you a target.

At least, that’s how I reacted. I kept to my richer inner creativity but worked hard to blend in. And I think I’m worse for it now; I’m too offbeat to be totally straight laced and too normal to be part of the weirdos. No mans land of not fitting in.

There are some people I’ve met in creative circles who lean in to the kookiness, some in ways that make me wonder if they aren’t also faking–that they think “creative” doesn’t exist unless it is outwardly odd. That also doesn’t make sense to me.

How much weird is part of the creative package? Is it just a matter of finding the crowd in which your drumbeat matches?


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Review: SLAM

SlamSlam by Nick Hornby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby has an incredible talent for writing realistic narrators, so believe me when I tell you this book is well-written even though it made my skin crawl with frustration. It’s charming even though the story caught me by surprise. Give it to your teenager.

That’s because SLAM covers a teen boy with his first real girlfriend and his completely realistic mistake to have sex “sort of” without a condom—and all the consequences that entails. We don’t see many books about the subject, so it is brave, but it made me feel a little squeamish, so maybe that’s why.

But the voice here is incredible. There are two twists that give the book something special: one, the narrator, Sam, has a penchant for talking to the poster of his idol, Tony Hawk. He helpfully supplies advice, in the form of quotes from an autobiography of Tony Hawk, in return. This makes for some rather hilarious and yet possibly deep conversations.

The other twist—possible time-travel. Sam blames this on TH, and maybe it’s all a dream, but Sam is given the opportunity to experience a day in the near-future, not that it is particularly helpful. In this way, Hornby muses on whether, even during particularly rough times, it would be any help at all to know what is going to happen a bit ahead, like that your mom won’t kill you when she finds out. But seeing the future and actually being in it turn out to be two different things. That’s a lesson for us all.

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is so astoundingly good that I’m mad i didn’t read it sooner. I read it as a library book and I’m already planning on buying it as well. If you at all enjoy fantasy books, stop what you are reading and pick this up!
The Name of The Wind is a deft tale—or rather, part one of three of a deft tale—about a precociously talented young wizard. Yes, there are some superficial similarities to Harry Potter, and if that entices you, bless you, pick it up. But if that makes you roll your eyes, to you I say, “stop, come back here, it’s better!” It’s a more nuanced and surprising story than HP ever was, harkening to some of the best parts of high fantasy while staying grounded.

The main character here, Kvothe, had a lovely family life as a traveling bard group, and it is remarkably pleasant to spend time with them through a child’s eyes. But this story also has crushing grief, the depths of poverty, and years of struggle. Kvothe is not perfect, but he’s extraordinary in ways that feel attainable and realistic. He seems like a kid you could know, if you lived in a well-thought-out world filled with past empires, real magic, and demons that seem all too real.

Don’t be put off by the massiveness of the tome; yes, it could probably stop a bullet and yes you could probably murder someone by dropping it on them. But I promise you will be so disappointed when you realize you’ve reached the end (and that the library won’t have book 2 available for two months because there’s a waitlist).

The anniversary edition, which I read, includes an author’s note, detailed information—including illustrations—of the many types of currency, and a pronunciation guide, and this you will read and reread just to extend the experience.

It’s a lovely book, and it will lull you into a comforting rapture so deep you will be shocked to find yourself at the end… at least, until you pick up the next one.

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Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If the video game universe of Mass Effect were populated by Fraggles, you’d get this book. It’s a charming, sweet, lovely little soft-sci-fi escape, and you should read it.

Author Becky Chambers most succeeded at creating a ship full of characters who are unique species, each with little foibles but who all generally get along. Reading the book is like you just popped on the ship and they offered you a fizz drink, so you sit a spell with them and just hang out.

But that’s also my frustration here. The plot is haphazard and there isn’t a single thread of narration or a theme that runs all the way through. There are episodes, like you’re tuning in to an alien spaceship version of Big Brother except everyone is trying their damnedest to get alone instead of creating unnecessary trash drama. But it made the ending flat—you’re just turning off the show, no series finale, or, at least, not one that feels like an actual ending.

I’m torn, because this book really was just a charming respite from reality and I did so love the characters, but I feel like it could have had just a touch more plot and been a better overall experience for it.

That said, I will still be looking for the next one.

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