Review: Outlander

Outlander (Outlander, #1)Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m gobsmacked that this book has so many positive reviews. It has such a preponderance of rape and beating scenes that it was starting to feel like a quota. Is this the SAW movie of romance?

I picked up Outlander because I visited Scotland, and the locals kept asking me if the book was the reason for my visit. I hadn’t heard of it, so I picked it up, thinking I’d relish the memories of my trip through the reading. And it does have lovely descriptions of the Scottish Highlands! It has an interesting concept (time travel! Scotland! Wars! Romance!).

But. Come on. Come onnnnn. This book can’t go 20 pages without a rape or a serious beating, often with no comment on how this affects the female character. She is described as being beaten “within an inch of my life” by her husband, and a few pages later is laughing with him about it!

The villain is Snidely Whiplash-levels of evil. To the point it is just obscene. Like, we get it, he was a bad guy when he was just attempting to rape people and beating them severely. But then he has to attempt to rape literally all the main characters (successfully raping one! In detail!), and that’s not enough so we throw in random incest vibes, because reasons? (So much of the violence here is just unnecessary! It adds nothing! This book could have wrapped up just fine five chapters ago!)

I got within 10% of the ending of this book, just trying to push through the brutality to finish it, but I can’t. I wouldn’t read a horror novel with this level of brutality; I don’t know why I should be expected to like it in a romance novel.

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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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Review: Unf*ck Your Habitat

Unf*ck Your Habitat: You're Better Than Your MessUnf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t feel confident in my cleaning abilities. I always feel like I’m behind or doing something wrong or don’t know when to do the cleaning. It felt like an insurmountable mountain.

But then I discovered Unf*ck Your Habitat. Author Rachel Hoffman offers simple, straightforward, pleasantly vulgar cleaning advice to help anyone, no matter how bad their mess, get started. And it’s shockingly compassionate. I envision this book like a big sister chiding me to do my chores… but then getting off the couch to help dry the dishes once I start.

Some people have complained about the swearing, but honestly, it’s barely present and any reader should expect it from the title alone. So those reviewers are full of shit.
The advice is solid, and yes, it’s easy. You don’t have to read or buy this book to get the message: she offers an active Tumblr and an app, if you prefer. But I feel like content creators deserve to be paid, so I bought the book. And besides, the book has some really helpful lists that I’m definitely going to use—I may laminate them. I’ve already thought of loaning this book to a friend who may benefit, but I may keep it to reread. It’s useful.

But—I would have liked a little more info on the down-and-dirty how-to part. For instance, her bathroom cleaning list says: “fill the sink with hot water and a bit of cleaner.” What kind of cleaner? What do I do with the hot water once it’s there? It’s left to the reader and… well, I could have used the guidance.

But overall, it is motivating, uplifting, and a great place to start.

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Review: The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t normally do this, but I’m putting this book aside. It’s crazy—the writing is great, the world is fantastic and absorbing, and the characters have depth. But the book is just so long and doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. I’ve given Sanderson 509 pages—and that’s not even to the halfway point. But I’m just not having fun. The character I was most interested in has been out of the story so long I can’t even remember her name. I can see where the other two storylines are going but I’m just not that interested in this incredibly slow-burn. It feels bloated. If this same story had, I don’t know, 500 fewer pages and got to the meat of the story faster, I’d probably love it. But I don’t love it right now and I’m tired of waiting around. At the very least, I’m taking a break. Maybe I’ll come back later.

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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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