Monday, March 30, 2015

Mondays on the Margins: Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst

Yesterday I finally fell into a book and sank through it like a boulder instead of glancing across it like a smooth, flat skipping stone. Trying to read with anxiety and pain, especially on the ipad, leads to way too much hopping from book to book, or to the internet to check something that I thought of and must know RIGHT THIS MINUTE before I forget about it, or to Netflix to get even more thoroughly and comprehensively sick of Supernatural (sorry guys, I love you but I have surfeited myself to the point of nausea).

It wasn't the best book ever. It was better than the last book I read by this author, which was also the first book I'd read by this author. I talked about starting that book in this post, and it did indeed begin very promisingly, but then it all went horribly, mushily, disappointingly wrong. The character, who was flat and without agency at the beginning of the book for understandable reasons, continued to be flat and insipid for way too long, and the big reveal about the Big Terrifying Menace was more of a splat than a fireworks explosion.

Chasing Power was not fantastic, but it was more even and held narrative tension to the end with some nice twists. The character was more developed and at least had opinions and acted in her own interest, but was still not extremely deep or nuanced. The set-up - Kayla exercising her telekinetic power for shoplifting and general screwing around, in defiance of her mother who is terrified they will be found by Kayla's father who already killed her sister Amanda - is attention-getting. Daniel showing up needing her help to rescue his kidnapped mother and starting off blackmailing her deepens the plot nicely, and Selena is a classic smart-assed smart-mouthed best friend with issues of her own who really raises the novel's quality a notch. The quest is well laid out, the relationship between Kayla and her mother is quite well-done, and the resolution is fairly satisfying.

The writing and characterization don't quite rise above 'good' to 'really good'. A couple of times I wondered if I was just missing things. Daniel uses the word "amazing" to describe Kayla way too many times, but then at one point he said "you are..." and she says " Yes, yes, amazing, I know", so maybe the author meant to do that, but it doesn't do much to make him seem like more than a vocabulary-limited dolt. At one point when Kayla discovers that he's lied to her about something, instead of flipping out about it she says that she actually sees why he lied about it and thinks it was a reasonable decision - I LOVED this, since one of my pet peeves is when people go ballistic over being lied to when, if they thought about it for a second, they probably would have lied similarly in the same situation.

But anything I admired was only on a cerebral level - I didn't really feel any of it. This might be just due to my mental and emotional state right now, but I don't think all of it was. This is an author who has a knack for plotting; if she ever steps up her writing game, she might be amazing.

Memorable quotes:

-"'You know, if you worked for me and you made me wait that long, I'd have flogged you.' Kayla hopped into the car and buckled her seat belt. 'No, you wouldn't. You have people to flog your people.' 'Yes, yes I do. I have floggers.' 'And slappers, for anyone who doesn't deserve a full-out flogging.'"

-"Kayla had felt as if she were a pillow, battered and damp. She'd slept badly, racked with guilt, and she'd woken to an empty house... After that, Kayla had started to feel angry. And the anger ate the guilt for goddamn breakfast."

-"'Of course it's not over. Don't you know how these things work? The wise old woman gave you cryptic advice to start you on your quest. Now the trusty sidekick, who is far smarter than the heroine, finds the pertinent information our beloved lead needs. Or she at least checks Wikipedia.'"

-"She wanted to fall into that smile. It made her want to frolic through fields with him, and Kayla had never frolicked through a field in her life. Oh, good grief, am I falling for him? How completely prosaic."

-"'This is serious. You have the common sense of a dim-witted lemming, and I don't want you to plunge off a cliff and die.' A corner of his lips quirked up. 'Hey, you do care.'"

-"'Don't listen to her. This is your destiny. This is what we've worked so long and so hard for. This is our chance at greatness! Every great achievement requires a great sacrifice.' 'What fortune cookie did you read that in?' Kayla asked. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Stream of Unconsciousness

OKAY, enough of this nonsense. True, my husband's been away two and a half weeks out of the last four AND all of the openings in my kids' heads suddenly had to be investigated during that time AND Eve and I went to London for part of March Break AND my school library instructor is kind of an ass, so I'm spending an inordinate amount of time on strange, sprawling assignments that I then get low marks on because she changes the criteria on a whim AND this is kind of annoying time to be trying to train a puppy AND my left foot has stopped working so I'm back in physio AND my obsessive tendencies have locked me into a compulsive rewatch of Supernatural from the beginning AND I've had an unwelcome anxiety resurgence or two, but none of those are really excuses. Or not really good excuses anyway. Not blogging for me is kind of like not exercising - I think I'm too tired to do it, but then not doing it makes me even more tired and depressed. And since exercising is kind of curtailed anyway because of the foot thing, I should actually be blogging DOUBLE.

But let's not get all crazy.

That's good for a start, don't you think?

Can you get a zit on your eyelid? That would be really gross.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Extremes


Today we have Angus!....

...now with fourteen percent less toenail! (I watched the whole procedure, it was super-gross!)

In less barfy news, OMG look what Nicole sent me! So pretty I almost can't bear to open it!


Just kidding ha ha ha *faceplants in box*

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesdays on the Margins Because Reasons

So I saw my (rather dreamy) eye doctor and he thinks my contacts are giving me pink eye because of microscopic areas of inflammation in my eyes, possibly left over from when I was really sick over Christmas. So, eye drops. Then my ears got sore and I couldn't hear very well, so I went to the doctor, and she said I have an ear infection because of poor fluid drainage, possible due to who the fuck knows. So, ear drops. And (TMI alert), the nasal prongs from my CPAP have given me a blister inside my left nostril. So, laying off the CPAP for a few nights (who needs to sleep and breathe at the same time, let's not get greedy). And yes, first world problems and yay Canadian health care and all that crap, but perhaps you'll forgive me if I feel a bit like the seven plagues of Egypt have descended into my head. I'll keep you posted on whether locusts start flying out of my throat.

So my reading focus has been less than stellar. I keep starting new books and not finishing them. I keep reading YA and feeling like weeping when I contemplate tackling anything challenging. I can only read on the ipad once Lucy's in her crate, or it disturbs her (thank god I didn't get a dog before there were ipads). Which is fine, I have a crapton of books on my ipad, but making decisions is not my strong suit at the moment.

So, here are a few reviews of the partiality of the books I am reading at the moment.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: I bought this for my friend Janet for her birthday because she wanted to read it, and then she didn't love it. She passed it to another friend, and I finally remembered to ask for it when I was at her house, and then didn't touch it for a few months. I finally picked it up even though I didn't really feel intellectually equipped to read it (see above), but I'm finding it completely entrancing so far (not very far, see above). I'm torn between loving the setting and the writing, and being desperate to find out what happens next, and being sickened by the cruelty with which the two children are being used, and being afraid to find out how it all ends.

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel: The main character's name is Nora Dearly, ha ha so clever. I think I borrowed this ebook on a whim from the library, and it is kind of interestingThe year is 2195. The place is New Victoria, high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. But it's also reminding me that I very rarely like steampunk as much as I want to or feel like I should. Also, I was promised a zombie love story, and I'm not seeing how that's going to happen. Of course, I probably have to read more than forty pages before complaining.

Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst: I think my friend Sue recommended this author, so I borrowed a couple of her ebooks. So far this is totally intriguing - the character is some kind of magical girl in some kind of non-magical Witness Protection Program, and I have no idea what's going on, but in that delicious way where you feel like when you do figure it out, it's going to be mind-blowingly cool. The only thing bugging me is how mean the female marshall is to the girl. Did anyone else watch In Plain Sight? I loved that show. The female marshall is like Mary Shannon but with only the bitchy parts and none of the heart-of-gold and humour. And also, remember how her partner was a marshall NAMED MARSHALL? That never got old. 

Emergence by David R. Palmer: I read this in a list of great but little-known post-apocalyptic books, so I ordered a crappy secondhand copy of it, which I carry around in my purse for when I'm in waiting rooms, and it's getting progressively more and more beat-up and losing little pieces, but it's AWESOME. The main character is an 11-year-old girl genius who, through an improbably set of coincidences ends up virtually alone in the world after a nuclear exchange. The whole book is written in shorthand, with no articles or pronouns. This is surprising in a couple of ways: first, how fast you get used to it, and second, how much funnier or more heartrending certain statements are when stripped of articles and pronouns. I will review this more comprehensively when I've finished.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLean: I was dimly aware of this for quite a while but not really interested - I don't really see the point of this kind of fictionalizing of actual historical characters. Do I recall why I went ahead and borrowed the ebook then? I do not. Do I recall why I started actually reading said ebook? Sort of - I think I opened Overdrive, and it was the only adult book on my bookshelf, so I forced myself to read a few pages and got hooked. It's not stunningly beautiful prose, but it's very readable, and I'm enjoying the evocation of the jazz age. I'm half reading it just ignoring that the characters are real people, and half enjoying the glimpse (even fictionalized) of Ernest Hemingway before he was Ernest Hemingway (it's so weird sometimes to think of famous people as only their first name; Ernest. People called him Ernest. That seems so wrong,). 

There are a couple more on my Goodreads currently-reading list, but these are the ones I'm actually reading every day or two right now. If I try to start anything else, somebody slap me. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Too-Tired-To-Be-Surly Thursday

I'm tired of winter. I don't mind the cold all that much, but even that's annoying because I can't wear a winter coat in the car because I get too hot, so I just throw it in the backseat in case I get stranded somewhere (I'm heat-intolerant, not stupid) and wear a sweater, and strangers keep asking me where my coat is. And my hands get hot if I wear mittens too long, so I take them off and then my skin gets so dry my knuckles bleed because there's no moisture anywhere in the city. I went into Pennington's yesterday and was trying on a shirt and the lady knocked on the door and asked how I was doing and I said fine, except I'm afraid I might spontaneously combust from all the static. When she handed me my bill an actual spark flew between our hands.

I'm tired of all the stuff in my house. I keep cleaning and reorganizing and throwing stuff out and giving stuff away and I STILL can't get it to look the way I feel like it should look. When you walked in the door of the house I grew up in, if you looked around there were clean surfaces and well-placed furniture (ugly floral-patterned beige - it was the seventies, after all - but well-placed) and, I don't know, rake marks in the rug. It was neat and tidy. I don't think I've lived anywhere tidy since I moved out of that house. Why can't I achieve tidiness? Is tidiness just not my destiny?

I'm tired of my hair. For a while I had figured out what to get my stylist to do with it and it was pretty good - not great, but pretty good. Then either I stopped explaining it properly or she stopped understanding, or my hair underwent some weird middle-aged metamorphosis so it doesn't work anymore, and I'm a loser who can't do my hair again. I will never achieve a polished look. Granted, I was never going to work on Wall Street anyway, but I'd like to feel like if I DID want to work on Wall Street, it would be my lack of ambition or inability to do simple arithmetic or tendency to cry when yelled at that would hold me back, not my stupid hair.

I'm tired of wearing a bra. I don't like not wearing one either. I wish my boobs were removable. Yesterday I drove Angus to  school, then went to the eye doctor, then went grocery shopping, then came home and shoveled the driveway before going in, which meant I was still wearing a pretty bra. The pretty bra's underwire ends scraped the skin beside my underarms raw before I was finished (refer back to: I'm tired of winter/ no moisture anywhere in the city). I finished shoveling, went in, took off my bra, got the dog and took her outside to pee. The dog, who has whimpered and shivered and cried to go back in every single other time we take her outside, suddenly decided that OUTSIDE IS AWESOME and we should go prancing down the street and frolic in snowbanks and sniff chunks of dirty ice. Which was all well and good, except I thought we were just going out for a minute and now I was walking braless down the street towards my neighbours who were out shoveling their snow. And no, I wasn't wearing a jacket (refer back to: I'm tired of winter and never wear a winter coat). I explained to the dog that Anna and Elsa were frozen and not ready to be introduced to the neighbours and dragged her back home.

I'm tired of solo parenting. Only one more untidy, unpolished, polysporin-on-my-knuckles-and-armpits sleep before my husband gets home from Japan.





Tuesday, February 24, 2015

This Performance Totally Unenhanced

I'm drowning in stupid school assignments, and the puppy gets up at five or six and then she goes back to sleep but I usually don't, and Angus is on pitching rest because his elbow hurts and physio should help but he's worried and frustrated so I'm sad and frustrated. And he has an infected ingrown toenail and we had to get his kidneys checked because of the bloodwork because of his acne medication, and I had to take my dad for cataract surgery, so I've visited a goodly proportion of the hospitals and doctors' offices in this area recently. So I'm taking it a little bit easy right now, which I'm almost okay with. I got a fair bit done in the basement in January and anything major there is on hold, although sometimes I go down and do ten minutes of Swistle's little bit of something. Tonight I cleaned out a bag of Christmas gift bags, packaged them together and put all the wrapping paper in the now-empty long bag. Every few days I walk fairly slowly on the treadmill for half an hour. Eve and I went to a play that her friend had a small part in at Angus's school last week and it was fun.

My contacts keep giving me pink eye, which is kind of a first world problem, and I have new glasses that I like quite a bit, but I hate wearing glasses to work out and I'd like to have the option not to wear them occasionally when I'm dressing up. I have an appointment next week to investigate what the hell is up with that.

I'm in a squirrelly reading place; once Lucy's in her crate I can only read on the ipad because if the light is on she won't go to sleep (thank god I didn't get a dog before I had an ipad), and I feel completely daunted by the prospect of reading anything weighty, so I keep reading short stories and YA even though I said I was going to take a break from YA, but I HAVE A BABY DOG AND WE'RE IN NUCLEAR WINTER OVER HERE SO SHUT UP OKAY? Although please learn from my mistakes and do not, under any circumstances, start THIS particular YA train wreck. It sucks you in with a gorgeous cover and an interest-piquing premise and ends in a hot mess.

Anyway, tonight we managed to have dinner together at the table, then we were in the family room while Angus was icing his elbow watching Sportscenter and Matt was reading the paper and I was trying to get the dog to fetch her ball and Eve was reading the second City of Ember book on the couch. She would glance up periodically at the tv, as they were doing a piece on Alex Rodriguez and his use of performance-enhancing drugs. At one point a date span was flashed onscreen, as well as a front page with the headline "Regrets: He Has a Few". Eve burst out "that's so mean! He just died, and he was only, like, sixteen!" To which we all replied, "Huh?" And she said "it said 1996-2000". And Matt said "that was his career, not his lifespan, and you need to check your facts AND your math."

Dear February: Whatever you need to take to improve this performance, PLEASE DO IT FORTHWITH.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Surly Thursday: To the Friend of a Friend Who Was Bitchy to Me on Facebook

Contrary to what the post title seems to indicate, this is not actually a letter to the person in question. This exchange happened a few weeks ago so I'm enjoying blowing on the cooled embers of my righteous fury.

So someone had posted a recipe for something that called for almond milk. I had just bought my very first carton of almond milk to make banana-applesauce cookies, so it piqued my interest that someone posted on her recipe: "But almond milk is bad, don't use it."

I replied "almond milk is bad?" to her comment, hoping she would elaborate. Instead she replied "Yep." Uh, thanks, very illuminating. I said that I was asking for clarification. SHE said "best you look it up yourself. Google saves time and lives, I always say." This was followed by a smiley emoticon.

Hold up, sister. Did you just go all "Let me Google that for you" on my ass?

I tend to think the "Let Me Google That For You" response is appropriate, if ever, for questions like "how late is the Bank on Whatever Street open?" or "who won the 83 World Series?" To be fair, although I have never said it to anyone, I have pointed out its relevance in posts like this one, so I did ponder for a second whether her use of it was warranted.

I don't believe it was. I had, in fact, Googled it quickly between asking her for clarification and her response. Googling brought up several results on the health benefits of almond milk, and one article expressing reservations about the carageenan in it. There certainly weren't any clear-cut "almond milk is bad" results. When you express a negative opinion about something that a lot of people think is positive - voting in elections, say, or the long-form census, or vaccines - you might want to give some supporting information to avoid sounding like a strident yahoo, in my humble opinion. By asking for clarification, I was giving her a chance to do this - for all I knew she was a dietitian, or had just read a revealing article and had information that I didn't.

And then the scalding insult of the smiley face. Don't get me started (ha! just kidding, it's clearly way too late to not get me started) on the off-the-charts passive-aggressive cowishness of saying something bitchy and pretending you're not being bitchy. It smacks of those concern trolls who comment on articles something like "well, I'm terribly sorry to say it, but by feeding your baby formula you're practically guaranteeing that he'll grow up smoking pot and liking Justin Bieber - best wishes!" Or the people who write to Richard Dawkins "you're a fucking gay stupid faggot and you're going to burn in hell for all eternity - God bless!" If you're going to be stubborn and opinionated and refuse to substantiate your assertions, just own it already.

I didn't engage on the Facebook thread. I don't know her, I don't know if she's always like this, I didn't want to make my friend uncomfortable (on the off chance that she's reading this - sorry, but where else can I air my petty grievances with all humanity but on my blog?), and as hard as it might be to believe, I do try to uphold a modicum of classiness on social media.

But this is the response I gave in my head: "Fair enough. You don't know me, so I guess you had no particular reason to provide a response that was kind or helpful. I, of course, had no way of knowing that you're the kind of person that needs a particular reason to be those things."

Perfect mix of classy and snotty, don't you think?