Self-Care Friday (Week 2)

A lot has happened this week, not all of it great for the country, but some of it great for me. I bought tickets to see a kpop group, B.A.P, in Chicago in April. My friend N ended up getting a ticket, too, so we’ll go together. We’re also planning to go see SHINee in Toronto — hopefully we can get tickets! They go on sale next Sunday. And today, Friday, we’re headed out of town for another kpop concert (B1A4, for those of you playing at home).

What I’ve been reading:

  • Read Harder:
    • Read an all-ages comic: Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
  • Completed:
    • A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino
  • Reading:
    • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
    • Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
    • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu (audio book)

What I’m watching:

  • Voice (Korean drama)
  • Squad 38 (Korean drama)
  • Kaitou Tantei Yamaneko (Japanese drama)
  • The Great Wall (Chinese film)
  • Young and Dangerous 1 & 2 (Hong Kong movies from 1996)
  • Twin Peaks (original series)

What I’m listening to:

  • SECHSKIES
  • GUGUDAN
  • SPEED
  • K.A.R.D (they have to singles: Oh Na Na and Don’t Recall)

Self-Care Friday (Week 1)

Since the election, and then especially since the inauguration, I’ve read a bunch of articles, tweets, and tumblr posts about the importance of self-care. As someone who tends to get obsessed with things (think: kpop, sports), the constant news cycle has really taken it’s toll. It turns out that I’m not the only person who is suffering from this — especially since every day it seems like some new horror has been thrown upon the United States.

If you google “self-care election” you find a slew of articles, including this Wired article, published 2 days after the election. They all discuss how important it is to take time to make sure we’re okay even as we worry about the US and all it’s (my/our) people. This is something that I’ve tried to do myself and it’s hard. So hard, in fact, that I’ve made use of one of my daily tasks on Habitica as a way to reminding myself to stop and take care of me.

I’m going to try to spend a few minutes, each Friday, talking about some of the stuff I’ve done, even if it’s just what I’m reading and what music I’ve been listening to. I hope this helps people remember that you can fight for what’s right but also try to enjoy life a little, too. You’re (I’m) no good to anyone if you’re (I’m) stuck in that low point. Don’t give up the panic and the fear and the protesting and donation of time and money. But take a moment or two to breathe.

Here’s what I’ve been doing this week.

I finished my first book for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge:

Read a travel memoir: The Places In Between by Rory Stewart

I finished a book outside of the challenge:

  • Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews (Kate Daniels series)

I’m reading these books:

  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu (audio book)
  • A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino (Detective Galileo)

What I’m watching:

  • Exiled (movie)
  • Voice (Korean drama)
  • Squad 38 (Korean drama)
  • Kaitou Tantei Yamaneko (Japanese drama)
  • I Am Not Your Negro (documentary)
  • John Wick Ch. 2 (film)

Music I’ve been listening to:

  • BTOB – New Men
  • Seventeen – Going Seventeen
  • CLC – Crystyle
  • Fiestar
  • Block B
  • Taemin

The Wednesday Four (11/30/16)

A mixed bag today, just in time for that awkward few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Enjoy the links.

  • The Rise of Pirate Libraries: Shadowy digital libraries want to hold all the world’s knowledge and give it away for free. (Atlas Obscura)

 

 

Book Review: Boy Nobody (I Am The Weapon) by Allen Zadoff

069c352b1ffb84910a68043c82a1d84dIf you know me, you know that I love thrillers. And, if you know me really well, you might know that I love The Winter Soldier (aka Bucky Barnes). I like assassins who turn out to have a heart, who end up questioning their orders. These stories are intense and fun, but they’re not usually something that you find in teen books. Or at least, not to the level that you find in Boy Nobody/I Am The Weapon.

Boy Nobody is the story about an unnamed (until near the end of the novel) teenage boy who is also an assassin. When he was twelve, his family was killed and he was basically kidnapped and turned into an assassin who can get places adults cannot. He has been doing this for a long time and he’s very good at his job.

We follow our unnamed teenage assassin as he finishes one assignment and is then given a second — this time he must kill a mayor. Of course, the mission isn’t as easy as our assassin expects it to be — his timeline is a week and then there’s a girl involved. But unlike so many other novels, Boy Nobody does something very different with it’s anti-hero.

Very explicit spoilers for Boy Nobody ahead.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

best01While looking up similar books to Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road (LibraryThing), I stumbled across Karen Lord’s novel The Best of All Possible Worlds. The summary sounded promising: “Now Lord returns with a second novel that exceeds the promise of her first. The Best of All Possible Worlds is a stunning science fiction epic that is also a beautifully wrought, deeply moving love story.” Thus I picked I up (one of the libraries I work at happens to own a copy, which was even better). That review was, in fact, correct (in spite of my not having read her first novel). The Best of All Possible Worlds is fantastic for many, many reasons.

There are lots of books about space and aliens and the future of the human race. There are lots of books that combine these elements together, some good, some not so much. But The Best of All Possible Worlds does something different, something better. Karen Lord’s novel is centered around a woman, Grace — while she is not our only character to have a voice, she is in mabest02ny ways the main character of the novel. She lives on a planet that is home to refugees from all across the galaxy, most (if not all) of them are some form of human, but they are also very different, very alien. But what Lord does is find a way to tie them all together, to make them find their similarities, instead of their differences.

Grace is works for the government and can speak many languages, which is how she ends up befriending Dllenahkh, who is Sadiri and from a planet that no longer exists. Grace is tasked with helping Dllenahkh and his fellow Sadiris find genetic matches to keep their people from extinction (think of it as similar to when Vulcan is destroyed in the new Star Trek reboot and how the elder Spock, at the end of movie, has decided to devote to helping the popular rebuild). In a way, The Best of All Possible Worlds is a very long road trip, as Dllenahkh, Grace and the rest of their assigned crew travel across Grace’s planet.

In way, Lord combines some of the more interesting aspects of Stragate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis into her novel. Grace and Dllenahkh’s travels remind me, in a way, of the Stargate teams traveling to different planets and learning about the people (and discovering that, in many cases, that are not that differbest03ent from themselves). Not only do Grace, Dllenahkh, and their crew find compatible people, they also find out more about the different cultures of the planet and, more significantly, about each other.

The Best of All Possible Worlds is a story about people more than anything else. It is about Grace’s relationship with her coworkers, with the people of her planet, and with her family. Grace learns things about herself, about the people in her life, and about the history of her people and all peoples in her galaxy. In many ways The Best of All Possible Worlds is akin to a space opera, but I’ve never read one quite as beautifully written as Lord’s novel.

There is a love story within the novel as well. Grace and Dllenahkh find in each other something they didn’t even know they were looking for. The love story is subtle, it’s gentle, and it’s also really, really satisfying. Which sums up the novel as a whole, actually.

I really loved The Best of All Possible Worlds and I highly recommend it.

Book Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

9780385680141_0This book caused me quite a bit of trouble, ironically (I discovered upon reading it) because I kept misremembering and misreading the title as world exchange instead of word. I finally figured it out (actually, I went through the process of trying to remember the title a couple of times, two of them involving other librarians) and set about reading it.

The Word Exchange is a novel about the future, it’s a dystopia set in a world not far off from our own. In that world, devices reminiscent of today’s smartphones basically run people’s lives (predominately Americans, but other countries as well). These devices, called Memes, do everything smartphones do for us today — and then some. They can basically figure out what it is we need at any given moment, from directions to music to clothing. But, at the same time, they’re slowly replacing that which makes us who we are — our brains.

Of course, the majority of the characters in Graedon’s novel don’t realize this. How can they? They’re so attached (addicted) to their Memes that they don’t realize something’s gone wrong until it’s too late. The Word Exchange takes place right before the word flu strikes and society (at least temporarily) collapses.

The novel is told in the format of a transcript, complete with letters. Anana is writing her recollections of the events surrounding the word flu pandemic. Her chapters are separated by journal entries from a friend of her and her father, Bart. There’s some romance, Anana’s ex-boyfriend Max is partially responsible for the word flu’s spread, if not it’s creation. Bart himself is tangled up in the mess of the word flu and Max (they were friends, of a sort).

the_word_exchange_1024x1024Each chapter is a letter and below the letter is a word beginning with that’s letter, followed by a definition. Anana, her father Doug, and Bart all work for something called The Dictionary. This is something similar to the OED, but in North America. Anana’s father is in charge of the rewrites for the 3rd edition. One day, not long after Max leaves Anana, she and her father are set to have dinner when he fails to show up. This sets in motion events that will change Anana’s life, at that of her family, friends and the whole of the globe.

Of course, Anana, like the readers, is unaware of what’s happening. But, of course, because the story we’re reading is Anana’s recollections, we also get the benefit of her hindsight. She  intersperses her story with insight (explaining things that she won’t know until later, among other things) that moves the story along in a very interesting way.

Both Bart and Anana catch the word flu, though the severity of their diseases vary. It’s through the disease, the word flu, that Graedon’s story is most effective. Anana recalls a moment on the train with her father when he uses what she calls an ‘obscure’ word and she pulls out her Meme (discretely, as her father doesn’t like them) which supplies her with the definition. And thus begins what I find to be quite terrifying.

You see, one of the ways the Memes worm their ways into the lives of the characters is by remembering things, remembering words, for us. You’ve been there. You’re staring at something (in the novel, it’s a fork, in real life it’s an armchair, a pen, a notebook, a lamp, anything ordinary) and suddenly you can’t remember the word for it. You know what it is, but you can’t come up with it. It’s happened to all of us. I blame our reliance on technology, the same way that Doug (Anana’s father) does with the Meme.

resizeIt’s through these devices, the Memes and others, that the virus spreads. The details of the virus, the impact it has on people and the delivery mechanisms, those are all  for you to discover when you read the book. There are, of course, bigger things at plan that just addiction to Memes and the fears of Doug and eventually Anana, too. But, really, at the heart of the novel is the importance of communication — what happens when we’re cut off? — and the written word — how do we communicate when you cannot speak?

Books, magazines, reading and writing, conversation and debate, all of these are important to the characters in the novel. But, really, I think that Graedon is trying to get across the idea that these are also important to us, today. Others may disagree, but I never really felt like she was trying to hit us over the head with the idea that these “ancient” technologies are any less important today than they were when, say, printing was invented. Perhaps some thing she’s being heavy handed, but I felt that wasn’t the case. If anything, it made me want to put down my phone and read more books.

So, if you’re looking for something that’s not quite science fiction, but not quite fiction, either. This straddles that boundary in an excellent fashion. It might slow to start, but it’s well worth the effort. And while the conclusion is rather open ended (I could see a sequel), I rather liked it’s conclusions (or lackthereof).

Rereading Terry Pratchett: Mort

Mort-Terry-PratchettFor such a short book, it certainly took me a long time to listen to this. I think it’s not so much the book (though that’s part of it) but the fact that I’ve been listening to a lot more music recently. But, I finally finished Mort and while I enjoyed it, I’m not sure I liked it.

The story starts with Mort and his father at, well, a job fair. Of course no one picks Mort to be their apprentice, he’s a gangly, not-much-to-look-at boy. Eventually, after everyone’s left, it’s just Mort and his father, waiting around. And then, of course, Death shows up. Unlike in real life, most Pratchett fans are big fans of Death. He’s a truly great character and I’m looking forward to the other books where he’s a main character. Unfortunately, Mort is not one of the better Death offerings. That’s not to say that Death’s not great, there are just other things going against it.

As with all Discworld novels, there’s magic and magicians involved. But also some rather overt sexism, which is disappointing but not surprising. But more on that later. Where were we? Oh, yes. Death wants to take a holiday and decides to train an apprentice — Mort. Unfortunately for Mort, not only does no one remember his name (they all call him boy, much to his dismay), he has no idea what he’s getting into. Being Death is a whole lot of work.

The novel follows Mort’s (all too brief) training and then he’s set out on his own to gather the souls of three people who are set to die. Death, on the other hand, has embarked on his vacation (this, too, will not end well). I will give Mort credit, he gets the first two right. And then there’s the princess. On one of the training missions (I don’t know what else to call them), Mort and Death arrive at a castle to take the soul of a monarch. Mort makes a (one-sided) connection with the Princess and when he shows up again to collect her soul, well, you can imagine it doesn’t go well.

The idea is actually pretty interesting. What happens in the Discworld when someone who is supposed to die, doesn’t? Chaos, basically. The world tries to correct things and Mort tries to get in the way. In the end, of course, things work out and Death realizes he doesn’t really need an apprentice after all (and Mort finds that reaping his not his calling, either).

While Mort is wrecking havoc in space and time, Death is wrecking his own havoc. He’s eating and drinking, getting drunk and then, toward the end of the novel, he actually gets a job — as a cook! But as things are wont to do, they go awry and Death must swoop in to fix things, and he does, sort of.

But then there’s the sexism. The way Mort treats the princess, the way the wizard (who is kind of in love with the princess) treats the princess. And then you have Ysabell, Death’s adopted daughter. She’s described in rather annoying terms (and described as being rather annoying), but she turns out to be the best character in the novel. I like her because she’s got her head on right and she understands how the world works, while the men in her life (Mort, Death, and Albert, Death’s manservant and a former wizard) are basically bonkers.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. And while I did enjoy how Mort and Ysabell ended up together and it felt mostly natural, I was annoyed at how she’d been portrayed in the earlier portions of the novel. It’s been so long since I’ve read these books that I’m hopeful that the sexism decreases and my enjoyment increases. Though so far, all four of the Discworld novels are sexist, but I do acknowledge that and try not to let it color my view of the novels too much (Mort aside).