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📚 Read: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters ⭐️⭐️ The setting is well-researched and well-written, especially the fate of grand estates in post-war Britain, but I wasn’t much interested in the plot or characters.

Book Review: Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster

Luster by Raven Leilani
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Bookshop.org · Public Library · Goodreads
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
Source: Borrowed

I’m going to preface this book review by stating outright that I am not very good at writing book reviews. But I want to get better, so I’m practicing.

When my hold on “Luster” appeared yesterday morning, I almost put it off, but I’m glad that I didn’t because I devoured it in just two sittings! I enjoyed falling into the twentysomething malaise of Edie, the protagonist, although I hated everyone around her as they consistently wallpapered over her personality with their own needs and desires. But that was intentional, of course, because the author is a magnificent writer. The prose was surprising and beautiful and so, so funny, although not in the ways I expected. I could say more about how deft a treatment of racism and classism this was, but I want you to read it already.

Review: Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking

Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking: 101 Entirely Plant-based, Mostly Gluten-Free, Easy and Delicious RecipesMinimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking: 101 Entirely Plant-based, Mostly Gluten-Free, Easy and Delicious Recipes by Dana Shultz

My rating: ★★★★★

When we visited friends in Scotland in April, they introduced me to a vegan cookbook called Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking: 101 Entirely Plant-based, Mostly Gluten-Free, Easy and Delicious Recipes. Because I am me, and have difficulty Calming Down and Just Enjoying Things in Small Amounts, I immediately checked it out from the library and have already made six recipes from the cookbook. (And one from the website.)

Carrot, Potato, & Chickpea Red Curry: The end result was so rich and well-seasoned that it belied how easy it was to make.

Thai Baked Sweet Potatoes: What a unique and tasty combination! The ginger-tahini sauce makes this a standout.

Butternut Squash Garlic Mac ‘n’ Cheese: Three things I love that combine perfectly in this quick-to-prepare recipe! I especially loved how fast the cubed butternut squash roasted up. Make sure you choose a solid gluten-free pasta for this one; unfortunately, the one I tried got a bit gummy when cooked.

Smoky BBQ Veggie Burgers: These are easily my favorite non-meat burgers, beating out even Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger. I used gluten-free breadcrumbs and they worked very well.

[caption id=“attachment_97792” align=“aligncenter” width=“3024”]de6638a4-b433-4738-81fa-05bac1f2d133 Smoky BBQ Veggie Burgers[/caption]

Pizza-Stuffed Mushrooms: While this is an appetizer recipe, it was a perfect light dinner after a late lunch. The homemade vegan “Parmesan” was especially impressive! Mushroom-averse, be warned: the mushrooms remain very mushroomy.

[caption id=“attachment_97794” align=“aligncenter” width=“4032”]img_8787 Pizza-Stuffed Mushrooms[/caption]

Creamy Golden Milk Smoothie: I subscribed to the Minimalist Baker website in my RSS reader and this recipe popped up. I’m a smoothie fan, and the turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon combination sounded like something FunkyPlaid and I might enjoy. It was! I added carrot juice for sweetness and chia seeds for fun.

[caption id=“attachment_97793” align=“aligncenter” width=“3024”]img_8789 Creamy Golden Milk Smoothie[/caption]

Cashew Soba Noodle Salad: I used rice noodles since I can’t eat soba noodles, but the deliciousness did not suffer. I’m glad I made a double batch.

[caption id=“attachment_97791” align=“aligncenter” width=“3024”]95f85c91-7850-496f-9a7b-8304dceefef7 Cashew Soba Noodle Salad (with rice noodles)[/caption]

While I do not adhere to a vegan diet, this cookbook has changed my mind on how easy it can be to prepare delicious vegan food that is also gluten-free. I will continue to work my way through this cookbook – quickly, before someone else at my library wants to check it out!

Beyond step counts with Exist

I’ve tracked data on my daily life since I was seven years old, fiddling with the tiny gold-tone lock on my first daily diary. Later, when I discovered the “quantified self” movement, some larger lock in my brain would release: I didn’t only want data, I wanted meaning.

I’ve been searching for this meaning by tracking fitness (daily step counts and workouts), as well as the following:

  • Sleep (hours and quality)
  • Vitals (weight and heart rate)
  • Food (calories and nutrients)
  • Mood
  • Productivity
  • Media (books read, music listened to, films watched, etc.)

But tracking alone is not meaningful. In fact, it can be the opposite. Those of us with fitness trackers often have a goal of taking 10,000 steps a day, and we are rewarded with brightly-colored graphics when we’ve met that goal. But what about getting 10,000 steps a day while sleeping fewer hours than we need each night? And how do sugar and caffeine consumption impact activity, sleep, productivity, mood, or all four?

Not long ago, I discovered an app called Exist which promised a way to pull all of the data I tracked together to find meaningful correlations. I was skeptical, but game. And Exist turned out to be a marvelous way for me to stop focusing on hitting a step count each day and start thinking about my physical and mental health in a more comprehensive way.

I could get side-tracked by all the weird correlations that Exist has uncovered – like how I get fewer steps when I listen to Blood Orange – but instead I will share the ones that are most important to me right now: how sleep impacts other important aspects of my life.

On the dashboard, I get an overview of my sleep over the past seven days. The white checkmarks indicate that I met my sleep goal for that day, a goal that Exist determines for me based on past averages and trends. Ah, sleeping in on Saturdays!

Screenshot 2017 06 10 10 52 34

Trends are all well and good, but the correlations are where Exist gets interesting. This one is an obvious one: my mood is higher when I get more sleep.

Screenshot 2017 06 10 10 36 00

Aha, and sugar intake … well, that’s also obvious.

Screenshot 2017 06 10 10 37 50

I get more work done when I sleep less. Yeah, well.

Screenshot 2017 06 10 10 45 46

The confidence on this correlation isn’t very high, but I’m still curious about an earlier bedtime impacting my step count.

Screenshot 2017 06 10 11 51 00

Exist’s new “Optimize” feature suggests that my mood might improve if I try to get more than seven and a half hours of sleep.

Screenshot 2017 06 10 10 40 44

These are just a few of the insights that Exist has provided me for the data I track. Here is where I blow your mind: look at the full list of services that Exist integrates with (see their FAQs for more info):

  • Jawbone UP: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
  • Fitbit: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
  • Misfit: steps, sleep, workouts
  • Moves: steps, location
  • Apple Health: steps, sleep, workouts, heart rate, food, water
  • Google Fit: steps, workouts, weight
  • Withings: steps, sleep, weight
  • Runkeeper: steps, weight, workouts
  • Strava: workouts
  • Mood: mood rating and note (this is built-in to Exist, not an external service—you can use our daily email service or our mobile apps to rate your mood each day)
  • RescueTime: time spent productively, neutral time, distracting time
  • Todoist: tasks completed
  • GitHub: commits
  • Google, iCloud, iCal Calendars: events, time spent in events
  • Dark Sky: weather conditions (requires Swarm, Moves, or Exist for Android to get location)
  • Swarm: check-ins, location
  • Instagram: posts, comments, likes
  • last.fm: tracks played
  • Twitter: tweets, mentions
  • Spotify, Deezer, iTunes, and more: via last.fm

That’s enough of me blathering on about it. Sign up now for a free 30-day trial of Exist, plus another month free! If this isn’t your bag but you know someone with a fitness tracker who is motivated by more than step counts, share this post with them.

Review: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a tough sell when it comes to YA books. Most of them are too obvious for me to enjoy, either as dystopian hellholes or glossy music videos. But when a friend recommended “Eleanor and Park” to me, I was ready for either hellhole or music video, as long as it was a fast read for a chilly autumn evening.

What I read was a savvy paean to young love between two misfits amidst the myriad land-mines that dot adolescence. Darker issues also lurk in the background of one of our protagonists, but these are written so gracefully that they don’t feel like plot devices. (Trigger warnings apply, however; this is not a Hallmark card.)

The most remarkable thing about this remarkable book is that the two protagonists are completely believable human beings that aren’t forced to change what makes them unique in order to find acceptance, to find happiness.

I enjoyed every moment of reading this, not least for the nostalgic dip into my own awkward youth in the 1980s. I read it in one sitting, tearing up often and crying wholeheartedly at the ending, which leaves its characters with hope that is neither saccharine nor contrived. This was a beautiful book and I look forward to reading more of Rainbow Rowell’s fiction.

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Turning Pro - Day 7

This is the seventh day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “My Own Moment of Turning Pro” to “The Professional Lives in the Present”. I don’t have much to say about this part of the book, because what I found most valuable was the reiteration of the qualities the professional possesses that Pressfield listed in “The War of Art”. (I won’t list them all, because I think that book is definitely worth a read, but my favourites include “The professional shows up every day” and “The professional does not take failure or success personally”.)

However, I think we can all have a feeling or two about this quote:

The amateur tweets. The pro works.” 

But I love Twitter!  … I know. I have been guilty of tweeting about cool things, or retweeting others’ cool things. And it’s not like I’m going to stop altogether, but it is easy to convince myself that I have made movement toward becoming a writer by retweeting other writers or tweeting about the act of writing. Even this meta-talk about writing is a bit amateurish on my part. (I’m choosing to forgive myself because all this reflection is in the name of turning pro.) Pressfield adds a nice juxtaposition at the end of this section: the professional is ruthless with himself and the professional has compassion for herself. Yes, we should not hesitate to murder our darlings, as the famous phrase goes, but we should also guard the joy that comes from creating. It is a difficult balance.

Turning Pro - Day 6

This is the sixth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “The Amateur will be Ready Tomorrow” to “Rosanne Cash’s Dream” on my lunch break at work. And then I uncapped my fountain pen, cracked open a brand-new Rhodia dot-grid A5 notebook, and wrote a full page of fiction.

It’s not good writing, but it felt great.

I read the section called “The Tribe Doesn’t Give a Shit” with amusement. This is a part of the process, maybe the only part, that hasn’t bothered me much personally. I know fantastic people in this world and yet I have never once felt as if I am part of a group of people I need to impress. Pretty early on I internalised the knowledge that I should just do what I enjoy doing and not worry if I fit in anywhere. In Pressfield’s words:

“When we truly understand that the tribe doesn't give a damn, we're free. There is no tribe, and there never was. Our lives are entirely up to us.” 

So Pressfield keeps talking about going pro and I want to know what he means already. I want steps. I want something to act on. He senses this like magic and tells me, finally:

When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.

Fair enough. I’m pretty sure I know what this means. It means that when I sit down to write, I write. I don’t let the fear of never being good enough stop me. When I have an idea, I write it to completion, even if it goes off the rails and can never be rescued. I write. I finish. I do the work. I got this.

Turning Pro - Day 5

This is the fifth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “Accidental Incapacitation” to “The Amateur Lives in the Past” and a few quotes stuck out to me. The first was:

“Fear is the primary color of the amateur's interior world. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of under-achieving and fear of over-achieving, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of death.” 

Sure. It’s impossible not to relate to this quote. Pressfield goes on to state that the pro is just as afraid, so that’s good, because I don’t see losing my fear anytime soon. I read once that bravery isn’t the absence of fear, anyway. Or maybe that was just Peter Quinn in “Homeland”. #quinning I bet Quinn doesn’t even have a Facebook account, so the next quote doesn’t apply to him at all:

“The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction. The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur.” 

Well, yeah. The Internet is the ideal environment for the amateur. There is always a website or fifty, vying for one’s attention, constructed in such a way that the experience feels engaging even if it is comprised of a set of completely passive interactions. I also think that Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves: time spent on social media isn’t creative time. It can be constructive, but there’s a difference. I think that’s what Pressfield is getting at here. One more quote that struck me:

The amateur and the addict focus exclusively on the product and the payoff.” 

I agree with this, because I tend to get very caught up in what the result will be of what I am creating. “Where will I perform this? Where will I sell this?” This is not to say that I shouldn’t be savvy about markets or gigs, but rather that I have lost the excitement of creation for its own sake, focusing instead on its packaging and the eventual (I hope) reward.

Turning Pro - Days 3 & 4

This is the third and fourth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

I’m playing a bit of catch-up today and reviewing the sections “The Addict As Dramatic Hero” through the end of Book One. Unfortunately, I had a tough time relating to Pressfield in this section of the book. Although I enjoyed reading about his time picking apples in Washington state, and living all alone in a cabin with just a cat and a typewriter, I haven’t had a life like that at all. Moreover, I don’t think that creative professions require itinerant lifestyles to succeed. I see how it could be helpful not to be bogged down with the routine of a 9-to-5 job, but I don’t think it’s necessary. However, an idea I do agree with is that it is easier to break the cycle of addiction when one is freed from a routine that supports it.

Later on in the book, I came across a quote that resonated deeply with me:

"All addictions share, among others, two primary qualities.
  1. They embody repetition without progress.
  2. They produce incapacity as a payoff.” 

Pressfield goes on to mention some specific addictions, none of them surprising, especially one we’re all familiar with these days: distraction. We talk about how we just can’t stop checking Facebook or ponder why we know who the Kardashians are, but even these superficial protestations belie our priorities. For me, checking Facebook is the embodiment of the phrase “repetition without progress”. This section ends with some musing over the pain of being human, and again Pressfield’s wording gives me some trouble because I don’t think of the struggle of life in terms of an “upper realm” that I cannot reach, not exactly. Or maybe I am thinking about it this way without this particular Platonic phrasing, because when I write, I do glimpse something else, something Other, that exists outside my paltry experience of reality. His words left me wanting a more practical metaphor, but perhaps I should try seeing it his way for a little while. I did like this quote: 

The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human in one of two ways — by transcending it or by anesthetizing it…. The artist takes a different tack. She tries to reach the upper realm not by chemicals but by labor and love.” 

Labour and love. Now these words I like.

Turning Pro - Day 2

This is the second day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

I’m playing a bit of catch-up here because the rest of the book-club will be embarking on their Day 3 posts today. For Day 2 I read from “Three Cheers for the Amateur Life” to “Addiction and Shadow Careers” and the following quotes stood out to me:

"The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional.” 

OK, this is the first point at which Pressfield’s language makes me uncomfortable. That might not be a bad thing, if it is indicating an idea that resonates negatively. But the idea of being an “addict” is one that is hard to take for me personally. It’s not that I’ve been addicted to things before, because I certainly have, but thinking of myself as an addict triggers a whole bunch of negative stereotypes I have about what an addict is. Let’s go with Pressfield a moment here as he elaborates:

“Both addict and artist are dealing with the same material, which is the pain of being human and the struggle against self-sabotage. But the addict/amateur and the artist/professional deal with these elements in fundamentally different ways.”

This idea of self-sabotage dovetails nicely with a Zen Habits blog post I recently read about Savor Discipline. Leo Babauta addresses how the present self wants what it wants regardless of how it impacts the future self. He writes about the idea of merging the two interests, just as you would if you and your friend were making a decision on where to go for lunch. It wouldn’t always be one person’s choice; the two of you would take turns. Or you might merge your interests to come up with a third option that both would like. The present self and future self merge interests to find something they both can savour in the present moment. (I’m not doing this justice, so please read the post for yourself. Read the whole blog, while you’re at it! It’s wonderful.) So how does this tie in with what I think Pressfield is saying? Well, here’s my practical example: I have lots of data-entry ahead of me today. I also have errands to run, chores to do, words to write, you know the rest. Future-Halsted would really like it if I just did all that work right now so she could kick back and do nothing later, but that would leave me irritated and frustrated. Present-Halsted just wants to curl up with a book and a cat or two, but that would result in nothing getting done. So I’ve found a third option: writing this post. I’m knocking something off my to-do list while taking a moment to reflect on a book I’m reading, and exercising my nonfiction skills a bit too. I’ve found something to savour in the moment instead of indulging my self-sabotaging ways. Now I can make peace with Pressfield’s “addict” nomenclature because I get it: I have been an addict. I have been addicted to the concept of productivity, with all of its bells and whistles and to-do list apps. When I’m ticking off boxes, I get something like a buzz — look at all I’ve done today! — but those boxes can be for utterly inconsequential things, and at the end of it, when I’ve spent all of my energy ticking boxes and left nothing for myself, I can only see the hollow spaces of what I haven’t yet accomplished.

Turning Pro - Day 1

So there’s this app called Desk that I am using for writing and posting these very words and when I went to its support site to ask a question I discovered a community — not a metaphorical one, but an actual community of people talking about things that weren’t all support-related. I am sure this happens in other support communities but this was the first time I had run across one so … open? I felt right at home and I started reading some threads.

One thread was about starting a digital book-club to read and discuss Steven Pressfield’s book “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” (Open Library), which I had been curious about but never read. My writing partner Matt gave me a copy of Pressfield’s “The War of Art” years ago and I absolutely loved it. I decided to give the digital book-club a shot.

Day 1 we read the introduction through the “My Shadow Career” chapter (if you can call it that, as the sections are very brief in this book). My favourite quotes from this section:

“The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs.” 

This reminded me of a conversation that I keep having with the people I know who are professional writers. I’m quick to draw a line between us and say that they’re better writers, and often their rejoinder is that it isn’t about better. There is a fundamental commitment that these people have made to themselves, and I haven’t done it. Yet. Another quote:

“Are you pursuing a shadow career? Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you're afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you?” 

It’s hard to even formulate a response to this because the metaphor is so unbelievably cutting: I mean, I became a librarian. I do love library work, and I deeply believe in libraries, but there it is. I spend my days in rooms filled with books that other people have written, never believing that I, too, could write a book. This book-club is going to be a doozy for me.

Book Review: The Happiness Project

happinessprojectThe Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I appreciated the tone of Rubin’s writing, the depth of her research on the topic of happiness, and the overall organisation of the project, I found the read itself to be a slog. This is likely because I was already familiar with (and a little tired of) the premise through undertaking my own self-improvement projects. My friend Mako’s review of the book was so glowing that I wanted to read the book to find my excitement for self-improvement again. The truth is that whereas Rubin’s book would have been an exciting, inspiring read a year ago, I’m now the wrong audience for it. And I’m okay with that.

One quote did resonate with me: “All this thinking about fun made me realize that I had to make time for it. Too often, I’d give up fun in order to work….In fact, though, turning from one chore to another just made me feel trapped and drained….Fun is energizing.” It sure is.

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Review: Deck Z

Deck Z: The Titanic: Unsinkable. UndeadDeck Z: The Titanic: Unsinkable. Undead by Chris Pauls & Matt Solomon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite not being a fan of zombie stories or knowing much about the history of the Titanic, I enjoyed Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon’s Deck Z immensely. I had prepared myself for a silly backstory as to why zombies were on that fateful voyage to begin with, but the authors carefully crafted a plausible scenario and sympathetic characters. In true thriller style, the plot was relentless, chugging full steam ahead just like the doomed ship. I appreciated the small details, like structuring the novel into three stages just like the stages of the zombifying disease. Captain Smith was a proper hero, just as I imagined he would have conducted himself in such a bleak scenario, and though liberties might have been taken with certain historical figures and moments, they were done so respectfully. My only complaint is that the length did not allow for much exploration of the characters outside of pitched zombie battles. I’ll stop now to avoid any spoilers and urge you to pick up a copy for a quick, satisfying read.

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Review: MasterMind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

MasterMind: How to Think Like Sherlock HolmesMasterMind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I love Sherlock Holmes. I wanted to love this book, too, and expected I would at least like it, based on the blurb and the subtitle. The author obviously loves Holmes, too, which saved this from being a one-star review, because I did enjoy the excerpts from Doyle’s stories. Regardless, I gave up about a third of the way through because the book was just so padded and I didn’t care enough about thinking like Sherlock Holmes to continue slogging through it.



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makoshark's Squid of Reassurance Greeting Card

makoshark's Squid of Reassurance

If one of your new year's resolutions is to write more letters, why not send a friend one of these adorable squid greeting cards by makoshark? The Squid of Reassurance is my favourite. There are many designs, with and without squid, as well as different products like t-shirts, iPhone cases, stickers, and kids' clothing.

Check out makoshark's Redbubble shop for more.

Nick St. John's "How I Came to Work at the Wendy's"

Nick St. John’s How I Came to Work at the Wendy’s

"How I Came to Work at the Wendy's" is a mini-comic by Nick St. John, who crafts a poignant, compelling story without teetering into absurdity or mawkishness. I am eager to read the rest of St. John's comics, but not all at once because I need there to be more around.

Review: The Chronoliths

The Chronoliths The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a newbie to the brain of Robert Charles Wilson – of his other novels, I’ve only read Darwinia – I was prepared for big questions with few answers. I was not disappointed. The story here is not one of overt heroics or melodramatic clashes but rather the quiet, bewildering moments of humanity as our collective “buckets of grief.” We grieve for the world as it was, the world as it could be, and eventually the world as it is: infrastructure crumbling, paranoia swelling, violence reigning.

Not that the story ends without hope, because it does. But I asked myself as I turned the final page if, even as we learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. The central idea of time travel is paired with the idea of belief, and how what we expect to be true or significant (or moral, or just … I could go on) informs the landscape of our future. In a way, we are all constantly time-traveling, remembering the parts of our past to paint us in our best light, only seeing the interesting and shiny parts of our present. We build the future; we build our monuments to the future.

Once again, Robert Charles Wilson asks important questions and leaves it to us to find our own answers.

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Review: A Dance with Dragons

A Dance with Dragons A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is going to be difficult for me to write, as I looked so forward to this book for so long, and have recommended the series to everyone I know. Twice.

*** SPOILER WARNING *** SPOILER WARNING ***

“A Dance with Dragons” is a disappointing read. Not disappointing within the context of the series, although the writing certainly isn’t as strong or as cohesive as the first or second books. Not disappointing within the fantasy genre, as it is still some of the stronger fantasy writing I’ve read.

It is disappointing because I am already scrambling to find a synopsis just so I can remember who everyone is and why they did what they did. Maybe it would have been more memorable if it hadn’t taken me months to finish. I am not a slow reader, but this read was a slog, and so I often was not interested enough to pick it up.

The major reason why I found it such a slog is because of the sheer number of PoV characters. The trouble with creating so many different PoVs is that each new one has to justify her or his existence by telling a compelling enough piece of the greater story. So because “A Dance with Dragons” (16 PoV characters, not including prologue or epilogue) runs concurrently to “A Feast for Crows” (12 PoVs) we have 28 PoVs to keep up with for this portion of the story.

In comparison, going backwards in time “A Storm of Swords” had 10 PoVs, “A Clash of Kings” had 9, and “A Game of Thrones” had 8.

I understand the scope of the story has expanded. I do. But when the story is spread thinly over so many people and places, the emotional impact lessens for me. The attack on Jon should have had the shocking impact of the Red Wedding for me, but was so jumbled and rushed that it did not.

And the outcome of that is only one of several major cliffhangers in the book. I find myself not overly concerned with how they will play out. To be honest, I have lost interest with most of the characters I once loved. I am no longer a Daenerys fan at all. I started out feeling disgusted by her backstory and then somewhat heartened by how she made the most of her crappy lot in life. Her motivations and actions in “A Dance with Dragons” are ridiculous at best – and she’s the one with the dragons! Sure, she is inexperienced in the ways of war, but she has approximately 43534957346560 people around her who give her the same advice over and over again and she conveniently disregards them all. And falls in love with the “bad boy” – who is the dullest lothario I’ve ever read – but marries for duty and is shocked, shocked I tell you, when her new husband tries to have her killed.

None of my other favorites had much to do here. Arya’s story arc is a long game, which means it is currently tedious. Cersei has become a parody of the power-hungry female trope, which is lame because I expect better writing from Martin by now. Tyrion’s chapters were all right, but his continuing fixation on Tysha seems disingenuous to me. I could barely read the Theon/Ramsay chapters because of their gratuitious violence. Asha Greyjoy is sadly underutilized, and there is only the briefest of mentions of Brienne of Tarth.

In short, I was hopeful that this book, as Part Two of “A Feast for Crows”, would be much better than Part One. It wasn’t.

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Review: Glad No Matter What: Transforming Loss and Change into Gift and Opportunity

Glad No Matter What: Transforming Loss and Change into Gift and Opportunity Glad No Matter What: Transforming Loss and Change into Gift and Opportunity by SARK
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first exposure to SARK’s writing, aside from her posters. It was a gift from a former co-worker as I left my job at the San Francisco Public Library. At the time, I didn’t feel very gracious about the transition, and so it has taken me a while to finish reading this.

“Glad No Matter What” is primarily a book about the type of loss and change that surrounds the death of a loved one, but I could apply some of it to the loss and change I am currently experiencing as I transition to my new home. SARK’s unbridled enthusiasm and good nature bursts from every page, and it is difficult not to be cheered by her multicolored scrawls.

My favorite portion of her book was about her “emotional GPS” and how she notices negative thought patterns and reactions as she is having them, then tells herself “recalculating” as she finds a new “emotional route”. I chuckled over this, and then gave it some thought. Sometimes I feel very guilty about my negative responses to things while feeling helpless to change them. But with the emotional GPS idea, I can recalculate negative reactions into less negative responses.

I admit to skimming over some parts that were simply too spiritual for my tastes, but I remain an admirer of SARK as a creative force and a positive influence in a cynical world.

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Review: We Need to Talk about Kevin

We Need to Talk about Kevin We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really do not know what to write about this book. On the one hand, it is a known quantity; no one starts reading it without knowing, at least in the most general sense, what it is about. On the other, it answers none of the questions the reader will have about its horrific central narrative.

Shriver is, undoubtedly, a talented writer. The story made me feel ambivalence for every single character introduced, no small feat considering how easy it would be to create a maudlin mother or monstrous son. No, in fact, every single person involved has realistic foibles, making the absence of the great “why” at the end all the more appalling.

It could happen to any one of us, here in the real world. And it has. And I’m not sure I needed to read a book about that.

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Review: The Dewey Decimal System: A Novel

The Dewey Decimal System: A Novel The Dewey Decimal System: A Novel by Nathan Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It may be weird to say that I am a fan of dystopian near-future settings. I have a morbid fascination with bleak, sparse landscapes and crumbling infrastructure; I remain hopeful that I will never have to live in such a world, but constantly wonder what type of person I would be if I survived in one.

In “The Dewey Decimal System”, Larson creates an instantly engaging survivor as a protagonist, and a compelling city in ruins around him. Larson’s staccato, fragmented style makes this a quick and brutal read with plenty of physical and emotional carnage. I only wished for more scenes in the New York Public Library, yearning for more details of this post-apocalyptic information age that seems entirely devoid of the ‘net.

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Review: Bossypants

BossypantsBossypants by Tina Fey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because I am not up on these things, even though I really should be, I had no idea that Tina Fey had written a book. If I had, I would have pre-pre-ordered it as those of us in the librarian cabal are able to do. What? That’s not a thing? I have been lied to! Anyway, I stumbled across the disturbing cover of her not-quite-memoir "Bossypants" three seconds after stepping into a local bookstore, and even though I am trying very (kind of) hard not to buy any new books, I bought it.

And I devoured it in less than 24 hours.



"Bossypants" is a fast, sparkling read, with plenty of LLOLL (legitimate laugh-out-loud in the library) moments. Fey is funny and smart, which everyone already knew, and also eloquent and gracious, which you probably already knew because you are up on aforementioned things while I am not. A review of this book should probably mention that she addresses sexism in comedy and television and everywhere else, but I am allergic to saying things like "so-and-so is a feminist" because she happens to write things that are true.

My favorite quote from the book is: "It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good." Since I am arrogant, I can state with authority that I liked this book, thus it is empirically good.

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Libraries get their due in two very different books

Libraries get their due in two very different books
“It’s National Library Week. USA TODAY’S Bob Minzesheimer examines two books about libraries — one mystical, the other more mundane.” (via monkeemind)

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I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.