Farewell, 2017!

So, uh, it’s been a while… How are you? How’s your… local sports team? Actually, mine’s doing unexpectedly great this year, thanks for asking!

It’s finally been of reasonable weather quality in Northeast Florida, so I’ve been spending most of the last couple months outside enjoying nature. This has apparently led to a stress injury in my ankle, and one of my early New Year’s Resolutions is to stop compounding injuries by ignoring them, so I come to you from my couch on a perfectly beautiful day. At least I have lots of indoor activities I can enjoy! Speaking of, let’s talk about what I’ve been up to the past two months!

Reading
I’ve read quite a few things in the last couple months, but I’ll just do a couple highlights (one lowlight?) here.

A Lot Like ChristmasMy absolute favorite of the books I’ve read recently is A Lot Like Christmas, which is an updated collection of Connie Willis’s short stories set around Christmas. I legit loved every story in this collection, which is a feat unmatched, I think, and I found myself just a couple stories in taking a break to set up my (very tiny) Christmas tree so I could read by tree light. I’m not a super Christmas-y person — I have my traditions and I like those but everything else can go jump in a lake — but I really felt imbued with the Christmas spirit while reading this book. It might be a little late for you to read this, depending on your personal Christmas temperament, but you should definitely keep it in mind for next year.

Pride and Prejudice and MistletoeMy least favorite was the also Christmas-themed Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, which I was all over when I heard the sales pitch: a gender-swapped Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view. What? Yes! Give it! Unfortunately, the actual result is more like a remixed Pride and Prejudice — it hits most of the big beats of the original story but they’re changed enough that it’s not the same story at all and it’s not a good story and it also ends about six chapters later than it should after way too much introspection and it’s just… bad. It’s possible that if you’re not expecting Pride and Prejudice you’ll like this better, but I’m pretty sure it’s a hot mess either way.

Listening
My audiobook listening has slowed down a bit this fall as I’ve picked up a couple new podcasts. One is Call Your Girlfriend, a podcast that’s more or less a conversation between two long-distance best friends about whatever’s going on in the world at the time. The other is Waypoint Radio, a second video game podcast to complement the still-the-best What’s Good Games and to cause my video-game TB…P, I guess, list to grow ever larger.

GroceryHowever, I have enjoyed two great audiobooks since last we met. Grocery is a fantastic book for people like me (and the author’s father) who are obsessed with grocery stores and how they work and how food gets to them and how food trends have changed in general over the past while, and possibly also just people from Cleveland who love Heinen’s, a small chain which features prominently in the book. I love all of these things and I loved this book. I also loved The Nature Fix, which validated all my time spent outdoors and also encouraged me to do it more, so, uh, once this ankle’s all better it might be a while ’til I post here again.

Watching
S.H.I.E.L.D. finally came back and it is as weird and awesome as it is at its best. No spoilers, but it’s crazy and I’m looking forward to seeing how it resolves the very strange loop it’s put itself in. I’ve also seen a few excellent movies recently, including, unexpectedly, Thor: Ragnarok. I really hated the other Thor movies, but one should never doubt Taika Waititi and his ability to make things awesome. The best movie I’ve seen possibly all year is Coco, which had me ugly crying in the theater next to my sister-in-law, who was glad I was crying so she wouldn’t feel bad about crying. It’s adorable and wonderful but it is also VERY VERY SAD FOR GROWNUPS. You’ve been warned.

Playing
I’ve been spending a lot of time on Rocket League lately, collecting snowflakes to open loot boxes because I want a pretty car, dang it! Also I really like playing soccer with cars. It is the best. I’ve also been spending some time with Super Mario Odyssey, which I bought kind of on a whim when it was on sale and am enjoying WAY more than I thought I was going to. I don’t think I’ve ever played more than a few minutes of a Mario adventure game (I’m more a Mario Kart and Mario Party girl), and clearly I have been missing out.

But the best is that I’m just after finishing Life is Strange: Before the Storm, which is a prequel to the super excellent Life is Strange and while of course I think the original is better, this one is differently good and is also very very sad for grownups, where “grownups” equals “people who played Life is Strange and can therefore see into the future”. I am quite interested to see what happens when the original company comes back with another round of the game next year.

What are you guys finishing out your year with?

Everybody Scream! Everybody Scream!

It is almost Hallowe’en, my second-favorite candy giving holiday (Valentine’s Day has better candy, fight me) and the best holiday for reading and watching all the spooky things. I did not get in on RIP this year for the first time in a very long time, but it’s fall so I’ve basically been playing along anyway. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Reading
The Woman in Cabin 10I sat down one evening planning to get a start on my next book club pick, The Woman in Cabin 10, and then three and a half hours later I was finished with it and up about two hours past my bedtime. Oops! This book is a perfect pageturner with a pretty decent plot to go with it, where a potentially unreliable narrator sees a woman go over the side of her small cruise ship but can’t convince anyone on board to believe her. It’s easy to see a few ways that this plot could go, but I definitely didn’t guess the way it would go, or how well the author would tie the ending all together, a difficult feat with this kind of book. I enjoyed the heck out of it and if you’re looking for a quick creepy read before Hallowe’en this is a good choice.

More recently I started reading Provenance, the new Ann Leckie book, and although it is not nearly a pageturner it is quite good so far and makes me long for the days of the one-hour lunch break.

Listening
After the meh experiment that was reading the YA X-Files books, a friend mentioned some Audible-exclusive X-Files audiobooks and I was like, hey, I have Audible and a bunch of credits sitting around not doing anything. I listened to the first book, Cold Cases, pretty quickly and it was much more my style of ridiculous X-Files inanity and has the original actors reprising their roles, so, A++. I’m about halfway through the second book Stolen Lives, but it’s been interrupted for a slightly more Hallowe’en-appropriate audiobook.

GhostlandThat would be Ghostland, which I found in the following strangest way: I went to the gym, got on the elliptical, started my podcast, and was doing my thing, and then this lady gets on the elliptical next to me. She props a hardcover copy of Ghostland on the elliptical’s screen and proceeds to do absolutely nothing with it while instead reading something on her tablet, which she is holding with one hand up in front of her face. I kept looking over, sure she was going to fall off the machine, and eventually the cover of this book intrigued me so much that I found it on Libby, downloaded it, and started listening after my podcast ended and with 15 minutes left on the elliptical. It’s a pretty decent listen so far, with some cool facts about haunted houses and some interesting discussion of the racism of ghosts, and perhaps I will share all of these facts with the trick-or-treaters on Tuesday.

Watching
True story, I sat down a few hours ago planning to write this blog post while watching The Nightmare Before Christmas, but then the movie was so engrossing that I couldn’t do anything else but watch it. It’s such a good movie, guys. If you haven’t seen it you absolutely should — I think it’s technically a Christmas movie so you still have time for it to be seasonally appropriate. And if you haven’t seen it in a while, watch it again. It’s still delightful.

I’ve also been keeping up with my TV shows and I will say that The Good Place is 100% back on my good list (ha), along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine (that Hallowe’en episode!) and Jane the Virgin. I also found this weird little horror anthology series thing called The House on Hulu that lasts maybe 30 minutes total and is worth about that much of your time, so. Not every episode is a winner but they all have some interesting bits to them.

Now I just need to acquire Netflix long enough to watch Stranger Things and I will be a happy lady!

Birthday Weekend Update

Happy Sunday! It was recently my birthday, so I come to you another year older and maybe wiser (probably not) and with lots of good stuff to talk about! Let’s get to it.

Reading
A couple of weeks ago my beloved book club that I don’t run anymore but attend whenever I can had “horror books” as its topic, and I decided I really wanted to read The Good House except I decided this three days before the meeting and the book is like 600 pages long, so I also decided to read Through the Woods in case I didn’t have time to finish the former. When I first opened up Through the Woods, I was concerned that this tiny graphic collection of stories wouldn’t count as horror, because the pictures are so delightful and how could anything so lovely be scary? Well, if you’re like me and you prefer your scares slow and psychological, this book gets pretty darn creepy. There’s a story about some kids who don’t listen to their dad and then bad things happen, there’s a story about a woman who marries some kind of royalty and then finds… pieces… of his previous wife inside the house, there’s a story about a guy who kills his brother and yet his brother still lives. Creepy, man. But the pictures are so pretty!

I ended up being right about The Good House and the fact that I couldn’t finish it in three days, but this was not for lack of trying. I was up at least an hour past my bedtime every night reading this book, super creeped out and very anxious about having nightmares, which I somehow avoided. I was also wary of this book when I started it, as it begins as a kind of sexy adult book about a woman and her estranged husband maybe getting back together, but it grows quickly dark when the couple’s kid acts kind of weird and then shoots himself in the head during a 4th of July party. The story then jumps back and forth between the year of that event, the present day two years later, and various points further in the past to explain how some seemingly very good magic once performed by the woman’s grandmother led to some very not good magic affecting everyone in the town in the present. If you are prone to stomachache, I do not recommend this book, but otherwise I think you need to grab it and read it in as few sittings as possible and with bright lights on.

On the not-creepy front, I also read Little Fires Everywhere this week, and I cannot believe I managed to wait so long (read: a month) to read it after its publication. I loved Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, and this book is equally as good. It’s primarily about two families living in Shaker Heights, Ohio, during the late 90s, and yes, it is SUPER weird to read a book about teens living near where I grew up near when I grew up there. Nostalgia is real for me in this novel. It’s hard to summarize this book as there’s a lot going on in it, but I think I can say that it’s about the awfulness that is being a teenager no matter what your life looks like, the awfulness that is being an adult no matter what your life looks like, and the danger of pretending that your prejudices don’t exist. I read Everything I Never Told You for two different book clubs, and there is almost no way I’m not foisting this book on another two.

Listening
I finished up Wild shortly after I last talked about it, and I feel basically exactly the same about it and have gone hiking several times since finishing it. I also listened to We Are Never Meeting in Real Life on the advice of the internets, and while it was not quite as amazeballs as the internet led me to believe, there were some pretty hilarious essays in the collection and Samantha Irby is great at reading her own words, so it was a great at-work listen.

Watching
Fall TV is back and I am… excited? The Good Place came back first and I was moderately concerned by the direction it took in the beginning, but a few episodes in everything seems to have fallen back into place and also I love Kristen Bell, so. Similarly, I am reserving judgement on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is as funny as ever but the plot is a little iffy at the moment, until I see where that goes. A brand-new show for me and the husband this season is Inhumans, which I want to love because I love SHIELD and I love the Inhumans concept in general, but again, I’m not quite sold on it. On the plus side, another new show called Ghosted is weird and hilarious and also I’m catching up on a Disney cartoon called Gravity Falls that is differently weird and hilarious, so I think that puts me at 3-2 for shows I’m definitely into (4-2 if you count John Oliver’s show, but that’s been on all summer), so it’s going to be a good fall, especially once I get around to the Jane the Virgin season premiere. Bring on the awesome!

Playing
I am inexplicably still playing the heck out of Township, that resource-management phone game I picked up a few weeks ago, and I played several amazing matches in Rocket League recently that put me at Silver III, which, for me, is wow. But what I want to talk about today is this great new game I’m into, you may have heard of it, it’s called Dungeons & Dragons? I’ve been wanting to try a tabletop RPG for ages and have failed miserably at actually doing it, so when my brother and sister-in-law were like, hey, can we try playing this with you over Skype, I was like YASSSSSSSS. We played our third round on my birthday, because I am a giant nerd, and already my half-orc has hit many things with sticks, gotten to level 2, stolen a pastry from a rogue, and tried very hard not to kill a dangerous vampire that is currently charmed into being friends with my party but only for 45 more minutes so we’ll see how that goes. It’s awesome and I also love that I’m playing it with my husband, brother, and two sisters-in-law so it’s quality family time as well! Quality family time spent destroying skeletons is the best quality family time, I think.

What have you guys been up to lately?

Sounds and Moving Pictures

So it’s been two weeks since my last post here, which seems like eight billion years in internet time. It’s not that I don’t have books and stories that I want to talk your faces off about, but instead that I have yet again embarked on the terrible journey that is called Having a New Job.

Having a New Job is always a bit exhausting, what with all the learning that has to get done, but this one’s a bit rougher on account of doing my training literally within sight of Georgia in a gorgeous historic town, which doesn’t sound too rough until you consider that I live on the complete other side of the next county over, so I’ve got two hours a day of just sitting in my car to contend with.

Although, actually, this can be nice because it means I can still listen to some of my beloved podcasts, if not all. Here are the best ones that made the cut:

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
I basically consider a week unstarted if I haven’t heard Carl Kasell’s voice reading ridiculous limericks, and also this show is helpful for keeping up with the news in Florida.

Pop Culture Happy Hour
My other NPR bookend, this show comes out on Fridays and includes lively discussion about TV, movies, books, comics, and German art song, which is basically all I need in life.

Literary Disco
This is a new podcast whose backlist I am currently working through — I picked it up because Rider Strong but I’ve stuck with it because he and his co-hosts have really awesome thoughts and opinions on books and stories.

ABC Book Review
I of course have to give some love to my awesome friends Beth and Cari up in Ohio, who delight me on a semi-regular basis with what always starts as book talk but often veers off into entirely different territory by podcast’s end.

Bookrageous
Another book podcast of awesomeness, with three hosts whose tastes more or less line up with mine, except when one of them really likes Castle (it’s been four years and I am still not over it).

Books on the Nightstand
Because I don’t get enough talk of books in other podcasts or at work at the library. I love the way Ann and Michael interact with each other and with their audience, and how they provide a publishing perspective that I otherwise would not hear.

When I’m not working or driving slash listening to podcasts, I’m often trying to read but instead zoning out in front of my phone playing Candy Crush (sad but true) or in front of my giant television, which has been bringing me a couple of quality shows as of late!

Luther
Holy crap, Luther. I knew basically nothing about this show going in except that it was supposed to be fantastic. I have one episode left to go in season two and while I would say that whoever said “fantastic” was technically correct, I think the better term would be “absolutely batshit bonkers.” It all started off so normal, and now I am just like WTF basically every other scene. Every scene? Somewhere between those two. It’s a crime show about a detective (Luther) with Issues, and the first episode features Luther attempting to solve a surprisingly perfect murder. If intriguing murder mysteries are your thing (they are very much mine), I would recommend giving this a go.

Under the Dome
At one time in my past I was a devoted follower of the Church of Read it First, but then I realized that if the book is better, you should probably read it second so that you can like the movie or the TV show or whatever on its own merits. Also, sometimes I am too lazy for a Stephen King doorstop, or at least more than one in a twelve-month period. So when I found out that this show existed, I gave it a shot, and now I am kind of obsessed. I’ve heard other talking about how awesome the book is and how they’ve changed quite a bit between it and the series, so of course now I’m going to have to go read the book later, but I think the show is doing a fantastic job of killing me with tension. It’s also doing a good job of subverting my expectations with regards to several plot points, so it’s definitely a DVR keeper.

Someday I’ll get back to reading, but until then, do y’all have any suggestions for other things I can fill my commute and/or my brain-dead evenings with?

Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst

Lost and FoundI really enjoyed Parkhurst’s The Dogs of Babel when I read it a few months ago, and so I was excited to read her second book for my book club this month. But as it sometimes happens, I completely forgot when my book club was supposed to be meeting and only managed to get the book from the library a few days in advance. Oops! I was out and about basically the entire time in between getting the book and talking about it, but thankfully this is a quick and fun read so I managed to finish it up with, like, twenty hours to spare!

I was basically sold on this book when I heard it was based on The Amazing Race, which I watched religiously many many years ago and still will tune into an episode of here and there. There’s something about running around the world and solving puzzles that appeals to me, and if I led a more telegenic life I might have tried out for the show.

Which, segue, is what this book is totally about — the reality behind reality shows, from picking the most interesting contestants to staging drama and fights to what a terrible idea it is to go on a reality show. I don’t know if Parkhurst did any field research into reality show production, but I would totally believe her take on it!

If you’re not a big fan of reality shows, that’s okay, because the meat of the book is the interactions between the characters who have found themselves running around the world together. The main focus is on the mother-daughter team, whose perfect-for-TV drama is that the daughter birthed a baby without her mother knowing she was pregnant; the ex-gay husband-and-wife team who may not be as ex- as they would like; and a former child star looking to game the reality show to make her comeback. It’s fantastic tabloid fodder, but there’s also a truth to all of these characters and their problems that make them sympathetic, if only to the tiniest degree in some cases.

And did I mention the book was fun? It gets a bit heavy-handed at times, especially with the ex-gay subplot that seemed never to end, but it absolutely makes up for it with the digs at TV culture, the travel-inspiring descriptions of the game locations, and the absurd realities of the game. It’s also thought-provoking, if only in the sense that I have been wondering for the past several days, “Why DID the Howells ever go on that three-hour tour? And bring so many clothes?” Seriously. Seriously.

Recommendation: For fans and also not-fans of reality television, or for people who enjoy parrots?

Rating: 8/10

RIP TV

Hello blog friends! I feel like I’ve been absent forever, even though it’s only been a couple weeks. I haven’t been doing much book-reading, so I haven’t had anything to talk about!

Except that, oh, right, it’s RIP time and I totally have things to talk about! My lack of books lately stems partly from the fact that I have been kind of obsessively watching television, and luckily for me said television is totally RIP-appropriate. Here’s a synopsis of what’s been invading my brain lately (possible spoilers if you haven’t seen these things yet!):

Doctor Who
omg Doctor Who. I was a little nervous going into this half-season because it had been so long since the end of the last one, and because I knew that the format was going to be very different — standalone episodes rather than the giant season-long arc that I enjoyed so much last time. And indeed, I was a little iffy on the relative shallowness of the stories, but at the same time it was nice not to have any cliffhangers! Of the five episodes, I’d have to say my favorites were the first, Asylum of the Daleks, and the last, The Angels Take Manhattan. Asylum I liked largely for the character played by Jenna Louise Coleman, who will be back at Christmas to play the new companion. If said companion is anything like Oswin, or is somehow Oswin (you never know with this show), I will be very very delighted. Angels, on the other hand, I liked for all the most RIP-y reasons, like mystery and noir and time travel and scary Weeping Angels. The only downside is that both Scott and I were very very sad for about two days after watching this episode. Strangely, that just makes me like this show even more…

Eureka
I had tried to watch this show maybe a couple of years ago, but I didn’t make it past the first two episodes. They were okay, but not something I was super-interested in. Even when I started seeing star Colin Ferguson everywhere, and found out that Cool People Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day were involved, I was like, maybe. Then Scott got a hold of it and watched two and a half seasons in seemingly no time at all, and I was like, hey, wait, let me catch up to you and we can watch it together! And, yes, the first few episodes were still only kind of okay, but two seasons in I am hooked. I really like the characters and the way they interact with each other, I am amused by the weird and implausible science, and I like the way the show has several different large mysteries to solve so that it’s always making progress on something. I wouldn’t call this great television, but it is fun and absorbing and often delightful.

Supernatural
Okay, so I’m not really technically watching this show, but Scott is (are we noticing a pattern here?), and so I’ve overheard a lot of it while doing other things. I really did not like the first few seasons of this show, and so avoided it, but Scott showed me some of the funnier and meta episodes (i.e. one that takes place at basically a Supernatural convention, one that manages to takes place on the set of Supernatural) and I thought those were wonderful. The show does funny really well; I watched in full a few episodes toward the end of last season that involved a main character being possessed by Lucifer, but instead of Lucifer being, like, standard evil, he was more like little-brother evil, singing terrible songs and being generally annoying. This season I’m back to overhearing things, but maybe once they get rid of the teenager (or bring back Misha Collins, my favorite!) I’ll be interested again.

Got any more fun and/or weird shows for me to watch? My books might not thank you, but I will!

Farewell, Reading Rainbow

Reading Rainbow has its last episode today (after 26 years!), and NPR did a story on it. I think what’s interesting to note is that funding is shifting more toward TV shows that teach kids how to read rather than shows that give kids new books to read. I, personally, think that’s a crying shame.

I didn’t really watch Reading Rainbow on purpose as a kid, because I was generally well above the reading level of the books on the show. But part of the reason I read so well is because I read. A lot. I would regularly grab 10 books every time my mother took me to the library and have them read in a week or less. Did I grab so many books because someone once taught me phonics? Heck no!

I read then, and read now, because someone once gave me a love of reading. My teachers and my librarians said, “You should read these Baby-sitter’s Club books! Or how about some Bruce Coville? Oh, I bet you’d love Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys!” And I did. And I read them all, because they were good. And then those teachers and librarians looked at what I was reading and suggested similar but more difficult books. And I never stopped reading.

My 20-year-old brother hated reading until my grandmother gave him the first three Harry Potter books. Now he reads epic fantasy, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at! My 10-year-old brother has had to deal with all of the ridiculous Ohio achievement testing and teachers having to teach to these tests since he started school, and gets poor marks on the reading sections because he reads lower than his grade level. But he’s already given me his birthday and Christmas list of books I should buy him, so I think he’s going to turn out better than the good readers in his class who don’t want to read.

I was pondering taking some youth services courses for my library science degree, but this article, among other things, is really making that decision seem like an excellent one.