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?

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?

Watching X-Files with no lights on

Happy Sunday, y’all! I’m so envious of all the people getting excited for fall — we won’t be seeing that here in Florida for another month or two — but at least I can buy all the pumpkin spice everything and pretend. Next step: blast the air conditioning and throw on a sweater and six blankets to read under?

This week I’ve been…

Reading
This has been a much better reading week for me than past weeks, although it got off to a bumpy start. After reading The Stone Sky, I wanted something that required very little in the way of thinky thoughts, so I scoured my library stash and was thrilled to find the first two books in the new teen X-Files book series. As a huge fan of Dana Scully, I decided to read the second book of the series, Scully’s book, Devil’s Advocate, first, and boy. That was a mistake. I should have run away when the first line of the book was, “‘I want to believe,’ said Dana Scully,” but I wanted to believe that the book was better than that. It is not. I made it through about sixty pages of Dana having supernatural visions and going to new age crystal shops on purpose and some really terrible writing, too, and then I decided that life is too short for that.

Agent of ChaosI did still want my X-Files fix, though, so I grabbed the other book, Agent of Chaos. It was much better written, probably helped by the fact that it’s easier to write a book where Mulder believes a bunch of weird crap, although there was a LOT of weird crap that I wasn’t quite up for believing. In this one, Mulder gets caught up in a murder investigation, as teenagers in YA books are wont to do, and to solve it involves reading a fantasy novel and going to a new age crystal shop (yup, the same one!) and believing crazy people and being helped by shadowy figures and the Cigarette Smoking Man and totally hating on Pa Mulder, like, the entire time. It definitely fit my “no thinking” reading mood, as every little bit was painstakingly explained, and it wasn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.

The Underground RailroadOver the weekend I powered through my book club book for Tuesday, The Underground Railroad, which was a little disappointing when I found out that the book wasn’t really about the fact of its premise, that the Underground Railroad was a literal underground railroad. I had been pretty excited about that, but the railroad makes precious few appearances in the book. Its effects relative to a figurative underground railroad are definitely felt in the way that slavery and antislavery movements are presented in the book, though. Everything is just a touch different, at least, but it’s all still awful, as we see through the eyes of our runaway protagonist. I thought Whitehead did a great job of making everyone seem reasonable in their own heads even as they were completely unreasonable in reality, and I am very much looking forward to talking with lots of Southern people about this book on Tuesday.

Listening
Toward the end of the week I finally caught up on my podcasts, which had piled up over vacation and post-Irma busy-ness, so I was finally able to pick up an audiobook again. Of course, all my audiobook holds had long come and gone and been put on hold a second time, so I had to poke around a bit in my various libraries before I found Wild waiting for me as an acceptable substitute. I’m about a third of the way through so far, and I am already torn between a desire to grab my hiking shoes and make for the Appalachian Trail (she did the Pacific Crest Trail, but that’s kind of far for me…), a desire to hug my husband super tight and never let go, and a desire to punch cancer right in its stupid face. Is there a way to do all three of these things at once?

Playing
Scott and I stopped at GameStop yesterday to re-up his PowerUp Rewards in preparation for me buying all the used games for my Switch, and I’ve already put his account to good use in buying Mario Kart 8, which is absolutely delightful. I’m only a couple of Grand Prix in but I’m loving the art style and all of the cars and scooters I can make Toadette drive. It’s a little tough making the absurdly tiny Joy Cons work, but I have faith I’ll get the hang of it. Now I just need more people to come play with me, as it turns out my husband is not nearly as into adorable racing games as I am. Who’s in?

Making a Fresh Start

Guys, it’s been so long since I looked at this blog that WordPress forgot my login credentials! It’s only been six weeks, but it does feel like a lifetime, partly because I’ve been avoiding writing anything. I’ve been writing about every book I’ve read for about nine years in this space, and so when I see the forty books sitting unreviewed in my Goodreads list it gives me a tiny panic attack. And then all of you lovely people are like, “Hey, where’d you go, tell me about ALL THE BOOKS” and I am like “I want to, but.”

So I’m making a change around here and taking a page out of my very own book from RIPs past. I’ll be stopping in here every week or two with an update on things I’m reading, watching, listening to, playing, and generally thinking about. If there’s a book that I feel very strongly about, you might see a full-length review here and there. But not this week!

What have I been up to for the past couple of weeks? Well…

Thinking
It’s been a weird couple of weeks for me, as I went on a much-needed vacation to my hometown to see parents and friends, and then spent most of the week that I was in Ohio watching news coverage of the hurricane headed straight toward my current state of Florida. First it looked like it would miss the state, then miss my city, then smack my city in the face, then maybe miss my city, then probably miss my city, then maybe miss it…. My husband and I ended up getting two extra days of vacation as both of our jobs were closed for the storm and its aftermath, and we were very lucky to come home to a fully intact house (albeit with no power for a day and no internet for five). My husband’s family members were not so lucky, and we spent a little time this weekend helping clean up his grandmother’s house. And now there’s another hurricane coming up the exact route, so, yay?

Reading
With all these weather shenanigans it’s been a tough time for reading! I wanted to read all the books on vacation, and I even had this grand plan to check out a book from my hometown library that I couldn’t figure out how to easily get at home, read it, and return it before I left. I did the first and last parts, but when I realized I wasn’t going to get to do the second, I decided it would make more sense to buy it from my favorite tiny used book store. I did get a few pages into A Race Anthology before I came home, but not enough yet to know if it was worth my $10.80.

Another book I didn’t read on vacation was The Stone Sky, the third book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, but I did manage to finally finish it this weekend! I say manage, because I was unfortunately not as completely into this book as I was the first two. It was good, and I’m glad I read it, as it ties up all the loose plotlines pretty effectively, but it’s kind of Maddaddam-y in that it’s a bit too slow and plodding to be really exciting.

Listening
Speaking of slow and plodding, the husband and I failed to listen to The Dark Forest, the sequel to The Three-Body Problem, on our road trip. Guys, it is so dense and convoluted and we listened to it for two hours that felt like eleven and we got maybe two minutes of information out of it. So we abandoned ship and listened to a super weird book called All Our Wrong Todays instead. I picked it to listen to because it promised time travel, but it turned out that time travel didn’t really have anything to do with the story except to set it in motion. It’s actually a lot more about identity and a surprising amount about gender politics, and I do want to give a little content warning that there is a brief scene of sexual violence that comes out of nowhere and then longer scenes of people talking about that scene, so, you know. FYI. I seriously just came here for the time travel. But even though it dives headlong into some Tough Topics, it does it with some awesome snark, so overall we ended up with the impression that it was a pretty funny book. Hence, super weird.

In podcast-land, I’ve got a new obsession with the ladies of What’s Good Games, a show that my podcast player recommended to me a couple weeks ago. When I saw it I was like, “Ooh! Lady gamers. Oh, those episodes are all like two hours long. Well, I’ll listen to one and see if I like it.” Eighteen episodes later, I’m all caught up and eagerly awaiting next week’s episode, and also I maybe bought a Nintendo Switch because they kept talking about how awesome Breath of the Wild is.

Playing
Oh my goodness, Breath of the Wild is super good, guys. I’m like, not very far into it because I have a very short attention span, but I am super enjoying it when I do sit down to play it. I don’t think I’ve played more than an hour or two of any other Zelda game, so I don’t know how this one stacks up, historically, but I will tell you that it’s probably the prettiest one I’ve ever seen.

These last couple of weeks I’ve been mostly playing all the Two Dots on my phone because it’s a good distraction, but my mother got me into a crazy complicated Farmville-esque game called Township that is one of those games where you make things so you can make other things so you can sell those things and make new things, forever, and everything takes a certain amount of time to make and my phone is constantly telling me that my crops are ready to harvest or my train returned to the station or whatever. I’ll probably be sick of it in another week or two, when it gets too hard, but for now it’s good brain candy.

Well, this has gone on far longer than I was expecting… um, how are you guys doing?

Armada, by Ernest Cline

ArmadaNote: If you are super excited about reading this book, go read it and then come back here. It’s a very spoilable book and I don’t want to ruin your adventure!

So. A couple years back the husband and I listened to Ready Player One on a road trip and liked it quite a bit, and then earlier this year my book club read it and the discussion got me excited about it all over again. So when I had a chance to read Armada, I jumped right on it, and it became my featured reading for a recent plane journey. Tellingly, although I didn’t finish the book on the trip out, I was perfectly content to wait until the return flight to crack it open and finish it.

Armada opens with our main character, Zack Lightman, seeing something that he couldn’t be seeing: a giant warship from his favorite video game zooming around outside his school. Zack thinks he might be going crazy like his father was before he died, his father being convinced that the government was using video games to train up nerdy citizens into soldiers ready to fight an alien invasion. But of course, just as Zack convinces himself that everything will be fine if he just lays off the video games for a while, it turns out that, well, the government has been using video games to train up nerdy citizens into soldiers ready to fight an alien invasion, and that Zack’s prowess at those games is getting him recruited into the military to fight an invasion starting in, oh, hours.

And that’s a peachy keen plot, as plots go, and I certainly found myself eager to get to the next page and find out what would happen next. But the style and characters? Oof, I just could not even.

The biggest problem that I had with the book is that it knows that it’s ripping off The Last Starfighter and every other movie or book with the same plot, and it tells you that it knows that it’s ripping them off, and so you think it’s going to neatly subvert the tropes and failings of those stories but it just… doesn’t. Everything that you think is going to happen in this book happens, and any time a character is like, “This thing that is happening is very predictable” you can rest assured that it will remain so. Which, okay, that’s unpredictable in and of itself, so points to you, Ernie Cline, but goodness it is boring.

Also boring are the characters, pulled directly from stock and dropped in this novel. Nerdy video gamer protagonist? Check. Nerdy video gamer best friends? Check. Nerdy video-game-store owner who hates his customers? Check. Loving single mother? Check. Uber-nerd computer hacker? Check. Mission-focused general? Check. The one unpredictable thing in the whole book is that the author actually respects his female characters, all two of them, giving them the same agency he gives the dudes (admittedly, not much) and leaving out any potential damsel-in-distress scenes.

So, I mean, I liked it. I enjoyed the reading experience and I liked the suspense of wondering how things would play out. But I hated the way it actually did play out, and if throwing my Kindle across an airplane wasn’t such a terrible idea in so many ways, it might have actually happened. Part of me wants to go back and try it again (it’s not a terribly long book) and see how I so badly managed to miss whatever the point of the book was, but the rest of me is like, no, life is too short, so I’m going to need those of you who have read and loved and/or gotten this book to tell me where I went wrong!

Recommendation: For fans of video games, Ernie Cline, and books that are only plot.

Rating: 6/10

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneAfter finishing up Let’s Pretend This Never Happened on our insanely long road trip, we clearly needed something a bit longer itself to fill the rest of our driving time. I had actually had this book loaded into my iTunes for about a year, having planned to listen to it on some other road trip that I guess never happened, but when Carl claimed in early December to be the last person to have read it, I was like, shoot, I’d better get on that.

And… it was pretty good? Scott and I decided early on in the audio, read surprisingly delightfully by Wil Wheaton (I will definitely listen to books read by him again!), that neither of us would have gotten past the first few pages of this on our own. Listening to it together, on the other hand, made for some delightful snarking at Cline’s love of lists and also some bonus understanding when only one of us was laughing at some pop culture reference.

Those references are probably why I wasn’t over the moon about the book, actually. Scott and I were both born in the mid-80s, right around the time period that this book is kind of frozen in (let me get to that in a second). So although I had at least some knowledge of most of the pop culture of the decade, and lots of knowledge of others (WarGames, I love you!), I didn’t have the deeper understanding of someone who is actually old enough to remember the mid-80s.

As to the story proper… okay. It takes place in a future world where Second Life never existed because it was invented as something called OASIS first. OASIS is way better, with fancy virtual reality technology that lets you actually move yourself around the virtual world with, like, your feet and stuff, and also OASIS has incredible market share to the point where its world and currency are thriving while the “real” world falls apart and has things like neighborhoods made entirely of vertical stacks of mobile homes. Classy, that.

Our protagonist, Wade in real life and Parzival in the OASIS, is part of a giant and complicated 1980s-themed scavenger hunt, basically, started by the guy who created the OASIS on the occasion of his death and the prize of which is like a billionty-twelve dollars and ownership of the guy’s company. Wade, who lives in one of those aforementioned stacks, is very interested in the money and is also super interested in the guy and the company and is therefore the first person to find the very first part of the scavenger hunt.

The story basically goes along from there as your classic quest story, with adventures and setbacks and evil enemies and all that, and that part is really fantastic. Especially toward the end of the book, once all the background has been exposited and all that’s left is to finish the scavenger hunt, the story is really engaging and I was like, OMG what is going to happen next? But it’s the whole first half or so of the novel, and some bits and pieces afterward, where Cline is setting up the universe and letting all of us non-80s folk know about the pop culture we’re about to find ourselves immersed in and also where he just apparently could not figure out how to show rather than tell, that the story feels kind of loooooong and booooring. And, really, I like a good list or run-on sentence as much as the next person, but it turns out that if you read them aloud in your narrator voice they are… not nearly as fun as you might hope. Blast.

So for as much as I enjoyed listening to Wil Wheaton read me this story, I might actually recommend eyes-reading this one so that when Cline gets bogged down in 80s minutiae you can just skip right ahead to the next exciting bit, or doing like I did and listening with a friend so that you can talk over the narration about what the heck is even going on in this crazy universe.

But do read it, because the parts that are good are pretty fantastic.

Recommendation: Best read by actual or self-taught nerd children of the 80s, also people who like quests and/or Wil Wheaton.

Rating: 8/10