Thankful End of the week – It’s… been a thing…

So, this has been a week. Not a bad week, just… very busy… and mentally taxing. This is actually the first thing I’ve felt up to writing in the last few days, just because I’ve felt so tired by the time I get home and get everything done. There were still some pretty good bright spots thought.

Brownies
It’s a little harder to find treats that are sugar-free, so when one turns out well I’m thrilled. Cue the brownies I this past weekend and which I’m trying out again today. I added chocolate chips to make them extra yummy

Vaccine dose 1!
Finally, the vaccine opened up for teachers and school workers in my area, so I’m sitting here, shoulder definitely sore, but a step closer to not having to worry quite as much about catching coronavirus.

New Music
As usual, I’ve found some new stuff this week and it’s definitely helped me find a happy place.

Sunny Sunday
You don’t realize how much you miss the sun until after a long stretch of dreariness. Last Sunday was absolutely beautiful and the first day I could tell a difference in the light. Things were a little brighter and it drew me out of the house for the first Sunday’s drive I’ve taken in months. It was even warm enough to be comfortable cracking the window for a while to let the fresh air in. There’s a while yet, but Spring’s on its way.

Daffodils
Speaking of, my daffodils were finally peaking up in the yard this week. Nice to see, since my crocuses have long ago been eaten by groundmoles.

Book Review | It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

So, I think everyone can agree, right now, that things are a mess, and have been for a while. Of course, being a fan of both dystopias and alternate histories, I decided to pick this book up from my bookshelves, after avoiding it for the last year or so. It Can’t Happen Here was Sinclair Lewis’s imaginings of what could happen if fascism took hold in 1930s America, following the events as they play out in the life of newspaper editor Doremus Jessup and his family. And while at times it feels a little hokey, it’s also chilling.

The book does a pretty good job of exploring the idea of a fascist 1930s America. The thing is, I love dystopias but they’re often far enough removed from one’s own reality as to lose a little bit of horror. With this book, the setting and the character of the place is familiar enough (even with the strange 1930s-style language and references and such) that its all a little more real. The bare glimpses of what happened in our own world during WWII makes the events all the more disturbing at times.

I mean, I must admit, at times the situations feel a little far-fetched. There’s certainly a rush-job as far as setting up this totalitarian state, but for all those moments there’s another line that sounds sounds straight out of an article printed today, capturing a time ‘when [instead of standard politics] the electorate hungered for frisky emotions… baptism by emersion in the creek, young love under the elms… fear of death when an automobile teeters above a canyon… -all the primitive sensations which they thought they found in the screaming of Buzz Windrip.” The words of the novel echo the news headlines and internet gossip of today, and doesn’t that just make one feel all warm and cozy and not ready to scream into the night.

A problem arises with the dialogue, however, in that it’s weird and stilted at times. It feels vaguely like watching a melodramatic film from the same time period, to the extent that my brain was framing many of the scenes in black and white 30s movie sets. It was a notable problem, in that, while reading, I’d suddenly noticed the quality of the writing dipping… and then I realized it was because I’d hit into a section of dialogue. This is one of the only books I’ve read in which I found myself preferring the narration over the portions with verbal character interaction.

Let’s Talk Bookish: Are Big TBRs a Result of Abibliophobia?

Wow. Me writing something other than reviews and Thankful Thursday posts? Yeah, I know. Weird. But I think it’s time to venture out of my comfort zone, and it’s fun to connect with people about books, even if I’m no good at it overall. And the sorts of discussions with the Let’s Talk Bookish meme, hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion, look right up my alley.

This week’s topic of is abibliophobia, which I’d admittedly never heard of until this past week, and big TBRs, which…. I think “big” may be an understatement in my case.

Sometimes my whole office feels like a giant TBR pile.

Do I, possibly, have abibliophobia? No, not really. Phobias are something I think of as pretty intense, and I’ve never had that sort of reaction to the possibility of not having a book or magazine or newspaper, etc. Not even in a milder form.

I think my overlarge TBR is a result of semi-pragmatic impulsive overstocking.

Sorry, that was a mouthful.

I don’t fear having nothing to read, especially since the advent of the internet, but being a bookworm who only got a new book every now and then as a kid and didn’t get access to the public library until middle school probably had some effect. I remember a lot of days staring at my bookshelf, trying to figure out what to reread.

Though the connected emotion is really more akin to annoyance than anything else, because part of my problem is pickiness. I can’t pretend I didn’t have access to books. It wasn’t strange in my family to see a carefully chosen selection floating down the checkout counter at Walmart, though their selection was thin, and I was lucky enough to have a bookworm cousin who gave me plenty of hand-me-downs, though aside from the babysitter club books, a fairly large portion of those were very much of the ABC Afterschool Special variety, and I was more interested in mysteries and ghosts and dark-fantasy and the occasional controversial-subject-chosen-specifically-to-scandalize-my-Christian-school-teachers.

That hasn’t changed much over the years, though my tastes have broadened a little at least.

Still, while my local libraries are nice to have, the ones in rural Appalachia aren’t known for extensive collections, and interlibrary loans only get you so far sometimes. If I find a book that sparks my interest while I’m in a thrift store, I’m probably going to pick it up, because I have no idea if I’ll see it again any time soon. So I get a book here and a small stack of books there, and I don’t really think about it until one day I turn around and I have a full five-shelf-bookshelf worth of books I’ve never cracked open.

So, no. Not a phobia. Just, at times, specific tastes.

Whatever the case, at least I have lots to choose from now.

Thankful Thursday – A Near-Miss

This has been a thoroughly weird week overall. With lots of wait-and-see in regards to the weather and way to many hours spent studying on my part. I’m currently coming out of one of those study sessions and my brain feels a little like jelly right now. Hopefully that will pay off eventually though and the reason for that studying will wind up on this blog. Anyway, enough of the grousing, this week I’m thankful for:

Above-freezing Temperatures
We did NOT get hit by an ice storm. I think that’s the top of my list this week, considering the news coming out of Texas. I spent a good portion of the weekend planning in case we did, so we’ve got some preps going forward now, but I’m happy we didn’t have to use them. It was a bit of a near miss- the freeze cut-off being just about two counties northwest, but the most we had to contend with really were some slick roads in the morning and cram-packed grocery stories on the day in-between storms.

The Blessing of the Thrifting Gods
Cookbooks! and AG clothes patterns! And a pretty new Barbie, with her clothes still on and (mostly) not dirty! I’ve had suck good luck the couple of times I ventures out this week.

Valentine’s Day Candy
More specifically here, the existence of sugar free Valentine’s Day candy.
Well… sugar free candy that’s given to me for Valentine’s Day, but its the same thing. Chocolates are chocolates, whether in a red or normal box.

More Music for My Brain to Binge On
As I said before, I’ve been doing some hard-core brain work, and when that happens I really need brain-candy. Typically in the form of a new song or two to play on repeat for a few hours. These have really done the tricks this week.

New Fanfic
Not my own. My creative brain is stuttering a little at the moment. Thankfully though, my fave fic author ever has been posting stuff again and it’s just left me in a warm happy place, even when there’s angst.

All in all, this week was fairly easy to put together. And how about you? What are you thankful for this week?

Book Review | Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Something that should be fairly evident if you look at my reading history is that I love graphic novels. I’ve loved comics ever since I was in elementary school reading first the comic strips in the newspaper, then Barbie and Sonic the Hedgehog comics. The explosion of graphic novels for middle readers, is, in my opinion, absolutely awesome and I wish there had been even half of today’s selection when I was a kid. Raina Telgemeier has been such a visible part of that explosion.

Guts is one of her autobiographical volumes, like Smile and Sisters, that deals with the events of Raina’s childhood. This time the main subject addressed is her struggle with anxiety, which took the form of panic attacks and stomach upsets (thus the title of the book).

I really like how mental health is treated in this book. As someone who dealt with anxiety as a kid (still deals with, tbh), it’s nice to see it addressed, especially in a way that’s in no way belittling. It points out the ways that our society’s tendency to hide such things has a negative impact, while still showing that, ultimately, mental health shouldn’t be any different than physical health. The protagonist eventually starts seeing a therapist, something she hides from her friends because she fears their reactions. When she does eventually reveal this fact she’s instead met with small chorus of ‘oh, that’s not so weird’.

The art, as usual in a Telgemeier book, is colorful with animated emotional expressions. The backgrounds are simple, which fits well with the overall art style while also allowing the readers full attention to focus on the characters. What is interesting in this one, however, is the way she incorporated a bunch of green in certain segments of the book- specifically, what you could call puke-green- to show first Raina’s anxiety-induced stomach issues, and then subsequently an anxiety-attack in general.

The thing that does frustrate me a little is the fact that the bad behavior of one character only slightly gets addressed. It’s not jarring, really, but I hate when a bully-character seems to have no repercussions at all. It’s never addressed by the adults, other than a teacher essentially telling the protagonist to be nice to them in hopes that they’ll be nice to the protagonist. Of course, the teacher sees what is happening behind the scenes with this character, but still… I wish there had been some acknowledgement of the problem beyond the admonishment to be kind.

Book Review | Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

So, I’m going to start off by saying that this review is going to look a little different than the ones I’ve done in the past. I’ve been sitting on this book, letting my thoughts marinade, for over a week, and I’ve came to the conclusion that I can’t really approach it like a normal book.

It’s probably one of the most polarizing things I’ve read in a while.

That’s inevitable, I suppose, with a book that poses the question, ‘what-if Hitler was dropped into the beginning of the twenty-first century? That is the plot of Look Who’s Back, where Adolph Hitler is dropped unceremoniously into a random German park in the year 2011. In this alternate 2011, he is just as keen to grasp power as he was in the 1940s, and so embarks on a journey through modern media to become a YouTube and tv sensation.

Look Who’s Back, if you can’t tell already, is a commentary on our current media, particularly- from what I can tell- concerning how we as an audience approach the ‘stars’ of that media we consume. It is a strange piece of satire.

However, in my opinion, it is effective. It’s the sort of satire where, instead of laughing, you find yourself asking- pardon my french- ‘wtf?’ Part of this is, I think, due to Vermes’ treatment of his protagonist, who never completely settles into the 21st century, but rather flounders as he tries to make sense of this work- not always so effectively. And what begins as a humorous ‘look at this horrible person, now stripped of power and truly a fish out of water’, turns into something else, as few people within Hitler’s circle question him- instead assuming that he is merely portraying a character, and doing so in order to point out the flaws of our current civilization- because if Hitler says it then it much be awful.

I found myself , at times, liking this person, or at least feeling sympathy for him, even while knowing who he is, only to come back around within a few pages and be stopped dead at the hateful rhetoric which inevitably spews from Hitler’s mind. The fact that Vermes is able to do this, to capture both that sickening charisma and the monster it masks, really says something for his abilities as a writer.

That being said, there are definite slow moments in the book, sections that could have done with a bit of pruning. Some portions spend perhaps, too much time in Hitler’s head, and the affect isn’t an adding to the character, or an insightful reflection upon something, but instead of dragging of the book’s forward momentum.

In addition, there’s something to be said for the actual subject material of the book- the choice to have Hitler as the protagonist and narrator of the book at all, and thus given a voice in a brand-new era. It’s striking, the amount of times in the book where Hitler and the production company that puts him on tv, is criticized for this same thing, partially by groups who were most affected by the decisions of Hitler and Nazi Germany. These groups are subsequently dismissed as being too reactive and not seeing the satire for what it is, according to characters in the book. Hitler’s supporters refuse to consider the fact that there are still a large amount of people in Germany, as well as the world as a whole, who would gladly accept Hitler’s rhetoric as the truth- agreeing with his viewpoints wholeheartedly. The harm that those words, or just the emphasis on Hitler in general, could cause, even if used in a satirical manner.

There is, after all, a reason why naming the identify of mass-shooters, is discouraged. They don’t deserve to be remembered. The victims do.

And the same goes, in my opinion, for this book. I’m not certain we are, as a society, in a place where we can pull out these words satirically. Where we can say we’re far enough removed from the events of the past. As long as there are still people out there who would read this book as a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy, I’m not sure we’re ready. Perhaps, a few years ago, I would have thought we were. Not so much so today.

I can’t say whether or not to read this book. It’s thought provoking and well-written, however it’s also perpetuating the hype and, arguably, celebritizing of Adolf Hitler. I’ll just leave you with that.

Thankful Thursday | Using my time…

Some Really Good Pancakes
I don’t eat pancakes very often. I love them, but they are thoroughly carby, especially combined with whatever topping (however sugar-free) I add. I broke over, though, on Monday, since I had the time, and pulled out the bisquick, and they were so good! I don’t know if it was where I hadn’t made them in so long, or if I just got lucky this time around, but they were thick and fluffy and good!

Packages
Well, one package at least. The others are still on their way. Still, it’s nice to finally get something I ordered from my Christmas money. Looking forward to finding a recipe to use my adjustable rolling pin on.

Snow day(s)!
We had a good three days off this week because snow kept coming in at night. It was nice to be able to get some stuff done around the house this week. Speaking of…

Decluttering part 1
Finally managed to get at least part of the decluttering bags out of the house. Not as much as I would have liked, but every bit counts in my opinion. Hoping to have another chunk of it out the door next week. Crossing fingers on that.

Organization
Along those same lines, I pulled out some file folders over the past few days and began putting order to some of the resources I’ve used in school for the past few years. I’ve mostly been using digital storage for that, but one still runs into extra copies and such, or printouts that you get from coworkers. Now I’ve just got to figure out where to the store the files.

TBR – February 2021

So, new month, new stack of books pulled out of my overflowing shelves. Well, half-way new. About half of them are holdovers from last month, because I didn’t get through a lot in terms of actual books.

Now do I have any intention of reading this whole stack? Good grief no. But it’s nice to narrow down my choices all in one go, rather than staring at my shelves intermittently throughout the month. Makes the choice paralysis a lot less of a thing. And if I end up just not feeling one of these it’s easier to put it aside if I have something else on hand to pick up.

Now, on to the stack.

The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien/
I’m slowly making my way through this sucker. I got a little over a hundred pages in last month, so we’ll see how far I get this time around.

Clues in the Shadows: A Molly Mystery – Kathleen Ernst
I’m admittedly a bit of an AG fangirl. I’ve read most of the original stories (minus the newer characters and the GOTY characters) but I only have a few of the mysteries, so when I see one out in the wild I tend to pick them up. I’ve had this one sitting around for a bit, but evidently I have WWII on the brain at the moment. A quick read that should work pretty good as a breather in between other books.

It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis
I’ve tried reading this one before, but the language was kind of stilted and I just wasn’t feeling it. Figured with everything going on in the world it might be a good time to pick it up again.

Guts – Raina Telgemeier
Telgemeier is one of my favorite authors when it comes to middle grade graphic novels, so I was thrilled when I ran across another one of her books at my local thrift store.

A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E. Schwab
So, I’ve heard of this one, but I’m really walking in blind. All I know, really, is that it’s fantasy and it’s the beginning of a trilogy.

Look Who’s Back – Timur Vernes
Finishing this one up from last month. Well, technically I’ve already finished it as of last night, but I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it…

The Case for God – Karen Armstrong
I’ve been trying to read this book for a few months now, though that doesn’t surprise me. I’m always rather slow with informational texts and I got bogged down in the early Christian theology. Gonna try to chisel away at it this month.

January 2021 Wrap-up

Well, my reading ambitions this month kind of fell flat. Between spreading my reading out in a few different places, and the tiredness that seemed to dog me all month, I just didn’t find myself picking up books as often. I did plenty of reading, between fic and prepping for classes, but not as much from this month’s TBR stack.

Crank – Ellen Hopkins
I don’t normally lean towards gritty stuff. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just not my thing, personally. I’m more of an escapist literature sort of person. As usual, however, a novel written in poetry form drew my attention. What can I say, I have a weakness for story-written-in-verse. It still wasn’t as much my thing, but it was a pretty solid read and I enjoyed Hopkins’ use of free verse and concrete poems.

Full Review

The Fool’s Girl – Celia Rees
Eh… another one that wasn’t as much my thing, but for a different reason. I had a discussion with my husband the other day about sequels that do horrible things to the original story, and that’s essentially what this book did to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It had flaws, but it wasn’t bad. I just don’t care much for those sort of retellings. It did end up making me search out Twelfth Night for a refresher, so there’s that at least.

Full Review

Critical Role Vox Machina Origins Vol 1
So this was my third or fourth re-read of this volume, probably. It actually surprised me how long it took me to pick it up again, considering I’ve been hanging on to volume 2 since Christmas. I suppose there’s only so much time my brain can devote to the world of Exandria at a time, even if this is Vox Machina and not The Mighty Nein. Plus, I always find the first volume of anything to be a little slower to get through for some reason.

Full Review

Critical Role Vox Machina Origins Vol 2
This was a much easier read, I found, than volume one. I think it’s because the character relationships have kind of developed since the first volume. It was nice to see Vox Machina actually together, solidly, as a group, rather than going through the introductions (with the exception of Percy, who I had completely forgotten was in this volume and thus burst out with a surprised squeak/shriek at seeing his gun). I’m already thinking about pulling it back out for a reread, if that says anything.

Still reading…
I kind of spread my reading attention out a little bit through the month, so I’m partially in to about three different books right now. I’ve made it through a bit over a hundred pages of The Fellowship of the Ring, and it’s… going slow. Tolkien, I’ve found, is not an author I can read in heavy doses.

I’ve gotten half-way through Look Who’s Back and… there’s a lot that my brain’s trying to unpack with that one. Had to set it aside this weekend and tell myself I’d get back to it in a few days.

And lastly, I Haven’t made much progress in The Case For God – been spending a bit much time on non-fiction stuff for work to be able to indulge myself in reading-for-pleasure comparative religion. Hopefully, next month will be better for that.

Book Review | Vox Machina Origins Vol 1 by Colville, Mercer, Samson, & Northrop

For anyone who knows me, it’s not surprising that books rank pretty high on my list of potential Christmas gifts. I think that goes for just about any bookworm out there, normally, however, those tend to be novels or cookbooks. Well, this Christmas was the year of the graphic novel, including the second volume of Vox Machina Origins. Of course, then, I had to reread the first volume to get myself back into the flow of the story. And, since I’d never written a review on the first volume, having been purchased in the time when my blog was on pause, I decided I might as well do so now. 

Vox Machina, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the first campaign of the real play D & D series Critical Role. The Origins series takes place prior to where the episodes begin, recounting the events that occurred when it was still the cast’s home game. The first volume introduces all the characters as they have to solve the mystery of a poisoned water supply, slowly realizing that things are less mundane than they initially seem. 

I find this volume to be a pretty good introduction to the world of Exandria and Vox Machina. It’s completely accessible for those who have no knowledge of the world or characters. The comics don’t venture too much into the Exandria-specific elements of the world, keeping the setting fairly standard D & D. Additionally, despite having six main characters, they’re introduced slowly enough and their personalities stand out enough that one shouldn’t have much issue with keeping track of who is who.

One thing that I very much appreciate about this graphic novel is that they’ve kept an important element of Critical Role’s brand of storytelling- it’s ability to thoroughly mix action, comedy, and drama. The battle sequences are well done, the action being smooth and easy to follow. Boy though, they really don’t step away from the violence. Chokings, decapitations, heck people being cleaved in half… it happens. Lots of daggers and arrows. It’s nothing too gory though. It’s just a thing. Not sure you could really avoid it in this sort of story anyway. Additionally, there’s a steady stream of humor through the story (thank you Scanlan Shorthalt, you wonderful bard you) to temper all the death, torture, kidnapping, and sibling-fueled angst. 

I will admit to having a bit of difficulty following a few of the strands in the first readthrough, however. As the party is just coming together, the disparate pieces flow in through different characters and it was, at times, a little tricky to pull together those separate bits of information. Also, occasionally the artist liberally reuses panel angles. That’s ordinarily not a thing I’d notice, but it happened a few different times and one of those segments was a three-page thing. 

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the first volume. I like to think, even if I hadn’t been familiar with the world already, it’s a story I would enjoy. Being a fan, though, I loved being able to see everything on the page, rather than leaving it to my imagination.