A New Beginning

Do you ever get really into something, then life comes along and distracts you just long enough that returning to that thing feels a little awkward? You start to wonder if you really loved it, since you haven’t really missed it, but at the same time you feel like you should really get back to it?

It happens to me all the time, especially with blogging. I’ll be on a roll for maybe a week or two then something else pulls my attention and the next thing I know, more weeks have passed without a single post. I start to feel guilty, but rather than motivating me to write, it shifts into a bundle of anxiety that I shove to the back of my mind. I’ll get to it, I tell myself, as the anxiety builds each day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something brilliant, I reassure myself, as the anxiety drips down my throat and curls around my chest.

The longer I give it free reign to grow unsupervised, the darker it gets. I tell myself there’s a simple explanation — not as simple as “life gets in the way”, but something more damning — I’m lazy. I’m a dabbler — not a true writer. I don’t belong in the blogging world, I don’t belong in the writing world. If I’m so easily chained to everything but writing, why bother keeping up the facade? Just give up already.

You already have.

It’s a metaphor for my life lately. My thoughts are scattered, too jumbled to untangle, too time-consuming to fit into a blog-length ramble. My life is on the precipice of some huge changes, both exciting and scary. And I know I should cut myself some slack, even though it’s hard.

I’m leaving my current job at the end of this week. My husband and I are moving halfway across the country so he can go back to school full time. And even though I’ve been relatively silent on the blog for the better part of this year, I want to share the adventure with you. I want to be better at making time for the things I love, and I’m hoping these changes will bring with them a shift in focus. A way to make time for things that can be hard, even though they’re enjoyable. A kick-start to get out and experience things worth sharing. An incentive to pause the Grey’s Anatomy Netflix marathons and take time exploring — either my community or my inner self.

I want to be better at this. And I thank you for sticking with me and my sporadic posting.

Rambling Reviews: These Vicious Masks

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Do you like the X-Men series? Do you like Victorian England? If not, this is not the book for you.

If, like me, you are intrigued, then let me tell you about These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas.

I became so hooked on the characters and their stories I immediately downloaded the sequel (These Ruthless Deeds) and let me tell you, this series does not disappoint. There are terrifying and clever powers, an explanation for such powers that is plausible yet not overly explained, and interesting characters who wield said powers. You’ve got a heroine who grapples with what it is to be a “hero” (and one might argue she doesn’t quite live up to the title) while stopping at nothing to reunite with her sister. You’ve got a charming suitor and a mysterious, brooding gentleman — Jane Austen would swoon — who trap our heroine in a delicious love triangle. Dangerous escapades and comic misadventures balance well throughout the novel, making for a quick and enjoyable read.

The writing is not flawless, and some things seem to wrap up too neatly, but nothing that sticks out as blaringly awful or even memorable once the story is through.

I adored the ending of the sequel. I won’t say anymore than that because I’ve tried wording my feelings a dozen times and I can’t figure out how to convey my thoughts without somehow spoiling it or creating an expectation that I did not have going into it, so I will leave it at that. It was fascinating.

The first book is $4.22 for paperback, $7.09 on Kindle ($14.89 for both books on Kindle). I highly recommend checking them out!

Rambling Review: 13 Reasons Why

*UPDATED WITH FINAL THOUGHTS*

Ok full disclosure again: this is not a book review. I did *almost* purchase the book from Barnes and Noble two months ago, but then saw it was soon to be a Netflix show and decided to save my dollars because Netflix has really impressed me with their original shows and adaptations (see: A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I just started watching the show and I’ve made it through four episodes. It’s wonderful. It has drama and mystery and heart-wrenching situations all around. I find myself feeling angry along with the narrator, then so sad for those who she claims has ruined her lives. It makes me think of my own interactions, even now, long after high school, and how one little look or joke or terse word could so adversely affect someone. It looks at how interconnected we are all, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I’m pretty glad I decided to wait for the show, because I have a terrible habit of harshly judging the movie/tv version of a good book. Now, I can enjoy the twists and turns without sighing or complaining “that’s not like the book!”. I do still want to read the book, and this way, I know I won’t stay up reading it all night to find out the next reason. I’m frustrated by the pace of the main character moving through the tapes, because I’m a binge-watcher/reader/listener. It doesn’t detract from the show (though I do appreciate the characters who point out how long he’s taking) — and I think it would have detracted from my enjoyment if I were reading, because I would devour the book too quickly. With episodic shows (and a husband who interrupts my binge sessions with things like “walks” and “dinner” and “the March Madness Championship”), I’m able to slow down (a little bit) and digest a chunk of episodes before plunging ahead.

As it handles a teenager’s suicide, I think the show does a good job of showing how different people are affected. The parents and their relationship, the careful, “be sympathetic but cover our ass” approach by the school, all the different students processing (their selfishness, their guilt, their callousness, their pain) all feels authentic to me. The mom is so well-played; I’ve loved Kate Walsh since her days as Addison Montgomery-Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy, but her performance is raw and achingly beautiful as a mom coming apart at the seams, just trying to understand, to find some sort of justice.

As I’m not even halfway through, I’ll reserve full judgment until I’ve reached the end, but so far, I would highly recommend this show.

Updated–

I blew through the last few episodes. The last four made me cry for different reasons (PS — I tend to cry a lot over good books/movies/shows/songs/art). They were very emotional and intense, and I would definitely say they should come with a “trigger warning” for anyone struggling with issues like self-harm/suicidal ideation/depression/etc. Or if your life has been touched by these, it can be hard to watch.

Immediately after watching, I still felt this was a well-done show. There was some discussion online about the possibility of a Season 2, but I like to think that — much like real life — some things are left unanswered or at the very least not tied up perfectly in a nice little bow. I felt hollow and sad for how many lives had been changed, not all for the better, and I think the show does a great job of showing the ripple effect of one person’s actions, and how everyone’s lives intertwine.

However, I was shocked that there were only two “graphic scene” warnings, neither of which pertained to the episode in which the suicide actually occurred. There were no hotline phone numbers offered, or blurbs at the end of the episode advising viewers to seek help for themselves or loved ones struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In fact, in one scene, self-harm is explained away almost as a “healthy” alternative to suicide. The more I think over the show, the more I uncomfortable I get with recommending it. The most important subject matter is dealt with carelessly. There isn’t any discussion of mental health or how a person’s mental state affects how they process and respond to external issues. As one friend of mine pointed out, two people could experience the same bullying and respond in vastly different ways; if someone is already predisposed to negative self-talk and hopelessness, she will internalize her problems much differently than a healthy person. Yet the show never delves into any sort of examination of her mental state and blames her suicide fully on the actions of others, and makes it seem like the only option to avoid her problems.

I would strongly recommend viewers keep this in mind while watching. There are many aspects that I think are well-done and well-acted, but the mishandling of such an important issue as mental health awareness makes me hesitate to continue to recommend the show.

 

Rambling Review: Angelfall

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Full disclosure right up front: I bought Angelfall by Susan Ee in paperback and it’s been a little while since I’ve read it. However, it’s showing up free on Kindle for Prime members, so I feel justified reviewing it, because even if I might be a little hazy on all the details, I loved this book.

First off, I like the name. Titles are great in that way, aren’t they? This story is about a teenage girl — Penryn — who is trying to keep her family together in post-apocalyptic California. And I mean post-biblical-Apocalypse. Angels have taken over the earth as a battleground with demons, and humans are caught in the middle. Penryn teams up with the [dreamy] angel Raffe to try to save her little sister from the angel’s stronghold. Adventures ensue.

In a literary fantasy world filled with vampires and werewolves and witches, it was refreshing to find a story with similar themes, but with angels instead of the other more typical mythical creatures. The descriptions of the angels and explanations of the world Susan Ee created are well-done and believable. And that Raffe — gotta love a vulnerable, sexy angel with a vendetta and a great backstory. Both he and Penryn grow as characters throughout the book and the series. The other characters, like Penryn’s mom especially, are well-written, too.

The writing is a little choppy, at least in the beginning. Never enough to frustrate me, but I do remember thinking there were parts that weren’t very well-written. That being said, the story is phenomenal and well worth forgiving any awkward phrasing.

If you are not a Prime member, Angelfall is $4.00 on Kindle, $6.69 for paperback (and like $18 for the series). It’s well worth the price for either, in my opinion.

Let me know what you think in the comments if you decide to check it out!

Whiskey Mushroom Risotto *Updated with Photos*

Guys, last night, I made something pretty fantastic. I did not take any pictures because I wasn’t sure it would turn out well (and then once we knew it turned out well, we were too busy scarfing it down to pause for artistry). I promise to update this with pics the next time I make the dish — which will probably be pretty soon since my husband loves Mushroom Risotto.

Usually when we make risotto, I saute the mushrooms in red wine and butter the way my mama taught me (with a nice large glass for myself, of course). Last night, we were out of Red. I had an opened bottle of White I usually use in soups and such, but it struck me that we have a full liquor cabinet that gets almost no cooking love from us at all. I made the off-handed suggestion of trying whiskey in place of wine, to which my husband enthusiastically agreed. He set about stirring that risotto like a champion, and I tasted my options and settled on Eagle Rare for this dish.

There’s only the barest hint of grains on the tail end of the dish, enough to notice but not enough to overwhelm. The whiskey mixes deliciously with a pinch of thyme and the melted butter, and gets absorbed at the last minute by the fat risotto grains. Even if you don’t like drinking whiskey (I personally am not a fan), give this dish a try!

Whiskey Mushroom Risotto – serves 4

1 tbs Olive Oil
1 cup Arborio Rice (Risotto)
3 cups Chicken Broth
2 tbs butter
2 shots of whiskey (I used Eagle Rare, but a cheaper brand would probably work just as well)
1 package Sliced White Mushrooms
1 tsp Dried Thyme
Pinch of Kosher Salt and Fresh-Cracked Pepper

  1. Heat olive oil in sauce pan over Medium. Add the risotto and saute ~2 minutes, until they start to turn golden.
  2. Add 1 cup of broth, stirring constantly until all absorbed. Add another cup of broth. Continue until all broth has been absorbed.
  3. Meanwhile, melt butter in saute pan over slightly more than Medium (but not quite Medium-High).
  4. Add whiskey and mushrooms. Toss to coat.
  5. Saute 3-4 minutes, until mushrooms start to soften.
  6. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Continue sauteing until mushrooms are soft and brown, ~3-4 more minutes.
  7. Pour mushrooms and remaining sauce over the risotto. Stir until liquid mostly absorbed. Can garnish with a sprinkle of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese and sprig of fresh thyme.

*NOTE: If you can get yourself a risotto-stirrer, it makes everything so much easier. In the past, my husband and I have traded off turns stirring, but this time he did it the entire time like some sort of Herculean hero, and it was amazing. For me. He complained of a sore arm, but I was too busy enjoying our culinary masterpiece to pay attention.

My risotto stirrer hard at work

I should probably learn how to plate better

Killing Me Softly

How is it that a song can so perfectly capture a complete stranger’s heart? Phantoms drift through a soul, nameless but achingly present, without words to explain the ache or hope or love burning holes through a chest. Then a song will come on and suddenly it all makes sense. Every single lyric is a word plucked from within my heart, every description a tale of my own life.

Lyrics put words to the feelings inside, and the melody spells out in the clearest language the nuances of those feelings, of aches and dreams and faith and fear.

Avalanche by Amasic (originally by Bring Me The Horizon) kills me softly every time. It’s like all of my neurosis and darker days are spelled out in the straightforward yet anguished strums of the guitar.

If I want to dwell on the tragic beauty of the human condition, I can dive into We Fall Apart by We As Human. If I’m in the mood for a darker reflection, I’ll turn to the haunting and desperate Still Alive by Breaking Through.

Nothing reminds me of joy and hope and sunshine like Suburban Legends’ Bright Spring Morning. This song is fun and adventure and a reminder that I can roll down my windows, crank up the radio, and fly away.

I’m not very picky in my music tastes. I’ll listen to anything as long as it moves me in some way — even if just with a really catchy beat. Music infects every part of my life. There’s almost always some song playing on repeat in the back of my mind. If my playlist won’t load, I’ll have an extremely hard time at the gym or driving anywhere. It isn’t a road trip until I’ve rapped along to Forgot About Dre, it isn’t a party until someone starts belting out Don’t Stop Believing, and it isn’t a good writing day unless I’ve started with Waiting in the Moment. I think better with music playing, I write better to a soundtrack, cooking, cleaning, anything is better against a backdrop of tunes.

What about you? Share some of your favorite songs in the comments — I’d love to check them out!

Rambling Review: Nightshade

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I chose Nightshade by A.K. Anderson because I like the title and cover, firstly. I like the way “nightshade” rolls off the tongue, the sinister little prickles on the back of my neck, the simplicity of the cover image.

The synopsis was intriguing, hinting at a murder-mystery type young-adult novel. It’s about eighteen-year-old Iris uncovering family secrets after the death of her grandma, and how they tie into her mother’s murder when she was twelve.

I was surprised by the fantastical elements to it, because usually the blurb before reading the book says something about how the hero/heroine must harness their powers or fight off dark powers or something along those lines, and there were no real hints before I started reading (unless, I guess, I had read any of the tags/categories for the book and noticed they were all sci fi/fantasy related). At the beginning, when I first realized it would be more fantasy than murder-mystery, I was disappointed, not quite mentally prepared for the shift in gears. As I kept reading, I quickly got over it and enjoyed the way the world of magic was portrayed somewhat casually.

Something else I probably should have listed about myself: I love love love poetic descriptions. The more surprising (yet perfectly correct) a metaphor, the better. Mark Zusak is my favorite author because of how well he does this in The Book Thief.

Some of the descriptions in Nightshade — a LOT of the descriptions — are right up my alley. Evocative in a brilliant way. One example: “He’s a leather jacket with a heartbeat.” Fantastic.

However. There was way too much of this. Almost everything had a laundry list of beautiful prose tacked onto it. The example above was followed by more [beautiful] imagery: “He’s a flashing yellow light at a too-busy intersection — a warning, a cautionary tale, a yes she might end up fervently wishing she’d said no to.” Wonderful, but it happened all the time and pulled me out of the tension too often, because I had to pause to appreciate the poetry then dive back in to what was actually happening in the story. I found myself skimming over entire paragraphs looking for the next bit of dialogue or something important to the actual story.

Another thing that surprised me by standing out was the number of F-bombs dropped. I have a character in my own writing who is liberal with his swearing, so it was good for me as a writer to see how it works for a reader. At first I was able to brush it off as just how the characters talk, but it got repetitive and trite very fast. There were times when the word was warranted or fit really well, but the “punch” was lacking because it was so heavily used throughout.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. I read it during the five hour flight from California to D.C., so I definitely don’t feel like I’ve wasted anything by investing my time and energy into it, and would recommend it as a decent free option for Kindle. That being said, I’m not chomping at the bit for the sequel. I was invested in it enough that when I finished, I looked on Amazon for the next in the series, but it’s a prequel-sequel and TBH Monroe is my favorite character, so I didn’t feel like reading a story without him in it. The sequel-prequel is only $0.99, so if you read Nightshade and fall for the history of the characters, it would be a worthwhile purchase.

Also: I just went in and checked on Amazon (because I care) and for non-Prime members this book is $2.99 on Kindle. If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to pay even that, but another thing to know about me is I have a freaking huge wishlist of physical books in the $10-$15+ range just waiting for me to have a little extra spending money (and shelf space…and time to lull my husband into a false sense that I’ve finished purchasing books on books on books…because I prefer ink-and-paper to electronic) so for my Kindle reads I rarely spend over the $3 mark and prefer to stay around $0.99 or free.

Let me know if you do check it out. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts and discuss!