Rambling Review: And I Darken

Okay, the next book in this series (Now I Rise) comes out in July, so I was putting off rereading And I Darken until the end of June to get ready for it, but I just noticed it’s currently $1.99 on Kindle so I need to share my love for it RIGHT NOW.

That being said, I’m a little foggy on all the details that make this book great and can’t really remember anything glaring that made it difficult to read.

It’s one of my favorite young adult books out there. I love the opportunity to learn things while reading historical fiction, and Kiersten White gives a great little blurb about her research and the areas she took liberties and tweaked timelines.

I love the imagination behind turning Vlad the Impaler into a woman and exploring what might have been different (and what might have stayed the same). Lada is a beautifully written character, with depth and strength and fierce rejection of her weaknesses. Even though she is rough and hardened, she’s relatable. I could relate to the little girl trying desperately to make her father proud, to the woman afraid of losing herself in love, in the man she loves, to the fighter who refuses to lose sight of her end goals, no matter how hopeless they can seem at times.

It isn’t a light-hearted read. The book explores the dark side of a person’s character. It exposes flaws in heroes and muddies the waters between right and wrong. It’s full of painful sacrifice and selfish choices, hurt and betrayal and love and ambition. It ripped holes in my heart and put the pieces back in ways that weren’t neat and tidy, but satisfying in their “rightness”. For the bright and shiny people, those like my husband, this isn’t the book for you. But if you like books that blur the line between hero and villain, books that spit on your expectations and make you question your own nature, your own response to a hostile world, this book is everything.

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 Reviews

A friend of mine had the great idea that I should include book reviews on my blog. Great as in, I love to read, I love to tell people about great books I’ve read, and I love the excuse to read more. I’m not so sure about the actual “review” part; writing carefully thought-out and constructive feedback has been a struggle for me as far back as my creative writing workshops in college. Either I fall into a story or I don’t. There are plenty of things that can pull me out of a story (not connecting to the characters enough, not interested in the plot enough, poor writing/bad mechanics), but a good story is so seamless all I’m left with at the end is impressions and adoration and all the beautiful, painful feelings art is meant to elicit.

She also asked if I’d read any of the Kindle books that are offered free, and if I thought they were any good. So here’s my plan: I’ve picked a few out that seem interesting, and I’ll write about what I think.

A few things to know about me (because what strikes me as fantastic — or not so much — is not necessarily guaranteed to knock your socks off — or ruin your day –just because it did for me):

I really like young adult fiction. YA is my favorite, because they deal with the struggles of finding your place in the world and growing up and making tough choices to find out who you really are. They’re more relatable (relateable? Why is spell check insisting this isn’t a word?) to me, even as a twenty-something.

Other genres I prefer are historical fiction (because I like learning history while I read) and mysteries/thrillers. I’m not as big on horror or sci fi/fantasy (except it seems a ton of YA fiction these days is somehow fantastical, and I haven’t hated it). I do not like non-fiction. Sorry about it. I prefer my lessons learned through fictional characters.

As a writer myself, I notice the mechanics of writing at the beginning. For some people, the writing itself isn’t as noticeable or important. For me, it can be distracting. If it’s a great story, I won’t notice anything but the characters and plot and setting after the first few pages. If halfway through the book I’m still mentally editing, it’s hard to stick with. I will say, I believe almost every book that’s started deserves the chance to be finished. I’ve only ever given up completely on two books, and only because the writing was so distracting.

OK, so if you’re looking for some reading suggestions and think my recommendations may be worth reading, stay tuned for my thoughts. I doubt I’ll be following any set “review template,” but I’ll try to include in each post why I chose the book, what my overall impression was before and after, and anything that really stuck out to me. I hope you enjoy!

The Safety in Art

Some people — my husband among them — turn to art for an escape. They like light-hearted movies, happily ever afters, comical adventures, feel-good music. Life is hard enough and sad enough and real enough that they look for leisure activities that distract from reality.

For me, the best art makes me feel everything. Happiness, joy, hope — but also devastation, loss, fear, rage. Is it strange that I feel most alive when I’m drowning in a good book or being ravaged by good music?

The first time I saw Titanic (at like twelve years old), I wandered around the house, limp and weepy, for days. My parents said that was why I shouldn’t have watched it — I was too young, I couldn’t handle the tragedy. They didn’t understand I was celebrating it. It was the first time my heart had been trampled by a fiction-wrapped truth, and I knew I would never be able to experience true art any other way.

I want my heart clawed from my chest, dragged over broken bottles and ruptured sidewalks, then buried under hot coals before it’s returned to me, encased in scar tissue but beating ever stronger because it has felt what it is to live. Life is the pain as much as it is the triumph. It’s the breaking as well as the growing. The terror and the joy and I want it all.

Maybe it’s (weirdly, inexplicably) safer to feel over art. In life, we have to express a certain measure of toughness. Can’t let them see me cry, can’t scream, can’t swear or rage or beat someone with a baseball bat. But in art, we can. Listening to the right song at the gym gets us running faster, shadow-boxing harder. If I come home with tears on my cheeks, it’s more acceptable to say “a song hit me really hard” than it is to admit “someone honked at me at the end of a long, boring day and it made me cry.”

So maybe art gives us all a safe haven. An excuse to delve beyond the surface, or a chance to hide beneath a blanket of distractions. Maybe for some, it’s enough to pick and choose the happy.

For me, I need it all.