Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Co-Review: Think of England by KJ Charles - Part 1

Today I'm joined by Yash from The Book Wars as we take a look at KJ Charles' Edwardian era romance novel.  If you haven't stopped by The Book Wars before, I highly recommend it.  They always have a great selection of books to recommend, with a focus on younger readers and diversity, and they're funny and insightful and basically you should just go check them out.  With no further ado, let's take a look at the first half of this book!

SUMMARY:  England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Warning: Contains explicit male/male encounters, ghastly historical attitudes, and some extremely stiff upper lips.

Chapters 1-8

Y: I love the way the character are introduced. Curtis at a social event and is the reader’s eyes. Slowly we get a list of people--his hosts, their child, their child’s best friend (“a striking piece of work”), a couple of woman who Curtis cannot judge fast enough, and of course, the person you just know is going to be Curtis’ love interest, the one that gets under his skin even as he looks at him: Daniel da Silva. Truthfully, Curtis with his hesitation and suspicion and fumbling kind of reminds me of Alec Lightwood and da Silva might as well be my favourite warlock wearing a glamour. There are so many instances of Daniel da Silva resembling Magnus Bane, and since Bane predates da Silva, that I have to wonder if K. J. Charles is a fan. (Not a bad thing in my opinion. I like these kinds of proud, sharp-tongued, and surprisingly kind characters.) I have to wonder, however, if this combination of Not Out Manly Man and Definitely Out Intellectual Type is something of a cliche. As of now, I don’t think they are very stereotypical?

E: I definitely agree with Yash about Daniel da Silva - he reminds me so much of Magnus Bane! (And as such it should be no surprise that he’s my favourite character). It’s not to the point that I feel like he’s just Bane cut out and pasted in this work, but he’s got the flamboyant fashion, the snarky wit, and plenty of mystery to go around that is very reminiscent of Magnus. I always have a hard time with very alpha men, and Curtis is Very Alpha indeed. I did feel like at times the writing did him a disservice - whereas da silva gets to be cool and collected, Curtis - despite his varied background and generally open-minded views (for the time), will get lines that make him appear stupider or at least plainer than I would expect him to be. It felt a bit uneven at times - but I think some of that may be that I greatly prefer witty, flamboyant men.


Y: Oh, man. I do not know how I feel about this. Um. So, basically, Curtis and da Silva are both caught snooping in the same room. Da Silva, quick on his feet, makes it look like they merely ducked into a room for um, how shall I put it delicately …

… or, at least, making out. (Can I just state for the record how thoroughly unromantic the phrase “hard lips battering his mouth” is? Very. Very unromantic.) Except this leads to them having to “prove” they are smooshing, so. Things happen. Not smooshing. But definitely not something Curtis was expecting. Curtis did enjoy the experience, but I would have liked him to have assented to the idea a little more enthusiastically. Granted, it wasn’t something da Silva really would have wanted to do either--the situation was just so messed up? Which, of course, leads to a very messed up conversation about consent where neither of them comes to a consensus but agree that oral sex is enjoyable enough to repeat? I hate to sound like an overbearing housewife, but ugh, men. Just talk about your feelings, please.

E: I tend to avoid very alpha characters (unsurprising given my previous statement), particularly paired with rather effeminate characters, but this one works for me. I think it’s because Curtis is generally open minded and willing to talk about his emotions (comparatively), and his physical prowess is balanced by da Silva’s superior abilities in subterfuge and because he’s out (as far as one can be in this time) and very comfortable with that. I happen to love “pretend kiss” situations (I.e. For whatever reason said couple has to pretend to kiss so as not to be caught but then it becomes something they actually enjoy) and this first scene is...rather a bit more than just a kiss haha! So I’m predisposed to enjoy it a bit, but the second encounter threw me for a bit of a loop. It was...a bit violent and sudden, and while it ended up with them at least discussing the situation it was certainly not intimate. But even though this second encounter took me aback, I’m definitely aboard this ship!


Y: Plot-wise, it’s a bunch of snooping right now and I like that. I like that da Silva and Curtis have to work together. Obviously, it gives them a chance to learn about each and that was not a euphemism, stop that da Silva! Mostly, I wish they would stop saying Africa. Just. No. You don’t mean all of Africa! It also really annoys me when people say dago to refer to da Silva, or refer to his being Jewish is terrible ways, or his being dandy-like. BUT! I accept this is how annoying Regency-era English people were, so, fine. Fine. *flips a table* I am just fine. (I do love everytime Curtis mentions da Silva’s tight pants, though. It makes Curtis uncomfortable and makes me wheeze with laughter.) I also think Curtis’ disability was well-written. He’s not quite used to it, and even if he is, the presence of people around him makes him uncomfortable. I mean, obviously, as an able-bodied person I am not the best judge. So, maybe I should say that I feel it is well done. If anyone who has read the book and understands how disability and ableism works in literature, please let us know in the comments!

E: Well, this definitely moved very differently than I had thought - the mystery is uncovered (or rather confirmed) in the first few chapters and I had thought it was going to be the base of the plot. Instead it seems it’s focused primarily on how they are going to keep their covers (especially Curtis - the poor dear is a terrible liar) and how they plan to make it out of their situation alive, uncompromised, and with the evidence. It’s definitely not a bad thing that this is how the plot is laid out - it certainly ramps up the tension (and ohhhh the tension between these two is quite delightful). I did hesitate on the plausibility of the set up - for the sake of not spoiling things I’ll simply say that I’m not entirely sure how far the technology used for the said set up had advanced at that time, and that I honestly just can’t picture logistically how it worked - were there just very thick walls with hidden passageways inside? Did I just miss some detail that made the operation all very obvious? Otherwise though the plot makes a perfect set up for our two lovebirds to get up to all sorts of midnight shenanigans and a way to get around the other characters who, with their racist and homophobic comments, would ruin the atmosphere of any romantic setting.


“No, thank you.”
“It’s a jolly good one.”
Da Silva blinked, slowly, like a lizard. “I dare say, but I fear I haven’t converted since we last spoke.”
“Con--Oh, I beg your pardon. I quite forgot you were a Jew.”
“How refreshing. So few people do.”
I don’t know why this exchange kind of reminded me of this moment in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I think it’s Season Two, when Captain Holt mentions something about his old partner who was homophobic but not racist--something that was rare to find in those days. And I wonder if da Silva would agree. Which makes this moment sadder, but also clever--in just a line, we get a wealth of information about da Silva and what he has to put up with all the time.

E: Bah! Yash stole my favourite line! *frantically rifles for another favourite*

“All his previous encounters had been with chaps like himself: soldiers, sportsmen, good fellows. He had an unformed but definite idea that being queer entailed doing something different, womanish, something like the rouged men in those London clubs. Like da Silva, with his perfectly shaped brows and tight trousers and mannerisms. 
Curtis wasn’t like that. He simply didn’t feel queer, whatever that might feel like. He felt like a normal chap who, now and then, enjoyed encounters with other chaps, that was all.”

It’s just so relevant even today where being gay is significantly more expected than in the Edwardian era - it’s not that Curtis ever really actively suppressed believing he was gay - it just never occurred to him that he was because his idea of what that meant was something else entirely (and it's the norm to assume one is straight).  And I definitely still see that attitude today, on both sides of the sentiment.

And that's it for the first half!  Join us tomorrow where we wrap up the book!

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Day in the Life #42: In which Elizabeth does much traveling

This week I'm joining up to do The Sunday Post with Kimba from Caffeinated Book Reviewer  (If a bit late on my end).

Well, since my last one of these posts I've managed to travel to not just one, but two amazing places!! I will hold my bff hostage if he ever even thinks about quitting as a flight attendant.  I am way too in love with this life style!  As soon as he became a flight attendant, we knew we wanted to travel somewhere - and what better city to start with than Paris?

This is the view from one of the sides of the Eiffel Tower

First we drove up to New Jersey to see his family, for his grandmother's birthday.  It was really nice getting to meet them and see where he came from - I think his town might actually be smaller than the town I came from.  Which, considering we only had one stoplight in the city limits, is really saying something.  After that we hitched a red-eye to Paris, which got us into the city around 8 am, and it was pretty much non-stop after that.  And we walked everywhere.  Like...minimum at least 50 miles. Which is literally more than what I hiked when I did the four day Inca trail trek (although admittedly, it was also a significantly more difficult hike than walking around Paris).

First we walked around the Louvre - we only had two days in Paris, so I'd said no museums or long touristy lines for things because A. I don't like touristy, long lined things and B. It would take at least a full day to really see the Louvre at all, and I didn't want to spend half my trip inside instead of going out and seeing the city.  And...I know people talk about how big the Louvre is but...holy god...GIANORMOUSLY HUGE IN MONSTROUS PROPORTIONS doesn't even do it justice!  My entire neighborhood in Baltimore would probably not even fill up half of that place!! And judging by how intricate the architecture was (a theme that runs throughout the whole city) I can't even imagine what the inside looks like!  

From there we walked to the Eiffel Tower and chose to take the stairs rather than the elevator.  It's not something I regret doing....but I'm pretty ok never ever EVER doing that again.  It wasn't the hike - stairs don't bother me, but heights really, really do.  I'm not sure if it was because each time we reached a spot where the stairs leveled out you'd be looking directly outside the tower, or if it was because it was narrow and there were a few people coming down and I did NOT want to squeeze against the outside, or if it was because it was SO MANY stairs which makes the heart rate go up and fear already makes heart rates go up so that combination is lethal...but for whatever reason I was realllyyyy not feeling great about the whole thing.  But the views were amazing, even if I wouldn't go near the ledges, and I got a whole view of Paris so I'm really glad we did it.  

We were pretty wiped after a red-eye plus all the walking + climbing of stairs, so after a quick crepe from a nearby stand we took a nap in a park.  THERE ARE PARKS EVERYWHERE IT IS SO AMAZING!

From there we hit the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, the bridge with all the locks, and the Palais Garnier which was just....I have never seen so much outrageously extravagant....everything.  I mean there were sculptures EVERYWHERE (especially the outside of the building which pretty much just looks like it's made entirely out of sculptures).  There was a dance rehearsal inside the hall though, so we didn't get to see what the actual theater space looked like.  Then we basically wandered back to our hostel in Bastille which...oh my god I really wish we'd taken a picture.  It was crazy cheap, so I'm not complaining but Dave took one look at the tiny bed we were sharing and started laughing, and I looked at the completely see through shower we had in the room and completely lost it as well.  It's a good thing we're such good friends haha!  Then we basically spent the rest of the night stuffing our faces with amazing French food and drinking and going out for desserts.  It was SO. DELICIOUS.  And it feels like the city doesn't really shut down at all until 6 am!  So we walked around a while and saw the Notre Dame at night (beautiful) and Hotel de Ville (creepy) before heading back to bed.

Things I learned: the house wines are the equivalent of good $15-$20 bottle wine here, they aren't kidding when they say that steaks are served pretty much rare or more rare, desserts are indescribable, beers are cheap, and espresso drinks are surprisingly expensive. 6.50 euros for a latte expensive.  Good thing I just like shots of espresso!

The next day we primarily spent in parks (in the Luxembourg Gardens  there's this pond where all the kids launch tiny sailboats which is cute) and eating - we walked to one of the tiny islands where I had the best ice cream (passion fruit because that is the best flavor. No disagreement allowed), loads of baguettes and macarons, and mostly just kind of people watched/ate/I read a book because I'm antisocial like that.  It was also the day I saw my favourite place we went to (other than the parks, because although they will get little mention here, the city has SO MANY and they were beautiful and clean and ughhh I could have stayed there forever) - Saint Chappelle.  Even though I'd said basically "Whatever, it's a building we've seen so many of those we don't really need to go in", Dave overrode said opinion and said "NO WE'RE GOING YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND."  So I went, because Dave always wins.  And in this case...he was so right.  When you first walk in to the first floor, the stained glass is impressive, as expected, but nothing mind blowing.  But then you walk up to the second floor and get this:

Honestly this picture doesn't even begin to do it justice.  You walk in an it's just....overwhelming.  If you ever go to Paris and can only choose one place to go see that's touristy - this should be your stop.  The whole atmosphere is amazing and it's beautiful (without being overly opulent like a lot of the other impressive looking places).  After that we wrapped up our trip by walking all the way out to Montparnasse (which is where Cesar Franck and Guy de Maupassant and I just have a weird thing where I like to visit foreign graveyards.  So far the graveyards in Ecuador remain my favourite though).  So yeah, it was an insane amount of walking and I was exhausted by the time I came back, but it was totally, utterly, completely worth it.

That was back in April (man I've been bad about posting lately).  Fast forward to last week where I get to venture off to the beautiful land of.....


This is actually my grandfathers' back yard! Can you imagine having a back yard like this?? It's actually a huge open space shared by loads of neighbors and there's a stream that flows through, and koi fish, and waterfalls, and all sorts of flowers.  It's basically paradise.

This time it was without Dave (although I expect to have plenty of adventures with him).  My grandfather lives on the Big Island (also known as the actual island of Hawaii) where he designs and creates jewelry.  (I have mentioned this before).  Papa Peter living in Hawaii is both a blessing and a curse - on the one hand, hello I get to visit Hawaii, on the other hand it is both crazy expensive and crazy long to get to Hawaii. To put this in perspective, it is almost as easy to get to Seoul, Korea from here as it is to get to Hawaii from here.  So it's been 5 years since I've seen him, but hopefully I'll be able to make this a yearly thing because 5 years is entirely too long.  

This trip was especially nice, because I also got to see my brother who I now only see once a year usually, and I got to meet his girlfriend for the first time.  (I'm relieved to say she's very cool and that I approve).  He works remotely, so he had to spend a lot of time working while we were here, so we mostly stuck close to home.  My grandfather preserves flowers in a variety of ways for his jewelry, so one of the days we helped out in his studio which was really fun (and really long - I am now incredibly impressed with his stamina because this is not easy to do for long hours).

Here we're doing the second step in the preserving process for the larger orchids - these my grandfather preserve in a way that the flowers still feel like they do on the stem - they're not rigid in resin or fragile.  In fact, you can crush them in your hand and they'll still retain their shape with no damage, which honestly is really amazing.  They're not indestructible, but you really have to be trying to get these to break.

We also walked around the local farmers market (you can buy 5 papayas for $2 here!!!!!!!!!!) which is where my grandfather gets a lot of the sales for his jewelry, and ate so much good food (which I sadly did not take pictures of, but needless to say everything I ate that entire week was healthy and delicious and I felt great.)  

There's one important thing to know about the Big Island: there's the Hilo side, and the Kona side and they are very, very different.  The Hilo side, which is where my grandfather lives, is like a rainforest.  It literally rains every day - usually in the late morning/early afternoon.  It downpours for about 5 minutes, then clears up and does this every half hour or so.  The landscape is lush and green, and it tends to be the more residential part.  It's not very beachy on this side of the island, although they do have a few black sand beaches (and you can see sea turtles there a lot and swim with them which is super cool. In case you were wondering).  The Kona side of the island is about two hours away from the Hilo side and much more how most people imagine Hawaii: long stretches of white sand beaches and resorts.  It tends to be the more tourist heavy area, accordingly.  It also feels incredibly different than Hilo - it's actually a desert!  This is important to know for the following story.

We did want to take one day where we went to the Kona side and got the real beach experience.  It's really incredible as you drive from one side of the island to the other because the environment changes so drastically you can hardly believe all of this is possible in such a small place!  We swam for a while (the water is so clear, it's amazing!) and headed over to a nearby hotel to enjoy a drink and watch the Kona sunset.  There was a live singer/guitar player, a beautiful view, a tasty, drink, and I was with people I love.  All in all, a pretty perfect night.

After it got dark, we headed back across the beach to drive home....only to discover that the parking lot: 
A. Has a gate and 
B. it is padlocked.  

Turns out we were 15 minutes past the deadline when the park closes.  (A deadline that was only posted on one sign, way in the corner, that said nothing about locking the parking lot.)  A bit annoying, but easily solved with a phone call to the police.  About twenty minutes later we get a call back from the police to say...."HAHAHAHAHA.  Yeah. Nope. Nobody is coming to get you out."  

At this point we're a bit frantic, because my grandfather is supposed to be at the market at 6 am the following morning, it's a two hour drive back, and they don't reopen the parking lot until 7 am.  We try and move the giant rocks, we spend a good amount of time trying to pick the padlock to no avail (although I've determined that lock picking is a skill I'm going to learn because it seems like it's going to be more useful than not for me in the future), before finally accepting our fate:  the four of us are going to have to sleep overnight. In a van. In a parking lot.  This is of course including my eighty-something year-old grandfather (who surprisingly fared better that night than any of the rest of us).  And the chairs were all separated so you couldn't be sideways, and the trunk full of things for the farmer's market so you couldn't recline the chairs much, which meant we all basically had to sleep entirely upright.  There was plenty of snoring, and many narrow misses from my brother's foot to my head, and it got bloody cold in the last few hours.  

Honestly? It was hilarious.  It was just such a ridiculous situation!  ...and very uncomfortable.  But hey, I got to see a Kona sunset AND a Kona sunrise, so there's that?  And I got to start my day with a swim in the ocean (because there's not much that makes you feel grimier than swimming in the ocean, then sleeping over night in a car in your clothes, and not brushing your teeth.  You're salty and greasy and it is disgusting), so all in all it was a highly entertaining experience, if not one I'd like to repeat.

This is a panorama view of the lava fields from what I believe was the 1984 eruption of Mauna Loa...but I might be wrong about the date.

We spent our last full day on the island going on a big volcano expedition.  We walked around the Kilauea volcano and got to see lava bubbling in the crater at Pu'u O'o, which is always exciting!  (By the time we'd left for the Mainland, two new lava flows had opened up)  We then drove down to Pahoa, which was the town that was threatened by the lava flow a couple years ago.  It's crazy because they almost got completely cut off - there's only one main road in and out because the other one had already been engulfed in lava! We actually drove down to where the lava stopped literally only feet away from the new refuse station they'd built, which was very lucky since it's an expensive new facility.

Basically, my last two months have been phenomenal and full of once in a lifetime kind of things I'd never dreamed I'd be able to afford (at the very least not for a very long time).  It's been an amazing, and because I just caught you guys up on two months worth of events, this post is incredibly long...so I'm going to skip out on links!  But I promise I'll have an extra long post full of links next time :)

So what about you guys? Any recent adventures? And fun summer plans?  Hit me up and let me know!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

In which Elizabeth maybe breaks up with a series, or: Spy Glass by Maria V. Snyder

You have got to be kidding me.  Spoiler alert, this book is THE WORST IT SUCKS I HATE IT SO MUCH.  The first two books in The Glass trilogy are actually more or less on par with the first two books in the Study trilogy (They are a longer linked series, but are broken into trilogies which you can't skip or it makes no sense whatsoever which is how I discovered this trilogy exists at all).  The first book is fairly good, followed by the second book which is really good, so I was fully expecting the last book to round out the series with pretty good.

Instead this book happened.

Warning: crazy super spoilery rant to follow in:








First of all, the number of kidnapped and rapes and attempted rapes is ludicrous. I'm not even sure I can count all of them:

There's Opal's original kidnapping rape torture in the first trilogy (possibly not rape? I still don't know), there's the bandits, there's the other bandits,  there's Devlin again, there's Walsh, there's Gar-whatsisname, and I'm fairly certain I'm missing a couple others.

And that's just the rapes. That's probably about half of the kidnappings. Which is RIDICULOUS.

But let's get the meat of the issue here:



Oh you're such a cute couple, how did you meet? Well it's a funny story really, Devlin here kidnapped, tortured, and raped me for two days when I was only fourteen and he even helped kill my sister who was basically my whole world! And he was just so impressed at my ability to withstand torture that he just knew we had to give dating a chance! And after a few more kidnappings and rapes, I had to agree - he just really gets me, you know? So basically, just the usual torture rape love story!

There is just no redeeming how that went down, sorry. And the rest of the book was a mess anyway - it's like the plot of the book was just LET'S HAVE AS MANY RIDICULOUS CRAZY STORYLINES AS POSSIBLE! Let's have some government conspiracy over there, and random spy training everybody loves that, oooh and a crazy cult storyline would really top this story off!

And I really just LOVE that the reason thatuldn't be with Kade - you know, the sweet guy she had loads of chemistry with before inexplicably falling in love with her rapist she had previously spent the last two books being fully aware was gas lighting her - because she kept getting too involved with Sitian politics. Oh what's this we have happening literally not even a full chapter later? Oh lovely, Opal and Devlin are settling down with adopted children! What's that you say? They're staying out of politics?  THAT SOUNDS PRETTY FUCKING SETTLED DOWN AKA EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF THE REASONING BEHIND YOU AND KADE NOT BEING TOGETHER.

Just saying.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Book That Everyone Needs To Read Once, or: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind by Neal Shusterman was hands down my favourite book of last year.  Nothing came even close to touching it. (Seriously, I mention it for nine different entries on my Best Of post) But just because a book is my favourite read, doesn't mean it is a book I think everyone should read.  After all, Going Bovine, my favourite book of 2014, certainly isn't a book I'd recommend for everyone (and probably not even most people. I LOVED it, but it's definitely for a special kind of reader).  But as soon as I saw this topic - I knew immediately that I would be talking about Unwind.

There is a fair amount of research that went into this series even though it is a futuristic dystopia (although I would say it was only roughly ~80 years in the future).  Shusterman posts articles in between the chapters that are actual articles that have been published which makes this future he's built seem even more relevant (edit: upon looking through the series it looks like he doesn't do this in the first novel - that one contains relevant quotes and made up articles from the world.  But the next three books do contain real articles).  So the world he has created and the technology he is using in these books already have seeds planted in our current world - there's a rampant black market for organ transplants for example, and in the time since this was originally published almost a decade ago, medicinal and printing technology have advanced in astonishing ways - very much relevant to what happens in the story. Pairing that with general apathy/belief that we as individuals can't change how the world is run (people often feel bad about a thing without actually doing anything to change said thing) and how corporations currently shape our lives (for good or for bad), it makes this dystopia feel real, despite a premise (killing children for organs is accepted by society as being normal, sometimes even preferable) that would otherwise sound ridiculous. And it makes it much, much scarier.

Most interesting to me is the way language shaped how the world was created. I read it only a few days before the Freddie Gray protests were held in Baltimore, and I've never had a book prove a point so clearly (or quickly) as this one.   Language is important - it's the reason throughout history people have used derogatory words to describe "the enemy" - whether that means an individual or race or gender or country. It dehumanizes people, and when we see a person or even a whole subset of people as "lesser" it's easier to at best take advantage of, and at worst kill.  It's been seen over and over in wars throughout history. What's scary is that we see it all the time in the news today.  And it's more than just simple words - if you look at any of the high profile cases where a black teenage boy was shot, like Trayvon Martin or Freddie Gray, almost immediately the articles talk about drug use, past crimes, and usually include photos that are either mug shots or resemble a mug shot.  Then take a look at say, Adam Lanza or Dylann Roof - the former who shot children in an elementary school, the latter who shot people in a church.  If you google these lovely gentlemen, you will find descriptions like "quiet", "loner", "misunderstood" and lots of childhood pictures.  Technically the facts in these articles are right, but they're obviously painting very different characters in ways that are grossly unjust.  What we know informs our opinions and actions, and when our information is clearly biased, it changes how we see and interact with the world.  Throughout the book Shusterman uses news articles, as well as public service announcements, advertisements, and even simple dialogue to show how rhetoric is used to inflame the public's fear of teenagers which in many ways led to the world the characters are living in: one where it is legal to kill teenagers.  

In that vein of thinking, treatment of issues is where Shusterman really shines.  This book has so many hot button issues - from what legally constitutes "life", what it is worth, who gets to make that decision, the right to choose vs. abortion, as well as religion.  I mean, it basically takes every issue that is generally considered extremely polarizing and puts it in one book.  And what's amazing is throughout the entire series, Shusterman remains incredibly even-handed.  He never once clearly paints one side of an issue as "the right side" (minus, obviously, the not killing children any more side of things, but to be honest that's just the surface issue over all of these other ones).  It's incredibly difficult to do, especially as he uses newspapers to illustrate biases in writing - both in our current world, and in the fictional one he has built.  In choosing to write with so little bias, he gives space to really examine your own thoughts and feelings on all of the same issues, without ever feeling like he's pushing you in any way, and without necessarily changing what your beliefs are.  And I think there is something truly masterful and beautiful in that.

While I don't see the future he's built as one we are likely going to see, Shusterman does an excellent job using this fictional world to dissect how our current world functions (speaking of America specifically, but I'm guessing the Western world in general), and it's honestly a pretty terrifying depiction.  It makes you put the world we live in in perspective, and it led to a lot of self-examination on my part about what I contribute to with my apathy and world views.  The whole series is worth a read, but the first book can be read as a stand alone and should be read by everyone.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

When a book makes you cry....days after you've finished it. Or: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Warning: Spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go.  I will say that I knew this event was going to happen in the book (but not how or when) and clearly it absolutely did not affect the emotional impact it had on me.  So on the one hand...you could read this, but on the other hand it might make you not want to read it, and on my virtual third hand I would definitely recommend reading it so basically I don't know what I'm saying here other than....you've been warned. Mega spoilers about said event abound.

I finished The Knife of Never Letting Go on Wednesday, and I've found in the days following that I still get extremely upset and will suddenly discover that I'm having to hold back tears. While it's not unusual for a death in a book to affect me deeply while I'm reading it, it does usually dissipates afterwards. There aren't many books I am emotionally affected by over time - I have a notoriously horrible memory, which in cases like this is a pretty alright thing in my book.  It's one thing in books like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - after all, I spent years growing up with those characters, so it's expected to have a huge emotional impact.  Last year's Going Bovine is probably the only other book I can think of that hit me this badly (The Book Thief shut me down so hard emotionally that I straight up compartmentalized that shit and now barely remember the experience at all, so it doesn't count).  For the most part, I mourn characters, am sad for the hour following....and then I'm all good.  I'm not going to lie - I've spent most of this post crying and I read this book a week ago.  So yeah. This definitely doesn't fall within the norm on books with emotional impact.

There are a few reasons for this: for one, I think I'm not alone in being more deeply affected by animal deaths than human ones in many cases. And in this case it's not just that it's an animal.

Manchee is introduced to us at the very beginning of the novel, and since he's infected with Noise (otherwise known as the reason all animals and men constantly project their thoughts so everyone can hear them), we know that's he's a simple creature, and that Todd is the center of his universe, even before Todd comes to love and appreciate Manchee back. Throughout the story Manchee frequently keeps Todd going or puts himself in danger's way to protect Todd, without any heed of danger to himself. It's that complete trust and loyalty we've seen over and over in dogs, and we begin to love Manchee fiercely because of it.  And as Todd begins to see what a gem he has in Manchee and their relationship - they really become family.  Manchee (and Viola) is really all Todd has in the world, and at this point they've all saved each others' lives multiple times and have an incredibly strong emotional bond.  In fact, they're really the only family in the book that feels remotely like a family.

And then it happens. And it's brutal. And the reason it upsets me so much is not just because of the brutality of his death, but because his heart is broken right before he dies. He is alone and scared...and abandoned. In his final moments he knows Todd isn't coming back for him, and because he's a dog, he doesn't know why. And for me at least, I think that's what the distinction between really sad and soul crushingly heart breaking.  

It's one thing for someone to heroically and courageously sacrifice themselves for someone else - it's another thing when it comes to animals (and young children for that matter).  They don't have a full understanding of why people act the way they do and they don't do much long term thinking - so when Manchee goes after Aaron it's instinctual because he loves Todd and wants to protect him in that moment - not because he's accepted his fate and gives his life for him.  He loves Todd and trusts Todd - Todd is his hero, his family, and Todd will rescue him.  Except that he doesn't.  And Manchee doesn't understand it's not because Todd can't rescue him.  And so his last thoughts are that Todd is leaving him and he doesn't know why.

“I’m sorry!” I cry as the river takes us away, my words ragged things torn from me, my chest pulled so tight I can’t barely breathe. “I’m sorry, Manchee!”“Todd?” he barks, confused and scared and watching me leave him behind. “Todd?”
“Manchee!” I scream.
Aaron brings his free hand towards my dog.
And Aaron wrenches his arms and there’s a CRACK and a scream and a cut-off yelp that tears my heart in two forever and forever.