Supernaturally, sexy romance or dabbling in something unusual for me

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

I love Kelley Armstrong, so I was pretty interested to read one of her earlier works. I liked it a lot. I will probably finish the series, although in that typical slow way that I read series. Having said that, I do think you can tell that it’s an early novel, because her later books are a bit more succinct and sharp, but the story carries itself along quickly, the characters are interesting and Elena is pretty likable.

I actually read this book ages ago, I’m having a hard time keeping up with my blog. I have one baby, and soon will have another and my reading and blogging time is pretty dear.

So I will say this – fun book. My favourite part is the relationship between Jeremy and Elena – I love non-sexual friendships that are central of stories. I also love the Pack dynamic. I find Elena and Clay to be quite troubling and abusive, so the sweetness of it makes me a little uncomfortable. We’ll see how it that unfolds.

Not for young readers though ’cause there’s lots and lots of sex.

Last movie I watched:

Thor. Not as good as I remembered it, but still very good.

Last TV show I watched:

Probably still Shadowhunters. Nothing new to report there.

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You know what? Meh. That’s what.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

Although I really did enjoy the first three books in what I think should have been stayed a trilogy, I’m not sure that I love the sequel series.

This book chronicles the story of Jace essentially turn to the dark side, thanks to a rune on his chest and Clary, Simon and the gang’s scramble to get him back, while protecting him from the Clave, who would try him for treason if they caught him. But mostly it’s relationship drama with a side of supernatural and demon fighting on the side.

That’s the problem with this book to me. Where the first one was a relatively generic Chosen One/Teen Love story, there was quite a bit of fun world building, interesting support characters and a story that added something to the book. But this trilogy I’m finding is a little thin on those elements. The world building is more of less done and not really being expanded on. The support characters are all just tangled up in their own somewhat manufactured relationship drama and the story is driven mostly by the manufactured relationship drama. And even that relationship drama feels a little disingenuous and under developed.

The Clary and Jace relationship, which realistically had never been exactly healthy and normal is further tortured by Jace being possessed by Sebastian, motivating Clary to risk her life and be generally crazy in her attempts to bring him back, ignore his reckless behavior and pursing their unstable relationship across Europe. Simon and Izzy continue to not quite admit their feelings and Maya and Jordan start a relationship despite the fact that during his transformation to a werewolf he was an abusive, controlling jerk who hurt her on purpose. So yup I’d describe this book as a collection of unhealthy relationships with an absurd amount of drama.

So, all in all, a real step down from the first book. I’ll finish up the series but I’m hoping the next book brings me a bit more plot and a little less drama.

Last movie I watched:

Incredible Hulk. I thought it was pretty good other than the way too long fight scenes.

Last TV show I watched:

Shadowhunters, as it turns out. I think the show really made some narrative improvements on the book, but was not particularly good at casting.

Heartbreaking, hopeful but also mostly gutting

We Are All That’s Left by Carrie Arcos

This book is really compelling, really heartbreaking and a good story about one of those things I didn’t know a lot about. I really value YA lit that widens my world view. The story is told in two perspectives. The first person narration is a diary entry of a typical American teenager – her strongest relationships are with her friends, she loves photography and she doesn’t get along with her old fashioned Mom. The second story is a third person narration account of her old fashioned mother as a teenager during the Bosnian genocide. Their lives are brought together when a fictional terrorist attack in the USA injures them both and brings them closer as part of their healing process.

Although the writing isn’t particularly outstanding, it’s a good story. It’s always startling to me to learn about history that I was alive during. Sure, I was a little kid at the time, and I was kind of aware of hearing about Bosnia, but I didn’t understand it at the time and as an adult it’s hard to reconcile that terrible things didn’t just happen in my grandparents time – the World Wars, the Depression, etc  but in my parents time and worst of all, in mine. I imagine my kids will have a similar moment when they realize I was a teenager during 9/11. As uncomfortable as it is, I’m glad this book made me look closely at how recently there’s been this kind of violence in the world and remind me how unkindly history looks on people who stay silent during times of great violence.

At it’s core, this story is about trauma and the healing process being about connection and faith. Nadja, the mother, survived the trauma of genocide, rape, outlived her family who were all killed and lived in a city under siege for years where she faced starvation and snipers. And yet she made it to the United States, met a man, got pregnant and found joy in her baby. But she was never able to talk to her children about their grandparents or her past and she remained closed off from the world. Zara saw nothing in her mother but her weird habits, obsessive behaviors and closed off nature. After the terrorist attack Nadja is able to see her daughter learning to cope with the same trauma she is experiencing and understand that keeping her terrifying past away from her children has held her back from them. Zara comes to understand that trauma and violence change a person in very profound way and that her mother is a product of a brutal life, scarred, just like she is now.

I’m an atheist and generally don’t read outright religious texts and maybe that’s why I wasn’t really prepared for the religious element in this book. Although the concept of God is quite loosely defined (Nadja is ethnically Muslim but celebrates both Christmas and Eid during the war and almost never attends mosque and Zara doesn’t have a clear sense of her own faith at the start of the book) through the introduction of Joseph,  a young man Zara meets at the hospital and his quest to at least temporarily practice all the major world religions, Zara moves towards having a relationship with God. In the abstract I didn’t connect with her because of my own bias but it’s probably a good thing for me to consider from time to time, where religion fits into other people’s lives.

The ending had me in tears and that’s all I can say safely, without spoilers. But it really did drive home this feeling the book carries that love is as strong as anything bad in the world.

Last movie I watched:

Moana. Love it!

Last TV show I watched:

The Dragon Prince. Although the animation isn’t great, the story and characters are great! Definitely committed to this show!

Surprisingly life changing and a bit magical

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

My wife made me read this. I would never, ever have picked this book up ever. And although I didn’t expect to like it, I found it quite readable and not even that painful, like I had anticipated.

I don’t know how to talk about this book, because it’s kind of a self help book and therefore I assume everyone should be getting something different  out of it.

Please note that I a not a clean person, never have been but I recently had a baby and am spending most of my time at home with him and I was finding, for the first time in my life, that the messes around me were actually upsetting. This book came to me at the prefect time. Which is one of the things the author talks about – objects coming to you at the right time in your life.

The things I took away from this book were the idea that your objects and your house itself serve you faithfully and in return you should make sure they are treated respectfully. I’m not going as far as she did (nope, just not folding my socks or emptying my purse every day) but that philosophy kind of resonated with me (yup, I’m lucky I have this beautiful, little house and I should treat it with care and affection). She also discusses how everything has a place, everything has a home and this is also something that brings peace to my brain, going to bed knowing things are in their place. It used to just be people but maybe I could extend it to my objects too.

So I’m not going to systematically go through my whole house, hold each object and ask myself if it brings me joy but I am going to take a bit of that book with me as I move through my life, keep my house and raise my kid(s). I’m not sure I’d recommend it but I’ll say this – if you think you should read it, it might be the right time for you to read it.

But I will never agree with her philosophy on not keeping all your books. Seriously, even bad books bring joy to my life.

Last movie I watched:

The second half of my Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I liked it. I mean, I loved the first one but I liked this.

Last TV show I watched:

Legend of Korra. Loved it, but Avatar is better

Beautiful and heartbreaking and human

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Abridged) by Khaled Hosseini

I listened this book as an audiobook, which is why it was the abridged. The reader was great, the book was amazing and I’m kind of struggling with an book hangover – I’ve got a new audiobook on the go but can’t get into it because it’s just not as good as this story.

The story is of two women in Afghanistan, spanning forty or fifty years. It is heartbreaking, beautiful and devastating but ultimately hopeful story .  It is about the amazing power of women to overcome unthinkable horrors, particularly when they are motivated by love of their children.

The first part of the book is the story of Miriam, an illegitimate child of a wealthy man and a former housekeeper. She is excluded not just from her father’s family, but society as a whole. Her world changes dramatically when she’s a young teenager which ultimately results in her marriage to an abusive man named Rasheed in Kabul.

The second part of the book introduces Laila, who has lived her whole life down the street from Rasheed and Miriam, some twenty years older than her, without ever knowing it, in a much more liberal household. She too is forced to grow up devastatingly early and she becomes Rasheed’s second wife.

The last part changes point of views, switching between the two women as they move from adversaries to allies to a family in the truest sense.

The personal struggles of the two women take place against the backdrop of Afghanistan troubled history, including regime changes, international conflict with the Soviets and the Americans and the repressive rule of the Taliban. Both women are scarred by the trauma of war, just as their beloved city is. Yet at the end of the books, there’s a glimmer of hope for another generation of women, who may escape the horrors their mothers and grandmother’s survived.

I should mention that this book ends almost in the present, and its worth considering what the book is so subtly and elegantly suggesting about the future in the middle east.

It’s really hard to talk about this book without giving away a lot of details, which I’m struggling with because it was such a great story I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but I feel like I have to talk about mothers in this book, because to me that’s what the story is really about. In all fairness, this could be because I listened to it as I fed my 4 week old son, but I still think it’s worth considering.

Both women, Laila and Miriam had mothers who loved them, but could not make the hard choices to protect their daughters, due mostly to the trauma and pain they had experienced. For Laila’s mother, this was the death of her sons and her hatred for the Soviets as a result which motivated her to stay in Kabul long after it became unsafe for her family, which ultimately resulted in her death, her husband’s death and the forced marriage of her daughter. Miriam’s mother was so unable to move past the betrayal of the man she loved that when Miriam left her, even just for a day, to see her father, she took her own life.

Contrast that with Laila who married and stayed with a man who abused her to protect her children, who at the end of the book is called “mother” by a school full of orphans and is carrying the potential for the next generation of women. Miriam kills and literally dies to protect Laila and her children, the daughter who wasn’t even her own. Both women make enormous sacrifices to ensure the safety of their children, and that provides hope for the future.

This is an incredible story and I think everyone should read it. Everyone because if nothing else it’s a beautiful, moving exercise in empathy, which is of course, how books change the world.

Last movie I watched:

A small piece of the Greatest Showman, with the commentary of a four year old and a six year old over top of it. I think I’ll try it again sometime.

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. So good guys! So, so good.

Very deep, just a little bit scary

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I really like John Green, his online personality as much as his books. So I was pretty excited for this.

As I side note, I listened to it as an audiobook and the reader was pretty good, if anyone’s got a long road trip ahead of them.

This book centers around Aza, a sixteen year old girl who has a great best friend Daisy who convinces her to help look for a missing billionaire in Indianapolis to get the hundred thousand dollar reward. She also has a few pretty serious mental health issues. As she struggles with her sense of herself, Aza and Daisy’s quest changes everything for both of them.

Overall it was a great read. Like most John Green books, it’s pretty philosophic and maybe a little more thought driven then plot driven, but that’s okay. There’s lots (and lots) I could say about it but I will just mention a thought or two and get on with on my day.

One of the things that I could most terrifying and wonderful was Aza’s mental health issues. John Green clearly brings his own personal experience to this book. Aza’s constant search for the perfect metaphor to describe her illness, like if she could just explain it accurately somehow she’d be better. I found (spoilers! just assume there are spoilers from here on out) her late night drinking of hand sanitizer to be a terrifying and traumatic read for me. The writing was perfect. Not only was Aza out of control, but the reader was too. It was scary.

I also really liked that Aza and her love interest, Davis, the son of the missing billionaire, did not end up together.  John Green often subverts expectations about happily ever afters (see Paper Towns) but Davis and Aza really had a connection. It felt tangible and real and built on something that mattered, not the far too common love at first sight coupling that YA so enjoys. But lots of relationships between two people who are really connected don’t work out and YA doesn’t always do a great job of showing that.

And I liked that the core relationship in the story was Aza’s and Daisy’s. Because again, YA novels often put all the focus on the romance, and not the best friend. There’s the odd exception of course, but generally it’s not. This is unfortunate, because I have found in my own experience (not a study or anything) that after high school you’re way more likely to keep in touch with your friends than anyone you dated.

So it’s not The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s a great read and I would be more than happy to recommend it to any young person.

Last movie I watched:

Golden Compass. It was good. Certainly not the movies fault they didn’t make the sequel. I blame the book.

Last TV show I watched:

Galavant. Hilarious.