Newest Obsession

His Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

This audio book set off a bit of a trend for me actually, a Cassandra Clare trend. After one really bad movie and one better, although not perfect, TV series, plus having read the book before there isn’t much to say other than, this book is great! I love it and I was happy to listen to it again.

Last movie I watched:

Pirates of the Caribbean. You know what? The first one was really fun. I really liked it.  Obviously they went down hill a little later, but they started off strong.

Last TV show I watched:

Friends.

Beauty after Tragedy

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Hermione Winter heads off to cheer leading camp before her grade twelve year sure that this will be her year. She and her best friend Polly are co-captains of their team, in a school that loves cheer leading. Her teams is the best it’s ever been. Her boyfriend’s on the team. Surely this will be her year. Until she’s drugged and raped by an unknown assailant at camp. Over the next year she looses friends and gains friends as she struggles to get through her own life but also to live free of the identity of a victim.

This book is powerful. Really, truly. The writing has a beautiful rawness to it, particularly painful to read when it relates to physical pain and sensation and flashback. I found it hard not to have a very real reaction myself (okay, so I cried at work through a few parts) just because of the stunning honesty of everything – the words, the sentences, the characters, the places.

The other things that brought me to tears was the wonderful people in Hermione’s life. From her best friend Polly, to her partners bewildered about how to help their child, the other adults in her life – her therapist, coach, guidance councilor, doctor, police – and her friends, people she’d always known and cared about but she’d never realized how they’d step up to protect her, they are all amazing. And of course, this is the most unrealistic element of the story because in real life, survivors of sexual violence often end up feeling isolated alone and betrayed by the people in their life. But here’s the thing about this book – at least for me it was impossible not to want to be that person who steps up for anyone who needs. Characters that good inspire goodness.

Just for the record, this is not a book about looking for the rapist. Of course some of the story is devoted to finding out who he was, to the police investigation and DNA and that kind of CSI stuff. But that’s not what it’s about, not at all.

There’s very little about this book that I didn’t love. Obviously there’s some pretty serious content, so I’d recommend chatting with any teens in your life who happen to be reading it if you’re uncomfortable with themes of sexual assault, abortion or trauma. But I would also recommend everyone reading it.

Last movie I watched:

I still think it’s the Karate Kid.

Last TV episode I watched:

The Musketeers! Apparently the king just kinda died. Weird.

A very long hiatus

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

My life has been really busy and I haven’t blogged in ages. You may have noticed. Anyway, this blog post is just in here so I don’t forget I read this book and enjoyed it.

One reason Chamber of Secrets is not my favourite Harry Potter:

The lack of wonderful, supportive and fun adults and other mentor figures and the feeling of inter generational overlap. In this one there’s no grown up person to help Harry and co, even passively. I really enjoy mentor characters and they were all missing from this book.

One reason Chamber of Secrets could be my favourite Harry Potter:

The kids really do solve this one on their own and that’s pretty epic. Most of the other ones they have someone on their side but not for Chamber. These plucky kids do it all their own and that’s unique in the series.

Last movie I watched: Noel. Weird Christmas movie. I don’t feel like I get it.

Last TV episode I watched: Supernatual. Castiel! What’s happened to you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethics, Apocalypses and teenage angst

Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson

This young adult novel really depends on a lot of big reveals (like maybe three of them) so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to say without revealing these details, which I don’t want to do because it was a really, really good book and I seriously recommend reading it.

Jenna Fox is seventeen and she wakes up from a year long coma in a new house in California. She doesn’t remember the accident that put her there, she doesn’t remember well, anything really. Her life is in a future when the overuse of antibiotics created a bubonic-esk plague that has devastated the global population and left the survivors at risk from every little infection.  Her father is a leading doctor, her mother used to renovate brownstones, back when they lived in Boston. They tell her everything’s all right now, that she will regain her memories, and get her life back. But there are things they won’t tell her. She slowly pieces together  her old life and a hundred questions, but the biggest one always remains: how did she survive the accident?

For the purposes of this post, my title will be my thesis.

This book had a pretty complex discussion of medical ethics. After the loss of antibiotics thanks to a reckless medical industry a regulatory body called the FSEB has gained significant power and they fight to oversee and limit what the medical professionals can do. Their agenda is personified in Allys, Jenna’s friend, who lost her arms and legs to infection. But on the flip side, there is Jenna, saved by illegal procedures. One girl killed by medical arrogance, one saved by it and in the face of questions like that how are we supposed to decide our own best practices? Certainly right now scientific developments are happening at alarming rates, promising solutions to out most serious problems, but also at a human cost.

As far as apocalypses go, an drug resistant super bug is both a pretty real one and a pretty scary one. Like, right now it’s relatively possible and that’s super, duper scary. This book doesn’t spend a lot of time world building. That’s okay and kind of makes the super threat, which is mostly abstract since it happens well in advance of the book actually starting, kind of scarier then it already is.

The last thing this book was very good and very real I thought was Jenna’s feelings of frustration as a teenager. She’s trapped between wanting to be the perfect child, to succeed, to be perfect, be everything that her parents want her to be and being a young adult, following her passions and bucking those expectations entirely before she can set up her own. The contrast is exemplified particularly by Jenna’s conflict with her post accident self, new Jenna and her recovered memories, old Jenna. I think teens, as well as most other people will enjoy this story and the tension Jenna feels. And that’s not even touching on her complicated feelings about herself and her identity after a terrible accident, something that lots of people who have experienced that kind of trauma might relate to.

It’s a great book, and I have recently been informed, part of a trilogy, so that’s something to look forward to. I strongly suggest picking up this first book at least and just seeing what you think. Obviously, I had lots of thoughts and yours will probably be better.

Last movie I watched:

Full Monty. HILARIOUS GUYS. You don’t think a bunch of out of work steel workers in the north of England who take up stripping could be this funny, BUT IT IS.

Last TV episode I watched:

The last ever Charmed. It was worth the whole dumb 8th seasons for that episode.

I just don’t know what to say

The Roundhill by Dick King-Smith

The Roundhill is a sweet little story by Dick King-Smith, the author of Babe if anyone missed that (I know I did once). Evan is fourteen, it’s 1936 and while he’s happy enough with his life, he feels a little empty and alone. His parents are nice, but very British and not inclined to show affection. He wants to believe in God but he can’t quite understand how God could be real. School is fine but he misses home. Home is full of routines and patterns. The thing he loves most in the world is the Roundhill he can see from his bedroom window,  and goes to visit once every holiday. Until he meets a little girl named Alice who looks uncannily like a a famous literary figure sitting on the Roundhill. They become unusual friends, but Evan knows there’s something even more unusual about her.

I probably would have liked this book as a child, but I was kind of an unusual child. Really, it’s an older story, it’s a slow, meticulous and rather beautiful to read and compared with early readers now, it’s probably not going to be the one more kids pick up on their own. It’s also very serious. Evan is a very serious young man, Alice is a more real character, with none of the whimsical (yet dark) feel of Alice in Wonderland. It also felt like it should have an agenda, although I’m not sure what it was. It might have been an innocent lost theme, but I think that’s often missed by children. It’s probably more of a read together kind of book. And for an adult, they might appreciate all the things their kids are missing.

Last movie I watched:

Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I fail to see how Atlantis was an Empire. They didn’t seem to be invading anybody.

Last TV episode I watched:

Once Upon a Time. This Captain Hook guy seems pleasant.

So a philosphoy textbook and a sci fi novel meet in a bar, hook up and then, 9 months later… Dune!

Dune: Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

So, as I may have mentioned, I love the TV movie miniseries Children of Dune more than any sane, reasonable person should admit publicly, thus proving any theories you might have been developing about me being a sane, reasonable person completely wrong.

Naturally, given my unhealthy obsession with that particular story, it was just a matter of time before I read the book. I had actually planned on reading the Dune books in order but I accidentally skipped Messiah.

Dune is complicated. I don’t just mean the world building, which is crazy complicated (like Tolkien level of crazy complicated) but like, from a narrative point of view and a readers point view and the authors point of view. It’s just complicated. The story itself is pretty amazing, and so intricately linked to the pages and pages of what is essentially philosophy that even though that much reflection and criticism and ideological banter should make the book miserably slow and cumbersome somehow doesn’t. I can’t really explain why political theory presented through the characters doesn’t bore me, but it doesn’t. Usually didactic texts make me crazy but for whatever reason, I really love it. I’m confused and conflicted by a book that I know shouldn’t be that good but just is.

I’d be interested to know what other people think about this book, if anyone wanted to read and share their thoughts.

Therefore, to flesh out this post a little more, I am going to talk about Irulan because she is one of my favourites in the miniseries. Which is why I was disappointed because in the book she’s pretty much Alia’s parrot almost until the end. Which is annoying and silly. In the movies she made it clear, that despite her rather miserable life, her husband’s children were her only concern and that she would die for them. She was strong, in a different way than Chani or Alia or Ghanima, because she lacked the ability to act, but she devoted all her time and resources to the children anyway, and that kind of sacrifice made her amazing to me. I was sad to learn that Herbert hadn’t treated her the same way.

This is leads me ask a bigger question about who stories belong to. Frank Herbert’s character wasn’t as wonderful as she could be, and in some ways there are traces of a male dominated understanding of the female characters throughout the whole story. She is such a unique and brave character in the books but never quite fulfilled her potential. I’m glad someone made her that way, even if it wasn’t the original author. I will always have my preferred Irulan now, because someone else gave her to me, and now she’s kind of mine too, because I’ve made a choice about how I will see her.

There’s a lot about what it means to be human, what it means to have power and what it means to believe in something greater than yourself in this book. So it’s lacking in what it means to be a woman, but it’s still a pretty powerful text.

Last movie I watched:

About Time. I think I need a support group for that movie. If anyone knows of you, let me know.

Last TV episode I watched:

Once Upon a Time. Which is so epic guys, just so epic.

The terrible things we do: religion, politics and love

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I did an independent novel study on this book in high school. At the time I really loved its kick ass feministness and complex characters, its intricate story line and the way it blended so many myths together so seamlessly. Now I can’t believe how much sex I missed. And not like even straight people sex either. Same sex sex and threesome sex and oral sex, like all kinds of sex. How did 17 year old me miss all this?

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth told through the perspective of the female characters who are traditionally under developed and dull and/or evil. It’s Marion Zimmer Bradley’s really great work, and although it’s very, very long, it’s really wonderful. I love King Arthur stories so much, I’ve read a million of them and I’m always looking for more.

I think the most interesting thing about myths is that we can retell them over and over and over again, across generations because every generation, every retelling and every version brings something new to the story, brings something unique to it, some way to connect it to the teller’s lives and time and reality.

This time I read a lot into the religion of the book, more specifically the horrifying extremes religion can drive good people to. Possibly because that’s something that I, as the reader (And readers become part of the retelling) think is effecting my world and my life and my time in a huge, huge way.

Allow me to summarize the situation in Britain in this King Arthur story. It is divided into two – the old religion is a Goddess worshiping faith with a strong focus on death and rebirth. The Lady of the Lake, the Priestess of Avalon is the Goddess’s face on earth, and under her supervision rituals celebrating the cycles of the world take place. The other religion is Christianity, with its rigid insistence that nature, and naturally occurring acts are evil and that all gods but their God are abominations. And into this giant conflict Morgaine and her baby brother Arthur are thrust, and ultimately end up being on opposite sides of.

Morgaine loves her little brother dearly, and thinks that he’s the only person who ever really loved her. But when she’s a young girl she’s sent away to be fostered by her aunt in Avalon, where she becomes a priestess. Her little brother, obviously goes on to become king of England. Both end up being manipulated by Vivian and Avalon, to conceive the prefect king but still maintain a happy relationship for most of their lives until Morgaine betrays him, in the name of her Goddess.

And that thread trails through the whole book, for so many characters. A few people, like Morgause, use people they love for political gain, and a few people, like Gwenyfar do terrible things for love, but for Morgaine it was always the Goddess. She was ruthlessly used by her foster-mother Vivian, and in the end ruthlessly used her own foster-daughter, resulting in the girl’s death. In the name of her Goddess she murders people who are in her way, sends her lover to his, orders the execution of her former lover and acts against her king and her brother. Her life is spent lonely and empty because of the actions she commits against the people she loves in the name of her Goddess.

To make it more bitter sweet, in the end she comes to understand that it was all for nothing, because her Goddess will always be with mankind, even if it’s in a different form, like that of the Virgin Mary that the Christians worship. While this brings Morgaine peace, to me it is heartbreaking.

Every day, across the world people are dying because we seem to be unable to see our own Gods in other people’s. Or maybe we fail to see our own humanity in other people.

Either way, the people in this book all feel like they are doing the right thing, no matter if it is luring their lover to punishment and death, plotting to overthrow a beloved sibling or engineering an incestuous relationship, everyone believes they are doing it for the right reason. Sometimes it’s easy to look at violence and horrendous acts and think that the people who commit them must be evil. But what if they’re not? What if they really, truly believe that what they’re doing is right?

I think that’s scarier then just pure evil.

This book will always be a re-read for me, because I don’t doubt that every time I read it I will get something new out of it. Now, if you don’t love King Arthur myths that’s okay, but I really think you should find a book to re-read that never tells itself the same way twice. I think that’s important.

Last movie I watched:

I really don’t remember. I’ve been very busy lately. I hope it was good though.

Last TV episode I watched:

Last episode of Charmed season 7. That was a really good ending. If it weren’t for my love for the last episode of season 8, I’d say they should have stopped there.