A Book Review: Just Read It

Celia is the young daughter of a world famous magician and Marco is an orphan, plucked from an orphanage by a mysterious stranger. Unbeknownst to these children, their guardians have enlisted them in a duel to the death in a battle of magical might to be showcased in a traveling night circus. Celia and Marko display their talents by constructing ever more elaborate magic in the black and white tents of the circus. Before they discover the grave consequences of the game they’re playing, they find each other and fall in love, using the circus to demonstrate their devotion to one another. Meanwhile the romantic misfits of the world simultaneously fall in love with their creations forming a devout following of writers, artists, and dreamers.

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a visually stunning debut novel full of fantasy and romance. The imagery evokes the art and films of Tim Burton with an eclectic cast of quirky characters and every visual element of the circus clad in only black, white, and grey hues. Morgenstern takes us to the mystical atmosphere of 19th century Europe while adding her own creative flair in the intricate details while the story as a whole makes a moving statement regarding the power of art on the beholder. I agree with one of her characters who says, “The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.”

My only complaint about this story regards the character of Celia. Although I admire her independence and intelligence, I’m getting tired of reading about female characters whose stories center on their rebellions and/or devotions to male characters. Celia’s whole life is spent reacting to the men in her life. She takes control and uses her brain to face all challenges and I respect and admire the author for that portrayal of a strong woman. But I would have loved to see one scene where she was acting in total independence and not in reaction to a man.



A Book Review: Just Read It

A powerful princess of the Jinn (or genie) world falls in love with a human philosopher and spawns a race of humans that will play a key role in an impending war between the human world and the Fairy world. In the 21st century, a revolution erupts against the Jinn who escape their realm in order to conquer and terrorize humanity. Told from our ancestors point of view 1001 years in the future and inspired by Islamic mythology and theology, this is a layered and complex story with a wide range of characters. It is a whimsical tale full or popular culture references and humor but mixed with dazzling moments of philosophical insight. However, I will say this isn’t a book for readers looking for a straightforward and linear plot. Prepare yourself for stories within stories and digressions within digressions.

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I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there. I’ll tell you all about how I became a dupe watching Cersei alight the iron chair.

I read an article a while back regarding the eerie similarities between our current political and environmental climate and the fictional world in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series (and the HBO series Game of Thrones). When I read the article, I was entertained by the clever parallels and focused on Martin’s wit in writing a world that so accurately captured the emotions and complexities of the reader’s world today. But since late January, when our very own Cersei was “elected” by a “free democracy” to sit as commander-in-chief, I’ve been feeling less entertained and more like the poor suckers in the scene above, watching in devastating shock as a narcissistic tyrant climbs the stairs to power.

January and February tend to be my roughest months of the year when I tend to lean towards apathy and sadness. This year I think I’m in good company when I say life has been more difficult and complicated. I just want to curl up with the bears in a cave somewhere and sleep until the sun comes out. Survival mode kicks in and I focus on my routines of work, study,  self-care, and sanity-keeping. I spend less time blogging, writing, taking photos, etc. Thus my hiatus from the blogosphere.

Part of my shock and sadness comes from the knowledge that a portion of the country (approximately 26 percent of the eligible voting population) voted for a Cersei figure. I don’t believe there is a simple answer as to why they did and I plan to do my homework in order to understand all sides. It is tempting to point fingers at the poor and dirty children who helped execute Cersei’s plan.But what about the society that created a generation of poor, neglected children so desperate they turned to a figure of influence loudly promising them control, money, and safety?

By considering their perspective, I’m looking to understand, not to discount the perspectives of the remaining majority of the kingdom. In fact, the more perspectives I can consider besides my own, the better I will understand (I hope). But I also want to remember that “kings rise and fall” while standing on the backs of their obedient and dutiful workers. While trying to understand the human emotions and motivations of the game, I want to figure out how we realize our own collective power and take back our fair share.

“Winter is coming,” in a very literal way, as our planet revolts against our neglect. We need to figure out how overcome our differences, validate each others struggles, and work together on our most pressing problems before the ice and snow of the North crashes down to destroy us. One of the only bearable ways to undertake such a serious, scary, and yes, dramatic endeavor, is (for me at least) to find inspiration from a magical fantasy world where the underdogs rise up and free slaves, ride dragons, and unite against their oppressors.

My plan:

  • First do no harm. Act in an environmentally conscious way, support environmental advocate groups and companies, and learn and avoid those that do harm.
  • Take care of myself so I can help take care of others. If I’m going to participate in a resistance, I need to remember not to lose sight of our basic needs like health, financial security, hygiene, food, shelter, etc. I can only help others so much if I neglect my needs.
  • Read other perspectives. Reading fosters empathy which encourages direct and open communication with any so-called “others” including Muslims, LGBTs, members of a different political party, members of a different race, class, professional status, pretty much anyone different than myself. The more I talk to others and learn about their perspectives, the better I’ll be able to work on our problems and organize for solutions.(So far, I’ve read Kindred by Octavia Butler, & Listen Liberal: Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank- I recommend both).
  • Support my local library. During times of uncertainty, the library has always been a safe haven where I can find resources to help me answer any questions. These days it is also a place where I can find information I trust is accurate, where facts are just plain facts. It is also a place where everyone is welcome, where communities can interact and come together, or sit back and witness democracy in action though some try to silence it.
  • Listen. That’s it.
  • Find out who my local senators and congressmen/women are. Contact them when I see a need for change.
  • Read up on the 1%.
  • Read up on the history of propaganda and political rhetoric.
  • Join/support local protests, demonstrations, marches, etc.
  • Volunteer/Donate to Planned Parenthood.
  • Drive less. Bike or walk more.
  • Research reliable news sources and read only those.
  • Limit social media exposure/Balance it with human interaction. On the internet, communication and privacy breaks down, empathy disappears, and I feel more isolated.

So these are my goals so far in response to this weird time. I’m sure I’ll update and revise as I go along. Please share what you are doing or what is helping you during a strange and scary time in US history. Thanks for reading.







A Year in Book Review: 2016’s Favorite Fiction

Super Sad & Symbolic Shipping News (3 out of 5)


Set at the time of writing in the 1990s, Annie Proulx’s second novel, The Shipping News, follows thirty-six year old Quoyle from his small hometown in New York on his quest to escape his tragic past. He moves to his ancestral home in Newfoundland, Canada, with his tough, no-nonsense aunt in hopes of providing his two young daughters with happier childhoods than his own. Quoyle joins a crew of quirky locals in writing a small newspaper in the fishing town of Killic-Claw. Assigned to report on car wrecks and shipping news, Quoyle slowly finds his voice while creating a home capable of housing love without pain.

The novel was written in a distinctly modern style, often mirroring the headline style of the newspaper articles Quoyle writes, providing bullet point factual accounts of the action. Although this was effective, I did find it distracting at times as I kept rereading in search of missing subjects or articles. While the plot takes a hopeful and uplifting turn towards the conclusion, the majority of the novel focuses on somber themes including lengthy descriptions of setting that are dense with symbolism. I think it was a challenging and worthwhile read, but one that makes you work and throws in some dark twists and turns. It’s not one for the beach.


Amazingly Imaginative All Soul’s Trilogy (4 out of 5)

Image result for all souls trilogy

Two scholars at Oxford seem to have nothing in common until they discover their mutual interest in an elusive enchanted manuscript hidden in the Bodleian Library.  Matthew Clairemont and Diana Bishop are two stubborn and strong-willed opposites who quickly fall for each other as they team up to find the manuscript. Written by new novelist and historian, Deborah Harkness, The All Souls Trilogy is a unique combination of genres. One part popular fantasy where vampires and witches are real, one part science fiction where the vampire is a renowned geneticist and the witch can time travel, and one part history lesson where we learn about New England witch trials and journey to Elizabethan London.

As a sucker for unlikely romances between outcasts, of course I fell in love with this series. But even so, I found some scenes too cheesy or dramatic to take seriously and found myself laughing a bit instead. I also thought the obvious attempts to compare monsters and witches ostracism to the modern day plight of homosexuals a little heavy-handed. Although I agree with the message that love in any form or grouping is a major positive, I think the delivery could have been more subtle. It just felt a little too after-school-special. There were also times the plot became a little predictable due to it’s structural similarities to Twilight. But I will say I was happily surprised at the feminist aspects that were nowhere to be found in Twilight. In fact, the strong female characters and relationships are my favorite part of the series.

Simon Rich’s Silly and Smart Short Stories (5 out of 5)

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories

Simon Rich is a Harvard graduate, a former SNL writer, a former Pixar staff writer, and co-creator of my favorite show on television, Man Seeking Woman. I read four of his short story collections this year including Ant Farm & Other Desperate Situations, The Last Girlfriend on Earth: & Other Love Stories, Spoiled Brats, and Free Range Chickens. Rich has a talent for summing up the Millennial experience in hilarious, concise, and unexpected stories.

On one page you’re reading about the futile existence of video game villains dying off after three punches, on the next you’re reading about the fantasy of putting your parents through the excruciatingly awkward situations of your youth, like  inviting over their entire office for their birthday so as not to exclude anyone, or insisting on impromptu performances of their talents to impress your friends. One story describes Zeus’s inability to reign in a rebellious Cupid who would rather learn to rap than spread love. The ideas are so clever and original. I loved every collection and laughed out loud all the way through. Simon Rich is a new favorite.