Sunday, November 27, 2011

The books of the months... and saving the best for last.

While in KS I read the Fallen series by Lauren Kate.  They were okay...I don't think I loved them but I didn't hate them.  It's just that angels don't really do it for me.  I'll read the last book when it comes out, but it's not like I'm holding my breath.

At some point I read Enclave by Ann Aguire.  I had really high hopes for the book.  I also thought it was a stand-alone, as in, not the first book in a series.  That alone was a big part of why I was so hopeful.  About half way though the book, I realized it couldn't end any time I looked it up and was terribly disappointed to find that it's book one of a trilogy.  The story itself was decent.  Post-apocalyptic world where people live underground and have to fight for everything.  It seemed like it was going somewhere interesting.  Then there were zombies.  I find it so difficult to take a book seriously when there are zombies.  I should really take some time to consider my aversion to zombies - I don't find them scary, and in fact my first favorite movie ever was Night of the Living Dead (the original).  But, I don't think of them as a serious threat. Perhaps there's too much humor surrounding all things zombie for me to consider the possible implications of real-life zombies.  Maybe I'd just prefer a more realistic threat... or a threat that isn't so... transparent.  Zombies just want to eat people...but they don't care about the destruction of people or society because they're mindless.  Mindless things aren't evil (except....well I won't get into politics here).  So, anyway... I liked the book apart from the zombies.

I also read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  With a name like that, I just knew he'd be spectacular.  I was not disappointed.  I also don't know if I've already written about this here or not.  I know that I absolutely loved the story.  There were a couple times when it was slow, but the writing was so good that it didn't matter.  I've never read anything similar to this... the time loops, the circus-freak-like characters (capable of making fire or floating...and the invisible boy), THIS particular kind of magic is all new.  The process of creating the story was just as interesting, to me, as the story itself.  There were pictures peppered throughout - creepy old pictures.  They were like old-fashioned circus freak images.  The story had a very dark feel in many places, and a lot of really magnificent characters and creatures.  I wish that the *love* story would have blossomed a little more, but there will be more books and more time for that later.  Because the story is slow at times, I wouldn't recommend this one to everyone.  But, for those who appreciate the craft of writing, this is an excellent example of doing it right.

Just this afternoon I finished Crossed, the second in the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie.  I found nothing but problems with this book.  The chapters switched back and forth between the two main characters, but neither was I kept forgetting which character I was reading.  The story that was started in the first book was a rather typical dystopian teen love story.  Girl gets matched to perfect guy, but there's a mistake and she's also matched to the bad boy.  Naturally she falls for the bad boy.  He gets kicked out of the Society, and she goes to find him.  Book two is about her finding him and him finding her.  Then it turns into her wanting to find the Rising...and him not wanting to find the Rising.  There wasn't enough going on...not enough about the Society or anything interesting.  It wasn't emotionally engaging at all.  There were a couple things that were a little interesting, but they weren't explained...stuff just left for the next book.  I was horrified to see that someone had compared it to The Hunger Games.  At this point, I'm not sure I'll be reading the final book in the series.

Now for a list of things I've tried to read but gave up on, for whatever reason...
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro.  I tried.  It was boring.  Despite all the great things I've read about the wasn't able to hook me in the first little bit, so I gave up.
Life as We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I didn't try very hard with this one.  I hate journal format.  I also hate when the entire premise of a book is scientifically impossible.  If you're going to write sci-fi, write it well... don't assume your reader is too dumb to fact-check.
Starcrossed - Josephine Angelini.  This is actually unfair to list here, since I do want to read the book.  The only reason I gave up was that the formatting didn't convert... the pdf to mobi thing sort of...ate a bunch of letters and/or punctuation.  I read a few books missing letters, and my brain gets it after a bit... but when there isn't any punctuation, it's difficult to tell what's going on.

ANYWAY.  Like I said...saving the best for last.  It's not often that I become completely absorbed in a book.  It's not often that an author creates a world so beautiful and magical that I actually want to live in it... but Erin Morgenstern did just that with The Night Circus.  I fell so in love with the feeling of the book... the style and skill and emotion expressed.  A while back, NPR had a list of books for people who were sad that Harry Potter was over... had this book been published at the time, it would have topped the list.  It's the story of two magicians who are raised to compete against each other... but they aren't told much more than that.  An entire circus is created as their competition - and it is amazing.  They compete, collaborate, and... every single thing about the book is magical.  I wish it would have ended with Prospero's lines from The Tempest... but I love it anyway.  It's right up there with HP and The Hunger Games...amazing from start to finish. I sleep.

I'm a terrible blogger.

It's been a while since I've found time to write or otherwise.  This whole *being employed* thing is really getting in the way of my regular life.  I certainly hope I'm not permanently creatively stifled.

Right now I'm trying to fight feeling awful...knowing yet another cold or something is coming.  Oliver is in his third week of having whatever he has.  He's finished his antibiotics, but still has the cough...and it's getting bad again.  Guess I'll just have to call the doc tomorrow.  It's so frustrating to have a sick kid... :(  it's only compounded by not feeling well myself.

Anyway... we had Thanksgiving, and it was as usual.  There was food, and Oliver didn't really want to eat any of it.  I'm still enjoying leftovers.  After dinner, I went to bed.  I left the house a bit before 10 for Black Friday, and it was fun.  I had to park pretty far away...but got everything I wanted (except the $3 waffle maker).  I'm currently using the new laptop, named Friday.  I haven't yet hooked up the printer..or even taken it out of the box.  It was enough for me to get some programs installed on this today!  I also got a Shark Steamer...something I've wanted for a long time.  Oliver and I steam cleaned part of the kitchen the next day :)  I got Oliver some cars and a new Play-Doh kit.  His main xmas present isn't going on sale, and will have to be ordered (it's a big blue truck).  The next day, Oliver and I went back to the store for the one thing I didn't get during the initial sale - a camera.  The line was waaaay too long, so I gave up.  The next day, we got the last one they had.  We gave it to my mom when we got home, because it was a birthday present and not an xmas present.

We've got the whole area ready for the xmas tree...all the necessary furniture has been moved and the carpet has been shampooed.  I'm too tired to put the thing up, though.  Meant to do it Friday, but didn't get around to it...and yesterday I worked.  Today has been a long day of...nothing.  Installing programs, reading a sub-par book, and hoping my immune system kicks in soon.

Something I've learned since returning to work is that the public is unclean.  No one cares how sick they are when they leave the house.  No one cares what kinds of nasty germs they leave all over everything and everyone.  Please, people...stay home when you're sick.  Don't infect me.  My immune system isn't prepared for all of this.  I was at home with a kid for two and half years...not exposed to much at I'm weak!

Anyway... that's enough of the nothing.  Time for a book update.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In Memory of...

This morning I woke up knowing the day just felt...wrong.  There was something off, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  I've been sick most of the week, but...this felt different.  I got ready for work in a daze, stood in line at Starbucks, and then went home sick from work.  Once I get this out, I should be well enough to go back in - because now I know why I am beside myself today.  Seven years ago today, my dad died.

I was downloading Rise Against to replenish my files after the most recent reformat, and decided to listen to Swing Life Away.  The very first time I heard the song, I thought of my dad.  I suppose it's only fitting that that was the song playing when my aunt called to say he'd died.

The week that he died, I had been thinking about what his funeral would be like.  It'd been years since I last saw him or spoke to him, but just felt that it'd be soon.  I imagined what it'd be like to see family members I didn't know or hadn't seen in a decade.  I wondered in particular about my cousin Andrew...about what kind of guy he was growing up to be.  The things that I imagined were far from the reality that I found myself in the next week.

There's so much about this that I repress.  Mostly, the guilt.  I was 19 years old the last time I saw him.  He was happy to see me when my cousin dropped me at his house (by force, because I wasn't exactly willing).  We had a good day.  It was interesting to see the similarities between us, even after virtually no contact for most of my life.  When I left that day, we exchanged addresses.  I told myself that I'd write to him once, and if he wrote back, we'd go from there.  But if he didn't, I was done.  I never heard from him.

The August before he died, I was in Kansas.  He was working just a couple blocks over, but I wouldn't go see him.  Everyone knew I was in town, and if he'd wanted to see me, he could have come over any time.  My grandma said that one day I'd regret refusing to see him.  I can't say that it's a regret, but the guilt stings.  I know I wasn't responsible for the lack of relationship between he and I when I was a child, but I can't help but think I should have behaved better as an adult.  It took a couple months of therapy to stop blaming myself.  I had what my therapist termed 'complicated grief,' which basically meant there were aspects to the mourning process that I was unable to work through in the typical ways.

I always saw my father's death as the death of a familiar stranger.  It's difficult to reconcile feelings when you don't know what your feelings are... I think part of me will always feel the guilt.  And as a wave of guilt washes over, so does a wave of anger.  The anger has only increased since becoming a mother.  I don't understand his indifference.

And then there's the book.  I've tried to work on it.  I never had the heart to tell anyone in the family that the book is something I hate.  Responsibility is the only thing that's kept me from burning it.  I got a rough draft of the book for my 16th birthday, accompanied by a letter.  The letter explained that the book was his life's work, and his reason for being such a terrible father.  I've never read it.  However, the letter came in handy when it was time to write something for the funeral...since I knew so little.

And the funeral was surreal.  There were so many people...and they all told me stuff about my father.  They told me about how he loved me and worried about me...all things I had no first-hand knowledge of.

I was in shock the whole time I was in Kansas for the funeral, but remember one thing very clearly: the smell of death.  It never leaves.  Once you know it, it stays with you forever.  My cousin, the same who called to tell me about my father, lost her husband (my actual cousin) a couple months later.  She told me that the smell came in the days before he died.  It's an overpowering sickening sweetness.  It clings to everything.  Just thinking of it now brings it back, mingled with cigarette smoke and wood burning and the damp cold of November in Kansas.

Something else that I've told very few people is that... I saw what was left behind.  No one told me much at the time, and I know they were just trying to protect me from further breakdown, so I've never been mad about being kept in the dark.  I just wish I'd never seen what was in the cellar.  My father had a heart attack on his way to get a cup of coffee.  He never knew - the autopsy said it would have been instant.  On his way down, he hit his head.  There was blood.  It was also a few days to a week before anyone found him, and it'd been warm.  Intellectually, I knew that there had to be some degree of decomposition.  I never allowed myself to really consider what that meant.  Even in the house with its smell of death.  I'm thankful I was spared the sight of that on the kitchen floor.  The trash bags full of bloody rags and paint scrapers edged with coagulated blood in the cellar were more than I could take.  I didn't realize what I was looking at at first... it wasn't until I'd emptied half of the bags out on the floor that I realized.  Someday I hope to forget all that.

Despite everything, the worst of it is that I have no stories to tell.  As the one person who should, I feel at a loss.  Family members have passed things on since his death - mementos, photos, etc. - but I have few memories of my own.

My mom told me that he used to sit on the back porch of our little farmhouse and play this song... seems a good place to end this: