Knowledge is the Best Medicine

For the last 2-ish months, I’ve been in a bit of a funk. I had days that ranged all over the place—horrible, amazing, good, bad, meh—but overall, something just felt wrong.

I realized what I was missing when I was at Barnes & Noble this weekend. I wanted to go buy a book. Some book. Not any book—I’ve been reading a lot of the depressing (post-)apocalyptic stuff lately, and I was pretty sure that was part of why I’d been feeling more blue than normal.

Normally, I’d pick up a teen novel, because they can be light and funny, but hardly any of the new stuff is nowadays. B&N has sections for “Teen Adventure/Fantasy” (think the Maze Runner trilogy, anything Cassandra Clare, Victoria Roth’s Divergent series, anything Eoin Colfer, Allie Condie’s Matched trilogy… and the lovely Tammy P. hasn’t put out anything new lately), “Teen Paranormal Romance” (something tells me I need not explain), and “Teen Fiction”—where they put the not-quite-fantasy/adventure/paranormal romance stuff. And all of it looks dark as of late. Look, I get that life isn’t sunshine and daisies, but it’s not doom and gloom all the time, either!

Nothing new in adult fiction looked worth dropping a 20 or two on, I wasn’t really feeling manga, and sci-fi wasn’t doing it for me, either. I briefly contemplated a harlequin romance, just long enough for me to feel really, really bad about it. (No offence to those who like them! They’re just not for me, especially not after reading something last summer that claimed to be a romance but turned out to be basically the same 10 basic, unimaginative words to describe sex over and over again. I thought that it had to get better, or at least get more substance. It didn’t, and I want those 90 minutes of my life back.) I didn’t want movies or music, either—I wanted to read. So I wandered over to the science section, because I was thinking of getting Theodore Gray’s The Elements because chemistry rocks my socks, but, as I’ve said before, I didn’t have the fortitude or, quite frankly, the aptitude to go into it and really thrive.

But then, it hit me: this is the first time in years that I won’t be going back to school after three months. That’s a pretty sucky thought for me; if I could just get paid to learn whatever I wanted to in an academic setting for the rest of my life, I’d probably do it. But there are plenty of ways to teach myself outside of a traditional academic setting, and what better way to go about that than to do what I do best? (Read, by the way. I read best. I write well, but I read better.)

I grabbed James Gleick’s The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood to see if it was something I might want. I did. Very, very much. (I still haven’t started it yet, but information is kind of a big thing for me. I’m very interested to see what all I learn.)

I had also grabbed a big book of crosswords—365 puzzles, to be precise. I have a vast store of random knowledge (and a good-sized vocabulary, if I do say so, myself. I’m also the most humble person on earth. Yup… Nope.) that has only grown in the time that I’ve been doing crossword puzzles, and when I saw the puzzles section, that part of my brain let me know that it wanted exercise.

Not that I’ve been hugely unhappy, but I’m the happiest now that I’ve been in weeks. I now know what I was missing, and how good it feels to use all that non-CS knowledge I have.

In other news (I like this, and I am probably going to keep using it): I let my boyfriend pick out my top for today. The man probably has a better sense of style than I do, so I’m okay with this. (It’s also pretty hard to mess up with me—I mostly have short and long sleeve tees in various colors.) He knows how to make things aesthetically pleasing in terms of design and color, and I happen to think the primrose-fuschia (it’s really close to this hex color: DB1A5B) v-neck I’ve got on is quite becoming. Like I said, I’m the most humble person on earth, so you know I’m telling the truth.

Don’t look at me like that!

:P

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Book Review 4: Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn

I am a sucker for historical novels, especially ones that take place between about 1880 and 1930. It should come as no surprise that Victorian-era romance novels are a particular favorite.

I’m not talking bodice rippers. Tried one of those once. I decided that if sex—and quite literal, totally unnecessary bodice ripping—was the only thing that was going to move the plot (which I wasn’t even sure existed) along, it wasn’t for me.

Last summer, I was trying to find books at the library to read on the bus rides to and from my internship. I happened across Deanna Raybourn’s The Dark Enquiry. The cover blurb made no mention of being part of a series, so I went ahead and read it. There were hints that it was part of a larger series, and that this was not the first book throughout, but it stood very well on its own, and I was not disappointed. Rather, I was intrigued, and wound up looking up the rest of the books from the library, reading them in this order: fifth, first, fourth, third, second.

So, there’s that. They stand on their own.

But what are these books really about, you ask?

Well, Lady Julia Grey, for one. Julia Grey, née March, is the daughter (5th daughter, 9th child of 10) of the extremely progressive, somewhat eccentric 12th Earl March (whose Christian name currently escapes me, though I swear it’s mentioned more than once in the books) and his late wife. The March children themselves all range anywhere from party-line-toeing Tory to flamboyantly… March, as only Marches can be. (And yes, there is at least one play on March hares in the books.) Julia starts off as rather demure, or at least leashed, but it is clear that this is a bit of a strain for her, and that her true nature is far more inquisitive and just generally bold, especially for a woman in the pre-suffrage era.

The series commences with her husband’s murder—not that Julia kills him, though she soon finds out she has more than enough reason to have done so. Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper mystery/romance if this event didn’t bring Nicholas Brisbane, an enigmatic and aloof private investigator, into Julia’s life. Hell, you’re introduced to the man in the first sentence, in conjunction with the death of Julia’s husband. No, he didn’t do it. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that much. Just as it’s not a spoiler to say we all know where things are headed for Julia and Brisbane in the end… even if it takes 3 books to get there.

Raybourn writes with an eye for detail. I don’t know how well her research is actually founded, but she presents an incredibly romantic version of the Victorian era, especially pertaining to its aristocracy. Given that this is in the interest of mood-setting, though, it’s perfectly acceptable in my book. After all, if I’m going to read a ridiculously fun romance, I want it to be just a little over the top.

However, things do get repetitive after a while, I’ll admit. Julia has a bad habit of putting herself into trouble, and not always with the best of intentions. I think she does it sometimes just to piss off (or at least worry) Brisbane, even though she does it under the guise of proving she can handle herself. In a strange twist of irony, this seems to be when people start recognizing her most as a March, with their dual mottos of “Quod habeo habeo” (What I have, I hold) and “Audeo” (I dare—the unofficial March family motto).

Still, it’s a romp, and quite worth it. It will ring true for a lot of people who have large, somewhat meddlesome, very eclectic families. As a series, I give it a 4 (and probably dropping bit by bit). Books 1, 2, and 3 (in chronological order, not in the order I read them) earn about a 5 each, and books 4 and 5 each get about a 4.

Don’t judge a book by its cover–literally

Don’t judge a book by its cover–literally

So, apparently, when men ask for less girly covers, authors and artists hear them. (Read the link.)

I think it’s pretty cool that guys want to read “girly” books, and sensible that they want to read them without fear of judgment. The funny thing is, as a woman, so do I.

Take for instance the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. Most of the covers have a woman somewhat scantily clad, with cleavage or underboob (and sometimes both) showing. She only occasionally holds a tool of her trade (car mechanic), and when she does, it looks far more suggestive of *ahem* adult funtimes than of “I’m actually a decent mechanic”.

Now, if Mercy was a seductress who allowed payment in sex for mechanical services rendered, I’d understand the covers.

But she’s not.

She’s a freakin’ shapeshifter, and I’m pretty sure she is described quite clearly as wearing the same sort of coverall that most mechanics wear. Because, you know, car maintenance is messy. A few strategically placed smudges of oil and grease, along with some tousled hair, might conjure a sexy image, but in reality, after I’ve done maintenance (yup, little white girl can change her own oil and tires, thanks very much), I want nothing more than to take a shower because my hair is frizzy, and the crap I get on me is really, really hard to take off, and smells horrible.

Don’t get me wrong—Mercy is supposed to be attractive. I don’t mind her being portrayed as such, but there’s a huge cognitive dissonance in that for me, especially because in one of the books, Mercy is assaulted by a guy because he thinks she’s hot and that she’s interested, but she’s not interested in him. It was pretty heart-wrenching to read. I mean, the woman doesn’t flaunt her looks, but even if she did, that still wouldn’t change how I feel—I wouldn’t think she deserved it or anything because she’s hot.

Sex at all is kept to a minimum in the books, though I will admit that there is a romance or two that takes place. Other than that, the books are dedicated to solving mysteries within the community of mystical creatures and testing the bonds between people.

Interestingly enough, the UK covers are much less racy than their US counterparts. If you do a quick search on Amazon’s UK site, you can see the difference immediately. I much prefer those covers. They have the more mysterious, adventurous feeling about them that the books are supposed to have. (For the record, if a book is based around sex, I have no problem with it having a sexy—or “sexy”.)

But it’s interesting, isn’t it? And hard to deal with—we all have a different idea of what the cover for a book should look like, but we’re drawn to certain ones regardless. It is hard to get someone interested without a gripping cover, but covers can be gripping without the hint of sex. They can also be gripping to their target audience without catering to the “normal” tastes of one demographic or the other.

But there’s also the problem of thinking that we can’t or shouldn’t read books because of their covers. I totally get not wanting to read a book in public because it’s got a disturbing cover, but why should we judge guys who read books with “pretty” covers or girls who read slasher novels? Books are supposed to take you away to a different place, and not one where you’re worried about what people around you think of you.

I’m not going to go on a full-fledged rant about gender roles in society here, because that would get messy. Suffice it to say, book covers are strange, strange things, and some of them could be done a hell of a lot better. Also, they reflect gender issues in society.

That is all.

(Well, not really, but… yeah. Stopping now.)

Book Review #3: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

I am a fan of the original Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s just so trippy and weird and punny and clever—you might say I have something of a kinship with this book, actually. (Here, I should say that by Alice in Wonderland, I refer to the combination of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.) As such, I am inclined to check out adaptations and spin-offs. Usually, I toss them away. (Confession: I have not seen The Mad Hatter Johnny Depp in Wonderland Alice in Wonderland. Three guesses and the first two don’t count as to why.)

Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland isn’t really what you’d call an adaptation, though. It’s more of a “loosely based on the ideas of” sort of deal. Which, honestly, is quite alright with me.

Straight from the beginning, though, I think there were a lot of unnecessary events. It’s no spoiler to say that Alice’s family is killed—it’s in the blurb! I suspect making Alice lose her father, mother, and sister was a ploy to make her tougher, or to make it so she has nothing left to lose. Showalter tries, but I don’t think she does a good job of achieving either. Alice’s emotional numbness makes sense, at least, though.

Another gripe of mine is the visions Alice and the of course stunningly beautiful, bad-boy-with-a-heart Cole. As a reason to get them together, it’s pretty weak. I’m a huge believer in self-fulfilling prophecy, but this… not feeling it, to be honest. Both Alice and Cole feel a little flat, and, while this is common in teenage relationships, they seem to have the same fights over and over again. Given their situation, especially Alice’s desires to prove her worth, it’s understandable, but re-hashing it for the last third of the book really didn’t help.

Kat, however, I appreciate, except for how preachy she is about not swearing. It’s fine that she doesn’t do it—don’t get me wrong. It’s just how she comes off saying it in the first place. I’ll give Showalter points in that it is a very typically teenager way, however. Kat is one of her best-written characters, I think. Showalter really had me going on what I thought Kat’s secret was, only to reveal it as something completely different. Unfortunately, I think I know what Kat’s fate is (I won’t reveal it because it ties into a spoiler about Kat), especially as it ties into Alice, and it makes me a little sad.

The one thing that really stood out to me was Showalter’s concept of zombies. In Showalter’s world, zombies are not flesh-and-bone beings, but spirit beings of evil, and even “good” people can become zombies upon their spiritual death. (Another thing Showalter is good—almost too good, as it gets kind of confusing—at: blurring the line between good and evil people.) Of course, there’s some serious tension between Cole and his zombie fighters, and another group focused on not destroying zombies, but figuring out how they work and harnessing it for *ahem* the “greater good”.

There isn’t terribly much action, but then, the story is still building, as this is the first book of at least two. (From the beginning, it’s clear we’re set up for at least one sequel—is the standalone just not a thing anymore?!) I can’t say I’m completely intrigued to see where it goes—after all, Kat’s fate is the one I’m most invested in. Unless Showalter pulls out all the stops in the next book, I fear she’s going to lose a lot of readers. After all, there’s only so much Alice messing up and Kat’s zaniness and Alice and Cole getting a little hot-and-heavy people will take. (Showalter is pretty preachy on the “no sex before marriage” thing, or at least “no sex before you’re ready”. I’m still not sure which one is her ideology. I’m totally okay with the latter, but the first just seems kind of forced.)

As a young adult book, I’d give Alice in Zombieland a solid B, bordering on B+ (3.5 stars). I wouldn’t read it again for fun, but it was an entertaining read the first time around, and very unique in its treatment of zombies. Again, I’m not sure I’ll pick up any future sequels, and I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone who isn’t a YA fan. If you enjoy YA literature, however, give it a read.