Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Book Survey

Now Playing: The Pretty Reckless - Miss Nothing

Last year, I filled out an End of the Year Book Survey and I considered it quite fun. Because schoolwork only plagued me for the first half of the year and I rediscovered the joys of library life, I've decided to fill this out again. Plus it's been a slightly more successful book reading year; I wanna commemorate it.

Despite the fact that overall I feel like I read a ton of fun and awesome stories, weirdly, Goodreads calculated my average rating to be 3.1 stars. Uh. Which means. Woooo, average-ness!

(Maybe I'm just super harsh with my ratings?)

Either way, here we go! Survey time.

Number Of Books You Read: 50.

Finallyyy. I would have been so mad if I hadn't finished properly.

Number of Re-Reads: I'm never sure about this since I tend to reread passages at random. Complete reread. . .three or so? Just guessing here.

Genre You Read The Most From: Fantasy.

Side category would most likely be Vampire books--of the non-fiction and fiction variety. Oh thank you, Slavic Vampire class. I am much the wiser now.

1. Best Book You Read In 2015? 

I had a lot of favorites, but though it's a bit uncommon for me to read nonfiction, the best book I read this year was in that category: The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero. It left me thinking about the inherent merit found in any work of art--even terrible art--and how much a creation can truly reflect its creator. And it's funny. Never have I felt such an array of emotions with any other book--fiction or non-fiction.

2. Book You Were Excited About/Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? 

Ready Player One. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't very good either. I wasn't into all the (often pointless) pop culture references, I wasn't buying the world wholeheartedly, the characters were flat and read like wish-fulfillment fantasies at times (cough Wade), and it was just kind of...meh? Also, there were some awkward sentences and the writing could be just completely flat and monotone. Let's not even talk about how the author deals with characters of color >_> Especially his two Japanese characters.

I didn't hate it because, again, aside from two or three aspects that were terribly worded and just downright stupid, it wasn't frothing-at-the-mouth-offensive. It was just nothing. Which makes me kinda sad because I gave it to my brother first and he loved it so I had high hopes for it.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2015? 

  I've owned The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K Rowling for ages now and didn't get around to reading it till this year. I was surprised how well she captured the tone and feel of fairy tales while also making completely original stories on her own.

Oh, and Dumbledore's commentary is an awesome bonus.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2015? 

Steelheart. aND I REGRET NOTHING. Love Sanderson as I do, children. Love himmmm.

5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015? 

Oh Batman nooo, don't ask this to the woman who never finishes anything.

Okay, lemme try:

Best series I started: either The Reckoners series or The Lotus War series. Stormdancer has some beautiful writing and the two leads are adorable together, and The Reckoners is just endless fun to me. Plus they both have likable leads.

Best sequel: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.

Best series ender: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Although I have to say it's pretty much the only series I wrapped up in 2015. (Not that it makes the book bad! I gave it three stars. So it was okay and wins by default. I'm sorry.)

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015? 

Brandon Sanderson, definitely.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone? 

I'm not into romance or erotica, let alone BDSM billionaire Dom with younger sub stories--and oh, I'm sure there are plenty--but The Boss by Abigail Barnette (pen name) was quite good.

On a purely personal level, I find BDSM and the age difference in the book off-putting, but I read it 1) cuz it's free and 2) I adore the author, Jenny Trout, and her blog. Plus, I figured I read Fifty Shades of Grey in the past so I might as well bring my literary karma back in balance by reading a good BDSM billionaire erotica.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year? 

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. A lot of the book is spent planning and discussing and figuring out back-up plans. But when the actual action gets going, it is sooo fun.

9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year? 

Graphic novels time! Mostly because I have to get to the rest of the volumes, I'll reread Ms. Marvel: No Normal and The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes before tackling the rest.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015? 

Oh there were so many good book covers I came across this year. The Lotus War especially has some great designs for the American editions--it's part of the reason I kept being drawn to the series. (What? I judge books by their covers, try and stop me).

(Although I've yet to read Endsinger)

Despite my problems with this other series, I like the redesigned cover for Throne of Glass.

And The Night Circus. Also a very cute cover that encompasses the atmosphere of the story.


11. Most memorable character of 2015? 

Sadly, she's in The Broken Empire series sparingly, but when Miana shows up in King of Thorns, you know there's no better queen to stand at Jorg's side.

What's strange to me is that the series spends a lot of time on Jorg's obsession with Katherine, yet I, for the life of me, can't remember a single thing about Katherine that would point to her being interesting. In fact, as incredible as the world and writing are in the series, the characters can be a touch forgettable. (In my opinion--others might disagree).

That is except for Jorg--sociopathic, bratty, violent conquistador--and Miana. She's twelve years old in King of Thorns and still puts the then-eighteen year-old Jorg in his place.

I adore her.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015? 

There were a lot, but I want to pick Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It mostly comes down to the unique atmosphere the prose creates.

It's one of those rare books that deal with familiar aspects of fantasy fiction, but it DOESN'T feel like another run of the mill European Medieval Era fantasy. It has a ton of fantastical aspects, but you can definitely see the type of Slavic folklore that had inspired it.

It's pretty rare. There's only so many English fairy tale/folklore inspired narratives I can take and this one feels unique without being alienating.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015? 

Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman.

I already knew that Gaiman's Death was (also) a teenage girl before I jumped into the first Sandman volume, but because of that, I was sooo upset when she only showed up at the very end of that volume. (Although her scene with Dream is so mega cute, I wasn't mad).

Because of that, I couldn't wait to read her stand-alone mini side story. The plot is simpler than what I'd expected and can feel a bit too meandering (although that's to be expected, given the set-up), but it's still thought-provoking. That's probably a given since it's a story about Death and her day with humanity, but nonetheless, it's interesting to see this kind of portrayal of the personification.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

Confession time: I hadn't read Octavia Butler until this year. My Women in Lit class had me read Bloodchild and then I found the first of the Lilith's Brood book at the library.

I know, I'm ashamed D: I shouldn't have taken this long.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015? 

We can go about this two ways. The Incredibly Deep Way:
"Memory is all we are. Moments and feelings, captured in amber, strung on filaments of reason. Take a man’s memories and you take all of him. Chip away a memory at a time and you destroy him as surely as if you hammered nail after nail through his skull."
― Mark Lawrence, King of Thorns

Or The Incredibly Amusing Way AKA How-Not-To-Handle-A-Weapon:
"Whoa. Not too stiff," Cody said. "Secure, strong, but calm. Like you're caressing a beautiful woman, remember?" 
That made me think of Megan. 
I lost control, and a green wave of smoky energy burst from my hand and flew out in front of me. It missed the pipe completely, but vaporized the metal leg of the chair it sat on. Dust showered down and the chair went lopsided, dumping the pipe to the floor with a clang. 
"Sparks," Cody said. "Remind me to never let you caress me, lad."
― Brandon Sanderson, Steelheart

Pfft. Oh David. . . .

16. Shortest and Longest Book You Read In 2015?

Ughhh. I totally cheated and put up my school textbooks on Goodreads. They ate up so much of my reading time I figured I might as well make them count towards my challenge, but I don't know if I could realistically say I read all of Film History: An Introduction by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell. I read a good chunk of it--I'd say about 85%, then scanned the rest--but is it still cheating? Yes. Either way, it's what Goodreads says was my longest book.

  Shortest would definitely be Vasilisa the Beautiful and Baba Yaga, translated from Alexander Afanasyev's original Russian. It's only 25 pages long. And, of course, it's such a wonderful little fairy tale.

I actually feel a bit guilty that I haven't delved into other Russian fairy tales, but I've read this one a few times now and I've really come to love it. It has some of the most inventive images I've ever encountered in a fairy tale and Vasilisa is an interesting heroine. She's the prototypical impossibly kind and beautiful fairy tale heroine, but the story places a lot of emphasis on how hardworking and brave she is. I wasn't expecting that.


17. Book That Shocked You The Most (Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.) 

The Prince of Thorns twist was Badass™. It was one of the reasons I decided to give the rest of the books a chance, even if I did have a giant problem with some of the narrative choices in the first book.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)?

  Scarlet and Wolf from The Lunar Chronicles :D They are so cute together and really cool apart from each other. Their relationship edges dangerously to instalove, but I think they seem to somewhat understand it's just attraction at first that's slowly turning into actual love. It's a good romance for a YA science fantasy.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year?

Yukiko and Buruu from The Lotus War series. Haven't read the last book yet, but through both Stormdancer and Kinslayer, those two are disgustingly adorable.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously?

  
Coraline
by Neil Gaiman. I read American Gods a few years ago and just thought it was okay--and by now, I barely remember the plot.

This year, I read more of Gaiman and found I like him a lot more when he's writing for children. I liked The Graveyard Book, mostly because Nobody is super cute, but I found I liked Coraline's creepy, imaginative atmosphere much more.

21. Best Book You Read In 2015 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure?

Best. . .? There was only one set of books I read through peer pressure--the entire Throne of Glass series published so far. (With the exception of Assassin's Blade).

I read the first one ages ago and I hated it and never thought I'd try the rest. But, thanks to Goodreads and BookTube, I kept hearing from fans and haters alike that the other books got a lot better. So, with a hopeful mindset, I tried to push on and see if anything good came out of it

And. . .err. No, that didn't happen. I guess I got Manon out of it? But that's the only good thing, the rest was still bad.

I'll say the "best" out of those was Queen of Shadows. Still dumb, still incredibly simplified and in desperate need of editing that page count down, but the writing's cleared up a lot, there's some cool action, and I got to see more of Manon.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?

Speaking of which, the first name that popped into my head was Manon from Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows. Admittedly, it might be partially because her society and her character remind me of some of my own characters. For the most part, I just love how morally-grey of a character she is. From her introduction I was enamored by her.

If all of  the Throne of Glass series was about her and her dragon, it would seriously improve it to a great series.

23. Best 2015 debut you read?

. . . :( I didn't read a single 2015 debut. All the 2015 releases I got to were from already published writers.

  
The one debut I got to--Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen--was published in 2014.

I'm always late to the party.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

On that note, Stolen Songbird has a beautiful, vivid setting. It's one of the most memorable parts of the book, next to the cute romance scenes.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Ahhh! So many to chose from! I'll pick Firefight by Brandon Sanderson. The Reckoners series has been fun so far. I can't wait to get to the last book.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015?

Errr. Not a single one. There was no crying this year. I guess I felt really, really bad for a ton of characters in Fairest by Marissa Meyer. Mostly Evret and Winter, who are prime victims of Levana's delusions. And hell, I even felt bad for Levana herself at times. (The book doesn't phrase it this way, but I stand by my statement when I say SHE RAPED A MAN, and that's fucked up and unforgivable. But, uh, damn if this girl didn't have a traumatic childhood).

27. Hidden Gem Of the Year?

I'll pick Halo: Cryptum.

  
It's been out for a while but I don't always hear Halo fans talk about it. The ones that read the books usually stick to the more action-heavy Halo stories from what I've encountered. And to be fair, I don't blame them for being drawn to those books. They're fun and keep with the spirit of the games. That said, I find the entire lore of the Forerunners to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the universe. It's what made it my favorite video game series in the first place.

Master Chief's origin and the structure and conflicts of the military and the Covenant are all interesting, but not as much as what makes the backbone of the mythology in Halo. That's the part that's always made the universe feel grand to me.

It's not a perfect book, but it is exactly what I wanted from a Forerunner story.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. It lives up to its title since its heroine is just this miserable, chronically depressed person with next to nothing to live for, no prospects for a good future, and a past that's haunted her in every way imaginable. Most of what crushed my soul had to do with her mom, though. That poor, poor woman.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

  
Back to Gillian Flynn: the format of Gone Girl is interesting. In fact, it's most likely one of the reasons the book has become so famous.

Despite the fact that I had seen the movie beforehand and knew all the twists coming in, I still loved reading Amy's diary and then seeing it in contrast to Nick's early narration--then the infamous shift after the middway point make the earlier set-up all the better.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

I'll answer this question in two ways:

  Liked the Book: Tin Men by Christopher Golden is good, but near the end, a interesting character gets executed and disposed of as if he were a run-of-the-mill antagonist rather than someone who added a ton of complexity to the conflict.

I almost gave the book two stars out of the rage I felt >:(

Disliked the Book: Reading like a Writer by Francis Prose can have some solid advice, but godfuckingshit is it the embodiment of pretentious literary writers who never Shut the Fuck Up about how Complex and Deep and Inherently Awesome they are compared to the lowly genre fiction writers. It partially made sticking through my last creative writing workshop a fucking chore and effectively convinced me I am never, ever going back to another university writing class again. If only so I never again have to read another How-To writing book.

SIDE NOTE: The original challenge has a second category here for book reviewers, but since my Goodreads reviews are just quick things I write to sort out my feelings, I don't answer that part.

I feel like, instead, there should be a category for all the atrocious crap we put ourselves through. Or--in honor of my 3.1 average rating--the mediocrity found in our literature choices.

  I mean, I read Matched and it somehow turned out to be even worse than what I'd expected, and After the End was a massive disappointment and weirdly offensive at times.

I kinda wish I could rant about those. Uh. But that's just cuz I'm a bitter reader >_>

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2015:

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2016?

Technically all my birthday books, since having a December birthday means a ton of bookish presents and too little time to tackle them before the year ends.

But my number one will be Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I went to Barnes and Noble on my birthday, read the first 20 pages of Illuminae, and loved it so much I had to have it.

Also, runner-up is Winter by Marissa Meyer; I gotta wrap up The Lunar Chronicles.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2016 (non-debut)? 

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson, last book in The Reckoners series. Ho-ly sheeet, I can't wait for the end of the trilogy. The first two books already converted me into a Sanderson fangirl.

Also...let's put The Winds of Winter back on this list >_> Even though there's still doubt. There is always doubt.

3. 2016 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Fellow blogger, Ava Jae, has a book coming out! I've been terrible at keeping up with book news this year that I'm mostly ignorant on incoming 2016 Debuts, but this is one I didn't forget. It's called Beyond the Red and comes out on March.

It's listed as "science fiction" on Goodreads, but it's got an alien queen and rebel soldiers and kingdoms. I'll have to see once I get the book, but I wonder if it'll have elements of science fantasy.

If so, I am glad that genre is making a comeback.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2016? 

Read ten more books! 60 books in total.

I also wanna get through the entire Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Wish me luck.

6. A 2016 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Still zero on this one >:( I made a NetGallery account and then I didn't fill it out because I realized I'd never get books sent to me.

I do get an awful lot of recommendations for new releases in the romance/erotica genres. Did I accidentally click that box in my preferences? Probably. Should I unclick it? Nah.

Happy reading!
~Becky

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Holiday Haul

Now Playing: Guns n' Roses - November Rain

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when Rebeca gets really sad, she reads about serial killers.

(And I mean that sincerely; no facetious tone here as Ms. Austen invoked).

Call it the most appropriate Christmas gift ever at the end of a tumultuous year, but first, guess what my parents got me?

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SERIAL KILLERS!!

WOOOOOOOO

Also a folding knife, a Casio watch, nerf gun, Russian fairy tale, video game, leather journal, waterproof MP3 player (not knowing Silvia had gotten me one too. Bwahaha, I GOT TWO NOW, AWW YISS), and two cuff bracelets. Basically, Survival 101 Essentials.



Recap!

The 20th AKA Silvia's 21st.

She actually had a true 'murican celebration later with another friend (and classy too--wine and cheese tasting), but for us, we mostly just ate pizza and brownies and chips, accidentally ignored cake, and watched Breaking Bad. (Or at least they did. I ended up reading Gone Girl while hanging upside down on the couch next to Silvia's lil sis).

Bernie, Ren, and Bernie's sister Maria was there too. Bernie got us all gifts! Super cute Star Wars beanies.





Blurry picture because I (and Hannibal) are a failure :(









Christmas Eve

As my parents went off to go watch The Force Awakens and my brother slept in till 3 pm, I swam in the morning and then got picked up by Silvia. We decided to hang out and were supposed to work on our own stuff (her, painting, me, writing) while Jessica Jones played in the background, but we got a third guest in the form of Scott and just spent all afternoon playing Super Mario Bros with her sis, drinking hot chocolate, and failing to build Gingerbread Houses.

Got home later for the Christmas dinner, but, uh, I forgot to take pictures.

Christmas Day

I broke my own tradition of waking up at 5:30 am on Christmas Day and actually slept in till 9 am or so. I guess my parents were mildly confused as to why no one was running around tackling Christmas trees at 6 in the morning, so they searched for us to make sure we were all still alive.

Silvia gave me my Christmas present super early because she's evil. But on the upside, Christmas day, when I got to open it, I found out both her and my parents had the same general idea.


There was shock at the wake of it, but not from me. I'm loading one up with audiobooks and the other one with music and I get to alternate :P

So here we go. Presents. Presents everywhere:





(Gift for my brother)

The 27th

Went to a Karaoke bar and restaurant with Ren, and even though we didn't get a table close enough to watch the wonderful performances weeee still pretty much heard everything. No one was good. And that's why it was pretty awesome.

Plus, we got to exchange gifts with Ren. She got me black lipstick and actual, usable, crayon eye liner. Because the other one I had was slowly trying to eat my eyelids.

The lipstick smells heavenly
I tried putting some on and taking selfies but then I realized one line was thicker than the other one. And slightly longer.

It was too disastrous to show.

But uh. I'm working on it. One day, one day.

It does mean I have a line from a really good Type O Negative song stuck in my head.

"Black lipstick stains her glass of red wine. . ."
~Becky

Monday, December 28, 2015

Monday Excerpt: Endless Seas

Now Playing: Jeremy Soule - One They Fear (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim OST)

[Introduction].

Real quick note--I don't recommend reading this post unless you've read The Broken Empire series in full by Mark Lawrence.

This is from the last book. It is the closing paragraphs of Emperor of Thorns. I could have picked any other moment in the series--particularly from the second book, which is my favorite of the three--and yet I went with this one. Because, though I may have problems with the books, this moment encapsulated everything I loved about the trilogy.

That means there are some massive spoilers here and ruining them would be a crime against literature. If you're going into The Broken Empire, you need to go in completely and utterly unaware of what it is, what it contains, and where it's headed.

For those still here, this is the excerpt.

One thing I do know is that it won't be Jorg of Ancrath who walks in through that doorway. Men are supposed to be scared of ghosts, not ghosts of men. A man may fear his own shadow, but here is a pale shadow that fears the man who cast him. Jorg of Ancrath will not return though. The magic has been shut off, enchantment has run from the world. Death is, once again, what it was. 
I watch the door but no one comes. I make Miana sad. She spends her time watching the young emperor grow. Katherine thinks me a nothing, just numbers trying to count themselves, trying to measure a man who was beyond measures, perhaps beyond her dreams even. I watch the door then give up. Fexler will watch it for me. He watches them all. 
Instead I sink down into the deep and endless seas of the Builders. Wheels within wheels, worlds within worlds, possibilities without end. 
All of us have our lives. All of us our moment, or day, or year. And Jog of Ancrath assuredly had his, and it has been my place to tell it. 
He has gone beyond me now though, and I have no more to say. Perhaps somewhere Jorg and his brother have found the real heaven and are busy giving them hell. It pleases me to think so. 
But the story is done. 
Finis
- Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Power

Now Playing: The Spiritual Machines - Aching to Live

I keep thinking about a pivotal scene in Brandon Sanderson's Firefight.

(Spoilers for the novel; back away from this post if you haven't read The Reckoners series).

My brother never reads this blog (or doesn't read it extensively), so I'm pretty safe writing this: I got him Steelheart as one of his Christmas presents, mostly because David's odd metaphors, spirited nature, and love of weaponry often make me think of him. Plus, it's the kind of action-packed story my brother loves. My parents have been struggling for ages to get him back into reading, but the books I've picked for him have been plenty successful. That's my superpower, I guess.

Anyways--before I bought him Steelheart, I read through the first two Reckoners books. And I liked them for the same reason I know my brother will like them: they're amusing, they have a ton of focus on combat--in and out of the battle field, they've got a great cast of characters, and they take a lot of comic book tropes and play around with them. Plus, I just agree with them on the concept alone; I always figured if superpowered individuals appeared, they wouldn't be persecuted ala X-Men. Nope. They'd take over.

And there's this scene middway through Firefight that, if it'd gone down any differently, would have made me hate the series.

The primary antagonists of Firefight is Regalia, an Epic in control of Babylon Restored (Manhattan, before the time of Calamity). At one point in the story, she takes David--our hero--to Calamity. She does it in hopes that he will acquire power, become an Epic, and be corrupted by his new abilities in the process.

As the scene was unfolding, I imagined its imminent future. David will be given some great power--something that will turn him into a High Epic--and he will resist the corruption and become so grand, so unstoppable, he can take down Calamity itself in the finale.

In a way, I understood that such a narrative wouldn't have been unwarranted or an instant kill for the series. After just a book and a half, I trusted Brandon Sanderson to do that which Stephanie Meyer couldn't do in her own series. I trusted David not to have a Bella Swan arc, where the one human character who is given the chance to become powerful does so without repercussions. I thought, "okay. David will become an Epic. A High Epic probably. He'll struggle, he'll fail, but he'll be powerful in the end."

And yet I still hated the prospect of it. I still kept reading thinking fuck no don't do it don't let this happen I don't want David to be an Epic.

My inner-voice got really whinny. The book was driving me into a toddler-style tantrum. But I couldn't help it. I seriously might have glared endlessly and contorted backwards in rage if David had come out of that ordeal as an Epic. Because if his namesake, Biblical!David, had turned into a giant to face Goliath, no one would give a shit about that story. Or at least I wouldn't.

So I was sitting there, reading Firefight, thinking no, no, no, don't do itttt.

And then when being offered the power, David's all,

"Nah."

and

"I’m good here. Not interested.”

GHAAA. I LOVE THAT BOOK.

That's it. That's all I've got for you. It's just been stuck in my head for weeks now and I can't stop thinking about it. Even if it turns out David becomes an epic later on, I'm glad it wasn't now. I'm glad for over half of this trilogy, he's been an ordinary boy accomplishing incredible things.
~Becky

P.S: Speaking of giants, I think that was part of the reason that, while I love all of Attack on Titan, I loved Mikasa and Armin more than I loved Eren. Hmm.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Excerpt: Slowly, Gravely, Silently

Now Playing: Ramin Djawadi - Kingslayer (Game of Thrones OST)

[Introduction].

Because it's a week of Christmas, I thought, hey, I'm a giant cliche of a girl. I can pick a giant cliche thing for my weekly showcase!

Here's the funny thing: I'm not the biggest fan of Dickens. In fact. . .I've never read that much from him, just know a lot about him. I've had professors who absolutely loved him and professors who absolutely hated him, but I've never been able to properly form a concrete opinion about the guy.

That said, this story, overdone as it has become, has always been one of my favorites. When the holidays come, I always prop it open near my mini Christmas tree and at least skim the first few pages.

I guess I'm enamored by it because it's surprisingly difficult to tell a good Christmas story. There's million out there that try and delve into the meaning of Christmas or try to capture the spirit of it, but I always feel like too many of them fall short. I don't know what can make one succeed and I don't know what makes this one so special. I just know that when I read those opening pages, it feels like Christmas.

I almost picked the beginning for the excerpt--it has probably the best opening lines I've ever come across. (Or well, one of the best). But I think this story always had such a big impact on me because of the last spirit. Even as a frightened child, this ghost was my favorite of the three, the one I looked forward to the most.

It probably has a lot to do with its silence. There's a lot of power in it.

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. 
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.  
He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved. 
"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come," said Scrooge. 
The Spirit answered not, but pointed outward with its hand. 
"You are bout to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us," Scrooge pursued. "Is that so, Spirit." 
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer her received. 
Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover. 
But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror to know that behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixated upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black. 
"Ghost of the Future," he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?" 
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them. 
"Lead on," said Scrooge, "Lead on. The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit."
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Friday, December 18, 2015

Lineage

Now Playing: John Williams - Rey's Theme (Star Wars: The Force Awakens OST)

Quick thoughts on the movie. I'm not even going to bother going around spoilers, so this is a full-on mega spoiler filled post.

We went to see it yesterday--Silvia, Ren, Silvia's friend Scott, and I--and actually got there early enough to eat sushi beforehand and then get somewhat decent seats at the theater. They were kinda close to the screen, but not absurdly so. I didn't have to lean super far back to see it and, if anything, it felt more immersive. Sometimes in long panning shots, I'd have to turn my head slightly to look over from corner to corner--it was nice.

The projector hiccuped on three separate moments. Halfway through the Warcraft film trailer--which none of us even knew existed--then through the two attempts they made to put on the X-Men Apocalypse trailer (and thank Batman they gave up trying to play it--I'm so sick and tired of that franchise, not even Sansa Stark can make me interested), and then RIGHT WHILE THE MOVIE WAS PLAYING.

It was in an early scene at least; Poe and Finn's escape. Rest of the movie cruised by okay and we got a good crowd--they didn't talk in stupid moments (except for one guy who, after five minutes of staring at Luke's lightsaber, very helpfully shouted "it's a lightsaber!") and cheered and clapped and d'awwed in all the right spots. When Chewie and Han showed up. When we saw the Millennium Falcon. When Leia and Han locked eyes and then C-3PO barged in like the cute oblivious droid he is. When battles were won.

Oh and side note, baaaaaah, BB-8 IS SO FUCKING CUTE. HE'S SO FUCKING CUTE. SOMEBODY MAKE ME THAT DROID AND PUT A RIBBON ON HIS HEAD AND GIMME.

(I, too, d'awwwed at all the right moments).

I don't really have anything cohesive and introspective to say about the movie that most people won't say already. We kinda guessed a lot of what would happen (Han and Evil!Ben, why are you standing on that bridge, you know how this ends. . .) and have the same theories on Rey's lineage as everyone else does. So all that said, I thought the movie was pretty good. I don't know if the hype messed with it exactly, but I certainly came in expecting one thing and got another. Mainly, I guess I was expecting an awesome, self-contained, epic story all on its own, while really, it very much feels like the first part of one.

That's okay in some ways because it makes me excited for the rest of the new trilogy. But it also doesn't really help it stand on its own. Usually, this problem plagues the second part of stories, where they're just the boring middle and everyone's rushing to the BIG FINALE and we have to get the housekeeping stuff out of the way. But this time, if we're lucky, Force Awakens will be the least interesting of the new trilogy--just The Beginning. Set up these characters. Set up these conflicts. Watch where they go.

Which, to be fair, can probably also be said of the first Star Wars movie. There's never been a time in my life where I haven't watched the original trilogy all back to back--if not the same day, then within the same week/three week period. So I've never had to wait for the next part, I've always just experienced the original trilogy as one big, singular story. It could just be that the new trilogy wants to capture the same feeling.

Above all else, I did come out happy from the movie. One was that the marketing team did an excellent job at not revealing a single substantial plot point of the movie so I got to discover the story as it unfolded. But mainly because of Rey, who is most definitely the true hero of this movie. Of this trilogy, probably. I love her and what she represents.

There was a moment I realized how much of a gift this movie was--and that's somewhat connected to how the theater reacted. It was at the climax, with Finn down, Kylo Ren with the upper hand, calling forth the light saber that had once belonged to his uncle. When it trembled and trembled and then flew out right past him and into Rey's hands, the entire theater exploded in applause. I don't know why but I didn't expect that. I didn't expect this crowd--of men and women and adults and teenagers and children--to cheer for this unknown girl. To want her to fight, to impress us, and to succeed.

And when she fought and she was clumsy and afraid, but insistent and energetic, I knew I wanted more of her in these stories.

This might be a debatable opinion, but I think a lot of casual Star Wars fans overlook Luke. Especially first movie Luke--young, teenage boy just wanting to join the military and get away from his boring farm life. The fan-love lies in Han Solo or in the colorful sidekicks, the badass villains, even Leia gets some love from the young girls who are fans. But Luke is just The Default. He's just our Hero.

But when I saw the original Star Wars trilogy as a little girl, I loved Luke. I loved Leia and Han and the droids too, but I loved Luke for his spirit, his drive, his compassion. How much he dreamed, how he was never not a teenage boy who was utterly impatient and entitled. I loved how much we saw him grow up in the original trilogy, how the way he carries himself and how he speaks changes. He has a presence that's not rivaled by any.

And as this film was ending, when Rey was climbing up to the temple, I realized she was the first character in years who'd ever managed to capture the same spirit as Luke. Figures that spirit would only be truly found in the franchise it originated from.

I knew I would love her the second she put on the old rebel pilot's helmet, and it hung lopsided on her head as she snacked and looked out into the desert. Now that I know she's going to be trained by Luke as Kylo Ren will be trained by The Big Bad (whoever the fuck that guy was--I'll look up the Star Wars wiki later), I just might explode from the anticipation of the incoming sequels.

The other thing that made me happy coming out of this movie is that, weirdly, Star Wars is one of the only stories out there that makes me truly care about family relations.

While we were watching the original Star Wars trilogy on my birthday, Silvia and Ren and I discussed that annoying trope that's done a lot with secret parentage stories. Which is basically that the kids get weirdly fixated and obsessed with their blood relatives despite the fact that, for all intents and purposes, they're practically strangers. We're all very much of the opinion that the people who raised you are more your parents than anyone you share a genetic link to.

But despite this fact, I've never been bothered by how Star Wars handled family lineage. I never once questioned how they all reacted after such revelations. I liked that Luke sought to bring out the good in his father despite the fact that they knew nothing of each other, and I liked that even after years within the Dark Side that Vader managed to choose his son over the emperor.

And I like that now, in the upcoming sequels, we might get an epic showdown between cousins. (KICK HIS ASS, REY [SKYWALKER]. Ben and that weirdass lightsaber's got nothing on you).

Just think about it! Think about the emotional and physical stakes. It's going to be so goood.

I think the primary reason it never bothered me in Star Wars is because of the Force connection, how it bonds people above any sort of comprehensible, explainable level. It's also that even with the discussion of family bonds, there's a lot in the friendships too, with the droids, with other rebels and aliens, with all the alliances. Friendship is just as important as family, sometimes even more so because it's friendships that the characters return to.

And in the end it doesn't bother me because it helps humanize these characters. Darth Vader could just have been the bad guy that force-chokes the shit out of incompetent admirals left and right, but he's also the man that struggled with his mistakes and questioned his humanity and ultimately made a great sacrifice and found redemption through his children.

Anyways. My point is, this is the weird kind of movie that grows fonder to me the more I think about it. And it's got me genuinely excited for the sequels to come.

Can't wait for what comes next.
~Becky

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mirrored

Now Playing: Sean Callery - Marvel's Jessica Jones Opening Theme

I spent most of last week watching Jessica Jones. Apparently I only believe in exercise when a show or audiobook can distract me from the pain in my legs.

I've resurfaced from this binge with two talking points.


1) Sillier point goes first. I found. . .a lot of weird similarities between it and some of the narrative choices I made in Millennium Girl. Not in a way that would make anyone call plagiarism or anything (I hope???), but in a way that feels deeply personal to me. Especially in certain scenes. In fact, pretty much in anything that involves Jessica and Kilgrave. The details and the set-up and characters are different, but some of the general dynamics get to me. I get weird, uncomfortable, "I wrote something like this once with a tiny girl in a yellow jacket and a tall bronze haired man with blue eyes" vibes from it. Maybe I mindlinked with one of the writers?

Okay. That's too much. It's probably only largely similar to me because I'm mid-revisions. I just get the feeling if someone claimed my hero and villain relationship was inspired by Jessica Jones's hero and villain relationship, you'd be hard pressed to believe me when I said no, I wrote the first draft of MG two years before JJ hit Netflix, I swear, check my back-ups.

It's not paranoia so much as it is mild confusion. It also means I'm more likely to ignore all the flaws of Jessica Jones because now I feel this weird, super personal attachment to it. And it also means it forced me to take a hard look at my own antagonist.

Is he. . .shallow? Am I not doing enough with him and Lilith's--for lack of a better term--relationship?

So I have wondered for the last week and a half.

I knew everyone else in the cast needed work, but I don't think I ever took an objective, cold look at Ansel till I had someone to compare him to.

Thanks for that, Kilgrave. You, uh, inspired me. (I say to the fictional rapist. Cue body shudder).

Actually, it was right at the end of one of the last episodes--ten, if I'm remembering correctly--that I realized what I had to do in my own work. Something had been missing and now I know what.

Right after that realization, I stopped watching the show so I could pause, stare into space, and talk myself out of/into the decision. I scribbled on a journal the whole time and then was like, "ughhh I have to do it, don't I?"

Revisions hurt.

2) I did a double-take when I saw who was the series creator for the show. Melissa Rosenberg. I have that name committed to memory. I don't know why, I just do.

Ms. Rosenberg. Screenwriter for all five Twilight movies.

Imagine. My. Shock.

I realize Rosenberg kinda had her hands tied with the source material of Twilight, but she still agreed to it. Then she spent years developing and plotting out Jessica Jones.

I have trouble comprehending this. She wrote the screenplays to adaptations that depict a romanticization of an abusive relationship, feature a weak, one-dimensional, Mary Sue female lead,  have some of the most nonthreatening villains to ever appear on screen, and have a horrific and downright insulting pro-life message shoved in at the last part (penultimate film/final book) for no reason at all.

Then 

She becomes a series creator for an adaptation involving a very legitimate, proper depiction of an abusive relationship and its aftermath, features a strong, complex, flawed female lead, has a threatening villain, and even handles a side-plot about abortion properly.

Whaaaat.

I mean, I'm really happy for her and thankful for Jessica Jones. But it's just weird.

And it also makes sense?

Storytelling is such a weird thing--stories get away from you and shift so much on their own and they're as much influenced by the audience as they are by the creator that, sometimes, it's difficult to really have them be 100% accurate representations of the primary storytellers. In fact, maybe it's really harmful to pretend a work of fiction is all that reflective of its creator. Maybe I shouldn't judge Melissa Rosenberg on the Twilight movies. But then, why do I think Jessica Jones is inherently more true to her thoughts? Is it because it came later? Because I see what I want to see?

In fact. . .don't we write and draw and make music because we want to express our thoughts, feelings, desires? It feels naive to pretend creators can be wholly detached from their creation.

Seems more complicated now. I'll have to think more about this.
~Becky

P.S: I recognized Luke Cage's actor but it took me forever to remember where I'd seen him before.

Good to see you in the MCU, Spartan Locke.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Very Bookish, Chocolate-y Birthday

It's been raining a lot lately. There's been weird weather patterns everywhere since it turns out December 13th has been one of the hottest recorded winter days ever--and people on Twitter celebrate that. Which I find disturbing. I realize it's annoying to shovel snow and be forced under twenty layers of clothing but wHY IS NO ONE CONCERNED?

Okay, okay. This post isn't a rant on global warming indifference. (Even though it SHOULD BE). Lemme get back to that later.

So it's been raining a lot lately. It rained through half of last week and then all of the week before that. Which, if I'm not mistaken, is scientifically proven to get people in a sour mood.

Rainy days have always been weird to me. I like the rain but I don't like the rain in Florida. I hate it when it gets hot and humid and you don't know if you're sweating or if it's just the fault of the skies taking a piss on you.

I like it a lot more when it's rainy and cold. I've always loved the sound of thunder. Lightning is very beautiful to me. My favorite time for driving is a time most people (particularly new, inexperienced drivers like myself) probably dread: nighttime and rainy in an urban landscape. It turns the city into an array of lights and reflections. All the reds and yellows double and blur. It tends to feel otherworldly. And yeah, okay, it reminds me of Millennium Girl. (You might have heard about it. It's that book I haven't shut up about for the past year and a half even though it's trying to kill me).

The weeks leading up to my birthday weren't particularly great. As I woke up every morning to grey skies and thunderous echoes, I couldn't decide if the weather was making me feel worse or making me better. I stayed inside for a good chunk of time, writing, revising, kinda annoyed at everything that had happened. On top of all that'd gone wrong, it was increasingly clear to me that deadline goal I'd set last New Year's Day had been absolutely ridiculous. I may be closer than ever to querying literary agents. But my book isn't. She's still got a long way to go.

And I wasn't very happy about that. I'm still not very happy about it. I always feel anxious to move forward, to get that validation in the form of a phone call, a contract, a release date. And it's a dangerous mindset to have when publishing is notorious for taking its time.

The sky cleared up for my birthday. I got two early happy birthday wishes--from Emzy and Carla--and then one thirty minutes after midnight, courtesy of my brother who very eloquently texted "happy birthday (right?)" At around 2 in the morning, still wide awake and contemplating just showering and reading until exhaustion hit me, I got a phone call from someone I've already talked about to death. And I answered it hopeful and hung up too angry and upset to care about sleeping.

One angry email, cold shower, and two hair products later, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was still angry. But that didn't fade.

It sort of got obliterated?

It was too early and my parents still woke up to give me presents. Silvia picked me up soon after, then we went to get Ren. When our fourth movie-marathon-guest got too sick to come over, we watched all the Star Wars movies piled up on each other on the couch. (Original movies. And yes, I confirmed, through the viewings, that Silvia did indeed acquire all nonspecial, non-altered copies). It got me right back to my excitement about The Force Awakens (can'twaitcan'twaitcan'twait). I got texts throughout the day--from Maria Gabriela, Giselle, and Gaby O. I snacked on way too many chocolate chip cookies and chips.

And by far, one of the most amusing things involved Christopher Paolini's Eragon. Silvia knew he was a hack. She knew he was a terrible writer. We've known that for years. But the only true way to know the extent of the plagiarism in Eragon is to go back for a quick Star Wars viewing. Ahhh, joy.

We ate burgers and cake and for some reason talked about Ren's possible status as a Dom. Mistress vs. submissive about ten minutes before the climax of Return of the Jedi. (I don't even know how or why that happened.)

Overall I got two cakes, four books, and a few good pictures. (Which I will post out of order because the upload feature hates me here.)
Gifts, in order, from Ren, Silvia, and my parents.
Dad admitted he bought this book purely for the cover.
A+ decision. (And he also liked the first page he read).
Cake my parents got me.
Ren with the cake she got me.

And fyi, while Ren and Silvia were singing happy birthday, we were still lightning candles and stuffing them on the cake. It was frantic. And fun. They were holding onto lit candles by the time they finished the song, so I blew them all out. (Thankfully didn't burn anyone).

I got back home when it was dark and celebrated a little with my parents. When I collapsed in the living room bed (don't ask), I got a phone call from my aunt Cleo. She wished me a happy birthday and for some reason reassured me that one day, when she dies, I'll be getting all her jewelry.

Morbid? Or sweet? I decided both. I guess birthdays are a good time as any to be reminded we'll all have deathdays too.

The weather cleared out on Sunday. On Monday the rain came back.


It's sunny and hot and humid and rainy. Again.

Nothing's changed since my birthday. Last year, that might have been the most horrifying thing I could have said. No query letter replies, no finalized manuscript, no perfect resolution with the boy who hurt me, no job interviews awaiting me, nothing. I spent most of 2015 repeating that King essay in my head and wondering if I was doing it right. Making the right choices.

I quit worrying on my birthday. Which, in addition to my glutton ways and all those books, was a great gift to have.

And y'know, when I stop to think about it, nineteen was pretty good. Memorable. Which is more than I can say for other years.
~Becky
"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.