The Thousandth Floor

Man, that opening. What a hook. I thought it was going to be cliche. I thought I was going to have this shining example to hold up to say “Never try to hook your reader with this sort of thing…”

And then I read this WHOLE BOOK trying to figure out that hook, because it intrigued me. It worked really well, with this ensemble cast. All you know is that the character it’s speaking about is female. You don’t even know if she’s a major player. All you know is that she’s about to die, and you want to figure out who in the hell she is.

I’ll agree, no hesitation, with other comments I’ve heard/read about this book, that the characters can be pretty shallow. I think when you’re dealing with an ensemble cast and your book isn’t anywhere near as long as an A Song of Ice and Fire tome, you’re going to have to delve a little less deep just to cover the main storyline. Did I still care about the characters? Sure. They’re pretty fascinating. It all unfurls in a sort of soap-opera way. A futuristic soap opera all about teenagers. They all have desires and conflicts and different living situations that complicate things.

Everyone is a bit overdramatic, though it feels pretty authentically teenager. Throw in all the drugs and alcohol, and I have no hesitation believing it. There are a lot of female protagonists, which was great. Actually my favorite character ended up being the one male protagonist that we get POV chapters from. Watt, and his special friend Nadia, are fascinating to me. I think McGee ended up nailing that circumstance and those interactions so well that Watt/Nadia will be the reason I keep reading these books. The other characters are interesting, but Watt/Nadia were compelling.

While avoiding spoilers, I do have to say that the ending wasn’t what I expected, and I really wanted it to go a different way. I can see why it was necessary, sort of. And I’m not complaining that I’ll get to read more of Watt/Nadia since this isn’t a stand-alone book. But I think it ended the way it did because the author really wanted a second book (or maybe her publisher did?) and she needed to set things up in such a way that there was plenty to keep writing about. Except, I could definitely see plenty to keep writing about if things had gone the way I wanted them to, in the end, rather than the ending that was written.

Still, that could be the ending that was intended all along, and if so, it isn’t necessarily a bad one. There’s definitely setup for book two, and motivation to keep reading if there are characters in play that you care about.

The futuristic elements of the book were handled well, I thought. It’s a different sort of world these teenagers live in, and it adds a lot of interesting and compelling dynamics to the story. I’ll be picking up the sequel, once it’s released.


Pagan Portals: The Morrigan

I really appreciate that this book was written by an Irish reconstructionist. There’s a certain level of academic adherence in the reconstructionists that puts me at ease. I don’t feel like I have to take everything with a grain of salt and question their research methods and wonder if they’re adding artistic license to their interpretations.

Celtic history and lore is tough. The simple fact is that we won’t ever know for sure what things were like, back then. Time and other cultures have done a lot to erase anything that might have survived from that era. And in some way, I have to think that’s okay. Maybe it’s up to the neopagans and reconstructionists to try to get to the heart of the beliefs and practices of that time period.

I’m obviously not a reconstructionist myself, so maybe this lack of historical record is far more frustrating for the actual recons. 🙂

Regardless, I really enjoyed this book. I feel like it gave a good overview of the historical references we are sure of when it comes to the Morrigan. It’s going to be tricky to nail down a shapeshifting sometimes-trickster goddess in the best of times. Of course there’s going to be ambiguity in a lot of the references to her.

I feel like I have a better understanding of her after reading this book, and I think that was the author’s goal. There’s also some nice personal anecdotes and interpretations in the book which are interesting and always clearly labeled. I appreciate seeing how others interact with and worship the Morrigan.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Morrigan or just curious about her historical references.

Why I’m Pagan

Sometimes the answer to why someone is religious is as simple as knowing what religion/culture they were raised in. The familiar is often comforting, and most large religions have enough to offer people nowadays that there wouldn’t necessarily be big reasons to look for something else.

I grew up in a Christian community, going to a Christian church that was unique in that it was influenced by very eastern ideas. The congregation believed in reincarnation, karma, astrology, etc. We learned all these things side by side with Bible stories. I remember when I was old enough to start going to the “young adult” services (the children were given a more participatory, separate service to keep their attention). The young adult service was the third tier, and the last one before you graduated to the adult services. There’s a particular one that sticks in my mind.

We were performing the normal meditations and prayers, lighting candles and speaking devotionals and so forth. I remember looking up into the corner of the room, near the ceiling. And I asked the Christian God in my head, not in a demanding way, just a curious way…are you there? It was, more specifically, an “Are you there for me?” type of question. And even though He didn’t answer, I could feel Him there. For many people, that’s enough. To know, or to believe, that He exists. Feeling a godly presence is something that can impact your emotions and psyche for a long time. It definitely creates ripples.

I don’t want to sound selfish or demanding, though you could probably interpret this as such. But a divine Presence wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. I wanted an answer. I wanted attention and visibility and above all LOVE. I didn’t feel like the Christian God was all that interested in me, personally. He’s got better things to do, I guess, though I don’t understand how you can be omnipresent and omnipotent and not be able to divide your attention a billion ways to give each person individual time and love.

It occurs to me that I should probably also write about why I’m religious, which ties more into my writing. But this essay is specifically about why I’m Pagan, so I’ll keep running with that.

I wasn’t even aware I was searching for something else when I found a book at a weekly outing with my best friend. It was at a Borders (makes you feel old, huh? Remembering when they were still around…). The book was in the teen section, titled Where to Park Your Broomstick. It was the perfect intro to Paganism/Wicca. It stressed the religious beliefs, while still touching on the witchcraft and personal acts and rituals of worship. I stayed up most of that night reading it, and then by the next morning I was ready to devote myself to being Pagan. It wasn’t until a few months later that I did a meditation where I actually came into contact with the Goddess.

To give you a bit of background, my relationship with my mother hasn’t always been easy. To say it’s strained doesn’t even describe it well. It’s more like…it’s complicated. I wanted desperately to please her, when I was a kid. I noticed that if I did well, or didn’t upset her, that she’d be happy. And I wanted her to be happy. She invested a lot of time and effort in the care of myself and my sister. She loves children, and still views our young years as the best of her life. I think her identity as a mother is her favorite and predominant one. And as a little kid, I must have sensed that, and wanted to feed into it to make her happy. The problem that I think we had was a sense of imbalance. If I’m her life, and I’m trying so hard to make her happy–where is my life? I got all tangled up in my mom and my sister, until I wasn’t sure where I stopped and they started. Then as an independent, fiery Aries, age thirteen, I was trying to define myself. Except I didn’t have a self.

So I created one. I fought to find the beliefs and passions and motivations that would sustain me the rest of my life. I read some very influential books, the predominant ones being the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Humanism, I could get behind. Organized religion? Sure, there’s a lot of potential for corruptness there. The best thing those books taught me was personal accountability, though. You can be a young kid, with no special powers, and the fate of all the worlds can rest on your shoulders and on the decisions you make in innocence and faith.

I want to change the world, of course. I want to make an impact. I think because I have so much gratitude for the people whose creative work, philosophical thinking, or lasting historical impacts gave me my sense of purpose. I think about the men who died recently on a Portland bus and I am heartbroken by it. It does help bolster my faith in humanity, though. There are good people out there. People who will stand up for others. In this situation they were cut down for doing so. That isn’t right, or good, or just. The intentions, though, the actions to protect others–there is a purity in that. A faith, and a decency, that I think everyone should aspire to embody.

So as someone who was largely invisible and had no sense of self as a kid, there I was thirteen years old, reading books that were teaching me how to look at the world, how to be a responsible world citizen. I had English teachers encouraging me to write–prose, poetry, anything at all. In my writing I found much of myself, as well. And then I was introduced to a religion where the God and Goddess were participatory. They were right there. You were allowed to talk directly to them, and they would answer back. All I needed was a faith in the fantastical, a belief in the inherent magic of the world. I had that in spades. I was raised to be religious, after all. Meditations were easy. You mean I just have to see things in my head? You mean that the voices that respond to my questions are actually my psyche’s connection to the divine, speaking through my mind?

It was the easiest thing in the world. To go from playing by myself (I didn’t have many friends as a young kid), creating stories and adventures for my stuffed animals and toys, to move up to meditations and astral travel and spiritual self-discovery. I’ve got imagination in spades, and if a spark of that is all that’s needed to contact the divine, I was more than eager to sign up.

That first meditation where I met the Lady was more influential than I could possibly describe. I had been starving. I had ideas about what a mother should be, and for some reason they didn’t jive with what my actual, biological mother provided for me. I experienced a lot of grief over that, constantly wondering if I just wasn’t good enough to merit her attention and love the way that I wanted to be attended to and loved. Then in steps the Goddess, and She is warm and soft and ever so strong. She is unwavering in her support of me. Her love is legendary and offers me everything I could ever hope for. Here were a Mother and Father who didn’t want me to fit some version of what they wanted me to be. They just wanted me to be who I am. That’s all. Be true to yourself, They said, and remember Us. So that’s what I did. That’s what I continue to do. That’s what I consider being a good Witch, and a good person.

So Paganism, for me, fills the void of feeling invisible and un-important, as well as unloved by a certain kind of Mother.

As far as the Nature aspect goes (since that is a big part of being Pagan, too), I have my grandpa to thank for that. He was in the field of sustainable agriculture, and he loved to teach. He used to take me puddle jumping every time it rained when I was growing up (which wasn’t often, since I grew up in Southern California). Then when he moved to Washington state he had me help him design his backyard garden, and build a pond and waterfall. He sent me across the street to a big pond (which has since been mostly built over) to catch frogs to set loose in the back yard, so he could hear their singing at night and they could bring life to his pond. He took me out to sites that were going to be cleared for new houses so that we could save saplings and replant them elsewhere. One that I picked out specially still grows by that house.

When you put it all together, it’s 0% surprising that I am Pagan. I’m glad I found it so young, of course, so that I could really absorb it and not have to try too hard to adjust my mental processes later on. I would have found it eventually no matter what, though.

If you have any questions about my beliefs or anything at all, you can reach me at Blessed Be.

Angels & Demons

I remember really enjoying this book when I first read it. I liked the fast pace, the all-or-nothing drama of the mystery that needs to be solved. Scholars saving the day is always a fun trope—Indiana Jones is awesome, after all, and I LOVE The Librarian movies.

Now that I’m older, I got pretty annoyed by the way Brown writes about the females in the book. I’m sorry, female, singular. Just one. Gorgeous and intelligent and for some reason SO eager to have sex with the protagonist when I don’t think he’s really done anything to warrant that kind of attention. I guess it’s like at the end of The Kingsman. An ending for the hetero guys, maybe? Cause I didn’t see why it was necessary, at all.

The writing can be a bit purple, and the protagonist is pretty full of himself and just conveniently knows things that no normal person would know. I mean a lot of this stuff isn’t even in his field! But it is a fast story and the suspense is good and the villain is sort of cookie cutter but not terrible. You can see the twists coming, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still enjoyable when they arrive.

I think fans of suspense and mystery fiction would enjoy these Robert Langdon books, and probably males more than females, because there isn’t much in here for females to relate to. Ultimately I think it comes down to this not being my type of book anymore. My tastes have shifted as I’ve gotten older and experienced more stories, and my MFA definitely changed how I read things now. So, there are plenty of people out there who would like this story a lot, but I think I won’t be re-reading it after this time.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Reading plays is always a bit strange for me, especially when I can clearly see the gaps where a really good actor would fill in all the empathetic parts and bring everything to life.

If you’re looking for another Harry Potter novel, you should just go read all the Harry Potters. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world again for a quick read and don’t mind so much that it doesn’t follow the same format and isn’t quite as tightly controlled as the original books—then you’ll love this. Maybe not quite as much as I loved watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, since we did that recently. But, still. Die-hard HP fans basically have to read this play.

The plot is, dare I say it, similar to the season finale episodes of Season 5 of My Little Pony. Time travel changes the world and we need to go back and fix it and we learn we shouldn’t have meddled at all in the first place, sort of thing.

Harry plays a somewhat important role in this story, though of course his son Albus takes center stage. I really liked that Albus was friends with Scorpius. It feels like fate, and closure, of sorts, though it creates all kinds of problems for the parents, obviously.

This is a quick read and worth your time if you grew up on HP like I did. It’s no Harry Potter novel, but it gives us a little bit more of that world.

A Torch Against the Night

Second books in a trilogy are sometimes lackluster. NOT SO WITH THIS BOOK. It doesn’t feel like a bridge between books one and three at all. This feels like an action-packed amazing continuation and escalation of the original story.

Elias and Laia and Helene—they are such beautifully-wrought characters. I can’t get enough of Elias and Laia, and getting to know Helene was supposed to be sort of tedious, right, because she’s all pious? Except NO WAY could Tahir’s writing ever be tedious. Every chapter was engaging and lovely.

The mythos woven into this story, the magical powers and legends, they build up at just the right pace. You never feel like she’s infodumping, and you always get the next bit just when you want a little bit more to keep you guessing.

Settings, perfect. Story, perfect. Well, okay. There was one thing I saw coming before it happened, but I think that was just because I was shipping a particular pairing so hard that I wanted to believe I was right about this other thing…and even then, I only guessed a small portion of what it actually was, and the greater truth was big and momentous.

All the feels, in this book. ALL OF THEM. If you haven’t read An Ember in the Ashes, start there, and DO NOT STOP until you’ve finished this one and are waiting as eagerly for the third book as I am. Seriously. Do it.

An Ember in the Ashes

OMG this book is frickin good. Wow. I LOVED it.

I’d heard a lot of good things, so I was excited about reading it, and I am SO GLAD I finally did. Laia is the daughter of the leaders of the Resistance, put in a difficult position, fighting her personal demons even as she tries to save her brother from death in prison. Elias is training to be one of the elite enforcers of the militaristic people who dominated Laia’s people long ago. Except, he doesn’t want any part of it.

Laia and Elias are SO compelling. They are fascinating and deep and have so many issues and so much messed up stuff to deal with. There’s a really interesting love square which gives you a lot of potential for different shippers. I won’t tell you who I ship directly, in case it’s a spoiler, but I’m in the most obvious camp. 😉

The plot is compelling and there are so many challenges for our protagonists to face. There’s suspense and beautifully fantastic elements woven in. The world’s history is released at just the right pace, so that you see threads that will weave through the rest of the story right when you want to see more of the world. I bet I know what book three is going to be about. At least, I hope it’s going to be about that. Though, I’m not going to lie, if Tahir wanted to stretch this into six, seven, even ten books…I would definitely keep reading. I love Laia and Elias. I love the secondary characters, too. There are all these questions I want answered, that I feel confident Tahir will provide later on in the story. The Commandant’s tattoo. What’s going to happen to Hellene. Who is Cook? (I think I know who she is, but the mystery is being drawn out enough that it makes me question it, and the whole thing is deliciously suspenseful).

I immediately picked up book two upon finishing this one. The prose is beautiful, the settings and world are well crafted, the characters couldn’t possibly be more compelling. Truly beautiful work.

A Storm of Swords

I was determined to read A Storm of Swords before I moved farther than season two in the show. Everyone was saying it was the best book in the series so far, and I wanted to read it before I watched it. I also, miraculously, avoided anyone spoiling the Red Wedding for me. So it was high time to read this book and see if the hype was equal to the story.

The first novel was fast-paced, suspenseful, and had me wanting to jump forward all the time to see what happened next to my favorite characters. The second installment of A Song of Ice and Fire was less engaging, dealt with more characters I could care less about, and ultimately felt like not much happened, even though arguably a lot happened because all the characters are in different places by the end than they were in the beginning.

A Storm of Swords, the third novel in the series, started out a little slow for me. I just don’t care much about Jaime Lannister, so to have chapters following him and Brienne was pretty tedious. Catelyn Stark also really annoys me, so you can imagine that I just suffered through all of those chapters.

Jon and Arya and Bran and Sansa and Tyrion all have interesting arcs, of course. They’re the best ones, and there always seemed to be new surprises, or new setbacks, for each of them.

Unfortunately, Martin has a tendency to end each chapter on a “surprise!” moment or a twist, and then you have to wait LIKE TEN CHAPTERS before you pick up that character’s thread again. That’s frustrating. You don’t need so many cliff-hangers when the chapter that follows doesn’t even remotely relate to the character of the chapter before.

Ultimately yes, I’m glad I read this book before watching the show. I don’t think I’m cut out to keep reading the books, though. My first love in fiction is always going to be YA, with less protagonists, more character-centric stories, and a hell of a lot less pages. After getting through the 3800+ pages of reading this book on my phone, I was so glad to open up Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and see it was only 516 in the same format! 😀

The Kiss of Deception

I really enjoyed the style of writing in Morrighan, so I was excited to read this novel, which happens generations later in the same changed world. I feel like I could understand the geography and different groups of people better having read the novella first.

I’m not going to lie—the plot is a little too convenient. Of course one of the people who finds Lia after she runs away to a small little town is her betrothed. Of course he falls in love with her. I do really appreciate the way the narrative was written, though, keeping you guessing which guy is the prince and which the assassin. That’s pretty clever, and it was mostly done well.

I enjoy Lia’s fiery spirit. I can respect someone who runs away from an arranged marriage, believing there aren’t any other options open to her. And she redeems any immaturity she has with her actions later on. All in all she isn’t the most deep character I’ve ever read, but still plenty enjoyable. Honestly, things are set up for much more intrigue at the end of the first book. I’m interested in reading the second book because now I want to see what happens, and who exactly this assassin guy is.

I was a little surprised that we follow her friend/lady in waiting’s story almost as closely. And I think it was way too convenient that she witnessed something out in the plains, where a certain character she knew just happened to show up in the big wide wastes of the friggin midwest (trying not to give away any spoilers here, so sorry for the vagueness).

Despite my small gripes, though, I still really enjoy this writing style, and the interesting world that Pearson has crafted. It’s nice to find a blend of post-apocalyptic and sort of courtly-tinged adventure story. I think the best part is Lia discovering more about the magical power her people are supposed to possess. That’s intriguing and I’m excited to find out more about it as the books progress.

This would be a great read for a younger audience, mostly female teens, who are into suspenseful, slowly-unfolding romance. You’ve got to like love triangles, too—I know a lot of people are tired of them as a trope, but I think this one is done pretty well and in a different sort of way.

The Da Vinci Code

There are a lot of people out there that love this series, and there’s something to be said for the pacing, the way the puzzles fit into each other, the subject matter that is accessible but complex enough to make readers feel smart as they follow along.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this many adjectives in a novel. I also would love more believable female characters—ones who don’t automatically fall for the main character just because he’s been around with them during some dangerous events. I can’t really relate to any of the characters in this novel.

All that said—I do really appreciate the attempt to spread knowledge about the “sacred feminine” from a historical angle. It’s nice to have something so mainstream talking about pentacles/pentagrams and symbols of fertility and goddesses. In that respect, I think Brown is doing Neopagans everywhere a service—if this helps change the mainstream narrative that usually conflates Pagans with devil-worshippers, then I’m in full support.