Etiquette & Espionage

I have to admit—I started this one as an audiobook, but had to jump to a print copy in order to stay motivated to finish it. I should have taken my librarian friend’s advice and listened to it on 1.5x speed. It was wearing on me, the length of time it was taking to get through relatively little action. I think the accents and more verbose speech patterns of the characters (germane to their time period and setting) might be contributing factors?

In any case, I got the print copy from our library, and blew through the rest of it in a single night. It was much more engaging as a page-turner than a listening practice.

I like Sophronia. She’s sharp and clever and quick, and doesn’t ask for responsibility but often finds herself taking it on because she thinks it’s the right thing to do. Often, she’s absolutely right. It’s fun reading a character set in such proper times who is actually “progressive” in that she takes charge of her own life and doesn’t always let society dictate what she thinks about herself.

I’m a little on the fence about how and why there are werewolves and vampires in this steampunk world, but they haven’t detracted from the story. They’re more of a curiosity, like a peculiar-looking bookend you want to examine up close. It makes me wonder if subsequent books in the series get into the lore of the wolves and vamps more than the first one does.

The cast of supporting characters are interesting and at times funny. I think I grew to like the story right alongside Sophronia growing to like Madame Geraldine’s finishing school.

Fans of a proper British setting (plus steampunk) and the speech patterns to match it, combined with a clever female protagonist supported in her hijinks by a disparate cast of intriguing bit players, would enjoy this immensely.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

With the current political climate in America, I think this is a really powerful book to have read. I read it a long time ago, and have been putting off writing the review. Some self-help books are a little too revealing, when you mention that you’ve read them. It can be pretty personal stuff. However, with a President who is likely a narcissist, it all seems a little less personal, and a lot more relevant and scary.

The most important thing this book can give anyone who has had a narcissist in their life at any point, is validation. You are not alone. There’s so much potential for the gaslighting to really convince you that YOU are a bad person. That everyone else LOVES the narcissist and there must be something wrong with you if you don’t like them. Gaslighting, combined with the way the narcissist changes their behavior around other people to give them a different perception, can make you feel so completely and utterly alone. This book will help.

I remember when I first stumbled on a subReddit for people who have had narcissists in their lives. It felt like the most important thing I could possibly discover about my life and my childhood. It was eye-opening and amazing, reading other people’s stories. It brought so much insight and clarity into my particular issues.

The second most important thing this book can give you is an understanding of the other people in your life who have been affected by the same narcissist. Whether you’re the golden child or the scapegoat, understanding how a narcissist can play loved ones against each other is key to healing your relationships with those other people.

The third most important thing this book can give you is the knowledge that the narcissist in your life will likely never acknowledge that they have a problem. It’s well-known, in the world of therapy and psychiatry. Narcissists are some of the hardest people to treat because they just don’t believe they have a problem. There is no “getting better.” There won’t be apologies down the line, or heartfelt realizations and mended fences.

The end of this book pushes for a sort of internal forgiveness, where you come to terms with what has happened to you, learn to set new boundaries, and then let go of your anger. I’m not really able to do that at this point—I can see why it would be useful, but anger is still my best defense right now. However, this book does have a really good direction, with excellent advice. The writing is clear and concise, the stories told are very helpful and illuminating. The author obviously has plenty of experience and knows what she’s talking about, with proven methods that have helped many, many people in these sorts of situations.

I’m so very glad I read this book. It helped me in my personal journey, and hopefully will help others who find themselves in similar situations. My never-ending thanks to the author for creating this and putting it out into the world.

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology is a delightful collection of re-tellings, in Gaiman’s unique and unparalleled voice. He lays things out clearly, so that you don’t see all the ambiguity of ancient myths passed down in a hundred different versions via oral traditions. You see the bones of the stories, and you get to understand the Norse mythos more completely. After reading these, I actually understand a friend of mine who is a Pagan devotee of Thor much more!

I enjoyed all these stories in their varied subject matters. My favorite was the final chapter, which talks about Ragnarok, an end and a beginning. The stories are told in an inspirational way that made me want to go write. Anyone who enjoys mythology should read these. Any writer looking for a little mythic inspiration should definitely read these.

Thanks for doing it again, Neil Gaiman. The world would be a darker place without your prose.

Ice Dogs

This book was obviously written by someone who has spent time with sled dogs and the Alaskan wilderness. It was smart, peppered with all these amazing little details that really put you in the world, battling the weather with Victoria and Chris.

This is survival YA, and a fairly short book, so there isn’t a lot of focus on the budding relationship slash potential for romance. These characters have better things to do than moon over each other. Like staying alive.

I thought the suspense couldn’t possibly ramp up higher, because I was guessing this was the kind of book where the characters would get home alive. Like, 99% certain of that. So there was no way to make it worse; they were about to find civilization. Right? Wrong.

Man, was I wrong. This author really captures the struggle super well, and the payoff when they survive is pretty great.

This would be a great book for anyone who likes a competent, outdoorsy female lead, especially in the Young Adult genre. Bonus points for anyone who enjoys a snow/ice/cold setting, and extra extra for sled dogs/huskies.

Life As We Knew It

I wanted to read this book because it has a similar apocalypse-trigger to the novel I’m writing right now. In this one, an asteroid hits the moon, it orbits closer to the Earth, and everything gets wonky, including major volcanic eruptions that throw enough ash into air to plunge everyone into a mini ice age. So, different trigger, but similar fallout, I guess.

Life As We Knew It is told in diary format, written by a 16 year-old narrator. Miranda’s life already feels kind of small at the start of the novel—she cares about her big brother and her obsession with a figure skater athlete who came from her hometown. Her world gets smaller as the fallout from the big event unfolds.

Typically, I don’t like diary-style writing. It’s too confessional, and if I don’t like the protagonist enough, it can absolutely make me rage-quit the book. I found myself drawn into this story, though, wondering what would happen next. There were a lot of good details about food hoarding, calories vs. nutrition, heat and plumbing, how much wood is really required to stay warm, etc. There’s no big romance, no love triangles. This is a character fighting for her life, learning things from her mom when her mom can’t hide the truth from her anymore. Being resentful of her younger brother. Growing up in strange and trying circumstances.

I’m usually drawn to YA that has a wider scope, and more fantastical elements. Characters who do more than just survive. I think it was really interesting reading this book on the heels of Ice Dogs, because the protagonist in that book is so competent. Whereas Miranda has to struggle not to complain, some days. Which if you think about it is probably more realistic for a teenager who grew up in a normal town with constant access to the internet and a sheltered life.

As far as apocalyptic fiction goes, this book deals with a small scale, very character-centric. You get caught up in the logistics of staying alive. You see sides of characters that you wouldn’t normally see, when all they have to do is sit quietly every night, trying not to use too many candles. Doing the laundry by hand. It’s a different pace, and an interesting story. Well worth a read if you want to expand your apocalyptic YA sphere.

First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors

So, there’s reason behind the title. It’s a pretty unfortunate title pick, for readers like me. First of all—I love therapy, and have benefitted immensely from it. I’ve never been to couples therapy, but I don’t really like the implication that marriage and family therapists are all bad at their jobs. Secondly, this is the same women who wrote The Surrendered Wife, and any feminist might be tempted to boycott the book just because of the title.

There are some questionable concepts in this book that seem kind of dated. Also, this discussion is ONLY about a male-female marriage. I think it has potential, if she were to instead say “yin” and “yang” throughout the book, rather than “husband” and “wife.” I don’t know if all relationships have that much of a clearcut dynamic, of course. But this book would be great for the person who wanted to learn to be a better yin, if their partner didn’t want to let go of being the yang.

Without getting too much into the specifics, let me just say that no one ever modeled a supremely healthy marriage communication style for me. I haven’t seen it much in books (I read mostly Young Adult, though, so I don’t know how much exposure I’ve had to married couples beyond all the Outlander books). I haven’t seen it much in the real world, since every couple out there tends to develop an individual style that works for them. Everyone has different pet peeves, everyone has different types of joy and support they get from their partners. Suffice it to say I hadn’t learned a good style for myself and my husband by observing any other couple.

I think there’s a real struggle sometimes for a woman like me, who works in the field of technology with mostly male coworkers, to take off my “work” hat and put on my “partner” hat when I get home. The parent one is easy—it isn’t so different being a self-starting responsible employee to being an authoritative yet loving parent. The wife/partner role, however, feels like it differs a lot. I don’t want to be authoritative to my husband. We’re both adults, and he already has a mom. He doesn’t need me micromanaging his life, or trying to exert control over how everything’s done.

The author, Laura Doyle, makes an interesting (and somewhat understated) point that at some time in our life, we may have learned from experiences that things only ever turn out the way we want them to when we are in control of a situation. It can be really tough for a woman who faces microaggressions EVERY DAY (real talk: this is all women, all the time) to soften up that defensive shell and be vulnerable with her partner. And that’s what it takes to release control—the courage to be vulnerable. To say, figuratively, “I trust you to handle things, and have my best interests at heart.” How many times have I “suggested” a better way (my way) to do something, in the seven years I’ve been with my husband? I think I’m being helpful. I love him, and want him to achieve greater efficiency and all that good stuff. I never wanted to admit before now that there might be a constant, implied, “Because the way you’re doing it right now is wrong” in every one of those suggestions. That’s criticism. And no one really wants to face criticism coated in helpful suggestion every damn day of their life. Constructive criticism is for your writing circles and real-talk time with your best girlfriends. It feels kind of cruel to do it to your partner all the time.

(Big Aside: An exception to this would be calling out sexism and microaggressions. As a feminist, I think it’s super important for me to call to task those around me, when I recognize sexist remarks, or thoughtless microaggressions. How else are we going to bring the rest of the world around to exercising true equality?)

Doyle explains her Six Intimacy Skills, and I have to be honest that I don’t even remember what the six skills are, even though I just finished reading the book last night. What I learned from most were the examples given in all the little sections of each chapter. Potentially real scenarios, contrasting the way you might be tempted to communicate with your partner, with the way that you could respectfully communicate with them. Honestly, who doesn’t want to treat their partner with respect? That sounds like an awesome goal.

For me, this book came along at the right time, and seemed to fit well with the type of joy I want to get out of my marriage. I have a forceful personality, as an Aries woman, and my husband has a strong personality as well, as a Taurus male. We butt heads a lot. It’s nice to get this reminder that I can soften up, be vulnerable with him in a way that I’m not with a lot of other people. There’s also an interesting chapter on receiving help/compliments/gifts more graciously, which is something I’m going to need a lot of practice with to get good at. It’s too easy to brush compliments aside if I don’t agree with them. Which is just another way to keep myself from celebrating myself when I deserve it. As if I’m not allowed to let myself be happy and confident. :/

I think this book would be great for a partner who finds themselves complaining a lot about the small things. The division of chores, managing money, gift giving, even driving styles. There’s a lot of useful, helpful information in here on how to craft a better approach to communication with a partner. If you can look past some of the more binary aspects of her discourse, and take the concepts that seem outdated with a grain of salt, you might just get exactly what you need.

True story: I’m pretty darn frustrated at this book for fixing problems in my relationship in just a few weeks that I’ve been trying to fix myself for SEVEN YEARS. It’s hard to acknowledge that I might have been part of the problem for so long. I’m good at not backing down from my position of strength and control. That hasn’t done much to really encourage equality and joy between me and my husband. We’ve gotten by just fine, of course—but things are even better now.

The Surrendered Wife

I can guess what you’re thinking about the title. I’ve talked about this book with a few girlfriends since I read it, and all their reactions are mostly the same.

Unfortunate title aside, this is actually a good and useful book for some people. I think I benefitted from it because I’ve never had really great, healthy marital communication modeled for me before.

There’s an updated version of this book, called First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors. Again, a super unfortunate title that doesn’t accurately describe the contents of the book. I’ve written a full review on that book, since there’s no real need for people to read this older version unless they really want as much as they can get from the author. I found a copy of this one first, though, so it was my introduction to Laura Doyle’s work. Now go read the updated version instead. 🙂

Kushiel’s Mercy

Imriel’s great quest in the wilds on his own is over—but Carey’s stories are never that simple. He’s made great sacrifices, and terrible mistakes. And now he has to win the right to be with the woman he loves.

You feel sorry for him. No one should have to endure the amount of travesty and pain that Imriel has faced in his life. And you admire him, because he continues to rise to the occasion when he’s called to.

In the first two books of the series we see Terre D’Ange, Alba, Lucca, Tiberium, the Flatlands, and Vralia. This time, we get to see Carthage and Aragonia. The focus isn’t so much on the distances, and the different cultures, but on a quest to overcome dire magic. Imriel agrees to be subject to magic himself, and the spells wrought are intriguing. To Carey’s credit, she handles the transition of narrative voice requisite because of one of the spells very well.

Ultimately, if you’ve read the first and second book of this trilogy, you’re going to read this final one. How can you not? Imriel and Sidonie are fascinating. They cater to a slightly different fanbase than Phedre and Joscelin did. They’re a little bit more relatable, because they make mistakes and are very human. That isn’t to say that Phedre and Joscelin aren’t still my favorite (they are—though Moirin from the next trilogy is beginning to challenge that). Imriel and Sidonie are wonderful in their own way.

I wish I’d read these books a long time ago. There’s some really fabulous stuff in here that could spark valuable conversations about consent. No one talked about consent when I was young—we all knew what rape was, of course, but no one tried to flesh out the nuances of actual vs. implied consent. I was lucky to have found my religious beliefs before I became interested in sex—Paganism taught me to view sex as sacred, an act to be approached with reverence and respect. That was my roundabout education on consent, since no one actually used the word consent with me ever. I could have benefitted from having read these books in high school.

I think I enjoy the sex between Imriel and Sidonie a lot more than what is between Phedre and Joscelin. They are different manifestations of perfect love and perfect trust, to be sure. These books are fabulous, and I can’t get enough of Carey’s writing and storytelling, which is why I immediately moved on to Moirin’s trilogy after finishing my second run-through of this trilogy. 🙂

Kushiel’s Justice

This is the second book in the Imriel trilogy, and it’s just so darn sad! In the best way possible, because I’m beginning to think that Carey’s incapable of writing anything bad. But I definitely cried while reading this book. I actually was reading a particularly weighty scene during a pumping break at work (still breastfeeding at the time I wrote this book review…which was a while ago), and had to wipe away the tears and pretend like nothing had happened when I went back to my desk afterward. Silly.

The title of this book is apropos. The message would basically be: no one is exempt from the karma the gods wish to exact. Imriel does something a little stupid, that has huge consequences. A good chunk of this book happens in Alba, which we went to before in Kushiel’s Dart with Phedre and Joscelin, of course. This is different, though. We see more of the customs there, more of the day-to-day life. We meet new characters and learn to love them just as much as the others we’re already fond of. And terrible, horrible things happen to Imriel, which propel him on a quest that takes him to the flatlands, Skaldia, and as far north as Vralia, which is basically an approximation of Russia, where a fanatical group of religious extremists are gearing up to start their own Crusades.

By the time Imriel comes home, he’s completely changed. He’s finished growing up, through tragic circumstances. He’s earned this reader’s love, admiration, and respect. Usually when a character is brooding and immature you don’t see them do a complete 180. Imriel does, though. He finds his strength during all his trials to start demanding his own happiness, instead of waiting to see if he’s worthy of it. I like that sort of journey for a character. I think it’s smart, and I think Carey does it really well.

You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean, and to experience the sad parts, and the beautiful parts, and the heart-wrenching parts involving the karmic justice enacted by the gods. It’s really quite well-wrought.

If you enjoyed the first Imriel book, you’ll love this one even more. If you didn’t really like the first Imriel book, that’s okay—you’ll love this one more.

Spiritual Drought

I went years after I finished college without participating in any Pagan groups. Mostly it was location and time-availability restricting me. And it figures that just a few months before moving away from Central California, I found the ONLY other Pagan in the area starting work at my company.

The thing is—I’m built for group work. It’s fulfilling and wonderful. I was raised in a very involved church, where members went to services or events at least three days a week. After every service was an “agape” session that was a potluck for mingling and cementing bonds. I was so involved with the friends I had at the church that I had no idea how to make friends at school—and went a few years with only a single friend there.

In middle school after I found Wicca I started a coven with my best friend and some other close girlfriends. That coven was the closest, best relationship I’ve ever had with women. That it fell apart is to be expected—I’m the only devout Pagan of the bunch. Everyone else lapsed or converted to other religions over time. But it was a beautiful, soul-enriching thing for a long time.

When I went to college I had the luck of meeting a lifelong Pagan through a mutual friend, and he quickly brought me along to the Pagan group events at the local Unitarian Universalist church. Then a friend of a friend spear-headed the creation of a Pagan Alliance at our college, and we had those rituals and group events as well.

After I graduated, I moved to a more affordable area, closer to my then-boyfriend’s job. There went my Pagan groups. From there we moved all over the place, and I didn’t always have a car, or the money to spare on gas to get to events I knew were happening.

Then I spent two years in Paso Robles, a very nice area but predominantly Christian (with only one other aforementioned Pagan that I’d ever found). I had a nice Pagan wedding, but it’s different when the only people who are Pagan are the bride and the officiant.

Now we’ve moved to my home, a place that speaks to me, body and soul. And there are Pagans here. More than I thought existed in a single area anywhere. I went to one non-denominational, all-inclusive event. Then I had to miss the next one, since we had family in town. And I’m starving for it. For the sense of community. The peace that descends when you are among people who get it. It’s a different sort of vibe, knowing that you can fundamentally agree with people on that spiritual level. Pagans are as varied as they come, but being around them and worshipping with them recharges me in a way I didn’t realize I’d been missing.

I’ve been in a spiritual drought, and I finally got some water in late February, only for the land to dry up again right away. It was just a tease, and now I’m craving more.

Some day, I’ll have a coven of my own. A small group of people who meet near Sabbats and esbats. People who support each other in all areas, not just in religion and spirituality. In the meantime, I’ll go to big group events as often as I can. I’ll take what small steps I can, on my own. Tomorrow night, I’ll celebrate the full moon.