Quickie Reviews: Heroes, Crowns, and Dirty Minds

Although I’m picky enough about what I read that I’m generally sure I’ll enjoy the books I borrow or buy, occasionally there are some that miss the mark. These are books that had promise, but fell flat.

The Hero and the Crown

The Hero and the Crown Robin McKinleyThis book was promising — strong female main character, dragons, etc. — but it was just so dull. It took me weeks to get through because I never wanted to keep reading. I think I’m finally ready to give up on Robin McKinley. I’ve read several of her books, but Deerskin is the only one I’ve enjoyed.

Dirty Minds

Dirty Minds, Kayt SukelThis one’s my own fault. At the very beginning of the book, author Kayt Sukel says specifically that Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships doesn’t contain any relationship advice. It’s focused entirely on the science of chemical and hormones. I thought I’d enjoy it regardless, but I was wrong. It was another dull slog that took me a few weeks. It was especially boring compared to Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are, which I can’t stop thinking about.

Hopefully another trip to the library will provide me with more interesting reading.

Have you given up on any books recently?

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Writing Prompt #7: Party Animal

Writing Prompt(This month’s writing prompt is Party Animal: Have you ever gone to a party you didn’t want to leave? Or do you hate parties? Write about it!)

Grace hunched down into the cab’s middle seat, breathing deeply and trying desperately not to throw up on Marcie’s new dress or Hannah’s rhinestone shoes. She was by no means an expert on this sort of thing, but Grace was pretty sure that upchucking on someone was a party faux pas.

“Are we there yet?” she asked through clenched teeth. “I’m going to have a heat stroke.”

Marcie and Hannah stopped nattering on about whatever it was they were nattering about and gave Grace some room in the crowded backseat. Marcie lowered the window. Grace sighed as a cool gust of autumn air hit her face.

“Better?” asked Hannah. Grace nodded and leaned back against the seat, eyes closed. “Good, because we wanted to tell you something. Before we got to the party. Josh is going to be there.”

Grace’s stomach lurched, and she whipped her head up and glared at her friends.

“Josh. As in Josh-who-dumped-me-for-that-hag-with-the-huge-tits Josh?” Marcie and Hannah exchanged guilty glances.

“I’m sorry we didn’t tell you,” said Hannah, grabbing Grace’s hand. “But we didn’t think you’d come if you knew.”

“Damn right I wouldn’t have come,” muttered Grace, then yelled so the cab driver could hear. “Excuse me? Can you let me out?”

“Sure thing,” replied the cabbie, flicking off his meter. “But we’re already where you wanted to go.”

Grace sighed as the cab coasted to a stop outside the brownstone. Marcie climbed out first, smoothing her dress as she went. Hannah pushed lightly on Grace’s shoulder with her own.

“I know seeing Josh and hag-tits isn’t what you wanted, but this will be a fun party. You probably won’t even run into them.” Grace sighed again. “Give it thirty minutes, for me? If you still want to go home then I’ll pay for your cab.”

“What are you two doing in there?” Marcie asked as she leaned down to pay the cabbie. “Let’s go!” Feeling like a lamb led to slaughter, Grace climbed from the cab and followed Marcie up the steps.

“Can you stick close, please?” Grace asked Hannah as Marcie flung the door open and yelled a loud greeting to the room.

“Come in, come in!” welcomed the hostess with a wave of her glass. “Hang up your coats and join the party!”

Grace took her time removing her sweater, mentally preparing for the nerve-jangling slog ahead. By the time she made it into the main room, Marcie and Hannah were too involved in socializing to pay much attention to their party-shy friend.

Fortunately by sticking close to the wall, Grace was able to make it into the kitchen without fanfare. Most of the “real” food was gone (thanks to Marcie’s insistence on being “fashionably late”), but at last Grace spotted the desserts.

“At least there’s cake,” she muttered. She cut a large piece of chocolate cake and flipped it onto a plate. Taking a bite her mother would have called “unladylike,” she turned around to watch the party from a safe distance.

And then she saw him.

Josh. Of course he would show up at the exact moment she was preparing to eat a metric ton of sugar. Of course he was as handsome as ever. Of course he spotted her and started her direction.

Swallowing her mouthful of cake in a cold lump, Grace lunged for the hallway. She hadn’t seen her, but wherever Josh was, hag-tits surely wasn’t too far behind. And that particular meeting was something Grace needed to avoid at all costs.

She flung open the first door she came to and slammed it behind her, heart hammering. She heard the dull thud of Josh’s shoes come near, stop, then retreat back into the sounds of the party.

“Damn it,” Grace whispered into the darkness. She reached out to the wall on her right and flicked the light switch to find herself in a large closet. “Huh. And they say these houses don’t have enough storage.”

Grace found that by squishing some winter coats out of the way and stacking a couple sturdy-looking boxes, she was able to get comfortable. Which was good, because there was no telling how long she’d have to squat here until Marcie or Hannah came looking for her.

“At least there’s still cake,” Grace shrugged, scooping up another bite and enjoying its chocolatey goodness.

Suddenly the door of her hiding place flew open, and someone was staring down at her.

“This isn’t the bathroom,” a male voice said confusedly.

“No, but it is occupied,” snapped Grace. “So go away.” The man scowled and opened his mouth.

“Hey Ben, where are you?”

Grace recognized Josh’s voice and gasped. Before she could stop herself she grabbed the man by his stupid skinny tie and yanked him into the closet with her. She pulled the door shut, then turned to face the closet’s new occupant.

“Um…what’s going on?” the man asked, nearly tripping over the hem of a long winter coat.

“You were about to blow my cover, is what’s going on,” replied Grace. “And you’re in my spot.” The man snuffled away from the stacked boxes. Grace took her seat again and glared at the interloper.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” the man explained. “I was looking for the bathroom, and Josh said—”

“How do you know Josh?” interrupted Grace. The man shrugged.

“I’m the TA for his Sociology class. He invited me out, although I’m not sure coming along was a great idea. I’m not much for parties.” He shoved some coats out of the way and made room for himself on the floor. “So what’s your story?”

“Story?”

“Yea. I’m sure it’s a good one. Who spends a party holed up in a closet with a piece of cake the size of her head? Inquiring minds want to know.” Grace poked at the cake with her fork.

“I’m avoiding someone. Josh. We broke up and now he and hag-ti— his new girlfriend are here. He saw me and I panicked.”

“Clearly.” Grace glared a little harder at the man, who held up his hands in mock surrender. “My bad, I’m sorry. Name’s Benjamin. Grad student, teetotaler, introvert.” He held out his hand, and after a moment Grace reached out and shook it.

“Grace. Bio major, non-smoker, copes with fear by hiding in closets and eating cake.” The two smiled at each other.

“There you are!” bellowed Marcie as she flung open the closet door. Grace yelped in fear, her plate flying from her fingers. Cake and icing went everywhere, and Marcie stepped back to avoid getting splattered. Grace and Ben were not so lucky.

“Shit,” Grace spit through clenched teeth. She glared up at Marcie. “Can you stop going around flinging doors open and yelling? You scared us!”

Marcie glanced knowingly at the closet’s two occupants.

“Well look what we have here! Grace, are you playing Seven Minutes in Heaven?”

Grace lunged out of the closet, forcing Marcie to step back into the hall.

“We weren’t making out,” she said, picking chocolate off her shirt. “He was looking for the bathroom.” Marcie goggled.

“Speaking of which,” came a voice from the closet, “I do actually still need to find the bathroom. Can one of you tell me the way?” Grace and Marcie parted to let Ben out, and Marcie — still goggling — pointed down the hall. Ben dipped his head in thanks.

“Much obliged.” He turned to Grace and smiled. “Well Grace, it’s been quite the evening. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.” He reached out, pulled one last piece of chocolate icing from Grace’s shirt, and headed down the hallway.

Marcie elbowed Grace.

“Who was that?I knew you were trying to get over Josh, but I didn’t think you’d hook up with a total stranger. You’re such a boss!”

Grace grabbed her friend by the shoulders, turned her around, and pushed her back toward the party.

“Your fawning adoration is all I require. Now can we please call me a cab so I can go home? This party sucks.”

As she herded Marcie down the hall, Grace heard the bathroom door open. Just before she went around the corner, Grace turned back to see Ben smile and wave at her. She smiled back.

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Review: The Carpet People

The Carpet People, Terry PratchettNo one knows what existed before the Carpet — one day there was nothing, and the next it simply was. Many tribes inhabit the Carpet, from Varnisholme in the north to the Hearthlands in the south; they don’t always get along.

But they’re about to have to. Fray is wreaking havoc across the carpet, flattening villages and ruining lives. And in Fray’s wake come the mouls, monstrous creatures determined to overthrow the Carpet People.

When their village is destroyed by Fray, brothers Glurk and Snibril — along with the philosopher Pismire — must lead the villagers to safety. Their journey is long and dangerous, but they just might be able to save the day…with a little help.

In the beginning

Terry Pratchett is best known for his Discworld series (Hogfather is my favorite so far), but The Carpet People is where it all started.

When Pratchett was 17, part of his duties as an employee of the local newspaper included contributing to the weekly Children’s Circle section. It was here that the Carpet People (an early version, anyway) appeared starting in October 1965.

By 1971 there were enough Carpet People stories to make a book, which sold marginally well. After Pratchett became famous for the Discworld series, he revised his first novel into the version it is today.

So much fun

The Carpet People is less than 300 pages long, but it’s got so much packed in. Great themes abound, plus there’s one race whose members know the future (and one who knows much more). The plot is fun and there are plenty of characters to love and hate.

The characters do actually live deep within the fibers of a carpet, and it was fun deciphering Pratchett’s clever references — all the varnish used by the Carpet People comes from the faraway region of achairleg, and Fray itself originates above the world of the Carpet.

This book is not the same one Pratchett would have written as a more experienced author, but I’m glad he didn’t adjust it too much. The Carpet People is perfect for fantasy and Pratchett, and makes a lovely addition to any reader’s list.

(I read this book as part of the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.)

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State of the Blog: June 2016

State of the BlogYea, yea, the usual drivel about how fast the year is going. Let’s just get to the numbers!

The basics

  • Books read since January 1: 26
  • Pages read: 8,842
  • Books reviewed: 16
  • Books not enjoyed: 6
  • Books not finished: 0
  • Library books: 14
  • Ebooks: 3
  • Audiobooks: 5

Genre breakdown

  • Fiction: 14
  • Non-fiction: 11
  • Fantasy: 5
  • History: 9
  • Memoir: 2
  • Mystery/Thriller: 10
  • Paranormal/Supernatural: 4
  • Young adult literature: 1
  • Children’s literature: 2

Reading challenges

  • Charity Reading Challenge: 26
  • The Mount TBR Reading Challenge: 3 of 6
  • Monthly Motif Challenge: 6 of 12

Kickin’ ass and taking names! Check out my reading challenge progress.

Some thoughts

  • I’m at about the same place with my reading now as I was at this time last year. I was feeling like I’d fallen behind, so it’s nice to look at the numbers and realize I’m keeping pace with myself from year to year.
  • I’m doing better with my reading challenges than in previous years. I think I found a handful that are the most fun for (and valuable to) me.
  • The last 12 months have been awful, but have taught me so much.

Looking ahead

  • It’s been great blogging with the Insatiable Booksluts, and we’ve got even more fun stuff planned for summer. Go read every post right now!
  • I’m also really enjoying stretching my creative writing muscles with writing prompts. Going to keep this up in the second half of the year.
  • My book-buying ban continues, but I’ve amassed some gift cards that are begging to be used. Time to stock up on psychology texts and other books I can’t find at the library!

How’s your reading going this year?

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Review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene WeckerFor most refugees, losing a spouse halfway through the journey to America would be horrible. For Chava, it is almost world-ending. Not because she loved her husband, but because she was his servant. Chava is a golem, a being sculpted from clay and given life with dark magic.

Ahmad once roamed Syria like a god, reshaping his form at will and exploring the minds of the humans who crossed the country’s vast deserts. Endless powers, yet he still found himself outsmarted, imprisoned in a copper flask for centuries. Even once released from the flask, Ahmad is still trapped in physical form by an unbreakable iron band.

In a city of millions, these impossible creatures meet. And in a few horrifying moments, Chava and Ahmad are bound together in a way they could never have imagined. Someone else knows who they are, and will stop at nothing to bring them under his control.

A glorious debut

I loved The Golem and the Jinni. The plot is excellent, with several well-placed twists and an ending that’s just the right mix of bitter and sweet.

But in many ways the facts of the story are secondary; Helene Wecker’s novel is a master class in character study.

Just like humans do, Chava and Ahmad spend a great deal of time puzzling over their origin and purpose. Do they have souls, can they go against what nature has made them, are they purposeless without a master?

Much of the tension in their friendship comes from their clashing views on life. Chava is cautious, solicitous, and afraid to explore her new world; Ahmad is hedonistic, and does what he wants without thinking about who might be affected.

Yet as their situation grows increasingly dangerous, we see them learn from each other. Chava becomes braver, and uses her ingrained curiosity more frequently; Ahmad learns to temper his desires and think further than five minutes ahead.

The Golem and the Jinni is an engrossing look at turn-of-the-century New York City, mythology, and superstition. It’s also cerebral, giving the reader plenty of ethical and moral dilemmas and thoughts to gnaw on and discuss. The story is beautifully written, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

The next in the series, The Iron Season, hits shelves in 2018.

(I read this book as part of the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. It’s also my June book for the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge!)

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