Quickie Reviews: All the Murders!

Peak season is underway at work. My days are crazy, and I use any remaining brain power trying to remember whether or not I’ve brushed my teeth.

As you might have guessed, my reading has hit a slump. I’m hoping that the books I ordered will pull me out of that, but in the meantime here’s a few things I’ve been reading.

Midnight Riot

Midnight Riot, Ben AaronovitchModern setting with a heavy dose of magic, ghosts, and exploding faces. I read this for my book club. General consensus is that the book is good, if flawed on the world building. Interesting characters — what the hell is up with Molly, and how is she so badass? — with a diverse set of nationalities and races. First in a series.

The Cutting Season

The Cutting Season, Attica LockeWhen the body of a migrant worker is found at Belle Vie, everyone on the property is a suspect. The historic Louisiana plantation’s manager, Caren, finds herself torn between catching the murderer and protecting her daughter, who is hiding something. Excellent commentary on race, politics, history, the law, and love — plus a great murder mystery.

Right now I’m flitting from book to book, unable to land on anything I really like. Life is just so noisy. I think I need to read something quiet.

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Review: Lives in Ruins

Lives in Ruins, Marilyn JohnsonMost people know a little bit about archeology, or have heard about Machu Picchu, Pompeii, and the pyramids. But what do we know about the people who discovered these places, or any of the thousands of other archeological places of interest around the globe? What makes them obsessed with digging through the dirt an inch at a time?

Lives in Ruins: Archeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble is author Marilyn Johnson’s search for answers to these and other questions.

Worth digging into

I read one of Johnson’s books, This Book is Overdue!, about four years ago and was impressed by her level of research. So when I saw that she’d written a book about another fascinating topic, I scuttled down to the library and grabbed a copy.

The first thing this book does is eviscerate the romantic notions of archeology. Archeologists are finding great stuff, of course, but they’re slogging ankle-deep through mud, bugs, and red tape to do it.

Archeology is not a profitable job. The education is expensive, the work difficult and sometimes dangerous. Most outsiders don’t understand what it means to be an archeologist, or the value of the things they scratch from the earth.

Lives in Ruins reads almost like a set of short stories. Each chapter follows a different archeologist as he or she fights to discover and preserve the past. My favorite chapters focus on aspects I knew little about: marine and military archeology. I love the idea of volunteers and deployed members of the armed forces educating themselves on how to spot and preserve archeological finds.

Johnson has written another good book, one I recommend you check out — especially if you’re an archeology buff.

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. August’s challenge was to read a book in which the season, the elements, or the weather plays a role in the story.)

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Review: Witches of America

Witches of America, Alex MarAlex Mar is a writer and skeptic. Like many people in her age bracket, she doesn’t feel a connection to the religion in which she was raised. But she envies those who do — in particular, the witches.

Witches of America is a chronicle of Mar’s exploration of witchcraft, from its (surprisingly contemporary) roots to its current incarnations. Along the way, Mar questions her own biases, as well as asks herself why we believe the things we choose to believe.

Eh…

For most, the term “witch” conjures images of green-skinned women, pointy black hats, or even the Salem Witch Trials. For the modern practitioners of Paganism, it’s a description of what they are.

Mar is a lapsed Catholic interested and confused by witches’ faith in their religion. What makes them choose pagan gods over mainstream ones? Are they different from the rest of us, or remarkably the same? How do they survive in a world that considers any kind of witchcraft evil?

I wanted to enjoy this book, but it couldn’t hold my attention. I don’t find Mar likeable, and many of the people and events she describes are too strange (and sometimes disturbing). I think it’s interesting that people are drawn to witchcraft and are able to find larger meaning in life because of it — but it’s just not my “thing.”

Witches of America would be perfect for those looking to learn more about the history of witchcraft and the practices of the different sects. I’m just not interested in Mar’s hand-wringing over her unsatisfactory professional and love lives.

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The Write Stuff: Excuses, Excuses

Writing Challenge: The Write StuffAs The Write Stuff wheezes itself into month seven, I’m having trouble focusing. I’ve done a lot of adulting lately (e.g., moving, writing large checks, and talking with my husband endlessly about “house stuff”), which is apparently worse for my creative output than even my negative self-talk.

Goal 1: Finish four short stories in 2017

The Write Stuff progress spreadsheet

Have I touched “Beginnings” since June? Nope. Have I thought of a fourth story idea? Also nope. Where do writers get their ideas from? I need help.

Goal 2: Write one in-character scene after every D&D session

(Formerly: Do as many of the 642 Tiny Things to Write About as I can)

On Sunday our group met for the first time since early June. We had basically forgotten how to play, so it took some time to ease back into it. Hopefully we’ll be meeting more frequently going forward; I’m so excited to get back into it!

I’ve had an idea germinating in my head for a few days, and finally had a chance to write it out and post it to our Facebook group last night. Fingers crossed someone responds!

Goal 3: Join a writing community (and actually share stuff for feedback)

I’ve…sort of done this? A few months ago I joined Toastmasters, and a couple days ago I finally gave my first prepared speech. It was non-fiction (I had to talk about myself for 4-6 minutes, yeesh), but it did involve writing and structuring stories and the speech itself. And the other members did give me feedback. So I’m going to count that.

Just let me have this.

Goal 4: Document it all on this blog

Enjoy my ever-quickening descent into madness. I hope you’re happy.

How’s your writing going?

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Review: A Little Princess

A Little Princes, Francis Hodgson BurnettSara has led a life many children can only dream of, surrounded by every comfort and a papa who adores her. She is not eager to attend the English boarding school in which her father has enrolled her, but knows that she should face any adversity like a brave soldier.

When her father dies in India, Sara is left penniless. She must be a servant in the school she once attended, despised by her former classmates, with only her imagination for company.

No matter how unbearable her life becomes, Sara is determined to meet her trials with head held high. “If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside.”

Simply lovely

I’ve seen the 1995 film adaptation of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic about a million times — I’m not sure how I made it this far without reading the novel.

Much like her other novels, including The Secret Garden, Burnett’s A Little Princess is philosophy masquerading as children’s literature. In this case it’s about being who you know you are inside, even when the outside doesn’t match.

Normally I hate a Mary Sue. Sara is so good and sweet that she should be unbelievable as a character. Maybe it’s because she’s got a bit of a temper, or because her life takes such a terrible turn that my sympathy outweighs my annoyance.

I love that her principal forms of escape are books and storytelling. She uses her imagination to help herself and her friends forget, for a time, how hard their lives are.

Like a lot of books from the 1900s, A Little Princess does sometimes feel a bit paternalistic. The characters are black and white (either fully good or fully bad), and the entire premise is a bit far-fetched.

Yet there are some good lessons about facing adversity and blooming where you’re planted. Hodgson clearly believes in the power of storytelling and fantasy to lift us from pain and sorrow, and remind us that there is still magic in the world.

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. July’s challenge was all about fantasy and fairytales.)

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