Friday Fun! (August: First Anniversary! Beaches! Ok, ok, and also orientations and tooth extractions)
Hello my lovely readers!
August is always a bit of a tough month for me, because it’s when the students arrive back at my university. I wind up teaching a lot of orientation classes and also just flat-out am much busier doing one-on-one orientations to the library. While I truly enjoy teaching, I’m also an introvert and, thus, interactions with people drain me of energy, so I come home and collapse in exhaustion at the end of these days. A friend who also works in academia joked that everyone in academia runs around for the month of August yelling, “The students are coming! The students are coming!” in a Paul Revere voice. Very true.
I also, unfortunately, had to have a medical procedure this month. My dentist deemed it necessary for my wisdom teeth to come out as soon as possible, so I managed to find the one slow week at work and booked the appointment to get them ripped out. I only had three wisdom teeth, the fourth never developed (yay for being 25% more evolved woooo). They were all fully erupted, though (fully came in, not impacted). The procedure, thus, was quick and simple, although it still was bloody and painful, and I had to convalesce for a few days. The worst part, by far, was having to eat soft foods for a minimum of 3 days. I work out a lot and am a hungry panda and frankly I just like crunching things. I was very happy to be back to eating! My partner took great care of me, and I laid around watching old movies and playing Harvest Moon while I was recuperating.
This month wasn’t all difficulty and stress, though. It was also mine and my boyfriend’s first anniversary! We went away for an evening to an inn in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Our room had a two-person hot tub and was truly divine. Plus, the inn had 5 star dining, and my partner called ahead and told them I’m vegetarian, so the chef prepared a full 4 courses of vegetarian options for me, which was the first time I ever got to actually have 5 star food. He’s so thoughtful. 🙂 It was so wonderful to get to actually get away to celebrate our first anniversary. I’m glad we were able to get out of the city, even for one night, but I’m even more grateful to have found my partner. 😀
We also finally got a chance to go to the beach. We went to America’s first public beach, Revere. We took the motorcycle there, and stripping out of motorcycle gear down to a bikini underneath was hilariously awesome. I was really impressed at how nice Revere Beach is!! It has a lovely boardwalk and plenty of room for how popular it is. Everyone was nice and polite, and it was wonderfully relaxing. We’re going to have to plan more 2up beach trips in the future 🙂
As for the blog, I managed to mostly catch up in book reviews. I now am only one review behind! Woohoo!
As for my writerly pursuits, I’ve figured out a method to work more writing into my day, and I’m really glad to be back in the saddle. It helps, of course, that my partner and I are now living together. It’s so much easier to plan for things when you’re taking care of one house instead of two.
How was everyone else’s Augusts? What was your biggest stress and your best relaxer?
A chance meeting between orphaned British writer, Stephen, and American soldier, Dustin, leads to a passionate love affair in England. But when Dustin chooses to go back home to his small Southern town to care for his mentally challenged brother, Stephen is left behind, sending letters that are never answered. He finally decides to follow Dustin home and arrives only to discover that Dustin is no more.
This is my second read by Brandon Shire. The first, The Value Of Rain (review), blew me way with its passionate, multi-generational family drama featuring a gay main character. I was thus eager to accept a second arc from Shire, and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed.
There are some commonalities in the stories. Both feature a gay man who grew up in an unaccepting family and show the impact that has on their lives. But that’s where the similarities cease. Listening To Dust is really about a gay man who grew up with an accepting and loving grandmother trying to come to terms with who his lover is and was and how his lover’s family affects and affected him. This book is really more about what it is to love someone who suffers from deep childhood wounds. The difficult path that is to follow and how many pitfalls exist in it. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Stephen’s voice, I still respected his experiences and the difficult situations he found himself in. I also appreciated seeing the far-reaching impact lack of love and family acceptance has. It doesn’t just affect the people raised in that family.
The writing is again gorgeous. Even now I can feel the hot dustiness of Dustin’s hometown and also the comforting cool greenery of Stephen’s grandmother’s French cottage. Shire elicits both place and emotions so powerfully that it is impossible not to be moved by the story.
I also really enjoyed the various commentary throughout the book on love, words, and actions. What love is, what it does, and whether words or actions are worth more.
So I guess we were both right, and both wrong about actions and words. Like the two of us, one is empty without the other. (location 1014)
The sex scenes manage to be steamy and emotional. What I might call literary sex scenes. When I read them, I felt them in my knees.
Even now I can feel the heat from your palm as you cupped the back of my head and pulled my lips those last few inches, how you opened your body and begged me with your soul. (location 1726)
So what held me back from 5 stars? As previously stated, I wasn’t a huge fan of Stephen’s voice, although I respected his experiences. He sometimes grated on me a bit. I’m not sure if it was his slight Britishisms or how much he got hung up in his own head but he sometimes irritated me in a way that kept me from getting completely engrossed in the story. But this is a small thing, really, when compared to the story as a whole and the beautiful writing.
Overall, this is a book that sweeps the reader away to multiple, disparate places to explore both love and the far-reaching affects of a harsh family life. It should appeal to any who enjoy a heart-breaking contemporary GLBTQ romance.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Note: 10% of all proceeds donated to LGBT Youth Charities combating homelessness.
A collection of fourteen short stories taking one ordinary experience and inserting an extraordinary fantastical, scifi, or bizarro instance into the situation, seeing how the main character reacts.
A mixed collection, containing both 2 star and 5 star stories, although most stick right around the 3 star mark. The stories veer between scifi and fantasy, although both have some bizarro element in them.
Where Marek excels is when he takes a little talked-about male experience and utilizes the unique qualities of genre fiction to explore it. The only 5 star story in the collection, “Boiling the Toad” explores a male victim of domestic violence. It does this in a powerful way without demonizing all women. The story starts as “my life is so bizarre” but eventually becomes all too real. It’s interesting to note that this is also the opposite of many stories in the collection. Many start ordinary and turn bizarre. Starting bizarre and turning ordinary worked much better. Similarly, “Testicular Cancer vs. The Behemoth” explores male feelings about a cancer that is only possible to get if you have testicles. Marek fairly eloquently presents the main character as attempting to defend his perceived manhood by trying to protect his girlfriend from a Godzilla-like monster attacking the city. These stories are interesting, and I enjoyed exploring them.
Where the collection fails and flounders, though, is when the main character is self-centered and perceives of women as objects or only existing for his pleasure. It’s incredibly difficult to feel any empathy for a character who wants to cheat on his wife but ends up failing because of a mysterious puking illness he gets at the sushi restaurant (Sushi Plate Epiphany) or to care about a man who calls his pregnant wife a monster and tries to cheat on her while she’s still carrying his children (Belly Full of Rain). A lot of these stories incited an eye-roll and “boohoo it’s so horrible to be a man” sarcastic response from me, which I seriously doubt was what the author was going for.
Then there are the stories that simple don’t seem to have any point or make any sense. They seem to just be getting going when Marek stops them abruptly. Or they do seem to be at their end but there is just no point. Both “the Forty-Litre Monkey” and “Jumping Jennifer” have a great set-up of a mystery but that mystery is never addressed. They stop too soon. “Instruction Manual for Swallowing” and “The Thorn” are highly fantastical yet the conflict isn’t set up enough so as to be interesting.
Marek’s writing style varies widely between the perfect tone for bizarro genre fiction and being overly pretentious for his genre. For instance he writes sentences like this:
Being in the room felt like being suffocated in an armpit. (location 55)
But also pretentiously calls a college quad a “quadrangle” (“Jumping Jennifer”).
Overall then this is a widely varied collection of bizarro short fiction. Some of the stories offer wonderful insight into male issues while others wallow annoyingly in the minds of terrible men who only think they have a problem, while still others set up a fantastic world but are ultimately boring due to lack of conflict. If you are intrigued by any of the stories mentioned, I would advise getting a copy from the library since they will be quickly read, and you can return it when done. Definitely feel free to skip around in this collection.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Kate Reinders)
Things have gotten interesting since Mainiac Jane True found out she’s half selkie. She discovered the whole world of supernatural beings, started training and honing her own powers with the help of a local goblin, and of course met and started dating the sexy vampire Ryu. After being caught up in the mystery that was a supernatural person killing halflings, Jane really just wants to focus in on power honing and Ryu. Particularly with Valentine’s Day approaching. But when she goes down to Boston for her first visit to his home, she ends up getting caught up in his current investigation. Going after a dangerous halfling who just escaped from an illegal lab.
I enjoyed the first entry in this series as a surprisingly humorous paranormal romance set in the unusual (for pnr) setting of Maine. So when I needed a new audiobook for a roadtrip and saw this lounging on audible, I snatched it up. I kind of regret that choice because not only did I enjoy this entry in the series less but I also apparently misremembered how well I liked the first book in the series. I only rated it as 3.5 stars but remembered enjoying it at at least 4. Hindsight is not always 20/20. Essentially, everything that kinda sorta rubbed me the wrong way in the first book got worse instead of better, and the things I liked became worse as well.
The humor takes a nosedive. Whereas the first book deftly handled a dry New England sense of humor, here things turn mean and inappropriate. Jane laughs at things she shouldn’t laugh at and invites the reader to as well, and it becomes deeply awkward. Like hanging out with a friend who thinks they’re funny but is in fact offensive.
I was excited to see what Peeler did with Boston, and I admit some things she handled well. She nailed the neighborhood of Allston, for instance, but she also put Ryu’s home in Bay Village. Ryu is supposed to be a wealthy vampire, but instead of putting him in Beacon Hill or a wealthy suburb like Cambridge or Newton, she puts him in a neighborhood that is actually a lower to middle class neighborhood that is slowly being gentrified. That’s not where a home like Ryu’s supposedly is would be located. This is a neighborhood that border the Massachusetts Turnpike (noisy big road, for non-Americans). It’s not the mecca of wealth that Peeler seems to think it is. A big mistake like that is rather jarring when she got details like how the exit of the T in Harvard Square is called the Pit, a bit of knowledge even some locals don’t have. On the other hand, she seems to think that the Boston Public Garden closes at night and has a big scene where Ryu takes Jane there on a romantic late-night date. Um. No. The Garden doesn’t close at night. It is, however, full of people trying to sell you drugs. Yes, yes, ideal for a romantic date. This unevenness in knowledge of Boston and its surrounding areas made reading the setting uncomfortable and awkward.
The issue of Ryu being an obvious jerk continues. It’s clear from the beginning of the book that a break-up is coming and Jane is being set up with another character. It’s kind of annoying for the book to be this predictable, but it is paranormal romance, and Jane does ultimately stand up for herself, so I was ultimately ok with this. In fact, the way Jane stands up for herself is handled so well that it saved the book from getting 2 stars instead of 3.
The last, and most important, thing that made the book deeply upsetting for me was the fact that Jane is not once but twice put into a situation where she is about to be raped. Rape comes up a lot in paranormal romance and frankly it bothers me. These are worlds in which women are powerful, talented, and often gifted with great gifts. So why must their confrontations so frequently devolve into threatened or real rape? I get it that rape is a very real thing in the real world, and I am completely fine with it existing as a plot point in horror, dystopian or post-apocalyptic scifi, and mysteries. Horror is supposed to push the boundaries of comfort. Dystopian and postapocalyptic scifi is frequently presenting humanity at its worst, and rape is one of the worst. Mystery needs a victim, and frequently murder victims are also raped. But in a battle between supernatural creatures in a book that is supposed to be a romance suddenly tossing in rape as a weapon doesn’t read right. It removes so much agency from the main female characters. Like, what, she’s always easily defeated because you can just threaten to shove your dick into her against her will and suddenly she will acquiesce to your viewpoint? It’s paranormal romance. Why can’t the paranormal world have fights where rape threats and attempted rapes aren’t a thing?
What really bothered me about the second scene this happened in with Jane is the level of victim blaming that happens as well. Jane has just successfully escaped from the first rape attempt. She saves herself. This is great, and she does it with a mixture of trickery and violence that is commendable. But then a man shows up and immediately takes over. He says he needs to protect her; he’s going to walk her out of this situation. Jane insists she needs to pee. She goes to pee, against his protests, and when she comes back out, he’s gone because another group of villains have him, and Jane starts to be attacked by a known violent rapist. She later blames herself for having to go pee, and no one argues with her that she has every right to pee when she needs to. So we have a powerful halfling who can’t go pee by herself because she might get attacked and raped? That is so incredibly victim blaming and putting all the responsibility for safety on the woman that I can’t even properly articulate how angry it makes me.
Kate Reinders, the narrator, mostly does a good job. She lands the complex voice of Jane quite well. The only negative I can say is that she mispronounces some New England words and city names. But her narration did make the book more enjoyable for me.
Combine these issues (aside from the audiobook narration which was fine) together with the fact that the plot is basically the previous book’s plot flipped in reverse (violent halfling killing supernatural people instead of supernatural person killing halfling), and I can safely say I won’t be continuing on in the series. The only thing that saves the book from a lower rating is the fact that Jane ultimately does stand up for herself. But for me it was too little too late. Not recommended. Unless you enjoy bad humor, awkward settings, and rape threats and victim blaming of the heroine.
3 out of 5 stars
Friday Fun! (July: Omg I Brought My Bf Home to Meet My Family and We Moved In Together and Oh and Also I Am Now Officially in My Late 20s)
Hello my lovely readers!
Someday, some archivist will look back at this blog and go “Why is it called Friday Fun when it’s never on a Friday?!” I will leave that mystery up to you, future archivist, to discover on your own.
So! On July 2nd I turned 27 and suddenly I had to start ticking off late 20s on everything. I joke about being upset about it, but I’m really not. My late 20s are turning out much much better than the rest of them *knock on wood*, so I really can’t complain. Also I honestly like myself a lot better at 27 than I did at any age prior, and who can complain about that? It is fun to joke around with bf about me being old since he’s still in his mid-20s though.
Speaking of, I brought him home to meet my family, and it’s the first time that’s ever happened, so you should kind of be able to imply what a big deal that is. My family was awesome and very welcoming, and everyone got along just fine, and it was lovely! My dad even taught us how to make doughnuts from scratch while we were home. It was just that awesome. Also, also we celebrated the 4th with them, and my uncle got fireworks to set off in the backyard. I’ve been in the city for so long, I hadn’t had a chance to do that in forever, and I really enjoyed it.
So as soon as we got back from that adventure, we had to start working on moving. With the way the rental market is in Boston right now, we decided to have him move into what was my place (what is now our place) with me and rent a garage nearby for his motorcycles (there are 5). He gave notice and had to be out by July 31st, but really we had to do it quicker than that since he was going away on a mini-vacation with his dad at the end of the month, so we wound up doing it all in 2 weeks, and honestly it was incredibly stressful, mostly because we had to spend so much time apart sorting shit in our own apartments. I had to morph everything I own down into half the apartment, and he had to do the usual sorting that happens when you move. Honestly, most of the choices we had to make were surprisingly easy. We have a lot in common, and we stressed out far more over worrying about making the other person comfortable than over the actual choices when it came down to it. As of today, we’re officially living together, and honestly it’s the best feeling ever. I get to come home to my person and my kitty every day, and it’s just wow. That’s what home is supposed to feel like, y’know?
I’m pretty proud of myself, given all of these goings-on, that I managed to finish 4 books this month. Two of them were audiobooks, and that makes total sense. I could listen while I sorted and packed. Three of them have yet to be reviewed here, so hopefully I’ll get those reviews up soon.
I’m incredibly happy it’s finally August!! Although it will still be a bit eventful. I’m meeting my bf’s mother and one of his sisters, it’s the busiest month in the calendar at my job, and I’m getting my wisdom teeth out. Phew!
How was everyone else’s July? Did you have more time for the beach than me?