From the Closet: Realistic Depictions?

Warning: This post will include some spoilers; primarily, characters coming out of the closet. This was also an older draft I never got around to posting (like, from Feb. or something). Eh. Life is crazy.

I’m actually planning to wrap up the blog and wanted to post a few old drafts before I quit. 

In my church small group, we were talking about book controversies and what Christians are and are “not allowed to read.” Clearly, this is subjective, but we were using a local private Christian school’s library for an example. The group has a mutual friend, this school’s librarian. She cannot have Harry Potter in the library, presumably because it goes against their beliefs.  The librarian CAN have Percy Jackson and The Heroes of Olympus series in the library. While children of Greek gods running around New York City doesn’t sound Christian to me, this exception is made because it deals with Greek mythology and as this mythology has been a major part of Western Civilization, it’s okay. (Clearly, it’s tough to be a censor/selector.) I’m glad Percy Jackson is in this library, so please don’t get the wrong idea.

So, anyway, this librarian was reading House of Hades with a student group, as all the Greek and Roman mythology clears the school board. Then she discovers, one of the characters is gay. This will be interesting to talk about.  I don’t remember what actually happened during or after this book club discussion. When my friend was retelling this book club story, I said, “Oh…. that makes so much sense!” My friend didn’t know the book, she didn’t know the character’s name, but the second she said, “A character comes out in the most recent book,”I knew it was Nico.  I hadn’t gotten to read House of Hades yet, but all my prior knowledge clicked with this revelation.  “Oh, poor thing. No wonder he’s a loner. A goth son of Hades, he’s got a lot going on.” It was no surprise to me because Riordan has built up this character over time– Nico was introduced seven books ago. Nico is NOT a stereotype, at least not the stereotype we usually see. He’s not sure of himself, he struggles relating to other kids, he hides in the shadows. I thought that his depiction was beautiful and Riordan did an excellent job being sensitive and introducing this trait for Nico without being overdone or thrown in for the hell of it.

So. I’ve read a few “coming out” scenes recently in YA novels, and I haven’t been impressed with all of them like I was House of Hades. For example, I started the Divergent series over the holidays. I’ve only read the first two in the series and frankly, Insurgent did not impress me. I passed the sequel on to my nephew already, so forgive me for not knowing all the details. Basically, there were hints that a minor character was angry and eye rolls over PDA a couple was displaying, but her deathbed confession that she had feelings for the girl in the relationship made ME roll my eyes. I think the girl she liked was already dead, it was so hard to tell with the amount of characters Roth threw in. It felt forced. It felt tossed in just to get a “Woah! I wasn’t expecting that!”

*Having a gay character should not be put into a book for shock value or for a novel’s version of Affirmative Action.
*It shouldn’t be a complete surprise out of the blue that a character is gay. At least, not to the reader.
*Gay characters shouldn’t be ONLY stereotypes. (Want to be fabulous? Fine. Have another hobby other than shopping and theatre, please.)
*Sexual preference shouldn’t be the only thing we walk away knowing about the character.

Orientation IS NOT A MOTIVE. Real life example: I went to Germany with a tour group, and we visited Neuschwanstein Castle. If you asked any of the boys why the castle was built, they would say “BECAUSE Ludwig II was totally gay and he wanted to impress his lover!” 1– not confirmed, although reasonable suspicion, 2– would anyone say, “He was straight and wanted to impress his lover”?  Our British tour guide was really annoyed at this because it just didn’t matter, and the boys were obsessed with it. I was continuously face-palming. Idiots. 

I mentioned Harry Potter at the start of this post, so I shall bring this full circle with Dumbledore. JKR thought of him as gay as she was writing. Did it come through in the books? Not really, except perhaps his hilarious enjoyment of knitting magazines (his friendship with Grindlewald was extremely close, but if you choose to read it as “they’re good friends,” you could feasibly do that. JKR said Dumbledore was in love with Grindlewald, so now you know.)  Was it relevant in the books? No. Was it worth mentioning in the books? Nope. Therefore, Rowling didn’t have a dramatic coming-out scene. Does the fact that Dumbledore was gay change how I see him? He was kind. He was a genius. He was brave. Straight, gay, doesn’t affect those qualities. He just wasn’t hitting on McGonagall, no problem with that.

Am I saying, being gay doesn’t matter? Not exactly. When it’s part of who you are, it’s important. But does your whole life revolve around being gay? Probably not.  Basically, one character trait or one thing that you’ve done does not define you permanently. “Don’t tell me. SHOW me.”  I don’t want a sudden reveal and be super surprised. I don’t necessarily need the “shade of weird to be pink,” but most of the time, someone’s homosexuality is not a surprise. It may be a surprise to the characters in the book (cough Drama by Raina Telgemeir) but not to the readers. (To be fair to Drama it’s about middle school theatre, so there’s going to be gay characters and it’s going to be a surprise because middle schoolers are naive in some ways. But it’s totally realistic. I actually was told a line in the book before when I was the dumb teenager without a clue.)

I admire Riordan for writing such a moving scene, where Nico fights with Cupid– Love– because Nico is struggling to make peace with this.  I didn’t feel blindsided by the revelation. I didn’t think to myself, “He threw that in there to cause a stir.” I think it was just the clues coming together to make sense.  I think other authors need to take note. I’m not saying you have to impress me with dramatics, but deathbed confessionals are a cheat and feel like quota-filling nonsense. Make it real. Your characters deserve that much, and so do your readers.

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Conversations with my co-workers RE: Nagini

*****I haven’t written in ages. I was looking through my lost drafts from forever ago to publish something until I have time to write a book post. This was written November 16, 2011. It’s still kind of funny. I previously published a Harry Potter-related discussion with Chrysalis here. I no longer work with Chrysalis and sadly no longer have the pleasure of having conversations like this on a semi-regular basis. *******

Chrysalis and I found ourselves pondering the latest rumor going around on the internet:

C: Did you hear about Nagini being the snake Harry let loose in the first book?
A: I DID hear about that! I’m not so sure about that.
C: Yeah… not sure if it can be supported. My sister emailed me that, and I was like, “is that true?” And she looked it up and couldn’t find anything.
A: I kind of find it unlikely.  That snake seemed pretty determined to get to Brazil.
C: If Harry’s the one who freed him, wouldn’t it be difficult to hurt him?
A: In a way, I think it’s kind of like Peter Pettigrew– how Harry sent Voldemort a servant in debt to Harry.
C: I’m so glad Neville killed her [Nagini]  in the movie.
A: YEAH! I was so worried about that…
C & A: that they wouldn’t let him be awesome
A: because it was.
C: I think Neville deserved that victory.
A: He had it worse than Harry, I think…
C:  Definitely. The whole, I don’t have my parents sucks, but he has his parents and can see the damage that was done…
A: Yeah…

So, that was our lively lunch discussion before clearly getting called back to work. Dang work.

****Obviously, this rumor was untrue, because the internet is ridiculous. At the time it was not confirmed or denied, but it’s been 3 years. DENIED. But isn’t it funny to read back and think, man, people fell for that? We had a lunch-time conversation about it?🙂

Recap: Neville’s the best, chosen by the people to lead Dumbledore’s Army. Nagini is not the awesome snake that went to Brazil because our hero Harry (although merciful and clueless) would not send TWO servants to Voldemort… that’s just too much, even for JKR.  :-)

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The Snow Queen, Breadcrumbs, and Frozen

Happy 2014! It’s been a while since I’ve been on here but when I finished my 30 before 30 book list I was kind of exhausted and I still needed to make dinner and finish other stuff (including school work). I have been reading a ridiculous amount (see: school work) but haven’t wanted to blog about it. It’ll be fodder for later. 

So, how’s the weather? If you read this after this weekend, you may somehow forget this strange phenomenon called the polar vortex.   Basically, it has been colder in Ohio (or Tennessee… or Indiana… or most of the lower 48) than Alaska. I have a sunroom in my house and yesterday the inside of the glass door was covered in ice. Seriously. It was a sheet of ice. 

Which makes my read before Christmas especially appealing to write about this week. 

First off, anyone actually read the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Snow Queen, before Disney’s Frozen came out this year? 
Frankly, I’ve READ it, but I never really liked it, so I couldn’t remember any of the details. I know I saw an adaptation of The Snow Queen when I was a kid, but it either scared me or went over my head.  It turns out I read a modernization of The Snow Queen called Breadcrumbs,  and then saw Frozen last Saturday. So, here’s a themed post. W00t. 

Here’s the main plot of the original: Gerta and Kay (a boy) grow up together and are best friends, until one day Kay stops talking to Gerta. It turns out that there’s a magic mirror that makes beautiful things ugly. A sprite decided to bring the mirror to heaven, except it shatters on the way and pieces land everywhere. The splinters do the same job as the entire mirror, though. A splinter lands in the little boy’s eye and gets into his heart, so he turns against his friends, etc. Essentially, his heart freezes. The Snow Queen convinces Kay to go with her to her palace (not quite sure how it happened). Gerta believes she has to go save him, so she goes and I’m not really following what all happened on her way but fairy tale helpers do their part, etc. The Snow Queen flew off to freeze Vesuvius or something and gives Kay a puzzle to keep him busy. Gerta walks into the palace without an issue. Kay is kinda frozen and half dead so Gerta cries all over him. The tears penetrate his heart and wash out the splinter. They go back home, the end.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Urso is a rather faithful version of The Snow Queen except it takes place in modern Minnesota. The same basic plot: Hazel and Jack grow up together and are best friends but in fifth grade several things change. Hazel’s parents separate and Jack’s mom is depressed, and in fifth grade there’s a lot of peer pressure to not hang out with the other sex. And the thing only Hazel notices: a demon breaks an evil mirror and a piece gets into Jack’s eye. Hazel’s archenemy Tyler tells her that he was going to go sledding with Jack, but he saw Jack go with a tall woman in white into the woods. They both know that she’s the only one who will go.  The woods is indeed a fairy tale land, and she gets tempted and helped along the way, weaving in a bunch of fairy tale motifs (red shoes, a swan skin, a woman who turns girls into flowers, etc). It is made abundantly clear that Jack may not want to come back, he could only go with the Queen if he wanted to, so her trip may all be in vain.  Hazel talks to the Queen, who says she froze his heart to keep him safe, but Jack can choose to stay or go. Hazel gives Jack a signed baseball, his prized possession, and he remembers who he is, and they go back home.

I really, really liked this. Hazel and Jack are good friends who read books together and use their imaginations and are basically fantastic. Andersen’s style is really flowery and hard to follow and read. The modernization helps the story flow a little more, and I liked the fairy tale symbols tossed in the story as well. I also really liked that Hazel compares everything to a book.  

Grades: Ages 8-12 is what the cover says, so 4-7th grades? 
Grade: A 


OK, folks: probably going to spoil Frozen for you so stop here if you haven’t seen it yet. I’m mostly going with my reactions and how it varies from the original. 

I saw Frozen with my family when they were in town to celebrate Christmas. It was a fun movie. There was a LOT of music. We went out to eat after the movie and I swear, all my family decided to sing their order and pretend they were in a Disney movie. It was hilarious. Slightly embarrassing. But awesome. 

Disney  definitely Disneyfied The Snow Queen, but in the best possible way, I think. I think Idina Menzel’s casting was brilliant, and “in type” for her– it was very Elphaba, in the way that Elsa the Snow Queen is not evil, but people think she is due to this unexplained power.  **There’s one evil guy that pretty bluntly says he’s it, and then an extra one you weren’t expecting! Woohoo!**
(Sidenote: You cast Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff, give them one song each (Groff sings less than a minute), and you give Kristen Bell three songs? Not that Kristen had a bad voice, but seriously.)

Anyway, basically Elsa has unexplained powers where she can freeze things and make snow, She accidentally freezes Anna as a kid, and is told to hide her powers. When her powers overwhelm her on her coronation day, she runs away. Anna has to go save her and get Elsa to unfreeze the summer. 

High marks for the beautiful scenery, there’s lots of it. The back-to-back songs at the beginning is a bit much, to be honest, but they’re really catchy. Like my entire family has been singing “Do you want to build a snowman?” since Saturday (or using the tune to sing their Olive Garden order or whatnot).  I really liked the angle they took the story. 


Anyway. The Snow Queen is not my favorite fairy tale, but I really liked the recent adaptations. I think this is mostly me not enjoying Andersen’s style of writing versus the actual tale. I will be very curious to see if Frozen will inspire more adaptations. 


“Let the storm rage on…. the cold never bothered me anyway.” 

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October: Reading whatever I feel like, GOSH! (30 before 30)

This post is concluding my 30 books for the year with the monthly theme.

And I kind of gave up on a theme this month. They didn’t really have much in common. Here’s what I can come up with as a theme: I bought these at a book fair. They’re all adult bestsellers, which you know is not what I normally get. They’re kind of historical fiction, but not necessarily the main genre. But otherwise, I’m reading them because I felt like it. Gosh.  My birthday’s in two weeks, so, yeah, I can read what I like, right.

Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife is the story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson. I got it because I liked the cover, the 1920’s, and thought it would be interesting. I kind of didn’t take into account that I have never read Hemingway. (ducks tomato). It was pretty interesting. Hemingway was in Paris with all sorts of fascinating people and did all sorts of interesting things. But I think I mentioned before, I really don’t like cheaters. And just about every time it flips to Ernest’s point of view (total, four times), he’s cheating or thinking about it. So, that turned me off. I think I would have appreciated it more had I been familiar with Hemingway’s works, other than To Have and Have Not (i.e. Humphrey Bogart’s film based on the book, and probably not true to the book since mad chemistry between Bogart and Bacall). It took forever to get through for me, but it was okay. I didn’t hate it, it just wasn’t my favorite. I think it may have been better if I knew more about Hemingway beforehand, but it wasn’t bad. I won’t read it again most likely.  I’ll give it a C.

The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern was really good, but it was definitely character-driven.  Two magicians with different teaching styles have spent decades picking students to pit against each other, and the competition ends when one survives and the other dies.  When Prospero’s daughter Celia shows natural talent, Prospero challenges the man in gray. The man in gray “Alexander” picks up Marco from an orphanage after Marco shows common sense.  Once they are old enough to display their talents, the arena for their competition is Le Cirque des Reves– the Circus of Dreams.  The two get caught up in trying to impress the other and they eventually fall in love, unaware of how the game ends. I really enjoyed the novel. I loved the setting and I loved the characters. I read it and borrowed the audiobook from the library, and the audiobook is read by Jim Dale. Jim Dale can read me the phone book, I bet he’d come up with crazy voices depending on the names.  This would totally appeal to teens and it’s just good. Lots of people don’t like the conclusion but I thought it was the best solution. I would give it a B+.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay took me a while to get into, but it got better. The problem I had at the beginning was it was very disjointed. It began by alternating with two page chapters from two different types of points of view: Sarah, a young Jewish French girl, and Julia, an American-born journalist in France. Julia is researching the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Sarah is one of the children who was rounded up. Before she left, her brother went into his hiding place and she locked the cabinet, thinking she would be back. The story is about how Julia uncovers Sarah’s story. The first quarter of the book is the back-and-forth, but once they get into Julia delving into the story it came together nicely. It was a hard subject, and let’s be honest, we know bad things happen in this book.  It was something that I had never heard of and it was clear that from the behavior of the characters in the book they’d rather it be buried. But it was well-written and good stuff. I gave it four stars on Goodreads simply because it took me three nights to get past the Sarah/Julia/Sarah/Julia section, but after I got through that ADD it was done in an hour.  A work.


I will turn 30 Nov. 9.  This year, my thirty before 30 “project”  has been an interesting adventure. In all honesty, I had 90 things on my “to do” list: 30 books, 30 recipes, 30 random projects. (What was I thinking?!) I was most successful with my recipes and my books, but I think it was because I had a clear goal: 3 a month, whatever. I can’t say I  finished 30 projects successfully, but ya know, E for effort. I have started and done more for myself that wasn’t about getting stuff checked off.    I’ve been doing things more by instinct than relying on a list.  

When I wrote a list in January, I had no idea what I would accomplish before I turned 30. I actually wrote at the time, “I’m looking at this and it seems impossible.” I could have used my time more wisely, I guess. The household improvements aren’t going anywhere, for example.  But I think it’s been a good year. I’ve accomplished a lot in becoming who I want to be, whether it was on the list or not. (I know, it’s a lifelong process. But a few more steps in the right direction.)

I’m excited to close the book on my 30 themed books project. Thanks if you’ve followed along, I hope it was interesting for you and some of the books caught your eye.

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Forever, Judy Blume

It’s my most favorite time of the year…  Banned Book Week! Last year I blogged about Judy Blume’s “love letter to periods.” I’m going to continue on my Judy Blume Banned Book Week Blog kick for a couple of reasons.

1- Judy has been challenged so often I’m pretty sure the only book that hasn’t been banned may be The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.  If you haven’t read it, it’s about the middle child getting an important part in the school play.  I exaggerate, but I’m 99% sure that one hasn’t been banned and I can’t think of the others that haven’t been banned. (I don’t know about the plethora of others: Fudge, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing…  I’m sure they’re okay.)
2-I’m in a YA Lit class, which is pretty awesome. I had to do a video book report on a “historical YA fiction novel.”  (Meaning, a book that changed YA history.)  I did my report on Forever. I’d consider posting the video, except that  it’s really awkward. I actually enjoyed doing research about the book.


Synopsis: Katherine and Michael are high school seniors in their first serious relationship.  Their physical relationship moves really quickly, but there’s a natural progression to it (it’s not like they immediately jump in bed together; Katherine is a virgin and has  say in what she does). Her parents are actually really good influences on her, and Mom in particular reminds her that she “can’t go back to holding hands.” The kids do end up “going all the way.”

When things start moving too fast (like Katherine changing her college choice to be with Michael “forever”), both sets of parents decide to separate the two for the summer.  Michael goes to NC, Katherine goes to a tennis camp. The couple ends up breaking up after Katherine thinks she may have feelings for another counselor. She doesn’t regret anything.

So, that story sounded kinda boring. What’s the big deal? 

Sex, of course.

Judy’s daughter, Randy, asked her mom to write a story about teenagers having sex without dire consequences.  Until 1975, when Forever was published, sexually active teens in stories ended up pregnant, disease-ridden, married to miscreant (of course unhappily), some have grisly, illegal abortions, and in extreme cases, dead from a bad delivery or disease.  (And of course, the girl suffered the consequences and didn’t even want sex in the first place.) Forever essentially stems from the idea that you can be responsible and educated with your sex life, and both males and females have hormones. And sure, there are consequences to sex, but sometimes they’re just matters of the heart.

What do you mean, even in the ’70’s they had books with sex horror stories? That sounds like the ’50’s! 

Well, they didn’t have as many resources as you would have thought up until that point. Most of this comes from Planned Parenthood: Who We Are.

  • In 1966, LBJ singled out four health issues for America, and one of them was lack of family planning.
  • As a result, the U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare created a program to provide contraceptives to low-income, married women.
  • Nixon declared birth control a national priority in 1970.
  • 1973- Roe v. Wade
  • In 1976, the Supreme Court rules that women do not have to get parental or spousal permission for an abortion.

Basically, the resources we have today were limited up until the 1970’s, and I don’t know if Forever could have been written earlier.

Blume does throw in some sex ed. while she’s writing Forever. She makes a point to say in an updated preface that in the 1970’s, responsible sex was not getting pregnant. They didn’t really worry about STDs (or VD in the novel) because AIDS wasn’t the epidemic then that it became in the ’80’s. Katherine visits a clinic to get pills, but before that they did use a condom.

And there are consequences from sex in the novel that are the normal run-of-the-mill sort for that time. Katherine’s friend Sybil IS pregnant throughout the book, but she hides it because she “wants the experience of having birth.” She comments that her parents would have made her have an abortion if they had known. Sign of the times…

Michael has had a fling before, and it did result in a VD. He is clean by the time he meets Katherine, but I think that does say a LOT that his STD came from a girl he met on vacation. Known for three days and jumping in the sack does not equal “responsible sex life” is all I’m saying.

Basically, because of the movements to educate teens and help guide them to make responsible decisions, Forever was possible. The resources that they had before that point were somewhat limited. The 1950’s were a little prudish in their values, and the 1960’s were all about free love. The 1970’s (while still being pretty sexual) were trying to even out the two extremes. 


Nowadays, sex permeates our culture to the point where we barely notice it. Forever is revolutionary for its time. It tries to educate teens about sex without being preachy. I’m sure people have said that there aren’t any consequences to sex in the book, but it’s not true. Although Katherine doesn’t have any STDs or pregnancy, others in the book do. And, sometimes, you can just end up with a couple broken hearts and hurt friendships. Life moves on and you learn from it.

I used this Amazon review in my presentation, which is also helpful in understanding the big deal:

Judy Blume was the first author to write candidly about a sexually active teen, and she’s been defending teenagers’ rights to read about such subjects ever since. Here, Blume tells a convincing tale of first love–a love that seems strong and true enough to last forever…. As always, Blume writes as if she’s never forgotten a moment of what it’s like to be a teenager.”

Now, with all that being said, I totally get why a parent would flip if they saw their kid reading it. If they said, “But I got it from Ms. Bookworm!” I’d definitely understand why they’d request for me to get fired.  The sex scenes are explicit.  Now, can they google something as scandalous for a fan fic? Sure.  I think with this book it’s just a matter of age appropriate-ness.

I clearly cannot put it in my classroom, but that’s because I am a middle school teacher. It’s not age-appropriate for anyone at my school. Blume’s children’s publishing company made a adult section for Forever to get published. Yep. I didn’t read this until college or even after I was married, but probably because I didn’t know about it. I’d probably say 16 and up for this one. 

I sort of feel like the fun in a banned/challenged book is sneaking around with it. I remember reading in (I think) In her Shoes  and at one point one character jokes about finding a dog-earred copy of Forever hidden between her sister’s mattress.
Public library? Sure, keep it.
School library? Debatable.
Book stores? Oh yeah, keep selling it.


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Steampunk September: 30 before 30 Roundup

Another thing about my “read 3 books with a theme” is simply this: I have books on my shelf I haven’t gotten around to reading, and I want to make a dent in that pile. Beyond the fact that NPR non-fiction was 2/3 pretty heavy, I wanted to lighten it up a bit.  (And BTW, putting NPR in your blog title spikes up people visiting your site. I don’t like that! I just want a quiet corner of the web!) So, I went steampunk.

And… it turns out, a good steampunk novel is hard to find. Then again, a good steampunk DEFINITION is hard to find.  For the time being, I will say MOSTLY it’s an alternate version of Victorian England, with a bit more technology and automatons.

Take it from here,  

It’s “a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk). Unfortunately, it is a poorly defined subgenre, with plenty of disagreement about what is and is not included. For example, steampunk stories may:

  • Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);
  • Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);
  • Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);
  • Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens (e.g. The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling); or
  • Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake).”

Well, now I feel better.   Check out the Saturday Steam feature on for the aesthetic look of steampunk.

Now, why did I say, “A good steampunk novel is hard to find?” I haven’t had much good luck this month.  One was from an author I knew and liked (Gail Carriger, see below).  I read a freebie novella, and it was crap.  (Basically, it was a supernatural mystery that had the mystery part wrapped up in five pages. BUT IT HAD A DIRIGIBLE!) I had one from the book fair but got bored seven chapters in, so we’ll see if I finish that.  I did read Cinder  and  Scarlet  by Meyer, but it’s borderline steampunk and doesn’t quite fit the descriptions above.  Oh, I tried to read one book where they ended up on a pirate ship, but I gave up on that pretty quickly.  I did find two more that were worthy to be blogged, even if it was B-B+ work.

First up, one of my favorite steampunk writers (because so far she’s been the best steampunk writer I’ve read so far) Gail Carriger, who wrote The Parasol Protectorate series (Soulless, etc), has wandered into YA fiction.  Etiquette and Espionage takes place in the same world as Parasol Protectorate. However, this is in a floating finishing school for young ladies/spies.  Sophrona was recruited (without really knowing what the school is about) and on her way to school, her carriage is attacked by flywaymen looking for a prototype. The recruiter faints and Sophrona has to save the day. Much of the book’s plot is about finding out where the prototype is and how to survive school.

This was a fun book, and it has potential. Is it the same level as Protectorate? Maybe not.  Part of the appeal of the Protectorate was the supernatural emphasis and the romance. I’m an adult that was reading about a world I previously visited (ya know, I went on a word journey).

My next book was slow-going at first, but came together by the end. The Affinity Bridge by George Mann has a Sherlock Holmes feel to it, which, hey, alternate Victorian universe,  why not have an alternate Sherlock? Anyway, Sir Maurice Newbury and his new assistant Veronica Hobbes are helping Scotland Yard on a bizarre case where a phantom constable has been seeking revenge on those who killed him. They are distracted by an airship crash, which Queen Victoria prioritized after her Dutch cousin was on the ship. When the automaton piloting the ship is missing from the wreckage, they question whether the automatons are at fault.  Big ol’ mystery.

Reading other reviews, I discovered a few other people thought it was uneven. Normally, I have to be forced to put a book down.  It felt like it took a while to get into, and to establish three different mysteries was a hard way to start the book. Yes, they weaved together after a while, but it took a long while.  Good little story, but debatable whether I’ll re-read it or go into more books in this series.

Magic under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore WAS one I read in one sitting. AND it wasn’t a mystery (although it was mysterious). AND it didn’t take place in London, but a rather imaginary place.  So, Nimira is hired  by a rich sorcerer, Hollin Parry,  to sing with his  piano-playing automaton. (Automatons seem to be the biggest steampunk theme, as far as I can tell.)  When she winds the automaton, she discovers that it has a soul and needs to communicate with her.  There’s a lot of dark magic going on, and only she can stop it. 

Overall, cool book. Unpredictable and had a lot going for it.

I haven’t done the grading thing in a while. I’m just going to give these books the same general grade because they’re about on the same level. 

Grades: MAYBE high 7th and up for all of these books.

Grade: Solid B’s. I’m punked out for the moment. 

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Nothing… on 9/11

I’m in a YA lit class and for a project I decided to read a book called Nothing by Janne Teller. It’s an acclaimed Danish novel that has been compared to Lord of the Flies, and for good reason. It is a creepy book about the cruelty of kids (with a bit of existentialism) and definitely for the high school set. You may not want to go further if you are younger.

(Trigger warning: inference to rape in book summary. Warning in general: I’m not the greatest patriot.)

Nothing is about a seventh grade class in a fictional town. One student (Pierre Anthon) gets up and declares, “Nothing matters. I’ve known that for a long time. So nothing is worth doing. I just realized that.” And he walks out, climbs a plum tree, and stays put. His mantra has snuck into the brains of his classmates, and they are frightened. They decide to show him that life has meaning by making a heap of meaning– sacrificing important things to show Pierre Anthon that life has meaning.

Here’s the thing: the kids weren’t making their sacrifices worth anything (a comb with two picks broken off of it?), so they start choosing sacrifices for each other. And the stakes keep getting higher. It starts when our narrator is told to give up her new sandals. She decides to get revenge on the person who insisted on the sandals by finding out what was precious to her, and a pet hamster is given to the heap.  It escalates, with the next person desiring revenge on the next person in line. The Danish flag. The coffin of a deceased baby brother. A prayer mat. A girl’s “innocence.” And believe it or not, it continues to get worse from there.

“If it didn’t hurt, it wouldn’t mean anything,” one girl comments.

Eventually, they’ve forced each other to give up so much, they forget what it all meant. One by one, they decide Pierre Anthon was right. The minute you’re born, you start to die. They can’t see the spring, because it will turn to winter. Meaningless, meaningless. It ends in a way that would make William Golding proud, but is literally haunting. I woke up at 3 am this morning and finally got up at 3:40 when I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and watched Netflix. I read it yesterday in its entirety and was just overwhelmed.

And then I realized, today’s 9/11. 

And I wonder what we’ve put in the pile since 2001. 

I remember the day well:  I was a high school senior. I woke up to awesome music and thought it was going to be a good day. And it was. At first. I do remember a fire drill during Practical Law, where (apparently) some of my friends noticed planes turning around.  I didn’t notice. Before lunch, I heard some whispers about an attack. At lunch, a few people were running around saying if anything happened, duck and cover. (Please note, the girls were acting goofy because they did not realize the nature of what happened– a dumb pilot versus on purpose. The next day they were horrified at how they acted.)  At that point I was still clueless, but feeling uneasy. I think it was Physics class that they announced the news. After school, my sister and I (accidentally) squealed out of the parking lot and went to my grandma’s. We called other loved ones.

The biggest difference from 9/11 to 9/12 was how we said the pledge. On 9/11, 7:25 a.m., I don’t think anyone said the pledge seriously. The next morning, you could hear a pin drop. And I cried. We were kinder to one another in the following days.

Never will I forget. But I will remember what I’ve lost. What we’ve put on the pile of meaning. 

We’ve given up our freedoms all because we were scared.

Our privacy– or illusion of– has been tossed out the window.  Thanks, NSA.

We’ve given up our dignity.  TSA needs to grope you to make sure you’re not carrying a weapon. Seriously?

We’ve given up our naive view of the world.  (Remember, I was 17 when this happened, and the worst thing that had happened to the country at that point was the Clinton scandal.) We are somehow convinced that everyone is out to get us, when really, they’re trying to calm us down from trying to “get” everyone else.

We’ve given up our sense of peace, paranoid about what MIGHT happen. Who can live that way, always worried about THE NEXT thing that MAY OR MAY NOT happen.

We’ve gotten to the point where watching NCIS: LA (which annoys me to no end), they are constantly abusing their power. “Isn’t that unconstitutional?” “Do we have fourth amendment rights anymore?” The answer is, no. And we barely noticed. (It prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, for those a little lost.) If it’s in the name of terrorism, anything goes. But we toss it around so much it could mean anything.

We keep sacrificing to the point where we wonder if it meant anything to begin with. We don’t pay attention to the losses until they inconvenience us or it’s too late. The government is happy to keep us in the dark. (Think of all we’ve learned since Snowden leaked files. It’s unbelievable what they were doing. And instead of, ya know, stopping what they were doing, they’ve bullied him and anyone associated with him. When Russia is like, yeah, y’all need to get your act together, there may be an issue. ) As long as we have bread and circuses, we will swallow whatever we’re told. (I’m not above this. I get wrapped up in pop culture news while serious news falls by the wayside.)

“The meaning is not something to fool around with.”

I wonder, what we’ve given up to find the meaning in freedom… America… what we stand for, who we are.

Am I cynical? Perhaps.

But I have a hard time reflecting on 9/11 and the tragedy of that day without thinking of the tragedy of what we have done to find meaning in the midst of terror attacks and war.  Many lives were lost that day. Many more have been lost since the tragedy.

Have we lost ourselves in this search for meaning?

Has it been worth it?

What have we found?


PS—- I think this article helped me put this in a clearer perspective, and less serious:

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