30 April 2015

Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt

I’ve been a bit remiss in reading nonfiction in 2015. In the past I’ve tried to read one nonfiction for every five fictions or so—sometimes even more frequently—but OF DICE AND MEN is the first nonfiction I’ve read all year long, which means one out of thirty-six books in 2015. Mostly that’s been because I’ve been reading a lot of YA as I work on my own novels. But it’s good to read something different, and I have to remember to mix things up a little more.

First, a confession: I am an active table-top role playing gamer. I’ve played in two-and-a-half Dungeons & Dragons campaigns; attempted to start my own before realizing I couldn’t run a campaign and have time to write; and I’m currently engaged in a campaign of Star Trek: The Role Playing Game as commanding officer of the USS Davenport.

So, a book about the history of Dungeons & Dragons? It sounded right up my alley.

David M. Ewalt, a journalist for Forbes, intertwined the story of the genesis of the world’s most famous role playing game with his own personal history with gaming. He acknowledges from the start that it’s considered a nerdy pursuit, outside the mainstream, and that D&D has been the subject of scorn and ridicule. He explains that he gave it up in college in an attempt to appear cooler. I, too, have faced some of that stigma, both from without and from within: there are people who’ve given me some pretty sharply raised eyebrows when I told them how I spent two Fridays a month, and there have been times I’ve simply avoided telling anyone because I didn’t want to be judged.

There’s plenty of prejudice against D&D still out there, but by and large, it’s not as bad as imagination makes it out to be. A surprising number of people will admit, if you press them, that they’ve played before.

The story of Dungeons & Dragons is a lot like the story of Apple: two people coming together to make something neither could have made on their own, building a company, until interpersonal conflicts, poor business practices, and outside forces nearly destroy their vision, though in the end, it survives stronger than ever.

OF DICE AND MEN is hardly exhaustive: rather than a deep dive into the life stories of Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and others, Ewalt paints in broad strokes, and focuses as much on what it means to play the game as he does on how it came about. It’s a book to assist the layperson in understanding D&D, not one for a hard-core gamer to glean new insights. It’s humorous, honest, and occasionally philosophical, as it examines why games like D&D have such an impact on people. Indeed, I would have enjoyed a deeper dive into the psychology of gaming, but that is another book entirely. I bet I could find one out there.

Regardless, OF DICE AND MEN was a fun, engaging read. It was never boring, had a great balance of the personal and the historical, and reminded me (not that I needed reminding, honestly) why D&D is so fun—and why I should not be embarrassed to play it.

28 April 2015

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

David Arnold’s MOSQUITOLAND had been on my radar for quite a while, even more so after the great review it got in EW. There’ve been a lot of books this year (or at least, I’ve been finding more of them) examining mental illness, or at least integrating mental illness into the characters as relevant—but not overwhelming—parts of their makeup.

Mim (Mary to her mother) might or might not have a mental illness: depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, we’re never quite sure, and neither is Mim. Her father is convinced she’s at risk, and so he searched out a doctor who would prescribe Mim medication she didn’t want for a problem she wasn’t sure she had. There’s an undercurrent of uncertainty throughout the entire novel: does Mim have a problem? If she does have one, then the bigger question is, does she have a handle on it?

Mim’s possible problems aren’t the heart of MOSQUITOLAND, though. After Mim’s father moved her and her new stepmother from Ohio to Mississippi, Mim’s been unhappy, but when she overhears that her Mom is fighting some sort of illness—one she’s never been told about—she sets off to visit her mother.

By bus.

I’ve never been on a Greyhound bus, but David Arnold paints the most vivid picture of travel I’ve read in quite a while. The strange characters Mim meets, from the delightful grande dame carrying a mysterious wooden box to deliver to her nephew, to a creep in a poncho, to Carl, the extremely capable bus driver, were all vividly drawn, often in just a few, cutting observations by Mim.

Like all great journeys, Mim’s takes frequent unexpected turns. She leaves the bus and ends up semi-stranded in Independence, Kentucky, where she meets and befriends Walt, an abandoned boy who has Down Syndrome, and Beck, who she’s instantly smitten with. With the aid of a crappy pickup truck, their journey toward Cleveland continues.

MOSQUITOLAND surprised and challenged me. Mim was such a bombastic narrator—unpredictable, moving swiftly from heartbroken to furious at the world, and I couldn’t always follow her mood changes. But I never wanted to stop reading. She was utterly compelling.

Mim wasn’t always certain how reliable her own senses were. Some of the novel’s best twists revolved around Mim’s uncertainty. And the ending got my heart lodged in my throat.

It’s been great to see so many novels focusing on mental illness. MOSQUITOLAND joins Jasmine Warga’s MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, which I finished in March, and Jenniver Niven’s ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES (which read after MOSQUITOLAND). I wish these books had been around when I was a teenager; I’m glad they’re around now.

27 April 2015

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

I’ve been a fan of Lynne Truss since I first read EATS, SHOOTS, & LEAVES. It’s actually one of my favorite books of all time, and certainly my favorite non-fiction. The combination of a topic I’m kind of a stickler about and Lynne Truss’s dry wit made it a memorable, hilarious read.

I enjoyed her next release, TALK TO THE HAND, just as much, and it was about that time that we in the US got a paperback anthology of her comic novels, which I read and enjoyed, though they were certainly different from anything else I’d read.

CAT OUT OF HELL, Truss’s newest release, is in the same vein as her comic novels: dark, sardonic, drily hilarious, and, in a strange way, both pessimistic and optimistic about human nature.

Using a semi-epistolary format—told in transcripts of interviews, emails, diary entries, descriptions of YouTube videos, and occasional traditional narration, CAT tells the story of Alec, a former librarian who just lost his wife and his job.

When Alec receives a series of documents about “Roger,” a talking cat, he’s drawn into a dark, frightening world of Satanism, murder, and evil cats—a world almost too bizarre to believe.

Truss does a great job putting a sinister twist on cat behaviors that we’re all familiar with (even if you’re a dog person like me): the kneading of laps, the hissing, the collecting of dead animals. Alec’s story weaves in Roger’s throughout, and we glimpse a twisted sort of feline Bildungsroman as Roger and his fellow cat, the Captain, set off across Europe, explore the world, and end up leading Alec to the startling truth about cats.

CAT OUT OF HELL was funny, light, quirky—all the things I love about Lynne Truss. It moved quite a bit faster than her earlier comic novels, but kept the same delightful sense of the absurd that I was so drawn to. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes British humor, hates cats, loves cats, or just wants to read something different.

23 April 2015

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Sometimes, I'll read a book that challenges me. It'll take me a while to finish, and it'll take me a while to figure out what I really think about it.

Tommy Wallach's WE ALL LOOKED UP was one of those books.

It's a simple enough premise: an asteroid is on collision course with Earth, with a 66% chance of striking it.

We've seen that before, plenty of times. It's a story we keep coming back to. So what does WE ALL LOOKED UP have to add to the story?

Plenty, as it turns out.

WE ALL LOOKED UP follows four high school seniors in Seattle through the Earth's (possibly) final days: Peter, the popular, successful jock who finds his life feeling strangely empty; Eliza, the photographer who was branded a slut after Peter kissed her in the dark room a year ago; Andy, the slacker who hasn't ever found anything worth living for; and Anita, burdened by her parents' unreasonable expectations but wanting, more than anything, to be a musician.

It's fitting that they're all approaching graduation: the end of high school can feel like the end of the world. Everything can feel like the end of the world when you're a teenager, for that matter.

The story plays out over the weeks before Ardor is scheduled to hit (or miss) Earth, as society essentially collapses around the kids. There is no last-ditch effort to launch a rocket full of bombs at Ardor; there are no "contingency plans." In this, WE ALL LOOKED UP transcends its genre immediately: this is not a story about saving the world. This is a story about facing its end.

All four kids were richly drawn, and even though there were times I wanted to smack them for being stupid and selfish, their motivations were clear, even if I didn't like them. The end of the world played out so realistically. WE ALL LOOKED UP never turned to anything other than unflinching honesty about what might happen: the collapse of public services, martial law, suspension of habeas corpus. Both the best and the worst of humanity came out of the woodwork, and the kids faced it all, finding love and meaning along the way.

I didn't always like the turns the plot took; there were some that made me angry and some that broke my heart. But every page was earned, every twist well-founded. Things could not have turned out other than they did.

On the back, Andrew Smith (who blog readers will know is probably my favorite author) compares it to Stephen King's THE STAND, which is kind of weird at first but then totally makes sense. I felt the same way after reading THE STAND, in fact: glad to have read it, but conflicted. Happy but sad.

Also, WE ALL LOOKED UP had the most amazing chapter wherein one of the characters drinks tea made from hallucinogenic mushrooms. It was trippy and surreal and absolutely awesome.

I can't say I loved WE ALL LOOKED UP. My reaction to it was much more complicated. It was beautiful and gut-wrenching, but it was difficult, too. I never fell in love with any of the characters. I don't think it was a problem with third-person narration—indeed, I don't see how it could have been done any other way—but I never really connected with any of them. I don't know if their experiences were too far removed from my own, or if I was just in a weird place when I read the book, or what. I felt like there was something keeping me out.

WE ALL LOOKED UP wasn't quite for me. I feel bad saying that, because it's a great book—it just wasn't right for me.

22 April 2015

Home Tea Tasting

I recently had some friends over to enjoy some teas, and rather than making each person a cup of whatever they wanted, I arranged a tasting of five teas instead. I based my own tasting on the method used at Smith Teamakers (you can read about my visit to their tasting room here).

You can see the five teas I selected above, each in their own cup and arranged on the (blindingly) floral tray I found at the bottom of one of my cupboards. All the teas came from Smith Teamaker. Three of them were special editions, which are not currently available (but will hopefully return!) Clockwise from lower left, they are:

White Rum
Bai Hao Oolong
Lover's Leap
Méthode Noir
Masala Chai (with smoked honey and cream)

As you can see, they were more or less arranged from lightest to darkest. I chose these teas because they were harder to get hold of (except for the Masala Chai), but when I do this again I wills stick to a bit more assortment: one white, one green, one oolong, one black, one herbal.

There were five of us at the tasting, and each person had a glass of water and a spoon. The technique was to use your spoon to aspirate your tea (that is, knock a mouthful to the back of your palate, getting some air with it to release the flavors), then dip your spoon in the water to rinse it before your next tea.

Everyone had a different favorite tea, though it was unanimously agreed that they were all amazing.

We enjoyed the tea with freshly-baked chocolate chip scones, with clotted cream and homemade fig jam and raspberry jam.

Having a tasting was a lot of fun, and I can't wait to do it again. I have enough teas I can do quite a few before making it through my entire collection.

21 April 2015

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2009

I received this bottle of Joseph Phelps Insignia 2009 as a gift from a client after a challenging, but ultimately quite successful, event at work. I'd been saving it for some time, and my thirty-first birthday seemed like a nice occasion.

I decanted the wine before serving it in Riedel Sommelier's Collection Bordeaux glasses, which I save for powerful wines like this.

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2009 is 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, and 4% Malbec.

As an aside, I don't think I've ever had a wine that was pure Petit Verdot, and suddenly I wonder what it would be like. I must research this.

Anyway: Insignia was a dark, inky purple in the glass, with a nose full of oak, smoky meats, and tart black cherries.

The taste was a bit lighter than the nose for me, with sour cherries replacing the black. It had a sharp, racy acidity that melted seamlessly into smooth, rounded tannins—a transformation I don't believe I've ever been so aware of appreciating before. It was truly nice.

The finish lingered on a tingly, licorice note.

All in all, it was a superb bottle. My friends and I enjoyed it with a spread of cheeses (consisting of Fresh Mozzerella; Beecher's Marco Polo; Drunken Goat; Reypenaer One-Year Aged Gouda; Double-Cream Brie; Cambozola; and a baked St. André Triple-Cream Brie), pretzel bread, and Fuji apples.

Birthday achieved.

20 April 2015


Has anyone else seen this show on Netflix?

I made it through the first season and now I can't wait for the second to be released on Netflix. No idea when it will be, though...

17 April 2015

Sleep Deprivation

Oh man.

I am so sleep deprived right now it's not even funny.

How little sleep do you have to have before you are no longer responsible for your own actions?

I was reading over my blog post from yesterday and boy do I sound whiny.

I don't think I said anything untrue, as regards the commitments of time and what not, but man...

Well, if anyone out there is reading this, please accept my humblest apologies for being so grouchy yesterday.

I promise once I get some sleep I'll be a much happier camper!

16 April 2015

Return On Investment

There is a term I hear frequently when I do jobs for financial institutions: return on investment.

I can't believe I just wrote that.

The thing is, it's something I find myself considering. Not so much when it comes to money, because who has money, right? But when it comes to time, I think about it a lot.

I have a lot of goals: reading, writing, exercise, guitar, not to mention my commitments to friends and family and day job. So when I spend my time doing something, I want to make sure I'm what I'm getting out of it is worth it.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, I'm sorry if my blog posts are sometimes disjointed and, well...crappy. I don't get to spend a lot of time revising them.

I keep this blog primarily for myself. It's the closest thing I have to a journal or diary, even if its limited in its scope. And it's been good for developing my discipline.

When I think of spending ten or twenty or thirty minutes a day editing my blog posts before posting them, I cringe. That's ten or twenty or thirty minutes I could be using to work on my novel, or practice guitar, or, heaven forbid, sleep.

I write most of my blog posts during breaks at work. There's not a lot of extra time to make them spiffy.

So, to those of you reading the blog: I'm sorry if the posts are ever a bit shambolic. Please know that, if nothing else, you're getting an honest stream of my own consciousness. That's the best I can do right now.

14 April 2015

No Parking At the End Times by Bryan Bliss

I've read a lot of books this year: 38 and counting so far. And I've read a lot in years past, especially once I stopped watching so much television.

But I think Bryan Bliss's NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES is only the second book where the main character's faith played a part in the story. (The other was Una LaMarche's LIKE NO OTHER.)

I don't know if that's because of my own reading habits or because it's not something that we see a lot in mainstream YA, but I have a feeling it might be more the latter. I add books to my list fairly indiscriminately: things I think I'll like, things I think will challenge me, things I think will expand my horizons. This was definitely in the last category.

I've been an atheist since I was probably twelve years old, and though I come from a deeply religious family (Baha'i, on my dad's side), it was never something I really got. I have friends who are committed Christians, and a few friends who are religious Jews. I went to school with friends who are Muslims, though we sadly lost touch when we all moved back home (me to the states, them to the Eastern Hemisphere).

I find it's easy to be friends with people of faith as long as you don't discuss the subject too much, because passions run high and sometimes people don't want to hear other opinions. I'm sure I'm just as guilty of that as they are. But when everyone is on the defensive, there's no room for meaningful engagement.

Which brings me back to NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES. I got the chance to engage with the book in an open and honest way that I don't often get to with other people. I had to listen to the book, I couldn't talk to it; and because I couldn't talk back, all the book could give me was its honesty. All Abigail, the main character, could do was share her story with me and let me draw my own conclusions.

Abigail's family—her twin brother Aaron, her mom and dad—packed up what they could in a van, sold the rest of their possessions, and moved to San Francisco to go to the church of Brother John, who had prophesied Doomsday was near.

It wasn't.

Abigail never really had that much faith in brother John, I think, but her deeply held belief in God imbues every page with longing for connection, for validation, for some sign that her parents (her father especially) aren't wrong.

As Aaron drifts further away from her, Abigail struggles to come to terms with the fact that not only is she homeless—no different than the homeless kids she sees on the streets of San Francisco—but that her father has led her to it.

The most heartbreaking thing is seeing how truly Abigail's parents are trying to do the right thing, by their kids and by their God. It would be easy to vilify the parents, but Bliss never does; they are earnest, even when they're failing.

As she realizes she has to look out for herself, think for herself, Abigail has to confront her own preconceived notions of what faith in God means to her. And that's a struggle we all face, whether we're Christian or atheist, agnostic or devout: deciding what it means to us.

I'm a little surprised to say it, but I really enjoyed NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES, and I hope to see more books like it: honest examinations of faith that don't try to preach, but ask the questions that all of us ask.

13 April 2015

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I’ve been reading about SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA for months. It got all kinds of blurbs, shout outs, publicity - I lost track of how many contests I entered to win an ARC of it. I never did win an ARC, but I preordered it, and my preorder came in a day early, so I read the entire thing in one sitting the evening of Monday, April 6, starting at 8:00PM and finishing at about 11:00.

Yes, it was that good.

It's taken me a week to finish my post about it because it's taken me that long to sort out my thoughts. Obviously, the book was amazing: great characters, great story, great voice. But more than that, SIMON was a book that meant something, not only to the readers who will find it, but to me, personally, as well.

To be honest, even writing this blog post fills me with anxiety. But that’s why it’s so important to do it.

Also, there will be spoilers for the book, so be forewarned.

In so many ways, Simon Spier could have been me. Seriously: reading the scenes where he was in rehearsals for Oliver took me right back to my high school days: I was a total theatre geek, though I tended to shy away from performing on stage for the most part. My desire to be noticed was constantly at war with my own lack of self-confidence…not to mention the fact that I was so heavily medicated during high school I was not particularly capable of spontaneously emoting. And Simon’s friends could have been mine: funny, loyal, passionate people, who sometimes got into the worst fights with each other.

I wish I was as self-aware as Simon during high school. I didn’t realize I liked guys until college, after I cut down on my anti-depressants, so…yeah. And even if I had been known in high school I know there is no way I would have been brave enough to come out.

I didn’t come out to anyone until I was nearly thirty. And that was just to one person, and I was a little drunk at the time. It took me another year before I told anyone else.

So when Simon tells Abby he’s gay, coming out for the first time, I was right there with him. I knew exactly what it felt like. And then when he tried to tell Leah, and choked up, that was me, too: because telling one person should make telling the second person easier, but it doesn’t. When he thought about how Leah had known him for long and then she was going to have a different idea of who he was: that was me, too. Because knowing someone will accept you doesn’t mean you want to need acceptance. You are still the same person, but it will never feel like it.

When Simon told his parents, and he knew it was going to be fine but he was nervous anyway, that was me. Because I knew I was loved, knew my family was liberal enough to deal with that kind of thing, but I was hesitant. My sister had told me before how much she wanted a “gay best friend.” I just wanted to be me. I didn’t want to have to meet any of their expectations.

When Simon called out his father on making gay jokes, that was me. Because there are a thousand tiny things people say that they don’t mean, but that hurt, that make you afraid of rejection. When my mother would play a game where she’d guess if actors on TV were gay…when my father would lower his voice a little whenever he mentioned someone was gay…those things stayed with me.

When Simon told Martin what an asshole he was, how Simon was the one who had the right to decide who knows and how and when, well, that wasn’t me, because I’ve never had that argument with anyone. Thank god. But it was absolutely right. It was absolutely true. I told myself that plenty of times. I still do.

Incidentally, I was totally taken by how Simon found it hard to hate Martin, even when he was being blackmailed. He honestly almost started to like Martin, until Martin outed Simon. And I think it was good and honest that there was no quick or easy resolution of that. Even after Martin apologized a million times. Sometimes people do terrible things, commit unbelievable betrayals, and you don’t have to forgive them. But maybe a small part of you wants to, even when you can’t.

When Simon misread who Blue was…who hasn’t felt that vibe and been proven wrong? Who hasn’t been secretly hoping and daydreaming and then found that the truth was a million times better? I guessed who Blue was early on, and I was so happy when I turned out to be right—and even happier when Simon realized how magical it was. I was so happy when he got his happy ending.

I wish I could go back in time and give young me a copy of this book. I know I’m not the only one who wishes that. But that doesn’t mean SIMON is any less meaningful to me now. Seeing that things can turn out okay, even in a book, even for a geeky kid in Atlanta, reminds us that things can turn out okay for us, too.

Things might change. Things might get messy. Things that aren’t a big deal will feel like a big deal.

I still don’t talk about being gay very much. I am pretty sure not all my friends even realize I am. Not because I am afraid of telling them, but simply because I don’t feel like I should have to. I live in a liberal city in a conservative state where you can get fired for being out, so I’m not that out at work, either. But I don’t lie about it, except, perhaps, by omission.

But thanks to Simon, maybe I’m a little bit braver now.

And maybe that is what matters most.

09 April 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr's ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE was a pretty substantial undertaking for me: a 500+ page adult novel about World War II. It was a pretty sharp left turn from what I have been reading for most of the year (mostly YA). But oh my goodness was it ever worth it. The book has had praised heaped upon it.

That praise is justly deserved.

The the ten-second summary—a story about a blind French girl and a German boy during World War II—hardly does the novel justice.

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is so much more than that.

Marie-Laure, who we first meet in August 1944, is blind, yes, but she is fiercely intelligent, curious about the world around her, deeply loving of her father, her great-uncle, and his maid. She loves studying shells. She is fearless, even when she should be afraid.

Werner, who we also meet in August 1944, is young, only eighteen, and has already been in the war for years. He's smart, too, a loving brother, a wizard with radios, and brave in his own way, but having grown up in the Third Reich, he's seen his own best attributes twisted into something he can hardly recognize.

The novel shifts back and forth, starting when Marie-Laure is a young girl just going blind, living with her father in Paris; and when Werner is a young orphan, living with his sister Jutta in Zollverein in a boarding house. It follows Marie-Laure through the invasion of France, her flight to the seaside town of Saint-Malo; and it follows Werner as his proficiency with radio engineering lands him a place in a prestigious school that will lead to prestigious placement in the Wehrmacht.

Another thread winds its way through the novel: that of a large diamond kept at the National Museum, the Sea of Fire. The stone is, supposedly, both blessed and cursed: its holder will never die, but those its holder loves will be pelted with an endless rain of misfortunes.

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE was an exquisite blend of sadness and hope, of cruelty and kindness. We exalted in Marie-Laure's bravery even as we were faced with—and sympathized with—Werner's tiny acts of cowardice. 1940s Germany wasn't a great place to be a teenaged boy.

Smarter people than me can probably talk more eloquently about all the ways this book was amazing. I just want to point out some particularly beautiful prose that really stuck with me.

The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold. [She's given some peaches next.] Seconds later, she's eating wedges of wet sunlight.

The look in the skaters’ eyes was of horses who have run a long way, and it was always exciting for Werner to see them, to feel the air disturbed by their speed, to hear their skates clapping along, then fading - a sensation as if his soul might tear free of his body and go sparking off with them.

The mine complex is a smoldering black mountain range behind her. Even now Werner can hear a mechanical drumbeat thudding in the distance, first shift going down in the elevators as the owl shift comes up - all those boys with tired eyes and soot-stained faces rising in the elevators to meet the sun - and for a moment he apprehends a huge and terrible presence looming just beyond the morning.

German soldiers sing a drunken song in the street, and a house spider spins a new web every night, and to Marie-Laure this is a double cruelty: that everything else keeps living, that the earth does not pause for even an instant in its trip around the sun. 

The book is full of breathtaking, heart-stopping imagery. Marie-Laure and Werner are absolutely compelling.

It's been a long time since I read adult fiction that I wanted to immediately go back and start from the beginning, but this was one.

08 April 2015

Incoherent Babbling

Does anyone else find it hard to talk coherently about books they've loved? That have meant a lot to them?

I read a book on Monday that I am having a hell of a time writing about. I just loved it so much.

Anyone else ever have that problem?


07 April 2015

Game of Chairs

Has everyone seen this?

Seriously. This is the best Game of Thrones parody since SNL did their "Behind the Scenes" digital short with Andy Samberg as the thirteen-year-old Creative Consultant who basically just added boobs to every scene.

06 April 2015

Dante's Inferno

Classic: a book which people praise and don't read. — Mark Twain

I have never felt that to be truer than after slogging my way through Dante Alighieri's INFERNO. No, seriously.

I actually read it. I was on vacation and had run out of other books to read, and INFERNO was on my iPad in the "to read" collection.

I've never been able appreciate verse very much. I've read plenty of Shakespeare (impossible not to when you get a degree in Theatre, even if it's for lighting design), and Tennyson, and at one point I read T. S. Eliot's THE WASTELAND. At least, I am pretty sure I read it. I remember starting it and I remember reaching the end of it. The in-between...not so much.

The same was true of INFERNO. There were times I read it when I more or less understood what was going on, but, I don't know. I don't think of myself as a particularly inept reader, but INFERNO didn't really do it for me. Even the language itself didn't seem to hold much beauty. Maybe that was because of the translation I was reading.

After finishing, I did a little research to figure out what all I had missed. It turns out INFERNO had a lot of historical and political allegories in it – ones which went completely over my head.

I can't in all conscience say I enjoyed INFERNO, or even that I'm glad I read it. I have been out of school long enough I don't have to check it off any required reading lists. The only one who wanted me to read it was me.

I may check out the rest of the Divine Comedy at some point. After all, I'm bound to run out of books again at some point.

I hope that day will be a long time in coming.

03 April 2015


Well, things are finally settling down for me now that I'm back from vacation. After I ran out of books to read I fired up my iBooks where I keep a collection of classics to read, so I ended up reading Dante's INFERNO. I think it's safe to say I've never been one for much poetry. Verse doesn't usually do it for me, though there are a few exceptions. I do fairly well with Tennyson. Make of that what you will.

Once I got home I started in on ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE which is already breathtakingly beautiful.

Also, I don't remember ever having so much trouble moving east two time zones as I did this trip. It took me three days to get back to normal. Usually I'm fine the next day. I guess I'm getting old or something.

02 April 2015

A Visit to Smith Teamakers

I had the immense fortune of visiting Smith Teamakers' Tasting Room last weekend. I was on vacation in Seattle, visiting my friends, and we decided to visit Portland for the day specifically to visit Smith. (While there, we also visited Powell's City of Books and Voodoo Doughnuts, but it's safe to say Smith was the primary motivator.)

We made it to downtown Portland just after noon, and grabbed a bite to eat before heading for Smith Tea. This was my first trip to Portland since I was (I think) eight years old or so. Needless to say I was totally unfamiliar with the town. The tasting room was in a quiet area that seemed to be outside the core of what might be considered "downtown," but it was tree-lined and beautiful and full of little stores and restaurants and apartments.

Of course, I'd heard the sad news about Steven Smith's passing only days before my trip, but I was heartened to know the company would continue and that the tasting room was open.

I was greeted right away by Aaron and Lisby, the tea makers for the day, who had been expecting me (given that I tweeted to Smith Teamakers that we were coming). They were friendly and welcoming, knowledgeable, and all around cool people. Of course they were. They are tea people!

The store had all kinds of artifacts and decorations. I got a few pictures.

I also found an amazing photo board, shown here.

We started our tea adventure for the day with a flight of Darjeelings: First Flush Darjeeling; Second Flush Darjeeling; Bungalow, Smith's blend of First and Second Flushes [Fun fact: Bungalow was Steven Smith's tea of choice for his daily cup]; and, to top it all off, a Darjeeling Creme Caramel Latte. YUM.

The flight came with little almond cookies which we devoured before we could get a picture. They were delicious. And we all got our own spoons and little glasses of water so we could aspirate our tastings properly and then clean the spoon before going back for more.

The First Flush was lighter, more floral, while the Second Flush was nuttier and more robust. Both were delicious, but Bungalow was my favorite - it was truly the best of both worlds. And then, of course, the latte. Oh. My. Goodness. It was sweet and a bit savory from the caramel, perfectly in tune with the nutty notes of the Second Flush Darjeeling. I never thought Darjeeling would make a good latte. For that matter, I never thought I would enjoy Darjeeling with any kind of sweetener. But this was AMAZING.

Of course, after we finished the flight, we all wanted more tea. I had a Ceremonial Matcha.

It was whisked in the traditional manner and it was the best Matcha I'd ever had.

Of my two friends and sister, one got a Cermonial Matcha as well; one got a Chocolate Mint Latte, made with fresh peppermint leaves that were so creamy it was unbelievable; and one got Masala Chai. All were amazing. But what was best was having the time to sit in a beautiful, quiet place, enjoy tea with friends, and look out the window at beautiful Portland.

I think if I could pick any spot in the world to go and sit and write every day, that is where I would go. I wish I lived in Portland so I could do that.

Also, I would probably be so caffeinated that I would explode.

I can't wait to go visit Smith Teamakers again. I don't know when that will be (yet!) but I know for sure it will happen.

01 April 2015

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia A McKillip

And here, at last, we come to the end of The Riddle-Master Trilogy, HARPIST IN THE WIND.

Morgon of Hed has been through the wringer, as has his love, Raederle, who searched the land for him only to have him show up at her front door and nearly kill Deth, the harpist who betrayed him to the false High One, Ghisteslwchlohm. At the last minute, Morgon was unable to do the deed, and Deth escaped.

Now, reunited with Raederle and possessed of the power, if not the will, to fight Ghisteslwchlohm as well as the invading shape changers, Morgon sets off, with Raederle at his side, to try to bring peace to the land.

As usual, there's lots of stuff happening, and lots of times you're not sure what exactly it is. I'm all for subtext, for characters saying one thing and meaning another, but only if you can make it clear what that other thing is.

So often in this book, as in the entire trilogy, I literally had no idea what people were talking about. It was like their conversations were proceeding perpendicular to their thoughts. It was incredibly frustrating.

As Morgon and Raederle set off for Lungold, we see how the land has turned toward war: many of the characters we've met before make returns, and others we've only heard about, like the Wizards, play a prominent role.

Once again, Morgon does his best to avoid the destiny that seems laid out for him. Fighting against one's destiny is a common and compelling narrative, if done properly, but at times this one wasn't. It felt like Morgon would rail against something and run away from it but never really take actions to carve his own path. He simply swam against the current and eventually got swept away.

That's not to say the philosophy presented, about the quality of mercy and the value of love and compassion, was not valuable. It was, and it's one that we always need to be reminded of. I can't say more about it without delving into spoiler territory, but based on the philosophy and the events of the first two books, I made a prediction before reading this book, and it was absolutely correct. I imagine other readers probably made the same prediction and were equally correct.

The climax of the book is not, as one would expect, a battle; though the inevitable battle comes, it does not house the truly important emotional changes. That comes before the battle, in a scene I had been waiting a long time for. I was mostly satisfied with it, though, as with so much else in the book, it left me wanting just a bit more: a bit more clarity, a bit more emotion, a bit more honesty.

Still, as with the trilogy as a whole, I didn't NOT like it.

Would I recommend THE RIDDLE-MASTER TRILOGY to anyone? Probably, if I knew their tastes would align with it. But am I going around telling everyone I know about it? No.