A loss

Hi, everyone. It’s been hard to think of how to write about things that have been going on. So I’m just going to tell you: my mother died. She had been ill for a long time with kidney failure and she died at the end of April.

It still does not feel real. This side of grief is something incredibly different. It eats into my will, my focus, my appetite, and my determination to do anything but sit and stare at the wall. I at least got to see her, tell her goodbye, and she left this world in quick, painless peace. Those were the only three things I ever prayed for when I thought of her death and I got them all. I can’t help but feel so lucky in that regard because so many weren’t and aren’t able to say a last goodbye to their loved ones because of the pandemic. But dear God do I miss her.

That’s all I can make myself write for now. Another frustrating thing about this aspect of grief is that I have found myself unable to write or talk about it too much. I hope that changes in time. She deserves every masterpiece I can muster.

Hold those you love close, everyone. You never know when they might leave.

A song I’ve been loving

I haven’t forgotten about you, I swear! I’ve reached the point in the semester that I am no longer hitting the books, they are hitting me. I will be posting more substantially soon but for now, here’s a song that I just found last week and am now obsessed with. I hope you’re all doing well!

P.S. Their songs “Voices” and “Another Life” are also incredible!

New website!

Hi, everyone! Just a little post to say that I’ve bit the bullet and started a new writer website, which is linked here. I’m trying to figure out how/if I can link this blog through WordPress’s menus function so if anyone has any advice about that I’d be so grateful! It feels weird yet right to take this step. I hope you’re all doing well!

2020 Reading Round-Up

This post is overdue but it’s here now. Let’s round up 2020’s reading and talk books. I read a total of 73 books. Here’s what I thought about some of them.

  1. What was your favorite fictional setting/world?
    The Six Duchies from Assassin’s Apprentice/The Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. 2020 was definitely a year to be taken away from your surroundings and these books totally did that for me. I haven’t finished Assassin’s Quest yet but the world of the Six Duchies is definitely one of my new favorite fictional places. The level of detail in the worldbuilding, even the insignificant-seeming aspects of it, is truly amazing and everything is brought to life. It was an interesting reading experience for me because I normally don’t read books for their descriptions/sense of place but as I read both Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin I began to pick up on different things and enjoyed imagining Fitz’s world. I also felt like I had been to Buckkeep before as I was reading and learning about it along with Fitz, which was interesting. I chalk it up to Hobb’s incredible talent.
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Photo credited to Goodreads.

2. Favorite reread?
I found quite a bit of comfort in rereading books I had not touched in many years. The last one I reread ended up being my favorite and that one was Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. It’s the story of Josie Moraine, whose mother is a prostitute. Josie is trying to make a better life for herself by trying to get out of crime-ridden New Orleans. I hadn’t read this book since 2013 or 2014 and it was so fun to revisit this great ensemble cast. I forgot how dark the story got and how awesome and determined Josie is. It was interesting to remember how much I had wanted her to end up with Patrick when I first read it and, not to spoil anything, but I am glad things turned out the way they did. It was better that way. If you’re looking for a good historical fiction that is full of light and darkness, drama and humor, and so many other things, do take a look at Out of the Easy.

3. What book/books were the biggest surprise(s) of 2020?
I can’t pick just one! It’s a four-way tie between Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz, The Silence of Bones by June Hur, Eat, and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo, and Blood on the Tracks written and illustrated by Shuzo Oshimi. Those titles are respectively a mystery/thriller, a historical mystery, a sci-fi graphic novel, and a suspense manga. As I type that, I realize I’ve been into mysteries a lot. All four of these books are gripping and captivating and put me through an emotional ringer. While I’ve never given out trigger warnings before, I have to say that Eat, and Love Yourself does contain content that will be difficult to anyone who has ever suffered from an eating disorder or has been bullied because of weight. I wish I had known that before I read it (ironically I was on my lunch break when I did so.) Please be cognizant of your emotions and mental health and take care of yourself.

The Betrothed (The Betrothed, #1)
I want one of those flower crowns. Photo credited to Goodreads.

4. What book/books were the biggest disappointment(s) of 2020?
It pains me to type it, but my biggest disappointment was The Betrothed by Kiera Cass. I love her previous series, The Selection, and I was looking forward to this one. But this book felt like it was rushed or like she accidentally sent in a first draft rather than a final one. The characters were flat, boring, and some of them were downright unlikeable (looking at you, Delia Grace.) There was little worldbuilding, Hollis kept repeating certain details, the romance was poorly built up, and the villains came out of nowhere and wreaked all kinds of havoc in the last 30 or so pages to set us up for book 2. This book could have benefited from being longer and better edited. The one thing that is a 10/10 for this book is its cover art. The second book’s cover is also stunning. Hopefully the insides will match the outsides with that one.

Follow Me to Ground
The colors on this cover are even more gorgeous in person. Photo credited to Goodreads.

5. Top 3 favorite reads of 2020?
Honorable mentions go to A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, A Dance with Fate by Juliet Marillier, and the aforementioned Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb.
3. Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford.
This tells the story of Ada and her father, who are beings that are able to heal people by putting them in the Ground. Ada is relatively uninterested in people, or Cures, as she and her father call them until she meets and begins an affair with a man named Samson. It’s a decision that will change everything Ada has ever known. Sometimes a book beckons for you to pick it up and you can know no peace until you do. This was what happened to me with this book. We got it at work, I read the inside flap, ignored it for a few weeks yet kept checking every day to see if someone had taken it home. I finally gave in and read it in a day and a half. It’s so strange and fascinating and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

The Blossom and the Firefly
Another stunning cover. Photo credited to Goodreads.

2. The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith.
Taro is a passionate violinist and a kamikaze pilot in the Japanese army. Hana has wondered if it would have been better if she had died in a bombing raid that left her trapped for days. She and Taro meet in 1945 and an unexpected romance builds between them, a romance that seems doomed despite their efforts to make it last. This book was at the same time so devastating and so sweet. I’ve never read anything about Japan during World War II and it was interesting to learn about their perspective and what was happening at that time. The ending of this book had my heart beating so fast! I still think about it regularly.

The Revolution of Marina M. (The Revolution of Marina M. #1)
Photo credited to Goodreads.

1. The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch.
All through preparing this list, I noticed that I chose books that either had detailed, immersive worlds and/or wonderfully realized characters and plots. This book had all three. This tells the story of Marina, a teenage poet who gets caught up and pulled in different directions during the Russian revolution. You want family betrayal? Yep. You want many different types of romance? Check. You want characters struggling with what to do during a social/political/ideological crisis? This book has that, too, which felt all too like dealing with COVID in the United States at times. You want strange cults, musings on poetry, and struggles for survival? Look no further. Aside from all of those aspects of the story, Marina is just a fantastic, round character. I recommend the sequel, Chimes of a Lost Cathedral just as much. I wish there was a third book. Though there are no plans for one, a girl can hope, can’t she?

How was your reading in 2020? I hoped 2021 would have been off to a better start. As difficult as hope is, I’m trying to hold onto it. Bye for now.

Books I’d like to finish before the end of 2020

Am I making this list to procrastinate working on final papers and projects? Yes. Am I also making this to kick my butt in gear and finish these books, some of which I’ve been meaning to finish since this spring? Also yes. So here they are. Hold me accountable, please.

Vengeful and The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, both by V.E. Schwab.
Loving both but I like Addie’s story more.

Dracula by Bram Stoker.
So damn spooky! I can see why this book caused such a sensation when it was published. Though the descriptions of the blood transfusions are easily the scariest thing nowadays.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.
I think of all the ones on this list, this is the one that I will finish first. I watched the miniseries while sick last week. While the idea of a priest falling for one of his young parishioners leaves a bad taste in my mouth, this is still an intriguing story what we think things such as faith and love are and how those perceptions are challenged throughout our lives. Plus, I’ve never read a story set in Australia, which has been so fun to read about.

Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb.
Reading the Farseer trilogy has been one of the ultimate joys of this difficult year. I’m excited to read the last book in the main continuum, but I’m also scared to. This is chiefly because I don’t want to know what further pain and punishment Fitz has to endure but because I don’t want the storyline to end.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins.
I know this book hasn’t been getting good reviews but I have decided to reserve judgement until I finish it. I’m nearly 200 pages into it. I put it aside to focus on Assassin’s Apprentice over the summer and while I wish I had finished it sooner, I’m not too upset about it.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison.
Another one I started, was loving, then set aside. But I need to finish it. Toni Morrison is amazing.

This list is a little ambitious but I know I plan to bury myself in books, baking, Christmas decorating, and short story revisions once the semester is over. A little under two weeks. I can do it. Fellow students in the finals trenches, I tip my hat to you. We can do it!

Human :||: Nature Album Review

Hi, everyone. I keep meaning to put together a review for Nightwish’s newest album and I keep blanking on how to do that since I have no experience in reviewing albums and know very little about the technical side of music and sound mixing. So I’m just going to offer my thoughts on the music. If you haven’t listened to this amazing album, it is entirely on youtube, the first song of which is linked here.

  • Tuomas Holopainen’s lyrics and melodies are as poetic and evocative as ever. The range of subjects addressed in the lyrics and the range and variety of the melodies is just astounding. Frankly, I’m convinced he could somehow symphonize the phone book and it would sound amazing.
  • Going off that, I love how each song on the human side of the album juxtaposes the other. For instance, “Music” is obviously about music, about the harmonies that people can create that unite us. The following song, “Noise” is about all the pointless social discord humanity can create for itself and how damaging that can be. “Shoemaker” is about the glories and beauties of space and exploration while “Harvest” is about admiring and basking in the beauty of the world around us and the here and now. The Nature side of the album, in contrast, is harmonious, each track blending beautifully and building onto the previous one. The whole album creates such a wonderful metaphor of how discordant humanity is and how united nature is and how both are beautiful and awful in their own ways. That’s how I interpret it, at least. Whether or not my interpretation is “correct”, this album is a true work of art and is among one of my favorites of theirs.
  • You unfortunately can’t talk about Nightwish without debating the merits of their various female singers. I’m not going to do that here. Suffice it to say that each of their previous singers helped the band grow and expand and did wonderful work and have gone on to do even more wonderful work. While I’ve enjoyed Floor Jansen’s work in her previous band, After Forever, I still was unsure of her as Nightwish’s new vocalist, even though I liked her first album with them, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”. However, she shines so bright in this album. I was so amazed by her range, her clarity, and basically everything. Especially the end of “Shoemaker”. Damn. What I wouldn’t give to see that track live, with a full orchestra and choir. That would be amazing. Marco is fantastic, as always, both in vocals and instrumentation. I like that they’ve asked Troy Donockley to stay on in the band. His use of the pipes give certain songs a decidedly Celtic feel, which I love. He is a lovely singer, too, and I like the parts where he, Floor, and Marco all sing together. It’ll be interesting to see how they utilize such distinct voices in the future; they already do it so well now.
  • I can’t get over how many literary references are crammed in the song “Pan”. Makes my librarian heart so happy.
  • “How’s the Heart” is such a gentle track but it packs a hefty emotional punch every time I listen to it.
  • I would love to learn to play the entire drum parts for “Tribal”. Since I have no idea how to play the drums and have no rhythm. It would be incredibly difficult but I want to try it anyway.
  • My favorite track of the Nature side of the album is “The Green”. It’s so peaceful and builds on itself so well. Just beautiful. I also really like “Quiet as the Snow”. The combination of the strings, the whispering, and the use of the harps creates something truly atmospheric, lovely, and slightly creepy.
  • The more I’ve listened to this album over the months since it came out, the more I’ve loved it. I can’t understand how Tuomas Holopainen is not recognized as an accomplished classical composer as well as a metal composer. I truly hope he continues with his classical work and can maybe score a film someday. That would be amazing.

If I had to rate this album, it would be 5/5. There’s not a minute of this album is wasted and I look forward to listening to it for many years to come. I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the world of album reviewing (aka this gush fest). Stay safe, everyone. .