Monday, September 22, 2014

Quick Pulse Check

I haven't been active on the blog or on my Examiner book review channel, or even on twitter and Facebook. I wish I could say this is because I'm busy with "real life." Graduate school and a part-time job are time-consuming, yes, but the main reason is because I was sidelined by illness. When I get sick, my body goes into full-on pouty brat mode and refuses to get better or do anything. And everything is so hard to do that I find myself slacking not only on online stuff and writing, but on my homework, reading, job performance, and various other functions. Basically, everything that requires effort.

I had tonsilitis, lost my voice, got it back in raspy form again, am still coughing a lot, had an asthma attack last Tuesday, and a migraine on Wednesday (probably partly due to coughing so much) and I hurt all over and *insert paragraphs of whining here.*

I don't really want this blog to become my diary, so I'll leave off there, with the promise that as soon as I feel better I'll be back.

In the meantime, I stumbled across an interesting post: Divergent Tastes in Books? by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds.com. The post challenge is to list a book you love that everyone else seems to hate, and a book you hate that everyone else seems to love. Here are mine:

Image source: waldina.com. This book has also been banned before...

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: This was the book in high school that everyone had to read and hated. I chose it as free reading from the library and I really liked it. I think most people hate it because it's not plot-driven, their teachers made them read it, and most modern American high school students probably can't relate to the culture the book is about or what it meant in that culture for a woman to commit adultery with a preacher.

Image source: Wikipedia.

Paper Towns by John Green. Actually, most of what I've read by John Green. I feel bad -- I really like his YouTube personality and I've tried really hard to like his books. But I am forced to conclude that they're sentimental drivel. Most that I've read use the mysterious unattainable girl as a prop in the male character's coming of age story cliche. And John Green never can seem to resist explaining the moral at the end in an unnecessary three pages or so. I hate books that do that. He's funny -- he does humor very well. It's when he tries to get all deep and philosophical that it ends up sounding forced, moralistic, and sentimental.

What do you think? Have you read either of those books? Are there books you love that others hate, and vice versa?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We (Still) Need Diverse Books: Mind Games by Kiersten White

A little while ago, I wrote a post inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, begun by Ellen Oh (@elloecho).

The book I chose was Mister Monday by Garth Nix, an MG fantasy/steampunk/alternate universe adventure about an adopted kid with debilitating asthma. It also portrays a "non-traditional" family. I picked that book in particular because Arthur has asthma and so do I, but also because I've noticed that people are a lot less willing to mess around with traditional family values in fiction than they are willing to use other elements of diversity.

We still need diverse books, and to do the hashtag justice, I'm thinking this post might become a weekly thing. Today's pick is Mind Games by Kiersten White, which I chose for one of the same reasons that I did Mister Monday: it portrays two main characters with disabilities.


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And yes -- both main characters have superpowers, but no, it isn't handled in an insulting way to people with disabilities. At least, I didn't think it was. If you think otherwise, please feel free to share in the comments.

What it is

Mind Games is a science fiction/paranormal-ish novel about seers, empaths, and mind readers who are controlled by a Big Bad Corporation that uses their psychic talents to its own benefit. Fia is a unique psychic who has the gift of intuition; her gut feelings and instincts are always right. Annie, her sister, is a seer who is blind. Bid Bad Corporation holds Annie hostage to get Fia to spy, steal, and assassinate for them. Meanwhile, they train Annie to spy on Fia, since no other seer can predict her actions.

Why I liked it

Actually, this wasn't my favorite book, and I don't know if I'll read the sequel. Parts were quite good and I loved some of it. Overall, I didn't get a very good sense of the heart of the conflict and I wasn't a huge fan of the plot or even the concept. Its strength was the characters (even though it did resort to the tired good-boy bad-boy dilemma). Annie and Fia are very well-written, I liked the viewpoint chapters, and their relationship development was great even though they are depressingly co-dependent.  

Part of the conflict, and problems which may make the reader uncomfortable, are how each sister views the other as a liability that needs to be protected because of their disability. For Annie, this is amplified by being Fia's older sister and needing to look out for her. When their parents were alive, Fia got the rather negative message that it was her job to protect her blind sister (despite being a child who was in no way equipped for this). Both are willing to do extreme and often horrible things for the other. Their relationship is a complex, frequently toxic mix of deep love and deep resentment. They are raised together as hostages and to some extent see each other as obstacles to their freedom.

Diversity

First: Annie. I think Mind Games skirted a problem with Annie by having her go blind at the age of four, long before she develops any psychic powers. This avoids the all-too-common trend of giving a character cool superpowers to compensate for a disability...and making that character the best ever at the superpower (or at overcoming their disability, whether or not such a thing is physically possible). When she gets her psychic ability, it isn't portrayed as a substitute or compensation for her physical disability. Annie isn't any better or worse at being blind than anyone else. Neither is she The Best Seer Ever. Big Bad mostly uses her to spy on Fia, considers Annie expendable, and actually sabotages her seer training so that she doesn't get too powerful. Mind Games doesn't sugar-coat Annie's life. Nor does it portray being blind as the worst thing that could ever happen to someone.

Second: Fia. Annie has a psychic/mind-based ability and a physical disability; Fia has an instinctual/physical-based ability and a mental illness. I thought that was a neat parallel. Annie is blind, and Fia is suicidally depressed. She also seems to have an addictive personality and self-destructive tendencies. I enjoyed Mind Games's portrayal of her depression because it showed someone who is depressed in an angry way, and I haven't seen that very often. Many people with depression cycle through angry and depressive periods.

I don't think Fia's mental illness is handled as well as Annie's blindness, and this is also where the plot starts to fall apart. The bad guys have empaths and mind readers -- but apparently they can't treat Fia or see the warning signs. They don't care about the mental or physical health of their most valuable asset and the only known person with this ability. The Big Bad Guys spend all this time manipulating and cozying up to Annie, who is barely useful to them, and let Fia become a suicidal, angry wreck who hates them all. 

I know they're supposed to be EVIL, but really -- that's no excuse for Oblivious Evil. "Murder-suicide attempt? Here are some pills and a long vacation without any mental health professionals, adults, or bodyguards, unstable spy/assassin-in-training! Oh, and we'll just send along the (superhot) heir to the company. Not like Fia has any reason to hate him. He's not valuable at all! She won't have plenty of opportunities to kill him and her romantic rival and/or herself!" 

This entire plot could have been solved if Fia had taken Hot Heir (pun intended) hostage for her sister's freedom. Which they gave her ample opportunity and motive to do. But I suppose if they had done the logical thing, there wouldn't be a plot. 

Have you read Mind Games? What did you think?

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Best Part of #NaNoWriMo

It's September 1st and still far too early to be thinking about NaNoWriMo, yet I find it on my mind as I wait for November. I'd like to attempt it this year, even if I don't finish the 50k goal. 

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Source.
Why? While I do like racking up the word count, the best thing about National Novel Writing Month has been the writing community. I love hanging out on the forums. It's a place to post questions, answer questions, pick and choose ideas, and chat. I've found critique partners and some other interesting people there as well. 

There's a whole writing community that I never would have found if I hadn't done NaNo, and my writing would be the poorer for it. NaNoWriMo is helping me get over my intense fear of sharing my writing. I used to be exceptionally paranoid even among other writers I knew when it came to sharing my writing. This is helping.

It hasn't been entirely positive, and the forums can be an extremely distracting place. However, the "Word Wars, Prompts, and Sprints" and the "Adoptables" forums have been extremely, AMAZINGLY helpful in getting new ideas, forcing myself to write, and beating my own personal procrastination monster.

Every year around this time, I see a flurry of posts on NaNoWriMo -- why you should do it, why you shouldn't, etc. Most people do the plug about how it forces you to speed-write 50k in a month, which helps you focus on discipline and ignore perfectionism. It does do those things -- but I've never seen or heard anyone to recommend it for the writing community. 

So I will! :) The best part of NaNoWriMo is that all the other people on the forums can be extremely useful, helpful, and fun. Of course you have your nasty people, too, but the moderators generally do a good job. (I can recall only one time I was really and genuinely offended by a moderator's response to my concern.) And the best thing about the forums is that they don't close when November ends. There's a small but dedicated group of people who hang out on the forums all year long.

Have you done NaNo? Have you "won" NaNo? Did you use the forums at all?