Roll Credits

I’ve agonized over this for way too long. It’s time to finish it.

It’s over. Done.

No more Bibliotropic.

I know, I did this before. And I came back. And to be honest, I came back for the wrong reasons. I started reviewing again because I was tired of people making “funny” little comments about oh, you said you weren’t going to review anymore, I guess you just couldn’t stay away, hahaha. Only I’d said even then that I’d probably still write full reviews now and again, when a particular book struck me as something I really wanted to talk about. It would just be very uncommon, maybe once a month, and that’s exactly what it was. Until I tired of the comments and just figured fine, I’ll just start writing more reviews again so people can stop saying those things.

It was the wrong reason to do a thing.

I started this blog over 7 years ago, the idea stemming from the wacky notion that I read books and had thoughts about them, so hey, why not put those thoughts on the Internet? Over time I improved, narrowed my focus, learned better ways to critique. I gained a lot of skill in writing and analysis by just reviewing books. My roommate and fellow writer noticed a big jump in my writing skill after I started reviewing, even though I so rarely have the time or energy to write anymore. What I do write has been improved and refined by seeing what others do, and figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t, and why.

But over the past year or so, I really haven’t been feeling it. I’ve had my health struggles, both physical and mental, and the hardest part of this blog isn’t continuing to read books, but in sitting down and sorting through my thoughts and actually writing the review. Knowing that task is ahead of me makes me enjoy reading less. I think I’d rather just read. And it makes the reviews themselves that much harder to write; even when I’ve finished saying all I can think of to say in a review, I still feel that I haven’t done a good job, that I’m being unclear or repetitive or just giving less than my best, even when I’m doing as well as I can. It’s not the level it used to be, and I know it, and thanks to struggles with mental illness, seeing the lackluster reviews I’ve been putting out these days is just… It makes it harder, knowing that I used to do better. Each accomplishment is still a reminder that I’m still not as good as I once was.

Add to that the feeling that I’ve become increasingly irrelevant… I was never particularly relevant, if I’m being completely honest. I wasn’t some breakaway hit, some blogging star. I was just one in a crowd. And that was fine. I didn’t necessarily want to be the centre of attention. But I always felt that slight bite of envy when I’d see bloggers who started after I did get further in the field, growing their blogs so much more quickly, going from reviewing to getting proper paid work within the publishing industry. That isn’t to say none of them deserved it or worked for it; every person I know who did that had and has skill, and they’ve earned what they’ve gained. I don’t wish that any of them didn’t have that, and I wish them the best with turning what they’ve learned into excellent and enjoyable ways to pay the bills. But some of it is also the luck of placement; just about every one of them is in the US or the UK, where major book-related stuff happens, and with me not being in either of those places… Let’s just say that plenty of people want a Britpicker or a set of US eyes proofreading their books, but there’s not much call for someone to check for accuracy in Canadian English. Most people writing books set in Canada are already in Canada themselves and so know how we speak and spell, and we either get British or US editions of books anyway and just deal with the spelling and dialect differences as we go.

I feel like I peaked a while ago, and that any work I put into the blog from here on out isn’t actually going to yield anything. Not in building skills or contacts or employment or anything like that.

I used to hate this mentality so much. My father, when I first started doing this, asked me a few times what doing the blog was going to get me. Would it get me a job in publishing? Would it get me paid work? What was my goal for it? What was it worth to others to have me writing reviews? And I told him that wasn’t the point, that I was doing reviews as a hobby, because I enjoyed doing them, and really, I still stand by that. I didn’t start this with the intent of climbing up some publishing-industry ladder. That, like other stuff I mentioned, isn’t always a good reason to do a thing.

But where I stand, I have to admit, it’s not going anywhere else. Not even in a self-contained way. I’m not going to build a bigger audience, I’m not going to get paid work, and the reviews I write are a drop in the bucket compared to bigger bloggers. I don’t say this to be self-pitying, but really, if I stop reviewing, it’s not actually going to make that much difference to anyone. Reviews will keep pouring in from bigger sources with greater readership that will help people more than I can.

Plus, I have the oft-mentioned reviewer problem of having too many books and too little time in which to read them. On one hand, this is awesome and I kind of love it. A lot. Okay, a whole lot. On the other hand, it long ago created a sense of responsibility whereby I feel like I have to read Book X before Book Y, and Book B’s publication date has long passed so the hype’s gone so the review won’t have as big an impact… A lot of the time now I read a book not because I really want to read it, but because I’m interested in it and it’s due out soon. I took a chance on making 2017 the Year of the Backlog, focusing on books that came out before this year so that I had an excuse to read books I’d missed, and it helped a little, but because of the SPFBO I still had that schedule to maintain, and argh, in the end, reading what I had to instead of what I wanted to resulted in one more stress in my life that I feel increasingly incapable of handling.

I feel guilty wanting to take walks to the local library, because I have too many books at home that I should read that I can’t afford the time to borrow something from elsewhere. Seriously, this feeling of responsibility (which I know is entirely something I placed upon myself) has prevented me from taking enjoyable walks on nice days, because I feel too guilty to go where I want to go and do a thing I want to do.

(I never claimed I wasn’t a great big mess…)

And if all that wasn’t enough, that stress is contributing to a great big creativity-vacuum, in which I have ideas for things I’d probably enjoy, but I can’t even summon the energy to give enough of a damn to do them. It’s like… You have 5 heavy things in front of you, and you know you can manage to carry 4, but just knowing you somehow have to carry 5 anyway makes you sit down and stare at the pile, doing nothing, because you’re too preoccupied trying to figure out how you’re supposed to do everything-plus-one.

So all of this combines into a giant mess that really makes me think I’d be better off closing down the blog and stopping doing reviews. I don’t relish it. I wish I had the fortitude to keep going, along with everything else I want to do. And if it wasn’t for the mental health issues, I’d probably be fine to keep going; those 5 things weigh even more than usual when you’re struggling with depression. Take 1 thing off my plate, and the rest of the load becomes something I can handle. And the thing I remove may as well be the one that’s been bringing me the least joy lately.

It’s been a good ride. I regret only that it had to end. I regret none of the experience itself, because I learned so much and met so many wonderful people during this journey.

So with that in mind, I want to take this moment to mention a few people in particular who I feel contributed to me getting this far. Whether they did so intentionally or not.

Jo Walton, for consenting to let an utter newbie do their first author interview with you, and for tolerating how ridiculously awkward those questions were.

Kersten Hamilton, for directing me to NetGalley all those years ago.

Paul Weimer and Sarah Chorn, for rekindling my interest in photography. (And an extra shout-out to Sarah for inspiring me to improve my cooking so that I could make as many delicious things as she does.)

Courtney Schafer, for showing me extra stuff you wrote, even when you didn’t have to, just because you knew I’d like it.

Teresa Frohock, for inadvertently pandering to my love of nephilim in same-sex relationships. (No, seriously, this is absolutely a concept I’ve loved for years and have toyed with writing and RPing multiple times!)

KV Johansen, for all our talk about the similar weather we must endure.

Mark Lawrence, for starting the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and letting me be a judge in it. (Maybe some year I’ll be brave enough to submit my own work to it.)

Amanda Rutter, for remembering a far-off Canadian on a World Book Night that isn’t actually worldwide, and for the surprise book to celebrate it.

Foz Meadows, for the Supernatural fanfics that I just could not stop reading!

And so many of you for just generally being awesome friends.

If you want to keep in contact, I’ll still be around of Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to add me on either of them. I’ll still be more than happy to talk books and tea and other geekish stuff, and to rant and rave about the stuff I’m reading, and to recommend books to all and sundry. That I won’t be writing reviews here anymore doesn’t mean I’ll be leaving the community entirely. It just means that you’ll probably see me talk more about art projects and my own writing, because now I feel like I have time for them both again.

This feels bittersweet, the closing of a book, and it hurts a little bit to do it. But I really do think it’s best for me right now.

Happy reading,
~ Ria

Fionn: Defence of Rath Badhma, by Brian O’Sullivan

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N
Rating – 7/10
Author’s website
Publication date – February 18, 2014

Summary: Ireland: 192 A.D. A time of strife and treachery. Political ambition and inter-tribal conflict has set the country on edge, testing the strength of long-established alliances.

Following their victory over Clann Baoiscne at the battle of Cnucha, Clann Morna are hungry for power. Meanwhile, a mysterious war party roams the ‘Great Wild’ and a ruthless magician is intent on murder.

In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceo, disgraced druid Bodhmall and her lover Liath Luachra have successfully avoided the bloodshed for many years. Now, the arrival of a pregnant refugee threatens the peace they have created together.

Based on the ancient Fenian Cycle texts, the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series recounts the fascinating and pulse-pounding tale of the birth and adventures of Ireland’s greatest hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Review: I’ve read a couple of different stories now about this legendary hero, whose name goes through a different spelling just about every time (Fionn mac Cumhaill, Finn MacCool, it’s all good…) Every story puts their own twist on the tale, whether going for accurate retelling or modern interpretation, and honestly, this is something that can make a story straddle that fine line between fresh and stale. You can only hear the same story told so many times, however many little differences there might be, before you grow tired of the story. However, it’s the little differences, or sometimes big ones, that can make a retelling worth listening to, to see how it differs from old narratives and to see what it brings to the table.

Fionn tells the beginning of the story, with the birth of the great Irish hero, and the events that surrounded that birth. Mostly the surrounding events, really; aside from being born, the son of Cumhail doesn’t really do anything here. We start off seeing his mother, still pregnant, fleeing from her enemies, making her way to Rath Bladhma, where her ex-husband’s sister lives. Bodhmhall, a druid capable of premonition and sensing the life energies of things, reluctantly takes her in, giving her shelter and limited peace to birth her baby, whose life blazes brightly; Bodhmhall foresees that this baby will be great, but aside from that we don’t really get any indication of destiny or what have you. Yes, a war party and a Tainted One are hunting down Muirne Munchaem and her baby, but there’s only speculation as to why, and the reasons could be political as much as they could be supernatural.

Fionn is one of those historical fantasies where the fantasy aspect rarely comes into play. Bodhmhall’s powers and the presence of the Tainted One are pretty much the limit of fantasy elements, and those are incorporated in such small ways that you could remove them entirely and the story wouldn’t really change. If the reader is unfamiliar with any of the stories of Ireland’s great hero, they might be left wondering what this is really all about. A woman flees her old home for her own reasons, seeks refuge elsewhere, and then a wandering war party attacks the settlement where she took refuge. Fionn could be summed up that way, and really, that does give you the gist of what happens. It feels a bit like the prequel to a much greater story than a part of that story in itself, the sort of thing you really only appreciate when you already know what comes next. Those unfamiliar with the legend might find Fionn a bit hard-going.

Despite that, the book does have a very obvious strength early on: the vivid detail. O’Sullivan heaps great amounts of detail on the reader, just this side of ponderous, but it leaves you feeling like you really know the land and its people when you finish the last page. You can practically smell the livestock of the settlement, feel the chill in the air, expect to hear certain voices from the distance. Even if you’re not captivated by the story itself, you’re taken in by the setting and the way it comes alive.

Plenty of Gaelic names and terms might confound readers, too, but honestly, I’m not holding this against the book or its author. We don’t read fantasy novels to be confronted by the distressingly familiar — we read them, in part, to have our minds stretched a little bit. The words may be a mouthful, but that doesn’t take away from the story. (And happily, when I checked the pronunciation guide on O’Sullivan’s website, I discovered my guesses were often pretty close to how things were intended to sound anyway.)

Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma is a relatively short book that takes place over a short span of time, but never the less feels like it carries some weight. The characters are interesting and have decent variation, the tension and action work well to really set the whole scene, and in terms of writing style, O’Sullivan clearly has skill. I definitely wouldn’t mind checking out more of his writing, at any rate. So while this book may not appeal to everyone, especially those who haven’t encountered much in the way of Irish mythology before, it still is a good book, and it’s worth giving a try.

February was a Write-Off

I feel like I’m living on auto-pilot these days. Though I’ve made some steps in the right direction (started going to counseling sessions, applied for university), I feel like it’s been a “one step forward, two steps back” month on the whole. It’s not that I’ve been hanging on by a thread so much as I just feel generally apathetic and unmotivated. Not to read, not to write, not to play video games, nothing. Enjoyment seems to have gone out the window, to be replaced by this dull knowledge that I have stuff I need to do and that I should probably do it, but… meh.

Ain’t depression grand?

That’s why there’ve been so few posts here over February. I’m back in that phase where, instead of wanting to do things, I merely want to want to do them. As in, “Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if I could summon the energy to really get into a thing?” My moods tend to cycle like this. I had about a week of positive outlook, during which I did responsible things like cleaning more, recording video game stuff a bunch, the aforementioned university application. But that week is over, and I’m cycling back down.

I’m not saying this because I want sympathy or pity. I’m saying it because I figure people have the right to know why I’ve fallen so behind on things here, and why I haven’t been seen on social media that much.

It doesn’t help that I seem to have hit a giant wall of insomnia. I’ve pretty much just relegated myself to sleeping whenever my body feels like it might let me rather than sleeping on a schedule, because getting a couple of hours here and there is better than tossing and turning for hours and then getting no sleep at all. It’s frustrating, because it means that sometimes I’m asleep when my roommate is at work, and sometimes I’m asleep when normally we’d be hanging out, and sometimes I’m asleep when they’re asleep, and there’s just no rhyme or reason to it. I’m just hoping that doing this might let me beat the insomnia and get back onto something of a regular schedule.

It’s also hard to concentrate on things when you’re so lacking in rest that it’s a genuine chore to shuffle into the next room to feed the cats and remember who gets what food in what bowl and how much.

So yeah, I will try to do better. But this is the state of things right now, and I don’t know when they’ll improve nor how much. Time will tell, I guess. I hope it’s soon. I’m so tired of all of this right now.

The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – June 14, 2016

Summary: One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.

London’s underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself…

Review: There’s something I love about books involving books. Maybe it’s the joy of connecting with other bibliophiles, however fictional, and knowing that no matter what else may or may not click between me and the character, we have a shared love of books and that seems to bring a lot of people together. Throw in an appeal to my love of multiverse theory, and hot damn, you have a book with a concept set to keep me amused for hours!

Irene is a Librarian, and the Library is special. Existing outside of time and the regular known multiverse, it houses a nigh-impossible number of books from all those different worlds, from fiction to hundreds of different histories. After returning from a mission to acquire a new book, she expects a bit of a break, only to be handed a new book-retrieval mission along with a new assistant. What at first seems like it should be a relatively easy mission quickly turns into something vastly more complicated, with chaos magic and Fae and Kai’s secret history and oh yes, the fact that an ancient ex-Library and current enemy to the Library seems to want that book for himself.

I find the world that Cogman sets up to be pretty fascinating. Or maybe it’s better to say “worlds.” We spend most of the book following Irene and Kai in an alternate world, old-timey London only with vampires and chaos magic and Fae making moves in high society. The book Irene has been sent to get is stolen, and so she teams up with Vale, a nobleman and detective, who also helps Irene and Kai adapt a bit more to society at the time, albeit in the form of infodumping now and again. There’s a lot of little detail that goes into all this, hints at a larger world beyond that one city, and it’s the subtleties that all come together to make something feel real and large and like you could really be there.

As for the Library itself, well, the idea of a vast repository of books from countless different worlds definitely strikes a chord with me. So too does the idea of the limited immortality that being a Librarian offers; time doesn’t move within the Library, so while one is perusing the stacks, they don’t age. This sounds great, but it has its drawbacks; early on it’s mentioned that Irene’s parents couldn’t raise her within the Library, since she wouldn’t grow from childhood to adulthood there. Irene suffers an injury at one point in the story, and she’s reminded that she has to leave the Library to heal. Without the passage of time, she’d remain injured, her body literally incapable of repairing itself because that repair necessitated change.

There are a lot of mysteries to unravel in The Invisible Library, and I’m actually pretty happy to say that they don’t all get tidied away at the end. We discover some of what’s going on with Kai. We discover more about Alberich and his goals. We discover what’s so special about the book Irene was sent to recover. But it seems like each answered question opens the door to a new room filled with related questions, but not in a way that frustrated me. Sometimes in books, questions get answered in a way that makes me ask, “But how does that make sense in regard to this?” or, “How does that all work when you take that into account?” Questions that make me think that plot threads are being awkwardly and obviously dangled in front of me, trying obviously to make me bite. But here the threads are dangled subtly. I have questions, yes, and I’m curious to see how the rest of the story will play out because there are definitely unresolved issues at play, but at the same time, enough was resolved that if I wanted to, I could just not read the rest of the series and still feel like I’d experienced a complete story within the first book. It’s a rare novel within a series that can pull that off, sinking the hooks in so delicately, and I think it’s worthy of some praise.

The Invisible Library is a great novel for those who love adventure and who love books, and who love seeing things they love meet and create new wonderful things. The pacing is pretty smooth, though it does get a little bogged down in infodumps and recaps now and again. The action is tight, the characters interesting even if they’re note incredibly varied, and the story overall is pretty compelling. It’s a series I will definitely continue with, if for no other reason than to feel a little bit more at home with characters who love books enough to devote a fraction of eternity to them.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 17, 2016

Summary: My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. But we’ve met before-a thousand times.

It started when I was sixteen years old.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A friend who looks at me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the crimes I commit, you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life difficult. It also makes me dangerous.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the tale of a girl no one remembers, yet her story will stay with you forever.

Review: Claire North writes some amazing genre-defying books. They seem to exist in that small range that can only really be called “speculative.” It’s not really sci-fi, it’s not really urban fantasy, it’s not really anything other than some amazingly-written “what if” stories that always engage me and get me thinking about things differently.

In The Sudden Appearance of Hope, we see through the eyes of Hope Arden, a woman who, for some reason, can’t be remembered. Once she’s out of sight, your brain will just filter her out, leaving you with the impression that you ate dinner alone, didn’t meet a fascinating person, just generally went on with life without interacting with anyone. A few moments and gone are your memories of her.

Which is why she’s such an excellent thief.

But Hope gets in a little over her head when she encounters Perfection, an app that transforms lives by incentivizing socially-approved improvements. Link your bank account so the app knows you’re only purchasing vegan non-GMO food? Have 5000 points! Get a nose job so you look more attractive? Here’s a coupon for an hour at the spa! But Perfection is insidious, and Hope’s interest is sparked after it contributes to the death of someone she knew. She goes on a mission to steal the information and coding behind Perfection, to unravel its secrets, and in so doing, unleashes something terrifying and deadly against the app’s most successful users.

If you’re not a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing, then there’ll be a lot about this book that doesn’t appeal to you. We’re seeing it all from Hope’s perspective, not so much sitting on her shoulders and being inside her head, privy to her thoughts, and, as thoughts sometimes get, things aren’t always coherent. Stops and starts, run-on sentences, inappropriate humour and random song lyrics, the rules of punctuation flying right out the window at times. And it’s intentional. It’s a pretty accurate portrayal of thought, especially when someone’s frantic or stressed. Personally, I’m a fan of it. It’s refreshing, especially after seeing so many first-person POV stories where characters notice too much random detail or think extremely coherently, which makes for a very clear mental picture for the reader, but never actually reads as if it’s all coming from insider someone’s head as it all happens. This stylistic choice may not appeal to everyone, but it definitely appeals to me.

North has superb ability to write a complex story with brilliant realistic characters who exist outside the mainstream for various reasons. When she wasn’t tackling different kinds of immortality in Touch and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, here she’s writing about not only someone who’s not only an accomplished thief, but someone who by definition cannot exist within the mainstream when nobody ever remembers her. She goes into detail about the trouble this causes, from not getting service at a restaurant to not getting care at a hospital, to the constant loneliness caused by not being able to make friends or by having your own family forget you were ever part of them. Her story is heartbreaking, and her fire understandable. You may not always agree with her actions, but you can always see the motivation behind them.

This is an amazing book, and in the manner of amazing book, it’s incredibly difficult to unpack. You’ve got themes of social engineering, racism, sexism, loss, suicide, risk-vs-gain, what people will do to survive, economic class struggles and the opportunity for advancement, whether it’s right to encourage people toward a damaging ideal even if they want to be that damaged… There’s a lot here about taking life into your own hands, for good or for ill, and it presents no clear side as unambiguously right or wrong. Morality wars with survival, advancement wars with acceptance, with all sides of the arguments having their pros and cons. North presents some interesting debates here, and over and over again I see it comes back to limits. What’s the limit on what somebody should do to further their goals? Where do the lines get drawn?

Also interesting is that The Sudden Appearance of Hope doesn’t really get a resolution at the end. You see the end of Byron’s story more than you see the end of Hope’s. Hope ultimately doesn’t get what she wanted, and goes through hell in the process. It’s less the story of Hope and more the story of how Hope participated in the destruction of a problematic app and social movement. Less her story and more her part in something else’s story. Which is an uncommon approach to take, I think, but for my part, I think it worked well. Even if it left me feeling horrible for Hope in the end.

North tells the story well, captivates the reader and draws them in with vivid details and fascinating realistic characters. It’s the kind of story that gets under your skin and forces a perspective shift, forces you to confront uncomfortable issues and face down the things you take for granted, pushing you outside your comfort zone. It’s a story that stays with you long past the final page, keeping you asking questios and reconsidering what you once thought. It’s a book that, similar to North’s other novels, defies categorization, with the exception of being firmly in the You Should Read This, It’s Good category. It’s uncommon, special, and very much worth the time and effort you put into it. My hat’s off to Claire North once again for telling so poignant a story!

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Movie Review: Paranorman

Paranorman is a title I was excited about for a while, but then it dropped off my radar. Discovering it on Netflix this past weekend was a nice surprise, and I decided it was high time I watched it. I’d heard briefly that it wasn’t very well-received, though doing a little bit of research online tells me that impression was wrong, that it didn’t have stellar reviews but was overall considered decent, and was nominated for and even won some awards.

Which I’m glad of, because it was a damn good movie in a lot of ways.

paranorman

The movie features Norman, an 11 year old boy who can see and talk with the dead. Naturally this causes a large amount of awkwardness with the living, who don’t typically don’t believe in Norman’s abilities. At best, they tend to think of him as a freak. At worst… Well, Norman’s relationship with his father makes me downright uncomfortable. His father is an abrasive man, someone who doesn’t hold with Norman’s talk of ghosts, and who makes no bones about it. When Norman snaps at him that he didn’t ask to be born the way he was, his father snaps back, “Well, neither did we.”

Ouch.

So right off the bat there’s some uncomfortable tension with his father’s intolerance and refusal to pull any punches, and for a kids’ movie, that was a bit surprising. Much of the time in movies intended for younger audiences, when there’s parental opposition to a main character, it’s because said parent is intentionally portrayed as a bad guy, maybe an evil to overcome, or else a pawn for that evil. Here we see something more akin to a kid and his father flat-out not getting along, something much more mundane, and for what it’s worth, while it hurts to see, it’s also a bit refreshing to see a portrayal of a family that has its problems without being the main problem. In introduces kids to the uncomfortable concept that families don’t always get along, that sometimes adults are blindly cruel, and that sometimes you’re going to face crap from people you love.

In short, it’s something to possibly gets kids and parents talking. And I’m fond of things that might influence parents to be parents and actually explain things to their kids, even if those things are awkward and unpleasant sometimes.

Anyway, Norman can see and communicate with the dead, and goes through hell for it. As if that weren’t bad enough, during a school play about the town’s history and folklore (involving a witch’s curse, because New England), he starts to see the world around him break and burn, revealing hints of something sinister underneath. The town eccentric, Mr. Prenderghast, approaches Norman and tells him that he has a job to do, that only he can hold back the witch’s curse and prevent the dead from rising.

Oh, did I mention that Prenderghast is dead for part of this revelation, and that Norman was talking to his ghost?

Also that Prenderghast is Norman’s uncle? And that Norman is now the only person in the family who can possibly hold back the curse? And that Prenderghast has nor moved on to the afterlife and can’t be contacted anymore for additional info?

No? Well, now you know just how the plot thickens.

para_03caNorman’s supposed to read from a certain book at the witch’s grave before sundown that night, to stave off the curse for another year and keep the town safe. The problem is that Norman goes to the wrong grave, reads from a book of what looks like fairy tales, and surprise, nothing happens except for the curse coming to fruition and raising the corpses of the 7 men who condemned the witch in the 1700s.

So now there are zombies on the loose. Lovely.

Norman and friends (or rather, Norman and his only friend Neil, along with Normal’s sister, Neil’s brother, and a local bully named Alvin) are led on a merry chase through the town, trying to evade the zombies and also find out exactly where the witch’s grave is so that Norman can read from the book at the proper place. It’s not really a surprise to hear that Norman does eventually find the grave and defeat the curse, but the how of it all is the really interesting part.

(Warning: spoilers abound.)

Norman can communicate with the dead, and typically this is just something that happens with ghosts, but as it turns out, since zombies are dead too, Norman can communicate with them. He discovered that the witch was, in fact, a little girl his own age, who could also communicate with the dead, who was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death for it. In her terror, she let loose something horrible, cursing the 7 people who condemned her, and over time getting so wrapped up in her fear and hatred that she turned terrible and cruel herself. The now-zombies have had plenty of time to think about their actions, to regret what they did to a young child, and who want to end the curse and be able to fully rest.

It’s still up to Norman to still the curse, but he realises that holding it back every year doesn’t actually fix the underlying problem. The book of fairy tales is meant to act like a bedtime story, to put a little girl to sleep, but every year she’ll keep waking up angry and still want her vengeance. Norman has to get to the heart of the problem, trying to convince the witch, who is really a very scared and angry little girl named Agatha, that she doesn’t need to lash out anymore, that she’s not alone and isolated because of her power, and that bullying because you were bullied doesn’t actually make you better than anyone.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I love it. First, there’s the presentation of the idea that sometimes what creates a bully is being bullied, that sometimes people stick up walls around themselves as lash out because they were hurt first, and being just as cruel and the cruel people is the only way you feel like you have any way to defend yourself. (But also sometimes bullies can just be jerks, like Alvin; sometimes you don’t get an explanation or a reason.) You see people doing terrible things that they thought were right and good at the time, but only upon reflection and consequence do they see the error of their ways. You see mob mentality, when the townspeople attack the zombies, and even after the zombies escape the townspeople go on fighting because they’re so caught up in fear and fighting that they don’t even see that what they were fighting is already gone. They’re ready to burn down a building with the zombies inside, trapping kids and teens in there, refusing to listen to their cries for help and mercy. It’s some dark stuff, especially for a kids’ movie, and really, I love it. Kids can often handle way more than we think they can, especially when it’s presented to them in an action-packed entertaining way, and if they have questions about people certain things happened, then hopefully they’ve got decent parents around to answer those questions.

Paranorman goes beyond the usual trite messages about being nice to bullies and just being brave in the face of adversity. It talks about how people can become so fearful they lose all rationality. It talks about how people are not always good. It says you can’t always trust adults to watch out for you and be on your side. It says that people can make mistakes, even huge mistakes, and still be forgiven if they learn from those mistakes. This stuff applies not only to the issue of Agatha and her curse, but also on a smaller scale, with Norman’s dad. At the end of the movie, we see him awkwardly start to take Norman a bit more seriously about his ghost-talking abilities, not fully comfortable with it yet, but at least willing to put aside his own discomfort and reach out to the son he previously derided. It was a small gesture that meant a lot.

Besides, dude drove zombies around in his car. Pretty hard to deny the whole “communicating with the dead” thing after that.

The movie also had a great reading-between-the-lines bit that I feel is worth mentioning. Norman’s uncle’s surname is Prenderghast. Agatha’s surname is Prenderghast. Agatha, Norman, and his uncle, all have the ability to see the dead. It’s never said outright, but there are strong hints that Norman is related to Agatha. Norman’s surname is different, and it’s never said which side of Norman’s family Mr. Prenderghast is on, but the implication is there, that the abilities are a hereditary thing. Of course, it could be complete coincidence, but really, I choose to believe there’s a connection. That it’s left there as a subtle thing for people to pick up on makes me like the movie that much more, since it doesn’t act like the audience needs its hand held to learn every single thing, which is a big problem in a lot of kids’ movies. Sometimes you can leave subtle things in and still have people pick up on them, and even if nobody does, nothing is really lost in the viewing. You don’t need to know that Agatha might be Norman’s ancestor and that their powers might run in the family. All you need to know is that sometimes these powers happen.

Also, can I take a minute to mention Mitch, Neil’s jock brother? Norman’s sister Courtney spends half the movie hitting on him, trying to get close to him, catch his interest, and most of the time he comes across as utterly oblivious. I mean, who can blame him when there are zombies around, really? Then at the end, Courtney asks him if he wants to see a movie together, and he’s all, “Sure, also btw, my boyfriend would love that movie.”

And that, friends, is how you normalize gay characters in media. Don’t make the characters stereotypical, don’t have some big scene where he tries to let Courtney down gently and says, “Sorry, I’m flattered, but *deep breath* I’m gay.” Don’t have people freak out about it. Just, “Yup, got a boyfriend, you’d probably like him.” Mitch is who he is, and you either like him or you don’t, and his sexuality is part of him but not his definition.

That reveal did make me wonder, however, how many angry letters got written by parents, telling the producers how they shouldn’t have included a gay character in a mainstream movie because it’s “inappropriate, and how am I going to explain that to my kids?”

Overall, I really enjoyed Paranorman. It’s not a perfect movie, there were some unanswered questions, and some of the scenes were a little cheese, but really, it was still pretty good. It was a dark but somewhat comedic movie, an animated horror flick for younger audiences, with a lot of strong themes that went beyond what I expected and made for a well developed and engaging story. Given that I heard almost nothing about it after its theatrical release, I’d venture to say that it’s even a bit underrated. There’s more to it than a kiddy Halloween movie, there’s plenty that adults could enjoy, and it’s one that I expect I’ll watch more than once, because it was fun and interesting and does a lot that I can respect. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t yet.

By Ria Posted in movie

January 2017 in Retrospect

This past month has been difficult for me. I briefly had a job but now no longer do, after the ridiculous amounts of unprofessional behaviour I witnessed there (when you see your future supervisor making fun of and insulting those with mental disabilities, you know that’s a solid sign that you’re not working in a good place). One of my cats was diagnosed with diabetes. Still no sign on the horizon for getting the mental health care that I need. It’s been one of those months that’s both flown by and dragged on for an age.

I’m happy to see the end of it.

But it wasn’t entirely bad. Even if it was just stuff I accomplished for this blog, that still means I accomplished something.

Reviews

Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Language of Dying, by Sarah Pinborough

SPFBO Review: Paternus, by Dyrk Ashton
SPFBO Review: Larcout, by K A Krantz

Other stuff

I wrote about how poorly Wicca and neopaganism is portrayed in SFF. I got to design my own Loot Crate idea, which was a lot of fun!

For Tea Tuesday, I review King Cole’s chocolate peppermint tea, Stash’s cinnamon vanilla herbal tea, and David’s Tea’s cinnamon rooibos chai. Seems to have been a bit of a cinnamon month!

No movie reviews, though. I’ve been rather slack on those. Probably because I haven’t really watched many movies lately.

Next month

I’m still doing well with sticking to my goal of one book read and reviewed each week, and focusing on books from my backlist rather than upcoming novels. It’s relieving some of my guilt at not having read them already, so that’s good. I should be doing at least one more SPFBO review, too. I’ve got plenty of tea to drink and review, so expect to find out what’s in my cup a few more times along the way!

That about sums it up. How was your January?

Tea Tuesday: Cinnamon Rooibos Chai, from David’s Tea

Winter is a great time for chai. It’s warming, it’s sweet, and it just plain makes me happy. This also seems to be the year of cinnamon for me, since it’s the second tea I’ve reviewed this month alone that has cinnamon as a main flavour. Today, I’m drinking some cinnamon rooibos chai, from David’s Tea.

cinnamonrooiboschairNow, I like my tea sweet. I’ve cut back on my sugar a lot over the past few years, but I’m still generally a fan of sweet versus not-so-sweet. And being used to chai, I put my usual amount of sugar in my usual sized mug.

It was too sweet.

However much sugar you think you’re going to need while drinking this, it’s probably best to cut back a little, and that may well be because of the small pieces of apple in the mix, adding their sweetness to the tea before you even think of putting anything extra in. As much sugar as I had in it, it actually overpowered most of the other flavours, making me taste sugar most of all and pretty much relegating the cinnamon flavour to a faint backgroundy aftertaste.

So I made a second cup and added less sugar, and it was much better then. The cinnamon flavour comes to the forefront, not drowned out by sweetness, and it’s a very warming flavour, just perfect for winter nights. It doesn’t have a lot of the stuff usually found in chai, like cardamom, so some of the flavours that hardcore chai lovers enjoy will be absent, but as a warm comforting drink to perk you up, it’s still really good, and I anticipate many cups in my future!

So long as I remember not to go overboard with the sugar.

The Language of Dying, by Sarah Pinborough

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 2, 2016

Summary: In this emotionally gripping, genre-defying novella from Sarah Pinborough, a woman sits at her father’s bedside, watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters–she is the middle child of five–have all turned up over the past week to pay their last respects. Each is traumatized in his or her own way, and the bonds that unite them to each other are fragile–as fragile perhaps as the old man’s health.

With her siblings all gone, back to their self-obsessed lives, she is now alone with the faltering wreck of her father’s cancer-ridden body. It is always at times like this when it–the dark and nameless, the impossible, presence that lingers along the fringes of the dark fields beyond the house–comes calling.

As the clock ticks away in the darkness, she can only wait for it to find her, a reunion she both dreads and aches for…

Review: For being such a short book, The Language of Dying is impressively hard to review, especially from an SFF standpoint, since the fantastical elements are rather vague and may in fact not even be real. It reminded me very much of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, in the way that both involve characters coping with impending death, and both also ripped me to emotional shreds.

Her siblings are coming together to be with their father during his last days. The family is broken, breaking further, and all of them have problems of their own to deal with, but they come. And in times of grief, like this one, like times before, the protagonist of the novella finds herself staring out windows, drifting off, waiting for the return of the thing she saw as a child, the dark unicorn-like thing that calls to her.

I mentioned earlier that this novella is short, a hair over 100 pages, and it’s impressive that Pinborough can tell so poignant a story in so little space. Not a word is wasted; you feel the weight of everything as the protagonist struggles with caring for her father, reuniting with her siblings, reflecting on her own traumatic past. Dealing with the guilt of wishing the pain was over for everyone, wishing her father’s life would end so that the healing could begin, while also hating that he’s dying and will soon leave everyone behind. Anyone who has been there for the death of someone or something you’re close to understands this, though we don’t often talk about it, and seeing it addressed so openly was, honestly, a bit of a relief. But it was also part of the gut-punch that The Language of Dying delivers. It forces the reader to confront the unpleasant realities of watching and waiting for someone to die, the internal and external struggles. It’s not an easy read. It isn’t meant to be comforting.

There are elements of fantasy to this book, though they’re extremely downplayed. The story isn’t about a woman who sometimes sees a dark mysterious beast. It’s about a woman whose father is dying. And incidentally, also sometimes sees a dark mysterious beast. To say this book is primarily fantasy is like saying that this review blog is actually a cat blog because I mentioned a few times that I have cats. It’s an element, but it’s not the primary focus. And it’s not entirely clear if the creature is real or whether it’s the product of combining imagination with grief. It’s left vague, open to some interpretation, and it works well. It means the novella is hard to categorize into a particular genre, but some stories defy those boundaries, breaking out to tell a story that can appeal to different people for different reasons.

The Language of Dying needs to be read. It’s powerful and evocative, it’s brutal and honest, it’s painful and cathartic. It’s so much story in so few words, and it’s the sort of story that stays with you long past the final word. It seeps into you and alters you, and whether you read it for the speculative elements or because you’re looking for literature that deals with death, you should still read it. It’s one of those rare books that’s an experience more than anything else, difficult to properly describe, but I can imagine the knowing nods that pass between people who have read it. For some experiences, no words are really needed.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Tea Tuesday: Cinnamon Vanilla Herbal Tea, from Stash

cinnamonvanillateaI’m going to start off by saying that this tea has been a huge hit in this house. We expected it to be good. We didn’t expect it to be so ridiculously addictive! Stash’s Cinnamon Vanilla herbal tea is one that I’m going to miss if/when I can’t find it in stores anymore or they discontinue it.

As soon as you open the individually-sealed bags you can smell the cinnamon, which at first seems like it’s going to utterly overpower the vanilla. While steeping, this tea makes my kitchen smell like delicious cookies are baking nearby.

Most herbal teas I drink without sugar and definitely without milk. I tried a bit of sugar at first, and it tasted fine, but the flavours didn’t quite blend the way I’d hoped. I tried adding milk to see if that helped, and did it ever! The flavours of cinnamon and vanilla blended really well and turned nice and mellow, still with a strong cinnamon flavour but with a stronger vanilla flavour to balance it out, leaving a mild and pleasant cinnamon aftertaste. I drink it more like I do a black tea than an herbal one, really. The base is rooibos, so however you tend to drink that kind of tea will likely be the way you most enjoy drinking Stash’s cinnamon vanilla variety.

I really can’t get enough of this stuff. The scent is great, the flavour is soothing, and 1 box in a household of heavy tea drinkers really isn’t enough. Definitely a tea worth trying, if you can find some; I highly recommend this blend!