Mixed Emotions: The Last Few Weeks

Hey everyone. I’ve been slowly trying to put my thoughts together as, every day, new information keeps coming faster and more confusingly to the point where I’m not even sure where to start because I feel like this story isn’t linear.

I got the news today that one of my high school classmates just died a couple of days ago.

For simplicity (and privacy), I’m going to call him DD. DD was one of the nicest kids in my class, easily. He was genuinely sweet and would talk to anyone. The one time I remember him getting in trouble at school was in middle school where he wore a “cereal killer” t-shirt with a spoon printed underneath it. (This kid had a legitimate obsession with cereal and everyone knew it. Like, would eat it by the box. In a sitting or two.)

With the sudden flood of tributes on Facebook, I learned that a year and a half ago, he participated in an outdoor sleeping event to raise awareness for homelessness. Like, this doesn’t surprise me at all. This is exactly the kind of person DD was. He was heavily involved in his faith in a town where many proclaimed their faith but few actually did anything to make the world better. He did.

This year (OMG, I think it’s TODAY?!) marks the 10th anniversary of my graduation from high school. In that time, I don’t honestly remember losing any of my other classmates. Three died while we were in school (accident, suicide, cancer), so those are the ones I usually remember. This is hitting me kind of funny. I hadn’t seen DD since we graduated, so I hate to jump on a bandwagon and proclaim my sorrow when…that doesn’t feel like the right word. I’m definitely sorry that bright light has been taken from the world, but…I don’t know what I’m feeling. Confused and surprised mostly, with a twinge of sadness.

Mostly, I’m just starting to feel old.

All of this came on top of going more than 24 hours without electricity in my house as the remnants of Tropical Storm Cristobal passed through my town. You truly don’t know how much you take electricity for granted until you suddenly lack the ability to go to the bathroom without a flashlight.

Humor aside, I’ve basically spent the last two days (or the last three months, honestly), thinking about life and how much we take for granted. I took for granted that my classmates were all young and healthy and we’d all theoretically be around to go to the reunion after the COVID fears pass. I took for granted that DD would be around to change the world.

I took it for granted that a police officer would find his humanity before he killed someone by cutting off his air and blood flow for nearly nine minutes.

Look, I hate talking politics outside of a very small group of people consisting of my immediate family, my boyfriend, and my best friend. That’s it. It’s part of my introverted-people-pleasing-conflict-avoidance tendencies.

But this is just ridiculous.

This isn’t the first time I’ve found fault with the police. I’ve heard all the other stories over the years on the news. I’ve heard a Latina friend of mine complain about how she or her family have been treated by cops. So this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the problem or thought something should be done. I’ve watched the Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj segment about police unions. I’ve seen the John Oliver Last Week Tonight segment about police brutality. (Why yes, I do get most of my informed news from comedians. I find they tell it to you more truthfully and fully than actual news channels.)

My city protested along with all the others that last week of May. And I was happy for them. I even thought briefly about joining them. (COVID and social anxiety kept me at home though.) A few hours later, the protest turned violent. Tear gas, rubber bullets, looting. It all looked exactly the same as what I saw happening everywhere else–except I had never seen it in my city before, with people I knew. I watched as reporters suffered from the effects of the gas. I watched the police antagonize the crowd. I also watched a lot of protesters hurl bottles and debris at police, and protesters surround cars with people simply on their way home from work. Simply put, I tried to see both sides.

I’ve watched the videos from around the country. It’s been hard not to. It’s been very hard to ignore how some police are making things worse by beating, pushing, or trapping peaceful protesters.

It’s harder still to watch a single group constantly singled out for abuse. I can’t stand seeing how Black Americans–because they are Americans–are targeted so often and for so little reason.

(It’s also worth pointing out that many of the tactics police are using are against the Geneva Convention, which is mortifying and horrifying.)

When “Defund the Police” became a common refrain, I looked into it. In my moderate sized urban city (roughly 200,000 residents), what did we spend on police? I wanted to do my own research.

The results astounded me.

On publicly released documents that I easily found online with about 3 clicks, I spent about 45 minutes looking over documents. The city’s annual budget is in the ballpark of $110 million. $64 million went to police. That’s 58% of the annual city budget. It didn’t go to city improvements, it didn’t go to health or public works. No, the majority went to one branch of the city.

As I dug deeper, they actually do a more itemized list of their expenses. A huge amount went to wages, which I expected, but I also discovered that the city buys a new armored vehicle (worth over $200,000) every other year. You can’t tell me that the vehicles get ruined that quickly, so why do we need multiples of these in what is generally considered to be a safe city?

After finding this information, I’m fully on board reallocating some of these funds elsewhere. Let’s set up some kind of city department that responds to issues of mental health and social service needs–let’s shrink the size of the police department and focus instead on helping people. I don’t want to go so far as to say we should completely dismantle the police department in my city, but we need to seriously reconsider what “policing” looks like.

That was a lot of darkness, I know. I’ve been swirling in a pool of confusion and fear and anxiety for months. Just as one national emergency starts to end, another begins. 2020 is really shaping up to be a wild ride, I will give it that.

But I’m also hopeful. I think this time–finally–change is coming. I see attitudes shifting within my own community. I see it changing the national conversation, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. I see the power of the people, the way the Founding Fathers intended it. (Seriously–not only do we have the right to protest, but the Declaration of Independence essentially says if the government’s not working, it’s the responsibility of the people to overthrow it–and this is a form of that.)

I’m not going to lie, I’m more than a little gleeful to see the statues being toppled. It’s about time Columbus and others were brought down.

Blackhearts (Blackhearts, #1)

Blackhearts (Blackhearts, #1) by Nicole Castroman

First Lines: After Anne’s father died, her mother often said that sorrow was the only sun that rose for them. Her mother had since followed him into the darkness of death, leaving Anne to face the dawn alone.

I love a good pirate story. I was into it as a kid, but the more I understand their oddly democratic society as an adult, the more interesting they are. So with this story supposed to be about Blackbeard, who was such a cool freak, I was in.

Blackbeard the pirate is known for the terror he caused, but at one point he was a young man trying to find his place in the world. Edward “Teach” Drummond has just returned from a year at sea to find that his life…well, it’s really not his anymore. His father, one of the richest merchants in Bristol, has arranged all the pieces and Edward must follow the plan–or else. Affianced to a girl he doesn’t love and desiring only to be back on the water (something his father won’t allow), Edward finds his world getting smaller and smaller. Anne, penniless and orphaned, is about add “homeless” to the list. Forced to take a job at Master Drummond’s house, Anne dreams of leaving England and sailing to the Caribbean where her mother was born. From the moment Anne and Edward meet, they see how trapped they both are. But can they escape their circumstances? Is it worth it?

I was really excited to read this. Except…nothing happens. I kept waiting the whole book for something to happen. I mean, there are plot things going on. We see the struggles of Anne and Edward, but the pace was just so slow it felt like nothing was ever going anywhere. What I really wanted to read was a pirate book and that is definitely NOT what I got.

This whole book is exposition for the real pirate story, which I assume is what the sequel will be. This is Anne and Edward both having crappy lives, feeling trapped by society, and wishing they were somewhere else before extra crappy things begin happening. I felt no suspense, no drive to the story. I wasn’t even really invested in the characters.

Let’s talk about a few things here. First of all, I felt historically speaking it took a lot of liberties (a fact the author acknowledges). We really don’t know anything about Blackbeard’s childhood/adolescence. But let’s allow that because of artistic license. Beyond that as our indicator, it didn’t really feel tied to any specific time period. It could have been anywhere from the 1500s to the 1800s (it’s really the early 1700s based on Teach’s life). Literally nothing distinguished the setting. Setting had a lot of struggles.

There are really only two “real” characters in this story: Edward and Anne. And I’m not just picking them because they’re the main characters. Every other character is a caricature of a person. The vast majority of minor characters are meant to be evil. For Anne, there are two maids who make her life miserable. For Edward, they’re two men who are supposed to care about him–and a vicious fiance. There are some “good” characters, but we see very little of them. It ended up seeming almost whiny from Edward and Anne’s perspectives, how everyone is out to get them. I guess the point is that they weren’t supposed to have any allies besides each other, but man did it make the story a downer.

I will give props to one aspect of the story, with a caveat. Anne is a mixed-race main character. Her father was white and her mother was a West Indian slave, their story a love story. While I appreciated that for that (and because historically, that obviously happened in England just like it happened in the US, if pretty rare in both places), it never went anywhere. Anne was very rarely distinguished because of that. Sure, there were references to how she wasn’t going to “be accepted” by society because her skin is “a shade darker”, but even that only came up in a few scenes. I was a little surprised by that, especially since pretty much everyone was xenophobic in England in the 17th and 18th centuries.

It just felt like, for a historical fiction, someone didn’t do much homework.

Top Ten Books I’ve Added To My TBR and Forgotten Why

Hey everyone! There was a little too much going on in the States last week for me to post a summer-vibes book list. (When everyone is protesting a very real issue, it’s hard to find motivation to do something light and fun.)

I feel like this one is going to be pretty easy. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2008 and there are still some books on my TBR there that I haven’t gotten rid of since then, even though I try to purge it yearly as my tastes change.

So let’s have a look!

Top Ten Books I’ve Added To My TBR and Forgotten Why

1. Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott

I went through an Elizabeth Scott phase in high school (so there’s at least one other book of hers on my TBR), but like now…why is it still there? I haven’t read anything by her in at least 10 years.

2. Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Ok, so I’m quickly realizing that this list isn’t so much “why did I add this” to “why is this still there?” A friend of mine in college recommended this series, but then she said the series goes downhill. So…do I read this knowing that eventually it’s going to suck?

3. Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

This is an adult book about a mysterious company that specializes in arrange marriages and like, in a way, it sounds kind of cool, but in other ways…super creepy. I’m not sure why this is still there. Curiosity?

4. Silver by Talia Vance

Oh boy. Rereading the book jacket for this, it makes it sound a LOT like the book I just gave up last week. Yikes. I’ve really gotta purge these early 2000s paranormal things. They’re just so cringey anymore.

5. 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

This book is about girls who have been kidnapped and…let’s be real, the world’s enough of a mess right now and I don’t need to be more afraid of going outside. Already, the idea of going to a big graduation party is freaking me out. I haven’t been around more than like 10 people at a time since March.

6. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I know I added this because of the movie and I think it was maybe just to see if the book was better? I like the movie enough, though it wasn’t ever my favorite. I’m not big on zombies, but they’re alright. I don’t know.

7. Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan

This one is a big question mark. This is apparently the 3rd book in a series I’ve never read. I think maybe I added it because it’s about theater?

8. P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

I’m going to draw some ire for this, but I didn’t really care for the first book very much. (The Netflix movie, however, was really cute.) I haven’t read this one or seen the 2nd movie yet, but I just don’t know why I added this when I’m not sure I wanted to continue reading it.

9. Just One Night by Gayle Forman

Pretty much the same as the last point. I read the first two books in Forman’s Just One Day series and this is the novella “conclusion” or whatever, but at this point, I just don’t remember enough or care enough about the story to want to read this.

10. 738 Days by Stacey Kade

Like what I said about 17 & Gone, this is about a girl who is kidnapped and freed after 738 days. I’m not sure I can handle that right now. I’m not sure I could have handled this years ago when I added this either.

Significance (Significance, #1)

Significance (Completed) - Shelly Crane - Wattpad

First Lines: I waited for this day, for this one thing to complete me. To wrap up seventeen and three quarter years of my life and set a pretty bow on it in the form of a graduation cap. I waited for this one sheet of paper to tell me that I had done something right.

This has been on my to-read list for years…and sitting on my Kindle for years as well. I’m at a point right now where I’m trying to get through some potential gems that I may have overlooked for the past few years. This was rated over 4.0/5.0 on Goodreads, so that was good enough for me to pick it up.

For Maggie, the last year has been nothing short of a trial. Her mom left, her dad became depressed, her boyfriend of 3 years dumped her for a football scholarship, and this former smart girl is just barely graduating. Life, it seems, is about survival. But that’s all before she meets Caleb. She knows instantly that there’s…something about him, but she’s supposed to be on her way to a date with his cousin. The moment they touch, the sparks fly. Literally. They imprint and Maggie sees flashes of their future together in her mind. Caleb is her soul mate, but even that is complicated by the fact that there’s a whole world she knows nothing about. A world in which she’s about to come into some powers and she very literally needs Caleb’s touch to stay alive through it all. To make matters worse, her dad has come out of his depression to be a parent again at the very worst time and Caleb’s enemies are after Maggie to destroy Caleb. Will they lose each other after just finding their soul mate?

…You know how like, two weeks ago, I did a Top Ten list about series I abandoned because I said I never really give up on a book?

Yeah, I gave up on this one. DNF at 33%.

Ok, look, frankly I could have kept reading this. This wasn’t like, horrifically bad and disgusting or anything (which is normally why I DNF a book). It was just that this was dated and cliche and awkward. I just didn’t see the point of continuing when there were other books I wanted to read.

So the premise here is that there are soul mates. BUT they only happen to this not-quite-human species called Aces (???) and when you find your soul mate, you come into your Super Powers. But like, not all Aces are friendly with each other and there’s a certain faction that are out to get Caleb. Maggie is just really along for the ride.

Basically, my biggest beef with this was that it just felt so much like Twilight. It was clearly an influence, especially since the book REFERENCES IT. A dog is named Bella BECAUSE OF Twilight. It felt like every page was just info dump after info dump as we have to try to understand this world and the weird things associated with it. There was something new for Maggie to discover/learn every day and she became family IMMEDIATELY. That was a little creepy. With soul mates as the premise, there’s obviously insta-love, which was kind of to be expected but it just felt lazy too.

Simply put, it reads EXACTLY how you’d expect a circa 2009 paranormal romance to read.

Actually, I take back what I said earlier. My biggest beef is how awkwardly this is written. The dialogue is unrealistic, for one thing. Maggie, at 17, sounds like what an adult thinks a teenager sounds like. Like if an alien was trying to describe teenage life. Also, all of the guys fight over her like she’s the last burger at a cookout. EVERY GUY who sees her is like, instantly in love with her and wants to be with her. In just 33% of the book, that was 4 different guys.

And even now, I can’t tell you how I would describe Maggie. White bread has more personality. She just didn’t do anything. Everything happened to her and she reacts. Well, sometimes she reacts. A lot of the time she does nothing. That’s her reaction.

I definitely had a few bones to pick, obviously, and it just didn’t seem worth finishing.

I feel weird giving this any kind of Rose rating because I only got 1/3 of the way through the book, but I think you get the point.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken (Cursebreakers, #2)

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

First Lines: I miss knowing exactly what time it is. It’s one of the few things I regret leaving behind in Washington, DC, but when darkness has fallen, dinner feels like a distant memory, and Rhen has still not returned to his chambers, I want to know what time it is.

So, as many of you might know/remember, the first book in this series, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, was my favorite read of 2019. I even reread it right before reading this book and it was still really good. So my expectations for this book were high.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Although the curse has been broken, life is not getting any easier for Prince Rhen. He has Harper by his side, but rumors fly throughout the kingdom of Emberfall that he’s not the rightful heir to the throne. And his guardsman, Grey, has been missing for weeks. See, Grey, in some circles, is rumored to be the missing heir and has been in hiding since he destroyed Lilith. He doesn’t want the crown. But as Karis Luran, a neighboring monarch, begins terrorizing Emberfall again, few are willing to stand against her. One who does is her daughter, Lia Mara. Can Lia Mara convince Grey that he needs to take a stand to save his kingdom and his friends?

This story is told from two new perspectives: Grey and Lia Mara. Grey, we obviously know. As Rhen’s only Royal Guard Commander left last time, we were intimately introduced to Grey and how he reacts under stress. He was charming and fierce. We’re introduced this time to Lia Mara, daughter of Karis Luran, queen of Syhl Shallow, the neighboring kingdom. Lia is a strong character and a good follow-up to Harper, though I prefer Harper. Still, the characters were good and interesting.

The plot is where things started to slow down a little. The plot overall is good, don’t get me wrong. It’s about half character driven as Grey and the others start to form relationships–friendships, partnerships, romance. The other half is based on things outside of Grey and Lia’s control, namely Karis Luran and Rhen. It was a pretty good balance of things, I will admit. However, there is a chunk in the middle that seemed to slow down and near the end, it sort of felt like it just wasn’t as exciting as it was supposed to be.

I will say the world building continues in this story, which was cool. This time, we really learn more about what life is like in Emberfall away from the castle and what Syhl Shallow is like. The latter was really interesting, so that was fun.

The book ends on another cliffhanger, which actually made me roll my eyes more than anything. Perhaps I just haven’t been reading a lot of series lately, but ending it on a cliffhanger like that just felt stupid. And I know what the story is trying to set up for the next book, but ugh. I’ll definitely read it, but I’m slowly feeling the stuff I loved the first book for disappear.

It’s a good read, don’t write it off, but it didn’t sparkle for me as much as the first book.

The Game of Love and Death

Amazon.com: The Game of Love and Death eBook: Brockenbrough ...

First Lines: The figure in the fine gray suit materialized in the nursery and stood over the sleeping infant, inhaling the sweet, milky night air. He could have taken any form, really: a sparrow, a snowy owl, even a common housefly. Although he often traveled the world on wings, for this work he always preferred a human guise.

I got this book at a library used book sale years ago, fully intending to read this. Fated lovers, Love and Death as characters. It has the hallmark of something I would truly enjoy.

For centuries, Love and Death have chosen their players in their ultimate game of, well, love and death. (And death has always won.) Helen of Troy and Paris. Cleopatra and Antony. Now, it’s Henry and Flora. Flora is an African-American girl who dreams of being the next Amelia Earhart while she sings in her family’s jazz club. Henry, born only a few blocks away, is white and has a secure future ahead of him with a wealthy adoptive family in the middle of the Great Depression. What happens next, even Love and Death may not be able to predict.

What a downer. I’m not really sure what I was expecting from this book, but this wasn’t it.

I liked the idea of Love and Death fighting with each other–does love really conquer all? Especially since it kept tying back to those great historical loves. So the concept was pretty cool.

I just thought the execution wasnt there. It reminded me a lot of A Series of Unfortunate Events. In order to ask the question does love conquer all, you have to throw a bunch of really horrible things their way. But that’s all the story was. Bad Thing 1 happens and they just start to get their feet back under them when Bad Things 2 and 3 happen and so on.

That in and of itself might not have been so bad except that I could not connect to the characters. They felt rather emotionless. Their “passionate” love was anything but. Henry was probably the one who got the closest to that, but he was so love at first sight that it was like the writing didn’t need to go into the emotion. It all felt so cold and calculated that I struggled. A lot.

I did like the idea of turning Love and Death into characters who influence the story. That was an interesting twist that brought some actual emotion and interest to the story because Henry and Flora weren’t doing it for me.

I just found the story to be so slow. I couldn’t get into it, nothing happened, and the main loves don’t even really talk to each other until about 100 pages into a 325 page book. It was a slog for me. It took way longer than it should have.