Book Review: The Chemist, by Stephenie Meyer

When I found out Stephenie Meyer had written a new book, I turned to Tom and told him I had to read it.

“Why would you do that to yourself?” he asked.

“Because the worst case scenario is I have something to rant about on my blog.”

He then agreed that I needed to read the book.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this because the worst case scenario has indeed transpired.

I feel the need to add a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not a complete Stephenie hater. Her writing is pleasant and unobjectionable, and she does know how to tell an interesting story. I enjoyed several of the Twilight books for what they were, and I quite liked The Host. Obviously the Twilight series has some serious problems, but my main beef with Stephenie has always been the contemptuous way she treats her fans (don’t get me started on Life and Death, alrighty?). So when I heard she had written an actual book again, especially one with a title like The Chemist (in case you didn’t know, I used to be one of them chemistry types), I couldn’t resist giving her another chance.

Now, having read the thing, I’m just glad I found it at the library and didn’t actually spend any money on it.

(Fair warning: there are major spoilers in this post. In addition, this is probably the grumpiest thing I’ve written since my Hobbit posts. Also, I’mma go all pearl-clutching, Molly Mormon Utah girl on you, so if that’s not your thing, you probably oughtta skip this one. Please feel free to check out some of my other posts, like my last book review!)

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The basic idea is that “Alex” (not her real name, but the one she goes by most consistently in the book) used to work for a shady government agency using shady chemical compounds to interrogate shady individuals. It’s all very shady. At some point her shady boss decided she knew too much but she survived the murder attempt and has been on the run ever since. After several more attempts to kill Alex, the shady organization asks her to complete one last assignment for for them, and the chance to live a normal life again is too tempting to pass up. But (shady voice) all is not as it seems™.

The really frustrating thing is that The Chemist wasn’t a completely terrible book. The plot was interesting, the writing style was fine (although you can tell Meyer is out of her element writing in third person), and Alex showed promise as an interesting narrator. There was potential for Meyer to fall back into bad habits and include yet another really awkward love triangle (identical twins, guys!), but she spared us. There wasn’t even any actual science in this book for me to cringe at (which kind of defeated the purpose of my reading it in the first place). I wanted to like this book, and I did—for the first third or so. But things went downhill fast when the romantic stuff took off.

Still a better love story than The Chemist, too.

The whole relationship is riddled with problems, starting with this gem from the main male character (Daniel…I hate that she used that name):

I see a woman who is more…real than any other woman I’ve ever met. You make every other person I’ve known seem insubstantial, somehow incomplete. Like shadows and illusions. I loved my wife, or rather–as you so insightfully pointed out while I was high–I loved my idea of who she was. I truly did. But she was never as there to me as you are. I’ve never been drawn to someone the way I am to you, and I have been from the very first moment I met you. It’s like the difference between…between reading about gravity and then falling for the first time.”

Let’s pass over the “while I was high” comment for now, but we’ll come back to it in a moment.

Girls, take note: men do not talk like this outside of really terrible romance novels. And the kind of men who do talk like this are probably not the ones you want to be dating. Edward Cullen, for example, also uses this kind of nauseatingly romantic language. I’m starting to worry that Meyer’s love language is “words of affirmation” and her husband has no idea, so she’s constantly fantasizing about attractive men telling her how luminous and intoxicating and real she is. This is not a healthy way to live your life, and it’s not a healthy way to write fiction.

What’s worse is that this conversation takes place shortly after Alex kidnaps and drugs Daniel with “a chemical compound with manifestations similar to ecstasy,” tortures him for information he doesn’t have, and essentially takes him so far out of his comfort zone that the poor guy is desperate for any sort of reassurance. Not only does Meyer create the sort of unhealthy, unequal relationship power dynamic we’re all familiar with, but it’s obvious that Daniel’s attraction to Alex is 100% adrenaline and drugs.  This is just the extreme version of my high school psychology teacher’s awful advice to the boys in our class: take the girl you like to a roller coaster park or horror movie so she’ll mistake the adrenaline rush for attraction to you.

Boys, don’t do this. Just don’t.

This is even addressed several times in the book, but Daniel blows it off quickly. No, it’s okay! I asked for your number before you drugged me, remember? We had that awkward two minutes of small talk on the train! Our love is reeeeaaaaallll!

Oh. Well, that clears everything up.

The final nail in the coffin for me is that just after a particularly gory near-death experience, Alex and Daniel engage in some poorly-concealed “adult” activities. (Actually, “poorly-concealed” isn’t accurate–she didn’t even try.) There’s nothing explicit, of course, although the scenes leading up to the act are pretty racy. This is disturbing for several reasons, not least of which is the adrenaline/attraction thing we just discussed.

(Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that the purpose of this blog post is not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.)

Stephenie Meyer is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So am I. As Mormons, we believe that certain practices are not only bad for individuals, but detrimental to society, and extramarital sex is one of these practices. It’s well known that Stephenie is a Mormon, and so whether she likes it or not, when she publishes her work, she is acting as an unofficial representative of the Church. It’s one thing for a Mormon author to acknowledge the fact that people in “the world” engage in these types of behaviors for the sake of realism (I personally don’t feel like you have to include sexual content to tell a good story, but what do I know?). It’s quite another to present this event as the single best decision a character has ever made in her entire life, and dwell on the life-changing “joy” she feels to the exclusion of all other consequences.

When it comes down to it, when you hear that a book was written by a Mormon author, you generally expect that book to be reasonably clean and PG-rated, which made the whole experience really unpleasant I think Breaking Dawn straddles the line between appropriate and inappropriate (especially in a YA novel)but at least Bella and Edward are married. In The Chemist, it feels like Stephenie is prancing over the line, declaring to the world that she doesn’t have to follow the rules anymore.

Well, Stephenie can do what she wants, and her fans have proven that they’re going to financially support her no matter how she treats them. She’s certainly not going to read or care about my opinion. But on the off chance that she does, here’s my message for her: Stephenie, you’re a Mormon. And with all the sisters-in-Zion love in my heart, I’m asking you to please act like it.

I speed-read the rest of the book, skimming more often than was probably necessary, but it was pretty hard to enjoy it after that. The ending was rushed and underwhelming, and if I’d been at all invested in the story, I would have felt disappointed. Overall, The Chemist gets one star from me.

And now I’m going to go scrub my brain by reading something decent.

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Book Review: Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull.


Oh my goodness, you guys. Dragonwatch came out two weeks ago, and all I have to say is, “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”

Squee!

…okay, that’s not all I have to say. I’ve actually been dying to write this blog post for a while, but I had to wait until I finished the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel (woohoo!). Now that’s done, and I can blog about this awesome book without guilt.

Brandon Mull is one of my author inspirations. He writes clever, hilarious, squeaky-clean middle grade fantasy, which is basically everything I love. Also, Fablehaven reminds me of my sister, since I first discovered the series back in high school when I started reading it over her shoulder on a family road trip. That might have been the trip where I decided to be “responsible,” and only brought The Grapes of Wrath for reading material (and if you’ve read my 7 Books I Wish I’d Skipped post, you’ll know how well that turned out). Luckily, my sister is a saint and let me read her books when she was done with them. To this day, the Fablehaven series is one of my favorites, and when I heard Brandon Mull was going to write a five-book sequel series, I was out-of-my-mind excited.

***WARNING!*** The rest of this post is chock full of Fablehaven and Dragonwatch spoilers.

The basic premise of the book is that 15-year-old Kendra Sorenson and her 13-year-old Seth are called out of world-saving retirement to help avert another magical catastrophe. You see, the dragons have gotten too big for their britches and decided they’re tired of living in human-governed sanctuaries like most magical creatures. Celebrant, the dragon king and co-caretaker of the dragon sanctuary Wyrmroost, is taking matters into his own hands and attacking Wyrmroost headquarters. The most brilliant magical minds decide that the best way to counter his attacks is to make Kendra and Seth the human caretakers of the sanctuary.

How could this possibly be a good plan, you ask? Because dragons radiate an aura of overwhelming terror and paralysis that can incapacitate most humans. And thanks to the quirky high jinks of the original Fablehaven series, Kendra and Seth can stand in the presence of dragons and carry on a normal conversation as long as they’re holding hands. Awww.

The Good

I really, really liked this book. It was a solid continuation of the original series, filled with the crazy antics and lulz I’ve come to expect from Fablehaven. It was nice to revisit some familiar characters, and some of the new ones show some promise. Foremost among these is—I kid you not—a horse that reads Jane Austen and becomes Kendra’s horse buddy. This horse is, without a doubt, the best character in the book, and Kendra clearly agrees with me:

Today she not only had full permission to be at Wyrmroost—she was a caretaker! And she was being guided to a friendly destination along a secure route by a careful expert who knew the sanctuary well.

While riding a horse that appreciated Jane Austen.

Sometimes life was good.

Also, Seth’s horse buddy prefers Green Eggs and Ham. Can we talk about how perfect that is? It’s little things like this that make Brandon Mull’s characters so lovable.

Next up on the awesome stuff list: Kendra’s unicorn date to the Fairy Realm. Since the original series ended with Kendra in a not-quite-relationship with Bracken the mystical unicorn prince, I’ve been excited to see how this relationship unfolds. True, Bracken is a bit too Mary Sue for my liking, but he’s clearly good for Kendra, and it was nice to see them interacting again. I was a bit disappointed when I found out Dragonwatch takes place only a few months after the events of Keys to the Demon Prison, because that means Kendra’s still 15, and there won’t be any good unicorn smooching for at least a few books. But hey, I can’t fault Brandon Mull for wanting to keep his books firmly in middle grade territory. It’s not like I’m his target audience.

Speaking of Kendra, I cracked up when she started drooling over Garreth, the prince of the Fair Folk. After five books of watching her fill the “responsible big sister” role, it was refreshing to see her acting like a normal teenage girl. What’s even more hilarious is that Bracken is totally on to her. Here’s an excerpt from a telepathic conversation between Bracken and Kendra:

We’re with the Fair Folk. As the new caretakers, we had to pay them a visit.

Not bad looking, are they? Bracken commented knowingly.

Kendra felt her cheeks grow warm. Why was she suddenly feeling guilty? She hadn’t done anything wrong. Could he sense her emotions from the other side of the world? Probably not. He was only supposed to sense what she deliberately sent to him. I guess so, she finally replied.

It would have been even better if Bracken had showed just a hint of jealousy. But I guess it’s not too late.

In general, Kendra and Seth showed some real character development. Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say two things: Seth did something incredibly stupid, as usual, but he actually put some thought into it and ended up saving the day; and Kendra grew a spine, gained some real competence, and made a useful contribution that had nothing to do with recharging a magical doohickey. Both kids took some real initiative in this book, instead of waiting around for the adults to tell them what to do.

The Not-So-Good

As much as I loved Dragonwatch, it did have its flaws.

First and foremost, Warren Burgess made no appearances in this book. Now, if I’ve talked to you about Fablehaven at all (i.e. if you’re my sister or Tom), you’ll know that I think Warren is the best character in the entire series. Warren is what makes Fablehaven what it is. He’s this annoyingly-positive dork who has tons of experience and skills, and yet almost always manages to injure himself in a way that renders him completely useless: he’s been turned into a mute, catatonic albino; stabbed by a minotaur; mauled by a giant, flying demon cat; gored by a vicious flying deer; clawed by a harpy; and I’m sure I’m missing something else. But every time, he gets back up and keeps trying, because that’s the kind of bro he is. Without Warren, everyone would just be wandering around looking somber, because none of the other adults in the series have a sense of humor. He deserves better than to be stuck with a treacherous, vampire-chick girlfriend and mentioned only three times in Dragonwatch. I mean, come on—there’s so much excellent injury potential!

When Tom hinted that I shouldn’t get my hopes up about Warren being in the book, I almost put it down right then. I didn’t, obviously, and I’m glad I didn’t, but this serious, misguided omission is almost enough to knock a whole star off my Goodreads rating.

Next, there were some minor inconsistencies that made me a little grumpy. I hate it when authors are inconsistent. I know there’s a lot of information to keep straight in a series like this, but it might be useful to browse a fan-made wiki site once in a while.

  • At the end of Keys to the Demon Prison, the Fairy Queen promises to give the team’s creepy wooden puppet, Mendigo, a spark of free will so it can be a more useful servant. In Dragonwatch, Mendigo is still a witless automaton. Now, the Fairy Queen is a busy woman, but what about all that eternal gratitude for saving her husband, killing the demon king, preventing the end of the world, etc. etc.?
  • While Kendra is on her mystical unicorn date, they run into one of the astrids. Kendra’s brilliant response: “You look familiar.” Um, I should hope so, Kendra. There are only 90 of them left in the Fairy Queen’s service, and you smooched every single one of them. Plus, I’m pretty sure this one was in charge of guarding your brother. Do you really think acting dumb is going to impress your unicorn boyfriend, after all you’ve been through together?
  • Grandma and Grandpa Larsen faked their own deaths shortly before the Fablehaven series began, and it was very convincing. The whole family went the the funeral, and buried what was essentially a pair of Grandma and Grandpa clones. The whole story and process would only make sense to someone who understood all the magical hoo-hah they were involved with. So why are they suddenly inviting their other grandchildren to stay with them? They don’t know anything about magic. Their parents don’t know anything. How did they explain the fact that–surprise!—they’re both actually alive and have just been hiding from everyone for a year?

But the thing that really made me raise my eyebrows about this book was the whole plan to make Kendra and Seth caretakers in the first place. There are just so many flaws in this plan.

First of all, the way everyone constantly keeps Seth’s and Kendra’s parents in the dark is extremely troubling. Throughout the original series, it made a little more sense, because their ignorance of magical creatures was actually protecting them. Now that they’re in on the big magical hoo-hah secret, they ought to have a say in their children’s crazy, suicidal plans. But no—they’re conveniently off on vacation, so the kids’ supposedly responsible relatives tell the parents a bogus story, downplaying the insanely dangerous situation. And the parents supposedly just go along with it.

This brings up another point: do the kids’ parents like their kids at all? They certainly don’t seem concerned about dumping Kendra and Seth on their grandparents whenever they can. Family cruise? Go stay with your grandparents. Grandpa broke his arm and wants some help? Just be back in time for school to start. Kendra’s dead? Run along, Seth. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t bat an eye when their teenagers are summoned to help with some mysterious “emergency situation.”

Also: weren’t the parents supposed to be homeschooling the kids at Fablehaven? How’s that going to work if they’ve disappeared to Wyrmroost for at least a year? Oh well! Who needs college when you’ve got fairy powers?

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the insanity of the plan itself. Kendra and Seth are young teenagers—very resourceful teenagers, but still teenagers. Kendra is a wimp, and Seth has a history of nearly destroying magical preserves through his utter lack of common sense. And let’s not forget: last time the kids were at Wyrmroost, they looted the forbidden dragon temple and killed a dragon in her lair without provocation. This ought to earn both kids an automatic death sentence, but the dragons seem to have conveniently forgotten all about it. Still, they have forfeited much of the natural protections afforded to innocent guests at the sanctuary. Grandma and Grandpa Sorenson come along to help them out, but history has proven they’re no match for Seth’s antics. Warren and their other friends are nowhere to be found, and Bracken is off fighting Unicorn McEdgebro in a different sanctuary. These poor, incompetent children have no support except the sketchy, distrustful assistants at Wyrmroost. It’s almost as if the geniuses in charge of this plan are intentionally setting the kids up for failure. Hmmm…

The wizard Agad’s reasoning for recruiting the kids is that they’re the dragon tamers he trusts the most. This is simply not true. It’s stated in Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary that Mara and Trask both show potential as dragon tamers. They might not have the innate talent of the Kendra-and-Seth team, but what they lack in dragon-conversing talent, they more than make up in overall life skills. They both trespassed at the dragon temple, but they didn’t actually kill any dragons, which gives them some advantage.

Conclusion

That “Not-So-Good” section was kind of rant-y, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I gave Dragonwatch four stars. There were definitely some eyebrow-raising bits, but overall, I really enjoyed this book. The ending was just suspenseful enough to keep me excited for the next installment, which supposedly comes out next year. I’ll be looking forward to finding out where the series goes.

Just…bring back Warren, okay, Brandon? He’s overdue to be impaled by something ridiculous.

Baby’s First Ultrasound (Is Not Mom’s First Rodeo): A Story of Confusion.

I told a bunch of people we would find out the gender of our baby last Monday. We did have an ultrasound, but things didn’t exactly go as planned. Don’t worry, friends—nothing is wrong; we’re just a little bit confused.

Since the beginning, something about this pregnancy has seemed a little bit off—not wrong, just off. For one thing, it took forever to confirm the pregnancy. I went through tons of pregnancy tests and got negative after negative after negative, even after I knew I was pregnant. Food was starting to sound gross. I was tearing up at diaper commercials on YouTube. I was feeling sympathy for Hillary Clinton. Clearly something was up, I thought, but it took weeks longer than it should have to finally get that faint blue line.

Then my blood test showed I had lower progesterone than I should have, so they put me on progesterone pills. Guys, if you’ve never been on progesterone, it’s weird. I’ve never been stoned before, but those pills gave me a glimpse of what it must be like. The nurse had me wake up at 4:30 to take my morning dose so I could sleep off some of the weirdness, but it didn’t entirely work.

Then there was the morning sickness. It was worse than last time, but it set in later than it should have, and lasted several weeks longer than I expected. I thought I was in for one of those 9-months-of-morning-sickness pregnancies like the ones my mom had, but a couple weeks into the second trimester, it cleared right up.

(Are you starting to detect a pattern here? Because I sure didn’t.)

The 18-week ultrasound was last Monday, and I showed up already feeling nervous. After all, this was the ultrasound that clued us in to Dan’s urinary troubles, so I worried about what they would find. As soon as our baby showed up on the screen, I immediately thought something was wrong. There was a good heartbeat, but the baby looked so little and still compared to Dan at that age. Dan was wiggling around, waving his fingers and obligingly opening his legs when it was time to check the gender. The baby just sat there, curled up, not moving at all. I’m no ultrasound expert, but I’ve gone through enough of them to be suspicious of what I saw. The technician took some measurements, declared that she couldn’t see anything in the gender department, and sent us on our way. It was the shortest ultrasound I’ve ever had.

While we waited for the doctor, I tried to stay positive. We dragged Dan away from the medical equipment, and I jokingly told Tom we should stop by the sketchy ultrasound place next to the mall next.

Finally, the doctor came in and announced that I was only fifteen weeks pregnant.

My first thought was, “How can that be?”

My second thought was, “Ooooh. That makes perfect sense.”

The first-day-of-last-cycle formula definitely told me I was eighteen weeks along. I certainly looked eighteen weeks—I was bigger than I was with Dan at that point, though that may just be due to this being my second pregnancy (and quite possibly due to the 10 extra pounds of baby weight I never quite managed to lose…). But this new information explained nearly every weird thing that had happened throughout my pregnancy: the delayed pregnancy test response, the morning sickness patterns, and the low progesterone. Really, it should have been obvious, and I feel kind of dumb for not figuring it out before.

The doctor said everything looks great for fifteen weeks, and all measurements they took were normal, which rules out a lot of possible issues. I’m going back in March for another ultrasound, and hopefully then we’ll get some useful information. It was kind of disappointing to hear that I’m not as far along as I thought (the groundhog saw his shadow, so you get three more weeks of pregnancy!), but at the same time, this is the best news I’ve ever had from a prenatal ultrasound, so I’m happy! Our new, “accurate” due date is July 29, and I’ll let you all know next month if our little friend is a boy or a girl!

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Fat Dan Reads a Book

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There you have it!

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Wasn’t that a great experience?

Just kidding.

After getting fewer views on my last post than pretty much any other, I grumpily joked to Tom that if I’d titled it “Fat Dan Reads a Book,” it would have been super popular. I almost reposted it the next day with the joke title, just to see what would happen, but decided that wasn’t the best idea.

“Fat Dan Reads a Book” is just too good of a title to waste, however, which brings us to today’s post.

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He loves the shiny cover on The Alloy of Law.

Dan actually likes books a lot. I try to read to him at least a couple times a day, and he sees Tom and me reading all the time, so he seems to have figured out that books are cool. Every day he pulls all the books he can reach off the bookshelf and examines them one by one, flipping pages and talking to himself like he’s reading. When he can get a-hold of one of our books, he’ll try to carry or drag it out of my line of sight, then play with it silently until I take it away (he usually can’t resist crinkling pages after a few minutes).

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Dan definitely has strong opinions about his books, and on Tom’s and my end, some are just more enjoyable than others. Today we’re going to talk about our favorite Dan books!

Most of these are board books, because they’re indestructible and about right for Dan’s attention span, but a few have paper pages. Tom usually reads those to Dan because his arms are longer and can keep them out of Dan’s sticky, destructive hands more easily.

1. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

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This is a fun little book about a friendly blue truck who makes friends with all the animals and helps a grumpy, self-important truck out of a tight spot. It’s one of Dan’s absolute favorites. The illustrations are pretty and detailed, and he loves the colors. He also loves hearing me make animal noises, which are color-coded for reader convenience.

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Little Blue Truck isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but there are enough amusing details to keep the parents entertained.

This guy is the real hero.

This guy is the real hero.

All in all, it’s just a nice story that teaches kids that being friendly gets you farther than being a jerk to everybody. What’s not to love?

2. Bugs Galore by Peter Stein and Bob Staake

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I picked this book up at 2nd and Charles, and I’m glad I did. It’s chock full of good times. Dan generally can’t sit still long enough for me to read it straight through, but that’s partly because he’ll keep going back to previous pages to stare at all the bugs. You can’t really blame him—there’s a lot going on in this book! It helps that there’s not really a plot, so you can just open up any random page and have a good time.

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You have to admire the fun details in this book, even if they’re not very entomologically correct.  I mean, the “fruit bug” is a pineapple with wings. That’s pretty great.

I just hope Dan doesn’t ever decide real bugs are this much fun and bring them inside to show me. Ew.

3. Pretty much everything by Sandra Boynton

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I’d never heard of Sandra Boynton before I was pregnant with Dan, but once we received Happy Hippo, Angry Duck at the baby shower, there was no going back. I love these books even more than Dan does, and I grab them at 2nd and Charles (or Amazon) whenever I can. They’re so quirky and random, and I love the illustrations.

The first time I read this page, I lost it. Tom was looking at me like I was crazy.

The first time I read this page, I lost it. Tom was looking at me like I was crazy.

I feel you, cow. I FEEL YOU!

I feel you, cow. I FEEL YOU!

If I can be as cool as Sandra Boynton when I grow up, my life will have been a success.

4. All the Dr. Seuss Classics!

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Plus…Sam and the Firefly? Where did that come from?

Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? Tom is usually the one who reads these to Dan because of the aforementioned arm-length issue, but they’re always a good time. We received a bunch of them from Tom’s grandparents, and we’re so grateful!

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Foo-Foo the Snoo. I always wondered what that guy’s deal was.

5. Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever

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The title doesn’t lie—this was one of my favorite books as a child, and I made sure we had a copy once Dan was born. To this day, my family still talks about Couscous, Schtoompah, and I Am a Bunny.

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Where else do you put a tuba?

Im pretty sure I learned everything I know about colors from Richard Scarry. And maybe some of my chemistry classes. But mostly Richard Scarry.

I’m pretty sure I learned everything I know about colors from Richard Scarry. And maybe some of my chemistry classes. But mostly Richard Scarry.

And what Richard Scarry-loving child doesn’t want to visit a castle in Denmark?

Watch out for that dungeon, Dan.

Watch out for that dungeon, Dan.

This book is full of short, colorful stories that are perfect for an easily-distracted Dan, and he’ll appreciate the experience more and more as he gets older.

6. Parables/Stories Jesus Told by Nick Butterworth and Mick InkpenIMG_1158

This book gave me my first exposure to the parables, and it’s absolutely fantastic. The authors turned the parables into cute, funny stories that are easy for little kids to remember. I’d highly recommend it.

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7. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

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This one’s a classic, and the different sized pages and caterpillar holes keep Dan engaged while we’re reading.

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See, Tom? Green smoothies are good for you!

See, Tom? Green smoothies are good for you!

8. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr, John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert

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This one found its way onto one of our wish lists at some point. I’d completely forgotten about it, but once I started reading, I remembered disliking it as a child. We kept reading it in school, and even then I knew that books read in school weren’t as cool as books read with my parents at home. “a” was a smug little jerk. I was suspicious of anthropomorphized letters, and I couldn’t figure out why they kept saying “chicka chicka boom boom.” And then there was this scene, which disturbed Little Elissa greatly:

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The book clearly states that these letters were comforted by “Mamas and papas and uncles and aunts.” But there’s only one capital letter for each lowercase letter (a fact confirmed by the inside back cover), so do all of these baby letters come from single-parent families? What about those that only had an uncle or aunt? Were they orphaned? Why aren’t we talking about the sad story of these letters coming from broken homes? How does gender work with anthropomorphized letters, anyway? None of this made any sense to me, and it made me distrust the book even more.

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In hindsight, I was probably overthinking things a little.

I’ve had to take another look at this book, because Dan really likes it. The bright, bold colors catch his attention, and he loves pointing at the sun, moon, and coconuts. Maybe the book isn’t so bad.

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Let’s just hope Dan doesn’t ask me where baby letters come from.

Do you guys have any suggestions? Which books remind you of your childhood? What do your kids love to read?

Book Review: Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavan

Guys, I read the craziest book over the past couple weeks, and I just had to tell you about it.

It’s Werewolf Cop, by Andrew Klavan, and if the title alone doesn’t make you want to read it, I don’t know what to tell you.

Werewolf Cop

 

From Amazon’s description:

Zach Adams is one of the best detectives in the country. Nicknamed Cowboy, he’s a soft-spoken homicide detective known for his integrity and courage under fire. He serves on a federal task force that has a single mission: to hunt down Dominic Abend, a European gangster who has taken over the American underworld.

In a centuries-old forest under a full moon, a beast assaults Zach, cursing him forever. In the aftermath, he is transformed into something horrible—something deadly.

Now, the good cop has innocent blood on his hands. He has killed—and will kill again—in the form of a beast who can’t be controlled or stopped. Before he can free himself, he’s going to have to solve the greatest mystery of all: How can you defeat evil when the evil is inside you?

This isn’t the type of book I typically read. Crime novels aren’t really my thing, and I generally steer clear of anything horror-related. But Andrew Klavan is one of my favorite podcasters, and I’m generally interested in what he has to say. Plus, like I said, the title intrigued me, so I decided to give it a shot.

And I’m glad I did. I was deeply impressed by this book. Klavan is a fantastic writer. There is a good balance of action and introspection, and the prose is  smooth and intelligent without ever becoming pretentious. Heck, I even learned some cool words while reading this book, which is always fun. The characters are compelling, especially the Houston-born, cowboy-type protagonist, Zach Adams. Setting-wise, this book is spot on—a werewolf attack in the middle of the Black Forest in Germany? Awesome!

I wouldn’t have predicted this, but Werewolf Cop was actually an uplifting read. I guess amid the werewolf and shoot-’em-up mayhem I wasn’t expecting so much discussion of good and evil and down-home-old-timey-American values. Zach confronts evil in many different forms—his own sins, the werewolf curse, and Dominic Abend—and in each case it would be so easy for him to take the easy way out, let the “natural man” (or wolf) take over, and blame the universe for the hand he’s been dealt. But in each case he manages—barely—to do what’s right.

Here are some quotes I thought were really interesting:

“Peace would be wonderful, the most wonderful thing,” she said, “if only there were no God. Then there would be no good or evil, nothing to fight over. But there is, you see. There is good and there is evil. And if you will not fight for the good, if you will not suffer for the good, if you will not accept pain even unto the pain of your own damnation for the good, then there is only evil.”

“You know the word liebestod? […] Love-death, it means. A song or story about lovers who must together die. Romeo and Juliet—these you know, yes? But Americans do not tell such stories. Each one is everything to himself there, so I think. And always they believe they will make for themselves the happy ending. They do not know about liebestod.” […]
“And yet it has been like that for me and my country. […] Liebestod. I have sacrificed even my immortal soul to defend her—to defend her from evil and from death—to chase them through the centures of unbelief, alone in my understanding of them. Umsonst. For nothing. I have failed and she is gone. My country…my continent…my culture….”

“It’s just…Well, there comes a time in a person’s life when doing wrong just makes perfect sense to him. And if he hasn’t got…well, something in him—” He knew she was going to say The Word but had amended it to suit his more broad-minded view. “If he hasn’t got something in him that makes him say ‘Well, I don’t care what sense it makes, I’m not doing wrong anyhow,’ then that’s when the Enemy can make his move on him.”

I’d hesitate before reading this book again. There’s some foul language, which isn’t my cup of tea. Predictably, there are some graphic descriptions of people getting mauled by werewolves and chopped up by German gangsters. Also, Zach has an affair (before the story begins) and agonizes over it in way more detail than I’m comfortable with.

(I was also creeped out a few times because in my head the bad guy sounded like the German perinatologist who delivered Dan, and another major character sounded like the chain smoking German lady who runs the local schnitzel establishment, but that’s a personal problem.)

That said, Werewolf Cop is a fantastic book, and I’m glad I read it. I’ll probably give it a solid 4 stars on Goodreads and call it a day.

I’ll leave you with Wagner’s Liebestod, from the opera Tristan und Isolde. It’s appropriate, and worth eight minutes of your time.

The (Slightly Late) GTA Year In Review

Hi, friends! It’s been awhile. I hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

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Most of these “year in review” posts came out days ago, but I’ve been busy partying with the Tom and Dapper Dan. Even so, I want to talk about all the crazy things that have happened this year.

The Dan

The most important event of 2015 in our family was, of course, Daniel’s birth!

I love these guys.

I love these guys.

Dan started off his life as a skinny, sleepy little bundle of cuteness. Now, at almost 9 months old, he’s a fat, happy, hyper little bundle of cuteness.

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Dan sleeps well, crawls like a champ, stands with help, and has been spotted walking with a shopping cart. He makes just about every consonant sound, gives slobbery kisses, and is momentarily deterred by the word “no.” He loves fruit, books, peekaboo, being tossed in the air by Dad, and trying to get to the toilet whenever someone leaves the bathroom door open.020

Daniel’s kidneys are slowly-but-surely improving: by September, we found out the kidney swelling had decreased by half. He did have a UTI a few months ago, which could indicate an unresolved issue, so we’re monitoring him carefully. It’s very important that he doesn’t get any more infections, and we’re taking all the precautions we can. Still, if anyone has any extra prayers, we’d appreciate them.

Overall, Daniel is a happy, healthy little boy who brings so much joy to our family. We’re so happy to be his parents!

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Just look at that happy little dude. We must be doing something right!

The Tom

In the Tom’s own words:

I had a good year, for lots of reasons but especially because Dan was born and has done so well since. Our time together as a family was awesome, especially our trips to Glacier National Park and New Orleans. My work at Valero was interesting, educational, and generally went well, especially [proprietary information removed] and despite [proprietary information removed]. Off the clock, I read something like 15 or 20,000 pages, including Churchill’s four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Lord of the Rings (in Italian), and lots of other fun stuff. I produced a bunch of free e-books for the Mormon Texts Project and survived running the MTP internship program for another summer, too.

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Nothing more attractive than a babywearing man!

Nothing more attractive than a babywearing man!

 

Writing

Hey, do you guys want to see my NaNoWriMo progress chart?

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Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahaha. Haha. The best part is that I wasn’t even participating properly—I was transcribing my handwritten novel from last year. November was absolutely insane (I’ll tell you about it sometime), and I just couldn’t handle NaNo in any form.

Honestly, this has been a pretty sorry year for writing generally. Apparently I only wrote five blog posts (although they were totally awesome!), and aside from a few short stories, I haven’t really written any fiction. I’m not going to beat myself up over this; after all, I made an awesome Dan, and somehow managed to keep him alive for almost 9 months. And I’ve got big plans for next year, which I’ll be sharing as they materialize. One of my goals this year is to blog more frequently, so you’ll be hearing from me more often!

Crafting

This may have been a bad year for writing, but it’s been an excellent year for crafts! Thanks to my parents, I’ve recently acquired a sewing machine, which has opened up a whole new world of crafting. Here’s the list of projects I completed in 2015.

First of all, I finally finished Dan’s crochet baby blanket!

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It turned out much larger than I expected. This is good, because it ended up being his Christmas present. It’s big enough that Dan can pretty much use it for the rest of his life.

Next, you may remember Dan’s Halloween costume:

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The hat, cloak, and brooch were all homemade. I’m still tickled by how well this turned out.

I also made some baby blankets for various purposes:

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Last, but not least, I made myself this nursing cover by Pretty Prudent:

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Dan refuses to nurse under a blanket, and I can’t say I blame him—it’s got to be pretty hot under there! This allows him to breathe and look at me while he’s eating. It also keeps it dark enough for him to fall asleep during church (assuming this doesn’t happen: “OOOOOPS! I DIDN’T KNOW ANYONE WAS IN HERE! DO YOU WANT THE LIGHT OFF AGAIN?!”)

Conclusion

There’s a lot more I could write here, but I know how long it takes to scroll through all these baby pictures. Overall, 2015 was a pretty good year. It was definitely the hardest year I’ve ever had, but also the most rewarding. Tom, Dan and I are really hitting our stride as a family. It’s looking like 2016 will be even better, and I can’t wait to see what it brings.

I’ve got exciting posts lined up for the next two weeks, so check back soon! And tell me how your year went in the comments!

The Hobbit: An Explanation (and Exciting Contest!)

It has come to my attention that part three of a certain bloated waste of special effects and Martin Freeman’s acting talent is coming out this week. Tom and I will be skipping the theater experience on principle, though we’ll probably waste a dollar or so when it’s available at Redbox.

Will we finally find out what this guy's deal is? You'll have to let me know.

Will we finally find out what this guy’s deal is? You’ll have to let me know.

I also realize that I have yet to post my third critical review of the last installment. Some people *cough Tom cough* have pestered me to get my post up before The Battle of Five Armies hits theaters. However, I’m extremely reluctant to do it.

It’s not like I don’t have anything written; I wrote most of it in September. The problem is, it’s not very good, definitely not up to the standard set by the first two. Part of the issue is that I didn’t have a good focus for the post, but the main problem stems from the fact that at the time of writing, I hadn’t seen the movie in almost five months. It wasn’t at Redbox, and it wasn’t available to rent on Amazon. If I wanted to refresh my memory, I was going to have to buy the thing, and that definitely wasn’t happening (or, you know, I could have borrowed it from someone, but that would have involved talking to people). I’m not willing to spend more than $3 on another Peter Jackson movie, and even that’s pushing it. In order to make my points, I was relying on sketchy, disjointed clips on YouTube.

Anyway, this is super lame, and I apologize for not keeping a commitment. When it comes down to it, I’m too prideful to post something I feel is less than my best work, so I procrastinated. However, I owe you guys something, and I do have a draft sitting around. So, here’s the plan: I’m going to hide my third Hobbit post, in all its rambly, unpolished glory, somewhere on my website. Those of you who are interested enough can poke around and try to find it. The first two people to leave a comment on the post will win the Grand Prize.

What is this Grand Prize, you ask?

Why, it’s an autographed copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game!

dating game(I submitted the story of how Tom and I met for this book. They published it, so they sent me $200 and ten copies of the book. I still have several copies I can’t get rid of, and I’m not allowed to sell them online.)

All right, I know: it’s a lame prize. I’ll throw in some candy or something. The good stuff, like Twix bars.

(Those of you who already have a copy can still leave a comment, and maybe we’ll arrange for an alternate prize.)

Happy hunting!