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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Hear My Plea, and Book 19: Skin Game

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I have a problem.

Recently, I have noticed that no fantasy novel or series involving magic can be published without being constantly compared to Harry Potter. Reviews do this. Readers do this. Everyone. Does. This.

“The next Harry Potter!” “Harry Potter for grownups!” “If you liked Harry Potter, you’ll love this!” “If Hermione Granger had done x and y!”

I would like to ask that we, as a society, can please stop. Not every book about magic is like Harry Potter.

Nothing is like Harry Potter.

And I can hear people in the background arguing. “Well, obviously every book is different, if you were expecting something exactly like Harry Potter you should probably just go re-read Harry Potter! The point is that it gives you an idea of what to expect!”

And the problem with that argument is that it does give me an idea of what to expect. Unfortunately, what it tells me to expect is pretty much unattainable perfection.

I know there are people out there who will argue with me. I know this because, in the last year, two completely different people have commented to me that the Harry Potter series is, and I quote, “horribly written.” This causes me pain. I’m sure you think I’m joking, but I’m not. I have a kind of visceral reaction to negative comments about Harry Potter. I usually have to take a deep breath and then calmly explain that, though perhaps it’s not your favorite style of writing, you’re expressing a subjective opinion as if it’s an objective fact, and that’s simply not the case. In fact, I’m going to take it a step further: If your opinion is that they’re not your style, that’s okay, you’re allowed to have that opinion. If your opinion, however, is that they’re horribly written, you’re wrong. And I look at these people, whom I otherwise respect, and I think: “How would you feel if I found your favorite professional in the field that you have studied and learned a whole lot about in the past eight of so years and told you that they were horrible at it?” Like, you don’t see me walking up to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and saying, “I mean, I tried to like the original Cosmos, but Carl Sagan was just a horrible scientist.”

I realize this is an extreme example, but I just can’t help but feel like, well…

Anyway, I realize I have gotten horribly sidetracked by my feeling that I have been personally insulted when someone thinks good ol’ JK is a bad writer. That really wasn’t my point.

My point is this: When you compare something to Harry Potter, it sets the bar ridiculously high.

Let’s talk about the layers of Harry Potter for a minute.

The first layer of Harry Potter is the story. The boy who lived. The young wizard whose destiny it was to destroy Voldemort and his two best friends as they go through school and grow up. It’s a wonderful story, but by itself, it’s nothing special.

The second layer of Harry Potter is the meaning behind the story. Sure, it’s about a boy wizard, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about love and friendship, courage and acceptance. It’s about standing up for what’s right despite seemingly overwhelming odds that you will fail. It’s about believing that the world can be better, and that if you work together, you can make that happen. And that is fantastic. But again, it’s nothing special. Lots of books have similar themes.

The third layer of Harry Potter is the world it’s set in. From the very beginning, you’ve got a clearly defined Muggle world that makes sense. And that’s the most important thing about good fantasy, I believe: The realistic elements have to actually be realistic. If we, the readers, don’t believe the real world part of the story, how are we supposed to believe the fantasy world? The minute we think “there’s no way that would ever happen,” our suspension of disbelief falls apart. The Wizarding world works, too: There are rules, and throughout the series, magic follows the rules. Now, I couldn’t clearly explain the rules to you, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that magic can’t do everything, because if it could, then there would be no point in writing a story. For example, let’s talk about the time turner in Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve seen this picture a lot recently:

And while it’s kind of funny, it’s not accurate. Saving Buckbeak didn’t reawaken the dead. You think you hear Buckbeak dying, but once they go back with the Time Turner, you see what was actually happening. Buckbeak never died to begin with. In fact, if they hadn’t used the Time Turner to go back and save Buckbeak, that would have been changing the past, because they had already done it. It follows the rules. Lily and James, on the other hand, actually did die. They couldn’t do anything about it. And why would they? It’s awful, but their deaths brought about the boy who would ultimately defeat Voldemort. If they hadn’t died, Voldemort could have reigned forever. Does that sound like a good plan to you? But, yes, other books have good world building in them.

Layer four of Harry Potter is the characters. Every single character, even the fairly minor ones, have distinct personalities. They all have different ways of speaking. They have detailed, rich backstories. They’re three-dimensional. If you read the Harry Potter books and don’t relate strongly to at least one character, well, I’ll be shocked. And if you reread them a few years later, you’re sure to find someone else who makes more sense to you this time around. There are no good guys who are just good, and no bad guys who are just bad. Every character will surprise you at times. However, I can’t say that this is the first book with amazing depth of characters.

The fifth layer of Harry Potter is, of course, the writing. This is, if you hadn’t figured it out by now, the most important part to me. It doesn’t have to be to everyone, but it is to me. JK has a very simple and straightforward (and, well, British) style. She clearly doesn’t write with a giant thesaurus sitting on her desk next to her. The language isn’t flowery; why should it be? It is, however, detailed and precise. She doesn’t leave a single word out of place in seven books. I had this fear after I finished my Creative Writing degree: I’d gone back and re-read some books I’d loved in the past and found that there were now things that really bothered me. There was always a little piece of my brain getting ready to sit down with the author and workshop their book. So, for a while, I was nervous about picking up the Harry Potter series again. I was worried that these books, which were such a huge part of my childhood and my life, would fall apart under my newly critical eye. And I picked them up and started reading and I was immediately whisked off to Number 4, Privet Drive, and the writing was perfect. I started looking for something, anything, that I would change, that I thought was too much, or that I didn’t feel I knew enough about. I found nothing. In seven books, nothing.

The Harry Potter books aren’t the only books out there that are masterfully written. However, very, very few books are as well written as Harry Potter.

And as for books that have stories as good, meaning as important, worlds as well-built, characters as well developed, and writing as amazing… well, let’s just say I believe there’s a reason JK was richer than the Queen for a while. You know, before she gave so much of her money to charity.

So when you compare a book to Harry Potter, you’re setting me up for disappointment. If you say, “This is a really good book!” then I’ll read it and I’ll enjoy it and I’ll be fun. If you say, “This is a lot of fun!” then I’ll read it and have slightly lower expectations of the writing and I’ll just let myself enjoy the story and I’ll be fine. But if you say, “This is like Harry Potter!” then everything that isn’t perfect about it is going to feel, to me, like a punch in the face.

For these reasons, I almost didn’t finish the first book of the Dresden Files.

Book 19: Skin Game (Book 15 of The Dresden Files)

You may have guessed from the above rant and plea that, when I first started reading these books, I was told they were like Harry Potter.

These books are not like Harry Potter. These books are gritty and kind of pulpy Chicago detective stories. The detective is a wizard, and his cases tend to be otherworldly. The fact that his name is Harry does not make the books like Harry Potter. If anything, they’re sort of like Supernatural. I suppose, if you really wanted to, you could say that they’re kind of like if someone who wasn’t JK Rowling wrote some stories about if Harry Potter were an American and never went to Hogwarts and had to learn magic in other ways and went on to be a detective in Chicago solving supernatural mysteries and it’s just a lot of fun and doesn’t quite have the substance that Harry Potter has but they are nonetheless super fun and exciting books (with bonus nerdy references), then, well, it’d be kind of accurate, but why bother when “gritty Chicago wizard detective” works just fine?

Over the course of 15 books, Jim Butcher’s writing has improved dramatically. (More than 15–he wrote a whole other series somewhere in there, too.) In the beginning, I had the opinion that they were pretty poorly written, but they were fun stories. I kept going because I forced myself to ignore the voice in my head saying, “They said this was like Harry Potter.” And I’m very glad I did. When Butcher wrote the first book, it was a reaction against a writing teacher he had who kept giving him advice he thought was bad. He finally went home and wrote a book following all the rules she’d set out and brought it in to show her how bad her rules were. She read it and told him to publish it. (Note: I got this story from Wikipedia. It might be wrong.) So, at this point, he wasn’t taking it seriously. It’s clear, as the series continues, that he begins to take his creation seriously. He puts a lot more care into the later books, and the endings of the past few have surprised me. He still has habits I don’t love–if anyone can find an instance where Harry says “Fuego!” and doesn’t snarl, I will give them five dollars.

So, they’re not books that you read for the masterful writing, and that’s okay. They’re books that you read for a fun story and pretty decent writing. In that, they are incredibly successful.

I can’t think of a book off the top of my head that has made me laugh as much as these do. Harry Dresden has a great sense of humor and some ridiculous antics. Jim Butcher is a huge nerd, too–I’m spotted a Sherlock reference, a Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog reference, and I’m fairly certain a Buffy reference, though that one was quite subtle so I can’t be sure. There are always Star Wars references, too, and I’m sure there are some that I just don’t notice. They’re extremely fun to read.

Minor spoilers ahead–nothing you wouldn’t read on the back of the book!

Now, if you’re a fan of the Dresden Files, you may have noticed the multiples of 5 pattern: Books 5, 10, and 15 have to do with a race of creatures called the Denarians and their leader, Nicodemus. The Denarians are weird and kind of difficult to explain. Basically, there are a whole bunch of fallen angels who were at some point trapped in coins, called Denarii, from ancient Rome. If a human touches one of the coins, that fallen angel has a path into their head. From there, the angel–the Denarian–can convince the human to pick up the Denarius and work with them. The Denarian now has control over the human, and they become extremely powerful. And, of course, because they’re evil angels, they also have some monstrous shape that they can transform into.

The Denarians are not my favorite bad guys in the Dresden Files series. I have a kind of hard time wrapping my head around them. I’m not quite sure what their rules are.

However, in Skin Game, Dresden is forced to team up with them. And I love when the good guy has to work with the bad guys. It always makes for an interesting story and, in this case, a whole lot of sass.

I really enjoyed the dynamic in this book, and I think it helped me to get Nicodemus a bit more. He’s much more developed at the end of this book than he has been in the past, where he seemed a little like an evil dude who had no reason to exist other than to be as evil as possible. But as Harry and Nicodemus work together to pull off a major heist, you learn a lot more about both of them.

MAJOR SPOILERS

LIKE I’M ABOUT TO RUIN THE ENDING

SERIOUSLY IF YOU HAVEN’T READ AND WANT TO STOP HERE

Okay, you were warned. I’m assuming that I’m good to say whatever I want now.

Were other people completely blindsided by Harry having hired Grey to be on his side from the very beginning? I’ll be honest: I always feel a little cheated when I get to the end of the book and there’s something very important that the POV character did that we didn’t hear about. I felt, right away, like I had to go back and re-read the entire book now that I knew what had really been going on. I think it would have made more sense if Mab and Vadderung had maybe collaborated to hire Grey and Dresden hadn’t known about it. However, if you’ve got to leave something out like that, Butcher did it pretty well. I didn’t see it coming at all.

I’ve wanted Murphy to pick up one of the Swords for a long time. I didn’t quite understand what would happen if she did it for the wrong reason; despite the fact that we’re told pretty clearly that it would destroy the sword, I remembered Harry picking it up once and using it wrong and it being fine afterward. I’d felt for a while like Murphy had this awesome card that she just failed to play, and why? Well, I get it now. The sword breaks and is lost. EXCEPT. Except it’s not! I hate to make a Harry Potter reference after my long rant up there, but holy Neville Longbottom, Batman! Let me tell you, my pre-book-discussion discussion up there, the one that is about how mad it makes me when people tell me something’s like Harry Potter, was almost about fandom as religion, and how when we really love something, we can’t help but believe in it, and what would be so wrong about embracing that? I sometimes tell people I’m a Whovian when they ask about my religion, and it’s usually joking, but I’m really only half joking. I’m saying, “You know, I don’t really want to talk about religion right now/with you…But I totally believe in the Doctor.” But I was a little worried that it was too much of a spoiler for the Lightsaber of Faith. Go, Butters. (Also: Did anyone else watch Psych? Because I can never keep Butters and Woody straight in my head.)

Overall, I loved the ending. It fit the story and set up some great questions about what’s going to happen next. I’m already really excited about book 16, though I’m sure I’ll have to wait a while for it.

OKAY I’M DONE WITH THE SPOILERS

So, what do you guys think? Have you read the book? Don’t post spoilers in the comments, because I know I have friends who haven’t read it yet, but let me know what you thought! (You know, cryptically.)

Coming Soon…

 20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
30. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
31. The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 1 by Michael Scott
32. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

Lastly, re: the Harry Potter discussion up there. How do people feel about that? What books have you read that you just can’t compare things to? And what’s the most important part of the book to you? Are other people generally all about the writing, or do normal people focus more on other aspects? I’d love to know!

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Before I Die, and Book 18: Unsouled

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I think this is the first year in a very, very long time that I haven’t really done any re-reading.

At some point recently, I sat down and did some calculations. I’m almost 27, so if I live an average female lifespan (about 80 years as of 2011), I’ve got 53 years left. I have to assume that there will be points in my life when it is much more difficult to make time to read than it is right now–such as when I have young children–and that possibly, as I age, my reading pace itself will slow down. So maybe, for the rest of my life, I’ll read about 3 books a month on average. (In addition to not re-reading this year, I’ve been purposefully selecting books that I think will make my 50 book goal more difficult and my blog more interesting to any random internet user who happens across it. “I devoured this YA series in a weekend” is kind of boring, and feels like cheating, so I’m hitting about 4 a month right now. Normally I’d guess it’s more like 5.5.) So, 3 books a month x 12 books a year x 53 years: I’ve got time to read approximately 1,908 books before I die (but, you know, who’s counting?)

This means a few things:
1: I should maybe be a little pickier about what I read! Really get the most out of those books. I should look for books that challenge and enrich me, not just fun stories–more literature, less pulp. And if I don’t like a book, I should put it down and move on.
2: I should read a much higher percentage of fun stories than I do right now! More pulp, less literature! Then I could easily read a book and a half per week for the rest of my life and read a lot more books!
3: I should re-read books less often! How many times have I re-read the Harry Potter series, and how many new books will I never get a chance to read because of all the times I’ve done that?

And I’ve decided to completely ignore all of those things.

First of all, the first two contradict each other. If I have any goals in this matter, I should aim to strike a balance between the two, and I find that the best way to do that is to read heavy stuff until my brain feels like it’s about to fall out of my head from all the thinking, then do a quick literary cleanse by reading two or three books that require very little of me. (Of course, my favorites are the ones that don’t require much of you, but will reward you handsomely if you put a lot of yourself into them anyway. I’m always looking for books like that.)

As for re-reading: I like re-reading. I have an aunt who has asked me a few times how I can re-read books, so finally I asked her, “Well there are billions of people in the world you’ve never met before; how can you keep celebrating holidays with us?” And at first I was kind of joking, but after I said it I realized how true it is. There are books out there that are family. I already mentioned the Harry Potter books–I’ve probably read the series 25 times, if when you think “series” you think “everything that’s out at the time of my reading,” because there were definitely many, many times when I re-read everything that was out at the time before they were all out. And it’s gotten to the point where, when I read anything else by JK, even if it’s something I’ve never read before, I immediately feel like I’m home. I’ve re-read the City Watch stories in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series so many times that they’re pretty much completely falling apart by now, and I’m actually kind of relieved by this: The new books in the series are about 3/4 of an inch taller than my copies, which means that when I put the new one on my bookshelf, it made the shelf uneven. If the others fall apart, I can replace them with new copies and it’ll be even again. I can stop being angry every time I look at my shelf.

In summary, reason 1 to re-read books: A book that you love is like family.

Reason 2 to re-read books: You never catch everything the first time. Would you believe, in all those re-readings of Harry Potter, it wasn’t until about book 4 in my most recent re-read that I finally smacked myself in the forehead and said, “Diagon Alley. Diagonally. I am a fucking dumbass.” And sometimes you read something else in between your reads that sheds light on what you’re reading, like the time I re-read American Gods shortly after re-reading The Chronicles of Amber and tweeted at Neil Gaiman to ask if Roger Zelazny was one of his influences, and would you know it, he was. And sometimes a book has something at the end that completely changes how you would have looked at the rest of the book, and you just have to see how it feels to read it now that you know. And other times, a book is one of those “it’s a thinking book if you want it to be” types of books, and you want to read it when you’re in the other mode and get more of the fun story that you missed because you were thinking, or more of the thinking that you missed because you were tired and just wanted fun. There are a lot of reasons to go back and look for more in a book. More is always there.

Reason 3 to re-read books: The next one in the series just came out, and you remember nothing about the rest of the series. Or even if you remember a lot, you just feel better if you read them all in a row, or at least fairly close to each other. The continuity feels good, and you miss less that way. This is probably the cause of most of my re-reads. Of course, there are situations where it would be ridiculous to do this. If there are already 15 books out, that’s a lot of time. At time same time, it’s still not as much time as it’ll take when book 6 of the Song of Ice and Fire series comes out and I have to re-read 1-5 because there is just so damn much in those books that I remember almost nothing from the first time (and the show is great, but it’s not the same).

This post’s book, Unsouled by Neal Shusterman, would normally have fallen under reason 3. It’s the newest book (until, I believe, October) of his Unwind dystology. I tried not to re-read books 1 and 2. I went and found a summary of book 1, because I remembered nothing about it. That worked okay, though there was still stuff in Unsouled that I remembered being a reference to Unwind but couldn’t remember what the reference was. I know I still missed stuff. I looked for a summary of book 2, Unwholly, as well, but I couldn’t find one. So I figured I’d skim a little of the book to remember vaguely what happened, and I ended up re-reading the whole thing. I’m glad I did, because I had basically forgotten about most of the main characters’ existence who weren’t in book 1. Re-reading would have been the wiser thing to do from the beginning, but I was playing catch-up and didn’t want to take the time. However, I still don’t think I will when book 4 comes out. Maybe eventually I’ll go back and read the whole series from beginning to end. So far, it’d be worth it.

Book 18: Unsouled by Neal Shusterman

And the prize for most terrifying cover art goes to…

The premise of the Unwind dystology: A second American Civil War occurred, and this time, they were fighting over abortion. There was a pro-choice side and a pro-life side, and it went on for years. During this time, so much funding was diverted from education into the war effort that teens were left wandering the street all day, with no education, no skills, and absolutely nothing to do with themselves. Finally, someone sarcastically suggested a solution to both problems: How about if, instead of allowing abortion, parents could choose to have their kid “unwound”– surgically disassembled with every single bit of the kid being donated to someone who needed it–starting at age 13 and continuing through age 18? This way, no one would be getting an abortion, and since every part of the kid needs to be used, the kid’s not really dying, right? And though the suggestion was sarcastic, everyone agreed: This was the perfect solution. Both sides were happy, and parents everywhere had a way to keep their delinquent kids in line. Don’t misbehave, we’ll have you unwound.

If you’re pregnant and don’t want the kid, there’s an option put in place for you: Rather than having an abortion, you can have the kid and stork it. This refers to, basically, leaving the kid on someone’s doorstep. If a baby is left on your doorstep, you’re obligated to take it in and raise it as your own (until you can unwind it, of course), but if you catch the person leaving it there, they have to take it back.

And some ultra-religious families have an extra kid and raise him specifically to be unwound. These kids are called tithes, and they’re treated like royalty their entire lives (the whole 13 years) until they eagerly go off to experience the sublime joy of life in a divided state. They’re excited about it. They’ve been told how amazing it’s going to be their entire lives.

This whole series is fucked up.

The thing that makes it great, though, is that it’s pretty much believable. If someone showed up in my living room suddenly and said they were from 20 years in the future and the same civil war had happened, the funding had been taking from schools, the teenagers had roamed freely, and someone had suggested basically just killing all the teenagers, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. The book reinforces the realism constantly by providing links to real news articles that you can type into your browser and read on a real news site about something horrible that people are trying to do right now. For example, this article about an Arkansas candidate for the House of Representatives, Charlie Fuqua, and his desire to instate the death penalty for rebellious children because that’s how it worked in the Bible. He says, “I think my views are fairly well accepted by most people.” He also says that oh of course no one would actually ever do this, that would be horrible, but it’d sure be nice to have that to hold over the teenagers’ heads when they’re being little shits.

This series is fantastic. It is absolutely chilling, because while you’re pretty sure it would never actually happen, you then have evidence right in front of you that there are at least a few people who are already more extreme than the solution in this book–I mean, at least in the book the body parts have to be donated, right? Fortunately, with 3D printing technology advancing as quickly as it is, we’re unlikely to have that drastic a shortage of organs anytime in the near future, but that doesn’t mean some psychopaths won’t think this whole unwinding thing is a good idea. (I can’t help but wonder if anyone reading this books thinks that.)

The series is told from the point of view of a number of kids who were meant to be unwound but escaped. A rebellion springs up with them at the center, and they struggle to avoid the juvenile police officers who want to find them and send them off to the harvest camps where their society thinks they belong. By book 3, one finds himself forced into a cult leader sort of position. Two are at the front of different ends of the rebellion, and I got a very interesting Professor X/Magneto sort of vibe from them (okay, okay, a MLK Jr/Malcolm X vibe). Some just try to stay under the radar and get old enough not to be unwound. And one part of the story comes from the point of view of someone who was never born, but made: A secret organization built a new kid entirely out of parts of unwound kids, and he’s part science experiment, part marketing ploy, and 100% human–though he’s never been taught what that means.

Should you read this book? If you’ve read other YA dystopian lit and want something a little more thought provoking, this is the series for you. Or if you’ve avoided the YA dystopia craze because it seems a little silly and immature, this series is definitely worth a shot. The premise is realistic and terrifying in a way that no other series I’ve read really has been. The characters are flawed, but mostly lovable, and their story is riveting. If you have a very expressive face, your facial muscles will be well exercised after the insane rollercoaster of emotions in this series–I promise, there are hilarious parts. If you’re a member of the Tea Party, please don’t read this book. I’m afraid you’ll get ideas.

Coming Soon…

18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

A Completely True Story, and Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild

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People keep asking me how my move was.

Unfortunately, most people who have asked this have asked via text message, where it’s difficult for me to respond with more than a few words. “Not bad, hired movers–still unpacking, though!” It gets the gist across, but it leaves out a lot. So: It was stressful, and it sucked, and it killed a part of me I will never get back.

My name is Rachael, and this is the story of how I died.

For most of the move, nothing happened. Nothing at all. We packed, we cleaned, we hired movers to do all the hardest parts for us, which is absolutely the way to go if you’re in a situation where it’ll be reimbursed (which, fortunately, we were). We had this great plan for the Official Moving Day: The movers would get there. I would go on a coffee run, since they probably woke up around 5am to get there when they did and it seemed rude not to offer coffee. (Only one wanted coffee, but that was okay.) Then we’d load up my car and I’d head out, taking our cat, Zoombini, with me. Mike would take the other cat, Chloe, when he left later on, since Chloe’s less likely to get in the way or bolt out the door.

Some important backstory that I should share with you at this point: Zoomy is loud. She’s not always loud, but if she is displeased or impatient, you know about it. We’ve taken her to the vet a few times and she just yells for the entire 15 minute drive. She hates the car. When she hears a can open, she’s sitting right by the counter (or sometimes trying to jump onto the counter) making more noise than you’d think is reasonable for a cat to make. For this reason, I wanted to give her some Benadryl before the drive. I figured, she’ll sleep, and when she wakes up she’ll be somewhere new, it won’t be as traumatic for her! And she’ll be quiet, so it won’t be as traumatic for me!

But we couldn’t find agreeing sources telling us how much Benadryl to give a cat, so Mike found something online that said you can put a blanket over the cat carrier and, like a bird, they will think it’s night and go to sleep.

At the very worst, we figured, how long could she possibly yell for?

So of course, as soon as I start the car: MROWWWWW! MROWWWWW! MROWWWWWWWWWW!

I put the blanket over her carrier. It becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t going to work. It’s July, and the air conditioner in my car is pretty good, but I can hear her panting between MROWWWWWWWWWs. I didn’t even know cats could pant.

MROWWWWWWW! *pant pant* MROWWWWWWW! *pant pant*

This wasn’t going well. I pushed the blanket off. She kept panting. I tried reaching my finger into the cage to rub her head, but she pulled back. She’d have none of that.

At this point, I’m about 15 minutes into the drive and I’m already looking for a phone pole to crash into. Two hours and 15 minutes to go.

I decide to sing to her.

We sing to our cats at home. We take whatever song is stuck in our head, or playing in the background, or on the TV, or whatever, and make it about them. Occasionally that means some loose semblance of lyrics constructed that describe the cat, but mostly, it’s singing their name to the tune of the song. I don’t know if this is a normal thing people do–in fact, I’m sure it’s not–but they seem to like it.

I search my brain for some songs that she’d be familiar enough with and might comfort her. I’ve been on a Joss Whedon kick lately (okay, I’m always on a Joss Whedon kick), so I go with some Dr. Horrible. I go through “A Cat’s Gotta Zoom when a Cat’s Gotta Zoom,” “With my Zoomcat I will Hug my Cat,” and “I Cannot Believe This Cat.” Nothing’s working. I continue the Joss Whedon trend by trying out some stuff from the musical episode of Buffy (“She will Zoom Through the Fire” and “Let Me Hug My Cat”).

Nothing’s working. I’m sitting in my car trying to think of anything that I might sing to her regularly enough that she’d recognize it. I try Disney (“I’ll Make a Cat out of Zoom,” “Let Her Zoom”). I try Broadway (“Zoomycat,” to the tune of “Popular”).

Nothing’s working. I try turning the air conditioner up, thinking maybe she’s really hot, but the extra noise just seems to freak her out more. The MROWWWWWWWs become MROOOWWWWWWWWWWs, and she’s suddenly also bodychecking the side of her carrier. This is not better. This is worse. I turn the AC back down.

Finally, I realize what I sing to her most often: TV show themes. No specific TV show or anything–I just usually sing the theme to her.

I try the Doctor Who theme. Zoom-EEEE-zoom….ZOOOOOMY zoom….ZOOOOOOOMY zoom, zoom zoom zoom. MROWWWWWWWWW!

Sherlock. ZOOMY! Zoomy-zoom-zoom-zoom ZOOMY! Zoomycat zoomycat zoomycat zoomy zoomy zoom. MROWWWWWWWWW!

I’m grasping now. What else has an easily sing-able theme?

New Girl? Zoomy zoom! (zoom zoom zoom) Zoomy zoom! (zoom zoom zoom) Zoom cat! MROWWWWWWWWW!

Big Bang Theory?

Zoom zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom zoom zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy–ZOOM!
Zoomy zoomy zoom, zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom,
ZOOMY ZOOMY ZOOM!
Zoom zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoom zoomy zoomy zoom zoom.
ZOOM!

……

Silence.

For the entire time that I sang the Big Bang Theory theme song, and about 5 minutes afterward, Zoomy is calm. She is quiet. She is kind of panting because it’s hot in the car (I try the AC again and the silence breaks), but she is quiet. And I am happy.

…..mrowwww….

MROWWWWWWWWWWWW!

The silence lasts about five minutes, at which point I begin to wonder: Will it work again?

I sing again.

Silence.

And five minutes later, MROWWWWWWWWWWWW!

I endure the yelling for a couple of minutes. It’s really only been about 40 minutes at this point (an hour and 50 minutes left!) and I’ve already done this song twice.

I try another song again. No luck.

I sing the Big Bang Theory them again. Silence.

We developed a pattern. I would sing, and it would buy me five-ish minutes of silence. At this point, her patience would run out and she’d start yelling again. I’d put up with it for as long as I possibly could, and then sing The Song again. I have never hated a song more. I begin to fantasize about the next time I’m at home watching TV and the show comes on and I throw the TV out the window.

Toward the latter part of the drive–probably the last half hour or so–the silences started getting a little longer. I glanced over, and she’s squatting in her carrier, tense, her eyes closed and her mouth open. She looks like she’s given up and is just waiting to die.

Inevitably, she starts yelling again, and I start singing again. I am wishing death on every person who has ever been involved in The Big Bang Theory. Zoomy is quiet, and I am grateful, now, for those very same people.

Finally, I get to the new house. I bring Zoomy inside. I set her up in one room with her food and her litter box, open the windows,  and close the door. She is hiding under something.

I look around. The house is perfect. It’s sunny, and warm, but not so hot that I’m uncomfortable. The gardens are gorgeous. I have a swingset. I go sit on it.

I realize, then, that I died. I have died, and this is heaven. At some point between the 15th and 30th rendition of “My Cat’s Name Over and Over to the Tune of the Big Bang Theory Theme Song,” I snapped and drove the car off a bridge.

I’m surprisingly okay with this.

Until, of course, I look at my arm and realize I have driver’s sunburn, because I broke my #1 Rule of Summer (never go outside without sunscreen) for the entire drive down. I’m not dead.

I hear a faint mrowwwww come from the house.

Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

From a story about my cat to a book about cats.

I like to take book recommendations from people I care about. If someone I like really loves a book, chances are, unless it sounds truly horrible, I’ll give it a shot. I figure there are two things that can happen. I could love the book, too. Maybe they have similar taste to mine, or they just have a feeling it’s something I’ll love. That’s a great outcome. But at the very least, even if I don’t love the book, I get to know that person better. It gives me a little bit of insight into them, what they like, what matters to them (and since I like buying books as gifts, what I should get them for Christmas).

So one day, I was at my dad’s house and there was this book on the table. It wasn’t Into the Wild, it was much later in the series. I look at it and laugh, because (a) the cover is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, and (b) it’s exactly the type of book I imagine Mia, my 11-year-old stepsister, would love.

At dinner, I ask her about the book. I always ask kids about books if I can. It makes for much more interesting conversation than “Soooooooo are there any cute boys in your class?” or “Oh my GAWD your HAIR is so CA-YOOOOT” (I hate myself right now), and there are much better things to talk about than boys and physical appearances, and I think it’s nice for kids to know that.

This book, though. Mia’s eyes lit up, and I knew this would be The Topic of Conversation for the Night. Never mind that my brother is with us, freshly home from Afghanistan, with crazy war stories. No, I asked about a book about cats. Everyone is pretty okay with it. Mia launches into a description of the books.

“These are the best books ever! It’s about these tribes of warrior cats that live in the forest! There’s Shadowclan, they’re evil, an’ there’s Riverclan an’ Windclan an’ Thunderclan an’ they’re the good guys!” She opens the book to show me a map. “See, Thunderclan lives here, an’ Shadowclan lives over here, an’ this here, that’s the rock where they have meetings! An’ that’s the thunderpath, and these are the houses where the twolegs live, and that one’s where Firepaw comes from! They’re sooooooo good!

“WAIT! LET ME GO GET YOU THE FIRST BOOK!”

So I sit, working on my dinner, and begin to question my decision to ask Mia about a book about cats.

She returns and gleefully shoves a book into my hand.

“You’ll love it! It’s soooooo good! An’ when you finish it, you can borrow the second one!”

At this point, I’ve accepted my fate. I’m reading the first book. But.

“Mia,” I say, “I’ll read this one, but I might be a little too old to read all of them.”

“Oh, but once you read the first one, you’ll have to read the rest! They’re just soooo good!

So I take home Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter (which, as I soon learn, is a nom-de-plume for a group of five people who write the Warriors series together). I hope it will offer me insight into Mia’s mind, but I doubt it’ll offer me anything I couldn’t figure out from the fact that she’s 11 and her favorite movie is still (I believe) The Lion King and she likes to roar.

She’s the coolest kid.

This book surprised me. SPOILERS AHEAD.

It was every bit as cheesy as you expect a book about four clans of warrior cats who rule the forest (which, if you look at the map, is really more like a small wooded area between some houses), but it was still much better than I expected. It worked well as the beginning to a series–I remember reading books as a kid that were the first in a series but solved every single problem by the end. This book didn’t do that. It left questions up in the air, which had me almost tempted to take Mia up on her offer of the second book. (Almost. I’m 26 years old.) I didn’t see the traitor immediately, though I did see him long before the book revealed him as such–however, even then, I didn’t figure out his treason right away. I just knew I hated him.

And that’s where it really surprised me. I felt something for one of these characters.

And later on, when the character I could have sworn was the  eventual love interest for the main character died, I was shocked. THIS IS A KID’S BOOK. YOU CAN’T KILL THE PRETTY AND SYMPATHETIC MEDICINE CAT. YOU JUST CAN’T.

But they did, and it really upset me for a minute, before I said to myself, Rachael, this is a kid’s book about clans of wild cats that rule the forest. Calm yourself down. (But to be honest, it still feels like a betrayal.)

END SPOILERS.

So even though it had lines like “Unsheathed claws glinted in the moonlight,” I liked this book more than I thought I would. The one thing that really bothered me was the prophecy at the beginning and how it plays out. The clan leader hears a prophecy that only fire can save their clan, and as soon as a bright orange cat (or rather, “kittypet”–a cat who is a human pet) shows up, she invites it to join their clan against all tradition and advice of her clan members and renames it Firepaw. I would have preferred for someone who hadn’t heard the prophecy to have renamed Firepaw, because it felt like cheating the way it happened.

For the most part, this book went the way I expected it to, and if “kid’s book about clans of wild cats that rule the forest” sounds like something you’d enjoy, I recommend it. I can imagine these being really fun beach reads if you’re the sort of person to go to the beach.

I made some predictions after I finished this book, and the next time I saw Mia, she confirmed that every single one of them does, in fact, come true. I, therefore, will not be continuing to read the Warriors series, but I look forward to future updates on the goings on in Thunderclan whenever Mia reads a new book. And even if it didn’t offer me some great new insight into her mind, I’m glad I know what she’s reading, and I’m glad I know they’re not quite as ridiculous as I expected.

Coming Soon…

18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny