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Oh hey, it’s 2015….look at that.

As per usual with me, this post is a little late. 2015 is a new year, full of….the same things as last year: family, work, gaming, reading, etc. I do not make resolutions; the most I do is restart my Goodreads challenge widget. I hit 20 books last year, so I upped it to 25 for this year, and so far I’m off to an ok start. The first thing I did this year, in fact, was read a book. I had a nice long car ride to deal with the first week of January and took along Sergi Lukyaneko’s Nightwatch.  The series has a cultish following and a new installation, New Watch, coming soon. I found it interesting if unimpressive, but I am going to pick up Twilight Watch, the third book from the library today.

More interesting for me has been Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy. The books are mesmerizing in their own way, a way that may not appeal to all readers though such luminaries as James Woods have heaped praise on the novels. I’ve finished the third book, Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay, which continues the familial saga of Elena and Lina, who are in their 20s now, one on the cusp of success, the other on the cusp of a breakdown. The books fascinate me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the way in which they are written. I want to dive into Ferrant’s writing book to figure out what works and why it works so well. I can’t wait for the rumored 4th book.

I have also started rereading a book I finished just a few months ago, Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror World. I felt like I may have sped through it too fast and missed things on the way. But it also bears coming back to: the characters are compelling, the plot is dense, the world enveloping. I want to go a little more slowly this time and dissect the book a bit to see how Hurley works her magic. I also want the second installment. Like, Now.

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And of course I have been hanging out in Eorzea quite a bit. I leveled all of the mage classes to current level cap, as well as a tank, which I swore I’d never play. We recently got a PS4 and the difference is quite amazing. It looks just beautiful and I can actually dodge things now. I still haven’t tried Titan EX to truly test the game’s performance, but that’s just because Titan scares the shit out of me. I’ve also got four 1- star crafters now and a 1-star gatherer. It seemed to take forever to get these classes anywhere, but once they hit 35ish and I actually put time into them they leveled super-fast. Part of that is because I finally figured out how to actually craft and used HQ items for all of my leve turn-ins. Knowing what you’re doing makes such a huge difference! *snicker*

I’ve also been watching some interesting TV while I wait anxiously for new seasons to start. I caught the Orphan Black craze in November and sped through the first two seasons. I might be more excited for that in April than the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Orphan Black feels fresh, current and exciting, while GoT is mired in the conventions of its genre and its book progenitor. That said, GoT is still the best fantasy show on TV right now and I will watch it all with relish. Orphan Black blew me away with its characters, the abilities of its actors, its continually surprising plots (that moment in the car with Danny?!). I love all the clones, but Helena has to be my favorite with Cosima as a close second. Felix, however, takes the cake. He is one of the best supporting characters I’ve seen on TV in quite a while. I’m also about halfway through Broadchurch, which is satisfying my need for dark, moody mysteries that don’t have neat tidy plots or endings. I love the British for that. And for letting David Tennant keep his Scottish accent in the show.

Speaking of dark British TV shows, I just finished Black Mirror and “holy shit, Batman” is the most articulate thing I can come up with right now to describe that show. If Orphan Black blew me away with characters, Black Mirror blew me away with its audacity to push current technologies to their logical conclusions, creating total farce in one episode (series opener “The National Anthem”) and a gut-wrenching portrait of perfect “memory” in another (the horrifying episode “The Entire History of You”). The saddest episode, with the most despicable character, was of course “Fifteen Million Merits.” While tragic, it was great to see Jessica Brown-Findlay again. She’s a great actress and I’d like to see more of her. And that, my nearly nonexistent readers is what I’ve been up to so far in this new-ish year. Look for a review of Chuck Wendig’s fantastical take on mob life in NYC, The Blue Blazes, coming soon. Happy reading!

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Do Reading And Gaming Really Mix?

This blog may be evolving into a hybrid book/gaming blog. While I’ve been reading, I’v also been gaming, and I feel more apt to blog about gaming than books right now. In part, I feel like I’m loosing my ability to speak adequately about the books I’ve been reading lately. I finished Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and picked up The Lost Daughter while I wait for The Story Of A New Name to arrive. These books have a lot going on in them, on many different levels and I feel inadequately equipped to critique/discuss them, even though I want to. I suppose, then that it’s a personal hang-up that I just need to decide to get over. Part of the issue too, I’m sure is that I’ve been writing about books less, and thus feel out of practice. But it’s so much easier to write about gaming!

I’ve leveled 3 different classes in FFXIV:ARR over the past few weeks, including a role I never thought I would play: healer. It hasn’t been so bad. The way the class/job system is currently set up in game, there is one class, Arcanist, that levels two jobs, Scholar and Summoner. That’s kind of awesome to be able to level a healer and a DPS role at the same time. The downside, of course is that they share stat points, so you have to go all the way with INT or split points into INT & MIND. This can be ok on the SCH because of Cleric Stance, which lets you freely point-swap in combat, but it can be really bad for SMN because of the lack-luster DPS if you put points into anything but INT. Honestly though, the SCH Eos fairy can do most of the healing in the 4-man dungeons, leaving the player free to do DPS, as long as you summon Eos before switching into Cleric stance. Both jobs use DoTs and it’s perfectly doable for a SCH to manage those DoTs while Eos heals, throwing in a heal as needed. The internets says to pick either SCH or SMN and allocate stats accordingly, but I’ve managed just fine playing both with INT as the primary stat. Additionally, since Rogue/Ninja DPS was just released, healers are in high demand, so I can be kind of crappy at it and still have players be grateful just to get in queue with me. That is exactly how I leveled Conjurer/WHM, the mostly straight healing job in the game. I have to work a bit harder on this healing class, but it’s still ok to play. And I got a unicorn out of it, so there’s that.

I recently discovered photoshop and screen shots on my PS3, so I have been having fun making pretty pictures in-game. Here’s my absolute favorite thus far:

Moonfire Faire

 

Book Blog Neglect

I blame her, again. But she's so much better as a BLM.

I blame her, again. But she’s so much better as a BLM.

I’ve neglected this little book blog a bit for the past few weeks (erm, months). I’ve actually been reading too, which is the bigger shame. I’ve finally read the awesome Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, which was like a breezy tour through the best of Jane Austen, with knitting thrown in for fun. I also finally read Lauren Beukes’s atmospheric and original Zoo City, which I had downloaded as an ebook months ago when it was on sale. I loved it, and had only a few minor issues with it. I finished Lev Grossman’s unsatisfying conclusion to the Magician’s Trilogy, The Magician’s Land and had some major issues with it. I’ve held off writing about that book specifically so I can get some critical distance and not simply rip it to shreds. I was in a pretty bad mood after finishing that book, and I still scowl thinking about it. I recently started the much-lauded Tana French novel, In The Woods, and can’t for the life of me figure out what all the hype is about (at least it was on sale). I know she’s got a new Dublin Murder Squad book out, and I’ve been in the mood for a decent thriller (I’ve been watching Hannibal too, but mostly because of Madds Mikkelsen’s awesomeness; Hugh Dancy is a little too twitchy for me), so I thought I’d start at the beginning of the Murder Squad. I almost went with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but I’d rather wait for a moody David Fincher movie than slog through crappy prose to find out what I already know (even if I do have to suffer through Ben Affleck). I feel like a curmudgeonly reader writing such things; maybe I am. I’m ok with that.

I am, however,  excited because I just bought the amazing Kameron Hurley’s new book, The Mirror Empire, whose release I somehow, unfathomably, missed in August. I got the ebook version of it, but might have to wait for the library hold to come in as starting at electronic screens a lot seems to be giving me problems lately. I don’t read on my e-reader very often, but it makes me immensely sad that I can’t seem to to read on it at all without getting headaches. I also bought a booklight so I can read physical books in bed, but it’s an LED light, so I am worried about having the same problem. It is a huge blow to my sense of self to realize that I have physical limitations on what and how I can read. In physical form, I bought Murakami’s latest, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years Of Pilgrimage at a midnight release party at my favorite local bookstore; I did not realize Murakami was popular enough to warrant Harry Potter-style release parties. In any case, I won a signed copy that’s sitting proudly on my shelf at home, unread. I also found a signed copy of David Mitchell’s new book, The Bone Clocks, at my other favorite local bookstore and snapped it up (signed copies are the thing these days).  I’ve stayed away from reviews of Murakami, but I did read James Wood’s review in the current New Yorker and was a little sad that Wood essentially panned it. I’ll make my own judgement later, but I can already see one of his points.

Agent Of Hel: Poison FruitIt’s turning into Fall here: clouds in the morning, a chilly bite in the air, even when afternoon sun burns the clouds away. Leaves are starting to turn, with a few hints at orange already. For me, this means that a new Jacqueline Carey book is just around the corner. Agent Of Hel: Poison Fruit comes out on October 7th. It’s the final in the trilogy, but I have hope for more after what she did with the Kushieline series. Pemkowet is one of my favorite book-places, and I have been waiting to go for a visit since the first grey, chilly morning of the season. Summer is over. I am getting back into the swing of things. Hopefully I’ll be gaming less, reading more, and neglecting this blog a little less.

On a very sad final note, the wonderful modern fantasy writer and fairy-tale teller Graham Joyce died yesterday from aggressive lymphoma cancer.  I happened to be on twitter when it was announced (on his twitter feed) and it was the strangest feeling, receiving that kind of news in that particular fashion in real time. Joyce recently spoke about the language of cancer on BBC Radio 4′s Word of Mouth Program. He will be missed.

FFXIV, What Have You Done To My (Reading) life?

This girl has ruined my (reading) life. She’s my newly Hulk-abed ilvl 93 dragoon. I’ve put a lot of time and work into her, and I kind of love Dragoonher dearly. I even just bought her her own room and put some nice furniture in it so she’ll have a comfy place to retire to after slaying primals. I regularly take her out on dungeon runs, as all Miq’ote cats require. I keep her zenith weapon shiny, her hair combed, and her gear repaired. I give her new minions to play with (her favorite is a cute little demon brick with balance issues) and balls of linen thread to bat around. I make sure she is regularly socialized with her FC mates so she doesn’t become mean or feral (though she can be a bit snotty sometimes) and regularly give her her favorite Akpallu Eggs dish (premium quality, of course). She is as pampered a cat as they come.

Because of her, I have read only one book in the past 30 days (see review). That’s terrible, by my standards. But what’s even more terrible is how much this game has intruded upon my life, to the point that I may or may not have left work a little early the day the newest content was released. I may or may not have lain awake in bed near midnight on several occasions planning the furniture layout of my newly-purchased private chamber. I may or may not have lain awake in bed after midnight, having gamed past midnight, reviewing primal or Coil fights and what I could have done better. I may or may not have a problem.

The last time I blogged about FFXIV was around Christmas, a month or so after I’d gotten the game. My pride in my lvl 30 character was so cute it’s shameful. But I had the same concern then as I do now: what is my limit for online video gaming? It makes me intensely happy to clear a dungeon or boss for the first time. Driving home that day I may or may not have left work a little early I was so excited for all the new things to do I had to actually keep my eye on my speedometer to make sure I wasn’t speeding. It was the happiest and most excited I’d been about anything in a while. Part of that excitement lay in the thrill of figuring out new content with the group of random people who comprise our FC. I have no idea who they are, but I have chatted and played with them almost everyday for the past several months. We have raged about PUGs and shitty tanks or healers, we have cried over loosing so many times to Garuda EX. We have made our characters jump for joy after getting a down. And now, we are working together to understand how new things in the FFXIV universe work. It’s so much aggrivating fun.

I have fallen into the trap of nearly calling these people friends; I talk about them with my husband, who also plays and is in the same FC, outside of game-play. It’s so easy to think of these random strangers as friends because of how much time we spend together in game on a regular basis. We notice when people are gone for a few days, or when they level or get a piece of rare gear. We give the appearance of caring. Perhaps some people really do care – I do, when I forget that this is just a game and that nothing that I achieve in game exists anywhere in the real world. And here my bias is revealed: I still think of video games as just games, no matter how much time I put into them. I know there are professionals out there who take this and other video games very seriously; I’ve met a few. Some are nice and willing to teach, others will rage-quit after the first wipe. I have never rage quit, but I have certainly wanted to. I try to be helpful to people who are doing content for the first time. But I am not a professional, I am not hard-core. This is still just entertainment to me.

And yet, for all of the time and energy I have invested in this game, I can’t really say that it’s just entertainment anymore.

It’s often said that reading is a solitary pleasure. As such, it’s a perfect thing for introverts, people who get their energy from being alone or with one or two people they are close with. Reading is also a perfect escape for those who like other worlds, who just need a break from reality, or who love immersive experiences. All of this is true of online video gaming as well. This is the lure for me: the chance to have social interaction while still being introverted and nearly anti-social. This aspect of gaming is captured perfectly by the web-series The Guild, starring nerd-queen Felicia Day. The show also highlights the problematic and sometimes down-right creepy aspects of online gaming. I am afraid of becoming the woman who utterly ignores her children or the bald dude who can’t interact or speak with people standing right in front of him, but who is a master in-game on voice chat. Voice chat is a line that I will not cross. It’s too close to actually being social. Besides, I like not knowing whether the people I’m playing with are young or older or what their gender is, and I like that most of them don’t know that about me either.

Video gaming has replaced reading in my life right now and as at Christmas, I feel guilty about that. I feel especially guilty since it’s what I spent most of my recent time off doing. I still have not accepted that video gaming is a legitimate use of time. I do not know that I ever will, either. I have been too conditioned to think that it’s a waste of time at best and a spreading social ill threatening our social and moral fabric at worst. I can also see how it is detrimental in certain aspects of my own life, while also recognizing that it’s fun and makes me feel extra-good about myself sometimes. What all this worry really comes down to for me is a question of balance. Right now I feel that my gaming/life is out of balance, and that I am slipping further and further away from a place of balance. With the 1-day old release of new content, a new long-awaited class/job and content release in a few months and then a full expansion a few months after that, I desperately need to find that balance.

All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

All The Birds, SingingAll The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld has made a bit of a splash in the literary scene. Wyld is included in this year’s Best Young British Novelists list from Granta and her first novel, After The Fire, A Still Small Voice earned her a spot as one of Granta‘s New Voices of 2008. It’s easy to see why in All The Birds, Singing: her prose is beautiful, spare and tense, but evocative, and her control of plot is wonderful given what she has set up here. Wyld tells Jake Whyte’s story in alternating chapters that move forward in the present and backward in the past, like two lines running in opposite directions from the central impact of a dead sheep. Each timeline has it’s own mystery; in the present, what is killing Jake’s sheep? and in the past, what happened to Jake to make her who she is? Both mysteries are compelling and propel the reader through what could have been a disaster in less adept hands.

We meet Jake as she stands over the torn and flayed body of a dead ewe. She lives alone on a small island off the coast of England, raising sheep, with Dog, a loyal border collie, as her only companion. She is fiercely independent, wanting as little contact with the other island inhabitants as possible. Her closest neighbor and the only person she regularly comes into contact with is the old widower who sold her the farm. He thinks it’s a fox; Jake thinks it’s bored island teenagers. A third possibility creeps in and with it a certain kind of paranoia creeps into Jake. We understand then that this woman’s solitude and independence have been fiercely fought for and hard-won. What has happened to her to drive her to such a lonely and desolate place?

The second narrative begins to tell that story, starting at an unclear point in the past, when Jake is younger and working as a sheep-shearer at an Australian sheep station. One of her fellow shearers discovers something about her that makes her run from everything, including a man she just might trust enough to love. The scars on Jake’s back are the central mystery of this timeline, and the backward progression to the moment she got them is both suspenseful and illuminating.

And thankfully, neither narrative is over-done. There are no big “a-ha” moments in the past narrative that explain the present narrative. Rather, the chapters set in the past allow us to see the layers that have accumulated to form the present Jake, a hard, practical woman who trusts few but presents a sincere empathy toward the sheep under her care. If anything, the narrative is too spare at times; some connections feel loose and certain events, such as the appearance of Lloyd, feel too contrived. In a book that offers up a separate timeline to explain, partially, the why of its main character, random occurrences like that seem out of place. But, as I think through this, perhaps that is part of the point here. We can look back at our past and decide which events are important, point to those that have made us who we are. But the future is much more random, and we have no way to predict what might become one of those definitive moments.

Throughout all of the shit that happens to Jake, her voice remains calm, stoic even, in its sparsity of language and detail. Wyld is excellent at the kind of small descriptions that can wholly evoke a place, a thing, and occasionally a person. She also manages a clear transition of voice from a younger, more naïve, less discerning child to that of the wary, time-worn, pragmatic terseness of a woman who has little patience for the trivial, but also sometimes terrible things people can inflict on each other. An invitation to the pub is much more than a simple act of neighborliness here and Wyld deftly displays the multitude of subtexts behind small interactions, from the way someone stands in a doorway to the simple act of holding hands. This in part is what gives the novel its depth and keeps what could have been easily sensationalized grounded and humane.

In creating two narratives, each with their own central mystery, readers might speed through the book looking for answers, as I did, and miss some of the subtleties of Wyld’s playful use of language. I was disappointed with the answer of one question, but the answer to the other, while satisfying in its definitiveness, is tragic in its mundanity. The book merits a second read, one that is slow and savors Wyld’s artful use of language and metaphor.