Monday, October 28, 2013

Fangirl | Book Review

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been so long since I wrote a review, I'm not sure I remember how to do it.

JK! LOL! (ironic) (also not)

Color Me: Fan4Life. Rainbow Rowell has won me over. If I loved Eleanor & Park, I LOVE-LOVE-LOVED Fangirl.

Let's get one thing straight. I have been a superfan of a great many things, but I have never been a fan of fan-fiction. Ever. As a writer, I have far too many of my own stories clawing to get out than I have urges to steal/borrow/manipulate others'. I can also say that boy-on-boy fanfic, particularly about non-gay characters, particularly particularly written by straight teenage one of the things I just do not get about the universe. (Will and Jem? No. Sherlock and John? Never. Dean and Cas? Stop ruining things!)

That said, Rowell's coming-of-age dramedy/romcom about antisocial college freshman/online fanfic superstar Cath was a tiny taste of heaven that entirely consumed my world for 48 hours straight. I could not put this story down (read: could not stop listening to this audiobook) even though I had my own college assignments to work on (and still do even as I type this).

Writing Technique: ★★★★1/2 Rowell has a way with a words. A very serious way. I love it. I love the expression "skimming the surface of reality." I love that she writes freaking brilliant, hilarious dialogue (see below). I love that all of her characters truly have their own voices. I love that this fiction about a writer of fanfiction of a fake fiction included that fake fiction and fake fanfiction. My only reservation is her preference for the F-word. I'm good at tuning that stuff out. But after some of the reactions toward the profanity (etc.) in E&P, I realize I can't expect everyone (including a lot of my friends) to be so blase about it.

Here are some quotes I adored:
“I feel sorry for you, and I'm going to be your friend."
"I don't want to be your friend," Cath said as sternly as she could. "I like that we're not friends."
"Me, too. I'm sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”

“You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.…”

“What's the plan?' she asked.
He grinned. 'My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What's your plan?'
'I'm going to try not to make an ass of myself.'
He grinned. 'So we're all set.”

“How do you not like the Internet? That's like saying, 'I don't like things that are convenient. And easy. I don't like having access to all of mankind's recorded discoveries at my fingertips. I don't like light. And knowledge.”

I also the entire laundry conversation which is much too long to post here but made me literally clamp my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud while I listened to it in bed with my sleeping husband and baby.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★★ We have a gifted writer wasting her time (IMO) on fanfic. A twin sister (the cool one) looking for independence. A terrible mother, who left. A wonderful father, who's crazy. A world-wise roommate who is terrifying. A creative writing teacher who doesn't appreciate fan fiction. A boy who never stops smiling. And a crippling fear of anything resembling life. All issues collide into a glorious laughable mess. And while much of it is like tequila in that it's "more about the journey than the destination," I found myself immeasurably pleased by the end. Especially that bit at the very very end.

Sidebar: I love that this is a love story that doesn't make me feel all dirty and stupid. It's not smutty (although not prudish or even necessarily innocent). And it's not that the character doesn't feel stupid, just that I don't. That makes for good romance in my opinion.

Character Development: ★★★★★ Way to go, Cath. You didn't get absolutely all of your sh*t together, but neither have I. You were straight up neurotic. You've got trust issues and mommy issues and daddy issues and sister issues and reality issues and generally a lot of issues. But I really liked you. And I loved watching you grow and mature and learn how to life real freaking life and get over at least some of your issues.

Sidebar II: I feel this book could definitely do with a companion, because Cath's twin Wren was clearly dealing with her own issues too in a much louder, crazed, drunken way. And I want to know her story equally muchly.

Sidebar III: somehow Rowell made me fall in love with a farmboy from Nebraska who doesn't do books or the internet and aspires to work on a ranch. In my wildest dreams, I would not have believed this possible. But Levi stole my heart completely. Yay for boys who aren't dicks, or moody and broken, or too far from reality. Yay for smiling.

Message/Theme: ★★★★★ family, friendship, social disorders, love, abandonment, reality v. fantasy, growing up, maturity, introversion, optimism, finding know, college crap.

Rating: R for language, sensuality, and alcohol use

Audiobook Performance: ★★★★ Rebecca Freaking Lowman has the vocal equivalent of sad eyes. She can be saying the happiest thing and it still has the most peculiar tinge of depression. I've listened through Starters and Eleanor & Park with her, and I HATED the first and LOVED the second. But the second was a sad-feeling book, so it was appropriate. This one wasn't sad as much as introverted. I felt like the book was shy and needed to be let loose, which is to say Rowell wrote it amazingly well. Lowman performed well also. She had a great voice for quiet Cath. But I'd like someone a bit less tragic sounding for RR's next book.
Maxwell Caulfield though is freaking magic. I'm not trying to be funny. He has a voice for whimsy. I want him to talk me to sleep every night. Like a long lost British grandfather telling me timeless stories and smelling of sugared coffee. Mmmmmmmm.

Overall: ★★★★★ I adored this. Even more than Eleanor & Park. Now I'm getting Attachments so I can say I'm a full on RR fan. You should read this book, but only if you want to feel light as a feather afterward.

#fanfiction #introverts #noteveryonehastobescaryanddamaged

View all my reviews

Monday, September 9, 2013

Welcome to the World, Washington! | A Birth Story

Washington’s story begins Friday, June 14, 2013. I had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon, but since I wanted to go into labor naturally (including not having my membranes stripped), Dr. Carnes didn’t check my cervix. My due date wasn’t until the 22nd, and as a first-timer, I was prepared to go late and battle my doctors for the right to deny induction. I had no reason to believe I would be going into labor. I hadn’t had any Braxton-Hicks contractions at all. My only “labor symptoms” were a pinky discharge that I didn’t think qualified as the bloody show and a cold, which I was informed did not mean my body was preparing to give birth. (How was I supposed to know? Last time I got a stuffy nose and sore throat, I thought it was nothing but a cold. Turns out I was pregnant!)

Ray had left that morning at about 8:15 am to work a dreaded 24-hour shift. The night before, we joked about how inconvenient it would be if I went into labor while he was on (or recovering from) an overnight. We laughed it off. I was confident I had plenty of time. But just in case, I petitioned God. I wrote in my prayer journal, “Ray works overnight tonight which is a bummer. So I pray I don’t go into labor in the next two days so Ray has enough time to rest up.” Bahahaha. I went to bed at 1 am (because I’m a night owl who never gets to stay up late anymore!), and at 4:45 am, I woke up with what felt like serious menstrual cramps.
Having never experienced Braxton Hicks contractions, I didn’t know if this was a contraction or just me not feeling well. That line right where your underwear sits across your lower abdomen ached. I lay there and focused all of my attention on What The Heck My Body Was Doing. And I realized, Ah...the pangs were coming and going! And it felt like my insides were tightening! So it must be a contraction! Cool. I thought, This is no big deal. I can do cramps. I mean, they hurt, but whatevskis. I got up and drank my glass of water and laid on my left side just like you’re supposed to when you first get contractions. If they were BH, they would go away after about an hour. Well, an hour later, they were still going strong. So I figured, I should let Ray know.

So I picked him up at 5:45 am. We both had a little breakfast snack and went back to bed. I woke for each contraction, even though these early ones were mild, until finally getting up around 10. I let Ray get a couple more hours in (remember he’d been up for nearly 24 hours). We spent the early afternoon getting last minute things done. I was mostly straightening up the apartment. Ray at some point decided to perform surgery on the vacuum cleaner because it wasn’t working right. Obviously. *insert eyeroll here* (Looking at all the evidence, I firmly believe I did not “nest” a single moment of my pregnancy. Ray did all the nesting in our family. I cleaned lightly because it was on a checklist of things to do Before Baby.)
Later that afternoon, Ray convinced me to chill out and watch my early labor distraction movies. So I showered and then labored on my “birthing ball” (AKA the yoga ball) while watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture (circa 1979). This was probably when I looked the most like all the birth videos I had watched. I was in my bathrobe with a heating pad on my lower back, head resting on my arms resting on the ball on the living room floor.  I felt very zen. The contractions weren’t fun. But I was managing fine. I tried not to call them painful (a natural birth no-no), but they were. By 2:30 pm, they moved firmly from the mild to the moderate column. My body also prepared for war, evacuating me of every last substance in my body. I continued to eat like normal, because...well, I was hungry.

Around 8 pm, Ray left to get groceries. (Obviously.) While he was out, I made myself a bath, then we went to bed. At 10, contractions were undeniably strong. At midnight, I wrote that they were “starting to wear on me. Trying to stay strong.” (Code for: “This freaking hurts. But I know it’s going to get worse.”)
I could no longer lay down and sleep. I started out in bed, standing for each contraction while Ray slept. (I was trying so hard to be tough. I didn’t want him to help me until I really needed help. And it’s a good thing too…)
At 1:45 am, I took bath/shower. But regular home bathtubs are not equipped to handle a giant pregnant woman with contractions. I wanted to relax. I would lay back during off minutes and, when the next one hit, heave myself over onto my hands and knees, leaving only part of my giant belly in the water and the rest of me exposed to the cold air. It was awkward and ultimately not all that relaxing. So I eventually gave up on the tub altogether.
Then began the circus of sleeping arrangements. I couldn’t lay on the bed anymore. So I slept on the floor in the baby room and labored on my hands and knees. But that didn’t last long. I decided I needed Ray’s help. Poor guy. I slept upright in chair with my head resting on my arms resting on 2-3 pillows resting on our kitchen bar counter while Ray slept on the floor by the piano. I’d jump up and lean on the chair for each contraction with Ray squeezing my hips through them. We did this for HOURS. Not the best rest by any stretch.
Around 7 am, we decided to…help labor along in the most natural way we knew how… Ahem. Gotta say, during labor, it’s not nearly as fun as not during labor. For me, this was for birthing purposes only. (And I’m glad for my husband’s sake we did because the following six weeks were a doozy.) Afterward, I labored straddling toilet, attempting to sleep propping my arms on the tank. I chose Sleeping At Last to be my labor soundtrack. It was a great choice.
Around 10 am, contractions were coming hard enough and close enough that I wanted my doula there with me. Danielle arrived around 11 am and did counter-pressure with me for a little over an hour until we all decided it was finally time to go to the hospital.
Riding the car with contractions wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but still wasn’t fun. I’m glad our hospital is only 15-20 minutes away. We shuffled through the parking lot. I walked around the lobby, squatting for contractions which hadn’t felt good earlier but was a requirement for these intense ones. Before we went upstairs, I decided to use the bathroom. Danielle asked if I wanted her to come with me. I balked. I’ve always been pretty shy when it comes to my body. I never stripped naked in the locker room even when my fellow volleyball players did. My roommate in college never got a really good look at EVERYTHING I’ve got going on. I’ve peed in front of like 2 people and my husband isn’t one of them. I really really wanted to tell her, “No, I can pee by myself.” But then a contraction hit. Ow. So I decided, okay, this is the moment my modesty goes. I’m in labor. She’s gonna see a lot more of my parts than me sitting on the pot. So I let her join me. It was weird trying to pee and it felt like I didn’t really have to go as bad as I thought. By this time, I really felt like I had to poop (TMI?). I kept trying, but nothing was happening. She helped me through the contractions (I was already getting kinda vocal).
When I left the bathroom, I remembered it was Sunday now. Father’s Day! This might be my last chance to call my dad. He didn’t answer so I left a message that basically went, “Hi dad. I just wanted to call and say Happy Father’s Day. And as a gift I’m giving you a grandson. I’m at the hospital and IhavetogobecauseI’mhavingacontractionsBYE!
We moved slowly toward L&D, but I couldn’t walk through these contractions. I stopped and squatted for each one. I even labored in the courtyard outside L&D, hoping to make as much progress as possible before surrendering myself to the hospital.

At 1 pm, I checked in. This was the worst part. To be admitted, you must be contracting for 1 minute, 4 minutes apart, and 4 cm dilated. I was SURE I hit all of those qualifications but there’s only one I couldn’t check for myself. (What? I don’t know where my cervix is. I’ve looked. It all looks know what? Let’s not get metaphorical about my lady business.) I got into triage and ditched my pants. They belted me. I had to wear the horrendous contraction monitor for 20 minutes so they could confirm active labor… and I wasn’t allowed to move with it on. I agreed to this when they put it on me. But when those first contractions hit, I thought, there’s no way. I need to move. I’m in crazy intense pain. And I’m just supposed to lie there and take it? It gets worse.
The nurse came in. She seemed professional…and unimpressed with me. She had me scoot down and spread ‘em so she could check me. I had never felt pain like that in my life. I don’t know what it is they do exactly when they reach in to “check” you, but it hurts like a swear swear swear. I screamed and tried to back away from her intrusive prying unkind hands. She retracted and with a smack of her latex gloves announced, “You’re closed.”
“What?!” I said, traumatized and no longer even resembling a person holding it together.
“You’re 80% effaced and closed.”
“What do you mean ‘closed?’ How many centimeters is that?”
“Zero?” I couldn’t stop the tears them. How was this possible? I mean, I’d heard plenty of stories about people who come to the hospital too early. But I waited 33 hours. I waited until I was sure it was the real thing. And I wasn’t dilated AT ALL? My prayers started sounding pathetic at this point. I was begging God to help me because I couldn’t imagine doing this for 12 or 16 or 24 more hours.
A doctor came in. He was young and also looked unimpressed by me. I’d been making a lot of noise. So yeah. He said he was going to check me now too. Which terrified me because I already knew I didn’t want him to do it. Why go through all that pain just to hear the same thing? What could have changed in 5 minutes? I scooted and spread for him (Joy.), and he reached for the stars. My scream was a visceral thing. I said, “YOU HAVE TO STOP NOW!” And tried to back away again. He unreached and said stiffly, “Yeah, you’re only 2 cm dilated, 50% effaced.”
I was crying a lot now. I felt every kind of violated. I know they were just doing their jobs (and I learned later it hurt so badly because I was still posterior), but I held it against them personally for also making me feel like crap. I hated both of them unequivocally and that hasn’t change. I still don’t know why I went from 80% to 50%. But going 0 to 2 wasn’t really an improvement because they still wouldn’t admit me. It was all terrible.
So I put my pants back on and began the long shuffle back to the car with a spirit I can only describe as utterly hopeless. The contractions had gotten worse from the inactivity. The pain was excruciating. The squats were harder to get down into and especially to get back up out of. We made it to the lobby and I had to pee again. Danielle came with me again and as I peed I noticed it seemed...different. When I thought I had stopped peeing there was still something leaking. We waited and the trickle continued. I was almost certain I wasn’t peeing (but things get crazy during labor. Maybe I was losing sensation down there!). But maybe that bro had broken my water with his nether reach. She left me alone in the bathroom to find me a pad because obviously I didn’t bring any because obviously I’m a moron. I feel bad for the mother and daughter who came in while I was alone and moaning and groaning. The mom explained I was having a baby. But I’m sure the little girl is scarred for life.
Danielle returned with a pad and helped me begin my journey back upstairs. Along the way though, my legs started shaking. I felt exhausted and I wasn’t even admitted yet. How could I keep doing this? I could no longer labor in squats. I got on my hands and knees every time and walking became all but impossible. I finally made it to L&D again, this time just to check if my water broke. We asked not to have my cervix checked. I wouldn’t do it. I just wanted to know if my water has broken. If so, they’d admit me regardless of my dilation. If not, I’d request some Ambien to help me get some rest and go home.
The doctor (who I’m convinced hated me) begrudgingly agreed. The nurse (who I’m ALSO convinced hated me) got out the speculum. She said, “Okay, I know this is uncomfortable. But I need you to lie as still as possible. No flailing and moving around.” As in, not like last time. I agreed and gripped Ray’s hand and forced myself to relax even though contractions were coming and I was laying down with a monitor belt around my waist and them putting things in my hooha when something else wanted to come out felt like death. But it didn’t hurt as bad as being checked. They swabbed me and quickly confirmed my water was leaking and I can be admitted. Yay. Because regardless of how many centimeters I was, I was SURE I was in labor. I thought, My baby is coming soon. He better be, or he’ll be born in serious trouble.
I changed into a gown. And a new nurse, who would be my nurse, came to give me my IV. This was something we fought for a while. I abhor needles and have terrible veins and always wind up getting stuck over and over. Or they search for a vein for so long that the anticipation makes me want to hyperventilate and vomit. But ultimately we agreed, because 1) it’s their policy and we really couldn’t NOT agree, 2) they agreed to just give me a saline lock without fluids, and 3) I wound up positive with GBS and had to have antibiotics anyway. Joy.
Shannon was my nurse’s name. She was blonde, pretty, happy, nice. But she stuck me twice in my left arm and didn’t get a vein. She told me she only tries twice then she gets someone else. And she rarely misses a second time. But I was the lucky winner that day. (#hatinglife) A different nurse came in to stick me and got it the first time. But I’d have a bruise on my left arm for two or three weeks from where Shannon tried.
The doctor came back and said they had to wait until I’m further dilated before they could give me an epidural. I told him with as much confidence as I could muster through my drying tears that I planned to do this naturally. To his credit, he didn’t laugh, roll his eyes, or do anything that confirmed he thought I couldn’t hack it. I was already doubting myself, but he just said, okay then. I asked if my doctor had been informed that I was there. He said she’s off duty/doesn’t work on the weekends so she wouldn’t be delivering me. I almost had a conniption.
“She told me you would call her when I was admitted, and she would come in. She assured me she would deliver me.” He said he’d see what he can do. I have no idea why this conversation even happened. I want to call the doctor a moron. Of course she has regular office hours, but she is my maternity doctor. She’s not an OB, but she is responsible for my obstetric care. So...get her the frick on the phone.
Now my plan was always to walk myself to my room because letting them sit you in a wheelchair projects an image of needing to be saved, so the medical staff tries to intervene/interfere more. Walking projects strength and capability. I made it one step out the door and a contraction hit. I dropped to the floor like I’d been shot, got on my hands and knees and yelled through the pain. I didn’t feel strong. My legs felt like they couldn’t hold me anymore—even on hands and knees. The nurse said, “You can’t do this here. We’ve got to get you to your room.” And she and Ray tried to get me up. But I couldn’t move. I wanted to be able to walk myself there so bad, but when they rolled up a wheelchair and plopped me in it and whisked me down the hall, I didn’t protest and I was secretly very, very grateful.
These contractions felt like Satan and all his demons trying to break out of hell via my body. Which is to say—OW. They wheeled me straight to the bathroom and suddenly my doula had returned to me. I have no idea how that happened. Maybe Ray went to get her as I was flying down the hallway. Either way, I was glad to see her. I still felt like I had to poop (TMI?), but clearly I was not in transition or even near ready to push. In retrospect I believe this sensation was because Wash’s head was already SOOOOO LOW in my pelvis that he was putting pressure on my rear. (Result of hours and hours of counter-pressure?) I was not able to poop for all my trying. In the bathroom I had my first of many hysterical breakdowns. I labored on the toilet for a while, then tried to walk back to the bed. I didn’t make it out the door. The next contraction had me back on the floor. I remember looking up at Ray on one side and Danielle on the other yelling, “I don’t think this is right. I can’t do this anymore. I’m too tired. My legs are dead. I can’t even stand.” I looked at Ray, crying, panicking, and said, “Please, please let me get an epidural. I know it’s not what we wanted. But I’m too tired to keep doing this. I feel like I am breaking in half.” He said I was doing fine. Everything was okay. I could do this. At the time, I felt like he didn’t understand. This couldn’t be normal! He didn’t believe how my strength was really GONE. He thought I could get up and walk to the bed and push out a baby, but I was sure the only thing I could do was lay on the floor and die. #melodrama
I was so scared. I begged him to pray over me. I wanted to feel calm. I wanted to feel reassured that God was with me. That I wasn’t alone, because for all my support from Ray and Danielle, I felt the weight and the burden and the pain in my body on my own. I can’t imagine going through that WITHOUT support people. But they are emotional and moral support. They are there to get me out of my head and believe in myself and my body. But my God is the God of my body. He made me this way. He made women for birth and motherhood without the interventions of medicine and medical professionals. And I wanted to talk to him and remind him that I was down here doing what he made me to do and could he please for the love of Himself help me?! Ray didn’t want to encourage my panicking. He reaffirmed that I could do this. This is normal. I was doing great. And he helped me get back out to the bed.
When my next contraction came, I hit the floor again. My legs were shaking, giving way to muscle failure. Suddenly I felt hot all over. All I had on was the robe, but it instantly became much too much.
I yelled, “Get this thing off me!” And yanked at it. Ray and Danielle helped too, Danielle going so far as to pry one of the more difficult snaps with her teeth. They got me up onto the bed where I continued to labor on my hand and knees while spewing aggressive barbs at Shannon The Nurse because she forced me to wear the baby HR monitor, the band of which wrapped directly over my lower abdomen where my contractions were attempting to rip me in half.
At one point I tried to use the squat bar, but I hated that so I went back to hands and knees. Apparently I was very calm between contractions. Quiet, zen. I honestly don’t remember this much. The doctor kept wanting to check my cervix to see if I had progressed, but I said no. I didn’t need more pain. Give me time to dilate without sticking your germy hands all inside me please and thank you.
With each contraction I thought I would pass out. The pain would be too much and I’d just go unconscious. Thinking of the ocean, reciting poetry or Psalms, all of that was gone. I would cry and say over and over, “I can't do this any more. I don’t think I can do this anymore. Please please please.” I was a basket case. I’m so embarrassed by this.
At some point a couple hours later my doctor, Dr. Carnes, came—hallelujah. I was so relieved to see her. It’s not that I particularly love her. I just know her. She is a family medicine doctor, young, introverted, and sometimes...she seemed like she didn’t have a freaking clue about hospital policies or practices involving birth. But she’s assured me several times that she has delivered lots of babies. I kept her because she agreed to work with me toward a natural birth and was open to laboring AND delivering in any position, which sadly I didn’t get to prove.
I finally let Carnes check my progress even though I was terrified to hear another depressingly low number. She announced I was 7 cm! I had gained 5 cm in 2 or 2.5 hours. Just one away from transition. And I’d been feeling like I was in transition since I was admitted. I couldn’t imagine it getting worse. But I was ready to move on. I was ready to get that freaking baby out of my freaking body. “Seven centimeters,” I said, in awe. “I’m doing this. I can’t believe it. I’m doing this!”
Danielle says this was her favorite part. She and Shannon apparently looked at each other and got a little teary watching me realize that I could do this and was in fact already doing it. I had this incredible moment where I thought, I’m actually going to be able to give birth naturally. I’m getting close to the end. And then my baby will be here. And I’ll have “done” birth. I’ll have succeeded. That was a heady awesome feeling.
Soon I began shaking uncontrollably. My stomach roiled, and I said, “I think I have to throw up.” Shannon immediately placed a bucket under my face. And hurl I did and did a lot. But this was the LEAST scary moment for me. My contractions didn’t change in a way that I noticed (not yet), but feeling the shakes and throwing up, I knew what was happening to me. This was normal. This happens. It meant I got to push soon.
So I was surprised to hear an hour had passed since I was checked but I was still at 7 cm. I swung from confident in what my body was doing to extreme frustration that my body hadn’t progressed. Maybe my attitude affected my perception of these next contractions, maybe I was exhausted and fed up from consistently severe contractions, or maybe this was real transition and the contractions became severe-er—but I started to lose it. I went deeeeeep into the psycho place. I did exactly what Donna Ryan said you shouldn’t do if you want to keep yourself under control. But it was involuntary. I tried to back away from my body. I pushed with my arms as though I could physically distance myself from my waist. Ray tried to help me. Told me I was panicking. Reminded me that I could do this. But I was freaking out. I wanted this to end. And I was willing to do almost anything to get there. Shannon stepped in and asked me then what my baby’s name was. “Washington.” She told me to say it again. So I did. Over and over and over. Washington. Washington. Washington. It became my new mantra. Just his name on my lips was encouragement to me.

Six pm finally rolled around, and with it the news, that I had at last, at last reached 10 cm. (For those keeping track, I went from 2 cm at 2pm to 10 at 6!) Doc said I didn’t have to push yet if I didn’t feel the urge. But I said, “I want to push.” I didn’t have the urge, per se. *rolls eyes* But I had decided that it was time. Mentally, I thought if I’m at 10, then there’s nothing stopping me from speeding this thing up. She said she’d let me push once to see if that brought the baby lower in station. My very first push, I moved the baby from a 0 station to +2. Everyone was impressed, and Dr. Carnes said I could keep pushing if I wanted since I made so much progress. Sadly, I could never push as well as I did that very first time.
Indeed, a lot of metaphors were thrown at me in an attempt to help me push the right way. I did it right probably one in five times. Not breathing for 10 seconds in a row, I discovered, was not possible. It led me to screaming out the last few seconds which was a waste of my voice and strength and got me in trouble with everyone every time. I wanted to yell though. I wanted to scream myself hoarse with frustration and anger. Why the heck was I doing this? Let them cut the kid out of me for all I care. I just wanted it to be over. (#heckamelodrama) Anyway, going for a 7-second push was better. But my contractions no longer seemed long enough to make progress. And pushing without the momentum of a contraction cost me strength I didn’t have and didn’t progress me at all. It was aggravating to make it all the way to the pushing stage and to feel again like I couldn’t do this anymore.
Laying slightly reclined, I had to get creative with the position of my legs. Stirrups were never offered. No, instead I stuck my giant horse legs up in a proud exultant V on the squat bar. I imagine when I’m on my death bed, if I decide to pinpoint the least dignified moment of my existence, this will be it. Naked as the day is long. Screaming my head off, spewing mild to moderate profanities. Legs, like steeples, pointed toward heaven. And all of my private bits very publicly exposed to God and everybody.
They offered me a mirror several times. I thought the only thing worse than exposing everyone to all my private parts is to see for myself exactly what they are seeing. But soon, the next worst thing was about to happen. Leg cramps.
The act of pushing requires you to pull your knees up to your chest and curl forward like a sit up and squeeze your whole body, including your legs. I can’t explain how impossible that seemed at the time. The only issue I really had with pushing was how exhausted my legs were. Each time I felt defeated by them. And when the leg cramps—which I had been staving off for hours—finally set in, I thought I would go mad. My toes curled and my calves twisted wretchedly, leaving me panicked (again) because how could I focus on having a baby when my legs were trying to break themselves?!
Apparently this was quite an ordeal. Danielle insists a good chunk of time was devoted to me trying to work out the cramps in my legs. I would sit up pathetically, impeded by my still sadly gigantic and baby-full belly, and reach for my legs, which were too far away, and squeeze them in imitation of how I wanted to massage my calves. I put Ray on one leg and Danielle on the other, but I couldn’t show them where the cramp was. And they didn’t know how to rub them. All the doctors and nurses didn’t offer to help, and I felt like they thought I was crazy. The consensus was that my priorities were out of order. I was having a baby and needed to ignore my spasming legs to push him out. Ha! Easier said than done. That is like saying I’m going to squirt salt water and lemon juice in your eyes while you shoot a bow and arrow. And the consequences of not hitting the center target is major abdominal surgery.
At 7 o’clock, the nurses change shifts. Shannon told me she’d stay. She’d stuck with me this long and she needed to see this baby. I was grateful. Her replacement was already there, a black lady named Pam with good best-friend-in-a-sitcom qualities, if you know what I mean. She is not the only extra body in the room. Roll call: me, Ray, Danielle, Shannon, Pam, Dr. Carnes, her attending, douchey doctor from earlier, and a male pediatric nurse waiting for Wash. Every time I pushed they would ALL yell to keep going, push harder, almost there almost there ALMOST THERE. But I couldn’t sustain it. I would let go, and they would fizzle like popped balloons. Each time, Dr. Carnes would press inside, I’m assuming this was a perineal massage and she was trying to protect all my bits from tearing. But it hurt like a mother and started to piss me off. So I may have exasperatedly said, “What the heck are you doing down there? I don’t like it.” And she stopped. Shannon found a warm compress and THAT felt heavenly.
Then things got kinda crazy. The monitor around my waist couldn’t track baby’s HR anymore because he was too far down, and since I’d been pushing for so long and his heart rate naturally dipped with each contraction, they thought it was important to keep monitoring him. They wanted to attach one to his head. This was one of the things we didn’t really want to do. Ray and Shannon conferred over me about whether this was something that could be avoided and decided it wasn’t. He agreed to it, and I trusted him to make that decision because I was starting to become delirious.
Suddenly Pam was there helping me push. She gave me the best direction for pushing. And with her on my left by my face and Ray next to her and Danielle on my right, the chorus of encouragement was overwhelming.

After a long while of useless pushing, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I accepted the mirror and watched myself push. When I saw that my baby’s head went out out out OUT when I was pushing and then aaaaaaaall the way back in when I let go, my head literally tilted to the side. Huh. That’s ridiculous. I thought all this time he was inching his way forward. But it’s more like a suction than a train. On the next push, his head stayed halfway out. Danielle was excited, “He’s not going back in!”
I grunted. “I’m holding him.” She also loves to tell that line. She makes me sound like a feisty pirate saying, “Aye, matey!” Which I guess is pretty cool. In any event, I had decided he was not going back inside. He was only going out. Whether this was a good decision or not, I don’t know. At the time, it was the only thing that made sense. With the mirror, I became much more motivated. I remembered I was the only one who could get that baby out. I had to focus, try not to think about my legs and push. The next several minutes are a blur to me. Literally. I took off my glasses (I wish I’d been wearing my contacts. Maybe I would’ve really seen Wash born. :/). I was in a state of absolute delirium. I pushed. I cried. I was all over the place. Mostly I had no clue what was going on. I was just going through the motions. I remember the ring of fire as my baby boy crowned and I watched that happen. I was freaked out by how much blood I could see and didn’t know if that was because I was tearing or if it was normal.

Then finally his head was out! But suddenly his heart rate dropped. In my memory, the room became a hurricane of motion. They told me I HAD to push. He had to be born RIGHT NOW. I dug deep. I thought if I didn’t get myself together something horrible would happen. Without my glasses and in the craze, I was sure I saw my doctor reach her entire hands inside me and pull my baby out. But she didn’t. I was sure she had to cut me wide open to get him out. But she didn’t. I pushed one final incredible time and he was out. Because the professionals in the room were freaked out by his dropped heart rate, they forced Ray to cut the cord immediately and ran Wash over to the side to check him out. But within seconds, he started crying. And Ray said, “He’s okay. Hear him? He’s fine.” And I could hear him, and I was so so happy. I kept saying, “It’s over. It’s finally over.” Since Wash didn’t immediately start breastfeeding, I let them give me Pitocin to stop the bleeding. Shannon congratulated me and told me he was beautiful and she was glad she stayed.
A few moments later, they placed Wash in my arms, and I was immediately overwhelmed by him. His beautiful face. His tiny hands. His adorable curls. His wrinkly skin. My button nose. He began breastfeeding right then. His skin on my skin. He was all mine. And I was all his. In that moment, I was fundamentally altered. I thought I was a whole person. And in a way, I was. But with my son in my arms, I discovered this whole other side of myself that has been dormant and waiting to be revealed. And that missing piece is fierce and passionate and tender and impenetrable. It’s the mommy piece. I’m not sure I ever knew who I was before. I’ve spent years trying to figure it out. But I know I was made for this. For pregnancy. For birth. For motherhood.
I’m a mom. And I love it.

Washington Ray Moore was born on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 7:39 pm. He was 7 lb 10 oz, 20 inches long. I labored a total of 40 hours (34 hours early labor 4.5 hours active labor, 1.5 hours pushing). And I did it all naturally. I’m so proud…of both of us.

You can read Ray's thoughts on our birth story in my friend Cori's article "Birth Matters to Dads."

My Journey Toward A Natural Birth | A Birth Backstory

Before I tell my birth story, I have to give you the backstory.

Once upon a time, I was pudgy teenage girl with frizzy hair and raging orthodontic issues. No boy had ever looked twice at me. I know...sad story. So when I was 15 years old, I was sure no one would ever love me. So I made it a decision, like it was what I wanted: I wasn’t getting married and I was NOT having kids. I had seen Alien and Aliens and Alien Resurrection. And maybe it’s cliche, but pregnancy didn’t look much different to me.

A couple of years later, I was very passionate about music and determined to become a professional singer/songwriter. I was starting to gain confidence in my abilities and also in myself. I imagined maybe—just maybe—there was someone out there for me. But I wanted my capital-C “Career.” So I decided—fine, I’d get married. But he would have to know that I was going to be a musician on tour for most of the time. And he would have to follow me around. And I was still not having kids. But maybe I could adopt.

A little while later, when my music plans (for reasons that are much too complicated for this story) fell through/changed and I had no clue what I was supposed to do with my life, I decided I would get married. Because who wouldn’t want me?! (Ha. Yeah right!). And maybe—just maybe—I would have one kid. Because this world needed a mini-me running around it.

A bit after that, when I had met The Man Of My Dreams and we were definitely going to spend The Rest Of Our Lives together, we discussed our desires for our family. I still wanted just one. He wanted twelve. We did eventually compromise at six. He convinced me because well, I was charmed by the idea of having 6 of him (much of that charm has been tempered by time and knowing), and because of math. He said he wanted to make a tribe of 50 in 3 generations. Our 6 kids x their 6 kids each + their 6 spouses + us 2 parents = 50. Impressive isn’t it. Anyway, I’ve have the kids, but I was definitely getting an epidural the minute the stick turned blue.

Fast-forward several years to when I’m actually starting to think, sure...I could do this. I could be a mom. I meet a chick named Cori. If there is one word that describes Cori, it’s “passionate.” She carries this passion about a LOT of things, but one that stood out was her advocacy for natural birth. Sure, I’d heard of people giving birth sans drugs. And I had briefly considered it. As far as I understood, an unmedicated birth was an ego boost. The only benefits were bragging rights. And as an arrogant and competitive person, I thought it’d be cool to be able brag that I was That Tough. I figured, I’d try to do it without the meds, and if I couldn’t handle it, #NBD.

But I am definitely a person inspired by others’ passions. At first I thought Cori was…fanatical. Radical. Natural birth is cool and all, but why be so extreme about it? Didn’t The Good Lord give us beautiful medicine to do things like birth babies this better than our ancestors could have?! *angst* Well, somewhere along the line, I started reading the articles she posted. The first one was about tears versus episiotomies. I was immediately traumatized by the notion that something so violent could happen to my special parts. But I was intrigued by the notion that natural birth could be different. So I read some more. And I read some more. And finally I was like—yeah, you know what? I can see how natural birth could be better for me. I guess I’ll try my very best to do it that way. I’ll even take a natural birth class, maybe. But if in the heat of the moment, I think I really need drugs, I’ll get them, and know at least I did my best for myself.

Cue first Birth Boot Camp video (we took the online class because we moved), and Donna Ryan begins her lesson with—if you’re going to do a natural birth, you have to commit to it. Don’t go into it thinking you can change your mind, because then you won't try. And I remember thinking—RUDE. You don’t know me! *ghetto style* But I decided then, okay. This chick is like an expert or whatevs. I’ll do it. I’ll commit with the understanding that there is a small percentage of people who actually do need medical intervention. So I’ll be rational about that if the time comes.

Then I learned about the cascade of interventions and its side effects. And what convinced me was not how natural birth was better for me, but how it was better for my baby and our relationship. Then I was all in, ready to do everything in my power to have a real normal natural birth. But I knew myself. I knew I’m a sucker when it comes to pain. My entire life I have fought against pain. The second I feel a headache come on, I pop pills. I take ibuprofen days in advance of period cramps, then double up with acetaminophen when the pain actually hits. I never want to feel the tiniest amount of pain. So I knew if I was going to have a natural birth, I was going to need all the support I could get.

Ray, as always, was way ahead of me on this whole process. The minute we discovered I was pregnant, he set about earning an honorary degree in pregnancy and labor for all the reading he was doing. I knew we had the same goals and he would push me to do what I knew I wanted to do but perhaps wasn’t mentally strong enough to do. He coined the phrase “supportive, not soft” to describe himself and how he imagined he’d be when I was laboring. That’s Ray. He would keep me on track, but he may not be the most comforting. So we set out to find a doula.

We interviewed three and met another one. Doula #1 was great. I loved her personality. But she wasn’t certified. That wasn’t a big deal to me, but there were two problems which determined I wouldn’t hire her: 1) the hospital claims to be very strict about allowing only certified doulas in the delivery room (this turns out to be untrue as no one checked my actual doula’s credentials when we got there!) and 2) she wasn’t forthcoming about her certification status. I think I’d have been glad to help her on her way to getting certified. But she passed herself off as certified, and that just doesn’t fly for me. Doula #2 was the opposite. Certified for like 12 years. So obviously very experienced. But her personality didn’t jive with mine. I knew almost immediately that she would not be a comforting presence for me. Doula #3 was just right. Danielle Freudenberg was the perfect blend of professional and personable. I walked away from our meeting sure I would call her and hire her. And I did. #bestdecisionever

This was my labor prep. You can read about the birth here.

Resources We Consumed in Anticipation (or are still consuming…)
What To Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, etc. (Book/App)
Baby Center (App/Website)

Labor and Birth
Birth Boot Camp online class and book
The Birth Book by Dr. William and Martha Sears
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin
Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel
Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
The Business of Being Born (documentary available on Netflix)
More Business of Being Born (documentary available on Netflix)

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League
Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin
The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins

Monday, May 6, 2013

Prodigy | Book Review

Prodigy by Marie Lu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Color Me: Sequelly Satisfied. I consumed Legend in one breath last year. I loved it (but that was before I got tired of YA dystopias... Ah those were the days...). So I was thrilled to see Prodigy hit the shelves three months ago. And then...I got bored. And then I got excited. And ultimately, I was very pleased with this sequel.

Writing Technique: ★★★ Lu writes like a video game Flash artist (which she is...). Her style is very straight forward, visual, and simple. I like it. It works for this story. I have nothing overly negative or positive to say about it.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★★ I spent the first half of this book bored to tears. It was all like "We're going to do this. Then we're gonna do that." And I was like "Can we please just get to that?!" But somewhere in the middle, things started happening and that was exciting. I like the whole Republic v. The Colonies v. The Patriots v. The People v. whatever storyline. But I'll say that while the story progressed significantly, not a lot happened (if that makes sense). We got from A to B, but there were only a couple stops along the way. That may not be a bad thing. But it made the story seem somewhat simple (despite all the conspiracy stuff going on).

Character Development: ★★★ Day has been a rebel without a cause for most of his life. He's been a one-man army with tunnel vision. This book, he has to learn to play with others. But choosing which others-which cause-is the real struggle. His idealism is challenged and he has to figure out what he wants, what he can do, and what is actually possible for the people. His is a four-star character arc. June's arc is much less tangible. Her almost super-human powers of observation mean she just has to trust her gut and be brave enough to follow through. She gets two generous stars in this department. They balance out to a three.

(Random side note: I don't get why the characters here are so young. June and Day are 15. 15?! I'm trying to suspend my disbelief. But mostly I just have to imagine they're 17 or 18 or 19 or 20... My brother is 16, and I can't imagine him leading a revolution ((as more than just a mascot)), taking a powerful position in government, be in True Love, or pretty much any of the things these kids are supposed to do...)

Message/Theme: ★★★★1/2 loyalty, betrayal, rebellion, enemies, allies, friendship, love, and the many faces of oppression...

Rating: PG/PG-13 for violence and mild language

Overall: ★★★★ A good solid sequel. I'm curious about where we'll go in the third and final--seriously why is everything a trilogy nowadays?! There are other numbers out there besides 3. There's 4 and 5 and 7 and a bunch of others...--book.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Scarlet | Book Review

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a nutshell: No sophomore slum for NaNoWriMo champion-turned published best-seller Marissa Meyer. This book might even be better than the first!

So it's been a long time since September when I read (and loved) Cinder. Enough time for me to remember - "yeah, I read that and I think it was pretty good." So when Scarlet came out, I was like - "cool. I'll get around to that one day." And when it was ready for me to pick up from the library, I was like - "cool. I've got three weeks. I'll read it after I read all this other crap." And then after I read all this other crap, I was like - "cool. I guess I can read Scarlet now." And when I started Scarlet, I was like - WHY DID I NOT START READING THIS SOONER?!

Color me: Warm and fuzzy. This scifi/fantasy futuristic dystopian fairytale-retelling really hit the spot perfectly after reading two terrible light books and three great but heavy ones. This was the ideal blend of action, adventure, humor, drama, friendship, and romance for my sad cold little heart.

Writing Technique: ★★★★ I think Meyer stepped up her game a little bit this time around. What I really admired here was the pacing. Cinder was not nearly so action-based (as far as I remember), so I really wasn't expecting it. But as this series' story evolves (and more fairytale characters are added!), there's a lot of danger, intrigue, and crazy-crazy! And Meyer nails the fight scenes by crafting well-paced sentences. She nails the entire story by pacing out well-crafted scenes and chapters. Honestly, I feel kind of proud.

Also - dialogue. Thorne is my absolute favorite character. He's freaking hilarious. And I can't figure out which fairytale character he's supposed to be. (Best bet: he's Rapunzel's guy... {and with a little Wikipedia research, I'm 98% sure I'm right. The clue is in the Rampion!!!}) The dialogue between Thorne and Cinder is electric, jumps off the page. Way to go, Meyer!

Plot/Story Development: ★★★1/2 So these books are great as part of a series. But on their own, I feel like I've only read part of a book. One-fourth, to be exact. The plot here picks up where we left off with Cinder (yay!) as well as introduces new a plot involving new characters Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood) and Wolf (...the wolf...). This episode functions to bring those two storylines together, get Scarlet on board with the World-Saving Mission and get Cinder amped up to embrace her role as Earth's Last Remaining Hope.

Character Development: ★★★★ Cinder is gradually figuring out her next move as the missing Lunar princess. Scarlet's whole life is about rescuing her grandmother. Both of them have a lot to learn about themselves in the process and hard decisions to make along the way. And I think they learn a lot. Wolf also has some..."personal issues" to deal with too. Kai's story continues, but he's not developing all that quickly. He needs to get in the know on a lot stuff real soon here. Thorne mostly just has to sit there and be hilarious. I don't think he'll learn much of anything until he meets Cress in the next book (side note: can't wait for that!!)

Message/Theme: ★★★1/2 Good v. Evil, family, friendship, love, destiny, true heroism (What is worth dying for? What is worth letting others/loved ones die for? What is worth killing for?), sacrifice, war, and probably other stuff. This isn't a book to read for message though. This is a book to read for real entertaining fun.

Rating: PG-13 for violence and gore

Overall: ★★★★ I loved this book. It sucked me in and spit me out wishing for more. Everybody should read this series because it's just dang good fun. And who doesn't love deciphering retellings, figuring out who's who from the fairytales they learned as a kid...?

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Monday, April 29, 2013

The Silver Linings Playbook | Book Review

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I saw this movie and loved it and knew I had to read the book. I started reading and was blown away by the quality of writing - not just the story, but the humor and drama and subject matter and every tiny ingredient involved in this delicious literary casserole. As a writer myself, there are so many things here to commend, and I try to note them all in my review. The movie and the book are different in a lot of ways. But I think the movie retained the spirit of the book. And so does the author. So I'm with him.

Writing Technique: ★★★★1/2 Quick is a brilliant writer. He turns a guy with crippling mental illness, violent tendencies, and a serious one-track mind into a heart-warming, charming, hilarious, and moving narrative. Let this be a study for all novelists in voice, because this guy nails it. He also unravels a compelling modern hero's journey with a very limited first person POV. This work is fantastic.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★★ As I said, this is a modern hero's journey. Pat is not your typical hero (see more in char dev). But his journey is truly admirable. He leaves a neural health institution with one goal in mind: be reunited with his wife Nikki. Every single action he takes is made with her in mind: working out obsessively, his attitude and actions toward others, his pursuit of a greater literary education, etc. He is trying to write his own story - his own movie. He is single-minded in his pursuit of a happy ending, a true silver lining. It doesn't go exactly as planned, which is to be expected. And here is where novelists should study Quick's work, because it is a model case study of want v. need. As The Rolling Stones said so eloquently: "You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you might get what you need." (Now that song's stuck in your head. You're welcome.)

Character Development: ★★★★1/2 So what does Pat need? Well, he thinks he needs Nikki. But we all know he doesn't need Nikki. He needs to adjust to his new reality. To find embrace his new life and find a happy ending in it and not in the past. Pat's not your typical hero because he's psychologically ill. His treatment, his healing is a long internal process. And I love seeing where he's at on the last page. The closing line for me is beautiful.

Message/Theme: ★★★★★ I love the difficult issues this book tackles. And having read some author interviews, I admire him for writing something that reflects at least in part a personal struggle. SLP addresses depression, mental illness, grief, physical and emotional abuse, marriage, love, friendship, family, obsession, personal growth, and the true nature of happy endings.

Rating: R for language and sexuality

Audiobook Performance: ★★★★ Ray Porter is a great voice for Pat's somewhat deranged inner monologue. He also excels at all the men's voices - Philly, Indian, inner city black accents - he nails 'em all. But all the women sound exactly the same. It's difficult being a voice actor, I know, but it drew me out of the moment a few times. Especially when Jeanie and Tiffany talk back and forth, there was no change. So points lost.

Overall: ★★★★1/2 This is a great read. I don't think I could possibly recommend it more.
And yes, you should watch the movie too. Here, watch the trailer.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Adoration of Jenna Fox | Book Review

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Honestly, I'm almost too bored to write this review. I don't have much to say about it - good or bad. So here we go.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a science-fiction, coming of age novel set in a not-so-distant future. Jenna has recently awakened from a long coma with no memory of who she is. As she strives to remember and move forward as Jenna Fox, she realizes the key to future opens a very locked door from her past.

Writing Technique: ★★★ Perfectly acceptable. There were a few moments poetry that were nice. But overall, the writing didn't grip me in any way.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★ Um, yeah, this plot unfolds. There are revelations and twists, etc. But I'm not gonna lie, I thought the twists were gonna be a lot bigger. I was prepared to be knocked off my feet (based on the positive review of one of my favorite authors), but sadly I wasn't even swayed by the light wind of this story. It was...fine. I'll admit, I take issue with the tiny baby of a love story here. If I'm to believe...what she says at the end that they spend the next 70 years together?!, I could use much more supporting evidence throughout. Weak sauce.

Character Development: ★★★1/2 Jenna Fox was never quite enough for me as a character, maybe even as a human. Much of her inner monologue is questioning if she is "enough." I'm not sure the author ever convinced me she was. But what she learns and how that shapes her actions, particularly at the end of the story are...interesting, kind of. Nearly all of the other characters, though, are sadly one dimensional. Even knowing their histories, they never became real people. Ethan, Dane, Alice, Mr. Bender, Lily, Claire, Dad -- they do things, they feel things, they have reasons for them; but they don't really change, and some of them don't really have a point. So...that's kind of a fail.

Message/Theme: ★★★★ Now the questions presented here are much more interesting to me. I wish I package was bigger and brighter. But what the hey, take what I can get. Ideas: What makes a person a person? What is the soul? Can it be lost? Can it be kept in a box? Does the government have the right to determine when the soul, when personhood, when humanity begins and ends? Where is line between POSSIBILITY and PERMISSIBILITY (ethics)? If science and medicine CAN do something, does that mean it SHOULD? What would you do for family? What would you want your family to do for you? There's more, but this is all that really mattered to me.

Rating: PG for language and thematic elements.

Audiobook Performance: ★★1/2 Jenna Lamia is unimpressive to me as a narrator. She straight up ruined [b:Shiver|6068551|Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #1)|Maggie Stiefvater||6244926] by [a:Maggie Stiefvater|1330292|Maggie Stiefvater|] for me, a book I believe to be nearly flawless. So I'm not sure if my apathy toward this story is not entirely her fault. I can't say she did anything exactly wrong here. But it didn't do anything for me as a listener. Perhaps one day if I have oodles of time, I'll give this book another shot, this time with my eyes. TBR list is pretty long as it is.

Overall: ★★★ My opinion: This story had a lot of potential. I think with more development it could have been great. As it is, it's mediocre. Read it if you want. Don't if you want. It really didn't affect me one way or the other. At least it's short...

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower | Book Review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me an eternity to read this book. I don't know why. It's easy to get through, but I guess I'm easily distracted. The movie (written, directed, and produced by the author) is incredible and I highly recommend it. It's not one of those things where you must read the book first or you must watch the movie first. They are perfect companion pieces.

And let me give a huge shout out to my best friend, Tiffany, who first told me about this novel and insisted I read it. You were right, love.

Writing Technique: ★★★★★ Perks is a unique reading experience. I believe Chbosky to be a genius writer for penning such a poignant coming of age epistolary tale from the limited POV of a shy but observant, damaged but learning, ignorant but exposed high school freshman. This author captures Charlie's voice perfectly. He offers a lot of philosophical commentary on life and growing up, culture and relationships. And he does it in a way that is equal parts subtle and... not subtle. It's an easy, simple read, light. But I consider that one of its virtues. A novel packed with so much drama could be dense or heavy-handed. I think Chbosky handles it well. Very well.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★★ The plot is not that complicated. Things happen, yes. But the meat of this story is Charlie's internal struggle. The notable events are in great part a conduit for his journey of self-discovery. So let's get to character development, shall we?

Character Development: ★★★★★ Charlie's story is a classic coming of age story. He's spent his life on the sidelines, watching but not doing. His English teacher's challenge to participate catapults him into a group of friends who are most definitely doers. His friendship with Sam and Patrick exposes him to a whole new way of life - loud, wild, fearless, and infinite. And ultimately, he learns the value and necessity of friendship; he deals with long buried wounds from his past; he hurts and he heals; he finds hope. And that's a great character arc.

Message/Theme: ★★★★ This is a book jam-packed with themes: observing v. participating in life, isolation v. integration, being who you are v. being who others want you to be, tolerance, acceptance, abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), self-esteem, friendship, family, innocence, love, freedom, hope, beauty, etc. etc. etc. There is a strong undisguised sexual revolution message here - casual sex, homosexuality, and abortion are just a few topics presented and embraced over the course of the story. And while I don't agree with all of the more liberal messages Chbosky clearly advocates, I appreciate the sentiment.

Rating: R for language, sexuality, drug use, violence

Overall: ★★★★ This book has become a classic, and rightly so. It's quiet and reserved, quirky and spunky, simple and deep. And it's neck-deep in poetic introspection that will leave you feeling a little more whole, a bit more hopeful, and a lot more infinite.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Sea of Tranquility | Book Review

Even this cover is freaking gorgeous.

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sigh. It's so hard to review a book you love.

I stumbled upon this book accidentally. And I will be forever grateful. I definitely had no idea what this book was about even after reading the description (my own misunderstanding.) But I got sucked in immediately, read it in one sitting, in one day. I might have cried a little. I might have laughed a lot. I might have wished and wished and wished that I had written something this good. I definitely give this my highest recommendation.

Writing Technique: ★★★★★ I love Millay's writing style. She is poetic, artful, profound, and hilarious. I highlighted so many passages, it's almost every page. As a writer, I enjoyed finding great examples of foreshadowing and payoff, pacing, tension, showing-not-telling... This is a knockout of a debut from Katja Millay. I can't wait to see what she offers next.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★★ Millay does a great job gradually revealing the backstories of Nastya and Josh. This story unfolds so beautifully and naturally. I found it very realistic and entirely engrossing. Nastya makes a lot of poor/questionable choices. Josh has a lot of real reactions. One of the most rewarding reads I've ever had. Also the ending is freaking wonderful.

Character Development: ★★★★ Nastya and Josh are two pretty broken people when they meet. As they get to know each other, they both are given a chance to move beyond the terrible pain of their past and try to find some kind of normal. But (spoiler alert? I don't think so, but you might be sensitive...) I love that they can't fix each other. Because in real life, broken people need to fix themselves (okay--in real life, everybody needs Jesus to fix them, in my opinion... but that's another story...). Josh can't heal Nastya. And Nastya can't heal Josh. But they learn they've got to do something just by being around each other. And that is a good character arc, if you ask me.

Message/Theme: ★★★★★ First and foremost, the dream of second chances. Pain/death/suffering/anger/hate/revenge v. healing/life/forgiveness/hope/love/friendship/family. Identity. Heaven. Home. Belonging.

Rating: R for language, sexual content and humor, and violence.

Overall: ★★★★★ I adored this book. I read it twice in five days because I wanted to revel in it again. The writing is beautiful. The characters are compelling and unforgettable. The story is moving and inspiring. I hope to write something this good one day.

Some Examples of Why I Love Millay's Writing:

"How come you call her honey and never use terms of endearment on me?" he fake whines.
"I do," Mrs. Leighton says, patting him on the cheek as she walks by. "Just last week I called you the bane of my existence."
"That's right," he says. "That was a good day."

I have a black belt in self-pity. I was an expert in the field. Still am. It's a skill you never forget.

I am an expert in all manners of therapy. The only thing I'm not an expert in is getting them to work. My parents had me in therapy before I even left the hospital, which is the recommended course of action when the devil finds your fifteen-year-old and the afterlife spits her back out. 

Nastya on group therapy:
So that's what it was like every week. I'd sit in a circle and a bunch of people who'd be through as much shit as I had would look at me like I snuck into the club without paying the cover. And I'd feel like screaming and telling them that I had paid it the same as everyone else in the room, I just didn't feel like waving around my receipt.

It was fine when being the Brighton Piano Girl defined my life. when I was making the right choices. When all of my choices were influenced by what my parents wanted me to choose. I let their current steer me, let it smooth and shape me like a stone pushed along the sand until I was perfect. And as soon as I was, I was ripped out of the water and thrown and smashed into a thousand pieces that I can't put back together. I don't know where they go. And there are so many missing that the ones that are left don't fit together anymore.
I think I'll stay in pieces. I can shift them, rearrange, depending on the day, depending on what I need to be. I can change on a whim and be so many different girls and none of them has to be me.

I chose the silence and everything that came along with it because I wasn't a good enough liar to speak.

I'm not sure how long we sit in Josh's truck, holding hands, surrounded by darkness and unspoken regrets. But it's long enough to know that there are no stories or secrets in the world worth holding onto more than his hand.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easy | Book Review

Easy by Tammara Webber

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Oh Goodreads, you failed me this time. As a writer, I feel bad for what I'm about to do. But as a reader, it seems necessary to tell the truth, no matter how painful. And I just can see my literary snob friend Zach (I mean that affectionately, Zach, if you're reading. Okay, go away now...) judging me and rolling his eyes as this pops up on his feed - like, look at the cover! What did you expect?! Well, I expected a low budget indie book with a poor marketing team but a precious literary gem inside because friends of mine gave it five stars.

Warning: this is the harshest review I've ever given. In summary, this book was TERRIBLE. File it under DANA READ THIS BOOK SO I DON'T HAVE TO.

Actually file it under: DON'T READ THIS BOOK, READ THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY INSTEAD. (I read The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. It blew me away. I died a thousand beautiful deaths of love for that book and wanted to read something similar. Girl suffers attack. Boy has dark and twisty past involving lots of death. Boy and Girl heal themselves and each other. Laughter and pain and love love love. TSoT did this well. Easy should've been lit on fire before hitting a publisher's put it mildly.

Writing Technique: ★ None. Honestly, Webber is the worst writer I've ever read. (Including some horribly cheesy romantic Christian fiction.) Some of the most basic good writing techniques were completely absent. Things like show, don't tell. So many times I observed as Jacqueline strung all the pieces of the plot together for us, explaining easily what we should be figuring out. Don't believe me? (These are examples from two consecutive chapters near the end because they are the freshest in my mind, but I assure this is a consistent problem throughout.)

Pg. 287 My eyes stung. No wonder his father had shut down. From what Dr. Heller told me, Ray Maxfield was a logical, analytical person. His only emotional exception must have been his wife. 
You can't really know that, Jacqueline. You're telling me what to think, and I don't like it. 
Pg. 288 His grief was so tangible. I knew in that moment that he hadn't worked through it--not at all in the eight years it had been. His protective wall had become a fortress holding him hostage rather than giving sanctuary. he might never fully recover from the horror of what happened that night, but there had to be a point where it wouldn't consume him. 
Over-sharing much? Yeah some of those words are pretty, but this outright statement means less to me than if I'd put it together on my own based on a stronger narrative voice. 
Pg. 300 As I stroked his hair and held him tight, I knew this night had struck a chord at the heart of his pain. What tormented Lucas went further than the horror of that night eight years ago. What haunted him was guilt, however insanely misplaced.
I might forgive this straight telling if Jackie had put it in the context of her own revelation, "I realized this must have tortured Lucas blah blah blah." But that never happens. Jackie doesn't realize things, she just gives it to you.

In my opinion, this is just lazy writing. Show, don't tell is rule no. 1. And it wasn't the only problem with the book. Obvious characterization. Predictable plot in absolutely every way. It's completely unimaginative. I'm starting to feel romance as a genre - forgive me my generalization, I know there are always exceptions - is breeding ground for this kind of authorial laziness. (I know, I know...I sound mean, don't I? Sorry. But it PISSED.ME.OFF.)

Plot/Story Development: ★★ While the bare-boned skeleton of this story is okay, the meat and muscle of it are what really sucked. I can appreciate a simple if predictable plot if the details are handled well and the prose is good. Alas, you know I don't appreciate this book.

This story has a very traditional romantic plot arc. Brokenhearted damsel in distress is rescued from soulless villain (obviously out to steal the damsel's "virtue" - whatever remains of it) by hunky tortured badboy knight in shining armor. Damsel (Jacqueline -- and can I just say...I hate characters ((and real people!)) who are sticklers over others using their full name. Nicknames/shortened names are a sign of affection and intimacy. Get over yourself...) and Knight (Lucas -- also known by a host of other names throughout) are thusly thrown together by a host of circumstances beyond their control until flirty texts and emails devolve into a chest-heaving, eye-rolling surrender to their lusty passions.

[Plot dev spills into character dev now...]

Character Development: ★★★ Damsel gets all fem-powered and learns to defend herself (although Knight continues to swoop in at the last moment just to make sure all baddies are sufficiently man-squashed). Knight, sensitive stud that he is, has demons of the past and secrets of the present - to match those sexy tats and lip ring - which he learns to relieve and release through the power of their Most Epic Love-Lust. And together -- they find The True Meaning of Christmas! or whatever...

[We interrupt this scathing sarcasm for a moment of truth: Jacqueline is an idiot -- kind of. I feel bad for her. But she's slow and kind of annoying. I don't think this because of her actions, because she really didn't do anything wrong. It's not her fault she gets attacked/stalked. But based on her narrative, her "inner monologue" (both of which is a reflection of the author's lack of writing technique)...she's a moron. I'm glad she got all fem-powered in the end. But I hated being in her head. And Lucas had a lot of traits of real good guys I know...but in the end, he's just a caricature of the Romantic Hero...even with all his baggage. It's resolved too easily. It doesn't feel genuine. Hence...all the mockery.]

Message/Theme: ★★★ This book gets points for message (not very many, obviously, but some). Rape/assault is a very serious thing, and I appreciate the author trying to awaken her readers to its danger and inspire them to be proactive.

Theme: love heals all wounds. Love, lust, victimization, empowerment, healing, friendship, .... aaaaaaand not much else. There really isn't much going on here besides the whole "Don't get raped, but if you do, it's not your fault" vibe.

Rating: R. Very R. Possibly NC-17, but I'm not exactly sure what that would entail because I've never seen one. This book is basically erotica or really close (I'm not technically sure, because I don't read that genre - on purpose.) Also much swearing, some violence, and as always thematic elements.

[PS: My hatred of my book is not even about the graphic and profuse sexual content, although that's why I can't even say, "Yeah, try it out. maybe you'll like it." I think no one should read this book. Zero redeeming value. But my hatred of this book is based solely on the lazy, uninspired, dear-god-how-the-heck-did-you-even-get-this-published poor quality of writing.]

Overall: ★ If I've offended you with this review because you thought this book was some undiscovered masterpiece, all I have to say is - get out and read some other freaking books! Most of my reviews are not this mean, but I feel like I'm healing myself from this traumatic reading experience just by writing this, and hopefully I've spared someone else. Let me know if I spared you.

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