Book Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Creekwood, #1)Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had really high hopes going into this book, and though it was a good story and a very creative idea, I can’t say I was blown away.

Let’s start with the positives: This is a very unique coming of age story about a gay teen in suburban Atlanta that I really, really identify with so much. I’m bisexual and live in Rural Georgia, so to us, Atlanta is the shining beacon of gay freedom. Every queer kid flees to Atlanta or Savannah at some point in their Georgia life, so this resonated with me. The culture, the types of people around Simon, and the way his parents are very accepting but he still feels iffy about letting them know because it’s a big deal out of relatively nothing. Simon is a great character who I entirely understand, and I loved him to bits.

The problem is everybody else. There isn’t a single other character, apart from maybe Blue in his emails, that doesn’t feel flat and one-note. Everybody is just exactly what they are: a name on a page. Nick, we don’t know much of anything about him except he’s Simon’s friend who plays guiltar. Leah is Simon’s kind of weird and bitchy friend. Abby is Simon’s new, non-native friend. Martin is a guy in theatre club that is blackmailing Simon. Nobody has any depths besides Simon! We know very little about his family, his friends, his classmates, and it’s even mentioned in the book that Simon DOESN’T KNOW them. It’s just unrealistic that a person wouldn’t know ANYTHING of depth about the people around him, no matter how secretive he is. And because of that, it makes all the characters besides Simon and Blue annoyingly flat.

Hell, the DOG is more dynamic than any of the other humans besides Simon and the anonymous Blue. It’s just so frustrating that such a great idea with such a good story lacks depth in anybody but the main character.

I would give it 5* for the subject matter and plot, and 2* for the characters. I’ll give it 3* just because I do like it more than I dislike it, but it’s not as well written as I hoped this beautiful idea would be.

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Book Review: One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is Lying (B&N Exclusive Edition)One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me start out with saying, HOLY CRAP! I’m angry I forgot to read this earlier. Second, even though I got spoilered because someone put trigger warnings outside a spoiler cut (my fault, I was trying to find other versions and saw a review when I ALWAYS avoid reviews before I finish reading; though I would def put trigger warnings below a spoiler cut, just saying), I was STILL shocked by the twist.

To start with, Bronwyn is one of my favorite YA characters I’ve read as an adult. I really, really liked her and identified with her, which means she may seem weird to actual teens but this is the life of reading YA when you’re 28, I guess.

Overall, One Of Us Is Lying is an absolute thrill ride of a mystery. I read about 1/3rd of this book over the course of a few days, forgot I had it, and then a week later, I read the other 2/3rds in a single day. It’s THAT much of a page-turner! I’m honestly sad I read this one before the book I’m reading now because wow, talk about a dip in quality!

I cannot recommend this one enough, and I feel like if I hadn’t been spoiled for the ending, I could have given this a 5* review for the shock twist I wouldn’t have otherwise saw coming AT ALL!

Read it! You’ll adore it!

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In A Funk(TM)

These days, I find myself in a bit of a funk. I’m not depressed, because I’m well aware of the symptoms of depression and I have no forms of those symptoms. I still love the things I enjoy, I still find reason to be happy, I still feel joy and sorrow and all the other emotions, and I’m basically still the picture of healthy brain chemistry. I’m blessed with that and I will never take that for granted.

That said, I’ve really been in a funk lately. I would say probably for about three months now, I’ve been feeling very ‘stuck’. I was rejected for the ONLY grad school program I was interested in that is within driving distance of where I live (I have no desire to move away), and after that I found myself in a rut. Though it’s not shocking I wasn’t accepted (the acceptance rate is only 10% at best for this program), I was really banking on that to be my ‘next step’.

I hate my job.

I do. It’s my first full-time job but also the most boring job I’ve ever held in my life. I’m a bank teller, and in a small town at a hometown bank, that means you’re decently busy on Monday and Friday and every other day of the week you spend up to an hour sitting in your station with NOTHING to do. We can’t have phones or books or anything to pass the time, and there’s only so much you can talk about with your coworkers when you are a queer democrat with no desire for a family and live in the rural south where some people still don’t let their kids read Harry Potter because of the witchcraft. I can’t leave my station except at lunch and to go to the bathroom, and even that I have to be sure there are two other tellers out front or else you CANNOT go pee (legal reasons). I’m terrible at my job to boot. I suck at math, I’m somehow even bad at counting even though I try SO HARD to go slow and use the sticky-finger stuff so the bills don’t stick together, and I’m constantly worried I will be fired, because even if I hate my job, I have a crippling fear of disappointing people.

However, of ALL the stuff I’m qualified for, I live in a town where even though it isn’t a tiny town, jobs tend to not be advertised as much as, “I know someone, let’s hire them”. The only reason I got this job is because a bigger bank DID advertise, and when my dad’s banker heard I applied to another bank, he offered me a job without me having ANY qualifications for this position. The reason I took it is because it offered $11.50/hr straight out of college in a state with $7.25 minimum wage, FULLY FREE health AND dental insurance, a 401K plan, and 2 weeks paid vacation every year. And after 6 months I moved up to $12/hr, so even less of a reason to quit. I CAN’T quit this job unless I can find something in my field that offers similar pay and/or benefits.

Unless, of course, I was going to grad school.

I was really banking on grad school giving me a reason to quit my job. I hate this job. It’s an AMAZING job but I hate it. I hate the monotony and the boredom and I honestly hate the customers. The number of time old drunk guys flirt with me or hyper-conservatives praise Trump to me (I obviously won’t offer my opinion since it’s A) unprofessional, and B) I live in a state where employers don’t have to give a reason to fire you and I KNOW I’m the odd one out) and expect me to join them, or just the general shittiness of the tasks of my job, it’s all just terrible. I hate dirty ass money. Money is disgusting and I’ve been a germophobe since I was like 13 and I can’t go wash my hands 12 times a day because I can’t leave my station.

Getting rejected by grad school means I can’t justify giving up such a well-paying, AMAZING benefits job. And since I have nothing else down the pipe now that I’m not going to grad school, I just have this sinking feeling I’ll be like one of my coworkers who has been a teller for 20 goddamn years.

It’s got me in a funk so that I don’t go to the movies as often, because my free-time is so limited. And I don’t read as much because I have less free time. I don’t watch TV anymore because I got behind and can’t feel bothered to catch up. It isn’t that I don’t want to do fun stuff anymore, it’s just that I haven’t got enough free time to DO all the things I used to do, so now I spend all my free time writing.

My fiction writing is booming, but I can’t afford an agent and am terrified of self-publishing, so it’s pointless. As a result, I have literally NOTHING to look forward to anymore. I’m not unhappy in general, but I have no GOALS. I’ve spent all my life from 4 to 26 with goals in mind regarding school and college, and now that I’ve been graduated for a year and didn’t get into grad school and can’t really afford to move (or want to move) to go somewhere else I might WOULD get accepted, I’m spinning my wheels. I don’t know what I want to do with my life.

I’m stuck in a rut.

That’s why I’m not posting as many reviews, that’s why I’m not engaging as much, and that’s why I’m so distant lately. Even though I may not be depressed, I’m in a funk. I’m having a TRUE quarter-life crisis and I don’t know how to get out of it.

So please, don’t give up on my reviews or my essays. I’m trying to hard to get back into keeping up with the times, but I’m finding it so much easier to just sink everything into the last creative endeavors I have left. I’m so used to a LIFETIME of creating stuff and getting validation from teachers and professors that now that I’m stuck in the ‘real world’, I’m just spinning my wheels. I hate that I’m not working on my non-fiction writing anymore to a level I want, but it’s just so hard to care when there’s no goal in sight.

I’m not giving up on myself, so please don’t give up on me.

And if anybody else feels like this,  please know you aren’t alone. I hate this. I feel so alone because there is no sympathy to be found. I’m making $12/hr straight out of college at an easy job with amazing benefits, boo-hoo. I understand why I get no sympathy here, because most people don’t have the same aspirations and goals I do. But anybody else in a similar situation, I feel sympathy for you. I feel your pain. You aren’t alone.

I’m going to be okay, and so is anybody else who is in this sort of situation.

Book Review: Timing by Mary Calmes

Timing (Timing, #1)Timing by Mary Calmes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is terrible. Stephane is meh, most everyone else is annoying, the relationship is abrupt and uncomfortable, and everything is predictable and annoyingly stereotypical.

Even the (numerously) sex scenes are bad.

Seriously. Don’t waste your time.

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Book Review: Maelstrom (Whyborne & Griffin, #7) by Jordan L. Hawk

Maelstrom (Whyborne & Griffin, #7)Maelstrom by Jordan L. Hawk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s taken so long to write a review for this book that I don’t think I’m going to do it justice, so I’ll be short about it:

This is one of the better books of the series. I loved all the books in this series, but this is probably my favorite since the second one. Also, the scene at the end on the bridge nearly killed me.

The ONLY thing that throws me off is the damn librarians, oh my God. I couldn’t take it seriously when there was any mention of the librarians because I just died giggling over them. The army of librarians in carriages part made me stop and take a break from reading because I was just too thrown off by it.

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Book Review: An Unsuitable Heir by K. J. Charles

An Unsuitable Heir (Sins of the Cities, #3)An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(I’m tired, so forgive the short review)

I thoroughly enjoyed the depiction of genderfluid/genderqueer characters in this book, and I really was surprised the author managed to fix this situation that the characters found themselves in, but overall, it was just more of the same from the series.

I did enjoy it as you can see by my star rating, but it was more a case of ‘if you liked the first few, you will like this one, too’ than anything special cropping up.

I still would recommend it if this is your kind of book.

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Thoughts On Figure Skating

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As we all know, I’m a die-hard figure skating fan. I have been a casual fan since I was a child but became a ‘watch every event I can’ fan probably about a decade ago now. For some reason my favorite discipline has always been men’s skating. For the time that I’ve been a big fan, for the most part, ladies skating has been very technical and less artistic than men’s skating. It sounds like it would be the opposite, but in watching skating I always observed that men’s skating seemed to have more choreography, more diverse music, and in a lot of cases, more interesting composition. After the change came to allow songs with lyrics, this changed some and ladies skating started to have more choreography and musical diversity, so it has been evening out. However because men’s skating was already my favorite discipline, I stayed set in my ways.

The past few years, however, a lot has changed about that and I find myself getting to the point where my beloved men’s skating isn’t my favorite anymore because of one thing: quads.

Don’t get me wrong, quads have been a thing in men’s skating since I have been watching. I’ll never forget Evgeni Plushenko’s giant quad jumps and the power in those beauties. I love watching skaters jump quads, because there’s something so amazing about the height and rate of speed at which they spin. I don’t even dislike quads now that they’re so overwhelmingly prevalent, because they’re still amazingly impressive feats that you can’t help be wowed by.

My issue with quads is that over the past four years or so it’s become all about the quads. Men’s skating always appealed to me because it was more artistic to watch of the skating disciplines (apart from Ice Dance, which is still my very favorite of them all) and you had artists of the ice who delivered sweeping, beautiful, emotional, happy, fun, entertaining performances that had the fans clapping along and engrossed in the charm or emotions of the skater on the ice. These days, though those performances still exist, skaters are moving away from the performance to focus on the quads. Of the top ten men, it’s a pretty even split on who is entertaining to watch and who jumps the highest and spins the fastest. Some of the best jumpers are the best performers, sure, but a fair few of the best jumpers don’t really bother giving a performance and telling a story in between their jumping passes.

Though I will not deride any skater, because they’re all very talented in their own ways, as a fan, I want to see a performance. Figure skating is ballet on ice, not gymnastics on ice. I get even more upset when some skaters are clearly capable of delivering a great performance as demonstrated by their exhibition skates but sacrifice that charm and emotion to get more revolutions in the air during competition. They skate programs they clearly don’t care about and don’t pretend to care about that make them appear bored out of their minds just because they can win with it because they’re very bouncy and spinny

Some of the best skaters in the world may never win a major medal. Some of them go their entire career never being at the top. A skater that comes to mind as one of these skaters, though he did manage his first Grand Prix Medal in the 2017 GP season, is Misha Ge. Misha Ge is easily one of the most beautiful skaters to ever skate. His performances are far more enjoyable to watch than any of the top five men in the world apart from Yuzuru Hanyu* and yet because he has no quads, he has never had half the success of men who are infinitely less pleasing to watch skate.

*Yuzuru Hanyu is the best figure skater, in my opinion, to ever grace the sport with his presence. He is exempt from basically everything I have to say about men’s skating. If there is ever a skater in the future who even comes close to the ability of Yuzuru Hanyu, I will be beyond stunned.

And it isn’t just the fact that someone who has no quads can’t do well. I’m bothered by the fact that so many skaters who have vastly superior artistic skills, not just in the visible artistry but in the details (edges, pacing, speed, ice coverage, consistency, choreography, ect.) only the trained eye can spot have no chance at ever amounting to what someone who can skate around, do some big jumps, and fulfill the basic element requirements can. But most of all, what bothers me with the quads is that an ugly quad with a fall still gets higher points than a perfect triple. I’m aware that the difficulty is exponentially higher, but it’s just absolutely frustrating to a spectator that someone with a perfect triple with +3 GOE can be outscored by a crappy quad.

I won’t bore you with all the details but an example would be how the base value for the triple salchow is 4.4 points, and a +3 GOE, which means it was absolutely perfect in every way would add a value of 2.1 points, for a total jump point value of 6.5 points. The base value for a quad salchow is 10.5 points. Even with -3 GOE, which deducts 4.0 points, that means the jump still has the value of 6.5 points. With this example, it’s worth noting that a +3 GOE is incredibly rare. Some of the most well executed jumps are in the +1 and +2 range.

The conclusion drawn is that, realistically, a bad 4S is worth more than a near-perfect 3S. And this will never not upset me.

However there is some hope for the future. There are talks about crazy changes in scoring for the future of the ISU in order to encourage more artistic skating than there is lately. I’m pretty iffy on the idea of an artistic skate and an athletic skate instead of short and free programs. I might go so far as to say I’m not just iffy, I kind of hate that idea. The most likely to be considered suggested fix is to lower base values of jumps in a way that makes the quads more fairly valued. The example scale shows that the value of the jumps in my example above would be 4.3 for the 3S and 9.7 for the 4S.

The changes already approved by the ISU for the next figure skating season are hit or miss.

The ISU already has approved changes that will impact the TES totals in men’s singles and pairs beginning with the 2018-19 season: reducing the free skate time by 30 seconds, to four minutes, and eliminating one of the men’s eight jumping passes. Because there is not a finite TES maximum like there is with PCS, removing one major element should bring the scores closer together.

The ISU also has already signed off on another scoring change for 2018-19, increasing the number of Grade of Execution (GOE) scores from seven (+3 through -3, including 0) to 11 (+5 through -5, also including 0). The interval between the scores would be set at 10 percent of the base value, as opposed to the current system, which has no standardized relationship to the base value.

I personally don’t see how that’s going to solve much of anything. If anything, taking away 30 seconds and only 1 jumping pass sounds like it will hurt the artistry of the skate more than the athleticism. The GOE changes make sense to level the athleticism playing field, but I don’t see how any of this is supposed to a help the artistic side of the sport at all. It actually increases the percentage value of GOE for quads vs triples that way.

At the end of the day, my biggest hope for figure skating as a sport is to find something that brings back the artistry in men’s skating to the level it was when I began loving figure skating. I would personally suggest limiting the number of quads that can be performed in each program. So many quads just endangers the skaters, takes the focus away from the beauty of skating, lowers the necessity to have good performance scores to win, and frustrates fans who see beautiful, moving, entertaining skates end up below stiff, boring, jump-fest programs on the leader board.

Until that day, thankfully, ladies skating has really become far more artistic and entertaining to watch in the past three or four years, and ice dance is always wonderful. So in closing, let’s just admire some beautiful ice dancing from my favorite US Ice Dance pair without the burden of worrying about quads, triples, or any jumps at all!