Our Dark Duet- A Review

Our Dark Duet is the sequel to This Savage Song. The first part of the review will be spoiler-free. I’ll warn you before you get to the spoilers.

I read This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab, last November, and I fell in love. I may have screamed in frustration when I found out there was going to be a sequel that wasn’t due out for 11 months! It had a fresh premise, interesting and flawed characters. And monsters. (I like monsters.) It also had moral dilemmas and was a thoroughly discussable book. I partially reviewed it here.

Our Dark Duet came out on June 13th, and I bought a Kindle copy immediately. The story picks up six months later, letting us know what August and Kate have been doing since This Savage Song ended. Kate’s been fighting monsters in another town, and August has been trying to save South City.

For me, Our Dark Duet is a solidly good book, though I didn’t love it as much as the first one. But apparently I’m in the minority there. Folks on Goodreads and Amazon have rated the second higher than the first.

The Spoiler Free Good

Our Dark Duet has all the things I loved about the first one, plus a new and fascinating monster. We get to see more from insight the Flynn compound, and wrap up with all the characters who were in the first book.

The Spoiler Free Bad

Part of what I loved in the first book was the relationship between August and Kate. It wasn’t just about chemistry and shipping them (though that was an element for me). It was also about how they grew to depend on one another. They’re separated for most of the second book.

*Spoiler alert below the picture, including discussion of the ending. You’ve been warned.*

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The Good, With Spoilers

I love that they finally try to kiss, and that it brings Kate’s soul to the surface. I loved that they explore moral complexity more. Kate’s soul is “stained” because she shot someone in self-defense. She admits that maybe she could have done something different, but she didn’t because she assumed the person was a monster. Previously, when August has been reaping a soul, the confession clearly shows that the person is a bad guy. But they reveal that other people have done bad things with good intentions, or that they did bad things previously, changed. I appreciated that acknowledgement, because ignoring that always bothered me in the first one.

The Bad, With Spoilers

I don’t love it that Kate and Ilsa die. I’ve been thinking about it (which is why this review is written almost 2 weeks after I finished the book), and it’s probably the right ending. But it feels so hopeless. Kate and Ilsa helped August keep himself sane and in check. They remind him of the best parts of himself. Having them die and then it just end makes me worry about what August will do going forward. Not that he’ll go dark or lose his way again. But just that we all need to connect with someone, or what’s the point? And I know August loves his parents (even though Henry is dying too… ugh), but it’s not the same. Ilsa and Kate were the people August connected to the most.

I guess the implication was that August and Soro are going to form more of a connection, but… I neither liked nor disliked Soro, so that’s not comforting to me.

It almost feels like a loose end to me, and I want to know what happens to August next. Even though, honestly, I probably wouldn’t like if the author tried to stretch the premise into another book. It’s over… but it doesn’t feel that way.

I don’t mind that Kate and Ilsa died; it kind of feels right to me. And it’s life, isn’t it, that sometimes we don’t get what we want, and endings hurt? I just… I guess I wanted more for Kate and August; a chance for them to see who they could be together when they were a team.

What did you think of this book or this series? Have there ever been books where you both loved and hated the ending?

Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

IMG_2703I was in elementary school when I got my first C on a test. It was probably math, because back then I thought I hated math. I got home from school, and sobbed because a C was clearly the end of the world. And my mom sat me down and explained that I didn’t have to be perfect.

I can’t count the number of times she told me that, but it never quite sank in.

I used to be a poor sport, throwing a quiet temper tantrum if I lost a game. Oh, I thought I was holding in my temper quite well, but everyone else knew I was being a big baby. (This was in my 20s.) Still, I’m generally good at everything, so people kept playing with me because I didn’t lose all that often.

Any criticism, even the mild kind, could make me fume for weeks. Because if someone criticized me, clearly they hated me and everything about me, right? The flip side of that is that if I said or did something I perceived as “wrong,” I could obsess over it for weeks as well.

One day, I was getting ready to go play games with my friends, and I thought back to the last time we played. I remembered eating and drinking, making silly jokes and laughing a lot. I remembered who was there and what we played. But no matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t remember who won.

And that was eye-opening for me.

I didn’t get over myself overnight, but that realization started the slow process. Whenever I started to take something too seriously or get upset about it, I’d just ask myself, “Will I even remember this in a month?” If the answer was no, I made myself move on.

Then I started participating in online critiques of my writing, and the old feelings resurfaced. I made myself put the critiques aside for a day or two before responding. And I found that as long as I didn’t respond right away, I could get over my hurt and see that much of the critique was helpful. Not all of it, of course. Sometimes criticism is just a difference of opinion, and I didn’t have to go with it. But if I assumed that everyone who criticized me was coming from a place of genuinely wanting to help me, it made the criticism easier to take.

I know that not everyone wants to help, and that criticism can be malicious. But it’s not my job to sort out other people’s emotions. I just assume everyone has my best interests at heart, and move on. Other people’s negativity doesn’t have to affect me, unless I let it.

It wasn’t until I was in grad school to be a counselor that I realized how much progress I’d made. We all had to tape ourselves doing “counseling sessions” with other students, and then get feedback from our professor in front of the whole class. I really respected this professor, and desperately wanted her praise. But when she saw my video, she picked out all the areas where I could improve.

I felt myself turning red, and those old feelings of having to be perfect wanted to come to the surface. But I told myself to pay attention to what she was saying, really listen, and think about it later when I had time to decide how to feel, and if it was helpful.

When she was done ripping my counseling session to shreds (that’s how it felt, though it probably wasn’t reality because she is a genuinely good human being), one of the other students said, “Wow, that was really amazing. How could you just sit there and take all that criticism? I’d be in tears.”

I took a deep breath and said, “Well, this is where we’re supposed to mess up, right? I’ll learn more from my mistakes than my successes. This way, when I get into the real world, I won’t hurt anyone, and I’ll do it right.” And that tight ball of tension inside me dissolved, because I realized that I meant it.

Criticism is still hard to handle sometimes. And of course, I love praise for a job well done. But regularly attending a writer’s group and having consistent critiques has been a wonderful asset to working on this aspect of myself.  That criticism doesn’t hurt, most of the time. Sure, once in awhile, if I’m having a bad day and feeling emotional, those old feelings try to struggle to the surface.

But I mostly tell them to shut up.

If I’m really having a bad day, I know who I can text to rescue me from negative thoughts. And I also try to write compliments and positive feedback into my journal, so if I’m struggling with negative thoughts, I read over the things people said to me that made me feel good.

And I remind myself not to take it all so seriously. It’s just life, right?

How do you handle criticism?

Feeding My Soul

calico cat with book

Goblyn loves books too!

Once upon a time, I wrote stories and novels just for fun. I typed them up, polished them, and let them languish on my computer. Writing fiction was a job other people did, but not me. I went to work, came home, read books, and wrote stories.

One day, after I’d finished writing my (3rd? 4th?) (bad) novel, my husband looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Why don’t you ever try to get anything published?”

Well, honestly, it had never occurred to me.

This was back in the days before I used the internet for everything. Back before I had a computer in my pocket. So when I first started my journey, it wasn’t like I could just Google “how to get published.” I had to do research and such. I tried sending off short stories and querying agents regarding that really bad novel. And things went nowhere for me. I’d never been critiqued, and I honestly didn’t know I needed to be.

(I’ll tell you about my torrid love affair with adverbs sometime. *shudder*)

See, I’d been praised by teachers all my life for my writing. So I figured that since I did a great job at writing papers, I was good enough at fiction too. I had concentrated on Psychology and Philosophy in college, and hadn’t taken English classes. They bored me, and I figured I had nothing to learn. (Don’t judge… it was the arrogance of youth!)

Eventually, I found online critique groups, and after learning how to take criticism (the subject of Friday’s blog post) my first short story was published for the amazing amount of $50.

I told everyone, and I’m not a “tell everyone” kind of person. Most of my friends were supportive, but one said, “Really? You put all that work in and only got $50? It doesn’t seem worth it. How many hours did you spend on that story?”

And just like that, some of the air was let out of my bubble. I probably spent 10 hours (or more) on that story. So that works out to $5 an hour? That’s not even minimum wage. Not to mention all the stories I’ve spent time on that will probably never be published.

But then I remembered how many hours I spent writing stories just because it was fun, never intending them to be published. Some people watch TV, some people surf social media, some people watch the stars, some people read books. Hobbies don’t have to be profitable. And doing what makes my soul happy doesn’t have to make money.

I write because I love it. I love it when stories get published because I love to share things that make me happy. If one of my novels gets published, that would make me happy too, for the same reason. (And, quite frankly, because there’s something exciting about seeing my name in print.)

But if the novel never happens, if I just continue to blog and publish short stories, that’s okay too. I’ll keep writing, keep improving, keep trying and having fun. Because what my friend failed to understand was that it’s not about the hours spent or the money I make doing it. It’s about the fact that I’ve been in love with stories for as long as I can remember. And the ability to tell a good story is something special. If I can tell a story that makes other people think, or feel, or empathize, then I’ve done something amazing. I can’t put a price on that kind of connection with other people.

Do you feel that connection to others when you write or read stories?

Annie Wilkes Had a Point

IMG_8818I love a good antihero, but don’t normally sympathize with villains. And Annie Wilkes (of Misery, by Stephen King) really was a villain. After all, she captured an injured man and refused to release him, making him write stories for her, then injured him when he made her mad. That’s firmly in villain territory.

One of the things that made her really mad was “cheating.” You know, when an author promises one thing and delivers another? Or when the author says one thing happened, but then backtracks and says “It was all a dream” or “It didn’t really happen that way.” I mean, when those things happen, I kind of understand her desire to break the ankles of the offending author.*

(*I’m not actually advocating violence here. Please don’t go out and break anyone’s ankles.)

I recently read a book that I love and hate at the same time. It was good, and it paid off all the promises the author made. But the ending was sad. I don’t want to like the ending. I want to demand the author take it back. Kind of like when JK Rowling went on a killing spree in Book 7.

But it was the right ending.

The author gave the book the ending it deserved. No flinching (well, probably flinching), no cheating. It hurt. I mean, if it hurt me, it probably hurt the author more.

It’s just that I was so emotionally invested in the book. I wanted everyone to be okay, to have a magical happily ever after. And while a lot of books do end like that, not all of them do. And not all of them should.

As a writer, I wand to give all of my characters happy endings. After all, technically, I can. I could write a happy ending for everyone because I’m the one typing the words on a page.

But stories are a living thing. The good ones breathe life into the reader, and the reader breathes back. If a writer forces the story into a corner, it will do what it’s told, but it won’t breathe magic anymore. Maybe in the moment, the ending will be satisfying, but ultimately forgettable. Because if the ending isn’t real, right, alive, then there’s no point to writing it.

And sometimes real, right, and alive hurt.

The logical part of me knows this. But the emotional part? Well… I think I’m going to go reread Misery.

Are there any books that ended in a way that felt right, but still hurt? Or any books you’re still mad about because they “cheated?”

(On a side note, for those of you who follow my blog, I’m going to try switching to a Monday/ Friday update schedule. Sunday/ Wednesday just wasn’t working for me.)

 

My Reading Habits

IMG_8801This was a fun little quiz I found online.

READING HABITS

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?  Not really. I’ll read anywhere I can see the page. That includes while sitting, standing, walking, playing with the dogs, cooking, eating, etc.

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?  Anything that’s at hand. Receipts, fortunes from fortune cookies, post-its, random papers. I do have bookmarks though. I just mostly misplace them. Or leave them in the book when I’m done.

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter?  If I love the book, stopping anywhere is hard, but I can make myself do it at the end of a chapter. If I’m not as into it, I can stop anywhere.

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?  Um, yes. Reading is life.

5. Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?  Sort of. If I’m really into the book, I hear nothing that’s going on around me. I’m not usually watching the TV though; that’s my husband.

6. One book at a time or several at once?  It depends. If I’m not that into the book, I might start another one at the same time. But if I’m really into it, I have trouble even putting it down.

7. Reading at home or everywhere? One time, a coworker told everyone she saw me reading while I was crossing the street. In fairness, it wasn’t like a busy street or anything.

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?  Silently. Shhh!

9. Do you read ahead or skip pages?  No! Who even does that? (I might look ahead to see where the chapter ends, but I’m not reading it.)

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?  Break it! Wear marks = love.

11. Do you write in your books?  Yes! I write, highlight. I don’t worry about smudges or marks. Again, imperfections are signs of affection in my book. (See what I did there?)

BONUS QUESTIONS

1. When do you find yourself reading? Morning, afternoon, evening, when you get a chance or all the time?  Reading is life.

2. What is your best setting to read in?  A setting where no one is attempting to talk to me. Getting arrested because I murdered the person who wouldn’t stop talking to me would really slow down my reading.

3. What do you do first – Read or Watch?  In general, I prefer to read first. But I’ve been introduced to some really great books by watching a show or movie and seeing that there’s a book.

4. What form do you prefer? Audiobook, eBook, or phsyical book?  I prefer a physical book, but I’ll go for an eBook if I need a quick fix. Or if I’m on vacation and don’t want to carry 8,000 pounds of books with me. I just started reading audiobooks, and they’re pretty cool. I can read while doing chores or driving.

5. Do you have a unique habit when you read?  Is getting covered in cats unique?

6. Do book series have to match?  I really prefer it, but I’m not going to stress if they don’t.

 

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What Bullying Looks Like As An Adult

_DSF5680I was on Facebook recently, and a friend shared a meme with a large chested woman in a dress that barely covered the basics. It looked like a wedding dress. My friend tagged someone else, and captioned it, “Don’t wear this to prom!” The rest of the comments were things like “trashy” and “she paid so much for her breasts that she couldn’t afford the rest of the dress.”

And all I could think was: that’s someone’s moment that other people are ripping to shreds.

Picture this: you’re surfing the internet, and an embarrassing photo of you comes up. Maybe you were actually doing something embarrassing. Maybe it just was an unfortunate moment where you had a wardrobe malfunction, or it looked like you were doing something you weren’t. It’s bad lighting or a bad angle.

Or maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s your daughter. Your brother. Your best friend.

You look at the comments because you can’t help yourself, and they’re things like “trashy,” “don’t wear this!” and “she couldn’t afford the whole dress.”

What do you do if it’s someone you care about who’s being ripped to shreds?

In the case of the woman and the dress, one of the comments was from a “wedding designer” who said that the top was supposed to be higher, but had folded under the weight of her breasts. Maybe the dress came defective or the straps broke. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to look like that. Maybe she had a wardrobe malfunction, and someone snapped a photo at that moment.

Or, maybe she looked in the mirror and thought that dress was the one that made her feel pretty. Maybe she thought she looked like a princess. Does it matter?

She’s a person, just like the rest of us. And while I wouldn’t wear a dress like that, and maybe you wouldn’t either, why do any of us have the right to judge her? To bully her?

If she goes online and sees that picture of herself, how do you think she’ll feel about it? Most people, no matter how confident, can’t ignore bullying. No matter how brave we feel, something in us crumbles when we’re told, especially repeatedly, that there’s something wrong with us.

So, the next time you see a “funny” meme, think before you comment or share. Remember that it’s a real person, and if that were you, how would you feel about it being shared?

In case you’re interested, here’s a few real life stories where people found that they’d become memes.

Lizzie Velasquez was called the “world’s ugliest woman” when she was 17.

Danielle Ann is a troubled young lady who appeared on Dr. Phil, and one fake news site joked about how she’d committed suicide.

Balpreet Kaur is a Sikh, and as such, forbidden from changing her appearance. A man took a picture of her, and posted it on Reddit. This woman’s response makes me admire her endlessly. She’s the epitome of the person I’m striving to be. She gave a really great TED talk on kindness.

 

8 Great Books for Self-Help & Self-Improvement

IMG_8709.JPGI used to be dismissive of self-help books. But then, my first year in grad school, we were assigned to find ten self-help books that we might use as a therapist. So, one day, I drug myself over to the local Barnes and Noble. With a notebook in hand, I started taking apart their self-help section.

There are a lot of goofy, unhelpful self-help books out there. That being said, what helps everyone is individual. I don’t personally know anyone who managed a true mental health issue (like depression or anxiety) through reading self-help books alone, but I do know that they can be a helpful tool in an overall wellness toolbox.

Okay, I’m going to step-off the soapbox now.

  1. PostSecret books, by Frank Warren I realize these aren’t technically self-help books, but I think they’re worth mentioning. PostSecret started as an art project, where people mailed secrets on postcards. It turned into a movement, and Frank Warren is an advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. The secrets run the gamut from funny to sad to frightening, and everything in between. PostSecret isn’t for everyone; some people might be triggered by some of the secrets. But for most of us, it’s nice to know we’re not alone; that others have the same secrets we do.
  2. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, by Gretchen Rubin I was very skeptical of this one, figuring that it would be fluffy and silly. But my friend, Ramona, recommended it. She usually picks good books, so I gave it a try. I really liked it. It’s practical, interesting, and best of all, the author doesn’t pretend to be perfect.
  3. On Writing, by Stephen King If you think this book is only good for aspiring writers, you’d be wrong. Yes, I think every writer should read this book, but it’s also a book about life. The advice and information can apply to many different types of goals.  “By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”― Stephen King In other words, love what you do, and do what you love, no matter if you’re validated by the world or not.
  4. This Year I Will: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True, by MJ Ryan We all have habits we want to break, but it’s difficult, even when we feel motivated. A lot of self-help books are one size fits all. This book encourages you to look at what approach will work best for you, and do that.
  5. For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, by Shaunti Feldhahn I have a Masters in Mental Health therapy, I’m married to a man, and most of my friends are men. Yet this book gave me a lot of information I didn’t know. I can’t tell you how many times, reading this book, I said out loud, “That explains it!” Men and women’s brains are a little different; it’s science. Learning how we think differently can improve communication and empathy. After all, it’s easier to empathize with what you understand. There’s a companion book for this one, For Men Only. It’s on my TBR, and I’m hoping the author does as good of a job explaining women as she does men. The author is Christian, and it influences her writing. I thought that it was lovely, but I know some people may not be into it.
  6. Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD This is a super-short book, but I think it should be required reading for everyone. I don’t like change, and I know I’m not alone. Even “good change” is stressful for people. This book is a parable about the way that people react to change, and how to improve your outlook.
  7. The Dude and the Zen Master, by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman This was a fun and unusual book, giving a transcript of various conversations about life and zen between Jeff Bridges (the actor) and Bernie Glassman (a zen master). It references the Dude from The Big Lebowski as a zen figure, and even though I don’t love the movie, their take on it is interesting. There is A LOT of cursing in this book, so if that would interfere with the message, skip this one.
  8. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl This book is amazing and difficult to read. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. He explains that what got him through was focusing on surviving long enough to finish his book. He talks about the people who survived, and those who didn’t. He talks about how to find meaning in a life that sometimes seems cruel and unfair.

Are there any books you’d add to the list?