Appreciation for Bran Stark

I liked Bran Stark as soon as I started reading A Game of Thrones, but the personal significance of his character didn’t really hit me until I saw the first episode of Game of Thrones.

The episode ends with Bran’s fall from the tower window. It isn’t clear if Bran understood what he saw, but the Lannisters weren’t about to take any chances. If word got out that Jamie and Cersei Lannister were having incestuous relations, it would change everything.

Bran’s fall leaves him without the use of his legs, which sort of puts us in the same boat. The only difference between Bran and myself is that I have the use of my legs – with the help of equipment, of course.

At first, Bran is mad at the world, as anyone would be. Sometimes, I find myself thinking “Why me?” too. But he eventually accepts his condition, and House Stark makes it work for him. And it actually starts with Tyrion Lannister, of all people. On his journey back to King’s Landing from the Wall, Tyrion stops with the Night’s Watch at Winterfell. He sketches a modified saddle for Bran and tells him to give the design to his saddler.

And that really makes me want to get back on a horse again. I stopped riding horses when I started college, and honestly, I miss it. If Bran can ride, then I’ve got no excuses. Someday I’ll ride again.


A Song of Politics

I may not have read all of A Song of Ice and Fire yet, but it’s quite clear that Joffrey Baratheon and Cersei Lannister are pure evil. Full stop.

Reality, however, isn’t so simple. It’s impossible to identify someone as a Stark or a Lannister – to divide the world into groups of “good guys” and “bad guys”.

After watching the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention last month, something became clear to me. While the current presidential administration may have had some successes, they have been overshadowed by things including but not limited to Twitter, the Russia investigation, and impeachment.

These last four years have up-ended everything I’ve come to expect from politics in my 26 years of life. Kind of like how life changes for House Stark in A Clash of Kings. Robb declares himself King in the North and heads off to war, leaving Bran in charge of Winterfell. Arya is taken from King’s Landing by the Night’s Watch. And Sansa is trapped at King’s Landing by the Lannisters.

That is to say, everything in American politics is different now, but we don’t have the luxury of turning the page or moving on to the next book to see what happens. All we can do is vote and see how things play out in November.


A Clash of Kings

A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. And from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy, a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress, and wild men descend from the Mountain of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel … and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.

The sequel to A Game of Thrones picks up right where it left off, and continues what it started. That is to say, there’s a lot more fighting.

And there’s a few new vignettes. Theon, the ward of Winterfell, emerges with his own story. The other new vignette is that of Davos Seaworth, the “Onion Knight” of Stannis Baratheon. Through Davos, we learn more about Robert Baratheon’s older brother, who is also one of the men vying for the throne. Mainly, the fact that instead of Multiple gods, Stannis worships the one god his wife believes in, referred to as the Lord of Light.

Plot can be thought of in terms of a bell curve. The left side of it is usually the rising action – the events that lead to the climax, or the highest point of dramatic tension. The right side of the bell curve is usually the falling action, or the resolution to the dramatic tension.

A Clash of Kings, however, has a plateau. The action continues to build, and then it hits the ground running, keeping the same pace of events until the very last pages.

And even the end of the book isn’t really a resolution to any of the action – it only signals more to come.

This sequel definitely doesn’t disappoint!


An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

Roaming through New York City at three A.M., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship – like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing samurai armor – April and her best friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world – from Beijing to Buenos Aires – and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.

Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. All eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

Hank Green may have published his debut novel in 2018, but it’s just as relevant now as it was then. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it ended up being timeless.

It’s not just a sci-fi mystery, although it’s definitely a good book as far as genre is concerned. It’s a commentary on fame and the pursuit of it.

In the beginning of the novel, April May is a normal person just like the rest of us. However, as her fame begins to grow, it changes her. Eventually, it gets to the point where she’s consumed by what her audience thinks about the Carls, and about her. She’s almost constantly on social media, producing new content because she feels like she has to or else she won’t matter anymore because people will just move on to other headline making news. Obviously, this puts a strain on her personal relationships.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is also a commentary on how divided America – and maybe the world at large – is today. When April starts to go on television to talk about the Carls and how she believes they are a force for good, another group – people who call themselves the Defenders because they want to defend humanity from the Carls because no one knows what they are – arises in opposition. It’s eerily similar to what’s happening in politics today.

So much of Hank Green’s humor is in this book it’s hard not to laugh. He uses a lot of exclamation points though, some where it doesn’t seem necessary to do so. But that might just be they way April talks and tells the story. His disclaimers in the book are unique. April, as the narrator, tells the reader they can skip over some parts if they don’t want to read them. All in all, the sci-fi parts are a bit complex, but An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is worth reading.


Trashy Romance Novel

Delaney Brooks is the author of The Queen’s Surrogate, the “sinfully satisfactory” romance novel that swept readers around the world off their feet and into the fictional embrace of His Majesty, King Malcolm.

When her book is adapted into an eight-part miniseries, Delaney and her best friend, Gemma, fly to Scotland for what promises to be two months of lush green mountains, historic castles, and hot celebrity co-workers, including the gorgeous Matthew Kent, British playboy Benjamin Wyndham, and Hollywood’s hottest reformed rebel, Colin Ward.

Even though “trashy” is the first word in the title, this book is anything but trashy. In a word, this book is impressive. Jacqueline E. Smith wrote excerpts from books with in a book, and she made everything up. If memory serves, all John Green did when he wrote The Fault in Our Stars was make the up the title of a book and and the author.

It also reads like a daydream, but it’s not necessarily something specific to the author. Everyone has daydreams about what they’d do if they met and got to hang out with their favorite celebrities, right?

All this to say, this is Smith’s best book so far. Just the right amount of fantasy and daydreaming within realistic fiction.


A Game of Thrones

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are amassing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a take of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no man-made metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne, and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win the deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

A Song of Ice and Fire – in which A Game of Thrones is the first book – doesn’t have chapters so much as it has characters. It has so many different characters that it can be confusing at times, but one might say that A Game of Thrones is comprised of vignettes featuring Jon Snow, Bran Stark, Eddard (aka Ned) Stark, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Catelyn Stark, Tyrion Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen.

It takes awhile to get to the meat of the story, but this book very much sets up future books in the series. George R.R. Martin does take his time describing things, but he doesn’t waste words. As long as they might be at times, the descriptions are necessary to contextualize the story.

With quite a few cliffhangers, it’s an easy book to get sucked into. And it doesn’t let go.


Apple Podcasts archives: Part II

Okay, now I’m actually mad. In fact, I might just give up listening to podcasts altogether.

I was listening to Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris when all of a sudden I got a message that said something like “This episode has been removed by Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris.”

I’ve lost episodes before, but never while I was listening to them. Now there’s only 22 episodes in the show’s feed. It had 68 or something before.

Maybe I should’ve listened to all my shows more often, but I can only listen to so many in a day, you know?

If I could let go of wanting – needing? – to listen to all the episodes, this wouldn’t be a big problem. But I don’t know if I can.

All this being said, I’ve been almost irrationally angry lately, so maybe I’ll feel differently when I calm down.

I wish I could get the lost episodes back somehow. I saw something on Google about asking the podcaster to increase their episode limit in these RSS feed, but I have no idea how to go about doing that.


Mary Poppins and COVID-19


I was watching Mary Poppins Returns again recently when I noticed something I hadn’t before.  Toward the end of the movie, Wilkins – aka the wolf aka Colin Firth – says something like

“Who would’ve thought the Slump would be so good for business?”

He’s referring to the Great Depression here, (in England they called it The Great Slump), but I couldn’t help but think that this also applies to the current global pandemic.  Throughout the past four or so months, America’s problems have been amplified.  One of these problems is that the rich accumulate more wealth while the poor live paycheck to paycheck.  We need to reopen business so that people can return to work.  In order to do that, however, we need to get the virus under control.  This includes more testing so that we can figure out who has COVID-19 and who doesn’t.  It also includes wearing masks and social distancing so that the virus doesn’t spread any further.

Until we have adequate testing and everyone wears a mask and practices social distancing – how wearing a mask became a political issue I will never understand – or better yet, someone somewhere comes up with a vaccine, people will need to stay at home.  And if they don’t have the luxury of working from home, they’re not making money.  Which is why we need another stimulus package.  Or else the rich keep getting richer while the poor continue to suffer.

Other countries like New Zealand and Germany have been able open schools and get back to somewhat normal, but that’s because they have COVID-19 under control.  So, America needs to get it under control.  In order to do that, we need to take care of people until they can safely return to work.


Queen of Air and Darkness

What if damnation is the price of true love?

Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the disease that is destroying the race of warlocks. Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they never could have imagined. Caught in a race against time, Emma and Julian must save the world of Shadowhunters before the parabatai curse destroys them and everyone they love.

At the end of Lord of Shadows, there’s a deleted scene. If that scene had not been deleted, this book would not exist.

Like its predecessor in The Dark Artifices series, this is politically topical, at least as far as what is currently going on in the United States. It’s almost scary how much it mirrors reality in the respect. However, it’s balanced out by occasional humor and family dynamics that tug at the heartstrings when it’s least expected. And of course, there’s plenty of adventure and will-they-won’t-they love drama.

One thing that seems to be unique to this book is the world building. The other books in the Shadowhunters franchise. Realistic fiction with magic and demons thrown in. Queen of Air and Darkness travels to another dimension, essentially a parallel universe in which almost everything is opposite than how it exists in the normal world. It’s interesting, to say the least, but it would have been nice to spend more time there and explore. Maybe Clare can work it into future books somehow.

This book definitely doesn’t disappoint, but it doesn’t exactly tie everything together with a pretty bow. There’s more storylines just waiting to be written.


The Big Picture in Waitress

On February 2, I saw Waitress.  And it really should come with a viewer discretion is advised warning.  At least then I’d know what I was getting into.

I had a panic attack because Jenna’s relationship with Earl was eerily familiar; it was basically the marital version of my relationship with my mother.  All of the signs of abuse were there:  physical violence, financial control, and verbal abuse are just a few.

Even though it was hard to watch – it was an out-of-body experience wherein I found myself thinking “What the fuck am I watching?” – I freaking love it because I can relate to Jenna. Other reviews, however, only mention the abuse in passing when they talk about how great the show is.  Don’t get me wrong, it is great, but I’m here to unpack the pervasive theme of an abusive relationship.  Let’s analyze some songs, shall we?

From the get-go, the audience knows something is off about Jenna’s relationship with Earl, because in a normal, healthy relationship, Jenna would be excited to find out she’s pregnant.  We only begin to see the true extent of the abuse during “You Will Still Be Mine”.

Remember my clean shave

Back in our old days?

We were just kids

I had my six string

And you had your own thing

Though, I don’t remember what it is

Earl wants to reminisce about the beginning of their relationship.  The truth is, he doesn’t care enough about her to remember what she cares about, and he’s only focused on himself:

Man, what a whirlwind

So much is happening

And mostly to me

We’ve come such a long way

No turning back now, babe

You’re my family

In fact, during the scene, Earl tells Jenna, “You better not love that baby more than me”.  Earl can tell Jenna “You’re my family” all he wants, but it’s not about loving her.  It’s about control.  He thinks just because they’re married, she can’t leave and he should be the most important thing in her life.

My mother is like this as well.  She’s jealous of my friends because I go to them for advice.  Once, when I mentioned how important Emily Blunt is to me, she said “Moms are more important”, which doesn’t even make much sense.  While Emily Blunt isn’t my mother, she does have two girls of her own.

“Bad Idea” is another song that really struck a cord with me.

Heart, stop racing

Let’s face it, making mistakes like this

Will make worse what was already pretty bad

Mind, stop running

It’s time we just let this thing go

It was a pretty good, bad idea

Wasn’t it, though?

I feel like my whole life is one giant bad idea.  My mother doesn’t have a nice thing to say about anything I choose to do.  Sometimes, you gotta double down on what makes you feel good.  I knew taking on the Spanish minor was a risk, because I was burned out.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I knew something was wrong.  However, I also knew Spanish was the thing that made me feel better, so I couldn’t give it up.

“She Used to be Mine”

I’d write about specific lyrics, but I can’t choose.  This song hits me with a ton of bricks.  It’s about Jenna remembering who she is and trying to get back to that confident place.  In college, I knew who I was.  I found myself.  My whole self.  Everything felt right, despite the mistakes I’d made along the way.  Since I’ve been home, I’ve had to fight every day to hang onto the shreds of dignity I still have.

Even though it was hard to watch, I’ve been able to process all of this, and I really appreciate Waitress.  Because it showed me that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Jenna found her way out, and so will I. In fact, later that same week, I got a job. Things are definitely looking up.