Monday, July 04, 2016

Book Review: Crooks & Straights by Masha du Toit

Crooks and Straights by Masha du Toit is set in South Africa and is the story of an adopted big sister trying to protect her "special" little brother. I use the quotation marks here on purpose because he's special for a reason and that'll come clear.

Crooks & StraightsThe setting is one I don't see often enough. I really enjoyed the feel of the novel for being set in Cape Town, I think it was Cape Town, suddenly I think that's where the author is from lol. It doesn't matter because it's not our world or our town. Magic works and there are magical creatures, and djinn you can summon in a cup of tea, a magical mafia-esque underground, and hints of a totalitarian regime of purists (non-magical folk, AKA muggles in the Potterverse) growing in power. I suspect we'll get more into them in the second book.

Which brings me to my only real complaint, it ended too soon. I realized I was already 98% of the way through the book and there wasn't any resolution happening. It never DID happen. In a story arc type thing we closed the book because it was over around the time where Luke gets on the Millenium Falcon for the first time to leave Tatooine. Yeah, not kidding. WAY too soon. All set up, beautiful set up, interesting set up, great world building set up but then YOINK! The waiter takes the salad plates and presents the bill with no meal or dessert.

That being said, do I recommend Crooks and Straights? I don't know. I do like the setting and the characters, except the Dad. I thought he was a little hollow and underwhelming. He mostly got bossed around by the women and did whatever they told him to do whether it's his wife, the hired help, old woman down the road, or the daughter. He was there, but only barely. I don't remember his name even... Kesel maybe?

Yes. Get the book. I liked the story so far. I liked the setting. I want Masha du Toit to write more stuff and I'm a supporter of indie authors and it's worth the money. But get it knowing you'll want to get the next one because you're not really buying Book 1 so much as Part 1.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Father's Day

It's Father's Day, or close enough so as to count. If I were closer I'd be taking him out to eat today because I work tomorrow. (No, the picture on the right is neither me, nor my dad. It's a father/son I've known since the dad was the age of the son and it makes me smile whenever I see it. It's one of my favorite pictures in the world.)

I was talking to someone recently about something we'd been talking about doing, the mechanic's test at work. Evidently it's in three parts and takes from 6-8 hours to complete and MANY people don't pass it the first time.  The other person said they didn't want to fail it and have everyone know they'd failed. I said they'd do fine and the real question is how long do we have to wait after passing to become a mechanic and what kind of training is involved, and what if we hate it do we really have two months to say we didn't want it?

They asked, "You're already thinking of what you'll do if you pass?"

I said, "Um. It could happen. I've passed things by accident before."

The thing is, the idea of NOT passing it hadn't really crossed my mind as a serious thought. The same of the Pharmacy Tech Certification Test thing I had to take. A lot of people take it more than once. I toyed with the idea of what if I didn't pass it, but it never really felt real that I might not. I'm not a super genius. I really am not. But I am confident I can do what I set my mind to do.

I saw that growing up. Both my parents, from my point of view, seemed to make up their mind they were going to do something and they just did it. I'd never seen my dad roof a house before but then he did it. Chop down/up trees after a hurricane? Did it. Build just about anything? Yup. This was even before YouTube so he wasn't learning it on the sly by watching videos online. It was just a thing. Once you decided to do something you found out how to do it and then you did it.

If I had one thing to kvetch about growing up it would be that I was inadequately prepared for failure. It just wasn't something that came up an awful lot. It wasn't an option that was on the table. My parents, to my eyes, didn't fail and they did impossible things all the time. What's that? Want to go to Germany and be teachers? Okay. So, they did and we went to another country, half way around the world.

I'm sure there were times when they weren't as fabulously successful as they appeared and I probably never knew about the times that things didn't go the way they were supposed to, but the lesson I learned from watching him just DO stuff was that the expectation was, once you make up your mind to do something you'd better, by God, do it. Learn it, do it. In that order. There's not a lot of room in there for Mess up and start over or do it again. All that won't fit between the comma after "Learn it," and the words "do it."

So, this Father's Day I'm celebrating the confidence and expectation of success I got from both my parents. Not in a "You will be the best or you're a failure!" way, but in an "Of course you can do it if you want to. You just have to figure out how first and then do it," way. The expectation that we kids were capable of whatever we wanted to learn how to do and then DO, has turned out to be valuable to me in life.

The confidence in my abilities is good, but that first step is the important part so many people don't have. TONS of people believe they can do anything but not as many realize, "learn how" is the first part. Maybe it's because my parents were both teachers. They valued learning and reading and competence. Today I still have those values and I know where they came from. My parents. They believed in me before I did.

Thanks Dad. Thanks Mom.

Happy Father's Day, and eat something good for you! :P

And, since I know he'll see this because Mom will share it with him...


Friday, June 17, 2016

Book Review: Demon Invasion by Ryan Toxopeus

I've read +Ryan Toxopeus  before and enjoyed his A Noble's Quest which I also recommend.

Demon Invasion is high fantasy with magic very much present. It almost had to be with demons as the main characters. Set in the world of his novels this novella serves as back story and world building for the main books but is on itself a good tale and interesting read.

In the 90s and 00s I played a lot of DnD (2nd edition s the best!) and read a lot of Forgotten Realms novels and Ryan's stories evoke that same feeling of escapism and wonder. I like the way he tells a story and I enjoy his characters.

If I had one quibble it isn't about the story which is absolutely fine, it's the cover. It doesn't look consistent with the others in the series and if I weren't familiar with his writing already i wouldn't have gotten it. This is a case where the cover doesn't do justice to the story inside. The cover looks kind of stock and amateurish but the writing isn't at all.

If you want a quick summer read and enjoyed Forgotten Realms type fantasy back in the day I recommend the whole series. (The last book isn't out yet.)

Start reading Demon Invasion by Ryan Toxopeus for free with the kindle app.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Memoir Fodder 02: State Street

State Street is getting its own post. It's a weird time because it's confusing. I'm pretty sure I was in third grade when I lived here but I'm also sure neither parent taught at the school I went to. It was Rosa A. Lott school then, but it's not now. So, that means that they were still teaching in Mount Vernon I suppose. I believe Mom carpooled there with someone.

While we lived on State Street I had my first memory of having a friend whose house I would go to and we'd play in his back yard and watch Batman, the sixties one, after school sometimes. We'd also play Batman with imaginary villains out in the back yard. They lived on Oak Street and I walked there. The thing is, I can't find the house on Google Maps. Evidently things change in 40 years. I found one that I think is right, it's got houses next door on either side that could be the right ones... maybe.

To the right when facing the house was a very old lady, very old, and she had tiger lilies I believe they were, growing along the sidewalk from her front door to the sidewalk along the street and one time I believe she hired me to weed those things and take out the brown sticks they leave after the blooms fall off. To the left was Mister Gilmore, now dead, who slept on his front porch. I remember him as being profoundly old as well. They can't have been thrilled to get these kids living next door.

Now, I seem to remember the back yard being long and thin with some sort of outbuilding on the right side of the property but I don't remember anything IN the outbuilding. Mostly what I remember in the back yard was me and my sister catching bees by hand. If you caught them by the wings when they landed they couldn't do anything. Sort of like dangerous butterflies. I don't know if they survived our catching them or not. I don't remember my sister being stung, but I'm told she was. I don't remember ever catching bees again though so someone probably did get stung.

I remember the cement step at the back door and I remember it because I found an old tarnished dime and I couldn't read the date so I thought if I polished it up by rubbing it on that cement step I'd be able to read the date better. It didn't work so well. It sort of did in that it got shinier, but the date didn't pop out at me... probably because I smeared it across the step.

I don't think we were here long because I don't remember how I got to and from school and I know in 4th grade I was in the same school, but at a different house. I might have ridden to school with the librarian from the school? Maybe? I remember going to his house. He had a great yard. Lots of flowers. I think huge elephant ears and sunken maybe, below street level and under giant oak trees. I could be making all that up though because I don't remember HOW I got to school. I might be revising riding with him into it. Maybe I took the bus. I don't remember that at all and I'd think I would. We were there over a Christmas because I remember coming downstairs and stopping on a landing seeing all the stuff Santa had brought.

Oh, that picture at the top... it has nothing to do with anything. I just really liked it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Memoir Fodder 01: My earliest contiguous memories

My earliest memories that I believe are all mine and not those I've recreated from stories I've been told are from 1976, the summer of 1976. I remember brief glimpses and snapshots before then but just glimpses and pieces.

For example, I remember a trailer and a sandbox there. I remember a big playhouse with two stories. I remember a dog, Caesar. But only glimpses, nothing continuous. Nothing connected. Later I think there's a house for a while. This is the house I think I remember. It'd be funny if the trailer were real and the house imagined, or a friend's house we visited. I don't feel like that's the case though.

I was 8 in the summer of 1976 and the price of a stamp went to 13¢. I remember thinking that was very clever of them to go to 13¢ on our bicentennial when there were 13 colonies 200 years ago. Who could be unhappy about that? I don't remember it ever being 10¢ so why it's a big deal it became 13¢ is odd to me except I made the connection to 13 colonies. Maybe I didn't. Maybe the advertising did? I don't know. I remember it as a thing though. I remember the post office in Mount Vernon, AL and I thought we lived across the street from a cemetery. When I look on google maps I can't find it though. That's not terribly surprising. It's been forty years. I doubt the cemetery has moved, but it may not have been big enough to be on Google Maps. I don't remember that much. The thing is, if we were in Mount Vernon in the summer of '76 we had to have moved soon to Citronelle because in 3rd grade I was in Mrs. Pierce's class and I remember that. I sat up front and hated it so much. Mostly because of her. She was the first teacher I ever had that I thought didn't like kids and that I didn't like at all. At all.

I went to Kindergarten and 1st grade in Mount Vernon, AL. In the '70s it was a small town with a population of around a thousand people, mostly African American. The only friend whose name I can remember was African American. Her name was Irna. I think she was older than me. She was taller. Her mom was the librarian at the school. I thought that was pretty slick, probably almost as good as being a teacher like my parents.

There was a couple, a Cuban couple we would visit sometimes. I feel like she was a teacher or maybe worked at the school in some capacity, an aid maybe? Her husband was, I think, a doctor at a mental hospital nearby, Searcy Hospital. I had to look up the spelling. They (the couple, not the hospital) made fried banana plantain, fried big bananas that were delicious and salty. I think I ate tongue there once too I think. But, we moved to Citronelle soon and I don't remember going over there as often any more. We still had the banana plantain though. I liked when Mom would make it.