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Reading is back with a vengeance, you guys. I paused while I was settling in, while I obsessed over a few shows on Netflix (which really deserves its own post, don’t you think?), but a trip to the library turned everything around.
That, and Harry Potter. You guys. Harry Potter.
Here’s what happened: I saw a preview for a movie called Nerve. I’d heard of it before (and maybe seen the preview already– watching movie previews is a hobby of mine), but the movie was coming out, and due to my temporary “single-parent” status it’s pretty hard to go see movies. (And apparently it wasn’t very good anyway.) So instead I did the next best thing: I got the book from the library.
Unfortunately, none of the libraries I use for Overdrive purposes had the ebook, so I had to trek to a brick-and-mortar library for *gasp* an actual paper book! And while I was there, I remembered a long ago ambition to reread all the Harry Potter books. So among a few others, I picked up the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Allow me to date myself a bit with the following story:
I first started reading Harry Potter between when the third and fourth books came out. I was 13 or 14, which, now that I think of it, is the same age Harry, Ron, and Hermione were in those two books. I’d found the first and second books at the library, but the third was all checked out. Luckily, though, a friend of mine had it, and while I was sleeping over at her house one night I read it. Yep, the whole thing. In one night. Now, for a 13-year-old book lover, this isn’t astonishing, or even particularly difficult. Looking back at it, what floors me is how rude it was to spend the entire sleepover reading a book– even if I started at bedtime, which I’m pretty sure I did. (Not that I was tired the next morning– that would have come in the afternoon, once I was home again. Ah, to be young again…)
So when I started reading it a few weeks ago, I had to smile to myself a little when I found myself reading deep into the night one night, finally finishing at 2 in the morning. Even if I hadn’t read it all in one day, it had still caught me and made me remember that these books are insanely popular for a reason: They’re crazy good!
I’ve seen the movies so many times that I’d forgotten how great the books are– they suck you in and make you excited and happy and worried and scared for Harry and his friends. No wonder these books make kids want to read.
Ok so once I loved reading again, here are a few of the books I’ve read lately:
The Hero and the Crown — I cannot believe I’ve never read this classic. I went through not one but TWO phases when I really should have– once when I read a bunch of Robin McKinley books (Beauty, Rose Daughter, Outlaws of Sherwood, etc.), and one when I read all the Newbery books I could get my hands on (random ones, too, like The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle and Call It Courage). And all the while this book was sitting on my family’s bookshelves.
PS I Like You — The latest Kasie West book. I love her books because she’s really good with solid characterization. (I especially loved her scifi book Pivot Point, which, as the name implies, is pretty much Sliding Doors meets X-Men.) This one I found to be… a little lacking there? One of the reviews I read on Goodreads pointed out that all of the peripheral characters (the girl’s best friend especially) only really existed to further the main romantic plot line. And once I noticed that I couldn’t really un-notice it, unfortunately. That being said, it’s a super cute, super breezy update of You’ve Got Mail, and I liked it a lot.
The Night Circus — Once I was firmly ensconced in Reading again, I set my mind to The Night Circus, which is a book I’d started once before but had drifted away from. I started again at the beginning, and made my way through it. And it’s gorgeous. The descriptions of the circus itself, the dreamlike quality of the narrative, the whole thing… I swear, this book needs to be a movie. It’s a design team’s dream. Baz Lurhmann, WHERE ARE YOU???
(Side note: I have an ambition to start listening to audio books, and I read somewhere that starting with one you’ve already read is a good idea. This one is narrated by Jim Dale, who has won Grammy awards for his performance of the Harry Potter books, so I’m gonna start here. I’ve heard it’s amazing.)
So after I read The Night Circus I was a little adrift. I thought, what book can I ever read again? What will ever be so well written as this book?
And then the Jim Dale thing clicked, and I remembered what had started all this in the first place: Harry Potter.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — I actually went to a brick-and-mortar library to try and find this one, but unfortunately it was all checked out of the one I went to, and frankly my motivation to drag two children in and out of libraries fails me most days. To Kindle! Luckily, all the Harry Potter books are in the Prime Lending Library.
If you will, another digression:
So when this book came out I was in the middle of a move between two houses (not states or schools, just neighborhoods. Ah, the life of a military brat…). I happened to be at the library one day with my sister, who was home from college for the summer. And for some reason… that still floors me… there was this copy of the new Harry Potter book, just… there. There wasn’t a hold on it or anything, and the librarian checked it out to me on the spot. I then spent the entire day on the couch, reading the thickest book in the series so far. And not only did I spend the whole day reading it, but every time I stopped, to eat or whatnot, my sister would come bug me: “Are you done yet? Can I read it? Can I have it now?” Looking back, I think she was teasing, because I remember her being a bit surprised when I gave it to her late that night: “Here! Now leave me alone!”
Knowing what I know now about the rest of the series makes reading the books that much more interesting. Sirius! Voldemort’s reference to horcruxes! The prophecy about Harry/Neville! SO MUCH IS COMING. This book was also fun after reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’d forgotten how insecure Amos Diggory was; it makes his attitude in Cursed Child a little more believable, wouldn’t you say?</minor spoiler>
A Fatal Grace — This is the second book in the Inspector Gamache series. It’s about a small town in Canada, where a police inspector gets to visit and also solve murders. I’ve heard that the series is amazing, but it doesn’t really “get going” until book 3 or 4. So… I’ll let you know. I liked this one well enough; Gamache is a good dude, although his assistant-friend character (I’m super uncultured about foreign police forces; they have all these complicated ranks, and I just can’t be bothered to pay attention to them. It makes me one of those rude Americans, I’m afraid…) is a little bit in love with him, maybe? And not in a good way. Aaaand… man, does Nichols drive me crazy. She’s pretty much the actual worst.
The List — So this is how I know I’m getting old. Because I read this book, and the thing that makes me the most upset is how the parents are acting. Of the eight girls, two of them have decent parents, three of them have parents who aren’t mentioned much, two of them have parents who buy their daughter’s friends alcohol, and one girl has a single mom who threatens to homeschool her (again) as soon as she starts making friends (which, by the way, is classic Abusive Boyfriend behavior– isolation from other friends). Like, ok, the girls are horrible to each other, too, but the PARENTS should know better!
I Let You Go — This is one that Modern Mrs. Darcy has been promoting a bit, and when I saw it on sale on Kindle, I went ahead and bought it. So halfway through this book there’s a Huge Twist, and suddenly the book you thought you were reading becomes a book about something else. I’m not sure how I felt about it, to be honest. On the one hand, it DOES lend sympathy to a character who might not have otherwise gotten it. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of other things done to give that character sympathy, and it felt a little bit like something the author did Just Because She Could. I LOVE me some unreliable narrators, but I also want there to be a reason for it: is the main character going crazy? Is she a liar? Is she coming to terms with some crazy traumatic thing that has happened? Is she suffering from memory loss? In this case, no. No she wasn’t. The author was just being misleading. So that halfway through she could go, “PSYCH! JUST KIDDING!” And so while it was kind of fun to find out that something I’d thought to be true was something else, it also felt pretty arbitrary.
So last you heard, I was back in Dhaka with the kids. Trey was medically cleared (still is– he’s doing great!), and I was actually about to start a job at the Embassy. That was early June. In early July, some of you know that there was a terrorist attack at a popular bakery/restaurant in Dhaka.
It took about ten days, but the Embassy (finally!) decided to go into Authorized Departure. This is something they’d been deciding on and talking about for months, ever since the first attack back in October 2015.
For US Embassies, there are two states of Departure: Authorized and Ordered. Authorized still leaves families with a choice; you don’t HAVE to go, but you are eligible for benefits if you do. Ordered is just what it sounds like– all of the EFMs (spouses and children) HAVE to go, unless you get special permission to stay.
Dhaka went into Authorized Departure, so staying was on the table — technically. But the situation was pretty unstable, and Scott and I decided I should take the kids and go.
So here we are, in Anaheim, California. Scott was able to fly out with us and help us get settled for a week or so, which was a total lifesaver– especially on the layovers!
We’ve lived here before, so I’m already reasonably familiar with the area. I still have some friends here, so I have people to help with babysitting and things. And Special K is LOVING Disneyland. We found a place within walking distance (it’s a long walk, which I actually love), and I take the kids almost every day.
And that’s the situation for now! Scott is still in Dhaka, although his tour is ending soon, at which point we’ll have home leave and some training before going to Seoul. Look for some posts about Disneyland — I’m kind of a Disney pro these days.
Note: In the interest of you all actually understanding what happens in my life, I’m posting this, even though it’s wildly out of date. I actually wrote it back in May. But this was happening then. Further updates are to come, promise.
So… we made it! We’ve been back for a week now. Getting back was crazy!
So because of Trey’s traumatic birth, we weren’t sure he’d get a medical clearance at all. So we started making contingency plans, including Scott bidding on an unaccompanied post in Pakistan. But as we got further along, we (and the State Department) realized that Trey was doing great, and that he’d probably get cleared to come back.
They wanted to wait for his 3-month appointment with the neurologist before deciding, but it looked like he’d be cleared to go home, as long as the doctor thought he was doing well.
Then, the week before the appointment, we found out that Dhaka might be going into Authorized Departure.
For those who don’t know, Authorized Departure is a state where families are allowed to leave post, if they so choose. They’re given plane tickets and a Separate Maintenance Allowance, and get to go live anywhere they want, pretty much. The downside, though, is that nobody under Chief of Mission Authority (meaning, embassy employees and their families) is allowed to enter the country without permission.
So if Dhaka went into Authorized Departure, we wouldn’t be allowed to come back, no matter how healthy Trey was.
It was about 72 hours between finding out there was going to be a meeting, and finding out the results of that meeting. Needless to say, those 72 hours were very stressful for me.
The good news, though, was that at the meeting they decided to wait two weeks before making a final decision. Which gave us just enough time to get Trey cleared and come home.
Note: I’m definitely doing this out of order. I just want you to know that I know that. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Paper Magician books lately, so I wrote the post about them, but I also mentioned my reading slump. So I wrote the post about my reading slump, but so much of that story had to do with the baby. So now I’m here to tell you what happened there.
Once upon a time, I went into labor at 4:30 on a Monday morning not too long ago. I had been to the hospital a few times already for false labor, so Scott wasn’t convinced that this was the real deal, but I informed him that it was. (The strength with which I gripped his hand during my contractions helped make my case, too.)
Off we went to the hospital. On the way I texted my doctor, who, as it so happened, was headed to the airport. This particular Monday, you see, was the one day that my doctor had told me I wasn’t allowed to have a baby. Because he was going out of town. To which I had jokingly replied, “The baby comes when the baby comes, Chris!” (Yeah, we’re on a first name basis; he’s Scott’s uncle.) So already off to a good start, there.
The day went on, and I progressed pretty well. I got the epidural once I was admitted, and my water broke a few hours into labor. The baby’s heart rate dropped a couple times, which was a little tense, but my awesome nurses were able to get it back up.
(At this point, I should explain that I was trying to have a VBAC, which is a Vaginal Birth After a Cesarian. Meaning, Special K was a c-section, but I wanted to avoid a c-section in this case. Every single person there was completely supportive of my goal, which made the baby’s dropping heart rate extra tense. If they couldn’t get it back up, I’d have to go into surgery.)
By 5:45, I was almost ready to push. In fact, my nurse had me push a little through one of my contractions, just to get that tiny bit of dilation I still needed. I’d been sending a couple emails and texts during the day, and I let Chris know it was almost time.
So there I was, finally ready to push, just like I’d been hoping for during all 9 months of my pregnancy. But I was starting to feel nauseated. In fact, I told my nurse I was definitely going to throw up. Being an awesome nurse, she wasn’t even fazed. In fact, she told me it was a good thing, because throwing up uses most of the same muscles that pushing does. So during the next contraction, I tried to give a good push (difficult while you have an epidural, in case you were wondering), and I also threw up.
And that was when it happened.
I suddenly felt the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. It was worse than the contractions had been that morning, before I’d gotten medication. It felt exactly the same, actually, but a million times stronger. I told my nurse, “It hurst, it hurts so bad” over and over. But when I looked at the contraction monitor, I saw that I wasn’t having a contraction. And that the baby’s heart rate was dropping steeply. And when you’re in labor, you really don’t want to see the baby’s heart rate do that.
Here’s what any doctor will tell you about attempting a VBAC. There are a lot of things that can prevent it, but the worst thing that can happen is a uterine rupture, which is when your uterus breaks open along the scar you already have from your first c-section. Your chances of a rupture are really small, though. In fact, they’re about 1%.
Well, when I looked at that monitor, it didn’t take me long to realize I had ruptured. And after that, things started moving fast.
Within ten minutes, I was in an operating room.
Thirty seconds after that, the baby had been born.
He wasn’t doing awesome though, and they took him away to get ready to go in a helicopter to another hospital with a NICU.
(As he was being worked on, one of the pediatric nurses told Scott and me that he was “going to be just fine.” I wonder now if she should have said that, because no other single person has been that cheerful about him since. But in that moment, it was definitely what I needed to hear.)
By the time he was ready to go, I was out of surgery and back in my room. They brought him in to see me for a few minutes before he left. Scott got to fly with him in the helicopter.
He spent two weeks in the NICU, which were among the more stressful weeks of my life. He did great, though. He responded well to every treatment they thought to give him, and his doctors are all “cautiously optimistic,” which I take as permission to relax.
Even though my experience wasn’t ideal, it worked out well, overall. Despite the fact that we pretty much had the worst possible circumstances, everything since then has gone perfectly. Trey is constantly referred to as the Miracle Baby, which I feel he is. So many other things could have gone wrong– I could have had a nurse who was asleep on her feet, I could have ruptured when she was out of the room, the doctor might not have been able to make it to the O.R. in time– that I feel incredibly lucky to have had the great outcome that we did.
Back in October, while we were on our big trip, I noticed something: I was reading less.
This is understandable, considering the fact that we were traveling so much. We were pretty busy.
But once I got to Utah, I had a ton of free time on my hands. In fact, besides getting ready for the holidays (which took a surprising amount of time; parenting is hard!), I had pretty much nothing to do. But I still wasn’t reading.
I was crocheting. I was playing Nintendo. I was shopping. I was not reading.
I mean, I still read here and there. And I would get into books (usually once I hit the 75% mark) and stay up late to finish them and stuff. But once they were finished, I didn’t immediately pick up the next book. Finishing and getting into books took me forever. I started a few that I abandoned, even though I’d really wanted to read them. (Such as Winter, which some of you know I’d been beyond excited about.) There’s no way around it.
It was a reading slump. Man, I hate those.
I mentioned it to my sister, who (as she often does) immediately made me feel better. She told me she’d stopped reading during her latest pregnancy, as well. She started again after the baby was born, though, never fear.
So I made sure to put my Kindle in my hospital bag, expecting to finish a couple books right after the baby was born. (Oh, how naive I was…)
In fairness, I did start Ready Player One while I was in the hospital. But I didn’t really get into reading again for another week or two.
My first week postpartum was miserable. The baby, as it turned out, was in the NICU of a different hospital, and he couldn’t even be held for the first 72 hours of his life. I spent most of that in the hospital, luckily, because once I finally got to go see him I HATED not being able to hold him.
A few days after I got out, though, he was finally able to nurse, so I ended up spending the second week of his life pretty much living in that room in the NICU. And that’s when I got back into reading.
There wasn’t a ton to do in my little room there, and a couple books I’d put on hold had finally come in for me on Overdrive. I started In A Dark, Dark Wood on my Kindle app on my phone, and Why Not Me? on my actual Kindle.
In the parents’ lounge of the NICU, there was a little shelf of paperbacks, and I picked up a Diane Mott Davidson mystery while I was eating meals there.
And I slowly started to care about what I was reading. I started wanting to tell people about the creepy psychological thriller and wanting to gush about how cool Mindy Kaling is.
Once the baby was home, I finally did read Ready Player One (after whining to Scott about how much exposition there is in the first 50 pages). I finally finished Winter. And I finally got
into reading again.
And thank goodness my reading slump is over, because guys, this is the year of the Epic Fantasy. That’s right… I’m finally gonna read The Wheel of Time. Heaven help me.
From the author’s website: Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.
Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.
An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.
(This is the description of the first book. I don’t want to spoil anything, so if you want to know what the other two are about, you’re on your own. ;)) (<–Proper use of you’re/your. Grammar nerds: you’re welcome.)
So here’s my experience with reading this trilogy:
I’d heard about it and seen it on sale on Amazon. So I checked out the first book from the library. I read about 6 chapters and abandoned it. I checked it out again a month or two later and never read it. Then I saw it on sale again and bought the whole series on Kindle.
By then, I was determined. Once I broke my reading slump, I picked it up and read it with no problem. In fact, I stayed up till 2am finishing it (Signs You’re Reading a Good Book #1).
I immediately read the sequel the next day.
I started the third book a couple days later, but my heart wasn’t in it. (I’ll tell you why: the romantic tension was gone. I kind of hate books where the main love interests are already together.) I pushed through, but it took me about a week to finally read the whole thing.
All that being said, here are a couple thoughts.
-I really REALLY love Ceony as a character. All three of the books’ plots are driven by her actions; she says to herself, “Self, I can’t sit and wait around for something to happen here. Sitting and waiting will waste valuable time that my enemies will use to kill people. Let’s go be useful.” Ceony as a driving force of the narrative is downright refreshing, and it makes me forgive pretty much all the problems I have with these books.
-The romantic dynamic of the second book is my favorite. It’s the very common “everyone but you can see how into you he is” trope, but the buildup is beautiful and gave me many many feels.
-I kind of wish Paper Magic were portrayed differently? Because of the materials that magicians in these books use (paper, glass, metal, rubber, plastic… am I forgetting any?), paper is the oldest, right? (Wait I forgot about fire, which is the actual oldest, but anyway.) Was magic discovered first by using paper? Shouldn’t that lend the art of Paper Magic a certain mysticism? Instead, it’s generally regarded as the most boring of the materials. I’d have loved to have seen Paper Magicians portrayed as mystics, dedicated to their craft and their superiority and stuff, like the Illuminati or something. But then… that would have been a different book.
-At the end of the first book, Ceony does something New and Different with Paper Magic… which is pretty much never addressed again. Why is that? I wish it had been developed more. (I mean, it’s discussed later, but she never tries to take it any further. What else can she do with this particular technique? What does this mean about the nature of magic? Can other materials also be used the same way? Nope. None of those questions are ever answered. By book 3, it’s completely forgotten.)
-The third book centers around some information that Ceony is given at the end of the second book. And what bothers me about it is how little work she put into obtaining the information. Like, some guy just tells her. She doesn’t study it out, she doesn’t go through a million iterations and a bunch of trial-and-error. Somebody just mentions it. Ceony is such a force of action in these novels! I don’t love that this information, which will hugely impact the rest of her life, was something she obtained so very passively.
-One of my friends on Goodreads mentioned that she got weirded out when Ceony goes into Thane’s heart in the first book. Personally, I thought that aspect of the novel was beyond cool. The four chambers of his heart are filled with different memories/hopes for the future, and I loved it all.