I’m Back! – Health Nightmares, Weird Analogies about Canadian Health Care, and Queer Mermaids

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I love how positive-yet-uncertain this bear looks. Which matches me perfectly right now. Like, “HI! I’m back…? Maybe…? I don’t know what’s going on….”

Hey everyone! I’m back (possibly? hopefully?) from my completely unintended hiatus!

Sigh. Let me be blunt: these past two and a half weeks have been the absolute worst.

You know the saying “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”?

Well, June came in like a beautiful flying unicorn spraying rainbow spectral dust and has been crashing in a big glittery inferno ever since.

So. Let me try to sort this mess out for you into something that’s digestible and not a blog post equivalent of me sobbing into a pillow for an hour.

It started two weeks ago when I got a call from my mom saying that my grandmother back in Korea has stage 4 liver cancer. And that was a “I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you properly” moment, because I’d seen her and talked to her in a video call a month ago and she’d seemed completely fine.

I hadn’t had to face the prospect of any of my grandparents not being healthy since my grandfather passed away 15 years ago, so I was at a loss to how to process it.

Now, that same week I’d been to the clinic because of some abdominal pains I’ve been having, and that led to a trip to the lab for blood tests. And not soon after I got the call about my grandmother, I found out from the doctor that my vitamin B12 levels were high, as were the numbers for one of my liver enzymes. Either one of those results by itself is notable but not exactly scary. Coupled together, however, means that there’s a probability of liver damage. (I had an ultrasound done since then and my liver seems fine, so that’s one worry off the list)

And that’s when my brain starting spinning in on itself.

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One of my favourite end products of human evolution is pattern recognition–our ability to take disparate bits of information and create a whole picture out of them (WAIT, there’s a point to this, I swear). And I love that so much.

I love that we hung a fish, a lion, a queen across the sky because we saw specks of light in the dark and believed them to have meaning.

I look at the stucco patterns on my ceiling and convince myself there’s a shape of a person holding an umbrella.

We connect dots and find stories in chaos. Which is beautiful, right?

Except when our brain turns it against us.

Because somehow I connected my grandmother’s health troubles with my test results and came to the conclusion that there’s something severely, awfully wrong with my own liver. And when it comes to personal stuff, I tend to catastrophize. So whenever something remotely bad happens I can’t help but assume the worst.

Cue stress dialed up to 11.

I was shaking, I was having anxiety attacks, I couldn’t fall asleep at night, and when I did, I only managed about 4 hours before bolting awake.

So I decided to go work out at the gym every other evening because I desperately needed to release the stress somehow.

Cue breathing troubles.

My first two workout sessions went fine–I took it easy and did light cardio. After my third session, though, I was dizzy and wheezing and it felt like my chest was constricting and I could only take shallow breaths. And this lasted through the next day.

So I visited a clinic and the doctor sent me in for an X-ray and signed off a prescription for an inhaler. Now, I don’t have a history of asthma and I wasn’t sure if what I was experiencing was asthma, but I just wanted to breathe properly again and surely a couple of puffs couldn’t kill me, right?

So I tried two puffs.

Cue intense vertigo and wooziness (I’m chalking this up to the inhaler’s side effects).

And I spent two days lying in bed watching Youtube videos and Netflix because I couldn’t focus on anything else. Also, getting vertigo on a 5th floor balcony is decidedly not fun.

Then about five days later, I started having chest pains. It started with my chest and spread to the shoulders and neck, and there were periods where I was dizzy and couldn’t breathe properly. And on Thursday night it got severe to the point where I was slumping against the wall of my apartment.

So I went to the ER, and they set me up with an X-ray, ECG, and yet another blood test, and then had me wait 5 hours until they came to the conclusion of “Tests look fine, don’t think it’s a heart problem. Take Tylenol.”

And I went home at 2 AM.

(*deep breath* Do not turn this into a rant about the Canadian health care system. Do not turn this into a rant about the Canadian health care system. Do not–)

Here’s the thing about the Canadian health care system.

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Let’s think of our doctors and hospitals and labs as little inns scattered across a kingdom. The quality of the inns is pretty great–clean environment, nice food, well-trained workers–but the roads that connect all the inns–the ones that you need to follow in order to get from one inn to the next–are unpaved and infested with bandits and giant man-eating scorpions.

So because you’re fending off swords and deadly stingers and trying not to trip over a minefield of uneven rocks, it takes you forever to reach the next inn, and by that point you’re poisoned and bleeding and sleep-deprived, and those well-trained workers have their work cut out for them. (oh god this is a terrible analogy)

You’re not really aware of the problem if you just visit the family doctor every now and then for checkups and things like the flu. But if you’re ever dealing with a more severe condition that has you moving from doctor to lab to doctor to specialist to lab, it becomes abundantly clear how inefficient and bogged-down the system can be. Especially compared to other countries that have universal healthcare.

But yeah! That’s kind of where I’m sitting at right now. Been crying a lot. Still dizzy. Still having chest pains. The tests say my heart is fine, so I suspect it’s a blood vessel issue, but I won’t know for sure until I see a cardiologist (which will probably take 4-6 weeks).

I think I’ve gotten past being scared and anxious into just plain exhausted. I hate the feeling of not knowing what’s going on with my body, but that’s what it is at the moment. I can’t yank our system by the collar and force it to work faster.

So in the meantime I want to try to get more rest and focus on positive things.

Like BLOGGING. And BOOKS. And GAMES. And talking with all you LOVELY, LOVELY PEOPLE. ❤

So let’s close on a good note!

 

Some Happy Things that Happened in the Past Two Weeks

🌻 I caved in and bought watercolour paints that have been on my wishlist for half a year. They’re a brand called Daniel Smith and their special thing is that they mine minerals from all over the world and grind them into pigments to make a lot of their paints.

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When I first started watercolour last year and began researching different brands, I kind of side-eyed Daniel Smith because using semi-precious gemstones to make paints (and charging $16-$30 per 15 mL tube) seemed kind of pretentious and elitist. But then I watched demonstrations and read articles and I saw how every paint behaves differently with the water in such mesmerizing ways…and it’s just the perfect marriage of science and art. How can I possibly hate that?

I’ve been playing around with them a bit and they. look. stunning.

🌻 I walked (very slowly) around one of my favourite forest trails in the region and sat by the lake for a couple of hours. Nothing gets me feeling more comfortable and at peace than being in the woods.

🌻 I saw female mallard ducks leading their ducklings on a practice flight session around a lake (a different one). It was disastrous and adorable and made me laugh.

🌻 I wrote an email to a UK publisher asking for an ARC, and to my joy and utter bafflement, they sent a physical copy over.

🌻 I stumbled across this freaking gorgeous painting on Twitter and I’m pretty sure it added several years to my life. I NEED it to be made into a story.

You can find the artist @trappedinvacancy on Twitter and Tumblr!

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Now you! Tell me something you saw, heard, experienced that made you happy this month!

Update (I’m Back!) and Discworld Month 6 (Better Late than Never…?)

Happy Holidays, everyone! I’m back from my unannounced hiatus! Incidentally, I’m a broken record.

November and December are generally not great months for me (one of the million things they don’t tell you as a kid is how the holidays can go from the Most Wonderful Time of the Year to Time of Dread as you grow older), and this time was no exception. And then some. Bad mental health stuff and hospitals, basically.

I’m probably turning into one of those characters in SFF series who spend half of their screen/page time waking up in hospital beds and being like, “Hey doc, nice to see you again” and “We should really stop meeting like this.” Well, minus a cool sword and a world to save.

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As for Discworld, we’re now six months into the Discworld Readathon started by me and Nicole (the Bookworm Drinketh).

This month’s book is (was?) Wyrd Sisters and if this is the first time you’re hearing about it, you have two whole days to get to it. Pfft that’s totally feasible, right? :DD

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Arbitrary deadlines aside, if you want to join now then go for it. Leave me a comment, enjoy Sir Terry’s brilliant imagination, and post your review whenever.

And a thousand apologies to Nicole and the other participating bloggers for the radio silence. I’ll definitely try to get to the book by the end of next week.

I also have a backlog of posts I need to publish, a collab project that I’m super excited to unveil (hopefully sometime in January), and need to figure out how I’m supposed to write reviews for books I read over a month ago. So look out for those!

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Do tell me how your month has been, what interesting books you’ve picked up, etc, etc. Happy reading!

October 2018 Wrap-Up – Book Things & Art as a Double-Edged Sword

It’s the middle of the month…and you know what that means! 😀

So, I was going to include mini reviews for some of the games I played in the past month because Nicole @ Thoughts Stained With Ink was like, “Heck yeah! You should totally do that!” But the post was getting kinda long and there’s this one game that I absolutely need to GUSH about, so I’m shuffling those to separate posts.

And that means I’ve finally decided to do semi-regular posts about video games (with a heavy focus on indies because while I love AAA titles, it’s the indies that make my heart sing). Will anyone read them? Who knows!

As for books, October was an okay month. I read 9 in total, most of which I enjoyed:

⚔️= Fantasy; 🚀= Scifi; 👻= Paranormal; 🔍= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; 🗝️= Historical; 🌈= LGBTQIAP+; Horror= 👁️

The Brilliant

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth ⚔️🗝️:
If I were a cat, this book would have killed me nine times over. Thank you for breaking me in the best way, Laura.  [Review]

A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland ⚔️🌈:
This was such a clever and entertaining story about, well, stories and their power to change the fabric of the world. And its protagonist is an elderly man in his 70’s which you don’t see everyday in fantasy. [Review]

 

The Great

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Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink 👁️🌈:
I really liked it. I think it works perfectly as a companion to the podcast. But I don’t know if it’s something that can hold up on its own? I’ll talk more about it in the actual review.

Sadie by Courtney Summers 🔍🌺:
Yet another review I have to finish writing! “Enjoyable” is probably the wrong word to describe the story, but it is a compelling one and I can’t say enough good things about the audiobook. Massive kudos to all the voice actors.

Mort by Terry Pratchett ⚔️:
Read this as part of our Discworld Readathon! I’ve heard people talk about it like it’s the second coming of Christ, and to my surprise, it was actually really good. [Review]

 

The Good/Okay

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The Better to Kiss You With by Michelle Osgood 👻🌈:
Gerry (Book Nook UK) remarked about the prevalence of male werewolves in stories, and this is one of the few books I’ve read with a female werewolf love interest! Overall, a fun, sexy F/F story about werewolves, MMORPGs, and harassment culture. Plus, the author’s a local!

Time’s Children by D.B. Jackson ⚔️🚀: A mashup of time travel and epic fantasy! I guess “pleasant” would be the best wor? Nothing amazing but I did enjoy it for the most part. [Review]

 

The Bad

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The Phoenix Empress (Their Bright Ascendancy 2) by K. Arsenault Rivera ⚔️🌈:
Yeah, this was not a good one. The cultural issues aside, I found the pacing to be glacial, the character development lacking, and worldbuilding more or less nonexistent. [Review]

Mage Against the Machine by Shaun Barger ⚔️🚀🌈: I noped out of this one halfway through and my tablet is so, so grateful. [Review]

 

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So in this second half of the wrap-up I’m going to ramble about art and my decision to return to it after so long.

And it begins with a little story, so gather around!

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had a bit of an eclectic family. In terms of profession, anyway. On one half there was a seafood restaurant owner, a spicy chicken restaurant owner, movie producer, teacher, pastor, dentist, investment banker….and the other half were just artists and writers.

So the girl grew up with a brilliantly artistic mother and a brilliantly artistic grandfather, and some years later she met a brilliantly artistic young girl who would become one of her best friends. And it was really, really hard for the girl not to feel dull and dim in comparison. Like a ragged baby bird that may grow up to be large and healthy and magnificent, but most likely won’t.

The girl loved photography, writing, and drawing, and it was this last one that she felt the most insecure about. Insecurity turned to shame and shame turned to cold dejection and she decided one day that she would quit–because she wasn’t any good, so what was the point? (And when the girl looks back on it years later, she’ll recognize that it was partly an act of self harm–this denying herself of something she so loved)

But then 8 years later, thanks to a book, the girl’s returned to the world of drawing (because books are amazing and can literally change lives), and she’s been loving it–absolutely loving it. But on the heels of that love came doubt and heartache.

(And here I switch back to first person because talking about myself in third person is getting on my nerves)

So it’s been four months since my “return” and I’ve been spiraling into that oh-so familiar mindset of “I’m fucking terrible at this,” with my brain constantly yapping in the background, “Hey, remember how you quit all those years ago? Yeah, this is why.”

It’s hard to look at a finished work and not see a road map of all my flaws. Not just flaws of the drawing–though they’re obviously the first ones I see–but all of my flaws. Like, as a person. Because that’s how my brain operates.

And it is exhausting.

Turns out comeback stories are more fun to read/watch/play than to actually experience.

But one thing’s for sure: I’m not quitting again. Because once was enough for me to realize that it’s a shitty, shitty place to be in–no wi-fi, no heating, 1/5 on Yelp.

It was like locking yourself out of your house, throwing the key down a drain, and then just standing there, peering through the window (and there’s a part of you that knows this is your home, it’s always been your home, it could have always been your home, and just what the hell have you done?) And this terrible, aching longing settles inside you, and the more you peer, the more it floods you until you’re no longer a person but just a vessel of regrets and self-inflicted hurt.

I run through my life via two extremes–exaggerated indecisiveness or blind impulsiveness–and I never really know which one I’ll pick in a given situation. With this, though, my brain chose the latter. So deciding to return to art after nearly 10 years of avoidance was like punching through the window (because that key’s lounging at the bottom of the Pacific by now), climbing in and declaring, “Okay, you and me? We have unfinished business.” And the sheer relief I feel in that moment? Indescribable.

But then I realize my hand is all bloody and crusted with glass and I end up hopping around muttering expletives which really just ruins the bravado of it all. (That’s generally how my life goes. I want to think of myself as a protagonist in a Chris Nolan epic, but in reality I’m probably more like the sidekick in an Adam Sandler film–awkward, sad, and the antithesis of good comedy).

I could rant for days and days about how unfair it is that your passion can be this nourishing, too-bright thing that fills up your entire world until it’s not.

Until your fears and insecurities take the reins and turns it into an ugly, shameful blot that you can’t bear looking at so you shove it into the deepest corner of your mind-closet, buried under every rejection and hurt you’ve been collecting since childhood.

Except, as it turns out, not looking at it is equally painful, just in a different flavour.

So that’s where I’m at right now. Fighting myself (which isn’t anything new), a lot of late-night crying (also nothing new) and saying “I’m not letting you take this away from me again,” and my brain–always eager to get in the last word–whispering with smugness and false concern, “I’m only trying to help you.”

On good days I can laugh and give it the finger because, hell, the floodgates are open and I can finally create everything that’s been crowding my brain for years and I’m having fun. On bad days–and those often eclipse the good–I sit down and listen like it’s a sermon worth giving a damn about.

And I just wish it were easy to find a healthy, balanced relationship with our creative endeavours. To be able to hold forgiveness in one hand and critique in the other and navigate the tightrope that life demands that we walk, and achieve a state of…well, not satisfaction–because no creator is ever completely satisfied with their work–but a comfortable awareness.

And this is all just a really dramatic explanation for why my reading/blogging pace has dropped, why I’ve not been blog-hopping as much, why it’s taking me forever to respond to your comments, etc, etc. Because I’m dedicating these last three months to aggressive, aggressive drawing–to try to meet my pains head-on instead of shying away as I’ve done in the past.

Because it’s you or me, brain.

And I plan on winning.

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On that note, I hope all your Octobers went super well! Happy reading!

Shelfie By Shelfie #1

This is a tag that I first saw on Tar Heel Reader, which is run by the indelible, incredible Jennifer, and was created by Beth from Bibliobeth. Thank you to Jennifer for bringing this to my attention and to Beth for coming up with this awesome tag!

“If you want to join in, you share a picture (or “shelfie”) of one of your shelves i.e. favourites, TBR, however you like to organise them, and then answer ten questions that are based around that particular shelf.”

I told myself I’d do this post weeks ago and then–surprise surprise–I ended up procrastinating. Now we’ve gone from scorching sun to constant rain and I lost the opportunity to make use of natural light. So I dragged out two desk lamps from the closet and tried to create some nice indoor lighting. The result wasn’t…great.

Imagine a praying mantis–like this one!

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Now imagine those two front legs as my table lamps. And imagine a camera resting against one of the shoulders.

That’s more or less how I looked trying to take this picture. Only 10 times more wobbly and 1000 times less fabulous.

Glitter and glamour, my life is not.

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1.) Is there any reason for this shelf being organised the way it is or is it purely random?

…That’s a very good question! *Sweats* Is “I like the way these books look next to each other” a valid sorting mechanism? How about “I let my right hand guide me like a dowsing rod and these are the books it picked out for this shelf”? No? Okay.

I recently resorted my books and I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me. But these ones do share a few things in common: they’re mostly fantasy, most of them have LGBTQIAP+ representation, and they’re some of my favourites. You may also notice that I have a habit of not buying all the books in a series.

2.) Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you i.e. how you got it/ a memory associated with it etc.

Six years ago, I got my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale signed at a university event where Margaret Atwood gave an hour-long talk about the zombie apocalypse.

Two things I learned on that day:

1. Atwood is very funny in a very dry kind of way. I couldn’t believe she was Canadian because I don’t generally associate our country with wry humour. Some guy asked during Q&A (in the most haughty tone imaginable), “What made you go into writing? Was it the elements of plot, the characters? Or was it the language, the words, the sentences?”

And she answered, “Well, it was better than Home Economics.”

I loved it.

2. Margaret Atwood may look like “a frail baby giraffe but [she] has the intimidation factor of a 8.0 earthquake” (actual words I found in my journal entry).

See, I’d brought The Handmaid’s Tale and my new journal to get signed after the talk–my new journal that I hadn’t written in for about a month. When I gave the journal over, she flipped to the latest entry, flipped to the front page, looked at the date and then at me and said, “You haven’t been writing.”

I squeaked out “Um, no!”

Which she followed with a shake of the head and a “You need to write more!”

Then she proceeded to scribble across half of an empty page, “For Kathy–write more on this page today! – Margaret Atwood”

I don’t know if I was more ecstatic or mortified. But I did write on that page that day. And the day after. Becaue when Margaret Atwood tells you to write, you write.

3.) Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

I think I would sooner ditch myself. BUT if my loved ones were being held at gunpoint, I guess The Soul Mirror by Carol Berg would do the job since I have another (larger) copy on a different shelf. 😛

4.) Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

Beth, we haven’t even talked yet! Why do you already hate me? 😭 I adore these books and two of them are signed and beloved, so I’m going cheat this time. I’ll get myself a Bag of Holding and just stuff the entire shelf inside.

5.) Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

Most of these are fairly new but I’ve had Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta since 2011!

6.) Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

That would be The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.

7.) Which book from this shelf are you most excited to read (or re-read if this is a favourites shelf?)

I have already re-read quite a few of these, but I’m very excited to get to Blue Lily, Lily Blue for the first time!

8.) If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

There are several objects!

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On the left: the miniature traditional Korean masks (“tal”) my mom got for me on her most recent trip to South Korea. The larger ones were/are used during ceremonies, rituals, plays, and dancing (which my dad used to do). We had them hanging around our house when I was little and they used to freak me out. These two are much more pleasant to look at.

In the middle we have the Little Prince & Fox figurines!

And on the right there’s a Joan of Arc-inspired mini sword that I got for myself last Christmas because I love swords and Joan of Arc is one of my favourite historical heroines.

9.) What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

That I read a lot of fantasy and that my methods of organization are a mystery even to myself?

10.) Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

I don’t want to pressure anyone to showcase their shelves so I won’t be tagging anyone, but if you’d like to do the tag, go for it!

And go check out Jennifer and Beth’s shelves!

September 2018 “TBR” – Procrastination, Witches, and Hard Choices

“Kathy.”

“Mm?”

“We’re pretty much in the middle of September right now.”

“Yep, I can see that. I have a tear-away calendar thingy on my desk.”

“Well, one generally writes a TBR post at the beginning of the month.”

“Eh, that’s debatable. There’s no Blog Police skulking around checking for these things, ready to clap you in handcuffs (and not the fuzzy ones). So you can technically write a TBR whenever. Hell, you can even write them at the end of the month and be like, ‘Here are all the books I thought I was going to read this month…and here’s what I actually read.’ Do whatever you want, you know? The world is your oyster. Break free from the shackles of conformity.”

“I mean, sure, shackles and oysters. But this one’s just a case of you being a lazy procrastinator.”

“Oh my god, you are ruining my brand. Why are you even here?”

“Well, I’m you. And you’re me. And this is an overlong conversation you’re having with yourself. And I feel like we should just get to the post before we scare off the readers. What’s left of them, anyway.”

“But I’m not the one who started–UGH. Fine.”

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Right, so here we have the latest TBR post I’ve done to date! It’s a badly stitched-up mix of “TBR” and “What Did I Just Finish Reading?” and “What Am I Reading Now?” and “Hey, You Like Voting For Things, Right? (‘No,’ Said 50% of America) Well, Here’s A Thing You Can Vote For!”

It’s awkward, kind of ugly, and suffers from a heavy case of identity crisis.

My own little Frankenstein’s monster. Please treat it kindly. ❤

(Fun fact: that above conversation was originally twice as long and included a side-argument about adjectives. No, I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.)

 

Recently Finished

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Bloody Rose (The Band 2) by Nicolas Eames:
Great sequel to a great debut. Review here.

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton:
Oh boy. I have a lot of thoughts on this one and I’m in the process of trying to sort them out. Review to come.

The Deepest Roots by Miranda Asebedo:
A YA contemporary/fantasy/mystery/paranormal story that didn’t really work for me. Review to come.

 

READING NOW

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Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon:
McCammon wrote one of the my favourite books of all time–Boy’s Life–and I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while now. It’s a doorstopper historical mystery (at nearly 800 pages) that centers around a witch trial and I’m loving it so far. McCammon’s gift for creating atmosphere and interesting characters really shines in this one.

Los Nefilim by T. Frohock:
A historical gothic fantasy (aka my favourite subgenre) about angels and daimons. I’ve had the book for a couple of years now and I figured now is a good time to get started on it, seeing as how the sequel’s dropping in a few months.

Equal Rites (Discworld 3) by Terry Pratchett:
I’m reading this as part of the Discworld Readathon and very much liking it so far!

 

YET TO READ

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Nightingale by Amy Lukavics
YA historical horror set in an asylum and featuring an unreliable narrator. It’s also been blurbed by Paul Tremblay so I’m rather quite curious.

The Nine (Thieves of Fate 1) by Tracy Townsend:
Another book that’s been milling around on my shelves for a year. It’s about a mysterious, magical book and it’s set in a secondary world that’s kind of similar to our own…but not really? I don’t know. The blurb gives you a lot without really giving you anything.

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang:
This one will probably/maybe/hopefully be a buddy read with Justine from Milkz Bookshelf!

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar:
A historical fantasy (yay!) about a (dead?) mermaid set in 18th century England. I’ve been hearing amazing things about this one and I can’t wait to dive in!

The Tower of Living and Dying (Empires of Dust 2) by Anna Smith Spark:
Sequel to one of my favourite books of last year. I’m hoping it’s be as brutal and bloody and beautiful as the first.

 

Undecided (aka Oh God Choices are Hard Help Me)

Both of these are ARCs I want to knock out before October, but I have no idea which one to tackle first. So if you’d like to relieve me of my choice paralysis, vote for one and tell me in the comments below!

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Time’s Children (The Islevale Cycle 1) by D.B. Jackson
A blend of high fantasy and scifi in which a 15-year old boy is sent back in time to prevent a war and finds himself in an adult body. I did say I was going to take a break from scifi for a bit, but the premise for this one is just too interesting to pass up.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
Sequel to Lee’s Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in which the former protagonist’s sister is the new protagonist. It’s got adventures and pirates and well, petticoats, presumably. Should be good fun!

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And there you go! See any that catches your eye? What are some books you’re excited to get to this month?

Discworld Readathon: Month 2 | Another Mini Update

Hey, guys! First of all, just a quick update on why I haven’t been posting lately: the past several weeks have been rather grim for me mental-health wise and I’ve pretty much dropped every ball I’ve been holding. So I’m both behind on writing reviews and have a backlog of reviews to post (which is a new and weird situation to be in).

But I find myself really missing doing blog stuff, so I’ll be slowly getting back into things in the next week. Be ready to get replies to month-old comments that you don’t remember the context of!

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Second of all, August is the second month of the Discworld Readathon that Nicole (from The Bookworm Drinketh) and I are hosting. We’re tackling the second book in the Discworld series, THE LIGHT FANTASTIC, and reviews are to be posted on the 27TH.

If you’d like to join (or drop out), just tell me in the comments and we’ll add you to our list! Nicole and I will put up a post listing all the participants in the middle of August.

Book Blogger Insider Tag

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I was tagged by Ashley from Ashley in Wonderland for this, so thank you, Ashley! Her blog is wonderful (and so pretty to look at), so be sure to check out it out!

RULES:

Answer the questions below
Credit the creator: Jamie @ ALittleSliceofJamie
Tag at least 5 people
Have fun!

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1. Where do you typically write your blog posts?

I’m an idiot and it’s 2 in the morning so the first answer that popped into my head was, “Uh…Wordpress? Duh.” *Smacks head* Right. So the locations at which I write my blog posts are my desktop and my bed. A lot of the structural, academical type of writing happens at the desktop and a lot of the creative work happens in bed. (*waggles eyebrows*)

2. How long does it take you to write a book review?

The shortest one so far took me about an hour. Usually it takes two days. One day for the rough draft and another for the final version. This current one I’m writing is turning out to be a record-breaker because I’ve been at it for nearly two weeks. It’s going to be the first perfect score given on this blog and I’m really desperate to do the book justice.

3. When did you start your book blog?

January 14th, 2018. The decision honestly came out of nowhere. I’d been rambling about a book to my friend–pretty much giving an impromptu review–and she was like, “Why don’t you just start a blog?” And I was like, “Huh, yeah, I should.” And that was that.

4. What’s the worst thing about having a book blog in your opinion?

The stress of trying to aim for a consistent schedule. Also, having all these drafts for future blog posts but feeling anxious about publishing them. Okay, I guess this one’s not so much the worst thing about having a book blog, but one of the not-so-great things about having a brain and, well, being human.

5. What is the best thing about having a book blog in your opinion?

All these new, awesome bookish nerds I get to interact with! It consistently boggles my mind that there are people out there who not only want to read my ramblings but leave kind comments in the process. You guys are all amazing.

6. What blog post have you had the most fun writing so far?

Uh, “fun” might not be the right word, but my favourite post I’ve written so far is my gushing love letter to Robin Hobb and her characters. It was a very personal post and something I’d been meaning to write for nearly a year, and I’m very satisfied with how it turned out. I posted it when my blog was still just a hatchling so it didn’t get a lot of traction here, but I did cross-post it to reddit, and the responses there were just mindbogglingly amazing.

7. What is your favourite type of blog post to write?

Lists are always fun and easy and a surefire way to encourage other bloggers to engage in a discussion. But, and this might be a weird thing to say, I love writing emotional pieces. So discussion and opinion posts (or even reviews) that relate back to me in a personal way, that other people can then also relate to, are the most fulfilling ones for me to write.

8. When do you typically write?

My brain thinks that 1 AM is the prime time for doing all the reading, writing, and gaming, so I tend to be the most productive around then. My best ideas also seem to come to me during that time, prompting me to drag out my tablet in the middle of falling asleep and tap out a wall of sleepy, semi-coherent thoughts. Thanks a bunch, brain.

9. How do you write your book reviews? With a cup of coffee or tea? With Netflix? Cuddled up with your fur baby?

dog

This but skinnier because I’ve been squashing it so much.

 

With music and a lot of pacing. Sometimes with a snack, but never with tea (*whispers* I really hate tea. This probably makes me a heathen in the book blogging sphere). I also have a giant dog plush that takes up half the bed, so when I’m writing at night I sometimes cuddle up with that.

10. When do you write your book reviews? Right after finishing the book? Two weeks after finishing the book?

I usually do a rough draft of a review while I’m reading the book–writing notes as I read is something that’s been embedded in me since senior high English and undergrad. This is where I collect all the visceral, in-the-moment reactions, and they usually end up being the structural bones of the final review. After I finish the book, I expand on these thoughts. These are usually choppy fragments: my opinion on the setting, the plot, the characters, and moments I loved or hated. Then I let it percolate for a couple of hours up to a day (sometimes several days) and stitch them together into something half-way coherent. Then I do editing (er, sometimes). *Takes breath*

If all this sounds professional and organized, don’t be fooled! As with any of my writing projects, I’m usually buried under a mountain of sticky notes while I furiously stab the backspace button and mutter expletives at the screen.

11. How often do you post?

Right now I’m trying to aim for 4 posts per week. I’m a little afraid that going for more will end up burning me out, so I’m trying to moderate myself.

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I TAG:
Amy @ A Court of Crowns and Quills
Aurora @ Aurora Librialis
Consu @ Paper-Eyed Girl
Kristyn @ Bibliophile Empress
Vera @ Unfiltered Tales

 

One Lovely Blog Award

I was recently nominated by Andy for the One Lovely Blog Award, so thank you, Andy! Andy runs a blog about LGBTQ books and writing tips. He’s also working on a YA novel so be sure to check him out so you can say “Hey! I know that person!” when he becomes a superstar author!

One Lovely Blog Award

RULES:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Share 7 facts about yourself
  3. Nominate up to 15 bloggers and inform them of the nomination

flourishes

SEVEN FACTS ABOUT ME:

1) I was a seriously gullible kid. The first time I ever flew on a plane was when I was seven and immigrating to Canada with my family. My dad had the bright idea to inform me that every passenger was required to parachute out of the plane when they reach their destination. I’d stared at him wide-eyed, bouncing between excitement and trepidation, and asked if kids and parents were allowed to parachute together. He said that he’ll ask one of the flight attendants. Then, when we got close to landing, he was like, “Oh, it’s raining! No parachuting for us today, I’m afraid.” I don’t know if I was more relieved or disappointed. Add a hundred more stories like this and you basically have a summary of my childhood.

 

2) I’m pretty scatterbrained, which can be a bit of an inconvenience when you’re in a science field. I lose stuff all the time. I barged into random people’s rooms constantly, when I was living in dorm, thinking they were mine. And I get hopelessly lost downtown if I don’t have my nose perpetually glued to a map.

 

3) I hate apple pies. Especially hot apple pies. There’s just something about the taste of warm mushy apples combined with cinnamon and sugar and butter that makes me nauseated.

 

4) I wanted to be a voice actor when I was in my teens (and still kind of do, to be honest).  I would play classic RPGs and yammer at the computer screen during all the dialogue bits. I adored Shakespearean read-alongs during English class. Even now, I love reading books aloud and doing all the different voices. My favourites are the angsty, emotional scenes (because of course). Hamlet’s soliloquies? Nailed them.

 

5) I had a massive fear of people in full-body cartoon suits as a kid. More so than clowns. Clowns are fine! Clowns are great. Clowns make balloon animals! Clowns have eyes that blink and facial expressions that change. Not like those 7 ft tall, perpetually smiling monstrosities that lumber up to you with open arms like they’re about to whisk you away to FUNland, where we’ll have so much FUN, with no need to EVER return home, and there’s definitely no murdering of small children going on, haha!

sponge bob no GIF

Disneyland? More like Horrorland. And watching Donnie Darko did NOT improve my opinion of them. (I do apologize to any costumer-wearing peeps I’ve ever encountered who were traumatized by me pointing, wailing and sprinting away)

 

6) I’m a certified lifeguard. I love swimming. But you plop me into any body of opaque water where I can’t touch the bottom, and I will panic and thrash around like a fish in a barrel. So if you ever meet me and decide you want to take me swimming in a lake or an ocean, expect to be used as a human bodyboard.

 

7) Anime! Love them. I pretty much grew up with them because 80% of the kid shows they aired back in Korea were anime. Except they were dubbed over so I didn’t know they were Japanese shows back then–they were just really great cartoons. Some of my favourites were Slayers, Digimon, Slam Dunk, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Case Closed (and yeah, some of these probably aren’t really suitable for a 5-8 year-old).

 

flourishes

 

NOMINATIONS:
Book In Her Eyes (Sionna)
Alex Reads and Blogs
Acquadimore Books
The Bookworm Daydreamer
A Court of Crowns and Quills
A Science Girl in a Fantasy World
Strangely Pop Cultured
Amiie’s Books

(You are not required to do a post on this, so don’t feel pressured!)

The Art of Starving – A Looking Glass into Myself (Personal Story + Review)

The Art of Starving


Title:
The Art of Starving
Author: Sam J. Miller
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 11th, 2017
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Fantasy
Page Count: 384 pages
Goodreads

Rating: 9.0/10 (Champions of the Genre)

 

 

Trigger Warning (for the post and the book): Depression, self-harm, starvation, and eating disorder.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to post this. Because maybe it’s a bit too much. Because I’m running a book blog, for Christ’s sake, and I doubt anyone signed up to read one of my sob stories. But The Art of Starving is a brutally honest, personal tale and I think it deserves nothing less than an honest and personal response.

There are some artists whose work I can only describe as something ripped out from the deepest crevice of their heart that’s then handed to me on a platter with a quivering smile and the words, “I hope you enjoy.” Raw. Intimate. Uncomfortably honest. And you can’t tear your eyes away. That’s more or less my experience with most of Sam Miller’s short stories. His debut novel is no exception–for several reasons.

The Art of Starving is a YA Fantasy/Contemporary story starring a teenage boy named Matt who has an eating disorder. Except he doesn’t. He’s fine, really. It’s not a problem. Then one day he discovers his hunger is the gateway to unlocking a slew of superpowers–enhanced hearing, smelling, bending time and space, and even pig wrangling. And with them he’s determined to seek out the people who have hurt his family and make them pay. But for that he needs to eat less. He needs to stay hungry.

It’s a story I’d been meaning to read since it came out a year ago, but somehow couldn’t make the time. But I very much loved Sam’s short stories, and the book got nominated for the YA category in the Nebula Awards, so I finally caved in.

As I started reading, I thought to recount to myself some of my own experiences with food so I could later add it to the review–a bit of personal anecdotal spice. It’d be fun and completely innocuous. I would begin with something like, “Food is a passion for many people, for many different reasons” and talk about “foodies” and namedrop some reality cooking/baking shows.

But then I had to pause–both the reading and the recounting. Because I was getting uneasy. Because some of my accounts were sounding very, very familiar to what was written on the pages of this book.

“This whole thing is not easy. It’s a fight, most days. Me vs. Food.
Food usually wins. My body, that traitorous thing, makes me cry Uncle. Drags me to the cupboard and makes me frantically scoop peanut butter out of the jar and into my mouth with my finger until I gag on it.”


“I thought about puking up all those sandwiches once I saw what I had done, but that’s a line I won’t cross. If you make yourself puke, you have a problem.”

I eventually stopped reading altogether. My brain felt rattled. I started flipping through my memories and started putting pieces together, while realizing that they were pieces of the same whole. And the whole wasn’t looking pretty.

Then I continued.

I arranged my roughly-assembled thoughts next to Matt’s.

And what I saw was a mirror image of my own thoughts and experiences.

The term “eating disorder” was one I never once associated with myself. I knew I had an antagonistic relationship with food but I never felt it was anything to write home about. And it certainly wasn’t a disorder. But throughout this past week I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the fact that, yes, I have an eating disorder, and tracing my behaviour back, I’ve had it for quite some time now.

This book prompted me to write it all out–a rambling of my relationship with food and my perception of my body, from teenage years to now. This is the (slightly) shortened version.

~*~*

One night, when I was 15, I sat sobbing for hours at the dining table with my forearms stretched out in front of me because I’d just noticed how fat they had gotten. That was when I first decided to start counting calories. I asked my mom to stop making my school lunch every morning. My argument was that I was old enough to start doing it on my own when, really, I just wanted decrease my food consumption as discreetly as possible. And so peanut butter and banana sandwiches became my staple diet. I started exercising copiously, sometimes to the point of being sick–had everyday workout sessions on top of swimming and competitive tennis. It got to a point where I broke out in tremors at the mere thought of skipping a session. All of this eventually led to four months of missed periods, which I couldn’t bring myself to ignore and prompted me to return to a normal diet.

Then, a year later, I watched my friend grow thinner and thinner until they had to be hospitalized and undergo surgery. That was a major scare. I told myself I would no longer care about what I ate–junk food, healthy food, I’d enjoy them all. I told myself I would never do something that dangerous.

I never thought of this period as the result of an eating disorder–the notion hardly ever crossed my mind. I viewed it as a dumb phase I went through as a teenager. It didn’t help that every health guide and documentary I’d ever seen described only three types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Well, I wasn’t rail skinny (I still had a roundish face, my thighs still felt gelatinous, my waist was still too thick, and so on and on…) I didn’t starve myself for prolonged periods of time. I didn’t go on sudden eating sprees. I didn’t vomit out what I ate. I didn’t resemble the girls in those 20/20 features about eating disorders.

I just didn’t like the feeling of being full. It didn’t matter that I had massive fights with my mom throughout the rest of highschool because I hated–so hated–the words, “Do you want something to eat?” It was a love-hate relationship I had with food, nothing more.

Then came university. During my freshman year, I was, for the first time, happy. Truly happy. Everywhere I turned I saw possibilities and knowledge and reasons for being alive. There was no limit to what I could achieve and I had friends and a loving partner by my side to support me through. And I ate regularly. Well, as the year went by, I did start skipping most dinners (I hid my annoyance whenever one my friends sighed and said, “she’s not eating dinner again.”). But breakfast and lunch were well-balanced meals and my weight stayed more or less the same, at around 110 to 112 lbs.

Then, between year two and three, relationships fell to pieces and grades started to plummet and, consequently, so did my mental health. If the first two years were some of the best days of my life, the last two were some of the worst.

In the past few years, from my 4th year of undergrad up to now, I started using food as a new weapon against myself. In my worst hours, when I was roiling in a miasma of disgust and self-hatred, I deliberately, methodically starved myself as punishment for the mounting failures I’d perceived I was collecting. A savage glee consumed me as I deprived my body of the one thing it was clamoring to receive. Because I deserved it, the piece of shit that I am. Because here is a thing that I can control.

Four months ago, there was a particularly long, particularly bad episode during which I starved myself for nearly a week–because I felt pathetic and wanted to punish myself or feel something more than the weight of the void pressing against my chest or both. One night, when I’d had enough, I reached into the fridge and pantry and pulled out whatever my hands could grasp and started eating and choking, crying and hating myself. And that too was an act of punishment.

A day later I stepped onto the scale for the first time in years because, I don’t know, I wanted to feel vindicated–to know all my work made some kind of dent on my body. But I just ended up standing there in shock, blinking down at the screen, because it read ’92 lbs.’

And that couldn’t be right.

And later all the BMI calculators on the internet were flashing “severely underweight” and that also couldn’t be right (for context, I’m between 5’4 and 5’5).

After the initial shock and fear wore off, I wish I could say that it triggered me into some kind of action. But it didn’t. I just didn’t care enough. The reason I starved myself in the first place was to punish my body, and well, 92 pounds was sufficiently punished. There was also a tiny eager voice telling me to see how much lower I can go–“C’mon, let’s try to hit 90!” But that scared me enough to shove it into a dark corner.

Even then the words “eating disorder” never crossed my mind. So what if I occasionally starved myself? So what if I mostly scrounged by with one meal per day? So what if my insides twisted with anxiety and fear at the thought of bumping it up to three meals? It was just my depression acting up. Depression was making me hurt myself. Depression was making me lose my appetite and my body didn’t get the memo because it was still constantly begging for food. I just sometimes–most of the time–didn’t like food. That’s it. That’s all it is. Why don’t they understand?

You might ask, “How did you not know?”

It’s amazing, the sheer depth of false belief your brain will drag you into. How you so effectively blind yourself to truths you don’t want to see. And it becomes hard, sometimes nigh on impossible, when you’re on the inside looking out, to recognize a problem as a problem. Things turn hazy on the inside. The narrative you see is a whole different beast than the one others see.

But there’s a clarity that comes with being on the outside. It’s always easier to recognize the flaws and strengths of others than to spot them in yourself. And with books, it’s easier, at least for me, to swallow them when they’re presented in the form of fantasy. That’s how it was with Matt from The Art of Starving.

I said before in my Robin Hobb post that it’s easier to latch onto a fictional character, your own creation or someone else’s, and forgive their flaws and understand their struggles and just love them in a way you can’t do for yourself. Well, I loved Matt and my heart broke for him (and myself). I recognized my behaviour in his and understood his lies and silences, though they pained me.

Despite that, for about 3/4 of the book (after I’d assumed reading), I thought I was doing pretty okay, emotionally-speaking; there wasn’t anything too triggering. But then I came across this one chapter and this one particular passage:

“I don’t think this is a rulebook at all. It might be what the therapeutic professions call A Cry for Help. It might be a road map to how to get to where you know you need help.

I started out thinking I had so much to offer. But I’ve got nothing to share but the hope that my pain can be helpful to someone.”

And I just crumpled. Broke down, utterly and comprehensively, into wrenching sobs. And again, I had to stop.

There’s a feeling of purging–all the toxins you’ve built up throughout the day, the week, the month, trailing out and away from you–when you encounter someone, real or fiction, whose pains mirror your own. Like your respective wavelengths colliding, kissing and merging into one.

It’s the feeling of being known. It’s the feeling of being told, “I see you. I see all of you. Your fractures and your breaks. The coiled, terrified, trembling thing inside of you. And I know you. Because you are me and I am you. And we are not alone.”

Right then I felt as though someone had taken my hand, that I didn’t even know I was reaching out with, and pulled me out onto shore, shivering and gasping and alive.

And I said aloud to myself for the first time: I have an eating disorder.

And that was that.

~*~*

The Art of Starving not only depicts the haziness of the boundary between truth and perception better than any other book I’ve read in recent memory, it also examines the cracks in ourselves that we so desperately try to hide from others. Alcoholic mothers, closeted teens, abused teens. With his newfound powers, Matt is able to see through their pretenses and disguises and yet still finds himself unable to help them.

What can you do for someone who doesn’t want to be seen? the book asks.

Sometimes nothing, it answers.

There are some battles that can be yours to win, but you have to be the one to take that first step.

Well, I’m not here to make grand promises. To set down goals and long-term resolutions. In a way, I’m still processing things. And even now I can barely believe it. There’s a loud voice in my head saying that this is just a stunt to draw more attention to myself, to collect morsels of pity from strangers because that’s the only way I can feel validated. And about a quarter of the time, I believe it. But most of time my brain tells me, with profound apathy, So what? So what if you have an eating disorder? Nobody cares; you certainly don’t.

And that’s probably the one that should scare me the most.

But there’s another voice now. One that says, “Feeling okay is a war, one that lasts your whole life, and the only way to win is to keep on fighting.” And, “You are never alone, no matter how alone you think you are.”

And I’m hoping to feed it until it grows large and strong and the other ones slink away in shame and fear.

I hope Sam Miller wins a shit ton of awards this year because while I don’t like throwing around adjectives like “important” and “life-changing” too often, this book is both.

I hope it helps boys and girls with ED to come to terms with themselves and seek guidance.

I hope it reaches a wide audience, young and old, because we are all, in one way or another, waging wars with our own bodies.

And I hope it saves lives.

Because–though maybe it’s just me being dramatic and maybe it’s too early to say–it’s pushed me one step closer to saving mine.

 

Of Wit Bonds, Mental Health, and The Power of Stories: How FitzChivalry Farseer Saved My Life

Fitz-Post-Banner1

Trigger Warning: This post discusses mental health issues of both the books’ character and myself.

Spoiler Note: I don’t directly spoil any major plot points, but I discuss my feelings relating to some of those plot points (specifically for Assassin’s Fate), and that might be spoilery enough for some people.

I had no idea how to title this post. It started out as a discussion of Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series and her effective use of choice and (delayed) consequence to create characters that live and breathe. Then it became a talk on how first-person POV is used to delve into the psychology of a protagonist in a way I’ve never seen–across decades and several trilogies. Then it morphed into a ramble on the power of stories and words and how this series has become a cornerstone of my life. Now it’s mostly a gushing love letter to FitzChivalry Farseer (Hobb’s protagonist) and the series as a whole. But I figured calling it “A Stupidly Long Ramblepiece in Which I Smear My Wet, Beating Love for These Books All Over Your Screen Via Too Many Em Dashes and Sentence Fragments” might get me flagged for…well, something. So I’m sticking with the more academic version.

It’s also a post where I open up more of myself to people–random ones, at that–than I normally would in cold, sober daylight. But I’m running high on sleep deprivation and, frankly, this has been clawing to escape from my brain for the past year.

Besides, internet people aren’t real.

Someone once asked me what the Farseer books were about, at which point I froze and nervously started rambling off some carbon copy of a wiki synopsis. “It’s about the illegitimate son of a prince becoming a royal assassin and he has to navigate court intrigues but there are also these raiders…” And so on, all the while a voice in my head was whispering how trite it all sounded. How ordinary. A coming-of-age story about a young bastard learning to become an assassin? With dragons and magic? Bet they’ve never read anything like that before!

They say first impressions are important, and I had a chance to introduce someone to a series that has been utterly life-changing for me. So what did I do? I gave the verbal equivalent of a wet-noodle handshake.

I was afraid that if I started going into what really made the books special for me, I would never stop and come off as too weird, too fanatical, too vulnerable. I thought, some people don’t even like the books all that much. And, I’m probably reading things in the story that aren’t really there. And, you’re not smart or experienced enough to talk about this.

So I barely scratched the surface of the story. Afterwards, I felt guilt and disappointment in equal measure. Like I was a teenager again and had been caught holding my girlfriend’s hand, and all I did was blurt out, “We’re just friends!” It’s been a nagging thorn of regret in my mind ever since.

Well, this is my way of remedying that. And a way of acknowledging myself. Because, fuck it, life is too short and unpredictable to start shortchanging yourself out of your own passions.

In the end, this isn’t a series about assassins, or dragons, or magic. It’s about the life of FitzChivalry Farseer. Or maybe just life in general. Of the small and large events that lay the path to our future. Of the people we touch and shape, and are shaped by, along the way. Of trying to find a place in a world that’s confusing and hostile. Of the pain and loneliness that seep into our bones and never truly leave.

I almost wish I could say that I’ve been reading these books for two decades, but as I’m only about as old as Assassin’s Apprentice, I can’t. I imagine growing up with the books alongside the characters would have been a special experience. But then, I had the benefit of not waiting years between the end of Farseer and Tawny Man, so I suppose I should be relieved.

I’d entered the final semester of my undergrad when I first got into the series. Mentally, I was in a bad place–the worst I’d experienced yet. I was plagued with loneliness, fears of inadequacy, and self-hatred. When I wasn’t crying or harming myself out of guilt and disgust, I was lying in bed, insensate, feeling like the last living thing on earth.

One night, when things weren’t as bad, I started reading Assassin’s Apprentice. People on Pat Rothfuss’ Worldbuilders stream had recommended it a couple of weeks back, and I’d immediately bought the first three books. I found myself enjoying it–I liked the narrative voice and the characters were interesting.

Then I got to this scene–this horrible, wrenching scene– early in the book where Fitz believes himself to be discarded by the man who’s come to be his mentor, his friend, and someone he could love. He staggers from numbness to devastated tears, and tells a bewildered Burrich, his guardian, that he is so alone.

It was about three in the morning. There was class in five hours.  And I was lying in my bed sobbing uncontrollably into a paperback. It was an ugly mess–snot and tears, clenched chest, tight throat, the whole package. My heart tore to see Fitz feel so freshly discarded. It was like this boy’s pain was my own.

But then, it was.

Because I knew how it felt like to plunge into soul-crushing loneliness, this feeling that eats you from the inside out. This thing whose onslaught you’re helpless against, so you lie curled and shaking, willing oblivion on yourself.

During one particularly bad episode, I’d expressed my feelings to my then-boyfriend. His words were an echo of Burrich’s: “I’m here. You’re not alone.” It was well-meant. But how do you explain the pervasiveness of the lies the darkness whispers to you? How do you explain that, even when you’re surrounded with friends, even when you’re in a room full of people you know and love, you still feel isolated? Unmoored? I couldn’t. And like Fitz, I said nothing.

The Wit bond is described as a merging of two kindred souls. When Fitz found Nighteyes, he was drawn to the surge of helplessness and anger and loneliness coursing through the wolf, because it was a reflection of his own emotional state. So it was with me and Fitz. His wounds echoed my own like no other character in any book, of any genre, had done. I cried for this boy and I cried for the small, broken thing curled inside me. And there was no looking back after that; sometimes they just don’t give you a choice. My heart was his.

I devoured the next fourteen books over the course of three months, and reread them twice more within the year. It was a journey like I’d never experienced. I watched Kettricken grow from an impulsive girl to a determined Queen, to a pillar of wisdom and grace and diplomacy that the Six Duchies rests upon. I watched as Chade unveiled more layers of himself with every book, as he managed to be continuously exciting and frustrating and one of the best damn supporting characters I’ve ever read. I watched Patience define the word “courage.” I saw the love between Fitz and Fool grow strong and fracture and return stronger still (they catapulted over Frodo and Sam as my favourite literary duo). I watched the events of Bingtown and the Rain Wilds run parallel to Fitz’s story–saw the sliver of fate that separated Fitz from Kennit. I watched as life beat Fitz and Fool to the ground again and again, then hauled them back up broken and gaping and afraid.

Throughout it all, there was an intimacy to Fitz’s narrative that I couldn’t escape–his thoughts of failure, his belief that he is inherently unloveable, they all held up a mirror to myself. There were scenes that have forever been burned into my mind; there were lines I read over and over until I saw them scrawled across my eyelids. For a time, my own problems were but a corner of darkness cowering from the luminance of this incredible world.

And then came Assassin’s Fate.

The first thought that popped into my mind when I saw its online description was a panicky it’s only 864 pages?” I think it’s safe to say that Robin Hobb has completely skewed my perception of what a long book is.

There was this awful feeling of inevitability that surfaced about 300 pages in. The feeling that, ultimately, this story isn’t one of vengeance or rescue, but of consequence. That everything that’s happened since the beginning of Assassin’s Apprentice, from when a small boy was abandoned in a keep full of princes and stablemasters, has been leading up to this exact point. A convergence of echoes. A slow, inexorable slide into something I wasn’t ready for. It was a kind of dread, not unlike how I felt nearing the end of Mass Effect 3. I was so afraid for Fitz and Fool. One might think, they’ve already been through hell and back multiple times, what more could happen? Robin has taught me that there are always more ways to be hurt.

And I was right. I’d gotten into the habit of reading while standing, and at one moment in the book, my legs just…gave out. Next thing I know, I’m on my knees sobbing and gasping. I had to stop reading at that point because it was getting physically painful for me to continue. I spent the entire day and the half of next in a weak feverish state. My chest lurched every time I unwittingly thought about the book. I thought that getting punched in the heart would hurt less than this; the pain would, at least, end sooner. (I eventually scrounged up the will to read on, and boy, am I glad I did. That ending is so damn right.)

I had never experienced anything of that intensity with a book, or any fictional media. A part of me was cringing and yelling about how pathetic I looked. These are fictional characters, for God’s sake, and I was behaving as though a family member or a friend had died.

But for once, a louder part of me retorted: They are my friends. They are my family.

And more.

I thought: FitzChivalry is me and I am him. I am able to love him in ways that I can’t love myself; I can mourn him in ways that I won’t ever do for myself.

I thought: To give someone that kind of love is easy. To accept it from someone–yourself–is much, much harder. Because you have to believe that you’re deserving of such kindness.

But you don’t.

You can’t.

But maybe. Maybe if I hold him tight enough, and speak the words–the beautiful, forbidden words–often enough, they will ricochet and eventually reach the heart of me.

Just maybe.

I don’t think I ever fully understood, until that moment, just what this character meant to me.

And it was also at that moment I realized I was holding the conclusion to a masterpiece.

Fitz isn’t a confident assassin hero. He’s the sum and distillation of all your doubts, fears, and self-hatreds. He’s a heartbreaking reminder that the wounds you receive as a child don’t fade, but seed and propagate until they’re directing every thought and action.

There’s a quote that will forever haunt me, one that I think best represents the whole of the series:

Sometimes it seems unfair that events so old can reach forward through the years, sinking claws into one’s life and twisting all that follows it. Yet perhaps that is the ultimate justice: we are the sum of all we have done added to the sum of all that has been done to us. There is no escaping that, not for any of us.

That’s a sobering thing to see in an epic fantasy.

But do you know what astounds me? His empathy. Despite his upbringing, despite every horror life has thrown at him, he never loses his ability to love deeply and be hurt deeply. It’s what I find most remarkable and beautiful about Fitz’s character–the utter strength and vastness of his heart; his capacity to feel so absolutely rivals Shakespearean heroes (how many times has someone said to him, “You feel so much”?). That open vulnerability is something I’ve never before encountered in a male fantasy protagonist–something that’s set the bar for so many male fantasy protagonists. It made me ask myself so many times why more characters like him don’t exist.

Robin Hobb has said that her characters don’t feel like her own creations, but people living in a different reality, projecting their stories through to her. I can’t agree with her more. Many books feature complex, interesting characters, but I feel like most of them can only exist within the confines of their world, their constructed plots. Only a few can I imagine pulling into our reality. Only a few do I wish, desperately, to spend a day–a week, a year, forever–with.

In the end, I think all connections we make with books and their characters are akin to  Wit bonds. Stories we find at particular moments in our lives imprint onto our beings and never truly vanish. The edges of their memories might fade, but their core lingers. So it was for me with Harry Potter. So it was with Middle Earth. I’ve come to call these “junction books.”

Then there are your “Nighteyes”– the unexpected, insidious stories that crawl through your skin and flood your senses. When you run your fingers down the surface of your heart, trying to find the seams of your connection, you realize you can’t, because you’re so hopelessly intertwined and there’s no sense to where you end and they begin.

No limits.

And you can’t imagine giving that much of your heart to any other.

The Realm of the Elderlings is my Nighteyes, but it may not be your Nighteyes. That’s okay. The world is vast and our imagination infinite. There are so many brilliant stories out there, already written or waiting to be written.

Thank you to the people on Pat Rothfuss’ inaugural Worldbuilders Twitch stream who asked for book recommendations and the people who typed “Robin Hobb” over and over in answer (it’s not everyday you get to say “Twitch chat saved my life”). I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but you helped me find a piece of myself I didn’t even know was missing, during a time when I was terribly lost and afraid. I never would have picked up the books if not for those recommendations, and if not for the books, I don’t know if I would’ve ever re-found my love for reading and writing. And I don’t know if I would even be here now. Which is, you know, kind of fucking amazing. Talk about small actions making large ripples, yeah? The Fool would be smiling so hard.

The future I envision today isn’t quite the terrible, engulfing darkness from before. Not to say it’s not very hard, still. There are days that feel unbearable, and I have no doubt that will continue. Yet I find myself looking forward to growing older with FitzChivalry nestled in my heart. And I think that’s a step.

I dream that one day I can take his hand in my own, look into his eyes, and whisper, you are worthy, and, you are loved, and let the words wash over us in a baptism of belief and hope.

And together we will falter, slowly but ever surely, into the light.



A last-minute shoutout to author Taylor Brooke, whose twitter thread helped me find the resolve to actually publish this. I have no idea how many times I nearly chickened out. If you like romance and sci-fi, go check out her book, Fortitude Smashed. It’s fantastic.