More on Autism

October 5, 2022 at 10:38 pm (Uncategorized)

Like most people who realise they’re autistic as adults, I am unpacking a whole lot of my life through a new lens. Here’s another great twitter thread on autism, with my comments:

I have brilliant time management, but I hate socks and shoes so much that there was a 6-month period of time when I didn’t own a single pair of shoes, and I rarely wear socks even when it’s literally freezing. I also struggle to wear long sleeves, or sleeves at all. I’ll sometimes wear sleeveless tops in winter, despite the cold, because having clothes on my arms is so stressful to me. And obviously that’s one of the main reasons I struggle to wear a mask, too.

Yes, yes, oh hell yes, yes, a bit, dunno.

Not really, or at least not in a big way to any of these (and in answer to your question, ‘T-rex arms’ means standing around with your elbows bent and hands dangling).

Yes, oh so yes (I’ve been getting stressed driving past the Floriade crowds), oh so yes, oh so yes, uh I dunno, oh so yes.

Yes, nah, yes, maybe, maybe, I don’t struggle I enjoy it… as in, when I met Chris and he said he had ADHD my first thought was, “Good. He’ll fit in with my friends.”

I’m a genius at multitasking (although also exhausted by it), uh yes I was diagnosed years ago, better I don’t answer that one, oh so yes (I really really can’t handle funerals UNLESS I’m super close to the deceased because I worry so much about all those who are ‘worse off’ than me, emotionally speaking, that I become a ball of pain too upset to be of use to anyone), oh so yes (I can feel myself ignoring people in favour of animals but can’t seem to stop), no I reckon I’m good at that.

Uh…. my mum made a deal with me at age 16ish to sit up straight for 6 weeks in exchange for a prize (which I did, then immediately went back to slouching), yes, I love change but handle it really badly, oh so yes, oh so yes, yes.

I like to plan and then break my own plans. But if people don’t go along with my plans I often have panic attacks. No, oh so yes, uh… I’m best self-employed for exactly this reason, oh so yes, uh yes (even before I was sick).

Thank you, @neuro_lou!

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DIY Cat Enclosure

September 30, 2022 at 12:35 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Roughly fifteen years ago—before I met Chris—I gained a kitten, and solemnly promised that, since she had a white nose (making her vulnerable to cancer) I would get a cat enclosure as soon as I could.

This is that cat, Princess Ana, when Lizzie was a toddler:

That cat died several years ago (and not of cancer, which makes me feel a little better about my promise). But I never forgot my promise.

These are our current cats, Zipper and Zoom. Zipper tends to look cranky, and Zoom tends to look aggressively innocent. They’re not related. Once you go calico, you can’t go back.

As you can see, they also have white noses.

During Term 3 of this year, I took on a temporary job that pushed my health far beyond what is safe—confirming that I should NOT be doing more than about 6 hours of paid work per week, and also giving us a brief period where we could buy a few things that weren’t immediately necessary for survival.

So we bought/gained:

A very narrow shed for $500.

A greenhouse for $250.

Two ‘outside pet tunnels’ for $60 each.

3m x 5m of really nice flexible netting, free from a friend (but definitely has chook poo on and in it).

Our own old trampoline, with a 1.8m diameter and high netting all around (plus shadecloth we clipped over the top years ago. The kids have very much outgrown it, but we didn’t manage to give it away so it shall be absorbed into this project.

These are the ingredients with which we shall try to put together a cat enclosure. We’ll probably need another cat tunnel, but we’ll see how far we can get.

Our yard is mostly an L shape; only about 3m wide on the longer side. At the end of the narrower side it continues on around the house (so SORT of a C-shape yard really), with a 1.12m-wide patch of bare dirt and weeds. We have strongly encouraged our cats to use it as a toilet, and they do (but of course also use the neighbours’ yards). We want to keep that area as a cat toilet, so that is what the shed is for: to ‘enclose’ the cats’ toilet while also giving us a teensy bit of extra storage (for items that we don’t mind smelling bad).

Rejoice with us, because after about 8 hours of work by two healthy and intelligent men, the “simple” shed now exists in the real world, complete with a cat ‘door’ cut into the metal shed door.

Tim also helped.

I’ve weeded a bit more since taking these photos. We’ll also tape up the sharp side of the cat door. (You’ll notice it can be folded back into place to almost ‘fix’ the door if that’s useful in future.)

For now, we have put normal kitty litter inside and done our best to let the cats know they’re allowed in there (Zoom is less skittish so we physically picked her up and put her inside; if we did that to Zipper she would swear an oath to never enter it again—but since Zoom has been inside, she knows she’s allowed). We are leaving the door open and letting them take their time getting used to it.

Eventually, we’ll close the main shed door and attach one end of a cat tunnel to the cat hole—but only when all the rest of the cat enclosure is done.

This was, hopefully, the most difficult part. It’s also the most rewarding, since it means we can continue to never deal with kitty litter.

Next step: Attaching one of the cat tunnels to our laundry door, which is where we have a proper cat flap—which means the cats will have to go through the tunnel to get in or out of the house (which will also let slightly outside air into the laundry, yay).

We’ll leave it open at the other end while they get used to it.

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The Great Book Sort, Part 5—rape

September 16, 2022 at 5:15 pm (Uncategorized)

Way too many hack writers use rape as either backstory, drama, or peril for female characters (and all the more so if it provides handy motivation for the male character—double ugh).

Way too many actually-pretty-good writers use rape too.

And so do some brilliant writers.

It’s an instant red flag for me as a reader. I relate hard to my fictional characters and if they get traumatised there’s a strong risk that I will also be traumatised. I wish all books came with content warnings, like movies and TV, so at least I had a choice about whether I was about to be tricked into imagining being sexually assaulted! Those who claim it’s important for “historical accuracy” (oddly enough, especially in fantasy worlds) are welcome to it. But it’s definitely not for me.

I’ve written at least one character who was raped, and now that I’m older I do regret it.

Any child who is a good reader will read a rape scene far too young.

But sometimes a story with rape in it is worth it, even for me.

Favourites

Pamela Freeman’s “Deep Waters” trilogy (+ 1) series has plenty of rape, some of it ‘on-screen’ (always more traumatic to read) and I have to brace myself before reading it. But the series is so incredibly good that it’s worth it.

As I sort my kindle books, I’ve re-discovered another amazing Aussie author, Glenda Larke. She has several trilogies, and the Isles of Glory trilogy was the first one I read this time around. There is a LOT of rape, and torture (explicitly described), and even a post-rape baby that is genuinely evil (which I imagine is extremely triggering for some people). But this series still made the ‘Favourites’ pile, in part because it’s female-led and the women basically treat rape and torture in the same way—it really really sucks, and is frightening, but it doesn’t change anything about who you are. If your friends are in danger and you know you’ll get raped if you help them—well, you’re gonna choose to get raped.

I definitely still brace myself before reading anything by Larke—partly for all the violence, and partly because I get so badly drawn in that I’m not 100% in real life until the trilogy is finished.

I’ve also read her “Mirage Makers” trilogy very recently, and it was just as compelling without nearly as much rape (but rape was still very much a thing—in this case, lots and lots of rape of male child slaves before the stories began—fortunately I’m pretty sure it was all ‘off-screen’ and without detail).

Nah

Juliet Marillier is famous enough that I don’t need to remember how to spell her name. If I search for anything similar, her actual name will come up. She also has quite a lot of books, and I’ve bought a solid chunk of them.

This is the one that traumatised me as a child, and then again as an adult. It’s definitely not the most awful rape scene ever, but there are several elements that make it extra difficult, the main one being that you’re in the moment with the heroine.

Now, all her books are really good! The ‘tiny pale-skinned heroine with magic and enormous hulking brothers and/or love interest/s’ gets a little tiring after a while. I could definitely handle reading these books again…. but I have other books that are just as good that don’t require me to go through that experience again. Plenty of her other books also have rape or attempted rape, but I think this is the one with the most detail.

Nope

“The Book of the Unnamed Midwife” by Meg Elison is a good book, but I never want to go into that world again. There’s been an apocalypse that wiped out most women and children, and made childbirth deadly. The heroine basically finds women who have been claimed by a gang of men (that is, they are prisoners who get raped a bunch by all of them), and gives them contraceptives so at least they don’t get pregnant.

It’s a profound angle on post-apocalyptic literature (memo to self: in the apocalypse, make sure to loot the contraceptives as a lot of people will really need them) and is well-written and well-developed. Not surprisingly, there’s lots of sex and violence. Although the book is definitely not devoid of hope, it’s way too dark for me.

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The Great Book Sort, Part 4

August 28, 2022 at 12:09 pm (Uncategorized)

This coming Saturday, the Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group has our big annual fundraiser, an Open Garden event at 67 Vagabond Cr McKellar (Canberra), on Saturday September 3rd from 10am-4pm featuring stalls, food, music, contests, plants to buy, and so much more.

So I’m going to try and keep this entry brief.

Favourites

T. Kingfisher (who writes as Ursula K Vernon when she’s writing for kids) is a gift to this world. She has strong inclinations towards writing horror, but she writes with such incredible warmth that devouring her books is worth my newfound fear of the sound tock… tock…. TOCK (from her book “The Twisted Ones”).

Here’s a quick screenshot from “Summer in Orcas”, which is probably the least scary of all her books.

This author is just amazing, with a wide range of styles. I’m so glad she exists.

Nah

Tamsyn Muir, “Gideon the Ninth” etc.

A lot of people, including my partner, really really love this book. It’s well-written, fascinating, and unique. Probably a bit too dark and/or nihilistic for me.

Nope

Ursula Vernon, “Black Dogs”

I just really, really didn’t like it. I found it childish. Which seems like an odd insult to a children’s book, but I write children’s books myself that are highly enjoyable for adults to read. So here we are. Even the glorious Kingfisher doesn’t always write what I like. And in fact, “Summer in Orcas” reads like that kind of stunning, ageless fantasy to me. It even has a child protagonist.

But what do I know?

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The Great Book Sort, Part 3 (Robin McKinley)

August 1, 2022 at 12:04 am (Uncategorized)

Before I start, let us remember that authors are only human and never ever deserve the abuse that any famous person inevitably receives. This is a (mostly) negative review, and a warning to readers—it is not an invitation to harangue an elderly woman who happens to be particularly gifted with the written word and somewhat less gifted (in my opinion) at sticking to incomplete ideas and letting go of complete ideas.

Yes, I am attempting humour. Hopefully some people will like it.

I hereby declare a blood feud against Robin McKinley. She conceals great evil in her apparent innocence.

Observe the face of true evil! Note how she has clearly cut up two innocent dogs and laid one head and one body on her lap, never to be united.

(Photo from wikipedia.)

Twenty or so years ago, I read “The Blue Sword” and was enchanted. There was something about her lyrical style that grabbed me, and the moment in which the heroine is talking to someone who loves the desert like she does (passionately, irrationally) has stuck with me all this time.

The sequel wasn’t nearly as good. It felt a lot more generic (chosen one, prophecy, magical items, battle) and therefore less interesting. The main character who was interesting in the first book was effectively a different person.

But I read one of her other books, way back then, that I didn’t remember so clearly. I read it again, recently, and remembered as I read that I’d read it before, but couldn’t remember how it ended. Was it beautiful? Tragic? Mediocre?

So much worse, my friends. So. Much. Worse.

That book was “Pegasus”, a story about human-Pegasus relationships across a seemingly insurmountable cultural divide. Of course I loved it! Cultures reaching out to one another is my jam! But as I re-read it, long stretches of the book were incredibly dull. Conversations between characters that stopped the plot moving, and lots of political machinations that weren’t magical or fun at all. I kept going, telling myself to trust this author who sometimes had such a profound effect upon me.

Then I finished the book, which ends very abruptly. Or rather, it doesn’t end at all. Not even a cliffhanger, or a tragedy, or something badly written. It truly ruly doesn’t end. (Apparently it’s NOT “a book” put part one of a three-part “book”.) As I searched for the second part, not sure if I wanted to wade through more of this drab tale but hoping I could at least get a summary…. I found a deep well of rage, betrayal, and tragedy.

There is no sequel (or “Part 2” if you prefer). It’s been over a decade and there’s NO SEQUEL!?!??! To a book with one of the most frustrating non-endings of all time?

It’s not just me. You can read some of the chorus of rage on the Goodreads page for the second book, which has been live for over ten years and giving people false hope all that time.

And I have suffered more than all of them, because I journeyed through the boredom, frustration, and ultimate fury of reading “Pegasus” not once but twice.

*inarticulate screaming*

Whatever you do, DO NOT read this book! It is, quite literally, not finished.

Faugh!

But there’s more, even more damning horrors to lay at the feet of this best-selling villain.

Notice anything, my precious? Sorta similar covers, aren’t they? Both somewhat suggestive of “Beauty and the Beast”, yes?

Oh yes.

Not only are they both based on “Beauty and the Beast”, they are extremely similar. If anyone else had written the second, they would definitely lose millions in a plagiarism lawsuit.

Three daughters, and an elderly father. Poverty. Travel. Small town. Becoming better people through hardship. Dad lost in woods; mysterious castle; takes a rose for the daughter named “Beauty” and then the Beast gets angry and orders him to send his daughter to the castle; the daughter comes; the beast isn’t nearly as horrible as he looks; Beast lets her go due to family crisis and nearly dies as a result, which causes Beauty to declare her love; they marry and live happily ever after.

Many many scenes are almost identical: The Beast refusing to eat with Beauty because he can’t do it gracefully; the castle constantly changing shape and colour and size (I really hated that in both versions—it was mystical and lyrical, but also somewhat pointless and annoying); Beauty seeing visions of her sisters, etc. Even the sudden appearance of butterflies in the otherwise lifeless castle being an early portent of returning life.

For me, there are two main differences between the stories. In the first, the name “Beauty” is a sarcastic nickname for an ugly girl (which I liked, except the castle then made her prettier). In the second, the Beast does not transform back into a human at the end, which is cool in some ways and super weird in others.

It reads VERY much as if it has been written from the exact same notes as the first book. Not just the same inspiration. Very much the same scene by scene outline. In the author’s afterword, she says how disappointed she was to have written “Beauty” before she had spent a significant amount of time growing roses. An increase in horticultural knowledge has not improved the story; not one bit.

It is terribly annoying to read the exact same story by the same author, and to pay for both of them. It feels like reading two drafts of the same book, as if the author is lurking over my shoulder saying, “Should I write the scene this way or that way?” I didn’t sign up to be an editor.

But I am now going to express my rage in the most heinous manner possible—and it is all the more heinous because I am about to say something true, and one never knows what an author, even a nearly-70-year-old bestselling author, might somehow read:

Brace yourselves.

The second “Beauty and the Beast” book she wrote, with an extra ten years of writing experience (and gardening experience) under her belt….

is not as good.

Pow. The burning brand of true hatred falls without mercy.

The character development of the family is much weaker in the second book. It rushes through the change from ‘spoiled rich people’ to ‘good-hearted and loving country folk’, making it feel unrealistic (and calling attention to the fact that being poor and anxious is not usually a catalyst for becoming a better person). It also has a whole complicated magical backstory that serves only to confuse matters, spending several pages telling different versions of a story (which just feels repetitive, and slows down the actual story), and well as making a huge deal out of “three sisters living in Rose Cottage” with no payoff whatsoever (there’s a prophecy saying that when three sisters live in Rose Cottage, walls and towers will fall—but the sisters live there for many years with no issues… and there are no walls and towers in the book whatsoever).

I mean sure, feel free to read both. Compare and contrast, if you like. Make up your own mind. But just know that they are absolutely the same story (acknowledged by the author).

So yeah, “Rose Daughter” and “Pegasus” are going straight into the “Nope” pile, so I never sully my mind with their contents again.

Take that, McKinley.

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The Great Book Sort (Part 2)

July 27, 2022 at 10:57 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Since one of my three followers is in hospital and needs more book recs, here’s…. some more book recs!

Favourites

“Clean Sweep” (and “Sweet in Peace”, “One Fell Sweep”, “Sweep of the Blade”, “Sweep with Me” and I haven’t read “Sweep of the Heart” yet) by Ilona Andrews (aka the Innkeeper series). Now here’s the interesting part: they’re not all THAT well written. They read like many many many mid-level paranormal romance authors (and, to be fair, a million billion times better than MANY error-riddled published books, especially self-published books). The plot is only more important than the inevitable love triangle (good), and the writing is fine and fundamentally flawless but not astonishing. I’ve read other books by the author and they went to the “Nah” pile—perfectly good books, which I might re-read if I run out of favourites. So why is this series a favourite? The heroine is an Innkeeper, with considerable powers… but she’s fundamentally an inter-species diplomat, and most of the books’ tensions come from two or more very different magical species coming into contact in or near her inn. So it’s all about making different cultures feel safe and comfortable and respected… and I LOVE THAT TO BITS.

Side note: The “Temeraire” series by Naomi Novik is absolutely brilliant but I can only re-read the first of the series (it’s all excellently written) because there are so many cases of cultural clashes where people are just awful at understanding each other. It’s too painful to ‘watch’ a second time.

“The City in the Middle of the Night” by Charlie Jane Anders is scifi that takes place on a planet where only a narrow band between the permanent day and permanent night is mild enough for human habitation. According to wikipedia it’s climate fiction, but I don’t see it that way. It is, amazingly (since I’m doing these reviews in alphabetical order by author, which is effectively random), another cross-cultural story.

“The Bear and the Nightingale”, “The Girl in the Tower”, and “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden (aka the Winternight Trilogy). If you want to know what I mean by “astonishing” writing—as opposed to Ilana Andrew’s “fundamentally flawless” writing—this is it. This is really, really it. The trilogy takes place in Northern Rus’/Russia. You will feel the deadly cold as you read. You will feel the corrosive hatred and unmet hope in the heart of the beautiful priest. You will feel the wild heart of our heroine, and the weight of an entire society that falls, always, on the shoulders of women. CONTENT WARNING: Women are constantly at risk of rape, and are also subject to arranged marriages against their will, which definitely includes spousal rape (the men are also married without always getting a choice over their partner, but they are clearly in a position of muuuuch more power than any woman). I am not against arranged marriage on the whole. There are several examples of happy arranged marriages in the book (and in real life). But there is at least one arranged marriage in this series that is incredibly awful, and a better man would have made different choices (yes, even in that historical setting—although there is room for interpretation on that score). The sexual violence is never explicitly described, and it is never used to break the spirit of a female character or to justify someone’s evil with a rape backstory. There are much more creative ways to break a person. . .

This series is magical, and it is unbelievably harsh, and it is exhilarating and tragic and more.

You, too, will weep for a nightingale.

Since I’ve already talked about the brilliant Naomi Novik AND I’ve talked about magical stories set in medieval Russia, I can’t stop there.

“Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik. This is so good you guys. So so good. It is just as good as the Winternight Trilogy, and when I describe them they sound similar, thanks to the rich and bone-chilling selling of a magical medieval Russia. They even both have a female heroine who attracts the interest of an immortal man (for better or worse—but usually much much worse). But although rape is still threatened in this book, it is only a very slight possibility that is quickly and relatively easily fended off. In this story, the heroine is Jewish. So there is a whole other complicated and historical layer. And almost everyone in the story becomes a better person, which I love. That reminds me: another thing this book has in common with the Winternight trilogy is a protagonist who is incredibly honorable. Even when someone treats them incredibly badly, they do what is right. Even when they absolutely deserve a break they refuse to leave people to their fate. I love that.

“Uprooted” also by Naomi Novik. Completely different world. You’ve got a medieval-ish valley with a nasty wizard who takes a girl from the village every ten years. It’s always someone a bit extraordinary, so the heroine has grown up knowing that her best friend (who is beautiful, and kind, and clever) will be the girl taken. Except the wizard takes her instead. Content warning: there is an attempted rape (that ends rather badly for the attacker, which amuses me more the more times I read it). Again, it’s brilliantly written, including delving into the complicated feelings of the characters. How would you feel if your mother had long since accepted that you would be taken against your will as a teenager? How would you feel if, after all that, you weren’t chosen after all? And how would you feel if you were the friend of that girl that everyone knew was so, so special (unlike you)? And how would you feel, knowing your best friend would be taken and not being able to do anything to stop it? And how would you feel when you were taken instead?

And that’s only the start. I don’t want to say too much, but this book is amazing.

“A Deadly Education” (and “The Final Graduate” which ends on a major cliffhanger, and “The Golden Enclaves” once it comes out later this year) by Naomi Novik. All of the above brilliance, but absolutely hilarious too. This is a “magical school” story, but the survival rate of this particular educational institution is incredibly low. Our heroine is prophesied to become an evil sorceress. People dislike her instinctively, and she is severely hampered in her magical school by the fact that the school is basically pushing her to destroy the world and everyone in it (because it will automatically feed you the magic you’re best at—which in her case is all the most destructive killer spells). Worse, she just had her life saved by everyone’s favourite hero RIGHT when she had a conveniently impressive monster to kill. It is so funny, and strangely sweet, and exciting, and surprising. Naomi Novik was an impressive author when she wrote “Temeraire”, but she just keeps getting better and I hope she lives forever so I can keep reading her books.

“Sing the Four Quarters” by Tanya Huff. The heroine is a princess who gave up the throne to follow the call of her magical gifts. Then she did the one thing that an abdicated princess must never, never do: she got pregnant. What is worse, the man she slept with is currently in a dungeon accused of treason. He’s mostly a pretty face to her (she has a healthy and open long-term relationship with another woman, which is beautifully realised) but he’s no traitor.

Nah (aka good books that I might re-read someday, but just not really my thing)

“Fifth Quarter”, “No Quarter” and “The Quartered Sea” by Tanya Huff. Interestingly, the first book in the series is “Sing the Four Quarters” and I love it, and it’s right above this entry in my favourites pile. But in Book 2 we get a pair of new characters: siblings, and an incestuous love that continues to play a part in the rest of the series. They’re still really good books, but I strongly dislike both of the sibling characters and don’t want to spend time with them.

“Over the Woodward Wall” by A. Deborah Baker (aka Seanan Macguire, who will show up on the “Favourites” pile soon enough). This is well written (Macguire is a master writer) and pretty good, but aimed at a younger audience. I just found the two child protagonists mildly annoying.

“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. The midnight library is a place where you can go between life and death, and play out alternate possibilities. Sort of cool, but I want sentient books and mysteriously well-read monsters in my library setting, not a story about regret and life choices.

Nope

“The Dragon Lady” by Angelique S. Anderson. Magical steampunk, including dragons. Too many adjectives.

“Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard. I don’t remember much about the book (apparently a bestseller), but there’s a lot of clumsy exposition in the first two pages.

“The Tangled Lands” by Paolo Bacigalupi (who had a book in the “Nah” section of Part 1) and Tobias S. Buckell. Really well written but too dark for me.

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The Great Book Sort (Part 1)

July 26, 2022 at 12:18 am (Advanced/Publication, All Steampunk Fiction, book reviews)

I’ve been reading mainly ebooks for many years, and now have over 700. I only recently realised I could and should sort them. The main categories I am now using are “Favourites” (happy to re-read frequently for the rest of my life), “Nah” (books that are good, but I dislike them for one reason or another—but if I get desperate I could still potentially re-read them). I also have categories for research (mainly non-fiction), and for “People I’ve Met” (mainly so I can quickly glance at them when I’m on a panel with someone, to remind myself of their books—but also so that if I hate a book by a friend, I can put it there rather than in the “Nope” section).

Here are some samples from the main three.

Favourites (currently 249)

“Notes From A Small Island” by Bill Bryson. It’s very rare for non-fiction to be so entertaining that it’s worth a regular re-read, but Bryson’s travel books are brilliant (and hazardous, because if I try to read one before I go to sleep I laugh so much I end up feeling more awake than when I started). Other than his travel books, I also love “At Home”, his book about his house and by extension the history of the home in the Western World. Highly recommended for historical authors, even though I don’t own a digital copy. His book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” isn’t nearly as fun (although definitely more fun than a textbook).

“Minimum Wage Magic” by Rachel Aaron. An incredibly relatable heroine fighting seemingly impossible odds to make rent. I like it. Haven’t bought the next book in the series, but I think that has more to do with cashflow than anything else. Or possibly because it wasn’t quite good enough to make me want to keep going and risk the quality falling in the sequel.

“Mr Malcolm’s List” by Suzanne Allain. Delightful and witty Austen-esque romance. I’ve been recommending it for years and now it’s getting made into a movie.

Nah (currently 89)

“Nice Dragons Finish Last” and “One Good Dragon Deserves Another” by…. Rachel Aaron. It’s rare for a writer to fall into two categories, but clearly these books were “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”. Maybe I won’t buy the second “Minimum Wage Magic” book after all. Sometimes it’s nice to take your reasonably-happy ending and pretend nothing of interest ever happened to the character again.

“Children of Blood and Bone” and “Children of Virtue and Vengeance” by Tomi Adeyemi. Really well written, but just a few shades too dark for my readerly palate.

“The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Really well written; very violent. It’s science fiction (my preferred reading genre is ‘YA fantasy that doesn’t go on and on excessively about how hot the romantic interest/s are’) and climate fiction, set in a very dry USA.

Nope (currently 116)

“The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. This was recommended to me by a friend, and I can definitely see why. It is heart-rending and has a lot of kindness in it, and a very interesting exploration of faith. But some really bad stuff happens—too dark for me to stomach. TW: rape.

Almost all stories with rape in them (including flashbacks, spousal rape, or statutory rape) will go in the “Nope” pile for me. This book definitely earned its rape scene, but even so…. way too many writers think, “What shall I put in this female character’s backstory?” and go straight to sexual violence. I’ve done it myself (once, out of hundreds of stories). As someone with a vivid imagination and strong empathy, it is often traumatising for me to read. I am extremely fond of trigger warnings for this reason, and wish all books with sexual violence had them.

“The Wandering Inn” by Pirateaba. Great cover, terrible writing. I never read past the opening few pages. (If you think publishers are harsh for rejecting books based on a few pages, you should try giving a book to actual readers. We’re not here to find your diamond in the rough. We want diamonds from page one, sentence one.)

“Brilliant Devices”, “Her Own Devices”, “Lady of Devices”, and “Magnificent Devices” by Shelley Adina. This is light-hearted steampunk, and I obviously liked it enough to buy all four books the first time around. But the second time around the author’s admiration for the heroine was too grating, and the way she won over a bunch of streetkids struck me as both unrealistic and patronising. And yes, I know books aren’t meant to be exactly like real life, but the mix of dark problems and comical solutions bugged me so much I don’t want to go back.

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Welcome to Australia

July 13, 2022 at 8:29 pm (Uncategorized)

This is the most recent version of “Welcome to Australia”, a book I started writing way back in 2018. It is designed to be read by immigrant and refugee children with their parents. 

Eventually (in some cases MAYBE by the end of 2022) there will be versions in Dari Persian, Mandarin, Indonesian, Arabic, and Spanish.

Comment here or email FBanksBooks@gmail.com to get your copy.

As you can see, the back cover isn’t fixed yet.

A lot of the illustrators/models donated their images (and there are a LOT of photos of my kids) but I made a point of paying refugees and Aboriginal people (both models and sensitivity readers).

The English version (almost identical to the above) is just about to go to print, and will cost $20. 

Comment here or email FBanksBooks@gmail.com to get your copy.

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Aspergirls

July 1, 2022 at 10:14 am (Uncategorized)

My daughter Lizzie was diagnosed with Autism earlier this year. They classified her as Level 2 which is largely meaningless (every autistic person is wildly different from every other autistic person) except it means she can mostly deal with mainstream school but also gets funding for therapy.

Sometimes ‘mild’ (again, a problematic term) autism is called Asperges. Lizzie and I quite like the term “Aspergirl” because it sounds like a superhero. It’s very likely that Tim and I are also autistic, although our lives are clearly much easier than hers.

Autism comes with both advantages and disadvantages. It’s much harder to diagnose in girls as they present differently. I saw this on FaceBook (with the original link long since broken) and was fascinated. I took screenshots, and have commented on the screenshots.

Uh yes, I don’t even wear long sleeves (unless it’s under about 5 degrees Celsius, and sometimes not even then) because they bother me.

I often don’t brush my hair and I almost never wear makeup.

Eccentric personality. Well, yes.

No, I wouldn’t say I’m youthful for my age (immature in some respects, sure), or more/less expressive than the mainstream, or androgynous at all. Lizzie and I are both hyper-feminine in style (I wear skirts and dresses all the time; she wears pink; we both maintain long hair despite finding it a hassle). I’ve read elsewhere that being really really into gender roles OR really not into them are both autistic traits.

I test as INFP/INFJ on Myers-Briggs tests (and yes I know they’re not scientific). INFPs in particular are famous for being a different person in different situations, and not being able to turn it off. I had a boyfriend that I broke up with because he expected me to be depressed and needy… so I was.

I think this blog and my entire life support the film/books addiction.

Ah yes, being hyper controlling in order to cope with stuff. Ask anyone who has ever tried to do anything with me, including the recent ZamZam Foundation launch. I can delegate, and I can handle having stuff delegated to me, but I have to be able to say no to stuff.

Home is my safe place—which is difficult when I don’t live alone.

Classic gifted kid.

I’m a writer with a double degree.

I’m not super great at being employed but I’m fantastic at being self-employed.

I’m intelligent but verbal instructions have always been a big weakness for me. People often accuse me of pretending to be stupid when I genuinely don’t ‘get’ what’s going on.

My obsessive writing is more or less socially acceptable.

Yes I’m emotionally sensitive. And I have an anxiety disorder and clinical depression, so… yes.

My computer deleted a draft of this blog entry and I don’t feel like re-writing, but I’ll leave the rest of the article here for you. And a pic of my cats.

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HoLOTR Marathon Part 6

June 18, 2022 at 4:43 pm (Uncategorized)

Hobbit Trilogy: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

LOTR Trilogy Part 1 Part 2

Bonus links: A LOTR marathon I blogged back in 2010. (Focusing on getting through it in one day, rather than actually writing about the films.)

And, Signs you like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy a little too much. (2012)

And finally, featuring much of the cast, Stephen Colbert’s unique and delightful “The #1 Trilly“.

Every moment of this film is gasp-worthy. That opening scene, even without all the context of the other two (or the other five) films, is incredible: An idyllic scene of two brothers who stumble across the one ring and then attempt to murder one another. One of them succeeds, and we see him degenerate from a hobbit-like creature to the monster that is Gollum.

And then, pipeweed (extended version only).

I won’t list every brilliant scene, because I want to actually watch some.

Ooh, but Saruman accurately hits Gandalf right where it hurts the whole group most: Gandalf does sacrifice those he professes to love.

Grima’s final act of not-entirely-convenient mid-interrogation courage is worthy of a thousand essays on the topics of morality and ethics.

And Pippin, of course, falls for the shiny palantir ball.

Drinking game with Legolas and Gimli. Super dumb, super fun. Merry and Pippin singing and dancing again, ditto.

Super awkward Eowyn crush.

There are loads of really important things I should definitely be doing. But I’ll have an early lunch and then go to bed.

Aragorn and Eowyn are definitely sort of dating. Aragorn, you are nice, but you are a tease. I suppose you think you’ve broken up with Arwen, but in any case it’s too soon to move on.

Oh, poor dumb Pippin and delightfully terrifying Gandalf. Billy Boyd does a good job of being utterly terrified and clearly violated by the Palantir.

And THERE’s Figwit (Frodo Is Great, Who Is That?) Or more accurately, there are the lines he was given after fans become obsessed with him in the first LOTR film (he’s at the Council of Elrond).

Hi Denethor. I dunno how you came to power, but you’ve proved that even non-hereditary rulers can totally suck. Well done you.

Nice moment between Faramir and Pippin.

1:30pm

I didn’t quite make it through disc 1 but I’m awake and have a few minutes before another ZamZam person comes over for yet another delivery of stuff from the launch.

Arg! The friend showed up on time. Still, I have half an hour before I need to fetch the kids.

Time for Frodo to make Sam cry. Frodo, no!

Time for Denethor to send his men to die. Denethor, no!

Gandalf to Faramir: “Do not throw away your life so rashly!”

Faramir: “Where does my allegiance lie if not here?”

And Pippin sings, and breaks all our hearts.

And now we’re at the war camp with King Theodren, Aragorn, and Legolas. Gimli is, presumably, around somewhere. There is SO MUCH movie still to go.

Is this dream of Aragorn’s a premonition… or is it Eowyn getting back together with him by psychic text message?

Even better that either of those options, Daddy Elrond has been sent to play matchmaker. A well deserved opportunity for the vegan elf to eat crow.

Somewhere, unfilmed and unwritten, is a conversation in which Arwen says, “Daddy, you broke us up, and you are going to fix it.”

Aragorn, realising his hot new thing deserves a proper break-up, says, “It is but a shadow of a thought that you love. I cannot give you what you seek…. I wished you joy since first I saw you.”

Excellent break-up speech: Vague enough to let her keep her dignity, kind enough to show she meant something to you, and clear enough that there can be no doubt it’s over.

Little wonder she fell for Aragorn, when every other man she knows treats her like a puppy that just widdled on the floor.

Wait, I forgot to mention the beacons! World’s worst job combined with world’s prettiest office. The sheer unshaking faithfulness of the beacon keepers inspires me so very much.

Okay, five more minutes and I need to get going.

Aragorn and the ghosties. Someone is no longer in any doubt of his role as king.

Hello, comatose Faramir! Still alive!

Aand now it’s 7:30pm and I still haven’t finished the first disc! Although my kids are currently playing with “Sting” which is almost as fun as watching the films (at least until Chris catches them/me and we all get in trouble.


2:00pm the next day. Even with a nap I was too tired to stay awake and watch the rest. Luckily Chris takes the kids to his parents’ house every Saturday arvo. I had breakfast and then went back to bed.

Juuust in time for Gandalf to knock out a hysterical Denethor. I think we’ve all faced people that made the world worse by being awake. *sigh*

I’m glad I don’t have to face orcs or any kind of monster in my regular life. Or battle of any kind. But sometimes I wish life was less morally complex. On the up side, the worst people I know also have redeeming qualities, so that’s something good.

And the disc is done! Finally! At 2:06pm!

Hello, pirate Peter Jackson.

Oh no. Frodo and Gollum are still on that awful black cliff, about to meet Shelob. This is so stressful!

Last night I ate a freshly-roasted chicken salad with avocado, grated carrot, pine nuts, sesame seeds, and fried onion.

The chicken came from the food pantry, as did the pine nuts, sesame seeds, and fried onions. It was delicious, although it doesn’t look like much.

I wish I could hallucinate Cate Blanchett whenever I fell over.

FRODO!!!! BEHIND YOU!!!!

And they say Tolkien didn’t write complex female characters. Hi, Shelob!

Thank you Pippin, for screaming, “He’s not dead!” over and over…. just like everyone else who watches Denethor deciding to burn Faramir’s “body”.

Thank you Denethor, for the line, “Go now and die in what way seems best to you.”

Thank you Eowyn, for the line, “Courage, Merry. Courage for our friends.”

Bye-bye, Denethor. A appropriate death for a flaming asshole. Now all of you is flaming.

Oh no, another army? What is this, The Hobbit?!

They do a really good good of highlighting small moments and big: confusion and one-on-one moments, and the times when the battle-tide turns, and turns again.

Legolas versus an ollyphaunt (I still don’t know how to spell that) is a most excellent moment.

Goodbye, King Theoden. I don’t know what poor decisions you made to end up possessed by Saruman, and not every decision you made was right even when you were yourself, but you deserve to feel pride in your actions at the end.

I like the romance that blooms between Eowyn and Faramir in the Halls of Healing. The two people with the most tragic backstories, united. All the best relationships, platonic or otherwise, have an element of healing to them.

The scars around Frodo’s neck, and on his very young chest, are heartbreaking.

Faramir: “I do not believe this darkness will endure.”

An extraordinary claim (by a man who has recently lost his entire family, and who has been in indirect contact with the ring), and a beautiful one.

Meanwhile Sam, who brought a box of herbs through the black lands in case they happened upon a chicken, now knows that he and Frodo will not be coming back. Even his optimism fails, eventually.

The Mouth of Sauron character is perfectly done (from memory, he’s only in the extended version). *shudder*

Aragorn finally wears the livery of Gondor…. and his first act is to lead his people and others on a suicide mission.

Sam: “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”

Aragorn: “For Frodo.”

Oh no! Gollum attack!

And we’re finally inside the volcano…. and Frodo fails to give up the ring.

And Gollum attacks again, and finally gets his precious back, and dies happy.

Bye bye, ring.

Bye bye, flaming eyeball.

Bye bye, despair.

And Frodo is himself again, even as lava surrounds him. #WorthIt

And Sam, the ultimate friend, says, “Yes Frodo, that’s very nice that you remember the taste of food again now” rather than making a fuss about the burning death they’ve both about to have.

And the screen fades to black in a fake-out ending that foreshadows the many endings yet to come.

Eagles, and Rivendell, and Frodo is okay! More or less!

Gandalf is okay! (Not surprising to us, but surprising to Frodo.)

Merry and Pippin are okay!

Gimli is okay (other than his severe allergy to his own prosthetic face)!

Legolas is okay!

Legolas’s hair is okay!

Aragorn is okay!

Sam is okay!

Aragorn is king!

Aragorn’s finally washed his hair!

Faramir and Eowyn are definitely together, and okay!

Eomer is okay! (And also his sister shall be queen of the Rohan, which might teach him a much-needed lesson about not being a patronising dick.)

Elrond is finally okay with Aragorn and Arwen officially getting it on!

Aragorn and Arwen officially get it on!

Frodo writes a book!

The Shire is okay!

The local pub is okay!

A large local pumpkin is okay!

The local ale is okay!

Rosie Cotton is a-okay!

Frodo’s psyche is not entirely okay!

Dementia Bilbo is “quite ready for another adventure”!

Galadriel’s delighted smile as she leaves is an absolute treat.

Gandalf is okay… with crying, fortunately. Because there’s a lot of it.

Bye bye Frodo—with another perfect smile, and the tiniest of manly nods.

The other hobbits are not okay.

Sam and Rosie’s kids are okay!

My blood sugar is okay!

I mean, that’s not actually part of the movie but it’s been two hours since I started lunch so it was time to test it.

My cats are also okay, you’ll be pleased to hear. Zipper prefers to glower from above and Zoom prefers to hide under things.

Cats are, of course, essential to all the best movie marathons.

And the full HoLOTR marathon of 2022 is done.

Yes, that’s our official Sting replica.

How do I feel?

I’m very surprised it took me a whole seven days. I underestimated my exhaustion and overestimated my supposed free time. But I still feel I’ve achieved something, which is all the more valuable for a disabled person. And the amount of work that went into these films always inspires me—along with the obvious inspiration of courage, hope, love, and faith despite incredible darkness and impossible odds.

There is always hope.

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