Friday, February 28, 2014

Only the Emotional Damage is Real

Even though only two of my fandoms are currently releasing new TV episodes, I'm still buried neck-deep in emotional, fictional drama.  Currently airing shows are My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Call the Midwife. MLP, as good as it is, is not the sort of show to inspire intense feels or generate worry.  Call the Midwife, while primarily consisting of cute babies, also has the ongoing storyline of the Turners for fans to brood over.
As one of  (if not the most) developed, morally-upright of my OTPS, and one of my few non-speculative OTPs, they don't have the tangled, tormented possibilities of, say, Eleven and River Song, but that almost makes it worse. They've already been through enough--just let them be happy for once! Furthermore, some fans have a tendency for thorough analysis based on plot summaries, while I'd rather wait for the actual episode. But it's such a friendly fandom that I'm almost okay with it.
But the primary cause of fandom anxiety right now is Agents of Shield and the fate of Sky. Since "TRACKS" aired February 4, I've been on pins and needles regarding the character's survival odds.  She's a cute girl in a show connected with Joss Whedon--bad. But she has all sorts of dramatic potential and her situation could bring to light some things about Agent Coulson's experience, so maybe she'll live. On the other hand again, the episode is called "Tahiti," which raises all sorts of  red flags. Furthermore, I like Sky--she's funny, has a knack for noticing certain things, and her dynamic with Couslon is adorable beyond belief. I keep thinking he should adopt her, if such things are possible with legal adults.
Also sitting in my mind, like a pebble in the shoe, is the upcoming season eight of Doctor Who.  The Doctor's regenerated, Clara's staying on, and it was recently announced that another character will be joined the team sometime during the season. Just because I don't like judging characters before I see them doesn't mean I'm not mulling over things and missing Eleven.  And with this many months before the next season, the tension is killing me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cover Reveal and Giveaway: Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the 
emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be 
contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.
But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?
For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

Golden Daughter, coming in November 2014will be the seventh novel in the Tales of Goldstone Woods series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I have read and enjoyed the first five works in the series, as well as the novella Goddess Tithe.  Like classic fairy tales, the stories stand on their own, yet create a rich, detailed world, from the harbors of Parumvir to the wilds of Southland and the wonders of the Far Realm.  
I know people say "don't judge a book by it's cover," but this series might be an exception. The images are so vivid and yet fantastical, perfectly conveying the tone of the story.  And dare I hope that our favorite feline rascal is is once again a key player in the story? Well, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. And if I had to guess, I'd say we're visiting a new realm, as the character's robe doesn't seem to fit Parumvir, Southlands, or previous destinations.

And for those of us who can't wait for a preview, here's a sneak peak:
Sairu made her way from Princess Safiya’s chambers out to the walkways of the encircling gardens. The Masayi, abode of the Golden Daughters, was an intricate complex of buildings linked by blossom-shrouded walkways, calm with fountains and clear, lotus-filled pools where herons strutted and spotted fish swam.
Here she had lived all the life she could remember.
The Masayi was but a small part of Manusbau Palace, which comprised the whole of Sairu’s existence. She had never stepped beyond the palace walls. To do so would be to step into a world of corruption, corruption to which a Golden Daughter would not be impervious until she was safely chartered to a master and her life’s work was affixed in her heart and mind. Meanwhile, she must live securely embalmed in this tomb, waiting for life to begin.
Sairu’s mouth curved gently at the corners, and she took small steps as she had been trained—slow, dainty steps that disguised the swiftness with which she could move at need. Even in private she must maintain the illusion, even here within the Masayi.
A cat sat on the doorstep of her own building, grooming itself in the sunlight. She stepped around it and proceeded into the red-hung halls of the Daughter’s quarters and on to her private chambers. There she must gather what few things she would take with her—fewer things even than Jen-ling would take on her journey to Aja. For Jen-ling would be the wife of a prince, and she must give every impression of a bride on her wedding journey.
I wonder who my master will be? Sairu thought as she slid back the rattan door to her chamber and entered the quiet simplicity within. She removed her elaborate costume and exchanged it for a robe of simple red without embellishments. She washed the serving girl cosmetics from her face and painted on the daily mask she and her sisters wore—white with black spots beneath each eye and a red stripe down her chin. It was elegant and simple, and to the common eye it made her indistinguishable from her sisters.
The curtain moved behind her. She did not startle but turned quietly to see the same cat slipping into her room. Cats abounded throughout Manusbau Palace, kept on purpose near the storehouses to manage the vermin. But they did not often enter private chambers.
Sairu, kneeling near her window with her paint pots around her, watched the cat as it moved silkily across the room, stepped onto her sleeping cushions, and began kneading the soft fabric, purring all the while. Its claws pulled at the delicate threads. But it was a cat. As far as it was concerned, it had every right to enjoy or destroy what it willed.
At last it seemed to notice Sairu watching it. It turned sleepy eyes to her and blinked.
Sairu smiled. In a voice as sweet as honey, she asked, “Who are you?”
The cat twitched its tail softly and went on purring.
The next moment, Sairu was across the room, her hand latched onto the cat’s scruff. She pushed it down into the cushions and held it there as it yowled and snarled, trying to catch at her with its claws.
“Who are you?” she demanded, her voice fierce this time. “What are you? Are you an evil spirit sent to haunt me?”
“No, dragons eat it! I mean, rrrraww! Mreeeow! Yeeeowrl!
The cat twisted and managed to lash out at her with its back feet, its claws catching in the fabric of her sleeve. One claw scratched her wrist, startling her just enough that she loosened her hold. The cat took advantage of the opportunity and, hissing like a fire demon, leapt free. It sprang across the room, knocking over several of her paint pots, and spun about, back-arched and snarling. Every hair stood on end, and its ears lay flat to its skull.
Sairu drew a dagger from her sleeve and crouched, prepared for anything. The smile lingered on her mouth, but her eyes flashed. “Who sent you?” she demanded. “Why have you come to me now? You know of my assignment, don’t you.”
Meeeeowrl,” the cat said stubbornly and showed its fangs in another hiss.
“I see it in your face,” Sairu said, moving carefully to shift her weight and prepare to spring. “You are no animal. Who is your master, devil?”
The cat dodged her spring easily enough, which surprised her. Sairu was quick and rarely missed a target. Her knife sank into the floor and stuck there, but she released it and whipped another from the opposite sleeve even as she whirled about.
Any self-respecting cat would have made for the window or the door. This one sprang back onto the cushions and crouched there, tail lashing. Its eyes were all too sentient, but it said only “Meeeeow,” as though trying to convince itself.
Sairu chewed the inside of her cheek. Then, in a voice as smooth as butter, she said, “We have ways of dealing with devils in this country. Do you know what they are, demon-cat?”
The cat’s ears came up. “Prreeowl?” it said.
“Allow me to enlighten you.”
And Sairu put her free hand to her mouth and uttered a long, piercing whistle. The household erupted with the voices of a dozen and more lion dogs.
The little beasts, slipping and sliding and crashing into walls, their claws clicking and clattering on the tiles, careened down the corridor and poured into Sairu’s room. Fluffy tails wagging, pushed-in noses twitching, they roared like the lions they believed themselves to be and fell upon the cat with rapacious joy.
The cat uttered one long wail and the next moment vanished out the window. Sairu, dogs milling at her feet, leapt up and hurried to look out after it, expecting to see a tawny tail slipping from sight. But she saw nothing.
The devil was gone. For the moment at least.
Sairu sank down on her cushions, and her lap was soon filled with wriggling, snuffling hunters eager for praise. She petted them absently, but her mind was awhirl. She had heard of devils taking the form of animals and speaking with the tongues of men. But she had never before seen it. She couldn’t honestly say she’d even believed it.
“What danger is my new master in?” she wondered. “From what must I protect him?”

While waiting for the release, why not enter to win a novel from the Tales of Goldstone Wood series? There's a  link to the rafflecopter at the bottom of my page.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Since the Madronians conquered the people of R'tan, the R'tan have suffered the loss of their culture, including freedom to worship and severance of their bonds, but for Tiadone, the worst choice was made at the moment of her birth. Because of the Madronian preference for firstborn sons, firstborn daughters are either left exposed in the desert or--rarely--declared male. A declared male must wear an amulet to suppress feminine qualities at all times, and is legally male in the eyes of  the world, save that one cannot marry.
As the first declared male in her village, Tiadone's coming of age is viewed with suspicion by many. If she succeeds, other families may choose to declare their firstborn daughters--but is the choice worth it?
There were several fresh, outstanding elements in this book. First of all, the story is set in a wilderness, rather than the standard fantasy forest or castle. It also presents a cultural clash in a way rare for young adult fantasy.
But the element I found most intriguing was the publisher's willingness to promote a book with elements of transgenderism. Blink, a YA imprint of Zondervan,  seems to be willing to risk a controversial topic that could earn the foes on both sides of the aisle. Without giving away the end of the story, I will say that perhaps emotional complexity was sacrificed for moral clarity, but I'd still be willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt on any potential sequels.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Can I get paid for this? (the continuing saga of my life and job hunt)

I was happy for three-quarters of an hour on Tuesday: between the arrival of Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl and a letter in the mail and leaving for my brother’s last at-home basketball game of the season. 
I’d spent the morning scrubbing the kitchen cabinets, but that wasn’t a matter of happiness—more like satisfaction and accomplishment.  And even the basketball game wasn’t necessarily a gamebreaker; it was only a five-minute drive in, instead of the fifty or seventy-minute drives to the last four games over the past two weeks.
First off, I don’t like to drive. I didn’t even get my license until a year and a half ago. But because “I’m going to get a job eventually,”  I’ve been told to drive at every opportunity.  After so much concentrated behind-the-wheel time, I’ve reached a level of apathy. I got a few comments on the way in, which didn’t improve my mood in the least.  
Nor did someone’s comment that I should be watching the game instead of reading or playing on my Kindle.  The icing on the cake was that my mom agreed with her.
Okay, more background. I am a compliant introverted firstborn. Which means that in any argument, I am completely aware that she has my best interests in mind yet incapable of stating my own position without excessive cavorts. And she agreed that I am not an extrovert and should not be forced to be one, but should still be “social” at games. 
But my main point was as follows (having conceded the value of athletics):
Athletics are valuable. Drama is valuable. Scholastics are valuable. But you set up a poetry reading, you’ll get only English majors. You set up a play, you’ll get a broad audience, especially because people have friends in the drama.  But we only have one play a year here, albeit a very good one. And poetry readings—forget it! Instead we have multiple (high school) athletic events a week, and people keep coming even when they’re not doing well. 
And then it was followed up with a talk about jobs, which is just something that makes me uncomfortable all around and deserves its own post. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Through the Wilderness: Thoughts on Call the Midwife and the Journey of Sister Bernadette

One element of CTM which impressed me was the treatment of religious material in general and Sister Bernadette’s story line in season two in particular.  Most modern media, whether journalists, television producers, or movie directors, see religion as a source of dogma and intolerance.  While completely removing the religious element from Worth’s memoirs would be impossible, it might have been tempting for BBC executives to portray the religious elements as outdated or narrow-minded.
Instead, viewers are treated to a group of nuns who are neither self-righteous, walking sex jokes, or dogmatic.  As said in the first season “We are nurses first, nuns second, and midwives primarily.”  Not only does their work at Nonnatus House fulfill a critical need in the community, but they are allowed to observe moral standards without coming across as judgmental.  Perhaps the shows leans too contemporary at times, with a “live-and-let-live”perspective, but overall, the producers refrained admirably from impressing a modern perspective on the events. 
Sister Bernadette’s character arc not only continues the respectful treatment of religious topics, but avoids several sentimental flaws common in Christian fiction.  Part of this is due to the format—a television drama does not lend itself to a first person, introspective narrator who spends hours analyzing or suppressing emotions. Viewers are therefore in the same position as Sister Julienne, aware that Bernadette is struggling but unsure why.   It also avoids the “easy emotion” of the relationship commencing in the wake of Bernadette’s diagnosis.  Instead, Bernadette uses her convalescence to determine her next step.
In all, Bernadette’s story, including her romance with Dr. Turner, is portrayed with sensitivity and skill.  I’d rate it among the most-realistically portrayed romances in all dramas.  First of all, Bernadette doesn’t spend her time moping or bemoaning her fate. In fact, she seems to have been content and fulfilled as a nun/midwife for a good many years. And she doesn’t seem to value her work less—she is not torn between bad and good, or even good and better, but two goods of almost identical worth.
Also, the romance doesn’t change Bernadette’s character. From her introduction through all the episodes I’ve seen, she remains dependable, self-restrained, and caring. And as someone who doesn’t like to make trouble, who would rather spend an hour helping someone else than ask someone to help me, who has a tendency to bottle and say “it doesn’t matter” when I’m breaking down inside—-I know how that feels, I know why she’d keep everything quiet, and so I adore every scene with Bernadette and Julienne, because I wish I had someone like that to talk with.
I really appreciate what Sister Julienne says to Sister Monica Jones at one point; I can’t find the precise quote, but she says that Bernadette didn’t have a crisis of faith, she had a wilderness experience, and believes God has given her a different path. In both Christian and secular circles, struggle is often equated with doubt, and doubt with falling away, but the three are not necessarily equal.  Losing the specifics of a path does not mean you are not secure in faith or that you have lost sight of what is most important in eternity. And as a college graduate trying to figure out where to go next, that message is most reassuring.
But it’s the season two finale that really hit all the emotional buttons—and not in a manipulative way either. First of all, Bernadette asking for secular clothes, because she doesn’t feel like she can wear the habit anymore, and Sister Julienne and Evangelina’s reaction to the contents of her suitcase. She may not be their sister anymore, but they still want to take care of her.
And when Sister Bernadette calls Dr. Turner first about being discharged—I didn’t need to be told that she was truly breaking with Nonnatus House, that she wasn’t going to come back, even for a moment, for fear that she would stay because it was easy.  And even then, she still didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, she was just going to take the bus.
Dr. Turner’s response to her call was one of the most heartwarming scenes I’ve ever watched. He just tore out of his office and drove to get her. Even over her protestations, because that was what she needed most at that moment, as she stepped onto a new path. 
(I can’t find a clip, so I’m going to include a scene transcript from TV Tropes)
Dr Turner: What if it had started raining? What if you’d got lost?
Sister Bernadette: I was lost. I got the wrong bus.
Dr Turner: I was on the right road.
Sister Bernadette: Yes. [deep breath] I know you so little but I couldn’t be more certain.
Dr Turner: I am completely certain. And I don’t even know your name!
Sister Bernadette: [beaming from ear to ear] Shelagh.
Dr Turner: Patrick.
Sister Bernadette: There. We’ve made a start.
The first thing he does is feel her forehead. Then he wraps her in his coat, to keep her warm on the foggy road. And their wedding in the 2013 Christmas special is adorable. Initially, Shelagh doesn’t feel comfortable inviting the nuns, given that she renounced her vows. But throughout the preparations, little things—someone’s overheard comment that Shelagh is doing things second-class because she’s like a divorcee, the shop lady’s comments about needing a mother or sister to adjust the veil—just keep probing that tender spot. Not to mention Timothy’s sudden battle with polio. 
Marriage is not the end of Shelagh’s struggles, which is as it should be. It brings with it its own problems, just as life in the convent had struggles and challenges.  And while I haven’t seen all of season three yet, I have seen hints and suggestions that more heartache lies ahead.