Triple Threat Reader

Gone are the days when I could settle down with one book in my lap, perhaps a snack or two and a hot beverage, and focus on one story line at a time. My attention span has been shot to death with the invention of the internet, and I freely admit that. I still enjoy reading though (obviously). How to solve the problem though of a wandering mind. Over the last couple of months I think I found the solution.

I’ve allowed myself to pick up more than one book at a time and switch between stories when I feel like one isn’t captivating my attention at a certain time, even if I really like it. The real trick though is the medium by which I consume these reads. Last month, for a lighter daily bag, I brought my Kindle with me to work and read an e-book (The Death Cure) during lunch. During the 50-minute car ride home I’d listen to my audio book (Gulliver’s Travels) as I navigated Miami traffic. And at night, when I was comfy cozy in my pajamas, ready to settle in with the lamp alight on my nightstand, I’d read a physical hardcover or paperback (Leyenda and Lord of Shadows). Some nights I still can’t concentrate on a full fledged novel though, so I compromise with comic book reading. Short pages and mostly artwork does wonders for keeping the brain entertained.

My new strategy of reading multiple books and stories through different channels at different times has also expanded the amount of reading I get done in a month. The thing about trying to keep reading one book when I wasn’t feeling it, is that I’d read the same sentence at least five times over and still not process what was happening. Letting myself give in to the new millennial attention span and spreading my reading around through e-book, audio book, and physical book has increased my ability to multitask and enjoy a story even more than I already could.

For the first time in a long time, I look forward to taking a look at my TBR list and not feeling a dreadful pit in my stomach, making me feel guilty for adding, adding, adding and never making a dent. I’ve finally started to get some of those books off my list. Should I even dare to dream that one day I can make it through the whole list? Alright, that’s probably farfetched, but a reader can dream.

Review: Card of Fate by Duke of Quails

I was asked by a Goodreads author to review their book of poetry honestly, so here are my thoughts on Card of Fate by Duke of Quails.

This collection of poetry deals with the subject of gambling addiction, mostly from the perspective of the addict. Each poem reiterates the vicious cycle of one more hit, one more time, just one more try, portraying how easy it is to fall into a self-destructive pattern.

That being said, I did want more poems from other perspectives, like the piece called “What Me and Dad Did On Spring Break.” This poem is told from the perspective of a son who is watching his dad make bad decisions, but due to his innocence, he doesn’t recognize what his father was doing as wrong. I think the collection could have had a stronger impact with more poems of this variety, showing how addiction affects those around the addict as well as the addicts themselves. However, it can be argued that the point of such repetition in the poems conveys the nature of addiction, in that it’s a person making the same choices over and over again, never recognizing the consequences of his or her actions.

Duke includes a heavy use of punctuation throughout the poems, and that sometimes works well as it creates a manic feeling emanating from the lines, like someone breathing fast and talking to themselves desperately, such as in the opening poem “Gambling Temptation.” In some cases though, like in “Innocent Ticket,” the use of so many commas, periods and semi-colons is overwhelming and becomes a distraction.

The concept of innocence is threaded throughout the collection, with the use of the word often attributed by the speaker of each poem giving themselves excuses or reasons for the gambling addiction. I think it’s interesting especially as with the previously-mentioned poem about the father and son, how a little boy can be innocent to what his father is doing but that same man can also see himself as an innocent victim fallen prey to the predator that is addiction. Many of the speakers see themselves this way, arguing with the reader that if only the slot machines didn’t entice them, if only the cards had been dealt differently, if only, if only, if only. The consistent diction choice with this idea establishes a strong voice throughout the poems.

Duke’s poems don’t rely heavily on imagery and flowery language as one would expect with poetry, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing. While there are occasional lines like, “My little mouse I used to call him,/Now a scared rat before my eyes he’s grown to be,” (“How Did We End Up Hiding?”) to portray the corruption of innocence, the poems mostly use plain, simple language more in the form of conversation. This choice makes it clear that a constant inner monologue is going on in the addicts’ heads as they struggle to break free from the dangerous cycle.

I’m going to wrap up with this final observation. The collection utilizes rhyme schemes through every piece, some of which are successful, and some of which fall flat. In “Mommy Can I Have a Dollar?” the rhyming feels forced and detracts from the poem as a whole. However, in “A Gamble’s Story,” Duke employs slant rhyme beautifully with the lines, “It’s a graduation,/A sure step up from an inauguration./Scratch-Offs no longer valid;/Lottery ticket can’t kick the habit,/But the place itself, the casino’s buzz./The smell of the table is a sick drug.” The mix of short, punchy lines and rhyme scheme here creates a feeling of anxiety and urgency that comes with addiction.

Overall, a fair collection of poems that may resonate strongly with those who have undergone addiction struggle themselves or for readers looking to broaden their minds.

Romance and War

I recently started thinking about the books my parents gravitate towards and found it interesting how such opposite concepts can manage to come together. My mom is an avid romance reader, which means she looks for that HEA (Happily Ever After). My dad is fascinated by stories of war, the tragedy that comes with a life of strife. Romance and war don’t belong together. And yet…

Don’t all the best war stories include tales of love? A soldier leaving behind the girl he loves, promising to come back, even though he knows that’s not a promise he should make. Two best friends on the front lines together, for better or for worse, taking on the fire for one another. A father leaving his children in the care of the mother or trusted relative, never knowing if he’ll see them again, but assuring them it will all be alright in the end. How can such a seemingly hateful event be filled with stories of love and romance?

What is it that makes that HEA worthwhile in a romance novel? Is it the rosy good times of significant others spending hours walking hand in hand and making lovely, laughing memories together? No, it’s the strife. It’s the fight. It’s the war that comes with battling to hold onto something that makes the darkness tolerable. Sometimes love and romance can be hell. I’m not talking about toxic, unhealthy relationships where all the two people ever do is hurt each other and call it love. I’m talking about the genuine mistakes made in the process of learning to share yourself with another person, and that can hurt and feel like a fight, but it’s not futile.

So, romance and war. My mom and dad. Two types that are so different and yet somehow work together to create a story that’s full of multiple HEA’s after multiple battles to learn how to get to the end of the book together.

Meagan Reads YA Horror: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

As part of my ongoing (and almost done!) reading challenge, I chose this young adult horror novel about a protagonist named Theseus Cassio (who prefers to go by Cas) for the category “a book you heard about because of this challenge.” Following in his father’s footsteps, Cas has become a ghost hunter himself with a plan for revenge to kill the thing that killed his father. Upon arriving in Thunder Bay, Ontario, everything about this hunt is different from the ghosts he’s hunted in the past. Unexpectedly gaining a circle of friends, and a guilty conscience for classmates lost during his hunt, Cas takes on the most powerful specter he’s ever encountered.

The story was reminiscent of early Supernatural seasons, so of course it held my attention. The plot moved at a fast pace that never left me bored and had the right amount of rise and fall. What I appreciated most was that the story didn’t go longer than it had to and finished in a good place. The twists were surprising and left me wanting to continue each time a new one came into play.

Now, while the story was entertaining enough, the characters for the most part were annoying. Their personalities and descriptions relied heavily on stereotypes that sounded like an adult who has no idea what teenagers are actually like. Blake tried to give a couple of characters layers beyond their surface personalities, but the writing didn’t go deep enough to make them stand out as realistic people.

The best parts of this book were the supernatural elements and horror story, which made the audio book worth listening to. However, the narrator really seemed to have a hard time grasping what a teenage girl sounds like, and only seemed to have one mode for the boys: smarmy asshole. Perhaps the narration is part of the problem I had with characterization in this book, but I think that had more to do with Blake’s writing and the narrator didn’t help. Overall, not a terrible book, but not one I feel the need to continue the series.

Meagan Reads Classic Mystery: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

It’s been a while since I gave my insights to a book I’ve read. I’d like to get back into the habit with this classic mystery I just finished reading called The Lodger by Mari Belloc Lowndes, originally published in 1913. The story takes place in London, where a series of Jack the Ripper style murders are occurring, and simultaneously, the Buntings, down on their luck, get an eccentric gentleman looking for lodgings to rent their space. Their new lodger, Mr. Sleuth, rents out both rooms they have available for twice as much as they’re worth to ensure he has the lodgings all to himself and doesn’t have to share the house with anyone but the proprietors. He also carries a strange leather case and only ever leaves the house past midnight, which are two characteristics of The Avenger, the serial killer murdering women in London. What a crazy random happenstance.

It’s clear from the get-go that the Buntings’ new lodger Mr. Sleuth is in fact The Avenger. So what exactly is the mystery in this mystery novel? I suppose you could say it’s the inner workings of the human brain and what people who have been going hungry for a long time will do to keep their only source of income from fleeing or getting arrested. Mrs. Bunting figures out pretty early on that Mr. Sleuth is in fact The Avenger. Now, she never gets solid proof, never catches him in the act, never sees blood on his hands, but like the audience reading the story, she’s not blind and understands what all signs point to. She then spends the entirety of the book giving into fits of hysteria, holding onto her secret, even keeping it from her husband (who’s as thick as they come, because he doesn’t notice Mr. Sleuth is the murderer until literally the last 10 percent of the book).

The book really is mostly about Mrs. Bunting’s guilty conscience as she suspects Mr. Sleuth’s crimes, goes about trying to learn the truth without revealing how much she suspects, and torn between the money he brings to her household and what’s right, all the while keeping up a friendship with a police officer who’s working the case of The Avenger.

Overall, I enjoyed the story up until the end, because although the reader knows the whole time Mr. Sleuth is the murderer, the suspense builds and builds and builds, waiting for the snap at the end. Will the Buntings finally turn him in? Will he kill them? No, neither of these things happen. In fact — spoilers ahead! — at the point in the book where he realizes he’s been found out, he assumes Mrs. Bunting has betrayed him and he runs away from Madame Tussaud’s, where they are spending the day with Mr. Bunting’s daughter Daisy for her birthday, but not before threatening her with a most terrifying and gruesome death. Days pass and they never hear from him again and The Avenger is never caught. That’s it. That’s the ending. It was like an orchestra building up to an absolute cacophony of crescendo and then the sound gets sucked out of the room and the musicians walk off stage.

Truth be told, I didn’t even really feel an affinity for Mrs. Bunting. I never felt sorry for her or related. There wasn’t actually anything there to root for. She was always cross with her husband, portrayed as the nagging wife trope, and she was such a bitch to Daisy. It always felt like she resented Daisy, like somehow it was the girl’s fault that her husband had had a previous marriage and a child from that marriage. I just never felt for her as the protagonist, and Mr. Bunting was just short of being a downright idiot. The characters were rather flat, so I certainly didn’t stay for them.

If you’re looking for an easy read to take on the train or to the beach, I’d say this is a solid choice. It doesn’t require much thought and it’s entertaining enough to keep your attention for long periods of time. Just don’t expect to feel satisfied by the ending.

Slow and Steady

It’s been three years now since I went on my trip to Spain and brought home two books translated from English to Spanish. I picked them up so I could start practicing the language and have a better understanding of the writing structure. I started reading one of those books, Leyenda, two years ago, and it has been a slow go. I was trying to sit down with my dad and read it with him since Spanish is his first language, so he could correct me on my pronunciation and explain the words I didn’t recognize, but damn, it’s hard to get a minute with that man. No grudges though; he works hard and it’s understandable how tired he is every time he comes home. I’m not a kid anymore, so he’s not obligated to pay attention to me and muck through my elementary out loud reading skills, because trust me, reading in Spanish feels exactly the same as reading in English did at five-years-old: excruciating and frustrating.

The challenge has also been fun though. I started reading on my own, keeping my laptop open with a Spanish to English dictionary on hand to help me out when I get stuck. That’s the beauty of today’s technology. I can have an entire language’s lexicon at my fingertips, and even have the option of an auditory sample to know how to pronounce it. Reading out loud in Spanish on my own leaves me giggling like a mad woman because I can hear how foreign I am to my father’s native tongue, but I like that I can’t get the accent quite right and my tongue still trips over rolled R’s. It’s simultaneously amusing and frustrating that I can say the word mentally, and know how it should sound in my head, but can’t get my mouth and brain to connect to form the words properly. I am a stranger in my own land, and it is exciting and aggravating and makes for a roller coaster reading ride.

I also noticed something new happening. Well, not so much new as an old habit that I’d phased out once I learned how to read at a proficient level in English, and that habit was to imagine the details in my mind like a movie playing out. I’ve become so adept in the English language that it’s easy for me to breeze through a book and barely blink at a passage as my eyes rove over the page and understand the scene that is taking place. I process what the words say, but I don’t stop to visualize the characters’ actions anymore. Reading in Spanish forced me to do that so that I can get a grasp on the vocabulary, grammar and syntax structure. The slow reading brought back my ability to read the action on the page and see it in my mind’s eye as it plays out like an image on a TV screen. I see the woman’s hand shake as she opens the envelope that could hold the very information she’s been seeking for over a decade. I see the priest’s apprehension as he hands over the document that could compromise his faith’s foundation. Slowing down to understand what’s happening on the surface made me slow down and dig into the rich imagery the writer took care to create for the readers.

I’ll take this as a lesson when I progress in my English reading, to remember to slow down and really read beyond the words into the visuals and sensory details. I need to remember it’s not a race, but a journey through different roads and perceptions, and I can’t truly appreciate those perspectives if I don’t take the time or care to stop and see the story.

Crushing on Classics

For the longest time I could not put my finger on what about classics made me love them so much. As far back as I can remember I’ve been a fan of the classics, starting with stories like Anne of Green Gables and The Wind in the Willows. Eventually I graduated to works such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and made my way through high school readings like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and various Shakespeare plays. Of course like every other 13-year-old of my generation (probably. I’m just making that up), I became obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

While I take pride in having a fondness for the classics, I know I’m not a literary snob. Classics are obviously not the only worthwhile books to consume, and I’m certainly a fan of cheesy fantasy/scifi novels as well as comic books and mystery-thrillers. I read across genres frequently, but I always come back to the classics.

I think part of my love for them is the language. Since becoming a kindred spirit with my dearest Anne Shirley, it was the first time I ever read a character that sounded like me. She was a young girl like me and she spoke in earnest and with what the adults and others around us like to call “big words.” I always felt so strange being the kid with a sophisticated vocabulary, but trying to speak the way I was expected at my age felt wrong. It wasn’t until Anne came along that I found a repertoire of characters and people that spoke like me. The flow of the language, its poetry and drama, all spoke to me on an unidentifiable level.

It wasn’t until recently after I started watching Jane the Virgin (great take on the telenovela btw) that I realized why classics called to me. Remember that part I said about the drama? Well, growing up in a house with parents that watched telenovelas, and having been a huge fan of Aguamarina myself, I know a thing or two about drama. The classics spoke to me because even though they were written in English by Europeans (most of the ones I’ve read, anyway), they reminded me of home and my culture’s way of storytelling.

Everything is life or death. Love or hate. Joy or sorrow. Nothing is in between. Apathy does not exist in classics the same way it goes by the wayside in novelas. Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s toxic romance is something straight out of a show on Telemundo. And when Edna Pontellier makes her stand against the men who think they own her, I see glistening eyes, perfectly arched eyebrows, set crimson lips and an icy glare so piercing it makes the room go quiet.

It’s easy now to see the connection between what are considered the classics and my experience with passionate, dramatic storytelling. The language is big and over the top and emotions run high, because whether it’s Aguamarina or Pride & Prejudice, rich people got first world problems that suck everyone into their drama. And I am up front and center with popcorn in hand.