Month: July 2015

Book Fridays: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of  making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.
With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.
Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaperintroduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.  (from Amazon.com)

I really feel that in 2015 reading a book about a Puerto Rican female protagonist who kicks ass shouldn’t be a big deal. Except that it is. Older has given us a wonderful book full of awesome characters that speak to a lot of our current realities. This book addresses big issues casually without beating  you over the head with them but while still making a point and telling a complex, nuanced story.

Sierra Santiago discovers a secret about her family that was kept from her because of the rampant machismo in Latino culture. Suddenly she is thrown into a situation that she barely understands but must make sense of quickly if she is to survive. Sierra is smart and resourceful and even though the odds stacked against her she manages to save herself repeatedly. I really liked her personality. I especially enjoyed the scene where she hands Rosa’s ass to her and calls out her colorism. I love that Older brought this up because it’s something that needs to be discussed,doused in gasoline, and set on fire. Colorism is a scourge within our community. In my own family we are a mixed bunch. My family on my maternal grandfather’s side is Afrolatino and I’ve seen first hand the derisive commentary hurled their way because of their hair, skin, etc. I have met a Rosa before so I was happy to see Sierra set her straight.

Something else that Older wove into his story beautifully was the inclusion of a lesbian couple among Sierra’s group of friends. What I loved about this is that the characters were not defined by their sexuality, it was just another fact about them like hair color etc. It was part of their identity to be sure but it wasn’t what drove who they were if that makes sense. The fact that they were present means so much. Teens that read this book will see themselves in it and that is a wonderful thing.

As I was writing this I took a peek at the reviews on Goodreads and stumbled upon this shit nugget:  “And finally, while I love reading books that involve people of diverse backgrounds, I think this one was a bit heavy-handed. It’s like every few chapters I was reminded again what she looked like and how it made her feel.” WHAT?! I have no doubt that this reviewer is a Wick sympathizer. I absolutely adored the way in which Sierra’s hair was described as an “unbothered halo”, I loved that she loved herself, how she looked, who she was. Considering that this is YA Urban Fantasy about a female of color I think it’s only appropriate that she’s feeling herself on every damn page.

Anyway, I loved this book (obviously) and as  Puerto Rican who grew up reading about everybody BUT me I can’t help but feel a great sense of gratitude towards Older for penning this treasure of a story.

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Book Fridays: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I feel as though it’s been a while since I wrote about the books I’ve been reading. Part of the reason is that I’ve been busy reading but also because I had prewritten about 6 Book Friday posts and once I ran out I was not motivated to write more. Writing about books is not something I spend too much time on. Depending on the book I might devote more time to researching the author etc but I am no professional book reviewer. I don’t analyze books based on themes, prose and the like. I might make mention of it if it pops out at me but I am just a reader who likes to write a few lines about what she’s been reading.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a debut novel that apparently made quite the splash when it was first published due to the hefty six-figure advanced received by Ms. Kent. An interesting bit of trivia in my opinion.

The story is set in 1830 I believe, in a small rural town of Iceland. Agnes, our protagonist, has been sentenced to death and is awaiting execution. The story is told during her last winter as she awaits her fate. I found the writing to be lovely. I enjoyed the descriptions which are so well done that I found myself feeling slightly chilled as I read about an Icelandic winter. I loved it. Agnes is sent to live on a farm against its occupants wishes but they were charged with taking in this prisoner and caring for her. It was interesting to see how her presence created such upheaval in the lives of her host family and those around them.

It is important to note that the story on which this book is based is true. This woman existed and she was killed. In fact, she was the last executed person in Iceland. We learn her story, her crime, and her life through her conversations with her chosen confessor, Father Toti.

I spent some of the book conflicted about whether or not Agnes was guilty but in the end I think I knew…

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I’m giving up sugar for 30 days!

I am addicted to sugar. I admit it. That is why I am challenging myself to give it up for thirty days. I am not following a diet plan or anything like that. I am simply cutting out refined sugar. No more chocolate, cakes, cookies, store bought breads, etc. I will be eating fruit and if I do want to sweeten something I will use unrefined, natural sweeteners such as raw honey, maple syrup and even raw sugar. I specified about what sugars I will be eating because I’ve seen people who give up ALL forms of sugar including naturally occurring ones (like in fruit). Fortunately I tend to stick to water when it comes to drinks so I won’t have an issue with that and I don’t drink coffee or tea daily.

I have always read different things about sugar, but aside from empty calories that make me fatter I had never really paid much attention to the benefits of giving up sugar. People report clearer skin, more energy and reduced inflammation. I’m in it for a palate cleanse and healthier lifestyle but I’ll report back with any other changes I notice.

The reason I decided to give up sugar is that for the past six months or so I have really had a craving for it (more so than before). I find myself wanting to eat something sweet after dinner and it isn’t an apple. When it comes to dieting and lifestyle changes I truly believe that making changes that we can sustain forever is the key to success. I don’t like the idea of cutting things out forever unless serious medical issues are the reason.

I plan to stay on track by eating at home (which we do most of the time anyway) and baking only when I’m giving it away. I’m all stocked up with fresh fruit as well as some some frozen fruit for smoothies.

I think the first week is going to suck, haha. Stop by next Tuesday for an update!

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Where did my anxiety go?

The past week or so has been taken out of a dream. My constant companion for the past eight years has seemingly packed its bags and left. Now, I am not superstitious so I don’t have any reservations about sharing my good fortune and I have experienced this before. Living with mental illness is exhausting. I hate having anxiety. I hate experiencing panic attacks. There is nothing about suffering from those two things that anybody enjoys. When I am not feeling anxious I am usually thinking about the next time I will be anxious and so the cycle continues.

Any sort of trip causes me a lot of anxiety. Being away from home (my home base) sends my heart rate soaring. New places are difficult for me to navigate because when I am home and I am feeling like the world is about to end I can somehow grab onto my reality to anchor my mind and settle my thoughts. It is difficult for me to do this on the go. Difficult, but not impossible. This past weekend we took a trip to Orlando for a wedding. Orlando is familiar. It’s far from home but I’ve been there enough times that I can’t justify classifying it as a new location. Weddings involve crowds of people, which I am not fond of but I can manage. Still, I was nervous and worried that my anxiety would rear its ugly head.

I can’t say what has changed over the past week. I haven’t done anything differently. I haven’t started taking medication. All I have been doing is what I have always done: following Dr. Liebgold’s book and holding on to hope that every episode of anxiety/panic attack will be the last one. I have been challenging myself more. Going out more and doing one thing that scares me daily. For me, it’s doing one thing that triggers my anxiety every day. I have been more diligent, more consistent and it has payed off.

This weekend I felt like myself. The way I felt when I was 22 and not yet suffering from mental health issues. It was glorious and I went with it. Did my boo try to crash my party? Yes, he did. He is an asshole after all. But I kept him at bay and enjoyed my vacation. I was present. I was not caught up in my own mind wrestling thoughts and worries about anxiety.

The thing about anxiety (and mental illness in general) is that it is not visible. Anxiety happens internally. Somebody can be having the worst panic attack of their lives and you’d be non-the-wiser standing next to them. Anxiety can take over your life and render you unable to function. I know that I am not magically cured. Anxiety is something I will always live with but anxiety can be managed and even though there will likely be set backs I know that I will be okay. And I will use these blog posts as reminders that there is respite. That I CAN and WILL feel much better than I do when my anxiety is at its worst.

I write about my anxiety because it is infinitely helpful to record and celebrate the victories no matter how small they are. It is also important to give a face and voice to these illnesses that are still so often stigmatized by society. It is important for me to be open about what I feel and how I am feeling. I don’t want the curtain to fall on me. I have a support system by design. I make sure to speak up and seek help when I need it. I have been to therapy and I am always actively combating my anxiety. I am not currently seeing a therapist but it is something I think of doing again eventually because I find it very helpful. I am fortunate in that I have the access and the means to do so.

If you have somebody in your life who suffers from anxiety or another disorder and are wondering how to help them just ask them how they’re doing. A sympathetic ear that seeks to listen without judgment or paternalistic advice is invaluable. If you are suffering from mental illness yourself, seek help. Talk to a friend. Don’t give up on yourself.

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Book Fridays: Reading priorities and July TBR

I don’t think I have ever shared my monthly TBRs but since I have a few books lined up and no scheduled post for today I am sharing what I plan to read this month. I have always frequented my local library but between last year and this one I have really amped up my library use. I go to the library almost weekly whether it’s to browse, pick up holds, or return books. I also make use of their Overdrive service for e-books. It turns out I do not have the funds to buy as many books as I read. I actually like borrowing books first because if I love a book I can always purchase it knowing that I really want it in my collection. Reading borrowed books has helped me knock out  a lot of books I’ve been meaning to read since once I bring them home I actually read them. See, I used to buy a lot of books and they tend to sit for a while before I get around to them. With library books I am forced to prioritize my reading.

Speaking of purchased books, this year I am reading my shelves and so far I’ve read several books I had purchased years ago but never read. I am also purging my bookshelves of books I am not longer interested in owning because my reading tastes have changed a lot over the last few years.

But back to prioritizing my reading, this week, Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper was released and I am dying to read it. I planned to start it the day it came out but I hadn’t finished the book I was in the middle of and with another two library books still in the wings I know that I have to wait. I am not the type of reader who likes to read multiple books at once unless they’re non-fiction, or a collection of stand alone stories. It’s not a hard and fast rule for me but I much prefer to read one book at a time. In fact, I seldom ever have multiple books going at once. Reading mostly library books has really challenged me in that I have had to begrudgingly put down a book for a few days because one of my library holds has come in.

Here is what I plan to read this month:

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings by James Baldwin

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

I will probably read other books but I’ll pick those out depending on what I feel like. I’ll either borrow hard copies from the library or e-book format from Overdrive. My husband has Amazon Prime so I could also borrow books from there.

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It’s my birthday!

I remember when my birthday was an exciting prospect. A day that couldn’t come fast enough. I looked forward to presents, and cake, and all of the things that come with birthdays. Now that I’m 31 it’s not the same. I have not reached that point where I dread getting older, or the number of said age, but I no longer feel that joyous excitement of my childhood. I joke that I am a year older and not any wiser but I don’t actually mean that.

At 31 (which is neither young nor old) I feel grateful. Grateful for another year of life. Grateful for all the things I get to do, see, read, and make. I’m filled with such immense happiness about the wonderful things in my life. My friends who sustain me in ways that food and water cannot. The ones that remind me of another place and time many years ago and whose lasting friendships are a testament to the enduring power (and importance) of companionate love. The friends with whom I can be my most vulgar, perverted, and carefree. The friends with whom I discuss the issues that get me riled up such as politics, racism, sexism, and religion. The friends that ask me how I am doing and who are interested in my mental health.

Thirty-one years of life has taught my that being liked is overrated. That I cannot compromise who I am and what I believe in order to fit in. It is not worth it. Likability is a poison to me. It entails censoring myself because I fear offending those that don’t give offending me a second thought. Along with my gratitude there is a consciousness. A consciousness about my own happiness and how I am responsible for it. I choose what to care about, what to see, hear and listen to. I choose who and what to allow into my life. That is a powerful thing to realize.

I’m unlearning a lot of things currently. For instance: I no longer try to hide the fact that I menstruate by shamefully hiding my tampons in my purse and going to great lengths so that no person is ever made uncomfortable with the sight of these. I am unlearning all of the gender bullshit I grew up with. I am also learning to walk away from people that don’t know when to shut up. Social media gives us this constant exposure to wonderful and terrible things. Some people decide to express the terrible, the uneducated and the bigoted. They haven’t learned that it is okay to shut the hell up so I do it for them. Muting and un-friending people is self-care.

Basically, I am in a constant state of learning and unlearning. It’s not pleasant. It’s painful. It makes me uncomfortable but it’s worth it. So this birthday is all about feeling grateful, being unapologetically myself, and committing myself to learning, listening and making changes especially when it makes me uncomfortable.

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