Review: To Catch a Stolen Soul by R.L. Naquin

Female non-white protagonist with dark hair in profile on the right side of the book, looking over her shoulder. Background is turquoise/blue and the title text is in a highlighted blue. ARC Review:

Title: To Catch a Stolen Soul (Djnn Haven #1)

Authors: R.L. Naquin

Publisher and Year:  Carina Press, 2017

Genre: urban fantasy, mystery, friendship, found family,

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Fans of the Monster Haven series by R.L. Naquin will love this beguiling spin-off, featuring a trapped djinn caught in a hot mess of lost souls, fast food and otherwordly murder.

Kam is a soul chaser for the Hidden Government, a much harder job now that the Hidden look like everyone else. Broke, out of magic and sick of playing waitress in a pirate-themed dive bar, Kam jumps at a chance for an out-of-town mission.

A reaper—and his loaded soul stone—have gone missing. The stone contains souls that might get permanently stuck if Kam doesn’t find it, like, yesterday. She tracks the reaper down to a food truck outside Kansas City, only to find a dead reaper and no soul stone in sight. Which means that someone who should be dead killed the reaper and is running around with a powerful magic item. Not good.

And apparently the killer is targeting food-ttruck owners that also happen to be Hidden. So the only thing to do is open her own truck and go undercover—goodbye Kam the Djinn, hello Mobile Food Entrepreneur—and hope that she and her new runaway friend won’t be the next targets…

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This was one of the last books I read for 2016 and I really enjoyed it. Even though urban fantasy remains one of my favourite genres, it can get same-y very easily. I am new to Naquin’s work, but I’m definitely interested to read her other books because I absolutely enjoyed To Catch a Stolen Soul. This book brought me everything I want and like about urban fantasy, likeable heroine – who wasn’t ‘kick ass’ but knows how to stand on her own two feet. I love that she’s about doing good in her own way. I love how she makes space and safety for Ash, a runaway and that friendship and care forms one of the fundamental aspects of the book overall.

I thought the mystery was enough and not too much, although it was a little simplistic at times – there was a little mismatch between the fact that others had failed to solve the mystery and Kam was able to do so for me. But this is a minor niggle and didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book.

I liked the world and the setup, I liked that there’s a bigger arc of story planned than what happened in this one book and I’m really interested to read more of Kam’s story. This was fun, amusing, fluffy urban fantasy with a mystery and if you like these kinds of books and characters, or you like books that are solid on building friendship and have a found family aspect then you’ll really enjoy this. What’s excellent about this book is that it gives you exactly what you want in a lighthearted urban fantasy, it’s not meant to be challenging and it’s quirky and with unique appeal without trying to hard to be different. It knows what you want and it gives it to you solid and you can trust it.

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit - coverARC Review:

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2)

Authors: Becky Chambers

Publisher and Year:  Harper Voyager, 2016

Genre: space opera, science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A Closed and Common Orbit is an incredible follow up to the standout A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and Chambers has outdone herself in bringing to life a whole new set of characters. They’re familiar faces, but the story has shifted away from the crew of the Wayfarer and now we follow the journey of Pepper and AI Sidra – formerly known as Lovelace. One of the aspects of this novel that I appreciated most right from the beginning was the emphasis on names and their importance to an individual in how they express themselves. Names have history, they have a loadedness, they can be given, applied, attached, chosen, searched for, and I imagine they could even be grown. Here there’s no ceremony or poignancy around our AI protagonist choosing her name – it’s a necessity and aside from a comment from Pepper about names having weight and importance and that it would be nice to have more time, it’s not really possible and one must be chosen. And so we meet Sidra, almost as she starts to meet herself really.

The story of Sidra is one where an AI protagonist comes to terms with being in a body that doesn’t feel like her own, in a story and a narrative that she’s expected to build, but which she feels at odds with. And yet, despite the ways in which her inherently technological nature is reinforced, so to is her sentience. She struggles with some of the aspects of self-determination, and embraces others and I truly think that the writing of this kind of AI body is one of the best I’ve seen in that it tackles some of the ways in which plonking an AI into a humanesque body isn’t a like to like transition. Instead, overlays of memories and associations, textures, and sensations are used as associations with stimulus that Sidra comes across – particularly when eating or drinking. It’s a great touch.

I love the way that even as we explore Sidra coming-of-age we also look back into Pepper’s history, including how she met Blue. And here, once again Chambers gives us the depth of a story that is at its core optimistic, but where there is depth, and consequence – bad things happen and they must be acknowledged and dealt with in some way. Giving Sidra space and opportunity to explore her future is in some way Pepper’s way of coming to terms with her own past and it’s a lovely  narrative circle, we immediately identify with the nobility of Pepper’s aims, and our hearts weep with her in how confronted she is by this as well, searching for her own long lost AI companion.

There is so much to love about this book, and it’s similar in what was there to love in the first book. Stories of found and chosen family, of friendship and relationships that are negotiated and complex. Within the story there is queerness and differences in gender identity explored, but it’s not trite or token, but built into the story and character interactions without also ever being ‘the point’ of the character to be ‘the genderqueer one’ – it’s simply one personality trait amongst many inherent to the character, and this is true of the others as well. It’s warm and refreshing and it means I can see myself in the story – even if I’m not explicitly there, I’d fit, I’d make sense, I wouldn’t be the villain, nor outcast necessarily and that’s always a win for me. There’s spaceships and video games, virtual reality, storytelling, tech and hacking, politics and cultural differences between groups of sentients. There is so much scope in this universe that Chambers has created and I can’t imagine a book in this universe that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to read.

If you enjoy space opera, particularly with an optimistic view, you will enjoy this. If you enjoy books with heartwarming characters you can fall in love with and feel bereft without, you will enjoy this. If you want a coming-of-age story with a difference, with sentient AIs and everyday-heroes then you’ll enjoy this. The writing is delightful, I read this voraciously and loved every second. The book came to life for me and I want to reread it again already – it’s incredible and again, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - coverReview:

Title: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1)

Authors: Becky Chambers

Publisher and Year:  Hodder and Staughton, 2015 (Originally published through Createspace Independent in 2014)

Genre: space opera, science fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with theWayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

 

My Review:

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is without question one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I am sad that it took me so long to get to it. Optimistic space opera, space ships, friendship, found family, a wonderful array of characters I fell in love with immediately and the most interesting take on wormhole construction yet.

This book hits almost every button I think I have for stories that make me fall in love instantly. I got galactic civilisations, thoughtful interesting alien cultures which were neither tokenised nor stereotyped. Space travel and flight really involved the travelling part and that was an excellent part of the story narrative. I loved that I got a sense of what it was like to be part of a crew on a ship where there could be many weeks between docking into ports and what that looks like in terms of interpersonal skills and ship management. Oh, the emotional intelligence work involved here it was just gorgeous! I’m all a-swoon about it.

Rosemary is our main point of view character and she’s initially quite a mystery, she withholds so much of herself that you almost risk not liking her, and then it all kind of comes tumbling out and instead you want to make her a cup of tea and make friends. I loved the interactions between the other crew members and each other, especially resolving conflicts, of which there is a major one and it was particularly satisfying in how that eventuated.

I loved the way that bad things happen, there is injustice, corruption, greed, and struggling, but that this is handled deftly by the author and that there is the feelgood emotional payoff in resolution or simply in acknowledging the reality and letting it be there – without making it worse or hammering it in such a way that leaves me raw. There’s a realism in the way it’s presented that I value, but it’s not out to traumatise me, it’s not the point of the story, it’s just part of the ordinary background that makes up a world. You can tell a story and have it focus on the positive outlook, without shunning conflict, upset, or bad things happening – you go through everything with the characters, but the author brings you safely out the other side. There’s comfort and catharsis in that. It’s a big reason why I fell so hard for this book and why it’s an instant favourite.

I love the way in which this is a story of inclusiveness, but it’s never heavy handed. There are queer relationships and characters, disabilities and differing sometimes clashing cultural and racial considerations that are all noticeable, but not as tick boxes. They’re part of a three-dimensional texture about this book, they build on the story and the characters, they’re never trite.

This book is like taking a deep breath of fresh air, and being hugged by all its wonderful words. I’m so in love with this.

Moving on from Becoming and 2015

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point where writing was possible. But that happens sometimes and I just needed to go with it. Last week I had my annual conversation with @dilettantiquity about our theme stuff. We have a unique insight and understanding of each other in part because we are so very very different, but there are strong similarities too. I love our relationship and even if this is the only conversation we manage in a year (and recently this has been the case), it is one of the best conversations I’ll have all year. Guaranteed.

Often when we talk, it’s to sort out what maybe the year ahead will bring – a theme for the new year can sometimes be elusive. This time for us, we needed much of the time to talk through the year we’d just been through and what our 2015 enquiry had looked like at the end of things. For me, at the start of the conversation, I didn’t know at all. And then we talked it through, and it all became clearer and now, I can write about it.

First of all, I have such an appreciation for me of January 2015 writing about Becoming for the first time, being so optimistic, hopeful and determined. I love that person, she’s ace! The year I hoped for was so far from what actually happened, so many things about the aims I put forth to focus on yielded unexpected results – some involved no results at all, some were merely different, and others changed me.

Mostly what I can describe 2015 as is, a continuous grind that never, ever let up. When I wrote up my end of year meme post for my Dreamwidth journal, I was struck that there were few really big good things. There was my first baby catch back in January, and Continuum in June, getting a part time job that is actually pretty great in September so more money for the last part of the year in our budget, and Christmas with chosen family in December. They’re moderately big, big compared to everything else, but not that big.

The continual good things were my partners, especially Ral and Fox and our determination to have a good life together as a family and household. That was easier only on some days and mostly just hard because of circumstances. We worked hard at managing on one income between three of us, and that income is not an easy one because Fox is pretty much at the end of his tether with this job, but we need it and so he perseveres. Med school for Ral seems to be an unusual method of torture that tries to talk you out of something you’re passionate about, good at, really worked hard to do, and yet get there and it’s like walking on broken glass the whole time. He perseveres too amidst several difficulties, and despite being awful this year was less awful for him than last which is a win. I’m so very proud of them and I love my Bat and Fox so very much. 

Baturday Fox cub close up

We balanced focusing on making sure all the essentials were paid for first, with then afterwards trying to say yes to each other for little things and treats – a game, a cheap dinner out, a new piece of clothing/shoes/my favourite moisturiser. We also focused a lot on kindness with each other, on making home safe and a haven for each other, on being there for each other and sharing the load – being flexible with that because coping varied considerably. We did the best we could and mostly it worked, most of the time – I think that sounds like faint praise when really given everything that we dealt with, it was pretty wondrous.

So Becoming as an enquiry was less about my journey around midwifery and taking on the qualities and actions of a new qualification and career, less around personal self expression and surety. Instead, it was more about Becoming a household that is even more tightly knit, and one that makes do and works hard at that. It was about Becoming more familiar (and less) with dealing with the effects of mental illness and what that looks like as something ongoing without resorting to blame or resentment. Becoming was about making space – in that way of pouring energy into spacemaking to facilitate home, safety and care. And it was also about my Becoming a midwife and being rattled around in that journey throughout the year – it was gruelling and my confidence remains quite shaken.

Essentially this was a much more inward facing year than I’d originally anticipated – I thought it would be more outward projecting. Inwardly there was lots of digging deep for more energy, for coping, for life administration, for health matters, for mental health (mine and partners), for emotional labour, domestic management, for balancing it all. That’s mostly what I remember, constantly steeling myself and seeking to dig deeper. But I managed. We managed. We all came through it, more or less in one piece. We know that eventually it won’t be this hard and that things will be better. In the meantime, we keep digging in and doing the best we can.

Looking more specifically at aims I had or goals I wanted to achieve:

Reading, Media and Fandom

My biggest area of success last year – by far! And an expansion in scope! I already wrote my wrap up post about my reading commitments from the beginning of last year. They went really well overall. I met my overall reading goal of 75 books (although some of them were shorter). There was more diversity although not as much as I’d have liked. I joined a site as a reviewer and have been enjoying the process of reviewing ARCs – it’s a little different than simply reading for pleasure, but I enjoyed it massively and reviewed much more often than I have any other year.

From Ashes Into Light cover Beast's Garden cover Hexomancy cover

I did more tracking of my non-fiction reading for uni – in short it was a lot. I posted some of it, but unless I have the energy to comment on the things it’s just a bibliography, and while pretty, isn’t that interesting. I absolutely wowed myself with reading and reviewing 17 books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge too! I also had a huge number of books on my ‘favourites’ for the year which was awesome and I also got to write an end of year wrap up for those.

A Trifle Dead - cover The Dreamer's Pool - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverVision in Silver - cover Ancillary Sword - cover

Mythmaker coverMy favourite movies of the year included Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both movies that just… elated me on a feminist and fan level in so many ways! Is this what it looks like when you get to be the target audience?

There was also some great television that I watched, new to me but mostly not new in 2015. My favourite was Steven Universe, just everything about it in every way. Followed by Librarians and Elementary both wonderful, as was Rizzoli and Isles, Major Crimes and Castle. I’ve also finally started on Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones and am also really enjoying Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary.

This was also the year that I got back into podcasts in a huge way! I’ve long meant to get back to listening to Galactic Suburbia regularly and they introduced me to Fangirl Happy Hour which I am so delighted with I can’t even describe. I just want to be friends with both of the hosts and talk about All The Things! Fangirl led me to Tea & Jeopardy and Rocket Talk both of which I am also enjoying immensely. Thanks to all of these I experienced the great book recommendation deluge of 2015, my current ‘to-read’ list stands at 687 at the time of writing and I think it actually doubled this year.


Shifting Shadows - cover
Cranky Ladies of History - coverPrudence - coverThe Price You Pay is Red - coverThe Long and Silent Ever After - cover The Bloody Little Slipper - cover

 

 

 

 

Midwifery

I worked so hard last year on this degree, on this new career I am pursuing. I am so passionate about it and determined. I want to be the best midwife I can be. It was a hard year, but I got really good marks overall. However, my end of semester prac didn’t work out and I have to repeat that which added a year to the degree. This meant a lighter second semester – although honestly it didn’t feel like it. The experience of needing to repeat a unit, especially given the reasons was hard to deal with and has left me really raw. The gravity of what I’m taking on continues to gr

ow inside my head and heart but I also still have the sense that I can really do this, that this is possible. I’m still really enjoying the anatomy and science aspect of things, working hard and doing well. I’m excelling in the cultural studies/sociology side of things though several of the topics were gruelling.

We dealt with hard topics termination, abortion, pregnancy loss – all of these early and late and the contextual reasoning, the medical side, the legal side, the emotional side – as carers and looking at women’s perspectives. We looked at medicines and their impact, their benefits and always the weighing of benefits against side effects. I also learned fascinating things, like the formation of an embryo and its layers, what happens in the first 2 weeks, 8 weeks of life, when congenital abnormalities are most likely to surface, why and the effects depending on what happens. We spent a lot of time on breastfeeding, but equally, as much time on choice and supporting women who don’t breastfeed. Much of the time was spent looking at all the ways in which the whole idea of how infant feeding happens in modern society is a no-win game no matter what. And my heart goes out to all women feeding their babies, however they do so because there seems no way in which it is not a loaded choice – pretty much every day. I hope I am equal to supporting and encouraging women given all of the context. We looked more deeply into pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood disorders other disorders and issues related to pregnancy including vaccinations, preventable diseases and their effect on pregnancy/infants and sexual health impacts.

I’m impressed with my cohort – we all work so very hard. Their dedication is as obvious as my own and I think any one of them will be amazing midwives. I do wish I wasn’t the only outward/overt feminist. It was a huge year – so much to learn, question, agree and disagree with – this is really barely skimming the surface.

Cooking

Another area of overt success – for the most part. I did a lot of cooking and mostly it was focused specifically on family meals and everyday eating. This included more concentrated effort on taking lunches to uni/work – which was mostly successful too. Having said that we did have some amazing feasts with friends over. I got to try a bunch of new recipes, added new favourites to my rotation and encouraged Fox to continue learning to cook. He had quite a stressful year so this was a very small target between us, but I think he did really well – he cooked pretty regularly and became more confident in the dishes he was able to produce. Making our own stock continued to be one of the best things for making easy food – I can only imagine how many litres of it we went through – maybe 50L ish each for chicken, beef and vegetable?

I did use more of the cookbooks I have – I cooked a little from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, but not nearly as much as I want to. We spent a concentrated month doing a bunch of dishes from Land of Plenty by Fuscia Dunlop and that was absolutely outstanding. I’m so in love with Sichuan food! I cooked a bit from Jamie Oliver’s older books but sometimes he and I disagree on what is ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). The downside of using the physical books is that it’s not as easy to put into my meal plan (a google to-do list of no frills and all awesomeness). I mean, I put the name, the title and the page in there – but it’s not as easy to click through and see if we need any last minute shopping items.

Meal planning was the big success this year, it’s one of the ways in which we got through the leanest fortnights budget wise, and still managed to eat good and interesting food. Previously Ral and Fox struggled to plan ahead food and didn’t much see the point, but seeing the difference it made to our grocery spending, and the reduction in stress because most of the decisions were already made, most of the shopping already done was pretty convincing. We fell away from it in the last couple of months of the year – but given exams, assessments and illness it’s not surprising. Also I think it’s a little different in Summer and we haven’t quite gotten the knack of it – it’s improving in the most recent iteration.

I was delighted to discover the awesomeness of Instagram (you can find me as the usual username there) and regularly photographed the meals I made. It was a delight and I’ve got such a great visual record of how much effort I put into cooking, and the joy that yielded as far as delicious eating is concerned. I spent a little of the year doing more bread-making as well as making my own creme-fraiche. I also made a batch of preserved lemons. Tiny forays into preserving, but ones I’m pleased with, and I hope to continue improving this.

Homemade Pizza with Slow Cooked Broccoli and Buffalo Mozzarella - Oct 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Petits Pois à la Française Redux Quinoa, Broccolini, Snowpea and Cashew Salad - Nov 2015 https://i2.wp.com/www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg?resize=150%2C150 Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015

Blogging

I blogged awesomely last year! I maintained my streak of ‘5 Things About Today’ posts on my Dreamwidth journal – I’m well into the 400s now! I also posted more regularly here, mostly book reviews, but I posted an update on my theme and also on meal planning/budget stuff. Plus I hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival. I’d have liked more energy to write about feminism stuff, media stuff, and feel like I could write more about midwifery but those things needed too much energy that I just didn’t have. And there will be time again for them later. I’m proud of my efforts – I sincerely met this goal even if there were topical aspects I wanted to cover more.

Self Development

Oh this topic. This largely is what gave in the year just gone. I just didn’t have energy leftover for a bunch of this. I didn’t get my license – I was just too stressed to get over the humps. I need to get comfortable with being familiar with driving again – I’m not driving often enough at present for that. I also think I need to do a driving lesson or two on passing the test. I know I’m a competent driver, but actually doing the test is just a stress barrier I’ve noped out of several times. I still want all the things I wanted at the beginning of last year regarding having my license, but it just didn’t happen.

Unexpectedly, I ended up with a job in September! I’m doing similar stuff to what I’ve done before – content management for websites. The organisation is as far from government and public service as is possible and I’m loving it because of that. I like the perks of this style of organisation – an ad agency. They’re actively seeking to retain people so we have free drinks and snacks, a coffee cart on the floor with super cheap and amazing coffee. Plus everyone is enthusiastic and works hard – it’s actually really nice to be around. I get to feel competent and valued, plus earn money to contribute to the household! I’ve been doing that mostly part time but with chunks of full time and it may continue ad hoc throughout the year until I hit the point of study where I just don’t have a day free to do that any more – we’ll see. I’d like to keep doing it as long as possible as the extra money makes a huge difference right now. Working has meant I could replace clothes and shoes that badly needed replacing, I got a portable air-conditioner for my room – the heat sink of the house which has meant dealing with the heat this Summer just that much easier. Mostly it’s gone on groceries of the non-meal-planning kind, because that fell away when I had less time, and that too is worthwhile and a luxury.

SeClouded Leopard Close Uplf-expression and letting myself be myself. I think this took a hit this year, but there were things. I got my hair cut short and am enjoying it immensely. I replaced clothes and while my style is still a little bit all over the place, I like the clothes I have and have acquired – especially my dresses with POCKETS! I bought more things with cats on them to wear! If I was a cat, I’d be this cat.

I didn’t do dancing, yoga or Pilates, but I did do a reasonable amount of walking – not as much as I’d liked. I visited the zoo quite a lot. Sexuality largely wasn’t a priority – mostly I expect because of stress. But I love my partners and feel loved by them in return. Actually, we all had a hard year last year which seems uncanny given the number of us.

Socialising

I did manage social stuff this year, I made a concerted effort and it paid off. I felt like I still missed opportunities to enjoy time with friends and loved ones, but I also know how limited my energy was. I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I have the best friends both here in Melbourne and elsewhere, I treasure you all so very much.

Community stuff, it really didn’t happen – something had to give and I just noped out of this in the end. There is only so  much time and energy – I am not doing so well in having enough energy for myself and those immediate in my life, so it isn’t realistic to think I can volunteer extra time and energy. Actually, I expect this will just have to wait until I’m no longer studying.


How to conclude after all of that? An epic post if ever there was one, but I feel like in writing this I’m properly putting 2015 to rest. And that’s necessary because it’s time to embark on my theme for 2016, which is less of a clear beginning and more of a transition. But for a genuine transition to take place, there has to be reflection, evaluation, an accounting to oneself, an awareness of how far you’ve come, who you are at the end of all this and how to face forward for the future. If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this thank you, it means a lot. Next will be the reveal of my 2016 theme, but that post is still percolating. Finally, if you’ve done any kind of new year theme, focus, word, resolution write up, please let me know – I’d love to read it. Also, if you want to do something but are not sure how, feel free to comment and ask me, I’m happy to talk about it and share thoughts.

Media to soothe and uplift

I have a list in my to-do list keeper that is my ‘Women Are Awesome and People Can Make A Difference’ movie list. I thought rather than it languishing in a place only I can see and appreciate it, that maybe I’d share it here. Also, you might have other suggestions that I could add to the list.

Obviously, these things are subjective and what I’ve got on my list may not work for you at all, which is completely fine. I’m interested in your thoughts, and your suggestions. I would like to expand my comfort watching list, I think it could be a lot more diverse but given this is a comfort watching list, I am not sure where to start (I’m doing very little non-comfort-watching of anything at present).

With no further delay, the list:

  • Princess Diaries I and II
  • Legally Blonde I and II
  • Hairspray
  • Mamma Mia
  • Steel Magnolias
  • Rent
  • Clueless
  • A Destiny of Her Own
  • GI Jane
  • Spy Kids 1 – 4

I realise that I’ve just given you the list without any critical explanation as to why it’s there, but I’m not up to writing that right now, though maybe I would be interested in revisiting that later – right now I am more interested in what you think of the list and what other movies you’d suggest.

I think it likely that I could add ‘The Sapphires’ and ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ to the list – but I haven’t re-watched them in so long that I don’t know right now, it will have to wait until I can deal with watching things that might not be comforting.

This is just the movie list, I have a whole separate watching pattern for television that maybe I’ll also post about.

 

Let’s have a conversation about communication and interpersonal skills…

Specifically I wish to talk about the lack of emphasis on teaching communication and interpersonal skills. This is the first of perhaps several posts in this vein.

First of all, what I want to preface this post with, is to affirm that people do learn this stuff. We do think about this stuff – some of us, quite a lot. However, I believe that while some of this is covered in early childhood learning, by the time we get to high school it’s negligible or non-existent.

We go through teenager-hood and then are sent out into the world as brand spanking new adults, where expectations are high but teaching, mentoring and the ability to safely practise are low.

On most job advertisements, there is a requirement for the applicant to demonstrate good communication and interpersonal skills. In our daily lives we personally talk to and communicate with many people.  We develop friendships and romantic relationships, we often have families that we relate to as well. Yet we don’t generally get more intensive teaching beyond our growing up basics about how to do all of this.

If we’re lucky we figure a bunch of things out early on and run with them. We learn how to make friends, sometimes we learn how to deal with friendship conflicts, sometimes we learn how to be in a romantic or sexual relationship, sometimes we learn how to deal with conflict here too. However, it’s all by doing, in the deep end when and where the consequences of your actions really make a different and unintentional (or even intentional) harm is very possible. It’s so unnecessary.

There are also those of us for whom figuring out communication doesn’t happen like that. Those of us who fall into this space continually find ourselves frustrated and flummoxed as to why things with other people don’t work out. We may have an inkling that it’s something we’re doing or not doing, but we may be utterly confused about what it might be. For those of us in this situation how are we meant to learn how to communicate better?

I get frustrated seeing people struggle over what I know to be issues of communication and interpersonal skills. I get frustrated knowing that the skills needed are well within reach to anyone who cares to learn – and has the opportunity to be taught in a safe and caring manner. So often this isn’t the case and it saddens me.

What tops this off for me, is that when workplace morale, culture and communication go out the window, we pay (either personally or companies) a large amount to then do a bunch of learning about communication and interpersonal stuff that we could quite easily have learned as a part of our general schooling.

Why do we have to get to a dire point of noticing that we’re missing some key skills and support before we are able to do anything about it? In some cases, we’d rather put on a strong front and deal with it through determination alone. There has to be a better way. I want to see these and related skills (like ethics) taught throughout schooling and before we enter the workforce, take on a trade, go onto further study, go travelling, or become a stay at home partner and/or parent (or any other life choices that we might wish to make that I’ve forgotten to mention).

There is no substitute for the communication skills I’ve (painstakingly) learned – mostly through that gauntlet of getting it so very wrong before I could begin to get it right. I’ve hurt people I cared about, I’ve alienated people, I’ve made situations worse where I couldn’t figure out what on earth I was doing wrong. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the years to turn that around. I’ve become very good at these skills and relationships in general by virtue of the fact that having spent far too long getting it wrong, I was deeply invested in having it go right.

The confidence I have now gained in my communication ability including with interpersonal skills is hard won and I’m proud of it, but more than that… I want to give it away so that other people don’t have to go through that same gauntlet of painful (sometimes traumatic) experiences before it all starts to come together. It’s not necessary to learn by trauma, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – and I have to say again – there has to be a better way.

Everything we do in the world, at some level almost certainly involves another person and it baffles me that we spend so little time teaching communication and interpersonal skills. If they underpin so very much of what our everyday lives are about, how is it that we value the teaching of these skills so little? Is it like that unwinnable equation of motherhood being the ‘most important’ job you’ll ever do while simultaneously being the lowest paid (by which I mean, we pay for the privilege).

I don’t pretend to know, but along with ethics, critical thinking and other community minded learning, I advocate to see communication and interpersonal skills being taught formally as a vital life skill – as important as being able to read or write.

 

Another Link Salad!

Another set of recent(ish) links for your collected enjoyment/appreciation.

First up, a recipe: Swedish Meatballs (you know, like the ones from Ikea that many of us know and love?) This came out beautifully and was well appreciated by my family.

Communities like this delight me beyond measure! How to save a library: residents from Stony Stratford borrow all the books in their local library in an attempt to avoid it being closed down.

To say that I am humbled by this is an understatement. Given the horrible treatment our detainees experience at the hand of our government, that these individuals would still reach out to us following the Queensland floods is truly amazing. It is well beyond time for us to put an end to the way in which we engage with asylum seekers.

Rebecca Drysdale kicks ass in this awesome music video “It Gets Better” in response to the It Gets Better Project started by Dan Savage in response to teen homophobia in the United States. From the website it looks like there will be a book coming up for release in the US on 22nd of March, preorder here if you’re interested (all proceeds will be donated to assist LGBTIQ youth).

Yet another reason why Twitter wins all over Facebook, contesting a gag order {link broken so removed} relating to US Government request for user information it is clear that they have rather awesome privacy ethics.

Twelfth Planet Press has recently announced a plan for 2011 releasing a series of female author collections collectively to be known as ‘The Twelve Planets’. The list of authors being showcased by this series include: Margo Lanagan, Lucy Sussex, Rosaleen Love, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Deborah Biancotti, Kaaron Warren, Cat Sparks, Sue Isle, Kirstyn McDermott, Narrelle M Harris, Thoraiya Dyer, Stephanie Campisi. There are several ways to get your hands on these amazing collections, check out the Twelfth Planet website for ordering details.

A message of productivity on why you should avoid reading email first thing in the morning. It’s a technique that I’ve used a fair few mornings since reading it in order to get a chunk of study out of the way before I get caught up in minutae.

Recently a 19th century French townhouse has been opened to the public after being sealed for the last 100 years. The photos are just beautiful and the idea that something like this has stayed preserved as a vision of what a yesteryear ‘everyday’ looked like.

In a different and less positive vision of the everyday, Andrea talks about rape culture asking the question ‘Who Will Rape Me?’ Creating a discussion context that considers the likely reality that a great number of women in their life times will be subjected to at least one instance of sexual violation or assault.

Going back to the revolution in Egypt, a few different links for you. In this video Waseem Wagdi talks about the events in Egypt, dated 21st January, 2011. This facebook album depicts images of women in Egypt, as in the media coverage there were few mentions or visuals of women participating in the protests. In this article, Techland discusses ‘World Web War I‘ and why Egypts digital uprising has been so different. Finally, two images of humanity as an ‘us’, one the celebration of a wedding in Tahrir Square {link broken so removed}  where the Egyptian protests took place and another showing Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers {link broken so removed} . Here is the Al Jazeera announcement of Mubarek resigning – so much promise for the future in this result! Truly my heart goes out to the Egyptian people and my will stands with theirs that they choose the future pathway of their country and its leadership. As a demonstration of ‘usness’ it is pretty spectacular and I am still, even now, deeply moved by it.

More on the concept of ‘us’ and community, this is much closer to home. There has been a brilliant summer initiative running in Fremantle this summer called ‘The Cappuccino Strip Street Club‘. On the first Thursday in the month, people gather in a selected street location engaging in activities of ‘placemaking’ and togetherness. There’s a facebook group that’s open invite if you’re interested here. Rugs, couches, chairs and tables take over the road spaces. Costumes, performances, children playing and adults merry-making fill the space and people come together, reclaiming space from cars and traffic, for people. It’s pretty amazing to participate in, I’ve watched some great performances, met lovely people and just relaxed and enjoyed being in the place that first stole my heart.

In the realm of science fiction, Marianne de Pierres has just had her first YA novel ‘Burn Bright’ released – I’m ecstatic about this and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! If you haven’t seen the amazing book trailer, check it out here. The second book in this series ‘Angel Arias’ is already a hot topic and so is the book soundtrack of the same name by Yunyu, there’s a trailer preview of the soundtrack here.  In other science fiction related linkage, this Tor blog asks where is the polyamory in SFF? A question I’m highly invested in myself, and though I know of a few different scattered titles, aside from the Robert Heinlein they’ve required quite the hunt and I’d love to see more exploration of different family, relationship and people/beings connecting setups in a genre space that proposes to speculate.

And now we break for a baby bunny picture. It just cheered me up and made me feel squishy and happy. We all need that sometimes! Also for your enjoyment and cheering, this UPular remix.

This blog post on friendship guidelines is an interesting one, I don’t agree with everything it puts forth, but the idea that being discerning in friendship is a privilge is one I’m interested in engaging with, and actually is a privilege I’m happy to be part of. I’ve recently been in situations that have led me to remind myself that minimum standards for human engagement are just that: minimum standards. They don’t even dictate the probability or likelihood of friendship, just that as one human being engaging with or relating to another there are certain minimum expectations I hold for communication and engagement.

So as part of the recent flooding in Queensland, premier Anna Bligh engaged an AUSLAN intepreter whilst giving out updates on cyclone and flood through media services. For some strange reason there was a lot of criticism for that, and this video is a response to that criticism from the Victorian Council of Deaf People.

This interactive webgame ‘Spent‘ challenges the idea that you may never need help, may never end up poverty stricken and unsure how to make it through. Very interesting and quite confronting in places. US centric, but no less pointed for that. 

Yet more awesomeness and light heartedness! The most awesome cello battle and video clip (very slashy too) where Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic play ‘Smooth Criminal’ by Michael Jackson.

This video animation ‘Thought of You‘ came up on another social media site and was so beautiful and well made that I had to share. Also, this would have to be my favourite LOLcat ever, on world domination {link broken so removed} no less! More YouTube goodness, a mixture of art, animation and incredible talent, first with ‘Sometimes the Stars‘ by Adelaide band ‘The Audreys’, so beautiful as a song and as a clip. This in addition to the breathtaking power of the internet and fan culture undertaking ‘The Johnny Cash Project‘ in an effort to link together thousands of artwork frames into a music video for Johnny Cash’s last song ‘Ain’t No Grave’.

Natalie Latter discusses the ethical implications of the Australian government choosing to act or not act on climate change. I appreciated the discussion of the ethical stance rather than another article on the economic cost or the economic savings to be made. I am so over the economy as a the most important global focus.

As part of the centenary celebration of International Women’s Day, three links (and a follow up, more dedicated post later, I promise): Annabel Crabb at The Drum discusses the concept of ‘behind every successful woman is a wife‘ and whether our focus should be on getting men out of the workforce instead of predominantly on getting women back into the workforce around child care and other commitments. Selma James reiterates that point and makes several more, in her article looking at International Women’s Day on a global scale. She discusses women in the world,our commonalities and differences in the struggle for equality. Finally, 007 frocks up for International Women’s Day, and brilliantly narrated by Judi Dench this short clip asks the question: ‘Are We Equals?

And finally, how else could I end, but with TED Talks I’ve been watching recently?  Three for your viewing pleasure today, Jody Williams talks about a realistic vision for world peace and the idea of reclaiming the word ‘peace’ with new relevancy. Krista Tippett discusses reconnecting with compassion, and this was a truly stand out talk. Krista discusses compassion as a technology for living and connection in our contemporary world. There was also unexpected very different insight into Einstein as person and not only a scientist. Finally, Van Jones discusses the economic injustice of plastic. I really liked how he talked about the human cost and the concept of disposability in general. Not just about giving plastic bottles a second chance, but people too.