Sunday, January 29, 2023

Lockwood & Co Is In The News

Lockwood & Co, an adaptation of a series of books by Jonathan Stroud (something is amiss with his website right now, so I can't link to it), premiered on Netflix a few days ago. As an introduction to the Lockwood world, I'm republishing a post from 2016 written after reading the first three books. I've just learned that there are two more, which I'll be seeking out.

Interesting point--a couple of the reviews/articles I've read about the TV show don't mention that it's an adaptation for a book series.


 May 9, 2016 "Lockwood & Co." A Good Binge Read

Well, it wasn't a total binge read because we're having trouble with Interlibrary Loan here, which may be the subject of another blog post one day. So I knocked off the first two books in this series, and then had to cool my heels for a bit before I could get the third.

Jonathan Stroud wrote the Bartimaeus series, which I liked a great deal, particularly Book Three, Ptolemy's Gate. His new series, Lockwood & Co., is totally different and yet similar because, once again, we are in a very intense and detailed alternative England. Though there isn't a character as amazing as Bartimaeus in these books, they're still very good.

 The Lockwood World

In the Bartimaeus universe, a demon world is controlled by human magicians, at least to the extent that they are able to drag various kinds of demons into the human world to do their bidding. These magicians are in positions of power in government.

In the Lockwood universe, a ghost world is totally uncontrolled. The dead turn up not to do the bidding of the living but to torment and even destroy them. Instead of powerful magicians we have children with powers.

Children are able to see the spirits. Depending on their powers/gifts, children may be able to hear spirits, see them, "feel" a presence. Children and teenagers are tasked with protecting adults from the spirit scourge. That is, until the children age out and become adults who need protecting, themselves.

This is a universe in which we have cars, telephones, and doughnuts, but no computers or cellphones.

The Lockwood Characters

Anthony Lockwood, the teenage head of Lockwood & Co., a small, "select" group of ghost fighters, is charismatic, brilliant, and heroic. Note the English cover of The Hollow Boy to your right. Note that Lockwood appears on all the English covers.

He is not, however, the main character in this series. That would be Lucy, one of his agents. She is extremely gifted, spook-wise, and just a little bit sympathetic to the plight of at least some of the dead who are hanging around where they're not wanted. We readers can see that she is a little bit attracted to Lockwood, too.

The third member of this Scooby Gang is particularly interesting because he's the stereotypical tech nerd for the group. Except, remember, I said there is virtually no tech here. Still, he performs the tech nerd function, because he is always running off to archives to do research on their cases.

Oh, wait. There's another character. A Bartimaeus-like character. He's pretty minor, and I'm not sure what's going to happen with him down the line.

The Lockwood Structure

Each book has it's own story-line/adventure with a violent climax that often has an "all-is-lost" moment. At the same time, each book has a modest cliff-hanger, or at least a lead-in to the next volume, making them part of an overall story encompassing all the books. And, like I said, something's going on with that Bartimaeus-like thing that isn't limited to one book.

And What About The Lockwood Darkness?

These are really dark books. Death is a daily threat for everyone, and there doesn't appear to be any hope of a Heaven waiting for those who don't make it to tomorrow. There's no talk of school for children. They go to work young and at horrible, dangerous jobs. If they don't die first, they'll grow up and lose their ability to see and deal with ghosts. What will become of them then?

A lot of YA fantasy is dark. The Bartimaeus books certainly are. So is Skullduggery Pleasant.  The Daughter of Smoke & Bones series is pretty grim, particularly for a romance. And, now that I think of it, I believe all those books have a violent climax, too, with some characters at risk or even lost altogether.

Well, conventional wisdom claims that young (and not so young) readers can safely explore disturbing or even frightening subjects in fantasy because none of this stuff can really happen. The dead don't come back. There are no demons controlled by high-ranking politicians. (Yeah. I know. There's a joke there.) Skeletons don't wear fedoras and drive fancy cars.

Not only can readers explore disturbing stuff in fantasy because it doesn't happen, it's okay to enjoy it. If these things could really happen, it would be so wrong.

Another Lockwood & Co book comes out this fall. If you wait for that, you'll have four books to binge on.

That would be fun. Maybe you could do it in October, for Halloween.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

What Is Going To Become Of This Girl?

Copy provided by Netgalley

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

This Is Not A Personal Statement by Tracy Badua wasn't quite what I expected, which is not a complaint. After being rejected by her top choice college (and all her choices) the main character, Perla, comes up with a plot to go, anyway. I thought she was going to somehow actually attend a full schedule of classes, enjoying freshman life, just not be on the books.

Granted, that would have been quite far-fetched.

Instead, Perla is living a disturbing, secret life, and attending only one class, if I recall correctly. Her plan is to find out what she did wrong with her application and apply again for spring semester.

She doesn't learn much about what she wanted to know, though she does spend a great deal of time thinking about her relationship with her parents who have no idea what she's doing.

I found Perla a little talky as far as her family expectations are concerned. But this is an intriguing set-up for a story and toward the end there is some tension over what's going to become of her. This reader was even left with some tension over what will become of her in the future.

Last fall I read of a man pretending to be a student managing to live on the Stanford campus for ten months. So the living on campus part can happen.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Happy Holidays, People

Clint Patterson@Unsplash
December has beaten me this year. It wins. I'll be taking a break, possibly until the middle of January.

Good luck surviving this month! 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

An Old-Fashioned Girl

Original Content's 20th anniversary year is almost over, and it's been a while since I've done an anniversary post. I stumbled upon these from 2010 related to An Old-fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. I'm doing a post about them, because I think they illustrate something that was going on in the literary blogosphere back in the earlier part of the century. They are, therefore, historical. Also, I don't think anyone says blogosphere, anymore.

Back in the day, it wasn't unheard of to see on-line book discussions. Lauren Baratz-Logsted led a great one at the late, great Readerville community, though I can't remember the name of the book. But the discussion was terrific. Someone at Readerville also led a discussion of short stories, which was good, too. That was how I came to read A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka and that led to me reading The Metamorphosis.  In 2008 I took part in a "Big Read" of a volume of Shirley Jackson short stories, that wasn't particularly successful, though I finished it.

Then in 2010, Mitali Perkins led a monthly discussion of a classic children's book "focusing on race, ethnicity, gender, and class. She and her followers will be looking for what qualifies the book as a classic, but also looking to see if the attitudes in the book are dated in terms of how we feel about race, ethnicity, gender, and class now." I don't know how many books she discussed, because I took part in only one discussion, the one on An Old-fashioned Girl.

Reading this book was the beginning of a turn-around in my feelings about Louisa May Alcott. You can check out my takes on various aspects of the book below. 

What Do We Think Of Them Now?

An Old-Fashioned Girl: What Is It?

An Old-Fashioned Girl: Poverty Is Ennobling--So Long As You're Not Irish

The Women Of An Old-Fashioned Girl

An Old-Fashioned Girl: And In Conclusion

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

This Is What They Mean When They Say "Thought Provoking"

 I attended Facebook friend Sarah Darer Littman's book launch for Some Kind of Hate, published last month. I attended by Zoom, and I meant to catch a picture, but I was distracted because I was late joining. Why? Well, I kind of forgot about it until the last minute.

I mention this, because it illustrates the beauty of Zoom. I sure wouldn't have been driving to that bookstore a minute or so after the event was scheduled to start. I also mention it, because the interview with Sarah at her book launch relating to how she came to write Some Kind of Hate and the background information she's accumulated was fascinating. She has materials at her website on the book.

Some Kind of Hate is written from two points of view, as many YA books are. One is Declan's, a young person who becomes involved with a white nationalist group, and the other is Jake's, Declan's Jewish friend, whose local community becomes a target for Declan's new friends. The points of view almost become separate stories. A book totally from Declan's point of view might have been a hard sell. He's risky, because he's not likable. He's definitely a realistic character: not very strong-willed even before a life-changing accident he brought on himself, and from what I've read, he's the perfect mark for a hate group. But he also is unwilling to accept responsibility for the boatload of grief he brought down on himself and his family. He projects responsibility for his circumstances onto others instead of shouldering it himself, which would then make it possible for him to take some kind of positive action about his life. He also illustrates very well why it is so difficult to reach someone like him. His hate group buddies support his misery and give him beliefs to make him feel better. It is difficult for his family and friends to use logic, fact, or family history to convince him to change, because he believes and belief doesn't require logic, fact, or any kind of knowledge. How deep a hole is he going to dig for himself becomes the narrative drive for Some Kind of Hate.   

I kept talking about this book as I read it, and I think the reason I found it so thought provoking is that I come out of a world similar to Declan's, though much more rural. So I kept thinking, why didn't I or anyone I know go Declan's way? There are a couple of answers: 1. It was a different time, hate groups weren't as prevalent, probably because there weren't as many opportunities for haters to find one another, because the Internet hadn't been invented. I worked for the one Jewish storeowner in our area, so I was aware of verbal unpleasantness directed toward him. But if I hadn't had a connection, I might not have known these things happened in my day and age, there was that little communication in the world. 2. For all I know, people I knew growing up are now members of some of these groups or at least sympathizers. I don't belong to the kind of on-line groups where I would run into them. 

After my sons left home for college, I would hear on the news about some good-awful thing a young man had done, and I'd wonder, Did I remember to tell my kids not to do that? One time I actually asked my younger son about one of these things I'd read about and asked him if I'd ever told him not to do it. He looked at me and said, "You shouldn't have had to."

As I was reading Some Kind of Hate, I wondered if I had forgotten to tell my sons not to be antisemites or racists, the way Declan's parents forgot to tell him. While it appears I didn't have to with my own children, it looks as if kids like Declan have to be told point blank.


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Let's Take A Moment To Complain About December

I am taking a break from my Dan Harris arc to complain about December, an almost annual event here for at least ten years.

As I said in 2017, 

"My control of my time is so tenuous that anything new that enters the playing field, like a holiday that requires hours and days and weeks of preparation, like two of them coming a month apart, is overwhelming. December/the Christmas season packs a double whammy, because in addition to being very time consuming, it involves an emotional toll. Christmas the secular event is supposed to be magic, whatever the hell that is. We're supposed to be creating magic. Yeah, we're talking a whole other level of time with the magic thing." 

Last year things were a lot better, something I put down in a blog post to being a practicing minimalist so I didn't have as much cleaning to do and my Christmas spark book. My conclusion was:

"The best I can offer for writers who observe a labor-intensive holiday of any kind at any time of the year is to get your house in order. Get rid of as much as you can and write everything down."

Things were better last year for another reason, too. A couple of years ago I stopped working on big, intense projects during the month of December. Instead, I spend the month just starting a short piece each day, humor or flash. The ideas are pulled from my journal. A number of last December's starts became published pieces this year.

Success Ruined Me

I remembered last December so fondly that I looked forward to it this year. My recollection of last December clearly became glorified and inflated. For the last six months I've believed that when December came this year, I'd be able to do so many things, because last December went so well. Why, in addition to all those starts I was going to do--coming up with something to do a few sentences and jot a few thoughts on every single day, without fail, you've got to do this, Gail-- I would be able to:

  • Research all these agents I've been thinking about.
  • Plan agent submissions, actually get them written up and ready to send next year.
  • Get all these ideas I've been emailing myself into my journal. (I use my email as a to-do list.)
  • Clean up my three email in-boxes (because, as I just said, I use them as to-do lists.)
  • Do some extra blog posts.
  • Clean my desk.
  • Get some planning done in next year's bullet journal.

On a personal level, I would be able to:

  • Get ready for Christmas.
  • Sew.
  • Write some emails/letters that I've owed since summer.
  • Contact some contractors about some work we want done in the house next year.
  • Bake cookies for a church event for the first time in, maybe, ten or fifteen years.
  • Restart my daily yoga practice. 
By the 4th or 5th of the month, I realized things weren't going well.

Too Much

I planned too much for this month. I had seriously unreasonable expectations. I was living in a fantasy world, something I don't think of myself as doing.

My first thought while writing this was to say that all I can do now is slog through and keep on keeping on. But, no, the month is not even half over. Come on, Gail, pull yourself together, woman.

What I Can Still Do

I can still grab the unit system lifeline that has helped in the past

Again from 2017:

"...if you think in terms of forty-five, twenty, and even ten minute units of time, suddenly work options appear. Forty-five minutes at least a few times a week will work for editing a draft or maybe even progressing with  a new one. Twenty minute sprints each day can help keep you in a new project, even if you can't make a lot of forward movement with it. It can make a dent in blog posts or take care of some professional reading. Ten-minute sprints on a laptop set up in whatever room you're working magic in can allow you to knock off all kinds of work." 

I've used a couple of units of time this morning to jot down today's (and yesterday's) humor start, delete a couple of emails, and finish this blog post. I'll spend the rest of the day on creating magic. 

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Real Problems For Real Kids

 Copy provided by Netgalley

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Between the time I requested this arc on Netgalley and the time I received it, I forgot why I was interested in it. It was until I got to the end and saw a picture of the author that I realized that Figure It Out, Henry Weldon was written by my old blogging buddy, Tanita S. Davis. So to be open and above board, I kind of know the author. But I didn't realize that while I was reading this book, because evidently I don't pay attention to author names on covers.

Tanita has done a very nice job of creating a kids' book developed around children's problems. Henri Weldon has a learning disability specifically related to math. The issue is recognized by her family. In fact, until recently she attended a special school to address her disability. She's now getting ready to attend a traditional school where her problem is still recognized and addressed. This is not a child surrounded by uncaring adults left to fend for herself.

That's a big part of what I liked about this book. Because while Henri is supported, she still has problems. Which, sad to say, is life. Her problems are not those we often see in children's books, the problems adults value big time: Death, divorce, death, old age, death, illness, death, war, death, tragedies, and death. They are the problems that children have and that are important to them.

Problems Like:

  • Getting lost in the new school building. Sounds minor, but isn't being unable to find a classroom a classic adult dream? What's that about, huh? Henri's struggles to get around made me anxious for young family members who will be finding themselves at new schools.
  • Making friends. Not just in the sense of making any friends but making friends who will actually be friends for you. Minor? Then why are we always reading articles about how difficult it is for adults to make friends? It's not minor when it's us, is it?
  • Sibling issues. The problem presented here is fantastic, because it's not about rivalry. It's about support. Should Henri be befriending someone who had a falling out with her sister, even bullied her?
  • Parent issues. Not parents fighting or getting a new boyfriend but parents who have their own work and time problems that they are dealing with in addition to being parents.
On top of all that, foster children are portrayed in a realistic and positive way here. My understanding is that there aren't a lot of foster children in children's literature. So this is significant.

And, finally, Tanita is writing in the third person. Again, that doesn't sound like a big deal, but not many children's books are written in the third person.

Many people are going to admire Figure It Out, Henri Weldon's portrayal of children with learning disabilities and in foster care. But it should also be admired for being a good book.

Check out Tanita's blog, fiction, instead of lies, which features poetry and, right now, Henri Weldon.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Time Management For Writers With No Time--Meditators Don't Have Time, Either

The third in an arc inspired by Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren with Carlyle Adler

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics includes a chapter called I Don't Have Time For This. That's what we're all about here! Harris mentions some things related to time that can apply to writers, too.

What Is The Benefit Of Writing?

Meditators are often looking for particular benefits, which motivate them to meditate. Improved
concentration, for instance, or help dealing with anxiety. What benefits can writers use to motivate them?

  • Publication, of course, but that comes way down the line and often very rarely. It's not that terrific an immediate benefit.
  • Income. Same as above. Income as a serious benefit, the kind that really is life supporting money, doesn't come for a lot of writers. If it does, it probably isn't going to come for a long time.
  • Identity/Lifestyle. This is the benefit that can come early on once you're writing regularly. Writing can establish who you are and how you feel about yourself. Yes, this is kind of woo-woo. Maybe very woo-woo.

You Don't Need A Lot Of Time To Do This

Harris talks about starting with very short meditations. We've been talking here for ten years about using short units of time, also known as segmented time, for writing. 

A completed piece of writing will almost certainly take a great deal of time. But it can be time that's accumulated over days, weeks, months, years. The fact that we don't have the overall time necessary to complete something all at once, doesn't have to stop us from getting started, because little units of time get the job done.

Think In Terms Of Daily-ish

Harris writes about how people new to meditation can feel that they've failed if they can't keep up a daily practice.  We've talked here many times about how exclusionary and judgmental the write every day instruction is. Harris suggests shooting for a daily-ish meditation practice.

Writers can also work daily-ish without writing daily-ish. There's a multitude of things writers need to do, and doing them helps maintain that woo-woo writing identity I mentioned earlier--in addition to the value completing those tasks provides, of course.  

Friday, December 02, 2022

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Another One Of Those Opinion Pieces About Children's Books

Suad Kamardeen @Unsplash
Every couple of years, some mainstream magazine publishes an article trashing children's literature and creating hysteria in the children's literature world. This has been going on a long time, and I gave up responding to them, (and sometimes even reading them) a long time ago, because I felt I was being manipulated. The publishers of these things wanted me all huffy and talking about them, to create buzz for their publications. I don't like just mindlessly giving people what they want.

But here I go, anyway.

This morning, Google News carried in a section labeled "For You" a link to Are There Any Kids Books Out There That Are...Actually Good? by Kathryn Jezer-Morton, which was published Monday at New York Magazine's The Cut.  Jezer-Morton may not have been responsible for the click-bait title. Another one might have made the whole essay hang together better. And I'm not going to argue with her content. What she thinks is bad...what she thinks is

What I'm struggling with is the essay, itself.

She may be using some kind of classic writing format that I'm just not a fan of--knocking down A to build up B. Yeah, I do think that's a thing. She spends a lot of space objecting to a number of titles she appears to be familiar with before she gets to a shorter portion where she concludes SPOILER yes, there are books out there that are actually good. But it doesn't sound as if she's read them. She knows they exist because she asked librarians, and they told her so. She doesn't even name any of the titles of the good books. She links to a list of them that she created. 

What Does It All Mean, Gail?

I'm not sure what to take away from this essay. 

  • I'm definitely not accepting that the books she doesn't care for are bad or the books the librarians recommended are good, because anyone who has read here much knows I'm never going to do that.
  • I keep wondering how could this essay have been written in a more meaningful, but still short, way? Maybe just stick to a piece about her frustration with her kids' reading, which may have been the initial inspiration? Waited until she'd read some of the so-called good books so she could form an opinion about them herself and not just tell us librarians say they're good? Do a little compare and contrast between a book from part A and a book from part B?
  • What I really want to see now is an opinion piece trashing adult books, en masse, the way we get these pieces trashing children's books, en masse. They may be out there, and I just don't hear about them, because adult books don't seem to get people fired up the way kids' books do.


A few of my Facebook friends have books on Jezer-Morton's list of good books. Hurray!