Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wizardry, Hells Bells, and a Talking Skull: What More Could Go Wrong?

Wizard-For-Hire, Harry Dresden.
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Harry Dresden usually gets into deep trouble.  Whether it's with trolls, vampires (of four different courts, but all of the same opinion that he needs to die), fairies, thugs, wizards, women, or his know-it-all talking spirit skull, wizard-for-hire has a knack for getting in way too deep with people (or things) that can kill him.  And, hells bells, he would not change it for anything.  The leather duster wearing and gun toting Dresden is sarcastic, handsome, intelligent, and talented, with a white and black sense of good and bad, a strict moral code, and a devil-may-care attitude which helps and hinders him.  Oh, and he mainly uses spells, a blasting rod, totems for protection, and fights Chicago's, the city he loves, underworld monsters, supernatural and human.  The wizard is the creation of American author, Jim Butcher, and debuted in 2000's Storm Front.  Fourteen more books later, Harry's in for at least five more books, according to Butcher; the ever-growing Dresden fan base has devotedly read the books and watched the short-lived Sci-Fi Channel show for 16 years now and continues to be obsessed with the man who is often described as the "grown-up Harry Potter."

The Dresden Files series can best be described as wry, sarcastic, utterly hilarious, heart-breakingly sad, intriguing, and exciting... yes, all of these.  The series traces several over-arching story lines while simultaneously following one book only story lines.  Dresden himself is the catalyst for several of these story lines; his talent and power become the focus of several groups, none of which are too friendly towards Dresden.  On the flip side, he is the impetus for good in the city, trying desperately to stay ahead of the powers of evil that threaten to overtake Chicago and harm those that Dresden loves.  Butcher writes Dresden in a way that he is under-whelmingly human, despite his magical abilities. The character is extremely self-aware, leading the hilarious inner dialogues about his talent, his failings, and what the hell is he going to do next; aka, every person on Earth's regular inner dialogue.  Dresden is that sexy, lovable man your mother warns you about and your father thinks is awesome; Dresden's character alone makes the novels worth reading.

However, the writing is also noteworthy.  It is not whimsical like most fantasy/sci-fi/magic series. Butcher instead weaves a world where the supernatural simmers barely below the surface and although there are the groupies that want to be supernatural, the regular people force themselves to ignore the weird happenings around them.  Butcher manages to create an entire world of weird and unknown. Although Dresden has great power and glowing talents, he knows that he cannot succeed (or at least scrape by by the skin of his teeth) without help from others.  This is where Butcher's fantastic cast of side characters comes in; magic and supernatural powers are mere cliche lagniappe when compared to the interweaving, repeating characters that love and hate Harry Dresden. Archangels, vampires, fairies, werewolves, and cops all come in and out of Harry's life to help him when desperate times call or just to be present when needed. This is definitely a women-rock series, with strong female characters that Dresden relies on for support, intelligence, and to save his life regularly.  Dresden acknowledges that he would be nothing without the women in life and that he is also constantly running from equally strong women out to kill him.

Author Jim Butcher
This is not your typical series.  When researching it, one struggles to find a consistent genre classification for it.  Horror (fight scenes, gore scenes, and the monsters are pretty intense), sci-fi (magic and supernatural), fantasy (magic and a tall, dark, handsome man with outstanding morals), romance (see above), and mystery (Dresden is a wizard for hire to solve mysteries, not to brew love potions) can all be applied.  However, whatever you read and whatever you call it, Harry Dresden is definitely the man for you.  This series is not to be missed.  It is campy at times, and it hilarious at times, but Jim Butcher masterfully weaves in the underlying story of the struggle between good and evil.  This is the ultimate enthralling series to read; you'll zip through it in no time and be left with the rest of the fans, waiting for Peace Talks, the 16th book, due May 10, 2016. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Jenny Lawson is "Furiously Happy"

The world of books is inundated with self-help books.  Losing weight, getting on the right track,
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being happy, successful, healthy, perky, etc... you get the point.  Most of these books are formulaic; if you just follow these steps, life will be shiny, happy, and you will literally glow with all the positive energy and contentedness in your life.  However, as we all know, this is never the case.  Life can be the pits and sometimes hiding under your blanket might seem like the only step to follow.  Blogger extraordinaire, Jenny Lawson, not only is very familiar with these feelings, she revels in them.  The Texas born author and journalist is happily "out" with her diagnoses with a slew of mental illnesses; she blogs about her struggles and published her second book about the subject in September 2015, Furiously Happy.  Furiously Happy is unlike any self-help book you will ever read.  It does not provide answers or give you a goal list to 'get better'; instead, Lawson provides humor and comfort, the entire time reiterating that you are not alone in your sadness, your eccentricities, and your life. Gracing the cover is a picture of her furiously happy, taxidermied raccoon, Rory, who serves as a reminder throughout the book to be furiously happy, a state where one is constantly doing things and having experiences that make them happy, despite impending and inevitable sadness or depression. Lawson's theory is that these experiences will prop you up during the dark times and will serve as reminders that life is worth living and worth experiencing the heck out of.  

Lawson is definitely a breath of fresh air in the area of self-help books.  She has decided to address and tackle an extremely hot button topic with ease and confidence; mental illness is still a taboo topic, one that many books address in either a clinical, matter-of-fact way, or in a 'this is a fight and you need to do this to win' manner.  Yet Lawson's book is more about having adventures and living life to the fullest, along with her mental illness, not despite it.  The book is structured in a series of chapters, consisting of a mixture of  conversations, short stories, anecdotes, lists, and musings.  Lawson captures events in her life, whether the events are fueled by her mental illness or just by the quirks of life that everyone experiences.  Despite the rumor, raunchiness, and eccentricities of life, there is the ever-present theme of the struggles with mental illness throughout.  Lawson does not shy away from the darkness and pervasiveness of her illness; she does not mince words when describing the feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and despair she experiences in her 'down' times.  Instead she uses them as inspiration to live life to the fullest during her 'up' times.  Lawson stresses that, despite being successful and appearing to have everything she could want, she cannot stop the creeping anxiety caused by her illness.  It is a startling realistic portrayal of personal suffering from mental illness, and an accurate depiction of how it can wreak havoc on your perspective and life.  

Author and The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson
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Nevertheless, Lawson maintains a sense of humor and strength throughout the book.  She embraces her 'crazy' side and stresses that mental illness does not take away from one's life, but enhances it in an unique way.  Lawson reminds readers that they are not alone throughout the book; she says that there is a 'tribe' of people with similar struggles and that those experiencing the problems that come with mental illness must remember that they are not alone.  This book is truly an uplifting and encouraging book for people who are struggling; this is not preachy, does not tell you what you should do or what you should have done to prevent problem.  Instead, Lawson is comfort.  She is the friend who makes you laugh, who brings you candy, who is there for you in the 'down' times.  This book is for anyone and everyone; those who struggles with mental illness and those who have experienced sadness or self-doubt.  It stresses that your dark times should be fuel to live furiously happy in the light times; furiously happy will also get you through the dark times.