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What's New

What’s New – Summer 2020

It’s summer in San Francisco (where I live)… which means the weather switches between hot and cold, sunny and foggy, with no predictable pattern. With shelter-in-place still going strong in California, I’ve been trying to get outdoors for walks once in a while, but it’s hard. Some days I don’t feel motivated to mess with a mask, so I just stay in. Last week we had some sunny days that inspired me to get out for a picnic, which totally changed my mood. I’d like to do that more often. Plus, it’s kind of fun packing up a lunch like I’m in school again.

How are you all holding up with the quarantine? I hope everyone is safe and well. We’ll pull through this time together!

Here’s what I’ve been up to during the quarantine, and my summer plans. =)

Video Games

For some reason, I haven’t been motivated to play any new video games lately. There’s nothing out right now that really appeals to me. I have Greedfall and may give that a try at some point… but lately all I’ve wanted to do is play old favorites. I didn’t put it together until now, but I think playing old games is like comfort food for me. It’s a safe place to go — where nothing is crazy or unexpected, everything is familiar — during these scary times.

I started with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. After watching The Witcher on Netflix, I thought it would be fun to dive back into my second playthrough of the game, which I started over a year ago and put down about two-thirds of the way through. I put about 10 more hours into the game and am getting very close to finishing it. Although I did have a mishap where I accidentally sold the armor Geralt was wearing from right off his back, so until I could afford another decent set of armor, he ran around shirtless for a couple of in-game days. That was weird.

femshep_kaidanme2More recently, I’ve been replaying Mass Effect 2. I have always loved this game — my favorite in the Mass Effect series by far — but until picking it up again, I almost forgot just how good it is. It really holds up. Even the graphics are beautiful. I’d like to write a post about all of the things that ME2 gets right and that I’d like to see in another RPG someday. There’s just something so special about being able to choose which mission I want to play and which characters I want to come with me on each mini-adventure. And they have unique dialogue in every single mission! I could gush all day about how incredible this game is, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it since. It’s a shining example of BioWare’s good old days.

Books

During the quarantine, I have been reading so much. Books have been helping me fall asleep at night, and I pick up my phone to read ebooks at all hours of the day when I have a few minutes to spare. Sometimes my husband will play a video game for a while, and I’ll just sit next to him reading for hours. It’s been great getting back into the reading habit.

Dry book coverI’m almost finished reading the young adult novel Dry by Jarrod and Neal Shusterman. Apparently Neal is a well-known author, and he co-wrote this book with his son Jarrod. It takes place in a contemporary setting, but in a version of California where people have run out of water. The whole country has been running low for a while, and now that other states have decided to keep their rivers to themselves — no longer sharing with California — the taps have officially run dry.

I love the beginning of the book, when the 16-year-old protagonist Alyssa goes to the supermarket to fill up on water, only to find it already sold out. Everybody is stockpiling, and lines are long. Although obviously a completely different scenario, it reminded me of the toilet-paper hoarding and frantic stockpiling people were doing right before the shelter-in-place order for COVID-19.

After that, things continue to go downhill. Neighbors turn on each other over water, there are water riots, services such as electricity fail as their workers can’t find water, and people start dying from dehydration. Alyssa and her friends end up on the road, and it’s interesting to see the scenarios they encounter along the way. For instance, they find a commune led by an older woman who rations out water to those who need it most, in a civil community. But elsewhere, the few people with water sell it to those in need for crazy prices. One neighborhood uses water from an old tank that’s been out of order for decades, but everyone ends up with dysentery as the water was bad.

The only downside to this book is that some of the characters have started grating on my nerves. They collect additional friends on the road, some more interesting than others — but all are teenagers. Sometimes I struggle to identify with teens in YA novels, and in Dry, I don’t relate to any of them. As the lead, Alyssa is a bit too perfect (and of course every guy in the book has a crush on her). Other characters, like Kelton, are just generally unlikable. For this reason, I’m struggling to finish the novel — but I only have a few more chapters, so I’ll get through it!

I’ve also been reading teaching books and middle grade fiction that I’d like to teach in my classroom someday. I find that I enjoy middle grade books a lot more than YA books (at least from what I’ve read so far). I enjoy reading about that age when kids are figuring themselves out, still very attached to their home lives but also experiencing things like bullying and peer pressure for the first time. They are also sometimes discovering their talents. It’s such a great age, and the novels I read just confirm to me that middle school is where I should be as a teacher someday. =)

Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 10.46.34 AM.pngThe most interesting book I’ve been reading is The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. I thought it would be fitting to read about the Spanish flu during our own time of flu, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure if it would be a boring read. It is not boring! This book is one of the best history books I’ve ever read. It’s written in a clean and engaging style, focuses on key figures so you can connect with “characters,” and explains the facts in plain language so everything is easy to understand. I’m about 35 percent of the way through the book right now — it’s long, so this is a good seven hours in I believe — and so far Barry has covered what the medical profession looked like around 1918 when the Spanish flu pandemic hit. It had just made the leap from old-fashioned blood-letting to actual science-based treatments… but the flu still hit hard and fast. If you’re fascinated by this subject right now, I highly recommend picking up this book!

Writing

content-writing-typewriter-paperballs-ss-1920With extra time at home, I’ve spent a huge chunk of that time writing. Some of you may know I’m writing a science fiction novel (with some romance) that I’d like to self-publish. For inspiration, I’ve been engaging a bit more with the online writing community on Twitter, in Facebook groups, and via Patreon. There’s quite a learning curve when it comes to the publishing process, as I’ll need to find beta readers, a developmental editor, and then tackle things like cover art and ISBNs.

For now, I’m focusing on finishing my first draft this month, so I can spend June editing and then look for beta readings. I’ll also be publishing an author website using a pen name (strictly because I’d like to separate my adult novels from my future teaching career), so for anyone who might be interested in reading my book down the road, I’ll share that here when it’s done. =)

TV Shows

I love television shows, and obviously with the quarantine I’ve been watching a lot to stay entertained.

I’m currently in the middle of Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu, based on the novel by Celeste Ng; it’s great if you like thought-provoking family dramas, this one tackling topics like racism and motherhood (set in the 1990s).

Having kept up with every new episode of HBO’s Westworld this season, I am sad that the season is over already! It flew by. Season 3 takes a very fresh approach to the show, diving into a cyberpunk style as the hosts — specifically Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) — attempts to start a revolution with human Caleb (Aaron Paul) in the real world. Some may prefer the Wild West park of Season 1 — and Season 2 was just a hot mess, in my opinion — but I really dig the cyberpunk atmosphere of Season 3. This has been my favorite season so far!

Lagertha Vikings.jpgWith the news about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the upcoming Assassin’s Creed game, I’ve been interesting in diving into Viking history more. As a former history major and general history nerd, I love the Assassin’s Creed games, and I’m always eager to see where each new installment is taking place in history. After the success of God of War, which dove into Norse mythology, going with a Viking setting seems like a smart choice. So I started watching the TV show The Vikings — and I love it. I should have watched it ages ago.

The funny thing is, The Vikings show premiered back in 2013 on the History Channel — a channel I used to watch for documentaries and informative shows like The Universe and America: The Story of Us. Not all of the channel’s programs were stellar (Ancient Aliens is a case in point), but I still looked to the channel for non-fiction. So when it came out with The Vikings, I was a little taken aback. Was this supposed to be a beefed-up documentary series, or were they just going totally fictional? I wasn’t crazy about them producing such a Game of Thrones-y show, so I never watched it.

Obviously, that was a very biased mistake on my part! The show is incredible, and I’ll probably pick up a book soon (maybe after I finish The Great Influenza) to compare the history in the show with true Viking history. Then I’ll be all nerded out to play Valhalla when it comes out. =)

How are you all doing during the quarantine? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to, and if you have any recommendations for games, shows, or books! I hope you’re all doing well. Thanks for reading. =)

— Ashley

2 thoughts on “What’s New – Summer 2020”

  1. I hear you on returning to old favourites, though for me it’s manifested for TV and not games. There’s a whole bunch of new stuff on Netflix I theoretically want to check out, but instead I just keep watching old Star Trek every night.

    Gaming-wise, I just finished We Happy Few, which I absolutely loved. Haven’t quite settled on what to do next. Fallout 76 and Conan: Exiles are both having free weekends, so I’ve been checking them out, if only to scratch the survival itch We Happy Few left me with.

    I’m not sure either is a game I’ll actually buy once the free weekends are up, but so far I like 76 a lot better. Having an actual storyline helps so much, and Exiles feels like one of those games that was made to be punishing and difficult just for the sake of being punishing and difficult. I’m finding it more aggravating than fun.

    It’s cool you’re getting into viking stuff. I’ve always been a big fan of Norse history and mythology. I’ve never really been an Assassin’s Creed guy, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted by Valhalla.

    I did watch Vikings for a while in the past, but I lost interest after three(?) seasons. I’m really over the “everything is awful and every character is an unlikable scumbag” style of story-telling everyone seems to be doing these days, and it felt like they took too many liberties with history for the sake of sensationalism. There is a lot too appreciate about it, though — the sets and costumes are incredible.

    1. I’m glad to hear you liked We Happy Few, I was curious what you would think. I may still pick that up at some point. And it’s true that going back to old favorites is comforting right now. Star Trek seems like a great choice. As for the Vikings, yees I recently looked up an article about the show to see what was historically accurate vs what wasn’t — really interesting. I’m trying to figure out what book to pick up to learn more about the culture. I do know what you mean about the unlikable characters in every show… that’s something I personally don’t mind, but I have friends who couldn’t get into shows like Breaking Bad for that reason (among many others). It’s been a trend for quite a while I guess! Enjoy your next game and your Star Trek, stay safe. :)

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