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Book Review – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

This book is outside of my normal genre reads, but I picked it up on a whim one day last month. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is a guide to help declutter and tidy your home. It has soared to prominence and recently inspired a Netflix series.

This book lays out a method to approach your belongings to help determine which ones to keep and how to organize them to have a more tidy living space. The concept is a simple one, but the author lays out her thoughts in a way that helps to focus the reader upon choosing which items to keep rather than which ones should be disposed of.

This was a particularly helpful way for me to look at my own things. I tend to accumulate items and I have trouble disposing of anything that may have a future use. I also like to make piles of papers and books which sit and accumulate dust while I tell myself I’ll sort and/or read them some day.

The author instructs you to hold each item and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy” or not. While this concept has been lambasted in cartoons and articles on social media, when you read the more nuanced descriptions of her process, it makes a lot of sense.

Part of the way to organized!

One of the other ways in which Kondo’s approach is helpful is that it divides your belongings into discrete categories, starting with clothing, then books, and progressing from there. This road map can keep you more focused and helps to see how much you already own in each category.

So does this process work?

Sort of. I began my tidying a few weeks ago, right after reading this book. The process can be as quick or as slow as you want, and the author even throws out a 6 month time frame as an average.

I began with clothing, but due to time constraints, I chose to break that category up into smaller sections (dresses, skirts, pants, etc.) so that it was manageable in short blocks of time. Oddly, the process was fun and I soon had whittled my clothing down by about 50%.

The second part of Kondo’s process is to organize what you have left by stacking items vertically as much as possible. She gives directions on how to fold clothing and guidelines on what should be hung up instead of stored in drawers.

So many bins for organizing!

I think that so far, the most challenging part of the process is figuring out what to do with the items that I have chosen to discard. I’m trying to donate much of it and while I’m waiting for my pickup date to roll around, the bags of clothing that I’ve set aside make my home feel more chaotic.

Overall I think it has been a helpful exercise to start, but I still have a long ways to go. I’m planning to read Kondo’s second book soon (Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up).

Have you read either of her books? Have you watched Tidying Up on Netflix? Let me know in the comments.

Find all my book reviews here.

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Book Review – The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky is the third and final volume in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. I read this as an e-book, and while this wasn’t my favorite book by the author, I found it to be an intriguing series that finally brought the reader to an understanding of the strange world of the Stillness by the end.

The Stone Sky won the 2018 Hugo award for Best Novel, making Jemisin the first author to win this accolade in three consecutive years. Follow these links to find my reviews for the first book (The Fifth Season) and the second book (The Obelisk Gate).


This book begins immediately after the events in The Obelisk Gate, so it’s going to be hard to avoid spoilers if you aren’t caught up to that point. Read on at your own risk.

Essun has survived after activating the obelisk gate, but has found that she must now pay the same price as Alabaster when she uses orogeny at this point. Her body is being gradually transformed into stone. Each time this happens, she lets her stone-eater companion, Hoa, consume the inert flesh to relieve her of its weight.

Hoa features a greater part in this final book as he tells us of his origin. He was not always a stone-eater, but even in his previous form he had never been accepted as a normal part of society. Finally, we learn what happened in the distant past and how the world came to be the way it is.

The third part of this book follows Nassun, Essun’s daughter, as she comes to terms with her the ability to change the world and possibly end it for everyone. While her mother seeks to heal the world and repair the damage wrought by humans, Nassun sees salvation in complete destruction of humanity.

Once it is clear that mother and daughter have both similar but opposing goals, their stories converge, building to a final conflict. Schaffa exists as a father-figure to Nassun in this book, continuing his transformation and showing how even the Guardians have been victims through history.

I enjoyed this series, but I wonder if I missed some of the finer points while struggling to figure out how the world worked. One example is that I didn’t understand why Essun would partially turn to stone for using orogeny after she had activated the obelisk gate. I think it may be fun to re-read all of the books to catch those details on a second read, but I don’t often have time to do this. (Too many books, too little time!)

If you’re looking for fantasy with a unique setting, world-building, and realistic characters, then this is a great series. Themes throughout the books include looking at oppression of different races and classes, suppressing history, and a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – All the Birds in the Sky

I picked up this audiobook of All the Birds in the Sky on a whim because Audible had a 2-for-1 sale where you had to choose from a particular list. I’m really glad that I purchased this one because it was a great story. I was already aware that it had won the 2016 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and seeing as how I had never read anything by Charlie Jane Anders, I thought I’d give it a try.

All the Birds in the Sky is a novel about two main characters: Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead. At the beginning of the book, we see each of them as children as they discover their special abilities.

Patricia attempts to save an injured blue jay, losing herself in the woods where she speaks to a great tree and learns that she is a witch. When the tree poses an impossible question, she emerges from the episode as if it were a dream, doubting her powers and losing her memories of much of the experience.

Laurence tinkers with technology and successfully builds a 2-second time machine that help him escape embarrassment and bullying at school. He runs away from home to see a rocket launch, builds a supercomputer in his closet, and is always creating new gizmos.

When Patricia and Laurence meet in middle school, they end up as friends almost by default. They are both outcasts from the regular social scene and are harassed by the other students. Even their own parents find fault in their unique interests.

As the book progresses, there isn’t a set conflict or antagonist; it’s more like Patricia and Laurence against the world. They have their own personal ups and downs as they mature and try to work on something meaningful to society. The other main theme in this novel is one of magic versus science, with Patricia clearly on the side of magic, and Laurence the champion of science.

So far, I think this is the best book I’ve read for 2019. I did predict certain events in the plot, but those parts were foreshadowed and felt natural when they did happen.

The audio recording for this book was smoothly read and I had no problems maintaining my focus on the words. While the book is listed as #1 in a series of the same name on Goodreads, I see no clear need for a sequel. This book has a solid and satisfying ending that doesn’t leave any dangling plot threads. I’m going to look out for more books by this author.

Graphic Novel Review – Monstress Vol. 2 (The Blood)

Monstress Vol. 2 (The Blood) is a graphic novel written by Marjorie Liu, with art by Sana Takeda. I had read the first volume in November and my review of it can be found here. While I enjoyed the first book, this second one was even better.

Maika Halfwolf is possessed by a monster that may be a demon or a god, but is haunted by her mother’s past and pursued by familiar and unknown enemies. In this second volume, she arrives at the city of Thyria and looks for passage to the Isle of Bones, where she hopes to find answers about her mother.

Master Ren, a talking, two-tailed cat necromancer (or nekomancer), and Kippa, a fox-girl continue to risk their lives at her side, and Maika finds other friends amongst the pirates of Thyria, many of whom knew her mother.

This book is just as dark in its subject matter in some parts as the first one. Maika’s demon must feed, but she has learned to retain some control over the details. The world in Monstress is harsh and many of its inhabitants have long lives and old rivalries.

I enjoyed this book better than the first because I already knew the characters. It also felt more linear in its structure, with a more direct style of story-telling and fewer leaps to different locales and times. When the plot does show past events, these scenes felt more natural in this second volume.

The artwork in this book continues to be gorgeous. The sea and its inhabitants are brought to life with the same aesthetic as the earlier gothic structures. Simple conventions such as changing the background in text bubbles make it easy to follow a particular non-human conversation.

The next volume of Monstress is sitting in my to-be-read pile and I’ll be reading and reviewing the third book soon.

Find more of my book reviews here.

How Do I Decide Which Fencing Tournaments to Enter?

I have a bit of a break between fencing tournaments, triathlons, and running events for the next few weeks. Instead of a write-up on any particular event, I thought that it might be helpful to figure out why I enter certain tournaments and not others. This post was inspired by two things:

  1. I had to sit down and decide on which fencing tournaments to enter for the next few months.
  2. A discussion on a Veteran Fencing group last week about how everyone decides which tournaments to attend.

For most fencers in the group discussion, it seemed to come down to factors like distance, costs involved, and how many other fencers were going to attend.

December and April NACs

Obviously, I would enter the Veteran NAC events. But some of these tournaments also feature other levels, like Div I, Div II, or Div III. And would I enter both the Vet-40 age group and the Open Vet event? I decided that I’d do both the Vet-40 and Open Vet events at all the NACs. I almost entered Div I in the December NAC, but then decided against it. I didn’t feel like I was physically up to that level. It turned out that I was sick for part of the December NAC, so I would not have had a good day in Div I if I had entered.

I just registered for the upcoming April NAC, and this time I decided to enter both the Vet events and the Div II. I can have a good day in Div II at times. Even though the Div II event didn’t fit in with my initial goals for the season, I found that I’m already looking ahead to next year. I’d like to fence that Div I event next December, so fencing more non-Vet events like the Div II NAC should help me prepare.

Local and Regional Events

As far as local and regional (ROC) events go, I have been entering these when they fit in my schedule. I weigh the distance of the event with the costs of entry, hotel, and travel, and then look at how many fencers have entered. I fenced in a local ROC that had low attendance and a non-ROC event that was nearly as populous as a NAC. Both situations were helpful to me, I think.

I also find that I’ve been more goal-oriented in my training this year. Every day before practice I think about what my goals are for that session. The specific goals are based on how I’m feeling and how soon the next tournament is. Some of my more common goals lately have been:

  • Move well, using small footwork, patience, and don’t lean.
  • Work on the specific actions from a lesson.
  • Fence like it’s a tournament in terms of strategy and actions.
  • Work on my distance when retreating and draw the attack on my terms.

How do you decide which tournaments to enter? Do you have goals for your fencing? Let me know in the comments.

For more fencing articles, look here.

Book Review – Unbound

Ooooh, look! This is another series where I’m working to catch up. Unbound is book 3 in the Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines. I listened to the audiobook version of this, narrated by David de Vries.

You can find my review of book 1, Libriomancer, here.

And my mini-review of book 2, Codex Born, is here.

I first started to read this series because I loved the premise behind the magic. Libriomancy allows its users to harness the magic of books. If enough people have read a book, then a libriomancer can reach into the text and pull out items created by the readers’ belief. Now there are some limitations: whatever the libriomancer tries to bring into the world must fit through the pages, and some books deemed too dangerous have been locked.

Seriously, how cool is that?

The first two books in this series (Libriomancer and Codex Born) introduce us to Isaac Vainio, a member of the Porters who works a day job as a librarian. The Porters were formed by Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, creator of libriomancy, and immortal overseer of its use. Their goal is to make sure libriomancy is practiced safely and that the rest of the world never discovers the magical world.

By the beginning of this third book, Isaac has been thrown out of the Porters and had his magic stripped away by Gutenberg. At the conclusion of the previous book, his teenaged libriomancer student, Jeneta Aboderin, was kidnapped and possessed by an ancient sorceress, Meridiana. Isaac struggles to track down Jeneta while trying to come to terms with the loss of his magic.

Despite his banishment from the Porters, Isaac still has friends who can help him: dryad Lena Greenwood, and therapist Nidhi Shah. His pet fire spider, Smudge, hasn’t been affected by Isaac’s loss of magic and ignites when danger is near. Through persistence and research, he manages to learn that Meridiana is trying to find a bronze device created by Pope Sylvester II that would allow her to completely enter our world and bring the power of a ghost army under her control.

Isaac resorts to black-market magic from vampires, fellow outcast sorcerer Juan Ponce de Leon, and the students of Bi Sheng (another ancient book-magic group) in his quest to find the bronze artifact.

The action never stops in this entertaining story, with some surprising and darker twists than in the earlier volumes. The presence of the magical world is no longer hidden from the public, and the series feels more expansive as complications arise. While the main plot is wrapped up in this book, not everything is resolved. Book 4, Revisionary, will be up soon in my reading list.

See more of my book reviews here.

Fencing Tournament Report – Capitol Clash 2019

The weekend before last, I traveled to compete in the 2019 Capitol Clash just outside of Washington, D.C. This fencing tournament has been held for ten years and has historically been a youth event. This year, they added a non-regional Veteran’s category, and several fencers in my club (youth and veteran) entered.

Event Schedule and Travel

For the Veteran events, the tournament was simply a local tournament, with no points or qualifications up for grabs. However, for sabre, it ended up being well-attended, with 16 women and 38 men. The youth tournament featured Y-8, Y-10, Y-12, Y-14, and Cadet events, and was designated a SYC, so fencers could win regional points.

With all of the events for age groups, all three weapons, and men’s and women’s divisions, the tournament stretched over 3 days. I woke up very early and drove to the tournament on Saturday morning to arrive by close of check-in for Vet WS at 12:00 p.m. The organizers had communicated minor changes in the check-in time in the weeks prior to the tournament.

Location and Venue

The tournament was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, just south of Washington, D.C. The Gaylord chain of hotels are enormous self-contained resorts, with multiple restaurants, spa and fitness center facilities, pools, and convention spaces. I had actually been to a work conference at this same Gaylord a few years ago, so I knew what to expect.

The hotel offered a discounted rate for fencers, but I didn’t stay there. The parking was discounted for the event, and both self-park and valet options were available. The Gaylord is located within National Harbor, a larger development along the Potomac River featuring shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.

Vendors on-site.

The tournament was held in a large convention hall. It felt like a mini-NAC, having the same types of strips, scoring equipment, raised bout committee area, intercom announcements, and finals strip. Several vendors were on site for equipment needs, although I didn’t pay much attention to them, not needing to purchase anything.

The organizers did insist that all fencing bags were placed in a particular area, in delineated rows on tables and the floor. The strips for the Vet events were off to one side, near an empty part of the hall where no one seemed to mind the bags. I ended up arranging my bag near a column in a vacant area of the hall.

Format and Referees

The tournament was conducted in a standard manner, with one round of pools followed by 100% of fencers advancing to a direct elimination round and no fence-off for third place. For the women’s event, we ended up with two pools of 8. Larger pools mean more bouts of fencing, and I think most fencers prefer that to smaller pools.

We did end up delayed with the start of the event by about an hour. I’m not completely sure what led to the delay. I had warmed up, intending to be ready to start on time, but I didn’t feel that stiff or cold after sitting for an hour. I was sore going into the event, so more warm-up may have actually been detrimental.

Once we finally started, the rest of the event ran smoothly. The referees were consistent with their calls, although I had some trouble hearing one of them (and other fencers did too).

The gold medal bout was held on a raised strip and was delayed a short time because other events were also finishing up. Video replay was available for the gold medal bout.

The Capitol Clash also hosted a competition in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). I had never seen this live before and had hoped to watch some. However, the HEMA events had concluded early in the day, so I missed them.

My Fencing

I had a good day! I had been fencing pretty well in practice and had been working on a few new things that had finally started to click. However, this tournament was also practice, with nothing in particular at stake.

I had been out late the night before my early-morning travel, so I wasn’t feeling great, being a bit dehydrated, sore from my triathlon training, and just tired.

Despite all that, my fencing was very consistent and stable all day. I stuck to my plan, took a few risks when needed, and managed to pull off some of the old/new maneuvers I had been practicing (sky hooks, mainly).

One goal of this tournament was to work on my attacks against people I don’t know. I’ve been trying to get faster while still being able to see the distance properly. It sort of worked, but I have more work to do. I also found that I was more patient when pursuing an opponent down the strip, which was something I had failed to do in my last event.

By the end of the day, I found myself in the gold medal bout where I kept my cool and won 10-4. This earned me a shiny new C19! You can watch a video of the final bout below. My bout starts at 1:30. The men’s gold medal bout is at 1:38.

The final results for all the events can be found here.

My teammates in the men’s event had a great day also, with 3rd place, 3rd place, and 7th place finishes.

To see more of my fencing tournament reports, look here.

Book Review – The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2017. You can find my review of the first book, The Fifth Season, here.


The story in this second volume follows two main point-of-view characters, Essun, who we know from the first book, and Nassun, her daughter, who we have only seen through Essun’s memories up until now.

The prose is written in the same unusual style as the earlier book, with sections of second person point-of-view told by an unknown narrator in staggered interlude chapters. (That narrator is revealed toward the end.)

The world-building continues to shine in this book. The geologically active continent has been broken, and a volcanic winter (what the people call the Fifth Season) is imminent. Certain people with the skill to use orogeny can pull the energy of the earth’s heat out to power magical feats. Additional aspects of magic are developed in this second volume, and I did get a little confused about which energy did what and how.

Essun has settled in at Castrima, where her ex-lover and mentor, Alabaster, tries to teach her to harness the power of the obelisks. His time is limited as he slowly turns to stone in the aftermath of breaking the world. As he petrifies, he is devoured by his companion stone eater. Essun’s own stone eater ally, Hoa, continues to protect her, but no one knows why the stone eaters have made their specific alliances or what their endgame may be.

The timeline for Nassun reverts to the first book’s events and begins immediately after her father, Jija, murders her brother for being an orogene. In The Fifth Season, I had wondered why Jija had not gone on to kill Nassun, knowing that she must also be an orogene.

The other main character in the book is Schaffa, Essun’s Fulcrum Guardian. He had been left for dead in the aftermath of the Guardians’ attack at the end of the first book. Schaffa succumbs to a deep and evil power to save himself and emerges with memory loss and a deadly ignorance of his own abilities.

This book was about relationships between individuals as well as classes and races. Much of the plot deals with how Essun and Alabaster learn to work together again, while Nassun deals with the dying relationship with her father as Schaffa replaces him in that role.

The setting of Castrima, an underground geode where orogenes live amongst non-orogene humans, provides a backdrop for conflict between the two peoples. Castrima’s life-preserving mechanisms will not work without an orogene present, but tensions rise and old prejudices drive people to violence.

Essun must control her own power as she becomes a target in this power struggle. She has to learn from Alabaster in a desperate attempt to save all the people and end the seasons forever.

I enjoyed this story a lot, but found the first book to be better. The action in this middle book felt like it stagnated a bit, but it was still fascinating to read about the world that Jemisin has imagined. I’m looking forward to the third book, The Stone Sky.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

I have been reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series for many years, so I don’t know how I didn’t see this book until just recently. I listened to the audiobook version (like I have for the entire series).

So… this is an odd book. Overall, I liked it, but it definitely won’t be for everyone. If you’ve never read any of the Vorkosigan books, this is *not* the one to start with. This review (and the book) will have inevitable spoilers from Cryoburn, so if you haven’t read that one, with its gut punch of an ending, then just go away now.

No, really. Don’t keep reading if you haven’t read Cryoburn. Spoiler right below the cover.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is set on Sergyar three years after the death of Count Aral Vorkosigan and follows two main characters: Vicereine Cordelia Vorkosigan and Admiral Oliver Jole. Miles, the protagonist for the majority of the books, does appear later, but this is not his story.

Cordelia reveals that both herself and Aral had stored their genetic material in case they decided to have more children in the future. After the difficulties encountered with raising Miles, they never followed through with this plan. Cordelia has now decided to fertilize several embryos and make use of the uterine replicators at the new reproduction center on Sergyar so that she can raise the daughters she had always wanted.

Complicating this scheme, Cordelia informs Admiral Jole of her intentions. While I don’t remember if the earlier books ever hinted at this, we learn that Aral was bisexual and had initiated a relationship with Jole decades ago, with Cordelia peripherally involved and accepting of this non-traditional arrangement. Cordelia offers Jole the use of some of Aral’s samples as well and lets him know that the technology could allow him to have his own children.

As Oliver struggles to make decisions about things he had never imagined to be possible, the story turns to the renewed relationship between himself and Cordelia. This entire book is more about the characters’ journey and their decisions for themselves and their families after a lifetime of political intrigue, violence, and duty, rather than any focus on the events of the plot.

Not much happens in terms of action, but for what this book tries to do, that was okay for me. Again, it will not be for everyone. I found that as I neared the end of this book, I dreaded the thought of something tragic happening. After Cryoburn, I half-expected Sergyar’s volcano to erupt and lead to catastrophe.

In retrospect, I think that it’s also great to have a book where well-loved characters can finally be seen to relax and deal with smaller crises. I don’t want to see them suffer any more heartache at this point. I think they deserve to be happy in the end.

The book also deals with the themes of family versus career, aging, and family secrets, so it was interesting to me in that way. Cordelia is in her 70’s, and although Betan people have a long lifespan, her children will be younger than her own grandchildren. Is there anything inherently wrong with this? Much of the story deals with how much is revealed to whom along the way, and how each person deals with those revelations. Will the secrets of the past impact the future?

See more of my book reviews here.

Fencing Tournament Report – Manhattan Fencing Tri-State Vet Sabre Event 2019

This past Sunday, I fenced in another one of the Tri-State Veteran Sabre Cup events. This a series of sabre tournaments in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for the veteran age group. This event was held at Manhattan Fencing Club, and it was my first time at that venue.

Travel to the Event

I took the train from New Jersey to New York Penn Station and then walked a few blocks to the club. It was easy for me to find.

I was a bit early, so I had plenty of time to orient myself. The club was on the second floor and when I stepped off the elevator, I found a brightly lit and clean space. The entry hall featured some seating for parents and visitors, and a low wall separated the fencing area.

The Venue

One side of the venue with the men warming up.

Locker rooms were available for men and women, and there were two bathrooms – a single large one with a shower, and a standard one with multiple stalls. Fencing bags were supposed to stay in the locker room, so I changed into my whites and went to warm up.

Strips were marked out on the flooring and the reels were suspended overhead. I did slip once during the tournament, but the floor was otherwise fine.

Tournament Format

Seven fencers had arrived for the women’s event and (at a later start time) fourteen for the men. For the women’s event, we fenced one large pool. They decided to double-strip the pool also, so it went very fast.

After that, we went into a standard direct elimination (DE) tableau. I felt that the referees were consistent with their calls. The entire event was very smoothly run and efficient. You can find the full results here.

My Fencing

I fenced fairly well, although I had been tired and a bit injured going in. I had a solid round in the pool with a 6-0 record. In my DE bouts, I had a bye into the round of 4 and finished in 2nd for the day, making some strategic errors in my last bout.

After the fencing, medals and awards were distributed. I went home with a t-shirt and a hefty medal. While the men’s event started, the ladies watched and had wine, cheese, bread, and beef jerky. It was a tasty way to finish up!

See more of my tournament reports here.

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