Promises, promises: A Review of The Last Wish

Definately my favorite of the group. #fireheart

I tell my students that summer is meant for three things: naps in the sun, travel, and reading anything you want, even if that’s a trashy romance. (Although, I’ll admit that I do try to push drown beg encourage the occasional sci-fi or graphic novel.)  As for my own summer reading, I’ll admit there are some summers when I struggle to read three novels; there are summers where I read my way through so much that sleep only happens in the short time between books.  Last summer was one of the latter; a student gave me a list of YA fiction to read and I found myself spellbound by Leigh Bardugo‘s Six of Crows and the Shadow and Bone trilogy.  Sleep happened only while waiting for the next book in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas.  By June of this year, I was finishing the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber and I’m still awaiting the last book of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor.

Gunslinger Yuna

Where were these reads when I was ninth grade me, trying to find one badass female in a male protagonist dominated fantasy genre?  At best, I had Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave series; if desperate, I could locate my tattered copy of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  I turned to video games in part because at least in those electronic forms female fantasy characters had powers beyond mere seduction.  Final fantasy was my first exposure to the female mage character (yes Lulu) and later, my favorite female gunslingers (arguably now dethroned by Wyonna Earp) Yuna/Lighting.  My ideal lineup would feature gunslinger Yuna, mage Lulu, and martial expert Buffy.  (And I’d replace Rikku with Anya anyday).  Now while divorcing the genre of fantasy from the seductress trope is crazy talk, I’ll admit it is becoming more acceptable to see male seductresses or (gasp) to read female protagonists who can be both warrior and seductress.  We are getting better.

I have a point.  This summer, I promised my students to read and review a romance novel.  (Silly rabbits, they didn’t put any regulations or define exactly what that might be…)  It was in this spirit (and, arguably, a love of the PS4 game), that my “trashy romance” read of the summer was The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski.  Yes, that’s a Witcher novel.  So, my dear students, as promised, here is my review of a “trashy romance” via the fantasy fiction genre.  Hey, you never said what world or dimension my protagonist needed to live in…

I don’t know why there is a dragon on the front; don’t be misled. While he does mention a dragon, there is not a dragon in this book.

If you have no familiarity with the popular playstation game, know this: while the protagonist is male, the cast of characters is female centered, female focused, and filled with female badassery.  I’m hoping the Netflix show will be true to this as well.  If you have absolutely no familiarity with anything of this (some of us like living under a rock- no judgement), then you should start with the book that inspired it all, The Last WishThe protagonist is Geralt, a witcher (someone who hunts and kills monsters) tending to his wounds; in between his recovery, he remembers parts of his life via flashback.  So yes, this might be called a collection of short stories- each flashback is a stand alone episode that forces Geralt to confront the many different ways that monsters are so much more than fangs and fur.

ive-decided-to-write-my-own-romance-novel-50-shades-11480550I can hear you already, my dear pupils.  You said romance.

The Last Wish is a delicate balance between understanding Geralt and understanding his fetish for the sorcerer Yennifer.  You have to wait for it; Yennifer only fully appears in the last story and when read out of turn, you don’t quite understand why Geralt chooses her. (If you can call it a choosing.)  Make no mistake: she is a complex character with ambition, power, and little patience for the brooding hero.  You’ll like her, you’ll hate her, and you’ll want to be her. But you must first travel with Geralt and Sapkowski through some amazing retellings of popular fairy tales.  You’ll meet a version of Snow White that will inspire countless fan fiction; a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast that will break your heart and ring more true than the original source; and a twisted barely recognizable Cinderella.

See? Now doesn’t that look like the beginnings of an epic saga of romance and swords?

Sapkowski weaves his world of monsters, fairytales, and humans until it’s almost something completely different.  The only thing that tethers us to that world is the heartbreak and ugly truth: some monsters aren’t the imagined atrocities of our dreams.  Some monsters are the truths we deny or the truths we create. And, like Geralt, you’re left with your own code to decipher it all.   If like me, you find yourself fascinated and already writing mini-essays about effeminate, sword welding males and their complicated relationships with ambitious women, you might want to try the next one: Sword of Destiny.  (And if you know a place one could publish said pieces, let me know.)  If you are looking for the next Patrick Rothfuss, then don’t bother.  If you are looking for a world to get lost in, buy it or borrow my copy.

And there you have it.  I have fullfilled my promise.  If you are curious, Marlon James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf is the current read and yes, I’ve already ordered Sword of Destiny.  And because I still have three weeks left, I’ll be starting the Wheel of Time series after reading about it at Everyday Should Be Tuesday.

Now.  What are you reading besides your assigned summer novel?


Dear Labyrinth, I love you.

Newly returned from the VSTE (Virginia Society of Technology in Education) conference, I know I need to post about the amazing sessions I attended or about the two topics I nervously bumbled through in front of other educators. I know I need to email other teachers some things I mean to share.

And I will, I promise.

But right now, I want to use this space to promote one of my favorite places and some of my favorite things.

This past month, my work wife Lauren (@iteacherFlorida) and I have been just swamped.  The modular schedule is still a bit challenging and this year we are co teaching journalism.  We’ve spent the past four weeks pushing 16 girls of varying abilities and grades into journalistic writing and the software program InDesign.  It hasn’t been easy.  It’s a good day if I’m driving away from campus by five o’clock.

Lauren took off for Budapest this weekend.  I am a little jealous.  (I have e86a6dce542670b98be757d1a11777c9my own vacation around the corner, so no hard feelings.)  Luckily, I knew just the place to lift my tired spirits.  Lauren and I have a few favorite places that we are religiously devoted to and Labyrinth is at the top of that list. I think I’ve professed my love of games to any one who knows me, but if not: I LOVE GAMES.  Tabletop games in particular; I grew up with “family game night,” a night dedicated to Scrabble, Sorry, Trivial Pursuit, and the like.  My family visits toy stores not for toys, but for the games. (They want me to share that they have since found a local store to buy their new games- I even took my mom to Labyrinth her first visit to DC and now its a staple on her return list to DC.)

Labyrinth isn’t a toy store.  Well, not in the way we think of toy stores.  Instead, it is a carefully organized and crafted collection of some popular games, a lot of new games, and games you never knew you will love.  What’s more, they partner with local schools to build communities of play.  It’s not uncommon to visit the store and find a member of their staff hosting a school, running a birthday party, or (and this is my favorite reason to come) teaching literally ANYONE how to play a new game.  Labyrinth has a store copy of almost every item, allowing customers to play the game before taking home their own copy.

I usually do just that- open the store copy up and examine how the mechanics works.  This really helps me think about how game mechanics are so drastically different (I talked about this a bit at VSTE).  I am, however, spoiled by Kathleen, the most knowledgeable tabletop gamer I know.  And, she’s really nice!

When I popped in this Saturday, she had the two games for me- both 1213151319agames she recommended based on my previous purchases and what she knows about the types of games I and my students play (I cannot begin to tell you how on the mark she is about this or how incredible it is that she remembers her returning customers, both young and old).  Today I picked up Spyfall and Codenames, and couldn’t help but add Batman Fluxx and Holiday Fluxx (thank you Looney Labs!).

And then, just when things couldn’t get any better, Kathleen whips up  a creeper and a keeper for both editions of Fluxx and hands me a reject pack for Cards Against Humanity.

See? She gets me. Labyrinth gets me.

I love that place.

You should too.  They’re right off the Eastern Market Metro- walk past the CVS and you can’t miss it. And if you don’t live anywhere near DC, I’m sure there is a local game store in most areas.  Indy shop owners are very dedicated people and the customer service will be unbeatable.

I can’t wait to play Spyfall and Codenames.  I’ll post reviews, but I’ve got to first post about VSTE and then I’ve promised a Fluxx Basics tutorial for the classroom.

PS.  I taught my other half how to play Fluxx, and now he insists this be the way we settle any disagreement. Ever. (I might have created a Fluxx monster.)

Andy Looney Beat Me in Fluxx

Andy Looney!!
Andy Looney!!

Sometimes, the best part of my job isn’t my job at all.  Sometimes, the best part of my job involves play.  This was completely the case on Sunday, when Andy Looney of Looney Labs came to play with us during Casual Sunday.

Now that statement may not quite mean anything or sink in yet.  If you are a Fluxx player, then start melting.  Andy Looney, inventor of the Mensa approved game, Fluxx, ventured out of Looney Labs with 6 different versions of Fluxx, 4 of which were not published on the market.

I’d like to claim that I’m just so cool even Andy Looney likes to play Fluxx with me, but I don’t think I’ll ever reach that level of epicness.  My students however, are awesome.  It was their epicness that made things happen.  Let me explain.

A big part of my teaching philosophy involves gaming in the classroom. I firmly believe that strategic gaming is a great platform to engage play and higher level critical thinking skills.  About two modules ago (we teach on a module schedule), I asked my American Drama Module to create an adaptation for A Streetcar Named Desire.  My only rules: it had to be an adaptation, which means certain plot devices had to remain and the story had to be mostly recognizable.  Beyond that, no guidelines, no project format, no detailed page long project description.  Oh, and there was a prize: best project won movie tickets and me as a chauffeur.  For a boarding school, this was “jackpot”.  (Apparently using article is now not considered hip.)  As nervous as I was about the outcomes of this “open ended project” format (ermergawd I’m going to get cardboard-put-together-last-minute-diaromas), the students were much more in stress mode.  IMG_2274

“Can you at least give us a list of project options?”

“Can you tell me if my idea is right?”

“What if I do it wrong?”

This is exactly why I think teaching creative play in the classroom is so important.  I will spare you a diatribe until a later post, but I will say this: we have programmed our students to believe that thinking outside the box is too risky.  It’s not worth the risk of getting a bad grade, it’s not worth the risk of being wrong.  We have programmed students to think that creative play is wrong.  And that is fundamentally the opposite of what learning and the classroom should do.

Every single group blew me away.  I had a fairy tale adaptation, a Teletubbies version, a fake documentary, and A Street Car Named Desire Fluxx.  While they didn’t win, I did tweet their version to Labyrinth Games in DC (best game shop ever).  I didn’t realize this at the time, but Kathleen at Labyrinth sees Andy Looney for Small Business Saturdays (yet another reason to love this place).  In passing through, I showed Kathleen pics of the version, and lo and behold, in about the time span of a week Andy Looney wanted to come play it.

It was awesome.


Casual Sundays: Slash Game Review

It began as sort of a “I like board games. You like board games. Can we play a board game?” and has kind of become a thing. We call it “Casual Sundays.”

Each Sunday, a colleauge and I bring a new game for girls to play. Two Sundays ago, we brought Slash. Almost instantly, we started an obsession (at least for half of the 10 who played).

I’m way ahead of myself. I need a scale of measurement. Let’s say 1 is a “I’d like my _hours of playtime back,” a 3 is an “eh. Kinda cool,” and a 5 is a “I lost track of time this was so amazing ohmergawd can we keep playing.” At some point, I’ll include a rubric.

Slash is like Apples to Apples but with fictional characters. It’s completely unlike Apples to Apples in that you are the matchmaker; you’re not matching the best adjective with the best noun or even the best offensive category with the best proper noun (I heart you Cards Against Humanity). You’re playing Cupid with characters from classic fiction, cult fiction, television, movies, mythology, you name it. AND IT ROCKS.

My favorite part of this game (other than it generated at least three fan fiction stories) is the moments you have to explain a character to the current matchmaker. Example:

“You don’timage know who Captain Mal is? Ohmergod.”

“Nope. I also don’t know who The Kraken is.”

“One is a space captain. The other a giant octopus. Lots of tension could happen, but lets face it. The conversation about space vs ocean would be epic.”

The game combines two things well: romancey angst (which teenage girls love) and characters from all different kinds of verse. My favorite paring: Captain Jack Sparrow and The Golden Girls. All of them. I can totally see that too.

Rating: 5/5.