Weekly Roundup: May 1st, 2015

Well, hello. It’s been a few weeks, I know. I really have no excuse other than gross laziness. Though, I have been working a great deal on the book I’ve been writing for the past several years so… that’s good. Awhile ago it got to the point where I was starting to reach the end and my work on it all but completely stalled. Why? Because finishing a book is about the scariest thing I can imagine. Because what do you do with it then? Then it’s time to start editing, which is insanely daunting, and then you have to start wondering about a publisher, which is horrifying because I can post all the most embarrassing things that have ever happened to me and broadcast how lame I am up and down all over town, but somehow my fiction is way more personal.

I have been doing a relatively decent job of reading my non-fiction at Loganberry Books once a month, which is good, obviously. But I really need to start being more proactive in getting myself to submit short fiction to literary journals. Especially since I know I can expect a great deal of rejection [I worked at a literary journal, I know how these things work]. I suppose in a lot of ways I am sort of terrified of the rejection, but being stagnant is hardly the answer. Of course, I have always been way better at longer things than short fiction.

In the meantime I’ll just work on finishing the in between cracks of the book and finally letting the characters go. Oh, and posting a weekly round up.

Also, how amazing is this?:

pun

 

Reading: Is it Just Me? by Miranda Hart

is it just me

Miranda Hart. Ah, Miranda Hart. You are hilarious. Or, I suppose, hilaire as your eighteen year old self frequently says within the pages of this glorious tome. Perhaps you’ve seen Ms. Hart as Chummy on Call the Midwife. Perhaps you don’t know her from Eve. But you should, because she is 100% hysterical.

Her autobiographical television comedy series, Miranda, aired intermittently on PBS and I used to watch it with my mother. Whenever we’d see a new episode had recorded we’d get all excited because we knew we’d be laughing absolutely hysterically within the next half hour. Her book, Is It Just Me?, is more of the same. Like on the show, Ms. Hart probably never met a situation she couldn’t flub somehow. Flirting with a man? Ends up hiding in a cupboard until 4:00 in the morning only to emerge right when the host has woken up to use the bathroom. Job interview? Starts rambling about body hair then loses her skirt when she stands. Miranda Hart manages to be even more awkward than even the most awkward of your friends. And has the great foresight to remember it all so she can share it with the world to amuse us all. As I always say, especially that time the work toilet backed up and bideted me in the ass, what’s the use of having pain if it can’t make people laugh?

Throughout this riotous memoir Ms. Hart takes us on a very funny ride through such subjects as Health, Dating, Weddings, and the long conversations we have with our pets. With illustrations. I’m… not sure that I could ask for more.

miranda

 

Listening to: Scott motherfucking Joplin

Can we just pause a moment to remember that this dude exists?

Listening to one of his rags is like peeling an onion. Every time you think you’ve hit the bottom of the melody there’s more to listen to. Plus, I’m convinced it really requires about fifteen hands to play the Maple Leaf Rag properly. Sometimes I put it on in the car and rock out like I’m listening to 80’s Guns & Roses. Yes, I’m that lame. But seriously, listen to this.

 

Watching: The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

lizzie bordenWell. So, Lifetime made this. Which is simultaneously absurd and sort of brilliant. After 2014’s successful original film Lizzie Borden Took an Ax apparently the network felt like it didn’t quite have enough crazy pants, even with the Flowers in the Attic movies (more on that later), so they extended their tale of the accused but acquitted ax murderer into a mini-series. When discussing whether or not my friend should watch this I described it as the Bates Motel of 1892. And it’s not as if that description isn’t apt, both are about notorious characters in times when we don’t naturally see them. Borden, of course, was a real person while Norman Bates obviously is fictional, and Bates Motel tells the story of a teenage Bates before he’s become the killer we know and… hope gets plenty of treatment while The Lizzie Borden Chronicles focuses on Borden after she’s been acquitted of the murders of her father and stepmother, but the comparisons are still there. Especially when Borden inevitably thinks up more ways to kill people and get away with it. Because that is this show’s stance; Lizzie Borden took an ax and she never put it down again.

And let’s be clear, while this bares no resemblance to anything that happened in real life, Christina Ricci was born to play this role. She’s like a grown up Wednesday Addams if all that shit she did to Pugsley actually killed him. With slightly more facial expressions. She looks, as others have said before me (though I have no idea where I read it so please come forward if I am stealing your words) like the cat who got the cream. She swans around enjoying her notoriety and telling little girls they should be afraid when one brave soul claims she’s not. And that’s true, given how Lizzie seems to leave quite the body count behind her of whoever crosses the diminutive brunette. But Lizzie is also a master manipulator, which is where the most amusement comes from. Sometimes even the audience believe her.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this series is completely and utterly ridiculous, but it is enjoyable as all hell. To be honest, there’s not much better than watching a Victorian woman in enormous leg-o-mutton sleeves finding new ways to kill people without getting a drop of blood on her pretty outfits.

Random:

flowers in the attic

While we’re on the subject of Lifetime I suppose I would be remiss not to go further into their V.C. Andrews adaptions. Why? Because last week I sat down for the laugh of my life while watching Seeds of Yesterday, the final installment of Andrews’ seminal Dollanganger series. I read these books way back when I was a hormonal teenager and couldn’t get enough of the high drama that is Andrews’ work. Or, rather, the work under her name as the only of her books she actually wrote were the Dollangangers and My Sweet Audrina. But we’ll just leave that oever there where it really doesn’t matter since the rest of her boks are really just rehashings of the Andrews penned novels anyway. Though always amusing, there was always a familiar pattern (my favorite was Landry, what can I say, I’ve always enjoyed twins, especially when one is diabolical).

But even as a teenager reading them obsessively in every second I could steal, I knew they were awful. Really, just trash. But, sometimes you want some trash. It had been long enough since reading the Dollangangers’ saga that there was plenty to make me full on bust out laughing and even though Flowers in the Attic is probably the installment with the best story (if we can say that about any of them) it was undoubtedly Seeds of Yesterday that was the most entertaining.

First let’s run down the basic plot of these pieces of crap: Corinne Dollanganger is the mother of four lovely children who are all beautiful and blonde and happy, but when her husband dies in a car accident she brings her children to her childhood home where they are sequestered away in the attic since her father was pretty peeved about her marriage since her husband was her uncle (or half brother I guess, I can’t remember if that’s ever revealed in the movies or not). He’s dying so, why not just keep the kids hidden until that happens? Meanwhile Christopher, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie are whiling away the hours in the attic with their weirdly religious grandmother who seems convinced they’ll start banging each other up there. It never seems to cross her mind to alleviate this fear by letting them out of the attic. Eventually Cathy and Chris start banging in the attic. And they find out that their grandfather has died and their mother is still keeping them there because he put some caveat in his will that if it was ever discovered that she had children from her marriage then she loses her inheritance. Because that’s a normal thing. Eventually the kids escape, but only after Cory dies after eating a poisoned donut. Yep.

The story continues in Petals on the Wind where Cathy and Chris keep banging, even though they’re out of the attic. Eventually she moves to New York with some ballet dancer who promises her the big time (which she easily achieves, obvi). She, of course, get’s preggers but then Julian, the ballet dancer, dies in a car crash. Carrie commits suicide because she’s obviously scarred for life after being locked in an attic for a couple years, and eats a poisoned donut (yep). Cathy, bent on revenge seduces her mother’s husband and gets pregnant with his child. After a giant showdown where the house with the attic basically explodes Cathy runs of to California with Chris and they pretend to be married.

We pick up the action like ten years later in If There Be Thorns when Corinne moves next door to Cathy and Chris and her two children who they’ve been raising together. The children obviously don’t know that their parents are siblings, but meh. Corinne then meets Cathy’s youngest, Bart, and starts trying to turn him against his parents. At the same time Corinne’s butler (?) attempts to turn Bart into a religious freak. A bunch of stuff happens but basically in the end Corinne dies in yet another fire, Bart gets locked up, and Cathy’s son and the girl they just adopted all live happily ever after doing their best to forget that their parents are siblings.

And then we get to Seeds. Oh Seeds of Yesterday. You. Were. Hysterical. Set I don’t even know how many years later, we get a grown up Bart who is free of the asylum and has taken over Foxworth Hall (the house with the attic) and fixed it up. He immediately shows signs of crazy, he has a creepy prayer room and is almost violently antagonistic about Christopher being there, even though he’s been living with Cathy in incestuous bliss since the end of Petals, in other words, all of Bart’s life. So then, of course, as soon as Bart leaves them Cathy and Chris start getting it on, because it’s so appropriate and apparently their dead mother’s swan bed really gets them in the mood. Bart then paralyzes his half brother, who’s a ballet dancer (because when both your parents were ballet dancers, even if one is retired and the other is dead, what choice do you have?), seduces his, now paralyzed, brother’s pregnant wife, has some serious sexual tension with his adopted sister (who he tried to drown in Thorns but obviously he needs to keep it in the family), and insists upon calling Christopher “Uncle Chris” which, to be fair, is more accurate than “Dad”.

My mom always complains about things being too “soap operaish” when they get complicated and involve romances. I usually think she’s nuts since every show basically implements these things, but then… I watched all four of these films so my standards are clearly not the same. I think we can all be aware of how I feel about this franchise; it stinks, but I would watch a hundred more volumes. And let’s be real, I can’t believe Lifetime didn’t think about adapting V.C. Andrews before now. For god’s sake, it’s a match made in heaven (which, incidentally, was an Andrews series I never read). Deep dark secrets? Check. Revenge and plotting? Check.Love children with every single person a character sleeps with (though surprisingly not always immediate family members)? Check, check, check. They’re like the Lifetime movies of yore but with a built in audience. A lot of people came of age reading Andrews novels, so it’s really a wonder how the world remains populated when our first taste of the sensual came with these levels of dysfunction.

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Book Review: ‘Everybody Rise’ by Stephanie Clifford

everybody rise

It’s sort of rare that a book comes along that allows the reader to both like and despise the main character but Stephanie Clifford carries it off pretty damn well with Evelyn Beegan in ‘Everybody Rise’. It was a highly enjoyable novel set in a New York that might be more familiar to readers of Edith Wharton than anyone else. A New York of high society and exclusionism before the 2008 financial crisis.

From a new money family Evelyn’s family has plenty of cash but little cache. Hailing from a small Maryland town near Baltimore Evelyn’s mother, Barbara, is the ultimate social climber who ingrained a desire to be a member of the old guard, a desire initially not shared by her daughter who’s job in text book editing has recently given way to a new job securing society’s elite to a website called People Like Us. Evelyn uses her connections to old boarding school chums to propel herself into New York Society. Soon she’s best friends with debutante Camilla Rutherford, choosing pedicures over friendships, and falling deep into debt. But is her new life worth it? And can Evelyn even tell the difference?

I was probably in college when I realized that people were obsessed with the upper echelons on society. Perhaps it’s because I’m unobservant or perhaps it’s because I come from a world where people still have debutante balls [not a deb myself, I assure you]. But, when I paused and looked around at television and many book series I realized that half the character I am confronted with have more money than one person could possibly know what to do with. Then, after 2008 and people identifying the 1%, there was another trend I started noticing; people complaining about stories where the characters were rich. What problems could they possibly have as upper class white people? Valid, though, to me, untrue. True those kinds of stories aren’t going to be the tales of overcoming obstacles in inspiring ways, but… everyone’s got issues (and honestly I think money causes as many problems as it solves, especially when “society” is factored in) and I do think it’s important to know that money doesn’t make you happy.

This book illustrates that. Though it’s not a book about the wealthy getting their comeuppance (though we do know what’s coming for them in ‘08 when the stock market explodes). But it is a story about realizing that position is not what really matters.

Evelyn was a difficult character. I started out liking her. She has the right connections and an ambitious mother, but there’s always something not quite right with her. The wrong dress or pockmarked pearls. She makes 40k at her new job but want to hang out with millionaires. Luckily, she’s good friends with Preston Hacking from boarding school and is able (like Lily Bart before her) to secure an invite to his family camp in the Adirondacks, which puts her in a very good position to meet the people she initially wants to meet for her job. But soon she realizes that her decidedly middle class paycheck and her financier boyfriend aren’t going to get her where she, increasingly, wants to go. And then we begin to hate her.

We follow Evelyn as she attempts to infiltrate a group who live in a world where no outsider will ever be good enough. But what’s different about ‘Everybody Rise’ is that it’s Evelyn’s successes, rather than her failures, that make the reader cringe because with every step Evelyn takes towards being a member of society is a step away from being the person she was at the beginning.

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Lie To Me, Just Make It Interesting

welcome to the dollhouse

If you have been around reading my blog for awhile you might be aware of my love for a certain show called Pretty Little Liars. Yes, this is commonly a show made for teenagers, but it has managed to transcend that age in a way few things do. There are plenty of adults to watch it. I know because after five seasons of post episode discussions with my best friend I made it my business to know if anyone else over the age of twenty was a fan. I have been with it from the beginning. It started when it was heavily advertised at the start of every movie that played at Regal Cinemas. I saw the salacious adds and thought “I’m watching the shit out of that show!” And then I wrote about it here and a little here. But, to recap quickly; the show is about four girls, Aria, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna, who were all friends and led by mean girl Alison, but when Alison disappears the group dispersed until a year later when Alison’s body is found buried in her backyard and the four remaining girls start receiving texts from a mysterious “A” who knows all their secrets, secrets they thought only Ali knew. The girls realize they need to stick together to find out who is blackmailing them and cement their friendship in the process. At least that’s what it was initially about. Since then the plot has twisted and twisted back so many time that the very act of speaking some of the plot out loud is sort of comical. From here on out I will be speaking candidly about everything and anything that has happened up until now. You’ve been warned. In other words; SPOILERS.

This season we got our biggest twist so far. The show has revealed A before. In season two the culprit was revealed to be Hanna’s best friend, ex-loser, and sometimes Liar accomplice Mona Vanderwaal. Broken by Alison’s constant ridicule, Mona tormented Ali’s friends with Ali’s secrets and her amazing intellect. She was subsequently admitted to Radley Sanitarium before being released back to the same high school as the Liars, where everyone acts like they’re the crazy ones for not instantly warming up to their reformed tormentor. Since, she has acted as both ally and foe to the Liars. She also played a role in helping Alison to fake her death, because, yes that’s right, Alison turned out to be alive and on the lam from A as well. Because while in Radley someone stole the game from Mona, though I think it’s dubious that she as ever completely in charge in the first place. Regardless, since season three there has been a new, much more hardcore, A.

The finale of season five promised to reveal “Big A”, the one behind everything. Something I never expected to happen until the very end of the series. In fact, this is something that surprises me continually throughout the series. I constantly see people complaining that we never get answers and that we’ll be waiting forever to find out who A is and it’s never the end of the mystery. But I have to wonder if those people understand what this show is about. The end of the mystery is the end of the show. The show is about four girls getting harassed by A, if we take that away I am curious what these people think they would be watching. The Romantic Lives of Rosewood Girls? No thanks. I am happy not knowing because it means I get my hardcore guilty pleasure. I will be sad when Pretty Little Liars is over. Which it will be, after seven seasons, two years from now. So, I think it’s pretty clear when we’ll get all our answers. If you can’t wait until then, then I am afraid you’re watching the wrong show.

But, back to the season five finale. After Alison is convicted on Mona’s murder, the rest of the Liars are arrested as accessories. En route of the prison they are kidnapped by A from the paddy wagon and wake up in their bedrooms. Except these exact replicas of their bedrooms are located in an underground bunker where they discover Mona alive, well, and enacting the role of Alison. Soon they discover the identity of “Big A”. It’s Charles DiLaurentis! Except… who the hell is Charles DiLaurentis? Fans felt cheated that A wasn’t a character that we know. They have a point. But, they also don’t. At first I was extremely dissatisfied with this reveal. The Dollhouse (said bunker with room replicas) and Charles creepin’ with a mask was creepy as all hell, but it wasn’t exactly the answer I craved. There are still a massive amount of questions left to be answered. But, of course there are. There’s still two seasons to go after all. But the more I think about it, the more okay I am with Charles. I haven’t read the books the show is based on but some plot points are hard to miss, so I prepared should the show go the way of the books and reveal Alison’s twin, Courtney DiLaurentis, even though I thought that was a terrible idea. So why was Charles initially so annoying? Because I wasn’t expecting it, I guess. But then it was my expectation that A was someone we knew. Should I blame the show for not living to my expectations? Also, the more I thought about Charles, the more awesome his potential became. We were given a name, Charles, and shown a video of Jason and an apparent brother looking at their baby sister at an apple farm. For appearances, we can assume that Charles is Jason’s twin, though unconfirmed and whether identical or fraternal who knows. But if it is identical my immediate thought is that there are at least a few times we’ve interacted with Jason where it was actually Charles. Charles could have made out with Aria, bonded with Spencer, and slept with Hanna’s mom! To that end, Jason could easily be dead. How about when he moved back to Rosewood, papered up the house (where there was clearly someone lurking behind that we never discovered, and did we ever find out what he was burying in the yard? Right now, this Charles thing could go anywhere and since I enjoy the show so well, I have faith it will go somewhere entertaining. Pretty Little Liars might have just hit it’s stride. We’ll see.

A

And because it’s my blog I will go ahead and share my theory. Which I honestly think is awesome and I hope it’s not better than what the writers come up with.

I think that Charles is Jason’s identical twin. I think that just after Alison was born something happened in the DiLaurentis family, possibly something to do with Mr. DiLaurentis and his pretty insane anger management issues (we know, certainly, that Mrs. D had an affair with Spencer’s father that resulted in Jason [and possibly Charles?]), and Charles started to display some pretty terrifying violent tendencies. Eventually he took up residence in Radley Sanitarium where he lived for the majority of his life and became attached to a girl named Bethany Young. The DiLaurentis family kept Charles a secret from the community and their brand new baby girl, Alison. Mrs. D joined the board of Radley, visiting with her son throughout his life, so that she could still be a part of it, and as an extension, formed a relationship with Bethany, who she told to refer to her as Aunt Jessie. Bethany, somehow, then started communicating with Alison, who invited Bethany over on Labor Day weekend and provided her with clothes, including a yellow top. Charles went with her. A lot of things happened that evening, as the show has revealed to us slowly, but in the end Bethany was killed by we don’t know who. In retaliation Charles hit his sister, Alison, who he blamed for Bethany being out of Radley in the first place, over the head with a rock. Mrs. D saw this but buried Alison’s body in the foundation of the gazebo they were building in order to protect her son. Mrs. Grunwald then pulled Alison out of her grave, and Ali prepared to run. Meanwhile Melissa Hastings found Bethany’s body, thought Spencer had killed her, and buried her in the hole Alison had vacated. Charles then went back to Radley and stewed in his anger at Bethany’s death for about two years until Mona Vanderwaal appeared, spouting vitriol not just for Alison but for her four minions who are just as to blame for everything Alison has ever done as Alison is. Charles then becomes A, in cahoots with whoever Red Coat is. Kills his twin, Jason, in an elevator, and takes his place, disappearing from the hospital right after the accident where he escaped a falling elevator with little more than a broken leg. Not long after Spencer sees a body in the woods which has the same, specific tattoo as her boyfriend, Toby, who turns out to be alive and well. The body was not immediately identified by police because there was severe trauma to the corpse. After we find out Toby is alive and well the body in the woods is never brought up again. I believe that was the real Jason, mangled from his elevator accident, and inked to disturb Spencer. I also think there is another, female, A who has been at it from the beginning and is probably in cahoots with Charles. I have no theory on her motivation or who she may be.

Obviously I have no idea if any of this is correct at all, and I think there’s probably a whole lot more to it than I’ve put into my theory. But, after thinking about it for weeks it was pretty impossible not to come up with some sort of idea of my own.

Whether I am right or totally wrong. Whether I like the outcome or am pissed we didn’t get a face instead of a random name the “Big A Reveal” was entirely effective because I haven’t stopped thinking about it since and I basically can not wait until the show starts up again in June.

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Weekly Roundup: April 10th, 2015

Watching: Salem

salem

I started watching this show right when it started last year. And it’s bombastic, to say the least. I do think it can be problematic to fictionalize real life tragedies by giving credence to how they became tragedies in the first place. I think we can all agree that the real life Salem witch trials was a senseless event that claimed the lives of innocent human being due to mass hysteria. Saying there were real witches in Salem is tricky because in some ways it validates the hysteria. But fictionalizing this event has a long history as well and witches are usually just so… entertaining. Salem takes an interesting approach.

Several years before the infamous trials a young woman, Mary, finds herself pregnant and unmarried. Believing her lover, John Alden, dead she makes a serious decision to sell her soul to rid herself of the pregnancy and gain the abilities of a witch. Years later Mary is leading the witches of Salem, having exacted revenge on George Sibley, who she blames for… quite a lot, by marrying and incapacitating him, leaving her as his proxy and a powerful force in town. She’s also begun preparations for the Grand Rite (basically the big MacGuffin of the first season) when Alden returns to town.

The first thing that I liked about this show was the fact that it pulls zero punches. It’s completely insane. From familiar sucking at witches teats, to a possessed girl biting off her own finger while identifying a new witch, it’s really balls to the walls crazy pants. I didn’t even mention when someone vomits nails or the character that is actually referred as Isaac the Fornicator. But that’s what happens when a show isn’t on a network that anybody knows anything about. Salem airs on WGN. So… whatever that tells you. But less expected viewers generally leads to more risks and, I think for this series, it really pays off. Playing it safe would most likely lead to something tepid, and no one could accuse this show of being tepid.

What this show does that is interesting, though, is instead of taking the stance that the villagers are scared for a valid reason, in Salem the witches are manipulating the villagers into accusing each other, and inching the witches ever closer to the body count they need to complete the Grand Rite without ever lifting a finger.

The cast I mostly enjoy, with a weak point in Shane West as John Alden. The character could be charismatic, but falls flat. I have no problem, in general, with West but I don’t really think he works here. Janet Montgomery as Mary Sibley is the strong point, mixing equal parts malice and vulnerability. Elise Eberle also entertains as bonkers Mercy Lewis. And Ashley Madekwe plays a mysterious Tituba. All these characters are factual, but it should be noted that their resemblance to history is naught. In reality, Mercy was one of the young girls who’s fits led the villagers to fear witches in the first place and Sibley was a participant of little significance. Tituba is probably the most historically significant character on the show, along with Cotton Mather, the holy man behind the trials who’s painted far more sympathetically here than I anticipated.

Another thing I feel needs to be bbroughtto attention is the difference between a witch and a wiccan. I have never considered witches as anything to do with Satan and it always annoyed me when they were portrayed that way. But then I thought about it a little differently. Certainly Wiccans have nothing to do with the devil but witches aren’t quite… real, though often witch is used in place of Wiccan. Witches, on the other hand, have a long history of being whatever fanatical religious people need them to be. This incarnation of witches fall firmly in the realm of what the Salem Puritans were afraid of. Which, frankly, is the only thing that would make sense for this show.

History, also, should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Given it’s supernatural themes it should also go without saying that this is not historically accurate. But still there are small nuggets of events or character we recognize. Those looking for a piece of historical fiction should certainly look elsewhere, this is a supernatural show.

Salem is not a show for everyone. It’s sometimes gross, sometimes over the top, and always pretty insane, but if you can let it be what it is, and not what you were expecting or wanting it to be, then it can shine on it’s own. Is it great? Probably not. But it is tremendous fun.

Salem airs Sundays at 10:00 EST on WGN.

Reading: The Heiresses by Sara Shepard

heiresses

I was fully prepared to give my first negative review on my weekly roundups with this book. Usually I have more than one book that I read during the week and I have a bit of a choice. But this week I had a rather strong reaction to this book even when I thought it was useless shit. And, don’t get me wrong, this is shit. I picked this up on the description alone and only realized when I got it home that this was by Sara Shepard of Pretty Little Liars fame and that this is the first installment of a new series. For adults. Now, make no mistake, I love Pretty Little Liars, the TV show. I also read a lot of YA books so there was a hot second when I considered reading the books. But, then I heard a few things and decided I’d rather just still to television. The books seem even more far fetched and overly long. Sixteen volumes? Overkill. I also gave ABC Family’s version of Shepard’s other series, The Lying Game, a shot and enjoyed it well enough, though it was no PLL. The Heiresses is more of the same. Five cousins from the Saybrook diamond dynasty seemingly have it all, but typically each have their hidden problems. When Poppy Saybrook, everyone’s favorite cousin and president of the company, is murdered her cousins, Rowen, Corrine, Natasha, and Aster start to receive threats that they may be next.

This was soapy and awful but also, after awhile, wildly entertaining. In the first few chapters I thought I would put this down, but then I didn’t and actually started to enjoy myself. Don’t get me wrong, this was pure trash, but every once in awhile that sort of thing really hits the spot. This had all the elements; family secrets, rampant scandal, murder, and inevitably, mystery. The characters are essentially stock; the wild child socialite, the perfect sister who’s crumbling inside, the guy’s girl in love with her best friend, but eventually they seemed to take off and become real enough that they almost became natural.

I had an experience like I had with this book once before. Many years ago while working at camp for the summer and saw the trashiest looking book I’d ever seen. It was called Gossip Girl and no one was talking about it because no one had heard of it. So, I picked it up, read it, and realized with dismay that it was the first in a series and that I cared about the characters just enough to read what turned into something like ten volumes of absolute crap. I am deeply afraid this is going to turn into a similar situation.

Would I recommend this? Probably not. It’s not good. Really. But I can’t say that I didn’t end up having a good time with this piece of crap and I can’t say that I wont end up picking up the next volume.

Listening: Vienna Blood Waltz by Johann Strauss II because sometimes you just need a good waltz.

Random: I was all prepared to write about how spring was basically here and I’ve been able to resume my schedule of long walks through various parks and neighborhoods. I was even planning on including a few photographs of the beautiful scenery. I was planning on writing it out on Friday evening after I came home from work. But then Friday happened, and it was such a bitch of a day that I realized I have to write about it instead.

Friday started with my taking my car in for a much needed oil change. It had been way too long since the last one and I was a little nervous because the car seemed to be dragging a little and I really shouldn’t have waited as long as I waited. But sometimes my fear of what professionals think of me sort of hinders my life and only exacerbated the situation. Anyway, there is this process that takes place at good old Alternative Solutions. I bring the car in, they hoist it up to do what they need to do (usually the old oil change), and I sit in the waiting area hoping that this little window isn’t going to open. Sometimes it does and whoever is in the back passing something forward. The guy behind the desk then goes to the phone and starts communicating with whoever is on the other side, usually about car parts. He gets whatever answer he’s looking for and then walks around the desk to the (usually) various people who are waiting for their cars. At this point I am practically holding my breath like that scene in A League of Their Own when a telegram arrives from the war office and Tom Hanks reads it and every married woman thinks they might pass out until he stops in front of the recipient. This particular time, it was me. Luckily it was the serpentine belt, which wasn’t terribly expensive, the bad news was that I walked out of them having spent a hundred and fifty dollars more than I had anticipated.

Still, that’s not the worst. Cars do need maintenance after all. So I proceeded to pick up two of the littles for whom I babysit at school. I got there about a half hour before they were both nicely settled in the backseat and read my book for awhile. When it was time to leave I turned the key in my ignition and…. nothing. I tried again, just for good measure. And then I kept trying because I had two small children in the back seat wanting to get home and watch Star Wars on iTunes. Apparently, when I turned off the car to read I left on the headlights, which promptly drained the battery. I texted their dad to say we would be late while I called AAA and he offered to come with jumper cables, which was a pretty favorable outcome, so I headed over to the playground with the littles while we waited. All was fine as I helped the smaller one climb over the equipment. But then the older one wanted me to join in a game of tag. He tagged me and, naturally, I chased after him. I chased after him as he ran onto the grass, but apparently his dexterity didn’t extend to me because as I ran into the grass I hit a giant slick puddle and before I registered that anything was happening I was flat on my back on the ground, my arms flung akimbo. I couldn’t even move for about thirty seconds.

And then, of course, I realized how hilarious it was. It was a full on, cartoon style fall. It was only a few minutes later when I realized I was going to have to go to the little’s house and watch them for two more hours with sopping wet clothes that I stopped laughing. Meanwhile, the kids were all starring at me, shocked, as if they’d never seen an adult make a fool out of themself. I guess they hadn’t met me.

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Weekly Roundup: March 27th, 2015

Reading: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

the royal we

So, I’ve never read Go Fug Yourself. I’ve never even heard of it. But, when you’re sitting on the beach and NetGalley starts alerting you to a book basically about the most recent royal wedding then you’re reading a book called The Royal We. I’ll be the first to admit that I, along with too much of the world, is super into the British royal family. And, like everyone else, I worship at the altar of Kate Middleton (she’s so classy!). This is basically about Wills and Kate, but… you know, fictionally. This is undeniably inspired by Kate. However, how much I can’t be sure since I am not privy to the intimate details of the Duchess’s life before she stepped reluctantly into the spotlight. Though a lot of the circumstances are the same. This book is about how the main characters felt in the face of these extraordinary circumstances and there’s no way that could be anything more than fiction.

Rebecca Porter is an ordinary Ivy Leaguer when she opts for a year abroad at Oxford University. There she falls in the lap of the future King of England, Prince Nicholas Lyon, and his friends. As she gets to know the Prince the two find themselves falling in love. But, by accident of his birth there is no way for this love story to run smoothly. Hounded by the paparazzi, dealing with unruly siblings, and often stumbling over their own impetuousness Nick and Bex’s story may be rocky at times but their faith in each other is unshakable, and the reader know they’re headed for the wedding of the century.

Let’s start by saying this book was good. I would venture to say very good. About as good as I can imagine for the subject matter. The writing is not exactly deep, but is seamless (especially for two authors). Bex is a completely likable protagonist, even while she makes mistake after mistake. Nick is also genuinely charming, in that he often seems like a very normal dude (thank god). At Oxford Nick and Bex bond over a terrible American supernatural soap opera, and who doesn’t appreciate a man who can enjoy a bit of the cheese. He is also ridiculously sweet, procuring American snacks while wooing Bex. But he’s not perfect (again, thank god); he’s uneven, overly concerned about the paparazzi, isn’t always honest (though, neither is Bex), and can be reactionary. What this book did very well was almost make us forget the Cinderella side of things because we’re too focused on this completely normal love story.

My main issue with the book comes in a fourth act scandal that just felt like too much. We’d already weathered so much by then than a smooth wedding would have been reward. But, the desire for drama was too high, I guess, because instead we got a scandal over something that seemed sort of unbelievable in the first place. But then, I guess we already got our flawless wedding a couple of years ago when Nick and Bex’s real life counterparts said I do.

Watching: The 39th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival

CIFF

The Cleveland International Film Festival is in full swing, which is always a good time. So often it’s difficult to pick which movies to see because there’s not a lot of talk about them at all. It’s rare that I even see a film with stars I know or directors I’m aware of. But to me, that is part of it’s charm; getting to see films that I wouldn’t necessarily be privy to otherwise. The first two movies I saw this year were insanely cryptic and I was desperate to talk about them. Which was problematic because I saw both of them alone and there are no posts about them on the imdb message boards. I generally see about five or six movies at the festival, mostly due to my lack of funds and them costing fifteen dollars a pop. Someday I will just buy one of those all access passes and see everything, but for now six will have to do.

now we're alive

Now We’re Alive (Et Maintenant Nous Sommes en Vie) was the first film I saw and I picked it because it sounded like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was about a man, Tom, aged 25, who, per tradition, attempts to find his soul voice after being blindfolded in a room with a group of women born the same day and choosing one to be his bride. Then he has to find her. Yet after he is presented with his choice he is positive it’s not her, as she doesn’t match up to the picture of his head.

midnight swim

The Midnight Swim was about three sisters who’s mother dies, diving in Spirit Lake which’s bottom no one had ever found. The sisters invoke the spirit of the legendary “seventh sister” for answers but only find more questions.

anywhere else

Anywhere Else (Anderswo) was the brief story of Noa, a woman having a bit of a crisis. An Israeli living in Berlin, Noa’s working on a dictionary of untranslatable words, which her thesis advisors don’t quite understand. Impulsively she decides to go home for a few days to visit her critical family and ailing grandmother, much to the consternation of her German boyfriend, Jörg.

apartment troubles

Apartment Troubles was a straight up comedy about two best friends and roommates who are on the verge of eviction from their illegal sublet in New York. Instead of dealing with the situation at hand the two travel to Los Angeles to stay with one of their aunts, throwing in a dead cat, a psychotic ride share, and an audition for a reality show for good measure.

Tonight I will be seeing two more; Gemma Bovery (because I have a girl crush on Gemma Arterton) and a collection of short films. And, so far, I’ve really enjoyed everything.

gemma bovery

Random: 

Something great about Cleveland (and many other cities, I am sure) is that there are a bevy of free things to do all the time. The Cleveland Metroparks are a grouping of green spaces that circle Cleveland in our emerald necklace. My two besties and I are doing “tours”; ice cream, coffee, hot chocolate, and now Metroparks trails. We go to one each week, or at least that’s the goal. For our first Metroparks we went to Rocky River Reservation for their maple sugaring. They had a quick guided hike where we were shown techniques on tapping sugar maples and different methods through history. In the end they gave us a silver dollar pancake with their maple syrup. Delicious. Afterwards we went on a short two mile hike on a nearby trail. The weather is just starting to turn warm (though, it’s snowing today, which is typical) and there was some beautiful scenery.

An example of sugar maple tapping done by Native Americans.

An example of sugar maple tapping done by Native Americans.

 

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Weekly Roundup: March 20th, 2015

Again, late, I know. But I have been super busy!

Watching: iZombie

izombie

The title iZombie really initially made me roll my eyes. Not another zombie thing about zombies with feelings. For me, zombies are the mindless, shambling, braineaters that I’ve grown to know at love over the years. But then I found out Rob Thomas, of Veronica Mars and Party Down fame, was making this show, and that it’s loosely based on a comic. I picked I picked up the four trade paperbacks that the comic ran from the library and realized that this could make a pretty good show. And then it starred Rose McIver, who I somehow started to really like between her playing Tinker Bell on Once Upon a Time and as a serene blonde on Masters of Sex.

The comic is about a girl named Gwen who becomes a zombie (she initially can’t remember her death) and works as a gravedigger for access to the brains she needs to eat in order to retain her humanity. Along for the ride are her friends Ellie, a ghost, and Scott/Spot, a wereterrier (yes, you read that correctly). It all get very complicated very quickly but I’m not going to get into that here. In the show we get Liv Moore (hilariously, she deadpanned), a once promising medical student who was scratched in a zombie outbreak (this is… sort of glazed over but suffice it to say there’s an outbreak that happens and it’s dealt with swiftly and then hardly mentioned again. This not The Walking Dead) and has since let herself go. Now she works in the morgue for food access, and has distanced herself from friends, family, and her ex-fiance. She has to feed regularly so that she doesn’t become a mindless monster. Otherwise she just looks like she’s in desperate need of a tan and a dye job away from the white. But, as in the comic, when Liv eats a brain she absorbs the memories of the person to whom the brain belonged. Soon she hooks up with a police detective, who thinks she’s psychic, and helps to solve murders in a delightful mashup of Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Tru Calling. With the snark of Veronica Mars. Because, yes, this is definitely Rob Thomas. Only one episode has aired but I thought it was well worth watching; the dialogue was witty, the characters likable, and McIver delightful. Of course, with future episodes it could either shine or start to stink up the place like an old corpse but for now it has my seal of approval and my inklings that it will continue to amuse.

iZombie airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST

Reading: A Mad, Wicky Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

madwickedfolly

It’s weird writing about a book that I fished several books ago, but being on vacation I plowed through five and a half books in nine days. Right now I’m in the middle of one of the most fun books I’ve read in awhile, but nowhere near finished and certainly not reading for writing about here. A Mad, Wicked Folly was something I picked up awhile ago because the plot is basically right up my alley. Victoria Darling doesn’t care about the dresses and parties that she’s supposed to love as a wealthy Londoner in 1909. Her family, members of the nouveau riche, are anxious that Vicky should marry well and help elevate the family name. Vicky doesn’t care about any of it. Instead she is determined to become an artist. After a scandal in France Vicky is sent home and given a choice; marry the man her parents have chosen or else accept a life of exile with an elderly aunt in Norfolk. But Vicky wants a place at the prestigious Royal School of Art, and she’s willing to do what she needs to do to get it. Together with a sympathetic maid and the policeman who has become her artist’s model Vicky builds her portfolio; but there are greater things at work in these turbulent times and Vicky soon finds herself involved with the suffrage movement almost despite herself.

I liked Vicky. She was plucky and willing to break traditions for her dream. This is basically something I’ve been on board with since a kid. I love rebellious princesses (hello Ariel). Vicky didn’t always know the best ways to go about things but these flaw made her real to me. Her hesitation to throw herself full throttle into suffrage, at first, didn’t seem cowardly to me, it seemed realistic. And her reactions to changes in circumstances was natural, if frustrating to those around her. She was a good heroine. She didn’t always know the best way right off, but she figured it out.

A lot of this book was struggling against tradition, but there were a lot more things at play. The Darling family, for example, seemed stodgy, old school, but the fact that they weren’t really was an issue. Mr. Darling was in the toilet business. Literally. They had spent years clawing their way into the aristocracy, in a country where there really is an aristocracy, and weren’t happy about having their name ruined by a daughter who appears naked in public as a nude model and who breaks an announced engagement. Their indignance makes sense for their point of view.

However, we are reading this over a hundred year after it takes place. Women did win the vote, and options have been opened up (though true equality is something women still fight for). Vicky’s lack of choices was infuriating. She was thwarted at every turn and ultimately had to sacrifice far to much. I loved that this book made me care to much about the flight of not just Vicky and her aristocratic problems, but also many of the women struggling for freedom and those who put freedom away for comfort. It’s easy to side one way or another, but this book made me look at the big picture. I say bravo.

Listening to: this rad track

Random:

I’m back from Sanibel by about twelve hours as is writing this and it’s super depressing. It was so relaxing and beautiful. Yesterday at this time I would have been on the gorgeous beach for my daily two mile walk. Today I woke up from a dream I was Lucrezia Borgia to a text message confirming that nine in the morning was a good time to report to work. The nice thing is that the snow that was pretty much piled up taller than me is more gone than not and I was able to park on the street with more ease than I actually remembered. It’s the first day of spring and I can actually feel like we’re on our way there. Which is clearly lovely. But! But. I miss the beach. And it’s making me yearn for summer like I can’t even believe, given I live in a city where an April snow covering is almost as required as the leaves gently blowing away in Camelot. At night, of course. So, I guess I’m going to need to get a jump on my spring bucket list and find some things to look forward to in the upcoming months. Winter’s bucket list was the lamest so far with a few things left to check off, I definitely wont make it. But that’s okay. More for next year. In the meantime there will be trolley rides and daffodil hill, and this hilarious gif:

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Weekly Roundup: March 13th, 2015

Random: 

Well, here I am in Sanibel, Florida where it looks like this:

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Obviously I am past the point in my life where I go on “Spring Break” but going on an early spring vacation just about hits the spot at any age. Especially after the crap winter we’ve had (though I still maintain that it was not as bad as last year and that people have insanely short memories). Sick of snow, it’s amazing to see some green things again. And the blue sky and green Gulf of Mexico really don’t hurt either. Plus, there is shrimp. Oh so much shrimp.

Watching:  Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt

Produced by Tina Fey this show was passed over by NBC and found a two season order from Netflix. It stars Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt, a woman who was kidnapped at age thirteen by a Doomsday cult and forced to live in an underground bunker for fifteen years after she was told the apocalypse had taken place. After she is rescued Kimmy impulsively decides to move to New York City where she lands a job helping Jacqueline Vorhees around her townhouse and an apartment equipped with a fabulously gay roommate.

The fact that Tina Fey created this show pretty much guaranteed I was going to watch this. I was decidedly tepid about Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids is probably the only thing I’ve actually seen her in) but this show likely relies on a lead that’s able to carry off Kimmy’s mix of stunted development and unrelenting optimism, and Kemper really pulls it off. The ancillary characters also charm. Jane Krakowski as Jacqueline essentially plays her 30 Rock character, if Jenna Maroney had married well and never worked instead of playing the diva television star. Tituss Burgess as Titus, Kimmy’s roommate, delivers some genuine laughs (my god, the werewolf episode…) and manages to make a cliche, that could come across as tired, endearing. Carol Kane entertains as Kimmy’s world weary landlord. Overall, Kimmy Schmidt is very cute and often laugh out loud funny. Not quite 30 Rock, but what is. And what’s more, why would I want it to be? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt stands on it’s own and it’s own is hilarious.

Reading: Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel

charlie presumed dead

I started out my vacation reading Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer and found it to be one of the most profoundly disappointing reads of my reading career. It was full on ridiculous from it’s overly unreliable narrator, to it’s poor use of magical realism, to it’s incredibly dumbed down language. It’s a horrible misconception that the only way to write a YA novel is to write a book about teenagers poorly. I was pretty annoyed. But then I found the antidote. Charlie, Presumed Dead was something I picked up on a whim. The plot seemed interesting; a college age boy is involved in a plane accident and presumed dead then at this funeral two girls discover they were both his girlfriend and together go across continents, searching for answers. And the high ratings on Goodreads boded well. This was a perfect vacation read. It was fast paced, intriguing, mysterious, and frothy in all the right ways. It’s not terribly deep and there are certain things (especially the epic ending) that could easily be picked apart from the crowd less inclined to go along for a ride, but there were enough exotic locales and twists and turns here to satisfy even the most jaded reader. Every time I thought I had a grip on what was going on the mystery went even further. I liked all the characters, even while they did terrible things, because they were well drawn and multifaceted. It’s YA, which I’m inexplicably addicted to, but it’s the best kind of YA; fun as hell and written maturely enough to prove the author doesn’t think all young people are incapable of reading a well constructed sentence. I would definitely recommend this for anyone who thinks all this sounds interesting. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Listening to: The sound of waves on the sand.

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