Month: January 2017

Manners, Horses, & Brilliance

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On March 2, 2010, an indie film called Gentlemen Broncos was released on DVD.

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The weekend before this release, I obtained a copy and watched it. Not through illegal means – I was actually working at a video store at the time, and we were supposed to watch the movies previous to release to enable us to make recommendations. Yet the majority of the income from rental of this DVD, once it was available to rent, likely came from me. I was obsessed.

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Fair Question

For those who don’t know what this movie is about, it follows a boy in a small town in Utah who likes to write stories. He lives with his mom, and they don’t have a lot of money, but they love each other and have each other’s best interests at heart. His mother agrees that they should spend some of their meager income to enable him to attend a writing conference, at which one of his favorite authors teaches some of the classes. He submits his recently finished novella to a writing competition that is part of the conference, and the favorite author ends up plagiarizing his work.

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I turned this movie on recently upon seeing it available on HBO (I reluctantly agreed to a cable package to save costs on internet, because I live in the Bay Area, where you would think everyone would collectively agree regular internet access should go for about $20 per month, but instead, we pay too much for internet that’s shittier than the lower-cost internet I was able to receive in hick towns in the midwest). I was feeling nostalgic, and remembered that I had really liked it a lifetime ago (because holy shit, how was 2010 seven years ago, already).

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Now, I might like it even more.

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I know…

One thing I have been dealing with lately is the realization that life is probably never going to feel easy. I was never good-looking enough, and am now too old, to be a trophy wife, which means I’m probably always going to struggle with money. And even trophy wives have to deal with bad sex and pay therapists to help them deal with feeling like a necrophiliac. Life is hard, and other people take advantage of you, and sometimes it feels like you’re never going to get ahead. This struggle is something that this movie acknowledges – freely, and in a way that helps you laugh. And then, it also reminds you that sometimes, life’s not so bad.

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Grotesque, weird, & slightly funny

The movie also includes Jemaine,

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the kid from Sky High & the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge,

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and a plethora of other talented actors. If you haven’t seen it, I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

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I know, I know – but seriously, I am. #watchit
Plagiarism comic: Nina Paley [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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The Wicked Boy

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So… I actually read The Wicked Boy, written by Kate Summerscale, last year, meant to review it, and completely spaced.

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#whoops

The Wicked Boy was released in July 2016, and is a nonfiction account of an actual matricide perpetuated in Victorian London. 13-year-old Robert Coombes stabbed his mother while his father was out at sea. Summerscale carefully researched this account, and writes the details in a competent and fairly interesting manner. Did Robert have conspirators? If so, how involved were they? Why would Robert have committed the crime that he did? What happened after the murder was discovered? All aspects considered within this book.

However.

When I picked this book up, I was expecting a fictional narrative. And this work, while interesting, does not provide me with the closure that a novel could have given. In a fiction work you can come up with a specific reason – Robert was protecting his brother, for instance – for the crime. In a non-fiction, research book, no definitives can be given. While this lack of closure is because the crime actually occurred, and people are messy, as are their motivations for doing things. Going into the book with that expectation, however, resulted in my feeling sorely disappointed when it was not furnished. As such, my main criticism of the novel is not a criticism against the author; it is, instead, a warning for readers. If you’re not generally a non-fiction fan, there’s a good chance you won’t like this book.

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Expectations can make or break an experience

My other quibble with this book, is that I felt that last several chapters were unnecessary. Because Summerscale cannot provide resolution regarding the murder, she attempts to provide it by exploring the life that Robert Coombes lived afterwards, which *spoiler alert!*seems to indicate that he was able to come to terms with whatever motivations led to the matricide, and become a productive citizen. While I feel that I understand what she was trying to accomplish – maybe people can change! If provided with the appropriate tools and opportunities – it didn’t quite work for me. Perhaps if the last few chapters had been condensed, it would have worked for me. But the way it’s currently written, the ending drags on, and I certainly don’t care as much about the resolution as the author herself.

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Overall, this book was… okay. I think that true crime buffs, and non-fiction readers interested in information about England in the Victorian era will find it interesting. Intrigued and wishing it were a novel? Give it a pass. Researching middle-class crime in the Victorian era? Give it a read.

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Will you like it? Like so much in life, it depends.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? I would love to read them!

Update: How did I do in my 10 Books in 2016 Challenge?

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Um… well, I didn’t quite make it. Though I’m fairly certain I read more than 10 books before 2016 had ended, not all of them were from the list I created last August. This post will provide the 10 Books in 2016 Challenge Update: (aka, it’s now 2017, so here’s specific detail on how I did).

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  1. The Glass-Blowers By Daphne DuMaurier

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2. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

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3. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

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4. The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

  • STATUS: Read in 2016 #yay
  • Blog post

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5. The Room: A Novel by Jonas Karlsson

  • STATUS: Did not read in 2016 #boo

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6. Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard

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7. Off the Page by Jodie Picoult

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8. Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

  • STATUS: Did not read in 2016 #boo

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9. The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

  • STATUS: Did not read in 2016 #boo

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10. L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad

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In conclusion, I read 7 of the 10 books chosen for the 10 Books in 2016 Reading Challenge. I didn’t knock the challenge out of the park, but I’m happy with my results.

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How did your 2016 reading go? Or what are you aiming to achieve in 2017? I would love to hear about your accomplishments and your goals in the comments!

Fighting for Your Right to Be Who You Are

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Okay, I know the title makes it appear that this is a political post, but bear with me. I am not going to discuss our current political climate; I am going to review Walker Long’s upcoming work, Swapship Troopers:

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Swapship Troopers is available for pre-order on Amazon, slated for release on Thursday, January 19. I had the privilege of reading an advanced copy of this work, and in a snapshot, guys: I highly recommend.

Swapship Troopers is a satiric take on Robert A. Heinlein’s work Starship Troopers. Private Quantrill is in the marine corps, putting his life on the line in the war against Bugs. These aren’t your regular, disgusting creepy crawlies. These bugs are gigantic alien species who can easily render even the most skilled fighters lifeless in a matter of seconds.

In addition to having their lives on the line, there is also the question of whether or not they’re doing much living. In the midst of war, there is one thing, in particular, that people tend to miss: la petite mort.

Luckily for these soldiers, there are some genetically altering drugs that allow for some fun times…

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This work is fun. You don’t have to have already read Starship Troopers in order to enjoy it (although you might enjoy the work more if you have read it; I actually cannot comment on that, since I haven’t). Yet, this book is not simply an erotic fiction; it is a piece of fiction that happens to contain erotic scenes. Due to the opportunity at first thrust upon him, and later provided to him, Quantrill learns about himself, while simultaneously having to deal with the preconceptions and expectations that come with the very idea, as well as embodiment of womanhood.

I was impressed with the manner in which Long portrayed the developing romance and Quantrill’s self-awareness, which add an element of sweetness to the story. This sweetness is juxtaposed with the brutality of the war being fought, as well as steamy sex scenes.

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#steamy

I really liked this novella. Have you read it? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Glowing Comparison

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I was checking out Goodreads, as I am wont to do (especially when I have work for my actual job that almost pays me a living wage), when I came across this review for my short story “Let Down My Hair:”

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A comparison to Practical Magic? I’m flattered beyond belief right now.

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Over the moon right now

Magic – It’s All Childish Whimsy until all of the Rape

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Warning: This blog post is going to be chock full of spoilers. Not just full. Chock full.

I recently discovered that Netflix had a new series available to binge: Syfy’s The Magicians. Based on the brief synopsis, it sounded like a Harry Potter knock-off, but potentially interesting, and so I clicked “Play.”

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The series started pretty much as expected. Quentin Coldwater doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere. This feeling could be correct, and it also might have something to do with the fact that he would rather read children’s literature than partake in the party occurring in his own apartment.

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His best friend on whom he’s secretly had a long and unreciprocated crush is Julia (in the sequinned mini-skirt above), who is well-adjusted, has her shit together, and plans to soon attend Yale graduate school. Quentin isn’t sure where he’s going to go to graduate school, until both he and Julia are unexpectedly pulled onto a magical campus to apply for Brakebills, the magical university they didn’t know existed until they were sitting in a classroom to take a written exam for it.

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Welcome to Brakebills

Quentin is delighted to discover that he can do magic, and that he is accepted.

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Julia is devastated to discover that magic is real, but she didn’t pass the examination to get into Brakebills.

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Sorry, Julia

At first, the series is fairly entertaining, despite the fact that the first few episodes are filled with exposition. There are some scary moments, and Julia is losing her shit, but overall, you feel that Quentin and the other first-year students have found a place where they can fit in and flourish. Except, even in the beginning, there are these forebodings of what will come, such as when Elliot tells Quentin where magic comes from.

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Are you fucking kidding me?

At first, I brushed these off. Julia had to learn that she’s not necessarily perfect at everything, and the characters are a bit melodramatic and goth. I can deal. And then, episode 9 happened…

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In this episode, the series takes a hard left turn, wherein those lovable ol’ collegiate kids (Quentin & co.) discover that the children’s books Quentin likes reading about a magical place called Fillmore were written by an awful man who adopted orphans, and then proceeded to drug and rape them. Specifically, Christopher Plover (the author), molested Martin Chadwick, one of the inspirations for the Fillmore book series. Christopher Plover’s sister, on the other hand, is so mortified that someone might find out that her brother is gay/molesting children, that she is very severe on the children, drugging them, hitting them, and putting them in “the silent room.” I honestly don’t even remember what this episode added to the series other than abject horror and unnecessary child abuse, but do want to point out one important aspect that seems to have been misinterpreted. Martin and his sister Jane both used to gain access to Fillmore, but lately, Fillmore has not been allowing Martin in (way to completely abandon a boy who needs magic more than anyone; I know Fillmore’s a place and not a person, but if it was a person, it would be not just a dick, but a bag of them…), and Martin has asked his sister to hunt down a magical animal to request an object (which turns out to be a button) that will allow the person in possession of it to travel to Fillmore. It is unclear how aware Jane is of what is being done to her brother, but she does as he asks. The characters in the show, and some people in the blogosphere have commented that Martin requested this button so that he could get back into Fillmore. But I don’t think that’s actually true. When Jane is successful, and shows the button to Martin, he is adamant that it should be kept secret from Plover (which Jane doesn’t understand, insinuating that she is unaware of how awful Plover truly is), and furthermore, he gives it to their younger brother, George, who it sounds like has not gone to Fillory on his own. Martin gives the button to George, and tells him to hide it so no one else can find it. So Martin doesn’t want the button for himself; he wants it for his brother. Martin has already been experiencing the abuse, and it sucks, but most important to him is that George never has to experience it, if possible. I feel like this is an important distinction, because while Martin definitely could be selfish and keep the button for himself to try to avoid the pictures and rape, he is strong enough to forego the easy way to escape his situation for the sake of someone else. This nobility also makes the scene in which Plover’s sister discovers George spying and fucking kills him that much more terrible. Martin did what he could to save his brother, only for his brother to die just as salvation seemed assured. Furthermore, when Ms. Plover hides her brother’s body, she unwittingly takes the magical button with him, thereby removing Martin’s chance of escape by means that his brother is no longer able to use.

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Honestly, after the ninth episode, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue watching, to see where the story was going. The problem with the ninth episode was that it felt… wrong. Not just in the, this story included awful things happening to kids, way – in the this story seems like it might have included unnecessary awful-ness to children, in a way that will do little to nothing to contribute to the story, and if the story essentially ignores what occurred, then it’s kind of assenting to a way of glorifying the portrayal of such violence. I gave it some thought. I remembered the redeeming moment of the episode, for me, which is when Alice points out that while it may be too late to save these kids from what was done to them, they can do something to figure out how to stop the children from having to relive the awful things done to them, which is occurring every night. I read some blog posts about the episode, and the series, and found that it seemed that a lot of people seemed to really like it, and that other watchers did not seem to find the episode overly gratuitous. So I decided to continue watching the series, to see if the episode and first season was appropriately resolved.

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This decision was a mistake. 😦

Quentin and Co. pretty much didn’t seem fucked up by what they had witnessed. They had, like, a two-minute conversation or something, concurred with Elliott that there was no point in trying to help the children (which is like agreeing to not help Sisyphus when you had the chance; Elliott’s a fucking asshole), and skipping away to focus on saving themselves and having sex.

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Elliott’s a dick

Now, I have no problem with sex. But The Magicians handles it all wrong. Almost everyone who has sex is so fucking serious about it, it sucks all the fun out of it. Hearing Alice and Quentin talk about having sex with each other could be shown in sex education courses to convince kids: “Don’t bother; it’s too freakin’ annoying having these conversations to justify it.”

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Forget about trying to scare kids from having sex with the threat of pregnancy – just make them watch Alice and Quentin talk about it. #soboring

Then, while the show refused to save the ghost children from living torture and death over and over again, it does make a very odd connection. You realize it in episode 13, where you discover that Julia was raped by a trickster god and now she’s a master magician. And the moth monster, whom everyone assumed for the unsubstantiated reason that he was a terrible person is Christopher Plover, turns out to be Martin. Thus, the disturbing connection that the show is making is that rape will cause the magician to become very powerful, which ties in to Elliott’s statement that magic comes from pain, but also just feels fucked up for the sake of being fucked up. Like, congratulations, your rape scenes are shocking and gross, and now I have come to the conclusion that everyone in charge of this show is a disgusting person. Sometimes, violence and abuse are necessary to the story being told. But in the case of this series? Both just feel tacked on. It’s not edgy, it’s not cool, it’s just sick.

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So me, personally? I don’t plan on watching season 2. Have you seen this series? Were you able to watch the entire thing? Did you have the same visceral reactions I did, or do you disagree?

Series photos obtained from the Syfy website.
Cat facepalm photo By Cat image: barbostick from Chicago Facepalm image: Joe Loong [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Wrong way sign By LincolnGroup11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Countdown to Good Writing

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I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1, and it. Was. Amazing.

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Look for this book on Jan. 31!

Archie Ferguson, born in NYC, is a normal boy with athletic and literary inclinations. This novel examines four ways in which his life might have occurred, if certain key moments in his life had or had not happened. There are certain desires and activities that remain the same regardless of the circumstances, but they generally manifest in different ways.

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It’s kind of like Sliding Doors, but on crack, and not primarily focused on romance.

Archie – in all four variants – is real. He has normal thoughts, he has flaws, he is smart yet sometimes foolish, and so easy to like as a character.

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As likable as a Keanu meme

In addition to the regular trials and tribulations of being a kid and teenager, Ferguson and his loved ones also experience the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the turmoil and momentous moments of the time are interesting, and currently feel topical. Political dissent, and people arguing over whether or not others are treating them as equals? Definitely problems that our society is currently facing.

free glitter text and family website at FamilyLobby.com

You should read this book.

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… & you should, too!