The Watch List – Quarter #1 2017

Television happens when I’m not in the mood to read. Or when I’m in the mood for television. There’s a difference, I swear. Here’s what I’ve been watching and flailing over recently. All are highly recommended if you have my exact tastes.

613_1024x411Big Little Lies – Let’s lead off with the heavy hitter. Get thee to HBO Go and binge away. It starts slow, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better adaptation of a novel EVER. EVER. EVER. The performances (particularly Nicole Kidman) killed me. I felt uncomfortable in the best way. And the ending slayed my heart – made me laugh and cry and smile like a goddamn idiot. Give it all the awards.

MITJ_DigitalAssets_Landing_540x360_R1_GCMozart in the Jungle – Want to keep smiling? Head on over to Amazon (don’t @ me) and watch this gem. It’s such an underappreciated comedy about an eccentric conductor taking over the New York Symphony Orchestra. It’s strange and quirky while being grounded in the slice of life narratives of struggling orchestra musicians. Gael Garcia Bernal absolutely shines as Rodrigo. Season three was bonkers.

la_ca_1223_black_sailsBlack Sails – The most epic gay pirate love story that is also a prequel to Treasure Island. And maybe one of the most sexually fluid shows ever created for mainstream audiences. Very adult, very violent. And also slow as hell where characters get the time to breathe and develop. Episodes might center around a crazy battle, but might also center around a quiet conversation between two people. The women are amazing – always two steps ahead of the men. You didn’t watch this show and you should have.

tvd-castThe Vampire Diaries – This is a rewatch. I watched live until midway through the fourth season when the show took turns I couldn’t get behind. But knowing how everything ends and having processed my complicated feelings years ago, I’m giving this show the full watch treatment. And I have to tell you, it holds up so well. The first season is one of the most expertly plotted seasons of television I’ve ever seen. And so far season two is almost just as great. TVD is a show where I actually appreciate the blooming love triangle (which, to me at least, is an actual triangle) and takes plot twists super seriously. What I mean by that is the writers never waited for the season finale to do something major. They liked to switch things up and break your heart every few episodes. And I loved them for it. Plus, the acting is mostly superb. I particularly love Paul Wesley’s performance as Stefan Salvatore. (I’m a Stelena shipper – bite me)

Also, iZombie is back and if you’ve never watched this show PLEASE RUN DON’T WALK.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

28374007Let’s start with the last book I finished, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. I read Blake’s YA horror duology way back when and enjoyed it (wait, let me go back and read those reviews to make sure this is an accurate representation of my former self). I lied! Memory is a bitch. I thought the first book was ‘meh’ but truly loved the second. Thank gods for my former self who felt compelled to immortalize things on the internet. Anyway, I like that Blake brings the horror. I love the horror. All the horror, por favor.

Crowns leans more towards your typical YA fantasy with girls who have magic. There are boys and politics and BIG REVEALS. But Blake still manages to wrangle in a horror element or two throughout her story. And those bits were the best bits (find a better written sentence, I dare you.)

Let’s talk plot. Fennbirn is an island the mainland barely remembers. And on this island, the Queen gives birth to a new set of triplets (always girls?) each generation. These triplets will have magic. Elemental magic, natural magic, and poison magic. Perhaps even war magic or the gift of sight. But only one can be Queen so it’s a fight to the death upon coming of age. Literally. They have to kill each other. Last one standing wins the right to continue breathing! Meet Katharine, Arsinoe, and Mirabelle. They are this generation’s chosen triplets and our main protagonists. You will like all three and wish for them a better outcome than is promised. Each girl has a unique upbringing (they are raised separately by adoptive families) and a strong individual personality. It helps that the story isn’t told in first person. There is far too much first person in YA.

Look, this is a slow burn. Not much happens through the first two-thirds and then the ending is bonkers. Like actual batshit banana pants bonkers. Slow meandering plots work for me. Especially as an antidote to more typical plot driven YA fantasy. I liked spending excessive amounts of time just hanging out with each teenager. All those pages makes the ending matter. But extra time also gives me more opportunities to figure out the big twists. And I did figure out those big twists. Thankfully, my discovery felt less like OMG PREDICTABLE more like THIS IS WHAT I NEEDED TO HAPPEN. So I was satisfied.

Blake gets dark at times. Remember those horror elements I was referring to above? Well, the entire Katharine story line felt Gothic and black-hearted. These poisoners are no joke. She wears a coral snake around her wrist and lives in what I imagined as a cold, stone-heavy castle. Crowds gather to watch Katharine eat airy arsenic pancakes for breakfast. (I paraphrased a scene. Sadly, there are no arsenic pancakes. But I think Kendare Blake should make a note for her next book.) Other locations see girls get their hands chopped off or their innards turned outtards. (Someone stop me.) How delightedly wicked to read, honestly. I felt refreshed and alive. YMMV.

Women rule the day and each girl has a strong female friendship she cherishes. LOVED. But badly done romance also creeps its way into the book reminding me of my least favorite YA romance nonsense. WHO THE HELL HAS EVER BEEN IN A LOVE TRIANGLE? I guess you could blame magic in this case. But I’m just so tired of contrived angst. There are romantic and platonic relationships done interestingly here, though. I tried to focus on those instead.

Should you read this book? I mean, I don’t know. But I read it and had a lovely Sunday afternoon waiting for teenage girls to kill each other. There’s a metaphor around here somewhere about womanhood, murder, and society, if you care enough to find it. For now, I’m off to my next literary journey. I hope there’s more murder.
FINAL VERDICT: A YA Fantasy that’s not reinventing the genre but still lured me in with its Gothic atmosphere and many female characters. A slow and meandering story with a punch to the gut at the end. Popcorn fiction with a side of murder and savage bears. Tres estrellas.

Currently Reading: March Madness

I’ve gotten into the rotten habit of reading multiple books at one time. On one hand, it helps me keep reading on a daily basis because I can better choose a book to fit my particular mood. On the other hand, I never feel like I’m making any kind of adequate progress and then I get into a funk because it takes me too long to finish an entire book. And yet, I can’t stop.

I started Pachinko by Min Jin Lee roughly two weeks ago. Everyone has heard of this multi generational family drama following a Korean family in Japan during the 20th Century. Deep down I know that I’m not in the right head space for a chunkster. About a week ago I tried to set it aside but couldn’t leave the characters behind. They called to me from my bookshelf desperate to return to my reading life. Sunja threatened to knife me in my sleep. So one chapter a day it is.

On the nonfiction front, I’m dipping in and out of Boy Erased by Garrard Conley. Again, I don’t know if it’s the right time for this book despite how much I’m liking it. Conley is recounting his time in a infamous gay conversion therapy organization that he voluntarily joined in 2004 at 19 years old. I randomly pulled this off my unread nonfiction shelf instead of choosing what I was specifically in the mood for. Never do that, future self. You know better.

Another problematic selection is Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb which I started a month ago on audio. I’m a rotten audio listener. It takes me forever AND EVER AND EVER to finish listening to a book. Because podcasts call to me more so than books on tape. But 4.5 hours in I’m enjoying the hell out of this story which makes me so happy because I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Farseer Trilogy. THERE ARE PIRATES.

Speaking of pirates, why am I also reading Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown? Another book about pirates which is going to get confused with Ship of Magic at some point. I’ve broken the cardinal rule of multiple book reading. DON’T READ BOOKS THAT ARE TOO SIMILAR. But here I am in read-a-like hell. Mad Hannah Abbott will not let me go, though. So I’m stuck. Rad BAMF lady pirates who kill people with customized duel jade handled pistols is a perfectly acceptable place to be stuck so I’m okay with this development. Plus, FOOD PORN.

Do y’all do this? Does it drive you batty like it does me? Do you feel guilty and shameful? Do you decide to ignore this guilt and shame and persevere into this literary madness? Please tell me I am not alone.

Next up: I discuss my Three Dark Crowns feelings.

Remember Me?

Haha, I wrote this years ago and never even posted it. But I’m posting it today, goddammit. I’m going to blog again. As a writing exercise. 

Once upon a time I wrote almost every day. Whether it was decent fanfiction or marginally interesting book reviews, the creative part of me that liked putting words into sentences was able to climax. Semi-decent orgasms all around. Occasionally something satisfied me enough to warrant a cigarette. You get the picture.

I haven’t written more than some random Tumblr microblogging in a long while. I’ve had ideas about comic scripts, novels, and many, many half-finished short stories starring odd children who talk to fake plastic turtles. I even started a tiny letter that was meant to be a space where I could write something – anything – even if it was the literal worst. So far, it’s been a bunch of crickets chirping. Someone needs to kill those damn crickets already. But not me. Because they hop – at random – like in my face. No thanks.

And to be honest, I’m lost. I feel like a merry-go-round that has slowed down to a crawl but is too damned stubborn to just stop already. Today I got a lot of my day job spreadsheeting done and it depressed me. Because the thing I spend hours (that might be a stretch, sue me) doing every day is just not fulfilling the part of me that craves the creative orgasm. Accounting pays the bills, but it also basically blackens my already cold, dead-ish heart and chips away at whatever little bits of soul I have left. That’s not dramatic at all.

Right now, I’m listening to Amy Poehler’s audiobook recording of her memoir, Yes Please, and she’s talking about bitches getting shit done. But is getting shit done enough? I got a lot of shit done today and I’m still lacking whatever productive important feeling of euphoria I’m supposed to feel. Sure, there were small moments where I figured something out and was briefly happy. But something tells me that on my death bed I won’t be looking back at my life thinking – God, getting that Section H testing workpaper done was just so goddamn meaningful. So what now Amy Poehler? What would Leslie Knope do?

Likely, they’d each figure out a way to do both – make money and make creative orgasms. I imagine we’d have a little laugh over some particularly witty joke about creative orgasms being a lot like making love to yourself because masturbation jokes are always hilarious. That’s life hack #89. And so here I am taking a small part of my afternoons this week to write whatever this is. It might be horrible to read (I’m being generous with the ‘might be’ there), but I’m okay with that because I’m a bitch getting shit done even if I’m not quite where I want to be yet. The most pivotal part of writing is to – this is really shocking, ya’ll – WRITE. You should be paying me for this advice, honestly.

Moral of the story? I’m back. And yes, this will still mostly be a book-ish blog, albeit a casual one.

State of My Reading

It’s been so, so long since I’ve posted here. That makes me sad and incredibly happy all at once. I wish I missed writing about books more, but I don’t. It got tedious and tiresome and boring. And frankly, I just never felt like I found my voice here. I always felt like some other version of ‘Brooke’ who was trying too hard.

Sigh.

I now spend most of my time on Tumblr talking The Walking Dead. That’s my current happy place. Even though it can be a total freakshow over there. And wow, people can be such douchecanoes. But I’ve made some awesome friends. I’ve even booked tickets to San Diego next summer to spend some time with a couple of said new friends.

I’m still reading! But I’m following ZERO rules. Well, beyond keeping up with my IRL book club. And I’ve been reading the Riot Read selections. Other than that – FREEDOM! I choose whatever I want, whenever I want. And it is GLORIOUS. No lists, no goals, no pressures. No – ‘I’m not reading enough of this or that’. No – ‘I’m reading too much of that or this’. No guilt. Because enough was enough.

That’s not to say I’m not being a conscious reader. I still believe in reading diversely. But I don’t weigh myself down with expectations and numbers and statistics. I don’t make myself TBR lists. I go to my shelves and pick out books that speak to me in that particular moment. And I’ve been reading slump free. Because sometimes I just don’t want to read novels, dammit. So then comics become my main jam. And that’s totally fucking fine.

Right now I’m having a little nonfiction moment. I’ve read books by Jen Kirkman and Julia Child. I’m in the middle of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink is next on the list. I can’t remember the last time I let myself linger over nonfiction. I WAS SO LOST FOR SO LONG.

Maybe I’ll come back here one day. Maybe I’ll find myself posting from time to time. Who knows? And who really cares? I miss the lovely bloggers I interacted with on a daily basis. But y’all are still over on Twitter when I need you! I care so much more about conversations these days anyway. I’m DONE with reviews. DONE AND DONE.

Anyway, just wanted to stop by, explain my absence, and wish y’all a merry Friday.

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

unnamed (2)I can’t believe I haven’t written a review for Gone Girl yet. How do these things happen to me? Oh, that’s right, TWD obsession. Well, fear not my friends. The time has come. Gillian Flynn sure does know how to pull the feelings from you, doesn’t she?

Amy and Nick are a thirty-something married couple who’ve hit some financial and family trouble. They are now back in his small Missouri hometown, and we open on the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary. The narrative shifts back and forth between Nick present day and Amy’s diary from the beginning of their relationship. Because Amy’s gone missing and it doesn’t look good. We go from there.

The film trailer was released a few weeks ago, and so I knew I had to get on reading Flynn’s latest and greatest. I refused to even watch the preview before I’d read the book. GG was a huge darling a couple of years ago and fell victim to the hype monster, which means I refused to read it until things had calmed. While I waited, I read her first two novels – Sharp Objects and Dark Places. One I loved; the other I liked.

Gone Girl is a whole other thing. What impressed me so much about Sharp Objects were the risks Flynn was willing to take, particularly in making people nasty and the imagery even worse. She had a grit and a bluntness to her work that was able to shock even me. GG is different in its way but not any less shocking. But this time, she’s focused primarily on making you hate all of the people just because they are shitty people. The worst, really. You think someone can be redeemed and then shit just falls apart. You will want to punch everyone and fling the book across the room, but you will not be able to stop reading. And that’s the pleasure of Gone Girl. It grabs you, shakes you, and won’t stop until you’ve turned the last page.

Was the novel perfect? No. Personally, I had moments where I wondered what was the point, you know? All those pages just to see the lengths people will go to out-do one another. To see how shitty we can be at the core of who we are. To see how much our childhood or rearing can fuck us up? To just play with the audience like we’re the mouse and Flynn’s the cat? But it’s one hell of a ride so who cares?

The Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell

unnamedThe Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell is exactly that, weird. But in the best of ways. It’s a Faustian tale for the millennial generation.  Throw in a Devil-owned Lucky Cat, and well, you had me at hello.

Billy Ridgeway is kind of an odd, hipster-ish guy. He’s 30, works at a sandwich shop, and lives in Brooklyn. He’s a writer without much success and has a girlfriend who may or may not be that into him. But one day, Satan shows up in his apartment looking to make a deal. Help him retrieve his lost Lucky Cat in order to save the world from a fiery extinction, and he’ll grant Billy his one true desire – the chance to become a happily published novelist. How can Billy refuse?

If you aren’t sold by now, you might as well quit reading. Because if that synopsis doesn’t push all your buttons, this isn’t the book for you. Sorry. For those still with me, I really think you’ll love The Weirdness. It’s the perfect beachside romp filled with clever moments and well-written sentences. Bushnell gets NYC and failed writers in a way that makes this fantastical story feel very, very much like some truth you never thought you needed to know. The whole story is mostly just a giant metaphor of what writing is like these days, particularly being an unpublished writer. Which is pretty much just the most amazing metaphor, certainly the most fun, that I’ve read in a long while.

The Weirdness gets two thumbs up and several wet, sloppy kisses from me. I think most readers – from the casual to the very serious – can find something to love here. The sci-fi/fantasy kids get a nonstop, crazy adventure. The literary folks get beautiful writing and a plethora of smartly done literary devices and allusions. There’s religion and romance, if that’s your bag. And werewolves. Because someone out there always needs werewolves.