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The Invisible Moth Watches…

Watching TV - Cat - Tote | TeePublic

So, since my household got a streaming subscription during the pandemic, I’ve been hit hard with a string of big disappointments. I’d heard such ravings about Netflix originals, that I couldn’t wait to dive in. But, Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy, The Order, Fate: The Winx Saga, and Enola Holmes all let me down in one way or another (in some cases, several). Therefore, I returned to thinking programs on streaming weren’t for me.

Then my kids stumbled on a string of winners: The Last Kids on Earth, Kupo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Dragon Prince, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, and the amazing Hilda. And I decided to give the search function on Netflix another go.

A few weeks later, I am here to report success.

Fresh Movie Quotes — Kodachrome (2017)

Kodachrome

Yes, that is in fact Scarlet Witch playing a role that is not Scarlet Witch or Avenger-ish in any way. In Kodachrome, she’s a nurse for a cancer patient, an elderly bastard of a photographer with an attitude issue and earned regrets. The patient wants his estranged son to take a road trip with him to the last place in the country that develops Kodachrome film. There were some snippets about the changing face of professional photography, but for the most part this movie is about dysfunctional families and dealing with loss, trying to make up for mistakes, letting go of terrible hurts and learning to forgive and love again. This is a realistic, raw, definitely adult and not always nice portrayal of what brings people together, drives them apart, and draws them back to individuals who have wronged them. This is so good.

There are also some great scenes discussing pop music and the industry, as the old man’s son is a record label executive, struggling to keep up with the changes in his own field. Thanks to this movie, I was reminded of one of the best 90s songs in existence, “Lightning Crashes” by the band Live. I do believe it’s the first time I’ve ever heard Live music used in a film as well, so major kudos to the crew for hunting down this forgotten gem. I found that, despite it being easily 21 years since listening to the song, I remembered all the words, and that its power has not diminished. This is also so, so good.

While Kodachrome isn’t one I’d recommend for the masses, if you don’t mind R-rated content, appreciate grunge music and pop psychology, and can handle the subject matter, I absolutely am shoving this one in your face. It’s got a fantastic cast, terrific writing, and the directing never feels heavyhanded. Completely a thumbs-up from me.

The Chair

The Chair | Netflix Official Site

This show is my top adult 2021 recommendation. I loved it. The Chair is an honest, realistic portrayal of being in academia in the 21st century, the struggles women — especially women of color — still face in higher education, and the challenges subjects such as Literature are being forced to reckon with in the era of no one wanting “useless” degrees.

Since leaving Grey’s Anatomy, Sandra Oh (who played Meredith Grey’s best friend for 10 seasons, and always was second fiddle in that cast, let’s be frank) has become a leading lady in her own right. While I found her crime drama, Killing Eve, WAY too unnerving in the end, Oh’s role in The Chair hits such a sweet spot. As Professor Joon Yi, she capitalizes on her ability to be serious and funny and clever and vulnerable all in the same series. The chemistry between Joon Yi and her co-worker Bill is undeniable. And the personal issues all the characters face — whether it be career-focused or family-related — ring so true and poignant. Bill lost his wife; Joon Yi has a troubled adopted daughter; Yaz wants to change teaching methods for the better, while Joan is caught between her comfort with the past and the intrigues of the present. I am hardcore fangirling over this show.

Nothing is left off the table, either, when it comes to the plot — the dangers of cancel culture; the pain and irrationality of grief; the obstacles of bi-racial adoption; hanging onto a vanishing way of life, deciding whether to embrace the new with impartial compliance, or whether to forge the path ahead for yourself. Again, this is rated TV-MA, and I totally understand if that’s not someone’s cup of tea. But if that doesn’t bother you, and you’re at all interested in academia, then start watching this as soon as humanly possible. It’s a short season (only 6 episodes, I think), and it will totally leave you wanting more (NOW!), but, OMG, is it GOOD.

There better be a second season coming up before I even have time to ask about it.

The Loud House movie

What time is The Loud House Movie coming to Netflix?

Thanks to Muffin for discovering this. The Loud House used to be one of his favorite shows on Nickelodeon (and honestly, the only reason he stopped watching it is because he simply watches YouTube and Netflix much more than any network channels anymore). It’s a modern cartoon, with some of the pitfalls one comes to expect from any children’s programming (the occasional episode that just doesn’t make sense, even for an animated universe; tropey characters overdone; recurring plot points that begin to feel dusty). But it’s not often nowadays that a cartoon with truly endearing characters and a more believable premise comes along, and in that regard, The Loud House stands apart. Also, it’s very uncommon for movies based on kids’ shows to be at all decent, and this was certainly a breath of fresh air; this feature-length story goes in a new direction plot-wise, while maintaining the concrete traits of the characters, and not relying too much on slapstick or the tropes to carry the tale. Well done, I (get to) say again; well done.

Not new, but one hundred percent worth the mention: Monty Python, Labyrinth, We Bare Bears

Monty Python and the Holy Grail | Netflix
Is Labyrinth (1986) on Netflix Switzerland?
we bare bears netflix philippines - Cheap Online Shopping -

None of these are Netflix originals, either, important to note; but when other streaming services or on-demand providers stop offering back-catalogs of older shows or movies (that are still plenty popular) (looking straight at you, Cartoon Network), I’ve found Netflix is doing a pretty good job of keeping a lot of oldies-but-goodies in the lineup.

Cancel culture has especially come down hard on comedy and satire, and Monty Python is a perfect example of content that might be shunned by other channels or platforms. So the fact I was able to add The Holy Grail to my list the other night really warms my heart. Like almost anyone who has already watched that film approximately 14 times, I still have a number of the lines memorized, and after re-viewing am seized by the sudden desire to terrorize innocent townsfolk by shouting “Ni!” at them as I gallop past, clapping my coconuts together.

(Bonus points for anybody who gets those references.)

As an unapologetic Jim Henson devotee, I am so excited that Labyrinth is now available on streaming. I haven’t watched it yet, but it is in the queue, and I will be ready with tissues and my singing voice!

Since We Bare Bears got cancelled (and I can’t afford DVD box sets lately), having this show at the touch of a few buttons has been great for the kids. With its infectiously-catchy theme tune, lovable misfit characters, and offbeat humor, this is a winner for all ages, I feel.

And there we have it! Congratulations on making it to the end of this rather long post! Now go watch the recommendation of your choice!

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Cenotaphs Blog Tour

Cenotaphs by Rich Marcello

Good morning! We’re back with R&R Blog Tours with the last in this string of promos/reviews I’ve done, today featuring Cenotaphs by Rich Marcello. Summary below, followed by thoughts:

AFTER A CHANCE MEETING, AN OLD MAN AND A MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN
CHART AN UNCONVENTIONAL PATH FORWARD.
When Ben Sanna, a contemplative retiree with a penchant for helping people, and Samantha
Beckett, a secretive New York City hedge fund manager, meet by chance in a small Vermont
town, they enter into a tenuous relationship. Over several weeks, Samantha and Ben open
their pasts inch by inch, sift through their futures consciously, and come to terms with the
strength and depth of their bond. A meditation on redemption told in alternating chapters of musings and scenes, Cenotaphs is about platonic love; the ways we close ourselves off in
reaction to pain and what happens when we open ourselves up again; and the deep, painful
legacy of loss.

This was an interesting departure from my usual choices; it’s almost a cross between traditional literary fiction and a contemporary philosophical-esque work. It shows how the generation gap can be bridged; how people who are aging now might appreciate the present more than young adults realize — while still firmly holding to everything they love of their past; and what can be gained from sharing perspectives brought about by not just age but a variety of life experiences. As a native New Englander myself, I absolutely appreciated the geographic and cultural references, and could definitely imagine this little town as resembling one of several from my own youth. A lot of the feelings explored in this text are more towards the bittersweet if not sad side, and this may not be a read for everyone, but it was indeed deep and interesting.

For anyone who would like to enter the giveaway for an Amazon e-gift card, here’s the link!:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f291/?

Happy reading, everyone!

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How to Mess Your Readers Up (Not in a Good Way): House of Earth and Blood Review

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City): Maas, Sarah J.: 9781635574043:  Amazon.com: Books

Have you ever impulsively purchased a doorstop of a book (hang on, let me finish), dove into it straightaway, gotten about 200 pages in, felt that you hit a wall, and put it down…but then couldn’t stop thinking about it?

I’m not referring to the general disappointed feeling we’ve all experienced when we discover that newest addition to the TBR just isn’t for us. I don’t mean that moment of going, “It was such a good idea, too bad the _________ just stunk.” Rather, I refer to the syndrome of If-I-Don’t-Finish-This-Title-It-Will-Haunt-Me-But-I-Can’t-Say-Why. (Yes, I’ll think of a better name, I promise.)

And then once you start reading again, you can’t stop until you reach the final pages… Even as the bottom drops out and you realize that foreboding sense you had early on was in fact a reliable indicator of things to come…

This is exactly what happened to me with Sarah J Maas’ latest release, House of Earth and Blood.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the title alone grabbed my attention rather than turning me off? Explicitly violent and erotic and constant rude language content generally isn’t my thing, and I know all of these can be expected, if not guaranteed, in an urban fantasy by the author of A Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses. But I also absolutely judge a book by its cover, and I was totally sucked in by the aesthetics of this new series.

And, 3 months later (yes, of course it took me that long, it’s 800 pages!), I have this to say about House of Earth and Blood:

I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.

I. ALSO. HATED. THIS. BOOK.

And now I don’t know what to do with it, or myself.

We’ll start with the good.

(Warning: Spoilers!!!)

To begin with, the worldbuilding of this story is INCREDIBLE. Set in a more or less modern place that sounds like California, but called Crescent City (or Lunathion), this universe establishes right away that faeries, shapeshifters, witches, vampires, merfolk, and humans all live together, under the rule of a group called the Asteri (but in laymen’s terms, angels). The Asteri have near god-like status, and no one really dares to mess with them — except a group of human rebels that started a war that’s still raging in another country.

So the main focus of HOEAB’s setting is life in Crescent City, which blends magic and technology, normal stuff like restaurants and cell phones and tourist destinations, but the industries and culture and history all swing in the favor of the Vanir (all the non-human creatures described collectively). So shapeshifters walk the streets in their animal or bird forms; the Vanir run the city government and police force; the witches are basically doctors, because of their healing abilities; the local sport is played by fae and shifters, with plenty of human fans.

The depth and breadth of thought put into how this system works was ASTOUNDING. It was really easy for me to picture the city and its inhabitants as I read, and get a pretty good idea of what their lives could be like. The protagonist of this tale, Bryce, is a half-fae, half-human woman, working for a sorceress who sells and buys magical artifacts on the black market. (WOW – no sarcasm, things like this were SO well developed.) Anyway, in the prologue, Bryce and her best friend and roommate, Danika (a wolf shifter) are party girls in their early 20s, forever loyal to each other, more like sisters, and then something terrible happens. BEGIN SPOILER ALERT.

I loved most of the characters:

Bryce Quinlan is a sassy on the outside, soft inside heroine. She used to dance, wanted to be a professional ballerina (OMG, YES), but was told she didn’t have the “best body type” for the stage, so eventually, she quit. (RELATING SOOOO HARD) Early in the story, she suffers a traumatic loss, and her grief is palpable. The writing of Bryce’s agony, avoidance, and angst following the brutal murder of her best friend is SPOT ON. Grief isn’t logical, it doesn’t take the same path for everyone, and Bryce’s behavior is raw, realistic, and so easy to feel. Two years after the crime, she’s put herself in a routine of work, exercise, and cheesy television, so that she can keep going, but all she wants is to erase her present and have her past be real again.

The love interest, Hunt Alathar, is introduced in the prologue, but really enters his role when a murder mirroring the one that gave Bryce PTSD occurs in the city, and Hunt is assigned as guard duty and investigator. Hunt is an angel, but he’s a slave to the Asteri, because there was an angel rebellion centuries ago, and he was on the losing side, so since then he’s been punished for rising up against his masters. (HOLY EXCELLENT LEGEND RETELLING, BATMAN!) Hunt’s conflicted feelings about wanting to complete his sentence so he can be free, while not really regretting the rebellion, while being very aware he could be killed for any tiny infraction, and mourning those already lost to the cause — was all AMAZINGLY written. Hunt considers himself a soldier, not a killer, and the author brilliantly captures the trauma he’s already endured along with a pushing desire for revenge.

There’s also Ruhn, a faerie with family connections to Bryce, and he is the definition of a LOVABLE CINNAMON ROLL. He’s the heir to a massively influential and powerful throne, and he doesn’t want to be, and he hates his father, but he doesn’t want to disappoint his father, and he loves Bryce, who’s mad at him AND SOBBBBING!

Let’s totally bring up SYRINX, who is Bryce’s pet chimera (ENOUGH SAID), and Lehabah, a sweet little fire sprite, who has Bryce’s back no matter what. THE FEELS, MY SON, THE FEELS. Ruhn’s besties, Declan and Flynn, are awesome, too — I really wish they got more time on page! And we can’t forget Bryce’s college friends, Juniper — a faun who’s a dancer in the city ballet!!! — and Fury, a totally badass assassin who is completely there for Bryce at the eleventh hour.

My biggest issues with the characters were how underdeveloped the wolf shifters were, after hints in the prologue that they’d be a much bigger part of the story; and how the antagonists were, generally, just chewing the scenery. Only Jesiba, Bryce’s sorceress boss, was more than one-dimensional, but Jesiba was legit so hateful I simply waited to see someone kill her, kill her a lot.

Okay, now onto the bad:

The romance between Bryce and Hunt did not click for me. As their relationship developed from not liking each other — for no apparent reason, I must add — to tolerating one another to lust on steriods and then of course LURVE, I really felt the LURVE aspect didn’t fit. By the halfway mark (page 400 or so), I could absolutely see them becoming close friends, maybe like cousins, NOT as a couple. Something about the author’s insistence that they found each other hot-hot-hot…turned me off the notion.

None of the antagonists had believable motivations. Sabine (Danika’s mother) did not act one bit like a grieving parent; she was just a bitch, all the time. Her biggest character trait was slut-shaming Bryce (when the narration suggests Bryce had a few past boyfriends and a couple of one-night stands — erm, o-kay???). The Autumn King (Ruhn’s father) was a cardboard cutout of an all-powerful Fae king — who did nothing when his city was in dire peril. Even the Viper Queen, who seemed interesting at first, really faded off the scene as a murder suspect — or as a secret ally — until the very last minute, as if the author forgot about her for 27 chapters.

Even when the real Bad Guy behind the murders was revealed, it wasn’t surprising. It wasn’t even coherent, as — SPOILER ALERT! — the person in question was reputed to be so powerful, he WOULDN’T HAVE NEEDED THE ARTIFACT HE CLAIMED HE DID TO END THE WAR. That was the other MAJOR letdown on the plot — that the civilian murders tied in to the war against the humans, WHICH WASN’T EVEN HAPPENING IN CRESCENT CITY. Which DIDN’T EVEN NEED TO BE A PLOT POINT, since, if the Asteri were really practically divine, they could have JUST SMITED ALL THE REBELS AND BEEN DONE WITH IT. The concept doesn’t hold water against the established rules of this universe. Especially given the fact that Maas never provides us with reasons why some of the humans are fighting the Asteri. All the humans in Crescent City seem to like being around the Vanir just fine. Where Bryce’s parents live, in basically the suburbs, humans seem to have a bias against Vanir that’s akin to racism, but again, no reasons for this are presented. Some of the Vanir don’t like Bryce for being half-human, indicating the bias might very well go both ways — but, once more, we need reasons for the discrimination, and those never take root.

So, here we are at the worst moment of when-it-all-fell-apart for me:

THAT. ENDING. Holy Crow and all of the Raven Cycle, WHAT HAPPENED to the narration?!?! For the majority of the text, we switch back and forth between Bryce’s and Hunt’s POVs, so we get a pretty good understanding of what’s going on and who knows what. BUT THEN, somewhere around page 600, the author drops a BOMBSHELL that turns Hunt into a possible Bad Guy. And then does THE SAME EXACT THING about 50 pages later WITH BRYCE. It’s revealed — in a really lazy style, in the manner of, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention” to the reader — that BOTH HAVE BEEN LYING TO EACH OTHER, and the author KEPT THAT FROM HER AUDIENCE. So now, we don’t know who to root for, whether they should end up together because they’re both so awful, or if it’s all a trick leading up to the Big Reveal in the climatic action (which wouldn’t be cool, either, by the way).

This meant I couldn’t cheer for Bryce as (MASSIVE SPOILER) her hidden power came out to save the city. I couldn’t cheer for Hunt as (MASSIVE SPOILER) he finally defeated those who enslaved him.

I felt Bryce didn’t deserve Danika’s loyalty, or Ruhn’s. Bryce’s mother, who I admired, turned out to be a CONNIVING BITCH. Bryce had kept from Ruhn information he NEEDED, for YEARS.

I felt Hunt didn’t earn his release from slavery. I didn’t support the other angels and Heads of the City rallying behind him. In fact I wondered who had had a lobotomy when.

I was so disgusted with their behavior that I wanted to see the other Vanir take down our two main characters.

I wanted to throw the book. I almost threw it in the recycling bin. I did toss it on top of my donation pile. Then I thought of Syrinx, and Ruhn, and Juniper, and moved it to a corner of my bookshelf.

I could literally CRY with the feeling of betrayal I’m experiencing.

The author is a jerk, for using a “surprise, they’re keeping secrets!” technique as a “twist” — plain and simple.

It actually HURTS. I connected to these characters, and now…I want them written out.

This is messed up. Seriously. WHY would an author obviously spend a great amount of time and energy developing such an intricate world, with so much worth exploring, draw us in, get us invested, and then — literally ruin it??

I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way. I’ve disliked characters for being whiny, shortsighted, selfish, making bad decisions, using people, and even having questionable taste in music — but never I have felt like an author earned my trust and then stuck their middle finger up to it.

YOWCH.

YE-OWCH.

Anybody want to help me figure out what to do with my copy?

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What I Learned from Being the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything

HD wallpaper: fantasy art, water, anime, sky, night sky, stars | Wallpaper  Flare

Between August 2020 and August 2021, I was the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything — I was 42 years old. Just hush with the reminders that it’s only a joke in a science fiction novel; like many other fans, I had already decided that this number would be significant to me throughout the year. I was ready to have cosmic wisdom bestowed on me.

So, what did I learn while I was 42? The fact we were in the midst of a global pandemic did make for some interesting circumstances and situations to mull over or to seek information from. This also meant that how I would usually have defined my personal goals for a 12-month period needed to be adjusted — without any guilt or blame directed towards myself if I happened to fall short.

That would probably be the first big lesson: Let plans change and don’t feel bad about it. If lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing taught us anything, it should’ve been that being able to adapt to a sudden, uncontrollable shift in one’s environment is healthy and helpful. While I absolutely would rather have been in the dance studio and writing more than attempting to homeschool Muffin, the situation was out of my control and I shifted my expectations and priorities to cope. I didn’t have to release a new book; I didn’t have to hit that next follower mark; I didn’t have to read every hyped publication. And all the things I wasn’t doing should have no effect on my self-esteem.

If you aren’t where you thought you’d be by now, it’s totally okay. When I was 35, I decided that I’d like to open my own dance studio by 40. Obviously that hasn’t happened. At 41, I was kinda sad about this. But there were many valid reasons why the resources just weren’t available, and needing to push back a goal I really wanted to stick to became easier and easier to accept. I hadn’t failed; I hadn’t let anyone down; there was no one I needed to worry about disappointing or messing with. Not even myself.

Knowing what you like, how you are, and sticking by it is completely all right, no apologies required. I’ve been approaching this pretty steadfastly for the last few years, but now it’s quite stuck in. There’s nothing wrong with me liking light-hearted fantasy, television and movies that ask for a suspension of reality, and YouTube channels that revolve around video games I’ll never play. I don’t have to defend my talking to Muffin’s stuffed animals while making his bed. I won’t be ashamed that puppies and Baby Yoda always make me smile — no matter what else has gone on in the day. I choose to be a glass-half-full person, approach tough times with a bit of humor, a lot of sarcasm, and vast stores of hidden bravery, and the world can just deal with it.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. While I knew this refrain for most of my life, I don’t think it really kicked in until recently how it applies. I have to accept if someone ends a friendship I’m not done with. I have to accept that some people will never like my tastes, my preferences, my views. I won’t win any friends or favors by pestering people to concede to my opinions. If there are ideological issues that will only result in hitting a brick wall, then cutting ties, letting go, and wishing others well is a mature and compassionate path forward. (By the way, I’m not targeting anyone specific with these remarks — I think we can all relate after such a year of division.) I don’t need to try to change beliefs that I hold steadfast, to, either, to find more online community; I’m doing myself a great disservice fighting to fit into a mold that I break. Connecting with folks that I get along with and who listen and show respect will fill my inner well a lot more.

Life is what you make of it. I’m disabled, with a chronic illness; I have children that sometimes test the very limits of my patience; I have many daily frustrations. I could be bitter and complain and rage constantly. Or I could smell the roses, pet the cats, look for the unicorns hiding in the forest. I could seek peace and growth. In some ways, I do feel rather zen these days about determining what matters and what I can let go of.

When I passed the torch to whoever may have turned 42 this August 14th, I did experience a bit of sadness at the mantle being lifted. But more so I felt proud, and grateful. Whatever the cosmos and the divine hoped to teach me during my 42nd year of life, I hope I got it.

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Empire City (R&R Blog Tours)

EMPIRE CITY : NO WOMAN'S LAND (THE EMPIRE CITY TRILOGY Book 1) - Kindle  edition by VALVIS, GEORGE. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Good morning! We’re back with another stint on a blog tour for Shannon at R&R! Today’s feature is a sci-fi novel called Empire City: No Woman’s Land. It’s a take on why one city determined women were causing all their problems, and became men-only. They do have feminine-styled androids who serve as companions and housekeepers (but of course that’s an issue on its own, says the enlightened reader). When one of their young elites takes a traditional trip into the wilderness outside the city (similar to tribal coming of age rites, like the Aboriginal “walkabout”), he comes across a real human woman for the first time in his life. As other civilizations in the area don’t agree with Empire City’s view of women, the young man gets hit with a steep learning curve, that ultimately results in (yay) changing his mind about them.

Blurb:

What Would Life Be Like If Women Were Banished From the World?

It is the year 2206.

All that remains of the world are the Americas. Empire city has banished all women for three generations now and men have absolute control, using female synthetics as companions/servants.

After graduating from the Academy of Justice, Jason Brown, a charismatic hover jet bike racer and the future leader of the city, has to complete his Crii, a mandatory trip of self-awareness in the wildlands beyond the walls of the city for 100 days.

The unexpected events that take place on this trip alter his perception of the world and he is now faced with an impossible dilemma.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is written in a modern, interesting style, that incorporates elements of the author’s multi-layered life (he’s Egyptian by birth, was in the military, and now lives in England); such as cultural values that seem “old-fashioned” to other societies, and experiences only gained by living near the desert. The voice of Jason, the protagonist, is a mix of a son not wanting to disappoint his father or his city, but also a strong, independent young man who soon realizes foreign perspectives may be worth delving deeper into. I also thought it was interesting that the female androids in Empire City are treated with “respect” and even “love” — except the outer civilizations wouldn’t agree with how the men of Jason’s home think of these constructs and emotions regarding the opposite sex. It’s an anti-misogyny story, but there isn’t really a soapbox presentation to the narration; it’s much more of a journey, along with the protagonist’s own.

Available on Amazon for those of you who are interested!

And there’s a giveaway!

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f285/?

Until next time, happy reading, everyone!

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The Lunar Chronicles: A More Proper Review and Some Musings

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer - Evanston Public Library

So, a little while ago, I mentioned I was reading The Lunar Chronicles for the first time, and enjoying it. And I didn’t go into much further detail, as at the time I hadn’t yet finished the final book, and was waiting until I had to do a full review. Last week that goal was achieved, so here I am.

This is a series that’s been on the radar of YA/sci-fi/fairytale retelling/crossover fans for a number of years now. Many of us read it ages back, and I’m late to the party; but in this case it means I got to read everything at once, and appreciate the well-done tropes from a non-cynical point of view.

In the 2010s, I was so over fairytale retellings; the niche genre had really started gaining steam, and they were everywhere. So, while I like fairytales as much as the next former childhood-dress-up princess, I avoided these novels — and that included Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter.

Then, finally, last year, I bit the metaphorical bullet; now that the series has been published for a while, sets of all the paperbacks are cheaper than they used to be, and it was lockdown, and… I think everybody knows how the rest of that sentence goes. Anyway, onto the review already!

Cinder isn’t your typical rags-to-riches Cinderella-inspired story. For one, it’s very realistic, set in the future after a huge war, and lot of the problems society constantly struggles with — poverty, inequality, lack of resources, political trickiness — totally exist, and therefore the setting is quite relatable. Cinder herself is in fact a cyborg — basically half human and half robot — and her stepmother (not evil, but certainly nasty and unpleasant) resents having to buy her upgraded parts when something malfunctions or wears out. So, in the early chapters of the first book, Cinder is an excellent metaphor for disability and prejudice — neighbors and colleagues don’t completely trust her, for no reason other than her cyborg status; she’s deemed inferior by her stepmother, and only worthy of being assigned the chores no one else wants to do. The way this sentiment is expressed, in this context, is powerful. For all of us who couldn’t really understand why Cinderella was so put upon — they made her scrub the floors and stoke the fire because she was…pretty?? — Cinder is an infinitely more relatable figure.

While the most familiar elements of the original fairytale are present — there’s a handsome prince and a royal ball the servant isn’t allowed to attend — the rest of Cinder includes plot twists worthy of gasps, such as a worldwide plague of mysterious origin, a colony on the moon, a monarch who uses mind control to maintain power, and rumors of a lost princess. Despite a lot of heavy content, the writing style keeps an easy, flowing pace, with enough introspection that we get to know Cinder and the other characters pretty well, but don’t get bogged down in armchair psychology. There are some scenes that deliberately don’t reveal enough — seeing as it’s the first in a series — but the reader doesn’t feel lost or too puzzled.

The next book takes up where Cinder left off, and introduces the next protagonist, Scarlet, who’s a Little Red Riding Hood-ish figure. Scarlet lives on a farm with her grandmother — a very different setting from the big city Cinder lived in — so we get to see another perspective of this future Earth. Scarlet’s grandmother has gone missing, and while searching for clues to her loved one’s whereabouts, she encounters an unlikely ally, interestingly nicknamed Wolf.

Again, the familiar components of the fairytale have been turned on their head. Instead of a red cloak, Scarlet wears a red hoodie; Wolf looks human, but acts like an animal; the grandmother is hardly an innocent bystander, but has classified information that secret super soldiers from the moon colony would do almost anything to obtain. The result is that Scarlet is an exciting adventure that delves deeper into the lore of this universe, keeping up as well with Cinder’s new endeavors (now that she’s fled her city and been labeled a “cyborg fugitive”).

Author Marissa Meyer did a great job following her major plot threads through the series; before the end of Scarlet, we’re seamlessly introduced to our next heroine, Cress. Although there are now 3 storylines meeting in Cress, Meyer pulled it off. Here we add a Rapunzel-type to the mix; instead of a tower in the woods, Cress lives in a satelite, orbiting the Earth. She’s a prisoner of and unwilling spy for the evil Queen of Luna (what the moon colony is called). Due to a combination of factors, Cress’ satelite crashes in the Saharan desert, and after a lifetime in space, Cress finds herself on Earth.

As we proceed on this never-dull journey, the pieces don’t get convoluted, and rarely challenging to follow. All of the adventures lead towards going to the moon for justice and revenge in the final installment, Winter, named for the Lunar princess who is rumored to be more beautiful than the power-hungry Queen.

While I usually support trilogies over longer series, I could absolutely see the necessity of having a fourth book in The Lunar Chronicles. There were many hints to Snow White references in Scarlet and Cress, anyway. However, for the first time, I felt that the author struggled to maintain all the plates she had spinning.

It doesn’t help that, for me, Winter is the least likable main character in the robust cast. This book is the first occurrence of Meyer telling rather than showing, so the refrain that “all the Lunar people love their princess” falls flat. Winter is presented as rarely leaving the palace, and rumors run rampant that she’s going crazy, so how would the citizens be fond of her? The author also can’t seem to decide whether Winter in fact is losing her mind, or faking it to encourage her stepmother’s (the evil Queen) perception that she’s flaky and harmless. There are many written scenes which contradict each other, first indicating it’s all a trick, then detailing hallucinations Winter has out of nowhere. Before the halfway mark, Scarlet definitely feels Winter isn’t playing with a full deck, and Scarlet has been proven a reliable narrator. Then why does the Queen determine Winter should be killed, as she presents a threat to the evil throne? What threat? Being too corny?

The last third of Winter is where a lot of the premise fell apart for me. I really enjoyed the story, and the characters, until then, and the introduction of new narrators and subplots didn’t throw me off. But the turn taken around page 400 of Winter (yes, it’s an astoundingly long book) revels far too much in Hunger Games-like sentiment, the plan of fostering a revolution to overthrow an unjust leader… Which was, quite honestly, totally unnecessary in this monarchy-based universe.

Yes, Levana is quite evil, and guilty of many reprehensible crimes, and should be removed from power. But, because she’s a queen, you don’t have to establish a citizens’ rebellion — especially since the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth on Earth finds the lost princess of Luna, and can legitimately invade the moon with an army and someone else with a claim to the throne. All the chapter after chapter of subterfuge and falling into danger and getting captured and risking innocent civilian lives is just…dumb, and it sends the last book off the rails for me.

It also means that valuable dozens of pages spent on rejecting Suzanne Collins’ nihilism (not sorry) were wasted, when there was so much backstory on the Lunar royal family we needed to get. It’s never once mentioned who the father was of the lost princess, what happened to Levana’s sister (other than she died in suspicious circumstances), why no one on Earth ever tried to overthrow Levana… The reasons that Earthens and Lunars don’t really trust each other are vaguely suggested, never cemented, and there are so many pieces regarding this history that were underdeveloped, and getting more information on that would’ve been a much more interesting finale.

And so, I finished The Lunar Chronicles with a bittersweet taste; I’d still recommend it to others, but I’m not sure I’ll re-read it. I do appreciate what it did for the genre of crossover fairytale retellings, but I’m not inspired to read any more of the category. Despite stretching the writing of Winter out to 800 pages, Meyer left a lot of loose ends for her character arcs; hints at a sequel are provided in spades, but the very last page literally says, “And they all lived happily ever after.”

I am aware there’s a graphic novel (called Wires and Nerve) that does follow the further adventures of Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf, Cress and Thorne, Winter and Jacin. But I highly doubt I’ll ever read it, since graphic novels are a struggle for me; and I have to say, leaping from one format to another to tell the same story seems…a bit convoluted?

Besides, as we all know, there are plenty of other books already on my TBR.

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The Clinch: Blog Tour

A spectacular wlw sports book

Good morning! We’re back on the blog tour circuit with one very off the beaten path for me — The Clinch by Nicole Disney. This novel features an MMA champion trying to retain her title, and falling in love with the newest competition definitely wasn’t part of the plan. Narrated in the first person by the protagonist Eden, this is a very interesting tale for fans of martial arts and competitive sports. The writing style is very authentic, informative about the subject, but also connects well to Eden’s backstory of coming from a rough childhood and bad neighborhood, and the independence and self-respect she struggled to achieve. Her mentor was a master in Tae Kwon Do, which encouraged her not just to become street-wise and outwardly tough, but to grow her self-esteem alongside her fighting skills.

All of this is an interesting backdrop for a new romance. (Note: There are explicit scenes in the novel that means I recommend it for mature audiences.) If the world of MMA training/competition and martial arts are on your radar, this could be one to add to your TBR or wishlist!

Summary:

Eden Bauer grew up in a rough part of New York with an unsafe home life and took refuge in the neighborhood Taekwondo dojang. When the master of the dojang offered to train Eden as a live-in student, he started her on a journey that would eventually lead her to become the UFC featherweight champion of the world.

Eden loves competing and coaching the underprivileged kids of her community, but just as she’s getting comfortable with her champion title, a new martial artist from a legendary family comes roaring onto the scene with a dynasty on her shoulders. Brooklyn Shaw is a loud, cocky, aggressive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu genius who’s also unfortunately pretty dreamy.

Brooklyn and Eden’s rivalry attracts worldwide attention, but as they spend time together, Eden sees past Brooklyn’s showmanship to who she really is. They ought to be perfect for one another, but can either really fall in love with the person standing in the way of her dreams?

There’s also a chance to win an Amazon gift card!:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f280/?

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I’m Not a Poser, You’re the Poser: A Few Thoughts on Imposter Syndrome

Hidden Kitten - Cats & Animals Background Wallpapers on Desktop Nexus  (Image 2185870)

Imposter syndrome is tough. We’re all tempted to compare ourselves to others in our occupation or field of passion, and find ourselves lacking. With creatives, there is a slightly bigger risk to this happening, because (just for example) self-published authors can, at the click of a mouse, be scrolling through the accomplishments of a traditional author on multiple bestseller lists, and feel we will never reach that level of achievement.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t “real” writers, though. By definition, a writer is someone who writes. So if we manage to write a book, then we have succeeded in earning this title. Trad or indie pub is another matter entirely. (Oh, yes, I’m getting to it.)

Since many writers are also avid readers, it’s pretty inevitable that we’re going to read a book in our genre, authored by someone else, and determine it’s amazing, and worry we’ll never be able to write something as amazing. In a way, this is normal. In a way, this can even — hear me out — be positive.

No, I don’t want us all beating ourselves up and wailing in agony as we burn unfinished manuscripts in an 18th century-style fireplace. But there’s a big difference between feeling we’re inferior — and realizing there’s more to learn and aspects of the craft to hone, and becoming determined to grow in our own expertise.

Sometimes that sort of motivation — “If I can capture metaphors the way so-and-so does”, “I’d love to know how to plot backwards, just like what’s-his-face” — can indeed help us perfect our own art.

Competition is a tricky thing when it comes to the arts. As creatives, we’re all individuals, even when we’re in the same discipline or style. So comparison isn’t a fair game from the start (it’s literally an apples to oranges scenario), and we have to be careful that we don’t crap on ourselves and what we can bring to the medium, and its audience.

Being inspired by those already established in the field is just going to happen, and that’s a really excellent thing. Reading Maggie Stiefvater showed me the value in subtly revealing character interaction and growth. Neil Gaiman left me with a distinct impression of knowing how all the pieces fit together. Terry Pratchett taught me that you can deliver a powerful message without building a soapbox.

Rather than trying to imitate our heroes, we need to find what about following their methods uncover our own strengths. Don’t write like Tolkien or Diana Wynne Jones to become the next them. Use the formulas or techniques that most inspired you to better shape your work.

Don’t shame your fellow creatives, either. You don’t have to like every single self-published book; you can still be supportive of indie authors. Just don’t accuse people who have poured their heart and soul (and quite frequently at least a few gallons of sweat, tears, and blood) into what is a massive accomplishment of “not being a real author.” Just because you catch a few typos in their social media posts. Or feel they aren’t “mature enough” or “educated enough” or…whatever “enough.” If the subject or style of their work isn’t for you, VALID. But LET THEM HAVE THEIR MOMENT. Even if you may never read their book, be HAPPY for them.

The same goes for yourself. So your finished product is 200 pages and you had to do all the editing yourself, and you know there were grammatical errors that slipped through because it was getting late and you have a learning disability. SO WHAT. You published it. Random people you’ve never met HAVE left 5 star reviews of it on Amazon. So your sales are about a tenth of Rick Riordan’s or Marissa Meyer’s. DON’T CARE. You are impacting lives: maybe just as a fun beach read, or possibly by shining insight into a tough situation, releasing some pent-up guilt or regret, even encouraging readers to change a challenging behavior or tackle an important goal.

The only way you’re an imposter is if you’re deliberately re-writing the ending to Twilight and slapping a different title on it (cough, cough, Fifty Shades of Grey); or playing Among Us. Taking your favorite dystopia premise and throwing in classic Shakespeare tropes simply means you’re doing what we all do — sharing, borrowing, mixing, and reinventing genres.

So be as imaginative or formulaic as you wish — there are markets for both. Write what you love; be aware of your audience’s expectations, but if theirs and yours don’t line up letter for letter, let theirs go. To thine ownself be true, always. What you love to write is part of who you are — don’t go changing to try to please people.

Oh, and if you happen to be around people who want you to change what you write — find a new community. If you’re happy with your choice, and they’re not, you aren’t the problem. Trust me on this.

There shouldn’t be any need to dive under the covers and never come out; whether it takes you five months or fifteen years to complete your manuscript, crossing the finish line is worthy of celebration and joy. Whether you have an agent or not, it’s all real. Graphic novels, poetry, short stories, it all counts. Your contribution to the world will exist.

So be brave. Be you.

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Everything Great About…

Great Wallpapers - Wallpaper Cave

I’ve been complaining a fair amount lately, about the state of what passes for entertainment in the current age (and, yes, making myself feel pretty old and cynical). Since I’ve done my fair share of whingeing, I thought it wouldn’t go amiss to balance that out with a post about some happy stuff I’ve encountered in this period of much grouch.

The Good Place

The Good Place' Creator Mike Schur Breaks Down Season 2 - Rolling Stone

This not-so-traditional series about the afterlife is one of the best things I’ve stumbled on post-its-cancellation. I never saw it the first time it aired, and binge-watched all 4 seasons on Netflix a few months ago. Definitely not a stereotypical sitcom, The Good Place features a recently departed soul, Eleanor, who befriends an immortal being named Michael (no spoilers, but it isn’t what you think), and tries to become the best version of her human self, which never materialized before her sudden passing. There were plenty of laugh out loud moments, plenty of tearjerker scenes (and I mean free-flowing tears), and lots of surprises. Sure, some of the plot was a little contrived, and some of the jokes fell flat. But the character growth (across the cast) was REAL, and bold for a mainstream program, so very genuine and therefore all-the-feels-producing. Much of the dialogue was witty and engaging, most of the characters were purposeful and used well, and the whole story arc felt very satisfying. Whenever I’d start to get a little frustrated or worried with where it might be going, the writing would change direction, and not once did they fail to convince me that the new move was decent. Some of my favorite shows were ruined in the last season by a twist I found totally unnecessary, so The Good Place not disappointing me was a stellar moment.

Hilda

Silvergate Media Launches Licensing Program for Netflix Series 'Hilda' |  Animation World Network

This amazing adaptation from the graphic novel series of the same name has stolen our hearts. My kids and I have watched each episode at least twice, and the joy just keeps growing. The graphics are beautiful and evocative, the main characters so sassy and human and relatable, the music just fantastic, and the voice acting never wooden or rote. Set in a world based on Western European traditions and myths, Hilda feels at once current and timeless. Its biggest themes are determination, loyalty, and personal growth, but there’s also a strong focus on taking responsibility, learning flexibility, and finding strength through adversity. Despite the title character being a 10-year-old girl, Hilda is a cartoon for all ages.

The Gaming Beaver (YouTube)

Gaming Beaver Funny Montage #1 - YouTube

My kids are responsible for the fact this YouTuber is ever-present in our house, specifically Muffin, since he wanted to watch stuff about dinosaurs, and most of what I found on YT was either terribly old and boring (think the National Geographic documentaries from the 1980s), or wildly inaccurate and inappropriate (humans, I tell ya). Gaming Beaver is different; he’s a dinosaur enthusiast who wants to play games with accurate representations (or at least relatively close to what palentologists say), and he has filmed himself doing so for several years now. This gave Muffin a huge archive to feed his Jurassic Park obsession, and most of Beaver’s content is sans super-bad language, and includes very informative, light-hearted and even hilarious commentary. Honestly, I’ve spent many an evening with a Gaming Beaver video on in the background, and I have no regrets about that. (He also plays a lot of ocean/shark games, and does plenty of unboxing-dinosaur-toy videos as well, which certainly gives me a heads up on whether the items on Muffin’s Christmas list are worth the money.)

Doctor Who novelizations (9th and 10th Doctors)

The Clockwise Man - Wikipedia
The Stone Rose - Wikipedia

These are not new publications, but ages back, a library patron donated a bunch of Doctor Who (the reboot) novelizations, and I meant to read some of them and never did — and then when we were discarding the collection due to space issues, I jumped at the chance to take home however many I wanted. I selected all the ones with the 9th and 10th Doctors and Rose, my favorite companion. (For some reason, though, on all the covers, they either have Rose pouting or looking terrified. Lol?!) Anyway, one of my biggest gripes about anything published after 2017 is paper-thin characters, an extreme lack of coherent plot, and too many unnecessary and tangential passages. Because these stories were written in the early 2000s, and by a private entertainment company, they don’t fall prey to the pitfalls of soapboxes and overdone tropes and half-baked subplots. The novelizations aren’t based on broadcast episodes of the show, but are written so that one can easily imagine these familiar and beloved characters in new scenarios, and the only political commentary is mild and relevant to the situation (as we expected from Doctor Who between 2005 and 2010). I recently finished The Clockwise Man, and have quite a few to go — I’ll be taking my time getting through this TBR!

Baby Yoda

Amazon.com: Star Wars Baby Yoda Doll from The Mandalorian The Bounty  Collection The Child Collectible Toys 2.2-Inch Baby Yoda Toys for  Blanket-Wrapped Mini Figure 5-Pack: Toys & Games
Happy Dance | Official Star Wars Tee - TeeTurtle
Star Wars Baby Yoda 8" Plush : Target

I don’t care that his name is technically something ridiculous starting with a G. To me The Child will always be Baby Yoda. The pictures are of a set of mini figures and a t-shirt from my aunt, and the plush that was a gift from my husband. I have arranged the mini figures and the plush on my bookshelves, for maximum sighting and continuous satisfaction. Being able to go through my days frequently getting a dose of big-eared adorbs never fails to lift my spirits. I haven’t seen a single episode of The Mandalorian (because we only have one streaming service right now, and it isn’t Disney Plus!), but The Child provides a sense of meaning and enjoyment that reaches beyond the Star Wars universe fandom.

(My desire to watch Loki, however, will definitely test my wallet and my resolve to keep the number of subscription services down.)

So, that’s it for now! Go find yourself a comfort show worth bingeing, brew that tea, pop that popcorn, and grab your favorite plushie for ultimate coziness!

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa 5k, HD Artist, 4k Wallpapers, Images,  Backgrounds, Photos and Pictures

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Worldbuilding Matters

Worldbuilding: 6 Steps to Captivating Settings

Contrary to how it may seem in this blog, I do not have super-high expectations as a reader. Not every novel has to provide astounding dialogue, heartstring-tugging characters, pulse-pounding plot, and intensely profound revelations. Nope, I’m legit fine with a fun and engaging storyline, at least two-dimensional characters, and believable conversations. If you add in a few moments provoking genuine laughter and tears, even better. But since I read mostly for enjoyment, not every single title I select has to be Pulitzer Prize worthy.

This does not mean I don’t have standards, though. And my standards aren’t aiming for the moon; however, they are rather set in stone — and, quite frankly, far more reasonable than, it appears, many authors can handle.

One of the cornerstones for me is solid worldbuilding. Again, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece; just reliable. There needs to be a trustworthy framework to which I can refer back when wondering why a character develops a certain motivation, or if I’m unsure where this city is in relation to another. And, despite this not being rocket science — isn’t it covered in every Creative Writing 101 class? — worldbuilding is an element I find distinctly lacking in most current publications.

For example, I couldn’t finish The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue because there simply wasn’t enough context around the premise to fully draw me in. The plot and characters seemed to exist outside of any rules that governed their universe — and when you’re talking a story of Faustian bargains and space-time-bending curses, rules are important. And The Humans — the 3rd novel by Matt Haig I’ve tried and flopped with — made absolutely no sense within the first 20 pages; I can’t be expected to accept that aliens who can travel at light-speed are unaware Earth folks like to wear clothes in public.

My most disappointing latest is The House on the Cerulean Sea, which I had only heard glowing praise of, but which made me want to cry (in a bad way) before the halfway mark. For one thing, its main character is completely maudlin, to the point of being actually depressing, and this is hardly what I’d call a “comforting” or “inspiring” read (as some of the reviews claimed). Another — and major reason — there isn’t a whit of credibility in the premise. Children who possess magical abilities are just taken from their parents, or rejected by their families, and become wards of the state in group homes where they may or may not be treated decently, and as long as they don’t blow up the planet no one really cares??? This idea disturbs me deeply. Even if some people would hand over their children in such a scenario, many simply would NOT, and anyone who doesn’t believe this clearly knows nothing about human nature. Also, there’s no indication presented that a precedent was set prior to the start of the story for the government to determine all of these children were dangerous. So even that thread doesn’t have much to stand on.

In the spring, I read The Lunar Chronicles, and found that to be a good example of having a solid world to set foot in as a reader. The setting isn’t “just a dystopian future”; there are actual discussions about which war it was and some references to specific events. Main characters know the relevance and importance of the history, and even when backstory is provided through exposition, the conversations flow pretty naturally, and don’t seem constructed purely as a way of info-dumping on the reader. There were some flaws, and a few things where I felt the author could’ve either let something go or tied two elements together a little tighter. But these books were FUN, and I don’t regret the time I spent with them.

And sadly, that’s become rare for me.

So, what is the deal with slipshoddy worldbuilding recently? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why editors and publishers have decided it’s all right to let their authors slide on one of the most basic essentials for good writing. My first guess is that releasing books in a timely manner can become an issue — mostly because editing and re-writing does require brainpower and often more than 30 seconds — and in the interest of keeping business going (meaning printing and actually selling books), maybe publishers don’t necessarily care if each story is the best version of itself, as long as it’s good enough copies. Yes, that’s a slightly cynical view; but the field of literature has definitely turned into an industry, and the primary goal of any industry is to produce profit or whatever keeps it afloat.

The difference, many people who love literature feel, between something like reading as an industry, and other retail businesses, is in the core of what the field’s meant to be. Literature has been used as everything from a passing hobby to change the world by sharing all manner of religious, political, and philosophical thought. There’s nothing wrong with reading just for relaxation and escape; reading to enrich your mind and broaden your knowledge base is also excellent.

But literature has set the bar pretty high, and is held to a different standard than, say, mountain biking as a technique for bettering oneself and exploring the world.

When the publishing industry itself starts lowering the bar, I get concerned.

So, while your fictional worldbuilding does not have to be amazing, can we please try at least a bit harder?