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Horror with Heart: A Review of Such Sharp Teeth

I just read this book in two days. I am still reeling — in such a good way. I don’t like horror, I don’t care for most romance, and I hadn’t even read a werewolf-themed book in over a decade. But when this title crossed my path at work, I stopped sorting the check-ins to give it a second look. I took a few seconds to read most of the blurb, and was immediately sold.

My instincts were right on. This book, everyone. THIS. BOOK. Such Sharp Teeth is the first I’ve read by author Rachel Harrison, and although I realistically won’t try her other work — her genre of choice just is not my thing — it totally made my week, probably my month, hell, maybe even my century.

The core plot is the plight that befalls 20-something Rory (Aurora) Morris, when driving home late one night and accidentally hitting a huge animal with her car. Yup, I kind of gave it away — said huge animal is a werewolf, and Rory gets bitten, and yes, there are then transformation issues about to ensue. Of course, the dust jacket gives away that much.

The deeper story is that Rory has become a career-driven person, not really going in for relationships, and she seems to be holding some inner pain at bay. She came from a small town and escaped to the big city as soon as she could. When her twin sister, Scarlett, heavily pregnant, tells Rory that the baby’s father is no longer in the picture, Rory puts everything on hold to go back to this suburban dullness she ran from, because it’s her sister. The werewolf thing, naturally, comes at a really bad time (well, when is there ever a good time to become a lycanthrope?), since the baby is coming soon, Rory plans to go back to her job in the city eventually, and Rory’s former high school suitor is really making her re-think her no-relationship rule.

THIS. BOOK, everyone. The way the author explores the complicated dynamics of a family that’s dysfunctional but trying not to be, of trying to heal after trauma, of trying not just to survive but to make yourself better, for yourself, all wove together in the narrative, all went deep, all felt so true. Eventually we do find out what took place in Rory’s childhood to make her put up a wall, not want to trust or grow close to people (especially men). The fact she struggles with so much anger and grief after the bite, of being frustrated and frightened that, now she’s a werewolf there are moments when she can’t be in control of her own body and mind, is such a relatable metaphor.

The other thing this author completely does right in her narration is LETTING her protagonist feel all the range of feelings, without self-shaming or falling for the lie that “the right kind of man” will help her “get over it all.” Yes, Rory’s love interest, Ian, does play a role in her journey from hating her new werewolf self to acceptance. BUT — and this is the part so many of these publications get wrong — Rory reaches the conclusion that she could be lovable, that she might want to be with Ian no matter what, ON HER OWN. She gets there over the course of the story, through a lot of reflection, mistakes, following patterns that actually don’t help, of simply being a human doing her best to recover from a horrific experience.

THIS! BOOK! Considering I’m only recently out of an abusive relationship, and my children and myself are presently dealing with pain, regret, a sense of loss, some guilt, and a bit of rather justified anger, this book spoke to me on SO many levels. Rory’s desire to retain some sense of normalcy, in the face of something utterly catastrophic, her determination to stay optimistic, gave me hope for my own uncertain future. Our heroine’s practical, proactive nature resonated so strongly with me (after spending the last six months clearing the clutter out of my house and rearranging spaces that for too long had been claimed by other people’s resentments and denial). My connection to Rory made immediate sense, and made me want to consume this story in as few hours as possible.

The other thing, times two, that the author does so right (when too many other authors totally screw it up) is her secondary characters are NOT annoying, NOT complete asshats, NOT self-righteous jerkwads. Scarlett is facing her own demons, trying to be a good sister and aware she might be failing, hoping to be a good mother and worried she’ll implode. The sisters’ mother is a bit of a mess, but she’s also somewhat conscious of that, and she really doesn’t know how to fix it, but at least she recognizes that Rory has reason to be upset about the past. The men in this story — the sisters’ stepfather, their best friend’s husband — are DECENT PEOPLE. Ian, Rory’s love interest, is a solid example of positive masculinity. Even Scarlett’s maybe-ex-significant other turns out to have more layers to him.

This isn’t your stereotypical werewolf tale, either. There are no warring packs, no complicated hierarchies to master, no the-novice-must-prove-themself premise. Rory only has to conquer her own fears, expectations, and setbacks as a wolf. There’s a good deal of humor and moments to make you smile sprinkled through the pages, so that you don’t get bogged down in too much angst or despair. Yes, there is plenty of crap going on, and Rory is dealing with a mountain of it, but she doesn’t give in easily. She’s far from a damsel in distress; she’s focused on rescuing herself, not waiting around for someone else to do it. That is also a fantastic message to send to survivors: You matter. Not “because” anything — you matter, period. You are worth the effort to heal. Not just for the hypothetical perfect future partner. For yourself.

The ending shows that all the characters, even those with furry sides, are still human, struggling with the complex factors of supposedly the most mundane kind of life; and while it turns out there isn’t exactly a villain, the antagonist does play an important role in plot and protagonist arc. There’s action, and gore — werewolves, after all — and drama, that never quite gets to soap opera status, a rare and welcome departure from most paranormal romances on the market. This novel hit all the high notes for me, and provided some surprising little gems of self-actualization, too.

I know that with the the R-rated content, this won’t be on every reader’s radar, but if you like horror or monster stories, especially contemporaries with relatable characters, snappy dialogue, and an engaging pace, then absolutely give Such Sharp Teeth a go.

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7-Year Blog-iversary: The Moth Rises from the Flames

Good morning! As we wrap up the holiday season, we’re coming to the mark of yet another year of this blog existing! When I originally created a profile and wracked my brains for blog topics, I was an aspiring author with a tween and a newborn and a neurotic but awesome furry soulmate. A bit of a learning curve, and several turns of imposter syndrome, later, I managed to garner a following and now have several publications under my name.

There were months when it seemed near impossible to keep going, and having a touchstone to come back to of people who believed in me has been invaluable. Some of you have been with me for years now, and your ongoing support and encouragement mean so, so much more than I can actually put into words. While I don’t know just what awaits, I am looking forward to sharing the journey! Again, and as always, thank you all!

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2022 End of Year Wrap-up: Basically Just Consistent Screaming into the Void

2022 was…a year for me. Some of you may have noticed it got pretty quiet around here, and whenever I tend to fade into the background on this platform, there’s always a reason; in the past, either it’s been health issues or needing to take the time to finish a project or focus on teaching a class. But this year, there was so much going on that I didn’t know how to put into words yet, or there were certain things I really didn’t want to talk about — and, hey, it’s my blog, so I get to choose the topic. I discussed some subjects a little more on Twitter, but in general I’m not an open book on all of this, and in some instances, there are very good legal reasons for me to stay a bit quieter.

So, for those of you who aren’t aware, I have been separated from my spouse since the beginning of June. It was my choice, but the decision became necessary, and it was by no means a simple one. The short version of the past six months is that it’s just been me and the kids, and I’ve been torn between spending my spare time working on cleaning out the decades of accumulated junk in the house, and writing and finally finishing Volume 4. That’s partly why I haven’t been very active on the blog these past two seasons, I simply have devoted myself to other endeavors. I’ve managed to get a lot done on the first, and some done on the second.

Last week I found out that my library aide position is being eliminated from the 2023 schedule. So, in just another week, I am out of a job. The “good” news is that, since I generally work two or more part-time jobs almost all the time, I still have a reliable source of income. But, and there’s no way of slicing this in a positive light, the fact that I’m getting kicked out of a position I’m good at and enjoy just sucks. And given the lost wages, it is more important than ever that I finish and at long last publish Volume 4 — but right now I don’t have much energy or emotion for creative writing. So I’ve become my own worst enemy on the publishing front, but my origin story is justified.

Because of all of this, I also haven’t read nearly as much as I was hoping to this fall. Over the summer, I got back into a pretty good habit about reading 4-5 times a week (instead of the 1-2 I’d dropped to). But I haven’t even cracked open my beloved and much-awaited Lore Olympus #3. I have absolutely no idea where to begin on the mountain of library discards. So I have very little content to post in the way of reviews or discussions on specific titles or series. That’s another reason I don’t imagine blogging very much in the next few months.

I also have decided not to be whiny during this time, so whenever I was just in a rotten mood, I chose not to create a post complaining about publishing tactics I don’t agree with, or authors whose works I don’t care for, or the fact I wish Tiktok would stop teaching my kid the most annoying memes. Despite the truth of my life being a pretty raging dumpster fire these days, I am still trying to maintain some semblence of positive vibes.

It has definitely been far from easy. There are moments I really feel lonely; moments I feel like just pushing on for another day is not enough; when I desperately crave someone else being the adult. But I’m also aware that wallowing more than temporarily also won’t change anything, and sometimes all I can do, the only option available to me, is to just keep pushing on.

And I know there’s no point in constantly announcing further delays to Volume 4; it’s why I stopped posting updates on that a while ago. I’ve even stopped setting myself deadlines; it gets done when it gets done. Although I will admit this does hurt my heart a little; this series has been so near and dear to me, and the work I’ve completed on it so far is a big source of pride for this little moth. So needing to draw back from it when I could really use the comfort has stung a bit.

So, basically that’s what’s going on. 2022 will forever be a stand-out, but not for the best reasons, so I’ll be going into 2023 with a touch of a cynical view (not gonna lie), but also with the hope for better. In some ways, I have more hope for better than I have in a long time, and that is its own brand of special.

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The Littlest Dinosaur’s First Christmas: The Adorable Picture Book Series Continues!

Good morning! Today I’m back with R&R Book Tours, highlighting the festive holiday installment of The Littlest Dinosaur series! This is an absolutely wonderful picture book series, perfect for young ones who love dinosaurs, and parents will also enjoy the lovely illustrations and heartwarming messages about friendship, tolerance, found family, and what kindness really means.

(For anybody who’s interested, the other titles are “The Littlest Dinosaur,” “The Littlest Dinosaur Finds a Home,” and “The Littlest Dinosaur Goes to School.”)

The Littlest Dinosaur’s First Christmas was published last year, by the same authors of the other titles, Bryce Raffle and Steven Kothlow, and the pictures by Tessa Verplancke are just beautiful to look at, the soft lines and deep shades pull me right in. In this installment, Mama T-Rex and her child, Ty, and her adopted, Littlest, are getting ready to celebrate Christmas — and, in traditional form for these tales — the kids learn a beautiful lesson about generosity and the true tidings of the season. (I can’t even go into details, because, spoilers, but also, I’ll start getting all teary!)

I highly recommend these books for families hoping to find more stories for children that authentically weave themes of diversity and inclusion, with cute characters you’ll be rooting for, a bit of appropriate humor, and some excellent positive vibes!

About the Authors:

Bryce Raffle was the lead writer for the video game studio Ironclad Games. He also writes
stories for young adults and designs book covers.
Steven Kothlow is making his debut as a children’s book writer. He hopes to tell many more
stories that help spread a message of diversity and inclusion especially in children’s literature.

Tessa Verplancke is a sound designer by day and an illustrator by night. She lives to tell
stories through as many mediums as possible.

Book Blitz Organized By:

R&R Book Tours

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A Few of My New Favorite Things

So, this was the year that the entertainment industries really tested my mettle. I was fed up with endless sequels to dying franchises, reboots of movies or shows I’d either never heard of or had no interest in; I ran out of authors to try, genres that didn’t make my eye twitch, and titles that didn’t sound hackneyed and trite. I didn’t even recognize most of the music artists in the Top 40. I felt bled dry, and when you’re a creative, you need to refuel that space inside you that’s meant to thrum with intrigue and inspiration.

So I decided to go waaaay far afield, give up on all known entities (for the time being, at least), and explore vast, uncharted galaxies of story, visuals, and harmonies. Here are some of my wins in this venture…

(On Netflix) Love, Death and Robots. OH. MY. GOD, just eeeeeeeee!!! with how much I LOVED some of these episodes! This show is definitely adults-only, and there were a few that I just didn’t care for, but I am sooooooo glad I took a chance on this anthology series. It’s a collection of mostly animated short tales (many only 20 or so minutes long), some based on novellas or stories by well-known sci-fi or horror authors; others are ideas that apparently just came up in the writers’ room, and the result is simply great. In no particular order, here are my personal faves:

“Mason’s Rats”: Once upon a time, in a not-too-distant future, an elderly curmudgeon of a Scottish farmer had a rat problem. He employed the most modern robotic methods of extermination, and didn’t quite get the results he expected…but they do turn out to be the results he needed. A truly heartwarming ending.

“Jibaro”: This is a truly groundbreaking piece. One of the few episodes using live action and actual humans, it was told without a single line of discernable dialogue. The scene opens on a medieval forest, and a group of soldiers on their way to wherever. Our protagonist is a deaf man who communicates with his colleagues through sign language. In the beginning, all sounds — conversation, wildlife, the wind, the river, the horses — are significantly decreased and muffled for the audience, presenting how it’s experienced by the hearing-impaired main character. As the rest of his army is drawn into the river by a siren’s song, he gets the chance to escape, because his deafness protects him from her dangerous call. Most of the story between the solider and the siren is told through pantomime and dance (downright excellent choreography), and it is spellbinding until the end.

“The Tall Grass”: This was a thought-provoking, honestly pretty scary, little tale of a train pausing unexpectedly among uncut fields, what an unwitting passenger discovers there, and the frankly wonderful conductor who saves him. Again, it’s only about 15 minutes long, and there is a LOT to unpack after those few precious moments onscreen. Masterfully portrayed.

“The Drowned Giant”: One day, in England (probably late 20th century, based on the fashions and technology), a literal dead giant washes up on a beach. It’s seriously a human easily 60 feet tall, and he’s just plain deceased. He looks young, and there are no clues to how he passed, where he came from, or how he ended up on this beach. Of course humans come to investigate, and everyone from scientists to trophy hunters to local tradesmen begin taking parts of the body; eventually what’s left starts to fall away, and will soon be reclaimed by the waves and sand. Even before that’s finished, the rumors begin — the giant was never really there, it’s an urban legend, it was a case of mistaken identity, and so forth. But the locals know the truth, even if they don’t talk about it anymore. A really interesting take on the subject.

“Sucker of Souls”: If you don’t mind some gore, if you’re into anime, and vampires, you’ll certainly get a kick out of this snappy little episode about archeologists and their hired bodyguards getting stuck in an underground vault with Count Dracula — gone full bat-monster-mode.

“When the Yogurt Took Over”: Narrated by Maurice LaMarche (of Pinky and the Brain and Futurama), this is a delightful short satire on the concept of yogurt becoming sentient and one day ruling the world. I absolutely loved listening to The Brain calmly telling me about how soon we’d all be outdone by advanced dairy products. Brilliant.

“Ice Age”: One of my absolute favorites, this is an adorable story of a young couple who move into a new apartment, and discover in the freezer of an antique refrigerator an entire, thriving, tiny civilization. Simply charming.

“The Secret War”: A Soviet platoon responds to a distress call in a remote village, where something sinister and apparently not human has been up to no good. When realizing just how serious the situation is, the soldiers must fight to defend not only themselves, but possibly their whole country, and their sacrifices will require the utmost courage and comradery. Despite the violence, the animation in this one is fantastic.

“And now, for something completely different…”

(Graphic novel) Lore Olympus. MY. GOSH. THIS. SERIES! I wasn’t familiar with the webcomic, so when I picked up the first printed installment of episodes 1-25, I had no idea what a treat I was in for. This is a modern retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth — one of my favorites — and the art, the characters, the evvvvverrryyyything is just superb. Because it’s in graphic novel format, it’s an easy read, but in noooo way does “easy” mean underperforming. Author and artist Rachel Smythe packs alllll the feels into her chosen medium, and Lore Olympus is premium storytelling.

The relevant aspects of the Greek myth are all present — for example, Hades is the god of the underworld, Persephone a spring goddess and daughter of Demeter; they meet suddenly, and Hades is immediately taken with Persephone, but she’s very on the fence about how to proceed. The emotional processes are updated, along with the setting — Olympus is now basically a parallel realm to today, with the ancient deities wearing modern clothes, having cell phones, newspapers, the internet, and cars. Unlike the version in most English class textbooks, which is rather truncated, Smythe’s retelling involves many different gods/goddesses and creatures and entities from the rich and broad Greek mythological pantheon.

Volumes 1-3 are available in print format, and there’s more to come, based on what’s already been released in the webcomic (over 200 episodes!). I am more than ready to find a way to make space on my already overflowing shelves for these gorgeous creations!

“And now, for something…”

Audiobooks narrated by actors, not readers — Most recent example: Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton.

Generally I like audiobooks — sometimes the format is preferable, because I can do chores or browse the web while listening, instead of needing to devote all my attention (and hands and eyes) to printed words and a tangible object. But I discovered pretty quickly that the major downside to audio is the narrator can make or break the story. Earlier this year, I didn’t finish several books on CD because the reading was so stilted and dull, or had the strangest take on a character’s accent or pronunciation, and understanding what was actually said was almost impossible.

It turns out the alternative, and often, fix to this is to find audiobooks read by actual actors. Whether they’ve worked in films, theatre, or animation, people who have been trained in making sure everyone can know what they’re saying will deliver a much more satisfying listening experience. After accidentally ordering the audio version of Stephen King’s novella, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, from the library system, I realized how valuable the choice of narrator is. Will Patton, a seasoned actor, was an absolute delight to listen to, as he took the audience through this non-horror, still a little spooky, but also very charming, King tale.

By the way, Netflix made a movie version, which I’ve watched as well, and really enjoyed. How am I batting two for two on this selection?! Actually, never mind, let’s just take the win and run with it.

“And now…”

(You Tube channel) Music Video Sins. Already being a fan of Cinema Sins and TV Sins, I fangirled a little too hard (until 1 a.m., to be precise) when I discovered these content creators also had a short-lived foray into sinning music videos. Most of the hip-hop/rap tracks I’d never even heard of (please don’t call me old), but it was a lot of fun catching up with bands and artists I knew about but lost touch with their work when I stopped listening to mainstream radio.

It turns out my music preferences haven’t changed that much in the last 10 years…which presents an interesting conundrum. I could either…ahem…try to keep up with “what the cool kids are into these days,” or accept that I’ve apparently reached my peak of crafting my taste when it comes to melodies and lyrics, and just be content with that fact. The last couple of years, I find myself much more drawn to the likes of indie alternative bands and video game soundtracks, rather than what’s topping the Billboard charts, anyway, so I guess deciding to pass on Taylor Swift’s and Adele’s new albums isn’t too much of a loss. (Just please don’t call me old…)

And there we have it! What were some of your favorite entertainment discoveries this year? Share your thoughts in the comments!

entertainment

Thoughts on The Sandman, and the Future of Graphic Novel Adaptations

A few weeks ago, shortly after its premiere, I watched the Netflix live action adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s famous graphic novel series, The Sandman. I admit to not being very familiar with the source material (except for a little research I did after watching a couple seasons of Lucifer, which was loosely based on the comics). But when it comes to anything involving Mr. Gaiman, I know I’m going to try it, and The Sandman was no exception.

The Sandman focuses on Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming, the plane that humans reach when they sleep and dream, and that often intersects with our world in strange and possibly dangerous ways. This is one of Gaiman’s very adult works, and the story is no fairytale. Morpheus himself is a tough, somewhat jaded entity, worn down by thousands of years of humans breaking his trust and meddling in things they shouldn’t.

The Netflix show is exquisitely shot, with absolutely breathtaking cinematography; crisp, clear detail in every range, from the vivid colors of a spring meadow, to a dark, drab, rainy night of terror in London or rural America. The cast is superb, with so many of the actors, even in the smallest roles, being utterly committed to either making your blood run cold (David Thewlis as John Dee immediately comes to mind), or restoring your very faith in humanity (Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death). Despite the brevity of their scenes, Gwendolyn Christie (of Game of Thrones fame) as Lucifer Morningstar and Stephen Fry as Gilbert were truly enjoyable to watch. And my heart was absolutely captured by Matthew the raven and Gregory the Gargoyle.

Because the show is basically an anthology of several different storylines from the comics, some characters only appear in one episode (like Joanna Constantine, an updated version of the world-weary demon hunter John Constantine), and the story does skip around a fair amount, trying to fit in a lot of separate pieces. The unfortunate result is we’re introduced to an amazingly diverse and intriguing world, that we never get to dive deep into. My overall feeling when I finished watching was, “Um, sorry, but, what??”

The best example of this is the penultimate two-story episode, the season finale, “Dream of a Thousand Cats” and “Calliope.”

First, I love, love, LOVE that so many Doctor Who alum and folks who have worked with Gaiman before turned up to lend their talents to the talking cats, and to the cautionary tale of keeping a Greek muse hostage. “Dream of a Thousand Cats” was definitely one of my favorites in the whole show. Realizing it’s David Tennant saying, “Good night, Fluffball,” to an adorable animated kitten, and that it’s Sandra Oh as the Siamese feline Prophet, just put a massive smile on my face. And on a side note, I firmly believe the blueprint for a Warriors movie now exists, after watching the incredibly GORGEOUS animation in this short masterpiece.

But again, it was over so quickly, and then we were onto the next; and while I felt the vignette of “Calliope” was pretty well flushed out — in terms of the tale of the struggling author — the reveal of Calliope’s ties to Morpheus raised SOOOO many questions…that are simply left dangling.

And so we come to the second part of this discussion: Since movie and TV show versions of graphic novels are now a Big Thing, how do we maintain fan service while successfully sharing the story with a new audience?

Fan service matters; it’s a necessary appreciation for the people who helped make the original work a commercial success. But, there does have to be a transparent format for making sure those of us who weren’t around at the start get all the relevant details — without needing to Google everything later. (The Umbrella Academy is one of my biggest examples of not doing this well.)

If this isn’t executed properly, eventually the audience shrinks back to the original fans, and the show gets cancelled, or the next movie doesn’t get made. And this means fresher premises and cool characters will once again be sidelined for another exhausted reboot of the same old, same old franchises with way too many installments.

I seriously applaud studio and network executives who are trying to find something we haven’t seen a million times before. But if we can’t make these stories more accessible to more people, then the idea backfires. And I really think that’s what we need to figure out before the next big pitch goes into production.

So, what is the answer? I’m not sure, to be honest. The Sandman had big budget effects, terrific acting, good direction, and coherent scripts, but there was still a lot lacking. Many scenes felt…rushed, or cut without explaining something important. Are we to blame the staff of the editing room? They probably only followed instructions from someone else. Or the showrunners? Maybe they were simply doing their job as well, by trimming or removing or excluding. A film of any sort is a team effort, with tons of factors at play.

Though I do know we, the audience, are missing something, and I really, really hope we can get it back, and soon.

reading

The Worst Thing I’ve EVER read?

Obviously, this doggo would not be the worst ANYTHING — he’s looking rather puzzled and dismayed on purpose, because of the astoundingly perplexing experience I recently had, attempting to read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

I think those of us who read constantly, and in a number of genres, may toss around the phrase “the worst thing I EVER read!” at least a few times in our lives. It’s even possible we’ll hit our lowest low, then one day a new title will actually take that coveted place from its previous designator. And with all the good books in the world — and with taste being subjective! — the notion that we may end up hating more titles than we actually enjoy either suggests we simply don’t have much selection to choose from, or that we’re very finnicky in our reading selections.

I’ve written before about the problem of both scenarios. Both have their valid points. However, when it comes to the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I have a feeling the issue isn’t a persnickety bookdragon, but rather that this is a prime example of what in the literal hell was the author smoking and why did the publisher take the same drug to consider giving this total dumpster fire the green light.

On the surface, the Flavia de Luce series, of which The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first installment, is a typical silly murder mystery, narrated by protagonist Flavia, a precocious 11-year-old living in England in the 1930s, coming from a wealthy family run by the housekeeper — who of course is a terrible cook — since her eccentric father can’t do anything remotely adult-like, and her older sisters are spoiled brats. Flavia takes an early interest in chemistry, and this is how she solves the unexpected murder. This might, in theory, be so bad it’s just funny; but, it’s truly, truly not.

The fact is, Flavia is one of the most unhinged fictional characters I’ve ever come across. She doesn’t act, think, or speak like an 11-year-old (not even a child genius one!) — she behaves like a 45-year-old cynical misanthrope who thinks any pursuit in life outside of chemistry is just dumb. She believes herself superior to everyone — without any evidence towards this mindset — and behaves accordingly. She has no desire to be around other children, and doesn’t even like many adults. She mocks and taunts her older sisters and every facet of their beings, until they can’t take it anymore, and tie her up and lock her in a closet. And the revenge she decides to take on them for this action (of self-defense, clearly!) is to put poison ivy in her sister’s favorite lipstick. Just. What.

In the narration, Flavia is near insufferable before the end of the first chapter. Even listening to the audiobook, I wanted to reach inside the recording and strangle the total sociopath crackpot that was supposed to be the “heroine” of this story.

I certainly do not mind needing to suspend disbelief when reading fiction, nor do I feel every character has to be relatable or even realistic. BUT.

BUT.

BUUUUUUUT.

I guess common sense, and even actual facts, went completely out the window when it came to editing this piece of trash. NO RATIONAL CHILD ACTS LIKE THIS. Flavia reminds one of a villain origin story, of a person with severe emotional or mental disturbances, who will later be the very murderer a police detective protagonist is hunting. She was literally trying to poison her 16-year-old sibling. This is not clever, amusing, or morally acceptable!! How in the HELL is this a bestselling series?! HOW and WHY did many, many people keep reading *9* of these books?!

I didn’t even make it through all of the first disc. By the time I took the disc out and prepared the set for its return to the library, I thought to myself, “This is very possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.”

And those of you who have been around this little corner of the internet for a while, you’ll already be aware I don’t tolerate stupidity in fiction well.

For me, the biggest WRONG with the entire situation — series, author, publisher, readers — is that everyone seems to believe, without irony, that Flavia is a witty, confident, ahead-of-her-time little firecracker. Rather than seeing her as a serial killer in training, desperately in need of being shipped off to a military-style boarding school that will take away her chemistry set, she’s viewed by the fans as underappreciated due to her age, but the other characters will come to respect her (after she shoves her self-righteous nose into police business and puts her own life in jeopardy). Her normal, grounded, sane siblings are to be thought of in the same light as the evil stepsisters from Cinderella. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her muddle-headed, overly neurotic father, because he’s a widower with 3 kids (that he never takes care of), and a vast, inherited estate. *Of course* the idea that Flavia is smarter than the village police isn’t meant as anything other than a slightly cheeky plot device.

AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This, humans, is why I prefer cats and dogs.

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Who Knew?

So it’s a very rainy day. Muffin is back at school. I’m in Target, moving past the children’s clothing section, where I’ve just scored a deal on sweatpants for my now-3rd-grader, and the song on the storewide stereo system changes, from some easily-background-blendy tune to one I am intimately familiar with: “Who Knew?”, by Pink.

And I literally stop pushing my cart right in the aisle between Home Furnishings and Kids’ Decor, look up to the ceiling, and mouth, “Now?”

Many falls ago, I was back in this country after living abroad for several years, newly single and trying to navigate heartbreak and parenthood, and driving again and listening to American radio for the first time in a long while, and “Who Knew?” was then a new release. It was absolutely a case of right time, right song. At a point when I wasn’t even sure what artists or albums or good break-up music I could listen to that wouldn’t remind me of my then-soon-to-be-ex, this was something I came across on my own, without bias, while carrying a lot of baggage that needed some airing out. It was so cathartic.

The strange, interesting thing is the fact that every fall since then, without fail, I’ll be simply driving along, or listening to music while doing chores, and some algorithm somewhere in the cloud, or whatever radio stations use these days, decides it’s time for me to hear “Who Knew?” again.

It’s the most poignant and bittersweet sort of anniversary; I’m remembering a lot of good things, and some bad, I’m sad and happy and nostalgic and wanting to hold on and let go all at once. It ties me to my past while firmly rooting that influence on my present, who I was and who I became, and gives a subtle nudge in the direction of understanding and respecting all of it.

So I was good; I took my time finding the new, cheapest wastebaskets to replace the ancient, falling-apart ones in my house, not straying too far from the reach of the overhead speakers, and let the lyrics wash over me for probably the hundredth time. I let myself remember why I need to hear it, why it needs to be a few moments of quiet reflection, why it has to continue to relate to that point in my life.

This summer has been a tough one for my family. It was a season of unexpected but necessary changes, facing head-on challenges that we definitely would’ve chosen to put off or ignore, and somehow managing through it all to still get up every day and do normal stuff like cook and clean and take out the trash. It’s ushered in some positive things, too, but in no way was it easy, and it was absolutely not my preferred method for getting rid of unhealthy situations and environments.

But this spring, my family was on the edge of drowning under the weight of a lot of harmful influences and damaging routines, and getting away from that has brought an immense lightness to my mind and heart. As dark, harsh, and angry as some of our processing of recent events has been — and some of that was expected — the idea of moving forward, of a chance to do so, seems so real now, when a few months ago, it didn’t.

Little things like browsing Target for new wastebaskets makes me stupidly happy right now. I know I’m on the cusp of something different, when before I felt stuck. The sense of good change being a possibility is so freeing.

To get here, I had to drag myself out of a stupor of accepting less, of not reaching for better, of having given up on what if. At first, it felt so raw and frightening; now I realize that capitulating to being stuck was slowly draining me.

Just like that fall a decade and a half ago, I am facing the unknown — but now, I feel pretty good about it.

I can’t stop myself from wondering what my ex of back then — the reason “Who Knew?” made me cry until I couldn’t breathe — would think of my decisions now. And, no, I don’t necessarily care. But I do believe there’d be a sense of approval, and that does mean something.

The first few times I heard that song, I didn’t yet have in motion the plans for finishing a college degree, raising White Fang, or becoming a published author, all things I wanted to do, had to do, was longing to do. 15 years later, I’m there. I did it.

And this spring, when faced with a massive decision with no clear outcome, I took one path, and prayed to all the divine forces out there that it was the right one. I did it again.

Who knew?

reading

What If…?

So, I haven’t seen the Marvel animated series, “What If,” simply because I don’t have Disney Plus, but I do appreciate the idea of exploring the concept as a storytelling tool. We’ve all been reading a particular book, watching a specific show or movie, and about halfway through exclaimed, “That’s it! I know just what’s going to happen!” …and then nothing of the sort occurs later in the story. And you either like the twist better, or you’re so surprised you don’t know what to think, or the worst case scenario did indeed take place, and you’re beyond disappointed (or throwing things, sobbing in a corner, plotting revenge against certain characters…). We’ve all been there. And because overthinking how some of the biggest franchises of the past decade could/should have ended is one of this moth’s ongoing hobbies, I figured the “What If” moment in popular entertainment could be a good way to start the discussion here.

What if…Blue kissed Gansey and he didn’t die? Fans of The Raven Cycle waited 4 books to receive the answer to the ultimate question: if Blue kissed Gansey, would he actually go kaput? Or was it a misunderstood prophecy, an incorrectly translated psychic reading, or something else entirely? Now, since we all know Maggie Stiefvater was, unfortunately, very ill during the writing of the fourth and final book in this series, it’s totally possible the poor lady just couldn’t come up with a way to get Blue and Gansey out of this quandary. But, from the audience POV, because so many of us were convinced the “prophecy” that Blue would kill her true love was just a red herring, it was pretty anti-climatic that when they finally took the chance and locked lips, yup, Gansey passed from this life. It made the whole ending of the other characters finding a way to bring him back much less satisfying than them being able to prevent it to begin with — considering that this was, really, as much of the quest as attempting to locate Glendower. Seriously, if the last chapter of The Raven King was, “And at last they kissed, and Gansey went, oh, wow, I’m fine, and everybody said, YAY! BOLLOCKS to this stupid dead Welsh king!, and then they all got gelato,” I would’ve been very happy.

What if…Harry Potter turned out to be the bad guy? I know we could all be here until the cows come home, debating what did and didn’t work in the last few HP books, but based on the massive twist given early in #7, that the all-good, all-benevolent Dumbledore was in fact once into some very dark magic indeed, this could have turned the entire story on its head. With this twist, the author — whether she meant to or not — proves that even her “heroes” may not be completely heroic. In #6, after the loss of Sirius, Harry definitely could have faced a pivotal moment — perhaps the beginning of his villain origin tale? I mean, “playing by the rules” to defeat Voldemort had got the poor kid nowhere, and there were plenty of people who already suspected he actually was turning evil (the Parseltongue, the mind-connection to the Dark Lord, the fact the Sorting Hat told Harry he would have done well in Slytherin). And when you consider that many of the “good” wizards (the entire fricking Ministry of Magic, for crying out loud!) were so morally gray and so ambivalent about stopping an actual, credible threat from the Deatheaters, the almost-formulaic “and in the end, all the bad wizards were killed and the nice ones prevailed” wrap-up to the series still doesn’t sit quite right with me. Watching Harry go towards the dark side could’ve been more interesting, less frustrating to read, and certainly not as predictable.

What if…Clary and Jace actually were brother and sister? Yes, I’m going there! I loved City of Bones, I liked both these characters, BUT the whole star-crossed-Romeo-and-Juliet tangent that they’re set on WILL FOREVER DRIVE ME CRAZY. If the “lie” Valentine told them was NOT a lie, that the reason they felt such a strong connection to each other so early on was NOT romantic, but was because they were long-lost siblings, that would’ve been a great direction to take the story. Not only would it have made other things much easier from the start (no love triangles, for example!), it could have created a great way for Clary and Jocelyn to bond after Jocelyn’s kidnapping, and for Jocelyn to have more of a redemption arc by not only being able to apologize to Clary but to her son as well, and get the chance to know him without all the stupid baggage of whether he was decent boyfriend material. (In case you couldn’t tell, I hate the way Jocelyn was written, and will die on the hill that she became a TERRIBLE parent and should never have woken from that coma if turning into a total bitch would be the result.)

What if…Bella chose Jacob? Yes, I’ll pause a moment to let you scream out all your grievances about Twilight. I would be utterly remiss if I skipped this most burning question, however, and we all know it. While none of us can really know what went through Stephenie Meyer’s mind when it comes to the true weirdness that is Breaking Dawn, we do have the previous books to indicate the audience got robbed of an ending that made sense. Book #1 definitely portrayed Bella and Edward’s forbidden love in a cautionary tale way, and #2 absolutely showed Bella could seriously consider not going back to Edward and the Cullens. I wholeheartedly believe that #3 took the path of love triangle because a) everyone was writing love triangles in YA then, and b) the publishers felt riling up the fandom was good for sales. However, before the end of Eclipse, there’s a very strong indication Bella is, in fact, finally, properly scared about being around vampires so much, and that she feels guilty about putting the townspeople and the werewolves in danger. So, if Eclipse had ended not with a marriage proposal, but a breakup, and Bella and the wolves telling the Cullens to leave Forks, then either that would’ve been the last lines of the series, or book 4 would’ve been Bella and Jacob’s happy ever after (from which a child would certainly have been possible, and much more likable!!!)

What if…the premise for The Hunger Games had been a fakeout? One of the biggest mistakes publishing made in the early aughts was allowing a sequel to The Hunger Games. I will stand on this soapbox until I take my final breath. This series is one of the most ridiculous, unsatisfying, unpleasant, unnecessary, unrelatable and just plain icky things stuck in YA libraries. Not only does the trilogy end with a number of important questions totally unanswered, the whole journey our protagonist goes on just stops abruptly, and the audience is supposed to simply accept “and then the war was over and there were no more Hunger Games, the end.” Because there are a MILLION things about this story that MAKE! NO! SENSE!, I would’ve greatly preferred that the title competition is just a smoke screen for something bigger, something more interesting than a cardboard dystopian tyranny, and a plot that presented Katniss with actual healing, rather not nonstop PTSD. In The Maze Runner, when it’s revealed there’s a world beyond the maze, and the kids are being trained/observed for a whole different thing, this is pretty satisfying, and logical. In Divergent, the reveal that the city was a social experiment comes out of left field and feels like a cop-out. So, to avoid that, The Hunger Games could’ve taken the route of, the kids don’t actually die in the tournament, it’s all faked, and they’re actually being stolen away to build an army or prepare to defeat some nefarious thing — for example, the zombie apocalypse in The Maze Runner. Yes, it’s been done before, but for the love of Buttercup (Prim’s cat), can’t we all agree that this would have given Katniss a solid goal to fight for, and probably meant SHE GOT TO SAVE HER SISTER IN THE END?!?! No, we’re not still salty about that…

What if…Day had been able to keep his memories of June? This is a series I don’t believe I’ve ever discussed on the blog before, and it’s because it just — Cuts. So. Deep. Marie Lu’s Legend was my YA novel of 2012; I loved the worldbuilding and the characters, I laughed, cried, shipped, cheered on our heroes and their loved ones. I couldn’t wait for the sequel. While not as good as the first book, Prodigy was fine, I enjoyed it. Then the trilogy finale, Champion, made us ride the will-they-won’t-they-survive rollercoaster all the way to the last few pages — and literally STOLE a happily ever after out from under us with a cliche of last minute amnesia. Then the bloody EPILOGUE ended on a COMPLETE CLIFFHANGER, and to say I was SCREAMING in agony is intensely under-representing betrayal of a bookdragon. Yes, that was how I felt: betrayed. If Day died, I could’ve handled it. It would’ve been sad, but acceptable. But for him to survive, and then…he…just…doesn’t…rememberJune… AAAARRGGHHH!!! This legit ruined the author for me. She’s published several other titles since then, and I can’t finish any of them; I can’t help but think of the way she screwed me over with Champion. The fact that years later a fourth book came out, Rebel, told from Day’s younger brother’s POV, and supposedly wraps up the whole do-they-get-together-after-all question, just makes me furious, and I refuse to read it. It’s a waste of paper and ink, because WE SHOULD HAVE HAD THE ANSWER ALREADY. Rebel being published in 2021 DOES NOT EVEN BEGIN to make up for what we were forced to endure with Champion, period.

Okay, deep breath.

Hmm, maybe playing “what if” isn’t such a good idea, after all…

Uncategorized

Where the Hell Did This Spring Go?

The short answer, I guess, is that someone has been stealing pockets of time and placing it in different spots since about 2018. I suppose I was lucky to be in an area where apparently we were granted additional minutes, even hours, on certain days or weeks, until somewhere around 2021; I feel like some months I got so much accomplished, and then in others, I know for a fact at least a third of the hours in my life were robbed or deliberately misplaced. This must be the reason it took me approximately a decade and a half to write Volume 4, but I managed to get almost all of my Christmas-splurge-TBR read by April.

Also, this spring seemed to keep changing its mind about when it would arrive; I mean, we were still getting snow in my region two weeks before Easter, and a lot of May was distinctly below the temperatures we expected. It’s like spring packed its bags of flowers and rabbits and degrees above 50, moved to step over the border from winter, then saw that Jurassic World Dominion wasn’t out yet, and went, “Nope, forget this, I’ll be back later.”

Therefore, by the time I realized it was well and truly June, that summer was approaching, I felt like we hadn’t really had a spring. For me, this feeling was compounded by the fact I usually relish those last six weeks before the end of the school year, take that time to get ready for the change in routine, prepare for the summer in terms of plans, and mentally/emotionally for the new season. But this year, all of that seemed to fly right by, and while I thought I was taking notice of it, now that we’re actually in summer itself — after all, it is July now! — at this moment, so much feels like just a blur.

Maybe part of it was the fact some things happened that I’ve been waiting a long time for. White Fang graduated from high school. That’s an event literally years in the making, and yet, it still seems to have snuck up on me. Muffin finished second grade — second grade. I am in no mood to think about changes like college, or no longer needing a booster seat in the car. I am not ready for the next stage of life. I am not, universe, and I will fight you on this!

I also believe that the ways in which I used to measure the passage of time have altered. Usually it’s by which holiday is coming next, or which school vacation. Now I’m breaking down chunks of my calendar by which new movie release Muffin is most excited about.

I catch myself feeling officially old. I realize that I’m really not aware of what’s “in” this summer, what vacation spots are trending, what new books are being published in the next two months. And, to be brutally honest, I’m not sure I care. I am in a very big mood to focus on the stuff I already know I like, rather than chasing after the latest and hype-ist.

Maybe I’m just digging in my heels as a reaction to life apparently moving forward without my consent. On the other hand, in the dead of night, when I’m half awake, listening to a thunderstorm, or the complete silence, or hear a neighbor’s canine companion bark, I wonder: How about finally going back to the beach? Maybe I should try one of those sleep meditation apps? What if we got a dog?

Maybe I need to grab time by the scruff of its neck and make it behave. So I have a chance to decide what I’m doing next — and then go out and do it.