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


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!


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.


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.



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.


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


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?


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…


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.


Running Up That Hill

“And if I only could… I’d be running up that hill…with no problems…” – Kate Bush

This is going to be a sad post. I’ve put it off for the last couple weeks, because no matter what, it will make me sad, and I’m already sad. For those of you who have been around this little corner of the blogisphere for a while, you’ll be familiar with the furry love featured above. His name is Toby, and for the last decade and a half, he has been my muse, my companion, our family mascot, and, in the way of all pets, an occasional pain in the ass. He slept with us (stole our body heat), rubbed up against us (begged) for food, got up on forbidden surfaces, left extra hair every and absolutely anywhere it was possible to shed. He braved the cold of coming winter and the wet of new summer rains, to wander his territory and assert his dominance over the squirrels and small birds. He meowed too loudly in the middle of the night, and barged through doors that weren’t shut tight. We would never have been without him.

Except, now, we are without him. Toby passed away on May 3rd, 2022, with a bit of a whine of indignation (he always hated getting shots), and then a last gasp of relaxation into my arms. He was over 18 years old, which is quite an achievement for any domestic feline. He made good use of his time here, hunting, jumping, climbing, loving (and being loved on), sleeping, eating, more sleeping, and watching Netflix with me.

The last several months, he’d been steadily declining. Jumping was harder. Running was harder. Dry food lost its appeal. He couldn’t always remember what he came into a room for.

I knew we’d one day reach the gate to the rainbow bridge, a place I couldn’t follow him. I had to let him cross when he was too old, too in pain, too ready to rest, without us.

And so, on May 3rd, Starclan received its latest Warrior, a fine hunter, the victor of many battles. He’ll always know where to find the plumpest finches, how to cross the widest streams, the best positions for stretching out in sun spots to maximize ultraviolet soakage. He’ll be able to jump and climb the tallest trees, bound across meadows without stopping, and never again forget the name of that minor character in The Vampire Diaries.

He’s still with us, in a sense, always just out of the corner of my eye down the hall, or just flitting off at the edge of the patio. He’s not here, but he isn’t gone.

I love you, Toby, forever and ever, my furbaby. Be at peace, child.


The Slap Heard Round the World: Why It Matters So Much

Gooood morning! … So, as I tend to do when tackling a really rough subject, I’ve started with a picture of absolute “awwwww!” to help temper the rest of the post. Whenever you start to feel yourself getting overwhelmed by the discussion (God knows my blood has been boiling for the last two days), please refer to the puppy.

So, I imagine by now EVERYONE knows that a) I do not discuss current events in this blog unless I find it too important to let go, and b) that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars award ceremony on Sunday. For those of you who may have missed it, Smith was at the ceremony with his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, who suffers from an autoimmune disorder that causes irreversible hair loss. (And it is common knowledge she has this condition.) Rock, one of several co-hosts for the ceremony, during an award presentation went off-script for a moment and made a callous, cruel remark, spotlighting Pinkett-Smith by name and making fun of her disorder. On live television, being broadcast internationally, in a room full of her professional colleagues. At first, the audience laughed, because, “hey, it’s a joke, right?”, but attitudes started changing very quickly when Pinkett-Smith’s face fell, and Smith yelled at Rock to shut up. Rock did not even acknowledge the Smiths’ reaction, so, in a minute, Will Smith left his seat, strode up onto stage, and slapped Rock in the face.

The fact is that, because it was the Oscars, even those in the theatre were uncertain if this moment had been previously planned. No one stopped Smith, he left the stage, so did Rock, the ceremony continued, and social media literally blew up across the globe.

Within half an hour, Rock had been checked for injuries (there were none reported), the police had been called, and Will Smith was stewing somewhere away from the cameras. It’s also well-documented that in those moments, actors Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry met with Smith and — the court of public opinion definitely wants to gloss over this part — PRAYED with him.

Shortly afterwards, Smith did receive the award for Best Actor that he’d been nominated for. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. In his tearful acceptance speech, he thanked Washington for his insight and counseling, apologized to those present and to the Film Academy who makes the nominations, and spoke about the kind of person he wanted to be. He took responsibility for a poor decision. He has since apologized to Rock as well.

But this whole time, Smith has NOT backed down from the fact that he was defending his wife. She was the very public target of a mean insult, issued without her knowledge, without her approval, and something getting WAY too ignored in this whole thing is how SHE felt about it.

Who gives a damn about how Chris Rock feels, since he chose to be a jerk, and a bully, and obviously thought he’d get away with it? What the hell do his motives matter? Getting laughs is more important than emotionally gutting someone in front of their peers?

What it boils down to is this: Ableism was once again allowed to be acceptable over empathy. Causing scandal at the expense of a chronically ill woman’s feelings was deemed all right. The boundaries of common decency were rearranged to exclude a man overreacting while trying to stand up for a loved one, and to protect a certified asshat who didn’t think before he spoke.

The fact is, when the slap was delivered, a lot of disabled people sat up and took notice. Without condoning the physical aspect of Smith’s action, many folks agree: He was defending his wife. He wanted to make the insult stop. He did something about the cruelty, instead of pretending it didn’t matter, didn’t hurt, didn’t scar. For that, he deserves ALL the respect.

If you act like the slap happened in a vacuum, completely ignoring the circumstances that led up to it, you are saying what Chris Rock did was okay. And that is NOT OKAY.

(Puppy break)

Since the whole thing went down, most of the media has screamed about what a monster Will Smith has become — refusing to discuss the WHY behind it all. Refusing to acknowledge Smith’s public apologies, humility and contriteness. (Isn’t that what we always tell our children? “Say you’re sorry. Don’t do it again.”) People were horrified at this one misstep from a man who is largely viewed as a good person. A misstep that, again, he has taken responsibility for.

Where’s Rock’s apology to Jada? Nowhere. Rock has been dead silent. I haven’t heard a word about him issuing a statement or accepting Smith saying he was sorry, nor owning the fact Rock himself deliberately provoked such intense anger.

When you condemn the reaction but not its catalyst, you are sanctioning the behavior that created it. You are endorsing hurting people’s feelings as an appropriate way of life.

Quite often, I ignore celebrity news, gossip, and scandal of all sorts. Most of the time, I don’t peruse unfamiliar social media channels and doomscroll. But last night, I went digging, because I needed to know: In this battle over who was right, less right, wrong, or more wrong with regards to The Slap, what was winning — ableism, or fighting ableism?

I was positively tickled pink when I realized the tide is turning in favor of the latter.

More and more and more posts are circulating the internet, defending Smith’s motives but not his actions, and completely condemning Rock. An entire can of worms has been opened regarding many of the celebs who came out on Rock’s behalf, the community of Team Will finding and posting these people’s dirty laundry — and it’s a LOT worse than what happened on Sunday night. I won’t get into all of that, but let’s just say, some of the stuff I learned 12 hours ago about certain people is definitely cause for concern…

The bigger picture of this incident has always been and remains: America is a society that tolerates bullying. Our society excuses malicious words and deeds in many forms, and allows those who spread the hate and hurt to carry on without consequence.

It is BEYOND time that human beings moved on from laughing at the disabled and the ill. It is BEYOND time that such things are considered acceptable.

I know Will Smith reacted in the heat of the moment and wasn’t intending to start a big conversation on how we treat people with medical conditions they can’t prevent, but…he has.

Maybe we’ll finally get somewhere with it.


Audiobook Binge!

Good morning! Yes, I’m back! Between work and trying to write more and winter break, February was pretty busy! It also meant that most evenings I was too tired to crack open a physical book, so I went on an audio binge! This helped me get through some recent bestsellers that I’d been looking forward to, much quicker and with more engagement than if I’d been struggling to pay attention when all my eyes wanted to do was stare at the wall!

So here’s a rundown of what I listened to in February!

Maid by Stephanie Land. “Maid” first came to my attention as the new “It Girl” series for Netflix. It’s the memoir/true story of the life of journalist and activist Stephanie Land, who struggled in poverty for years after having her first child, when she chose to flee an abusive relationship rather than stay with an explosive partner. Despite the fact that many people would see this action as responsible, Land was constantly belittled and shamed by social workers and lawyers — the very people who should have been cheering her decision and helping her get her infant daughter to a safe place — and stuck her in a broken system of halfway houses and welfare that barely provided enough money to live on. Though Land never specifically states it, it was clear to me she suffered from depression and intense anxiety when her daughter was a baby, and frankly, it is remarkable that she managed to keep going, keep pushing, keep trying; she wouldn’t stop until they made it out of the halfway house, to their own apartment, away from another abusive boyfriend, into a cleaning job that led her to being nearly self-employed. Land describes in vivid but still relatable detail some of the friends she made while cleaning their houses, how the setbacks nearly did her in, but how her friends’ and bosses’ confidence in her ability, in her toughness, bolstered her self-esteem. The short version is that eventually she secured a couple of different grants to get into a Bachelor’s degree program at a university in Montana, and she and her daughter moved there to pursue their happily ever after. Although parts of this story were very difficult to sit through, it’s important to read/watch/listen to her tale. A lot of people don’t realize why the cycle of poverty is so trapping, and bringing the broken system into sharp focus is necessary if our society is ever going to properly fix it.

You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty by Dave Barry. Not a recent release (2016 or so, if I remember correctly), and certainly not very serious, this was absolutely the hardcore sarcastic, witty, pun-and-satire-filled humor break I needed. In this book, Barry covers bringing his daughter to a Justin Bieber concert (oy vey), what it takes to be a writer (not really), the differences between men and women’s verbal communication patterns, and a long fantastic travel log on his family’s trip to Israel. I laughed so hard that my stomach literally hurt at the end of the last disc, and it was utterly worth it. Barry is an icon from my youth that, by some miracle, has maintained his cool factor and not turned out to be a massive jerk (something a lot of us are experiencing with celebrities these days), so the fun just keeps coming. As always, I was struck by Barry’s ability to seamlessly weave truth and necessary food for thought in among even the silliest jokes and nonsensical meanderings. Thank you so much, sir, for still being worthy of my admiration.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins. This is the first title I’ve tried by this author (though I think I watched a movie version of one of her books?). Anyway, this rather chilling, down-spirited who-dun-it with unreliable narrators was by turns interesting, depressing, and intriguing. There were chapters that made me ache for the suspect — who did turn out to be wrongfully accused — as she was a disabled woman still suffering from the effects of a car accident that happened in her childhood. The other likely candidates for murderer were a divorced couple, each with their own secrets and intense baggage, and a very, very strange woman who lives on a houseboat in a canal near the divorced couple. The story was a little convoluted throughout, and while I appreciated the first twist that revealed the real murderer (I did guess right!), I had a lot of trouble with the other twists. The second twist indicated the subplot — which was the houseboat woman accusing the ex-husband of stealing a book she wrote about her life — actually had very little to do with the main plot, and after a lot of buildup, that was disappointing. The final twist makes the audience think the motivation for the murder was actually completely wrong, and that definitely turned me off. I won’t be trying anything else by this author; unreliable narrators who in fact invalidate the entire story are a deal breaker for me.

Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen. My only DNF in this post, “Harry’s Trees” was 110% worth the DNF. It’s supposed to be a heartwarming tale of Harry, who loses his wife, and meets a young widow with a daughter, and how he rebuilds his life while everyone involved deals with their grief. So sayeth the blurb. This book is just STUPIDLY WEIRD. It can’t decide whether it’s being almost satire or just plain whining; within the first several chapters, it makes fun of Quakers, grief counselors, librarians, and even the main characters. The daughter is a precocious child named Oriana (hearing the audio narrator enunciate this ridiculously pretentious name over and over just made me grit my teeth), who is of course smarter than all the adults. There are hints of magical realism, but it’s also not treated as a serious subject, and this route just gets too irritating. So I stopped after the second CD.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. Also the first title I’ve finished by this author, “Harlem Shuffle” is amusing and poignant, a little long-winded in places, but it’s still worth the read. The story follows a black man in New York City in the 1970s, trying to make his way without falling into crime, in the midst of the civil rights movement and things changing all around him. I liked the often serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek reflections on race and gender roles and stereotypes, and whether we believe them or whether we choose to alter them. This was definitely a title made all the more enjoyable by the narrator; his voice was distinct and fitting, he didn’t attempt silly accents or overdramatize the dialogue. I could imagine the characters and setting very well through his reading, and that certainly helped me make it to the end of this little-too-long novel.

And that’s all for now! Have a great weekend, everybody!