Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's About Time I Signed Up for Bout of Books

Bout of Books

So last weekend ended up being a really big and busy weekend for me, and I missed out on Tika's mini-readathon, which made me sad, and also meant that I didn't quench my thirst for readathoning. So here I am, signing up for Bout of Books which is probably the only readathon outside of Tika's that I'll ever take part in - because being in Australia SUCKS time-wise for all these northern hemisphere readathons, and since this is over an entire week it is perfect for little ol' southern hemisphere me!

"The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team"
So that's what I'll be doing, and I'm looking forward to reading a whole bunch and checking out everyone else involved and what they'll be reading and all that fun readathon stuff. Make sure you head over to the Bout of Books website if you want to sign up (and you should!).

Monday Links

*^Jennifer Lawrence is the MOST adorable.

*10 things that happen to your brain when you read (Via OEDB)

*A 14 year old has become something of an online pariah and hero after her fantastic protest sign in Texas. She is so articulate and awesome and I'm so proud that a 14 year girl is standing up for her rights as a woman. Also online bullies are the worst (Via XO Jane)

*So a Fight Club sequel is happening... (Via Uproxx)

*How Skins quietly rejected the manic pixie dream girl archetype (Via Flavorwire)

*I've always known there are a lot of connections between Stephen King books, but this collection of them will make your head explode. For reals. (Via Buzzfeed)

*Let's stop using feminism as an exuse for loving Sex and the City (Via Flavorwire)

*Jane Austen is on the 10 Pound note y'all (Via The Huffington Post)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Blog Friends are Awesome Ninja Bookish Gift Givers

Living in Australia SUCKS sometimes, mainly when you know there are packages coming your way and they take weeks and weeks to finally arrive. Maybe that's less about living far away and more about having the patience of a 5 year old, but whatever. Today I came home from work to not one but TWO packages from bloggers!

The wonderful Nahree (Etudesque) and Hanna (Booking in Heels) both sent me packages as part of the Ninja Bookswap that Hanna and Bex were hosting...Although Nahree and my swap was technically an unofficial after-the-fact swap. And both went above and beyond, cementing themselves as two of the greatest blogging ladies that ever did live.

These are my books, they are the most wonderful. 

I want to show you everything, so let's start with Nahree's package!

This is what I saw when I cut through the tape on the box. LOOK AT ALL THE GOODIES! And how perfect is the timing, because now I have fantastic tasty snacks for the mini-readathon this weekend. What snacks did I get, I hear you ask. Well, let me show you in a shot by shot account of the contents (guys I'm really excited, it's like my birthday and Christmas rolled into one so shhhhh)!

Look at all the noms to be had!
Goldfish! I am EXCITE!
Amazing right??!!

That's the whole package in all it's splendour. Along with the tasty lollies, snacks and tea, I got Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job and Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. And a great little letter from Nahree in a wax-sealed envelope. A WAX SEALED ENVELOPE GUYS, THAT'S BASICALLY MY LETTER FROM HOGWARTS.

See, see, see!

And then I opened Hanna's gift, which was wrapped up all prettily, but silly Kayleigh didn't take a photo.

Look at those books! Just look at them! So shiny and pretty and just begging to be read. Ever since I read The Eyre Affair earlier this year I've been desperate to read some more Jasper Fforde, and the concept of this book (plus that fantastic cover) sounds perfect for my next Fforde. And it's about time I jumped on board the Flynn train and read Gone Girl because I've been so careful to avoid reviews and spoilers and I don't know how much longer I can keep that up!

And what about that brooch!

Isn't it just the prettiest? 
Hanna said it was from a local craft fair - and it's so pretty that I'm going to try and work out how to include it in my Harry Potter party costume so I can start showing it off immediately. I was going to go as Luna, but now I'm thinking McGonnagal might be the way to go, because this could almost be a witchy-Scottish-thistle-wreath right, if I have it embellishing a piece of tartan? Yes? Yes, DONE.

So I am officially spoiled rotten, and now have the unpleasant task of choosing which book to read first (suggestions?), which snack to eat first, and how to wear that brooch tomorrow night. Thank you so much Hanna and Nahree. Oh man, you two...

So much great!

Feminism, Video-games and Kickstarter Projects

This topic has been floating around in my brain for about a year now ever since the Anita Skarkeesian Kickstarter controversy last June, but I've been struggling to actually work out what the issue is, and I've had a bunch of confusing conversations with my boyfriend where I basically switch points half way through. So this is probably going to be messy and convoluted but I'm going to try and break it down and make it make sense. Hopefully.

So for people who don't know, last year Anita Skarkeesian, a well known feminist vlogger, started a kickstarter campaign to create a series about women and tropes in video games. Instead of the $6000 she asked for, she ended up raising $158,000 (which is AMAZING) but was also subject to some of the most vicious and insane cyber bullying ever seen. And I mean, really, really horrible stuff. Along with the typical twitter/facebook/email hounding, people made games where you'd punch her face until she bruised and bled, wrote malicious articles and blog posts about her, wrote derogatory things on her wikipedia page, and basically acted like the misogynistic pieces of shit that they were. Their issue basically was "wahhhh, don't you dare say something mean about my video-games you ugly bitch", and their childish response has basically made it impossible to criticise the project without people labelling you a petulant child with misogyny issues of your own.

This is my first issue. Because of the controversy tied up with this project, it's impossible to view her videos and critique or discuss it without people going "oh you're just another Skarkeesian bully". But you know what, fuck them. I have every right to disagree with her project, and just because she was bullied doesn't give her a magical shield against all criticism for the rest of the project. There are flaws in her project and I'm going to talk about them and that doesn't make me un-feminist (anti-feminist? non-feminist?) or a bully because my issues are with the project, and not the who or the why. Because no shit there are serious issues pertaining to females in video-games and the video-game industry, and it's definitely a topic that needs to be discussed, but I don't think Skarkeesian does it well. This, by the way, is a fantastic counter-argument to her first video by a female gamer and a definite must-watch.

Now this is where it's going to get messy. Because a large chunk of my criticism is wholly reliant on the Kickstarter aspect of the project, so I guess I'd better get into what those issues are. For the most part I think Kickstarter is pretty great. I've backed a couple of projects, and it's great to see those talented people given an opportunity they might otherwise miss out on. That said, the fact that Kickstarter doesn't have a cap worries me. Other crowd-funding sites have you set your goal and once you make it, you're done. You don't make an extra $10,000 or $100,000, you make what you determined to be the necessary amount for your project and you go on your way. On Kickstarter, however, the sky is the limit. In some cases, such as the Penny Arcade Kickstarter project which made $525,000 (on a $250,000 goal) they introduced stretch goals which basically meant that with the money over their original goal they dedicated it towards a bunch of extras, in this case it mainly went to a reality TV show called Strip Search (which is so great you guys, and about drawing comics not strippers btw). In other cases though, the stretch goals are either kinda lame (I'll send pledgers a badge! Woo!) or they're non-existent and people begin to feel like they're being a little ripped off and question where all that extra money, often hundreds of thousands of dollars, ends up. Which is a ridiculously valid concern, because we might love you Mr/s Artist, but that doesn't necessarily mean we want to buy you a new 60" TV.

Anyway, Anita Skarkeesian had stretch goals. Instead of the original 5-episode series, she expanded it to 12, and she supposedly put some money towards better production quality for her vids. But two videos in, I don't feel like we're seeing a project worth $158,000. So far they conform to Skarkeesian's Feminist Frequency videos. It's just her against a blank coloured background with clips slotted in to illustrate her point. There are 1000s of videos on YouTube saying the same thing she does, looking very similar and they cost us NOTHING. Which leads to a more integral issue. The first two videos have basically just been regurgitated academic arguments that people have been making about video-games, films and television for years. Skarkeesian is articulate, but she's not actually adding anything new to the discussion. The tropes that are issues in video-games are the same tropes we've seen in film, and there have been feminist recitations on this subject for decades. Transposing film theory into games theory is also at least a decade old, so there needs to be more to this discussion than simply putting this information together into an expensive series of YouTube videos.

You know what would have been awesome? An actual documentary, interviewing actual women about this. What we need is to see the faces and hear the voices of female gamers and women within the gaming industry. $158,000 isn't a lot to put towards a doco if you're thinking Michael Moore size, but Indie Game: The Movie* had a budget of $100,000 and it provided an immensely interesting and valuable look into the development of  indie games. Indie Game kept it's focus small, focusing on the development of three games (Fez, Super Meat Boy and Braid) with smaller interviews with a handful of other developers, journalists and experts. Anyway, a doco that looks at women in games, especially one that looks at the sexism, misogyny, bullying, exclusion, and lack of relevant games for female gamers is EXACTLY what the industry needs. The Creator's Project wrote an article on the issue of Skarkeesian's video and whether it's relevant, and in maybe 1500 words manages to be more relevant than Skarkeesian's 50 minutes of videos so far. They ask three women in the industry (a game journalist, an artist and an editor) what they think of the project and the response is mixed, but they're the women we should be talking with at length. Rather than what they think about her video, what do they think about these tropes? About getting employment in this industry? About playing video games? Have they been bullied or victimised by male gamers? Are they sick of how few female protagonists there are in the video-game world?

A few weeks ago at a party we played a game of categories, and 'female protagonists in video-games' was chosen and we barely got around the group. Yes there are female characters, but protagonists? And primary protagonists, not secondary to a male protagonist? When it gets down to it, they're super rare. But, to me anyway, more damaging than the lack of female protagonists or the proliferation of patriarchal ideals within video-games, is the misogyny that exists in  video-game culture. As a female gamer you are constantly met with raised eyebrows or outright disbelief when you talk to some guys about video-games. Either you only like the "girl" games which are either childish/very easy, or you're in it to score points with a boy you like. Heaven forbid you actually like Mass Effect or Bioshock because you think they're cool - you must always have an ulterior motive.

So I guess what my issue is, is that I feel like Skarkeesian** has wasted an opportunity. She had the money and the support (especially in light of all the online aggression) to create something which looked at the real issues of sexism and the gaming industry and do something different. I wish she'd move outside of the YouTube vlogger comfort zone and use that $158,000 to do something amazing, challenge the audience and contribute something new, not simply a regurgitation of arguments that can be found in 30 year old academic texts. If I felt like I had a better grasp on the topic or the capacity to get in touch with the right people, I think I'd actually make the documentary myself. It would be so kick-ass to see a bunch of ladies talking about video-games, and their experiences in the industry and their favourite games and what they see for the future of the industry. Maybe one day I will. And maybe I'll market it on Kickstarter. And then someone can write a long and meandering blog post about how I wasted an opportunity to do something different.

So there you go, I said my thing, and now I can have the head room back so I can go back to imagining myself, Ginny, Luna and Hermione forming a wicked girl band.

* It really is worth a watch guys, even if you don't like video-games, the amount of blood, sweat and tears that go into developing these games (and seriously, they're all on the brink of nervous breakdowns) is unbelievable.

**And in a way it's less about Skarkeesian per say and more, why the F hasn't anyone done anything substantial on this subject yet?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TV Review: Orange is the New Black (2013)

Orange is the New Black (season 1)

Created by: Jenji Kohan

Starring: Taylor Schilling
Laura Prepon
Jason Biggs
Kate Mulgrew
Natasha Lyonne
Pablo Schrieber

Synopsis: Piper must trade her comfortable New York life for an orange prison jumpsuit when her decade-old relationship with a drug runner catches up with her. (Via Netflix)

The series is also based on a book, Buzzfeed wrote an article about the main differences between the two if you're curious.


With my boyfriend down in Melbourne for PAX, I decided the time was ripe for a tv binge. I've been watching a hell of a lot of The West Wing recently, but I decided to log some hours with a show that didn't have a gazillion seasons made up of a trillion episodes. I'd heard a few positive mutterings on twitter about Orange is the New Black and since it was only 13 one hour episodes it seemed perfect. And perfect it was, because holy shit I stayed up until 4am watching all but the last three episodes and had to be up at 9am for work. So if you take obsessive binge watching as an indicator of quality, then this show is GOOD.

The concept didn't initially inspire much hope for me, I mean, a white girl who lives in a nice New York loft with her writer boyfriend and makes fancy soaps for a living goes to prison...all signs seemed like they were pointing directly towards a white-girl-saves-all-the-poc-and-desperate-criminals-because-she's-white-and-therefore-jesus type situation and I am not on board with that shit. But then I saw that it was created by Jenji Kohan (creator of Weeds which y'know at least had 3 good seasons) and I was like ok ok, I'll give it a chance because my girl Kohan doesn't really go for that white girl saves all BS.

Anyway, yeah it's totally NOT THAT. At times it's like Piper (the main character) thinks she has the power to heal or fix the others, but she's basically the worst person in there. If you've seen Weeds she's basically the Nancy Botwin character, and I hated Nancy, and to be honest, by the end of the series I pretty much hated Piper too. But hating Piper doesn't really matter, partly because I think you're supposed to (or at least think she's not so great) but also because even though this is a show about how a white girl goes to jail for transporting drug money across international lines because the girl she was hopelessly in love with was a drug baron (of sorts) ten years after the fact, the best parts of the show are when we see all the other prisoners interact and their flashbacks. It's a little black and white at time, the guards are evil and mean and take advantage of the prisoners (save a couple) and the prisoners are all really nice, they're just misunderstood/in the wrong place at the wrong time/caught in the system. But even with that, the characters are all really interesting and complicated and the actors who play them, mostly unknowns, are all so wonderful. Even the characters who are kind of stereotypes i.e. the loud, brash black woman, the Russian tyrant, the in-your-face lesbian, are revealed to have much more to them than you'd initially think, and in some cases, are using those stereotypes as shields to help them survive prison.

Each episode one or two of the characters have their pasts shown in flashbacks interspersed through the episode, and they're basically there to humanise the women, "yes this woman is loud and angry and anti-authoritarian but here are the events in her life that lead to that".  They're short and spread out enough that they don't overtake the actual story, but they're also crucial to the show's success. I don't think I would have liked the characters half as much, or understood them anyway, if I hadn't had these small glimpses. And even though the women in the prison are friends, and in some cases think of one another as mother/daughter, there's a real separation to their lives inside and outside prison, so with the flashbacks we're privy to a side of their character that no one in the prison gets to see or know. And that's pretty great, even if it does leave you wanting to scream "DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND HOW HURT AND MESSED UP SHE IS BECAUSE OF X" at other characters when they react certain ways.

So all the characters are fucked up in their own unique ways, and I can't even begin to tell you how much I adored all of them, and all of the little relationships and families that exist in the prison. Like Lorna Morello (played by Yael Stone) who is the most adorable little lady with this 1940s vibe who looks like Madonna in A League of our Own, or Crazy Eyes (played by Uzo Aduba) who I desperately want to know more about, or Sophia Burset (played by Laverne Cox), a transgender woman who is struggling to get her son to acknowledge her existence, or Taystee and Poussey who start out hating each other and end up the best of friends (seriously, they made me cry several times).  Even Piper, who is going through a major identity crisis and having to come to terms with her 'old' and 'current' lives, is fascinating. And to be fair, by the final four or so episodes the guards are also being fleshed out more, so hopefully by season 2 it will be less about how mean and ignorant the guards are and more as one guard tells Piper, "we all make dumb mistakes, the only difference is that you got caught for yours*"

Because it's set in a female prison, it's also a fantastic show for ladies. In some ways it's like a high school soapie on crack, there's name-calling and hair-pulling between the inmates, but it also deals with a lot of issues like sexual assault, prostitution, misogyny - both inside the prison and in the flashbacks outside of prison. And judging by the reviews all this lady drama and menstruation talk isn't scaring off the dude viewers which is AWESOME, because it's about god damn time they started to understand some of this shit!

When I was looking for gifs of the show on tumblr I saw some people complaining about the amount of lesbian scenes and boob shots in the show. To some extent I'm sure this was Netflix or whatever producer saying "sex sells! moar boobs, moar!" but it's also got an actual purpose, or at least I see a purpose to it**.

First, the boobs. It's a female prison and it's made pretty clear that there is zero privacy the second Piper shows up. So by showing us the naked females when there are scenes in the bathroom (a bathroom which has no doors and only shower curtains on some stalls) it forces you to recognise this lack of privacy. For sure some of it is the boobs=male audience thing, but I never really got an especially male gaze vibe from it all, and it all slotted in quite nice with the rest of the zero privacy aspects in the show.

Second, rape and relationships are both realities in male and female prisons. And this series looks at how this manifests, and the different ways this manifests, for these women. In a lot of cases it's in the form of friendships or mother/daughter relationships. Red, the Russian cook, takes young ex-junkies under her wing and looks after them, calling them her daughters. In other cases it becomes a sexual relationship, sometimes it's simply a consensual relationship between two women who'd perhaps be dating on the outside too. For some it's a power thing, and they "trade up" girlfriends every so often. For others it's about retaining sanity or doing something for themselves while they're in prison, and like Piper mentions at around the midway point to someone (to her fiancée Larry maybe?) she needs comfort, and to touch someone else so she doesn't completely lose touch with the world***. There is also the threat of rape or being forced into a relationship to survive the prison experience, but you don't ever really see this side of things in the series although it's mentioned on a couple of occasions.

Anyway, basically my point is, if you're going to see relationships in a place without doors on the bathroom stalls and without doors or screens to their sleeping quarters and where there is always a guard watching them, you're going to see boobs and sex from time to time. It's a small place, and they don't exactly have free reign to go and do as they choose, so why hide the reality of this situation?

So yeah, I don't really want to talk about the characters any more because I think you really need to learn about them as you go, and I actually don't like the love triangle between Alex (Piper's drug baron ex), Piper and Larry so I'm not going to bother with it (I will end up raging guys, I swear to god) but the last thing I want to mention, which I don't think spoils anything, is that halfway through Larry ends up on radio talking about his relationship with Piper while she's in prison. And he tells all the stories about the inmates that Piper told him, and they're completely warped from the events we actually saw or heard about. He just sees murderers and junkies and dangerous women so the stories he tells come across as really violent and frightening. And I kind of love that a lot, because at first I was like "Yes! That's exactly how we see people in prison, we just assume they're evil and they have malicious intent, so we don't listen to the actual stories or treat them like regular people". But then I was like, this is also true in reverse, we grow to love these women so much that the fact they murdered someone just seems unimportant, and maybe the stories actually are frightening but we don't see that because we're blinded by the awesome lady rap Tastee did in the previous scene?

So clearly this show is great because it made me think and it's all super lady-centric and there is not enough of that - but also, it's really funny, and touching, and the characters are bonkers good. So watch it, it's all on Netflix (and if you aren't on Netflix there are other...ways) and it's pretty great. So yes. All that.

Taystee is my girrrrrl

*Not a direct quote, I was too lazy to go back and find it word for word.

**According to the Buzzfeed article I linked to, the book basically has no sex/sexual relationships, so maybe it all entirely for the ratings and dude viewers, but I stand by my points.

***Also not a direct quote, see above re: laziness.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Links

*Because I can't work out how to embed Yahoo videos into my blog here's a Buzzfeed article with the new Catching Fire trailer and some other things (Via Buzzfeed)

*I loooooove Ben Law. Not only did he go to my university (a few years before I started) but he's hilarious and a great writer. He recently wrote a queer reading list for Vice, that's sort of part recommendations part interview. This is that list. (Via Vice)

*Here's a collection of horror franchises which have relatively successful (financially and artistically) comic adaptations (Via Fear Net)

*These four pieces of advice are the most commonly told things for new/young authors. They're also the worst advice. (Via Policymic)

*I found this article about white men arguing about books and the death of literature, and why they shouldn't, fascinating (Via Flavorwire)

*GRRM smashes a guitar, Neil Gaiman defends GRRM writing speed "he's not you bitch" and more (Via Uproxx)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

TTT: Writers who Deserve More Recognition

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
In the age of uber-celebrity writers like Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James, I get a little angry that mentions of favourite books and authors are met with "huh?" "who?" "never heard of it/him" by anyone outside of the book blogging community. If it doesn't involve an abusive relationship between a dull brunette and an aggressive but super-omg-hot guy with copper highlights, or if it isn't linked to a successful film or TV franchise, then it's not worth reading.

So of course I'm taking part in TTT this week, I'm going to share the author love and before long my favourite authors will take over the world and I will be SO HAPPY. This isn't just a list of new authors, or authors who have never been heard of except in the most obscure of readers circles, it's just a bunch of authors that I love and think should receive as much attention as possible.

Author: Ben Templesmith
Genre: graphic novels/horror
Read if you like: Warren Ellis, dark humour, supernatural themes.
Why you should read him: I was introduced to Templesmith's art through the 30 Days of Night graphic novel series and I was absolutely delighted when he turned his hand to writing as well. His art is phenomenal, there's something very HP Lovecraft-y about his style (I think it might be the prevalence of tentacles) and the way he colours is just...I can't even describe it. His writing is much the same. He gravitates to horror and the supernatural, and manages to blend humour, nihilism, tortured protagonists and tentacle beasts in a way that isn't just completely derivative or hack.

Author: Layton Green
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Read if you like: Dan Brown, cults and the paranormal, cat and mouse investigations
Why you should read him:  Layton Green's Dominic Grey series, is addictive reading. It follows in the vein of Dan Brown's supernatural/phenomenon investigative style, but I find these books so much more interesting and fulfilling. They weave fact with fiction brilliantly, inspiring mid-read wikipedia and google searches, and frequently leading to conspiracy theory websites which is about the most ridiculous and hilarious thing you can ever do (seriously, people are cray). Maybe that sort of thing isn't your cup of tea, but I actually really love when a book inspires me to do a little investigating of my own, rather than just take their information as fact (or knowing it's 100% fiction).

Author: Richard Matheson
Genre: Horror/sci-fi
Read if you like: The Twilight Zone,  Stephen King, nihilistic protagonists
Why you should read him:  He's just really, really good alright. I Am Legend is one of my favourite books, if not my MOST favourite book, and I just find the way he crafts stories mind-blowing. He is genre fiction, he's an influential player in just about every element of horror and science fiction, an honour usually withheld for anyone except the earliest adopters of a genre. And yet people who aren't actively involved in those genres don't usually know anything about him, or rather, they don't realise that a lot of those tv shows and movies they love are based on his writing, or that he wrote anything other than I Am Legend. He passed away a few weeks ago, so I think it's even more important to get people talking about him.

Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Genre: fantasy/childrens/YA
Read if you like: Magic, eccentricity, Harry Potter, colourful characters, Miyazaki films
Why you should read her: It wouldn't be a TTT post without a mention of DWJ, but seriously, how do you even survive childhood without this being required reading? The worlds created by DWJ are so vibrant, creative and wonderfully visual. The characters trip through parallel universes, use seven-league boots, are cursed by witches, and have multiple lives which they lose quite regularly (occasionally by cricket bat to the head). They're a lot of fun, but like any good children's story, they're full of morals and lessons imparted in the least didactic and most wonderful ways possible.

Author: Ernest Cline
Genre: Sci-fi
Read if you like: popular culture, video games, Dungeons and Dragons, John Hughes films
Why you should read him:  Ready Player One is his first novel and it is one of my favourite reads of 2013. It's a brilliant mash of popular culture, science fiction, social commentary and RPGs. If he manages to bring this much love and excitement to the rest of his books then i'm pretty sure he's going to have a long and incredibly fun career ahead of him. But seriously, everyone loves this book, regardless of whether they spent their childhoods geeking over the same things as Cline.

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA/NA, general fiction
Read if you like: Nora Ephron romantic comedies, quick wit, popular culture references.
Why you should read her: Full disclosure, I've only read one Rainbow Rowell book. That's only because I loved Attachments so much I'm trying to spread the rest out so I don't die of sadness when there are no new books to read (by the by, she has a new book due out next year!). But yes, read Rowell's books. She's smart, funny and her stories will make your stomach do flips of happiness (that's a thing right? Just me?). Her characters are so realistic and lovable and I just can't put into words how happy and content I was when I finished Attachments. 

Author: Joe Hill
Genre: horror/sci-fi
Read if you like: Stephen King, HP Lovecraft,
Why you should read him:  Joe Hill gets me excited to read. He's the son of Stephen King, the mastermind of the phenomenal Locke and Key graphic novel series, and his book Horns is about to come out as a film starring Daniel Radcliffe (I needed any excuse to post that picture of Daniel Radcliffe from the film because, reasons). He's about to explode and you know you want to be riding that wave so that you can cockily say "yeah, I read him before he was huge" to all your less well-informed friends. But also, he's a really neat writer. He manages to reinvigorate staid genres or tropes (check out his short story The Cape), bring characters to life and write satisfying conclusions (something papa King isn't always the best at). He flops between fiction and graphic novels with an ease that just isn't fair, and his twitter is both hilarious and introspective. Just read him already OK?

And because I'm lazy I'm going to end my list here, but if you have any recommendations then let me know in the comments!

Monday Links (on Tuesday)

*This theory is kind of ridiculous and amazing and it's all about how the Pixar films take place in the same world/reality. (Via Buzzfeed)

*David Simon, creator of The Wire, has some things to say about the Trayvon Martin case. (Via Warming Glow)

*And while we're on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial, one of the jurors has a book deal. Ron Hogan raises some legitimate concerns about how the juror manages to get a book deal within 48 hours of the trial's end. (Via Buzzfeed)

*The blog Native Appropriations was following the production of The Lone Ranger, and has written a review of the film now that it's out. (Via Native Appropriations)

*Turns out the iron throne on GOT is for pussies. The book version is epic, terrifying and 100% more dangerous. (Via Uproxx)

*Because everyone likes a good comeback, especially out of the mouth of awesome literary and political folk (Via Buzzfeed)

*Kathryn Shulz does not like the Great Gatsby (any form) and here's why (Via Vulture)

*Oldish news at this point, but it turns out JKR wrote a novel under a male pseudonym. That's all well and dandy, but where's my Grindelwald book already! (Via The Age)

*Because I had to read this shitty book, I demand everyone read the review so that I feel like it was worth something. I also rail against anti-divorce sentiments, misogyny and rape so yay? (Via ME!)

*The other week Meg said that she didn't think 50 Shades deserved to be on Book Riot's well-read list, and I 100% agree but I also feel a little weird criticising something I haven't read (not that I needed to read 50 Shades to know it would be garbage). But guess what, Jennifer Armintrout read the book and recapped each chapter so that we would know what's going on without reading it! It's equal parts hilarious and infuriating - as in Jenny's commentary is hilarious, and the book's content is infuriating. Thanks to Raych for mentioning it on her blog. (Via Sweaters for Days)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I NEED YOU (to give me accomodation and travel advice for the US/Canada)

I'm going to be in America and Canada in basically no time at all. November 28th I fly over. THAT'S BASICALLY TOMORROW.

So I need to start booking my shit. But to book my shit I really need some of that insider information that I know you all have, because you're magical and all Americans know everything about all America right? (and the same with Canadians yes?)

So here's our itinerary (at this stage, it could change).

Fly into L.A
Fly to Washington
Train to New York
Train to Boston
Fly to Montreal
Train to Quebec City
Train to Toronto
Fly to L.A
Fly home (sad panda)

And here's what I need to know, what are the best flights for cheap, reliable travel? I've been using the generic webjet style sites to get an idea - but there's probably secret-y secrets for best booking right?

And does anyone have any hotel/hostel recommendations for these places? We've booked New York (I am EXCITE), and I think we have a B&B locked in for Q.C, but if there are any we should check out (or avoid!) let me know.

And then, of course, any must-see things or must-visit places? Alley sent me the list to end all lists but I'm relying on the internets for all my Canada stuff.

Muchos gracias!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: The War of the Roses - The Children by Warren Adler

The War of the Roses - The Children

Written by: Warren Adler

Published: 2004

Synopsis: Unlike the legendary Roses, Josh's marriage to Victoria should have all the qualities of an everlasting union. But when an innocent caper involving missing Milky Ways catapults out of control at their son's elite private school, the pair find themselves entering into a shattering warfare of a different kind. Armed with the emotional mayhem inherited from their parents, as well as compounded pressures involving a depraved headmaster, clandestine affairs and Victoria's male-hating mother, "The War of the Roses - the Children" presents a gripping story of the lengths to which parents will go to protect their children.

Little more than a child herself, Josh's ever sympathetic and over-stuffed sister Evie lavishes her 'food-is-love' obsession on her beloved niece and nephew coping with their own sense of loss. Meanwhile, Michael and Emily, soon-to-be children of divorce, orchestrate their own plan to keep their family together at all costs. Adler, once again, demonstrates his storytelling mastery by revealing the intricate blending of the past with the present, and how time unravels all things seemingly perfect to be darkly and even comically dysfunctional.

A copy of this book was offered in exchange for an honest review.

A few years ago I was skimming the tv channels and came across The War of the Roses, which starred Danny DeVito, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. I came in about half way, but the story was pretty straight-forward. A couple was getting divorced in the messiest way imaginable, destroying every aspect of their lives and eventually both being killed underneath a crystal chandelier. It was darkly funny, the cast were pretty good and it filled in the time. Win, win, win. So when I got an email asking if I'd like to review the sequel I hoped that it'd conform to the usual paradigm of book > film, and I'd love it. Alas, there are exceptions to every rule, and I did NOT love this book.

I've been staring at my computer screen for about an hour (not to mention periodically over the last three days) and wondering how I'm going to handle writing this review when I actively hated great big chunks of the book. I almost never write actual notes when reading on my phone (ain't nobody got time for that) but I was so...astounded by this book that I couldn't simply highlight the offending passages, I had to comment. Not that I was particularly eloquent, most of them were "jesus christ" "ugh. gross" "I hate her" and "SERIOUSLY". But when I flip back through my notes I can notice certain themes running through my dislike, so in order to avoid devolving completely into caps and gif reactions I'm going to headline these issues.


The second I read the author's forward I was instantly uncomfortable.
"It is the dilemma of our times, a tragedy of epic proportions as more and more parents opt to break up the bedrock of a civilised society - the family"
As a child of divorce, I think I am well in my rights to say that Adler is completely full of it. Do you think people with children are happy to end their marriages? I guarantee you almost every single divorced parent struggled with the decision, and lost countless nights of sleep worrying how it would affect their kids. But divorce, unlike what the author continuously tries to suggest, does not put you at a disadvantage in life. Guess what Mr Adler, even though my parents separated I am successful, intelligent, I have no issue with authority, or independence, or trusting people or falling (and remaining) in love. My sisters are equally stable, and live unique and wonderful lives. Every child wants their parents to stay together, most parents would love to stay together for their kids, but life isn't that simple. Is it really beneficial to the child to live in a house where daddy cheated on mummy repeatedly, and the two barely speak to each other? Divorce isn't the issue, the issue is bad divorces. The kind of divorce when a child is caught in the middle of bitter custody battles, where a parent tries to turn the kid against the other parent. Or when the kid is ignored completely when both parents go off to start new and improved lives.

In fairness to the book, both Josh and Victoria came from crappy backgrounds. Josh was one of the children of the chandelier Roses, and Victoria's dad left when she was a baby and she grew up hearing her mum criticise not only him, but the entire male gender. In these cases, yes, they'd be lucky to have grown up without some sort of flaw and I can 100% understand why they would do everything in their power to avoid putting their kids through the same thing. This does not, however, explain why Victoria immediately jumps to divorce when she finds out Josh cheated on her. Not that I blame her, I'd do the exact same thing myself, but after a couple of hundred pages full of dramatics about how they don't want the same thing for their own children I can't help but wonder why they didn't try a different course of action first.

If the book had been about two children of messy divorces dealing with the breakdown of their marriage, it could have been a really interesting and complicated character study. Instead of this preposterous idea that all divorce is evil and damaging, why not consider that after years of being terrified of divorce, of scarring their children, what would happen if one of them fell in love with someone else?

And before I move on, let me share this doozy of a quote which leads me into my next heading.
Yet, this exercise of counting blessings always required acknowledging that they had been lucky to escape the consequences of their past and by courage, discipline, and self-awareness risen above their early traumas, she as a child of divorce, he as a premature orphan.

Oh my god the drama. I've read a few reviews (and the actual synopsis) which suggests that this is supposed to be a dark comedy. To me this feels like a dark comedy in the same way the cult film The Room is billed as a dark comedy now. It failed in it's original intention and when people seemed to find their interpretation of drama ridiculous they quickly back-peddle and cry "but it was always meant to be funny and over the top!"

There is a scene early in the novel where Victoria is called into her son's school to discuss an accusation another child made. Her son allegedly stole a few milky-ways , and Victoria defends her son's honour the way a lawyer defends a man on trial for murder. And if this wasn't dramatic enough, when it turns out her son actually did steal the chocolates this is how she reacts;

"Don't you understand, Josh? Our son has betrayed us. We believed in him. He's pulled the rug out from under us...that goes without saying, Josh. But that doesn't get to the heart of why he did it. How can we trust him ever again?"


He's 11 years old. I know you have issues of trust with men, but he's your son! So is this drama for drama's sake, an example of the book's misogyny (those pesky females always over-react!) or...comedy?

Mothers, rape and misogyny

It took me all of two seconds to hate Victoria. She's ridiculous, and clearly made to be hated. On the first page she barks at a checkout girl who plugs in the wrong price for an item, and two pages later she notes that she likes to read the receipt after she shops because;
Either way, it opened up opportunities to exercise her moral superiority and mathematical acumen. 
Ugh. Another page on and Victoria has to visit the school to discuss her son's apparent chocolate theft. Remembering the initial confrontation, the book describes;
Michael, with all of his eleven-year-old indignation, had denied the accusation in presence of both Crespos and their nerdy little Madeline who lisped, ogling them through goggles far too big for her pinched little face.
Isn't she lovely?  But my problem is less that she's unlikeable and more that she, and every female in this book is unlikeable. Victoria is a nasty bitch, her mother is a man hating vindictive cow, Josh's sister is an overeating sex addict and the woman he has an affair with is conniving. They all work to fracture Josh's life as best as possible, and even though he's the man who has an affair he's presented as the victim, a considerate and family-orientated character who slipped up but is being wronged on many fronts.

Let's talk about that affair shall we? The woman is hired to be a designer at the ad agency Josh works at, and almost instantly she stalks into his office and says that she wants to "be his whore" and has sex with him on his couch. Everything is her fault. She seduced him, she made the first move, she refused to accept it was over. Let's forget that he bought her an anklet engraved with "my delicious whore". *GROAN*

There are only two sex scenes in this book and both made me incredibly uncomfortable. The first is Josh remembering the affair with Angela, and it's less the descriptions of sex (although the lines "I love hard, quick sex" and "I love that ice-cream cone you're carrying" were hard to get past) and more the implication that Angela basically raped Josh (climbing onto him amidst his calls to stop) and a hot and heavy relationship developed from it. That's not bdsm, that's not romantic, that's not sexy. That's fucked up.

The second is a sex act that takes place between Victoria and the school's principal. She forces her son to tell the truth and when the principal explains that this means expulsion, he quickly follows it with the very sleazy and clichĂ© "well  maybe we can sort it out" reasoning. The next day they take a drive to the country, and after a few terrible "blow me baby" lines, she trades oral sex for her son's scholastic safety. And again, it isn't the implication of pulpy romance lines that upset me, or even rape in this case. In this scene it was one particular line which upset me.
He began to caress her knee. the other hand finally reached her breast. a finger began to play with her nipple. despite her disgust, she felt it harden.
Every. Single. Time Warren Adler chooses tawdry and cheap dramatics over anything of substance. In the hands of a better storyteller, this detail might be heartbreaking. It should have made me feel pity for Victoria and detest the principal. But in this book it just felt like a detail thrown in to make things salacious and maybe a little sexy. I found it insulting.

At times I feel like Adler thought he was writing strong characters because they mirrored characters on Sex and the City (she's a lawyer! She doesn't care about her weight! She has sex like a man!) but didn't understand that giving a female masculine connotations does not equal strong. Especially when any positive feature (she manages the family finances, she takes care of her friends financially) is overshadowed by half a dozen negative female connotations. They're either too emotional, or too cold, or man haters, or they can't keep a secret, or they've altered themselves surgically to the point of ridiculousness. The male characters aren't much better, they're just as stereotypical and wooden, but they're entirely more sympathetic than any of the females. Even Victoria's father is sympathetic, shown only once dying of cancer in a hospital room claiming he only stayed away because Victoria's mum was so bad.

So yes, I guess it's pretty clear that I did not like this book, and I haven't even broached the saccharine ending or the blackmail plot. On the bright side, apart from the terrible dialogue within the sex scenes, the writing is actually pretty good. Good enough that I was able to make it through the entire book even though I hated it with every fibre in my being. And there are a few flashes of brilliance, the son Michael's arc was interesting, Victoria gets a single kickass lawyer sticking-it-to-the-man moment, and there's a couple of really sweet scenes between Josh and his sister. But that's a pretty weak silver lining. Ultimately I think this book is fluff charading as an indictment of modern relationships, and there are half a dozen books that look at similar issues, with a dark comedy bent that are light-years away from the over-the-top dramatics of this book.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday Links

*So America, I hear you celebrated your 2013th birthday recently, here are some adorable photos of people celebrating their independence in the past (Via Mentalfloss)

*Emma Watson, ever the nerd we know and love, created a fake tumblr for her Bling Ring character. Awesome. (Via Buzzfeed)

*7 filthy jokes Shakespeare used in his plays, and you might already know if you read annotated copies of the plays. (Via Cracked)

*And in a similar vein, here are 9 commonly used words that have less than pleasant histories. (Via Flavorwire)


*Here's the books the guys at the AV Club think are the best (so far) in 2013 (AV Club)

*I love pretty and powerful book covers, and here are some gorgeous covers for phenomenal books we know and love. (Via Buzzfeed)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

TTT: Books That Intimidate Me

Top 10 Books you find intimidating (or; proof that I over think everything)
Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

1. Anything Russian ever. 

I really want to read the big Russian novels, and the ones I have read I (mostly) love, but holy crap they are intimidating. Partly because of their size, partly because of the names (seriously Russian authors, give a girl a break) and partly because of their status among readers and critics.

2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

I started reading this last year, but either the ebook I got was a terrible translation or the book itself is terrible. I had to give up and hope that I could find a better edition, but now I'm holding back because I want this to be one of the good ones damn it!

3. Ulysses by James Joyce

I really want to read James Joyce, any James Joyce really. But his reputation as a confusing and highly technical writer precedes him and I don't want to be one of those readers who just doesn't get it. One day I'll tear of the Joyce bandaid...it just won't be today.

4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I am slowly making my way through this monster of a book, but the size really makes it hard to commit to it 100%. As much as I love reading about a kindly priest and how many chairs he has, I also have a life and career to get on with as well!

5. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

This book is sitting on my shelf at home and I am definitely going to read it, but again, the size and the critical praise makes it hard to pick it over others. I'm always terrified of books failing to live up to the hype.

6. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

I've heard wonderful things about Lewis outside of the Chronicles of Narnia, but I've never gotten past buying the books and putting them on my shelf. Narnia was a beloved series of mine as a kid, so I think perhaps the intimidation is linked to these books retroactively impacting on my fondness of Narnia if they don't meet my standards. 

7. The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling

I love Harry Potter ("what?!" I hear regular readers shout) so, like with Lewis and Narnia, I think I'm worried that if I don't like this I'll suddenly stop liking HP. I know how ridiculous that is, and yet...

8. IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

I got a copy for this the year it came for Christmas, and I have another two Murakami books waiting patiently in my shelf but for whatever reason Murakami intimidates the hell out of me. From every review I'd imagine this is exactly the type of story I'd like to read, but again (I sound like a broken record) the size and public praise holds me back.

9. 19th Century Classics

I'm pretty contemporary when it comes to picking reads, but I also love a lot of the classics I do get around it reading. For some reason though, books from the 19th century intimidate me more than any other classic. It might be because I've liked a lot less of these books (ahem, I'm looking at you Brontes and Austen) or *shrugs* who knows, but I do tend to avoid these books where possible.

10. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I loved Attachments so much, and I immediately signed up to the Rainbow Rowell fan club and bought E&P. But I still haven't read it because I'm scared I won't love it. What if I hate it?! What if I never like another Rainbow Rowell again? I just can't live with that reality guys, I really can't. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Monday Links

*^ It is ridiculous how funny I find this video. Seriously bonkers. ^

*14 books to read before they hit the cinema this year, LOTS of YA. (also, when was it announced that The Fault in Our Stars was being made into a film?) (also, FUCK YES HORNS IN OCTOBER) (via Buzzfeed)

*The first of the Game of Thrones season 4 casting news is out. The Red Viper has been cast! (Via Uproxx)

*Michael over at Literary Exploration shared his favourite 5 bookish podcasts. Got any other recommendations? (Via Literary Exploration)

*Authors in love on their wedding day? Yes please, I would like to see those pictures! (Via Flavorwire)

*Buzzfeed collated some of the "harsh realities" about the HP world. I have an issue with #6 (and, well, most of them), because I know we discussed this during the readalong and since there are only 2 people in the misuse of muggle artifacts office I don't think it's Mr Weasley's political affiliations which affected his pay grade. Or at least not fully. Anyway, read it more for the comments. (Via Buzzfeed)

*Speaking of Harry Potter, Book Riot have the antidote to our Readalong pains! Apparently the Grisha Trilogy is where it is at. (Via Book Riot)

*Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend (one of my absolute favourite books), died last week. I've been hunting for the perfect obituary to share but I don't feel like any of them did a great job summarising the life of this man, ugh, and so maybe "he was legend" pun titles. But the NY Times write up wasn't too bad nor was the one in The Guardian.


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