The Jackaby novels by William Ritter

** Tiny bits of spoilers lie beneath this sentence. **

There are times, lovelies, when a series seems harmless, there are times when a title sits on your shelves for months maybe even years and you give no second thought to it. There are times when you finally pick up one of those books and it is just as boring and uninteresting as you had thought. As avid readers, we get used to the spines on our shelves and whether we have read them or not, they are our trophies, our scores and finds, our prizes. Then there are other times, where you finally crack one of those spines and it sucks you in like spell has been cast. You are able to think of nothing but the characters and their adventures and when you do not have it open in front of you the book is still on your mind and in your head calling out to be reopened and dived into once more. The Jackaby novels are very very much the latter of those scenarios. I don’t think there are enough positive words in the English language for me to gush enough about how much I loved this four part series. But, for your benefit, I will try.

Abigail Rook (mentioned in the previous post regarding female leads) is our narrator over the course of these tales. As the series opens she is fresh off the boat from a failed paleontology dig and is in look of a fresh start – immediately establishing her as an adventerous woman. One of the first people she meets in New Fiddleham is Jackaby himself although it is not until a few chapters later that we are properly introduced to him. By the time he officially hires Ms. Rook to be his assistant we have already visited a crime scene with him and seen that Abigail is not as prim and proper as many other ladies of the time. She is incredibly observant and determined and as readers we get the sense very quickly that she is going to be a good and reliable narrator. R.F. Jackaby is a paranormal investigator and the world’s current Seer. It is his duty to use his Sight to keep the peace between [mostly] oblivious humans and the magical beings who secretly populate our world and exist among us. He has been at it for about 20 years and has made quite a name and life for himself in New Fidddleham. His offices and housing (as well as Abigail’s once she is hired) are in the house of a deceased woman named Jenny Cavanaugh. Jenny still presides in the house as the resident ghost and her emotional journey is really amazing. (More on that point in a bit.) These are our three main characters and their relationships to each other and with the magical community at large become central to the story…or is the story central to them?

One of the things that I think Ritter does so well in this work is that the overarching plot from start to finish is so cohesive. It is bananas! Something so simple and well structured makes the storytelling so amazing. As readers we first get hints of this larger thread that connects everything in book two. We are able to see that the events in book one weren’t the beginning and that strings have been being pulled puppet style for years. This type of tight knit, no lose ends story telling is refreshing in it’s simplicity (as I’ve already mentioned and will probably mention again). There are red herrings and twists and turns and if you really pay attention it is easily figured out but that is not the point. The point is that Ritter takes this tale as old as time of good and evil of us versus them and gives it a positive female perspective and makes it engaging for young readers. So far, all of these books (with the exception of 4 because it is brand new) have topped Year’s End lists and have been super positively received.

While there are many supernatural points in these stories, there are also parallels for very real issues. Many of our other worldly characters have glamours on themselves so that they appear human to the untrained eye. One character who does not have to do this is Charlie Cane/Barker as he is able to transform at will from a human to a (not naming his creature as it is a spoiler). While this ability allows him to lead a fairly undetected life, events in book one make it necessary for him to reveal his true self during which time townspeople see him and demonize him. The hatred and fear exhibited towards Charlie is only a prelude to the racial prejudice that many of the townspeople have once they find out there are many more fantastical beings among them. In a scene in book four, all of the jail cells are full of creatures who have done nothing wrong except not being human. There is no way to not draw a parallel to the segregation of our races here in America and the fear that many have of people and things who are different and unknown. What Jackaby shows us is that there is nothing inherently wrong with you for being different, we are all just who we are.

Another character who helps us see that it is okay to be who you are is Miss Lydia Lee. While Ritter never goes into explicit detail regarding labels, we are let known that Lydia Lee is a man who likes to dress as a woman. When we first meet her, she is being attacked physically and verbally by men who do not understand her; who are uncomfortable with her decision to live her life the way she has decided. What I thought was particularly amazing about this is that these stories take place in the early 1890s and I don’t feel like, when you go that far back in a setting, you see anyone represented who isn’t white and straight or black and a slave. The fact that Ritter takes the time to make it clear that Lydia is who she wants to be whether anyone else likes or understands it is really wonderful.

Lastly, as mentioned above, Jenny is another example of a larger metaphor. Jenny was murdered and her death plays largely in to the grand scheme of things once it becomes clear that so many “huh that was weird” occurrences start becoming connected. While Jackaby has tried many times over the years to help Jenny solve her murder and move on to the afterlife, a big issue in preventing this closure is that Jenny seems unable to leave the house. She is able to exist within the walls and is able to touch things/items that belonged to her in life but that is the extent of her physical capabilities. Once Abigail comes along, she and Jenny really get to work trying to help Jenny get out of this cycle of disappearing any time she tries to leave the house or dropping objects that aren’t or weren’t hers. This behavior seemed to me to be a metaphor for depression and a bit of agoraphobia. With the help and patience of Abigail she is able to overcome this. However, it is not an easy task and is by no means minimized or dismissed. Her peers are encouraging and inclusive even when Jenny is down on herself. This is super important and really compelling.

While these themes and metaphors are very important, something that is even more central is the building that Ritter does throughout both in terms of the world and it’s characters. We start with knowing as little about the world as Abigail does and through her eyes and Jackaby’s tutelage we gain perspective and become woke to the intricacies and magic surrounding us in every day life. We start off naive and unaware and become entranced and enlightened. There are histories alluded to and stories that exist in this world however it never feels like we are being preached to or talked at. Due to his insight Jackaby provides us with information on the world that Abigail might not have come by on her own. We are, at times, taken out of new Fiddleham and the into other communities (both of this world and the next) that are connected to the story, we are taken back in time in memories of characters. These flashbacks (and I hesitate to call them that as they are not cheesy exposition but well done exposition) provide an expansion not only of the world but of how each of these people fit in to it. Motivation is shown, not just action. By mid way through book one I was already longing to be  Abigail and Jenny’s best friend and to be part of Jackaby’s team. These are fully realized people with hopes and dreams and I that is not an easy thing to do nor is it always achieved by writers (especially so quickly).

I think the last time I got this sucked in to a series and devoured it as quickly was two Christmases ago when my partner introduced me to Susan Collin’s The Underland Chronicles. These four books (Jackaby, Beastly Bones, Ghostly Echoes, and The Dire King) are impeccably written and really smart. As Jackaby says, “I have never found a book that did not have at least a little magic in it…They can’t help it.” If you are on the prowl for your next obsession, look no further!

 

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The strong female lead

 

I tend to read several books at a time. I tend to start books, pick up others, leave some unfinished. There might be an Audible I’m in the middle of at the same time I have two paperbacks going. The exception to this is when I get transfixed by a series. Three weeks ago I was listening to The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) whilst also going back and forth between The Sun is Also A Star (Nicola Yoon) and Fierce Kingdom  (Gin Phillips). Currently I am enthralled by the words of William Ritter in the Jackaby series. Pausing for a moment today I reflected on the thing that all of these titles have in common: strong and independent women at their core. Now more than ever lovelies, it is important that we do not forget that we have vastly important stories to tell no matter what the genre. Whether a it is a new bestseller or a title that has resurfaced in a timely fashion there are an abundance of damsels who keep their heads while in distress. I’d like to take a moment to speak about these ladies who have been in my life of late and how they are having an impact on me.

With the current adaptation of Atwood’s dystopian future, in which religion and fear have allowed for a militant God group to take society’s reins, we are reminded of the tale Offred told us originally 19 years ago. The Handmaid’s Tale gives us exactly what the title states. June is the handmaid ofFred and his wife Serena and it is her duty within the household to provide a baby for the family. This is done through repeated rapes and captivity along with the continual reminder that it is woman’s sole purpose to breed. Gone are any basic human rights and contact with the outside world. Offred recounts her tale having lived this reality for several years. As readers, we slowly learn of Offred’s daily life and are given glimpses into how the world was able to get to this point. I am watching the series as I listen to the audiobook and must admit that I have not yet finished either so I am still learning about her journey. I am struck by how courageous Offred is and in contrast how many times I have thought to myself, could I hold my tongue? Could I be repeatedly defiled and not go crazy? Several times I have thought to myself, well that would have pushed me over the edge. Society within Gilead and sections of the United States are transformed into these stepford-ly fake worlds in which climate change has effected the air and people have become sterile. The handmaids are society’s last hope for continuing the human race. Talk about pressure. The will to not let the bastards get you down is a hopeful outlook that Offred gives us of her situation. I hope, as I keep reading, that that continues and she is able to stay strong. Luckily I have not had the end spoiled for me so I don’t know what happens. However I have heard that the endings of the two mediums differ (as the show has a second season pending). In Offred I have hope. In Offred I recognize how important it is to keep your wits.

The Sun is Also A Star is the word vomit of two teenagers who meet on the streets of New York. One is Natasha and one is Daniel and the chapters alternate their perspectives allowing us to be told the same story from two different takes on what is happening. Something that I love about Yoon’s characters is that they are so fully realized that it does not take you long to recognize that the way of learning what happens in this story is going to be very real to each of them. Natasha is on the verge of being deported with her family and love is literally the last thing on her mind. She is supposed to be applying to colleges and studying for the SATs. Instead she is visiting government buildings and lawyers offices and trying anyway she can think of to be allowed to stay in America. Daniel is supposed to be on his way to an interview with someone from Harvard and is completely distracted after coming across Natasha as she is on her way to speak with the aforementioned lawyer. Over the course of this stressful day, Natasha brightens up in Daniel’s presence. Yes, there are hormones involved and the concept of love at first sight is debated but there is more than that. It is not just that Daniel is a cute boy whom she quickly realizes she is crushing on, it is that she allows herself to open up to him and smile. The driving force of Natasha’s story is this incredibly adult situation that she is having to deal with. The issue of deportation is immediate and scary and she is determined to find a way out of being punished for her father’s mistakes (it is his fault they were found out as being illegal immigrants). Because Daniel is naive to her situation there is no pressure to talk about it or stress over it. Natasha has strong scientific and fact based beliefs and she holds them tightly. It is because of this that in Natasha I recognize conviction and determination and a stick-to-your-guns attitude that is incredibly refreshing.

The cover of Fierce Kingdom is deceptively boring. There are carousel horses on the front along with jarring red block letters spelling out the title and author. It is because of this judgement that the advanced copy sat on my shelf for months before I finally read it. If ever there was a case for the saying “don’t judge a book by the cover” this would be it. The zoo is closing and Joan and her son Lincoln are making their way to the front when they hear some popping sounds. A few pages later we get confirmation that these were gun shots when Joan rounds a corner and sees dead bodies. She quickly steers Lincoln away from the scene and from that moment on we are involved in a fast paced game of hide and seek, cat and mouse. Due to the fact that it was the end of the day, there are not that many people around so the zoo is eerie and quiet. The animals sense the danger and we go many pages without seeing a single other person. We are within Joan’s mind for much of the narration. The fear and anxiety that Joan feels is made to feel very present in Phillip’s writing. The use of short terse sentences, the occasional disoriented thought from Joan about Lincoln’s Avenger toys in her purse, the way that silence and sound play into your reading. Survival instincts are brought to the front of her mind. Joan is levelheaded throughout: she has to keep Lincoln calm and entertained (there is passage in which sleepy Lincoln, who is four-ish, is starting to get hungry and these two things combined do not make for a quiet toddler. High. Anxiety.) while also helping him avoid too much trauma (the sight of dead animals and people), and she has to make decisions that are very hard to make (there is a part that involves a baby that is just heartbreaking). In addition to Joan we gain the points of view of Kailynn, a girl who works in a concession stand at the zoo and get some minor character development in a Margaret Powell a local teacher. These three women come from different backgrounds and they are all trying to survive the night in this terrifying situation. All three are strong and courageous and it is in them that I see the strength to carry on.

The last heroine that I would like to gush about is in the books that I am currently reading. Miss Abigail Rook tells us of her adventures with the detective for whom the series and the first book are named. Jackaby is the opener of the books and it is within these pages that Abigail recounts to us the strange and not always natural cases she investigates as the assistant of the detective. Much like Robin in the Cormoran Strike novels, Abigail is not content being an assistant who sits out of the cases whose notes she will inevitably end up transcribing. She is pulled immediately in to one, in fact, as she is in the process of convincing Jackaby to hire her while he is on his way to a crime scene. The series takes place in the 1890s and people tend to have preconceived notions of what a woman’s behavior looks like (it is full circle from the first title if you think about it…Offred having had her rights taken away, Abigail fighting to gain and maintain them…not a good circle, just something I noticed). Because of these notions people are constantly surprised by the tenacity and confidence exhibited by Miss Rook. After being told her whole life that her place was with the ladies in the parlor and not out in the field working with her paleontologist father, Abigail takes off with her school money and runs away to find her own freedom. As she reaches the shores of America (having gone on a couple of adventures between leaving England and arriving in New England), Abigail is able to find her footing and carves her own path with a clear sense of determination. I mean, imagine how it was back then, arriving on the shores of a foreign country and not knowing anyone and being a woman on top of that. Sure that is still something people do today but with the advancements in technology it isn’t the same. While she is a young lady in man’s world and while she has doubts and uncertainties about her path, she doesn’t let thisdeter her. One thing that I like about Abigail is that even when she is told no, she explores other ways to make it a yes. In Abigail I see a woman who is not afraid to stand up for herself and others in an effort to pursue what is right and just.

I briefly mentioned above the Cormoran Strike series and one of the primary characters, Robin. While this is not a current read (although I hope to the bibliogod that book four is coming out soon) it is also one to keep in mind when looking for a read with a strong female lead. She is a wonderful character and it is refreshing to have these two women (Abigail and Robin) in these detective stories as the genre is usually dominated by men. Additionally, next up on my list of must reads is a new American Gothic by Claire Messud called The Burning Girl in which we experience the ups and downs of a childhood friendship (and of course there is a creepy castle).

All of this is to say that for years growing up I had all of these wonderful boys and men leading me on my journeys; they took charge of situations and performed brave deeds. But where would Harry have been without Hermione? Would Holden have had any grounding if it weren’t for his sister? How far could Eragon have gotten if it weren’t for Saphira? Women are so often the backing these main characters need but these stories also show that we deserve and are capable of having our own adventures.

 

 

 

The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey

the5thwavebook

 

Well wasn’t May just a kick in the pants, lovelies?! Life was hectic in general but to top things off I was bookless for almost the whole month. I think I started like four or five different books. These are books that I will eventually read (…she tells herself) but I needed something with a hook. I needed a tale that captured me from go. You know, that feeling that you get when you open a book and 10 seconds later you’re 60 pages in? That book that calls to you when you’re not reading it…The 5th Wave did that to me. Rick Yancey does an amazing job weaving the overtaking of our planet. This book is horrifically terrifying. For example, are you currently not really a fan of birds? Do you think that angry children are actually super dangerous tiny humans? If you have fears like these, this book might be too much for you. But you should read it anyways because it is. That. Good.

Cassie Sullivan is our primary storyteller through whom we learn about the beginning of the end of the world. There have been four waves so far. First, all of the electricity went out. Second, massive earthquakes and tidal waves cause flooding of every coastline in the world. By this time three billion are dead. Next is a plague transmitted by birds that wipes out 97% percent of the population. As we walk through this world with Cassie, alone and terrified, we learn with her about what comes next in the invasion. It is, at this point still hard to imagine the magnitude of this end of days situation. As Yancey says in the book, a “single death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” The scope of this book narrows in and then zooms out again. So, many times, are you reading and just going through the pages and then you stop and reread a sentence and realize how truly horrible some of the things going on in this book are!

There are other strands of narration as well which add to the awareness of the horror. We get in the mind of an alien sniper, who wades through the aftermath killing any human he comes across; additionally you also have Cassie’s brother, someone she went to high school with, and a person who saves her. One element that creates and holds tension throughout is that They look like us (Obvi.) so even though you might know someone, how do you know you know them? You know what I mean? The whole book is like that!! Yes, if you really think hard you can figure it out as you go. But, if you’re just reading this to get excited about suspense that isn’t your standard Every-Distopian-YA-Novel a la:

YA Comic

then this is for you! I really was invested in each of these perspectives and what’s more, they didn’t spend their whole section/part being worried about “the girl” and not doing their own shit, as it is, ya know, the end of the world and what not. Themes of keeping promises and love being the primary driving force are present, yes. However, I thought they were done in great ways. There were times when I went, “oh come on!” when it was getting a little too formulaic but those issues straightened themselves out fairly quickly.

While we do get to see these other perspectives, I really appreciated getting to know Cassie’s voice. When we are first introduced to her she is on her own after her brother has been taken by uniformed men and her parents die during two different waves. She is trying to survive in a world in which, as far as she knows, she is the only one left alive. She is strong and focused after not having seen another person in weeks…or is it months? This uncertainty of time is something that Yancey plays around with very beautifully. Characters often think of time in relation to their actions and the happenings around them, seconds into eons when a bullet is speeding towards you, hours into years when you’re left alone in the dark. When you’re solo in the world, things can get screwy. The noticings about time are interesting in the end when you realize the grand scale of these aliens coming from who knows where and how far away…how long has this been in the works? And we as humans can only think in the smallest increments of time.

In addition to the time talk, there is often weighty, lofty things that only get said in books and movies that are somehow just on this side of okay. For example,

“Cassie Sullivan didn’t run…He could see the familiar look of fear in her eyes, a look he had seen a hundred times, the look we give back to death when death looks at us. “

Is quickly followed by,

“His heart, the war.

Her face, the battlefield.”

But it is all okay! I’m fine with goofy lines if the story is strong and the people have good solid reasons to be on these “missions” that they are invariably always on.

The gravitas of what these kids go through – because they are all kids – is disturbing. Imagine all of the adults in the world dying and the kids being taken in by some sort of military unit and being trained to hunt. They don’t know if they are being told the truth (and neither do you), nor are they old enough to really question things. Over the course of the fourth wave, you again realize what is going on and have to occasionally re-read paragraphs. Whether they are made to do these things by humans or Others, going through dead bodies and “processing” thousands for cremation is not something that should be on an eight year old’s to do list. Neither, for that matter, should weapons training and emergency medical/tactical care be subjects that should be taught to six year olds. You realize that these children, who are now parentless, are being guided by people who are not at all concerned for their well being or what is best for them. They are being trained brainwashed to kill. These horrors of the day keep tolling up and these kids are so glad to no longer be on their own in the middle of an alien invasion that they believe everything they are told!

Over the course of the entire book, you think for a section that you have something figured out and then the next chapter can go two ways: you could be wrong or you could be right which is sometimes even more scary. I haven’t read any of Yancey’s other works so I don’t know if he is just always good at suspense but man alive I am glad I fell into this book. There two books which round out the trilogy and I am anxious to start the second. I do know that there is a film that was made on the book in 2016 and I have heard nothing but terrible things about it so I haven’t as much as even seen the trailer. I wanted nothing to taint my experience of the book. This is an action that I am grateful for. There is also a lesson in that: don’t just watch dystopian thrillers. Read them. For an adventure that takes you to the end of the world and frequently punches you in the gut, pick up The 5th Wave.

LOLA – Melissa Scrivner Love

LOLA

 

This week I finished LOLA which came out in March of this year and was written by debut author Melissa Scrivner Love. Over the course of a week and a half we go through an experience with Lola that has the potential to solidify her in a world she leads from the shadows. With a deadline and the threat of death from multiple drug lords, Lola is tested as she emerges as the true leader of LA gang, the Crenshaw Six.

When the book opens, we meet Lola, our narrator and the girlfriend of a man named Garcia who is assumed to be the leader of a gang which controls blocks in the neighborhood of Crenshaw. We are at a back yard BBQ when a messenger from the cartel arrives and wants to speak to Garcia, giving him a mission to interrupt a drug deal between a cartel customer and a rival supplier. Throughout this meeting Lola hovers on the fringe, notting everything the man says and also how he acts and her inner dialogue immediately sheds color on the woman whose psyche we are going to be in for the next couple hundred pages. Short sentences, to the point and very observant.  Whether or not someone’s English has an accent, if they are sweating and nervous, the way the air feels and tastes in the LA heat. It is clear that she is a very reliable narrator…and one who knows a vast amount more than what people expect her to. Within the first few pages, it is clear that Lola is the one running things and no one yet realizes this outside of her five soldiers.

The mission set to the Crenshaw Six, the drug deal from which they are to recoup a name plus both the cash and the loot, goes terribly wrong. And from here we have a chain of events that propel Lola into having to navigate between the cartel and this new drug supplier (who turns out to be rich and white) selling heroin to upper class users. First daunting task set to Lola: find out who this new man is, infiltrate his organization, and find out where his stash is held. Her deadline: one week. Next task: after having infiltrated said organization, Lola must prove her loyalty to the white man for him to trust her. He tells her to kill the man who was the cartel client. The one from the deal. She is again given one week. Throughout all of this, Lola is pretty collected. We see the actions of a calculating leader who’s people trust her and the plans that she comes up with to get them through these situations. It is wonderfully eerie to read passages outlined with her practical business like manner and then to flip the page and have her trying to  do good and create a safe space for a little girl.

In addition to the little girl, Lola also cares for her mother who is a recovering junkie. These two responsibilities illustrate the domestic side of Lola’s life. The balance that is consciously kept between gang leader Lola and dutiful daughter and woman Lola. She narrates about how she uses conceptions of her, often misconceptions, to her advantage. And people constantly underestimate her. I really enjoyed how she trolled these waters looking for her in to the game with the men. Lola’s confidence and level headedness is what I enjoyed most about her and this work, I think. There are a couple of other females that aren’t as flushed out as they could’ve been whose deeper perspectives could’ve been interesting.

 

 

The deadline and climax of both missions happens so near the end I thought it was going to be a cliffhanger. That being said, wether she makes it or not, there is room in this world to flush out more stories. I think Love could develop quite a few tales and am interested to see what she does next.

Another 13 Reasons Why Post

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Spoilers abound below. You’ve been warned.

Two years ago I came across Thirteen Reasons Why whilst in a deep dive of the YAL shelves of my neighborhood library. In fact, it was the topic of my fourth blog post ever! Over the past few weeks there have been blog posts and think pieces a plenty about the new Netflix adaptation which coincides nicely with the book’s 10th anniversary. For years, this book has been a controversial work. It is a tale that sticks with you; a heavy realization that everything you do has an impact on those around you. In 2012 the book made the ALA’s list in their annual Top Ten Most Banned Books list for reasons stating: drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group. “These are not topics suitable for young readers” they say. Bullshit, lovelies. Those are topics our young ones are exposed to at earlier and earlier ages. The heart of this tale holds messages which are incredibly important for this generation to learn: compassion, empathy, responsibility, awareness. This is a super important work in both mediums, each of which portray Hannah Baker’s story in different ways.

For fans of the book, I think it is incredibly useful to go into watching the show with a conscious forethought, recognizing that these are separate creations in two different mediums. You have a 288 page book versus a 13 hour TV drama. Those aren’t really equal or comparable so thinking of them as such from the beginning is not going to do you any good. However, this is a good thing!

The book gives you Clay and Hannah and Tony. That’s pretty much it. There is some dialogue between others and you see people around as Clay visits all the spots on the map but that is it. Why no other characters? There’s no time. Clay binge listens to these tapes in one night. Primary difference right off the bat. There is a heightened tension as he speeds through these awful recollections and you learn along with him all of the truly unfortunate events that befell this girl. You realize slowly, along with Clay, what was passing through Hannah’s mind. He becomes consumed with them going from one tape to another just as you assume he would be when presented with this situation. Digesting it all while constantly being ready for the next tape to be yours. We are presented with Hannah’s tapes and Clay’s immediate reaction to them and during them. Alternatively, in the show, our experience is stretched out for at least two weeks. In this time, we are able to see a much much broader picture. What these tapes have sparked from his classmates, how Hannah’s parents are coping, and even providing time for a case to be built which (surprise!) Clay’s mom is lawyering for! There is a whole world that is created in this visual depiction. It creates a 3D image, a broader depiction showing the ripples of Hannah’s death. We are given more time for Clay to take in what he’s hearing and actually show a bit of resistance and perturbedness (that’s not a word) at what all of his fellow classmates have done. Which brings us to the next point: he takes it to his peers. Clay wants to hold them accountable for their actions but they say that some of these tellings are out of proportion or didn’t even happen or are versions of their own truths.  In some cases they are denied out right or maybe not remembered at first. In the book we are feeling directly from Hannah how she experienced these events and how they impacted her whereas in the show we are informed by others as well. I think this is why it is okay for these two to differ so much because it perfectly illustrates how different perspectives are valuable.

However, and this is a big however, not all of this fleshed out world is great. What follows are thoughts purely on the TV show. So many great things about this show from the astounding amount of diversity (in race and relationships) to a realness brought with the very human reaction you see from Hannah’s parents to the more full narrative we see from all the other characters. But there isn’t really a base for them from the source material outside of what we hear on the tapes. So these characters were developed largely by show creator Brian Yorkey and it’s not that he does a bad job, its just that many of them felt too extreme. From Justin’s wanting to literally put together a plan to kill Clay to Courtney’s blind eye to rape there are things that some of these characters say that have you going, “umm what?!” Not all of the time but definitely a notable amount. To go into a side rant about these “umm what” moments, let’s take Tony for example. ROCK CLIMBING?!?! Ummmm Whaaat?! There were so many prolonged encounters that involved Tony just popping up places and being Jiminy Cricket (or as Clay puts it, Unhelpful Yoda). Clay could’ve easily listened to these tapes two per episode and we could’ve cut things wayyyy down.

In addition to the extension of the characters there is an extension (as already mentioned) to the story. In reading, our experience stops when the tapes do. In viewing, we see Hannah’s end. We were told 10 years ago that she “swallowed a bunch of pills” however today’s method is different and much more detailed. Today we see Hannah slit her wrists; we see her parents find her after she has bled out in the tub. It is a heart wrenching scene. It is a striking step beyond the tapes. Even further still we hear Hannah narrate these tapes with so much emotion in her voice. Katherine Langford does an amazing job at making all the feelings feel. She’s telling the story as she knows it, how she has felt it. This adds so much to the story.

With all of the differences of the show and even the non differences, Jay Asher is fully on board with how the show depicts his story. At the top of this piece I listed all of the reasons the ALA cited as to why the book was placed on the Banned List, one of which was that it was inappropriate for it’s intended demographic. This show and this book depict a reality that parents and others might not want to deal with. But bullying and suicide rates are a very real thing.  As Asher said in an interview recently, “that raw and honest approach was my first big decision I had to make when writing the book, and the writers of the series felt the same way. These things happen, and to give respect to the people they do happen to, it felt wrong to hold back. It needs to be uncomfortable to read or watch. If it’s not, and we pull away, it felt like the story would only contribute to that problem of not truthfully tackling these things. We’re already good at avoiding uncomfortable subjects, and that needs to change.”

Read this book. Watch this show. Be conscious of how you treat others.

The Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs

 

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The first, second, and third novels of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children are very darkly whimsical. Not in a Tim Burton way (I promise lovelies, this is the only time I will mention him) but in a sepia toned, phonograph, crackling edges kind of way; a way that progresses at juuust the right pace. Ransom Riggs brings us into a tale that you have to read to believe.

We begin with the self titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Jacob Portman’s adventure from being a normal to realizing his a peculiar. As Jacob is our narrator we learn things about this new world, its history and its secrets, at the same pace he does. Which is why we are equal parts unsure of his grandfather’s sanity and the possible truth to the far out stories of his past when he dies a tragic death by a creature only Jacob sees. It is this traumatic event that slowly begins the chain of events that will open Jacob’s (and our) mind to untold possibilities and bring us to the time loop(s).  We learn that Jacob’s gramps was a peculiar and so is Jake…they specifically can see these beasts that are ultimately Grandpa Portman’s downfall. Hollowgasts. They haunt peculiardom, eating the souls of any peculiar they can reach and are under the control of wights – the organized baddies. Anyway, peculiars. What are they, you ask? Who are they? Well, they are magnificent humans with the ability to do things like float, or have mouths on the back of their head, or create fire with their hands. I know your next thought: hmmm that sounds a lot like mutants. The thing is, these are all children…on the outside. The aforementioned timeloops are spaces on top of, or maybe behind, reality. They are little pockets that freeze a day and loop it forever; their inhabitants’s souls age however their bodies do not. This is where peculiars have taken to; unable to comfortably live in the open as wights and hollowgasts have hunted them for a century through the centuries. Not only are we introduced to this world in Riggs’s first title, we are also given brief glimpses of a much deeper narrative than just a boy grieving over his grandfather (that sounded dismissive but it is not meant to be) and finding his way back to the grandfather’s childhood home. There is the understanding that something serious is going on in these people’s worlds and we have arrived just in time!!!! (#savior) While the tone of this book is serious it has some moments of light. They are all still children: naive and living in a sunlit snapshot of time and when Jacob joins them he too has a lighter sense of self. As the book comes to a close we are promised that the understanding of and our perception of this time and place are about to be expanded even more. With a cliffhanger that leaves you thinking “Oh no!” there is no choice but to immediately pick up book number two.

Unfortunately it took me a whole year between buying the book and beginning to read it so there was a little remembering that I had to do which is okay because it picks up exactly where book one ended. Hollow City is the tale of Jacob and all of his new friends, Emma, Bronwyn, Enoch (et. al), on a rescue mission which has so many close calls you can’t help but speed through the book at the same breakneck pace. There is so much action and quick paced scenes that your eyes might not be able to keep up with your mind! We go from the sunny island of Cairnholm on which they have all lived for 60 years deeper into the loop to the same day but in London. The adventure of getting there and the people they meet gives us more insight into history and more is steadily revealed about this big bad. The fact that this is taking place during WWII is significant as the wights are able to pose as Nazis and no one thinks differently or realizes it. This allows them to be organized and systematically hunt down the entrances to these loops. They can’t go in, you see, so they employ traitors and trickery to get the peculiars and their guardians the ymbrynes to come out of the loop and get snatched right up. For what, you might ask? Well…that’s a mystery too. A dark and terrifying mystery as no one is ever seen from again and capturing an ymbryne is no easy feat. Over the course of Hollow City we are guided deeper and deeper into this loop and even into a couple of other ones too. The layers of the world that Riggs has created is dizzying at times. However, the addition of layers adds to the tone which has lost its sunshine and has gained an air of anxiety and fear; uncertainty about everything.

Just when you think we are about to have a happily ever after moment to end this rescue mission that has been chalk full of foiled plans and dastardly encounters the plot curves and leaves you gasping, “Well, fuck!”

This sentence is appropriate as it allows me to continue talking about this tone shift. I noticed a difference in Jacob’s words as the journey darkened and he had to grow up a bit and make some really tough decisions. It is in book three, Library of Souls, in which I first notice Jacob swearing. His shift is actually so perceptible in this one that he begins to think of himself as new Jacob and old Jacob. By this point, Jacob and Emma (who is our strong leading lady), have been through so much that they are exhausted and unable to trust anyone. A very old loop and a very shady ferryman usher J and E to Devil’s Acre where all of the outlaws of peculiardom have floated over the centuries. It is here that a steadily increasing amount of our friends are being held captive, abducted over the course of book two. Here we learn the twisted plan of the wights; this is the evil dungeon, the lair. Here we have the culmination of Jacob’s journey with Emma to save his friends. We also have, the final show down of the good vs. evil that has been plaguing these people. A carefully sleuthed plan, a final battle, and a resolution that covers all loose ends and loops. The dirge of Devil’s Acre is so disgusting and makes you squirm and grimace. It is in this horrible place that Jacob truly grasps his gifts and harnesses his ability. However, there are still a couple of chapters after the titanic tussle because life goes on after a battle and lives must be rebuilt. Can they be?

I tried to make these descriptions as vague as possible while staying interesting. I hope I did that. These books have really good twists and are very thoughtful in the telling of history (paradoxically) and an unravelling of what is behind a story. My favorite, I think, is book three as it has a character named Sharon whom I really enjoyed, shows what a community looks like in this horrid place, and reveals that there are so so many sides to a story. The evolution of Jacob Portman is really great to witness. I highly recommend this whole series and also the companion book. Tales of the Peculiar is a tome mentioned several times throughout the series and the printing of the books is comparable to that of Beetle the Bard’s tales. Something that I didn’t touch on at all yet is the fact that these books all include old early photographs of really odd and striking scenes with people who could very well be peculiar. They are all real and have been collected from various estates. This adds to that whimsicalness I mentioned at the top in which everything is just a bit spooky.

In closing, read these tales. Believe in the peculiar and in yourself.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

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In a world populated by humans who have conquered mortality, population control must come in some form. Right?

Hello lovelies. I just finished reading Scythe by Neal Shusterman and man alive was it good. A little predictable at times but overall a pretty good read. Humanity exists, ever growing and never dying, in an age where, once you reach your height of outward age, you “turn the corner”. Refreshing yourself body and keeping all of your mental faculties the same. Thus, someone you meet who is 98 might look like they are 25. Over and over again. The age before is known as the Age of Mortality where things like antibiotics were necessary and falling off a building wasn’t sport it was suicide. The characters in the book are far enough removed from this age to find the concept of a headache beyond imagining.

Citra Teranova and Rowan Damisch are our primary threads throughout the course of the novel. However, there is input from Honorable Scythes that separate the chapters, taking the form of journal entries (more on this in a bit). When we open, Honorable Scythe Faraday has separate interactions with both of our hero(in)es. Due to these meetings, both subsequently become apprentices to the scythe. At this point you might be asking what exactly does that mean? Why do I keep repeating that word? Well, scythes are the only people allowed to kill in this reality. Because of the ever growing, never dying population, control must be extolled in some manner, right? Scythes are legally sanctioned to kill and they have quotas to meet (just like all of us in our real jobs! Scythes are just like you and me!) (Except they’re really really not.). Citra and Rowan say good-bye to their families and begin their training in the arts of killing.

One of the things that I like about this tale is that even though these people are not able to die (they call it “splatting” after which they are taken to revival centers which do exactly what’s in their title), they still view life as precious. Taking it permanently gives them reservation. They are not impervious to their consciences. The same cannot be said of all characters. Those peeps are juicy and crazy in equal amounts. Anyway, Rowan and Citra are training under Faraday when some mischief happens and they are sent to be mentored elsewhere. What I haven’t told you is that not all of Scyethdom is happy with the fact that the scythe has taken on more than one apprentice. In fact, it is something that has never been done before. As such, it is determined that they will not both be accepted into the fraternity. One will have to glean the other. These humans have become so detached from societal killings that they are no longer referred to as murder but as being gleaned.

All of this happens pretty quickly in the novel and it is mystery and intrigue and life lessons from then on. The pair are made to part and train with different scythes. What is interesting here is that we see the training style of not just one scythe but three (potentially more…read and find out). These three scythes are the ones who make the journal entries between chapters, mentioned above. This give us a chance to see not just Citra and Rowan’s views of this vocation, new and inexperienced, but also the older generation who have been doing this for many years and have a very different perspective.

What transpires from there in the story is too good to spoil. Just know that these characters, in particular Citra, are very relatable. Readers get to experience so many different thought processes about what it means to be legally authorized to kill. When you think about what they are doing and the fact that they are in their mid-teens on top of that, it really gives you pause. Not only are they teens but they are teens amongst elders centuries old. Society has gotten to the point where the Thunderhead (having graduated from a cloud) is the foremost authority on societal control. There are no more cops because the Thunderhead prevents crime. There is no more government because it was proven they were all too corrupt to lead and the AI could do it better. Countries are now regions, continents grouped in accordance with geography. The world that Shusterman creates has an explanation for all of the ways the world has evolved.

At first I was worried that it wasn’t going to be good and be really predictable. But there are a couple of twists that throw you off course and make you recalibrate how you view this world. For example, the scythes to which Citra and Rowan are transferred both operate very differently not only from Scythe Faraday but also from each other. The moral dilemmas that they face independently turn out to be really fascinating to read through. It is very obvious to me why this book was on so many Best of 2016 lists last year. Pick it up and give it a read. Would you be able to kill for the greater good?

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

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Hey there, lovelies! As reported last week, SXSW was in full swing and my Film badge was being put to full use. Now that the festival is over and I’ve had time to reflect on everything I saw over the course of the week, I realized that what I watched more than anything else was documentaries. There were so many of them and on such a wide range of topics. Out of all that I saw, I think that the most interesting and the most relevant by far was Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press. Award winning investigative documentarian Brian Knappenberger, known for The Internet’s Own Boy and We Are Legion helmed the project. The thumbnail photo for Nobody Speaks shows Hulk Hogan who is, admittedly, not someone whom I would want to watch a documentary about. However, do not let this deter you for there is something much bigger about this film and what it represents for the free press in our country.

In 2012 Gawker Media published a sex tape of Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) and Heather Clem. Apparently, Clem’s husband likes to film her with other men and watch it back. To each their own, ya know. Anyway, upon the posting of this video, Hogan sued Gawker for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional harm, among other things. The back and forth shown through court clips and interviews with Gawker editors shows how crazy this case was. In the end, Hogan ended up winning and was awarded $31 million which was roughly $100 million less than what the jury had come back with. Gawker did not have this kind of money and filed for bankruptcy last year.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, as the story unfolds, we learn that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel helped fund the case against Gawker. The site had published several unflattering stories about Thiel over the years and he had built up a grudge against the media outlet. He poured millions of dollars into Hogan’s defense allegedly without Hogan knowing who he was or why he was doing it. What is utterly terrifying about this is that there was a man who had a grudge against a digital print outlet, who used his resources to his advantage, and took a step into the legal world that until now no one else had done. This opens up the opportunity for other private citizens and/or corporations to do the same, meaning that if there is a magazine, newspaper, any sort of periodical that prints something that someone doesn’t like there is now precedent for them to take it upon themselves to facilitate a take down.

In addition to the Bollea v. Gawker case, Nobody Speaks also shines a light on the purchasing of one of Nevada’s most notable newspapers, the Las Vegas Review Journal, by the Adelson family. While you might not know the name off hand, the Adelsons are big in the gaming world and are apparently quite corrupt and shady (shocker, I know). The reporters and staff of LVRJ were told that their paper had been bought but not by whom. Good idea…try to hide something from a whole newspaper staff. The reporters start digging and soon unearth the truth of their acquisition. Penning an expose on the matter, they go to print without a green light and then many of them resign, principles and ethics still intact.

What brings these two storylines together, you ask? Apparently there is a connection between Thiel and the Adelson family: they both make huge contributions to the Republican party and most recently, Donald Trump. The significance of this is that Trump is very publicly against mainstream media and honest reporting of any kind and these two stories are instances where men saw an opportunity to influence/shut down a media organization whose ideals they didn’t agree with. While there is enough material for both of these stories to stand on their own, for they are both majorly important, they are tied together with what seemed like a hasty Trump through line. I say hasty because there was video of rallies and press conferences that are incredibly recent. Like since he’s been in office recent.

Towards the end of the film we begin seeing, through still images and voiced over short video clips, the ties that all of these men have with each other. This sort of made the ultimate message about how things lead back to Trump. I think the doc could have been a lot stronger if they had stuck to highlighting these terrifying cases and how they can potentially effect our future. This is my only complaint.

Netflix has reportedly purchased the film however when you search the title you’re not able to click on the result. I don’t know if that just means it is not yet available or what. Whatever the case, you should find a way to watch this documentary. It is incredibly important and impatiently relevant.

 

 

 

 

SXSW Film

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Hello lovelies! This past Friday (3/10/17) saw the start of SXSW Film and thanks to my wonderful boo thang, I got a badge! Quite the splendiferous and exciting thing! In case you are unfamiliar, South by SouthWest (never spelled out like that) is a festival that encompasses beaucoup amounts of areas. In addition to Film, there is Music, Interactive, and Gaming and they are all all kinds of fun. Being the film nerd that I am, getting to go to all of these screenings and premieres has been so fun. I am extremely grateful. So, all that being said, what follows was my weekend!

Friday was opening night and the new Ryan Gosling/Rooney Mara movie Song to SongI got off work at 5 and rushed to pick up my badge ($8 for parking that lasted 3 minutes btw) and over to the Paramount (if you’re ever in Austin for anything, you should go check out the Paramount. Austinite tip: bring a jacket no matter the season!!!). By the time I walked to the end of the line I had gone five blocks. I asked a volunteer where she thought the cutoff in the line was going to be…I was one block and a courtyard behind who she projected. (I later found out she was pretty spot on.) So I left with a plan: go get dinner and come back for Alien.

This time I arrived two hours early and sat in line with a couple of reporters from Brazil; the publication they work for is Omelete, check it out!  So we chatted for a while and ended up sitting together to watch the film. That is one thing that I have really loved about this whole experience; getting to sit in line and chat with strangers and then share a really cool experience with them right then and there. So we get in and sit down and out comes Ridley Scott, Catherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Michael Fassbender. They Q&A for a bit and goof around and then like 15 minutes worth of clips were shown! It looks pretty similar to Prometheus stylistically. There’s some creepy stuff (sorry for using such a vague word, terrible, I know). For starters, this is a colonizing mission so everyone is spoused up making for some stressful situations no doubt. There was also this cool “commercial” for your very own David (if all robots looked like Fassbender, would you be okay with robots? Hmmmm). Afterwards, the original was shown. I left about half way through to get some sleep in prep for Saturday.

Bright and early the next morning, I arrived at the Austin Convention Center and was number two in line for American Gods. While Neil Gaiman wasn’t there himself, he did record a message to introduce the first episode. While I have read other titles of his, American Gods is not among them. It was really cool to watch it right after he set it up for us. The episode was an hour and some change and did a great job setting up this world in which we are going to see gods, old and new, and how they are existing and still meddling in society today. Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle do a great job at leading the story and the whole cast is just phenomenal. After hearing the writers and producers talk I think that fans of the book and new fans as well will find this to be a really well told story. Plus Gaiman is doing some of the writing!

While waiting in line for this one I sat with this wonderful woman Patty. I know not her last name nor if I am spelling her first right. What I do know is that sitting in line with her and all the others I met this weekend allowed me to learn not only about where these strangers came from but also other things that they experienced at the festival that I had not. For instance, Patty told me about this panel she went to that was about the new frontier of law in space. How cool is that?!

After this, I made my way back to the Paramount and got in line for Small Town Crime. A real shoot ’em up movie, Small Town Crime features John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, and Anthony Anderson. Billed as a thriller, Hawkes stars as an alcoholic former officer who got kicked off the force for reasons you’ll have to find out on your own. He finds an almost dead woman on the side of the road and what happens from there, as he tries to help police find those responsible. It was a really great movie with a nice steady pace and a great storyline. However, it seems to sway in tone pretty frequently. Regardless, I would recommend checking it out. The only downside of the experience had nothing to do with the movie…it was pouring the whole time I stood in line for this one and so my jeans were soaked up to the knees. SOOOOOO COLD!!!

Finally, I rushed over to 6th Street for a tapping of the Comedy Bang Bang podcast. This was another line where I spoke and sat with a franger (like that? I just made it up. Friend and Stranger). She taught English abroad which is a fantasy of mine! Getting to hear all about her two years in rural Japan was fascinating. The podcast was good and Bob Odenkirk was among the guests but ultimately it ended up being five guys, one girl, and all white. Wasn’t too impressed or stoked about this…considering where we were, it wouldn’t have been hard to get a more diverse panel of comedic guests. But whatever.

My last day to report on was Sunday. I realized at the end of the day I had made it into a documentary themed day. This time I was accompanied by my friend and line buddy Amanda. Fist up: Muppet Guys Talking which took us into an informal setting with five of the originals swapping stories about Jim Henson and talking about all their different voices. My favorite part came during the Q&A with all of them afterwards (hosted by Robert Rodriguez) when they each talked about how they workshopped their characters together. Hearing the origins of Miss Piggy and Gonzo, just to name a couple, was just beyond cool.

The lettuce of the day was a documentary shown at the Ritz about this man who chose to be homeless. I have very mixed opinions about this one and was really glad that I saw it with a friend so as to discuss it afterwards. The first act of the doc introduced us to Dylan who is an attractive 20something white male. He gets money and food and nice conversations when he approaches people. He is ungrateful occasionally. He does goes about his life not answering to anyone or having any real responsibilities. It is interesting how he is initially presented to us. Why choose this life? Why do this when there are people that really don’t have any other choice but to be homeless? Then in the second act, we meet his father and learn that there is a bit more to the story. Dylan is an alcoholic and was once addicted to hard drugs, on top of this he suffers from schizophrenia. He was kicked out of his house as a teen and began his life crossing the country and going on what was portrayed as adventures. Living a life that does not seem at all typical of the average homeless story. He would get invited into people’s homes and receive rides to places. I can’t help but wonder what his travels would have been like if he looked differently. It was a tale that unraveled in an interesting way and still has me thinking about it today.

Last: the piece de resistance! Bill Nye the Science Guy!!!!!!! I waited in line for this one for three hours and was proudly number one. This period of time allowed me to take a nap and prepare myself not to fall asleep in what I knew was going to be a really good piece. Bill Nye: Science Guy is a documentary which focuses on global warming and what Bill has been up to for the last few years in fighting climate deniers and creationist goons. It was an insightful piece which showed the behind the scenes Bill; the man who is worried about the health of his brother and sister who share a genetic disease of which Bill shows no signs. We see his frustration at the Ark Project which shows dinosaurs and humans existing together. But we also see his need for notoriety and that sense of not wanting it to ever disappear. All of these pieces of his life come together for a really interesting watch. The audience questions which he took after were so heartwarming. Almost every person started their question with a thanks to Bill for getting them into science and helping them learn and understand. No matter what you say about the man, his passion for science and educating the minds of the future makes him one hell of a human.

All of that happened over the course of two days and three nights! I was understandably exhausted Monday night. There are a lot of really cool events happening during the work day during the work week so I’m not sure what all I will get to see throughout the next couple of days. Saturday however is the premiere of Life and you best believe I will be trying to see Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively in person!

The moral of all of this is: talk to strangers, remember a jacket, and always leave time in your schedule for waiting in line.