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.

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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.

Veep

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In sticking with last week’s theme, I would like to once again talk about a light hearted politically based piece of entertainment: HBO’s Veep. With all of the really heavy articles and interviews and tv segments, all of the blogs and podcasts and tweets, we need a bit of a reprieve. To cure this political hangover I highly recommend watching a couple of episodes in a row and laughing ’til your face hurts. In a less toxic environment than what currently makes up our reality, Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dryfus) and her staff show us what it is like to be the second in command. All the ups and downs of the position play out in stunning comedy as the team navigates “safe” ice cream choices and tries to keep on top of pregnancy rumors. Those two things do happen in different seasons but the gamut of how-could-this-go-wrong situations that continuously present themselves to this team are phenomenal.

There are plenty of jokes about the job of Veep…it’s a runner up position, they don’t get to do anything, they’re just waiting around to become number one…but it is really interesting to get insight into the job. Sure, there are shows like West Wing and House of Cards that put a president in the core of their cast. Not Veep. In fact, it is a running joke through the show that we don’t actually ever see the Prez or indeed learn his name (at least not yet and I’m in season three of five). Here we get to see the nonstop duty that this position is and also how a woman(!) is handling it. Meyer’s team of Amy, Dan, Gary, Mike, and Sue make the office run as smoothly as they possibly can. And while this isn’t always achieved, it shows the human side of these people. Sometimes, the phone call that you’ve been waiting for happens right after you’ve put your phone in a phone bowl at a wedding. Sometimes, you walk through a solid glass door and end up looking like you’ve just attended an Edward Scissorhands meet and greet.

I like this aspect of it.

Just as with last week’s recommendation, Veep also focuses on the human side of politics. We get to see an even keel of victories and failures and this coming from an office that is very frequently overlooked.

Each of the core characters that make up the Veep staff add to the comic genius that plays out every time something goes wrong. Holy moly stuff goes wrong a lot. For example, from the get go we learn that the big issue that Meyer plans on tackling while in office is Clean Jobs which is a stance against oil for clean energy jobs and technology. First big thing that goes wrong is that POTUS (as he is very frequently referred to) wants someone from oil to be in on this initiative. Things like this continue to happen over the course of the season and the series as accomplishments are marred by hiccups all the time. It makes for great satire on what has become a really depressing subject.

To close, I was listening to an interview a while back with Tony Hale and he was talking about how much they film in proportion to how much actually makes it to the screen.While the show has some really amazing writers, the cast itself is pretty crazy in their takes. With comic genius going for several straight minutes, I have cried laughing several times. So if you need a reprieve from the depressing headlines, cure your woes with some Veep. 

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Presidential – The Washington Post

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Hello there, y’all! Happy President’s Day or happy two-days-early-birthday to President George Washington! On this happy day while Congress has been given the week “off” I encourage you to take a look at the presidency in a different light. The Washington Post, beacon of truth that it has been through the decades, has a new(ish) podcast out which is really rather enjoyable! I’ve never talked about a podcast on this here blog but, much like with audiobooks, if you’re ingesting words, it counts. Like books and movies, they are a way to escape reality for a moment.

Presidential goes episode by episode through each president’s tenure in office while looking at various aspects of the make-up of these men. What discerning character trait did John Adams have that allowed him to follow after Washington stepped away from office? Who is overlooked and why? The introduction of the “campaign”. These episodes are chalk full of little tidbits that you didn’t know about the Founding Fathers, the presidents during the Era of Good Feelings, and up through the present. Our host Lillian Cunningham is a reporter at TWP and her guests are people like the keepers of the keys at the Library of Congress, Pulitzer Prize winning historians, and Bob Woodward. There is a running question throughout the series where Lillian asks the historian on what it would be like to go on a blind date with the episode’s gentleman. Pieces like this really humanize these people some of whom lived over two hundred years ago.

I am currently on Andrew Johnson, president number 17 and I cannot get enough of these stories that are retold and relayed by these historians. Letters, diaries, and papers are all provided as sources for the information you learn in these episodes. For instance, AJ here was piss drunk at Lincoln’s inauguration and gave a really embarrassing speech…weeks later he was sworn in after Lincoln was assassinated. John Quincy Adams was the first son of a former president to hold the office and was also the only man to hold elected office after leaving the presidency. He went back to Congress and worked hard to fight slavery. In fact (this is one of my favorite recountings so far) there was a motion to make the word “slavery” illegal on the floor as it was becoming too much of a hot button issue in 1836. JQA went and got himself in trouble on purpose by saying the word. Now, as per the rules, he had a chance to defend himself of this action and he took advantage of this, his time to speak, and ran with it for TWO WEEKS talking about the injustices of slavery. This in and of itself is amazing and then as the story comes to an end and the episode is winding down we learn something else: who was a first term Representative at that same time but Abraham Lincoln. Bits like this make that whole thing so intricate and fascinating.

It really is amazing how far we’ve come in this country considering our government was put together by ideas proposed by men who didn’t really know what they were doing. George Washington espoused the belief that he was not fit to run the country and was firmly and vociferously  of the mind that he had no  idea what he was doing. We have been led by these men who have differed vastly in their ideals, these men who supported and encouraged the guidance of others, and whose legacies set examples for history. Our country has had its ups and downs (and there have certainly been a lot of both) and it is incredibly important to know where we’ve come from. How did we get from one to 44? How did we get to where we are now? This is monumentally important…to put it in presidential terms.

So whether you just listen to Obama and Kennedy or if you listen to them all in order, Presidential should definitely be on your radar.

…and so should this picture…

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Late to the table: Arrested Development

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Upon scrolling through Netflix’s recommended section, I was repeatedly receiving Arrested Development as a suggestion. I had always heard great things about the original series…it was popular while I was in high school but I never got around to watching it. There is no question, now that I have viewed the series in its entirety that I don’t agree with the small masses that make up the cult following of the show. This entry though is specifically about season four. The “Netflix season” if you will. This season is also something that I had heard about …however nothing really good. At first, I must admit, I was in the same camp. The sets were slightly awkward as the show had been off the air for seven years. The dialogue was slightly off as if the writers and the actors took a bit to adjust back into their character’s grooves despite Mitchell Hurwitz (most recently he produced Lady Dynamite which you NEED TO SEE) returning to help co-write a majority of the episodes.

After tearing through the first three seasons in two weeks, I was hesitant after three or four episodes of season four. However, I couldn’t not finish it after all the time I had already invested. So, I soldiered onward and found that I ended it with a new found appreciation.

The Netflix season is structured differently than that of the original run. While there is still the premise of a show being shot about the family (complete with Ron Howard’s narration and the characters being aware of the cameras) there is one central storyline that unfolds and we see each character’s perspective; their side of the events. This creates a very interesting theme set around how each of their actions has impacts, sometimes unknown, on other people’s part in the story. It showed the interworkings of this family whom we have come to hold dear for reasons unexplainable. They are, after all, lying, cheating, connivers. What makes this way of storytelling even more interesting is that there are so many players involved and because of that so many avenues to explore. Including George Sr.’s twin there are 10 members of the Bluth family.

Picking up the storyline where it was left, we dive into the whole family being held in a police station after the events of season three’s finale. Lucille had tried to steal the Queen Mary, George Sr. had just been cleared of treason charges, Michael and George Michael had returned from their once again failed attempt to leave the family to their troubles, and many other pieces of the puzzle. Without explaining all of them: know that they were all there at this station. We bounce back and forth between the events here in the station and what comes after them with the understanding that it has been five years (not seven) in Bluth reality.

The through line slowly unfolds like like a bloom in the spring and each episode is labeled/assigned to a specific character. In doing this, you know that most of the episode is going to be dedicated to that character and the small degrees of separation between each person’s tale. It really becomes fascinating how something you do, it might be something small and insignificant to you, might effect someone else in a big way. It also serves to illustrate the seemingly isolated lives these characters live in that their actions so immediately impact each other. This way of unfolding highlights a couple of other points as well: those who don’t seem to have too much overlay (ex. Buster and George Michael) are brought together in the culminating scene of the tale (the night of Cinco de Quatro), and, while it is always insisted that “family is first” by the Bluths, each is in their own little world. While this is a fact we already knew from the original run, this sort of individual attention of their lives seems to showcase it even more.

Outside of the interesting approach to storytelling, the reoccuring guests that appear over the course of the season really help give it a new feel despite old events occasionally being brought back up. There are familiar faces: Henry Winkler reprises his role as the Bluth family lawyer and is as incompetent ever, Gene Parmesan played by Martin Mull (the scenes where Lucille is surprised by his appearances make the whole show for me), and Kitty Sanchez the stage five clinger played to perfection by Judy Greer, and Liza Minnelli as the most unlucky neighbor Lucille 2. Then there are newcomers that bring even more charm and crazy to the table: Terry Crews as Herbert Love running for a seat in the House and Isla Fisher as Rebel Alley (an illegitimate daughter of Ron Howard). z1y2yyw

All of these elements: the story and how it unfolds, the characters new and old, and the awkwardness of the show in general made for what I found to be an enjoyable conclusion to our window into the lives of the Bluths. Again, all that being said, I totally understand where all the hate came from in reviews. I was really happy that I saw it through and didn’t give up.

What I take away from this experience is that even though Netflix Netflixed the season (made it shinier and a bit off), it worked. Now if only the same could be said for season two of Kimmy Schmidt.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child- Parts 1 & 2

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I have, for many reasons,been putting off reading this playbook. When the series ended, I was content with its closing and was even glad of the epilogue showing that light can come to those who have faced the dark. This is one of the main reasons I was hesitant in picking up any sort of continuation of the story. That being said, I do think that there are so many tales that can be told from this world, which is why I am so excited about Fantastic Beasts coming out this week. So it was with much skepticism that I dove into Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

HPCC was written for the stage by Jack Thorne and was based on an original story created by Thorne, J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany. A couple decades have passed since our trio left Hogwarts. Like we learn in the epilogue, Harry and Ginny end up together as do Ron and Hermione. Their kids are going off to school and it is here that the Potter’s middle child learns that he will be in Slytherin along with a boy who seems to be his only friend throughout: Scorpius Malfoy. The tale focuses on a couple of different parental relationships, how the younger generation are impacted by the past actions of their parents, and the importance of thought before action.

Albus Potter is the middle child. He often feels over looked and under appreciated. One night, in a heated fight, Harry accidentally comes back with a retort to the effect of “I wish you weren’t my son.” Ouch. This has a noticeable and obvious impact on the boy. Another important argument (this one Albus overhears and is not directly involved in) is had between Amos Diggory and Harry in which Amos blames Harry for Cedric’s death. All these many years later he is unable to accept the loss of his son and dwells on the fact that he was the “spare”. Collateral damage. The feeling of being the spare really resonates with Albus and he decides that preventing Cedric’s death would be a good course of action for setting things straight.

I don’t really understand this logic. This mission of his just doesn’t reeeeally make sense.

At this same time a Time Turner is discovered and taken in by the Ministry (oh yeah, Hermione is Minister for Magic, whaaaa?!) and isn’t this just perfect since Albus has decided that going back in time is exactly what he needs to do. How. Convenient.

So he and Scorpius go back in time to the Triwizard Tournament (a.k.a. book four). And wouldn’t you just know it but they mess shit up. Like really really badly. What frustrates me so much about this idea of theirs (which the story is largely based around) is that they are so inconsiderate of their actions and don’t even pause to think what undoing something that had happened two decades prior would do to the present. Preventing someones death that far back….I can’t even begin to fathom how many wrinkles that would produce. Which is why it seems so implausible. These kids have grown up in the wizarding world. Don’t you think they would be aware of the repercussions that something like this could have? I can see how there would be a counter argument formed: if they are living in a world in which all Time Turners had been abolished (/destroyed) maybe the perils of time travel weren’t taught to them. I don’t know. What I do know is that their ignorance sure does not create bliss.

When they get back to the present all sorts of things have gone haywire. So what do they do but decide to go back AGAIN to right what they’ve wronged. This time they travel to the second task and guess what…they eff some more shit up. When they get back to the present some people (including one of our main characters) weren’t even born! That’s how messed up things get. Also, Voldy is alive and well in this new present. Great. Now, to fix this, time must be travelled through…again.

This goes on and it is a total of four times that our characters traverse the time stream. Unbelievable.

A complaint that I have heard/read from many Potter fans is that the way Harry treats Albus doesn’t match up with the character we all grew up loving. I totally see where these thoughts are coming from. There are definitely some lines that I had to reread and recheck who the speaker was because it just seemed so out of touch. However, to that I say: Harry is a parent in this time. We have never before seen him in this role. So obviously there are going to be new facets of his character with which we are not as familiar. I mean, 20 years have passed, ya know? I definitely hope that some my 17 year old self’s traits evolve by the time I’m 37 (I’m about midway through that evolution and think things are going quite nicely…but I digress).

When all is said and done, I did not hate the read but I was not over the moon about it. It is very easy to get through because it is dialogue and stage direction and not any sort of expository “stuff” or narration. I would definitely encourage all Potter fans to check it out but I would caution them to go into it with an open mind. This is the story of Albus Potter despite Harry’s name being in the title. This is a play and not a book and as such should be viewed for what it is: a different medium. This is extensive fan fiction flushed out by Rowling and not penned by her. This is one to add to your Rowling shelf in the hopes that more stories (written by her or not) are to come.

This month in literature…

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Well hello there. I haven’t seen you in a while….totally my fault. Man, the past month has been crazy. To further interrupt the regular rotation of posts I’d like to tell you all about the amazing time I have had in the literary world over the past five weeks.

To kick off the month of October, the Texas Teen Book Festival was held. The day long celebration of the YA genre hosted 35 authors on the Saint Edward’s University campus. As I was volunteering, my day started just before 7 am putting up parking signs and helping to make sure school bus traffic went smoothly. Mindy Kaling’s book signing was the first event of the day which was to begin at 8:30 am. When I arrived (before the sun) there was already a crazy line waiting filled with so many amazing fans. Working book signings is one of my favorite things to do because the people are always excited to see these authors. YA fans are so appreciative of the authors in this genre and vise versa. Each author is so willing to converse with readers and makes sure that their experience in those two minutes is genuine. They have the rotation of these lines down to a science and know how many signatures they can do in x amount of time. It’s amazing. Another reason that this festival is fun is because of the games! Authors play trivia games, have races and contests. In addition to the panels that are held, many of them gather in the university’s gym and by the time you leave your stomach and face hurt from laughing so hard for so long. The Texas Teen Book Festival has been in operation and in a state of growth and evolution since 2009. The TTBF “fosters a community effort to celebrate and promote reading and writing by connecting teens to local and award-winning authors, whose writing spans across genres and interest level.” It is a wonderful experience to witness this first hand. While working a signing this year I overheard a conversation with Kirkus Prize nominee Traci Chee (The Reader) and a young reader who was probably in 7th or 8th grade. She told Chee that she wanted to be a writer and asked her very earnest and well put questions. How she flushed out characters. How to create a foil. This conversation went on for probably 20 minutes or so altogether. When another fan would walk up, the girl would move to the side and then come back and continue inquiring. Seeing this exchange made me so happy and that is the whole goal of such a festival: to inspire young minds and encourage them to keep reading, keep asking questions, and keep imagining.

The next big event: the Kirkus Prize. To read the full list of nominees and articles about each, visit the Kirkus Reviews website. When I was a young reader of about 10 or 12 I fell in love with this series that was about princesses and dragons. I have since forgotten (much to my annoyance) the name of the series and instead remember that the Kirkus review that was on the back of the book had been high praise. From that book on I didn’t buy a book unless it had a review from Kirkus. Imagine, then, how amazingly, stupendously, wonderfully awesome it is that I now work for Kirkus and speak with independent authors and small presses all day every day. Being part of the team who put together the ceremony for the Kirkus Prize was an experience almost beyond words. The ceremony was held in downtown Austin, Tx with a view of the skyline and a view of the river. Six authors in fiction, six in non-fiction, and six in youth literature (YA, middle grade, and picture books) were nominated for outstanding work in their genre. Making my way in and around the crowd, I spoke with several of the nominees and people within the industry that I have admired for so long. When I found myself in the presence of Jason Reynolds (who later in the evening won the award for YA) I totally fangirled on him. I was able to speak to him about his process, his upcoming projects, and about how great his work is. Again I witnessed the wonderful generosity of authors who want to talk about books just as much as you or I. The Kirkus Prize is the largest monetary prize in the literary world and as the first award of the season, it tends to set a precedent for nominations for awards that follow. The prize is $50,000 to each winning author and is awarded to the title that the judges feel displays exceptional merit.

The following evening was the 21st annual Literary Gala which is hosted by the Texas Book Festival. The gala serves as a fundraiser and is the driving factor in keeping the large festival free and open to the public. This was the first time I had been to anything that was coined black tie. Attending the gala this year was an amazing personal accomplishment for me as it was at this exact function the year prior that I met my future boss and started my path to Kirkus. Last year I interned for the festival and was on the outside for the whole gala. This year I was sitting at the Kirkus table and got to wear a fancy dress, eat an delicious three course meal, and listen to some pretty great speeches. One of my favorite aspects of the festival is the Reading Rock Stars program which goes into underprivileged schools in South Texas. They schedule author talks at these schools, bringing in authors and illustrators to talk to kids about what it means to them to be able to write/draw for them and how they too can do it! Each child receives a book of their own to keep and a lot of the time it is the first time that they are given a brand new book of their very own. To hear this program talked about at length during the gala was heart warming and inspiring. First Lady Laura Bush started the festival in 1995 and it has grown exponentially each year in both author and public attendance.

This month has been hectic and stressful and rewarding. It has been long and involved multitasking on a whole different level. And it was so worth it. Never before have I felt so satisfied with myself. I have worked hard for many years now to become part of this world and now that I am, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Thank you for reading my ramblings and for visiting my site. Next week we will return to our regularly scheduled programming.