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.

 

All aboard the live action train

 

I grew up with an extensive VHS Disney collection; it was my first library. As an adult, I am able to recognize all the racism and innuendos but it’s hard not to still wish upon a star or live by the problem free philosophy. Despite the terror of an old lady giving you poison apples and a mad lady putting you in a coma, there was the enchanting notion of being a princess and having a tiger for a pet. The dark storylines juxtaposed with the happy songs make for instant classics.

A couple years ago, Disney released Maleficent which, if you think about it, was the first in the trend. While not an exact retelling of the animated film, it gave us more context on the protagonist Aurora faces in Sleeping Beauty. More of an origins story, Maleficent starred Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning and grossed $758 million worldwide.

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When the live action announcement of Cinderella came, I was skeptical. Not everything needs a remake. However, I was pleasantly surprised after I came out of the theater. Not only did I only have minor critiques (see said critiques here) but I actually found it enjoyable. The movie did really well in both domestic and foreign markets garnering a total of $543 million dollars. Shortly after this success Disney announced their plans to bring another title to the live action big screen.

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The Jungle Book seemed like such a huge undertaking that I was sure this time they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Talking animals are usually pretty cringe worthy. But as the news of the cast steadily rolled in over the next year or so, I started to wonder if there was something to it. Surely all of these amazing actors wouldn’t attach themselves to the project if it were hokey. Man was I wrong. The Jungle Book was the best of the remakes yet and grossed just shy of a billion dollars worldwide!

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This added an insane amount of fuel to the fire that has become live action. After The Jungle Book’s massive success Disney announced plans for a whole slew of titles to be released over the next five years and a slew if definitely not an exaggeration.First, Beauty and the Beast will come to theaters. This is being hyped beyond belief with nothing but stills and a few seconds long teaser released so far, with Emma Watson playing Belle. Then, Cruella is getting her own film and so is Tinker Bell. Dumbo is getting a new take from the mind of Tim Burton (I really don’t understand how this is going to happen but maybe this will be better than his Alice movies). And just this past weekend it was announced that Guy Ritchie will be at the helm of the Aladdin film. This is another stumper in that Genie is so heavily associated with Robbin Williams and the recreation this character is hard to imagine. Also this weekend it was announced that the script for The Lion King now has a confirmed writer. We can only hope that titles like Aladdin and Mulan won’t be whitewashed and will reflect their characters and cultures appropriately.

I really enjoy that my doubt has been proven wrong thus far but these are pretty lofty goals they are setting.

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web-David Lagercrantz

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Hello there book lovers. Today we will be diving into The Girl in the Spider’s Web which is book four in the Millennium series. Before diving into the review and analysis, however, I would like to discuss the amazing journey that has transpired behind the scenes over the course of this series’ existence.

Stieg Larsson created the world in which the magazine Millennium exists. It is run by  Mikael Blomkvist and a savvy team of reporters in Sweden. Blomkvist, over the course of the first book, meets Lisbeth Salander who is a hacker and an amazing one at that. Larsson stated initially that he had enough material for the series to span 10 novels though his untimely death in 2004 seemingly put a halt to this idea. After his death, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published in 2005 and was incredibly well received. The following two  years, in 2006 and 2007,  The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest were published respectively. The ’07 publication of Hornet’s Nest was the last of the complete manuscripts Larsson left behind.

It was at this time that Larsson’s publishing house Norstedts Förlag was at a cross roads. Leave the Millennium series as is or continue the work that Larsson began by passing the torch onto another writer. However, it was not as simple as that and it is here where the literary soap opera gets juicy. You see, Larsson’s longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson was in possession of all of Larsson’s outlines and notes and partial manuscripts. The two had never married due to safety issues stemming from Larsson’s activism and journalism.  The will Larsson left behind had not been witnessed or documented properly and because of this, his estate fell into the hands of the deceased’s brother and father. They were on board with the continuation of Larsson’s series however Gabrielsson staunchly opposed the idea. A very public dispute ensued. In the end, the Larsson’s gave permission to Norstedts to proceed with a fourth installation of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander’s escapades and at the very end of 2013 it was announced that David Lagercrantz would pen the title. In August 2015 The Girl in the Spider’s Web was published worldwide followed by a release the following month in the United States.

That being said, let us now dive into the title in question:

This was the first time that I listened to an audiobook. I know, I know, get with the times. I am a huge podcast fan and love talk radio, but for some reason I had never listened to a book on tape file. Man I loved it!

The Girl in the Spider’s Web was written by David Lagercrantz and was recorded by Simon Vance. I was apprehensive about this title because I have been such a fan of the series and to hear that another author would be taking over is enough to make anyone skeptical. I think Lagercrantz did a really good job though! There are a lot of negative reviews on the title and so that only added to my apprehension but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was of a different mind.

Firstly, Lagercrantz did something that I noticed fairly quickly in that he made Mickael Blomkvist much more believable as a real person. How did he do this, you might ask. Well, for starters, he did not have every woman Blomkvist encounters throw herself immediately at our main character. This was so refreshing. Previously, Blomkvist had been such a ladies man that by the second and third book it was almost farcical. Every. Woman. Like, what? I know he is charismatic and that he is a reporter so he has a certain je ne said quo but cooooome ooooon. So that was a definite improvement.

This was a super important shift that I found very refreshing and humanizing.

But it wasn’t only this detail that made for an obvious departure of Larsson’s writing. The story itself unfolded in an interesting way. Before I dive into that, however, let us get a brief overview of The Girl in the Spider’s Web. 

There has again been a lapse in time from where the previous title left off, as has been the pattern for the series. We open with Millennium magazine not doing too well and rumors run wild that Mikael Blomkvist is now a washed up journalist who is feebly riding on the waves of his past success. Timing is everything though and a scandal soon begins to unfold. Scientist Frans Bolder is murdered in front of his autistic son and it is later determined that one of his computers is missing along with the A.I. technology that he had been working on. At the same time, the NSA in America is hacked. Something no one thought possible. The hacker players in Spider’s Web are very interesting and it is here that we learn that Lisbeth Salander just cannot escape her past and the family that she so deeply despises. You see, it is revealed early on that Lisbeth’s twin sister is in on the plot. This I loved and will get into more detail on in a second. Blomkvist gets involved because the night that Bolder was killed he had called the journalist saying that he had information that needed to be shared and that he was nervous about who wanted this knowledge and what lengths they might go to to get it. Thus begins the unraveling of what his technology did, who wanted it (both criminal and government), and how Lisbeth Salander fits into the equation.

There is a writing technique that Lagercrantz employs frequently and with great affect. He goes through a scene/time frame from one character’s point of view and then he alternates this view and retells the same moment from a different perspective. For example, Bolder’s death scene. We are outside the house with the police officers who have been assigned as protective detail for Bolder. They encounter someone outside and are speaking with him when Blomkvist arrives. The next passage is seen from inside the house as the murder is taking place. The killer runs out of the house and slams into the newly arrived Blomkvist as he makes his way up to the house. This happens again and again throughout the book and it is very well done. These time frame parallels enable us to have a fuller understanding of a particular scene and point in time. This is also a great tool because it allows a tense moment to play out from different vantage points and then it is easy to cut away from the tension and switch to another which creates cliffhangers in interesting spots. Very exciting.

As we dive into the hacker aspect of Spider’s Web we get further insight to Lisbeth’s past; something that I always enjoy and which was a particularly important through line of Hornet’s Nest. In book three we gain a deeper understanding of Lisbeth’s father and the terrible things he did to her and her mother that formed the Lisbeth we all know. Closed off, man-hating, curious, incredibly smart, and somewhat on the spectrum (not that her dad caused her to be on the spectrum but how his behavior impacted her). So then in Spider’s Web we meet and get more info about her sister Camilla who had briefly been mentioned in titles past. Camilla is described as a polar opposite of Lisbeth. She glows with beauty, has charm for days, and is able to persuade anyone to pretty much do anything. She is their father’s heir to his criminal empire and she is a cold and nasty piece of work. Seeing the contrast of the sisters becomes a big part of the third act as we find out more and more what Camilla is capable of. At the same time, we see a more tinder side of Lisbeth than has been expressed so far.

After his murder, Lisbeth takes Bolder’s son August into hiding as he was a witness to the crime. Despite the fact that he doesn’t speak, he is a savant in numbers and drawing. He saw the face of his father’s killer. While on the road with the boy, Lisbeth begins trying to open him up. Lagercrantz does this in a very real way. Lisbeth does not speak down to August, does not try to pander to a child. She speaks to him like a fellow human and it is very refreshing and eventually something comes of it in that he draws his father’s murderer. In true Lisbeth fashion, she just wants what is best for the boy and his mother and there are parts of the story that transpire between the three of them that are solely known by these three characters. It is special and I really enjoyed seeing how that part played out.

Going back to Lisbeth’s sister, we see how deep seeded their hatred for each other is and are taken back to their childhood. It is here, in the past, that Lisbeth’s hacker name Wasp is given explanation. The Marvel universe is brought into play and we learn how important the Janet van Dyne character and the Avengers are to Lisbeth. As Camilla becomes more nemesis than sister, she begins to call herself Thanos. This pull from pop culture was the only thing that stuck out as odd to me and while it is interesting to hear about the psychology behind this, it took me out of the story a bit to have something so American mentioned. I am not sure if that was always the origin of the Wasp handle; it makes a lot of sense when the backstory is given but I wonder if that was Lagercrantz’s doing or taken from notes of Larsson’s.

Overall, The Girl in the Spider’s Web was a really great listen and Simon Vance does a great job with all of the Swedish that occurs throughout. I am really interested to see if he continues on with the series or if the publishing house will do each title by a separate author. The sales for book four have been pretty good and the title stayed on bestsellers lists for 16 weeks where it sold over 200,000 copies in it’s first week! Lisbeth Salander is such a compelling and stimulating heroine who stands up for the rights of women, what is right and just, and doesn’t take any shit from anyone. I hope that these numbers will parlay into a book five and that we won’t have to wait eight more years for it!

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Banned Books Week 2k16

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Sunday September 25- October 1 is 2016’s Banned Book Week. Since the 80’s the designated week is a time for teachers and parents to encourage their children to read books that push barriers, broach hard topics, and create engaging conversations. Every year the American Library Association keeps tracks of all of the titles that have been challenged or banned in both school and community libraries.

When I was a freshman in undergrad, I did one of my year end projects on the ALA and banned books. It was so interesting and also somewhat mind blowing to research some of the reasons that certain titles are banned. “Sexually explicit” content and “language” are the two most cited reasons that a title is challenged and the majority of the time it is a parent that submits the challenge. While these two reasons are understandable for a parent to say, “hold off on reading this title” to their child it does not give them the right to make that decision for an entire school or town. Censorship on literature is just one more way the sheltering parents of today are blinding their kids to the world around them. This topic makes me so mad! Encouraging children to read is one of the most important things in a child’s young life; it is an incredibly fundamental part of embarking on their education. However, when a person steps in and denies any title to someone, that is just unfair.

The top 10 most frequently banned books of 2015 were

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy BibleThe Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

As you can see, these objections are not confined to newly published titles . I Am Jazz is a kids book about a child who dealt with transgender issues and was published in 2014. It is based on real events in the author’s life yet one of the reasons for it’s being banned is that it is inaccurate. EXCUSE ME?!?! REAL EVENTS!!! While the “reasons” for banning a book vary, there is a common theme that is easily detectable. If someone doesn’t agree with something or might be afraid of something due to close mindedness, then it is challenged. Some of my favorite books and titles that have really stuck with me are on these lists. From 13 Reasons Why to A Wrinkle in Time, there is no genre or style that is safe!

According to the ALA, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.” While it is difficult to push through a ban, that doesn’t stop the attempt nor does it lessen the amount of challenges submitted each year.

Organizations such as the ALA and the Banned Books Week campaign are incredibly important in drawing attention to the titles that receive the most scrutiny and hate. There are amazing lists on the ALA’s website which show the top 100 banned books, break lists down by years, and keeps track of all the ludicrous ideas behind why a title should be taken off of a shelf. The Banned Books Week website has a breakdown of events that take place in each state that promote literacy and encourage reading.

I highly encourage you to cruise around both websites and get involved with your local libraries and bookstores particularly this week as they make an extra effort to get knowledge (and a good read) into the hands of anyone who wants it.  There are usually really great displays that libraries and bookstores will create to show off popular banned titles. This always makes me so happy to see because it is putting all of these “dangerous” works into one space and defying the challenges put forth by those who would see them disappeared forever.

Gilmore Girls Comeback

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This week’s post is dedicated to a show that my mother, sister, and I have been fans of for years. We would sit and watch it live every week back when that was still a thing. Before binge watching and DVRing and Netflix and chill we would watch the entire 22 episode season (yes, 22 whole hour long  42 minutes long episodes).

Gilmore Girls began October 5, 2000 and ran for 154 episodes on what was originally the WB and is now the CW. The show chronicles the lives of the mother daughter duo Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) Gilmore who live in the quaint town of Stars Hollow, CT. The phrase “it takes a village” is very apt over the course of the seven years of the show up to the very last episode and we are introduced to townspeople in season one who are prevalent throughout the series. Show runner Amy Sherman-Palladino does an amazing job of making Stars Hollow a real community, not just a TV town. There are town meetings and community issues and small town romances, I could keep listing but I won’t. The show itself centers on the Gilmore girls, however all of the supporting characters really contribute in making the show as quirky as it is.

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Over the years we experience first love with Rory, her acceptance to Yale, and watch as she grows from the quiet junior at a private high school at the show’s open to the determined and ambitious Yale graduate at its close. Lorelai goes from managing an inn to opening and running one of her own, with the help of business partner Sooki St. James (Melissa Mcarthy).

It is a show about growing up and being true to yourself no matter what. The senior Gilmores are upper crust Mayflower descendants. From the Pilot we learn that Lorelai left this life after becoming pregnant with Rory at 16 to be independent and raise her child how she wanted, out from under the thumb of her mother. A central theme of the show is family. Whether you like it or not, your family is your family and while Lorelai and Rory are strong and independent women, they still need their family from time to time. And it isn’t just blood that follows this theme. Sooki and Lorelai are the best of friends and Rory’s friend Lane is her rock in times of need. By this extension community also runs deep.

Recently, I rewatched the series for the umpteenth time. Gilmore Girls is one of those shows that is just so comforting and is so relatable to a smattering of demographics. There is a closeness that Lorelai and Rory have that I don’t think I’ve seen in any other show. They are best friends and it is was always so wonderful to see that on TV instead of arguing and acting out.

When I found out that there was going to be a revival on Netflix, I was over the moon with excitement. Everytime there is an update on Facebook, I tag my mom and sis. When it is mentioned on IMDB I immediately stop what I am doing to watch or read whatever has been released. This is something that, no matter how many miles separate us, we will be able to watch together and get excited about. While there is not always a good product from a revival (I didn’t even try watching Fuller House), I know and have faith that this one will be the exception. You see the series did not end how Sherman-Palladino had intended.

It came out that the Sherman-Palladino team had been treated less than was desirable by the network for several years. There were contracts for the show, for the actors, but not for the writer or her husband and directing partner Dan. The duo tried for contract negations and were met with silence. So while the show carried on for it’s seventh and final season, the creators were not there to see it closed. And while the show ultimately ended in a nice neat way, it was not the ending that Sherman-Palladino had had in mind all those years.

This is why the Netflix news was so exciting to hear! All of the original cast is returning, which was no small feat as many of them have gone on from the show to achieve really great success (most notably Melissa Mcarthy). And to top things off, Amy and Dan are coming back! There will be four episodes that are each an hour and a half long and they will represent one season of the year, hence the title of the miniseries Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. 

The four new episodes debut on November 25 (the day after Thanksgiving) and I cannot wait to Skype with my mom and sister and hear that theme song once more because where the Gilmore girls lead, I will follow.

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Full cast photo at the ATX Television festival in Austin, TX where the cast was reunited and the revival was first hinted at.

The Girl on the Train- Paula Hawkins

I was very proud of myself for going as long as I did without reading The Girl on the Train while simultaneously avoiding any spoilers of the twist and the reveal. After Gone Girl‘s twisty turny ride and the onslaught of similar twisty turny plots came out, I resisted the trend. It is something that really bothers me, market flooding. I get that imitation is the best form of flattery however if an author does something truly spectacular in a genre that does not mean that every title in the six months following needs to follow the same pattern (read my pseudonym article to see how Stephen King solved this problem). That being said, I resisted the raves that came out following the release of The Girl on the Train (hence forth seen as GotT). However, with the movie coming out soon, I had to adhere to my policy of book reading before movie viewing even though this does from the trailer to seem to be more of a “based on” than “adapted from”. This is more of an overview of my thoughts on the novel as I wish not to spoil this book as it was not spoiled for me. So, here it is:

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The tale of the GotT is told to us through the perspective of three unreliable narrators. We have Rachel (who is the title character) who commutes to London every morning on the same train and it is on this train that Rachel observes Megan and her husband Scott (Rachel doesn’t know their real names at the start). The observations seem harmless, she sees them from the train everyday and creates a mental profile of their lives; seeing them as characters more than people. It is made abundantly clear to us from the second page onward that Rachel is an alcoholic. Like full on day drinking, all the time drinking, alcoholic. Hence, her unreliability.

Our second narrator is Megan. There aren’t so much chapters, the way the book is laid out, but with each perception shift, the woman whose view it is in  is up in the chapter heading space and there are notations of dates and times of day. Somewhat diary/snapshot like however the timeframes are restrained to morning and evening. Why am I detailing this? Well, it is from this that we see that these view points are nonlinear. This is important later on as events unfold and you gather details out of order and piece them together. It makes the puzzle engaging and you quickly realize that every piece of the story matters. We learn slowly that Megan is not happy with her life. She feels agitated and stuck; like there is something else that is just beyond her reach that would complete things for her. A former gallery owner, she is restless and while she seems to think she is good at hiding this from everyone…that is not always the case.

Lastly, we gain pieces of our story from Anna who is married to Tom. Their courtship and family beginnings are unfolded at a nice pace and we slowly learn that these three women are separated by a small number of degrees and that makes their web even tighter than you might at first realize. Anna has snooty opinions of other women and so her views of our two fellow narrators is a bit colored for her own personal reasons. She is no more reliable that the alcoholic or the pretender. So, it all trickles down to the fact that everyone has secrets and none of us are as completely fine as we might present.

These three women’s lives unfold over the course of the novel and it is not just their degrees of separation that shrink, so too does the fact that you really do not know who to trust. Who is giving the whole story or at least the story closest to the truth? Everyone has motive. Everyone has opportunity. When someone goes missing, there is no way to know who is trying to keep the biggest secret of them all.

That being said, the twist at the end was very good and pretty pyscho. However, if you pay really close attention you are able to figure it out pretty far ahead of the reveal. I wasn’t 100% sure I knew…but I was rewarded with being right which is always so satisfying, don’t you think?

Now, the last thing that I would like to follow up with is the that of the treatment that each  these ladies extend to their fellow females. None of the women in this book are nice to each other. While some of it is for understandable reasons (like Rachel being piss drunk and walking out of a house with a baby that isn’t hers) most of it is a bit exaggerated. The women are mean and sneaky and snide. Even the female detective is just downright rude and untrustworthy. It is apparent from the get go that none of them are besties but at times I feel like it was a bit unnecessarily hateful.

I flew through this book in a matter of days; couldn’t put it down. It is very fast-paced and has a really quick flow because of how it is broken down. GotT would be the perfect book to put in your pool/beach bag and tear through as the warm sun shines down on you. I highly recommend it!

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In the 2001 movie Monkeybone, cartoonist Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) switches the hand with which he draws his pieces. The result is that his creations go from dark twisted nightmares to this goofy monkey and his human pal (think Garfield as a monkey). This concept got me thinking about pseudonyms and the persona that is developed by and within an author’s works. In today’s publishing world many authors, both well established and those just starting out, create pen names under which they publish. The reasons for this vary from author to author: just starting out and trying to establish a name with spunk, switching genres and therefore perspectives, or trying to get away from an already established name. There are many great authors to think about who do this and I have a couple favorites.

Lemony Snicket is a mysterious, enchanting and hypnotizing storyteller (and no, he is not standing here dictating this sentence to me). He has published the accounts of the Baudelaire children and their escape from the dastardly Count Olaf. They have suffered a very hapless timeline, quite tragic really; but man are they brave children. The siblings are put through the ringer whilst trying to get to the bottom of their parents murders (which were covered up by a fire). According to his website Snicket is “insatiably inquisitive” and can only be contacted via HarperCollins Children’s Books. Snicket very rarely appears at book events, although it has happened on select few occasions. More often than not, Snicket’s handler is in attendance to answer questions to the best of his abilities and remind people how aloof his charge is. This man is one Daniel Handler. Mr. Handler leads a “relatively uneventful life” and is also the author of three books that are not for children. This past fall Daniel Handler spoke at the gala fundraiser for the 20th annual Texas Book Festival and at the fest itself. He is very interesting to listen to…quite captivating. He loves his fans and, after one of his panels, went out the front with the crowd instead of out the back. Taking picture after picture, joking the whole time. These two individuals seem to be vastly different in both character and in social settings. Now, I’m going to divulge something to you: they are one in the same. <<pause to allow gasps>>  While switching seamlessly from Snicker to Handler and back, Daniel composes symphonies, writes a column in which he discusses Nobel Laureate’s books, and writes books for non children folk.

In 1977, Richard Bachman published Rage, his first book. Over the course of the next few years, he published four more books all of which did moderately well on sales. It was after his title Thinner was published that it was revealed that Richard Bachman did not exist. All that time horror master Stephen King had been writing under the pseudonym. He reportedly was interested in seeing how his work would do if nobody knew it was his. Was he at his level of success because of his name or because of his words? (See his essay “The Importance of Being Bachman” here.) At the time of his reveal King was working on Misery which he had planned on releasing under Bachman’s moniker (I think Misery is my favorite of his works. It’s so creepy and plausible and they’re out there in the snow. Eep!) In this case, the writing style and genre were the same; that’s how he was found out. In addition to wanting to see how his work would fare on it’s own, King was feeling restricted by his publishing house who were only releasing one title of his a year so as not to over saturate the market with his “brand.” Seeing the loophole in this, he convinced them to put out titles under the name Richard Bachman.

Not unlink his father, Joe King publishes under the name Joe Hill so that his work stands away from his father’s shadow. Hill has produced some really amazing works like Horns and The Fireman even after it came out who he was. In 2007 he issued a statement confirming his parentage but not before having obtained respect in the literary community, being awarded a Ray Bradbury fellowship and also receiving for his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts the Bram Stoker Award.

Lastly, I would like to bring up Joanne Rowling. We all the know the story of Harry Potter being rejected by 12 houses (publishing not Hogwarts) but many aren’t as aware of the fact J.K. is just as much a pen name as Robert Galbraith. While they were smart enough to pick up her manuscript the publishers silly thought that young boys would be not as interested in reading a book by a woman (which doesn’t make any sense, as young boys throughout history have been told fantastic tales by their mothers and grandmothers and you would think that would inspire something or just all together not even matter, but whatever) and as such asked her to shorten it to initials and her surname. Thus, J(oanne) K( Kathleen) Rowling was penned. Joanna as her full first name and Kathleen from her grandmother’s name as she had no middle name). The success of the Harry Potter series has brought such fame to Rowling and her name that when she put out her first non Potter title after the series ended, Casual Vacancy, everyone waited on baited breathe. However, Casual Vacancy was not by any means a success. I actually stopped reading about 80 pages in because I didn’t understand any of the small town British government lingo and honestly, it was boring (although the HBO adaption is actually good for a watch). So, several years later when new crime writer Robert Galbraith burst onto the scene and awed critics and readers alike, the world was none the wiser to the fact that Jo had but out a new book. The Cuckoo’s Calling is a really solid read. I highly recommend these books, peeps. The news that Rowling and Galbraith were one in the same came shortly before the release of the second book in the Cormoran Strike series. Discovered by a reporter and confirmed by Little Brown, the news was followed by a reprint of the books which had quickly  sold out. There are now three books out by Galbraith and here is to hoping that another is announce soon. The complete departure from fantasy and the hard right turn at gruesome mysteries is very well done and really exciting.

In addition to the authors mentioned here, there are many well known writers who publish under more than just their given name. From C.S. Lewis to Agatha Christie to Dr. Seuss, the list is probably much more expansive than you might initially think.