How to NOT Suck at Reviewing in Five Easy Steps

To anyone that has read this blog for any length of time, it’s no secret I love reviewing stories in all forms of media.

It enables me to think critically and learn what makes a story fail or succeed.

I owe much of my growth as a writer to watching other reviewers discuss what they did or didn’t like in stories and, more importantly, why.

While I don’t claim to be a professional critic, I believe there are certain steps one can take in order to not suck at reviewing.

1. Know Thyself 

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Before you can judge something, it is important you have examined your own personal tastes and biases. These, as well as your own experiences, will influence how you digest media. 

I read a review on  Ford v. Ferrari in which the “critic” spent the entire article berating the movie for being about white guys and….that’s it.

She failed to mention anything about the writing, characters, lighting, cinematography, editing, music, or anything relevant to the story. I learned absolutely nothing about the film or whether or not I would have enjoyed it.

I felt like I was reading a diary entry by a moody teenager that was angry at her father rather than an actual review someone was payed to write.

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It’s fine to have opinions whether they be political or otherwise, but it’s important you are able to compartmentalize. You have to ask yourself if you dislike something because it is genuinely bad for the story/characters, or simply because of your own intrinsic biases.

2. Don’t Nit-pick

If you look closely you will find flaws in every form of fiction. Perhaps the writer described a character as having brown eyes in one chapter and then mistakenly refers to them as cerulean a hundred pages or so on. Yes, this was something the writer or editor should have caught in re-writes, but honestly it isn’t that big of a deal.

There are entire channels on Youtube dedicated to nit-picking *coughCinamaSinscough** and while they can be amusing to watch, unnecessary emphasis is placed on minuscule infractions.

Small things can add up over time, but if you are constantly hammering on things that are essentially inconsequential to the main story or details most people wouldn’t notice anyway,  you need to reevaluate.

Most people don’t care.

Or if they do, they don’t care that much. 

If a problem is big enough it will find you.

3. Don’t Be an Elitist Prick 

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Having a degree in the medium you are reviewing is a wonderful resource. You can apply what you have learned from your studies in order to give informed opinions. I’ve learned a lot about the art of storytelling from watching video essays and attending lectures by people who studied extensively in their respective crafts.

The issue is some use their education as a trump tool, believing that their opinion is greater than the unwashed masses because they own a piece of paper that says Department of English or Department of Film and Media on it.

The truth is most people don’t care whether or not you have a degree. They care if you can provide them with an interesting or humorous perspective.

While the average joe might not be as well versed in the arts, they are still capable of snuffing out what works and what doesn’t in a story. Remember, most stories aren’t for the elites. They are for the other 99.9% of people.

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4. Don’t Insult People Who Like What You’re Reviewing 

I recently watched a review of Joker by a Youtuber named ralphthemoviemaker in which he makes a huge mistake.

In this video, Ralph essentially calls everyone who enjoys the movie a moron. But he doesn’t stop there. In fact, most of his review seems to be directed towards people who enjoyed the movie and how dumb they are for not sharing his clearly more researched opinion.

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I will be the first to admit I have ridiculed many a property, so I don’t have a problem with him badmouthing the movie.

But insulting people who like it is an extremely bad move.

By doing so you all but guarantee your audience will disregard everything you say on the subject. Worse still, it will turn people who might have otherwise agreed with your assessments against you.

It’s not even an argument that can be supported with evidence.

Why are these people stupid? Because they like something you don’t?

Are people that like blue smarter than people that like pink?

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This brings me to my final point-

5. Remember It’s Your Opinion

I don’t believe all opinions are created equal. Some are weak and easy to refute when presented with enough evidence. However, it’s important to realize that there is really no one “correct” opinion when it comes to art.

In the end, art is just one big Rorschach test that is influenced by our unique experiences.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t express pleasure, disdain, disappointment or any other emotion that comes with examining stories. But we need to be open to other interpretations of the messages we consume and cognizant of how they may resonate with other people.

Thanks for reading!

Thoughts on “You” Season 2 Netflix Series

Warning: The following contains spoilers for season 2 of You. If you have not seen this season but would like to, reader discretion is advised. 

I confess over the years I’ve become jaded towards thrillers. True-crime podcasts left me feeling cold. Shows like Law and Order and CSI were all cookie-cutter snore-fests that made me question the whole crime genre.

I began to despair that I would never find another show with bite. One that would leave me on the edge of my seat, craving more.

Then…. there was You.

There You were with your unique first-person perspective, biting social commentary and oh so binge-worthy content. You constantly kept me on my toes. You gave me many a sleepless night. You sent my heart racing in a way no other show has.

When I learned You were to have a second season, I was pleased. So pleased. And when the day finally came when I could watch You….

You sucked.

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There’s no nice way of putting this, this season was a mess of catastrophic proportions.

I wasn’t expecting this season to be as good as it’s predecessor but holy shit–

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While there were issues with the plot and the pacing, I think the biggest reason this season is a failure in my eyes is because the characters are so woefully bad.

Time for an autopsy everyone!

Let’s begin with Candace, Joe’s ex-girlfriend and returnee from the grave.

We, the audience, are expected to route for her as a matter of course. After all, she was a victim of a terrible crime and left for dead by someone she trusted.

But I cannot get behind this character.

Is it because she is a strong, independent woman trying to bring down the toxically masculine man?

No, it’s because she’s a complete dumbass.

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Let’s review: She knows Joe has a body count. She knows he has gotten away with unspeakable things in the past. She knows she has no evidence to back her up. And she knows she’s been off the grid so long people wouldn’t notice if she disappeared. That being said, she decides her best move is to confront this guy, with no backup and threaten him.

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Thanks to the power of plot convenience, she is spared. At least temporarily. For a while she is graciously out of the limelight, but when she comes back she only serves as an unnecessary distraction.

Candace disguises herself as Amy Adams, flirts her way into a relationship with Joe’s girlfriend’s brother and then….does nothing but lob veiled threats at Joe. She claims to be “protecting” people, but she waits so long to tell Love about Joe. Why didn’t she just say she was his ex? Why didn’t she expose him earlier?

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What’s so tragic about all this is they could have made Candace a good character. They could have made the revenge plan a viable plot point as well.

Instead of threatening Joe outright, she could have covertly stalked him and found out who he was lusting after. From there she could have set a trap and exposed him for who he really is. Joe is the POV character and narrator of the show, but they have broken POV before. They could have had a 20 minute flashback to everything Candace has been up to since season 1 and shown us her masterplan for getting back at him.

But Rachael, we wouldn’t have gotten that cliff-hanger at the end of season 1!

Easy fix: Joes discovers an anonymous note accusing him of the murder which spooks him into leaving town.

So the story would be basically the same only, you know, not completely stupid.

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Speaking of stupid, let’s backtrack to Candace and Joe’s first meeting at the coffee shop post-Beck murder. Since the screen-writer never clued us in, it’s up to me to ask the obvious question: Why doesn’t he just kill her? No one else knew she was there and it’s doubtful anyone would be looking for her. All of his problems would have been over.

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Candace: You would go to prison as you. You would sit there for the rest of your life and think you’re a good man. I’m going to show you who you really are. And when you see it, you’ll be begging me to turn you in. It’s going to be really fun fucking destroying you.

Joe:

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Unfortunately, Candace isn’t the only disappointing character in this season. 

Our ensemble cast is a veritable assortment of a-holes.

Delilah and Ellie Alves, the residence of Joe’s new apartment complex, are supposed to come across as spunky and independent, but I could not connect with them.

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From the moment they meet Joe they are antagonistic towards him for no discernible reason. Even when he is helping them out he is insulted and accused of “man-splaining.” I know he’s a psychopathic murderer and worthy of scorn, but they don’t know that.

Many people seemed to latch onto these people, but I just couldn’t. Delilah is a bitch of epic proportions and Ellie was a tedious know-it-all.

Then there are the twins

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Forty isn’t a terrible character. The issue is he shouldn’t be in this show. He clashes with the tone of You something terrible. In season 1, You was a show engrained in reality. Yes, there were the occasional funny moments sprinkled in but most of the situations were plausible, the characters were three-dimensional, and the stakes were real. In season 2, he takes the show to near cartoonish levels of silly. The scene where he and Joe are tripping balls is straight out of a Hangover movie.

Love, it must be said, is a pretty underwhelming successor to Beck.

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I wanted to put Beck through a wall many times, but she was a well-written character. Her past demons, deeply imbedded insecurities, and her damage made for a realistic person and it was heartbreaking watching her go through all the devastation Joe brought to her life.

Love, on the other hand, is a major step down in terms of character development. Frankly, even with her co-dependent brother and dysfunctional family, she is pretty dull. It wasn’t until the end, after we discover she is as crazy as Joe, that she actually starts showing promise.

Since her previous husband died from a mysterious disease, I was kind of hoping she had secretly poisoned him because she found out he was cheating or something. Sadly, his death seems to have been a result of natural causes. Pity. Even after we discovered her murderous past….I found it difficult to care because the quality of the show had deteriorated so much.

Then, finally, there is Joe.

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Sigh.

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Remember how in my  previous post about You I said I wished they had discussed Joe’s backstory a bit more? Yeah, I take it back. It was basically you’re paint-by-numbers my-daddy-beat-my-mommy/mommy-was-a-whore scenario. It didn’t add any new or interesting dynamic to the character and the child actor they got to play young Joe could not emote for shit.

I know I shouldn’t be hard on a child actor, but it’s difficult being invested in a scene when one of the pivotal characters looks like he’s stuck in a calculus class taught by Ben Stein.

That wasn’t the only Joe-related issue of this season either.

A major plot thread of this season involved Joe’s eyes being opened to the monster he truly is. As Candace promises, he finally understands the pain he has put other people through….

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Normally I applaud character development, but in this case it fell flat for two reasons.

Problem #1: Joe has high-functioning narcissistic personality disorder

Someone with his level of psychosis  would not have the self-awareness necessary to question their behavior on this level. He may acknowledge he has done bad things, but he is able to compartmentalize it all under the banner of “love” and “protection” and thus cleanse himself of guilt. 

This is evidenced by his behavior going all the way back to season 1.

When he discovers Beck’s friend Peach has been taking lewd photographs of Beck without permission, he is disgusted, noting how much of a violation this is. It doesn’t even occur to him to examine his own actions from an outside perspective and realize he has done literally the same thing by inserting himself into Beck’s life.

Only he knows what Beck deserves. Only he can help her reach her full potential. It was his responsibility to weed out all the toxic people in her life.

It’s a humorous scene, but it’s an honest one. This is how people like Joe genuinely think. They are lying, manipulative, hypocrites that are virtually incapable of self-reflection.

Problem #2:  The season was much slower as a result of Joe trying to be a better person.

What made season 1 so captivating (apart from the superior character writing) was the shock-value. You never knew what depths of depravity Joe would plumb to next.

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The intensity was turned up to 11 in every episode.

What was he going to do with Benjii? How would he deal with Peach’s codependent control over Beck? How would he evade detection? Could he actually make things work with Beck and get away with it all scot free?

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During this season, however, they pulled all the punches.

I never felt like anything was at stake. Mostly because I didn’t give a crap about any of the supporting cast.

The most excited I became was when Forty and Joe were reenacting his confrontation with Beck while high on LSD and Joe begins strangling Forty to death!

source.gifAnd….then Joe stops.

This was a common thread. Almost every time we thought someone was going to get killed, or Joe was going to do something super messed but the writer’s would pull us back. They were really trying to push for A CW vibe with comedy and drama rather than what we came for a.k.a a serial-killing psychopath.

I didn’t want to look further into Love’s life. Her family is dumb. Her brother is a nuisance. The Old Joe would never let that happen.

Come on, writers, what are you waiting for?!

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As for that ending. That….stupid ending.

You mean we went through that whole bs about how he was going to be a good person now for no reason. You denied us high-stakes, intricate plans, and general messed-upness for nothing!

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Honestly, I could go on longer, but I believe this is a good place to cap this review.

TLDR; this season was a disaster.

The characters sucked.

Nothing anyone did made any sense.

The plot was stupid.

This was a disaster.

They should never have made a follow-up to season 1. It was a perfectly good self-contained story that didn’t need to be continued.

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Goodnight, You. 

May you suffocate in your glass prison of death.

Thoughts on “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

Amazon Summary: When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

***Author’s note: I think it’s fair to make it clear that this book is meant to be a modern retelling of The Turn of the Screw (a book which I have not read) and so I am basing this book entirely on its own merits.***

Rowan makes for a great protagonist, but in my mind Heathbrae House is the true star of the novel.

From the outside, Heathbrae is a dignified and eye-catching piece of real-estate with old Victorian aesthetic and flashy gadgetry.

The inside, however, reveals a much darker truth.

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As Rowan notes, the house’s transformation from a run down Victorian into a modern home replete with fancy technology is not a smooth one. Rather than blending together to form a charming country estate, the modern amenities and old architecture clash with one another in garish ways. The house itself suffers from an identity crisis which is perfectly in keeping with the story’s themes, especially relating to Rowan.

 Rowan has experience as a care-giver, however, it’s obvious she lacks a lot of the matronly appeal one in such a position is supposed to hold. She, herself, comes from a cold, loveless household and is desperately trying to find one of her own. She does her best to fit into the role but as the horrors increase, her facade begins to crumble. 

I found Rowan’s struggle heartbreakingly relatable. She’s found herself in a difficult position, where all her actions can and will be monitored in a strange and new environment. I think all of us have found ourselves in such a struggle, so it was easy to route for her as she goes through all these trials.

It doesn’t help that she’s constantly second-guessing both herself and those around her as strange events keep occurring.

In spite of the fact that I’m a total scaredy-cat, most books don’t have the power to truly scare me. This is especially true when they take place in modern times. The suspension of disbelief in the day of iPads and internet streaming is so weak it can take a great deal of co-ercing to get me to go along with the program.  However, The Turn of the Key literally made me afraid to turn the next page. I know, I know,  it’s a cliché, but the environment Ware created was so creepy and foreboding, I genuinely dreaded turning the page. What was a I going to discover? A corpse? A murder weapon? A ghost?

It legitimately kept me guessing as to what was going to happen, even though I knew for certain a child was going to die at the end.

Speaking of the end…..

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Perhaps it’s just me, but I was incredibly disappointed.

It didn’t seem to me that the twists worked very well as none of them were built up to.

The best kind of twists are the ones that make perfect sense upon second reading. All the clues are there but they are so innocuous you don’t notice them from the start. However, upon reflection it all makes perfect sense and you kick yourself for not recognizing the signs. In this case, however, I think Ware played her cards too close to her chest.

She gave away so little in the fear that her audience would figure out the ending that when the reveal happens it feels like she pulled it out of her arse.

For those that don’t want to the ending spoiled for them, don’t go any farther.

 

*********Spoilers ahead, reader beware***********

 

Okay, so I thought the twist that Rowan was actually Bill’s daughter was kind of….um…

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Even after rereading Rowan’s first encounter with Bill, it still didn’t make sense to me.

When Rowan is describing Bill’s appearance she says she can’t tell how old he is, but she speculates he could be forty.

Rowan is in her late twenties.

That would mean her father would have been 12 years-old upon her conception.

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To be 100% accurate, she guess-stimates his age from 40-60, but all the same. Why would she think he could possibly be 40?

Not to mention, there’s never any indication that there was more to the scene than what information we were presented with. If I went to all that trouble to find my biological father (stealing my roommate’s identity, uprooting myself from the country, and agreeing to live in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of strangers) I would be devastated to learn that he was a pervert.

Nonetheless, Rowan carries on as if it were nothing more than an inconvenience.

What makes this twist frustrating is I believe it could have been fixable if enough care was taken.

For instance, instead of saying “Sandra and Bill” in her narration, she could have said “Bill and Sandra.” A reader might question why she was putting Bill’s name before Sandra’s even though most of her interactions are through the matriarch of the family, but I doubt anyone would think enough about it to put two and two together.

As for the big reveal that it was actually Maddie pulling the strings all along…that’s fine…I guess…

Her motivation does makes sense and it’s easy to see how her father’s bad behavior could result in her acting out in a big way.

The problem with this revelation is I seriously doubt a child her age could pull off something that elaborate. This kid would have to be Hannibal Lector-level crazy. Think about it. She gaslighted Rowan, found out how to by-pass all the security (I know kids are good with tech but come on), snuck into a boarded up attic and a whole host of other things.

Let’s be reasonable here, this is all very, very unlikely.

The twist that Ellie accidentally killed Maddie was….okay, I guess.

It’s difficult to articulate why I was disappointed by this. Perhaps its my own personal hang-up with Scooby-Doo-isque endings where there’s always a guy in a mask behind everything instead of an actual ghost.

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I get it.

It’s the 21st century.

We are supposed to be beyond superstitious nonsense, but come on.

Can’t it ever be an actual ghost?

Ghosts are fun.

Throw me a bone, here.

Overall, if Ware had just re-written a couple of things, I think she would have a first rate book on her hands. As it stands, I can’t give this book anything higher than a 6/10.

I won’t say the twists ruined it for me, but they did take away a lot of enjoyment for me.

 

Falling Back in Love with the Library

I have a confession to make.

While I consider myself to be a major reader, up until about three weeks ago, I had not frequented a library in almost 2 years.

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Before you judge,I had a good reason (or at least I thought). Life was getting hectic and I have no impulse control. I was checking out 3 to 4 books at a time, only to get through about a quarter of one of them.

Then there came the hassle of remembering to take the damn things back days after their due-dates, scolding myself for  not being a more proactive reader, only to rinse and repeat forever and ever until the end of time.

Eventually, I stopped going altogether.

I would buy my books from now on, I decided. Why would I subject myself to all these steps when I could just cut out the middle man? This way I could keep a book as long as I wanted, treat it in any condition I chose, and discard it at my leisure (or leave it to languish on my bookshelf until I die).

I had some good memories of the library. I recognized its importance not only to readers, but the welfare of their respective communities at large.

But I was over it.

I had Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Half-Price Books, and any number of privately owned bookstores all with books that I could have all to myself.

It wasn’t until the Christmas season encroached that I considered frequenting the old haunts. My desire for reading had not been hampered, but my pocketbook–after buying present upon present for immediate family, in-laws, friends, this Dirty Santa and that Dirty Santa–was crying.

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Actual footage of my wallet after Christmas shopping

And so I went.

I had forgotten what it was like to step into a library.

From the get-go there are just rows upon rows of titles calling out for your attention. Old books, new books, classics, commercial fiction, biographies and histories. There are endless possibilities.

And the best part is you get to enjoy them for free.

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While this sounds like a small consolation, it really adds up. Not only are you able to indulge in your habit, you are free to explore other genres. When you are expected to pay for something it is easy to become miserly. You aren’t sure if you’ll like something and so you tend to stick to what you know. How many of us have gone to restaurants only to order the same meal every time for fear of not liking the newer option?

However, if there is no penalty for branching out, you are more likely to give something new a chance. Even if it isn’t something you would normally chose.

This allows you to discover even more writers and stories and broaden your perspective on whatever subject you choose.

To me this is one of the greatest gifts a library gives: A chance to explore.

As of this writing, I have about four books checked out and I hope to read every one of them.

Happy Holidays!

Sunshine Blogger Award #5

A special thanks to theorangutanlibrarian for nominating me for this award! I’m honored to be receiving it and I enjoyed making this post!

Here goes!

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
  2. Answer the questions.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
  4. Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
  5. List the rules + display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your post.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been on holiday?

I’m not sure if this counts as a holiday since this was part of a study tour for college, but I would have to say the best place I have ever gone to was Ireland. There was so much natural and ancient beauty there it bewitched me from the moment we landed. My favorite place out of the trip had to be Tollymore Forest on our Game of Thrones tour where they shot a bit of the first episode. And they gave us cloaks!

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Do you have any favorite fictional (or non fictional) libraries?

Hmmmm I suppose I would have to say the first library I ever went to. There’s nothing special about it in terms of aesthetic or book choices (apart from the modest aquarium), but it’s the first ever library I’ve ever gone to which helped foster my love of books so it will always hold a place in my heart.

What is your guiltiest pleasure read?

I suppose that would be Twilight. I haven’t read it in over ten years so I don’t know if I would still like it or not, but I still remember it fondly. I maintain to this day that it’s the most over-hated book in existence. I think I will write a post about this eventually.

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What’s your most unpopular bookish opinion?

I found The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern incredibly boring.

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I know! I know! Dozens of friends have told me they love it, but I…I just don’t get it.

I’ve attempted to read it twice and each time I’ve been disappointed. The premise is intriguing and I liked the atmosphere, but there was too little happening for too long. I made it slightly over halfway through the second time before I gave up.

I don’t begrudge others for liking it, though.

Do you have a bookish pet peeve?

I have a few, but a deal-breaker for me is unnatural dialogue. I can deal with slow pacing, Maguffins and the like but if the characters sound like AIs that can’t pass the Turing Test I’m out. This is the reason I stopped reading The Man in The High Castle. I loved the idea behind it and was interested in where the story was going, nevertheless, the characters sounded so unrealistic and stilted that I couldn’t go on.

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Dialogue is one of the most important tools a writer has in their arsenal to convey a character’s personality and if you screw that up you might as well pack your bags and go home.

What book character gets on your last nerve?

Zoe Redbird from The House of Night series. When I read the first book in high school, I thought she was a pretty cool chick. She was nerdy (allegedly, the only evidence we have for this is her Spock hoodie), she liked Enya, she had a kick-ass name.

But then she started doing shady shit and her character took a turn for the worst around book three.

In essence, she became a Mary-Sue of the highest order; the girl literally every guy wanted to be with. People give Twilight a hard time for being a love triangle when this chick was in a frigging love pentagram.

EVERYONE IN THE BOOKS WANTED TO RIDE HER.

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Not to mention, no matter how many horrible things she did, she was always portrayed as the victim. She cheated on her boyfriend with a teacher, and when said teacher turned out to be a villain (imagine my shock), her friends berated her ex-boyfriend for giving her a hard time… for cheating on him!

Silly boy!

Everything Zoe does is right.

Everyone loves Zoe.

She’s naturally gifted in literally everything.

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It’s a shame because, from what I remember, the rest of the series was enjoyable. I just couldn’t deal with the main character anymore.

If you could wear any item of clothing from a book-what would it be?

Jamie Fraser’s kilt. No more questions.

Who could you rather kiss/marry/kill when the choices are Lord Voldemort, Sauron, and Iago?

I would kill Voldemort because there’s no way I’m waking up to that every morning. I would kiss Iago because he actually has lips and I would marry Sauron because he is the OP villain all others aspire to be.

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Sexy.

Who’s the best bookish baddie you’ve read about lately?

Most books I read don’t necessarily have a mustache twirling villain, but I suppose it would be Drood from Dan Simmon’s Drood. He’s the mysterious character which Dicken’s wrote his unfinished novel about before his death. If you’re interested in reading it, here’s a link.

Would you rather be the villain in a story of the hero? Why?

Conventional wisdom says I should choose hero because they are the victors in most stories. However, I think it might be fun to be a bad guy. Being a good person is exhausting and it’s so much easier to be an asshole. Plus villains usually equate to more complex characterizations and I’m about me some complex characters.

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Do you have any exciting reading plans?

I’m excited to be reading Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I love, love, love The Paris Wife and her writing style so I’m pumped about this one. I also plan to tuck into My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante in the near future.

My questions:

  1. What was the most transformative reading experience you have ever had?
  2. What is a book you wish someone would write?
  3. Where is somewhere you really want to go, but have only read about in a book?
  4. If you could have a book re-written, which book would it be?
  5. What is a book you dislike that everyone else loves?
  6. If you had the power to bring any mythical creature to life, which creature would it be?
  7. Where is your ideal reading spot?
  8. What is the most disappointing book you have ever read and why?
  9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?
  10. If you could make one book required reading, which book would it be and why?
  11. What is your favorite bookish ship? (noncanonical and crack-ships are acceptable answers)

I’m interested in seeing what you guys come up with!

Sofi@ A Book. A Thought. Jennifer of OutofBabel.com dysfunctionalliteracy  TheInnerWorkings TheBookRaven  Anna @ My Bookish Dreams  By Hook or By Book Nut Free Nerd Bionic Book Nerd Jedi By Knight Adventures of a Bibliophile

Spoiler-Free Thoughts on “Drood” by Dan Simmons

Summary: On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens–at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world–hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.

Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?

I love Dan Simmons’ The Terror and consider it one of my favorite novels of all time so  I thought I would give this novel about Charles Dickens and the mysterious vampiric figure named Drood a stab.

To sum up my thoughts:

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Based on the summary, you would think the focal point of this novel would be Dickens and his relationship with Drood.

Well….you’d be wrong.

To start, the main character of the novel is not Charles Dickens, but rather Wilkie Collins, real-life writer, contemporary of Dickens and full-time toss-pot.

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This bitch

I love flawed characters but Collins is the most tedious narrator I have ever had to sit through. And coming from someone who used to read a lot of YA, that is saying something.

It’s not enough he’s sexist even for the time period, he’s also a baby and hypocrite with virtually no positive attributes.

Scarlett O’Hara had her indomitable spirit, Holden Caulfield his relatable loneliness. But this guy? There’s nothing worth gravitating towards. When he isn’t suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia no doubt exasperated by his rampant drug-use, he’s a boring douche-bag.

Did I mention he’s a total mama’s boy?

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As for the novel itself, it begins on a hight note when Dickens describes the train accident at Staplehurst that left dozens of people dead and Dickens alive but shaken.

The titular character of Drood, a vampiric figure with horribly mangled features and ambiguous dark powers, is brought into the picture and from there we are left to wonder who (or what) he could possibly be. Is he a vampire? Is he a human with arcane abilities? This is the perfect introduction to such a frighting figure so mired in mystery.

The problem is for a great chunk of the novel Drood is not only absent from appearance but conversation as well.

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me for half the book

The narrator abandons the hunt for Drood for long stretches at a time in favor of going through his and Dickens’ life and their respective professional careers.

While I enjoy historical fiction and learning about famous people of the past, there was at least 100 pages worth of material that should have been cut from the story.

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When the focus is on Drood and his origins, the story flourishes. When it isn’t it’s a mixed bag of mild curiosities and abject boredom.

I, personally, think the novel could have benefited from a split perspective, one following Dickens and the other Collins. That way we could have had the benefit of viewing both characters from the other’s perspective as well as thrown in a red-herring or too.

In Drood‘s defense, there is a pretty satisfying twist at the end. I had a hunch about the direction the story was going, but that didn’t stop me from being impressed by it. That being said, the drama of it was undercut by the main character’s anti-climactic response which, in turn, soured my enjoyment of it.

I guess you can’t have everything.

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I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple of weeks now because I’ve been indecisive about whether or not I like this book. While I was engrossed most of the time, there are just as many parts to this story that I don’t like.

The atmosphere is haunting and visceral as any Victorian drama should be, yet the numerous digressions and pit-stops in the plot tempted me to put it down for good.

I suppose if you twisted my arm, I would give this book at 6/10.

It wasn’t a horrible read, but I think it could have been a lot better if an editor had taken the red pen of death to it.

If you are more interested in the life of Charles Dickens (and Wilkie Collins) than the supernatural, then you will likely enjoy this book more than I did. However, if you find yourself more interested in Drood, I would suggest reading something else.

Overall I don’t regret reading Drood, nevertheless, I am hoping my next Dan Simmons book will be a bit more on-point.

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The Twilight Zone: “The Comedian” Review

Disclaimer: The following review contains spoilers. To watch the free pilot, click here

As a fan of the original Twilight Zone, I thought I would give the revival a try. I heard it would be helmed by Jordan Peele so it was in competent hands. Unlike many writers of political satire in the post-modern age, he is talented enough to take on such a project. After all,  he already has two movies under his belt, both of which have been critical and box-office hits and contain great social commentary.

The pilot for this reboot is about a failed comic, Amir, whom, after a chance encounter with a legendary comedian, is granted the ability to make people laugh. But there is a catch. Everyone he jokes about disappears.

So…what did I think?

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Okay, well, it wasn’t awful but it wasn’t good either.

To its credit, the message is very Twilight Zone-isque and the metaphor of people being “unpersoned” is effective in helping to convey it. Conceptually, it’s a thought-provoking perspective on comedy and how making oneself so available to the public takes away a person’s sense of self.

The execution, however, was a bit derivative.

For starters, the main character isn’t likable from the offset. Sure, he isn’t supposed to be funny (that’s the point), but rather than sympathize with him for his lack of talent in a craft he so clearly admires, I thought he was just a pretentious neckbeard. Not misunderstood, not flawed, but a fedora-hatted neckbeard that thinks everyone should recognize his brilliance because his comedy “means something.”

To add to the general unlikeability of this person, even after he makes his girlfriend’s nephew disappear, he doesn’t really care. It’s true that he freaks out at first, but it seems like he’s more upset that he can now break reality, rather than the fact that his girlfriend’s sister’s child is gone forever. That kid did nothing to him and he quickly shrugs it off like it never happened.

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This makes it much more difficult to feel any grief for him when he comes to his fate at the end of the episode.

Moving on, I realize that the Twilight Zone is meant to be a drama and the most important thing is that the story’s message is properly conveyed, but come on. They couldn’t have made it a little funny? This was an episode about a comedian performing at a comedy club in an episode about trying to make people laugh written by a comedy writer.  I know Amir isn’t supposed to be good initially, but hell even a broken clock works twice a day. Couldn’t the curse have made him just a bit more witty so it’s not as much of a chore to sit through?

I realize it’s a short format so there’s less time to work with, but the characters in this story suffered a noticeable lack of development, especially Amir’s girlfriend. As a result their relationship isn’t well defined, so it’s difficult to care when they end up breaking up. We learned that they were apparently on the rocks before they took a trip to Paris but we didn’t see any evidence there was anything wrong with their relationship prior to this scene. And how can an extravagant vacation cure relationship woes? Have you ever travelled to a foreign country with someone you’re at odds with? That sounds like a bleeding nightmare.

Not to mention, certain scenes with her made no sense. I initially thought it was a dream sequence when she stormed into the theatre and started shaming him in front of his audience.

“I found this book! It’s only filled with names! I don’t even know who most of these people are!”

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Okay……

…….and?

It’s a notebook not a Death Note.

It’s weird but it doesn’t warrant confronting someone in the middle of a crowded theatre  while they’re performing on stage. According to the curse’s rules, anyone he mentions will be whisked out of existence. No one else besides Amir is aware this is happening. So why such a hostile and public reaction?

Seriously, who does this?

The intended “emotional pay-off” wasn’t much of a catharsis either.

The episode tricks us into thinking he’s going to make his girlfriend go “poof” but in reality he turns his own ability inwards and unpersons himself. The reason why this doesn’t work all that well is, when you think about it, he really didn’t lose much as a result of his curse. Other people did.

His girlfriend lost her job, his girlfriend’s sister lost her child, countless other people had their sons and daughters wiped from existence. But what did he lose? A relationship. That’s it. He lost his live-in girlfriend. She didn’t die, she just left him.

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It would make sense if he showed any signs of being self-sacrificing before, but he didn’t. His ego is the size of a hot weather balloon from Day 1 and it only gets worse the more fame he achieves. So why would it make a difference to him if he had to break a few more eggs to make his fame omelette?

From a character perspective, he would have to lose a great deal more in order for him to be motivated to make that final call. Especially when taking into consideration–apart from his girlfriend working at a diner as a result of his actions– we don’t really see any truly negative consequences for him having snuffed out these people.

It would have been more effective, in my opinion, if his girlfriend actually cheated on him as he suspected she might and, in an act of self-righteousness, he unpersoned her only to regret it and effectively commit suicide to undo all the damage he had done.

Would that have been more predictable?

Maybe.

But it would have made more sense.

Overall, this was an episode with a decent premise that just flopped.

Other people seem to enjoy it, but, in my opinion, Black Mirror is a much better spiritual successor to the old Twilight Zone. It focuses more on the technological side of society, favoring the sci-fi elements over the fantastical. Nevertheless, the themes and social commentary it presents hit home much more accurately than this episode.

If nothing else, you won’t have to subscribe to yet another bs streaming site in order to watch it.

Spoiler-Free Thoughts on The Books I’ve Read In 2019 (So Far)

I made a promise to myself that I would try to read more books in 2019  since I didn’t feel as though I read that much in 2018.  Fortunately (and surprisingly) I’ve managed to keep this vow even with my turbulent schedule and lack of desire to be productive.

So here are some thoughts on the books I have managed to read thus far.

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The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz 

Summary: After working with bestselling crime writer Alan Conway for years, editor Susan Ryeland is intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries in sleepy English villages. His traditional formula has proved hugely successful, so successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job. Conway’s latest tale involves a murder at Pye Hall, with dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects. But the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

As someone who grew up on PBS British detective shows, I absolutely loved this book.

I was reluctant to read it initially because I knew it was a story within a story, nevertheless, I found both tales –the one written by Conway and by Susan–both equally captivating and I was just as eager as Susan to discover the conclusion to Pünd’s story.

It’s easy to see Horowitz has worked on many on-screen productions as the pacing is quick and engaging, leaving little room for superfluous details or fluff, but still dedicates enough time to developing characters and setting the scene.

Apart from the plot itself, what makes the story interesting is how it inwardly reflects on the genre of mystery as a whole. It asks why people are so drawn to the subject and provides interesting theories all without being overly sentimental.

It’s a quintessential love letter to Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton and many other mystery writers, all while keeping its own unique identity.

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The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

Summary: Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare. What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems. 

I’m a fan of Hitchcock films and a self-proclaimed junkie for unreliable narrators so this book was a match made in Heaven for me. Apart from being a page-turning mystery, it’s also a well-crafted character piece.

Anna is more than just an unreliable narrator. She’s a completely sympathetic person that is as much the victim of her circumstances as she is the cause of them. She’s a three-dimensional character forced into a situation beyond her control and the unravelling of her past is as tragic as it is interesting.

When I learned the author of this book was a man, I was genuinely surprised. I know from first-hand experience how difficult it can be writing for the opposite gender, but Finn does so with such skill and sincerity you completely forget the author is not a woman.

I wasn’t 100% thrilled with how it ends as it comes off as a bit too cartoonish, in my opinion. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Hitchcock-like stories you will enjoy this one.

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The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah 

Summary: For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: He will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Kristin did an excellent job of showing the brutal beauty of the Alaskan landscape as well as the complexity of human nature. At times I thought it was a little too bleak, rife with almost Jodi-Picolt-levels of drama where one implausibly awful thing is followed by another implausibly awful thing, but the constant conflict was genuinely gripping and kept me going in spite of it all.

This is just a personal hang-up that I have with the novel so take it for what you will, but I found Leni’s love interest to be a bit unconvincing as a character. It was difficult to believe that a boy that grew up in such a harsh, unforgiving climate and had so much of his life devoted to survival would give a crap about poetry. Nor does it seem that plausible that he would have that much devotion to a girl he met when he was a little kid. That could be my own cynicism talking, but I did grow up in a very small town and absolutely none of the males I encountered were anything like this.

I will say this in the novel’s favor, I genuinely didn’t know where it was going and yet I  trusted the writer to lead it to it’s rightful destination. Some suspicions I had early on were confirmed, but Hannah threw many unexpected curveballs that made it damn near impossible for me to put the book down.

I won’t say what happens as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that wants to read it, but it’s worth all the emotional torture the reader has to go through to reach the end. 

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The City of Z by David Grann

Summary: A grand mystery reaching back centuries. A sensational disappearance that made headlines around the world. A quest for truth that leads to death, madness or disappearance for those who seek to solve it. The Lost City of Z is a blockbuster adventure narrative about what lies beneath the impenetrable jungle canopy of the Amazon.

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve “the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century”: What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett & his quest for the Lost City of Z?

I’m typically not a fan of nonfiction, but I made an exception for this book since the subject was intriguing to me.

I picked up this book to learn about the City of Z, but I stayed for the man that tried to uncover its mysteries. Fawcett was a character straight out of myth, both seemingly impervious to hostile-climes and disease as well as endlessly tenacious in his willingness to see a journey through to its end. He was instrumental in increasing our understanding of the Amazon, sacrificing almost everything he had to find Z, even when many scoffed at the notion that such a place ever existed.

I admire Grann’s ability to weave such an interesting narrative all while unloading boatloads of information on the reader without making them feel as though they are trapped at a boring lecture.

The intimate details, journal entries, the attention to socio-political climates at this time really made this story come to life.

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His Bloody Project  by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Summary: A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? And will he hang for his crime?

This book is a novel disguised as a true-crime book, written by a supposed descendent of the murderer in question. It’s part “memoir” told from Roderick Macrae and part compilation of “historical documents” that describe the events leading up to and after the murders.

Roderick is an interesting character in that he’s surprisingly intelligent in spite of his limited education as well as a seemingly perplexing narrator. The story begins with him explaining his backstory, life and misfortunes and then slowly delves into the crime itself. From the tale Roderick weaves it would seem he was merely a victim of his circumstance, however, the reader will notice several inconsistencies with Roderick’s version of events and the accounts that are later brought to light at his trial. This forces readers to re-evaluate all they thought they knew.

Is Roderick a good person that was driven to murder by his hopeless situation as a tenant farmer? Is he criminally insane? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

There was a lot of research that went into the making of this book. The rural landscape and lifestyle of the average 19th century Scottish Highlander was very vividly depicted. I also appreciated the incorporation of the prevalent sociological theories that existed around that time period. Criminology was in its infancy in the 1800s and it was interesting to see how the school of thought in regards to criminals has evolved over the years.

If you’re a historical fiction lover like I am, you’ll really like this.

Adventures in Writerland: The Ugly Truth About Success in Publishing

Warning: The following contains butt-hurt and the overuse of commas. Viewer discretion is advised. 

I’m not afraid of putting my nose to the grindstone in the name of telling a good story.

I can close my door, cancel plans, wake up early, stay up late, suffer blood-letting editing session after blood-letting editing session.

I can be the Rocky Balboa of writing.

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Yet throughout this Herculean process, I’m taunted relentlessly by the possibility that all of this self-sacrifice could be in vain.

The cold reality is there are people that have been trying to publish for years and have nothing to show for it.

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When I was young and naive, I thought these people simply weren’t talented enough for their work to be in print.

They didn’t try hard enough or refused to take constructive criticism.

They were the faux-intellectuals like the ones in my creative writing classes; self-professed literary geniuses who thought they were deep because they dead-ass copied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing-style (poorly) and gave overlong descriptions about birds singing. Their inability to find an agent was a result of their own hubris and not indicative that the world of publishing is a heartless mistress.

However, I’ve learned a hard lesson watching people with actual talent trying to make it into the writing industry: Success in publishing isn’t necessarily predicated on skill.

There are just as many “bad” writers that receive attention as there are “good” ones.

50 Shades of Grey is the most sold book in history and it is literally a Twilight fanfic that was written on a Blackberry.

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Yep.

Most people know it is total garbage and have mocked it relentlessly since it first burst into popularity. But that doesn’t change the fact that E.L. James currently has more money than both you or I will make in our entire lives courtesy of this skid-mark of a novel.

So I guess she’s the one that got the last laugh.

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In a sense, this should be encouraging.

Surely that means if something as terrible as 50 Shades can find a major publisher willing to back it, your book can too.

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Then, I remember the detective novel JK Rowling wrote under the name Robert Gailbraith made paltry returns even though it was quite good, at least in my opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it became a best-seller until it was revealed who the true author was.

So what is a writer to do?

Sadly, I know the answer.

Basically, you just have to let go and accept that your magnum opus may not be that magnum to some people. That, in spite of your best efforts, it will likely disappear into the ether along with countless other works of fiction.

You may never become a millionaire and, realistically, you’ll be lucky to make a living at all…..

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Buuuuuuuut, who wants to admit that? I would much rather live in my fantasy world where I am a revered authoress who will appear onto the literary scene like an angel from on-high and spread enlightenment upon the masses.

Idealistic image of someone reading my stories:

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More realistic image of someone reading my stories:


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I suppose one can never know what lies in store for their career. They can only cling to the hope that through hard work and dedication, they will rise above the pits of mediocrity and learn to soar amongst the eagles.

In all seriousness, it boils down to whether or not you believe you have a story worth telling. If you do, then you have to tell it regardless if you will receive high-praise for it or not.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about money. It’s about creating and sharing your passions with the world.

Or something like that, I don’t know.

Thank you for reading!

Why I Won’t Watch”Bird Box” On Netflix

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR “BIRD BOX” AHEAD. 

So….it looks like Netflix has adapted Josh Malerman’s Bird Box into a movie…..

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And as you can see, I’m not excited about it.

It’s not that I think all book-to-movie adaptations are bad, in fact some of them are quite good (ex: Holes, Stand By Me, Carrie, Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, etc).

It’s just that some books are not meant to be made into a visual medium for a variety of reasons.

“Bird Box” is one such book.

What makes “Bird Box” so effective as a horror novel is that Marlerman understands people fear the most what they don’t understand. We never see what these creatures look like, nor are we ever given a conclusive explanation as to what they are.

Theories are bounced around–they are us from another dimension, they are angels, etc–but the only way to find out what they are is to look at them.

And once you gaze upon them, you don’t live to tell the tale.

Throughout the novel, the protagonists must rely on their senses (sight excluded) to avoid falling prey to these terrifying beings.

We as readers are wearing metaphorical blindfolds of our own because we only “see” what the characters do. We hear a rustling of leaves, feel a drop in temperature. But we don’t know what’s coming and that makes the experience more visceral.

So whose bright idea was it to turn this story into a movie?

If you made it an audio-drama or podcast series, that would make sense but a movie? A form of entertainment predicated on sight?!

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I also have a feeling our monsters in question will fall prey to the movie industry’s vitriolic hatred of ambiguity.

Over the past decade or so the visual arts have developed this strange fetish with over-explaining everything. Hollywood’s releasing of prequel movie after prequel movie is evidence enough of this, answering questions we didn’t want answered. Sometimes the results are good (Rogue One) but most of the time they are not (Solo).

Not to mention, in today’s climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to hammer in some “humans bad” message into the mix just for the hell of it.

Book explanation of Creatures: 

Well, they could be inter-dimensional beings that transcend our conventional understanding of the universe and our mortal brains simply can’t comprehend them, and thus fall back on a primordial instinct to self-terminate. Unfortunately, we will probably never know.

Move Explanation of Creatures (probably): 

They are creatures we created with global warming and heteronormativity and they are taking back the earth in an attempt to restore the balance we destroyed with our hubris. WHEN WILL BE LEARN?!?!

Regardless, I have zero interest in giving this flick a watch.

If the premise draws you in, I recommend reading the book instead. It’s a pretty quick read and will give you hours of enjoyment.

Unlike..this thing.

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