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 got 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!

Why I Converted From a Pantser into a Plotter

I think most people in the writing blogosphere know what a pantser and plotter are by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s a quick definition:

A “pantser” is someone who writes based on their intuition, or “flying by the seat of their pants.”

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Actual footage of me as a pantser

A “plotter,” however, well….plots.

That isn’t to say pantser doesn’t have a picture in their head of where the story is going, they just trust more in their innate ability to navigate the story.

I used to be one such person.

It was fun.

You discover this brave new world with characters and settings, world-building and plot. Every action is unpredictable, every environment as new to you as the characters. It’s basically like the universe is telling the story to you and it’s up to you to transcribe it for others to read.

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The winds pick up and the story accelerates faster and faster until you look at the clock and discover it’s nearly 11 p.m.

You reluctantly carry yourself to bed, head buzzing impatiently for the new day to begin so you can start the whole process over.

The next day comes and you sit before your desk, ready to feel the metaphorical winds in your hair yet again, but then…..

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You get stuck.

You have no idea how your MC is going to vanquish their enemy. The momentum of the story is lost. Worse than that, you know the beginning and tiny fraction of the climax but absolutely nothing in between.

You wrack your brain for a solution, but nothing comes. You doubt the validity of your own talents. Eventually, you either convince yourself the story was never worth telling in the first place, or you form the delusion you’re just “taking a break” from this story until something comes to you.

Your computer becomes a graveyard of incomplete projects.

This was my story.

It wasn’t as though I’d never tried to be a plotter. It just seemed to me as though I wasn’t cut out for it. The muse didn’t like restrictions, you know?

I didn’t need Siri to tell me to turn left at the stop sign. My heart would lead the way!

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…….Except it didn’t.

Or it only lead me to a certain point and then ditched me.

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My muse after I hit a plothole

I spent so many nights marinating on my affliction. I was a failed pantser and a failed plotter. So what was I to do?

After a long while, I found myself once again bitten by the writing bug. Yet again, I tried playing it by ear only to fall flat on my face for what felt like the 550th consecutive time.

And so I decided I would give plotting one more try……

Holy shit was that a good idea. 

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Turns out I was doing the whole thing wrong.

Rather than slowly building up to a story, planning out the characters and their arcs, I tried boiling my entire story down to a couple of sentences jotted on notebook paper. Mostly because–while I acknowledged the benefits of plotting– I simply didn’t want to do it. I was aching with anticipation to get started. I wanted to craft sentences not make a map.

Maps are boring.

Writing is fun.

What I didn’t realize is it didn’t have to be that way.

Instead of relegating my entire novel to 500 word essay, I made an outline for each. I broke them down based on what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted the characters to think and feel, and how it impacted the plot.

I was able to create cultures and histories as well as characters and plots.

I anticipated plot-holes before they happened.

I could re-work and experiment with story elements without having to completely start over from scratch because I hadn’t actually begun the writing stage yet.

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Most importantly, I saved myself weeks, months, maybe even years of turmoil trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work and I do get stuck occasionally. However, it takes a lot less time to re-write a plot-map than it does to completely restructure your story over again because you decided to go another direction.

If being a panster has been working for you and you’ve had no issue completing projects, God bless you, you beautiful freak of nature.

For the rest of you that have found yourself frustrated and directionless, I whole-heartedly recommend you give plotting a serous looking into.

It’s not nearly as boring or regimental as it sounds.

I’ve actually found it more enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants because I actually have confidence that my story is going in the direction it needs to go.

If it worked for someone like me, I’m willing to bet it will work for many of you.

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Happy Writing!

 

 

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 leave 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!

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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.

 

“Knives Out” Film Review

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Knives Out. If you have not seen this movie but hope to do so, do not continue reading. 

I’ve been on a murder-mystery kick for the last several days, so I was interested in giving Knives Out a try. The trailer gave off some serious Agatha Christie/Clue vibes and so I was instantly hooked by the premise.

In spite of my excitement, I was preparing myself for disappointment. There have been many trailers over the years that have gotten me pumped up over the years, only to disappoint me when I actually went out of my way to see them in theaters.

I’m happy to say this was not the case in this instance.

Not only did the film deliver, it exceeded my expectations.

While the premise intrigued me, I went in expecting the characters to be one-dimensional. Even murder-mystery staples like Christie can be guilty of creating characters severely underdeveloped for the sake of plot progression. However, I was quickly proven incorrect on that score as well.

While not likable, the family members are all quite believable each in their own respect. They are all greedy and self-absorbed but not to a cartoonish degree. Even when their avarice is on display it’s usually done in a subtle way.

I was especially impressed by Marta Cabrera, the heroine of the movie. Considering she is supposed to be the moral center of this film and surrounded by such awful people, they could have easily made her cloying or Disney Princess-y, but they managed to make her an exceedingly good person in a realistic manner.

Even Detective Blanc, for all his hamminess, was enjoyable and a nice change from Daniel Craig’s normal catalogue of characters. It’s great to see a movie where Craig has more than one facial expression. Turns out he has some comedy chops as well as he constantly had the theatre laughing with his languid analogies such as the donut hole. 

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His Southern-Georgian accent was…pretty terrible but it grew on me the longer I heard it. And the way he chewed the scenery like a cow chews cud brought me endless joy.

While we’re on the subject of characters, I have to say, the scene where the family members are fighting over politics is probably the most realistic depiction of a political argument in a familial setting that I’ve ever seen put to film. I was also struck by how balanced it was, portraying all members as being lunatics rather than one side being completely right or wrong. It added a layer to realism to the movie that I wasn’t expecting. While the events transpiring around them were unreal, the characters themselves were very authentic and thus made it easier for the audience to suspend disbelief.

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As for the plot, I admire it on many different levels. On one level, it clearly wanted to exude Agatha Christie vibes (as previously stated) but it quickly became its own entity. In fact, I suspect the old English murder-mystery tone was created as a way of subverting our expectations of what was to come. It certainly did mine. While I thought the idea of the grandfather’s “murder” being the result of a tragic accident rather than malicious intent was genius, the movie hadn’t even reached the halfway mark yet. If the murder had been solved, then what the hell was the rest of the movie going to be about? As it happens, the movie was in much more capable hands than I suspected.

Through the course of the story, we learn that what happened that night wasn’t nearly so cut and dry as we thought. While we knew what occurred superficially, we didn’t realize we should be looking for a why. We didn’t think to ask why Marta had mixed up the drugs. We just assumed it was an honest mistake. Happens all the time. As a result, the movie was able to play with our lack of curiosity and create an even bigger, more jaw-dropping story.

The writing for this movie is some of the smartest I’ve seen. I think Joker beats it out as my favorite movie of the year, but the amount of care that was put into this script really shows. It wasn’t just a murder-mystery epic, it was also heartbreaking at times, and funny.

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You would think, granted to severity of the character’s circumstances, the humor would be jarring. On the contrary, it’s delicately woven in and genuinely had me and many others laughing out loud.

Then there is the ending.

The ending is pure genius because it encapsulates a forgotten principle in film-making: Show don’t tell.

After the climax, Marta is left debating whether or not she should help the Thrombey family financially. Since they were each ceremoniously cut from the grandfather’s will and she was given everything, she wonders if it is morally just to honor Harlan’s wishes, or if it would be better to have pity on them.

Her decision is never spoken out loud, but the movie clearly gives us an answer to her moral dilemma. While out on the lawn, in the wake of Ransom’s arrest, the family gaze up at Marta as she stands above them (metaphorically and literally) on the balcony, nursing one of Harlan’s mugs. She wordlessly takes a sip, her hand covering the bottom of the mug’s topography. However, we can clearly see two words engraved on the front above her hand: My house.

Brilliant.

If I had to nitpick, I might argue the movie is a bit too long, but honestly I don’t care. This was an amazingly written, fun, and exciting romp to the movies and I loved it.

10/10

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Thoughts on “The Most Dangerous Animal of All” by Gary Stewart with Susan Mustafa

“My father wrapped me tightly in the dirty blue blanket and laid me there on the floor, making sure the pacifier was in my mouth so I would not cry before he was able to make his escape. He turned away, leaving me alone on the stairwell, clad only in a white towel that served as my diaper. Decades later, I would realize that the day my father abandoned me was the luckiest day of my life”

After thirty-nine years of zero contact, Gary Stewart is reached by his biological mother, hoping to form a connection. Elated, Gary accepts her offer and learns as much about his parentage as he can. However, the more he learns about his father, the more complicated things become.

Not only was his father a criminal, wife-beater, and a statutory rapist, he might have possibly been one of the more notorious serial-killers in American history: the Zodiac Killer.

The Most Dangerous Animal of All” is unlike any true-crime book I’ve ever read.

In fact, to call it a true-crime book is being overly simplistic. It’s not just a book about a murderer and his victims, it’s also about survival and the power of hope in the face of insurmountable odds.

I enjoyed the book for the same reason a lot of people didn’t. I scrolled through several one-star reviews on GoodReads, complaining this wasn’t like most true-crime books and it read too much like a novel.

I, personally, liked this stylistic choice, even if it took away some of the authenticity. Of course, as many reviewers pointed out, there is no way Stewart could know about conversations that took place decades before his birth, nor is it likely he had perfect recall of discussions he himself had with other people. But when you are dealing with a book like this, it can be necessary to take some artistic license provided you are true to the character of those involved.

There’s also the complaint that we didn’t need all this background information of the author.This gripe is honestly confusing to me. If you read the dust jacket it’s easy to see this is a personal story and would involve a lot of information about Stewart. After all, this is about his father and some background information is required for context. Not to mention, his personal story is fascinating.

Now, of course, there is the question as to whether or not Earl Van Best, Gary Stewart’s father, actually was the Zodiac killer. From the evidence he compiled to make his case, I would be very, very surprised if he wasn’t.

I don’t want to give too much away as I encourage you to read this book on your own, but I will say that the evidence Stewart presents is compelling. Many might call it circumstantial, but if he isn’t the Zodiac Killer, there is a hell of a lot of coincidences that need to be accounted for.

If you plan on reading this book, I suggest you do so on a weekend because, frankly, you’re not going to be doing much else. It hooks you in from the very beginning and won’t let you go until the end. I read the whole thing in about two days time and I imagine more ambitious readers would be able to knock it out in one.

It’s honestly difficult to say anything bad about it.

Perhaps the dialogue was a bit too stilted.

The repeating of information we already knew towards the end was a bit tiresome, nevertheless, I have few gripes with this book. I recommend it to anyone, even if you aren’t a fan of most traditional true-crime stories.

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My Thoughts on the Long Wait for “The Winds of Winter”

After the colossal wash-rag that was season 8, people are growing steadily less patient with George R.R. Martin and his slow output. 

The newest installment of  the series, The Winds of Winter, has been in the works for nearly a decade now and people are chomping at the bit for a return to normalcy. They want to go back to a time when characters’ motivations actually made sense, dialogue was well written, and events were building up to a well-deserved climax.

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Fans after season 8

It’s obvious a book series as intricate as Game of Thrones would take a significant amount of time to create. After all, it’s hard enough as a readers to keep track of all the plot threads Martin has woven over the years, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be the one weaving the tapestry.

Many have pointed this out in defenses of Martin, claiming fans are just being entitled brats, crying for their toys. Some have even gone so far as to write songs about it, notably John Anealio’s George R. R. Martin is Not Your Bitch. 

I, myself,  have experienced multiple creative dry-spells that have prevented me from writing. I currently have an unfinished fanfiction that has been languishing in limbo since 2018. In spite of my efforts to update, as many positive reviews have been requesting me to do, I have found it difficult to write something that will satisfy the modest readership I have accumulated over the years.

Martin experiences this same sort of pressure on an infinitely higher scale. Game of Thrones is a global phenomenon now. Not only is his creation loved by millions, he himself has become a household name. He’s become so well-known people dress as him for Halloween!

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Most writers salivate over the idea of achieving such a level of notoriety, but it comes at a cost.

Can you even conceive how monumental a task it must be to complete a series that has such far-reaching acclaim?

Having said all this, you might think I’m a Martin apologist who believes he should take however long he wants to create the best book he can possibly make. Considering how disastrous the final season was, the last thing readers want is a rushed product.

………..

But 8 years is too damn long, my guy.

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I sympathize with his situation.

But come on.

8 years?

8 years?!?!

It took Tolstoy 6 years to write War and Peace, a book over 1,200 pages long, and he had 10 children.

I can see a book this crucial to the series taking 3, or 4, or even 5 years to finish.

But not over 8. 

Martin isn’t writing Thrones in between 12-hour shifts at the sheet metal factory. Writing is his full-time job. He has been in this profession since forever.

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Look, in all seriousness, the root of the issue is he knows Game of Thrones is his magnum opus.

If he cannot deliver on the pay-off he has been building up to since 1996, he will never create anything this monolithic or culturally relevant ever again.

That is a terrifying prospect for anyone to comprehend.

But Martin knows the score. He’s been in the writing bizz longer than some of us have been alive.

The defenders are right, George R. R. Martin is not our bitch.

He is a full-grown man with complete autonomy and we shouldn’t expect him to perform for our amusement like a puppet on a string.

Nevertheless, he owes us the books he promised.

We are not greedy for holding him to his end of the bargain. 

Writing is a scary profession, especially when people start noticing you. While there are more people to listen and be inspired by your work, there are also more people to please. Fandoms, while often times accepting, can also be merciless in their critiques. Trying to placate such a large crowd is daunting.

But you have to write anyway.

Some people won’t be pleased with the way Martin wraps up the series. Unfortunately, that’s art. Some will like it, others won’t.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be finished.

Let’s face it, David Benioff and D.B Weiss set the bar pretty damn low.

Just about anything Martin writes has a 9/10 chance of being leaps and bounds better than that shlock of an ending the show cooked up.

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Game of Thrones: Book 1 v. Season 1

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF GAME OF THRONES AND MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE BOOKS. 

Good news! I can consider myself a good nerd now that I have finally completed the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

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That being said, I have many thoughts that I am wanting to share on the subject of both the first beloved now maligned TV series and the first book in the timeless saga written by George R. R. Martin.

In this post I won’t be going into the specifics on how the book and show differ necessarily (if you’re more interested in that, then watch this video series by The Dom). Instead, I will be discussing what I think worked best between the two in terms of story-telling.

Points to the show: 

Faces to the names 

George R. R. Martin has unquestionably made one of the most intricate fantasy worlds in existence, rivalling even the likes of J.R.R Tolkien in its density. Its packed to the hilt with lore and customs and people….

….and therein lies one of the issues in Game Of Thrones.

There are too many goddamn people. 

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I tried to read the first book before I started watching the series, but dammit if I couldn’t make it. There were just too many name to remember, too many notes that had to be taken.

It didn’t help that some of the characters had similar physical attributes, making it even more difficult keeping track of who was who.

Wait…is Jorah Mormont this old, white, bald dude, or is he that other old, white, bald dude?”

Converting the written word into a visual format allowed me to put a face to the name and has made my reading experience less confusing as a result.

Cersei

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While in some ways I appreciate the characters in the book more than in the TV show, I think Cersei proves to be an exception to this rule.

Cersei is not a POV character in the first book and so we are only able to see how she interacts with other POV characters a.ka. Sansa, Tyrion, and Ned Stark. While we do get a taste of how nasty and demented she is in the novel, we don’t see her in her more vulnerable moments like we did in the show.

There’s a scene in the first season in particular where Cersei asks Robert if there was ever a chance they could have been happy, to which Robert responds with a heartbreaking “no.”I thought this scene added more emotional depth to Cersei’s character, enabling the audience to see her as something more than just a cackling villainess.

Ned Stark 

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I love Ned Stark in both the novel and in the show. However, Sean Bean’s performance brings much more warmth to the character than existed in the book. For the life of me, I can’t recall a time where Ned laughed or cracked a smile outside of the show. I’m sure it happened, but for the most part he was ever the stoic Northerner, waiting for the next conflict to arise. In the show, there are more moments of levity and he actually lets out a chuckle or two. It makes him look more approachable and gives him sort of a Mufasa-isque quality to him.

Robb and Catelyn’s Grief

In the books, we don’t see how Robb and Catelyn react to Ned’s death immediately after they receive word of it. Instead the story flashes forward to when they arrive at Riverrun, heartbroken but not quite despondent.

In the show, however, there’s a truly  tear-jerking moment where they show Robb futilely hacking away at a tree with his sword and Catelyn going over to console him, promising they will have their revenge on the Lannisters.

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It’s a really sad scene and it shows how deeply Ned’s loss has effected them.

The Music 

This one might be considered unfair because a book can’t have audible music, but it is definitely a point in the show’s favor. The composer, Ramin Djawadi, does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere with his music. I have yet to hear a soundtrack that packs such an emotional wallop. Death scenes, action scenes, emotional scenes. He can do them all.

Those cellos have me swooning every time.

Here’s a free video on Youtube that contains some of the songs from the show. I recommend you check them out here or on Spotify.

Points to the book: 

More Lore 

One of the most obvious draw-backs of visual media is time. With each episode needing to be about 45 minutes or shorter, there isn’t nearly as much freedom to explore the world. I think the show did a pretty decent job cluing in the audience as to how Westerosi society operates, nevertheless, it was always going to be at a disadvantage compared to the book.

Point of View

There are very talented actors attached to Game of Thrones, but there is no substitute for being able to crawl into a characters mind and read their thoughts. The experience of reading is just far more intimate.

In the book, we see so much more about the world and we get small but satisfying tidbits about character’s pasts that make them all the more real. I think some of my favorite inclusions are Catelyn Stark’s ruminations on growing up in Riverrun. They were touching and added more dimension to her character, really driving home how out of control everything has gotten since her youth.

She is an outsider taken to a land much colder and harder than her childhood home. Their climate is different, their customs are different, even their gods are different. Nevertheless, she finds herself having to fight for this alien culture that she has never truly understood.

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More Fantasy

The book is pretty gritty in comparison to the traditional fantasy novel, but there is more of a nihilistic atmosphere to the show than in the book. I think this makes it more palatable for the casual viewer as fantasy tends to be an acquired taste, but I personally like the more fantastical environment the book creates.

Dany’s and Bran’s dreams in particular add a level of sinisterness and foreboding that don’t land quite as successfully in the show. We are shown the dream of Dany walking to the now destroyed remnants of King’s Landing, but there are other seriously messed up things she sees in the book. As for Bran, he has a dream towards the middle of the novel wherein  he has to learn to fly while an endless pile of bones looms below him.

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I can also appreciate the characters aren’t constantly saying “fuck” in the book. It’s not that I have a problem with the word, it just takes me out of the moment. I’m pretty sure “fuck” wasn’t a word in medieval times so when it’s used with reckless abandon in the show, it’s a bit distracting.

Aging down of characters

This might be considered a weird point in the book’s favor, but hear me out. The fact that all the kids are so much younger in the book makes the events that follow all the more tragic.

Can you imagine not even being in your teens and having all your family members murdered? Or, like in Robb’s case, having to take over for you Lord Father after he is held hostage and having thousands of people depending on you to be their leader?

To me, the aging down of the characters drives home the underlying premise of the novel: When we seek to destroy each other, we are also destroying our future a.k.a our children.

Conclusion:

So which do I think is better: the book or the TV show?

I think I’m going to give a cop-out answer and say I don’t know.

There are things I believe the TV show did better and things I believe the book did more effectively. Most of the shortcomings of either are due to their respective mediums and not necessarily a result of incompetence on either side…..

That won’t come until much later.

Normally, I can’t read the book after seeing a film or watching a TV show based on it, however, I don’t believe my having seen the show beforehand hampered my ability to enjoy the book series. In fact, the opposite is true.

So if you haven’t read the books but have seen the TV series, I recommend giving the books a read anyway. There are very well written and will hold your interest regardless if you know what will happen later on.

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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BookTube: Lost in Adaptation

I’ve noticed a worrying trend on this blog where I tend to fixate more on things that annoy or disappoint me rather than things I actually enjoy.

Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to put a finger on what I dislike than it is to articulate what brings me happiness.

Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeonly old woman trapped in the body of a twenty-something.

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Whatever the reason, I decided to give you a reprieve from my endless whinging by talking about a topic I actually enjoy: Lost in Adaptation.

Lost in Adaptation is a bookish Youtube show hosted by Dominic Noble (or The Dom) in which he compares movies to the books they are based on.

I know there are other channels on Youtube similar in concept, nevertheless, I find Lost in Adaptation to be superior for many reasons.

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Each show is meticulously researched not only in regards to the books and movies he is comparing, but also in regards to the authors of the books and the production behind the movies, providing context whenever necessary. I’m a sucker for video essays and the wealth of information he supplies in each episode is fascinating. 

It’s not just a bunch of nonsensical ranting either, each episode is coherent and divided neatly into the categories “What they didn’t change” “What they changed” and “What they left out all together.”

Lost in Adaptation is ridiculously palatable. Even people who don’t enjoy reading can get something out of listening to how different forms of media can either coalesce to form the same message, or create a completely different entity.

The Dom isn’t married to any one genre, nor is he a stickler for what qualifies as a “book.” He has made episodes on a wide variety of genres ranging from drama, to science fiction, to YA and even a graphic novel or two like the Scott Pilgrim series.

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I also appreciate the fact that these aren’t just videos of a guy sitting on a couch and complaining about movies. He actually does his best to make each episode visually interesting even when the movie clips aren’t rolling. His use of a green screen (although a bit clunky in his first attempts) has evolved tremendously over the last several years and adds a lot to his reviewing style….

And he’s English!

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I enjoy all his work, however, my personal favorite has to be his “A Dom of Ice and Fire” series where he talks about Game of Thrones and how it relates to the books, all whilst dressed as a Stark.

If you’re interested in becoming a beautiful watcher here are a few more of his videos I personally recommend and have unashamedly watched multiple times:

The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Bladerunner/ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf  (yeah, that was a novel apparently. Who knew.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Dagon by H.P Lovecraft 

The Witches by Roald Dahl 

I’ve only listed a few here, but there are so many more and they are all so good.

What are you still doing here?

Go! 

Go, I say, and watch for yourselves!

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