Friday, February 26, 2016

Best Books for Mud Slushy Season

This is my "Shit, the book I wanted to review is boring as hell and I can't get past the first fifty pages, what do I do what do I do what do I doooooooo?" blog post.

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I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm in Minnesota for school (Twin Cities area, specifically), and this is the time of year where it starts to get real gross out there.

See, when it rains in the summer, then it's just wet, but still warm enough (sometimes downright humid) to wear a short-sleeved shirt (though I usually go long-sleeved because I don't like that yucky feeling of rain water splashing on my skin). Quick note: this is actually my favorite kind of weather, because usually the sun's still shining, and the falling rain turns everything gold, and it's absolutely gorgeous. Grab some boots and an umbrella, and it's perfect walking weather.

In the winter, rain is snow, which equals snowball fights and awesomeness. And yeah, there's shoveling, but you don't have to go to the gym on shovel days! (Plus, I rent, so I don't even have to shovel, suckers!)

But this time of year, in that weird interval between winter and spring, when it rains, it's just gross. It's just cold enough that there's still snow on the ground, but it's mostly this mud-slushy that's 30-90% melted, depending on the temperature. And it's gray and chilly and gross and you just want to curl up in bed and sleep for the rest of the day.

In other words, late February/early March is perfect reading weather!

It's also perfect Netflix weather, but despite all the shows and movies I've reviewed, this is technically supposed to be a readers' blog, so this is a list of books, not shows. (Actually, I lied; I'm trying to be a writer, so this is the early stages of a writer's blog, but until I get more than just a few short stories out there, you get to read about other people's stuff.)

So in honor of Mud Slushy Season, here are my top seven personal favorite books/series. Enjoy!



7: Spock's World

by Diane Duane





This is from the original Star Trek series, taking place after the episode "Amok Time" (when Spock goes into pon farr). Vulcan considers seceding from the Federation and runs a planet-wide debate on the issue. It's all Vulcany political intrigue and a bit of corruption (which McCoy, in all of his awesomeness, is the one to figure out), but you also get flashbacks through the planet's history: from the first Vulcans who created language, through the super violent fun times, to Surak, to Spock's birth.



6: The House of the Scorpion

by Nancy Farmer





I read this one in middle school (so, a gazillion years ago) and it's still stuck with me. It's one of the most unique, most thought-provoking science fiction books I've ever read.

It's about a young boy who's the genetic clone of a drug lord. :)



5: The Other Boleyn Girl

by Philippa Gregory





I know, I know, this is not fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. However, it is an absolutely amazing historical fiction (that Hollywood butchered in movie format; don't ever see the movie, it sucks).

Everyone knows King Henry VIII had six wives, and that his second wife was Anne Boleyn, who's the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. The Other Boleyn Girl is the story of Anne's rise and fall from power told from the point of view of her sister, Mary, who was Henry's mistress before he turned to Anne (and had two kids by him).

It's as historically accurate as you can get, but at the same time Philippa Gregory makes some really unusual and frankly chilling educated guesses to fill in the blanks. Plus, I love any story that involves King Henry VIII. I hate his guts, but I love his story.


4: Fullmetal Alchemist

by Hiromu Arakawa





This one's a manga, and you can read the English version for free here.

This is a...I don't even know how to describe it. It's based on a world that's run on alchemy instead of science. So I guess science fantasy?

Two brothers, both alchemical geniuses, are trying to find the Philosopher's Stone, because they did a huge no-no that backfired big time (they tried to raise their mother from the dead), so Edward lost his arm and his leg (and has automail instead, which is this world's version of prosthetic limbs) while Alphone's soul is encased in a suit of armor. They hope the Stone will return their bodies to normal and they can go back to their lives. At the same time, the government is corrupt to the core, a religious fanatic is out killing all of the alchemists, and fake humans are trying to destroy the world.

Normally, I don't read manga because it is notoriously sexist and objectifying for women. But even though this story focuses mostly on the men (er, boys; it's YA), it has some very strong, very cool women characters: the brothers' teacher, a sharp-shooter lieutenant, and there's a general who comes in near the end of the series who's a total badass.

This got two anime shows. The first one started while the manga was still in progress, so it diverges about halfway through and has a completely different ending, and a movie. Still pretty good, though. The second anime--Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood--follows the manga verbatim with very few exceptions. That one's better.



3: Harry Potter

by J. K. Rowling



He was so cute! :D


Still cute. :)


You cannot have a list of book favorites without putting this on there. You just can't.



2: Percy Jackson Series/Heroes of Olympus Series

by Rick Riordan







Technically these are two different series, but they're all in the same world with the same characters, so I'm throwing them in as one.

Greek gods are real, and they're still having demigod kids. Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon (god of the sea) and has to go on a quest to save the world about a hundred times. In Heroes of Olympus, we find out that the Greek gods all basically have multiple personality disorder, and there's a camp of Roman demigods on the other side of the country. So Greeks and Romans team up and save the world again.

This series is great because it's hilarious while also focusing on the incredibly important issues of family and ethics, but not in the corny way that happens in most YA series. The bad guy in the Percy Jackson Series is...well, not totally justified, but you can see exactly why he's doing what he's doing and it's impossible not to empathize with him.

There's also a lot of strong women (Annabeth, daughter of Athena, is amazing) and the romantic subplot doesn't come up until book 4, and then it's hilarious because Percy is so clueless. (The romance comes on a bit thick in Heroes of Olympus. There are seven main characters and they're all in a relationship, which is a bit ridiculous. The one single major character we get in the last book doesn't get nearly as much screen time, and she spends a scene or two all mopey because she's told by Aphrodite/Venus that she'll never be in a relationship with another demigod. But on the other hand, one of the characters is gay and the almost-relationship he has with another guy is SOOOOO CUTE, because he...well, I can't tell you. This is not a spoilers post.)

And, just like The Other Boleyn Girl, do not watch the movie. It sucks. (Well, actually, the first one was ok, but the second one was terrible with only one redeeming quality: the character Tyson, who does not get nearly enough screen time.)


1: A Song of Ice and Fire Series (re: Game of Thrones)

by George R. R. Martin





I pretty much already covered this in a previous post, so I'll just direct you there. Suffice it to say, George R. R. Martin is my personal god.



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Thanks for reading! :)

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Movie! "The Witch"

Uh...I'm still trying to decide whether this was a good movie or a bad movie. It was definitely a weird movie.



It certainly had some scares (there was one scene at the end that was absolutely terrifying), but otherwise wasn't even really that scary. The best word to describe it is weird. I can't say that it was like X or that it's similar to Y. It's is own thing entirely, and I think it's an acquired taste.

It does get brownie points for historical accuracy. Some of the dialogue was taken straight from primary sources of the era, and it was spot-on. How the women were treated, the religious beliefs (both for the Calvinist Puritans as well as what witches were believed to do), the non-witch related concerns and problems, everything. As a history student, I am thoroughly impressed by the setup. These guys did their research.

Before I get into spoilers, let me say this: The Witch is rated R. R means violence and nudity and (in a good movie) complexity. R means do not take your kids to see this. I shouldn't even have to say that. I certainly shouldn't have had to sit behind two rows of children--ages 5 (5!) through 12--when watching this movie. DO NOT TAKE YOUR KIDS TO SEE THIS.

Ok? Ok, good.


Spoilers!


A family gets banished from the Puritan community because they're more Calviny than the Calvinists, or something. They don't really explain it. But anyway, they get the boot and set up shop on the edge of a forest, a day away from civilization by horse, several days away by foot.

Fast forward a year. The farm's been set up. The mom, Catherine, has given birth to Samuel. Everyone's worried about their souls (especially the eldest daughter Thomasin, who's been dragging her feet with her chores, getting snappy with her siblings, touching herself...in other words, she's a teenaged girl).

And then Samuel disappears.

The family thinks it was a wolf. But we see the witch turn the baby into a Samuel slushy sunscreen and go flying out on a broomstick.

Tensions in the family are a bit strained. The twins--who are about seven or eight years old--start shirking Thomasin's authority. The girl, Mercy, even goes so far as to play at being "the witch of the wood." So Thomasin tries scaring them into submission by claiming that she's the witch.

I don't see anything going wrong with that.

The farm's suffering: food's rotting, the goats are giving blood instead of milk, all the classic witch curses.

Then Caleb (the eldest son, about twelve or thirteen) and Thomasin go into the woods to collect food without telling their parents (classic horror movie mistake #1) and get separated (CHMM #2). Thomasin manages to make her way back, but Caleb gets seduced by the witch and soon dies of the curse.

The twins accuse Thomasin of being a witch, she accuses them of talking to the devil--which she says is in the form of the family's black ram--and the father decides enough is enough and closes them all up in the barn with the animals.

The witch comes back and gives Catherine a vision of her dead sons. She goes to breastfeed Samuel, but it turns out to be a raven (no no no no NO, you can see the blood from her nipple on her shirt in the next scene, NOOO). The witch then breaks into the barn for the twins.

William comes outside the next morning to find the barn busted open, the goats killed, the twins gone, and Thomasin just waking up. Before he can do anything, the black ram goes nuts and kills him. Catherine goes nuts and tries to kill Thomasin, who kills her in the self-defense. Then Thomasin goes inside and takes a nap.

So, Thomasin is days away from civilization. She's alone on a farm with a bunch of corpses and dying crops. On the off chance that she does make it back to town in one piece, she'll probably be blamed and accused of being the witch. What's a girl to do?

Make a deal with the devil, of course.

Turns out, the family ram actually is the Devil, and can talk. (Remember how I said one scene was absolutely terrifying? This is that scene. When he started talking I thought I was going to wet my pants.) Thomasin signs her soul over to Satan and goes into the forest, where about half a dozen other witches greet her with open arms.

The end!

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So...I guess the moral of the story is, "Don't accuse your daughter of witchcraft because there's actually a whole coven of witches in your back yard, and if you keep pushing, your kid will join them."

That's actually pretty legit. This article compared the moral to ISIS (the real witch(es)) and young American Muslims they try to recruit (Thomasin).

So yeah. That was my Friday night. How was yours? :P

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Thanks for reading!

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns and you don't want to write them in the handy little comment box below, please contact me.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Starfleet Miniskirts: Really?

I was watching Star Trek (2009) and Into Darkness this week and...okay, no. I lied. I've been reading copious amounts of Star Trek fanfiction because I can't seem to focus on anything else for the past two weeks. Which is horrible timing because spring semester just started. Though I will say I learn more about biology in Star Trek books--actual books, not fanfic--than I do in my intro-level bio class. Too bad it doesn't count as a "credible source."

Anyway, a few times the authors mentioned the women's "sexy miniskirts" or "optional miniskirt uniform" or "tight red dress," and I thought back to the movies and the show and realized that they are wearing miniskirts. In the military. At work. 300 years into the future.

Really?

(Yes, yes, I know; Starfleet isn't actually a military despite the guns and wars and ranks. But they are a government program with a ranking system based on the US Navy, and its people spend an awful lot of time traipsing through strange wildernesses and fighting hostile aliens. Have you ever done any of that in a skirt? Not fun. Not fun at all.)

I can understand the show having the skirts. It premiered in the 1960s, just when women empowerment and second-wave feminism were starting. And I give full props to the writers for having so many women characters, the first interracial kiss, and all the other progressive values and philosophies that we all love in a time period where that kind of thing could've easily gotten them fired or worse. So I'm not going to go nuts over the costume designs of a brilliant TV series from fifty years ago, even if they are a bit objectifying.

It is now the 21st century, people.

Starfleet is supposed to be peaceful, quasi-military, right? Well, here's a modern-day women's uniform worn by officers in the navy:




Here is the Starfleet uniform for men. Note the lack of objectifying the body, because these are work uniforms.


And now, Starfleet standard issue uniform for women, both in the original show (top) and from Into Darkness (bottom):

 

I don't know about the rest of you girls, but I would freeze my ass off in this. And running away from aliens and monsters and all around the ship? Forget it. So I'd petition for long pants for the winter and shorts for the summer, which the guys should have, too. We don't want anyone getting heatstroke here.

Now, in researching this blog post, I did see a lot of exceptions. Whenever a captain or other high-ranked woman appeared on the original series, they were in pants, not a miniskirt with knee-high boots. New Generation had women who didn't wear miniskirts either.

I had to wade through a lot of little tight dresses and questionable Halloween costumes to find this, so I hope you're happy.

Which means we went from having some women in miniskirts and some women in pants in the 1960s, to most women wearing realistic quasi-military uniforms in the 1980s, to all miniskirts all the time in the Alternate Original Series in 2009, with a few exceptions from Uhura and one scene from Carol--after being shown in a bra and panties--that put them out of uniform.

The miniskirts look great and are sexy, yes. But female officers do not get their position by looking great and being sexy. They get it the same way Kirk and Spock and McCoy and all the others did: hard work, talent and skill, and an unhealthy dose of stubbornness. They do not deserve to be objectified by skin-tight dresses.

There is no way in hell that miniskirts would be the standard issue quasi-military uniform in a society as progressive as the Federation. When Star Trek Beyond comes out in July, I really friggin' hope that we see some more realistic uniforms. It's probably not going to happen, but I still hope.


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Thanks for reading!

Know an interesting book, TV show, or movie? Any questions or concerns? Then leave a comment in the handy little comment box down below or contact me.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Movie! "Deadpool"

This one's a step below Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the DZA Review Scale. It lost points for the stupid damsel in distress cliché that plagues the majority of superhero movies, but was otherwise absolutely incredible.



My normal format for reviewing a movie or a book is a general, spoiler-free review for the first half, then a spoiler-packed snarky blow-by-blow of the whole thing, complete with sarcasm and mockery.

But Deadpool already did that for me. Seriously, it is hilarious in part because it pokes so much fun at itself. There's nothing for me to add!

So instead, we'll stick to controversy. The R-rating.

Several people were relieved when we found out that Deadpool would be rated R. Some people, not so much. They want their kids to see it.

Obviously, those people never read the Deadpool comics. It's not exactly a kid-friendly read. So why should the movie cater to kids?

Now that I think about it, all superhero movies should be rated R, for the following reasons:

1: It makes them so much fun. (What can I say? I like swearing like a sailor.)

2: It's more realistic. You're telling me that when Captain America is shooting up the bad guys or Thor's swinging around his hammer, there's no exploding heads? No blood spray? All those bodies on the ground at the end of every fight scene, no puddles of blood or people shitting themselves?

No swearing?

In their off-time, you're telling me their adrenaline isn't pounding through their veins from almost dying so many times that they don't grab their girlfriends (or, for the bachelors, any woman giving them a green light) for a sex marathon?

Superhero movies are all about fighting crime and war. Fighting crime and war are bloody, violent pursuits. They are dark, nasty shit. Deadpool reflects that.

Frankly, I don't like the idea of any kid being told that the best solution to every problem is to take a hammer/gun/fist/shield to it, and that you'll face little to no consequences for your violent actions. Nay, you'll be praised as a hero.

People are asking why today's society is so violent? Start with the messages you're sending your kids. This is a big one: "Violence is okay so long as you're right and they're 'bad' or 'wrong.'"

Give us more Batman. He at least tries talking his way out of problems first, and has a no-kill policy to boot.

Better yet: Avatar the Last Airbender. That show was fantastic, with plenty of action to keep the kids engaged while sending a positive message. They should make a movie out of it that doesn't suck balls.

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Wow, I did not expect to spiral into a whole moral lecture when I started this post. Didn't realize that needed to get out.

Anyway, thanks for reading. :)

Any questions, concerns, comments, or suggestions (I'm always down to hear about a good show,  movie, book, etc.) please contact me.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"Lucifer" Review

I put this on great on the DZA Review Scale. Certainly better than The Shannara Chronicles.


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Some people are a tad upset about anything that portrays Satan in a good light.

I am not one of those people, mostly because I'm a Nichiren Buddhist. But even if I was Christian, I think I'd much rather hang out with Lucifer than Jesus...actually Jesus was pretty cool, too. Can't all three of us go to Starbucks and lament about the Kardashians?

Anyway, normally I don't like shows on Fox outside of The Simpsons (and even that show's getting stale these days), but so far Lucifer has not disappointed.

Basically, the Devil decides to quit Hell and open a bar in Los Angeles.

And God and the angels don't like that because now nobody is punishing the damned souls. The angels are getting really pissed because now Lucifer is acting like a good guy (no matter how much he denies it). Which I find completely fascinating, because God is all about forgiveness and turning a new leaf...unless you're immortal, then you're never allowed to change. (And that makes what kind of sense?)

The best part is it's a crime-fighting show! You know how sometimes you'll see two characters (whether from the same show or different shows) and think, "You know, I'd really like these two to have their own spin-off where they drive around the country solving mysteries." (If none of you do that and it's just me, you should start, because it leads to some interesting conversation.) That's what this is!

Lucifer's "partner" is Detective Chloe Decker, who's not nearly as interesting on her own, but because she's the polar opposite of Lucifer (and for whatever reason, none of his charms/magic works on her) they're so much fun together. And it's nice seeing a main woman character who can actually hold her own and doesn't need rescuing every episode; so far that's only happened in the pilot and she did get shot, so...

And yes, it's slightly formulated. Like the majority of cop shows, we open with a crime (a murder, because Chloe's a homicide detective), there's investigation riddled with personal subplots (I imagine we'll be seeing a romantic relationship crop up between Lucifer and Chloe), and the killer turns out to be one of the people we met earlier in the episode but didn't look twice at because they weren't a prominent suspect. Anyone who says they're going to turn their life around are immediately going to die/be framed for murder, Chloe has an ex-husband who's also on the force causing a bit of unnecessary drama...but other than that, it's great.

I just love Lucifer's character so much. That anti-hero who's a smartass, charming, a bit immature, and no matter how much they deny it they're actually a good person.

Now I just want to see Chloe's reaction when she realizes that Lucifer has not been making shit up and that he is, in fact, the Devil. That's gonna be good.

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Thanks for reading! :)

If you know a good movie, show, or book, or have any questions or concerns, please contact me. Don't be shy! I don't bite (well, not usually).

Friday, February 5, 2016

Zombies vs. Unicorns

On the DZA Scale I put this anthology squarely on fantastic.



Get it cheap on Amazon here!

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This was the best. Anthology. Ever.

Basically, Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier have been arguing for years over which creature is the best: unicorns or zombies? As a literary figure, a metaphor, a representation of humanity, as a creature overall, etc. So they recruited a bunch of authors, formed two teams (Team Unicorn and Team Zombie, respectively) and had them write one story with the featured creature. Threw 'em all together, wrapped it in a bow, and put it in bookstores. And it was glorious.

The last time I reviewed an anthology, way back when I first started this blog in September (jeez, it's only been half a year? Feels like it's been a decade.) I was upset because while all the stories were great with intriguing characters and fantastic worlds, there was no LGBT representation and women were either shoved against the sidelines or struggling against a patriarchal society.

Not here. One story features a lesbian relationship, another has a gay or bi character (both of them are zombie stories, interesting enough). Almost all the women are badass. I guess it's hard to get worked up over sexist beliefs when you're living in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, or when you're dealing with pissed-off unicorns that don't mind impaling you with their lavender-scented horns.

I'm not going to say which team claims victory. To be honest, I think it's impossible. Unicorns and zombies represent completely different things, have completely different histories, and are placed in completely different worlds.

I may be more partial to unicorns, simply because I'm an optimist and a bit of an idealist and like to think that humans are generally good.

On the other hand, I loooove me some zombie horror and post-apocalyptic stories.

However, I can say hands-down which was my favorite story out of this anthology, and it's "The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" by Diana Peterfreund. I loved her unicorns (which were carnivorous, poisonous predators who liked to eat humans; and who can blame them? We're so delicious) and the take on religion and ethics. It's the classic "a monster isn't born, it's made" argument.

I don't care who "wins", zombies or unicorns. This was just an awesome book!

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Contributing authors of Zombies vs. Unicorns, with links to their websites.

Team Zombie:
Editor: Justine Larbalestier
Libba Bray
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Cassandra Clare
Maureen Johnson
Scott Westerfeld
Carrie Ryan


Team Unicorn:
Editor: Holly Black
Kathleen Duey
Meg Cabot
Garth Nix
Margo Lanagan
Naomi Novik
Diana Peterfreund

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Get Zombies vs. Unicorns here.
Thanks for reading! :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Inflict Dark Short Stories on Innocent People (And Regret Nothing)

Mini-post! :D

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My New Year's Resolution this year was to have 5 short stories published in 2016.

I'm pleased to announce that I am already 3/5 there! Today my short story "The Last Meal" was published in Quantum Fairy Tales. It's loosely based off of the classic "Rapunzel" fairy tale, except darker. And revengier (that's a word I just made up because I can).


Another short story, an original piece titled "The Second Battle," will be published in the May 2016 issue of Luna Station Quarterly, a magazine that specializes in new women authors.


The super patient, awesome editors at The Horror Zine ("zine" pronounced like the end of magazine) have been helping me with another short story called "Beauty the Beast Hunter" (I wanted a more BAMF version of Belle, so I made Isabelle, or Izzy). "Beauty the Beast Hunter" comes out in the Summer 2016 issue!



Yay! :D

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Any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions (i.e. you know a darn good book/movie/TV show that I should review), please contact me. Thank you!