Beach Reads: Essential for the Inessential Downtime

So, I don’t know about your specific situation, but here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I have been trapped in the apartment as an inessential person (still able to work from home, just only able to hold virtual meetings with people other than my husband and two sons). And for me, nothing feels more essential at this time than a beach read.

A well-done beach read is like a warm cup of soup. It provides an easy escape into a world where things can actually work out, leaving you with a smile on your face and warm, fuzzy good feelings that seeps into your bones. A poorly done beach read is infuriating.

This bitch just read a poorly written beach read.

Recently, I had the experience of reading a great beach read, and a not-so-great beach read. And yes, the latter did infuriate me. These novels were, respectively, Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center and Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie. [Full disclosure: I received both of these novels as Advanced Reader Copies. Fuller disclosure: I am a blunt bitch, and while I may not have paid for these novels, that in no way effects my opinion of them. Fullest disclosure: I’m not currently hungry, but am still craving sugar, and may take a break in writing this blog post for chocolate. I realize this last note is in no way related to the content of this blog post, but am just trying to be completely honest and transparent.]

You know me – transparent as a ghost. Or a brick wall. One of those things. Oh, also – I definitely took a break for chocolate. #chocolate

Let’s talk about the good first:

Protagonist Cassie Hanwell is a great firefighter. She kind of fell into a great job with the Austin Fire Department, and the novel opens as she eats dinner with her co-workers before receiving a prestigious award. Cassie keeps to herself, a lot, but she is self-sufficient and doesn’t need other people. Until she accidentally gives this terrible guy some comeuppance, and finds herself driving to the East Coast to live with the mother who she’s barely spoken to in years, en route to a transfer to a new fire station that is markedly less modern than the Austin FD, trying to cobble a new life together for herself while also helping her mother (who is suffering vision loss) while making sure not to become ensnared, because she doesn’t want to be fooled twice!

She’s a firefighter, not a fool!

This plot is full of dramatic tension and literal life-and-death stakes. Yet, instead of being overwrought or ridiculous, this novel remains interesting and difficult to put down. Writing a novel – any novel – is an accomplishment, but Center takes this accomplishment a step further. Her work has wrought that rare book that breathes life into characters, making words into people that you care about, because they are realistic. And not only does it include realistic characters (which you know I’m a sucker for), but it also does so in a way that is heartwarming, that leaves you closing the book with a lighter heart. In this political climate, where I have been stuck in the apartment with my family for an entire month (I love them, but it is not a very big apartment, and it is a lot), to read a book that makes me feel hope is nigh on amazing. Yet this book managed to do so, and I am immensely grateful to Katherine Center for penning it.

Thank you, Ms. Center! #lighthearted

Ok, on to the “beach read” that’s more of a “don’t read:”

This novel is supposed to be a juicy behind-the-scenes look at crazy Hollywood, except that there is nothing surprising in it. We know that producers in Hollywood are full of shit; the only one who seems surprised by it is the protagonist of this novel, Agnes Nash. So, like, bitch isn’t going to give you a very good behind-the-scenes look. I think we’re supposed to feel bad for Agnes – but it’s totally obvious that her marriage is a sham, and even if her husband doesn’t want to drop her like two hot rocks, he’s absolutely awful, so it’s hard to feel bad for her when the only conceivable reason she’s still with the man is money. Like, just get a divorce, and make sure he pays you alimony. Or at least child support.

Seriously, impossible to feel empathy for this chick – Agnes will make your head hurt.

In fact, Agnes judges those around her all the time. We’re supposed to think she’s so witty and fun; she really just comes across as oblivious and awful. The only people she shows respect or allows might not be, like, totally clueless, are rich, presumably white, men. I had absolutely no interest in seeing things go right for Agnes. Bitch is white, obviously fairly good-looking, and only values the opinions of rich men while somehow convincing herself she’s principled and superior to those around her. She also, in her quest for hypocrisy, proves to be either excessively idiotic or naive to an unimaginable degree. Snitches get stitches, and the naive can leave, Agnes. Except she doesn’t need to leave. Because she’s white, heterosexual, and stupid/naive, you know Agnes will somehow end up on top. So I guess read this one if you want to be reminded that life isn’t fair, and if your life isn’t going great, it’s probably because you’re just not pretty enough? That’s usually the opposite of how I want to feel when I read a beach read, but, you know – to each his/her own.

What about you – any beach reads to recommend? Or any that absolutely infuriated you that you would like to rant about?

This Puzzle is Freaking Me Out #WFH

Yesterday:

So I was hoping one of the neighbor’s kids was screwing with me, because I was intermittently hearing this weird meowing sound. And, like, we don’t have a cat.

But then I realized, it was likely one of the baby’s puzzles. You know those magnetic ones, where it makes animal noises if you line up the puzzle piece the right way? We have one of those with farm animals, including a cat.

So I got up from my computer to look for it. And he must have, like, shoved it under the entertainment center or somewhere weird, because I could not find it.

And of course, my husband and kids were out of the apartment on a walk. So I had to go back to my computer and just sit in front of it, trying to work, only somewhat succeeding, and hearing random meows. And then moos (which at least confirmed it was definitely the baby puzzle).

The weirdest part? The cat sound hasn’t been working, even when my son does line up the puzzle piece the right way. I thought it was broken.

Apparently, it was just biding its’ time…

Plague-Induced Publishing Controversy

I saw that the Authors’ Guild and Association of American Publishers are pretty pissed about the “National Emergency Library” recently released by Internet Archives, and had to click that bait. I mean, the Authors’ Guild and AAP are presumably not angry that people might be reading, right? So from whence does this anger arise? Turns out, they just want authors to, like, be compensated fairly and be able to eat and shit.

So what is the Internet Archive, and what’s the big deal? The Internet Archive is a project whereby media, including books, are scanned into this large database that is made freely available to the public. Since IA defines itself as a “library,” it stresses books the most. And that sounds great, right? Making literature and other stuff widely available to everyone with access to the internet? The problem is that a lot of the books available in this library are not yet public domain, and the IA obtains it’s digital copies via upload from literally anyone. So instead of a regular library, which still supports authors and publishers by ordering physical books, audiobooks, and digital rights, the IA is just sharing whatever anyone has uploaded without appropriately paying the creators and companies that helped these books to exist in the world.

This is from the IA “About” page.

I did a lazy, cursory search, and found I can borrow a Harry Potter book by simply signing up for a free account. I know Rowling does not need the money, but what about the average author? I was curious – I mean, maybe the Authors’ Guild and AAP are just being drama queens, right? (Don’t give me that look; we all do it.) So I did some research, and the average author makes $4,500 on a traditionally published book:

This infograph I whipped together assumes that the book is hardcover (royalty percentages are lower, on average, for paperback sales), and that the author was not paid an advance (since publishers need to fully recoup the advance amount before the author will see a dime of royalties post-publication). So, on average, an author makes the equivalent of about 4 months of minimum wage for 1 book. Considering the time that is poured into creating, editing, selling, and polishing a novel, that author has probably invested more than 16 weeks into the novel.

Now, most authors are not planning to get rich off of their novels. Only the very lucky get to just write novels for a living. (I guess this applies to non-fiction authors, as well; I don’t know, I rarely read non-fiction, because why wallow in reality more than you fucking have to…) So most authors are supplementing, not living entirely off of the royalty income from their books. But most authors are also already making less than minimum wage – is it really fair to rip a hole in their pockets, and follow behind to pick up the change that falls therefrom?

Schmorona-virus

Hello, and welcome to my random blog about coronavirus, which roughly translates to “crown poison” (story prompt, anyone…?). If you’re not reading this from the comfort of home, you’re an asshole, and if you’re sick of your home, that sucks, because you’re stuck there for awhile.

I, myself, have been navigating the tricky waters of working from home while trying to prevent my older son’s brain from rotting. His school has provided resources on-line, including something called Lexia Core5, which is designed to help the kids learn to read and gain literacy skills. But secretly, Lexia appears to just be another roadblock on the road of learning, and, like, not allowing large companies to obtain and retain monopolies. For those who, like me, purchased Galaxy tablets for their kid to use instead of an overpriced tablet named after a fruit, you are out of luck if your kid is supposed to use Lexia Core 5, since the Company has released an updated version of the app in 2019 that is only available for iPads. So nice of this educational cog to try to force schools and parents to keep Apple in business even though the company has a history of purposefully slowing down its speed to try to get people to buy the latest version, as well as current lawsuits about artificially keeping the resale market high. Lexia, as a company, I now strongly disapprove of you and hope you, your developers, and especially your CEO eat a big bag of sweaty ol’ balls, because you suck so hard if you had a single penis or related paraphernalia in your mouth, you would pull it off of the unfortunate man trying to be pleasured.

In between worksheets, tablet-learning, and very chaotic, shout-laden, dubiously productive classroom meetings held via Zoom, my kid has been playing video games, and watching movies. Grandma got us a subscription to Disney+, which convinces me that Disney will win the streaming race, because who doesn’t love Disney? It has the classic Disney princess movies, some Kurt Russell as Dexter the college kid movies, and all of those slightly awful original movies, including the weird ones that you completely forgot about that now begs you to turn it into a drinking game. Speaking of Disney – if you haven’t heard about Vanessa Hudgens, she didn’t check-in with her agent before posting an Instagram live where she basically laughs because people are going to die of coronavirus, unlike her, since she’s, you know, young and rich and shit. This weirdly inappropriate session was likely inspired as a reaction to the possibility that quarantine could last through July or August and cancel Coachella, and was followed up by a bullshit apology (I love when people claim their words got “taken out of context,” which is almost never true), presumably so people can feel okay about liking High School Musical or something.

But not everyone is a terrible person (just most people), as has been proven by Mo Willems’ delightful lunch doodle sessions, and “Frozen” actor Josh Gad, who is reading stories on Twitter every night to help soothe those bundles of unused energy to sleep.

What about you guys – any fun/crazy stories to share? Or resources to help us through our isolation?

The Pragmatic Girl Meets the Death Bird Boys

I recently read the first book of The Raven Cycle. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading The Raven Boys forever.

Ok, not really… but, awhile.

It’s a more-than decent read, and I’ll be continuing to read the series. But I’m annoyed that this first book in the series, while well written and interesting, feels so incomplete on its’ own.

This technically-reaching-the-end-of-the-book-only-to-derive-little-to-no-closure-as-a-tease-to-continue-the-series is not isolated to Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. It is a fairly common book ending in YA. And it is pissing me off.

I get that sometimes, the story is too big to be told in one book, unless that book is 1,500 pages or something. But it increasingly seems as though nearly every YA book, regardless of genre or content, is part of a series in which every book needs to be read to obtain closure. It feels inauthentic. It feels like a ploy to get more money from a group of sometimes avid readers who often have part-time jobs and don’t yet have to pay rent or grocery bills.

To be fair, this could be due to my age. When I was a kid, a lot of shit was a series, also, but that series was often a group of thinly connected stories that felt kind of random. Like, L.J. Smith’s Nightworld, which was ultimately leading up to an apocalypse novel because everyone decided to get scared that the new millennium ushered in the end of the world but was never written, so if you want to read Strange Fate you are simply out of luck. All contained a novel that was complete in and of itself. Technically a series, because all of the books dealt with humans discovering this hidden world of supernatural creatures (vampires, witches, etc.) that was hidden from the normal, everyday world I was living and breathing and hating school in.

Or Goosebumps, which is connected by the fact that it gave young me goosebumps, because I was a ridiculous scaredy-pants.

#scaredypants

When I did get sucked into a series, I usually got bored a few books in, and bailed.

It is difficult to write a series in which the characters change sufficiently that you remain interested, while still maintaining the core of what interested the reader enough to continue. Most people do not do it well, unless the series is short and also well planned out. I didn’t even enjoy the Harry Potter series the entire way through. I made myself read it, but honestly, became a bit disinterested a few books in.

So while I enjoyed The Raven Boys, and will continue the series, I will not be surprised if, at some point, I am disappointed and disillusioned with Stievater’s writing. In other words, quit scammin’ me and all the other folks who read YA, publishers.

Have you read The Raven Cycle? What did you think – was it good the entire way through? Do you enjoy series, and think I’m just being ridiculous? Share your strong opinions in the comments below!

… And This is Why I Will Never Write for TV

Is anyone else still tired of the commercials for the Biggest Loser that bombarded us in January? This is where my mind went:

Pitch: The Biggest Loser, but, like, with thin people. The person who loses the most weight wins free treatment for his or her eating disorder… and possibly becomes the biggest loser of all, in a heartrending special episode that ends in a funeral.

#thinspiration

Turns Out, I Like Words

I was recently, generously, provided with an ARC by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers of the cult classic graphic novel the Plain Janes. I’m going to be honest, I have no idea of what their cult following consists, if it even exists, but am assuming it is a thing, because, like, the title is all artistic and witty, and also, if it did not have a cult following or was not presumed to have one going forward, why would publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers have bothered to publish it?

My logic is just like Sherlock’s – fewer holes than Swiss cheese… probably.

Okay, so I felt kind of bad that I just started writing this post without actually looking into the graphic novel much, so did the most lackadaisical Google search, and found this post from NPR. Audie Cornish calls it “a cult favorite graphic novel from a decade ago.” And so while you may not be swayed by my very refutable logic, you can at least believe in Audie Cornish. I mean, it’s NPR. They’ve got to research their shit.

… Right?

Anyway, to make a long story short…

… too late

I received this ARC of what I think is considered, at the least, an above-average graphic novel. I was excited, and I read it in less than a day. But at the end of the day, while I thought The Plain Janes is fairly good, I found myself disappointed.

The artwork is okay. It’s not something I find myself dying to look at again and again.

The story is fine. I actually really liked a lot of the concepts. For example, in the picture above, where Jane’s crush seems like he feels bad, and doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, but at the end of the day, he’s just not interested in her romantically.

This re-printing (which has already occurred, and is available at the bookstore now) includes 3 stories: The Plain Janes, Janes in Love, and Janes Attack Back. My ARC included the first two, which were published previously in 2007. The third story is a brand-new installment. So to be fair, I only read the first two. The Plain Janes was, I thought, infinitely better than Janes in Love, and deals with subject matter that anyone considering art as a career will find interesting. I also thought it was interesting that The Plain Janes showed that, regardless of your interest, there is a creative way to use your interest and skillset, and everyone can consider him/her/themself an artist.

Yet I would prefer to have these ideas imparted via a string of beautiful words, in which the truth shines through unmistakeably, and I feel compelled to underline, or take a picture with my phone, so I can see it again later when I need it. So while The Plain Janes is an interesting project, I think I’m just not really a big graphic novel fan.

Have you read The Plain Janes? If so, what were your thoughts?

On Getting Shit Done #Goalz

So… some of you may remember my lofty goal of writing 2k words while on vacation. Which, unsurprisingly, did not happen.

#howembarrassing

And with this time of year, and my increasing frustration with feeling like I’m not performing as well as I want to at work, not mothering my children as well as I want to at home, and not fulfilling my creative needs ever, I’ve been thinking a little bit about goals.

I know, I know, talking about goals sounds kind of lame. So maybe we shouldn’t call them goals – basically, I’ve been trying to figure out how do I stop feeling like such a failure and start getting shit done. And what specific shit would I like to get done.

So, here are my steps to identify what shit I am going to push myself to accomplish in 2020:

  1. Take a deep breath, and think about what areas of my life I want to see changes for in 2020. You can’t come up with goals if you don’t really know what you want. I already mentioned the areas of my life I want to see changes: employment, family/motherhood, and creative/writing.
  2. Think through what, specifically, is causing unhappiness in these areas. You can’t come up with appropriate goals if you are not specific enough. From hereon out, I will solely be discussing my creative/writing goals, because, like, everyone hates their job and all mothers feel like most of their actions are just fodder for their child(ren)’s future therapy sessions. So hopefully, focusing on my goal that is more likely shared by you guys will make this post more interesting. If not, my bad, but, like – thanks for reading.
  3. Think about the large long-term goal I want to achieve in 2020 (i.e., what do I want to brag about achieving). For me, I want to begin writing more. I’m not planning to write my novel this year, or get published, etc. I just want to formulate the habit of writing more frequently. (Maybe next year, I can focus on getting published, writing novel, etc.)
  4. Think about an appropriate, achievable short-term goal I want to achieve throughout 2020 that will help me with my long-term goal. Note the use of the adjective achievable. There’s no point in setting a goal that sounds so difficult that it will feel infinitely easier to lie in bed and stare at the wall than even attempt them. Should your “shit-I’m-going-to-get-done” list push you? Absolutely. Should this list be so difficult that the likelihood you will achieve them is akin to winning the lottery? Probably not. At least, that doesn’t work for me. I want to write more – it would be nice to be writing daily, or almost daily by the end of the year. And I think the way to do that is to get more organized and focus on completing the stories that excite me in a more timely manner. To assist with this organizational need, I went to Barnes & Noble the other day and purchased a planner (thank you, 50% off on planners now that Xmas is over). My short-term goal is to write at least one short story each month. To do this, I am planning to write in the story I’m working on in my planner, and marking the dates that I write so I can force myself to visually see how far I am getting with this goal. Writing one short story each month will push me, and will help me to create that habit of writing nearly every day.

So that’s it! Obligatory New Year’s reflection on the shit I’m going to get done in 2020 accomplished. My other reflections on 2019 posts will probably wait until February through March, because everyone’s doing reflection posts, and so I think it would be boring to do it now. Also, there is other stuff I want to write about that excites me more, so I’m going to do that (assuming I can find time to write blog posts, since accountants are a smidge busy this time of year).

What about you guys? Have any goals in 2020? Share with me in the comments below! Remember, the more people you talk to about your goals, the more pressure you will induce in yourself to accomplish those goals.

“No pressure,” they said…. “It will be a great workout, they said…”

Victorian Santa is Depressed as Fuck

I’m signed up for this e-newsletter, solely to receive a free graphic each week. The graphics are Victorian, and sometimes, they are great, and sometimes, they are not great. Last Friday’s image was one of the great ones; I call it, “Santa is depressed:”

Looking at those bleak eyes and quizzically raised bushy right eyebrow, I have to assume the “Joyful” documented in red cursive below is being used sarcastically. This is not the face of a joyful man…

I had to wonder – was Victorian Santa always this dour? So like any respectable millennial, I googled Victorian Santa pictures to discern that no, he was sometimes jolly. However, he was also often decidedly not jolly. Obviously, this post will be focusing on the latter pictures.

Meet “Santa’s meds ran out and now he has no idea what is going on. Also, life is meaningless, and what’s the point:”

“I want this candy cane so badly I would literally kill for it, but my wife claims I have to give it to the fucking kids because – diabetes:”

“It is cold as balls out here. Can’t these reindeer go any faster?!”

“[insert evil laugh] I am going to give Timmy coal even though he has been a good boy. Just because I can:”

“I delivered toys to children all over the world and all I got was this lousy tree:”

“Can you turn those fucking bells down? Santa has a migraine, and is barely holding it together:”

“I look as old as I feel. Will I ever be able to retire? This job might literally kill me:”

Do you have another depressing Victorian Santa? Or a different caption for one of the pictures already shown? Please share in the comments below!

In the [Place] with a [Murder Weapon]

Diane Peterfreund’s YA novel In the Hall with a Knife is the Clue Update you didn’t know you wanted. Yes, Clue – that game created by Anthony E. Pratt in 1943, and later turned into a cult-classic of a movie starring the likes of Doc from Back-to-the-Future, Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, and Tim Curry. This book is a YA re-telling, including the classic characters you know and love, as well as Dr. Orchid from the 2016 version of the game recently released, as suspicious and mistrustful adolescents attending an elite boarding school in rural Maine. When a handful of students, faculty, and staff at this school are isolated there due to a terrible snowstorm, people get fussy, someone gets murdered, and most people play detective, because, like, what else are you going to do when there’s no internet or television?

Similar to the movie, this novel gives all of the characters a back story. These backgrounds are generally ridiculous, campy fun, including a poor-little-rich girl former child movie star, a boy with an evil, identical twin, and a dude who got kicked out of military school and continues to want daddy’s approval.

If you are looking for a good mystery novel, don’t read this. It’s fairly obvious who the killer is long before you get to the end, and you will be disappointed.

Attribution: GRPH3B18 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a thriller, this novel should provide what you seek. This book has drama, tension, nostalgic references, bad weather, hot cocoa, hints at romance, reasons to suspect everyone even though you kind of already know who the killer is, and is also well written. So… like… what are you waiting for? Make a cup of hot chocolate, and tuck in with this book, which was released in October, because it’s the holiday season, and nothing counteracts the saccharine commercials, television movies, and inescapable carols like a thriller.

‘Tis the Season
To be Readin’