Friday, October 28, 2011

What do you think of Once Upon a Time?

Fairy tales are back in prime time TV. Once Upon a Time debuted last Sunday. Did you see it?
Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Emma, played by Jennifer Morrison from House, kept the show grounded
  • Working-class Snow White seems more valuable than fairy tale Snow White 
  • The kid wasn't too annoying but I really want to know who wrote that book he has and how did the teacher/Snow White find it 
  • The Prince reminds me of Coldplay's Chris Martin 
  • The wicked witch was wicked, but I don't get why she doomed the fairy tale peeps to "somplace horrible" in a curse. Maybe I need to rewatch... 
  • Rumplestilskin reminds me of a character from Labyrinth (maybe he's the Goblin King's cousin!) 
  • I rolled my eyes at Storybrooke, Maine, but what can you do.

 Once Upon a Time airs Sundays on ABC. Are you planning to watch?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

YA Lit Rant in Mad Libs Format! Courtesy of The Rejectionist

This is incredibly awesome and I must share. The blog The Rejectionist wrote this YA opinion piece in Mad Libs form. All you have to do is fill in the blanks for your own personalized rant on YA lit is evil/demoralizing/ruining America!

Now, first of all, let me be clear: I don't actually read YA--I just skimmed the jacket copy for The Hunger Games in the bookstore. YA is for babies, and I'm no baby! I'm a [PRESTIGIOUS CAREER]. But, like other adults, I can't help but [ADVERB] [VERB] about young people today and their [PLURAL NOUN]. The kids are so [ADJECTIVE] that they're practically snorting [NOUN] and having [ADJECTIVE] sex on my lawn! You know why? Smutty, smutty young adult books, is why! Kids tainted by the current crop of teen-oriented filth will waste no time in engaging in a wide variety of self-destructive behaviors, such as [TYPE OF EATING DISORDER], [ING VERB] their [PLURAL BODY PART], dabbling in witchcraft, and setting fire to [PLURAL NOUN]. I've heard these books even turn kids homosexual!
You know what I miss? The Good Old Days, that magical time in the [DECADE IN THE PAST] when [PLURAL NOUN] knew their place, teenagers didn't even know what [NOUN] was, and writers wrote books that were [ADJECTIVE]. Nothing makes me feel better than conjuring up fallacious images of an illusory past, populated exclusively with white, upper-middle-class children who were untarnished paragons of innocence, not these [ADJECTIVE], [ADJECTIVE], [ADJECTIVE] little [PLURAL NOUN] running feral in the streets and "sexting" each other [ADJECTIVE] pictures of themselves! The problem isn't a hypercommodified culture in the terminal stages of capitalism; problematic dominant-culture representations of marginalized populations; media conglomerates that propagate heteronormative constructions of gender and sexuality; my own projected anxieties; or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. No, the problem with everything is teenagers reading books for teenagers. In fact, teenagers reading books is just about the most awful thing I can think of, with one exception! There is one book for teens that doesn't lead to depravity, [ING VERB], and [ING VERB]. That, of course, is my book, which you can buy [LINK TO AMAZON].
The link to the ranter's own book is key. I actually saw similar comments on blogs during the "dark YA" debate over the summer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: Love Drugged by James Klise

Title: Love Drugged
Author: James Klise
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2010

In Love Drugged, high school freshman Jamie is just trying to blend in and not call attention to his recent realization that he's gay. When Jamie starts hanging out with cute girl Celia from a wealthy family, he plays up the idea that they're dating. Their friendship is sweet and a little tragic; we see how desperately Jamie wants to be straight while at the same time he genuinely enjoys Celia and doesn't want to ruin their friendship.

The story takes a sort-of loose speculative fiction turn when Jamie encounters Celia's pharmeceutical scientist father who is developing a drug to suppress people's inhibitions, including homosexual tendencies. Obviously the idea is absurd, but it works as a device for Jamie to explore what it means to fit in, the cost of keeping his secret, and interestingly enough, a kind of cool exploration into prescription drug culture. Jamie's best friend is on Ritalin, and he compares the experimental pills as just another way to control behaviour.

I liked how this book approached a serious concept from a humorous angle. The story has a lot of light-hearted aspects despite the heavy undertones. Jamie, like kids today, has access to "gay friendly" resources like websites for gay teens, but it doesn't mean the reality of public school is any easier for him. The story touches on bullying, friendship and first love in way that I think is relatable whether it's about a gay or straight character.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The new Footloose!

Since it's Friday, I wanted to share about the very fun new Footloose movie that's out in theatres now. Another remake? Yeah, I know! But this is a good one if you like dance movies, a little bit of '80s nostalgia and fun teen movies.

The cast are mostly unknowns, but they're dancers. The actor who plays Ren, Kenny Wormald, was a back-up dancer for Justin Timberlake. Also, he's much cuter than Kevin Bacon. Ariel is played by Julianne Hough a Dancing with the Stars dancer - an actual dancer, not one of the C-list "celebrities." They both pulled their weight acting-wise -- this isn't Shawshank Redemption or anything -- but I liked that they had a dancing background because they seemed very comfortable in the role.

So, my husband can't get over the idea that in the small rural town in Footloose, dancing is illegal. Well, the new movie does a great job of setting this up. The town loses four high school seniors, including Ariel's brother, in a car accident after the teenagers leave an unsupervised party. Ariel's father is a pastor in town, and he spearheads a campaign to set curfews and laws limiting partying for teenagers, including dancing. This makes sense to me because it's reactionary from a tragedy. But Ren, a newbie from Boston, doesn't get these backwards rules. Which also makes sense! Silly husbands, Footloose explains everything.

What's great about the updated version is more diversity in cast and in the dancing. Just because the kids live in a rural area doesn't mean they all country-line dance and wear cowboy hats. There's a great scene at a local burger place where kids do a dance-off in the parking lot. It's mostly dirty club dancing and hip-hop styles. And it's awesome. The mix is like Step Up meets Friday Night Lights.

If you're a fan of the original, there are a lot of scenes filmed with the same shots, which is kind of cool without feeling like a total copycat (here's a link to an Entertainment Weekly photo gallery of side-by-side shots). Ren still drives an old yellow VW beetle, Ariel gets reamed out by her father on the stairwell of their farmhouse, and of course, the warehouse angry punch-dance scene*. Yup, it's there and Ren performs gymnastics on a random high bar in the warehouse just like Kevin Bacon did. But ya'll, this Ren dances to The White Stripes!

*I've gotta link to one of my favorite spoofs ever, the re-enacted punch-dance scene from Hot Rod:

For a truly fun movie, I definitely recommend seeing this, especially if you're a fan of dance movies in general. Then let me know what you think!

One of my favorite blogs Forever Young Adult has a great write-up about the film, including some footage from an event in Texas where the new Ren is interviewed and parties down with some dancers.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Title: Just Listen
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2006

Sarah Dessen's stories have a way of seeping and creeping. They seep into your psyche and creep back up while reading other books (or perhaps working on your own contemporary YA novel). I've found myself wondering, what would Sarah Dessen do for this character?

At first I wondered why sites like Forever Young Adult built a virtual blog-shrine of frenzied posts about her novels. I read The Truth About Forever and liked a lot of the characters, but it wasn't anything I was too excited about. But Dessen's work is a slow burn. Her characters aren't flashy, no one has superpowers that mysteriously spring up at age 16, there are no wolves-turned-bare-chested-boys. Her stories are about plain girls with hidden hurts who learn to love and laugh through unexpected friendships. The stories are memorable in their simplicity.

Just Listen has similarities to Dessen's other works. I tend to attach to her supporting characters. Owen, the unlikely friend Annabel Green makes after a falling out with her best friend, is quirky and likeable. Owen hosts a local radio show featuring obscure music and is essentially a loner. He is sort of the wise guru to Annabel by sharing what he learned in anger management, which is a revelation to Annabel considering her upbringing taught her to avoid conflict at all costs. I'm often frustrated by Dessen's protagonists because they tend to get stepped on in all kinds of ways. Sure, they redeem themselves eventually, but it can be a painful ride to get there. There are some interesting family dynamics here. Basically, if you're a fan of her work, this fits in well with her cadre of books.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggins

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggins
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published: 2011

I had this buzzed-about book on my list to read from the minute I heard of it. The background is so insanely cool, I couldn't help get excited. The author collects old photographs as a hobby. If you've ever been to a flea market or antique store and saw a box of unsorted vintage photos, this is what he collects. In particular, he became fascinated by strange photos (think "circus freaks" and camera tricks) and wrote stories about the people in them. Eventually, this morphed into the basis for his book, which includes vintage photos within the pages. It's a unique way of storytelling as some of the photos directly relate to the plot and even assist in the continuation of the story.

The story itself is about 16-year-old Jacob, who when he was younger, adored his grandfather's tall tales of living in a home with refugee children during the second world war. He showed Jacob pictures of the fantastically gifted children, which are the vintage photos the author found or borrowed from a collector. Jacob believed all of it until he was a teenager.

When Jacob's grandfather is mysteriously killed in the woods, he thinks he sees a monster lurking in the shadows. Left with his grandfather's cryptic last words, Jacob travels with his father to an island in Wales where the refugee children's home still stands. He finds the abandoned home and uncovers the mystery of the childhood stories.

The photos set you up for a creepy and dark tale, but it's not so much creepy or dark. It depends on what type of story you're looking for whether this is a plus or minus. I wanted the threat to be bigger and the sense of danger to feel more urgent. The writing is clever, and the photos take the storytelling to a visual level, but I was hoping the story would be a little more inventive. A few of the photos felt out of place, like aspects of the plot were written in to accomodate them rather than it being a natural inspiration. It's defnitely an interesting concept which stands out among other urban fantasy young adult fiction.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fall TV and Twitter

To keep everyone updated, I'm writing some TV reviews for a site called Here's my most recent write-up on The CW show The Secret Circle, which I basically summarize as The Vampire Diaries with witches. And The Vampire Diaries already has witches.

Anyway, it's been fun connecting with more TV bloggers and pop culture sites on twitter. For those of you new to twitter, or who might not use it much, it can be fun to search a show's hashtag (such as #TheSecretCircle) and follow the feed when the show is on. It's like a live blog with anyone on twitter who's commenting. #Project Runway's is particularly amusing, so long as you are watching in real time otherwise you will see spoilers. Probably reality shows in general work with twitter since you don't have to pay attention to plot every second and people are so opinionated about the shows. #Survivor is also entertaining.

I barely ever channel surf anymore since I have a DVR that can record 4 shows at once (a technological marvel!) so I always have something I want to watch. A couple weeks ago I discovered Dateline is still on; it's seriously been years since I've had nothing to watch and resigned myself to Dateline. Of course, I was immedately hooked by a premise of a screenwriter acting out a Dexter-like serial killer existence and writing about it (thus his arrest since the police found his script detailing where he dumped the body - Derp!). I wrote a tweet about the obnoxious (but somehow effective) voiceover and used the #Dateline hashtag. Reading the feed was hilarious. It's like the water-cooler conversation you have the next day at work about TV but it's happening live. Then weirdly enough, the real life author of a book about the criminal case started plugging his book on the twitter feed. I suppose anything goes, but by the 4th plug it was a bit much.

A couple suggestions of TV blogs & twitter users to follow are:
  • Television Without Pity (@TVWithoutPity on twitter) They have recaps which are hilarious although quite long (they now have an abbrieviated feature) and some pretty great feature articles similiar to what Slackerheroes does.
  • The Onion's AV Club (@TheAVClub on twitter). Excellent commentary. They even feature past shows like The X-Files and Angel, doing more of a scholarly dissection. You laugh, but it's awesome!
Do you follow any TV blogs or twitter users who write about TV or pop culture? What are your favorites?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Genre: YA, contemporary, paranormal?
Published: 2011

The less you know going into this book, the more of an impact it will have. I also suggest skipping the handwritten looking prologue prior to the first chapter, and I'll go into why later.

Sixteen-year-old Mara Dyer survives a building collapse, but three of her friends are killed. She wakes up in the hospital unable to remember what happened. Shaken to the core, Mara is diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and as a means of moving on with her life, she convinces her family to relocate for a fresh start. Her father makes a job connection with a law firm in Florida, so they move from Rhode Island to Miami in the middle of the school year.

Mara experiences hallucinations of her deceased friends on a daily basis. Some visions seem to be triggered by stress, and other times she will blank out for minutes to hours, losing all concept of time. She is inconsistent with taking her prescription medication which lends to rather trippy storytelling. At night, she dreams in fragments, and finally starts piecing together why she and her friends went to an abandoned building at night and what happened between then and the collapse.

Mara is withdrawn but not afraid to speak her mind when provoked. Right away as the new girl at her small private school, Mara draws the attention of another loner, a rich kid named Noah Shaw who's a transplant from England. Everyone warns Mara that Noah is a player and will use any girl he meets. He's a cocky alpha male who delights in Mara's resistance to his advances. As much as she hates him, she also finds herself drawn to him.

I do have a few issues. I loved the book when I thought it was just Mara's PTSD giving her hallucinations. The truth of what happened to Mara in the building collapse left me a little underwhelmed. Also, her relationship with Noah felt very Edward and Bella at times, with him possessively declaring she was meant for him and belonged with him. Even though Mara is far more feisty than Bella, I wish there had been more resolution to all the rumors that Noah slept with girls and ditched them. Noah tells her it's not true, but it doesn't feel convincing. Events in the last 2/3 of the book really upend the story and I'm not sure I felt like it meshed together. Instead of resolving, the story adds more twists and sets up immediately for a sequel.

The first line of the scrawled note prologue is compelling: "My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer said I had to choose something." Awesome right? This is never touched on in the book. She is not personally involved in a court case, her father is a lawyer but not representing her in any way, and it is never mentioned that she changed her name. This is a really cool intro, but it left me puzzled as to its relevance.  I really had no idea this would be a paranormal romance until mid-way through the book. I was hoping for more of a contemporary thriller with exploration of real-life PTSD. Overall, I have mixed feelings, although it was a real page-turner and kept me guessing most of the way through.