Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween From Nilbog

In honor of the holiday, let's take a look at a scary movie that gripped the nation twenty years ago. Well, it's not so much scary as totally ridiculous, and by gripped the nation I mean it was virtually ignored until it recently became a cult classic. I present:

Troll 2!

Troll 2 is technically not a sequel of the first Troll movie. Also, no actual trolls are in the film. But, there are goblins!

The movie follows an All-American family who for vacation, trades homes with another family. Apparently, lots of people do this, like Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet in The Holiday. But the town of Nilbog is no vacation paradise. If only they'd deciphered the hidden clue in the town's name, they could have spared themselves! So, the family arrives to a creepily vacant town where half a dozen town folk stare at them or offer them food with green frosting. In the home they swap, a feast of green and green-frosted food awaits. Wait a second, something is not quite right about this green food...

Only Joshua seems to know something's up. Aided by the ghost of his grandpa, Joshua screams over and over for his family not to trust the townsfolk and not to eat anything green. They respond with things like, "Now Joshua, what do mean don't eat this, Joshua?" It is literally impossible to forget this kid's name because it is said every time someone talks to him. Joshua also frequently calls out for help from "Grandpa? Grandpa Seth!" As for Joshua's sister Holly, she should probably win something for worst actress of all time. You only need to see the beginning of the movie where she's pumping iron in her bedroom to grasp this. There's a truly awful dance scene too, but you have to make it pretty far in the movie to see it.

Add in a side plot about some teen boys chasing down Holly and getting captured and turned into trees, and you've got quite a thriller! Then there's this lady, who's not overacting at all:

What's brought this 1990 stinker of a movie to the mainstream was a documentary from a few years ago called Best Worst Movie, all about what some critics think is the worst movie ever made, but how fans of bad movies have come to love it. I wish I could tell you how great the documentary is, but I haven't seen it. See, a few weeks ago, I watched Troll 2 at a friend's house with the intention of following it up with Best Worst Movie. Only Netflix removed it from their instant streaming. 

Ok, so you're probably thinking, just rent the disc from Netflix, right? I would like to stress that I WATCHED ALL OF TROLL 2. THE WHOLE THING. You guys, it's really really bad. I mean, look at that lady watering the plant. She's the scary part. There's a scene where the town holds a party for the family, offering them green-frosted snacks, and the townies circle around them in a clapping hoe-down for like five straight minutes while Joshua screams for Grandpa Seth. My friends took a smoke break, came back inside and it was STILL HAPPENING. 

For the truly brave, I dare you... click on the YouTube link for the Troll 2 movie trailer. You will be frightened.
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
Published: 2012

image: Goodreads
This is probably my favorite book of 2012 so far. It's disturbing, hilarious, and it touches on so many current issues like the economy and the reality of modern American marriage. Even though I guessed parts of the mystery ahead of time, the frequent character reveals--can you trust either narrator?--still kept me guessing. 

On Amy and Nick's fifth wedding anniversary, after a tense morning together, Amy goes missing. Nick is suspect number one since he has a several-hour gap in his alibi where he supposedly sat on the beach. Nick is convinced someone kidnapped her, and he points the police to several shady people in Amy's past. The story is told from two perspectives: Nick, in present day, and Amy through diary entries recalling the past five years of their relationship. Both narrators reveal aspects of themselves that aren't entirely trustworthy; both have lied, both have secrets, and it's clear that this marriage was far from happy. 

What I loved about this book is the depth of character. The character's musings on life and marriage were so candid and real, it was almost too much to deal with at times. Especially regarding Amy's diary entries, you see a couple so intensely in love, who had so  much fun, it's heartbreaking to see the shape their marriage is in during the present. The writing here is just stellar. I also liked how Gillian Flynn's experience writing for Entertainment Weekly magazine is so integrated in the story; Nick is a former magazine writer who lost his job as everything has turned to the web. The couple move back to Nick's hometown in the midwest, and Nick feels guilty for taking Amy out of her elite NYC upbringing, since he can't provide the life Amy wants. Amy seems like she's trying real hard, but internally, she's miserable, lonely and suspects Nick no longer loves her. It's clear both were crazy about each other in the beginning, and glimpses of that devotion show through, even though both Nick and Amy are flawed and distrustful of each other. 

This is more of a psychological thriller, and a real page-turner. Every time I picked this up I stayed up far past my bedtime. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Book to Movie Translations

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What makes some books seem ideal for a film translation?

I think a book with a very vivid sense of time and place makes for a great story. If a book is entirely character-driven, that can be harder to translate because the actor/actress chosen might not fully encompass the character like the book. These days, casting choices for films are posted practically the second they happen, and everyone has an opinion. No one liked Robert Pattinson as Edward in Twilight when he was first cast. Online chatter was negative on most of the Hunger Games main cast--especially the guys, I think this often shifts when the movies come out, although sometimes poor casting really tanks a movie.

Here are a few I think did well with book-to-film translations:

The Harry Potter franchise

This might be the best ever, honestly. Bringing Hogwarts and quidditch to the big screen worked so well, along with an unforgettable cast that made Harry, Hermoine and Ron cultural legend. The books had all the elements to make for a great film series. Plus, the films matured from kid to teen/adult in the same way the books did. 

Pride & Prejudice: the 1995 miniseries

When you have longer than 90 minutes to work with, a movie version of a book can really shine. Barely anything is left out in this miniseries. Besides Jane, the movie is wonderfully cast (sorry but Jane never fit right for me). I will say, the 2005 Keira Knightly version is not so bad considering the time-crunch. It's gorgeous and definitely captures the era and the relationships among the sisters, the family and the societal pressures they faced. Even Mr. Collins is still annoying and creepy. 

Not so much...

One for the Money 

Sorry Katherine Heigl; you and the rest of the cast just seemed off. Except maybe Sherri Shepherd. This zany series felt stifled by some of the more serious crime and Steph felt more like a victim here. Since she's so much of the allure of the series, an odd casting choice really makes it a tough sell.

Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, and Gone With the Wind are a few more examples that really brought the book's setting to life on film.

Other misses: The Other Boleyn Girl--it's fine to make the movie you want about Henry VIII, but from the start this film didn't follow the book. The only resemblance to Phillipa Gregory's work is it featured Anne Boleyn's sister.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy
Published: 2012

image: Goodreads
Cyborg Cinderella--who can resist?

I dismissed this book early on as another mash-up in the vein of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (awesome) or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (not so much). There's even an Android Karenina. I kept seeing such positive reviews, I knew I should give it a chance.

The comparison to those other titles isn't quite right given Cinder takes the base premise of the Cinderella fairy tale and builds an alternate cyborg and android-filled reality upon it. It's not a straight retelling of the story--there's less emphasis on the evil stepmother, and more focus on Cinder's own struggle with her identity, as cyborg's are second-class citizens, and a crumbling world around her where everyone is susceptible to a dangerous disease. I got a real anime feel with this book--it would make a great manga or anime series. I loved how the fantasy world somehow still captured the traditional fantasy aspects of Cinderella (a prince, a bustling market, clashing of social classes), but offered an entirely new take on it. Her robotic reflections were woven into the narrative in clever ways--her control panel would heat up when she was upset, for example. The details made me smile and it set the book apart from feeling gimmicky.

The stakes are also set higher than traditional Cinderella. Her sole goal isn't getting the prince, although he's definitely a factor. Cinder is a mechanic, and Prince Kai approaches her in the market to fix his broken android. Kai's urgent plea for Cinder to fix the android reveals there's more going on, possibly related to the rapidly-spreading disease and rumors of a possible alliance with the lunar queen. Their initial attraction is believable, which is nice, and of course there's no way they can be together because of Cinder's lower class and Kai's royalty. To top that, Cinder uncovers more about her past that makes their fate even worse.

There's a lot going on here that by the end of it, even throwing in the Cinderella comparison feels weak--the story really stands on its own. This is a refreshing, inventive story that was a lot of fun to read. I listened to the audio book, which I'd recommend.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1998 - 1999

Today ends my week-long look at my favorite music and noteable TV from the 1990s. This blogfest was hosted by Dave Wrote This this past Monday.

Billboard's Top hit this week in 1998: Monica: The First Night
This week in 1999: Mariah Carey: Heartbreaker

1998: Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

I adore this solo album, more so than anything from the Fugees. She blends soul and older style R&B with her unmistakable voice. The lyrics feel authentic and not like anything else out at the time; heartache, but not weakness, and personal responsibility. I love how she weaves themes of motherhood and God into her songs that feel rooted in purpose rather than schmaltzy sentiment.

More music from 1998: Massive Attack: Mezzanine, Madonna: Ray of Light, Destiny's Child: s/t.

TV Factoids from 1998: Sifl and Olly debut on Mtv; instead of music videos, we now have puppets--and it was awesome! J.J. Abrams' first TV series Felicity airs, and Charmed, while on the same network with what I imagine was a similar budget to Buffy, tries their hand at supernatural story telling. It's corny with extremely lame special effects. I suffered through several seasons, believe me.

1999: Jimmy Eat World: Clarity

Sweep the dirty stairs... the ones I waited on...
Me and a cluster of friends were obsessed with this album in the early 2000s. After the band was dropped from their label, they toured and self-produced this. It's just a solid alternative rock album with lots of layered guitars, occasional punk aesthetic, and some really beautiful vocals. This is another album best experienced as a whole to get the full effect of their range: power-pop, introspective indie, electronica ending track. I still break this one out for a full listen.

More music from 1999: Sigur Ros, Moby: Play, Eminem: Slim Shady, Travis: The Man Who, The Chemical Brothers: Surrender

TV Factoids from 1999: Freaks and Geeks airs its one and only season; later everyone on the show has a TV or film career, Roswell tries to capture an X-Files vibe for teens, Buffy spins off Angel.

And that's it! I hope you've enjoyed this week of '90s nostalgia!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1995-1997

Day Four: Nineties Blogfest (which at this point I've extended far beyond the original one day!) Today: 1995-1997

Billboard Top Song this week in 1995: Mariah Carey: Fantasy
She was the first female to debut at #1 on Billboard's Hot 100
1996's top song this week: Los del Rio: The Macarena (groan!)
1997's top song this week: Boys II Men: 4 Seasons of Loneliness 

1995: Oasis: What's the Story Morning Glory?

I can't talk about '90s music and not mention Oasis. Definitely Maybe was a hit, but this album really won them fans outside the UK. It's like every song on this album was engineered as a hit. At least for rock bands at the time, which were mainly squeezed out of mainstream chart success in the US by R&B and pop. The Gallagher brothers were massively confident, and probably rightly so.
More music from 1995: Foo Fighters: s/t (more my style than Nirvana ever was), Pulp: A Different Class, Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill, one of the biggest selling titles of all the 1990s, No Doubt: Tragic Kingdom, Garbage: s/t, Sonic Youth: Washing Machine (this is the of Sonic Youth that I remember most), Elastica: s/t. Oh, now I really want to listen to Elastica!

TV Factoids of 1995: The WB TV network is established, Seinfeld airs its 100th episode, The Drew Carey show and the Mad TV sketch comedy show debut.

1996: Beck: Odelay

How do you sum up Beck? He's everything: a deconstructionist folkie who raps, sings and mixes it all into a music hodge-podge ... and it works. Loser might have been his breakout hit, but this album shows he has years of material to work with. Where It's At, with screeching feedback over his lyrics "got two turntables and a microphone." It's fun, like a dance record for those of us who don't go to clubs. 
More music from 1996: Cake: Fashion Nugget (a truly original, quirky band), The Wallflowers: Bringing Down the Horse (where have you disappeared to, Wallflowers?), Fiona Apple: Tidal, Counting Crows: Recovering Satellites.

TV Factoids from 1996: The O.J. Simpson trial takes over American daytime TV, The Daily Show debuts with Craig Kilborn (remember him?)

1997: Radiohead: OK Computer

This album, besides still being my favorite of Radiohead's, made the top 10 of many Best of the 1990s music lists (Rolling Stone for example). It's a complex concept album that I still think works best as a whole rather than a collection of singles, as the ipod generation has skewed us toward. This is probably the opposite of Weezer's Blue Album, no real catchy hooks here, but it's beautiful, atomospheric, disturbing at times, but not in an assaultive kind of way; more like a slow-burn of thinking about ones self and place in the world. 
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my submersion into Christian indie rock in the late '90s. For some of you, you have no idea this subgenre exisited; it's largely gone now, but in the hey-day of Tooth and Nail records, Christian rock was not your grandmother's church music. As the music industry in general changed, this niche in Christian music has mostly disappeared, I think rightly, given the Christian music label is a rather strange one. We no longer live in an era where the concept of Christian rock is radical; churchgoing musicians--mainly Evangelical--in the 80s and 90s responded to an atmosphere where rock music was shunned by the church as "the devil's music." Now, it's commonplace to find a praise and worship band at church complete with guitars, drums and effects pedals. Also, given the disillusionment with marketing in the Christian market (big fish in a small pond syndrome) artists clamoring to cross-over to the mainstream found it difficult to shed the stigma related to Christian music--copycats, watered-down, overtly dogmatic, etc. These days, many cross-over type artists simply start in the mainstream and work in any religious affiliation later.

1997: Starflyer 59: Americana 

Starflyer 59 is one of the bands whose success I think suffered most for the Christian label. Starflyer is essentially Jason Martin, singer, performer, producer, who's collaborated with an incredible roster of musicians. His first three albums: Silver, Gold and Americana, were represented by a single color artwork. Droning guitar, excessive feedback, floating, disconnected vocals. I was blown away when I found out music like this existed in the Christian market. Later albums shifted to more of a mix of surf rock and soaring melodies. Old is an excellent example of an album that should have had success in the indie rock market, but alas, that affiliation with "religious music" tends to keep a lot of people away. Martin's albums from 2002-on are all self-produced and increasingly show more depth and artistry.

More music from 1997: The Verve: Urban Hymns, Ben Folds Five: Whatever and Ever Amen, U2: Pop, arguably their last truly innovative album, and of course, The Spice Girls.

TV Factoids from 1997: Most importantly: Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuts. I remember thinking this was another lame attempt at cashing in on a movie (Clueless tried the transition to TV the year before). Now, it's the rare circumstance where a TV show outshines its movie version. I had no idea who Joss Whedon was or that he'd become a demi-god among pop-culture geeks. Thankfully, the whole series is available on DVD, Netflix and in reruns on several cable channels. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1992 - 1994

As mentioned before, I didn't realize the blogfest hosted by Dave Wrote This was just one day and not this whole THING that I've extended for days. So, today we squash a few more years together to get caught up on the decade. Today: 1992-1994

Top Billboard song this week in 1992: 
Boys II Men: End of the Road. This song stayed #1 on the Top 100 for almost 3 months, beating the record held by Elvis.
Top song this week in 1993: Mariah Carey: Dreamlover
Top song this week in 1994: Boys II Men: I'll Make Love to You
Mariah and Boys II Men dominated '90s mainstream radio!

1992: U2: Achtung Baby

I already considered U2 the coolest band in the world, and Achtung Baby was a huge shift--dark, arty with an industrial edge. Could they get any cooler? (The answer is no, as their coolness degraded from here on out, with a slight spike in 1997 with Pop, but it was over after that). I'm still in love with the cover art and videos from this album, it was this brilliant package of dirty uber-Berlin-tinged sound, even if "Mysterious Ways" overstayed its welcome on mainstream radio. "The Fly" went where I always wished U2 would go but never knew they could (my husband, the musician, would remind me it's my preference for delay and distortion). Ya'll, this is the 20th anniversary of Achtung Baby. I feel old.

1992: Beastie Boys: Check Your Head

Bought, loved it, had the t-shirt (still have the t-shirt). As a white girl in the not-quite-suburbs (mid-sized midwestern city) I ate this UP. This is when the Beasties moved from beyond the joke; they were always in on their own joke, but now they put a little more thought into their lyrics while still having a boatload of fun. This and Licenced to Ill were like my high school soundtrack. "So Whatcha Want" holds up as an iconic '90s video. MCA: RIP.

1992 TV Factoids: Jay Leno begins his reign of unfunny-terror when he replaces Johnny Carson; The Real World debuts, which preteens like me ate up, but it ruined TV for everyone else; Who's the Boss? ended and I'm not sure the question was ever answered. (My answer: Mona).

1993: Women invade indie rock

The mid-90s saw a bit of an uptick in female-fronted bands and women making more headway outside of traditional pop-vocal music (like Mariah Carey, who continued to dominate the Billboard charts). As a budding feminist, I searched out female artists, although I wasn't going to listen to music only based on gender; I never could get into Tori Amos or Ani Difranco. Given I lived in the midwest in a pre-internet era, I wasn't exactly connected much with the riot grrl movement, but I listened to a fair amount of related bands: Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, later Sleater-Kinney. I remember feeling like this was the beginning of it all, when women would really take over with a more steady presence in rock. Sadly, this was not the case, and even the majority of my favorite bands in the following years were mostly male-dominated. Women definitely shine in pop music, which I guess is cool, but little indie-rock Steph was a little disappointed when riot grrl faded out and nothing took its place.

1993: The Breeders: Last Splash

Remember I said I loved the Pixies? Kim Deal of the Pixies already had this project going, and her sister Kelley joined in for this album. "Cannonball" was the MTV hit, but the rest of the album is what kept me listening. Hard driving, distorted rock with those cool, easy vocals. They kept a little bit of Pixies vibe with "No Aloha" but this was definitely a different sound. They weren't riot grrrl with a message, they just rocked out.

1993: PJ Harvey: Rid of Me

I think I first heard PJ Harvey on some indie radio show I used to listen to on Sunday nights. I randomly found the station, it wasn't local. PJ Harvey appealed to my arty side. She's this weirdly confident rocker who sings like a banshee one minute and turns sweet the next. She plays on feminist themes quite a bit on this album. She's had minor commercial success, but I think she's been an indie darling-mainstay with the critics since the early '90s. I used MeJane, one of her song titles as a username on a few web forums in the early 2000s.

More noteworthy music of 1993: Mazzy Star: So Tonight That I Might See (LOVE this, still), Ace of Base: The Sign (so catchy!), Bjork: Debut, Blur: Modern Life is Rubbish, Catherine Wheel: Chrome (I devoured this album in college), Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream.

TV Factoids from 1993: The X-Files debuts. Changes TV forever. FOREVER! I really liked the show, OK?

1994: Weezer: The Blue Album

Still such a great album! Infectiously catchy and they hit at just the right time by offering an alternative to grunge with a little, dare I say, earnestness? Heartfelt power-pop, but self-aware enough to not feel embarrassing. Also, they weren't afraid to rock out. When I added this to my ipod a couple years ago (transferring all my CDs is quite a process) I found I listened to this as regularly as I did back in the '90s. Pinkerton is the critic's darling, but the blue album will always be my favorite. My Name is Jonas is probably my favorite. I'm humming it now.

More noteworthy music of 1994: Such a great year! Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Green Day: Dookie, Hole: Live Through This (my favorite of theirs), Beastie Boys: Ill Communication (because you can't, you won't and you don't stop!), The Jesus and Mary Chain: Stoned and Dethroned (not their best but my sentimental favorite), Beck's "Loser" from Mellow Gold,  The Notorious B.I.G., which I didn't listen to by choice but everybody at school did so I heard it by default, and Dave Matthew's Band: Under the Table and Dreaming. This was also the year of Hootie and the Blowfish, another radio-mainstay you couldn't get away from if you tried!

TV Factoids of 1994: My So-Called Life airs for its only season; omgjordancatalano!; In Living Color and Aresenio's talk show end, taking with it most of TVs  minority representation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1991

Apparently, this blogfest was just one day (yesterday) but I somehow thought it was one year a day for 10 days. So, here you get another day, and probably a few more of '90s-tastic pop culture chattiness.

Nineties Blogfest: 1991

Billboard's Top Song this week in 1991: Emotions: Mariah Carey
I was a huge Mariah fan. Still have this cassette!

Yesterday I mentioned how pop-metal got ditched for grunge when Nirvana hit the scene. It's pretty incredible how Nirvana rose to fame so quickly. It was like the 90s decided it was done with the manufactured overly-sincere rock of the mid-to-late 80's, and everyone embraced a more ironic, eff-you sensibility that grunge and lots of indie rock encompassed. All that music was there already, not just in Seattle, although that scene was massively exploited, but bands like Pavement and Social Distortion and the Pixies were around, just not in the mainstream.

It's weird to me that Nirvana became so commercial. People have obsessively speculated, in books, articles and even a documentary or two, that fame added to Kurt Cobain's depression which ultimately led to his suicide. I remember, in 1994, hearing about his death on MTV News and knowing it was huge. Back then, that collective understanding of a popular moment in culture came slower--I wonder what Rolling Stone will say?--whereas now news is so instant, a celebrity death is instantly a world-wide story.

Besides Nevermind, 1991 was the year grunge really got going in the mainstream. I always preferred Pearl Jam over Nirvana, and Ten was one of my most listened to albums in the early 90s; it technically came out in 1991 but didn't really hit big until 1992. I admit, I had an Eddie Vedder poster in my room.

Noteworthy albums of 1991, that again, I most likely was not listening to at the time but in the few years following:

Pixies: Trompe le Monde

I think this one is known as their least best album, but it's the one I had and listened to a zillion times. Any project that came after the Pixies broke up--Frank Black's solo stuff, the Breeders, I was all over. I still think they're one of the most original bands and I can't think of another band to compare them to. Punky surf rock that felt like it didn't care had fun anyway. I was "thisclose" to seeing their reunion tour in the 2000s, but had to sell the tix after my wedding date changed and well, you know. Must make the family happy with the revised wedding date!

My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

Although I listened to a lot of shoegaze and indie rock, I didn't discover this gem until college. Ask any 90s indie fanboy/fangirl about Loveless and you'll probably get an earful. You'll hear "masterpiece" and "Kevin Shields is a god" and how incredible it is on vinyl. It was reissued this year and the band is reportedly touring in 2013. Here's some updates via Pitchfork.

Other albums: Red Hot Chili Peppers': Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik, Gn'R Use Your Illusion I & II (they were so epic then), Smashing Pumpkins: Gish.

1991 TV Factoids: The Comedy Central channel is developed; Blossom debuts; Nickelodeon shows three new series: Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy and Doug.

Speaking of grunge, RELEVANT: Portlandia's Dream of the '90s. So true!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1990

Day 1 of the Nineties Blogfest--Go!

Top Billboard song this week in 1990: George Michael: Praying for Time
(LOVED this song--and George Michael)

 Given I was a kid in 1990, I wasn't exactly listening to cool music. I'm talking Paula Abdul, Wilson Phillips, MC Hammer (Please Hammer, Don't Hurt Em!) and Roxette--all the radio flavors of the day (which I still have the cassette tapes boxed up in a closet). I do still have a place in my heart for Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation, which I just learned was the best-selling album of all of 1990, although it came out the year before. This was truly Janet's prime with her military-inspired look and meticulously choreographed video for the title track. "Miss You Much" is still the only song I've sang by myself at karaoke.

I was also a bit obsessed with Madonna at the time. The Immaculate Collection came out in 1990 and I think I listened to that on cassette far into the days when everything else I had was on CD. It's a great retrospective.

And how can I forget Nelson: the blond pop-metal brothers. My mother always reminded me they were the sons of Ricky Nelson from the 50s-60s sitcom Ozzie & Harriett. Nelson was my first rock concert. I saw them at the county fair (you know, see your friend show her horse, go to the 4-H barn, then head to Nelson in your dirty jeans and boots). I recently heard these guys on a talk radio show where they reminisced about coming home from their world tour around 1991 or so, and their record label told them they were already dead; labelmates Nirvana was the next thing and nobody cared about glossy hair rock. It was true, Nelson was a few years too late to enjoy their own success. That had to suck for them.

Here are some noteworthy albums released in 1990 which I was not yet cool enough to have found. In a few more years, once I started reading SPIN and Rolling Stone, I would catch up on some back catalog:

Ride: Nowhere

I still love this album. They're a UK band part of the shoegaze movement--an effect-heavy alternative rock offshoot. Ride blended pretty, atmospheric sound to their rock, most notable in "Dreams Burn Down," although "Vapour Trail" is pretty great, too. I will warn you now: I was pretty obsessed with UK rock throughout the 90s.

Cocteau Twins: Heaven or Las Vegas

Another UK band, probably bigger in the '80s than the '90s, and this is by far (IMO) their most pop-accessible. I'm a fan of atmospheric distortion as noted earlier, and Liz Fraser's warbled lyrics delighted me even more so. On this album, she seems to sing actual words more often, but the dreamy effect is still there.

This is reminding me: I should import all this to my ipod for a custom 90s mix!

Other albums of note: Sonic Youth: Goo, Morrissey: Bona Drag, Depeche Mode: Violator--all music I'd eventually get to in a few years.

1990 TV Factoids: MTV debuted the Unplugged acoustic series; Twin Peaks aired its first season of a two-season run; the original Parenthood TV series came out--not nearly as successful as the current edition; and ... Cop Rock. If only Joel McHale and The Soup were around in the (short) days of Cop Rock.

This blogfest is hosted by Dave Wrote This. Please share any related '90s nostalgia in the comments!

Tomorrow: 1991 and the band that changed the game: Nirvana.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Happy Friday!

Publisher's Weekly linked an article yesterday on Oyster, a start-up aiming to be "the Netflix of books." My first thought was: a subscription book service--try the library! But realistically, I have only been able to read a few e-books from my public library; lack of selection, long waiting lists and tech issues have prevented me from borrowing e-books. In fact, my Nook is pretty dusty given I can borrow print books much more easily.

What do you think? Would you use a subscription service for e-books? For me, it would depend on the cost and what format it's available on--only smartphone? A tablet? Existing e-reader?

Starting Monday, I'll post as part of the Nineties Blogfest, a fun pop-culture nostalgia extravaganza hosted by Dave Wrote This. You can still sign up!

My focus will be music and possibly a TV show or two from each year. Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Book Review: I Hunt Killers: Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers
Barry Lyga
YA: Contemporary Thriller
Published: 2012

What if the world's most notorious serial killer... was your father?

Image: Goodreads
Pretty heavy for a YA book. Barry Lyga handles this subject matter expertly by focusing on Jasper aka Jazz's struggle. Having a dad in prison is enough for a sixteen-year-old to deal with, but when that dad is a notorious serial killer... whoa.

In Jazz's small town, where he lives with his increasingly senile grandmother, new crimes start cropping up that seem eerily similar to killings his father, who he refers to as Billy to distance himself, planned in his legacy. Jasper just knows his dad is somehow involved. Jazz is immediately a sympathetic character--can you imagine going to school every day where people know your father is a serial killer? He flashes back to memories with Billy as he tries to piece together the recent crimes. An unsettling realization occurs, that he's unsure if he ever contributed to a killing. Anger against his father has clouded some of his memories--is he blocking a particularly horrible incident? Beyond that, does being the son of a killer mean he's destined to become one too? Jasper is determined to help the police find the truth, not only to help future victims, but to prove to himself he can create his own fate and not become a killer himself. Only the police see a delinquent teen with a criminal dad and suspect that Jasper is involved, making the challenge of proving himself even more tough.

Here's an excerpt:
It was natural for sons to worship their fathers, anyway. And when the father in question was a charismatic dragon who taught his child that society's rules did not apply to him, that other people were either chattel or prey, that the world had been made for the two of them and no one else...
 That was the worse sort of control. A sort of brainwashing that Jazz has only managed to throw off when Billy's arrest approached.  It was as though he'd been helpless to rebel against his upbringing, until the world itself put the lie to Billy's promise that the worlds' laws didn't matter. And then, slowly--so damn slowly--Jazz came to realize that his father was a devil, not a god. 

Needless to say, not a lot of romance here, but Jazz does have a girlfriend, who he realistically feels shortcomings with. He also has a best friend named Howie, who belongs in the category of great sidekicks in YA fiction. Howie's a hemophiliac with a brutal sense of humor; he asks Jazz about his middle name since serial killers always go by three names. He wants to see if it fits. Dark! But the humor is welcome to offset some of the heavier concepts, plus it enriches the characters and makes them more relatable.

It's hard to say much more without ruining the book, but the mystery element is fairly standard, like an episode of Criminal Minds, and meeting Dear Ole Dad proves just as creepy as you expect. This book has been billed as "YA Dexter," which is sort of inaccurate but I get it. Lyga definitely takes this in his own direction and builds a great narrative with Jazz, which is the book's strength. While it's dark, the violence is definitely tempered for a YA audience, and it explores the effects of brutal killings with surprising depth. Jazz has his whole life ahead of him, can he choose his own fate?

This is book 1 of a series, so stayed tuned.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

TV Recap: Hart of Dixie Returns!

Last year, I wrote TV feature articles for a website that is now but a memory, but I had such fun doing it I thought I'd try out a series of TV recaps on my blog. Hart of Dixie is one of those guilty pleasure shows, it's like comfort food. While a lot of what I watch is dark and dramatic (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Walking Dead etc.), sometimes a show about a city girl transplanted to a folksy small town hits the spot. Plus, check out Rachel Bilson's style. I watch this show half for the clothes.

So, onward we go: Hart of Dixie: Season 2 premiere, "I Fall to Pieces."

Where we last left off, Dr. Zoe Hart, in a moment of heartbreak after George Tucker (supposedly) marries his long-time sweetheart Lemon (but doesn't), accepts some late-night schmoozin' times with Wade, which is a match I'm particularly fond of. Only George shows up on her doorstep after he calls off the wedding, saying he wants to work it out with Zoe. Pretty people problems!

The season opens with a shot of the remains of George and Lemon's wedding, which on top of being called off was also wrecked by a major storm. Lemon's delightfully vapid gal pals console her, but right away Lemon perks up with her trademark zest.

Meanwhile, Zoe, still in her robe, dashes over to Lavon's--her guy pal who happens to be the mayor (only on TV...) to dish her Wade/George dilemma.
CW promo photo from
Best line: Zoe: Turns out I have way more game than I thought.
Also: Lavon: You really need to get a girl friend.

George Tucker is ready to move right along with Zoe, but Zoe admitted to feeling a real connection with Wade. Right away, both guys end up in the same room with Zoe and the secret's out: Zoe and Wade got together. Add to that, most of the town, including Zoe's patients, blame her for breaking up Bluebell's famous couple. Confused? Here's a link to a handy chart!

Instead of moping, Lemon aims for the strong southern belle angle to move on from George. She wants to move out from her family home and be Miss Independent. Small issue: no job, no job history, no real income other than from her father.

Zoe latches onto newcomer Ruby, a former Bluebellee returning from big city life in Atlanta, after Lavon's advice to "be honest" with both guys backfires (George freaks out that Zoe got with Wade, while Wade knows of Zoe's feelings for George and dismisses their night together as a casual grade B encounter). Ruby seems rather enterprising; next we see her chatting up Lemon, and then she shows up at Lavon's, who turns out is her ex. I see trouble brewing...

CW promo photo:
Lemon confronts Zoe wielding a cake knife. What I like about the girls' rivalry is how it's constantly upturned. If they just hated each other all the time the show would be boring (also I'm not a fan of girl rivalry if nothing ever comes of it). Even as Lemon admits Zoe is her "sworn enemy," she's seeking her out while having a panic attack. Zoe's been on her own for years while Lemon's lived under the protective wing of her father.

Great moment: George Tucker, Wade and Lavon end up outside Zoe's, speculating on Lemon's entrance with the knife, thinking Lemon is holding Zoe hostage. (I love how they--and the town--all have time to stand around and speculate this.This is all very reminiscent of Gilmore Girls' Luke and Lorelai, is it not?)).
Wade: Interstinger and Interestinger.

After a legit heart to hart (see what I did there?), the women emerge from the house to a mob scene. Their parting still ends on a sour note, but that's expected. Still, Zoe knows she needs to confront George Tucker and decide what will become of them.

Zoe shows up to meet George in some killer heels (want) and a cute dress. She doesn't want to be his rebound, and she knows she needs to work on her own relationship issues. Over at the Rammer Jammer (like GG's Luke's Diner, where everyone hangs out), Wade offers Lemon a waitressing job. Perfect! Of course, to wrap things up, Ruby's staying in Bluebelle despite saying at the top of the episode she was only passing through to visit family.

We end on Zoe and Wade, with Zoe telling him she chose neither guy, and she's an independent woman. Then again, Wade is pretty cute...

If you're a fan of the show, please share your comments on the season two premiere!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Banned Books Week 2012

Banned Dr Suess book the Lorax
Creative Commons: GoodNCrazy Flikr photostream
September 30 to October 6 is Banned Books Week, which brings attention to books that are challenged in schools and libraries. I never knew much about book banning until I was an adult. Even knowing conservative families through church who restricted their children's reading and movie watching, I wasn't aware back then that people actively worked to keep those books away from all kids.

Here are the ten most challenged books in 2011 according to the American Library Association, as reported on

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle 
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism
Any surprises? I'm wondering how The Hunger Games ties with the occult; I can see why religious parents might take issue with Harry Potter given it is literally about witches and magic, but The Hunger Games is a futuristic fantasy world with very little religious practice--it's mostly political. If it was lack of religion maybe that is a concern, but I don't get the occult angle. If anything, the violence in the third book Mockingjay is a concern, and might be an issue for particularly younger readers of YA. Still, that should be left to an individual parent to discern and should not restrict what other families allow their children to read.

Number four kind of shocks me, although I suppose it shouldn't since in some cases, opposition to sex education in schools is more prevalent in areas with high teen pregnancy (The Education of Shelby Knox is a great documentary about a Texas high school student who fought the school board to include sex education).

Are you participating in any aspect of Banned Books Week? Last year, I was part of a read-out at Anderson's Books YA Lit conference which happens annually around the same time. That was very cool to be a part of a collective group reading aloud together against book censorship. Let me know if you find any good links to articles!