Great Idea, Poorly Executed

They always say you should under-promise and over-deliver, but today I’m going to be talking about books that over-promised and under-delivered. Whether it comes to you via a personalized recommendation or a dust cover, sometimes you hear about a book that sounds just about perfect. There’s not really any feeling like diving into such a book with a load of anticipation and excitement, only to progressively realize what a letdown it is. Here are some of the books that did that for me.

The Circle — Dave Eggers

Concept: A social media conglomerate infiltrates every aspect of the world. Imagine Google and Apple and Facebook were all one platform/company, and that entire company was consolidated on a self-contained and self-sufficient campus where all the employees lived and worked and shopped and partied. Then imagine that monopoly-styled social media/cult decided to apply their policies and insidious over-sharing to the entire world.

Why I was excited: This idea is up there with the recent Black Mirror episode Arkangel in terms of things I think about on a very regular basis (coincidentally, I think Arkangel was poorly executed as well). Social media is becoming an integral aspect of life, and it’s not a stretch to imagine a world in which everything is conducted over those platforms. Super-corps like Amazon and Google are already expanding into new sectors, and I’ve said more than once that someday those two companies will probably rule the world. It’s a spooky concept, largely because it doesn’t take a huge stretch of imagination to picture a world where social media runs everything and everyone is “transparent”. In our current world of live-streaming, apps that track “likes” and interactions, and global networks of online friends, the world of The Circle doesn’t seem very far off.

the circle

What didn’t work: When I first started this blog, I wrote a post about my pet peeves in female characters, and that post was largely sparked by the main character of this book, Mae. Mae is, hands down, the absolute worst female lead I have ever read. She is an insult to women and it is glaringly obvious that she was written by a male writer. She’s sickeningly one-dimensional (to be fair, the majority of the characters are), excessively contentious, overly and vocally emotional, easily distracted, overtly sexual (all within horribly written and trite sex scenes), and consistently jealous.

The book features very little plot development outside of events that propel the concept rather than the characters, and there is zero understanding of human behavior. People just accept that they are going to be on camera 24 hours a day for the rest of their lives, and the only people who don’t agree with it are painted as these crackpot outliers.  The foreshadowing was obscenely heavy-handed (gee I wonder what that vicious killer shark in the office aquarium could possibly be alluding to). The entire story was undercooked, as were the characters and plot points. Eggers made little to no attempts to make the technological advances believable, and didn’t even bother to give a set time frame so readers could know how far in the future this is supposedly taking place.

“There were a handful of times when I looked something up, or asked the opinion of someone more tech-savvy than I am, but for the most part this was just a process of pure speculative fiction.”

Dave Eggers on future tech

Who did it better: I don’t know if anyone has really delved into this concept yet? Obviously, 1984 does a pretty stellar job with the concept of being watched and how that impacts behavior, but it’s the social media aspect that I’m so fascinated by. If you know of a book that has a similar concept, please let me know because I would LOVE to read a better version of this idea. Social media and oversharing give me the willies.

The Hunger Games — Suzanne Collins

Concept: In a dystopian society, children are forced to fight to the death, which somehow serves to enforce the power and control of the Capitol. The various “districts” are kept separated from each other to prevent communication and uprisings, but a teenage girl in this year’s games inadvertently starts a rebellion.

Why I was excited: Honestly, I just really love a good dystopian world with a rebel uprising. Even more so when those rebels are young folks trying to navigate the experience of growing up while simultaneously saving the world. Add in some borderline gladiator fights being broadcast around the world and I’m in.

the hunger games

What didn’t work: I haven’t read these books since they came out… because I really hated them. I remember being over the moon for the idea, but gradually finding myself more and more disappointed (and dare I say, disgusted) with the route things took. Even at the ripe old age of 14, I loathed love triangles with a passion, and Gale and Peeta made me want to set fire to those damn novels.

More to the point though: why kids instead of criminals? Why not force any other group except children to engage in gladiator-style showdowns? Regardless, Collins’s writing style is really not well-suited to this concept. She tends to be descriptive in the wrong places and bland and unimaginative everywhere else– I don’t really need three paragraphs about a dress, but I would like more than two sentences about the giant cornucopia in the arena. Also, Katniss is a total Mary Sue. Sorry not sorry, she really is.

Who did it better: I know that the common comparison is to Battle Royale, which I unfortunately haven’t read. However, if it’s teens fighting to the death that you want, Red Rising really knocks it out of the park and features a far more believable premise in a far more immersive world.

Annihilation — Jeff VanderMeer

Concept: This is a tricky one to describe, given that the book was so damn vague about everything. Essentially, a strange biological invasion is very slowly spreading from the mysterious “Area X”. Expeditions fail to safely return, and a new group is sent in to try and chart further progress. We’re thrust into a world that’s kind of (not really) that different from our own. There are some weird creatures that are eerily sentient, strange lights and brightness, a gelatin monster in a tower/tunnel, lots of words that don’t make sense, and that’s basically it.

Why I was excited: I wrote a full review (see link below) about this book a while back, and I mentioned that I read the book because I saw the trailer. The trailer made it all look very exciting and mysterious, and even the blurb for the book made it sound similarly intriguing and eerie. A excerpt from the dust cover reads as follows: “They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.” I mean come on– what’s not to be excited about?

annihilation

What didn’t work: Aside from the unpredictable narrator, pretty much none of it worked for me. The book presents loads of questions but provides no answers, and the whole thing feels like a long drawn-out fever dream instead of the psychological thriller that the synopsis makes it out to be. It would be the kind of dream where you’re listening to someone tell you about it, and you can tell it really resonated with them because they were there for it all, but they can’t really convey the specific atmosphere that made it resonate with them in the first place. I largely blame VanderMeer’s writing style for the atmospheric shortcomings. It had a lot of potential, but there’s very little that’s actually said and even less to be found between the lines. It spools on and on without actually saying much of anything or creating an immersive world. His descriptions are distracting and his prose is clunky, and it all just serves to take the reader further out of a world that’s extremely challenging to get into in the first place. You can read my full review here, where I complain a bit more eloquently.

Who did it better: I don’t have an exact literary example, but I recently watched The Machinist for the first time and I think this book could have (and should have) felt like that film. I had an elevated heart rate the entire time the movie was playing. From start to finish, there is a tangible tension because you know something is wrong, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. Annihilation had the potential to harness that same uneasy energy, and it would have been infinitely better for it. It also would have been infinitely better as a short story instead of a novel.

Uglies — Scott Westerfeld

Concept: A futuristic world features what appears on the surface to be a utopian society that requires all teenagers to undergo a surgery which makes them beautiful and happy. They are told that the operation is the great equalizer and that this way of life is so much better than the lifestyle of the humans who destroyed the planet and decimated natural resources. Plot twist: the surgery actually infects parts of the brain to make people complacent and ignorant. And so begins the epic saga of Tally Youngblood and her efforts to restore free will to the world.

Why I was excited: Are you picking up on a common theme here? I really like stories about dystopian societies and the people who try to fix them. Like The Hunger Games, I read this book back in my freshman year of high school. Unlike The Hunger Games, I really loved this book at the time and found it to be quite successfully executed. In a fit of nostalgia, I re-read the full trilogy in February, and needless to say, I didn’t find it so successful this time around. However, I don’t find the concept any less intriguing. The idea behind the surgeries in the story is that we put so much stock into physical appearances. There are so many references to the old days when people judged others based on their skin tone, or people forced themselves to throw up because they felt inadequate. Sound familiar? The surgery gives everyone the same olive skin tone, the same BMI, as well as similar heights and bone structures. It’s supposed to bring peace by imposing physical equality. It’s easy to see how the leaders of the story’s society thought this could be beneficial. Unlike the other books on this list, there wasn’t a tyrannical dictatorship or a mega-monopoly that took things too far, just a group of people who looked at the world and saw that something needed to change.

uglies series

What didn’t work: The biggest sticking point for me was the surgeries. These reconstructive surgeries completely revamp bodies: they peel back skin, change facial bone structure by shaving down the bones themselves, add height by introducing additional vertebrae, synthesize muscle tissue and hair follicles– all in an overnight surgery. The operations are impossible in their scope and inconceivable in their lack of recovery time. Westerfeld is a talented writer, but his descriptions consistently and repeatedly fall short. He fails to fully explain any of the technology that makes these surgeries (and all the other feats through the books) possible. In this regard– and several others– the trilogy progressively gets worse. The surgeries become increasingly intense and invasive, going so far as to create super-powered humans with faces like wolves (?!?). Of course, this all takes place in the course of a single year, so our MC is only 16 during all of these events.

Who did it better: Red Rising features an important reconstructive surgery, and instead of taking 12 hours, it takes closer to six months. The patient is in excruciating pain, has to undergo extensive physical therapy, and the surgeries come in waves instead of all at once. It’s believable, and because that surgery is the groundwork for the entire plot, it makes the rest of the story more believable by default.


While I was writing this post, I picked up a few common themes between these books: all of them had weak female leads, all but one were made into movies, and all but one were clever dystopian societies. When it comes to the film versions, I felt that all of them were just as poorly executed as the books, but in different ways. For example, Hunger Games vastly improved on the visuals and settings that Collins’s descriptions left lacking. However, it failed on simple items of importance, such as the source of the mockingjay pin.

We all know how much I love a strong female lead, and now I’m realizing how much I gravitate towards dystopian societies. So if you have a recommendation for me, drop it in the comments! As always, thanks for reading ♥

Recent Reads: Red Rising & Ready Player One

Throughout the process of writing this post, I realized how much easier it is to write reviews for books you don’t like. I read these two books in the middle of March, devouring them in less than two days each, and I was absolutely over the moon for them both. There’s a lot more to talk about when books let me down, but I’m super excited by how great these two stories are, so here we go!

Red Rising –– Pierce Brown

Talk about your pleasant surprises! This book was a total home run for me. It’s like Harry Potter meets Ender’s Game. There’s a dystopian space society featuring a caste system, high powered humans, stunning technology, an undercover rebel, and fierce competitions pitting teens against each other in fights to the death. It’s brilliant. It’s stark and gritty and strategic and it was so much more than I was expecting (I bought a hard copy after reading an e-book version, so you know it’s real). It also introduced a character by the name of Sevro who is quickly on his way to becoming one of my favorite male characters of all time.

What worked for me: I seem to have been reading a lot of books lately featuring young MCs, and it doesn’t always come across as wholly believable (looking at you, Six of Crows). But for the first time in a long time, the youth of the characters feels legitimate. We’re thrown into this group of entitled 16 and 17 year olds and suddenly we’re surrounded by arrogance, emotion, posturing, and unbridled rage. Vendettas arise, lines are crossed, and there’s no shortage of angst. These teenagers are out in a wilderness and are engaging in the most cutthroat game of Capture the Flag imaginable. Some of the characters find themselves stepping up to the responsibility and leading, while others devolve into their basest selves. It’s all very Lord of the Flies and it totally works.

I also appreciated the integration of female characters as a natural and powerful presence. Even though the MC is a male, he surrounds himself with strong women, and at one point, his two military lieutenants are both young women. It brought to mind the part of Black Panther where T’challa was told to surround himself with people he trusted and he chose strong and brilliant women. The ruler of the entire galaxy is a women, and the familial structures alternate between patriarchal and matriarchal. The representation left a bit to be desired, but overall, the female characters were strong, varied, and refreshing.

The writing style is a stellar example of stylistic choices heightening the mood of the story itself. I touched on this way back when I wrote my Annihilation review and referenced the mind-boggling House of Leaves as a benchmark. Red Rising features a crisp, almost stark, writing style that totally plays up the militaristic tone of the entire plot. Everything is written in a clinical and expository nature, which outlines in no uncertain terms what is happening, what is being felt, and what is being planned. The entire book revolves around strategy, and the briskly clear-cut writing styles emphasizes that in the best kind of way.

What didn’t work for me: Although the female leads were solid, Brown does have a bad habit of basing the majority of derogatory comments on feminine traits (“he cried like a girl”/”they flaunt their weapons like girls with new toys”/”you sound like a girl, I thought you were tough”). For a world set centuries in the future and filled with powerful women, the jabs feel out of place and too reflective of our current misogynistic society.

I think  the only other thing that brought me any frustration was the litany of house and family names. It feels very George R.R. Martin-esque in some spots, and in a book filled with planets, moons, and caste titles, the huge amount of characters and their allegiances can be a bit tricky to keep track of. Some of the houses have the same names as the planets, and different families have loyalties to one or the other or both.

Overall rating: Honestly, I think I would give it 9 out of 10 stars. It’s a super enjoyable and immersive read, and I’m so excited to dive into the rest of the trilogy. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s 11 reasons why you absolutely should.

red rising

Ready Player One — Ernest Cline

Ready Player One quickly became one of my favorite books back when I first read it in 2015. It came as a recommendation from a friend, and while I rarely end up enjoying recommendations, I could instantly tell something was special about this one. Over the years, it has become my go-to recommendation for people who don’t really like to read, especially if those people are 20-something year old males. Although I have less than zero interest in seeing the upcoming movie (because boooo, adpations), I saw the trailer in theaters and realized I was sorely overdue for a re-read. I blazed through the book in a weekend– which might have been even faster than I devoured it the first time– and to my surprise, the book totally holds up.

What worked for me: Like Red Rising, the writing style in the book plays up some of the best aspects of the story. Ready Player One takes place almost entirely in an online virtual reality world, and Cline creates this world for the readers. He’s the kind of writer that I could (probably) be if I wasn’t extremely lazy/my mind didn’t go so much faster than my words. His attention to detail is utterly flooring, and all of that hyper-detail helps to make the reader feel like they’re in VR as well. It’s a stroke of genius on Cline’s part, because he doesn’t just say that everything in the online world is perfectly rendered, he actually takes the time to show us that it is. It’s as immersive as writing gets, and for a story about virtual reality, it couldn’t have been more perfectly executed.

Wade, the main character, has a lingering aura of wish fulfillment, but overall, he’s a pretty splendid MC, especially for a nerdy white male. He’s relatable and honest, respectful and brilliant. I knew he was a likeable character when he opens his locker and his only decoration is a picture of Princess Leia posing with a blaster pistol. Anyone who doesn’t choose Leia in her slave bikini is okay in my book.

What didn’t work for me: Like I mentioned above, the wish fulfillment can be a bit heavy-handed in a few spots. Although Wade has spent his entire life in the online world, his incredible hacking abilities and memory retention can feel a wee bit far-fetched. However, there is no doubt that he also has shortcomings in this regard, which become obvious when he doesn’t make a few connections for the second key.

Overall rating: Although this is one of my favorite storylines of all time, there are a few gratuitous plot points that I find pretty difficult to ignore. For this reason, I would give it a solid 7.7 out of 10. For a far more intellectual reaction to Ready Player One, I highly recommend Michael Moreci’s think piece.

ready player one

Winter Wins

Spring is almost here! While the first day of spring is still officially a week away, the beginning of March always feels like the beginning of the new season for me. Like my fall media intake, this winter was pretty visually inclined as well. Here are my top five favorites from the past several months!

The Handmaiden

I know I’m late to this party, but wow. What a treat this film is. Stoker has long been one of my favorite films, so I don’t know why I waited so long to check out another Park Chan-wook project. The structure of the film is impeccable, the varying POVs is seamless, the set and costume design is gorgeous, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. I watched the movie without knowing anything about the storyline (something I’m a huge fan of doing and highly recommend), so I was completely caught off guard by the plot twists and resolutions. This is now up there with Carol in terms of my favorite love stories, and one I’m super eager to watch again.

the handmaiden

Six of Crows

I mentioned this duology in my recent post about book series, so I won’t talk about it too much here. However, coming from someone who hated the Grisha trilogy, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were so enjoyable. There’s a great character lineup, government infiltration, solid representation, and of course magic and assassins. It’s rare to read a book that successfully meshes six MCs and their point of views, but Bardugo executes it surprisingly seamlessly. Each character is unique and has their own set of driving forces and issues, but they interact as a group as well. I almost didn’t give these books a chance because of my dislike for the Grisha trilogy, but I’m so glad I did. (Artist credit here)

six of crows

The Dressmaker

Another one I’ve mentioned recently, this movie was directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and was my female director pick for January. I love good costume design in a film, and in that regard, this viewing was delightful down to the last detail. Considering I can count on one hand all of the Kate Winslet movies I’ve ever seen, it seems noteworthy that she has ended up on my list of favorites both this season and last season. This is an Australian movie from 2015, based on the book by Rosalie Ham. If you’ve been following my cinematography posts, you might have noticed the name Donald McAlpine pop up a lot. He’s an extremely talented DP who happens to have worked on many of my favorite films. He has an extraordinary eye for framing, and this project is no exception.

the dressmaker 4

The End of the F***ing world

Okay. So I first binge watched this when it was released, and really really enjoyed it. I talked about what it does right in my mini-review on You, but didn’t go very in depth. I just rewatched it again in January, and being aware of the storyline allowed me to really absorb the chemistry and characterization of the two main characters. Their on-screen interactions are so natural and charged, and it was a stroke of genius to include both of their internal narratives in tandem. The soundtrack is absolute perfection as well, and overall it’s a show worthy of multiple viewings. (I recommend watching all the episodes  in quick succession, preferably in one day if possible. It allows the story to build and the character connections to become more tangible.)

the end of the fing world

Black Panther

Because I included The Last Jedi on my last favorites list, I was hoping to include another accessible blockbuster here… which ended up being entirely too easy after seeing Black Panther. I’ve been struggling with pacing in a lot of recent releases, and while I felt the same about Black Panther, Ryan Coogler absolutely knocked this out of the park in virtually every regard. This is a beautiful and empowering and important story, filled with impeccable casting and paired with a stellar soundtrack. The costume design was flawless (more to come on Ruth E. Carter in a future post) and Coogler’s inspiration from Ta-Nehisi Coates (who is undeniably one of the most talented writers of our time) made this script sing. Representation matters, and bearing witness to how uplifting and important this story is has been nothing short of magical. As Christopher Orr aptly puts it: Black Panther is more than a superhero movie. (Bonus: the second after-credits sequence was enough to make my heart implode.)

black panther


So there you have it! These were my top five favorites from this winter. Did you read or watch anything this over the past several months that stood out to you? If so, let me know in the comments!

On Book Series

I’d be lying if I said series, both in books and in film, don’t exhaust me sometimes. The thought of an endless litany can wear me out to even consider, especially if it’s for a series that hasn’t yet been completed. It happens to me with TV shows that are still being aired (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), with book series that go on long hiatuses between novels (Song of Ice and Fire), and movie sagas that seem as if they will stretch on indefinitely and infinitely (Star Wars). There is something so daunting to me about jumping into a series that is not and may never be truly completed. I have a special place in my heart for series that follow their natural course instead of spinning their wheels ceaselessly. It’s why I loved Parks and Recreation all the way through, unlike The Office which had that weird two season slump that seemed as if it would never end. All that is to say that I have a lot of respect for authors who let stories run their natural course. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite book series!

Fairyland

I’ve mentioned before how much I adore prose that reads like poetry. For years, I struggled to write creatively outside of free form poetry, and I think I carried that affinity for rhythmic flows with me through my adult years. Books like The Virgin Suicides and Song of Achilles have very special places in my heart (and on my bookshelf) because of the lyrical nature of their narrative.

Catherynne M. Valente is the author of my favorite book series, known as the Fairyland Series, and she does lyrical prose better than anyone. The first book of her five-novel arc is titled The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and when I read it for the first time, I cried like a baby. It has heavy Alice in Wonderland themes, but with more logical rules and a more Arya Stark style heroine. Two of the leads, September and Saturday, are on my favorite female and male character lists, respectively, which speaks to the quality and consistency of Valente’s characterization. I’ve recommended this series more than once on this blog, and I’ll recommend it again here. It’s the most beautiful book series I have ever read, and it connects with me in new ways every time I return to it.

the girl who circumnaviagted fairyland in a ship of her own making
Artist Credit: Anne Lambelet
The Raven Cycle

I should probably stop writing about this series on what is starting to feel like a weekly basis— I think it’s starting to make me look a little one-dimensional. But honestly, it’s just that good. I love these characters like they’re my own children and I may or may not have a massive fan-cast post sitting in my drafts at this very moment.

In the past year or two, I’ve found myself with a growing appreciation for really solid characterization. One of my first posts on this blog was about my pet peeves in female characters, and it was entirely too easy to come up with specific examples for all of those annoyances. I have such a soft spot for flawed characters that a reader can still identify with– no Mary Sues or manic pixie dream girls or excessive wish fulfillment roles. The Raven Cycle has some of the best characterization I’ve ever come across, especially considering the sheer number of characters that are important throughout the course of the four books. Every single one of them is dynamic and unique, with their own set of flaws and weaknesses and desires. It’s nearly impossible not to connect with them, because their humanity emanates from every page of the books. Maggie Stiefvater, like Valente, is an incredibly talented author who possesses a huge capability for writing goosebump-inducing prose. Her work has a lyrical nature that is so deeply embedded with nostalgia and longing.

the raven cycle
Artist Credit: BLuwish via deviantart
Six of Crows

So this was a recent read for me, and not something I was expecting to enjoy, much less devour. This duology takes place in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, which was a trilogy I was sorely disappointed by. To my slight frustration, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom take place after the Grisha trilogy and are set in the same world, so they are far more enjoyable for readers who are already familiar with the Grishaverse. There are many references to places, people, politics, and Grisha knowledge that would largely be lost on readers who hadn’t previously read the Grisha trilogy.

With that being said, Six of Crows excels in all the ways that the Grisha trilogy fell short for me. The characterization is spot on, the interactions are natural, the representation doesn’t feel like an afterthought, and the action is plausible and immersive. Bardugo’s writing feels like it came a long way between Ruin and Rising and Six of Crows, even though they were only a year apart. I read the e-book version of Six of Crows, and picked up the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, the instant I was finished with the first one. It’s rare for me to enjoy an e-book so much that I buy a hard copy, but I purchased the hardcover versions of both books immediately after completing them.

I really only had two qualms with the duology: the ages of the main characters, and the immersion of the settings. The first is a simple shortcoming, but it’s one that many other readers struggled with as well. The MCs are just too young to be believably engaging in the activities that they do (I wont say much on the topic for the sake of avoiding spoilers). My second complaint, however, is more of a personal preference. I’ve always been deeply impressed by Bardugo’s world-building– she crafts incredible political tensions, governmental structures, layered intrigue, and wholly viable geographics. But for some reason, I struggle to really visualize and immerse myself in her individual settings. From the Ice Court to the Crow Club, I always find her descriptions a bit lacking for my personal taste. I noticed the same thing in the Grisha trilogy, and can’t help but find myself a little disappointed by her visuals (or lack thereof).

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom was also my first experience with a duology. The fascinating thing about duologies as opposed to trilogies is that the middle of the full story arc falls in between the two books, as opposed to the second book of a trilogy. For people who love a good cliffhanger, this is a wonderful treat, and Six of Crows pulls it off splendidly. The turn at the end of the first book propels the entire story forward in a huge way (again, vagueness in the interest of spoilers). Jodi over at Publishing Crawl has a great post on how to successfully manage this format, for anyone who might be interested.

All in all, Six of Crows has been my favorite read of 2018 thus far. It’s like Oceans Eleven meets Rogue One, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good heist story. Bonus: I’m a huge sucker for good fan art, and this duology has an abundance of it ♥

six of crows 2
Artist Credit: Kevin Wada via tumblr
The Lord of the Rings

Oh Tolkien. How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Much to my embarrassment, I still haven’t gotten around to picking up The Silmarillion, which I know would give me even more reasons to adore Middle Earth. I’ve mentioned in the past that I first read The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was ten or eleven… and that I really struggled with it. I wasn’t allowed to watch the movies unless I read the books, so I did my best to slog through the seemingly endless litany of names and places. Subsequently, for much of my high school and college years, I thought I just wasn’t a fan of Tolkien’s writing style. But then, I picked the series back up last summer for a re-read. And I fell in love with Middle Earth all over again.

What a master of his craft Tolkien was. I think it’s safe to say he was one of the single largest influences on the fantasy genre, and that his work impacted the literary sphere in an incalculable way. Tolkien created an entire language during the process of breathing life into Middle Earth, a feat that baffles me to this day. While his prose can be dense and his world is whitewashed, it’s impossible to not appreciate the scope of his creativity and ingenuity. Merry and Pippin will forever be some of my favorite literary characters, and I honestly hope I come back as a hobbit in my next life.

the fellowship of the ring
Artist Credit: haleyhss via deviantart
A Song of Ice and Fire

Similar to The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire is nothing short of a massive undertaking. World building is seldom seen to the extent that Martin utilized for this series. Between his family houses, generational history, and plotted maps, he has crafted a vastly impressive world over the past 15 years. I’ve discussed before that I feel as if the books and the show are best as companions to each other rather than standalones, and I’ve also discussed in detail my issues with some aspects of the series.  While I’m not sure if this book series is necessarily one of my true favorites, I’m including it here for one reason: continuity.

For four books, Martin blew me away with his skill at connecting storylines and bringing loose ends together. I can’t even wrap my head around how much work it must take to maintain a chronological stream of narrative told by a litany of different characters. I often wonder if he has an entire wall full of names and strings and time lines, or maybe a life size chess board with different characters on different squares. While I didn’t really enjoy the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, it was still thrilling to see how the big picture is starting to form. Pieces are falling into place in slow motion, and it’s incredible to think of the amount of foresight Martin must have had from the very beginning to be able to mesh so many stories together now.

game of thrones
Artist credit: jasinmartin via deviantart
Harry Potter

So here’s my deal with the Harry Potter universe: at this point, I think it’s become far too dragged out. The original seven-book series was pure undiluted magic. Bringing the schoolbooks to life was brilliant. Pottermore and Harry Potter World were strokes of genius. But it’s started to feel like overkill. I was one of the very few who enjoyed reading The Cursed Child, but even I can agree that it felt a bit like a money grab. And now, a whole new movie series revolving around the tiny Fantastic Beasts textbook feels rather gratuitous, especially with the addition of Ilvermorny and a whole new set of houses. (But to be fair, Newt Scamander is my precious angel baby who I love more than life.)

However, Harry Potter was (and remains) a spectacular feat and one of the most immersive examples of world building I have ever come across. The amount of creativity and ingenuity it takes to pull an entire world from the ether is flooring. Spells, potions, transfiguration, magical laws and occupations, transportation, wand lore, and creatures were materialized at our fingertips. Growing up in a hyper-conservative religious household, Harry Potter was strictly forbidden due to the magical themes. I didn’t have the opportunity to read the books until the summer before I left for college, and since then I have re-read the series every year. I think it speaks to the skill with which they were written that they are just as enjoyable to read at age 24 as they are at age 11. J.K. Rowling has one of the most creative and inspired minds of our time, and it’s nothing short of an honor to have such magical books in our lives.

harry potter lineup
Artist Credit: Loquacious Literature via tumblr

So what do you think? Have you read and enjoyed any of these series? What are some series I should try next? Leave a comment below and let me know!

The Raven Cycle: Tarot and Translations

I’ve mentioned once or twice how much I love Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. But what I haven’t mentioned is that very few books in my lifetime have made me fangirl as hard as this series doesI just completed my third reading of the series in January, and somehow loved it even more this time around than the previous two turns. There are a few pieces of knowledge that have made the books even more enjoyable for me, so I wanted to compile them here on the off chance any other readers would benefit from them.

Tarot

As a beginner reader of the tarot, seeing the references in the books was extremely enjoyable. I wanted to collect all of the references to specific cards from all four books and outline their meanings and significance, because I feel that it sheds a lot of light on the characters themselves, especially Adam. I did leave out a couple of instances where Adam pulls a card to assist him with Cabeswater, but aside from that, every card used in the books should be here! Most of the interpretations were pulled from The Biddy Tarot for her simple wording and thoroughness.

three of swords

Three of Swords || Interpretation: Painful separation, sorrow heartbreak, grief, rejection. The heart is symbolic of emotion and beauty, while the piercing swords reflect the ability of logic and power to harm the physical body and the emotions of a person. The sky is heavily clouded and rain pours down violently, representing a grim moment in time.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Calla was the first to speak. She flipped the three of swords around for the man to look at. On her card, the three swords stabbed into a dark, bleeding heart the color of her lips. “You’ve lost someone close to you.” (Book 1, page 122) || Appearance: Calla/Persephone’s reading for Greenmantle — “The card was the three of swords. It depicted a bloody heart stabbed with the aforementioned three swords. Gore dripped down the blades. Maura called it “the heartbreak card.” Blue needed no psychic perception to feel the threat oozing from it.” (Book 3, page 75)

five of pentacles

Five of Pentacles || Interpretation: Isolation, insecurity, worry, financial loss, poverty. The Five of Pentacles, like the fives in the other suits, portrays a situation of adversity. Both appear to be living in poverty and with little or no possessions. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Maura touched the edge of the five of pentacles. “Money’s a concern,” she noted. On her card, a man with a crutch limped through snow under a stained-glass window while a woman held a shawl beneath her chin.” (Book 1, page 123)

knight of pentaclesKnight of Pentacles || Interpretation: Efficiency, routine, conservatism, methodical. The Knight of Pentacles, like the Knights of the other suits, represents work, effort, and the responsibility that follows upon the dreams of the Page. His eyes reflect careful thought and consideration. The Knight is engaged in the often toilsome, routine efforts required to realize the dreams of his heart. He is building the foundations to support his dreams and his goals. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Persephone touched the first card she had drawn. The knight of pentacles. An armored man with cold eyes surveyed a field from the back of a horse, a coin in his hand. […] Persephone finally spoke. In her small, precise voice, she told the man, “You’re looking for something.” […] Calla’s card, beside Persephone’s, was also the knight of pentacles. It was unusual for two decks to agree exactly. Even stranger was to see that Maura’s card was also the knight of pentacles. Three cold-eyed knights surveyed the land before them.” (Book 1, page 124)

the towerThe Tower || Interpretation: Disaster, upheaval, sudden change, revelation. The Tower signifies darkness and destruction on a physical scale, as opposed to a spiritual scale. The Tower itself represents ambitions built on false premises. The lightning bolt breaks down existing forms in order to make room for new ones. It represents a sudden, momentary glimpse of truth, a flash of inspiration that breaks down structures of ignorance and false reasoning.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Her attention moved from the Tower, which meant his life was about to change dramatically” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam —  “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card, where men fell from a burning tower (Book 2, page 357) || Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “All of the women had turned over five different versions of the Tower. Calla’s version of the Tower perhaps best depicted the card’s meaning: A castle labelled STABILITY was in the process of being struck by lightning, burning down, and being attacked by what looked like garter snakes. A woman in a window was experiencing the full effects of the lightning bolt. At the top of the tower, a man had been thrown from the ramparts – or possibly he had jumped. In any case, he was on fire as well, and a snake flew after him. “So we’re all going to die unless we do something,” Calla said.” (Book 4, page 10)

page of cups
Traditional Rider-Waite card

Page of Cups || Interpretation: A messenger, creative beginnings, synchronicity. The Page of Cups, like the Pages in all the suits, represents some sort of beginning or renewal. The Page of Cups indicates the surprising and unexpected nature of inspiration that comes to us from the realm of the unconscious and the spirit. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk where we find out this card represents Blue — “the last card in the reading, the page of cups. Blue glanced at her frowning mother. It wasn’t that the page of cups was a negative card; in fact, it was the card Maura always said she thought represented Blue when she was doing a reading for herself. You’re the page of cups, Maura had told her once. Look at all that potential she holds in that cup. Look, she even looks like you. And there was not just one page of cups in this reading. Like the knight of pentacles, it was tripled. Three young people holding a cup of full of potential, all wearing Blue’s face.” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: twice in the one-off for Gansey — “As she flipped it over, she let out a little helpless laugh. The page of cups looked back at Blue with her own face. It felt like someone

page of cups blue
A possible Blue look-alike

was laughing at her, but she had no one to blame for the selection of the card but herself. When Maura saw it, her voice went still and remote. “Not that one. Make him choose another.” Blue replaced the card and shuffled the deck with less drama than before. When she offered the cards to him, Gansey turned his face away like he was pulling a raffle winner. His fingers grazed the edges of the cards, contemplative. He selected one, then flipped it over to show the room. It was the page of cups.” (Book 1, page 150)|| Appearance: single card for Blue by Maura — Maura gave Blue’s hand an affectionate shake and flipped over a card at random. “Ah, there you are.” It was the page of cups, the card Maura always said reminded her of Blue. In this deck, the art was of a fresh-faced young person holding a jewel-studded goblet. The suite of cups represented relationships — love and friendship — and the page stood for new and budding possibilities. (Book 2, page 10)|| Appearance: hinted at in whole-life reading by whole group — “Does this mean she’s going to leave?” Orla asked, tapping on another card and referring to a different she. “Probably,” Maura sighed. (Book 4, page 13)

two of swordsTwo of Swords || Interpretation: Indecision, choices, truce, stalemate, blocked emotions.  The blindfold shows that the woman in this card is confused about her situation and that she can see neither the problem nor the solution clearly. The swords she holds are perfectly balanced, showing a balanced and stable mind, and that both sides of the situation need to be addressed. The crossed swords are also symbolic of the need for a truce and the Suit of Swords indicates that the problem at hand needs to be resolved using logic and intellect. The waxing moon to the right of the woman shows a new beginning arising out of the solutions found for this problem.|| Appearance: one-off for Adam — “Selecting a card, Adam presented it to Maura. “Two of swords,” she said. “You’re avoiding a hard choice. Acting by not acting. You’re ambitious, but you feel like someone’s asking something of you you’re not willing to give. Asking you to compromise your principles. Someone close to you, I think. Your father?” “Brother, I think,” Persephone said. “Do you want to ask a question?” Maura asked. Adam considered. “What’s the right choice?” Maura and Persephone conferred. Maura replied, “There isn’t a right one. Just one you can live with. There might be a third option that will suit you better, but right now, you’re not seeing it because you’re so involved with the other two. I’d guess from what I’m seeing that any other path would have to do with you going outside those other two options and making your own option.” (Book 1, page 145)

deathDeath || Interpretation: Endings, beginnings, change, transformation, transition. The armour he is wearing indicates that he is invincible and unconquerable. Indeed, no-one has yet triumphed over death. The horse that Death rides is white, the colour of purity. Death is therefore the ultimate purifier. All things are reborn fresh, new and pure. || Appearance: one-off for Gansey — “Flippantly, Gansey snagged another card, clearly finished with this exercise. With flourish, he turned the card over and slapped it on the table. Blue swallowed. Maura said, “That’s your card.” On the card on the table was a black knight astride a white horse. The knight’s helmet was lifted so that it was obvious that his face was a bare skull dominated by eyeless sockets. The sun set beyond him, and below his horse’s hooves lay a corpse. […] “I thought that psychics didn’t predict death,” Adam said quietly. “I read that the Death card was only symbolic.” (Book 1, page 151) || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)

ten of swordsTen of Swords || Interpretation: Defeat, crisis, betrayal, endings, loss. Despite the ominous images, there are positive aspects to this card. The sea before which the body lies is still and calm and the sun is rising in the distance beyond the mountains, indicating that the darkness will soon be dispelled. Thus, each new beginning must come from an end, and with every defeat are sown the seeds of future victory.|| Appearance: not within a reading but for Mr. Gray’s situation — He leaned to pick up one she had missed. “This fellow looks unhappy,” he observed. The art depicted a man stuck with ten swords. The victim lay on his face, as most people did after being stuck with ten swords. […] “Good news for him is that the tens represent the end of a cycle. This card represents the absolute worst it’ll get.” (Book 2, page 110) || “The Gray Man’s hand hung down and Maura stroked it. “This is the ten of swords,” he guessed. Maura kissed the back of his hand. “You’re going to have to be brave.” The Gray Man said, “I’m always brave.” She said, “Braver than that.” (Book 2, page 334)

king of swordsKing of Swords || Interpretation: Clear thinking, intellectual power, authority, truth. On his left Saturn finger is a ring, symbolic of power and taking his responsibilities seriously. The King wears a blue tunic, symbolic of a desire for spiritual understanding, and a purple cape, symbolic of compassion combined with intellect. The sky is relatively clear with a few clouds, representing general mental clarity. The trees in the background appear motionless and reflect the stern judgement of the King. || Appearance: Persephone’s interpretation for Mr. Gray — Persephone’s quiet voice cut through Maura’s and Calla’s increasingly loud competition. “The king of swords.” Everyone turned to look at Persephone […] The Gray Man’s hand hovered obediently over the deck. “Top or bottom?” Persephone blinked. “Sixteen cards from the top, I believe.” […] The Gray Man carefully counted the cards, double-checked his count, and then turned over the sixteenth card for the others to see. The king of swords, master of his own emotions, master of his own intellect, master of reason, gazed out at them, expression inscrutable. “That’s Mr. Gray’s card,” Persephone said. The Gray Man turned the card one way and another, as if it would reveal its secrets to him. “I don’t know much about tarot. Is it a terrible card?” “No card is a terrible card,” Maura said. […] “And the interpretation can be very different at each reading. But. . . the king of swords is a powerful card. He’s strong, but impartial— cold. He is very, very good about making decisions based upon facts instead of emotion. No, it’s not a terrible card.” (Book 2, page 112)

the hanged manThe Hanged Man || Interpretation: Suspension, restriction, letting go, sacrifice. This is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. This is the archetype to meditate on to help break old patterns of behaviour and bad habits that restrict you. || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card […] to the second, where a man hung upside down from a tree. (Book 2, page 357)

nine of swordsNine of Swords || Interpretation: Depression, nightmares, intense anxiety, despair. She appears to have just woken up from a bad nightmare, and is obviously upset, fearful and anxious following her dream. Nine swords hang on the wall behind her and the base of the bed is decorated with a carving of a duel in which one person is being defeated by another.|| Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. […] That third card, that utter despair. He couldn’t take his gaze from it. Adam said, “It looks like he’s woken from a nightmare.” (Book 2, page 357)

the magicianThe Magician || Interpretation: Power, skill, concentration, action, resourcefulness. The Magician is the bridge between the world of the spirit and the world of humanity. His magical table holds all four suits of the Tarot, each of which represents one of the four primordial elements of the alchemists – earth, air, fire and water. These symbolise the appropriate use of mind, heart, body and soul in the process of manifestation. || Appearance: Adam’s draw for himself — “I’m pulling another card.” […] Adam cut the deck, laid his hand on each stack. He took the card that felt warmer. Flipping it, he placed the card beside the nine of swords. A robed figure stood before a coin, a goblet, a sword, a wand — all of the symbols of all the tarot suits. An infinity symbol floated above his head; one arm was lifted in a posture of power. Yes, thought Adam. Understanding prickled and then evaded him. He read the words at the bottom of the card. The Magician.” (Book 2, page 357) 

three of wands

Three of Wands || Interpretation: Preparation, foresight, enterprise, expansion. From this height, he can see all that lies ahead and is aware of the impending challenges and opportunities. The three Wands surrounding him are firmly planted in the ground, reflecting his commitment to his future plans.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. Three of wands: build a bridge across the stream with these three stones.” (Book 2, page 396)

seven of swords

Seven of Swords || Interpretation: Betrayal, deception, getting away with something, stealth. The Seven of Swords shows a man sneaking away from a military camp with a bundle of five swords in his arms. Two other swords remain planted in the ground just behind him. His expression exhibits a sense of over-confidence and mocking, as though he felt absolutely sure of his success of getting away with the theft. However, in the distance a small group of soldiers can be seen to the left of the thief, and one of them holds a sword upraised.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. […] Seven of swords: Just dig out the biggest of the stones and put it in the tri-colored car.” (Book 2, page 396)

the devil

The Devil || Interpretation: Bondage, addiction, sexuality, materialism. The goat symbolizes the scapegoat, the person or thing upon which people project the inferior side of themselves in order to feel better about themselves. Thus the Devil is the scapegoat we blame for our troubles in life. The Devil has an almost hypnotic stare, bringing those who come near him within his power. At the foot of the Devil stands a man and a woman, both naked and chained to the podium on which the Devil sits. They appear to be held here, against their will, but only closer observation, the chains around their necks are loose and could be easily removed. This symbolises that bondage to the Devil is ultimately a voluntary matter which consciousness can release. The man and woman wear tiny horns like those of the Satyr – they are becoming more and more like the devil the longer they stay here. The dark and doorless cave implies that the Devil dwells in the most inaccessible realm of the unconscious and only crisis can break through the walls.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone turned over a card. The Devil. All of a sudden, Adam was quite certain of why they were hurrying.” (Book 2, page 398)|| Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126) || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Ronan — “Ronan turned his head sideways to read the cards. Something with flames, something with a sword. The Devil.” (Book 4, page 141)

the empressThe Empress || Interpretation: Fertility, femininity, beauty, nature, abundance. The Empress is the archetypal Earth Mother. The Empress is surrounded by a beautiful, lush forest with a stream running through it, demonstrating the Empress’s deep emotional connection with Mother Earth and life. She draws her sense of peace from the trees and the water and is rejuvenated by the energy of nature. || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)

knight of wandsKnight of Wands || Interpretation: Energy, passion, lust, action, adventure, impulsiveness. The Knight of Wands is seen riding upon his horse, which rears up in the intensity of the Knight’s quest for success. The Knight’s face bears the determination of one bound to succeed. || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Blue — “He placed a random card on the warm hood. His unfocused eyes skipped over the image — a black-smudged knight on horseback carrying a vine-wrapped staff — and began to remake it into something wordless and dreamy. Sight was replaced with sensation. A vertiginous feeling of travel, climbing, rightness. He covered the image with his hand until he got his eyes back, and then he put the card away. “Knight of wands?” Blue asked him.” (Book 3, page 305)

queen of swordsQueen of Swords || Interpretation: Quick thinker, organised, perceptive, independent. The Queen of Swords sits high on her throne with a stern look on her face indicating that no-one can fool her. In her right hand, she comfortably holds a sword pointed to the sky, and her left hand extends as if she has something to offer to others. Behind her is a spring sky, different from the winter settings on most other Swords cards, and this has an emergence and growth quality to it. The sky is clear, representing her clarity of mind as she considers matters of the intellect.|| Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “”Does this mean she’s still alive?” Maura asked, tapping on a card in one of the branches – the Queen of Swords. “Probably,” Calla grunted.” (Book 4, page 13) || Note: I’ve seen people write in their reviews that they thought this was referring to Persephone and were consequentially disappointed when she didn’t return. However, because the card is the Queen of Swords, it is undoubtedly a reference to either Piper or Neeve.


Untranslated Latin

Throughout my third reading, I also noticed that there are several instances of intentionally untranslated Latin throughout the four books. I jotted down the translations in the margins of my hard copies and figured that I would share my findings for anyone else who might be interested in doing the same! Please note that I do not speak any Latin whatsoever, so these translations were pulled off Google. As such, I cannot attest to the correctness of the grammar.

Book 1, page 115: “You know what they say about men with large bags,” Ronan replied. “Ostendes tuum et ostendam meus?” = I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

Book 2, page 121: “In indiget homo battery,” muttered Ronan. = a man needs a battery -or- a similar battery is needed

Book 2, page 128: “Occidet eum!” begged Orphan Girl, clinging to Ronan’s leg.  […] The girl sobbed out, “Ronan, imploro te!” || Occidet eum = kill || Ronan, imploro te = Ronan, kill him

Book 2, page 230: “Adam was in the dream, too; he traced the tangled pattern of the ink with his finger. He said, “Scio quid hoc est.” As he traced it farther and farther down on the bare skin of Ronan’s back, Ronan himself disappeared entirely, and the tattoo got smaller and smaller. It was a Celtic knot the size of a wafer, and then Adam, who had become Kavinsky, said, “Scio quid estis vos.” He put the tattoo in his mouth and swallowed it.” || Scio quid hoc est = I know what that is || Scio quid estis vos = I know what you are

Book 4, page 35: “Periculosum,” she warned. “Suscitat.” = peril awakens

Book 4, page 74: “Operae pretium est,” Orphan Girl said. = it is worthwhile 

Book 4, page 221: “Miseria fortes viros, Ronan,” Adam said. = Fire tests gold; adversity tests strong men

Book 4, page 284: Adam studied the tattoo that covered Ronan’s back: all the sharp edges that hooked wondrously and fearfully into each other. “Unguibus et rostro,” Adam said. = claws and beaks –or- with beak and talon, or tooth and nail.*

Book 4, page 394: Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit,” Ronan said into Adam’s hearing ear = and perhaps one day it will please us to remember these things


*So this line shows up twice in the fourth book, and many readers view it as a phrase of endearment between Ronan and Adam. The two translations are similar in wording, but one carries infinitely more weight. “Claws and beaks” could simply be a way for the boys to refer to themselves, an endearing line that has meaning to them within the scope of their interactions. However, “with beak and talon, or tooth and nail” is far more loaded. We’re all familiar with the phrase “fighting tooth and nail” and when this line shows up for the second time at the end of the book, Ronan is indisputably fighting with all he has. This interpretation implies that Ronan (and Adam) will always fight for what they have and what they love.

On Adaptions

Prompted by: Annihilation

Book-to-film adaptions are difficult. Some are certainly more fraught with challenges than others, but it is a huge hurdle to do a good book justice. I think that people largely underestimate the sheer volume of adaptions that are out. Most people know that movies like The Notebook, The DaVinci Code, and The Shining are based on popular books. Fewer people (but still a lot) are aware that movies such as The Godfather and Jurassic Park are also adaptions of books. But when it comes to movies like Forrest Gump and even Mean Girls, most people have no idea that they were based on books at all. High Fidelity, Requiem for a Dream, The Dressmaker, Breakfast at Tiffany’s… all books. The number of times I’ve been watching credits and seen the phrase “based on the book by _______” continues to blow me away.

These days, it seems like any book that makes it big gets turned into a movie. From Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train, popular books are being snatched up for movie deals left and right– not to mention books that came out half a century ago (I’m looking at you, A Wrinkle in Time). Half of me is proud of these authors, proud that they crafted a story so deeply enjoyable that they have been able to make a small fortune off of them and transition them to a new medium. But the other half of me squirms with discomfort over the fact that Hollywood execs are going for so few original scripts. Studios like A24 have been doing an increasingly impeccable job of giving inventive and creative scripts a chance, which makes it exciting instead of uncertain when they do spring for adaptions such as Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk at Girls at Parties. Overall though, I tend to avoid adaptions in theaters, especially when they’re on stylistic novels like Room or The Song of Achilles (more on that below).  But without further ado, here’s some of my favorite examples of successful adaptions.

Fight Club

This is, hands down, the best book-to-film transition I have ever seen. The casting was sublime, the pacing was perfection– especially given that I felt it wasn’t ideal in the novel, and the subliminal messages throughout the movie help to recreate and heighten the same sense of disease that the book draws upon. There are some aspects of the book, such as the “I am Jack’s ________” lines and the anti-consumerism themes, that manage to have more impact in the movie, possibly due to having such a visual connection with the narrator. I also feel that the storyline as a whole benefited from the visceral images in the film. My only qualm with Fight Club— both the book and the movie–  is that is has the same effect on certain male groups that Rick and Morty does. Rather than realizing that the stories are a commentary on what is wrong with society, some people place characters like Rick Sanchez and Tyler Durden on a pedestal.

fight club

Carol

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film adaption was released in 2015 and was my favorite film of the year. The strength of the adaption is that it absolutely nails the calmness of the book. Both mediums have a soothing cadence to them, a quiet sort of chemistry that nestles inside your chest. The subtlety of the romance itself is exquisite in the film and pays so much respect to the era that the book was written in. In 1952, coming out as a gay woman would have been nigh on catastrophic. This lends an aura of secrecy and subtlety to every single interaction between the two women, something that the movie displays flawlessly. Lingering glances and fleeting eye contact, swollen silences and unassuming lunches, casual comments and small talk– these are things that the vast majority of heterosexual viewers didn’t pick up on as romantic, whereas queer viewers are entirely too familiar with the language. In fact, some critics complained that the film was “cold” and detached. In an age inundated with overt innuendos and transparency, it can be difficult to pick up on the undercurrent of energy and longing that runs through Carol. This is certainly one of the best adaptions I’ve ever seen, and one that breaks my heart every time I watch it.

carol

Lord of the Rings

The primary issue that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series faced when it came time for adaption was time constraints. The book trilogy was incredibly complex and features so much material that plot points like Tom Bombadil and The Sacking of The Shire would have only felt shoehorned if they had been included in the movie adaptions, so it is understandable why they were left out. Speaking of time, however, I do feel that the passage of time was not properly conveyed in the movies. Seventeen years pass between Bilbo’s birthday party and Frodo’s departure from The Shire and the quest itself takes over a year to complete. Aside from that, there are really only two things I take issue with: Frodo telling Sam to go home on the stairs to Cirith Ungol, and Aragorn’s near death when he falls over the cliff. While Legolas and Gimli’s on-screen friendship is lacking in comparison to the books, I think the majority of the characterization was spot-on, especially that of Merry and Pippin and Gandalf. Don’t even get me started on Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, but I felt that he succeeded in many ways to bring the scope and scale of such a beloved world to the big screen.

fellowship of the ring

Harry Potter

Again, the main issue with adapting an entire book series is the time constraints. I am rather of the belief that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would have vastly benefited from being made into a TV series rather than a movies series, but of course that would have come with it’s own full set of challenges. Things like Peeves the Poltergeist, Neville’s full background, S.P.E.W., and Dudley’s “I don’t think you’re a waste of space” line are all things would have enriched the movies… but also would have added noticeable run time to the films. The movies are not without their flaws. From the casting choices for Albus Dumbledore to destroying the Elder Wand, I think the movies left much to be desired. However, what made the series such a huge success (and why I’m including it on this list) was the fact that it was accessible for both readers of the books and new fans. The movies feature a slew of small hat tips to the books, which enriched the viewing for everyone who had been following along for years, while still making it entirely accessible for those who had never opened one of the books. The undertaking of bringing such a layered and detailed story to life was monumental, and I think that the four directors did a surprisingly good job of illustrating the aspects of the wizarding world that many readers held near and dear to their hearts.

goblet of fire

Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire

I’ve talked about my issues with this show in a previous post, but I didn’t discuss how much I feel that the books and the show should be required companions for each other. I watched the first four seasons of the show a couple of years back, but only picked up the books this past fall. To say that Martin’s undertaking is ambitious is the understatement of the decade. His endless litany of characters, names, historical events, and houses often feels more like a religious tome than a fantasy novel. I’m not ashamed to say that I likely would not have even made it through the first book if I hadn’t already watched some of the show. Having a familiarity with the main characters (and a lot of the secondary ones) made the story far more enjoyable and immersive. With that being said, the show is severely lacking in many aspects. There are a number of plot points and character subtleties that didn’t make it on screen but do so much to flesh out the world and the people. After finishing the books, I re-watched the first three seasons and had very mixed feelings. There are a lot of things about the show that I simply can’t justify. Merely on a lit nerd level, it’s really difficult to watch all the unnecessary ways in which the show deviates from the books. But on a deeper level, the amount of violence and sexism that repeatedly takes place on screen is something I struggle to watch, for various reasons. I don’t have any intentions of continuing the show, but I can’t recommend the books enough to anyone who is a regular watcher.

a song of fire and ice

Room & Virgin Suicides

I almost didn’t include this section, as I haven’t seen either of these movies. However, both films were nominated for various awards and were clearly well-executed. So why won’t I watch them? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m absolutely over the moon for prose that reads like poetry. The Song of Achilles always leaves me breathless and/or in tears for that very reason, as does Valente’s Fairyland series. While poetic prose is my favorite stylistic trait when it comes to novels, I’m also a huge fan of inventive narrators in general, such as Jack in Room. The Virgin Suicides has been one of my favorite books for close to five years, largely because of it’s blend of unique narrative and beautiful prose. I find myself deeply attached and endlessly in awe of these novels almost entirely due to their writing style. Of course the characters and the settings are wonderful as well, but I only connect to them in the first place because of how they were written. It seems to me that regardless of how well filmed or perfectly cast these movies may be, they will still be unable to properly capture the writing style that made me fall in love with them in the first place. I hate to think that I will watch these movies and forever associate the film choices with the novels. I would rather have the books remain flawless for me than try to mix the two mediums.


So what do you think? Did you enjoy these adaptions? Leave a comment below with your favorite page-to-screen adaption! 

On Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Prompted by: The Secret History & The Raven Boys

I’m sure most of us are familiar with manic pixie dream girls by now, but just in case, here’s a quick overview: Coined by critic Nathan Rabin in reference to Kristen Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” She is unavoidably quirky, overtly charming (often because of her quirkiness, sometimes through her aloofness), and is, 99 times out of 100, the love interest of the male protagonist.

“A type of female character depicted as vivacious and appealingly quirky, whose main purpose within the narrative is to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist.”

-Oxford Dictionaries’ recently canonized definition of the MPDG

If you’re struggling to think of an example, you can pretty much insert Zooey Deschanel’s on-screen essence in just about anything she’s ever been in. The problem that this trope creates is twofold: it typecasts certain actors, and more importantly, it reduces female roles down to one-dimensional objects of infatuation.

“When you get sent scripts and you see you’re always playing someone’s girlfriend when you want to be the central role, it’s so depressing.”

-Zooey Deschanel in regards to being tired of being cast as a MPDG

mpdg

The holy trifecta of MPDGs in film is Claire in Elizabethtown, Summer in 500 Days of Summer, and Sam in Garden State. However, the presence of the manic pixie dream girl has thoroughly infiltrated the lit world. In fact, they’ve been around for much longer than the term has been. From Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower to Camilla in The Secret History, these manically dreamy girls pop up like daises (coincidentally, that’s a pretty popular name for the MPDG) in novels both old and new. Usually, the MPDG takes a backseat to our main (male) character. In The Secret History, this means she talks significantly less than any of the other (male) characters. In Looking for Alaska, this means she crashes her car and dies– which propels the main (male) character into his self-realization phase. Her personality is filtered through the rose-colored glasses of our male protag, and she usually ends up vanishing sometime before the third act so our brave boy can ~discover himself~. If you haven’t ever come across an MPDG in literature, you can pick up virtually any novel by Haruki Murakami or John Green to find one.

Here’s the thing about manic pixie dream girls: they really can seem quite delightful. They’re undeniably enjoyable to read, at least when they’re first introduced, because it takes a certain amount of whimsy and creativity to write them. They have unique names and quirky personality traits and most of the time they have dyed hair and green eyes. They’re vibrant and electric and people gravitate towards them. So why are they problematic? As I mentioned earlier, the big issue is that it reduces a unique female character to nothing more than a trope, which is problematic all on its own. But one of the reasons this is so frustrating is because it’s such an easy fix.

Maggie Stiefvater is the author of The Raven Cycle, a four-book series following the adventure of four prep school boys and their one female friend, Blue. Sounds like trouble already, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Except it’s not. Stiefvater is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, an incredibly talented writer. She makes paragraphs feel like listening to your favorite song on the radio while you’re cruising at night with the windows down. She weaves stories that drip in nostalgia and make your heart ache with the beauty of it all. And the vehicle that carries all of that emotion is her characterization. Every single character is resplendently unique and unavoidably important. Every single one has a part to play within their own character arc as well as in the grand scheme of things. But if it weren’t for that, all of them could easily feel like manic pixie dream girls (and boys). Blue only eats yogurt and wears crochet leggings in the summer. Gansey chews mint leaves and bought a warehouse to convert into a living space. Ronan is a high schooler with elaborate tattoos and a secret love for farming. Adam has freckles and a shy voice and can fix just about anything wrong with a car. There’s a family of psychics living under one roof, a handsome hitman with a penchant for 70’s culture, a Bulgarian who makes Molotov cocktails and loves street racing, and a 7 foot tall giant who lives in a house full of cats. Each character is quirky in one way or another, and could easily be one-dimensional without flaws or struggles or arcs. But Stiefvater makes sure that isn’t the case. She makes sure they all function both as cohesive groups and as individual characters. They work within their romantic storylines and outside of them as well. They are brave and scared and lonely and hopeful. They have secrets and share their lives with each other and throw temper tantrums from time to time. They are whole characters with whole personalities and it’s impossible not to adore them. (artist credit here)

raven cycle 3
Artist: flockeinc via tumblr

(If you haven’t read anything by Maggie Stiefvater yet, you’re missing out. She’s a master of magic and beautiful prose and slow burn relationships.)

My creative writing professor in college told us that all characters should be like the yin-yang symbol: the darkest characters should still have a spot of light, and the brightest characters should still have a spot of dark. No one wants to read about a glossed-over girl who doesn’t have anything wrong with her, just like no one wants to read about the dark villain with the mustache and black hat. To relate to a character, the reader must be able to see them as human. Not as just an object to be obtained, not as a quirky caricature, not as a disposable plot point. And so therein lies my issue with manic pixie dream girls: they are quirky objects, hard to obtain but easy to dispose of.

While the MPDG trope is a device that is in desperate need of some work, I’d be remiss to not share a secret about it. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, I think about how John Green would write me as a manic pixie dream girl. It’s reassuring to know that my collection of vintage china and my color-coded bookshelf would be whimsical, that my compulsion for neatness and my ripped cuticles would be marks of my quirkiness. That my gray-green eyes framed by glasses and my literary tattoos would be attractive. So if nothing else, the trope sometimes helps me to reframe myself and remember that there are always parts of ourselves that are delightful.

On Deus ex Machina

Prompted by: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Deus ex machina. Latin for “God from the machine” and often loosely translated to “the god in the machine.” Originally, this expression was a reference to an actual machine used in the performance of Greek plays. A physical device would be used to bring the actors playing gods onto the stage. Sometimes this was a crane that would lower the gods from above, or sometimes a riser that boosted them up from a trapdoor in the stage. The concept of introducing gods into the story was often used to resolve conflict or conclude a plot point.

god in the machine

By I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5

Today, the term is used to reference a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the unexpected intervention of a new character/object/ability/event/etc. The key here is that regardless of what this new thing may be, by its very definition, it shouldn’t have been previously queued up or alluded to. This means that a true deus ex machina will likely leave the reader saying “What! Seriously?!” after its appearance, because there really wasn’t any way for them to have seen it coming. While utilizing this plot device isn’t always lazy, it does seem to be most often utilized by lazy writers.

Popular debates over possible deus ex machinas include: the elder wand/wand lore/wand ownership in Rowling’s Deathly Hallows, the eagles in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Thoros of Myr repeatedly bringing people back to life in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.

The book that got me pondering this plot device is the third and final book in Erika Johansen’s Tearling trilogy. As a little recap: I devoured the first book in the series, The Queen of the Tearling. It featured some of my favorite elements in a story: a strong female lead (who doesn’t display any of my major pet peeves), no overt or unnecessary romance, well-written political intrigue, and inventive and original world-building. The second book, The Invasion of the Tearling, wasn’t quite as solid but was still thoroughly enjoyable. Johansen included a lot of flashbacks through the eyes of a new character, which made it a little more difficult to stay grounded in the main storyline. However, it’s easily forgivable because the character featured in the flashbacks is dynamic and brave as well. Then comes the third book, The Fate of the Tearling. While the first half of the book isn’t flat-out disappointing, it is clear from the start that it is nowhere near as strong as the previous books were. Sadly, Johansen seemed to have painted herself into a corner and created the biggest cop-out of an ending that I have ever read.

-SPOILER ALERT-

Our heroine uses time travel via her sapphire to alter the timeline and create a happy ending in which no one except herself remembers what happens. All of the characters we spent two and a half books connecting with are suddenly obliterated and their storylines are erased. The battle royale that the entire trilogy was building to is eliminated in the blink of an eye. There is no showdown, no reveal, no resolution. Just a tired trope.

The argument that some fans have made is that because the sapphires were present all along, it’s fine that they demonstrated these excessive powers and magically resolved everything. People have also said that Kelsea was a selfless queen who was willing to do anything to protect her people, even if it meant suffering alone for the rest of her life. While those are both fair assertions and might eliminate the possibility of the sapphires being a deus ex machina, neither of them change the fact that it was a lazy choice. Proper story outlining and planning would have eliminated the need for such a drastic and uncharacteristic move.

-spoiler-free content resumes below-

I think my issue with plot devices like this is that they just end up feeling like a betrayal of the characters that we’ve grown attached to. I discussed lazy betrayals in a previous post, and I think it’s a similar situation here. It seems safe to say that most readers want their favorite characters to make choices and moves that are on par with what we already know about them. We want our writers to do them justice because that’s what keeps us immersed in the story. And immersion is the mark of a truly good story.

Kings of Some Things

After finishing Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle for the second time, I was thinking about how much I appreciate the tenderness with which she writes her male characters. Because I already created a post about my favorite female characters, I thought I would go ahead and whip up a list of my favorite male characters. Enjoy!

Books

Dobby: My pure angel baby. Far and away my favorite character in the HP books, Dobby is a wholesome soul who does his best to be himself in a world that was not made for him. His penchant for socks and his adoration for Harry are just two of the characteristics that make him so lovable. (Artist credit here) || “‘Socks are Dobby’s favorite, favorite clothes, sir!’ he said, ripping off his odd ones and pulling on Uncle Vernon’s. ‘I has seven now, sir. . . . But sir …’ he said, his eyes widening, having pulled both socks up to their highest extent, so that they reached to the bottom of his shorts, ‘they has made a mistake in the shop, Harry Potter, they is giving you two the same!'” -J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

Saturday: Companion to September from Valente’s Fairyland series, Saturday is a blue marid from the ocean who can grant wishes– under certain circumstances. He’s a soft spoken creature with a tender heart and a knowledge of time and space that rivals any astrophysicist. I’ll keep recommending the series until the day I die, so you might as well pick up the first one now. || “She leaned in, and kissed her Marid gently, sweetly. She tried to kiss him the way she’d always thought kisses would be. His lips tasted like the sea.” -Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Ronan Lynch: Bad boy extraordinaire, Ronan Lynch is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a heart attack, a car crash, an oil spill. He’s a magician beyond your wildest imagination, a farmer with a secret and a soft spot, and he must be protected at all costs. (Artist credit here) || “Ronan’s smile was sharp and hooked as one of the creature’s claws. ‘A sword is never a killer; it is a tool in the killer’s hand’.” -Maggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves

Merry & Pippin: Quite possibly one of literature’s most dynamic duos, these two hobbits are nigh on inseparable, hence my including them as one unit (even though I prefer Pippin). Merry is the smarts and Pippin is the… comedic relief? They are witty to a fault and set in their cushy hobbit ways, but they don’t hesitate to stick up for their friends and do what is right. ||“‘That’s what I meant,’ said Pippin. ‘We hobbits ought to stick together, and we will. I shall go, unless they chain me up. There must be someone with intelligence in the party.'” -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Comics

Dream: Moody, broody, and omnipotent, Morpheus is a wise and petty demigod of sorts. Ruler of the dream world, he has moments of shallow vindictiveness and moments of heartbreaking compassion. His ten volume arc was published over the course of 14 years and garnered endless acclaim– for a good reason. Neil Gaiman is an unparalled writer, and the life he breathes into Dream is passed on to us. || “But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want, is getting what once you wanted.” -Neil Gaiman,  Sandman #19

Ghüs: He’s a humanoid seal. Who rides a walrus. And wears yellow raincoats. Nuff said.|| “Ghüs has been a lot of things in his day… but sweet is not one of those things.” -Brian K. Vaughan, Saga Vol. 5

Peter Quill: With the exception of DC’s Bombshells series, the comics I read the most of is Guardians of the Galaxy. And Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, is a gem in the galactic group. A little more tenderhearted than the movies portray him, Peter Quill is just a man trying to save the galaxy and his friendships. || “I don’t mind dying like the valiant intergalactic hero that I am… but the least you could do is pay attention!” -Peter Quill, Earth-616

Movies/TV Shows

Leo Fitz: Scottish scientist and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Leopold Fitz is equal parts brilliant and dorky. He has a soft heart and looks for the best in people, as well as using his genius to create inventions to help others. He’s also half of a beautiful slow burn relationship, which I historically have a huge weakness for.|| “There’s nothing wrong with the data in my head.” -Leo Fitz, Agents of Shield, #2.11

Han Solo: Problematic fav. Han is definitely the outlier on this list– he’s cynical, arrogant, unreliable, and honestly, a bit of a f*ckboi. But he’s also the most realistic character in Star Wars and he ends up coming through in more way than one. Not to mention, he’s a hell of a pilot. #hanshotfirst || “You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.” -Han Solo, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Lito Rodriquez: A closeted Mexican actor in the Sense8 cluster, Lito is beautiful and emotional and brave and tender. He spends the vast majority of two seasons learning how to do what is right instead of what is easy, which is both relatable and hugely encouraging. || “In the end, we’ll all be judged by the courage of our hearts.” -Lito Rodriguez, Sense8, #1.8

Peppermint Butler: A master of the dark arts, Pep But is devious in his spare time but unequivocally loyal no matter what. Long-time advisor and caretaker to Princess Bubblegum, he is the only member of her kingdom who sticks with her when she is exiled. He brings her tea, helps her prank usurpers, and assists with saving Marceline the Vampire Queen. || “Say ‘hi’ to Death for me if you see him, he lives in a castle made of light.” -Peppermint Butler, Adventure Time, #2.17


It’s been increasingly refreshing to come across more gentle boys with good hearts over the years. Toxic masculinity is a deeply damaging and pervasive part of our culture, and the more we present boys with alternatives to the stoic and degrading men that grace our pages and screens, the better off the world will be.

Runner-ups included Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, Jake the Dog & Finn the Human from Adventure Time, the MCU’s version of Loki Laufeyson, Onion from Steven Universe, and The Gray Man from The Raven Cycle.

On Game of Thrones and Violence against Women

Prompted by: Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series

I am certainly not the first person to comment on the discrepancies between George R.R. Martin’s writing and the choices made by the front-runners of the show. I watched the first four seasons of the show back when they came out but stopped watching after the season four finale. But I just read all of the released books this fall, and then re-watched the first three seasons again. And boy oh boy do I take issue with some key elements.

Content Warning: violence, rape

Season 1, Episode 1: The rape of Danerys by Khal Drogo. In the books, Dany’s wedding night was overwhelmingly tender and consensual. Drogo asks her repeatedly what is and isn’t okay, he is considerate and slow and waits until it’s something that she is sure she wants. While that doesn’t change the fact that she was a child of 13, it sets a completely different tone for her well-being and their relationship overall. Instead, we get to start the entire show with an explicit act of sexual violence.

Season 2, Episode 7: Dany’s dragons are stolen. One of her maidservants is killed and the other maidservants turn out to have betrayed them both and given up the dragons. In the books, Dany’s handmaidens are unequivocally loyal. There is no bickering between them or conflict or jealousy. They are as kind to each other as they are to the Khaleesi, never making snide comments over the terminology the other might use due to their differing countries of origin. This plot point in the show really left a bad taste in my mouth. Why was it necessary for a close female confidant to betray the trust of the Khaleesi? Why did they have to paint a strong and brave female in such a negative light? Why did the handmaidens have to bicker in the first place? Why are the creators of the show so determined to eliminate positive female interactions?

Season 3, Episode 6: Arya comments that she doesn’t like Melisandre and the response of her male companions is that she feels that way because she’s a girl. Yay, more girl-on-girl hate… because the only conceivable reason a twelve-year-old girl wouldn’t like a grown woman is due to jealousy. Scenes like this only serve to teach girls not to listen to their intuition and to chalk up their feelings to combativeness between females. It’s a reinforcement of the tired social commentary that girls can’t get along because they’re too busy competing with each other.

Season 4, Episode 3: Jamie rapes Cersei after Joffrey’s death. I don’t have to rewatch this episode to remember how utterly nonconsensual the moment is, especially in comparison to the book. Time has a good summary of what’s wrong with this scene, particularly in the light of director Alex Graves saying that it wasn’t rape.

Ros’s entire arc: so this starts off in pretty sex-positive way. A prostitute from Winterfell heads to King’s Landing to seek her fortune. When she starts working her way up in the ranks at one of Littlefinger’s brothels, it feels a bit gratuitous– “oh look how accepting we are, even a sex worker can be successful!” But it still feels positive and empowering– until it becomes clear that they established her as a character just for the sake of putting her in numerous horrible situations. She’s threatened by Littlefinger over her emotional distress after seeing a baby murdered, forced to partake in sadomasochism with another prostitute by Joffrey, beaten on Cersei’s orders, and finally she is brutally murdered by Joffrey. And out of all of those atrocities, only one even took place in the books.

These are only the scenes that stood out to me before I stopped watching the show. It’s been impossible to not hear about Sansa’s rape by Ramsay, or about Arya very  nearly being sold into sex slavery– two more overt and off-book instances of sexual violence.


The show features seven writers (five of which are men) and five directors (all of which are men). I’ve previously expressed my frustrations with male writers creating contentious and unsavory female characters in regards to the way Dave Eggers writes his female characters in The Circle. For me, the show takes this to a whole new level by not only including such moments, but also by including these moments that weren’t even in the books in the first place.

Complex has a must-read discussion on their site featuring a panel of female TV critics, and most of their thoughts on the series run parallel to mine, especially these two:

got violence against women

One of my biggest issues with the show in comparison with the books is that the show makes violence the centerpiece. It treats violence as a spectacle rather than focusing on the emotion that the violence results in. For example, in the books we are introduced to so many people who were survivors of war, and we hear the stories of what they saw and experienced. We connect with these people, many of them without names, because we are unavoidably faced with their outrage and pain and loss. Martin manages to make us feel with a sentence what an entire scene in the show fails to elicit. The same can be said for Theon’s transition to Reek. In the show, this character arc is nothing more than an entire season of torture porn. I don’t sympathize with Theon, I only mute the scenes so I don’t have to hear him screaming. In juxtaposition, book Theon disappears for a very long time, and when we finally see him again, he’s scarred and changed in more ways than one. The books make the torture utterly haunting and stomach-turning by alluding to what happened rather than shoving it in your face. Martin has discussed in interviews that he attempted to make his storyline historically accurate by writing in things like rape as a normal part of war. While I don’t entirely agree with the execution, I can understand his perspective on the choice. However, my qualms are not with how Martin treats women, my issues are with how the show treats women.

What it comes down to is that the show handles violence in a way that feels like it’s for shock value rather than emotional impact. The problem with this is that after being repeated over and over again, the shock diminishes but the violence doesn’t– and there still isn’t any emotional impact. Caroline Framke sums it up perfectly:

“The problem I have with Game of Thrones is less that horrible things happen to women than when horrible things happen to women, they’re filmed for shock value, and there’s often very little use in that story beyond how horrible it is.”

-Caroline Framke, Complex’s Female TV Critics Discuss the Violence Against Women on ‘Game of Thrones’

Predictably, the comments section has nothing but charming men saying that no one cares what women think and that feminism is garbage. There is also a comment that expresses a sentiment I’ve seen elsewhere: there’s plenty of violence against men in the show– so why is that not being discussed? But here’s the thing: sexual violence against women is a rampart part of our society. You need only look at the most basic of statistics (or the recent #MeToo movement paired with the massive amount of assault allegations currently being leveled at public figures) to see that women have and are suffering copious amounts of violence at the hands of men. To compound the issue, it is only in the past year that more women have started to feel safe enough to speak up about their experiences without overwhelming fear of being silenced. To what extent is it excusable or justifiable to continue portraying this excessive violence against women as a normal part of being a female?

The Lord of The Rings, much like Game of Thrones, takes place during a time of war. There is violence against all those involved, and the scathing effects of battle is not avoidable, nor is it shied away from. But unlike Game of Thrones, Lord of Rings doesn’t make a spectacle out of it. There are ways to shock viewers and keep them on the edge of their seat that don’t involve on-screen torture and rape.

Fall Favorites

Because yesterday was the first day of winter, I wanted to take a minute to do a super quick recap of my top five fall favorites! I watched more films than I read books this autumn, largely because I was trying to get my film count over 1,000 before 2018 (spoiler alert: I didn’t), so this list is definitely inclined towards the visual medium.

The Reader

 I watched this movie with absolutely zero idea what it was about, aside from that fact that Kate Winslet was in it and someone would be reading. I think this is the way everyone should watch it, so I’m going to say as little as possible. It’s a 2008 film with a heart-breaking narrative on humanity and it absolutely gutted me. The acting is phenomenal and the script is equally so. I believe it’s off Netflix in January, so if you get a quiet December evening to watch it and you’re okay with crying, I highly recommend it.

the reader

The Divines

I try to watch at least one female-directed film a month, and November’s selection was impeccable. This French film from 2016 follows two young girls from the ghettos of Paris. It is gritty, raw, and heart-wrenching. It’s brilliantly written and the acting chops on the two WOC leads took my breath away. Don’t let the IMDb blurb fool you: this is not a boy-meets-girl story. It’s a breathtaking and unparalleled coming of age tale full of beauty and sadness and truth. It’s worth every single minute and then some. Bonus: it’s also on Netflix!

the divines

The Discovery

Another Netflix find, this 2017 Netflix original stars Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Mary Steenburgen, and Jason Segal (not really sure how he ended up in that all-star lineup but okay). This is one is a bit of a thinker, and I think it’s better to go into it knowing that. It deals with concepts of death and the afterlife, and Rooney Mara is, as always, a wonder to behold. I’m not including this because I loved it or even because I thought it was really well done. Rather, I’m including it because I’m still thinking about it and I think that’s a mark of a worthwhile movie.

the discovery

The Last Jedi

I was considering writing an entire review for this, and still might write one after a second viewing. But I’m going to stick with this for now: it’s better than all the prequels put together, at least twice as good as Rogue One, and significantly better than Force Awakens in some regards. I adored it, and while I’m sure most Star Wars fans have already seen it or are planning to, I really do recommend it. Rian Johnson did an exceptional job from start to finish, and I think he excelled at tipping his hat to nostalgic tenants while still keeping things fresh and original.

last jedi

The Raven Cycle

I’m almost 3/4 of the way through my re-read of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series and I’m loving it even more than I did the first time I blazed through them. I have a more in depth evaluation coming up on manic pixie dream girls and what it is that makes these books stick out to me, so I won’t get too verbose today. However, Stiefvater is a true master of her craft who weaves such vivid images and emotional relationships that it is nearly impossible not to become attached to the characters and the world. Fantasy is my favorite genre, but I’m pretty picky about it, and this is a series that has one foot in our world and one foot in another. It’s beautifully woven together and features POC, a queer relationship, survivors of abuse, and a kickass young feminist.

The-Raven-Cycle-Series


So there you have it! These were my top five favorites from this fall. Did you read or watch anything this autumn that stood out to you? If so, let me know in the comments!

Queens of Everything

While I was reading Martin’s A Clash of Kings last month, I got to thinking about how much I adore Arya Stark and what an exceptional example of a great female character she was. It made me want to compile a list of some of my favorite females, so without further ado, here’s the heroines of my life (in no particular order, of course).

Books

Luna Lovegood: one of the rare instances where a film adaption truly did a literary character justice. Quirky and openly honest, Luna is unapologetically herself. A Ravenclaw (like me!), Luna is exceptionally open-minded and inquisitive and always brings a new perspective to things. || “Daddy, look — one of the gnomes actually bit me!” -JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Arya Stark: tough as nails, non-comforming, human through and through. What makes Arya such a dynamic character to me is the fact that she feels fear and loss, but moves forward all the same. She is one of the bravest and boldest characters I have ever come across and it’s virtually impossible not to adore and admire her. || “She tried so hard to be brave, to be fierce as a wolverine and all, but some times she felt she was a little girl after all.” -George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

Lucy Pevensie: my very first hero. When I first read the Chronicles of Narnia at the age of six, there was utterly no one I admired more than Lucy. Her spunk, tenderness, and delight with the world were all characteristics that I longed to emulate and adopt as my own. When the movies started coming out, I was over the moon for Georgie Henley– and not much has changed. She remains, to this day, the most marvelous embodiment of Lucy I could have ever asked for. || “Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed.” -C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

September: a little-known character from a little-known book series, September is the lead in Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland book series (if you haven’t read it yet, I cannot recommend it enough. I’m a sucker for prose that reads like poetry and Valente does it better than anyone.) Fuse Alice in Wonderland and Arya Stark and you’ll get an idea of the kind of heroine September is. She longs for adventure and desires to leave things better than she found them. She certainly left me better than she found me. || “It will be all hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.” -Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Comics

Gamora: the Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy and the light of my life. The MCU’s version of Gamora is nothing short of utterly disappointing, as comic book Gamora is the most badass and kickass thing alive but the movies simply paint her as a nagging and cranky gal with a weapon. Adopted child of the mad titan Thanos, Gamora is a master assassin, martial artist, and weapons master. Even Tony Stark can’t keep up with her in the sack, and she puts up with nobody’s shit. || “If you really knew me as well as you thought you did… you would not have attacked me.” -Gamora Zen Whoberi Ben Titan, Earth-7528

Diana of Themyscira: what could I say about the Woman of Wonder that hasn’t been said already? From 1941 to 2017 she has been an icon of empowerment, justice, and compassion. In 2016, the United Nations named her an Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Diana is canonically bisexual, historically supportive of people from all walks of life, and truly a wonderful role model. || “If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman.” -Gail Simone, Wonder Woman vol 3

Pamela Isley: eco warrior and the queen of my heart. Alias: Poison Ivy. Pamela can be frigid and brutal at the best of times, but she also has a true tenderness for those who need help– chiefly plants and Harley Quinn. Known for taking vengeance on those who have harmed Mother Nature, Pamela uses plant toxins and mind-controlling pheromones to exact revenge on behalf of the environment. It’s quite possible that she puts up with even less shit than Gamora does. || “This park, this is Gotham now… its future. Reclaimed by nature, pure without mankind’s assaults. It is a sanctuary now, and I am guardian. I will not let it be defiled. Not by anyone. Certainly not by you. Leave.” -Pamela Isley, New Earth

Shows & Movies

Sun Bak: a martial artist in the Sense8 cluster, Sun is a wise and selfless woman who sacrifices her entire life for the well-being of others. She is courageous and tender, and always seems to have a sage bit of advice to offer her fellow sensates. || “This is what life is. Fear, rage, desire… love. To stop feeling emotions, to stop wanting to feel them, is to feel death.” -Sun Bak, Sense8 #1.11

Leia Organa: a no-contest. I grew up with four brothers, and watching Leia in New Hope was the first time I got to see a girl do the same things my brothers’ action heroes did. She could shoot and sass with the best of them, and was willing to give up her comfortable life for the betterment of the galaxy. No girl should have to grow up without seeing a princess save herself. || “Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy.” -Leia, A New Hope

Garnet: in terms of Steven Universe characters, I’m a full-blown Lapis Lazuli. But gosh, I really wish I was a Garnet. A crystal gem of few words, Garnet is a sage fusion of two gems in love and the unofficial leader of the Crystal Gems. She rises to the occassion in every situation, displaying everything from maternal instincts to battle commander status. She experiences emotions deeply, but is careful not to let those emotions rule her. (Artist credit here) || “There are millions of possibilities for the future, but it’s up to you to choose which becomes reality. Please understand. You choose your own future.” -Garnet, #1.39

Irene Adler: morally grey all the way. Irene Adler, alias: The Woman, makes similar decisions to Pamela Isley, but for opposite reasons. A true neutral through and through, Irene bases all her decisions on what might be in her best interest. She looks out for number one, regardless of who might get in her way. However, as we see in A Scandal in Belgravia, she is not without emotion and not beyond caring. || “Do you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.” -Irene Adler, BBC’s Sherlock, #2.1

Peggy Carter: talk about your strong women… Agent Carter is where the reality of being a woman in the 1940’s meets the fantasy of a world with superheroes and alternate dimensions. Peggy is resilient in the face of relentless adversity, determined to do her best work, and still remains compassionate and tenderhearted despite it all. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and is often left holding the short end of the stick. She deserves the world, but contents herself to work on making that world for future generations of women. || “All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do is to start over.” -Peggy Carter, Captain America: The Winter Solider 

 

And that about sums it up! Runner-up characters were Blue Sargent from The Raven Cycle, Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Galadriel from Lord of the Rings, Marceline the Vampire Queen from Adventure Time, and Rey from The Force Awakens (although I’m sure she’ll be much more than a runner-up after The Last Jedi)

While I was typing up this list and outlining what exactly it is that makes me connect with these women, I realized that a lot of them have something in common: they are strong, but not at the expense of feeling emotions. That’s definitely something that I struggled to balance in my teen years, largely due to society telling us that to cry is to show weakness and other things of that nature. It’s reassuring in a very big way to see women like Peggy Carter and Sun Bak and Hermione Granger who aren’t afraid of their emotions and to bear witness to the ways in which they manage those emotions in healthy ways.

So, here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

On Lazy Betrayals

Prompted by: Moana and LotR

Before I start, I should probably make it super clear that when I first saw Moana back in November 2016, I LOVED it. I was absolutely over the moon for the lead woman of color, the lack of romantic subplot, and the soundtrack. I loved it so much that as soon as I left the theater, I texted Mr. Swiz and told him that it was an absolute must-see. So he went to see it and after he got out of the theater, he told me how much he… was disappointed with it. It sparked a fun conversation about representation and appropriation, the monetary nature of the movie business, and betrayals. I’ll leave those other heavier topics for another time, but today I want to talk about the betrayals. An excerpt from our conversation is as follows:

“A young viewer enjoys a story well told because it takes them somewhere, and they’re not thinking at all, at least probably not on a conscious level, about how the protagonist’s goals inform their character, or how the obstacles they might face define their journey and so on and so forth. When Maui inevitably turns his back on Moana before the third act, a less-jaded Swiz may have been anxious, instead of unsurprised, about his inevitable return.”

I didn’t think much of it at that point in time, largely due to the other conversation topics, but also because it’s a Disney movie and Disney movies tend to follow certain plot points  (see Shang leaving Mulan on the mountain, Han’s infamous “if only there was someone who loved you” line, etc.)

As some of you know, I re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy this summer after more than a decade since my last reading. I found the books far more enjoyable and immersive this time around (for some reason my 10 year old brain struggled with the litany of middle earthen names) and upon completion decided to re-watch the movies as well. The movies feature several big departures from the book story line, some of which make sense given time constraints (eg: Tom Bombadil) and some that I wholeheartedly support (eg: Arwen having more to do than serve as a three-sentence love interest). However, there is one scene in the movies that really and truly irks me. During the ascent of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, Gollum uses lembas crumbs to frame Samwise and as a result, Frodo tells Sam to go home.

frodo sam

My frustration over this betrayal reminded me of Maui’s betrayal from last year. And it got me to thinking: what IS the deal with Maui’s entirely too predictable disappearance and reappearance? He leaves Moana after their first attempt to restore the heart, in a betrayal that many viewers saw coming a mile away. And even more predictable is his reappearance, right when Moana needs him the most. As it turns out, TV Tropes has a name for them both: Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure and Changed My Mind, Kid, respectively.

You can view other examples of them here and here 

The fact that there’s such an abundance of examples available leaves me feeling a bit frustrated. I think there are certainly situations in which a betrayal is in-character or is even necessary. For example, Hans’ betrayal of Anna is Frozen is a sublime plot twist, and Han Solo’s departure in New Hope is 100% on par with what we already know about his character. But I’m rather of the belief that relationship drama– in any kind of relationship– shouldn’t be the sole thing keeping the story moving forward. A good writer should have other tricks up their sleeve to propel the story towards the desired climax.

In the book, Frodo and Sam made it through Mordor without any departures or betrayals, which spoke volumes about their relationship and the trust they had in each other despite all the odds. Why couldn’t they have done the same in the movie? Why couldn’t Maui have been injured or Moana’s spirit defeated by something other than Maui’s disappointment? Why couldn’t the two have maintained their friendship and found a different way to arrive at the point of perfecting their teamwork?

I re-watched Moana a few weeks ago, and while I might have been frustrated by the plot-mandated friendship failure, you can bet your bottom dollar I sang along with every word of ‘I Am Moana’.

Pet Peeves in Female Characters

Prompted by: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, and Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

If there’s one thing I really appreciate in a book, it’s a strong female lead. Give me a dynamic girl who has character flaws and hard decisions to make and realistic personality traits, and I’ll sing her praises to kingdom come. Sadly, it seems like I’ve come across more and more poorly written female leads lately. Maybe part of that is because my reading list this summer was largely composed of fantasy and romance novels so the odds simply weren’t in my favor.

Half of me is happy that writers are even making an effort to create female leads at all, but the other half of me is feels as if a poorly written female lead might be worse than no female lead at all.  So with that being said, here are my top 5 pet peeves when writing female characters.

Giving a character no redeeming qualities… but somehow everyone gravitates towards them anyway.

This is Alina from Shadow and Bone through and through. She’s surly, she’s self-depreciative, and every description of her paints her as an unappealing and unattractive person. One of her wards at the orphanage described her by saying: “She’s an ugly little thing. No child should look like that. Pale and sour, like a glass of milk that’s turned.” She’s short with her best friend, rude to people she meets for the first time, negative about her own abilities, and unwilling to meet anyone halfway. And yet, people fawn over her, follow her, fight for her, and profess their love for her. There’s a line between a believable character and an unappealing one. Everyone has shortcomings, and it’s a mark of a good writer to include those. But it’s also a mark of a good writer to make sure their characters have redeeming qualities as well. We have to understand what it is about them that inspires affection and admiration, and it has to be believable.

Overemphasis on looks.

I don’t need or want a page about the exact details of someones physical features. I don’t need to know about their bone structure and the precise shade of their skin and the way the grey flecks in their blue eyes shimmer whenever they turn their gaze upon you. Instead, provide a few grounding details and let the reader flesh out the rest. One of the most magical things about a good book is that the reader can imagine themselves as the hero. Hermione is a perfect example of this– her first introduction describes her as having “lots of bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth.” That’s it. All of her other interactions and descriptions revolve around her intelligence and personality, not her appearance. This allows readers to envision Hermione as someone they would want to emulate and someone they can relate to.

hermione
Artist: mariannewiththesteadyhands via tumblr
Girl on girl hate.

I have zero patience for automatic negativity between girls. I hate the frequency with which it shows up in media because it perpetuates a hugely unhealthy social norm. We see it in Game of Thrones (more on that in a future post) and Stranger Things and Shadow and Bone and so many other books and shows and movies. A glaring example of this can be found in The Circle by Dave Eggers– and it’s even more infuriating because it’s written by a man. Honestly, I could write an entire post about what’s wrong with The Circle. (For me, it was comparable to The Hunger Games in that it’s a brilliant idea but it was poorly executed.) The Circle is a good example of a situation where an author simply shouldn’t have written a female lead. The way Eggers writes his main character, Mae, makes it feel like she’s what he thinks women are like, rather than how they really are. She’s one-dimensional, contentious, emotional, easily distracted, extremely sexual, and consistently gets jealous of/mad at her female best friend. The relationship between the two young women is fraught with shallow behavior and poor communication. Rather than writing a healthy relationship, he crafts a vindictive and negative one. A good example of the opposite can be found between Celia and Isobel in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. Celia and Isobel are two strong and dynamic females who end up involved with the same romantic interest. Normally, this would be the perfect situation for an author to write in snarky dialogue and overt jealousy. Instead, both women handle the situation with grace and class, and even have respectful and constructive conversations with each other. It’s positive and uplifting and more books should follow suit.

Making romance seem like the most important thing that could possibly happen to a woman.

This goes hand-in-hand with insta-love in a lot of ways. Girl ventures into the great big world, girls meets boy, boy shows interest, girls falls head over heels. The trope of writing in adoration over the first man to show interest in a female is tiring and not very believable. Sure, it’s nice to feel desirable, but there’s more important things in life than infatuation.  Romance has its place in the literary world, but insta-love implies that romance is the most important thing there is. Romantic relationships are not a judge of character and the worth of a woman shouldn’t be weighed based on her relationship status. Kelsea provides a very refreshing take on this in Queen of the Tearling. She is a young woman (and queen) surrounded by strapping men of all ages, but get this– she doesn’t instantly develop romantic feelings towards any of them! Erika Johansen handles it in a very realistic way by not pretending that people aren’t attracted to each other, but rather keeping the focus on the more important things that require our main character’s attention.

Excessive indecision or an inability to make up her mind.

Let’s be real, decisions are hard, and sometimes they take up a lot of mental real estate. That is normal and natural and it can definitely be a difficult thing to convey in writing when we aren’t spending every second inside a character’s head. With that being said, ceaseless indecision is annoying to the max. Nyx in Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty is an all-too-excessive example of this. She hates her sister one minute, the next she’s crying over how she didn’t treat her better. She hates the Gentle Lord, then five minutes later she’s stroking his hair and watching him sleep. She’s plotting to save her world but then decides to just do her own thing a few pages later. It’s exhausting and ever so unnecessary.


At the end of the day, I just want to believe in these characters. I want to read about women I would be friends with and women that I can see myself in. I want more Hermione Grangers and Blue Sargents and Septembers and Arya Starks. I want girls and women who are beautiful because of their bravery and special because of their strength. They shouldn’t be perfect– they should be real.

On Why I Don’t Always Finish Books and Movies

Prompted by: You Shall be my Son

It was Chris Brogan who said:

“Don’t settle. Don’t finish bad books. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant…”

While I know this is a comment on life as a whole and not just books and menus, this is an idea that changed my life when I first heard it years and years ago. I’m not sure where I developed the sentiment that everything I picked up was some sort of non-negotiable task of completion. Everything from YA novels to hobby art projects had to be carried through to fruition, even if I was miserable along the way. Sometimes that looked like sitting through grueling 3 hour movie events that I had no interest in (looking at you, King Kong) and sometimes that meant returning to the same painting over and over and over again even though I had started to hate it four sessions ago.

But after stumbling across that quote from Brogan sometime in high school, it occurred to me that being miserable was a very poor use of time. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for perseverance and sticking with things, but why waste your precious time and energy on something that isn’t feeding you joy? So I dropped my philosophy of forced completion, and dropped some other things along with it. Goodbye, Moby Dick audio-book. So long, iconic sports movies. Farewell, loathed abstract painting-in-progress of two years.

Half of the beauty of the art world is that there’s something for everyone out there. It’s always worthwhile to try new things, but it’s not worthwhile to guilt yourself into continuing if you don’t like said thing. There’s no reason to read past the fifth chapter of a horror novel if it isn’t your style. There’s no reason to force yourself to continue watching a biopic if it’s putting you to sleep. Choose to invest your time in things that feed you— things that bring you joy and enrich your world. Don’t stay at the restaurant if you don’t like the menu.