New Year, New Site, New Words

So, it’s obvious that I haven’t been writing on this blog lately (and by lately I mean just over 10 months.) Shame on me. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. Along with the work I do over at The Daily Quirk, I’ve been working on a side project. It’s a new site dedicated to book reviews, book thoughts, and just a lot of wordy goodness. And you can find it a Book Twister Reviews!

Why Book Twister Reviews? Mainly because every other halfway creative title I could come up with was already taken. And why now? Because I’ve forgotten why I love writing. Because I’ve become just another statistic of a college grad who can’t find a job in their field, I’m still living in my parents house, and I wake up every morning trying to figure out where I go from here. Because I wanted to start something that I do solely for fun, not because I feel like it’s something I have to do.

So basically, you’re not going to find New York Times quality reviews and chances are you’re not going to even find half the books I write about remotely interesting, because they’re mostly going to be “silly” young adult novels about monsters and dystopian worlds and teen angst. But I’d appreciate if you checked it out every once in a while, maybe tell me what you like and don’t live, or give me ideas about what you’d like to see. Because I want this site to work out on a personal level.

I’d appreciate starting a conversation, because that’s what I believed writing could do at one point, and I’d like to prove that the thought could still hold true.

Book Review: ‘Fire & Flood’ by Victoria Scott

Dystopia is the new thing among the Young Adult genre of literature, and with hugely successful hits like The Hunger Games and Divergent series cashing in big, authors are more than willing to jump on the bandwagon. The problem lies in the fact that it takes an awful lot of skill to get a dystopian thriller right, something most authors lack.

For Victoria Scott, and her newest novel Fire & Floodthis isn’t an issue. She instead tries to carve a new area of dystopian fiction, a task she embraces.

"Fire & Flood" by Victoria Scott

“Fire & Flood” by Victoria Scott

Fire & Flood shares the story of Tella Holloway and her fight to save her dying brother’s life as a Contender in the epic race known as the Brimstone Bleed that will take her through jungle, desert, ocean and mountain. The reward for completing the race is the cure for her brother’s illness, but there can only be one winner, and everyone is racing for the life of someone they love.

Scott blends all of the futuristic characteristics of a dystopian world (genetically-engineered animals, citizens fighting one another for the ultimate prize and, naturally, an improbable romance) with the society we know and love. Instead of creating a world in the future, she brings the futuristic tale into the present time, and to characters who could very well be our next door neighbors. It’s an interesting twist, and makes the race seem much more terrifying because a reader can actually imagine themselves in Tella’s shoes. It’s an easy thing to do when we’re surrounded by the same luxuries as the main character.

An interesting facet of Fire & Flood are the Pandoras, genetically-engineered animals (hatched from eggs chosen by the participants) that have special and unique abilities designed to help its Contender win the race. Tella’s particular Pandora is a fox, but others range from lions to eagles and racoons. Imagine an animal, and there’s a Pandora out there somewhere. Each companion is a character in and of itself, and a reader will quickly develop connections with the strange animals throughout the book. Potentially even more so than with the humans Scott has created.

Of course, what would a YA book be without a love story? And what would the love story be without its hunky, bad boy? In Fire & Flood, readers are given Guy, a mysterious and bad-tempered young man that immediately catches the attention of Tella, and vice versa. And like any other YA romance, it’s sudden, all-consuming and a bit exasperating for those more interested in the action of the story. But the love story isn’t all that there is to the tale, and can very much be tolerated if it’s not your thing.

One of the weaknesses of the book, and a deal-breaker for some, is the lack of a connection reader’s might find with Tella. As the main character, she’s hard to like because of a lack of defining heroic qualities that most look for in a protagonist. She’s so reliant on Guy as a safety net that it sometimes feels like Bella (the leading lady of Twilight fame) has jumped into a different book. She’s not as heroic as Katniss or as strong-willed as Tris, but that’s not to say she doesn’t have her redeeming qualities. Tella just isn’t always a role model heroine, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Outside of Tella, the supporting characters in Fire & Flood are wonders unto themselves. Each character has a different story, a different heartache, and different reason for competing in the Brimstone Bleed. And as each character’s tale unfolds, it becomes easier and easier to connect with each one. (I’m a particular fan of Ransom & Levi, twin brothers racing to the Cure for their sister.) Even the villain, as nasty and brutal as he is, garners a bit of pity from beginning to end.

Overall, I say give the book a chance. You might love it, you might hate it, but it’s worth the time spent reading.

A sequel, Salt & Stone, is set to release in Spring 2015.

The 52 Book Challenge: I tried, I failed, I still won.

Photo credit: Holly Storrow

Photo credit: Holly Storrow

No matter what anyone says, reading 52 books in one year is hard.

But when a friend introduced me to the 52 Book Challenge, which means reading 52 books in one year (essentially, a book per week), I felt like I had to try it. I’m a bookworm and take much pride in the fact that I have so many books I could probably open my own library, so I figured reading one book per week over the course of the year wouldn’t be that difficult. Challenging, yes. But not difficult.

Sadly, I didn’t make it. When I closed my 47th book on Dec 30, I was sad, because I hadn’t finished my goal and beat the challenge. I’m already a pretty sore loser by nature (I blame my father, who also has a very competitive personality) and just the thought of being so close to finishing was completely frustrating. I decided right then and there that I was not, under any circumstances, going to try it again.

But today, when it came time to set my new goal for 2014 on Goodreads, I found myself entering 52 into the little goal box once again. Because I no longer saw my 47 books in 2013 as a loss, but as a total win. So I didn’t read a book a week. Who cares? I was still able to do something amazing.

I was able to live 47 different lives outside of my own. I went on 47 adventures. I spent an entire winter in a haunted hotel. I traveled with a mysterious circus all over the world. I fought to become a billionaire inside of a virtual world, broke a couple of old women out of a nursing home and solved a few murders while I was at it. And that’s what I think the 52 Book Challenge is really all about. It’s about losing yourself for a little while  and escaping into a different world and pretending for just a moment that the problems you’re dealing with in your reality don’t have to exist anywhere else.

I think that’s pretty cool.

Some of my favorite reads from this year include American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson, Rotters by Daniel Kraus and Carl Hiaasen’s Nature Girl. Although there really wasn’t a book I read that I didn’t find enjoyable. Each one was unique and entertaining in its own way.

You can find my complete 2013 reading list here.

Did you take part in the 52 Book Challenge? Let me know in the comments below, or share some of your favorite books from 2013!

 

 

How my weight defines me, and why I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I’m fat.

I’m not chubby. I’m not big-boned or overweight or round. And I am definitely not “plus size.” I am fat, and while I’m by no means proud of this, I’m also not ashamed. Of course I’m supposed to be, according to medical experts, fashion magazines and every asshole I’ve ever met, but I’ve never been good at listening to other people when they tell me who I should be.

But just because I don’t listen, it doesn’t mean I don’t hear. I’m aware of the fat jokes that have followed me since sixth grade and the not-so-subtle comments that I could probably be more “normal” if I started eating celery for every meal. I’d be lying if I said this kind of stuff isn’t what fueled the plethora of insecurities about myself and my body that I’ve carried around with me since I was old enough to understand why boys didn’t want to hold my hand on the playground.

And then, of course, the same people who make the jokes and the comments try to cover their own tracks by saying Don’t let your ugly on the outside dim how beautiful you are on the inside.

Well, guess what. My outside, with it’s rolls and bumps and scars, is beautiful. And I let it define me every day because my weight and my body and my fat is still a part of me. It allows people to judge my book by its cover and then I can see who thinks the story is still worth reading. It tells the people I meet that I am not the type of girl who’s afraid to eat the second half of the custard-filled doughnut. My fat has taught me that there are boys who will think it’s gross that you have a crush on them, but that there also might be boys who think your body is just another part to love.

And it tells me that I am strong enough, in this body that society has deemed I should apologize for, to still find the belief in myself to keep dreaming and being exactly who I am.

Why wouldn’t I want something like that to define me?

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Adulthood: I bought a car!

Hello, beautiful!

Hello, beautiful!

Did you know that when you buy a car, you’re signing away your soul? I mean seriously, Crowley might as well have been sitting in front of me rather than Mike the incredibly charming salesman. (Did you see that? I can put a Supernatural reference anywhere.)

Okay, so I didn’t literally make a deal with the devil, but it sure felt like it when I signed the papers for my new Chevy Cruze. And I cannot begin to describe the amount of papers there were. My hand cramped. And I’m a journalist. All we do is write and write and write. Hand cramps were supposed to be squeezed out of me freshman year.

But buying Rally (my car, because he deserves a name) is equal parts thrilling and terrifying. On one hand, I’ve officially done something that every twenty-something wants to do: take a step towards independence. My parents won’t be helping me with the payments, the title is in my name and I got to pick out exactly what I wanted. But on the other hand, there’s still a part of me who’s stuck in kid mode and believes finding a $10 bill on the ground is like hitting the jackpot. My checking account won’t know what to do when it shells out the first payment. And my savings account sure as hell didn’t think it’d see the day where it could make a down payment on a vehicle.

But this is all part of growing up, right? It’s like my mom said (and I’m paraphrasing here), my parents got me to my adult stage of life. They’ve done their job. And now it’s my turn to do mine. And if the first task to becoming a successful and happy person is buying this car, well then I’m ready for the challenge. Because it felt good to sit in the front seat for the first time and be able to tell myself that I worked for this. That I earned this.

Sure, Rally might be my only big purchase for the next couple of years, and various Rice Sides might become my best friends, but it was worth it and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Now, the next adventure in adulthood to tackle? An apartment all my own.

My life as a graduate, and how it’s not going at all like I planned.

I had no delusions that my post-graduation life would miraculously be this spectacular thing. Trust me, I know my luck isn’t that great. But I also didn’t think I’d be well into September with no paying journalism gig, still sleeping in the same room where my crib used to be and debating the merits of Dollar General over Joann Fabrics for my next career move. Not that I’m knocking either of those employers because hell, it’s a job I don’t have.

Basically, I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of “Oh my god, I’m failing at adulthood.” And what makes it worse? The rest of my graduate friends aren’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so beyond happy that my friends are finding post-grad success. It’s awesome! But every time a message on Facebook pops up in the “Let’s tell each other about our lives” post, I want to simultaneously crawl under a rug in shame and rip every last hair out of my head. Because while their messages spread stories of city living, job success and life as a person’s 20s should be, I can sum up my post-grad experience in just a few short sentences.

My dog died. My friend moved away. I’ve lost my gas station job, and I still like eating way too much food.

I guess I’m jealous. I’m horrified and embarrassed and a little bit angry that I can’t seem to pull my life together enough to even start a new life all my own. I wasn’t supposed to be where I am right now, having people give me the pitying looks of “It’s all over for you, honey. Time to give up on that dream.” I was supposed to be proving the world wrong and showing them that I’m capable of great things, too.

So as I move away from the college senior who had a plan to the college graduate who doesn’t know a single thing about her future, all I can hope is that someday soon something will change. That an editor will need a shoe shiner or coffee slave that could eventually turn into a writing position, because seriously, someone has to retire soon, right? Not everyone in the journalism industry can work forever.

But until that time, anyone need a dog walker?

 

The inconsistency of life, shared through the story of a tree.

There is nothing constant in this world but inconsistency.

I’ve always liked that quote by Jonathan Swift, and over the last 15 months it has proven more true than ever before. My life, and the lives of my family members, have kind of hit this wall of what my father and I call “Stirrell Luck.” (Stirrell’s a nickname, but that’s a story for another time.) We’ve lost my grandfather, our dog, some would say our minds and somehow we’ve unwillingly become cat people. And this past weekend, we were hit with another serious change to our lives on “the corner.” We had to cut down an ash tree, the Tree, that had pretty much become a huge part of my family’s identity.

Image credit: Holly Storrow

The Tree on its final morning.

Yeah, I know. It’s a little weird that a tree would be so important. But there’s something you have to understand.

It wasn’t just some stupid plant that sat in front of my grandmother’s house. It was safety, peace, home. My family laughed under its branches. We cried and seethed and slept. Three granddaughters grew up underneath its shade. Family who lived states away and just down the road gathered in plastic chairs beneath its leaves.

But it died, like trees will do, and we were all a little heartbroken. I don’t think any of us really expected to see the end of the Tree. At least not while we still called the corner ours, and especially not after so many other things in our lives had changed.  But it had to come down, one way or another, so we moved the wooden swing that had sat underneath it for as long as my advanced 22 years of age can remember, and some watched as the once-mighty Tree came tumbling down.

I won’t lie. Very few memories stand out in true clarity when it comes to the years I’ve spent under the Tree. They all kind of bleed together into a watercolor blur of happiness and content. But I do have one moment that I remember in that gut-feeling kind of detail.

I had just finished my freshman year of college, which was a year of experiencing literally everything in a completely different light, and I was spending one of the first summer nights under the tree with the normal crew of my grandparents, aunt, father and dog. And we were trying to solve some world problem, like usual, when it hit me that sitting there wasn’t a normal thing. Families didn’t do something like that any more and somehow my family was the abnormal and I’d never noticed. But I remember thinking that I was so beyond okay with that, because that Tree time and those people on that corner and the ones who visited had literally helped me become the person that I was. That I am. And that I am so proud to be.

I remember thinking in that moment that there was not a single place on this planet I would rather be sitting.

So while I’m obviously sad over the loss of something that has literally helped shape me into the person I am today, there’s also a silver lining. Because with every era that ends, a new one will begin. We’ll find a new place for the swing, probably under a different tree. And while it will never be the Tree, it’ll still be the same people. And we’ll still be trying to solve world problems. And we’ll still laugh and cry and seethe and sleep. The Stirrell’s will remain on the corner, waving to the cars passing by and questioning “Well, who was that?”

Yes, life will remain inconsistent. But it’s all about how you look at the inconsistencies.

Saying goodbye to Porky.

porky

When I was just a 7-year-old kid, I carried a puppy home in a cardboard box. He had tiny, golden paws and a head so big that you’d have thought he’d constantly topple over from the added weight. He didn’t bark or cry or try to jump out. He just kind of hunkered down and shook, like the idea of being in a box on a person’s lap in a car was the most terrifying experience of his life. That fear never changed.

For the next 15 years, he was my best friend, my biggest headache and my Sweets. He was Porky. And two days ago, I had to say goodbye.

We knew it was coming. Porky had been sick for a while, with bad hips, a photo-1missing eye and the quickly approaching permanency of being deaf and blind. But we thought we could get him through one more summer. Three more months of table scraps, lazy days spent sitting underneath bushes or trees and warm nights munching on marshmallows by the fire ring. But like much of the luck that plagues my family, circumstances changed and our timetable was abruptly brought to an end.

Like any dog, I think Porky understood that he had two jobs in his life on the corner. Love the humans and protect the humans. He waited for the bus every morning with me while I was going to school, and he was waiting in front of the garage every afternoon when I got home. He would eat lunch with me in the summers, let me use him for a pillow while I read a good book in the front yard and became the perfect shoulder to cry on when I felt like the world was too much to handle.

My dad buried him in the backyard, under a shade tree and facing the corner. It felt important, somehow, that he still be able to watch over us. My mom cleaned up and put away his bowls. My parents hauled his doghouse to the burn pile in the back, ready for the next fire. There’s no more questions of “Did you tie the dog up?” when I enter the house at night. No more banging on plates out the window to alert the dog that there are scraps in his bowl. And every time a train goes by, the eerie stillness of a whistle without the howl of my annoyed canine echoes across the corner.

I haven’t been able to make myself walk back to the corner where he’s buried yet. I probably won’t for a long while. I don’t have to see a mound of dirt to feel his loss. It’s too quiet. I’d give anything to see him trot around the corner of the house one last time, or to hear him sneeze followed by a dull thud where he’d smacked his nose into the floor.

I’d give anything to have Saturday morning back, where I wouldn’t just walk past him because I was running a little late for work.

But life doesn’t work that way. What it did do, however, was give me 15 years with the best friend I’ll ever have. It gave me the opportunity to understand that even in the end, when it feels like I’ve lost a limb, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of any of it.

So save a seat under the shade tree for me, Sweets. I’ll see you again someday.

porky and me

Author Daniel Kraus falls flat with ‘Scowler’

“The demon offspring of Stephen King’s The Shining and Hitchcock’s Psycho.”

'Scowler' by Daniel Kraus

‘Scowler’ by Daniel Kraus

That’s what Michael Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Gone and BRZK, is quoted as saying on the back of Scowler, the newest brainchild of the world of the weird author Daniel Kraus. I knew I should have geared up for disappointment right there.

I fell in love with Kraus and his writing style when I picked up a copy of his 2011 novel Rotters, which centered on a boy and his grave-digging father. And when a friend informed me that the author had come out with another novel, it took me no time at all to have it ordered and shipped. But where Rotters soared in imagery and excitement, Scowler can’t’t even get off the ground.

The novel is centered on a young man, Ry Burke, who lives on a dying farm with his mother, little sister and the memories of an abusive father. When a meteorite falls from the sky and lands on their property, it brings not only something out-of-this-world, but also the man that Ry and his family have been trying to run from for the past nine years. Cue the long lost imaginary friends.

That’s right, I said imaginary friends. A ratty teddy bear named Mr. Furrington, an 8-foot tall Jesus Christ and a bloodthirsty troll-machine-creature called Scowler, to be exact.

Where Kraus managed to warp a boy’s coming of age tale into an exhilaratingly disturbed visualization of a secret underworld lurking in the shadows of night with Rotters, he made Ry and his situation feel like the silly setting of a cheap, 1980s alien flick. Gone were the beautiful descriptions of terrifying things. Gone were the incredible layered characters. Instead we have a very flat (and predictable) villain, a protagonist too complicated to understand and three toys turned imaginary friends who add nothing to the novel except a good eye-catcher for the back of the book.

I understand that Scowler isn’t supposed to be about toys coming to life or spine-tingling moments of pure fear, but rather the exploration of how an abused child carries the weight of the abuser. But it isn’t insightful. It’s confusing and hard to read, even boring in spots. Kraus and his novel have not, in any conclusive way, redefined the genre of Young Adult Horror. He’s simply warped it.

‘The Shining’ belongs to 1977, not 1980.

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in 'The Shining.'

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in ‘The Shining.’

The Shining, the notably-out-there Stanley Kubrick 1980 journey into the realm of horror, has captivated and thrilled audiences for over three decades. A river of blood cascading from inside a majestic elevator, two little girls holding hands in twin blue dresses and Jack Nicholson’s crazed and haunting call of “Here’s Johnny!” have gained the film infamy in the cult realm. But the screenplay adaptation, written by Kubrick and Diane Johnson, lacks the same punch as Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name. Kubrick’s version of The Shining, while weird and sometimes stomach-twisting, just lacks the scare factor.

Jack Torrance (Nicholson), a down-on-his-luck school teacher with no job, a temper and an ongoing battle with alcoholism, accepts a job at the Overlook Hotel as the winter caretaker, a job that will leave he, his wife and his young son all stranded on the side of a mountain once the Colorado snow rolls in. But soon after arriving, Jack begins a descent into madness that rocks the whole family, none more so than Danny, his son, who has a strange ability known as “the shining.” And in the end, death appears to be the only escape from the hotel’s angry grasp.

The main problem with the book-to-movie adaptation is that Kubrick took the formulaic notions of horror in a young King’s novel and twisted them into a character study on madness and ambiguous evil. Gone was the fascinating journey of a hotel taking over the mind of a weak, yet understandable man. Instead, The Shining gets boiled down to a confusing plot line with weak characters and imagery solely for the sake of shock value.

The appeal of King’s novel rests in the historical mystery that is the Overlook Hotel, based off the real Stanley Hotel in Colorado. Readers discover tantalizing snippets of information, not through deductions made by the Torrance family members, but rather by the hotel itself leaving clues and thoughts for the easily-influenced Jack. The hotel, and it’s ghostly inhabitants, are in control. But in the film, the only background given is that there was a caretaker in 1970 who murdered his entire family and that the Overlook may or may not have been built on a Native American burial ground. It’s confusing, slow and downright lazy.

Image credit: Flickr user JoeinSouthernCA

Image credit: Flickr user JoeinSouthernCA

Wendy Torrance, played by Shelley Duvall, is the total embodiment of a damsel in distress in Kubrick’s film, perfecting the screech honed by every Scream Queen. She’s meak, foolhardy and annoying, providing no color to the story unless you like watching someone cry. But the Wendy of King’s imagination is full of color, demanding and take charge in a way that one would hope a true heroine of any story might be. Once her character realizes just how far her husband has fallen, she doesn’t beg and plead for her life. She takes charge, fights back, and keeps fighting through some pretty serious injuries.

That’s not to say that the lack of passion towards Wendy comes from anything Duvall had done, but rather the poor writing and interpretation that Kubrick and Johnson brought to the character. Such a shame.

And just like the rest of the movie, the ending of the versions of The Shining enter on complete opposites of the scale. One ends in fire, the other ice. One with cunning trickery, the other with solid truth and intuition. Each leaves a different impact, the novel version being much stronger and satisfying.

Kubrick’s version of The Shining lacked the strength of character that makes you root for the protagonists. Instead of hoping for the ultimate demise of a man fallen victim to the psychic control of the Overlook’s long-dead guests, the only thing you can hope for is Nicholson will swoop in, in all his axe-wielding glory (and it’s not even supposed to be an axe), and make the hysterical and overly dramatic Duvall be quiet. So even though the film itself is in no way forgettable or less-than-brilliant, it can no way be compared to the originality and horrifying circumstances of the original story.