The delights of summer TV: Sparkling nails, warring brothels, and a severed leg

It’s summer! Whatcha watching?

I’m having oodles of fun binge-watching TV… and I’m totally in love with three shows that are ridiculously fun.

First up: Claws on TNT

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the glory of Desna, the nail salon owner turned money launderer turned Dixie Mafia kingpin (queenpin)… who always looks completely fabulous, whether sitting poolside or driving her Maserati or breaking into a drug-smuggling warehouse. The show’s true heart is the nail salon and the friendship of the women who work there with Desna. They’re hilarious, ridiculous, outrageous, over the top, and also, surprisingly moving.

Desna got into a life of crime reluctantly, needing a way to support her autistic brother and working toward her dream of establishing a more upscale salon. Pill-pushing clinics, gun-toting criminals, and plain bad luck have gotten in her way, but I keep rooting for Desna to free herself from all the crazy criminal shenanigans and get back to that amazing nail art.

I absolutely did not expect that this would be a show for me, but after much prodding from a couple of co-workers, I gave it a try, and I was hooked. You can’t take it seriously, but if you want escapist summer fun, Claws is top of the list.

 

And then there’s my more recent discovery: Harlots on Hulu

Yes, it’s about harlots. 18th century London prostitutes, two competing madams bitterly at war with one another, the “culls” (customers) who frequent the brothels, and the overall rotten condition of being a woman at a time when women had no power over their own lives. The show is written, directed, and produced by women, and it shows: The emphasis is not on bodies and sex, but on the women characters’ minds, desires, frustrations, and yearnings. It shows the limited options women had to control their own lives, and paints a pretty grim picture of what sex workers experience each day.

And yet, it’s a remarkably fun and entertaining show! Visually, Harlots is a treat. We alternate between seeing the mucky streets and filthy dress hems with ogling the gowns and wigs of the upper class (and the brothels that cater to the rich and noble). Oh, those wigs! Can we talk about the wigs for a minute? Powdered, sky-high, utterly glorious… between the wigs and the costumes, this show is just a feast for the eyes. Add in a compelling plot and terrific acting, and you’ve got some idea of why I’m obsessing over this show right now.

 

Finally, I’m loving the hell out of C B Strike on Cinemax:

And this is where the severed leg comes in.

C B Strike is a TV show that crept in while I wasn’t looking! I’d heard that a TV adaptation of the J. K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith) detective series was in the works, but had no idea it had been completed and released already! Three seasons are all available on Cinemax, each season covering the plot of one of the three books in the series. Season 1 is The Cuckoo’s Calling (murdered model), shown in 3 episodes. Seasons 2 and 3 are two episodes each, covering The Silkworm (murdered writer) and Career of Evil (body parts by special delivery). All are excellent, in large part because of the two excellent actors in the lead roles of Cormoran and Robin. They have great chemistry, and Cormoran especially is just what I imagined from the books.

The plots of the books are really dense and packed with detail, so the pacing of the TV series took a bit of getting used to. They manage to squeeze in enough to make the storie make sense without getting bogged down. It actually amazes me that they were able to condense the plot threads and clues enough to work in so few episodes — but the show is definitely a success.

Added bonus: It has been a while since I read Career of Evil, but now I’m back up to speed and completely ready to continue reading about Cormoran and Robin when book #4, Lethal White, comes out this fall!

 

Those are my top three… but I’m also really excited about the new season of Killjoys, and plan to dive into Castle Rock this week too.

What are you watching this summer?

Children’s Books: Two terrific girl power books by Chelsea Clinton

 

 

Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone probably will tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them. These thirteen American women certainly did not take no for an answer.

They persisted.

If you’re looking for easy-to-follow kids’ books to empower and inspire, check out this pair of picture books written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexander Boiger.

Each book offers a selection of profiles of women who persisted — women who were told “no” or faced major hurdles, whether legal or cultural or physical. Each of these women followed their dreams, and made their marks on history by achieving something that no one thought possible.

She Persisted tells the stories of thirteen American women, among them such luminaries as Harriet Tubman, Florence Griffith Joyner, Sonia Sotomayor, and Sally Ride. Each gets her own two-page spread, with images lovingly drawn to show each woman’s progress and achievements, and often, a childhood image to show where she started. A brief, easily digestible paragraph tells each woman’s story. What I especially loved is that for each, there’s a quote, so the young reader will get to hear each woman speak in her own words.

 

Wonderful selections include:

“I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with.” (Sonia Sotomayor)

“I have never written a word that did not come from my heart. I never shall.” (Nellie Bly)

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” (Helen Keller)

 

It’s not always easy being a girl — anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places. There are countries where it’s hard for girls to go to school and where women need their husbands’ permission to get a passport or even to leave the house. And all over the world, girls are more likely to be told to be quiet, to sit down, to have smaller dreams.

 

Don’t listen to those voices. These thirteen women from across the world didn’t.

They persisted.

In She Persisted Around the World, Clinton chooses thirteen women from all over the globe, all of whom made a difference against the odds. Highlights include Malala Yousafzai, J. K. Rowling, and Marie Curie — but really, they’re all wonderful. The Around the World book follows the same format as the first book, and once again, I really loved the pages with the quotes.

“We are tired of having a ‘sphere’ doled out to us, and of being told that anything outside that sphere is ‘unwomanly’… We must be ourselves at all risks.” (Kate Sheppard)

“I don’t really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it.” (Wangari Maathai)

“The more I did, the more I could do, the more I wanted to do, the more I saw needed to be done.” (Leymah Gbowee)

I do have one complaint about these books, and it feels almost petty to bring it up… but I found it odd and kind of frustrating that no dates are provided for any of the stories. I’m not sure how young readers would know where these women fit into American and world history without providing some sort of timeline or dates as context.

Other than that, I think these are wonderful additions to the world of children’s literature. Both books are lovely, thanks to the clear, intelligent writing and the colorful, eye-catching, girl-positive illustrations. In some ways I loved the Around the World book more, simply because it introduced me to the names, faces, and stories of women whom I hadn’t heard of before. But really, I do recommend both, and hope that lots of parents and teachers will make these books available to the girls and boys they love, nurture, and inspire.

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Book Review: Geekerella

When geek girl Elle Wittimer sees a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter. First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle’s been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother’s back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all—not to mention a fangirl’s dream come true.

Teen actor Darien Freeman is less than thrilled about this year’s ExcelsiCon. He used to live for conventions, but now they’re nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Federation Prince Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the diehard Starfield fandom has already dismissed him as just another heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, closet nerd Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Oh my, this geeky Cinderella story is oodles and oodles of fun!

Elle is Cinderella — the unloved girl forced to wait hand and foot on her self-centered stepmother and awful twin stepsisters. Elle is still devastated by her father’s death, and seeks solace in the Starfield fandom, which she shared with her father and which helps her find meaning in life. She sees the cosplay contest as a possible path to freedom, with a prize that could help her fulfill her dream of escaping from her terrible life in Charleston and moving to LA to pursue a screenwriting career.

Elle is pretty disgusted by the casting of Darien in the lead role of Prince Carmindor. He’s a pretty-boy soap actor — how can he possibly do justice to such a noble, iconic character? She voices her opinion, loud and clear, on her Starfield-devoted blog… and suddenly, her followers and page views are through the roof.

Meanwhile, Elle and Darien meet-cute through an accidental text, and begin a texting relationship which escalates from silliness to true friendship and soul-baring, all the while not knowing each others’ true identity.

This book is charming and funny in all the right ways, and yet manages to be deeper and more serious than the title and cute cover art might suggest. Both Elle and Darien have serious issues to confront about self-image and being valued for who they are and finding a place to fit in. Elle’s situation is much more dire, of course, as she lives with people who don’t love her and make her life hell. But Darien’s life isn’t perfect either, as his sudden fame results in betrayal by his one close friend, being considered a poser in the fandom (even though he’s been a devoted fanboy for years), and having no privacy while having to constantly put on a public face in keeping with his star status.

The relationship between Elle and Darien is sweet and funny, but equally wonderful is Elle’s growing friendship with her coworker Sage, and her belated discovery that one of her stepsisters isn’t the awful person she thought she was.

Geekerella has all sorts of wonderful shout-outs to the world of cons and fandoms:

As the green room door disappears behind us, I give it one last forlorn glance when a guy with thick brown hair and an even browner coat catches my eye.

“Gail!” I skid to a stop. “I think I see Nathan F–”

Gail yanks me toward herlike a yo-yo. “You can get him to sign your first-edition Firefly comic later.”

The author allows the characters to voice what draws people to their fantasy worlds and makes them so important:

Of course it’s not real. I know it’s not real. It’s just as fake as the Styrofoam props they use and the cardboard sets and the tinny laser sounds and the ice cream machines they try to disguise as “data cores” — I know it’s all fake. But those characters — Carmindor, Princess Amara, Euci, and even the Nox King — they were my friends when everyone in the real world passed around rumors behind my back, called me weird, shoved me into lockers, and baited me into thinking I was beautiful only to push me away just before we kissed. They never abandoned me. They were loyal, honorable, caring, and smart.

And while I don’t usually mention author acknowledgments in reviews, I do love this passage from the author’s acknowledgements in Geekerella:

So I want to thank you. You, the reader. You, who cosplays and writes fanfiction and draws fanart and runs a forum and collects Funko-Pops and must have hardcovers for all of your favorite book series and frames for your autographed posters. You, who boldly goes.

Never give up on your dreams and never let anyone tell you that what you love is inconsequential or useless or a waste of time. Because if you love it? If that OTP or children’s card game or abridged series or YA book or animated series makes you happy?

That is never a waste of time. Because in the end we’re all just a bunch of weirdos standing in front of other weirdos, asking for their username.

Geekerella has a sweet teen love story as its central storyline, but it’s also a love letter to fandoms and geeky delights. And as a fangirl with Funko-Pops and hardcovers of my favorite book series and all sorts of random geeky toys and t-shirts, I could absolutely relate… even though my teen years are way in the rearview mirror by now

Definitely recommended for anyone who loves to dream of fantasy kingdoms and schools for magic and impossible universes. I just hope that the author will treat us to an expanded view into her made-up Starfield world, because I’d definitely like to know more!

A reading note: I read a finished copy of the book from the library, and not an ARC — and since it was a finished copy, I do need to say that the book could have used another copyediting pass. There are typos (like “use” instead of “us”) and missed words scattered here and there throughout the book, and they’re jarring. No one likes to be interrupted in their fictional pursuits by having to stop and figure out what a sentence is supposed to mean!

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The details:

Title: Geekerella
Author: Ashley Poston
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: April 4, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Library

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Book Review: Guts: The Anatomy of the Walking Dead

In this first and only guide to AMC’s exceptional hit series The Walking Dead, the Wall Street Journal’s Walking Dead columnist celebrates the show, its storylines, characters, and development, and examines its popularity and cultural resonance.

From its first episode, The Walking Dead took fans in the United States and across the world by storm, becoming the highest-rated series in the history of cable television. After each episode airs, Paul Vigna writes a widely read column in which he breaks down the stories and considers what works and what doesn’t, and tries to discern the small details that will become larger plot points.

So how did a basic cable television show based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic comic series, set in an apocalyptic dog-eat-dog world filled with flesh-eating zombies and even scarier human beings, become a ratings juggernaut and cultural phenomenon? Why is the show such a massive hit? In this playful yet comprehensive guide, Vigna dissect every aspect of The Walking Dead to assess its extraordinary success.

In the vein of Seinfeldia,Vigna digs into the show’s guts, exploring its roots, storyline, relevance for fans and the wider popular culture, and more. He explores how the changing nature of television and media have contributed to the show’s success, and goes deep into the zombie genre, delineating why it’s different from vampires, werewolves, and other monsters. He considers why people have found in zombies a mirror for their own fears, and explains how this connection is important to the show’s popularity. He interviews the cast and crew, who share behind-the-scenes tales, and introduces a cross-section of its diverse and rabid viewership, from fantasy nerds to NFL stars. Guts is a must have for every Walking Dead fan.

 

I’ve only recently become a convert to the cult of The Walking Dead. After years of turning up my nose, I finally broke down and gave it a try this past spring, and immediately became completely hooked. I binge-watched the entire series to date within about 2 months (not bad for 99 episodes!), and read all of the graphic novels as well. So naturally, when I heard about Guts, I had to read it, and the timing couldn’t be better, as season 8 of The Walking Dead starts TOMORROW. *jumping up and down and hyperventilating with anticipation*

Guts is a truly fascinating book about the show, examining it from all angles and giving thoughtful consideration to its popularity and relevance in today’s world. The author includes recaps of the major events of each season so far, and covers the show’s history, the background of Robert Kirkman, who created the comic series and is an executive producer of the TV series, some anecdotes from behind the scenes, and the ups and downs of production, including the still-ongoing lawsuit by the first showrunner, Frank Darabont, against AMC.

The book also includes interactions with fans, including some observations from a day at Walker Stalker Con, a fan event at which fans interact with cast and crew. The description of the vibe at Walker Stalker shows the deep impact of The Walking Dead on its devoted fan base.

Most interestingly, author Paul Vigna goes deeper than the pop culture tidbits (such as fan favorites, iconic weaponry, and best episodes) to show the philosophical underpinnings of The Walking Dead, connecting the show’s impact to sociopolitical and economic climate of the era. He examines the religious themes that find their way into the show, as well as the political constructs of the various societies and the ways in which both Maslow’s hierarchy and Hobbesian views on the natural state of man can be discussed in relation to themes of community and family as shown in TWD.

Some random and various pieces from the book:

Hobbes argues that the natural state of man, as in a state without the collar of a central government, is one where every man is at war with every other man. There is no industry or security, no artistic pursuits, just the “continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” Hobbes writes… In Hobbes’s argument, people enter a social contract and surrender some of their personal freedoms in exchange for the kind of security and permanence that will release them from the terror of that brutish life in the wild.

Like giving up their endless wandering to join the community of Alexandria, right?

On political structures in TWD:

What seems to matter most is that a leader in the post-zombie apocalypse is decisive… Negan and the Governor are homicidal and suicidal, but they are also decisive. Negan may be as liable to throw you into an oven as feed you a spaghetti dinner, but in his decisiveness, he can bring some sense of comfort — so long as you don’t cross him.

Acknowledging that “Rick has made enough mistakes to fill a book,”, the author comments:

Now, I don’t have a problem with Rick making mistakes. It wouldn’t be realistic for him to make the right choice every single time. Rick’s greatest quality, apart from an uncanny survival instinct, is the ability to simply choose. In a world where life is measured in hours and days rather than decades, that is an essential quality to have.

Further thoughts:

The biggest key to survival, really, is how quickly you can shed your old morality and discover a new one.

And finally, a quote from the season 7 finale, spoken by Maggie, that sums up the essence of TWD. This is who the main characters are and what they do — and what makes us love them:

To sacrifice for each other, to suffer, to stand, to grieve, to give, to love, to live, to fight for each other.

This is what Rick, Maggie, and all the other characters in Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom represent, and why we keep tuning in, season after season.

If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead and happen to be inclined to dig in and go beyond the blood and gore, definitely pick up a copy of Guts. It’s a quick, interesting read, with just the right mix of plot points and food for thought.

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The details:

Title: Guts: The Anatomy of the Walking Dead
Author: Paul Vigna
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Non-fiction/entertainment/pop culture
Source: Library

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Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

You're Never WeirdBuffy fan? How about The Guild? Dr. Horrible? Eureka?

No?

Are you a fan of funny, smart writing? Women who are high-achieving but down-to-earth? Famous people who act like real people and seem to genuinely care?

Surely something above rings a bell. And in that case…

I feel perfectly confident that you’ll find something to love about Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost).

Felicia Day doesn’t shy away from calling herself weird, and credits her weird upbringing for making her who she is today. Moving around from one southern town to another, Felicia never really had to fit in, because after a brief stint in school, she ended up being homeschooled throughout her childhood and teens — although, as she describes:

In retrospect — and not to be mean to anyone who parented me — it doesn’t seem like there was a clear plan going into the whole homeschooling thing.

But Felicia was into it anyway:

Also, homeschooling seemed like something an orphan would do, and I really wanted to be an orphan. Because let’s be real: they have it so good in kids’ literature! They’re sad but special, people love them against all odds, and they’re always guaranteed a destiny of greatness. The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter? Orphanhood was a bucket list item for me!

In funny and honest detail, she describes her college career (double-majoring in music and math, on a violin scholarship!) and her subsequent move to LA to pursue an acting career, as well as an all-consuming obsession with World of Warcraft, generalized unhappiness and anxiety, and her creative breakthrough in writing and starring in the geek-magnet web series The Guild.

Felicia writes beautifully about the power of discovering the internet for the first time, and the awesome experience, especially for a loner, homeschooled girl, of discovering people to truly connect with in a fundamental way through the world of online gaming.

I know the story of my Dragon-hood may sound a little sad and weird and super geeky, but […] for a girl who was lonely and desperate for friends, that group of people was the most important social thing to happen to me growing up. I can’t imagine being as confident about my passion for geeky things today without that opportunity to connect with OTHER people who were saying, “Wow, I love those geeky things, too!”

She shares her self-doubts and her moments of mortification along with her successes and victories, and maintains such an appreciation for people’s investment and connection in her work that you just know she means it all. For example, explaining why she keeps all the fan art and creations that people have given her over the years:

Whether it was by someone volunteering to be an extra in our show, or part of the crew, or someone buying a DVD at a convention, or a superfan who tattooed our characters’ faces on her calf, my career has been built fan by fan. I wouldn’t trade that relationship, or collection of dolls of myself, for all the money and fame in the world.

I was lucky enough to see Felicia speak back in August and got a signed book and everything!

Felicia is adorable, but I didn't like the way I looked in this pic... so I decided to decorate.

Felicia is adorable, but I didn’t like the way I looked in this pic… so I decided to decorate.

It was an amazing event, in a sold-out venue, filled with people of all sorts who all just happen to be big geeky fans. While most came in their street duds or at most, a Supernatural or Guild t-shirt, a few went all out, which was super delightful to see:

I love me some Dr. Horrible cosplay!

Felicia spent an hour on stage in front of an adoring crowd, and she was just as cute and smart and hilarious as you’d expect. (If you’re a fan, treat yourself by watching the video of her appearance!):

Getting back to the book itself, this isn’t a Hollywood tell-all. There’s no gossip here, no name-dropping, no parties/cocktails/living-the-good-life anecdotes. When Felicia does name names, it’s to thank and acknowledge the people who inspired or helped her.

Besides being a great read about an odd-ball girl making good on her own terms, You’re Never Weird is a message book. Felicia shares her own story not to say “look at me! I’m so great!”, but to share the idea that we’re all different, and we should pursue what excites us and makes us happy, no matter how odd or weird or dorky it might seem. And hey, whoever you are and whatever you’re into, there’s sure to be someone else out there who’s into it too:

It might be extremely dorky to point out, but who you are is singular. It’s science. No one else in existence has your point of view or exact genome (identical twins and clones, look for inspiration elsewhere, please). That is why we need people to share and help us understand one another better. And on a bigger level than just taking a selfie. (Not hating on selfies, but a few is enough. You look good from that angle; we get it.) We need the world to hear more opinions, give glimpses into more diverse subcultures. Are you REALLY into dressing your cat in handcrafted, historically authentic outfits? No problem, there are people out there who want to see that! Probably in excruciating details!

One of the things that makes You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) so great to read is that first and foremost, you feel like you’re reading about a person.  A talented, awesome person, for sure, but still, someone recognizably human. Felicia Day’s writing style is chatty and full of good-natured humor, and she succeeds, I think, by making us all feel as though she’s someone we could hang out with, maybe play some video games or watch movies together. You just know that she’d be chill and awkward and non-judgmental, in all the best ways.

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She signed my book! She signed my book!

If you consider yourself a geek, if you’ve ever felt lost in a crowd, if you had weird/unique hobbies, if you’ve ever felt a passion for something completely out there… well, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something in You’re Never Weird that will inspire you, or at the very least, make you smile or even chuckle for a while.

‘Scuse me, but I gotta go binge-watch The Guild right now.

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The details:

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
Author: Felicia Day
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Length: 262 pages
Genre: Memoir
Source: Purchased