December Book Subscriptions

We have news, guys.

If you guys didn’t know already, we started an Instagram! If you haven’t checked it out already, you totally should. We’re getting it started right now.

However, we have made the choice to stop doing these posts on the blog. From now on, we’re going to take pictures of what we get in our boxes exclusively on Instagram. So, if you don’t follow us, you might want to so you can see them!

Caidyn will be in blue.
Chantel will be in purple.


BotM

This month, I only got one book. I was trying to be good since it was the holidays and all. Don’t need to be overspending, you know. Which I’m totally bad at bc treat yoself.

I chose, The Chalk Man!

 

I’ve heard good (and some bad) things about this book, but I’m still excited to give it a try since it looks up my alley!

Nocturnal Readers

So, this is the horror box that I’m starting to get. Based on my first box, I’m totally impressed by it. There was so much stuff in it! First, this is the brief summary they gave of the items.

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Tons of stuff, right?

First, the books!

 

The new release they included was an anthology, Tales from a Talking Board. While it doesn’t have great ratings on Goodreads, I’m still excited to see what’s in store since I never heard of it. Same with the second book, Vermilion. It looks unique and exciting. I think with the two books they sent, I was most impressed by how they chose books that I had never heard of rather than something I might have recognized or even owned.

Swag next!

 

Every box, they give some type of clothing. This month it was a shirt based off of a Joe Hill book. Sadly, I’m not a fan of Joe Hill. Tried a few books by him and they’re not my favorite. Next, I got a mug! It’s punny, too. And from Jaws. The picture doesn’t show it, but it says “You’re gonna need a bigger mug.” I quite like using it for wine. Next, beer cozy from something I don’t know. Next, a pin that, again, I don’t know what it’s from. Fifth, it’s a bit of packing tape that’s themed from The Shining! It was designed for them to have the carpeting from the movie. Sixth, there are bookmarks. Yes, two. One for each book! Finally, it’s a piece of original art from Bird Box, a book I’ve been meaning to read and actually thought that I owned.

All in all, I really liked this first box!

PageHabit – Mystery

My post about this is on Instagram, so I’ll post the pictures here!

As usual, a nice bookmark and a short story were included. I also got a new addition to my keychain (which is getting a bit out of control now) and some string lights! Maybe if I can figure out how to use them, I’ll start using them in some Insta pictures. The book is Signal Loss, the seventh book in a detective series. While I really like the premise, I don’t like that it’s the seventh book. I’m going to read it, but if I like it I’ll have to go back and read the whole series.


BoTM

In December, I only got Book of the Month in terms of subscriptions. I got three different books that I’m eager to read as I’m building a small collection now. 

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – Goodreads

This is a fantasy series featuring Muslim characters and is also ownvoices. This is so exciting because I’m very eager to read a fantasy story so different from every other European inspired fantasy world out there. This is something different and I can’t wait to read it. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Goodreads

Every single review posted by people I follow on Goodreads and even people I watch on Booktube have had nothing but good things to say about this. The title and cover are likely misleading because this isn’t a normal contemporary. It features a lot of diversity which I would not know without reviewers pointing it out. It deals with issues of sexuality, race, Hollywood and the filmmaking industry. It’s long overdue that I read this book. I’m so ready. 

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich – Goodreads

The world is ending in this novel, it’s dystopian, and the cover is stunning. I want to go into this knowing as little as possible. I skimmed the summary but I feel like it would be knowing too much and I am prepared to be surprised. 


That is it for me for my December subscription. As Caidyn said, we now have an Instagram and will be posting our subscriptions over there moving forward. It’s a lot less work. 

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

(Caidyn)

1/5 – DNF at 30%

Thank you to BookishFirst for the raffle I won this in and to Simon & Schuster for the copy!

Yes. I DNFed this. Hardcore. Now, I really do want to start this off with a positive before I delve into my problems with the book. I thought this was a solid debut. While I didn’t care for the plot or characters, I thought the writing was beautiful, the characters were obviously hashed out and felt accurate, and there was an obvious craft given to this book. I’d read another thing that Vaughan came out with, so long as it wasn’t this style.

I hate the books that are coming out for mystery these days. I think that they’re all the same, styled after Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Funny enough, I liked both of those books. I love Flynn’s work and I think Hawking did a good job of making me like her characters. Yet, everyone now is wanting to copy them. This book branched off but was fundamentally the same.

The plot focuses on three women: Kate, a prosecutor for sexual assault victims; Sophie, the adoring wife; and Holly, some student from the 1990s. It’s told in first person for Kate and third person for Sophie and Holly. Then James, the husband, got a couple of random chapters.

James had an affair with none of the women in the perspective. It gets out. The news dies down. Then the woman he had the affair with accuses him of rape. Kate is against him. Sophie is horrified. Holly is nowhere to be seen because she was in the 1990s, not 2016.

You’d think that with all of these perspectives and a plot that deals with a prescient topic, something interesting would happen.

Image result for sherlock wrong gif

Kate keeps going on about her work and that she obviously has some past that hadn’t come out yet. Sophie dwells on her husband and the case and how much she *~needs~* him… without any mention to the two kids they have and taking care of them and the problems I’m sure they’re having from their father. Holly talked a lot about going to school in Oxford and watching Sophie and James start their relationship.

It just didn’t feel real. At all. I found everyone annoying. I couldn’t care about Sophie since she seemed to be a bad mom for not focusing on her kids. Kate bored me, even if I found her the most compelling perspective. Holly made no sense to me although I have an idea of what her purpose would have developed into if I cared to find out.

It fell into the trap that most books do that are based on other writers. There were too many “unique” perspectives that didn’t add up and didn’t matter. I think the only two perspectives that worked were Kate and Sophie. Yet, why have one in first person and one in third? Make them both in third. (I have a bias against first-person narration, though.) Narrow the focus.

With all the perspectives, it felt like nothing important was happening. I kept waiting for some reveal that never happened. While the writing was good and I will keep an eye out for her future books, this one was just a huge miss for me. I love mystery, but not the type that keep coming out.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Difficult Women cover

Goodreads

(Chantel)

3.5/5 – When I finished Bad Feminist last year, I knew I wanted to read more by Roxane Gay. Not every essay was great, but the ones that were blew me away. She is an excellent writer and my rating of this book reflects the average score of all the stories. Some were 5 stars, a few I gave 1 star. Like Bad Feminist, I feel like a few of the stories didn’t need to be included as they were along the same theme and also a few just didn’t fit at all. However, there are some fantastic stories in here that I hope everyone gets a chance to read. This wasn’t an easy read by any means, there is a lot of horrible things that happen to women in different stories. There is also sexual content in pretty much every story, which isn’t bad, I just wasn’t expecting it. I will be giving a breakdown of my thoughts on all of the stories in a short-ish paragraph so buckle in, this might be a long one.

Before I start, I am going to let everyone know about the potentially triggering content in this book and will have content warnings, if applicable, before each story. This book contains the following content: kidnapping, pedophilia, rape, domestic abuse, violence against women, mentions of incest, adultery, stillbirths, and death of a child. If there is anything I missed, I apologize.


I Will Follow You – 5/5

  • CW: kidnapping, pedophilia, rape
  • This is a story about two sisters who are inseparable after being kidnapped and held for six weeks when they were ten and eleven. They are incredibly close because they are the only two who knows what the other went through in that time. They stick together so that the other doesn’t have to be alone. Even if the narrator is unwilling to go Nevada so her sister can reunite with her husband she does. Kind of a heavy story to start out the collection, but at the core is this relationship between the sisters. A bond that won’t ever break and the knowledge that they will always protect each other.

Water, All Its Weight – 3/5

  • This story is gorgeous and is very effective when using figurative language. It’s the story of Bianca and how water, and as a result, mold follow her everywhere she goes and it ends up chasing away those who love her. I think it’s clear that the water and mold is a metaphor for something. Something that causes everyone to turn away from her despite her beauty. I couldn’t tell you what the metaphor represents. That’s why I liked this story but didn’t love it.

The Mark of Cain – 5/5

  • CW: Domestic abuse, adultery
  • So far, this has been my favorite story. The basic premise is a woman pretends not to notice when her husband, Caleb switches places with his twin, Jacob. She knows her husband well enough to know when his brother is there, not him. For me, this was taking the issue of domestic abuse and splitting the abuser into two people, literally. There is the abusive side and the kind, sweet side. The narrator loves Jacob more because he is kind and attentive while her husband Caleb is with another woman. I think this story was a great way to show the duality of an abusive person and why someone would stay in that situation. 

Difficult Women – 4/5

  • I liked this story as it broke down different “types” of women. Loose women, frigid women, crazy women, and mothers. These all conjure up assumptions or stereotypes about these kinds of women. We think we know exactly what a loose woman does, feels and looks like, her whole history. The truth is, we don’t know shit. These labels don’t mean anything and we cannot define a woman with one label. They are far more complicated than that and nobody bothers to take notice.

FLORIDA – 4/5

  • This story was very interesting to me because all of the characters lived in or worked in a gated community. The variety of women (and one man) and the various different voices was what made this story interesting. The women all had their own experiences and their own stories, whether it was the woman who led the Zumba classes, the newest addition to the neighborhood, or a couple obsessed with watching docs about fat people so they feel better about themselves. What I noticed were the majority, if not all of the stories told were from the perspective of outsiders. Those who didn’t fit in with the wealthy, white, skinny, beautiful, gated community. Some of the vignettes were told in first person perspective, some in third, it was really interesting overall to present these stories the way she did. I have never read a short story like this before and I thought it was well done.

La Negra Blanca – 3/5

  • CW: Rape
  • This was an interesting story. There is Sarah who goes to college during the day and strips at night because she has to pay for part of her education with money out of her pocket. She is biracial with a black mother and a white father, but she looks white. In that way, I connected with her. I too am biracial. This story revolves around a man, one of Sarah’s clients, who fetishize black women. He’s a disgusting, revolting character and he starts to become possessive of Sarah, despite her never indicating that she was interested. Quite the opposite actually. It’s not exactly the thing I wanted to read about. I thought it was a well-written story, but not my favorite by any means.

Baby Arm – 3/5

  • This story is from the perspective of a woman who is dating a guy mostly for the sex. She talks about her lack of interest in anything more until he brings her a fiberglass baby arm. I’m positive this story will be remembered for the fact that it has a female fight club. I think about the twisted relationships. The narrator and Gus, her sort of boyfriend and her relationship with Tate her best friend. I believe her and Tate created the female fight club and they have an interesting relationship. One which crosses the boundaries of what a friend is and yet still have boundaries they don’t cross. The story ends with Tate on speakerphone telling Gus to be rough with the narrator during sex and instructing him to do so. When the narrator orgasms she calls out her best friend’s name. Yeah, this one was weird. The fucked up relationships and the weird fiberglass baby parts made this story the weirdest so far.  

North Country – 4/5

  • CW: stillbirth, adultery
  • As I read this story, I came back to the title of this collection. Difficult Women. In this story, our narrator Kate has moved up north to Michigan. She is the only woman, the only black woman, in her department at the Michigan Institute of Technology. All of her colleagues hit on her. She is also recovering from her long-term boyfriend cheating on her and a stillbirth. It’s clear she is still in pain and isn’t quick to trust. She meets a man named Magnus, actually, he inserts himself into her life. The get closer and closer, but she continues keeping him at arm’s length until the point where he can’t deal with it anymore. Time passes in just a sentence sometimes, as the highlights are picked out for us to see. We notice the important things and skip over the everyday things. Not every man would’ve waited for Kate, not every man would’ve dealt with her stubbornness or unwillingness to move past sex. But Magnus does.

How – 3/5

  • CW: mentions/hints of sexual abuse, mentions/hints of incest, adultery
  • This story is about Hanna, who is dissatisfied with her life. She is the only one who works in a house full of her family. She works two jobs, pretends to be a student at Michigan Institute of Technology and enjoys the attention of the men there, and she is in love with her best friend who she plans on running away with. In this story, as well as a couple of others so far, Hanna is in love with her best friend Laura, but they don’t talk about it. I wish they would’ve. Clearly, her husband wasn’t the man she wanted to be with and she will be much happier with Laura, but they refuse to acknowledge their relationship. It’s a bit frustrating. I know this isn’t the main focus of the story. It’s Hanna’s dilemma in leaving her family behind. Her abusive father and her useless husband. The men in her life which have disappointed her and let her down. Overall, I couldn’t really get into it.

Requiem for a Glass Heart – 4/5

  • CW: adultery
  • This is definitely one of the more unique stories in this collection. It’s a story in which a flesh and blood man, falls for and marries a woman made of glass. Very odd, but I enjoyed it. I think it had more going on than just a man being married to a glass woman. He is referred to as a “stone-thrower” and yet he treats his wife so carefully and delicately. Afraid that she will break, but she doesn’t. It would probably take me a few more reads and a college course to unpack everything here, but on the whole, I enjoyed it.

In the Event of My Father’s Death – 2/5

  • CW: adultery
  • I found this story disappointing. The majority of the story, Stephanie the narrator is detailing her father’s affair with a woman named Theresa and how he would take her with him and they would spend the weekend there. That alone would’ve been a fine story, a three-star story at least. However, there are implications that Stephanie is a lesbian. Other than a “surprising twist” to the story, which hinted that Stephanie would start an affair with Theresa after he died, it didn’t add anything. It could’ve gone a lot further frankly and been more explicit. I wish it had. It would’ve been a lot more interesting than a story full of cliches.

Break All the Way Down – 4/5

  • CW: Violence against women, death of a child, adultery
  • I liked this story a lot. It wasn’t easy to read but it was an examination of grief and how a woman punishes herself for the death of her child. She has two men in her life, her husband and a man she’s with because he’ll hurt her. She refers to him as her boyfriend, but that is a loose word for what he is. Then an ex of her boyfriend leaves her child with Natasha, the narrator. We see that she visits her husband often despite refusing to come home for good. He’s a good, kind man who loves her and would never hit her. And yet, she continues punishing herself using an abusive man. It’s all very heartbreaking and while it’s not an easy read (none of these stories are), I liked the story overall and how some people seek out physical pain to cover up the emotional pain they are feeling.

Bad Priest – 2/5

  • This story wasn’t bad. I just didn’t care. I don’t care about a priest having an affair with a woman and feeling shame about it. I don’t care about that woman loving him despite how shitty he is to her. I just don’t care.

Open Marriage – 1/5

  • This story was the shortest so far. It is a husband and wife arguing about whether yogurt spoils, her husband brings up the idea of an open marriage, she encourages him because apparently, he couldn’t find a woman to fuck him in a million years, and then she eats the yogurt. That’s literally it. The husband wants an open marriage because of an article he reads and it seems unlikely he’ll follow through, but this story doesn’t explore the complications or nuances of open marriages. So, I find myself asking, what was the point?

A Pat – 1/5

  • If that last story annoyed me, this story made me throw up my hands in annoyance. This comes up over and over, but I don’t get the point. This collection is about difficult women, I’m aware of this, and the theme has been pretty apparent. Hell, it could be called Complicated Women because often I feel for these women. Not this one. We get two pages to get to know her as she introduces herself to a seemingly homeless man, takes him home, cooks for him, lets him shower, and has sex with him. He’s grateful. She, on the other hand, reminisces about her mother telling her to make friends with ugly and lonely people so she can feel better about herself. She doesn’t even know the man’s name, and I felt like she thought she was giving this man something special, herself. I don’t like the way this story came across because if there was a positive message here it was ruined by the last few lines.

Best Features – 4/5

  • This was a really strong story. It’s about Milly who is fat and because of that she settles for someone because she thinks she doesn’t deserve better. She always puts out because she feels she has to. This story hit me hard and I think there is a lot of truth to what she is writing. Something I didn’t feel in some of the earlier stories I didn’t enjoy. This story’s tone is that these are things Milly believes are the truth, maybe it is in some instances. We live in a culture that’s obsessed with beauty and has their own rules about what beauty is. Not everyone who is beautiful fits into those rules. Someone else’s weight has nothing to do with you. Believe it or not, there are more to fat people than just their weight.

Bone Density – 5/5

  • CW: adultery
  • I loved this story. Partly because it’s about a cheating husband, but his wife is cheating as well. In spite of him. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother her or hurt her because it does. She loves her husband and knows he loves her and yet he continues to cheat. He barely tries to hide it. Clearly, their marriage is worth something. It’s better than being alone. Things aren’t always black or white, good or bad, and while I don’t believe cheating is good, it’s not reason enough for her to leave him. This combined with the gorgeous imagery of winter and snow is why I enjoyed this story so much.

I Am a Knife – 3/5

  • CW: stillbirth
  • I really enjoyed the beginning of this story. I was really into it, again there was wintery, snowy imagery and an interesting relationship, but then it got grotesque with the imagery and I wasn’t a fan of that. Sex is also a huge theme in almost all of these stories and for me, it just didn’t land in this story. I understood it, but it involved themes she had already gone over before in other stories. Sex as a way to forget. Sex as a punishment. It would’ve been better if it wasn’t so similar to other stories and didn’t have the horrifying imagery.

The Sacrifice of Darkness – 3/5

  • This story starts off with a man who flew into the sun and as a result, the sun disappears. This isn’t the first story with magical realism elements in this collection, and I really did enjoy the story. It ends up being the story of a girl who falls in love and eventually marries that man’s son. The story is divided into parts, and really could’ve been two separate stories but I think of it this way, it’s the story of Hiram Hightower, his son Joshua, and his granddaughter. Three generations of a family that people wanted to wipe out because of Hiram’s actions in making the sun disappear. The world itself might be dark, but the lives of Joshua and his wife are brightened by their daughter Dawn.

Noble Things – 4/5

  • This story was an alternate future where America dissolved as the South successfully seceded and there was a second Civil War. The story revolved around a couple, the man Parker who wanted to stay in the South because it was home and the woman, Anna who wanted to leave so that they could be with their son again. They had sent him away so he didn’t learn the hate that was taught in Southern schools. I thought the concept of the story was interesting. It’s an interesting backdrop to set a story in and I liked it. The way it caused a strain on Parker and Anna’s marriage was interesting to see. Their dynamic was interesting as she was bold and loud and he wasn’t. I think this story was better than most and I liked it a lot.

Strange Gods – 5/5

  • CW: gang rape, sexual harassment
  • The final story in this collection is probably the one with the most impact. It’s in second person, so the narrator is talking to “you” a man whose proposals she’s declined four times previously and he’s asked her a fifth time. The story goes on to detail the things she let men do to her treating her like she was low and a piece of meat. Then she tells the story of her first boyfriend named Steve and how he and his friends raped her after he led her to an abandoned cabin. For anyone who has read Bad Feminist knows this actually happened to Roxane Gay as she writes about it multiple times. I wasn’t expecting to see it pop up in one of her fictional stories but I’m not surprised. Writing is an outlet after all. I did think this story was really strong and with it being in second person perspective it felt like a letter. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and not easy to read, but it was probably one of the better stories out of all of them.

 

The Post – Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, Directed by Steven Spielberg

Image result for the post

(Caidyn)

Wow, this is the first one I’m doing on my own. Kind of daunting. I’m not a huge movie person. I love TV shows, but movies usually don’t do it for me. You need to have quick character arcs and be catchy whereas shows have so many episodes to lay out the characters.

But, I really loved this movie.

Streep is amazing as usual, something that I’ll talk more about later. Hanks is amazing as well, but his character wasn’t exactly someone I would like. Then, there’s a huge cast outside of that. Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Matthew Rhys, Bruce Greenwood, etc. And the story is prescient for the time that we’re living in.

That was one of the things that I enjoyed, and there was two. For those who don’t know, and I didn’t know it, this focuses on the Pentagon Papers. They were basically a study of the state of the Vietnam War from presidents Truman through Nixon. Basically, it exposed that the government knew by the mid-1960s that the war was pointless, yet they stayed in the war.

And then The New York Times published something about them. And Nixon had something filed to stop it from happening. And then the Washington Post got their hands on thousands of the pages. The big question was: Do they publish and risk everything or do they sit on it and allow freedom of speech to die?

Spoiler: They published them and won against the president in the Supreme Court, allowing the freedom of speech to stand.

I thought this story was extremely prescient because Trump is basically a neo-Nixon. He has an enemy list. He thinks about bugging people. He is involved in shady dealings. There are more similarities, but you can look them up yourself. The most important one is the hatred of the media and the attempt to block it. Nixon and Trump have both blocked the media, making personal vendettas out of reporters.

It’s scary. The media represents the governed, not the governors, as the Supreme Court said in their ruling over this case. And now we’re at a time where that’s forgotten.

The second thing that I loved was Kay Graham, who ran the Washington Post after her husband’s suicide. She was a very stereotypical woman. Housewife, never worked a job, very proud when her father gave the family business over to her husband. Yet, when he died, she had to take over something she never expected to. And she was timid. She let men walk all over her. Part of the story in this is her growing a backbone, becoming her own woman, and becoming the owner of a top-notch newspaper.

Some of what was said in the movie, about traditional women and how hard it was to break the mold, was so gorgeous. I think that my favorite lines were said by Sarah Paulson, who had a very minor role, about how brave Graham was with her decisions in life. I saw this movie with my mom and it made my mom cry because of how true it was.

I also thought that the positioning of the men in the movie in relation to Graham was so smartly done, then you have Streep’s acting as her and how amazing she imparted all the things going through Graham’s head without saying a damn word.

This movie was absolutely amazing in all ways, especially with today’s climate and showing us how far women have come and still how far they have to go in the world. I hope that all of you watch it if you have a chance.

First Lines Friday

Now, where did January go? This is the second to last week and it’s insane. I can’t believe that the first month of 2018 is almost gone. Either way, we hope that your first month was good.

On to the formalities:

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

Caidyn will be in blue.
Chantel will be in purple.


The days were getting shorter, so the light in the sky had started to fall away when the gate to our temporary home swung open and out motorcade edged beyond the fencing that surrounded the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.


Why is it that I always pick books that have really boring starters? It seems that I always did, but whatever. It doesn’t matter. This book is interesting and, actually, a pretty popular one. Or, the author is popular. And a part of a very public bromance. So, what’s the book?

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose

Yes, I am reading this. It’s a memoir that I’m very interested in reading. Late last year, I decided to start reading more non-fiction around current politics to catch up to the rest of the world so I can understand more. This book, in a way, brings me to that point as well. I was all for Biden 2016 because I do like him. And, from what I understand, this book helps explain why that wasn’t a thing. I’d like to read his reasoning behind why he didn’t run since I didn’t know any of his personal tragedies until 2016 when all the newspapers were talking about it.


Kieran expected Heidi Norton’s campaign office to involve a fancy building. A stern exterior. Heavy security. Something intimidating, or at least austere. 

Instead, the San Antonio branch of the Norton campaign resides on the top floor of a completely average commercial building. The elevator is slow, the floor is plasticky, and fluorescent lights flicker out of a speckled grey ceiling. The sign on the office door is crooked, and inside there’s a jumble of cramped desks and cramped people mixed in with printers and filing cabinets. The door is ajar and the windows are open, letting in a trickle of summer breeze, but it’s still agonizingly hot. 


While it’s not the most exciting opening, I kept going because I feel like the way this author set the scene was done very well. I can feel the heat of a Texan summer and it’s not appealing. I’ve already read a book by this author this month and I plan on reading everything they come out with. This week I chose…

Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

Coffee Boy cover

However, I’m excited to read this book. It’s the story of a trans guy who is interning for a politician’s campaign office. It’s a really short novella so it shouldn’t take me long to read it at all. I really enjoyed reading Peter Darling by Austin Chant and he writes books about trans characters and all of his books are ownvoices which is exciting. So far Austin Chant has written three books and I plan on reading them all. 

Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein by John Nixon

Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein

(Caidyn)

4/5

Yet another book that I’m reading about a time that I don’t remember. When someone says Saddam Hussein, I know that he’s connected somehow to terrorism. And that’s about it. Couldn’t tell you who he was, what he did, or what he was involved with exactly. Just that he is somehow involved with terrorism.

And this book has two main focuses. First, about who Saddam was. And he’s not really the man that you think he is. It’s hard to describe since Nixon really assumes you have opinions about him in this book (which is highly redacted thanks to the publishing board he had to put it through since it was full of classified information), but since I didn’t, I really had no clue. What I can tell you was that I didn’t enjoy this focus as much.

What I enjoyed was the second focus, which was on the Bush administration’s failures. There were misunderstandings about the situation. Bush’s want for black and white answers when every single one of them was in a shade of grey (and I’m sure there were more than fifty of him). Nixon takes a huge issue with Saddam’s execution since America, in a way, just let it happen.

And, last but one that really affects us today, is the fall-out of removing Saddam based on pure ignorance of the situation and the good that Saddam was doing. With him in power, he kept some of the radicals out, as Nixon portrayed it. Perhaps that’s not completely correct, but I can see the line of reasoning. Without Saddam, they flooded a collapsing governmental system that didn’t have someone like Saddam in power and didn’t have America helping out.

Either way, I’d suggest this book more to someone with the background of Saddam’s portrayal in the media. Since I wasn’t really interested in the news at age seven, it was out of my consciousness. Someone who was around for it would probably find this more interesting.

Black Mirror – Season One

black-mirror-logo.jpg

For those who don’t know, we watch things together. Not only do we read books together, blog together, and bookstagram together, but we also watch stuff together. To date, we’ve watched The Tudors, Sense8, Hannibal, Rogue One, Inglourious Basterds, and others. Chantel made the request that we watch Black Mirror together because we thought that it would be fun. So, we’re going to review it per season and episode. Should be fun, right?

Caidyn will be in blue.
Chantel will be in purple.

The National Anthem

What a fucking opener, no pun intended. Okay, it was kind of intended. I would say it was pretty intended.

I think everyone who has ever heard of Black Mirror has heard of this episode. It’s the one where the Prime Minister of England fucks a pig.

Yeah, my granddaddy had me watch this one so we could talk about it during our monthly video chats. I watched it. He never asked questions about it.

What an awkward conversation that would’ve been. The episode has a lot more to say than just providing shock value. It says a lot about society and how we are willing to watch other people’s embarrassment with no shame. While the PM is having sex with the pig on live television, people are glued to the screens watching, FOR AN HOUR. It’s kind of a rude awakening of how far someone has to go to keep our interest.

See, and I didn’t find it a rude awakening. I was a psych major. I studied social psychology. It wasn’t surprising at all. I know we disagreed on this, Chantel, but how many of you readers would watch your country’s leader fuck a pig? I know if Trump had to go on live television, I would watch the hell out of it. I would. Because I find it a direct insult to a government that I don’t agree with. A pig fucking a pig.

But, for those who don’t know a lot on this topic, it really is a harsh awakening when you realize that you could be just like them. You’d watch someone have sex with a pig for an hour. But, why? Would you do it because you want to see it? Would you watch it so you can talk about it, blog about it, etc? It’s a tough call since there are so many reasons why we would be glued to this shocking broadcast.

All I can ever think of is that poor pig. Like damn. But while I think this was a good opener and set the tone for the series and the point it tries to make, I’m not a huge fan of this episode. It was certainly something I had never seen before, thankfully, but I think Caidyn is right. We would want to watch because we’d want to talk about it, and if you didn’t watch it then you’d likely be the only one and we desperately want to fit in. My suggestion, though, don’t watch this with your parents.

Bahaha. Yeah. Don’t watch it with your family. My mom almost throws up every time she hears about this episode.

For me, I also think of this episode as being interesting about the lengths one will go to for someone they feel a duty protect. As PM, his duty is to protect the country. Well, a princess was captured. She’s, in a way, the country. So. He went to the length he had to.

We all know Trump wouldn’t fuck a pig for anyone but himself. #sorrynotsorry

Are we forgetting Ivanka? He might for her.

Eh. Maybe Barron.

Not sure about that. BUT WE ARE GETTING OFF TOPIC. It’s an interesting story about human nature from many different angles. Where are your limits? What would or wouldn’t you do for someone you had a duty to protect? And, would you watch something horrific or would you refuse to participate?

I am so ready to move on. Okay then.

Fifteen Million Merits

This was by far my favorite episode of the first season and it wasn’t even close. This episode is really complicated and it’s hard to describe the world if you’ve never seen it. Basically, people ride stationary bikes to power the world, rack up “money”, and they use it as they please. The main character is Bing who has fifteen million merits from his brother’s death. He uses it as if it’s nothing and there are no limits to what he can do until Abi comes along and he buys her a ticket to audition for a talent show. Basically an X-Factor type of show. I don’t want to give too much away about the episode because I want you all to go watch it, but I think we can talk about the commentary on consumer culture.

Honestly, you can skip the first episode if the idea of watching a guy make the decision about whether or not he’s going to fuck a pig to save someone’s life doesn’t interest you. This is an anthology series. None of the episodes link together, although Chantel pointed out when we watched these that there are theories that they actually do.

I definitely loved this episode and I agree about consumer culture. It’s so apathetic. All me, me, me. Never about anyone else. And, it’s also about losing humanity. Humans are supposed to be empathic towards each other. I could go on about the arguments for this and link things in, but I’ll resist that urge. This world was where your life was lived completely online. Everything you bought, except food, was virtual. You had an avatar that lived for you online while you did your stationary bike. What you bought for that avatar wasn’t technically yours. And, in a way, that’s where we’re headed. Things are becoming more and more virtual (for buying or living our lives) and as that happens, we sort of forget that the people on the screen are humans. Which leads to people being absolutely horrid to one another, as you could see in this episode. And I’m sure everyone reading this can think of examples they’ve witnessed or been a part of.

Yes, you can totally skip the first episode. It doesn’t really fit with the other two episodes or the rest of the series because it’s very much in the present day where all of the other episodes, that I’ve seen, take place in the future. I have also heard the theory that the show takes place in the same universe along different timelines and some of the technology does cross over, but I don’t believe it’s been confirmed by the creator. It’s very similar to the Pixar Theory in that way.

When Bing hears Abi singing in the bathrooms, he starts to believe in her. That she can be better and do better than riding a stationary bike day in and day out. It’s something different. He is clearly awkward as people are very isolated in this world, and they hardly know how to interact with each other. Bing isn’t even excused from being apathetic either. There is this one girl who wants to get his attention because she likes him and he brushes her off and then a prettier girl comes along and he completely changes.

The fact that he can believe in Abi in a world where people are only looking for the next best thing is super sweet and even charming. I adored Bing’s character, but let’s just say things don’t stay sweet and charming. As things rarely do on Black Mirror.

(Also, shared sex bathrooms. I need this future now. Makes life so much easier.) Bing is a very apathetic person, but he finds Abi interesting and attractive, so he branches out from his apathy to help Abi out. Bing is an interesting character for sure. Is he apathetic for a reason or is it so culturally ingrained that he keeps with it despite really wanting people? I mean, when the only world that they have is a stationary bike and porn (because porn features heavily in this), how can you ever think of being close to someone?

I think it’s absolutely the culture they live in that’s made him apathetic. The way he so casually talked about his brother being dead was something that stood out. They likely didn’t see each other often as the world is divided into separate blocks. Not unlike a prison. It’s a world where you are very much focused on yourself and things you want and Bing stands out from that because he wants to help Abi and by extension everyone else in society. He’s the only one who tries to deviate that we see, at least.

Yes, it definitely has the prison vibe, and how VR has made them a prisoner to their life. He deviates and, in a way, gets punished for it.

But, I do want to talk about how cinematographic this episode is. Like, hot damn. The use of music was amazingly done. There isn’t a whole lot of talking in this episode, even if it’s an hour long. That means there has to be something to fill the void. That being music or advertisements for the things they do online. I just loved how it was done, then how it really made the words they use matter.

That didn’t occur to me as we were watching the episode but now it clearly stands out.

This episode is just gorgeous and so well written and well done. Yes, the talent show and the judges are the extreme parody where Rupert Everett is clearly playing a Simon Cowell character, but that’s not a knock against it. Talent shows and reality tv is so ridiculous and over the top and yet we keep watching it. The music is perfect, I would listen to that score, honestly. It was just a well-done episode of television in general and gave me all the fucking feels.

I love the score, too. It added so much to the viewing when there was so much said without any words used, which takes a great script, great actors, and a great accompaniment to back it all up. Also, the use of advertisements to fill the void. Loved that since the world had no one talking. Just people making feeble attempts in person, really going for it online, and then no one but themselves at home.

Entire History of You

In the final episode of season one, we’re in a future where we have an implant in our brain that allows us to see our memories, replay them and show them to others. It’s something that could very well be in our future and I’m not sure I want it to be, no matter how much I want to remember things. It’s always going to be from one person’s perspective. Just because the memory is recorded doesn’t mean it’s the truth. It’s whatever you perceive it to be.

The main focus of this episode is a couple and the man, Liam, starts becoming obsessive and jealous about the way his wife behaves with another man. It’s one of those things where she can say it’s in his head, but he can play his memories as “proof”. She lies to him, despite him being able to find out the truth, and it causes everything to fall apart. As this technology is the worst idea ever.

Not only does this technology lead to men being able to be more abusive than ever towards women by finding “proof” in memories they can just pull up, but, even while it’s lauded as being better than usual memories, you can edit and delete them! Just like our usual memories! I mean, seriously, who thought that was a good idea? I won’t bore you guys with my ramblings about memory like I did Chantel when we watched this, but I really thought the story was good.

It took what I would say was a usual Twilight Zone plot with a jealous husband and flipped it to something new with technology. All while making us sympathize, in some ways, with the husband and with the wife. I thought it was a clever episode and, again, the use of music (or the lack of) was fantastic.

This is true, he had all the power when it came to the memories and how they were used against her. There is one character who scoffs at the idea of not having the implant when the woman says she’s better off. I think she probably was better off. Not forced to remember everything, though the memories can be deleted, but she doesn’t have to deal with the expectation that others are entitled to her memories. Early in the episode, Liam doesn’t do well in an interview and the others at the party insist on seeing the interaction despite his protests. They feel they are entitled to see the moment because they can see the moment. I wouldn’t want that put on me at all.

Black Mirror is very much a modern Twilight Zone in tone and in the commentary it makes. The Twilight Zone was great at taking your expectations on things, like beauty for example, and turning it on its head. Just like Caidyn says, they made the idea of a jealous husband different by adding a technology which only made him feel more justified in his thinking. Does he end up feeling satisfied at the end? No, he doesn’t.

Exactly. This was like a social media thing. You can show them to anyone and there’s a timeline that you can see of their memories, from when they got it to that point in time. The couple in this show have a child and that child has one, so they can look and see what happened while they were gone from the baby’s perspective. I mean, how creepy is that? You can just peer into your child’s memories as if you own them? While maybe that’s good as a nanny cam, but the implications of it (and brought up by what happens with Liam’s obsession) is insane.

I think this episode was the epitome of The Twilight Zone. It had a simple, usual plot. Then you add in some odd technology. And then the bad side of technology that people don’t like thinking about happens. And, yes, he feels justified because he can prove he’s right, but that doesn’t make it better. It makes it ten times worse rather than believing and trusting his wife.

Can we talk about the contrast from the second episode with music? Can we? I think we should.

Sure. I didn’t even notice the lack of music in this episode until you brought it up. Usually, when there is a lack of music it’s so you can focus on what’s really happening in the dialogue and background noises. There is an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that doesn’t feature a score at all and you hear everything, very visceral sounds that can be startling at times. While it’s not as extreme in this episode, you are really focused on the dialogue and what the characters are saying.

In “Fifteen Million Merits”, there is a lot of music. They establish the world through montages and Bing is a very quiet person compared to another character who is a loud prick. It almost reminded me of Wall-E in a way because there is a lack of words and the score matters so much in comparison.

My first experience with the use of music was when I was a kid and got freaked out watching The Lord of the Rings in theaters and I learned that bad things happened when there was no music. Since then, I always really focus on the score. So when there was not a ton of music — I mean, there was some, but compared to “Fifteen Million Merits”, as you pointed out, it lacked — I really paid attention. There was nothing but the intense dialogue and the relationship that was in jeopardy because a man couldn’t let his obsession go.

Wall-E is an apt comparison. And, yes, I have seen it. I think that the difference is with the story. An interconnected world in “Entire History of You” versus a separate world in “Fifteen Million Merits”. And those damn episode titles. So fucking good.

I actually didn’t like Wall-E, but that’s not what this is about. I really enjoy scores as well, but I don’t usually notice them. Not unless they are obvious or stand out. It really stood out in “Fifteen Million Merits” and it didn’t in “Entire History of You”. This show is incredible and I’d highly recommend it. It’s been torture watching this show with nobody to talk to about it, except for texts about me freaking out, so we are happy to share our thoughts with you and join in any conversation you want to have.

Rankings

Chantel’s Rankings

  1. Fifteen Million Merits
  2. Entire History of You
  3. The National Anthem

My rankings are the same as yours, yo. Does this mean that our ranking is absolutely definitive and generalizable to every person who watches this show?

Our rankings are law.

Knew it. But, I mean, we have to allow for some diversity. So if you guys disagree, I suppose you can comment. But you might get roasted if we like you and know you won’t get mad at us.

But everyone knows “Fifteen Million Merits” is the best. Obviously.

What if someone says “National Anthem” is the best? (And the title still gives me life when you combine it with the plot. Chantel doesn’t get it, guys.)

They are entitled to their opinion, even if it’s wrong.

We would be such kind dictators… I mean leaders.

I can live with that…but I’m not fucking a pig.

Mkay. Whatever you say.

Blogging + College = ???: I lied

(Caidyn)

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Me @ all of you

 

Yep.

I did lie.

I lied to all of you when I said in Blogging + College = ???: El Fin that I was done. So, what happened?

Well, for starters, I found out that I did not get the job that I applied for. Which is fine. I didn’t expect to get it. Hell, I didn’t even expect to get not one, but two interviews for the position.

So, I signed up for a Spanish class. I don’t do well without a focus. So five months of me doing nothing? While hyper-focusing on whether I get into grad school??

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OKAY

My Spanish class.

It was good. I can already tell it’s going to be a lot of work in a short period of time, but that’s fine since I’m only taking one class at a community college, which is a bit different than a university like I’ve been going to for three and a half years. By Thursday, I have to be able to say the alphabet in under a minute an also be able to spell out my last name using the correct Spanish letters.

As much as I complain about school, I rather like it.

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American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent

(Caidyn)

4/5

Admittedly, I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. But, Tamer’s voice shone through in what could have been a very dull book to make it interesting. In short, this is the story of an undercover agent (and Tamer Elnoury is not his real name) who went from busting drug rings as a police officer to being an FBI agent dealing with terrorism. Not only was this book interesting to listen to, I really found it enlightening.

Tamer, as a Muslim, spoke about how hard it was to work with and against radical Islamists since he grew up as a mainstream Muslim who grew up succeeding in the American dream. His beliefs align with the five pillars, that Islam is not a violent religion and that jihad is an internal struggle with God in order to submit. It’s not about harming and killing innocents.

He also showed how hard undercover work is and what it’s like. I think that because of police shows, we have an idea of what that means and entails, yet you don’t really know. It’s hard work. And when you’re confronted with becoming friends and confidants to people who take something so personal to you and weaponize it, that’s not easy.

Finally, I really found it enlightening about how many plots get foiled and how. It’s not just that the country finds out and destroys it (what I’d call an external cause), but also internal. Tamer stated that not all terrorist groups are the same. There are many opinions and they all vie for the same resources.

This book, while about a very serious topic, was fun and interesting. It also had a great message of unity to it. The only way to take away this threat is to understand it, even if we don’t want to. To do that, you have to hear the voices of the mainstream and not block them out. If that’s not a good message, I don’t know what is.

 

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

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Goodreads

(Chantel)

5/5 – This book won’t be easy for me to talk about. It’s about a girl with a mother who isn’t a mother. It’s about a girl who had to grow up too fast. It’s about a girl making the decision to put herself first. This book hit me personally. It was well written and we need more books like this. More books with queer characters because one day a queer girl like me will read this and it will inspire her and she’ll be able to relate to it. The good and the bad. There is so much that this book did right and I’m going to lay it out there for you so that you will go read this book and hopefully love it.

Lemme just get this out there because this is important: THERE IS BISEXUAL REPRESENTATION ON THE PAGE. 

Dis good

How To Make a Wish surrounds the relationship between Grace and her mother Maggie. It’s always been the two of them since Grace’s father died when she was two. Her mother, not prepared to take on the responsibility of being a mother stops being a mother. Instead, she relies on Grace at a young age to take care of her. She’s an alcoholic and is incredibly selfish. Grace feels obligated to stand by her mother even when she hurts her and ultimately hurts others. As a result, Grace reconsiders her plans to go to college in New York, to be a pianist, because she cannot leave her mother behind. Because who knows what she would do without her. No matter how many times her mom disappoints her, she won’t let her go. 

This in itself is heartbreaking. What makes this story better, is Eva. A girl who has just lost her mother unexpectedly and finds comfort in Grace’s mom because she too has lost someone. From the moment they meet, Grace is drawn to Eva and eventually, a romance develops between them. Throughout the book, their relationship begins and stalls, they have ups and downs, but it always comes back to how they help each other cope.

For the record, I absolutely love them as characters and as a couple. Be still my fucking heart, these two are such a great couple. They are one of my favorite couples of all time because they are just so great and so sweet. Grace might not be the most likable character, she’s “prickly” and her unwillingness to cut ties with her mom is frustrating, but I understand her. It’s not easy to walk away from someone you love, especially your mother, so I understood the dilemma she was going through. Not everyone will. Eva is just fucking adorable. She’s funny, a bit weird, and has such a big heart. She sees that someone is hurting and she can’t help but be there for them. I thought the characters were well written and even the dialogue at times was well done. We talk a lot differently than we write and that’s often hard to get right.

I can see some people complain about insta-love or that the romance happens too quickly. I’m not sure about the exact time frame but it happens within the span of a month, I’d say. Here’s my argument against calling it insta-love. No “I love yous” are ever exchanged between them. We are in Grace’s head and while she does admit to possibly loving Eva, at least being able to love her, it’s never said out loud. The other thing is, they are both going through similar things. Eva’s lost her mom unexpectedly while Grace feels obligated and tethered to her mom, in that way she’s lost her mother as well. With each other, they are in their own world where those issues don’t matter. They are each other’s escape from those things. They allow each other to exist without being overwhelmed with grief or anger. To brush that off as insta-love takes away from their deep connection whether or not we understand it or experience it.

One more thing, one more reason I loved this book. You know how in almost all YA novels when there is a boy and a girl who are friends how they almost always become a thing? This does not happen in this book and I LIVE FOR IT. Luca is (as far as we know) straight. Grace is bisexual. They are best friends and have been for a long time. There is no romantic inclination between them, they even refer to each other as siblings. This is how things are in real life. Not every guy and girl are meant to be in a romance and it’s one of the more frustrating things about YA. However, this book throws that shit in the garbage and they both end up with someone other than each other. It’s all a girl can dream about.

I really loved this book. It had everything I loved in a book and none of the garbage that usually comes with YA. Go check it out if you haven’t because this book deserves all of the praise. It has a 4.2 rating on Goodreads and honestly, that’s too low. Can we please have more books like this?

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