In which K and C gchat about Catching Fire

We are trying something new! Instead of texting or skyping about our reactions to Catching Fire, Kate and I saved our thoughts for a lengthy gchat, which we have posted here for your, um,  enjoyment (Seriously we didn’t talk about it AT ALL before this conversation. We must like all of you). It was an interesting exercise, because we knew we were writing for the blog, so it’s a LOT more sensical than our usual conversations, and with way less profanity and capslocks. We did a little editing for content, and for the fact that I type like a drunk raccoon. Let us know if you like this format and we can do it (or NOT do it) again in the future. We talk  a little about the whole series, but nothing super spoiler-y outside of Catching FireCatching-Fire-22-exclusive

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ARC Review of Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan

UntoldAs I promised in my review of Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken, we recently got our hands on the ARC of the second book in the series, Untold. When Kate was reading Untold she sent me wonderfully mean texts such as “I laughed out loud at page 61’s description of kissing” and I begged her to tell me all of its secrets, especially if they were kissing secrets. I even picked a mutual friend up from the train station expressly for the purpose of getting this book from him after he had visited Kate in Portland. He was pleased AND confused.

Llllladies, Untold is great. It’s really great. It takes all the momentum from Unspoken, and just keeps moving in really interesting, dynamic ways. I will not spoil anything for Untold, but I will talk about a couple of plot points from Unspoken, if you haven’t read it yet (Why haven’t you read it yet? Go get it!).

All of the things I love about Unspoken are still there in Untold. Kami is still a really great protagonist. The writing is excellent, the characters are charming, and most importantly, it’s everything book two in a trilogy should be. Things Happen in this book, it in no way feels like a placeholder, and it still manages to set things up for what promises to be a very interesting book three. Continue reading

Late to the Party: World War Z (The Book)

[This is the first in a continuing series, Late to the Party, talking about culture that’s not so ‘pop’ anymore, because sometimes you have things to do for years on end instead of reading the latest book or watching the latest movie.  Max Brooks’s World War Z came out in 2006 and I’m only now getting around to read it.]

On the gorgeous Friday of Memorial Day weekend, my partner and I set off to Portland.  I had heard good things about the audiobook of World War Z and, knowing little about it except that people liked it and there were zombies, we downloaded it for the 3.5 hour drive.

[Note: An unabridged audiobook came out May 14 of this year but was not available for purchase on iTunes on Memorial Day weekend.  Or I didn’t see it.  Whatever.  Either way, this article is primarily about the abridged version of the audiobook, which has been in the market since 2007.]

I do want to be clear about this up front: I like a LOT of this work, both the audiobook and the book.  (After I finished listening to the audio, I ended up borrowing a copy to compare the two.)  Brooks’ prose isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, but the level of research and commitment that he brought to this hypothetical situation is outstanding.  I think that it achieves one of the most important objectives of science fiction, which is an earnest re-examination of our lives as they are through the lens of what they might become.

But (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming!), this achievement makes Brooks’s failures stand out in greater contrast.

Spoilers: There will be some about this work and the seminal zombie masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead.

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Review of Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

unspoken-by-sarah-rees-brennanKate and I were very lucky to recently get our hands on an ARC of Untold, by Sarah Rees Brennan, the second book in the Lynburn Legacy series. I read Unspoken last year and told Kate to check it out, and we both LOVED it. I do not know what kind of bookstore sorcery Kate worked to get her hands on Untold, but she better keep working it.

Ok, but before we get to the magic of Untold, we need to talk about Unspoken. Let’s get down to it. Sarah Rees Brennan is a great author. Unspoken is full of elements that seem all too common in YA, and you think it’s going to be predictable. Then she flips everything on its head and events unfold in ways that are totally surprising, and yet seem like the only way any of it could possibly happen. Rees Breenan seems to get great glee out of setting up classic YA tropes and then wildly spiking them into a wonderful new direction. Continue reading

The Hobbit: The Invisible Women

The Hobbit: an Unexpected Hotness. Credit: Warner Brothers

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Hotness. Credit: Warner Brothers

I’ve been carrying around some strong feelings about the movie The Hobbit. A lot of them are good. It’s charming, funny, poignant, it makes me feel nostalgic, and some of the dwarves are hotter than they have any right to be (hello, Kili, Fili, and Thorin Oakenshield). But I also walked out of the theatre in December feeling unsettled. The lack of diversity in that movie is staggering.

On top of that, we see the only named female character in the whole movie, Galadriel, for a grand total of five minutes. Even then, I understand that she is a character borrowed from Lord of the Rings, and doesn’t appear in the Hobbit book. I can’t even take a bat to The Hobbit like Kate did with Star Trek: Into Darkness because the women are simply not there.

Galadriel in all her soft focus glory. Credit: Warner Brothers

Galadriel in all her soft focus glory. Credit: Warner Brothers

Which leads me to a really strange argument and problem. Continue reading

The Great Gatsby: The Long Review

Original 1925 cover art by Francis Cugat.

I had not anticipated how much time I’d end up spending on The Great Gatsby.  At this point, I have seen it in the theatres twice and just finished reading the novel for the first time since high school, and there’s a lot to unpack here.  Given the slant of this blog, I’ll try to keep focused more on the portrayal of women in the film and novel, but so much more could be said about how race, wealth, poverty, and any number of other issues are addressed.  (For the earlier and briefer “tl;dr” review, go here.)

Warning:

There are going to be spoilers in this review, as the movie sticks fairly close to the book, the book came out close to a century ago, and you should have read it in high school.  Proceed accordingly.  If you are unfamiliar with the characters and their relationships with each other, this is kind of a gorgeous character map.

As I mentioned in the short review, I learned through extensive research (yes, that is sarcastic) that Fitzgerald drew a ton of inspiration from his relationship with his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, to the point of lifting text directly from her diary and inserting it into one of his books.  In fact, there’s stenographic record of Fitzgerald basically losing it when Zelda had the temerity to write a fictionalized account of her own mental breakdown and hospitalization, since he had been planning on using that material in future works:

 I don’t want you….to write a novel about insanity, because you know there is certain psychiatric stuff in my books, and if you publish a book before me, or even at the same time, in which the subject of psychiatry is taken up, and people see “Fitzgerald,” why, there is Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, they read that… Everything we have done is mine. If we make a trip….and you and I go around, I am the professional novelist, and I am supporting you. This is all my material. None of it is your material.

So… yeah.  Fitzgerald had a complicated relationship with the primary lady in his life and the material of both of their lives as fodder for his writing.  As such, how he deals with both the primary woman and his narrator are worth greater examination, as well as the choices Luhrman makes in bringing these characters to the screen.

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What Makes a Strong Female Character: A Basic Guide

Recently Kate and Charlotte were talking about how easy it is to focus on the negative, when there are some awesomely feminist things going on in the realm of young adult literature. So we spent a lot of time going over the relative strengths of female protagonists in young adult literature (YA for short). After several conversations, we decided it would be helpful to have a written guideline of strengths to judge characters against. We think that the list that follows is a good general template for judging. When making this list, we were aiming for broad categories – it’s not a helpful criterion if it is so specific that it describes only one or two people.

Please note, we do not expect (or want) a character to have all of these traits. That would make for boring books. However, we do expect a strong female character to possess three or more of these traits. We are also completely aware that there may well be strong female characters that don’t fit ANY of these categories. If you can think of any, please tell us who they are and why they are great! We are happy to be wrong (and to make new categories).

Divergent's heroine Tris getting ready to make a literal and metaphorical leap into the unknown

Divergent’s heroine Tris getting ready to make a literal and metaphorical leap into the unknown.

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