If you’ve been following my reviews of indie YA author Anthea Sharp’s Feyland and Feyguard books, you might remember this aside from my review of Royal:
Marny continues to be everything. I really hope she gets her own Feyguard book complete with a worthy love interest, because she’s one of my favorite things about this series. Although one of the best things about her is that she’s happy and confident without a boyfriend, I want to see someone love Marny as much as she loves herself.
Well, dreams do come true! Now that the holiday madness has died down, I am happy to bring you a review of the third Feyguard book, Marny. (Disclosure: Anthea sent me a free advance review copy, which I was not able to follow up on nearly as soon as I’d hoped.)
Warning: This post contains SPOILERS for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Proceed at your own risk.
So, there’s been some controversy about Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff’s backstory, specifically that her Brainwashed Soviet-Ish Killing Machine training was concluded with a routine sterilization and she feels un-good about this. As for the scene itself, I don’t see how it’s being framed as a gendered issue. Bruce Banner has already told Natasha about his own infertility, and they’re having the discussion in the first place because they’re seeing the family life that their male friend has deliberately created and likely gone through an insane amount of effort to keep.
Like the rest of the internet, I have now seen the trailer for the new Jem and the Holograms movie. It looks like a painfully cliched made-for-TV band flick written to reassure its young audience that they’d hate being rich and famous. As to how it compares to the original cartoon, I can’t say.
I’ve never watched it.
I KNOW, RIGHT??? I love 80’s pop culture, 80’s pop music, cartoons, and over-the-top pink girly glitter, and my name is a gem, so Jem and the Holograms seems like it should be an obvious win for me. I don’t remember ever being aware of it when it was on originally. I saw commercials for the dolls, but I thought they were knockoffs of Barbie and the Rockers. I’ve known for awhile that Jem is on Netflix and that there’s a new movie in the works, but haven’t taken the time to check it out.
Hey, did you know Syfy has a new drama set in mythological Greece? No? Me neither, until my parents texted me while they were watching WWE on Thursday night and said I’d probably like this Olympus show that’s coming on afterward. I’m glad they did, because I had a great time watching the pilot, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.
This post’s title is an accurate description of the show’s production value. (As an indie author, I know all too well how much people LOVE sinking money into weird Greek mythology adaptations.) It’s tempting to throw Olympus into the “so bad it’s good” category, where I lovingly store many of my favorites, but the female lead and the villainess make this show unironically fun to watch. The Oracle of Gaia, played by Sonya Cassidy (whom BBC fans may recognize as Clara from The Paradise), has divine visions that don’t always come when she needs them to, so she’s learned to appease her petitioners by becoming a master of deduction. This, imo, should be the entire premise of the show. I have dubbed The Oracle #GreekSherlock. She’s resourceful, rational, dramatic, and prone to complicated schemes that can snowball into something way more complicated than she foresaw (damn uncontrollable visions).
And somehow, #GreekSherlock is not our designated hero. That role falls to our male lead known only as Hero – or Mercenary, or You There, or whatever the other characters decide to call him, since saying his name aloud will turn the speaker to stone. He has an intricate backstory that literally makes him the MacGuffin. He gets his feet painted blue for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear to me. He’s a valiant warrior who can kill people with rope. Ultimately, though, he’s there to be eye candy (a role newcomer Tom York fills quite well) while #GreekSherlock steals the show. So basically he’s a Moffat woman.
But the biggest show-stealer of them all is Olympus‘ Big Bad, Medea (played by Sonita Henry). She’s resourceful, rational, dramatic, and prone to complicated schemes that she’s usually completely on top of unless Fate throws her for a loop. As the evil personality counterpoint to #GreekSherlock, I have dubbed her #GreekMoriarty. (Except Hero is her ostensible nemesis, so I have no idea if she and #GreekSherlock will ever officially acknowledge each other.) Medea’s portrayal goes beyond pure camp, although there’s plenty of that. She comes across as clever, in control, and legitimately dangerous. And (SPOILER?) it looks like she has designs on goddesshood. I sort of want to see that.
I think there were a bunch of other people, too. But as far as I was concerned, it was all about #GreekSherlock and #GreekMoriarty.
So, anyway, if you’re looking for Game of Greek Thrones, you’re not going to find it here, but if you miss Xena and Hercules, you’ll have as much fun with Olympus as I did. Check it out on Syfy on Thursday nights at 10/9 Central, or stream full episodes here.
I was eight years old the first time I read Little Women. I fell in love with the Marches and identified with all four sisters in different ways. I was a writer and loved adventure and couldn’t manage to do what was expected of me like Jo. I was the oldest and could be too cautious and practical for my own good like Meg. I was quiet and withdrawn and loved music like Beth. I was artistic and used words people didn’t understand and was never taken as seriously as I took myself and totally had a thing for Laurie like Amy.
I’d go on to revisit Little Women and its sequels throughout the years. I learned more about the historical context of the book. The Alcott family’s involvement in Transcendentalist, bohemian circles. Louisa May Alcott’s first-wave feminism. All of this just made the book more fascinating to me. Age and distance have made some of the book’s imperfections more noticeable, but it’s one of those childhood loves that will always have a special place in my heart.
Despite all this, somehow the existence of The March Family Letters escaped my knowledge until this month. To be honest, I was more apprehensive about this one than any of the literary webseries I’ve watched. There are so many ways a modern Little Women could go horribly wrong. Would Jo be a straw feminist or a misogynist? Would Meg be an unsympathetic killjoy in the tradition of grouchy sitcom wives? Would Beth be a Purity Sue, canonized by virtue of disability? Would Amy exist to remind the audience that being a girly girl makes you a terrible person, or at least a really shallow one?
Don’t worry, my inner voice whispered as she wrapped me in a blanket and brought me some hot chocolate. It’s being distributed by Pemberley Digital. Click the playlist.
You remember Agent Peggy Carter from the Captain America movies, right? And you know ABC gave her her own miniseries and scheduled it during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s winter break, right? And you saw its two-episode premiere last Tuesday because all of my readers live in the US and structure their lives around TV schedules, right? What??? OMG you aren’t hooked on Agent Carter yet??? Well, read on! I promise this won’t be too spoilery.
My biggest question about Agent Carter was whether it would feel more like a spin-off of the Captain America movies or the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series. The answer is both and neither. Like any of the individual series under the Avengers umbrella, Agent Carter draws from the franchise as a whole, but maintains its own distinct feel. And if you like a 1940’s aesthetic with a James Bond storyline, that feel is pretty freakin’ awesome.
One of my favorite things about Agent Carter is how it lets Peggy fill the Bond role while looking like a Bond girl. There are times when Peggy switches out her skirt suit for a pair of slacks, but she’s always got her perfectly-coiffed curls and her signature red lipstick. Do I think any of this should be a social requirement for real women in the real world like it was in days of yore? No and no. Is it how my fantasy self would be attired in my self-insert pulp fanfic? So very much yes.
Peggy’s aesthetic suits her character, imo, because it’s one that requires a lot of effort, skill, and control; all traits we see her display in the field. Peggy is always in charge of whatever situation she’s in, whether her superiors realize it or not. Tell her to bring coffee, and she’ll gather all the intel from your top-secret meeting. Give her a sick day for “ladies’ problems” and she’ll work that case and find the MacGuffin in a disguise that has all her spy colleagues fooled.
Every good comic book hero needs a sidekick, and Peggy’s will be familiar to Iron Man fans: Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (not to be confused with Tony Stark’s computer system). There’s no will-they-or-won’t-they tension between this dynamic duo, as Peggy isn’t over Steve Rogers, and Jarvis is steadfastly devoted to his unseen wife. Clearly he knows Mrs. Jarvis is the greatest good he’s ever going to get. Jarvis’ deadpan insistence on providing hero support is a perfect foil to Peggy’s obligatory insistence that she doesn’t need it.
Well, “obligatory” isn’t quite fair, since Peggy’s adamant independence is more than justified in-universe. She works in an environment where she has to prove herself twice as good as her male colleagues to earn half the respect. Jarvis recognizes this, and when he informs Peggy that he’s there to stay, he makes a point of saying that all heroes, whether male or female, need support, just like Captain America did when Peggy and Stark were providing it for him.
Which, imo, sums up the best thing about Agent Carter. In the first Captain America movie, I really wanted to love Peggy, but I mostly felt like she was an under-utilized character with great potential. For all her informed awesomeness, she was essentially just The Love Interest. The faded photograph that the real hero looked to for inspiration. In Agent Carter, their roles are reversed. Now Steve Rogers is the faded photograph, and Agent Peggy Carter is the lone hero in red, white, and blue.
And pumps, nylons, and red lipstick.
Agent Carter airs on ABC on Tuesday night at 9pm/8pm Central. You can watch full episodes online at ABC.com.
Cinderella aired on ABC Family this last weekend. I’m a sucker for a Disney marathon. Since I tend to look at Cinderella as a study in how and why people get stuck in abusive relationships, I decided to live tweet it under the #WhyIStayed hashtag in the title character’s voice. This post is a record of those tweets.
Reviewing Royal last week put me in a YA fantasy mood. Hence this review of The Fire Wish, a new release by debut author Amber Lough. TL;DR – You’re either going to love it or hate it. I loved it.
The Fire Wish is about two teenage girls in a mythical version of ancient Baghdad who switch places with each other. Jasmine Zayele is a reluctant princess who wants to escape an arranged marriage. Ariel Najwa is a Jinn spy-in-training fascinated by the human world and its inhabitants. If this sounds too cheesy to you, abandon hope all ye who enter here. If you’re as much of a sucker for this kind of story as I am, grab your long skinny fork thing and join me at the fondue fountain.
My favorite thing about this book is the Jinni world Lough has created. I’m not as familiar with Middle Eastern mythology as I’d like to be, so I can’t tell how much is adapted from that and how much is Lough’s own imagination. But it’s pretty obvious that the Jinni spy headquarters is influenced by Lough’s experience in US military intelligence. There are intelligence files, security clearance levels, walls filled with magic screens, and, of course, secret missions. Najwa, the Jinn spy candidate, was the more interesting of the two protagonists to me, though ironically she spends most of her time exploring the surface and trying to become Part Of Our World. Najwa could be the only protagonist and I’d still want to read this book.
Not that I don’t like Zayele; it’s just that her story starts out way more familiar. She’s a plucky tomboy in a patriarchal society that wants her to be a proper lady and marry the nice prince her family picked out for her. To be fair, she has some legit reasons for not wanting to get married. She’s still a few months away from her sixteenth birthday, and marriage would mean leaving her blind brother at home without her care. And, hey, it doesn’t matter if a guy is a prince, a musician, a scientist, and a total hottie. If a girl isn’t interested, she isn’t interested. Move along.
Is it really a spoiler that Najwa is interested? Or that Zayele ends up falling for the ripped, leather-clad, Special Ops Jinn-next-door that Najwa totes friendzoned? It’s predictable, but it works. Prince Kamal is a great match for cautious, curious, scholarly Najwa. Atish, the Shaitan warrior, is everything impulsive, decisive, headstrong Zayele could want in a guy.
But, cute pairings aside, The Fire Wish manages to avoid being a romance novel disguised as a fantasy. Most of the focus is on the war between the humans and Jinni, how people think the war started vs how it really did, and both sides’ behind-the-scenes efforts to gain the upper hand. It’s an intriguing setup, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the Jinni War in the inevitable sequels.
If a made-for-the-CW magic carpet ride sounds like your idea of a good time, click the image above or this link to enter A Whole New World.
You don’t have to try
Take your makeup off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror
Don’t you like you?
– “Try,” Colbie Caillat
If you’re at all engaged in social media, you’ve probably seen Colbie Caillat’s new music video for her song, “Try,” in which she starts out looking like a Kardashian and ends up looking like Colbie Caillat.
It’s a beautiful video with a beautiful message. The girls and women featured in it look incredible in the before and after shots, which is the whole point. I’ve seen my female friends moved to tears this week as they passed this video and Colbie’s commentary around Facebook. I have no trouble seeing “Try” as a sincere expression of Colbie’s story, and I also believe that the women who were moved by it see their own story reflected in it. Which is a wonderful, powerful thing, and I certainly don’t want to detract from that in any way.
Personally, though, I was struck by how different Colbie’s story of self-acceptance and embracing self-expression looked from my own.
I rarely if ever experimented with makeup in my teens. I know for sure that I didn’t own any. I think I was 19 before I tried so much as shaping my eyebrows, and then I felt absurdly guilty about it. Makeup wasn’t for me. I was an intelligent, talented, virtuous young woman. I wasn’t one of those vain, frivolous girls whose value was in how attractive they were to boys. I was smart. I was accomplished. I was responsible. I was respectable. Why on earth did I need to be pretty on top of that? More specifically, why did I need to put any effort into being pretty? Wasn’t pretty one of those things that you just are or aren’t? And why did I even care? I didn’t care.
Except I did. A part of me that I’d stopped listening to a long time ago wanted desperately to be pretty. Not because society was telling me I should. In fact, the society I inhabited was specifically telling me that I shouldn’t. That putting any thought or effort into outward appearance meant I was a vain seductress like the worldly women in magazines I was discouraged from looking at and movies I wasn’t allowed to watch. That, sure, a few lucky girls had the gift of being pretty without trying, but this was more curse than blessing. It made them targets for boys who would never appreciate their True Inner Beauty because they were so blinded by their outer beauty. Charm was deceitful, beauty was vain.
As I grew up, I exchanged patriarchy for feminism, and was told almost exactly the same thing. Don’t tell little girls they’re pretty. Women’s value shouldn’t lie in their looks. Women should take pride in accomplishment, intelligence, talent, and integrity. The World tells women they have to make themselves sexually appealing for men, so we waste so much effort in these vain pursuits that could be spent achieving things like men are taught to from infancy. A Real Man (not that you need one anyway) will love you for being A Real Woman, not one of those made-up, photoshopped, underfed women in misogynist magazines and movies. Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain.
As I continued to internalize these messages, they enabled a deeper, more insidious message I was getting from my own brain chemistry as I battled clinical depression: There’s no point in trying. Why bother running a brush through your hair? Who’s going to see it? Who cares if all you’ve done to your face in a week is splash water on it every other day? It’s not like you can improve it that much. Screw personal hygiene. No one’s getting close enough to see how much you’ve been neglecting it. On some level I knew how repelling my appearance was.* This time, I really, truly, didn’t care. I couldn’t care. My brain had forgotten how.
I got help. I learned how to care again. I felt happiness again and learned how to take conscious actions conducive to that feeling. I learned how to deconstruct the ideas I’d internalized about what I was supposed to be, and how to sift through the pieces and uncover who I really was.
I discovered that who I really am is an intelligent, talented, accomplished, courageous woman who freakin’ loves makeup, accessories, and clothes. I love decorating my face and my body with bright colors. I love knowing how different cuts of clothing can change the way my body appears. Dressing and grooming feels like an opportunity to create a new work of art every day. Fashion has become one of the most powerful depression-fighting weapons in my arsenal. It’s not about pleasing men or women, though I’m happy if it does. Honestly, sometimes I worry that my bright colors and sparkles make people think less of me. But, like Colbie in her video, it’s not about them liking me. It’s about me liking me.
And ironically, it was only after embracing all this that I learned to love my face without makeup. I don’t need makeup to like the way I look. I go out with a bare face plenty of times, usually if I’m in a rush or if I’m going to a movie that I know will turn my eyes into a waterfall. A movie with beautiful women whose beautiful makeup I’ll probably challenge myself to replicate sometime. I won’t look just like them, and that’s okay. Because I’ll look just like me. And I like me.
I like me enough to try.
*Just to be clear, I’m not implying that women are repelling when they don’t wear makeup, shave their body hair, or style their hair in a conventional, feminine way. I’m talking about neglecting very basic hygiene, which can be a sign of clinical depression regardless of gender.
The trailer for Book 3 of The Legend of Korra has been viewed about 1,140,000 times, which means people other than me have viewed it about 140,000 times.
The Legend of Korra was my introduction to the Avatar franchise. I watched The Last Airbender after Book 2 ended last fall because I missed my Korra fix. I loved Aang and his story, too. Aang is as different from Korra as humanly possible, and the two shows have very different feels to them, so I can understand why some people who fell in love with Avatar Aang and his team first aren’t huge Korra fans. But Korra was my first love, and I can’t wait to see more of her and her team. Here, in no particular order of favoritism, are ten things I love about The Legend of Korra.
10. LIN FREAKIN’ BEIFONG
I had virtually no knowledge of The Last Airbender when I started watching The Legend of Korra, so I didn’t meet Lin as Toph Beifong’s daughter. Her awesomeness was all her own and not a matter of legacy. I couldn’t remember her name at first, so I just called her Lady Magneto in my head. She quickly became one of my favorite things about the show. Really, how many shows have you seen with a middle-aged gray-haired female action hero? Where her age and grayness weren’t played for laughs or irony? Lin got even cooler for me when I did watch The Last Airbender and Toph became my favorite member of the Gaang. This video is, imo, the perfect summary of the Beifong legacy:
9. MOAR GROWNUPS
I like it when kids’ stories are well-populated with an active, non-useless adult generation. Lin, as I mentioned above, is clearly middle-aged and drawn with unambiguously gray hair. The Avatar wiki gives her age as 50 in the first book and 51 in the second. She’s far from the only one. Tenzin, Korra’s Airbender mentor, is the same age as Lin. His older brother and sister, Bumi and Kya, get a lot of screen time in Book 2. Their family issues take up almost as much of the story as the actual Avatar’s arc. Also earning plenty of screen time is Pema, Tenzin’s wife and the mother of his four children. Even Korra’s own parents are key players in Book 2. Yes, you read that right – there is such a thing as a fantasy protagonist with two living parents!
8. ASAMI SATO
Asami is the resident muggle on Team Avatar, and she’s a very conventionally attractive and conventionally feminine girl. It would’ve been really easy to write her as weak and shallow to make Korra look stronger and more authentic by contrast. Instead, Asami is intelligent and courageous. We quickly see that she’s someone Korra can learn a lot from, and not in a cliched “Girly girl gives the tomboy a makeover” way. Asami is a valuable asset to Team Avatar and eventual friend to the Avatar herself.
7. LOVE TRIANGLES THAT DON’T COMPLETELY SUCK
Love triangles are pretty case-by-case for me. Sometimes I find them entertaining, and other times I’m like, “Why? Just…why???” I have to admit, it could be argued that this story didn’t need love triangles at all. But accepting the fact that they are a big part of this series, I think they’re handled really well. Like I said above, Asami, Korra’s “rival” for Mako’s affections, isn’t portrayed as weak or shallow in contrast to Korra. I put “rival” in quotes because for a long time Asami didn’t even know Korra had asked Mako out, and she and Korra get along reasonably well considering Korra’s secretly in love with Asami’s boyfriend who may be in love with Korra. Or with Asami also. (Mako’s an idiot. I didn’t say it was a perfect love triangle. 😛 ) You sympathize with both girls and want to see them both get a happy ending.
This is all foreshadowed when Korra confides her feelings about Mako to Pema, Tenzin’s wife. Pema encourages Korra to go for it and tell Mako how she feels. She recalls that, when she fell in love with Tenzin, he was interested in someone else, but that she made a move because she couldn’t stand the thought of him being with “the wrong woman.” Pema is a likable character. She and Tenzin obviously have a happy marriage. I took her words at face value, interpreted the scene as an older woman empowering a younger one, and was interested to see how her advice would serve Korra.
Then it turns out that “the wrong woman” was LIN FREAKIN’ BEIFONG. Who evidently never found anyone else. The story gives no easy answers as to who “deserves” to “win” their love interest. No matter how things are resolved, someone will have every reason and every right to be hurt, and someone else will have every reason and every right to have made the choice that hurt them. And young impressionable viewers will learn the valuable life lesson that love effin’ sucks.
6. THE AIRBENDER KIDS
Okay, so, something a bit lighter. Tenzin and Pema have three little airbenders. Meelo has all of Grandpa Aang’s boyish exuberance and Great-Uncle Sokka’s goofy sense of humor. Ikki is the Keeper of the Baby Sky Bison, and if you don’t think Blueberry Spicehead is best bison, we’re not friends. Jinora…Jinora is everything. EVERYTHING. The next spinoff could easily be Legend of Jinora. Rohan, the baby born in Book 1, is predicted to be an airbender, but personally I think it’d be interesting to see what happens if he can bend some other element, or if he isn’t a bender at all. Time will tell.
5. PRO BENDING
I love everything about this. I love that, in this universe, superheroes have turned their superpowers into a competitive sport. I love Korra, Mako, and Bolin as a team (when they are functioning as a team). I love that Korra can learn bending best in the context of a dangerous, high-stakes game. I love the old-timey radio announcer. And I love the Fire Ferrets’ mascot.
4. THE CHANGING WORLD
Even without having watched The Last Airbender, I could tell that Korra’s story took place in a world that had seen a lot of change over the last century. Benders, once the saviors, had come to be regarded with suspicion and fear. A world once strongly divided along nations and races had overcome these barriers only to create new ones, namely benders vs non-benders. After watching The Last Airbender, I could appreciate even more how different the political landscape was in the two series. I think my favorite change, though, is the progression of technology. It’s like The Last Airbender is around the mid-19th century, and The Legend of Korra is circa World War I.
3. ESKA AND HER FEEBLE TURTLEDUCK
I am a horrible person.
2. “WHEN WE HIT OUR LOWEST POINT, WE ARE OPEN TO THE GREATEST CHANGE.”
This line is really insightful and thought-provoking to me because, in my observation, it’s usually true. Though not necessarily in a good way. The biggest changes in my life were usually the results of decisions that were made at someone’s lowest point. Sometimes they were my decisions. Sometimes they were decisions made by my parents or by other people with direct influence on my pre-adult life. There’s something about being at that low point that makes you open to a level of change you wouldn’t otherwise consider. Sometimes those changes aren’t good, and you find that it is in fact possible to reach an even lower point. But other times you look inside yourself and find a power you’d never quite been able to tap into before, and you finally make that change that lets you save yourself and become what you were meant to be. At least, that’s how it worked for Korra.
You guys, I freakin’ love Korra! Yes, she’s a hothead. Yes, the writers were playing ping-pong with her mental state for most of Book 2. Yes, she’s Not Aang. But having “met” Korra without the weight of Aang’s shadow, I saw her as an engaging, entertaining, likable, and believable 17-year-old girl. She wants to do the right thing and solve all the problems of the world even though she doesn’t always know how. She wants to excel at her calling even though she doesn’t always have the patience to learn the skills that don’t come naturally to her and polish the ones that do. She does excel at bending and fighting and has since she was a toddler. Her arrogance and brashness hint at years of knowing very few people skilled enough to teach her. Once she knows what she wants, she goes after it right away. She has a joy and enthusiasm that you don’t see in a lot of contemporary YA heroines. She is fire. She is earth. She is water. At last, she is air.