The Cheerleaders is a Rollercoaster

So I read the Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas. This book was all over the place. [Fair warning: This post is full of spoilers.] It started off very strong. The opening two sentences are amazing:

This house was made for someone without a soul. So I guess it makes sense that my mother wanted it so badly.

Immediately set the tone. We have a strong, intelligent, very dramatic teenage protagonist. We discover quite quickly that Monica (which for some reason doesn’t sound like a real teenager’s name, in present day, to me) made some stupid decisions over the summer, got knocked up, and is physically reeling from the abortion she has instigated via pills.

So to take her mind off of her physical pain, she begins digging into the seemingly too-coincidental deaths of 5 cheerleaders that happened within a few months of each other 5 years ago. One of the rah-rahs was her sister. Oh, and maybe she made poor decisions over the summer to try to poke through the numb veneer that has covered her soul since her sister’s death. Or maybe she’s just a melodramatic fucking teenager who prefers to delve into a dark web of potential conspiracy rather than face the fact that her sister committed suicide.

Cheerleaders. Conspiracies. Convenient Deaths.

Sounds pretty good so far, right?

Of course, the problem with an unintentional roller coaster is that although you clink to a great height up, there are dips that can take you just as far down ahead.

First, there is the fact that Monica is not very good at using her intelligence. She breaks into her stepfather’s locked desk drawer, and only afterward is like, “Oh, wait! He’s going to realize it used to be locked and now it’s… not.” How was that not something she considered as she peeled apart paper clips? Also, there’s the fact that her stepfather is a police officer. I just think someone would generally know how to be sneakier if she had a police officer for a stepfather.

#ennui

Or there’s a whole section of the book where she makes a total leap in logic, assuming she knows who wrote certain notes and she knows what they mean, and I was rolling my eyes so hard, thinking I see this twist that is coming, Ms. Thomas. And then… it turns out Monica’s right. Which was even worse.

Then, there are the randomly disconcerting bits that seem like the book just didn’t have a very good editor. For example, on page 150, there is this little exchange:

‘That’s crap,’ she finally says.

It’s the first I’ve heard Ginny curse and it’s like a jolt to my brain, waking me up.

This section completely pulled me out of the story. Is there a high school student out there who considers “crap” cursing? Because, like… it’s not. We all know the curse equivalent is shit. And frankly, even that is not much of a curse-word. I would probably be more “jolted” to hear a high school girl using “excrement” instead of a curse-word. But “crap…?” Pretty lame. If you’re going to curse, fucking curse.

#letzbeereal #wordsofwisdom

Or there’s this nugget of idiocy near the end of the novel. I literally had to read it like 10 times, wondering if I was just blind or just completely misremembering. But Monica says:

I read it again to make sure I have it right. Ginny said her father left on October 18, a full three days before this report says he was last seen.

The “report” (which is actually an e-mail written by a reporter of a National Enquirer-ish paper) says:

Anyway, the motion to have Phil declared dead states that the last time his wife saw him was the morning of October 27.

October 18th is 9 days from October 27, not 3. I checked my math with Excel and everything. Maybe it used to be 3? Or used to be 9? And the length was changed for added drama or something but only in one spot? It’s such an odd, glaring error to not be caught, though.

The worst, though, is definitely the ending. It’s a confrontation scene, where Monica has finally figured out what the reader has known for about half of the damn book, and decides to get the killer soliloquizing. First, though, she is interrupted by her younger brother, and she gets through to the killer by saying, he’s “not a kid killer.” Except that the whole thing is that he killed a 15-year-old, because she wanted to be his girlfriend and not just a warm, young receptacle for his sperm. And he claims he didn’t mean to do it, but he still killed her, and her friend. So this guy who is “not a kid killer” has, in fact, killed two girls. And Monica later taunts him by calling him a pedophile – which is accurate, but also supports the idea that he’s a kid killer…

In short, excellent beginning, murky middle, terrible ending, and mediocre editing. I… do not recommend.

Book Review: Why She Wrote

As someone who considers herself a feminist and likes literature, I know embarrassingly little about famous female writers. So when Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers, I jumped at the chance. Slated to be released April 20, 2021, this very pink book is a light history of times in the lives of 18 women writers that the writers consider poignant:

This novel is a great introduction to the lives of women writers. If you have no idea where to start, this novel provides a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of fiercely intelligent women who successfully published works in spite of difficulties, tragedies, and in the case of Emily Dickinson, disposition. Every woman mentioned in this book is amazing, and reading this made me curious to know more about these fascinating women.

The downside of this book, of course, is that while it does feature interesting women, by focusing primarily on one specific moment in their life, it can be frustrating if you actually want to be able to talk intelligently about the women, because there is so much that is not present. In addition, if you have even a glimmer of knowledge about these women, you will likely already know the information present in this book. I do not consider myself a scholar in the area of literary analysis, but I was well aware of pretty much everything in the volume concerning Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and George Eliot.

However, as a brief overview, as well as inspiration for what can be achieved in spite of life’s difficulties (which we all face). As someone with personal literary aspirations, reading about what these women accomplished made me want to begin writing something of my own. Not that I think I am going to write the great American novel, but – I don’t really know what I am capable of if I don’t try.

I would recommend if you’re looking for a high-level glimpse into the lives of some famous female writers (seems like it could be a fun gift).

Let us Dream

As someone currently living in America, I am increasingly disillusioned and disheartened by the depths of idiocy and pure hatred that streams through the bloodstreams of too many of my neighbors. It makes today even more poignant – in spite of the prejudice, the sometimes willful misunderstandings and callous disregard of other people, it is possible to hold your head high and refuse to be just another such person. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an amazing man – an excellent role model, an intelligent, empathetic, caring individual. He wanted to bridge understanding between people in America regardless of skin color – and unfortunately, not only did he die without seeing that bridge develop, but that bridge has never been completed. It’s a partially built construction, hanging over the water, and not safe for anyone to drive or walk across.

There is reason to hope. Things could get better. Let’s hold on to the dream that things will get better in America, and try to be decent people who do not hurt other people and do not stand by while others hurt other people, either. And if you haven’t yet, today, I strongly recommend that you listen to the words of Dr. King.

Pretty Little Stalker – Who’s the Real Victim?

For anyone who has seen the movie Pretty Little Stalker, the title is a rhetorical question; obviously, the victim is us, the viewers. It sucked me in with it’s title that was obviously designed to draw the attention of Pretty Little Liars fans and ridiculous-sounding thriller premise. I continued watching it, because it was a dumpster fire – terrible and rotting, but sort of beautiful, in a nonsensical, this-needs-a-drinking-game way. So how is this movie terrible? Let me count the ways (and, like, don’t read the rest of this post if you actually have a desire to watch the movie and don’t like spoilers, because that is what the remainder of this post will be comprised):

  1. In the beginning of the movie, a character named Maggie, who you will only ever see in this one scene questions the protagonist’s legitimacy as a mother because she’s in her second marriage. Which is… very illogical. It’s like someone likes to eat salad, and someone else being like, “But you don’t like chicken nuggets. How can we trust your legitimacy as a person who likes eating salad?” Like, shit, Maggie may “tell it like it is,” but she also seems like a crazy person and also, she’s literally only in this one scene, so this entire scene should have been left on the editing floor.
    1. On a related note, this scene, which is a Lorna book signing, since the protagonist is a bestselling self-help author, ends with Lorna signing the book of whomever the next customer in line after Maggie was. You don’t know this person’s fucking name. This person doesn’t matter. But, like, I love how legible Lorna’s signature is. As anyone who has seen a doctor, or attended the book signing of a bestselling author knows, people who have to sign their names all the time have nearly illegible signatures. They have to, to avoid carpal tunnel and, you know, boredom.
  2. So, this one’s a little random, but the dress Lorna wears in the third scene of the movie (modeling a dress in front of the mirror; immediately after the book signing scene) is one that I own. It’s a kerchief dress, with a solid black top with a keyhole, and a paisley-esque skirt. I’ve had this dress for, like, a decade now. Pretty sure I got it on sale at JCPenney’s. Also, weirdly, this is a dress her husband purchased for her, apparently on a whim, since he has to ask her if she likes it, and says he “wasn’t sure” she would. Like, why did you buy it then? Seems a bit misogynist…
  3. Lorna’s supposedly normal high school son is introduced playing the handslap game with his girlfriend. You know, the one where you hold your hands above the other person’s, and you have to try to move them out of the way before they get randomly smacked? These kids are supposed to be in high school. High school students are smart enough to know how to try to seduce someone. This game is literally the weakest foreplay I’ve seen in my life – like, that boy’s never getting laid.
    1. Side note: It’s pretty obvious that Ashley Rickards is the stalker. But wouldn’t this movie be so much better if the “girlfriend” character Bridget was actually the stalker, and was playing the long con to completely ruin Lorna’s life? Like, she gives Lorna’s son syphilis or something before sneaking into his mother’s bedroom and cutting her Achilles tendons so the self-help guru can never walk again. #justsaying
  4. There are several scenes (okay, at least 2) where Lorna’s husband, named Harry, is exposing his hairy chest. In the first scene in which this occurs, he is investigating a noise that Lorna heard. It is very important that he be shirtless, guys. He can’t put a shirt on or even grab a weapon in case it’s robbers to investigate.
    1. The “placate-the-wife” routine this misogynist is going through, since he obviously doesn’t expect it could be anything dangerous because he hasn’t grabbed a weapon is pretty played-out. Like, he deserves that golf club to the head. #TeamMallory
    2. Do you think they changed the name of Lorna’s husband’s character after casting Mr. Hairy chest? Even better, I would love if he’s not actually hairy at all, and the costumer with the ancient discount closet carefully collected, like, her dog’s hair or something and glued it to Harry’s chest.
  5. There’s this whole, weird virgin worship in this movie. Like, Mark’s supposed to feel ashamed that he finds Mallory attractive when he has a girlfriend. I mean – she’s a super hot chick who has an endless well of family drama, which we all know is often the best aphrodisiac. It’s okay for a high school boy to be interested in her. Just, like, don’t string your “girlfriend/slap-hands partner” along – let her know she’s really cute and all but you really want some hot, crazy sex, and maybe you’ll hit her up again when you’re done sowing your wild oats. #honesty
  6. Hairy literally closes his wife’s laptop on her fingers when she says she’s not ready to go to bed. So controlling. Why can’t you just let your bestselling author wife sleep in? Damn, she bought you a freakin’ mansion. Let her do what she needs to do to keep making green! Those property taxes are not going to be cheap.
  7. Because the screenwriter needed to make sure you didn’t find Mallory likeable, there’s this weird scene where she kills the couple who bought her previous home. This scene is amazing. Mallory literally strangles some random bitch named Monique while her husband is sleeping right next to them in the bed. Guess when the husband wakes up? Like, right after his wife was killed. Like, hey guys, just another shirtless misogynist. Nothing to see here. He totally deserves that bullet to the chest. #TeamMallory
  8. The chick who plays Britney in Glee is Lorna’s agent. She loves the book that Lorna is writing based solely on interactions Lorna has had with her stalker. You would think Lorna would look more favorably on someone who was her fucking muse. It was at this point in the movie that I thought: “Dude Lorna, I don’t know what “Mallory” has planned for you, but you probably deserve it.” #TeamMallory
  9. Lorna plans to postpone her son’s 18th birthday party… because she’s grounding him for dating a girl she doesn’t like. Are we supposed to think she’s a good parent? Like, I thought I was strict. Lorna just seems like an emotionally controlling monster.
    1. It’s okay though, guys. She takes that back and gets her 18-year-old son balloons. Like, yeah, I’m so sure your 18-year-old son will appreciate those much more than inviting his girlfriend.
  10. So… just to be clear:
    • Lorna, who doesn’t seem to have any education in therapy, psychology, etc., wrote what are probably bullshit self-help books that “helped” Mallory’s mother realize she wanted to divorce her husband and abandon her daughter, resulting in Mallory’s father killing Mallory’s mother and then himself.
    • So she destroyed Mallory’s family.
    • Yet it is okay for her to protect her own family when Mallory tries to help karma out a little bit by attempting to kill Mallory with a gun.
    • She couldn’t even have tried to draw Mallory out while she stealthily dialed 911, and gotten Mallory monologuing until the police arrived, since they are required to show up at to investigate if they’re not getting any feedback (or hear a mentally ill woman raving and threating to, you know, kill people). Or maybe she could have been like: “Mallory, you’re so smart! You have so much potential. Don’t throw that away by killing my lame nerd of a son. I was inspired by our conversation over dinner – I’ll give you a share of the royalties! Let us be partners. Huzzah!” Nope, she just nabs Mallory’s gun and shoots the poor girl.
    • Who’s the real victim here, I ask you?
  11. Also, for some reason, they have Mark’s 18th bday party 6 months later. Which is just… odd.
  12. There wasn’t even a twist at the end where Mallory, like, walks in front of their house or something. #missedopportunity

So, yeah – I was not a fan of Pretty Little Stalker. Though I will admit:

  • the chick who plays Lorna has amazing hair through the movie, so kudos to the hairstylist; and
  • Ashley Rickards does a good job with a batshit character whom it is unlikely would actually be out on the streets for so long considering how often she attacks people.

Have you seen the movie? If so, what were your thoughts? If not, I don’t recommend it – also, did I convince you to join Team Ashley?

My Reading Year in 2020: Thanks, Goodreads, for Making this Easy

2020 is over, which means that I can finally reflect over the literature I consumed.

In 2020, I read 67 books and 22,486 pages, or an average of 335 pages per book.

The shortest book, which is actually just a short story that I listened to the audiobook for, is 67 pages. The longest book, Plain Bad Heroines , is 623 pages, which I didn’t realize, since I read an e-book ARC on my phone.

The most popular novel I read was Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, which we all know is amazing, so if you’ve been putting off reading it, stop doing that. Read it now. You never know what’s going to happen, but P&P is legitimately good literature that you will not regret consuming. The least popular was How to Write like Tolstoy, which is a shame, because I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s a book about writing, but I think you will enjoy it also if you are an avid reader with no writing pretensions. So I would also highly recommend this one if you’re in the mood for a book about the writing craft. Particularly if you are in the mood for a book about the writing craft, and you like celebrity gossip. Richard Cohen has worked with so many amazing writers, and this book has a mix of literary history and personal anecdotes that is highly entertaining while also containing decent literary analysis/writing advice.

I know this rating looks exorbitantly high, but I think that I just got lucky and read a lot of good novels during this year.

Not sure if you can tell from the picture, but the highest rated book I read in 2020 is the Wayside Stories audiobook, in which author Louis Sachar reads all 3 of his Wayside collections. If you haven’t read Wayside in awhile, you should check it out. It’s available on the Libby app, and Sachar’s writing is so good. I giggle every time I listen – silly noises that I cannot prevent from escaping from my person. Do I look deranged while driving on the highway and listening to this audiobook? Probably. Is it worth it? Fuck. Yes. Seriously – worth a listen; I highly, highly recommend.

First review of the year was The Plain janes. I have a blog post about this book, but honestly, my Goodreads review sums it up pretty succinctly.

Last review of the year was Murder in the Mystery Suite, which I couldn’t even finish.

That’s my year! Pretty good, reading-wise. Having said that, I am so, so glad that 2020 is over. Here’s hoping that 2021 isn’t quite as much of a shitshow.

How was your reading year? Do you want to be my friend on Goodreads? Please let me know something fun about your 2020 reading in the comments!

The Year(s) the Movie Companies Decided to Keep it Real with Kids

Because I have children, one of whom is a toddler who likes all things that roar, I watch Monsters University on at least a weekly basis. For those who are not subject to the whims and tantrums of a two-year-old, Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters Inc. It was released in 2013, and despite being a prequel, is actually a pretty decent movie.

It includes 3 of the main characters from the original Inc movie:

  • Sully
  • Mike Wasowski
  • Randall Boggs

These characters are voiced by the same actors, the very talented John Goodman, Billy Crystal, and Steve Buscemi. In addition, the movie nabbed other very talented actors, including Helen Mirren and Charlie Day.

The three characters we already know well from Monsters Inc are now younger – for the majority of the movie, they are freshmen in college, attending, as you have probably already guessed – Monsters University.

The music is catchy, the jokes are funny, and the storyline is a coming-of-age story that includes learning to believe in yourself and others, but also recognizing your strengths and coming to terms with not being able to achieve your dreams. The movie begins with a tiny, elementary-school age Mike Wasowski, who maintains his trademark positivity despite being ignored and overlooked by all of his peers, discovering that he wants to be a scarer. It is a dream he holds firm in his heart, and it is his plan to do whatever it takes to become one when he steps onto the campus of Monsters University, brimming with the naivete and optimism that often comes when you still have your entire adult life ahead of you. Nearly everyone he meets either overlooks him, or tells him he does not have what it takes to be a scarer – when he is not simply being dismissed or ignored, he is generally flat-out being told he is not scary. But he just puts his head down, and works harder. He doesn’t go to the college parties, preferring to study to make sure he can pass his final and remain in the scaring program. The one thing that does get under his skin is Sully – the innately talented monster who can likely graduate as a scaring major without even trying. Sully is automatically noticed and admired by other monsters, and is a legacy to boot, with a famous scarer father. Mike has to work so hard to even be noticed, and even then, although he knows the scaring information from textbooks back-to-front, and can pass a written test with flying colors, he’s still… not scary. So someone who is frightening without even trying really gets to him.

Hopefully, you’re less bored than Mickey…

The thing is — everyone else, unfortunately, is right. Mike works the hardest, studies the right stuff, and has a can-do attitude throughout his brief time at university, but… it doesn’t matter. In spite of everything, he is not capable of being a scarer, because he is not capable of being scary. He improves his scaring stances, aces his tests, and even uses his knowledge to coach others into being more capable scarers, but he is still, and will always be, unable to achieve his dream. So a large part of Mike’s journey is actually coming to terms with who he is, and figuring out his new goal.

This lesson is actually fine. Most girls want to be a ballerina, for example, but most girls cannot actually become a professional ballerina. Most girls get breasts, or do not want to study dance with the focus required to become a professional, or get eating disorders that make their bones brittle and unable to actually perform, etc.

Dreams die #keepingitreal

The thing is… Monsters University is not the only children’s film made around this time that deals with needing to understand yourself and come to terms with not being able to achieve your heart’s deepest desire. In fact, it’s not even the first film that came out around that time with this thesis. Disney came out with another movie in 2012 about a rough guy just doing his job, and hated for it, and hating being hated for it, who befriended a cheeky rascal in a land made out of dessert. Who found out that his job was necessary, and he should keep doing it, but having friends made it bearable. That’s right, folks, a mere year-ish before, Disney released Wreck-It Ralph. Or what about another movie released in 2012 – Disney’s Brave? It is about more than accepting your position, but although Merida decides to make her role as royalty her own, she does have to come to terms with the fact that she is royalty, and that birthed her into certain responsibilities. In fact, failing to come to terms with this in the beginning of the movie nearly causes her to lose her mother forever because the witch she sought help from seems to only know a single spell (and how to carve, I guess). Then, there’s the 2013 Disney release Frozen, in which one of the main characters, Elsa, has to learn how to be honest with herself and others, and not merely isolate herself like an odd, sexy hermit, because she has responsibilities as a sister and a queen that she cannot, and does not want to, shirk. 2012 and 2013 feel like the years someone at Disney decided to explain to children that you can’t always do anything you want, but you can figure out a way to be okay with your employment, whether it’s glamorous like Elsa and Merida, or blue-collar like Ralph and Mike. I’m not necessarily against it, it just feels a little weird that instead of saying, “Keep making good decisions” or “You can be anything you want, if you only believe/work hard enough,” Disney was like, “Life’s not perfect, but you can settle and be cool with that.”

What do you guys think – am I reading too much into what I interpret as a slew of similarly themed movies? Is Monsters University actually terrible? Or am I a smart, savvy chick who has a point? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!