A Cinderella Story, Ranked

I cannot resist an “A Cinderella Story” movie. Not that they’re good, of course, but they are entertaining in one way or another. Here are the ones I have watched or am aware of, ranked from my fave to my least fave.

  1. The Lucy Hale one – I fucking love this one. The cast all do an amazing job, from the impeccable Hale herself to the woman playing the assistant principal. The thing I love most about this movie, other than Hale and Pyle’s amazing performances, which alone would make the movie pretty good, are the step-siblings. Hale’s character Katie sums it up pretty well, when she says of her stepbrother (paraphrasing here): “What can you expect? Look at his family.” Both Megan Park and Matthew Lintz do a great job playing monsters, realistic given their upbringing, who just need some different, more positive influences to realize they can be their own person. Honestly, I find the hope inherent in their storyline to be uplifting and it’s done in a realistic way. Also, this movie includes a chainsaw-wielding musical act at a high school showcase, an act so irresponsible, unbelievable and over-the-top, how can your heart not melt?
  2. The Laura Marano one – The music in this movie is generally subpar, the dancing is very toddler dance recital and generally done in elf costumes. But Marano and her love interest are likeable actors with that charisma that makes a movie that’s probably kind of terrible still compelling to watch. Even my husband thought so, and did not chide me for trying it out when we could have spent the time watching an episode of Father Brown.
  3. The Hilary Duff one – The original, but not favorite. Duff is… Fine. The storyline that you are responsible because you want to go to college is overdone and, frankly, looking at the American student debt crisis, not necessarily true or helpful. Interestingly, this original Cinderella story featured a girl who was supposed to be pretty normal, unlike the ones afterward, which insisted that if you are special and have terrible family, you can work hard and make it in entertainment, because Hollywood is nothing if not constantly lying and endorsing nepotism.
  4. The Bailee Madison one – this one’s opening accurately captures the schizophrenic appearance of a chick who consistently talks to animals and elevates it by showing our protagonist playing BOTH PARTS of the iconic The Notebook scene. She also does a bunch of farm chores in a sundress, with a psychotic smile on her face, because that’s how a true Cinderella masks a grimace, I guess. She also single-handedly runs the ranch she lives on, and is the only person to make everyone food, and we’re supposed to believe that after all of that work, she has the time and energy to audition for a movie. (Um… no.) Mixing Twelfth Night with elements of a Hallmark movie, this movie is a hot mess that is slightly enjoyable, but I think Bailee Madison is just a smidge too earnest. If this movie was all camp, it would be so much more fun.
  5. The Selena Gomez one – I actually haven’t seen this one, just commercials or something. I find the idea that there is a one-way mirror in a dance classroom incredibly creepy, though.

I think there are at least 1 or 2 additional movies. Have you seen all of these, or would you rather watch a British mystery? What do you think of my ratings? If you agree, you’re a genius. If you disagree, you’re wrong (… just kidding). Either way, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Book Review: Lost Coast Literary

Today, I will be reviewing Ellie Alexander’s Lost Coast Literary, a book that I received an e-galley for from Netgalley. I thought this book was a cozy mystery with a fantasy twist, featuring a literary-loving protagonist named Emily. In actuality, it’s a beach read that’s full of family melodrama. Reading the book synopsis again, this actuality is not even surprising — this is what I get for skimming descriptions:

Book editor Emily Bryant finds herself unexpectedly in the charming town of Cascata on California’s Lost Coast, holding the keys to her grandmother’s rambling Victorian mansion. While sorting through her grandmother’s things, Emily learns that she must edit old manuscripts to inherit the estate. It’s a strange request from a family member who was basically a stranger.

Emily quickly realizes that there’s something different about these manuscripts. Any changes she makes come true. At first, she embraces the gift. She has a chance to help characters find true love or chart a new course for their future. But then things go terribly wrong. Her edits have the opposite effect. The sweet and funky seaside community of Cascata is reeling from the chaos Emily has created. Everything she thought she believed about her family and her past is in jeopardy, and no amount of editing can fix the damage she’s done.

Then she finds one last manuscript. If Emily can get this edit right, maybe she’ll have a chance to create a new narrative for herself and everyone around her.

Suffice to say, I wasn’t a huge fan.

I mean, the writing was… fine. The plot was kind of fun and… fine.

The characters were annoying, not least of all Emily herself.

I should have known this wasn’t my book from the opening scene, in which Emily tries to figure out which phone case she wants to put on her cell – Emma or Jane Eyre. What kind of literary aficionado prefers Bronte to Austen? I mean… seriously, would you rather spend time with someone fun and witty and engaging, or someone who acts like a moody teenager as an adult that wants to be screwed by the inspiration for one of the first written vampire stories?

… Michael Thomas Ford gets it.

Emily is insufferable. For example [disclaimer: quoting from an ARC, with chance that final printing could be updated/different], here, where she’s talking about her aunt, an amazing jazz singer:

I appreciated that she wasn’t jaded or trying to pose as something other than her artistic self.

Emily Bryant, annoying protagonist

This is because her aunt admits she gets butterflies in her stomach before she goes onstage. But… like, it’s a problem if your aunt is awesome and totally owns it? She has to be humble and feel slightly sick to her stomach, or she’s not being honest? Like, it’s okay to not be a nervous mess and to be okay with being awesome. Get over yourself, Emily.

Or let’s talk about the crux of this novel, which is that Emily has no memory of the family she hasn’t seen who live in Cascata, even though she lived with them for at least 8 years. This amount of time is supported by her absolute surprise to find “a recipe for red velvet cake where Gertrude [her grandmother – don’t call her by her freakin’ name, show some damn respect Emily!] had noted: ‘Emily’s 8th birthday. A birthday in red for our little red.'” THEN, only after she has read the notes left by her grandmother, does she remember a birthday party where she’s dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. Like – you were eight, not two. I find it very odd that she has no memory of these people until she reads a note in a cookbook. Also, can we even assume that she’s a reliable narrator? If I thrust a book from the 17th century where I wrote in it that Emily Bryant likes to suck cock, is she suddenly going to remember that she had a past life or is a time traveler who had to whore herself out to make a living in the 1600s? Like, did she even have this birthday party? Maybe her grandma was just hella smart, and left weird gaslighting notes all over her cookbooks to make it seem not-weird that she left this girl who can’t even remember her an entire house instead of the relatives she saw pretty much daily.

… because some granddaughters (*cough cough* Emily *cough cough cough*) deserve it

Another problem with Emily is she only seems to assume people can be “connected” if they both like books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big reader. But I’m okay with the fact that not everyone reads as much as me. And I don’t think your romantic and personal relationships should be solely based on people who exclusively do the same hobbies that you do. How are you going to grow as a person if you only do the same things? But here is a literal passage from this book:

‘I don’t know.’ I thought back to his first interaction with Sienna. They had much more in common, namely a deep love and appreciation for literature. Did he and Martine share the same passions? ‘They seemed so different. So mismatched,’ I said to Shay. ‘Apparently he wants to write children’s books, and she hasn’t read a book in five years. Can you even imagine?

Emily Bryant, annoying protagonist

So, basically, if someone reads, you approve of them and they deserve love and all good things. But if someone doesn’t read, or doesn’t read enough, they should just feck off and go to the Bay Area? Let’s not forget, these ridiculous opinions are coming from someone who has no memories of the first 8 years of her life and whose literary interpretations fail to appropriately elevate Jane Austen’s work above that of Currer Bell. I’m sorry, Emily, but no dice. Actually, I’m not sorry. Stop being ridiculous. It is appropriate to have friends, lovers, etc., with a variety of interests and backgrounds.

#stophobbyshaming

Keeping in mind that I am a character-reader, and I severely disliked our protagonist, this book was… fine. The cover is cute. The plotline is kind of interesting, although it features a heroine you are definitely supposed to be rooting for who I definitely was not rooting for. The California setting seemed accurate. It has some of that small-town and everyone in it likes books except for Martine because there needs to be some reason her husband is not into a woman who’s fierce and smart and beautiful and well-dressed and driven, which is, apparently, that she finds it difficult to read while she’s out there living her life, vibe.

Overall, I do not recommend. But if you are not a character reader and/or like to read books that are “fine,” then this one may be worth checking out.

5-Star Reads from 2021

While analyzing my 2021 year in reading, I was bummed to realize that I didn’t really have a great year. So on a more positive note, here are the books that I read in 2021 that I really liked in a year that was, overall, fairly mediocre. That’s right, bitches: these are, in my opinion, five-star reads. And since my opinion is the right opinion, if you haven’t read any of these, you should probably add them to your TBR, so that you can have a better reading year in 2022 than I had last year.

  1. The Memory Thief by Jodi Lynn Anderson

2. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata and translated into English by Ginny Tapley Takemori

3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

4. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

5. Not Your Average Hot Guy by Gwenda Bond

6. Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

Thinking about the content structure of these books, I do not really see a lot in common. There are varying genres, intended audiences, etc. I think I just like good writing…

So – what did you read in 2021 or recently that had great writing?

What is “Normal?”

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Finding Normal: Sex, Love, and Taboo in Our Hyperconnected World by Alexa Tsoulis-Reay. This non-fiction book analyzes the concept of “Normal,” and how the Internet has helped people with stigmatized desires find community and get answers to their questions without the judgment that others in society often inherently have.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a thoughtful analysis of the concept of normal and bias and what it means to have a supportive community. This analysis included positive and negative results of finding support for non-“normative” concepts. Having a concept of “normal” can sometimes result in people being closed-minded about things they simply do not understand, things that are not hurting other people, such as the first concept that Reay goes into great detail about: people who have open relationships and/or swingers. Reay looks at how people who needed such relationships prior to the internet struggled to find other people who understood them, and how the internet has helped all of them to find a community and engage in the relationship they need. I try to be an open-minded person, but of course, have my own biases, and not having had those particular desires myself, it was very interesting to read about their perspectives and felt a bit fairy-tale esque to read about how they were able to find acceptance through the internet.

However, sometimes, people engage in activity that is not considered “normal” for ethical reasons. Another taboo behavior that is discussed in the book is incest, which, if you are reading my blog, I will assume you agree from a biological and psychological perspective is just not okay. Reay writes about the concept of incestuous desires from a place of curiosity, but ultimately, the fact that there are parents who will act on these desires turns the community that such like-minded individuals have formed a bit darker. How, when you are looking at a parent-child relationship, can there not be a power dynamic at play? Children often want to please their parents, regardless of age, and this desire can be taken advantage of, even if the child sincerely believes he or she is a consenting adult.

There are also some grey areas, such as large age-gap relationships. There is the indisputable statutory rape age difference, for example, which is legally not allowed, since children cannot consent to sexual relationships with adults. But what about a 10-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their fifties? What about a 20-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their forties?

This blog post is providing just a taste of the thoughtful writing that Reay provides in this book, which includes multiple examples/interviews for each type of non-“normal” activity. If you are interested in the concept, and can read the information with an open mind, I strongly recommend picking up a copy.

My only gripe with this book is that the more taboo concepts are not as fully developed, and it feels like there is more room for analysis. Still, I am not certain that I could have written, or even read, more on those subjects. It is hard to spend time with concepts that are taboo and should remain that way. So this gripe is tiny, and purely from an analytical/editorial viewpoint in which I am trying to remain unbiased. Which basically means I was reading this book correctly, I think, since a lot of the point is to recognize that you have biases, and they may not all be fair, so once you recognize a bias, re-evaluate and figure out if you need to change your stance. I have this crazy theory that, like, if people were more intellectual and empathetic, and thought through how their behavior impacted other people, and tried to be more thoughtful and cool about what they went crazy about, the world might be a better place. As an American citizen, however, it is difficult for me ever seeing that happening, either, so… maybe just read the book and pretend?

What the f –

The premise of fboy island seems like manna dropped from the heavens by the reality-star TV gods: 3 women supposedly looking for love interact with various men, trying to discern the “nice guys” from the “f boys” while sipping wine and catching rays in summer clothing that manages to be flimsier than the show’s premise. From the show’s stupid name to the hostess who is probably being paid more than a year’s rent in the Bay Area for fame that seems to have culminated in Dancing with the Stars, this show sounds like a trashpile that could be the ultimate guilty pleasure.

And it fails to deliver on pretty much every level imaginable.

The foundation of the show is inherently flawed in that it is predicated on the male contestants self-identifying as “nice guys” or “f boys.” Make it to the grand finale, and a guy has a chance to split the $100k prize with his “lucky” lady love… or choose to keep it all for himself if he’s truly an “f boy” through-and-through. (Here is the urban dictionary link, for those, like me, who don’t use this slang term because it’s ridiculous.) As anyone who has made it past the age of 12 is aware, males who self-identify as “nice guys” rarely are, in fact, very nice. So there’s that. Since self-identification is meaningless without a decent amount of honesty and self-awareness, this beginning is an immediate flaw that stuck with me like a piece of corn between the teeth.

The contestants somehow manage to talk too much and be too boring for any non-brain dead viewer to credit anyone on the show other than the hostess with much intelligence. This idea is merely corroborated as the show continues, and self-identified “f boys” are relegated to a weird wooden jail that shows they’re either desperate to be on TV (probably true) or too dumb to read a contract they’re signing.

The women are too serious about everything, including taking weird ethical stances about not being put on a pedestal, because gosh darnit, their men don’t want to be treated like pieces of meat, and want to be in a decent relationship where they are “treated like equals.”

The producers don’t seem to be very good at their job, given that the dude who whipped a poem out of his ass at the first vote-off was, in fact, voted off.

And then, if you get to the end of the show (which I didn’t – I got too bored and traipsed off to bed and my husband, who also agrees the show was terrible but had to know how it ended told me about it), the entire thing is meaningless.

There was this one super tiny blonde girl who was absolutely infatuated with a guy who self-identified as f-boy (I don’t remember names, but, like, does it really matter? Let’s just call them Tiny Blonde and Sunburn). Like, she was just really into him. There were multiple instances where his “f boy” status was blatantly thrown in her face, from other contestants to finding out about his girlfriend, which she initially got really thrown by, but she just kept going back to him and giving him “another chance.” So finally, Tiny Blonde gets the D near the end of the series, and of course, she picks him at the end and identifies him as a “Nice guy.” And Sunburn’s all, “Nah, thanks for the memories, but like, don’t really care. Gimme my $100k.” And the show refuses and gives his money to charity or something.

So Tiny Blonde is devastated and Sunburn is devastated and the viewer, if he/she/they are paying attention better also be devastated because what was the point of everything just watched if the stakes laid out at the beginning of the show were always fictitious? The show did not deliver on its’ premise and should be ashamed of itself. It took an amazing fun idea and f’d it up while also managing to make a show that is not worth anyone’s time because it’s so boring. I actually ended up feeling sorry for Sunburn, because he put in a lot of time and effort and vilified himself on reality TV, and did not receive his promised monetary compensation. He may have gotten it in other ways, but there was no point in anything that had just been shown on the show, because there was no way anyone self-identifying as an “f-boy” was going to get the money they were supposedly allowed to “choose.”

Reality TV shouldn’t get to take morality stances or pass judgment, especially not in a show like this. The whole point of the show is that people kind of suck, but who wins in a battle of “nice guys” and “f boys?” The answer is, neither. All of those people were stuck in a purgatory of boring conversations that the show producers ultimately made meaningless by taking all stakes away at the end because they didn’t get the answer they wanted. (I get that they tried to send a plethora of hints to Tiny Blonde, who actually just didn’t care, but still… live with it.)

Oh, also, there’s going to be an fboy island season 2. Hopefully no one bothers to watch that one, since it’s only worth your time if you’re awaiting execution and trying to deaden your brain cells before departing from this earth forevermore.

My Reading Year in 2021

Courtesy of Goodreads

In 2021, I read 76 books and 23,564 pages, or an average of 310 pages per book. In comparison to 2020, my reading increased by 9 books and 1,078 pages, but the average number of pages per book decreased by 25 pages per book.

The shortest book I read in 2021 is Hannah Lee Kidder’s short story collection Starlight. I did not much care for the collection, which I rated 3 stars and found a bit of a mixed bag. Here is my review:

The longest book I read was Tana French’s The Witch Elm, which had interesting ideas but which I did not much care for. Here is my review:

In comparison to 2020, the short story collection Starlight is 35 pages longer than Gillian Flynn’s short story The Stranger, and The Witch Elm is 95 pages shorter than Plain Bad Heroines.

The most popular novel I read is another Jane Austen (what can I say? Austen’s one of my comfort reads) – this time, Sense & Sensibility. The lease popular novel I read does not have a cover, and Goodreads would not let me upload one, but it is The Fetish Murders by Avon Curry. The Fetish Murders is a pulp fiction thriller from the 1970s that is not very good, but is very fun if you like pulp fiction and are okay with the concept of reading fiction with very outdated cultural norms. The very purpose of The Fetish Murders is to shock and titillate by bringing up the idea of cross-dressing and homosexuality, which a lot of people (myself included) have absolutely no problem with anymore… So if you’re cool with reading it as a sort of historical/anthropological study of Americana, it’s kind of interesting. If you’re looking for legitimately good literature, or something that current educated cultural norms would not consider offensive… I would recommend steering clear.

Here’s the book – please ignore my fat thumb and the silhouette of my jeans.

My average rating for 2021 is 3.3 stars. A bit higher than average, but… not great. Much lower than 2020’s average rating of 3.8.

The first book I reviewed on Goodreads in 2021 was for the ARC Why She Wrote. I also wrote a blog post about this one, so won’t bore you by going into further detail here other than to say that for what it is, I thought it was pretty good.

I have a fascination and enjoyment with reading pulp fiction. At the end of the day, the books are generally all middle-of-the-road, average 3-star reads. But they’re fun and so much occurs in these novels and I derive a sort of comfort from them. I will continue reading them, and giving uninformative, likely one-sentence reviews on Goodreads.

Overall, I had a pretty disappointing reading year in 2021. How about you? Any great reads? I think I desperately need a better year in 2022, so would greatly appreciate any and all recommendations!

Fuck It: Let’s Try Again

November was a sucky month. Everyone in my house got sick, and I did an abysmal job at NaNo. I did initially start writing more frequently, but that petered out as everyone got more feverish and crabby in my house and I was stuck on bed for the most part, when not working.

SO, I have decided I will just start over this month, but also amend my goal. Realistically, 1.7k words a day is not going to happen. But I can try to write every day.

So that’s my DecWriMo goal.

Wanna join me?

Book Review: Tales from the Darkside

In the mood for a spooky read, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Tales from the Darkside: The Repeater Book of the Occult, edited by Tariq Goddard and Eugene Thacker.

I really like the concept of this book – an anthology of lesser-known stories featuring the supernatural. Each story is selected and introduced by an author published by Repeater Books. Released in February of this year, October is a fitting month to read through it. Unfortunately, the rambling introduction was a harbinger of the let-down to come. Many of the stories in this collection are very well-known, and an avid reader of horror short stories has probably already read them. In addition, the introductions to the stories, if you have not already read the story, is really an essay for why the particular author selected it, and generally includes spoilers.

Here is my review, on a story-by-story basis:

  • Squire Toby’s Will by Sheridan Le Fanu
    • Decent read. Not amazing, but appropriately spooky. Includes a family of some of the worst men ever and demons.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    • I’m just going to assume you have read this. Great story, and one I am always up for re-reading.
  • On Ghosts by Mary Shelley
    • An essay by the authoress of Frankenstein, this essay doesn’t necessarily advocate for ghosts so much as lament the lack of magic in a world that insists on rational explanations. I did enjoy reading it, and would recommend.
  • Par Avion by Marlene Dotard
    • Yuck. This story was… not good. The glowing essay talking about how this weird chick was friends with other authors who are well known and how Marlene was so smart, and insisted on trying to draw relationships between science and belief in the supernatural is better than the story itself. Do yourself a favor, skip this story, which has generally not been well-known for a reason.
  • The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
    • Also assuming you’ve read this one. It is well-written, and the essay beforehand includes multiple interpretation, which are interesting to read as well.
  • A Haunted House by Virgina Woolf
    • I guess this one was inspired by a stint Virginia and her husband spent in a haunted house, which… of course it is, because wasn’t Virginia always writing about herself? It’s fine. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.
  • Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu
    • The essay before this one mentions how popular this story is, although I myself hadn’t actually read it. It’s fine. I actually didn’t much like it, but it definitely involves the supernatural.
  • Punch, Brothers, Punch by Mark Twain
    • Short, punchy, funny, and a little spooky. Very good short story, that again – you have probably already read. If you haven’t, ignore the essay and just read the story.
  • Unseen – Unfeared by Francis Stevens
    • A weird detective story that also deals with fear of “other-ness” and indicates that perhaps the monsters are created by us because we are all awful. Not terrible, but don’t know that I would recommend, either.
  • The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
    • Great story that you have probably already read. In my opinion, the best short story in the collection, but also, like… it’s Poe. Like, of course it’s good… in fact, it feels a bit cliche to include it in this collection.
  • The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
    • This story is one of those naturalist things where the author is like isn’t nature amazing and fearsome? I actually don’t much like naturalist things, so I didn’t finish this one.

In summation, 4 good stories you have probably already read, a short essay by Mary Shelley that is enjoyable and that you can probably also find pretty easily on-line. Unless you want these particularly short stories in a collection, I would not particularly recommend.

What about you – have any spooky reads to recommend this Halloween?