45 Books in 2018: #41 By The Numbers By Jen Lancaster

This blog has a lot of unknowing godfathers and godmothers (and some knowing.) He of the podcast and aftershows who’s name we no longer speak, Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick, but primarily, my decision to start blogging came down to reading Jen Lancaster’s books. (Jen started as a blogger.)

I always devour her non fiction, though I’ve never quite hit it with her fiction. But, as I scanned the library shelves a few weeks ago, I passed her section and smiled at the jewel toned spines of her books, and noticed a title I hadn’t picked up before. After reading the jacket, I decided to revisit Jen’s vision of Chicago (or now-a-days, it’s suburbs.)

The lead character in By The Numbers is Penelope Sinclair, she’s an actuary, who’s prodigiously good at analyze numbers to maximize effeciency. The problem with that, is that it causes her to keep the people in her life at a distance, it’s cost her, her marriage (feeling unloved, her husband had an affair.) her relationship with her daughters (they are nightmares) and a lot of other things. A series of crisis set Penny up to reevaluate her life and choices and she begins the road to starting over.

The book is funny and bitchy in the way that I’ve always appreciated from Jen. (We met once, so we’re on a first name basis) And it was a nice palette clenser from all the horror and family tragedy I’ve been absorbing lately. (Back to all of that in a little while.) Workaholism and the effects of dehumanizing the people around you was a common theme in a lot of Jen’s earlier work (there’s also dog training in this book. Jen writes about dog training A LOT) so it was fun to see her examining those themes from a different perspective than her own story.

I’d recommend this book, especially because it’s a quick read, and if memoir isn’t your thing, it’s a way to connect to one of my all time favorite writers.

Up next is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, because ya know…vampires. (Also, getting around to it.)

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45 Books In 2108 #40: The Witching Hour By Anne Rice

There’s a scene in Wizard And Glass from The Dark Tower, when Susan Delgado, the love of Roland Deschain’s life, meets his best friend Cuthbert Allgood (Cuthbert is later revealed to be an alternate universe “twinner” of Eddie Dean, so he’s also kinda my fave?) and she thinks to herself, “My lord, if I’d met this one first!”

That was how I felt as I breathlessly read through The Witching Hour, “my lord if I’d  found this one first.”

I’d put Anne Rice’s novels off, for a long time, because my hopelessly romantic teenage self couldn’t get into Interview, I loved it, for it’s elevation and it’s camp, and it’s not really scary vibes. And as I worked through Lestat and The Queen Of The Damned, well, that was something else, it was still dreamy, not scary.

The only kind of horror I ever embraced wholeheartedly for what it is, for thrilling and making me jump, not just enjoying the formula of, was Gothic Horror. I explained it earlier this year when I read Rebecca (and The Witching Hour references Rebecca heavily) but I love how feminine it is. I love the creeping sense of dread in a decaying house, the family secrets that whisper from ghosts half forgotten, and the weight of it.

The Witching Hour is that special brand of Southern Gothic that trades on the dark family histories of old Southern families. The Mayfair Witches are held in horrifying thrall by the spirit Lasher, bringing about their own ruin through all the old devices. Deals with the devil, incest, mysterious disappearances and terrified servants.

And if I’d read this instead of the vampire stuff, when I was sixteen, I’d have been head over heals for Mrs. Rice from day one.

Rowan Mayfair and her lover Michael Curry are delightful choices of hero and heroine for a modern Gothic. Michael is an overly romantic artist, Rowan is a hard as nails, cool headed scientist, and they’re both seduced by the dream of driving the darkness out, embracing the light of family history. But of course that seduction leads to their downfall.

It’s really good, and I loved it, for all the reasons I love witch stories, and Gothic horror.

Up next is By The Numbers by Jen Lancaster, time for a little lightness!

45 Books In 2018 #39:I Was Anastasia By Ariel Lawhon

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about the Romanovs. And by that I mean the “final family” as I’ve been calling them in my head for the past decade. I became fascinated by the legend of the lost princess Anastasia when I was really little. (My obsession even predates the Fox animated classic Anastasia. I was that annoying kid pointing out all of the historical inaccurracies in that flick.) (And not even the obvious stuff, like “Zombie monk.”) (I was very popular, as I’m sure you can tell.) My favorite is certainly The Kitchen Boy, but I’ve read some doozies.

I Was Anastasia is a very good book, focused on two timelines, one moving backwards, the other forwards until they meet, we’re told the story of Anastasia’s last days as a prisoner, and the story of Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess for years. Anna’s half of the book begins on the day her final appeal to be recognized by the German government as Anastasia Romanov. Anastasia’s half begins the day of her father’s abdication.

The stories meet in the middle, with the most likely explanation of what happened to Anderson facilitating her great con. (Or delusion, depending on your point of view.) Anderson’s story was more fun for me as it’s the one that I’m less familiar with.

Lawhon didn’t really add many new wrinkles to the “Romanovs in Siberia” stuff. Everything I’ve read before was here. The girls sewing their jewels into the clothing, their fierce protection of Alexie, Anastasia’s torture of their tutors, flirtations and love affairs with revolutionary guards. She does add a rape subplot. I’d never seen that before. (I’m not sure why. I mean, asserting that the guards may have raped the Grand Duchesses and Tsarina isn’t exactly a huge stretch) (I think this proves how unnecessary rape subplots are in certain narratives though.)

Look, reading this book was like curling up someplace homey for me. I wasn’t ever going to be blown away by it. An Anastasia book would have to be amazing to blow me away at this point, but it was good, comforting and had some stuff I’d never seen before, mostly the Anna Anderson stuff, but still, it’s nice to get back into old obsessions occasionally…maybe I’ll listen to some Billy Joel and watch Glee now.

OK, not really, I’m actually going to read The Witching Hour. Because old obsessions are great to revisit, and all, but new obsessions are better.

 

You’re A Loser, Eddie

Venom

In the past six years, I’ve watched a lot of movies, and I’ve enjoyed most of them. Even the bad ones. I’m pretty good about rooting out stuff I won’t like and find things I like even in movies that I don’t really care for.

Once in a while though, I come across a movie that I watch and think, “my lord this is dumb, and I love everything about this.”

And that is how I felt watching Venom. 

Venom is not a good movie by any objective standard. The acting is hammy, the script is convoluted, the action sequences (save one) are muddy and nonsensical, and the effects are meh.

But boy is Venom a fun movie to watch. Tom Hardy sells the crap out of asshole with a heart of gold Eddie Brock, and Michelle Williams does well with her requisite “sad girlfriend” role, something she could probably do in her sleep at this point. (Though her, “new but not as interesting boyfriend,” is played by the delightful Reid Scott! I gasped and said “BRANDO!” out loud. I was not embarrassed.) (I recently learned that a lot of people’s first Netflix binge was My Boys, which makes me happy because that means more people than I thought are aware of that show.)

Venom suffers for being an attempt to start a Spider-Man connected universe without access to Spider-Man, but otherwise is pretty good, it reminds me of The Incredible Hulk, another totally meh movie that I greatly enjoy everytime I watch it. I’m sure when this pops up on a streaming service I already own I will happily watch it a few times.

As for those mostly only OK action pieces? The car chase in the middle makes up for all of them. Holy crap is it inventive and cool and uses the symbiotes powers in some very neat ways. And that post credit scene kind of encapsulates everything that’s wrong headed about people doing post credit scenes that aren’t Kevin Feige. Though I am, of course, always happy to see Woody. (Seriously, always.)

Anyway, the movie is fun. I’m glad I finally saw it, but also glad I didn’t run out to see it or anything because it’s not great. But it’s fine for what it is.

Rankings:

  1. The Incredibles 2
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody
  3. A Star Is Born
  4. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  5. Deadpool 2
  6. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  7. Ocean’s 8
  8. Infinity War
  9. Ant-Man And The Wasp
  10. Venom

Trailers:

Alita: Battle Angel: I can think of few better matches between source material and director than Robert Rodgriguez and Alita. The movie looks bonkers, and I”m always on board for Rodgriguez’s vision.

Into The Spider-Verse: THIS WILL BE THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER. I audiably gasped when Spider-Gwen (Shadow Spider? Right?) showed up.

Aquaman: You know how sometimes you just inhale deeply because someone is so attractive. This is pretty much how I feel everytime I see Jason Momoa, ever.

Glass: Hahaha, hahaha, hahaha. This is the most improbable movie to ever be made and I’m thrilled for it.

45 Books In 2018 #38: The Queen Of The Damned By Anne Rice

Boy, this is a weird series. I mean that in the best way. Even as someone who loves digressional world building there are large swaths of The Queen Of The Damned that were tough to get through. In the end it all comes together, though, and oddly, knowing the trajectory of Rice’s life and beliefs this is a fascinating read.

If Interview With A Vampire was a look into the horror of ennui, and The Vampire Lestat was about the deconstruction and reconstruction of myth, then Queen Of The Damned is about the triumph of humanism over dogma and superstition.

Part of what appeals to me about vampire fiction, and Rice’s work in particular is that I’m Catholic and I’m queer. You don’t get a better a intersection for what the woman’s trying to say than that. I identify with humanism in a lot of ways too. (My boy Tommy Quine Quine, to quote The Good Place.) (Are you watching The Good Place? If you aren’t, stop everything you’re doing and watch it!) So, you know, I’ve thought a lot about the ideas she’s talking about in this book, about the fall of superstition and the rise of human intellect that really spoke to me.

But there’s also a deep air of creepiness and horror here, not just weird musings about witches and spirits and their irrelevance in the face of technology and the human animal. Like, Akasha, The Queen Of The Damned herself is terrifying on both the visceral “crazy vampire” level and the existential, “this kind of unfeeling monster is the end of the line for an immortal” level. However, her overall plan to kill 90% of the men in the world and restart civilization with women in power sounds kind of deeply appealing.

Overall, I’m in though, and as I found with both Dune and Dark Tower in the past few years, book 3 tends to be point of no return for me. So, I guess I’m in. I’ve come this far. (And I’ve taken out like 6 other Anne Rice books from the library…so there’s that, too.)

Up next though, we’re taking a break to indulge in another old school obsession, I’m going to be reading I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon. I’ve missed the Romanovs. The Amazon show has gotten them back in my head again, so I’m sure there’s going to be some further spiraling back down that hole.

It’s The Same Story, Told Over And Over Again

A Star Is Born.jpg

Remakes are tricky. Usually they’re messy sloppy copies, rushed, with nothing new to say, no reason to exist beyond vanity and admiration.

But sometimes, magically, a remake says something new, takes a framework we know and hangs different things on it. But the frame is still there, familiar and warm, reminding you that you know this one. You know where it hits, where it hurts, how it bleeds.

A Star Is Born is the second kind. Instantly familiar, Bradley Cooper never loses sight of the fact that he’s telling one of the oldest stories in Hollywood. Revisiting his predecessors in ways both small and large. Whether it’s Ally crooning “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” to warm up, to the song, “Shallow,” which feels especially on the nose (for a story that previously featured suicide by walking into the ocean) and Ally’s final declaration, “My name is Ally Maine.”

Cooper’s direction and performance are stirring, as are supporting turns by Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay (Huh?) and Anthony Ramos (YAASSS!) but this movie was always going to rise or fall based on Lady Gaga’s performance, so thank God she’s a complete revelation.

Ally is all insecurity and striving, shy smiles and stuttered words, but my lord that voice. It’s a wonderful take on a part played by legends before, and she’s well on her way to cementing herself there.

But the movie’s thesis statement about music and stories is summed up in the truly epic closing monologue delivered by Elliott.

Trailers

Mary Poppins Returns really does look wonderful. I can’t wait to see it and then watch it a million times over.

The Frontrunner: Any other year I’d be all over this movie, this year, I’m too tired for political drama. I’m even behind on my West Wing watching.

Green Book: Y’all, I know it’s a mushy dumb, tropey movie (probably) but seriously, it’s Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali (with Linda Cardellini in there for good measure)

The Mule again.

Instant Family – I get the feeling I’m going to love this movie. Like, really love it.

Rankings:

  1. The Incredibles 2
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody
  3. A Star Is Born
  4. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  5. Deadpool 2
  6. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  7. Ocean’s 8
  8. Infinity War
  9. Ant-Man And The Wasp

Any Way The Wind Blows

Bohemian Rhapsody.jpg

Like many people my age, I first came to the incredible power of the music of Queen in the movies. I was born in 1987. I fell for “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” during The Mighty Ducks, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” during Wayne’s World.

Which is why sitting as the lights when down in Bohemian Rhapsody  yesterday, it felt, right, to be hearing it there.

Bohemian Rhapsody is getting dinged for being a by the numbers biopic. It definitely is, which also makes me kind of a sucker for it, since along with “heists,” and “lady with a fancy job,” “musician biopic,” is one of my favorite genres of movie.

Here are some things that I didn’t expect in this movie, to cry during the recording of “We Will Rock You,” to cry pretty much the whole back half of the movie, and for Gwylim Lee to possibly have shapeshifted into Brian May…

Obviously the story of Freddie Mercury has the beats of many many rock star stories. Reinvention, desperation, loneliness, debauchery, redemption. This is the myth arc of these men. (And Stevie Nicks) His diverges a bit, of course, because of his cultural background (Farsi Zoroastrian), his sexuality, (One of the greatest queer icons of all time) and his tragic death from AIDS.

The movie is also a tough pill, because of it’s director, who is one of those men who’s name we no longer speak after this year, although, being very familiar with that man’s previous work, this feels nothing like it. Which supports the narrative that he didn’t really direct the movie at all, pretty much excepted at this point.

Rami Malek’s performance is moving in the extreme, and the cast around him, a bevy of British TV actors who’s faces I’m always glad to see. (Aiden Gillan is going to go a long way playing smiling men who you’re not sure if you should trust or not. I despised Paul Prenter so much by the end that I had to watch like six episodes of Downton Abby to remind myself I once loved Allen Leech so…)

But overall, this music what it got into me again. Not that this is hard, it’s music that’s always with me. Leading crowds at football and baseball games with foot stomps and claps for “We Will Rock You,” as a cheerleader, singing Freddie’s part in “Under Pressure” with my sister at karaoke. (Mary is always Bowie. ALWAYS) Arms wrapped around my cast mates at parties swaying to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” twirling and laughing to “Don’t Stop Me,” with my college friends at parties.

Maybe it’s the theater kid in me, but seeing something that’s inside of you dramatized feels incredibly powerful.

Rankings

  1. The Incredibles 2
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody
  3. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  4. Deadpool 2
  5. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  6. Ocean’s 8
  7. Infinity War
  8. Ant-Man And The Wasp

Trailers:

The Mule – “I reject everything about this movie” – Aless (I’ll probably wind up watching it when it hits HBO, because I find Clint Eastwood’s directing fascinating)

Rocket Man – Ooohh, bring on the sparkles Elton. BRING THEM ON!

Widows –Oh, sure, yeah, gritty heist movie starring Viola Davis, I’m gonna skip that. (/s)