My Weekend in Pop Culture

It was another busy weekend, but I managed to squeeze in a few pop culture things.  This is what I consumed this weekend:

finding-carterFinding Carter, Season 1: I started watching this MTV show this weekend after seeing some excellent recaps of it on Previously.tv.  The show is not what I’d call GREAT by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m enjoying the complexities the show presents re: kidnapping, how children are raised, etc.  I find Cynthia Watros’s face really distracting, and the eponymous Carter is supposed to be 16 but looks about 30 (she’s 24 in real life I guess).  I will definitely keep watching.

The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West: This is the second book I’ve read by West, and she continues to impress the hell out of me by creating smart, funny romance novels for teens.  This one is no exception, and she makes the slightly far-fetched plot work so well.  It’s compelling, fun, and a quick read.  Wholly satisfying.

What pop culture did you consume this weekend?

Movie News and Randomness

In lieu of a “What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week” post, I opted for the easier and lighter movie news post.  The new puppy has kept us up at night all week and I’m too tired and sad about the current state of the world to get any heavier.  Here’s some movie stuff:

1. The Martian Trailer

I probably should get around to reading the book, right?  Anyway, this stars Matt Damon and is based on the breakout book of the same name. It’s directed by Ridley Scott, so let’s hope it’s less of a mess than Prometheus (NEVER FORGET).

2. Chris Hemsworth cast in female Ghostbusters

He’s going to play the receptionist, which is great.  I’m still legitimately excited for this reboot. (Twitter)

3. The Overnight Trailer (Red Band)

The movie stars my secret husband Adam Scott, as well as Taylor Schilling and Jason Schwartzman.  It’s getting good buzz and looks relatively funny.  It’s about a couple who has a dinner party with friends that gets…weird.

4. Pitch Perfect 3 is happening 

Not that it’s surprising, but kind of disappointing, because it’s just not the same.  I wonder how racist this one will be?  Probably the most interesting thing to watch here will be how contract negotiations go for its biggest stars.  But that isn’t actually that interesting.  (THR)

5. Mistress America Trailer

Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach re-team with this one, and I can’t wait.

 

Book Review: Day Shift by Charlaine Harris

The tiny little town of Midnight, Texas is a strange one, which suits its few residents just fine.  The people who live in the one-stoplight town like to keep to themselves and don’t take well to outsiders.  So when a bunch of trucks roll up one day and start renovating the long-closed Midnight Hotel, residents are worried.  Things get worse.  When psychic Manfred Bernado sees neighbor Olivia Charity miles from home while on a business trip, he thinks it’s a strange coincidence.  When the couple Olivia was visiting with show up dead the next day, he gets suspicious.  But then Manfred’s wealthy client dies in the middle of his reading, things get comically worse.  With a frenzy of press on their tails and the new hotel opening up, Olivia and Manfred have to work together to bring Midnight back to normal.

Part of what is so wonderful about Charlaine Harris’s novels is her attention to detail.  She crafts a homey feeling to her stories and blends it with the fantastical, making all the supernatural elements easier for even the staunchest skeptic to swallow.  This is on full display in her follow-up to Midnight Crossroad, a faster-paced and more complex sequel that will have fans tearing through the book.

Unlike Harris’s other mystery series, the books set in Midnight, Texas don’t have a single narrator.  She allows all of the town’s characters to have their turn to tell their stories, and the result is a rich, satisfying look at a super weird little southern town.  The mystery at the center of this novel is a mysterious death, and the surrounding little mysteries are just as interesting.  It’s smart, clever, and totally worth reading in a single setting.

Credit should be given to Harris for crafting a world full of diversity not only when it comes to supernatural creatures but also one in which a variety of people from different backgrounds and life experiences are recommended.  It’s intentional, but it doesn’t ever feel manipulated or heavy-handed.  It’s just natural, making it all the more satisfying.

A must-read for Harris fans, and even stronger than the first book in the series.  Recommended.

Day Shift by Charlaine Harris.  Ace Books: 2015. Library copy.

 

Waiting on Wednesday: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Expected Release Date: September 1, 2015

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

(summary via Goodreads)

The buzz on this one has been good so far, and I think it looks really interesting.  I love the exploration of a girl allergic to the world and how she has to navigate that as she gets older (it reminds me–probably rightfully so–of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble).  At any rate, this is one that I’m genuinely excited about.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Ani FaNelli was just an out-of-place teenager at a prestigious school in Philadelphia’s Main Line when she was publicly humiliated.  Desperate to reinvent herself and prove that she was a winner all that time, Ani is on the cusp of finally realizing her greatest dream.  She has a rich, handsome fiance and a glamorous job in New York.  But her secrets from her past are still haunting her, and she’s struggling with whether or not to take them public.

Jessica Knoll’s debut was an instantaneous success, flying up the New York Times bestseller list and getting a ton of buzz.  It’s perhaps one of those strange things that just happens.  People like a good, juicy story about a woman with a dark past, and this one fits the bill.  Although comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train abound, the only similarity this one has with those is its exploration of dark stuff.  And it is dark.

It’s a bleak story that seems to get bleaker and bleaker as the pages turn.  Readers will race through this one because there’s always more to discover, and because if there’s one thing Knoll does well here, it’s pack her story with plenty of juicy, dark stuff.  But there are a fair many missteps, too.  For one thing, there’s Ani.

Part of the problem is that while Ani’s voice is pitch-perfect, it’s also very off-putting.  She’s sarcastic, mean, and wholly guarded, which makes the first part of the book difficult to slog through.  Once the reader understands that she is the way she is for a reason, it becomes easier to swallow her bitterness, but only just.  There’s a lack of charisma on the part of Ani that makes it hard to invest in her plight, and that also feels like an oversight, especially because the story is so depressing.

Knoll’s choice to alternate chapters from when Ani was a teenager and when she is an adult doesn’t work as well as it should.  There’s something jarring about the back-and-forth, and it never quite gels the way it’s supposed.  Despite this, the novel is still compulsively readable, and the heavy-handed prose shouldn’t bother too many readers.  It’s definitely a summer hit, and it’s definitely one for fans of darker psychological thrillers.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. Simon & Shuster: 2015. Library copy.

 

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the articles that got me reading and thinking this week.

Empire Records Does a Disservice to 1995 and Record Store Culture (AV Club)

All of this is true:

But really, what Empire Records achieved is far more impressive than other movies of its ilk; it became a movie that many people of a certain age (born between 1978 and 1988, say, though its reach may extended further) have heard of and in many cases cherish, without the benefit ofShawshank-like Oscar nominations or a Kevin Smith-style cult of personality. Even more impressive than that: Empire Records ascended to cult-favorite status despite being a lousy movie.

As someone who has seen Empire Records close to a million times and wore the soundtrack out, this article resonated with me.  It’s a smart look at a movie that has found an audience despite being terrible (and not even in a particularly interesting way).

30 Books You Need to Read Before You Turn 30 (HuffPo)

These lists are always good for a laugh, and this one hits just after my 30th birthday.  I am nothing if not a total narcissist, so I had to look and see what I have and haven’t read on the list.

I’ve read 2 to completion, and started and tossed aside about 3-4 more.  So I guess I have some reading to do?  I have next-to-no interest in a good many of these titles.  It’s still worth a look, though.

How TLC’s Fundamentalism-as-Kitsch Hurts Women (Buzzfeed)

I have never seen an episode of Sister Wives or 19 Kids and Counting, but I obviously know about these things as they exist in the pop culture ether.  I’ve been following the Duggar sexual molestation news from a disgusted distance since news broke, and I think this article from Buzzfeed is a great examination of not only that, but also of what a piece of garbage TLC is as a channel:

And I know that TLC is banking on precisely that tendency. 19 Kids is one of the most profitable shows it’s ever produced, and that’s not just because it resonates with social conservatives. People watch it, and shows like it, because what they see makes them feel better about themselves. Channel executives don’t care whether the Duggars are your heroes or your jesters; they profit either way.

By packaging fundamentalism as kitsch, TLC invites you to laugh at the very people it’s turned into millionaires. That exploitation makes them money, but it also obscures what fundamentalism is really like in practice. It has to: The reality isn’t entertaining.

Definitely worth a read (and definitely upsetting).

What got you thinking this week?

Book Review: No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss

After Abigail’s parents decide to sell off all their worldly possessions and move the entire family across the country in a van to follow a preacher who warns that the world is ending, it doesn’t take long to realize that they’ve made a huge mistake.  Left with nothing and stuck in San Francisco with only her twin brother for company, Abigail struggles to reconcile the love she has for her parents with their selfish, stupid decision that has permanent–and dangerous consequences.

Bryan Bliss’s debut novel is smart, thoughtful, and character-driven.  It’s been compared to a whole roster of popular authors writing for teens, but the comparison that feels the closest is definitely Sara Zarr’s books.  Both authors write character-driven novels, and the examination of faith here is similar to some of Zarr’s other works.  Thoughtful, emotionally resonant, and smart, this is a noteworthy debut.

The novel’s strengths–strong characterization and emotional honesty–also draw attention to its weaker aspects.  The plot is slow-moving and at times very repetitious, which is going to frustrate readers who want a faster pace.  The novel’s ending is a bit on the too-neat end, which might also irritate some readers, especially those who find the rest of the novel’s complexity to be so satisfying.

Even so, the book is one that libraries should have on their shelves.  It’s a thoughtful examination of growing up and examining one’s faith, as well as an interesting take on families.  Bryan Bliss is an author to watch for going forward.  Recommended.

No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss. Greenwillow Books: 2015. Library copy.