Category Archives: books

Turtles all the Way Down Review

       

Turtles all the Way Down the long awaited novel by John Green after his heavy success with The Fault in Our Stars. If you follow his vlogs like I do you will know that until a few months ago he had stayed very quiet about his work post The Fault in Our Stars. Many fans of his (some known as Nerdfighters) were very excited to see the release of Turtles all the Way Down, and since I have read most of John Green’s books I figured I’d read Turtles all the Way Down too.

        Also fun fact, I had intended to grab the book at Target because Target dictates to me what is worth reading and what isn’t and to my surprise I got myself a signed copy of Turtles all the Way Down. It seems like something silly to gush over, but there’s just something nice about knowing a book you bought was in the same area as their ‘parent’.

Spoilers from this point Onward, can’t jedi mind trick this out of you. Hehe Star Wars reference in a book that has NOTHING to do with Star Wars. And maybe some discussion about John Green’s vlogs over the past few years.

        Turtles all the Way Down follows a girl named Aza Holmsey, a girl who suffers from a form of OCD that involves the fear of Clostridium Difficile (C.diff) and other bacterias to the point where she’s always applying hand sanitizer to one of her fingers that has a perpetual cut due to always pushing her thumbnail into her middlefinger. Aza has only her mother due to her father dying when she was a child.

        Aza also has her best friend Daisy who is a big Star Wars fan having knowledge of the current expanded universe, the Legends universe, and even writing her own Star Wars fanfiction. The story kicks off with Daisy taking interest in the disappearance Russell Pickett wanted by the police for a white collar crime due to a large reward being offered for the knowledge of the whereabouts of Russell Pickett. Because of this Aza runs into Davis a childhood friend of hers and son of Russell Pickett.  

        In all honesty I was a little worried reading the first quarter of the book; worried that this was another flavor of Looking for Alaska in the same way that Paper Towns was due to the mystery of the disappearance of Russell Pickett that our protagonists want to solve. After some bribe is involved the mystery is dropped down to mainly background noise in the novel with the bulk of the story involving Aza’s OCD and how it affects not only her, but her relationships and prevents her from experiencing life in the same way a normal person would.

        I don’t have OCD, I’ve made jokes at the expense of individuals of OCD (mainly out of my lack of education on the disorder and inability to organize my living space), but TatWD gave what has been described by fans on the Facebook Nerdfighters page as a very accurate internal description of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It probably helps that John Green as admitted to having OCD and knowing the experience for it.

        The way it affects Aza outside of the fear of C.diff is a constant fear of not being clean enough and losing the ability to do things that some people would enjoy doing and have no problem doing (such as French kissing) where the thoughts of another person’s bacteria inside of her make her unable to enjoy the sensation and her thoughts focusing primarily on the fact that something that isn’t hers is inside of her.

        Aza also struggles with her relationship with Davis, who she does have feelings for, but the above side effects of her OCD prevent her from enjoying the more physical parts of their relationship. While both of them do have a unique form of communication via text message. Even though Davis does return the feelings towards Aza he does have physical desires (not sexual, but atleast some form of physical intimacy.

Aza does feel guilt for her choice t date Davis despite his dad missing because it distracts Davis from taking care of his little brother Noah who isn’t taking the disappearance of their father in the same way that Davis is.

There is some strong emphasis on parents in this novel, even stronger than Green’s previous work where parents are far from a obstacle in their stories as seen in some other YA books. Aza has only her mother who worries about Aza frequently because of her mental health and just because she’s a good mother. Davis’ father on the other hand abandoned both his sons, was never too close to them, had arguments with his wife before she passed away, had the staff of his house raise his sons, and left all his money to a tuatara named Tua in hopes that the research to discover the secrets to the long life of tuataras can be found and he’d get the credit for funding it. Daisy’s parents are mentioned, but never seen due to Aza never asking about them or ever going over to Daisy’s house.

        My favorite character in the novel is Daisy, as I mentioned before she’s a huge Star Wars fan, but she was fun. There were moments of her being shallow and using Aza a bit (she did kick off the whole plot by making Aza not only trespass on Russell Pickett’s property but start a relationship with Davis Pickett for the sake of information on the whereabouts of Russell Pickett. Daisy also makes some points that Aza’s life isn’t as bad as she feels it is due to Daisy only having a smartphone as her only form of online entertainment which becomes very shocking and impressive when people remember that she has written lengthy Star Wars fanfiction on her smartphone. I felt myself siding with Daisy in one argument when Aza is concerned about her spending habits after they receive their hush money through buying not only a new car, but a new laptop. Daisy argues that Aza has a laptop and a car and lives in a house with her own room despite having only one working parent while she only has her smartphone, shares her room with her eight year old sister, and lives in an apartment complex even though she has both her parents and both of them being employed. Minor fun fact, but the paper BB-8 seen in the photo above was used as a bookmarker because I couldn’t find a bookmark that wasn’t currently being used, you can imagine how delightfully surprised I was discovering that Star Wars was mentioned frequently in this book and how appropriate it is.

        As I mentioned before I don’t have OCD, but anxiety issues; there were parts of the book where I could relate to Aza’s mental health and constant moments of being a prisoner in her own mind and having internal conversations with herself. Some parts of the book were very eye opening at how OCD isn’t “a need to have everything perfectly tidy” as I’ve joked around about in the past, but something more that really does control how a person functions and can prevent them from having a normal life and in some cases making horrible decisions based on the mental argument they have with themselves.

        I really enjoyed Turtles all the Way Down; it was a nice alternative to the usual John Green protagonist of teenage boys feeling the need to prove something about themselves, or being fixated on ‘the girl’. Aza and her friends were really fun and even the main conflict of Aza’s OCD causing problems in her life her friends and family still love and care for her.

        I give Turtles all the Way Down by John Green four Star Wars fanfics out of five.

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Star Wars Phasma Review

        Once in the year 2015 there was Star Wars The Force Awakens; many didn’t know what would happen in the seventh unexpected installment of the Star Wars saga outside of large amounts of merchandising, but based on this merchandising we were introduced to new characters. One of these characters is Captain Phasma; she was known as the first female stormtrooper, people knew she meant big business with her chrome armor and phabulous cape. She was described as “this trilogy’s equivalent of Boba Fett” meaning she was meant to be intimidating and evil.

Ironically she technically was like Boba Fett in that she got taken out with little to no fanfare. The best term to describe Captain Phasma in The Force Awakens would literally be ‘epic fail’. She disappointed many fans since her actress Gwendoline Christie was one of the few new cast members of the new trilogy to already have a name for herself due to her role in the HBO series Game of Thrones. To be fair though when a wookie knocks the shit out of you and demands you lower the planet wide shield, you best do what the wookie says.

However as promotion for the upcoming Star Wars The Last Jedi a new wave of merchandising and novels was released, one of these novels being Star Wars: Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson. The book actually isn’t from Captain Phasma’s point of view, but rather her story is being told by Resistance spy Vi Moradi as she tells Phasma’s origins to First Order member Captain Cardinal.

Also I listened to this audio book via my local library and the app Axis 360, if you want to listen to audiobooks or just check out books and save money go to your local library (I have a strong feeling someone at my library is a big Star Wars fan).

Spoilers from this point on. Phasma will hunt you down and kill you for any knowledge you may have of her past.

Phasma is evil, possibly one of the most evil non force sensitive being in the new Star Wars canon. Her life was far from an easy one being from the planet Parnassos, a planet all but forgotten and unobserved by the Galactic Republic and the first order under the impression that “there’s no real life there.”

As mentioned above the story actually centers around Resistance spy Vi Moradi who is captured by the First Order and is being interrogated by Captain Cardinal because he wants dirt on Phasma to get her kicked out of the First Order. Vi agrees to tell Cardinal the story of Phasma in exchange for her escape and in hopes that Vi can help Cardinal realize the First Order is not the right side to be on.

Phasma is from a warrior tribe known as the Scyers that is actually very humble, spiritual, and respectful towards life and not allowing anything to go to waste. The Scyers celebrate the birth of children because they are such a rarity and if a child makes it past five years of age it is something worth celebrating. Phasma is a skilled warrior and respected leader of this tribe with many of the few younger members of this tribe looking up to her and trusting in her wisdom. Things change one day when a First Order ship carrying Brendal Hux (father to Amitage Hux) crashes on Parnassos. Phasma and members of her tribe investigate the happenings.

The character who tells of Phasma’s origins on Parnassos is Siv, she has known Phasma her whole life and respects her. However Siv begins to see that Phasma is changing (or rather showing her true colors) as soon as both of them along with other members of the Scyers begin their travels with Hux to his ship. Phasma slowly begins dawning stormtrooper armor feeling that they suit her. It is shown that Phasma is very fond of bloodshed, killing her parents, her brother, many minor characters, and even the youngest child of the Scyers Frey. She eventually kills Armitage Hux and is implied to kill Cardinal after poisoning him and is off to kill both Vi, Cardinal, and eventually Siv to make sure no one knows of her past for good.

Along with the origins of Phasma it is shown that Phasma cares only for herself explaining why she so willingly lowers the shields for Starkiller base during the events of The Force Awakens movie. It’s also shown that her armor is very unique among Stormtrooper armor in that it was forged using the parts of Emperor Palpatine’s yacht.

I felt at times the book spent too much time on Parnassos, but also understand why so much time was spent on there. I also enjoyed the introduction of Vi and Cardinal; it was interesting seeing the perspective of Cardinal, someone who is grateful to The First Order due to him being on the planet Jakku and loathing the fact that the Galactic Republic often ignored outer rim/poor planets like Jakku and supports the First Order so that no other planets will ever be overlooked again. We also get exposition on how this new generation of stormtroopers came about; they’re all more or less kidnapped children and orphans gathered from planets overlooked by the Galactic Republic.

I also felt that the book was very similar to A Song of Ice and Fire; no where near the violence, gore, and sexual activity as A Song of Ice and Fire (I don’t think we’re ever getting a sex scene in Star Wars outside of fanfiction and porn parodies), but the violence and betrayal constantly seen in the book make it seem like Phasma would fit right in at Westeros.

I very much enjoyed listening to this audiobook, I give Star Wars Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson four phabulous chrome stormtrooper helmets out of five.  

 

Leia Princess of Alderaan Review

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        No I am not talking about The Princess Diarist (that will be read and reviewed before the end of the year, don’t worry). I am talking about Leia Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray. I had picked up the book because it was interesting to get a princess Leia story set before the events of A New Hope and because I enjoyed listening to Bloodline also by Claudia Gray.

        The book follows Leia as she goes through trials to earn her status as royalty to the Alderaan royal family and her early adventures as she enters the world of the rebellion against the empire.

Spoilers from this point onward, I’m not a jedi so I can’t mind trick them out of you. Also there will be fanboy tendencies and observations and other nonsense.

        Leia is destined to become ruler of Alderaan, a planet of peace and charity. To earn the title of royalty Leia must master the challenges of mind, body, and heart. At the same time Leia is participating in the Junior Senate prepping to take over the political world of Alderaan when the time comes. Through the story Leia begins to discover her parents involvement with the rebellion against the empire feeling conflicting feelings of joy that people are going to stand against Emperor Palpatine and anger that her parents kept such a secret from her and would betray the way of her people who had been pacifists for centuries.

        Leia’s discovery of the rebellion is actually the end result of her performing an act of charity through the challenge of heart. While “hiring” refugees on Wobani in order to grant them a happier life, she unintentionally screws up negotiations her father Bail Organa had been working on for years to allow citizens from Wobani to immigrate to Alderaan.

        Through her challenge of the Mind Leia notices interesting activity in some sectors and decides to look into it thus discovering a wider rebellion. Her parents aren’t entirely thrilled at the discovery that Leia knows about the rebellion due to her innocence and lack of knowledge about the rebellion being the only thing to protect Leia should the Empire catch onto what the Organa family is up to. An interesting event happens with Leia’s challenge of the body also occurs where in a life and death situation Leia uses the force without realizing it!

        Despite the efforts of her parents Leia becomes more active in the rebellion both intentionally and by sheer accident gaining the attention of Wilhuff Tarkin who slowly becomes Leia’s arch enemy in not only the book, but in the future as well (until Luke blows him up anyways).

        Fans of Star Wars will also see more of Leia’s personal life with Bail Organa and her mother Breha Organa and how they balance their life. Bail is the senator of Alderaan representing the planet in the galactic senate while Breha is the queen and ruler of the planet taking care of things on the planet. It was very interesting to see Bail function out of the public eye as father to Leia with him actually losing his temper at times when Leia got too close to participating in the rebellion. Breha for the first time is very active in Star Wars content with very little of her ever seen even in Legends material. There is actually a very funny scene involving Tarkin and Mon Mothma where an argument is staged to throw off Tarkin to what is really happening in the rebellion.

        There are many shout outs and foreshadowing in the book, one particular event happening on the planet of Naboo that I’m not going to spoil in this review and I encourage readers to look for. There are cameos of C3PO and R2D2 (I kind of feel like it’s mandatory to have them around these days), foreshadowing for Bloodline (guess who that lock of hair belongs to). Other things include the introduction of the character Amylin Holdo who will be featured in Star Wars the Last Jedi this December. In the story Holdo is more or less the Luna Lovegood of the Star Wars universe choosing to constantly wear exciting and detailed clothing compared to the humble simplistic clothing of her people of Gatalenta. Her character arc (besides becoming a close trusted ally of Leia) is finding a balance to be independent of her people without resorting to some stranger fashion choices.

        My only complaint about the book was some possible timeline issues with the television show Star Wars Rebels in relation to what age Leia is when she meets Ezra and the crew of the Ghost.

        I give Leia Princess of Alderaan four Porgs out of five (yes I can rate a book with porgs even if there aren’t any porgs in it!)

Many Waters Review

        As many of you know the new movie adaption of A Wrinkle in Time is set up to be released next year, so out of excitement I decided to reread Madeleine L’Engle’s books because I am a big fan. I then realized I hadn’t ever gotten around to read Many Waters for some reason and was a little shocked I never did so since the story revolves around Sandy and Dennys Murry.

        As mentioned above the story revolves around Sandy and Dennys Murry, the two self proclaimed normal of the Murry children in comparison of the prodigies of Meg and Charles Wallace. When they return home one winter afternoon and go into their parent’s personal lab both Sandy and Dennys are transported to the time of Noah and the ark. Reading this book actually reminded me a lot of the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis which was a science fiction series from a Christian perspective that all other creatures in the universe were aware of the existence of God and the universe beyond them.

Spoilers from this point on, I’m running out of witty things to type in the bold text.

        Unlike the adventures of their siblings Sandy and Dennys are not as adventure ready as readers would believe. For one thing when exposed to the desert climate both Sandy and Dennys suffer from a heat stroke and spend the first half of the book recovering from severe sunburns. At the same time it separates both twins from each other allowing both of them to realize their own personal individual traits that they had never realized about themselves due to always being with each other.

        Along with their own self discovery that both twins aren’t completely like each other Sandy and Dennys begin to realize there is more to them besides being the ‘normal ones’ that they had always called themselves. Dennys has a very strong understanding of the experiments that both his parents perform and the science that Mr and Mrs Murry research and experiment with. In comparison to the adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace, Sandy and Dennys spend significantly more time on their adventure while Meg and Charles Wallace on technicality devoted a few hours to their own adventures (time travel kind of makes it hard to determine who spent the most time on their adventure).

        As mentioned earlier the book takes place during the time of Noah before the days of the great flood. The great flood itself plays a minor role in the story for the first three quarters of the book with major focus being on Sandy, Dennys, Noah’s family and the works of the Seraphim and Nephilim. There is also another tribe of not so nice people who are envious to Noah’s tribe, one of these characters is named Tiglah.

        I want to talk about Tiglah in this review mainly to compare the style of YA writing from when this book was published and how Tiglah would be viewed now. Many Waters was published in 1986 where it was more or less it was frowned upon to be sexually active and open about it as a teenager in the media. In this book Tiglah is in love with one of the Nephilim (fallen Seraphim) and does his bidding for him at one point trying to seduce Sandy and Dennys because the Nephilim are wary of them.

        Throughout the book I felt very sorry for Tiglah and constantly hoped that she would be redeemed; it wasn’t her fault that she ended up this way and clearly she didn’t think that her sexual nature was a bad thing. She admits to genuinely caring about both Sandy and Dennys and hoping that things go well for them as the great flood begins and it is heavily implied that she drowns in the great flood for her ways.

        I think if Tiglah were a character in a modern YA book she would have had more depth to her explored; she may have even been given her own character development and realize that the Nephilim don’t care for her and at least leave her wicked family and ask Noah and his family to give her refuge and teach her to be good.

        Tiglah is also called a slut by Sandy when she tries to convince him to give her his virginity, something that wouldn’t sit well with modern readers (okay more than likely the christian audience would be okay with that.)

        To contrast Tiglah there is Yalith, one of the daughters of Noah; Yalith is essentially a Pure Mary Sue. She is good and kind to all she meets, she nurses Dennys back to health, rejects a Nephilim who claims to be in love with her, convinces the Seraphim to love her (platonically) and is stuck in a love triangle with Sandy and Dennys eventually admitting that she is in love with both of them and it is the mutual love between herself and Sandy that Sandy decides not to have sex with Tiglah. When the issue comes around that Noah can only take his sons and their wives onto the arc and Yalith must be left behind, it is discovered that Yalith is so pure, she can be given a free pass into heaven body and soul because she’s that pure.

        I don’t hate the character of Yalith, but it just annoyed me at times at how she’s presented as the most pure thing in the world and everyone must love her unconditionally. Okay that’s enough ranting about Tiglah and Yalith.

        Concerning the story itself it was very interesting at how ideas and themes presented in the book are actually a very big deal for some people today. One issue frequently brought up is Sandy’s agnostic views and how he needs to “see it to believe it.” At first he treats the story of Noah and the Ark as the equivalent of Norse and Greek mythology, stories told to people that aren’t true, of course with L’Engle being a religious woman, Sandy does believe in unicorns (there is no way I can cover the topic of the importance of unicorns in this book and keep the review brief), but this belief is a result of seeing a unicorn and then believing they are real.

        Sandy also points out in annoyance how many of the women he met on this journey are adapted out of the Bible because the Bible was written by men who viewed the male presence as more important than the female presence.

        Along with this Sandy has comparisons with the unkind people who aren’t part of Noah’s family and terrorists who hijack planes, which in today’s world is a very scary reality that has happened more and more regularly with new forms of shock and horror.

        I’ll end this review by saying that parts of it did hit close to home, particularly since during my time reading this my dad was in the hospital (he is fine and recovering) and one of the biggest plot threads in the book is Noah and his relationship with his dying father Lamech.

I give Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle three out of five cute mini mammoths.

Also small announcement and explanation for things; I will participate in Write a Novel in November this year, so this blog post was partially for me to see if I can write 1667 words in a day. It is something I’ve considered participating in and I hope I can pull it off. This review was 1293 words long meaning I clearly have some improving to do, but book reviews and amount of words written in a day are two very different things. Wish me luck, my theme for this novel will be…mermaids.

A Wrinkle in Time Impressions

Once Upon a time in the distant time of 2001 I was eleven years old and we had a book assigned for the fifth grade class I was in. Little did I know this book would make me want to read more books and would forever change my life and how I viewed the universe and create a dream. The book I speak of is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I love this book, it led me to reading it’s sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and the spin off book (sort of) A Ring of Endless Light.

There are sketchbooks I owned that had drawing’s of Mrs.Whatsit  in her non human form, the idea of a tesseract became a concept I kept tabs on growing up and even now think about today as an adult. Despite the heavy emphasis in L’Engle’s work on physics and biology, I was more inspired to focus on writing and literature as I grew up and wanted to write for the YA genre (I ended up with a degree in environmental science).

Then in 2002 it was announced there would be a tv movie of A Wrinkle in Time by Disney. It was awful. L’Engle was asked if it met her expectations, she said “yes. I expected it to be bad, it was.” I only saw a portion of this film, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that things were dumbed down for audiences, I didn’t like the acting, I didn’t like the full happy ending presented in the film, and I felt kind of weird seeing Mr.Murrey completely naked a few years later on Queer as Folk.

I expected nothing to be done with A Wrinkle in Time after Madeleine L’Engle passed away mid 2008. I thought this would be the best for the series since her books tackled topics concerning Christianity and science which even more so today is a very touchy subject. Then a few years ago during Frozen it was announced Disney would be adapting A Wrinkle in Time to film again.

This time with Jennifer Lee from Disney’s Frozen was placed in charge of the film. My expectations started to get high; the film went with open casting meaning Meg Murrey and her brother Charles Wallace are now bi-racial. The film also cast Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which respectably.

 Despite my stalking both Witherspoon and Kaling’s instagram religiously very little about how the film looked was revealed outside of casting. I was a little curious to see Kaling in the film since I’m use to Kaling portraying divas as opposed to the wise and intellectual Mrs.Who, I even reread some of the book just to imagine Mrs.Who with Kaling’s shrills. I also wasn’t aware Oprah was an actress, but I guess she is.

When the trailer was released yesterday I was very pleased with what I saw and I hope the film does really well next year. I have high hopes for the film because I feel at this time many of the themes of A Wrinkle in Time are relevant concerning communism and there is a need for figures like the Murrey parents who are both religious, but educated and understanding on many issues in the world. And now here is the trailer to Madelein L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Pride Month: Interview With the Wagner

Continuing with LGBT Pride Month this week I was fortunate enough to have an interview with Cody Wagner, author of The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren last night.

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BaS- Today on Books and Smizmars we have a special guest, author of the award winning book The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren Cddy Wagner

Cody-Hi! I’m also known as Cody. JK

BaS-That damn keyboard, how are you today?

Cody-Lol I’m doing good! Just worked out and had my protein shake. So life is good. (I only workout for the shake.)

BaS-I’ve never had the shake. lol

Cody-Oh I tried a bunch of different ones (some really bad) before finding one I liked.

BaS-well that’s good

Cody-Also: Thanks for interviewing me! I’m Super excited.

BaS-I’m super excited you said yes! Right then, so where did you come up with The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a SIren (TGTGtDaS)

Cody-There’s a facebook post: “He said Yes!” Well I always knew I wanted to write a YA LGBTQ book. I just didn’t know what it would be about. Some ideas were in my head (the most prominent was sorta like that Diary of a Wimpy Kid) but nothing really appealed to me. So I actually wrote a completely different manuscript. Then, one night, I was talking to my sister about Greek Mythology and we got into the Siren. Somehow, this question randomly came up: you think gay guys were immune to the Siren’s song? And that actually kick-started the book. Funnily enough, we were just joking around but the idea stuck with me. And the rest of the book fell into my head. The next day, I ditched my other manuscript and started working on TGTGtDaS

BaS-That’s awesome! It is an interesting way to come up with a story. If you don’t mind, what was the synopsis of the other book? Was it similar?

Cody-Lol It’s not even a little bit similar. Whereas TGTGtDaS is a YA LGBT, the other is adult dystopian mixed with literary history. It’s essentially about a desperate man who tries to create a religion. I honestly don’t know exactly how to categorize it, but there you go. WHen TGTGtDaS is finished, I will be hopping back onto it.

BaS-Good to hear, I look forward to it when TGTGtDaS is finished. How was TGTGtDaS witten? Was it planned or made up as you went along?

Cody– So writers are sometimes designated as “pantsers” or “planners”. Pantsers fly by the seats of their pants and make it up as they go. Planners plan things out. I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve tried just sitting down and writing. But, oh man, did I write some garbage! I have to begin with some direction. So I typically have a loose outline telling what each chapter is about (in just a few sentences.) Then I go in and blow them out. I don’t plan too much more than that because there’s this cool thing that happens: sometimes, characters take over the story and they end up doing something different than you expected.

BaS- I’ve heard that happen with a few authors.

Cody-Admittedly, book 2 was a bit different. I didn’t have every chapter planned out. I only had the next one or two chapters in my head and that’s it. The rest of the book ahead of that was blank.

BaS-oh wow

Cody-I think a more practical way to put it is that when you’re writing a scene, you’re immersed in the emotion that can cause things to play out differently. Yeah. Book 2 was EXTREMELY difficult for me. I always thought sequels would be easier. They definitely are not.

BaS-I believe you. Just getting one book finished is exhausting, then you gotta do it again!

Cody-Yep, exactly! And you have to market as .well.

BaS-ah. What influences went into writing TGTGtDaS

Cody-You mean who/what influenced the story?

BaS-Correct

Cody-Yes! I understood correctly! Ok I have to give a shout out to Harry Potter. It definitely played a part. In TGTGtDaS, the main character, Blaize, is sent off to a boarding school that is *very* different than it appears. It’s not a school of witchcraft or anything, but the feel is similar in that Blaize’s real home is at school. I also loved that, although there are sad/serious moments, Harry Potter also has times of joy. I wanted that in this book. While Blaize goes through some awful stuff, he also has a lot of fun. I also have to say that young me (trademark pending) influenced the book. I grew up in a tiny homophobic town. And I wanted to give young me an escape so I wrote the book for him. Honestly, the book is for all those kids like me, the ones who wanted to be themselves but weren’t able to. I’ve had several reviewers say the book reminds them a bit of gay Harry Potter and I think that’s the highest compliment.

BaS-I actually did get a Harry Potter vibe from it based on it being a boarding school with fun shenanigans happening.

Cody-SWEET!

BaS-Par of me did also wonder if there was a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in there based on the title.

Cody-Oh Really? Interesting. I’ve never actually seen the show.

BaS-It was a great show, it’s not on Netflix anymore.

Cody– I have tons of friends who loved it. I’ll have to ask the ones who read the book if they also saw similarities.

BaS-Great! Why did you choose to have TGTGtDaS as a YA book?

Cody-Because I really wanted to give something to younger people who might be suffering or questioning or just curious. I don’t try to claim that my book is the be-all-end-all. But I’m just trying to show that gay kids are like everyone else. That’s one thing I worked really hard at with TGTGtDaS. I didn’t want a book about gay teens. I wanted a book about teens who just happened to be gay. And they go through the same stuff everyone does. I also deal with bullying as it’s something I dealt with as a kid. Bullying sucks (when I was a kid, older guys raised me up a flagpoles by my belt loop!!!). But looking back, I saw that it really does get better. And I want to try to convey some of that to teens.

BaS-I actually did notice you spent more time on the cast as regular teens rather than stereotypes, THANK YOU! And holy crap a flagpole? That’s actually physically possible and not something on tv?

Cody-You’re welcome, I’m basically a 14-year-old myself sooooo. Oh my belt loop broke like 10 feet up. Luckily I grabbed the pole and managed to slide down.

BaS- that sounds slightly less painful than falling onto concrete.

Cody-Very much yes! But imagine sliding down into the waiting arms of bullies. It was like slow motion. Maybe one day I’ll write a story about it.

BaS-oh dear, that does sound pretty awful.

Cody-I think those experiences can make us better people. More sympathetic or just kinder. I’m definitely not saying I’m perfect. But I’m actually glad it happened in a way.

BaS-Understandable. Now that you bring that up, there is a character named Jimmy who is bullied by two of his peers, was he your outlet for the events that happened to you?

Cody-Yes. Blaize is my outlet for wanting to be popular. Oh man, I thought being popular would solve all my problems. I put those jocks on a pedestal in high school. And I really wanted to have Blaize deal with that. Regarding bullying, Jimmy is definitely my bullying outlet. He feels a lot of things I did. It was cathartic writing that and watching Jimmy come around. Honestly, I started the book with the intention of making Jimmy unlikable. But then I felt what he was going through and he grew into probably my favorite character in the book. He actually changed as I wrote him.

BaS-It was an interesting form of character development to read through. You already answered this, but to continue on the subject, is there any of you in Blaize?

Cody-Oh very much yes. He’s goofy and unsure, just like I was. And he has lots of mouth diarrhea like I used to. On the other hand, though, I was a VERY oblivious teenager. I think it’s what got me through. And I was also very self-involved. Blaize is actually pretty intuitive and aware of his faults (even if he doesn’t fix them). That’s very different from how I was.

BaS-To be fair I think most teens are still oblivious, it must be the hormones.

Cody- That’s very true! LOL

BaS-ANy real life inspirations for other characters in your book (besides Hermione)?

Cody-As I mentioned, Jimmy is based on someone from my childhood. Also, Molly (Blaize’s little sister) is loosely based on my sister. We just talked about kids being oblivious, but my sister was the exception. So hyper aware and extremely sensitive. And I pulled that into Molly. I just love her. As you noticed, Cassie is loosely based on Hermione. I think some differences will come out in book 2 (#spoileralert LOL :)). Surprisingly, Roze isn’t really based on a specific person. I just knew what I wanted her to be and gave her characteristics to match.

BaS-How nice! Does your sister know that Molly is based on her?

Cody- Hmmmm…I don’t think so, actually. That’s because Roze originally had my sister’s name in a very early draft and I ended up changing it. So she’s bitter LOL.

BaS-oh dear! Better get a new character to fix that up! JK

Cody- LOL! In the first draft, every character was named after someone I knew. Then I went back and changed them all. I think she’d be happy knowing Molly is based on her.

BaS-I’m sure she would. The next few questions are going to be a little bit about the world of TGTGtDaS, if there are spoilers just say so.

Cody-Sounds good!

BaS-Does anyone besides the main protagonist Blaize and his friends know about the mysterious Siren?

Cody-Oh gosh. Well, I think, by the end of book one, readers strongly suspect the school knows. That’s probably obvious. But that is addressed in book 2. I just can’t say how. Yet. Mwhahahaha!

Bas-I’m gasping in shock!

Cody-Lol! I’m sensing some sarcasm? If not, um, sorry!

BaS-It’s a little bit of actual response and sarcasm lol.

Cody-Lol I just have a big mouth! And I have to be careful. For reals. I’ve been known to just blurt out horrible spoilers. That’s how I’m like Blaize.

BaS-oh dear, maybe you should troll your fans by giving outrageous unlikely events in place?

Cody-OH OK here goes: At the end of book 2, Blaize wakes up and realizes everything was just a dream!!!

BaS-Funny thing, I had suspected the Harry Potter series would end like that (spoiler, it doesn’t.) Concerning the school, the students do have access to a computer in their rooms, do some students ever use their computers to log onto social media services such as facebook and twitter? It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while lol.

Cody-If Harry Potter had ended like that, I would have thrown my books out the window!!!

BaS-Yikes, that would have killed someone!

Cody- Yeah, so there’s a good question. I don’t dive into it much. Here’s the thing: I have to give a LOT of faith to the students at Sanctuary. Given social media and everything, it would be really hard to conceal the school’s true nature. Especially with hundreds of hormonal teenagers, LOL. But I really want it to seem like, despite their differences, the students know what’s at stake if they “spill the beans.” So I assume they use social media. But they’d post only trvial things. Most, if not all, don’t want people to know they’re in a “healing” school. So they wouldn’t be posting “I’m having cleansing corn today!” LOL That’s why I don’t go into it so much. As they wouldn’t share anything relevant to the story. Does that make sense at all? I will say YouTube becomes more prominent in book 2. But that’s all I’ll say.

BaS- Oh sweet, I love YouTube!

Cody-Yeah I spend way too much time on it.

BaS-Concerning the school, it is said that students will be expelled concerning the secret being revealed; are there any families that are aware of the secret, but sent their children there for other reasons (such as bullying or harassment from a normal school)?

Cody-Oh gosh. Another great question. And one that will be addressed. So I’m trying to think how much to say. The thing is, that’s not going to be dealt with until book 3. So if I don’t answer…well, it will be a while.

BaS-Understandable, final bit of questions concerning the school; Any teachers dating each other, has a student ever been expelled for just having the worst grades, and how good are those healing hamburgers?

Cody-LOL Fun questions! Yes! Teachers are dating. In book one, two teachers hold hands at orientation. I’ve thought some about Adkins and Principal Wolcott. Maybe some details will emerge at some point. No one has been expelled for grades. Again my book takes the liberty in assuming that these kids want to be at Sanctuary so badly they will do enough to stay there…Even if it’s barely enough. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But, I think if sanctuary really existed and provided what it does, the students would REALLY REALLY want to be there. OH! LOL The food is actually based on the cafeteria at Texas Tech University. I ate lunch and dinner there every day for a year. Sometimes it was good. And sometimes it was gross. LOL I’d say the Healing Hamburgers are decent.

BaS-Oh wow, I hope none of the cafeteria workers at Texas Tech put two and two together.

Cody-I’m sure they won’t as that probably describes most cafeterias in the country.

BaS- True; considering many books are being adapted into movies and television shows, how would you feel about TGTGtDaS beng adapted into on or the other and who would be your ideal cast?

Cody-Uh that would be AMAZING. Like truly amazing, because that means people read the book and want more. That’s like the dream. THE DREAM!!! So I thought about the cast and it was really hard thinking of people who fit the characters in my eyes…until… I watched Ben Platt on the Tony’s. He’s the star in a musical called Dear Evan Hansen. And after I saw him: I realized he’s Blaize. He’s the perfect Blaize: endearing, goofy, etc.

BaS- He was also in Pitch Perfect.

Cody-Yep! I didn’t think much of him then, but his performance in Dear Evan Hansen is amazing. And I’m a singer as well so I was really surprised by his voice.

BaS-That’s good to hear, maybe they can sneak in some musical numbers.

Cody-LOL! TGTGtDaS: The Musical, I’m totally down! When Principal Wolcott reveals the true nature of the school, that would be a touching number!

BaS-it would! Just a few more questions before we finish things up.

Cody- OK shoot!

BaS-Who are your favorite authors? DId any of them provide some extra inspiration for TGTGtDaS?

Cody-Not sure, I don’t read. Kidding.

BaS- I was about to throw my laptop across the room in shock!

Cody-John Irving made me want to write. When I read A Prayer For Owen Meany, I was so touched, I decided I wanted to make people feel that way. He’s a beautiful writer. Naturally, I’m also drawn to JK Rowling. She made me bawl in book 7 so I have to give credit where credit is due. She’s also AMAZING at telling back story. I also love Neil Gaiman and his stuff. Also, while their books may not be my favorite, I’m sometimes drawn to authors by their writing style. For example, Jonathan Franzen writes some of the most amazing sentences.

BaS-Very interesting, also fun fact: both JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman have been on The Simpsons.

Cody-Really? Oh that *is* a fun fact! That’s like how you know you’ve made it: when you’re a voice on The Simpsons.

BaS-Yes, maybe one day both of us will end up animated with yellow skin.

Cody- Or I’ll just get jaundice and pretend.

BaS-haha. Finally what can we expect in the second book in TGTGtDaS? Bonus question: will we see you at Texas Teen Book Festival 2017?

Cody- Oh gosh. OK. Well, on a higher level, the book is much faster than book 1. Stuff starts hitting the fan and it never really stops. Especially as Blaize tries to decide if he wants people to know about his new power. Naturally, the Siren kicks up her efforts. How? I can’t say, but it becomes imperative that Blaize stop her. It’s really a cat and mouse game for much of book 2. Also, Blaize may or may not fall for someone. That’s all I can say. Well at this point, I will *definitely* be at the Texas Teen Book Festival. I had *such* a great time last year! It was amazing! One of the best festivals I’ve ever been to.

BaS-Yay! Hopefully I’ll be able to make it too. THank you so much for giving Books and Smizmars your time for this interview.

Cody-Awesome, I hope to see you! You are SOO very welcome! I hope it’s not the last interview as it was super fun! And I hope you have an amazing evening!

BaS-Thank you, to you as well!

That was Cody Wagner author of the YA book The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren. You can visit Cody’s website at http://www.wagner-writer.com/ and his Good Reads page at https://www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer.

Why Not Me Review

Today we are reviewing Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling. I am a big fan of Mindy Kaling as many of you know and I honestly put little to no effort in fighting back against my own rule I set for myself on my book ban until I read ten of the books on my “to read” list. I really liked this book, getting another taste of Mindy Kaling is always a nice thing, you know it, I know it, and Hulu especially knows it!

Hey look bold text, normally that means there’s spoilers ahead, but the joke is on you, you can’t spoil real life.

This book we catch up with Mindy’s life and what she’s been up to since her last book. We get a closer look on her life pre-The Office fame, some last few thoughts on weddings and friendships, and the one thing that led me to her existence. THE MINDY PROJECT! Oh and some nonsense about meeting former president Obama and having a minor fling with someone who works for him.

I’ll be honest and say the main thing I cared about in this book is how she described her life in The Mindy Project; how she got the show on FOX in the first place when NBC didn’t want to give her a pity show after The Office ended, how she had anxiety writing and producing her own show, the horrors of her tv show being cancelled by Fox, and how Hulu saved her show from a horrible fate.

I will admit I was a little disappointed with this book since I was so happy with her previous work. As previously stated I was happy with the background information on The Mindy Project, but other than that the book may fall into “chick lit” for some.

There were two main points of the book that were close to me; Mindy’s mother and her life advice to Mindy. Prior to reading this book I was under the assumption both of Mindy’s parents were still alive and watched The Mindy Project and have a good laugh at their daughter. Sadly Mindy’s mother passed away prior to the premier of TMP, and reading about the kind of woman, doctor, and parent she was made an impact on me. From things like knowing who was a good friend and who were false friends, to removing trophies because “they were given to be nice, not earned”. Even knowing that she managed to give advice to The Mindy Project before passing away is heartwarming.

Then there’s Mindy talking about body image and self confidence. How it’s impossible to love your body, but also knowing to be happy regardless of how you look naked. Finally there was a lovely essay at the end of the novel concerning having self confidence that was really nice.

I give Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling three and a half mcdonalds Mcflurries.

The Subject of Race and Ethnicity

Today I read a blogpost called You can’t do that! Stories have to be about white people and it reminded me of a subject I had been wanting to write about for a while that isn’t about the representation of gays in the media (btw yes I will review When We Rise when I see it in it’s entirety), Christianity, or essays on genres. Today we are talking about race and how the default protagonist is still white. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but it’s something that still happens. and as Darren Chetty mentioned in his blog post if you want to write about someone who is black or of another race, you have to make your story about the fact they are black/their race (as in your black character has to struggle with racism, they can’t just be black), because if your protagonist isn’t white, it doesn’t sell books as well.

What do you mean you have to make the story about a person’s race if they’re not white?

One of the things I loathed hearing about in middleschool, highschool and my first few years of college was people assuming I would write about my Mexican heritage. Like THAT was the only thing ticking in my mind. It’s not a bad thing, but every time we read stories about Mexicans in school it was always about struggle and how life was shitty for the main protagonist.

Granted I acknowledge that these authors were writing about their own life experiences and respect their stories and life struggles, but my life wasn’t their story and isn’t that story to tell. I had my own struggles, they were nothing like the struggles seen in Hispanic literature. In comparison my life would be seen as a piece of cake by those authors and my struggles would be labeled as a first world problem (which sadly they are).

As I mentioned above Chetty did mention that if I ever write a story with a Mexican protagonist, I gotta write about Mexican heritage or problems or my book (allegedly) isn’t selling squat! For publishers to even consider publishing my book, my protagonist has to either have Mexican problems or have his whole plot centered around coming out as gay (yes I snuck that in too).

What about the TV?

Television has been interesting about race; let’s start with Star Trek the original series. It had Nichelle Nichols playing Nyota Uhura and George Takei playing Hikaru Sulu. A “black woman on the tv who wasn’t a maid” (as described by Whoopi Goldberg) and a Japanese man (who would later come out as a proud homosexual) portraying characters on a science fiction show treated as equal to their colleagues despite their ethnicity.

It took a while for both movies and tv to move past have characters of different races be portrayed as characters beyond just being token minority (it’s debatable if Uhura or Sulu were token minorities). As a kid in the 90’s I saw tokenism at it’s extreme in afterschool specials, and educational television. I remember this one show shown to us at school called The Human Race Club where all the races and ethnicities were represented…and led by a blond haired blue eyed kid with glasses (it had a smart Asian girl, a black kid who liked basketball, a tom boy ginger, and a fat kid).

There was also Power Rangers; three fifth’s of the main five rangers were white (Jason, Kimberly, Billy) with Zack and Trini as the token black and asian without the producers ever realizing that they assigned Zack and Trini as the black and yellow ranger to match their races until it was too late. There was also Tommy who was later revealed to be of Native American decent, not sure if it counts though since it took four seasons to reveal that. This was fixed later when Austin St. John, Walter Emanuel Jones, and Thuy Trang left the show with Rocky (Steve Cardenas), Aisha (Karen Ashley), and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch) as the new red, yellow, and black rangers respectively of Hispanic, black, and Asian/Jewish ethnicities included.

After the first season, Power Rangers has actually been pretty good about representation of all the races and even had a few ranger teams where the girl or a black person IS the leader (Alien Rangers, Turbo, Time Force, SPD, RPM, Dino Charge). Still no female red ranger though…

Captain Planet also had a minorateam, with the only white American usually being the whiner who had to learn a lesson in the episode. If any of the other members had a plot devoted to them, they were not the whiner. Trust me.

On the CW DC television something interesting happened; races of characters were changed from white to whatever the creators wanted. The whole West family? Black. Jimmy Olson is no longer a adorkable ginger, but is now a hunky black guy with dreamy eyes for Kara and the audience to oogle at (don’t worry, Kara has an adorkable tech friend for fans who are into that sort of thing to oogle at too). There is the issue too some that even though diversity has been added to the cast of these shows, the leads are still white people. With the addition of Legends of Tomorrow (with no MAIN character, but rather having a team lead) and Vixen (female African american (she actually is from Africa)) things are nice and diverse in the live action DC universe.

Because I can’t cover ALL media, here are some honorable mentions. Codename Kids Next Door (it’s like The Human Race Club, except bigger budget and isn’t corny), Star Wars The Clone Wars/Rebels (they have aliens, it counts), W.I.T.C.H. (multiraced badass magical girls), Steven Universe, and Drawn Together (look that show was hilarious regardless of what today’s politically correct millenials will post on Tumblr)

TV comedies (Ugly Betty, The Mindy Project, and Fresh Off the Boat)

It seems races and ethnicities get an easier time at representing different races. In some cases, rather than playing their race for the sake of drama and story telling, they play them for comedy. In the case of Ugly Betty, being of Mexican decent wasn’t a big deal too often. While the show did fall victim to relying on problems faced by immigrants today (for the first and second season Betty’s father was illegally in the US), Betty’s heritage is played for laughs except for one episode (Mark said Betty only got a job to fill a token Mexican spot).

The Mindy Project is awesome; Mindy’s Indian heritage is a joke most of the time and has only been the subject of drama once when Mindy was scared that her son would only know of his Indian half based on a Indian food menu on Mindy’s fridge. Bonus points for Mindy being the subject to large amounts of slapstick humor during the show despite being a woman.

Fresh Off the Boat is a touchy subject; despite being based on the memoirs of Eddy Huang, Huang hates the show feeling they turned his emotional outlet of rap and hiphop and life struggles into one dumb asian joke for the other races to laugh at. Eddy Huang if you ever read this I am sorry, but it is a hilarious show, I have read your book and I understand your anger concerning the show. If it makes you feel better, it has given more exposure to asian actors and actresses.

A Wrinkle in Time movie adaption (this time it won’t be awful)

As many have heard Madeleine L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is getting a film adaption with an open cast. Meg Murry being played by Storm Reid and the rest of the Murry family (minus Chris Pine’s character) now black. To add to this Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which will be portrayed by Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey respectively (gotta read that book again and imagine Mrs. Who shrilling like Kaling now).

What can one do to add diversity to books and entertainment?

I’m not sure actually, but you can start by reading The Lunar Chronicles since it does have a racially diverse cast. And tell your favorite authors “hey, I would like some diversity in the fiction you are producing.” Support authors who do write about characters of different backgrounds. Write your own stories about these things fight to get them to be published, I know I am with my books.

 

Towers Falling Review

Towers Falling follows the first semester of eleven year old Deja as she begins a new school year at a new school in New York City. She becomes friends with classmates Sabeen and Ben and the three grow strong bonds despite being of different race, religion, and social class and have these bonds grow stronger while learning of the events of September Eleventh and how this tragedy strengthened their bond.

Spoilers from this point forward.

The book starts off with Deja narrating her life and her responsibilities in life despite being only eleven years old. Deja and her family recently moved into a homeless shelter with little to nothing to claim to their name with her mother working during the day and her father suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When Deja begins fifth grade she feels out of place because she is of lower income than the rest of her classmates.

She meets Sabeen whom she finds too friendly and befriends a classmate Ben. Over the course of the novel the three classmates become close friends. I actually like that Jewel Parker Rhodes chose to have Deja, Ben, and Sabeen be from different races and social classes and have the three characters bond despite these differences.

Sabeen comes from a higher income family and is very kindhearted and friendly to many people because of the American ideology of welcoming all people regardless of social class, race, or religion and because of her own Muslim faith. Ben is the more reserved of the three from Arizona who has a dad in the military who is divorcing his mother.

Because of a school assignment the three friends bond over the events of September Eleventh; Deja is out of the loop concerning September Eleventh due to her family choosing not to speak of the day with Sabeen feeling very sensitive about the subject due to her own religion. Ben on the other hand is very knowledgeable of the subject due to his father being a veteran from The War on Terror.

Choosing to have all three characters born post September Eleventh was an interesting choice by the author since it’s a clean slate for them to have no trauma from the events of the day. Ben is the only character to have seen footage of the actual day with Sabeen only knowing about the events of the day due to her family explaining to her about what happened and why she’s occasionally discriminated against because of it.

Deja’s world begins to turn around for both better and worse after seeing video footage of the day for the first time and asking her parents about the day and discovering the day is heavily connected to her father’s PTSD.

I very much enjoyed the book event though I didn’t realize the book was for a younger YA audience when I bought it, it treats it’s target audience with respect that isn’t seen too often in younger YA novels. I will admit there were times the writing style got on my nerves, but I had to remember it’s written from the perspective of Deja who even though is very intelligent, isn’t doing as well as she can in school due to lack of resources in her home life.

I’d say Sabeen was my favorite character who was genuinely kind for the sake of being kind rather than “I’ll just be friends with the new kids because they’re new”. I was a little disappointed Sabeen wasn’t present for the climax of the novel.

I felt the climax of the novel was very touching and glad to see that the actions taken by Deja and Ben were not met with anger and punishment from their parents, but with love and understanding and how these actions led to Deja’s father beginning the slow recovery from his PTSD.

There are strong themes of connection between people in general beyond family relations extending to friendships, social units, coworkers, classmates, and even just regularly seeing a person on a daily basis. A strong message of bringing and finding joy and beauty in life after a tragedy is present along with these themes.

I give Towers Falling by Jewel Parker Rhodes four out of five pretty scarves.

Wires and Nerve Review

Just when you thought you were done with The Lunar Chronicles, you were wrong. Granted I don’t think anyone thought things were done with The Lunar Chronicles, but things seemed to be fairly wrapped up. With the announcement of the graphic novel Wires and Nerve surrounding the character Iko I was under the impression it was a retelling through Iko’s perspective, I was slightly wrong.

Minor spoilers from this point onward.

Wires and Nerve functions as a continuation to The Lunar Chronicles showing the current lives of Cinder and her friends and aside from Cinder and company trying to tie up loose ends, things are more or less happy. We have Cress and Thorne travelling the world providing vaccinations for Letumosis and sight seeing, Scarlet and Wolfe living a happy quiet life in France, Winter acting as ambassador for Luna, Kai is working on convincing citizens to consider an operation to help resist the influences of The Lunar Gift, and Cinder is trying to convince the citizens of Luna that they do not need a monarchy to continue functioning.

The book’s main focus is Iko and her mission to hunt down the remaining Lunar soldiers on Earth to bring them to justice. However things are more complicated as they appear; with the army of Lunar soldiers on earth feeling Cinder is the same of Levana and would just have them return to their previous way of life.

The graphic novel is well paced and the story is very good, however the artwork of Doug Holgate did put me off at first. As I continued the story along I accepted this was the artstyle chosen for the graphic novel and decided to just go along with it since the story was really good anyways.

My only complaint is, it’s to be continued, like what the hell? I give Wires and Nerve four out of five fancy crowns.