Disney Cashing In On My Youthful Love of Witches, Camp, and Sarah Jessica Parker A Review

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Disney. I once loved you. You brought me a whole new world under the sea and helped me escape, for a moment, this provincial life in this provincial town.  Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s talk one of my favorite Disney films of all time, Hocus Pocus. Released when I was but a wee child, I adored this film. I thought it was hilarious. The dialogue was sharp for a kids movie, and even now, many years later, it’s still a genuinely funny and delightful film.

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The Craft also came out around this time, and I spent many years walking around saying “We are the weirdos mister.”

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Needless to say, I was a big fan of witches, and still am. So picture this, I hear we are getting a sequel to Hocus Pocus. Of course I was delighted, and then I was told it was going to be a book. Still delighted, maybe a bit less so, but overall still excited.

Then I bought it…for Christmas…and started reading…and…WHAT? What is this? The first half of the book was fantastic because it was just a retelling of the original story which I can get down with. You may remember from my Buffy review, I love a good novelization. They may not be the best books in the world, but they’re fun, and I can appreciate that.

Then the second part of the book just had to happen. I was thrilled about a continuation of the story for the modern era, but that’s not what I got. I got a haphazardly written demonization of the original story. Positives included a queer relationship, adult versions of my favorite characters, and the return of the Sanderson Sisters. But that’s also where it went wrong…so so so so so so so so so so so so so wrong.

See, continuity is a thing, and most people respect the concept of continuity. I can appreciate that sometimes when you revisit a world, you might leave out some minor details, the world might be ever so slightly different, and I am fine with that. I’m not one of those people that go to a con for Twin Peaks and say “Well…actually.” Not me. I don’t like those people. But here’s the thing. Adding an entirely new Sanderson Sister to push your plot along isn’t a minor change. This is a world changing event.

So besides the new Sanderson Sister that I’ve taken to calling Brenda (not her name…just she’s a Brenda to me) the plot kind of ambles along, confused. I appreciated that Disney included a same sex relationship unlike many 1 star reviewers on Amazon that clearly think that including gay people makes a book rated R. So bravo for that one Disney (Now could we just get a mainstream latinx princess at some point?) But overall, Hocus Pocus the sequel felt like a cheap money grab meant to prey on nostalgia-ridden millennials. I mean hey…it worked…guilty as charged. Should you read it? Yeh…go ahead. It’s not the worst book ever written, but don’t expect to escape without a little of your nostalgia killed.

4.0 out of 5.0 Rainbows for First Half of Book

3.0 out of 5.0 Rainbows for Second Half of Book

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Of Love and Troubles: A Review of All the Walls of Belfast by Sarah J. Carlson

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Background:

I have been enamored with the politics of Northern Ireland ever since the epic election that saw Sinn Féin (Northern Irish Nationalists) run almost even with the Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Irish Loyalists) and grind Stormont (N. Ireland Parliament) to a halt for the past two years.

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So a brief history is in order to understand the novel we’re going to discuss. Basically, the two major political parties in Northern Ireland have very strong opinions about their position on Northern Ireland’s political future. Sinn Féin supports reunification with Ireland, while the DUP are loyalists to Great Britain and the Queen.

Image Caption: DUP and Sinn Fein Leaders when Stormont Dissolved.

During the late 20th century the loyalists (UVF) and the nationalists (IRA) were basically at war with each other. While it isn’t officially labeled a religious conflict, the majority of loyalists were Protestant while the majority of nationalists were Catholic. The violence abated with the signing of the Good Friday Accords in 1998, although there has been sporadic violence since. I will say that this is not the full history of the issues and concerns that led up to the Troubles, so don’t get mad at me, but I did want to give a brief overview of what was going on that led to this novel.

Review:

So that brings us to Sarah Carlson’s magnificent YA novel, All the Walls of Belfast. Set in post-troubles Belfast, we’re introduced to our two main characters, Fiona and Danny. Fiona, being born in Northern Ireland, but spending most of her life in the United States has no understanding of the conflict that had occurred in her home country, while Danny was brought up in the violence. The novel follows Fiona learning about her past, confronting it, and attempting to live with it, while it follows Danny’s attempts to outrun his past.

Historical fiction (and this has aspects of historical fiction) can be really complicated. On one hand, you have to find an interesting story to tell, while also staying true to the historical setting you are placing the fictional story in. This novel threads that needle perfectly.

The theme of walls was ever present. The walls that are constructed throughout Belfast pulled me toward a wall that once ran through Berlin, and another wall that a certain country wants to build on it’s southern border. These walls illustrate time and time again that they may keep troubles contained, but never once have they stopped troubles. Walls may keep troubles contained, but they don’t stop trouble.

facebookImage Caption: Belfast Walls https://www.citylab.com/equity/2016/08/belfast-peace-walls-demolition/496070/

While certainly taking creative license with the subject matter, Ms. Carlson has a real concern with the treatment of her characters. Both Fiona and Danny are three-dimensional characters that you cheer for, especially when they begin what feels like a star-crossed love situation. The rest of the supporting cast are equally as strong, characters that can’t be considered villains or heroes, instead deeply flawed men filled with regret, fear, and anger.

The buildup to the finale of the novel is feverish, and I was desperately praying life would work out okay for our lovers…did it? Well you’ll have to check this novel out to find out! Overall, an excellent novel, and I strongly recommend you check it out.

4.5 out of 5 Rainbows

Ellen v. Rosie: Why Respectability is Weakness

Exhibit A: Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen has made a career out of being nice. She’s nice to everyone.  Her entire show is centered on the kitsch of being a schmaltzy goofball. If you like that kind of thing then she’s a great personality to watch on television when you’re home sick from work.  Ellen has never taken a strong stance on anything, until now, on Kevin Hart.

Exhibit B: Rosie O’Donnell

Rosie was once known as the Queen of Nice. She had a popular 90s television talk show, was a co-host on The View in the 2000s, and then she had opinions. Strong ones. About homophobia, sexism, fatphobia, etc. Where’s Rosie now? Where’s the Queen of Nice?

Glancing at my twitter feed this morning (and by twitter feed I mean my husband messaging me everything that infuriated him for the day) I was dumbstruck by Ellen’s statements on Kevin Hart. You may or may not remember that Mr. Hart made the following comment:

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The comment was completely inappropriate and reared its’ head when discussion of Hart hosting the Oscars began. It was decided he would not host the Oscars, he hemmed and hawed about it, and you would think the story was done. BUT NOPE! In comes Ellen. Ellen, saccharine sweet, eclair of a person, decides to interview Mr. Hart on her popular, if somewhat vacuous and trite, talk show. And she goes to bat for him. Not only does she forgive him, which is fine, she goes further. She lobbies the Academy to allow him to host the Oscars. That’s not forgiveness, that’s traitorous.

I get forgiveness. God urges us to forgive those who harm us, and I believe you absolutely should forgive people. People say horrible things, often from a place of ignorance, and I get that. What I don’t get is forgiveness with no contrition. As a Catholic I am taught that one must be contrite to receive forgiveness. Mr. Hart is in no way sorry for what he said. He defended it as PC culture run amok. He made excuses, he forgave himself, but never once did he truly see the error of what he said.

Ellen’s decision to forgive him doesn’t bother me, but her niceness is a problem. She excuses Hollywood’s rampant homophobia, in what I believe to maintain her “veneer of nice.” The problem is that in defending someone like Hart, she sells fellow queer people out. She makes us look unreasonable for not forgiving and forgetting. Her desire to be everything to everyone has led to her to be nothing but a commodified, cleansed, gay. She’s so non-offensive, that her respectability becomes a weakness.

Then we have Rosie O’Donnell. Rosie’s histories of comments, especially in regard to Donald Trump, homophobia, and sexism, have earned her nothing. She is frequently maligned by the President of the United States; she is a source of hatred for many of the right, and a frequent punching bag for right wing pundits.

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She was also once known as the Queen of Nice. But then Rosie grew a spine, and went on the offensive she found her talk show cancelled, all for speaking out about Florida’s gay adoption ban (they won’t say this is the reason…but let’s be real.)

Neither Ellen nor Rosie are perfect people. Comedians have a long history of offensive comments, and you can dig up plenty from Rosie. Rosie should have known better than to call Lindsay Graham a “closeted idiot” in September 2018. But there is something to be said for someone that stands up for what they believe (like Rosie) and someone that is so respectable that they give aid and comfort to homophobes. Hart’s comments weren’t even about grown gay people, instead, they were about kids. That makes it even more reprehensible. And Ellen defended that. Ellen forgave that. That’s what Ellen did. Ellen’s “niceness” may have helped her career, but she is no friend to queer people.

0 out of 5 Rainbows for Ellen’s Respectability Politics

Of Pain and Slayers: Christmas with Retro Buffy Book Novelizations

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Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love the glittering lights, Broadway style carols, and presents. I am infatuated with the concept of gift-giving.  Every year my husband scolds me about my Christmas purchases, arguing that I’m spending too much, but I love the joy and happiness I see on the faces of my loved ones as they open packages, and this year was much the same. (Blogger Note: I stayed in my husband’s budget this year!) The holiday season was going great until—tragedy struck—a tooth infection on Christmas Eve!  With no dentist open in the Nashville area, I spent most of Christmas on Ibuprofen and in warm baths.

My best friend brought me my Christmas gift, and she brings me what she called a “Zak survival kit.” I opened each package in the gift bag and found:

  • 1 scented candle
  • 1 Super Mario Bros bath bomb
  • 1 Red Bull
  • 1 Sugar Cane Coke
  • 2 Books from R.L. Stine (nostalgia trip!)
  • THE FIRST THREE BUFFY NOVELIZATIONS FROM THE LATE 90S!

So, tooth pain under control from ice packs, ibuprofen, and bath water, I tossed my bath bomb in the tub, cracked open the sugar cane coke, and got to reading Coyote Moon. This isn’t a typical review, because let’s face it, those books were openly horrible. These tie-ins were money grabs of the lowest common denominator, and I reveled in how horrible they were as a teenager. So Instead I want to discuss how they make me feel. When I was but a wee gay boi in the 90s, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) was a lifesaver. I liked her outsider position, her friendships with the socially awkward, her big picture thinking, and her ability to kick ass. The novelizations were just additional fun times with my favorite characters.

I was a super fan, and then I stumbled upon these novelizations. Coyote Moon was the first adaptation I read as a teenager, and the first I re-read over Christmas break. The story line was simple. Buffy, Willow, and Xander go to a carnival during summer break. Buffy is weary of the attractive carnies, Xander falls head over heels for one, and Willow, pining for Xander, begins talking to another of the carnies. Willow and Xander get in to trouble with the carnies, almost human sacrifice (typical trope of the Buffyverse) happens, and Buffy, being Buffy saves the day.

The dialogue isn’t as crisp as the show, and Buffy, Willow, and Xander can be a bit stiff in the novelization, but the joy of this book for me wasn’t that I was reading the next Pulitzer Prize winner , but instead the nostalgia for my teen years that it evoked. This book was a time capsule. And for that, I’m glad I had the chance to reread it.

5 out of 5 Rainbows for Nostalgia

2 out of 5 Rainbows for Book

Maybe I was just a boy…interrupted

Hi all and Happy Book Lovers Day! We’re going to shake things up and discuss why I’m gay for books. I was a queer kid in Tennessee, time period-late 90’s/early aughts, knee bent praying for books that reflected my world.

The book we’re discussing today shook my life, and changed me forever.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (1993)

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“Have you ever been blue? Or thought your train moving while sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy. Or maybe, I was just a girl…interrupted.”

Amazon Synopsis:

In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years in the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele—Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles—as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary.

Kaysen’s memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a “parallel universe” set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.

Discussion

Relating to a woman in the 60’s with borderline-personality disorder might seem a stretch for a gay boy in 2000, but Kaysen’s book was pivotal to my understanding of my mental health struggles. Not that I really had any MH struggles, instead I was a mess of teen angst, gay angst, and religious angst that led me down a tunnel of despair.

Each chapter of the book is interspersed with images from her psychiatric charts. The terse language, condensing the pain of one individual down to DSM codes, illustrated the casualness of doctors and nurses when faced with mental illness. A medical code, created for insurance purposes, became Kaysen.

Diagnostic criteria for 301.83 Borderline Personality Disorder

A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following: 

(1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. 
Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5. 

(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation 

(3) identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self 

(4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, Substance Abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). 
Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5. 

(5) recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior 

(6) affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoriairritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days) 

(7) chronic feelings of emptiness 

(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights) 

(9) transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociativesymptoms

The above was how Kaysen began to relate to her world. As she pounds out vignette after vignette, she rages against this diagnosis. She argues a diagnosis can’t define you, and even if it is accurate, don’t we all experience these “symptoms” from time to time.

Kaysen was relatable. Was she mentally ill? Maybe. Disconnected from reality, in a society hellbent on putting a woman in her place, she broke. It’s easy when you don’t fit in, when the world is dark, cruel, and toxic. It wasn’t hard for me to to relate from to a woman in the 60’s as a gay boy in 2000. I was pushing those boundaries that she had pushed 40 years before. Was I mentally ill? Or was I just a boy…interrupted?

If you want to check out this amazing book you can order it on Amazon! Find the link below.

Amazon

ARC Review of Shaun Hutchinson’s “The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried”

Thanks to Simon Pulse for this ARC!

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Publisher Summary:

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

Critically acclaimed author Shaun Hutchinson delivers another wholly unique novel blending the real and surreal while reminding all of us what it is to love someone through and around our faults.

Review

Last-goodbye novels fall into two camps. Camp one: cloying, with titles like Five People You Meet While Reading the Notebook on Tuesdays With Morrie—inspirational gobbledygook popular with the church lady segment of the interior Midwest—trite gee gollyisms ricocheting from their pages while the author demeans our grief. Not my kind of last-goodbye novel.

The other camp is like a diamond in the rough, echoing realistic expressions of grief and loss. How we experience death and dying are abstract societal constructs, unique to our lived experiences, and the best novels can present these experiences with a universal voice. Hutchinson succeeds.

Hutchinson’s upcoming release, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, parks in the second camp and never veers off track. Part Torchwood: Miracle Day, part Dawn of the Dead, and part Casper, the novel blends side-splitting moments with a grim story, recounting how Dino’s best friend/worst enemy dies and rises from the grave. Not like Jesus, though; July is nothing like Jesus.

Breaking genre expectations, Hutchinson weaves a distinctive zombie story, where July, our zombie, doesn’t hanker for brains; instead, she frets over her rotting flesh, leading to a host of body horror gags that lend the hefty subject matter levity.

As the story unwinds, the reader discovers July isn’t special in her circumstances; in fact, everyone’s stopped dying. July and Dino repair their broken friendship while fulfilling the last-goodbye trope, but where so many get it wrong, Hutchinson gets it so, so right.

Since the book has yet to be released, I’m reserving my more spoilerific analysis for the release date! Hutchinson’s latest novel is a captivating read, and one I suggest you run out and preorder. You’ll find the links below.

5 out of 5 Rainbows!

This Book Releases on February 19, 2019 so Preorder Now!

Indie Bound

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Edited by V.S. Santoni

“Heroine” by M.McGinnis ARC Review

(Trigger Warning: Addiction)

The US is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic.

If you or someone you know needs help, effective treatment is available and can save lives.

www.hhs.gov/opioids

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Publisher Summary

The Female of the Species and Edgar Award–winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a powerful exploration of the opioid crisis through the eyes of one girl, creating a visceral and necessary story about addiction, family, and friendship.

Mickey Catalan’s life has been littered with struggles—from the scars that tell of past injuries to her parents’ divorce to the daily complexity of finding the right words to fit in socially. Mickey is no stranger to pain, emotional or physical.

When a car crash sidelines her months before softball season, Mickey has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get back there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good. With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue. But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Review:

Summarizing McGinnis’ upcoming release Heroine isn’t easy. What’s it about? Well…

  • It’s about the opioid epidemic.
  • It’s about a teen girl that’s in real pain
  • It’s about the need to cope with that pain.
  • It’s about how easy it is to slip into addiction.
  • It’s about the harm addiction does to friends, families, and the addict.
  • It’s about heroin, and oxy, and every evil derivative of that vile drug.

This is not another book about addiction. If it were I’d roll my eyes and tell it to sashay away. I had to take a week after finishing this book to process what I had read. Mickey Catalan could be my child. The horror is that she could be anyone’s child, or sister, or mother, or grandmother. From a birds-eye view,  the creeping tendrils of addiction wrap around Catalan, leaving her helpless as she starts her downward spiral.

I was concerned the novel would have the after-school special episode vibe. I want teens that read this book to know addiction isn’t cool without being talked down to. Assaulting us with image after image of addiction, McGinnis doesn’t hold back and avoids being preachy.

Tension rises as Heroine rushes toward its climax. Every chapter you know something awful is going to happen, addiction can only lead one place, but you are hopeful the entire time that somehow Mickey will be different. With addiction, nobody is different–nobody.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to witness the painful experiences of addiction. It’s a gritty read, but well worth your time. If you or a loved one is in recovery, I wouldn’t recommend this book to you. It’s graphic and realistic in its depictions. This may be too much for someone in recovery.

5 out of 5 Rainbows

This book goes on sale March 12, 2019!  If you’re interested, then pre-order this book now!

Indie Bound

Barnes & Noble

Amazon