Chewbaccus 2017

For those of you outside New Orleans: Chewbaccus is a Mardi Gras krewe (an organization that puts together a parade and/or ball during Carnival) that is sci-fi and fantasy themed—so lots of fun stuff with very nerdy twists.

What I love about Chewbaccus is that it’s not just incredibly nerdy (because that’s a given)–but I also really love that the floats and costumes are handmade. This year, Little Jedi wanted to know “where they get all this stuff.” Well darling–it’s all made from craft supplies, imagination, and lots of dedication. Never underestimate nerds with a plan and an abundance of craft stores nearby.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from this year’s parade:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Top 10 Tuesday: My Favorite Horror Stories

Each week, The Broke and the Bookish holds Top Ten Tuesday, a book blogging meme. It’s been quite a while since I’ve joined in, but I’ve decided to bring the feature back to the Monster. I always enjoy creating reading lists and discussing them in the comments sections. This week, I’m listing my favorite horror stories. Feel free to leave your suggestions and additions in the comments section, and go visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Halloween-themed book lists!

besthorrorstories

Review: The Attic Box

Guys, guys! Look what I just got!

img_20161008_132626

It’s this month’s Attic Box, and it’s fantastic!

Our friends at Blue Spider Press dreamed up The Attic Box, and I was only too thrilled when they offered to send their October box my way–its Halloween-y theme fit right into the month’s posts! This monthly subscription box includes gently used books (that’s what you see in the paper wrapping), coffee samples, and bookish treasures.

The Attic Box arrived quickly–I received a shipping notification in my e-mail on Oct 5, and it was here by Oct 7. And that’s good, because I was excited about what would be inside!

img_20161008_132553Turns out, there were quite a few things inside! The small, handmade Poison Ivy keychain is currently tied with the Frankenstein refrigerator magnet for Favorite Bookish Treasure. There were also several cool stickers, a small bag of candy, a lovely bookmark, and a copy of Flytrap Uprising, Blue Spider Press’s journal. We haven’t tried the San Francisco Bay coffee yet, but both Sam and I are looking forward to it.

The books were wrapped in sturdy brown paper, which kept their covers and pages from being damaged during transport. And gently used is exactly the phrase I would choose for them. The three books I received were paperbacks with very little wear and tear–both The Second Glass of Absinthe (Michelle Black) and The Monsters of Templeton (Lauren Groff) were in like-new condition, and Jonathan Mayberry’s Bad Moon Rising only showed signs of wear along the spine of the book (difficult not to with a paperback that clocks in at just over 600 pages). I don’t think that any of the books is something I would’ve thought to purchase, but all of them are things that I’m quite interested in reading, especially The Monsters of Templeton.

img_20161008_132543So would I buy this? Absolutely. Would I recommend this? Absolutely.

At just 19.99/month + shipping/handling fees, the box is not exorbitantly expensive. And unlike many of the other subscription boxes, which include all-new products that are factory made and that are mass-mailed, The Attic Box includes items that are individually selected and often handmade. I also quite like that the box includes secondhand books, giving them a new home and me some new reading material. PLUS, a little birdy tells me that if you subscribe before Dec 31 and use the code FREEBIESFORPTM, you can get a little extra something in your Attic Box.

Monster Monday: The Cuckoo

littlecuckoos

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series gives us both heroes and villains, monsters and gods. Sometimes, they are one and the same. Sometimes, it is difficult to decide on any real classification. And sometimes the most interesting of characters are only on the page for a brief time, for a snapshot of their brief lives. Not many of the monsters can make me shudder in quite the way that the Cuckoo can, though–not even the Corinthian, and that’s saying something since the Corinthian has teeth for eyes.

The Cuckoo appears in A Game of You, the fifth story arc of the series. And while many classify this as their least favorite of the bunch, it ranks among my favorites. The story is inventive, and beautiful, and grotesque, and problematic. The characters are vivid and flawed and brave and vulnerable. And it’s all a game, a game of identity. A game of you, quite literally.

Barbie is locked out of her dreams, unable to return to the Land, the dreamworld where she reigns as Princess Barbara. And her dreamworld is in terrible danger from a mysterious monster called the Cuckoo, who has taken over in the absence of the princess. Barbie is visited in the waking world by Martin Tinbones, a giant dog from the Land who has come to find her; just as he gives her an amulet which he calls the Porpentine, he is shot and killed by police.

The Porpentine returns Barbie to her dreamworld, where she is greeted by several of its inhabitants and sent on a quest to put an end to the Cuckoo. Back in the apartment, where Barbie’s unconscious body rests, one of her neighbors is revealed to have been recruited by the Cuckoo–he releases a flock of nightmare birds that are only stopped when Thessaly (another denizen of the apartment and a powerful witch) kills him. Thessaly divines the threat of the Cuckoo (by using George’s innards) and summons the moon (using menstrual blood), after which she travels to the Land with Hazel and Foxglove, who also live in the apartment building. Their neighbor Wanda is left to watch over Barbie’s unconscious body. (All of this gets a little complicated because Wanda is a transgender woman left behind because she isn’t “technically” a woman–the implications of which are big and problematic and sad.)

While in the Land, Barbie embarks on a quest to find the Cuckoo and restore order. She finally comes to the Cuckoo’s citadel–which looks just like Barbie’s childhood home. And then child-Barbie runs up to adult-Barbie, revealing herself to be the Cuckoo. Or at least, some version of herself. The Cuckoo, it seems, was born from Barbie’s childhood imaginings and fantasies, and she has become a kind of parasitic entity. She was Barbie’s imaginary friend as a child, and when she was discarded, she became tied to Barbie’s dreamworld. Barbie’s companions on her journey and Martin Tenbones are actually versions of Barbie’s discarded childhood toys, and Barbie’s dreamworld is a kind of simulation of her childhood.

reckoningThe Cuckoo bewitches Barbie, who agrees to help the Cuckoo destroy the Land by allowing the Cuckoo to kill her. She’s not satisfied with her home in the Land…She wants to be free to fly away. Destroying the dream will allow her to fly away and plant versions of herself in the thousands of other dreamworlds that exist. When Thessaly, Hazel, and Foxglove arrive to save Barbie and confront the Cuckoo, they are temporarily tricked into thinking that the Cuckoo is Luz (one of Barbie’s toys and a companion on her adventure through the Land who turns out to be a spy for the Cuckoo), and Thessaly kills Luz. Barbie destroys the Hierogram and the Porpentine, which summons Morpheus, who un-creates the Land and its inhabitants. Barbie is granted a boon from Morpheus, and she uses it to ensure the safe return of herself, Thessaly, Foxglove, and Hazel to the waking world.

Against Thessaly’s wishes, the Cuckoo is allowed to fly away freely. So, what became of the Cuckoo? Who can say? Probably she’s in another dreamworld, on another dream island.

Thursday 13: Favorite Horror Comedies

I’ve mentioned, once or twice, that I’m a fan of horror films.

I have an especially soft spot for comedy-horror. It can go really, really bad–but when it’s good, it’s really, really good. I like the combination of laughter and fear, the way comedy-horror often pokes fun not just at the horror film genre but at our humanity and its discontents.

Here are my favorites:

13 Horror Films to Watch This October

I’ve mentioned before that I like gory TV shows and all-things-zombie. And, naturally, I have an affinity for all manner of creatures and monsters. I also don’t mind being scared, especially if I can be scared in my own home, and especially if it’s October, which Sam and I always officially designate as a month of horror films. So in the spirit of the season, here are some of my favorite horror films:

1. Insidious, 2010.

I love haunted house stories, and I’ve watched this one with more, not less, horror each time I’ve seen it. The film maintains an excellent balance of newer film techniques with tried-and-true horror film staples. Plus, this creature that a friend and I isolated in the trailer still freaks me out, almost 7 years later.

 

2. 28 Days Later, 2002.

Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic world of contagion is fantastic. It does what the best horror movies do in that it provides us with a scapegoat to be afraid of (the virus, and those fast zombies) and then reminds us that what we should really be afraid of is humanity.

3. The Exorcist, 1973.

I was in college when I watched this for the first time, and I was absolutely frightened by it. The feeling lingered for a while, a few hours after the film was over. The re-watches don’t scare me as much, but it’s still a chilling film—superbly scripted and acted, with that spider-walk on the stairs still being one of the creepiest things I’ve seen on film.

4. Let the Right One In, 2008.

I’ve seen both this original, Swedish version and the American remake, Let Me In. And it was honestly a little difficult to decide which version to choose for the list. Each version is an adaptation of a vampire novel, and each has its own merits. The Swedish version ultimately topped out for me because of its careful timing and fantastic use of long, slow shorts and sparse dialogue to create tension.

5. The Cabin in the Woods, 2012.

This film surprised me, it really did. But then again, with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard at its helm and Kristen Connolly as its heroine, I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprised at the heady mix of cheekiness and gore. Not content just to subvert our expectations of the genre—it twists and rearranges them.

6. The Shining, 1980.

Jack Torrence is one of the scariest characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch on-screen, but at least 7/10’s of that is due to the performances put in by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Long. I’ve been watching this film since I was probably-too-young-to-watch-it, and I’m pretty sure that those twins in the hallway are the origin of my fear of kids-in-horror-movies.

7. Zombieland, 2009.

A zombie film with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Jesse Eisenberg? And they run into Bill Murray, you say? Sign me up. The film manages to be, at its heart, a zombie film, and while the characters are fun in a way that they rarely are during the zombie apocalypse, there are moments of tension, fear, and pop culture critique.

8. The Conjuring, 2013.

Another fairly recent film, The Conjuring tells the story of the Warrens, American paranormal investigators, as they conduct an investigation and exorcism at the Perron family home. Using old-school scare tactics and striking cinematography, the new film manages a refreshing, cerebral take on the horror tropes of the investigator and the haunted house.

9. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962.

Fantastically creepy, the aging sisters of Baby Jane are a stark reminder of the jealousy and animosity that can sit beside us, of the things we hide from ourselves and those closest to us. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are fantastic mirrors for one another.

10. Halloween, 1978.

Difficult to make a horror film list, especially in October, without mentioning this one. Mike Meyers has haunted our dreams for 36 years now, and he shows no signs of stopping. From the moment he stabs his sister to the film’s final act, Meyers is terrifying and mesmerizing.

11. Frailty, 2001.

Matthew McConaughey walks into a police station and claims to know who the God’s Hand Killer is, a terrifying serial killer who is revealed, through flashbacks, to be McConaughey’s father (Bill Paxton, in his directorial debut), an ultra-religious man who wakes up his two sons one night to instruct them on how to dispatch demons. The film is twisty-turny, and it’s a woefully underrated piece of suspense horror.

12. Psycho, 1960.

The king of horror films, Psycho still manages to be scary, over 50 years after its release. Norman Bates is a character of horrifying beauty.

13. Alyce Kills, 2011.

Alyce Kills has a bit of a sagging middle, but the opening act and the final act are fantastic. It’s plenty gory, though most of the gore is contained in the last 20 minutes of the film, and it’s also darkly funny and painful to watch Alyce, whose friends have missed all signs that she’s a budding psychopath, come completely unglued because of her guilt over a friend’s probably-mostly-accidental death.

Alyce

The Princess Bride: Book Vs. Film

When I was fairly young, my dad decided to rent The Princess Bride (1987). Back then, we had one of those huge, wood-encased TVs, and we lived too far out of the small town that I grew up the-princess-bride-posterin to get cable TV at our house. Instead, we had this huge satellite in our yard and a box on the TV that would turn the satellite, allowing us to get an additional two channels–bringing us to a grand total of four channels. But we had a VHS player, and there was a local video store. Fridays were “stay up late nights,” and my dad and I would rent a movie or two.

My dad’s predilection for romantic comedies with happy endings makes me think he chose the movie, but it could’ve been one of my siblings. The thing is–I don’t remember seeing it for the first time. I just remember loving it. I doubt I chose The Princess Bride the first time I watched it, but I remember choosing it many times after that.

It wasn’t until 2003, though, that I realized The Princess Bride was based on a book published The Princess Bride 30th Anniversary Edition_2in 1973. I was wandering through a bookstore, a sophomore college student hunting for summer reading, when I saw a display of the 30th anniversary edition. I think I probably let out an audible laugh as I picked it up. And I let out a lot more laughs as I read the novel. I’m hard-pressed to tell you whether I prefer the novel or the film. Though there are some key differences, they retain the same basic plot.

The Story:

Buttercup and Westley fall in love. They are parted as Wesley goes to earn his fortune; Buttercup is betrothed to Prince Humperdink after Westley fails to return for several years. Huperdink arranges for Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo to capture and kill her to start a war; Westley, disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts, steals Buttercup back from the group. But Buttercup and Westley are lost in the Fire Swamp, after which they are captured by the Prince. Wesley is killed but then rescued and revived by Fezzik and Inigo; the group escapes on the night Buttercup is supposed to be married.

Film Versus Book:

PrincessBrideBookMap

Perhaps the biggest change from book-to-film is the frame story. Both frame stories involve the book being read aloud, but the frame story in the novel is more elaborate. In the novel, we are introduced to the story as an abridged version of a longer work by S. Morgenstern. We’re led to believe that Goldman bought the book for his son, not realizing that he enjoyed the story because his father read it aloud, skipping the boring parts. This is supposed to be Goldman’s abridged, only-the-good-parts version. And that makes for really good reading—we get moments that Goldman is able to satirize the publishing industry, question the literary canon, and explore just what the differences are between what kids enjoy and what adults enjoy (if there are any).

That frame is partially eliminated in the film. What we get instead is a grandfather reading a story to a sick little boy. The retention of a frame works to keep us considering the film as a text (and really, that’s one of the most important functions of the original frame story). We’re aware that it’s all made up, and every time the film stops so that the grandfather and young boy can talk, we’re thrown back into that realization.

In addition, the back-stories of the characters are mostly simplified or lost in the film. Naturally, this has to happen. Goldman’s book is a bit lengthy, with a sprawling cast of Princess Bride_3characters and events that occur over time. On film, the simplifications work to provide a cohesive visual story that works within the also simplified frame. Fezzik and Inigo are both given fuller back-stories in the novel, rendering them more fully fleshed out characters. In the film, it is enough to know that they are with Vizzini and to know that Inigo’s father was killed by the six-fingered man. The book, in addition, gives us more reason for the conflict between Florin and Guilder, as Prince Humperdink feels tricked when he discovers that his betrothed, princess of Guilder, is bald.

The love story between Buttercup and Westley is also simplified. In the novel, Buttercup realizes that she loves Westley after becoming jealous of the way the visiting Countess Rugen looks at him, and she tells him, only to have the door slammed in her face. He of course informs her soon after that he does love her but must go and make his fortune first. In the film, this is simplified to Buttercup realizing Westley’s love one day when he says “as you wish” and the two professing their love before he leaves to seek his fortune.

Vizzini’s plot to capture and kill Buttercup and Westley’s pursuit of the group are almost identical in film and book. The film has Fezzik knock Buttercup unconscious; in the novel it is Vizzini. The group notices the ship’s pursuit before Buttercup throws herself overboard in the film; in the book the group notices the ship after Buttercup is returned to the boat. The film has shrieking eels; the novel has sharks. During the sword fight, Inigo is able to wound princess-bride-westley-and-buttercup-8476325-1280-720Westley in the book, but in the film he is not able to. Vizzini’s death is much the same in both versions. And the pacing of the swamp scene is faster in the film version, the couple barreling toward Prince Humperdink.

In another large change, the book’s Zoo of Death is replaced by the Pit of Despair. In the book, one of the first things we learn about Prince Humperdink is that he’s an avid hunter. The Zoo of Death is a 5-story building full of dangerous animals; Humperdink kills one of them a day. In the novel, when Westly is caught by Prince Humperdink, he is sent into the Zoo of Death. He is tortured for a month or more before being finished off by the Machine. In the film, he is instead thrown into the Pit of Despair, attended
by the albino, is only hooked up to The Machine, and his torture only seems to last a day or two. This vastly simplifies Westley’s rescue, as Fezzik and Inigo only have to walk in to retrieve Westley rather than fight through 5 levels of creatures.

The visit with Miracle Max retains its book form, though the film makes a small change by not mentioning the 1 hour limit that the novel places upon the miracle pill. In each version, though, Westely manages to remain alive, fight Humperdink, and leave him tied up, and retrieve Inigo (who has gotten revenge on the six fingered Count who killed his father), Fezzik, and Buttercup, and the group escapes on horseback.

The Verdict:

I find it difficult to choose between the two. The nostalgia that I experience when I watch the film gives it big ups. And the quotable quotes are everywhere. Rob Reiner masterfully directed, and the film had the bonus of having the novel writer as its screen adapter. But the entertainment of Goldman as an editor in the novel’s frame story is difficult to match, and I miss the back stories of Fezzik and Inigo when we lose them in the film. So the film wins, but only by a small margin. If you haven’t I seriously suggest checking out this book—it’s well worth the time, and you’ll probably laugh out loud.

Inigo+Montoya+from+The+Princess+Bride+_5eb38f6e2f66bcfb3c178e52e0882339

*Note: This post initially appeared as a contest entry for The Artistic Christian’s Summer Blogging Challenge (And it won! :D). It gets a re-post today as part of the Princess Bride Linkup Party at WriteOnSisters.

Monday Re-Run: Zombie Girl

via Wish.co.uk

Confession time: I am a zombie fanatic. I watch zombie films, I read zombie books, I keep up with The Walking Dead, and I sometimes play zombie games. Well, I play Plants Vs. Zombies anyway. I have a difficult time playing the more realistic, adult-oriented games because, as anyone who has ever tried to play a post-Super Nintendo game with me can tell you, I’m terrible at first person shooter games (I run into walls constantly and only do good things on accident.)

Several years ago, I came across this article by Chuck Klosterman. In it, Klosterman explains that one of the reasons for the recent zombie craze is that killing zombies feels much like our modern way of life-endlessly deleting e-mails, texts, and shuffling through doing-what-has-to-be-done. But this article by Steven Schlozman takes a different approach, seeing zombies as a cautionary tale about striking the balance between individuality and being a pack animal. There are, of course, a host of other things that help to account for our fascination with zombies (some of which are discussed in the aforementioned articles): fear of disease, fear of death, etc.

Culturally, we seem at once aware of the zombie as a fictional character and concerned about the plausibility of a zombie outbreak. And the result of our fascination is that zombies have become a multi-million dollar industry:

 As for me, there are three simple but terribly true reasons that I find zombie stories compelling. The first is the world that gets created when everything fails-the government, and by extension education, social welfare, prison systems, road maintenance, etc.; and modern inventions, including electricity, the Internet, GPS, running water, and telecommunications. Watching others cope with such struggles reminds me of the privilege I have now and how different life could be, not just in the event of a zombie apocalypse, but in the face of being born elsewhere in the world.

The second is the failure of modern notions of childhood, morality, and socioeconomic status to hold up under the pressures of a post apocalyptic world. In Zombieland, one of most disturbing erosions of culture is the loss of names; in The Walking Dead, it’s the loss of childhood embodied by Carl, Judith, and Carol’s decision to teach the children about knife safety and zombie killing during story-time; in 28 Days Later, it’s ownership of the female body. The list goes on, but I won’t, except to say that, again, these conversations mirror conversations that we have daily, that we rehearse in our arguments about these concepts.

And the third thing is the complexities that arise when we see something human that isn’t human. Or that we don’t think is human. In Shaun of the Dead, the undead are able to be trained to perform simple tasks. In Warm Bodies, they retain something of their prior selves and can think and feel. (TV Tropes has a handy list of all sorts of zombie stuff. You’ll get stuck.) And there is a repeated scene in which someone must kill a loved-one-turned-zombie, one that turns up in virtually every piece of zombie fiction ever.

And so I’m a zombie girl because I love thinking about these things, and because I love to be scared.

Monday Re-Rerun: 13 Bookish Confessions

1. I have to read things in a sequence. If there’s a Book 1, then I must read it before I read Book 2. This even goes for books that could theoretically stand-alone.

2. I think you can learn a lot about a person by what they’re reading. But I think you can learn even more about a person (and what they think of others) from the books they give as presents.

bookecard

3. I also have a very difficult time not finishing a book. If I start it, I have to know what happens.

4. My favorite book when I was a wee tot was a Golden Book, Where’s Goldie.

wheresgoldie

5. I have a really difficult time reading more than one book at a time. I have always had that problem, even when I was in school. It meant studying had to be carefully scheduled. Now it’s not so bad—I just devour one and move on to another.

6. I absolutely judge books by their covers.

7. I read every single part of a book—the dedication, epigram, introduction, copy, epilogue, acknowledgments, author bio, appendices–if it’s in there, I’m reading it. Unless it’s a reading club guide. Then probably not.

8. Books rarely make me cry or laugh aloud. That’s not to say that I don’t get emotional when I’m reading, because I do. I just don’t tend to manifest those emotions.

9. I’ve had a crush on more than one book character in my lifetime. But none of them have been Mr. Darcy or Edward Cullen.

10. If I were a dragon, I would hoard books.

lizardshuffletumblrhoardofbooks

11. I’ve had to learn to like nonfiction, but I now have a serious appreciation for it. I don’t read biographies often, but I do enjoy books on culture and memoirs.

12. I think children’s literature is some of the most powerful and important literature being published.

13. I enjoyed the time I spent picking apart, analyzing, and writing about books as a grad student. I think it made both my reading and writing skills far sharper than they otherwise might’ve been. That said, I don’t miss required reading.

Review: The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.

Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree might just be the best new book I’ve read this year…And I’ve read a lot of books, many of them Very Good Books. But Hardinge’s novel had me from the moment I read about its premise, and a few days after finishing, it still hasn’t let me go.

At the start of Hardinge’s novel, we find ourselves following fourteen-year-old Faith Sunderly and her family as they leave their home and travel to the small island of Vane, where her father and her Uncle Miles are set to join an excavation dig. The year is 1864. We–and Faith–quickly begin to discover that All is Not Well–there may be one or many ulterior motives to the family’s sudden departure from home and arrival on vane, including rumors that some of her father’s greatest finds may have been forgeries. Faith has an insatiable hunger for knowledge–knowledge that is forbidden to her because of her youth and her sex. It is this desire that leads her to her father’s journals and then to the Mendacity Tree, a strange plant that grows when it is fed lies, bearing fruits that uncover truths.

If it sounds wondrous and bizarre, that’s because it is. The premise alone excited me…And then I started reading. Faith Sunderly is maybe one of my favorite girl characters in young adult fiction, and she’s got some rather stiff competition. Faith is everything a girl is not supposed to be in 1864…Clever, curious, passionate, headstrong, and impatient. Time and again, what she wants comes into conflict with what is expected of her, and watching her learn to navigate those waters is fascinating.

Hardinge is really adept at depicting Faith’s interiority despite the 3rd person narration, and the 3rd person narration allows the narrator to make a lot of observations about femininity. Faith’s mother is a flirt and a beauty, using her looks and class to get what she wants. She stands in stark contrast not just to Faith’s father, whose reason and intellect are what drive him, but also to many of the other women in the novel. Watching Faith learn to navigate those separations is the real joy of the novel.

The book does take a while to get going properly, but in its defense, the set-up is rather complex. There are quite a few characters, many of them eventually becoming Pertinent to the Plot, and because the beginning of the novel is fleshed out in this way, the characters are mostly round rather than flat, and the increasingly complex truths that are revealed bear more significance than they might otherwise.

I’m honestly afraid to say too much more for fear of giving away things that are best discovered in the novel itself, but expect me to pop up with more to say about Faith eventually. I’ll just leave you with one of my favorite moments from the book, a realization that Faith has about her mother and about womanhood:

She is just a perfectly sensible snake, protecting her eggs and making her way in the world as best she can.