The Raven Cycle (Books 1-3)

I honestly wasn't even sure what Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle was about, but after multiple people recommended it to me, I finally picked up The Raven Boys in January. And now this series is CONSUMING ME FROM THE INSIDE (in the best way). 

I'm terrible at describing what this book is about because there are so many details and side plots and characters, and I want to give them all (well, most of them) attention, but I can't. So let's talk instead about the things I REALLY love. 

The Characters

The "raven boys" are a group of boys who attend Aglionby Academy, in Henrietta, Virginia. They each have distinct personalities and multilayered story lines. While some of the books focus on one character more than the others, each one is given a chance to develop. The magical thing about Maggie Stiefvater's characters is that they jump off the page. 

Ronan has the biggest personality. He is often angry and can be (borderline) cruel, but he's more complicated than an average thug. My friend Emillie compared him to Jess Mariano, and I think that's perfect: he comes across as badass, but if you're lucky enough for him to like you, he'll do anything for you. Ronan is the main focus in The Dream Thieves, and his story is fascinating. 

I am being perfectly fucking civil.
— Ronan Lynch, The Dream Thieves

You could say that Adam is my least favourite, but that doesn't mean I don't like him. Unlike his friends, Adam doesn't come from money; he has to work three jobs to pay for his schooling, and, while it doesn't bother them, he feels like he's a step away from them. This feeling intensifies after the first book, but I can't really get into why without spoiling so many things.  

My favourite raven boy is Gansey. He's from old money, and can be pretentious (though more often than not, one of the others will call him out for it), but he's the unofficial leader of the gang. He's the most invested when it comes to their quest to find the grave of the mythical Welsh king Glendower (it's not as ridiculous as I'm making it sound), something he's been looking for his entire life. He's also the one whose death Blue had a vision of at the beginning of the first book. 

Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.
— Blue Lily, Lily Blue

And then there's Blue (well, also Noah, but I REALLY can't talk about Noah without spoiling things). Of all the characters, Blue is the hardest to get a read on. She's an amplifier in a family of psychics, always dreaming of "something more". She's known for years that her true love will die if she kisses him - something she was never really worried about until she meets her raven boys. 

The Ships

Halfway through The Raven Boys, I realized I was shipping everyone with everyone else. Eventually, I narrowed it down to Gansey with everyone. And then midway through The Dream Thieves, I was so on board the Gansey/Blue train, I wanted to cry. They're the best type of YA couple: adorable with a heavy dose of tragedy. 

In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them.
Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness.
Her raven boys.
— The Dream Thieves

AND THEN, Ronan/[spoiler] became a ship I didn't know I wanted until Blue Lily, Lily Blue. Again, can't really go into major details without spoiling the whole experience for you, but MY HEART CAN BARELY HANDLE THESE RELATIONSHIPS. I don't know what's going to happen in The Raven King, but I might end up crying every tear imaginable. 

The Writing

I understand that not everyone will like her writing style, but right now, I'm in awe of Maggie Stiefvater. Her prose is lovely and effortless, her dialogue is witty, and her metaphors are outstanding. And all I've done for the past week is stand at work thinking "HOW ARE THEY GOING TO GET THEMSELVES OUT OF THIS PICKLE?" because her plotting is A+. 

My words are unerring tools of destruction, and I’ve come unequipped with the ability to disarm them.
— Gansey, The Raven Boys

Long story short: I 100% recommend The Raven Cycle. As long as you're okay with suffering from a book hangover once you're done. 

A Social (Media) Experiment

Question

What happens if I delete social media from my phone and set myself a time limit (20 minutes a day) to catch up on my Twitter/Instagram/Facebook feeds?

Research

On my lunch breaks at work, I tend to waste most of my hour on social media. Since I’m not exactly popular, it's not like I have seven billion notifications, but I can’t seem to take my eyes off of any of my social media feeds. Which means I don’t get anything else done because I’m “busy” scrolling through Twitter. 

Similarly, when I’m on my computer, the second I lose steam or hit a mental block, I automatically open Twitter in a new tab and waste more time than I care to admit. And then I feel anxious over the amount of stuff I’m not getting done. And to combat the anxiety, I open Twitter again, which, surprisingly, doesn't help.

Hypothesis

If I forcibly reduce my time on social media, will I get more work done and therefore feel less stressed out?

Experiment

  • I deleted the Facebook app from my phone (which was actually not that hard because I hate Facebook). 
  • I then logged out of my two Twitter accounts (three, if you include the Mind the Gap account), and my Instagram account. I have, however, kept the two apps on my phone, as they are both logged into the Geek Girl Riot accounts (though so far, I’ve only posted a couple of times on each).
  • I’ve also made use of the Chrome extension “StayFocusd”, (which I’ve actually been using for several years as a way to limit my time on sites that manage to reel me in with clickbait-y headlines and then make me feel stupid when I spiral down a rabbit hole that leads me to taking a quiz called “Which Emo Anthem Are You” after forty-five minutes...I’m looking at you, Buzzfeed). I’ve set a daily limit of twenty minutes for all three major social media sites (twenty minutes total), after which the sites are blocked and won’t be available to me again until the next day.

Procedure

  • During my break, instead of scrolling through my phone, I’ve been reading (ARCs that I requested from NetGalley and then forgot about) or writing (either posts for Mind the Gap or a variety of reviews for idobi). 
  • On my laptop, I tend to use my twenty allotted minutes up in one shot because apparently I have no self-control and don’t understand the concept of spacing it out over the course of a day. But then that means I don't have any distractions later!

Analysis

Since putting this experiment in place on February 5th, I have:

  • read two ebooks
  • written a review for one of those books
  • started an album review (while listening to the album)
  • edited both the book review and the album review
  • edited a post about 8123 Fest
  • wrote a very rough first draft of this post
  • plotted out a post on iZombie
  • and saved numerous Doctor Who gifs, but that's not really productive so much as entertaining

ALL ON MY PHONE WHILE SITTING IN THE LUNCH ROOM!

Conclusion

While I do feel like I “miss out” on every day events (I’ve come to rely on my sister for music news), I get A LOT of stuff done. It’s often hard to make myself focus, especially when surrounded by other people who are using their phones for “fun”, but it means that I have less to do during my “free” time and therefore I can actually read before bed instead of hunching over my laptop!

Oh, and I’ve saved SO MUCH data on my phone, it’s not even funny.

La La Land

I know La La Land came out two months ago, but, seeing as the Oscars are this weekend, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about it. 

The other day, I realized that I rarely see movies (in theatres, I mean) that aren't somehow adapted from books or comics. But - since I have a girl crush on Emma Stone and, like every other person, love Ryan Gosling - I've wanted to see this whimsical musical as soon as I saw the first trailer. 

I liked everything about it: the sets, and the timeless vibe, and how it was split into seasons, and, of course, the music. I liked how Mia (Emma Stone) had to work so hard to achieve her dreams (#sorelatable) and how it all paid off in the end (still waiting for that to happen to me). I liked how she doubted herself when she couldn't catch a break because it hit me in the heart (I feel you, Mia).

Here’s to the ones who dream / Foolish as they may seem. / Here’s to the hearts that ache. / Here’s to the mess we make.

I liked that Seb (Ryan Gosling) was so passionate about music (even if I don't love jazz) and I like how he made an effort to spread that passion. 

I also, admittedly, liked how he looked in a suit (who didn't?).

I liked how Seb supported Mia, especially when he tracked her down to give her the good news about her callback. I liked their whirlwind relationship in general. 

I did not, however, like that they - SPOILER ALERT - did not stay together. 

Sure, it was more emotional and probably more realistic, but that doesn't mean I was happy when she went home to another man, five years later (even if it was Tom Everett Scott).

And when they did the flashback scene to what could have been if Seb had't been so dismissive the first time they met, I'm not ashamed to say I teared up a little (my sister actually cried, which made then made me cry). 

Yes, it was super white, but it was a visually and sonically pleasing escapist experience and for that, I'm glad it's getting so much recognition. 

Sam Finally Watched Stranger Things and is Now Obsessed

Because I’m 2390702 years behind on TV shows, I only just watched Stranger Things in January for the first time (in my defense, I’ve only had Netflix for two months). I was really worried because there was so much hype built around it, and I was afraid I’d hate it. But guess what? I loved it. 

Jane talked about the music of the show back in August and I agree that the soundtrack was pretty great. The other thing that was great, though? THE ACTING. 

First of all, I’m pretty sure this was the performance of Winona Ryder’s life (except maybe that time she played Goth teen Lydia in Beetlejuice) because her portrayal of a grieving mother punched people in the feels. 

But most importantly: why are all the kids so dang talented??? The boys were totally believable as a gang of friends who’ve been together for years, and Eleven...oh Eleven. My heart weeps for Eleven, she’s the most precious thing, and I’m not saying I cried when she - SPOILER - disappeared at the end, but I was definitely devastated (I’m 100% certain she’ll be back, they’d be really stupid to get rid of their best character). 

Speaking of Eleven, I ship her and Mike more than is probably healthy, considering how young they are. They don’t have to be a couple, but I want them to be best friends for the rest of their lives. Every time she repeated a word that he taught her, I wanted to cry. 

My only issue with the show is the Nancy/Steve/Jonathan storyline. They ended up having a stronger role by the last couple of episodes, but up until then, I felt like they were just pulling our attention away from the boys and Eleven. Most of the time, I just felt frustrated that we were spending so much time with Steve (even though he gets redeemed at the end, he’s still a douche) when I’d rather watch the boys fight over Dungeons & Dragons

While the show wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it would be, it was pretty creepy, and surprisingly emotional, and I, like everyone else in the world, am now eagerly waiting for the second season. 

You shouldn’t like things just because people tell you you’re supposed to.
— Jonathan Byers

Ten Reasons I Love Ten

Happy Valentine's Day! While 90% of the people I know are celebrating this romantic day with a significant other, I'm spending a couple of hours swooning over the Tenth Doctor (because I recently started watching Doctor Who and am OBSESSED). Here, in no particular order, are ten reasons why:

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1) His pop culture references are A+

The first time he has to save the world (post-regeneration), he quotes The Lion King. And then he only went and made not one, but TWO Harry Potter references in one episode and my fangirl heart exploded.

2) His glasses

As someone who's worn glasses for over twenty years, I love when actors (and musicians) slap on a pair (just cuz I have poor eyesight, doesn't mean I can't be as cool as everyone with 20/20 vision). I always know that the Doctor is close to solving his problem-of-the-week as soon as he whips out those tortoiseshell frames. 

3) His fashion sense in general

I live for Converse, pinstripes are one of my favourite patterns, and I love a good trench coat. All that to say I very much enjoy the way Ten dresses. 

4) "Allons-y"

I know it's only one word, but dudes speaking French = heart eyes emoji. Enough said.

5) So passionate

Nine was enthusiastic, but Ten dials it up to passionate. I mean, sometimes he seems unnecessarily angry/aggressive, but I chalk it up to him being an impassioned individual prone to emotional outbursts.

6) Six impossible things before breakfast

Speaking of passion: more often than not, the Doctor will exclaim that something is impossible, but it doesn't stop him from digging into it for more details so he can understand it better. If he had to write a resume, he could list "problem-solving", "thinking outside the (TARDIS) box", and "eager to learn" under his special skills.

7) That raised eyebrow (and also all facial expressions)

I'm not saying I swooned when he winked at Martha in season three's "Smith and Jones", but I definitely did. He's also the best at making surprised faces. Or shocked faces. Or just any expression in general, really.

8) #MyEmotions

Similarly, when Ten feels an emotion, he expresses it so well that I too feel that same emotion. When he's sad, I'm sad - I was, for example, unreasonably devastated when he was too late to see Mme de Pompadour one last time. And while I haven't come across the "crying in the rain" scene yet, I've seen the gif and it's enough to bring a tear to my eye. 

9) I ship Ten/everyone he ever meets

Ten is absurdly charismatic - literally everyone loves him (and I don't blame them). My sister isn't into the Doctor/companion relationships, but I kinda am: when he and Rose are separated at the end of season two, I was pretty emotional (and I know at least two other people who were traumatized by this scene). See also my feelings re: Mme de Pompadour. 

10) David Tennant is a ten (out of ten)

I considered starting my list with this fact, but then I wouldn't have needed to come up with nine other reasons (and then I wouldn't have had to look up corresponding gifs!). I became mildly enamoured of David Tennant after watching Broadchurch, but at this point, it's a full-blown obsession. All I'm saying is that it's gonna be weird when I start rooting for Barty Crouch Jr. the next time I watch Goblet of Fire with my niece.

The only thing that could have made Ten even more magnificent would have been if David Tennant got to keep his Scottish accent...but at least we have season two's "Tooth and Claw"

Sam's Picture Book Club: House Held Up By Trees

As I was sitting around thinking “I hope someone buys me Jon Klassen’s Hat trilogy for my birthday” (hint hint), I remembered that I actually own a book illustrated by Jon Klassen. 

Written by Ted Kooser, House Held Up By Trees tells the story of an abandoned house, that is, well, eventually overrun with trees. 

At first, the house is inhabited by a father and his two children. The father takes care of the lawn, and the children play in the nearby forest. Eventually, the children grow up and move away, and the father, no longer able to care for his garden, gives up the house and moves away. Because there is no longer anyone there to mow down the sprouts that tried to take root, the trees are able to grow freely, cracking the foundation of the house. 

Ted Kooser’s words are closer to a poem than prose, and there’s a certain emotion to it. You almost feel sad for the house, now abandoned, and the father who may not see his children as often as he’d like (there’s an unwritten sadness in the fact that the children live with their father and there’s no mention of their mother). But there’s also hope in the end, as the trees grow around the house, holding it up so it’s no longer alone. 

...a house held together by the strength of trees, and the wind blowing, perfumed by little green flowers.

Klassen’s illustrations have a subtle palette – greens and browns and reds – but they suit the lyrical words. His people are vague – we never see their faces – but the trees growing near the house exude strength with their solid trunks and distinctive leaves. 

Although there are a lot of words on each page, it’s not a long story. It’s wistful and sweet, and any book that manages to get me to empathize with an inanimate object (like a house) should be considered a success.

Not far from here, I have seen a house held up by the hands of trees. This is its story.

Woman Crush Wednesday: Violet Baudelaire

This month’s WCW post is dedicated to a fictional girl who was, nonetheless, a heroine in my childhood: Violet Baudelaire. 

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Violet, as the eldest Baudelaire, feels responsible for her younger siblings. No matter where they’re sent or what kind of guardian awaits them, she does her best to protect them because she can’t stand seeing them in unhappy. Her loyalty to her family is one of her most defining characteristics

Violet is known to be a keen inventor. Over the course of the Baudelaire’s adventures, she invents many things that help them out of scrapes: a grappling hook when she was trying to rescue Sunny or noisy shoes to keep away the crabs in the Orphan Shack or a fake intercom system. She’s resourceful, using the bits and pieces around her for her inventions, like making a rope out of extension cords, curtains, and neckties. 

She’s not a traditional “girly-girl” (she hates, for example, the colour pink), but she wears dresses and is never without a ribbon to pull back her hair when she’s thinking hard. So she does care about her appearance to a certain extent...she just cares about using her intelligence more.

To those who hadn’t been around Violet long, nothing would have seemed unusual, but those who knew her well knew that when she tied her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes, it meant that the gears and levers of her inventing brain were whirring at top speed.

Violet is also strong in the face of adversity, a word which here means “Count Olaf”. She all but marries the man, in an attempt to save Sunny’s life, but she’s also physically capable of a great many things: there are multiple times where she climbs up or down challenging spaces (a mountain and an elevator shaft, respectively). She’s also brave and, though not as book-smart as her brother, she’s clever. If you need a STEM role model in children’s lit, Violet is your girl.

8123 Means Everything to Me

8123 is a management team/independent label that supports bands like The Maine, Beach Weather, The Technicolors and more. But, as I've recently learned, it's more than that. 

8123 is convincing your sister to take a trip miles away to Arizona in the middle of January to see one of your favourite bands celebrate their ten year anniversary (even though your managers give you grief about missing inventory. #sorrynotsorry). 

8123 is losing your mind when that same band premieres a new song on the radio the day you land in their hometown (technically next door to their hometown) and then listening to it non-stop for two weeks.

8123 is having heart palpitations when your number one girl crush walks past you while you're waiting for food.

8123 is silently weeping when a beloved band reunites for the first time in four years to play a forty minute set packed with their best songs. 

8123 is standing in a parking lot in Phoenix (where, by the way, it was not nearly as hot as I hoped it would be) with almost 3000 other people, all of you screaming the same lyrics. 

8123 is losing your voice two songs into the headlining set and walking around with a scratchy throat for the next two days.

8123 is humming the closing song to yourself for a week after the show is over.

8123 is lining up for three hours to meet a band you've already met three times before. 

8123 is hugging every member of that band while both of you genuinely thank the other for existing. 

8123 is planning your next tattoo as a memento to this experience, and this band, and this company.

In short, 8123 is everything to me.  

It’s about a number you can’t really explain but you don’t really have to, because the people you love already feel it too.
— John O'Callaghan

Very British Problems

I’ve been following the Very British Problems Twitter account for a few years now (and own the books), and once I heard that it was being made into a show, I lamented (not for the first time) that I didn’t live in the UK to watch it. Then a couple of months ago, I found it on Netflix, and here we are!

The show – like the Twitter account – talks about some of the flights and foibles of the British peoples. Narrated by Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley!!), and featuring a host of British (including Irish) personalities, there are seven episodes split across two seasons (one of the episodes is technically a “Christmas special” – how very British), each one built around a certain situation during which the British have their own particular ways of reacting. 

For example: there’s social interaction and making “friends” (S2  Ep2), feelings (S1 Ep3), going on holiday (S2 Ep3), and more. With so many people sharing their experiences, I’m sure you’ll find someone you recognize, including James Cordon and – my personal favourite – David Tennant. 

I’m not sure what the best part of the show is (apart from David Tennant, obvs): the fact that it’s 45 minutes of delightful accents (barring the one American guy who offers hilarious insights into what it’s like living in the UK as a “foreigner”), or the fact that it’s SO RELATABLE. I’m fairly certain I’m British on the inside, because they talk about a lot of things that ring true in my own life. Mostly having to do with the anxiety of interacting with other humans when I’d rather not leave the house ever. Or having issues with other people handling my tea (I’ll just do it myself, thanks for offering). Or panicking about possibly missing a flight even though it’s not for another week (that’s actually my sister more than me).

I suppose a lot of these problems are universal, but clearly the British are more introspective and self-effacing than the rest of the world, since they all seem to feel these emotions on a higher level. But darn if I don’t love and appreciate every awkward thing they mention because I feel the same way. 

GIVEAWAY

Since I accidentally bought two copies of the second book, Very British Problems Abroad (renamed to More Very British Problems in paperback, which is why I got confused), I'm hosting Mind the Gap Zine's first giveaway! Enter below, and you could win a hardcover copy of Very British Problems (US/CAN only, ends Feb 28, 2017). 

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Apart from Harry PotterA Series of Unfortunate Events was one of my constant childhood companions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve reread them, the hours I spent trying to work out what VFD stood for, and the frustration I felt when the series ended with so many unanswered questions. I actually enjoyed the 2004 movie, even though it wasn’t an entirely faithful adaptation (I tend to think of them as two separate entities), so I was intrigued when Netflix announced the TV show. 

I binged the show in a day, and I must admit I’m disappointed. A lot of the reviews I’ve read seem to be favourable, but I felt like it left a lot to be desired. 

Let’s start off with the characters. I wasn’t completely sold on Neil Patrick Harris when he was originally cast as the dastardly Count Olaf, and I’m still not 100% behind his portrayal. I think it’s because I can’t separate NPH from Barney Stinson after watching him in the same role for a decade, but also Jim Carrey cracked me up in the movie. The children, meanwhile, were okay, but I didn’t love them. I felt like they were very wooden; in the books, they felt so much more real than they did here. Violet also came across as younger than 14 whereas the book-Violet is much more mature. Having recently watched Stranger Things, I know that there are superbly talented child actors out there, but these guys...I don’t believe they are who they claim they are. 

I also wasn’t into Patrick Warbuton’s on-screen presence as Lemony Snicket. I don’t mind the narration, but most of the time, it sounded like he was phoning it in. Jude Law did a better job narrating the movie from the shadows (I liked that we never knew what Lemony Snicket looked like), but perhaps it was the English accent that I appreciated?

One good thing they did with the casting was the amount of diversity. From Count Olaf’s henchmen to the children’s other guardians, they made the effort to cast non-white actors, and I appreciate the effort - it doesn’t change the story to make Aunt Josephine black (plus Alfre Woodard was a delight).

Aesthetically, the show is gorgeous. The bright colours of Justice Strauss’ home compared to the Gothic feels of Olaf’s house; the reptilian hedges and steampunk-y door at Uncle Monty’s; Damocles Dock and Aunt Josephine’s wide window; and burned down Paltryville outside of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. I loved that the books never specified a time/place for these unfortunate events and the sets did a good job at continuing that timeless feeling (are they in the past or in the future?). 

My favourite part was all the allusions to the rest of the books: confirming what VFD stood for (and all the different meanings); talking about Lemony Snicket; the SUGAR BOWL; even a vague reference to the All the Wrong Questions series (“when did you see her last?”); and, of course, the dedications to Beatrice at the start of each “book” (two-episode arc). I like that all those elements were included, but it doesn’t make up for all the random characters that were introduced.

I thought the way the Quagmires were introduced was interesting, but there was a part of their story line that was frustrating because it was so confusing and misleading. The Quagmires are one of my favourite parts of the later books, so I hope they're given a decent amount of screen time. 

Overall, I was left feeling unsatisfied, a word which here means “disappointed by how different the show was, compared to my beloved books”, but I’m interested to see how they do a second (and third?) season, since they have another nine books full of characters and content to cover. 

A Study in Charlotte

Despite a deep love for BBC’s Sherlock and Ellie Marney’s astonishingly good Every series, I can’t pretend that I’m a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes. I’ve only read “A Scandal in Bohemia” and that was several years ago, so I’ve just barely dipped my toes in the pool when it comes to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Nevertheless, I was excited to try Brittany Cavallaro’s Sherlock-flavoured YA novel, A Study in Charlotte

Rather than a straightforward retelling, the story revolves around descendants of the original Holmes and Watson: Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson. According to multiple sources, their personalities are quite similar to their illustrious ancestors: Charlotte is often cold, full of clever deductions and a general disdain for people who aren’t as bright as her; Jamie is warmer, but has a red-hot temper that can get him in trouble. They meet at a boarding school (Sherringford!), and within the first twenty pages, they’re being framed for the murder of a fellow student. 

It’s a mostly enjoyable mystery: the plot is good, the clues are laid out nicely, and there’s a ton of references to Conan Doyle’s series (those are actually part of the murder investigation). It made me want to read the original stories so that I could appreciate the allusions more, but they were all explained enough that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. 

Truth be told, I liked that blurriness. That line where reality and fiction jutted up against each other.

I did, however, feel like I was missing something when it came the characters. When they first meet, Charlotte seems reluctant to be the Holmes to Jamie’s Watson. But as soon as someone is murdered, they’re best friends, and it felt too abrupt – there was no visible (to me, at least) shift in their relationship, no gradual development, nor a scene that explained why Charlotte was suddenly so content to have a new “sidekick”. Jamie had a bit of an obsession with Charlotte before they even met, so of course he starts to fall for her (not quite insta-love, but since I seem to have missed the part where they became BFFs, it felt quick), and it will be interesting to see where their relationship goes since Charlotte has several trust issues. 

I was also unsure about Charlotte’s drug habit. While it was true to the original Sherlock’s character, it’s a bit perplexing to have a heroine with an oxycodone addiction and to NOT have any of the other characters try to talk her out of it. I’m not naive enough to think that no teenagers have drug problems, but you’d think Jamie would try to wean her off of it (there’s a note in the last chapter where she claims to be clean, but by that point, she’s already been abusing drugs for at least five years because no one did anything about it). 

We weren’t Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I was ok with that, I thought. We had things they didn’t, too. Like electricity, and refrigerators. And Mario Kart.

The sequel, The Last of August, comes out this year (though since I bought the first one in paperback, I’ll have to wait another year at least for my set to match), and I know that the Moriarty family plays a bigger role, so she’s got my curiosity piqued. I’m just not sure if I ship Holmes/Watson yet (probably because I’m still not over Mycroft/Watts in Every Breath. You want chemistry in a Sherlock-inspired book, go read those and thank me later).

Whatever Happened to the Wii?

I'm not a gamer. When I was younger, I used to play computer games: racing, usually with my brother, or that hilarious Spider-Man one based on the first Tobey Maguire movie, or Harry Potter, up until I got to the spiders in Chamber of Secrets and freaked out. But then, about ten  years ago, we got a Wii. 

Do you remember the hype surrounding the Wii? It was EVERYWHERE, and people raved about it. We used ours mostly for "exercise" - Wii Fit, or Zumba (man, those songs get stuck in my head for DAYS), or Just Dance (don't try to tell me rocking out to a censored version of Katy Perry's "California Gurls" doesn't count as exercise). 

Later, I had a fantastic Adventure Time quest game, but since I barely have time to sleep, much less play games, I've sadly had to abandon it. The last time I played, I was defeated by Death and had to restart the level...which was pretty fitting, actually. 

My sister and I are planning on using it for exercise again. As of this writing, we're debating whether we want to Zumba or Just Dance first, so by the time this is published, it's entirely possible we haven't even touched the console yet. 

But, personal experiences aside, my questions are thus: whatever happened to the Wii? I rarely see commercials for it anymore, and I don't think I know anyone who still has theirs (and if they do, I don't think they use it). What's the current big gaming console that everyone's into right now? Is Wii technology considered "old" (it has been a decade)? 

And can someone please tell me why the batteries run out every time I even consider playing Guitar Hero??

Kings of Leon Live is Better Than Kings of Leon Recorded

No, Kings of Leon isn’t a new band. In fact, they released their SEVENTH album in October. So I’m sure you’ve heard of them, but since they were my first concert of 2017, I figured I’d talk about them. 

My sister is actually the one who is a big KOL fan. I know their singles, and live for the bass in “Beautiful War”, otherwise I’m really more of a casual listener. I didn’t even know they had released Walls until a week later when I was talking about buying concert tickets with one of my friends!

I can’t pretend to be an expert on their music (all I know is Caleb Followill has a distinctive voice), but as a concert enthusiast, I can tell you what kind of performers they are. 

The first time we saw them in 2010 for Come Around Sundown, they lacked stage presence and enthusiasm. It felt like they were phoning it in, and I was a little disappointed - I thought for sure I’d end up their number one fan if their live show was phenomenal. Despite the letdown, we saw them again in 2014 for the release of Mechanical Bull, and they were MUCH better. More lively and they actually looked like they were enjoying themselves.  

This time, they were just as enthusiastic. They're still not a really talkative bunch - no long-winded stories in between songs and no banter between the members - but when they do talk (and it's mostly Caleb Followill), it's to genuinely thank us for being there and filling up so many seats. More importantly, they actually sounded like they were having fun. They're polished musicians, no hitches or mishaps, and they're entertaining to listen to. I'd argue that they're better live simply because it's more dynamic to listen to them while watching them (and also because I forget that I actually enjoy KOL until I'm standing in a venue). 

In short: I'd recommend seeing Kings of Leon the next time they swing through town. If you're already a fan, you'll love hearing your favourite songs live. And if you're not already a fan, you'll walk out of the venue with a deeper appreciation of their music and talents. 

Travel Thursday: Phoenix

By the time this post goes live, I’ll probably be running around my house, throwing last minute items into my carry-on before fleeing to the airport because I have a 10:50am flight to Phoenix, Arizona. I’m going mainly to see The Maine, but there’s a lot to see and do in Phoenix, so here’s a list of some of the things I hope to experience in between screaming about John O’Callaghan and lamenting over how much warmer it is in Arizona compared to home (their “low” is 7 degrees Celsius, which is still like 20 degrees warmer that it is right now).

Arts & Culture

There’s a street (West Camelback Road) that has SO MANY cool stores on it, including All About Books and ComicsStinkweeds (a music store), and Changing Hands Bookstore (attached to First Draft Book Bar), all within ten minutes of each other, so I might just have to move there for the week. There’s also a selection of museums and Old Town Scottsdale - I know it’s a cliche, but I’m really hoping for swinging doors so I can burst into a saloon and pretend I’m in a Western (maybe I’ll just buy cowboy boots from Saba’s instead). 

Food & Drink

I didn’t even think of this until my sister pointed it out, but since Arizona is in the southwest and near the Mexican border, you know what they have a lot of? MEXICAN FOOD. I looooove Mexican food, so I’m particularly looking forward to Barrio Cafe, but we’re also there at the same time as Canada Week, and it will be cool to see how our American neighbours fare at making traditional Canadian foods. There’s also multiple bars I’d like to visit, for their selection of cocktails and fancy drinks, including Shady’s Fine Ales and CocktailsAngel’s Trumpet Ale House, and Bitter & Twister Cocktail Parlour

The Great Outdoors

We are, by no means, outdoorsy people, but Phoenix is bursting with natural wonders. There’s Desert Botanical Garden, and loads of mountains (one of the most famous being the Camelback Mountains). But mostly, I’m not passing up the opportunity to see a saguaro cactus up close and personal (you can beat I’m going to try and touch it). 

8123 Fest

The real reason we’re going to Phoenix is for The Maine’s 10 anniversary (aka 8123 Fest), and I’ll write another post about that in the next few weeks, but just know that I’ll be spending at least a full 24 hours weeping over how much I love those boys. 

Sherlock: The Final Problem

The season four (series??) finale of Sherlock aired this past weekend and naturally I was losing my mind for about a day, so I’m going to talk about it here. Consider this your SPOILER ALERT...if you haven’t watched it yet (and are planning on it), DO NOT scroll past the following image. 

Well. That was quite a ride, wasn’t it? As you may recall, I had a lot of Thoughts about the season four premiere, “The Six Thatchers”, and the second episode, “The Lying Detective”, blew my mind (in the last ten minutes. I spent the first hour going “Is this real life or is this just fantasy?”). Since all I could think about for the past week was “Sherlock has a sister???”, I was eager to learn more about Eurus Holmes and how she fits in with everyone’s favourite curmudgeonly detective. 

So let’s talk about Eurus for a bit. First of all: girl is insane. Like actually, literally insane. So insane that she’s being kept in a facility that looks like Azkaban but is really called Sherrinford (so clever). I liked how she was explained – how Sherlock had blocked her out of his memory for killing “Redbeard” (which is a whole other thing to unpack!), even the way Sherlock forced Mycroft to confess. My issue with Eurus’ story line is that it was confusing, a mystery wrapped in an enigma and all that. It took several hours for me to really work out how Eurus did everything: how she managed to manipulate everyone in Sherrinford so that she was able to go in and out of her cell. How she was both the girl in the plane and the mastermind behind the game. But my real question is: how can I too get Jim Moriarty as a Christmas present??? (I guessed he was who Mycroft referred to the first time he mentioned “Christmas” but that didn’t stop me from yelping anyway). 

I may have spent forty minutes searching every variation of “Moriarty The Final Problem gif” I could think of because that was easily one of my favourite scenes to ever exist, and I’m still not over that blasted subtitle of “five years earlier”. I LOVE that they managed to bring Moriarty back into this episode (brb, weeping over Andrew Scott in a suit), but WAY TO PLAY WITH MY HEART by making me think he was alive, only to have his death confirmed (again). As if I wasn’t already screaming during the first scene with that phone call, they had to go and get my hopes up. Still, I spent several days listening to “I Want to Break Free” for a piece on idobi earlier this month and now I guess I’ll have to listen to it again because WHAT AN ENTRANCE. 

This episode was probably one of the most stressful that the series has ever done. It reminded me of the season one finale, "The Great Game", where Sherlock had to solve multiple cases otherwise innocent people would be killed, especially the last game when he realized a child’s life was at stake. Except the tension from that episode was multiplied by 221320947 because I was on tenterhooks the entire time. I was absolutely terrified for Molly – like a YA heroine, I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding when their phone call ended, but it broke my heart that Molly confessed her love for Sherlock and, while he said it back, he didn’t mean it the way she did. I believe Sherlock loves Molly in his own way, but not the way Molly wants or deserves. If there’s another season, I hope Molly gets a chance to shine – she’s an underrated character, but, as Sherlock once said, she does count. 

What else did I like? I liked that Sherlock and John’s friendship managed to survive such a stressful escape room game; I liked that Mycroft recognized how much John meant to Sherlock and went to great lengths to make sure his brother wouldn’t have to lose a best friend again (Mycroft is such an amazing character, oh my gosh, so many layers!); I liked that their parents showed up; I liked that Sherlock finally referred to Lestrade by his real name (without prompting); I liked that Sherlock has a real relationship with Rosie Watson; and I liked that Mary had one final message for her Baker Street Boys. 

I didn’t like that it felt more like a series finale than a season finale, but I suppose, if Sherlock has to end, at least they made sure they went out with a bang and didn’t leave too many loose ends. 

Sam's Picture Book Club: The Fox and The Star

The first book I read in 2017 happened to be a picture book, so here I am, telling you all about how gorgeous Coralie Bickford-Smith's The Fox and The Star is.

You might not recognize her name, but you've definitely seen Bickford-Smith's work: she designed a whole line of gorgeous Penguin books that I'd buy if I had the money (and, to be honest, the book shelves). 

In her first picture book, CBS explores the relationship between, well, a fox and his star. Fox is used to looking up at the night sky and seeing his friend Star floating around, so when, one day, Star is not there, Fox feels lost and ventures out into the dark on his own.

Look up beyond your ears.

It's a simple story, and doesn't end on the same high that it starts on - in fact, the ending feels a little abrupt - , but spend some time with this book for the design alone. It's cloth-bound, with heavy stock paper and illustrations that burst out of their boundaries. So while Fox's story isn't complicated, it's a lovely thing to pour over - either as an adult or as a child.

I only wish there had been a stronger ending - Fox's journey through the forest is fun to follow as he meets other small creatures (rabbits and beetles), before stumbling upon a whole sky full of Stars to befriend, but there's no emotional punch. I'm looking forward to Coralie Bickford-Smith's next foray into picture books, though, because I'm sure they'll be just as stunning. 

Woman Crush Wednesday: Michelle Obama

I’m not American and I rarely (ever?) talk politics, but since the US is about to inaugurate a new president next week, I want to dedicate this Woman Crush Wednesday post to a fabulous First Lady: Michelle Obama.

It’s hard not to pay attention to such a statuesque woman, especially when her intelligence shines through so brightly. She’s not a trophy wife or someone content to stand in the background while her husband - who is only a world leader - gets all the attention. 

One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.

Michelle tends to be critiqued for what she’s wearing, but she’s more than just a pretty face. Her initiatives include supporting military families, as well as backing the arts, and her biggest campaign, Let’s Move!, promotes a healthier lifestyle for children. She’s also publicly announced that she’s in favour of same-sex marriages; in short, she’s shown her support for every type of person, regardless of age, race, gender, etc. 

And yes, she is something of a fashion icon - who doesn’t want to be able to rock a dress like her and have arms that toned? - but she’s also a role model. Not just for her initiatives, but also for the way she presents herself in public. She’s an example of a business/career woman who still understands the importance of family (side note: she and Barack are SO CUTE together, my gosh, I want them to read Where The Wild Things Are to me too) and, even in such a position of power and prominence, you can just tell she’s not above tough love when it comes to her daughters. 

With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models.

Michelle Obama is an amazing woman: she worked hard in school and had a law career before she even met the future president, and I have no doubt that she’ll continue to be an inspiration even when the Obamas leave the White House. Here’s to you, Michelle - I may not be part of your country, but I still appreciate you. 

Best Albums of 2016

Most of 2016 was pretty awful, but it was a fantastic year for music! I chose 16 releases that I really enjoyed in 2016 (more or less in order and probably missing someone that I won’t remember for another few weeks), and made you a playlist for your listening pleasure (you’re welcome). What music blessed your eardrums this past year?

  1. Blush - Moose Blood
  2. Death of a Bachelor - Panic! at the Disco
  3. Stories for Monday - The Summer Set
  4. I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it - The 1975
  5. Dissonants - Hands Like Houses
  6. Echoes - Young Guns
  7. Wild World - Bastille
  8. Ellipsis - Biffy Clyro
  9. I Will Be Nothing Without Your Love - The Ready Set
  10. GLA - Twin Atlantic
  11. Backbone - Roam
  12. Limitless - Tonight Alive
  13. Throw Your Head to the World (EP) - Boat Race Weekend
  14. The Cabin (EP) - Foxtrax
  15. Merge (EP) - Heirsound
  16. Sincerely, John the Ghost (EP) - John O’Callaghan

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers

I know it's Thursday, so you might not be expecting a post about a TV show, but since I've been losing my mind since the much anticipated fourth season of Sherlock premiered on Sunday, I'm breaking down that first episode, "The Six Thatchers", for you. 

I’ll tell you straight up that there WILL be spoilers in this post, so if you’re not caught up on the show, I’d close this page right about now. 

Since I just re-watched the series a few months ago, I remembered what was happening, though they helpfully had a “Previously on Sherlock” bit at the beginning of the episode. From there, we’re thrown right back into Mr. Holmes’ London, picking up immediately where The Abominable Bride left off. 

I’m positive that there are other well written, more coherent reviews of the episode up and about on the interwebs (here are links to a spoiler-free recap and a spoiler-full recap, if you're interested), so I’ll spare you a rambling synopsis. Instead, let’s pretend that I’m the type to live-tweet an experience (I can’t do it, I get distracted so easily), and relive my reactions basically scene-by-scene. 

There are many capital letters and spoilers here, so again, I beseech you to LOOK AWAY if you haven’t watched this episode yet. 

  • I’m going to squeal every time someone mentions Moriarty until he actually shows up on screen (probs not until the third episode, though). 
  • Mycroft and Sherlock have the most ridiculous relationship and I love it. 
  • What are the odds that all these headlines are based on real Holmes’ stories?
  • Sherlock: “It’s never twins.” BUT WHAT IF IT IS?
  • AWWW, BABY WATSON.
  • AWWW, GODPARENTS. 
  • AWWW, SHERLOCK AND BABY WATSON AND A RATTLE. 
  • “Giles” Lestrade is such a great character. 
  • Sherlock faking ignorance at Margaret Thatcher’s identity is literally me every time I get drawn into a political discussion (except I’m not always pretending). 
  • Maybe it’s because I’m an emotional mess, but the son’s seizure and unexpected death is making me super sad. 
  • Mycroft hates humans and I feel him. Such a classy gent. 
  • Petition to make Toby the dog a major character. (Is Toby an important name in the original stories? Because I think the dog in The Great Mouse Detective is also named Toby, and it can’t just be a coincidence). 
  • Sherlock pool scenes are always so dramatic but also I’m just hoping Jim from IT shows up.
  • Nope, no Jim. Not in this episode, anyway :(
  • WHAT DOES A.G.R.A. MEAN????????
  • I have now learned what A.G.R.A. means.
  • Mary's new alias has the same birthday as me (April 16). 
  • Hahahaha, classic Sherlock, always one step ahead of the game (or is he?).
  • Bye AJ. It was nice knowing how you were connected to Mary. 
  • Kinda hoping the English lady is Irene Adler, but I’m pretty sure it’s not (it's not).
  • JOHN HAMISH WATSON. I don’t care if you’re a silver fox, you DO NOT cheat on your wife, especially after she just birthed your child. 
  • We all should have known it was this woman, but alas, we looked right past her. The lesson is: never trust a secretary. 
  • OH DANG, MARY’S DOWN. 
  • NOOOO, MARY (I guessed her end was near when the trailer came out in August but this is still SHOCKING). 
  • Martin Freeman deserves all the awards for this show, my gosh, his acting is just A+. 
  • DID MYCROFT JUST MENTION SHERRINFORD (who, I learned on Wikipedia many months ago, was supposed to be the third Holmes brother? Presumably older, since I’m fairly certain Mycroft refers to Sherlock as being the baby, though maybe he’s younger? Or in the middle?)???
  • I’m glad Molly gets to take care of Rosie, but where is John???
  • John’s message for Sherlock is breaking everyone’s hearts right now. 
  • Not gonna lie, I, like Sherlock, got very excited when I saw the blank disc with “Miss Me?” on it. Well played, Mary. Well played. 
  • I read like four spoiler-free reviews that told me to stay after the end credits, so unless Masterpiece Theatre cut it off, the post-credit scene was a bit of a let-down. 
  • I mean, yeah, I have SO MANY questions, but I was hoping for more than three seconds. 

Basically, half of the trailer was scenes from the first episode, and judging by the "Next time on Sherlock" preview, the other half of the scenes are from the second episode, so now I'm REALLY intrigued about the third episode and I just want them all RIGHT NOW. What did y'all think of this episode?

The Delivery Man...delivers

Last month, when I finally signed up for Netflix (don’t judge me for being so late to the party), my sister and I were delighted to re-discover the short but sweet (and hilarious) series, The Delivery Man

Starring the comic genius Darren Boyd (have you ever watched the British TV show Spy? SO GOOD) as Matthew, an ex-cop turned midwife, the six-part series is centered around the maternity ward of a hospital. If you’re thinking this is just a knock off of Call the Midwife, you’re mistaken. For one thing, it’s absolutely hilarious. And for another, it takes itself a little less seriously, choosing to show more light-hearted moments instead of focusing on, y’know, the actual births and deliveries of babies. 

The rest of the cast is made up of strong women who give beautiful comedic performances: Lisa (Aisling Bea), who Matthew has a crush on, even though she’s dating a volatile butcher; young and flighty Tash (Jennie Jacques); no-nonsense Pat (Llewella Gideon) who wouldn’t be afraid to cut you if you got in between her and a piece of cake; and the senior midwife/boss, Caitlin (Fay Ripley). There’s also Mr. Edwards (Alex Macqueen), the posh senior consultant obstetrician who delights in mocking the midwives, and Matthew’s cop friend Ian (Paddy McGuinness) who, after being suspended, ends up working as hospital security. 

Each episode focuses on a different experience in the birthing center, from a teen mom too scared to tell her parents who the father is, to a man whose wife and mistress are both in labour at the same time, to a C-list celebrity worried about her not-yet announced pregnancy. Along the way, Matthew, recently qualified, struggles to get his bearings as both a new midwife and as the only male midwife in the hospital. His colleagues help him out – to a certain extent – but they’re not above teasing him, or, in the Caitlin’s case, inappropriately flirting with him. The writing is clever and witty – if you’re into dry British humour like I am – and there’s nothing too unbelievable. Except, perhaps, for how not gross the newborn babies look (I’m just saying, a lot of them are TOO CLEAN to be a just-birthed infant). 

Because the series is so short, it’s hard to talk about without spoiling all the best parts, so you might as well just commit yourself to six hours of it: three hours for the first watch and then another three hours when you re-watch it because you missed half of it from laughing so hard (also because sometimes their accents can be hard to understand).