Sunday, September 9, 2012

Let's Talk About Coffee Shop Etiquette For Like One Second


What I need you, the reader, to do here is as simple as it is uncomplicated: I need you to use your imagination and, ever so briefly, put yourself in someone else's shoes. You can do that, right? Yeah, no problem.

Here goes . . .

So you're a regular customer.* You have "your" coffee shop. You go there at the same time every day (sometimes two or three times a day --- no one wants to call you an addict, but you honestly buy so many lattes and so many pastries that you more or less  pay the light bill every month, all by yourself) and almost always get the same thing. All of the baristas know your name, and you know a few of theirs.

You're sitting in the dining room on a typical busy Saturday evening, enjoying the free wi-fi and your sixth refill of the day, when, due to the layout of the shop, you are the first person to witness another customer --- who, to be sure, is a complete stranger to you, but still a fellow human being --- walk out of the bathroom and collapse. One second he's walking, the next second he's not.**


A) Whistle at the closest barista (yes, whistle. Like he's a dog) and jerk your thumb in the general direction of the FELLOW HUMAN BEING who has just LOST CONSCIOUSNESS and MAY BE IN URGENT NEED OF MEDICAL ATTENTION and then, without saying so much as one word, go back to whatever you were doing on the Internet.**

B) Get off your ass and go see if the guy is okay.

C) Stop texting and use your phone to call 911.

D) Yell, "Hey, that guy just passed out!" (Which would actually make a fair amount of sense, as a significant number of this particular coffee shop's other regular customers are medical professionals of one sort or another, and chances are somebody could help him.)

E) Do nothing.

F) Any of the above that is not A) or E).

*Technically, the customer who inspired this post is not actually a customer. He is at one of our tables all day every day (that's an exaggeration, but only slightly) with his laptop, but he never buys anything. Ever. That bit about paying the light bill was thrown in purely for humorous effect.

    If the second witness hadn't said something, I would've had absolutely no idea what was going on. And I might have thrown the guy out for being rude.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass: 14 & 15

Do I even need to say anything?

Okay, maybe you don't see it if you weren't in the target demographic when the show was at its most insanely popular . . . but I was, so I do.
Actually, you know, I didn't realize it at the time, but these two (or, depending on how you count, three) were probably the very first girls who kick ass I ever fell in love with. Heh.

Eleven Things I Want to See in Season Four of The Vampire Diaries

WARNING: If you haven't already seen "Departed," the finale of season three, this post contains major spoilers.

1. Somebody --- absolutely anybody, but Rebekah might make the most dramatic sense --- finally kills Klaus.
    To be clear, I think Klaus was a great villain.
    "Was" being the operative word in that sentence.
    In season one, the closest thing we got to a Big Bad was Katherine. In season two, we found out that most of the horrible things she did had less to do with the fact that she's an evil bitch (and, as a vampire, a complete badass who is also, you know, a cold-blooded killer and kind of a sociopath) and more to do with her desire to stay away from Klaus, "the oldest vampire in the history of time." Who was after Elena and determined to get to her, no matter who he had to kill on the way. And that was a good time (well, a good time for the audience; for the characters, not so much).
    But then came season three, when it got pretty clear that someone (read: everyone) on the writing staff was in love with Klaus, to such an extent that he is (directly or indirectly) the source of just about every conflict for every other character for the entire season.
    Which is all well and good, but . . . well, if you've seen the season finale, you're either giddy about the possibilities or, like me, just fucking over it.

    Unfortunately, this is not going to happen. I'm pretty sure I've read at least one article about how Joseph Morgan will still be part of the cast. With this in mind, I offer an alternative:

1a. Bonnie puts Klaus back in his own body, but messes with his memories.

    She doesn't have to give him complete amnesia (although that would be awesome to watch, wouldn't it?). She could just, for example, make him deathly afraid of ever messing with Elena again (not that he has any real use for her now that she's a vampire --- which, by the way, means that the Petrova line is ended and there will never ever be another doppelganger, ever --- but when has Klaus ever let a little thing like logic stand between him and murder?).

2. We finally get to meet someone supernatural who is not a vampire, a witch, a werewolf, a ghost, an Original Vampire, a vampire-werewolf hybrid, a doppelganger, or a medium.
    I'd really love it --- I mean, REALLY love it --- if we could meet a wicked fairy. (You know, kind of like Maleficent?) She could be a shapeshifter. Just for starters.

3. We finally get to meet a character who is a) not American and b) not a villain.

    'Nuff said.

4. For the first six or seven episodes, Elena hates being a vampire.
    This would actually make a lot of sense, given her reaction when Damon and Stefan suggested turning her as a way to protect her from Klaus in season two. Also, it would be great if a) Caroline is the one who eventually convinces her that it's not all bad and b) someone makes a joke that, hey, at least now everybody else doesn't have to protect her all the time.

5. Elena hates Damon.
    You know, because now she'll know that he compelled her to forget that they actually met a few hours before her parents died and has been lying to her (and everyone else) about this ever since then?
    I mean, I kind of sort of want them to end up together someday, but he needs to
earn it. Yeah, yeah, he's come a long way since season one, but he's still willing to do things like kill her best friend's long-lost mother in order to "protect" her, and . . . that's gotta stop.
    Also, it would be great if their reconciliation comes about because someone tries to kill him (which, let's face it, is not exactly a stretch) in the woods or something, and she can either leave him there or use her newfound superstrength to save them both.
    And then they can make out in the rain, and everything will be deliciously, wonderfully cheesy. Until the next episode.

6. Bonnie's new attitude does not dissolve overnight.
    In the season three finale (which, by the way, is one of the best episodes in the entire freaking series), Bonnie --- who, up to this point, has spent basically the whole series either being afraid of her own magic or seriously reluctant to use it because she might accidentally hurt someone --- defiantly tells Klaus, "Spirits don't get to tell me what to do anymore. I'm done getting pushed around by all of you. I did it because I wanted to."
    This scene, which is something I've been waiting to see since practically forever, gave me chills.
    I'm kind of expecting her to go back to never doing any magic unless she's pushed into it (well, okay, she wasn't quite that bad. But very nearly) as soon as the new season starts, and can I please be wrong?

7. Caroline and Tyler break up.
    Nothing against Tyler --- who, quite obviously, is one of the hottest guys in Mystic Falls --- but I've found him dreadfully boring ever since he was turned into a hybrid. I mean, I don't fall asleep whenever he's in a scene or anything as bad as that, but . . . well, I just don't think he has quite enough whatever-it-is to keep dating my favorite vampire in all of fiction.
    Also, this could lead to . . .

8. Caroline and Bonnie fall in love.
    I know, I know. They've both been established as firmly heterosexual since the pilot, and who wants to see yet another series make two of its most prominent female characters "go lesbian" just for the hell of it?
    But actually, when you think about it, this could make perfect sense.
    Bonnie's exact age hasn't been spelled out, but she's either seventeen or eighteen. Caroline celebrated her eighteenth birthday in episode 3x11, but she'll technically be seventeen forever. And, let's face it, seventeen or eighteen is a time when quite a lot of people begin to question their sexuality, yes?
    (Furthermore: This isn't something that's ever been mentioned canonically, but I tend to think that it's silly for vampires --- in any media, not just this show --- to identify as gay or straight or bi or anything. I mean, they're basically just big metaphors for sex sex sex, sooo wouldn't it make more sense for them to be attracted to anyone with a pulse, regardless of gender?)

8a. Caroline falls for Bonnie, who does not reciprocate.

    Or the other way around. Who doesn't enjoy a little unrequited love?

9. Now that she's a vampire, Elena finds Stefan totally boring.

    Because, well, duh.

10. Caroline becomes Stefan's "new Lexi."
    Oh wait, this is actually supposed to happen!
    . . . Which kind of makes something like absolutely no sense, what with Caroline still being a "baby" vampire, but WHO CARES? She's awesome! And it's been firmly established that Stefan has a serious problem with drinking human blood, so he really does need someone in his life who isn't afraid to give him some tough love and, if necessary, be a total bitch every time he even thinks about it.
    And occasionally get violent.
    And, come on, how cool would it be if that someone was Caroline?
    So actually, it sort of makes perfect sense.
    Well done, writers.

11. Elena kills Katherine.
    She may not be nearly as much of a threat as Klaus, but she's still wicked dangerous, and . . . well, it would just be really cool. I don't even know what else to say.

11a. Bonnie kills Katherine --- from a distance, because she can do things like that with magic --- and, just to be mean, makes her think she's dying by Elena's hand.
    Actually, I sort of hope this doesn't happen.
    Because my freaking brain might freaking explode from all the awesome.

How many days until October 11th?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Whenever I go to Half Price Books to sell something, I always have to give myself a rather stern talking-to as I walk in: "Alright, Bish, this is the deal: You are here today to SELL books and RECEIVE money. You are not here to SPEND money and GET books. All selling, no spending. That's the purpose of this visit. Got it?" And I always promise myself that, really and truly, I'm on board. This time will be different!

It never works. It might, but they have so many Clearance shelves.

So anyway, yesterday I bought thirteen books ---

--- for twelve dollars and eighty-three cents.

1. Calling the Swan by Jean Thesman
This was the one that started to crack my resolve. It was fifty cents. How was I supposed to resist that? Fifty cents! Jean Thesman! I freaking adore Jean Thesman!
Just how much do I freaking adore her, you ask? Well, she was My Favorite Author Who is Not Neal Shusterman in middle school.* She writes historical fiction, fantasy, and straight-up "normal" YA. Whatever genre she dabbles in, though, she's always brilliant. I've read at least half of her books, and I've only ever come across one that I didn't absolutely love.
Having said all that, this particular book isn't quite my favorite one of hers, but that's sort of like saying that "The Gift" isn't quite my favorite episode of Buffy.

*Just so we're clear: Jean Thesman was most definitely not my second-favorite author in middle school! Neal Shusterman was My Favorite Author Who is Not Jean Thesman. I loved them both for different reasons, but couldn't have told you who I loved more. These days, I'd probably have to say that she has a better way with words than he does . . . but, in all fairness, it's been years since I read anything by either of them.

2. Swallowing Stones by Joyce McDonald
And this was the one that grabbed my resolve --- which, you may remember, had already started to crack --- and shattered it. Shattered, I tell you!
I can't remember how old I was when I first read Joyce McDonald's Shades of Simon Grey, but I do remember loving it so much that, when I stumbled upon Swallowing Stones years later, I snatched it up without a second thought. Sometime between that one and this one, I discovered Alice Hoffman, and something about this one reminded me of her. They both have a way of telling a story that's just . . . I mean, the story itself is really good, but you almost don't want to keep reading to see how it ends, because their way of telling it is so --- what's the word? Lyrical? Poetic? Sublime? --- that you want to quote just about every line.

Also, the main characters are a) a boy who gets a rifle for his seventeenth birthday and fires it off into the air like an idiot and b) a girl whose dad gets hit by the bullet and dies instantly. You'd have to try really hard to mess up such a premise.

3. Holy Bible: The New Testament
I know, I know.
But I bought it for two reasons:

  • When I was a kid, I had one just like this.
  • One of the sadder facts of living in Indiana is that, sooner or later, you are going to encounter a hypo-Christian who feels the need to preach to you even though, you know, you're just trying to get some coffee. Generally, the best thing to do in this situation is avoid eye contact and run like hell . . . but sometimes I'm in the mood for a healthy debate, so I listen to what they have to say and then trounce them. Because, you know, I was raised as a pastor's kid, so I know my Scripture backward and forward and upside-down and sideways; in other words, I know Jesus better than any of these bitches.* So I guess what I'm saying is, I bought this book for ammo.

*Seriously, some of the people who try to lecture you about the sanctity of the Ten Commandments don't even know where they are. That is, if you hand them a Bible and ask them to actually read the Ten Commandments, they wouldn't know where to look.

4. Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley & Heather Hepler
I've read this once before, but it's been about a decade (more? less?). I don't remember much of it, but it's about a boy and a girl, both of whom have strained relationships with their parents. They bond over that, and it's really sweet. Actually, you know, I'm not certain it's really sweet; my memories of it are that faint.
But I do remember that the story is told in chapters that alternate between the boy's point of view (written by Brad Barkley) and the girl's (written by Heather Hepler), and (largely due to my fondness for Paula Danziger & Ann M. Martin's P.S. Longer Letter Later and its sequel, Snail Mail No More) I have a serious weakness for stories that are told this way.

5. Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls by Bennett Madison
This is another one that I've read once before, a number of years and years ago. My memories of this one are slightly better: Lulu Dark is a girl who despises "girl detective" stories, but finds herself sort of living one when someone steals her favorite purse and she investigates. She has a best (straight male?) friend who helped her realize that it really wasn't a big deal when her dad got a boyfriend.
That's all I got.
Also, the author (who wrote this when he was twenty-three!) is a cutie.

6. A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
I've read this several times, and I wholeheartedly, unabashedly, absolutely love it! Love. All the stories are good, but my favorite is Garth Nix's "Hansel's Eyes," in which part of the reason they're able to defeat the witch is that, whoops, Gretel turns out to have her own knack for witchcraft!

7. Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan
There were seven or eight copies of this on one of the "normal" shelves, so I took a picture to remind myself to get it from the library (again). Then I found this copy on the Clearance shelf, and that was that.
Anyway. If you read books at all, you've probably read quite a few "unlikely friendship" stories in your time, but I bet you've never read one quite like this. A huge part of the reason Jake and E. D. finally start to like each other, which is crucial to the plot, is that --- wait for it --- they both get involved in her family's multi-racial production of The Sound of Music.
Seriously. It's about as awesome as it sounds.

8. Just Like That by Marsha Qualey
I barely remember reading Marsha Qualey's Thin Ice, but I do remember enjoying it so much that I later picked up Close to a Killer (which I also barely remember) just because she wrote it. So when I found this, I was pretty damn excited. So excited, in fact, that I started to read the description on the back cover and then stopped myself because, "You know what, that's enough. I'm buying this."

9. The Princess Diaries and
10. The Princess Diaries, Volume II: Princess in the Spotlight by Meg Cabot
Look, say what you will about Meg Cabot (for example: you could say that, whether she's writing about a girl who finds out that she's a princess or writing about a girl who can talk to ghosts or writing about a girl who goes to a record store when she's supposed to be in art class and accidentally saves the President's life, all of her stories eventually start to sound the same --- which is partly because all of her books that are not about Allie Finkle contain healthy helpings of romance, and absolutely all of her heroines are secretly totally in lust with some guy who is completely, disgustingly, impossibly perfect; so eventually you just can't help but go, "Oh look, is Meg Cabot still writing books? I used to love her, but I AM BORED WITH THIS") (. . . you know, just for example), but she knows how to tell a story, and she is funny. Uproariously funny. Hilariously funny. Clutch-your-sides, don't-read-this-in-public, read-your-favorite-passage-out-loud-to-your-mother funny.

11. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
If you know anything about me, you're probably wondering, "Don't you already have a copy of your favorite book of all time?" To which the answer is a resounding yes. Yes, of course I do. It's hardcover, it's in perfect condition, it still has that old-book smell, and I'm fairly certain it's a first edition. (So basically, it's the most valuable thing I own.)
But now, the next time I'm having a conversation about books with someone and they say, "Oh yeah, I've always wanted to read that one," I don't have to go through Well I would love to let you borrow my copy, but the last time I did that Sarah Hersh kept "forgetting" to return it and "forgetting" and "forgetting," and then, whoops, high school ended and I never saw her again, so no, I'm sorry, you're a great friend but this is a book that I've loved since I was eight years old (so young that I figured "eleven = mature") and you could easily get it from the library YOU KNOW or go to Amazon or eBay and just freaking buy it for next to nothing so no, I'm sorry, you can't. Ever in my head; instead, I can cheerily offer to lend them this copy!

12. Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick
A book about books? YES, PLEASE.

(One of the many books to get written about is Harriet the Spy, so that tells you right away that this Lizzie Sknurnick person knows what she's talking about.)

13. The Vampire Diaries, Volume II: The Struggle by L. J. Smith
Source material for my favorite current TV show. A no-brainer, right? But wait, haven't I been rather vocal in the past about how I scanned the back covers as a child enough to make up my mind to never actually read the books?
Well, yes.
But just look at this crap:

I couldn't help it. (As if that picture wasn't unintentionally hilarious all on its own --- and it is --- there's a line on the back that sums up Damon in one sentence: "Determined to make Elena his queen of darkness, he'd kill his own brother to possess her." I keep picturing Ian Somerhalder using the phrase "queen of darkness" in a scene --- entirely without irony, mind you --- and, oh my God, I just might laugh until I die.)
Also, you know, who can say? I might actually enjoy it. I mean, I doubt it very much ---

Bonnie isn't a witch,
Caroline isn't a vampire,
Elena wants to be a vampire,
Jeremy doesn't exist

--- but it might happen.

(Seriously, though, I doubt I'll actually read this any time soon. It just amuses me to know that it's there.)

Friday, July 27, 2012


Considering that he's been there for every incarnation of the franchise, it seems only fitting that you would've included him in the very first piece of Friendship is Magic merchandise, the Gift Set (which also included Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and the re-colored Princess Celestia), so . . . well done.

Except . . . not really well done, when you think about it.

Here's the thing. You could argue this point, but the way I see it, there are twelve recurring characters who are necessary for the show to be what it is: the Mane Six (obviously), Spike, the three Cutie Mark Crusaders, and the two Princesses.

Now, other than being a boy and being a dragon, what makes Spike different from Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, Princess Luna, and Princess Celestia?

I swear this isn't a trick question, but here's a hint:

That's right! Of the twelve crucial characters, Spike is the only one who walks around on two legs! And yet, for reasons best kept to yourself, every single time you turn him into a toy he's on all fours.*

But really, what do I know?

Love & stuff,

*You could make an argument that the plush Baby Spike is exempt from the all-fours rule, but I'd rather pretend this toy didn't exist for two reasons: 1) They all look creepy to me. 2) SPIKE IS ALREADY A BABY.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Dear Hasbro,

I feel like we should discuss the (Target Exclusive) Rainbow Pony Collection for just a few moments.


It is very nearly almost perfect! You've got Pinkie Pie (pink), Applejack (orange), Fluttershy (yellow), a male Pony who hasn't appeared on the show called Emerald Ray (green), Rainbow Dash (blue), Twilight Sparkle (purple), and Rarity (white). Brilliant! Really and truly, well done. I mean, I've never actually felt like buying any of these tiny figures --- none of them really look right; in particular, Rainbow Dash is a re-color of Fluttershy, who is basically Applejack (who is missing her hat) without wings --- but how can I resist when they're in such a charming little set like this? I mean, Rarity would obviously approve if I purchased something so . . . dazzling!

(Technically, the set is missing a red Pony --- Big Macintosh, anyone? --- but I can overlook that.)

The problem is that I first found out about this set back in May and it's almost August now and THE SET STILL DOESN'T SEEM TO BE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE.

May to almost-August. That's a lot of days of getting on the Internet and never getting around to three of the five things I got on the Internet for because I spend an hour scouring eBay and and tumblr and anywhere else I can think of to see if maybe, just maybe, someone out there has managed to get their hot little hands on an actual physical copy of the set and can maybe, just maybe, point me in the right direction, because all I want to do here is give you some of my hard-earned money, Hasbro.

Seriously, if I could find this set I think I'd be willing to pay fifty dollars for it. Let's consider that, shall we? Each of these Ponies is completely stationary, with un-brushable hair, and only two inches tall, so they're worth MAYBE three dollars apiece. Three times seven is twenty-one. So I'm willing to pay you more than twice its worth.

Okay, I'm just gonna step back and catch my breath for a second.

I'm good.

I have exactly one other friend who cares about Ponies as much as I do. We've been discussing the total lack of this set's availability in the real world or the online world every time we've gotten together since we found out about it, and she recently pointed out that, most likely, it probably won't be released until the holidays.

Alright, fine, I can accept that.

But seriously, wouldn't it make more sense to release the set as it is ASAP and then release another holiday-themed version of it (example: replace everypony's Cutie Mark with a snowflake) around the holidays? I mean, it just seems to me that, if you did that, you could, you know, MAKE MORE MONEY.

But what do I know?

Love & stuff,


P.S. This is probably the dumbest idea ever, and I feel like an idiot for even thinking it, but I'd totally buy another version of this set that was just, well, Rainbow Dash in every color of the rainbow.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 13: Katara

(Note: I had wanted to make this "Numbers 13-19" and cover all the girls from Avatar in one go, but I just haven't felt up to it. Which is not necessarily an entirely a bad thing, since the part of my brain that cares about writing anything has been mostly absorbed with taking notes on an original story - which, to the shock and awe of absolutely no one, features my own girl who kicks ass - for the past few weeks.)

First things first, she kicks ass as a character. Avatar: The Last Airbender is Aang's story (he's both the Avatar and the last Airbender) (well, the last Airbender until he grows up and has a son, who goes on to have four children . . .), but I would argue that, other than him, Katara is more crucial to it than anyone else.

Or, to say that another way, the show is kinda-sorta the story of Aang as told through Katara. Which I guess doesn't necessarily prove that she kicks ass, but it's a rather nifty storytelling device, and I think that's pretty cool, and who's writing this list again? Oh, right. It's me.


Katara and her brother Sokka (who are probably my favorite set of fictional siblings ever) appear in the very first scene of the very first episode, and remain major characters for the rest of the series. In all that time, does Katara get a single scene where she doesn't kick ass in one way or another?

To start with, let's reflect on that very first scene of the very first episode. If it wasn't for Katara, Aang would've stayed in the iceberg for who knows how long (probably forever) and the war would've gone on indefinitely and the Fire Nation would've subjugated the entire planet. (Or . . . everybody would've learned how to stick up for themselves and do what's right without relying on the Avatar to do all the heavy lifting.*)

Of course, she frees him from the iceberg accidentally, which introduces a somewhat problematic (vaguely Mary Sue-ish) theme for her Waterbending that's played out for the majority of Book One: She's either a hopeless novice who can barely fight her way out of a scrape with more than two non-Benders, or she's A WATERBENDING PRODIGY THE LIKES OF WHICH THIS WORLD HAS NEVER KNOWN omg. Also, she can use her Bending to heal, because hey, why not?

By the end of Book One, the Gaang make it to the North Pole, where they meet a headstrong Waterbending Master. He's honored to teach the Avatar, but he refuses to teach Katara because she's a girl. Apparently, boy Waterbenders are supposed to fight and girl Waterbenders are supposed to heal.


Katara, being Katara, challenges him to a duel, right then and there. (This is one of the best fight scenes in the entire series, by the way. And that's saying something.) She loses, but he does agree to teach her. She then blazes through training and becomes a Master in her own right, and spends Books Two and Three teaching Aang.

Just to recap, she's fourteen years old and teaching the Avatar, the most powerful being on the planet.

That's pretty badass right there.

Look, I could go on and on about how much ass she kicks for quite a while, but I'll limit myself to two more examples (partly because, as much as I love her and love this show, I'm already starting to get bored):

  • In the ENTIRE series, she is the ONLY person to EVER make Azula step back and look nervous during battle.
  • Between this series and The Legend of Korra, there are exactly five Waterbenders who learn the art of Bloodbending (which, by the way, fans had been predicting since day one). Katara is one of them. The other four are evil, or at least morally ambiguous. (This is never spelled out, but I think it's heavily implied that Bloodbending slowly corrupts you - Katara, unlike the other four, only uses it three times.)
So, that's Katara. She kicks ass.

Seriously, if you haven't watched this show already, WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?

P.S. Oh, also! Katara is the only character from the original series to appear on Korra in real life (so far) and, not only was she Korra's Waterbending Master (how many Benders can say they've trained two Avatars? I'm guessing not very many), but she is STILL regarded as the best healer in the world.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: Being Friends With Boys

Author: Terra Elan McVoy
Genres: "Young Adult" Fiction, Coming of Age, Romance (ish)
Page Count: 361
You'll Like This if You Like: Sarah Dessen
Twenty Words or Less: Much better than it has any right to be.

Oh dear, I have kind of mixed feelings about this book -- on the one hand, I'm already forgetting some of the more minor plot points; on the other, I really really liked it. I'm not even sure where to start, so let's just read the jacket together, shall we?

"Charlotte and Oliver have been friends forever. She knows that he, Abe, and Trip consider her to be one of the guys, and she likes it that way. She likes being the friend who keeps them all together. Likes offering a girl's perspective on their love lives. Likes being the behind-the-scenes wordsmith who writes all the lyrics for the boys' band. Char has a house full of stepsisters and a past full of backstabbing (female) ex-best friends, so for her, being friends with boys is refreshingly drama-free . . . until it isn't anymore.

"When a new boy enters the scene and makes Char feel like, well, a total girl . . . and two of her other friends have a falling out that may or may not be related to one of them deciding he possibly wants to be more than friends with Char . . . being friends with all these boys suddenly becomes a lot more complicated."

Let's see . . .

  • This makes it sound like Abe is going to be much more of a major character. I mean, he IS a major character in that he's always there and he's a member of the band, but . . . we never even find out what instrument he plays. There's all sorts of stuff that goes on during the story, and we never find out how he's reacted to it. Charlotte never even wonders what he might be thinking about anything.
  • "Likes offering a girl's perspective on their love lives." Really? Did you remember to put on your Basic Reading Comprehension Skills glasses?
  • Charlotte and her stepsisters actually get along really well. It's strongly implied that there was a fair amount of tension when their parents got married and they all moved in together, but they're way beyond that by the time the story starts.
  • That second paragraph makes it sound like romantic complications drive most of the plot, and this is simply not the case. Yes, there are quite a few romantic complications, but they're not, you know, Why This Story is Being Told.
What else, what else? I thought about dividing this review into Things I Liked and Things I Didn't Like, but there were only one or two things I didn't like enough to actually mention them, so that seems silly. Hmm.

1. First off, I want to mention how utterly believable this story was. There were quite a few moments when I was reading it that made me say to myself, in the back of my head, "You know, this goes beyond believable storytelling. I wouldn't be surprised if Charlotte and her friends actually existed. No, that's silly. But I wouldn't be surprised if the author wrote the story after rereading some of her own journals from high school, you know?"

2. The word "fuck" is used once in the whole entire book. Not that I have any problem with swearing, of course -- I fucking love it -- but, I don't know, I guess I've been watching so much Weeds lately that it was refreshing to not have every other scene be like a contest to see who can drop the most f-bombs. Heh.

3. Oh my goodness, JILLY. She's Charlotte's older sister, who's just gone away to college, and how much did I love her? So much. Oh my God. Her "on-page" appearance is exceptionally brief (she visits for Thanksgiving), but she gives Charlotte two brilliant pieces of advice: "You need to do what makes you happiest. Don't worry about where it's going right now." And, "You're doing so great. Just listen to yourself, and you'll be fine."

4. There are a few supporting characters who are eventually revealed to be gay, and I really liked the way that was handled. None of them got a Coming Out Scene (TM), the story never felt the need to stop and say "You're gay and that's different, but it's okay," it was just . . . normal. Not an issue. Everyone was completely indifferent (well, maybe there was some disappointment in the "all the good ones are gay" sense).

5. Charlotte's friends frequently use the nickname "Spider" for her. This was never explained, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to get it.

6. So, basically the point of this story is that it's often difficult for straight girls and straight guys who aren't attracted to each other to be friends -- it shouldn't be, but it is. And again, I found the whole thing to be completely believable.

7. The one thing that really bugged me was the lack of backstory. I mean, it's there, but it's all very light. Which isn't a bad thing in and of itself -- some authors spend so much time on backstory that you just stop caring -- but I really felt like we could've used a bit more reflection on exactly how Sad Jackal first got together. Mostly because I spent the first sixty or so pages constantly getting Oliver and Trip mixed up in my head.

Alright, I guess that's about it.

Seriously, this was so much better than I expected.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 12: Korra


Let's see . . .

As the Avatar, she is (not to put too fine a point on it) the most powerful person in the entire world.

She had already taught herself the basics of Waterbending, Firebending, and Earthbending when she was five years old.

She learned healing from Katara.

She is the opposite of Aang in just about every way you can think of; pretty much all they have in common is being the Avatar.

She doesn't let a little thing like being terrified stop her from going into battle.

She is the first person ever to tame a polar bear dog (which, so far, has not actually been mentioned on the show itself).

She's a Waterbender, but her first instinct in a fight is usually to Firebend.

. . . But, you know, as much as all of that makes me love her (and I do; in the short time since her show started, Korra has quickly shot up there with some of my favorite fictional characters ever, like Harriet the Spy and the Animorphs and Tiffany Aching), I almost love her even more for the message that she sends to us in the real world:

YES, you can have a kids' action show and make the hero a girl. YES, it can be wildly successful. YES, she will appeal to little girls and little boys -- all they care about is the fact that she's awesome. NO, being a "strong female character" doesn't mean she's not allowed to have feelings. And so on and so forth and so on. Why, in 2012, is any of this still a discussion that anyone's having like they're surprised?

Really, the question isn't, "Why is this show so good?" The question is, "Why do other shows act like this one should be impossible?"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 11: Sunshine

(No pic for this one - not once, in almost four hundred pages, does she ever actually physically describe herself.)

For those of you who haven't met her yet, Sunshine is the main character of an absolutely brilliant book by Robin McKinley (although, um, most of her books tend to be absolutely brilliant, but this one takes it to a whole other level) called, well, Sunshine.

As much as I love love love her, I have mixed feelings about including her on this list.

On the one hand, yes, she definitely deserves to be on this list. On the other hand, um, I'm not going to tell you exactly why she definitely deserves to be on this list.

I'll explain . . .

I've been an avid read of Robin McKinley since sometime around the beginning of 2002. Sunshine came out in October of 2003, but the first twelve pages were released on her website a few months in advance. The first twelve pages were all I needed to let me know that I was going to LOVE this book.

The thing is, there are so many horrible wonderful surprises in this story that, even though it's been out for nearly nine years now, while I do heartily encourage just about everybody to read it, I am extremely reluctant to actually tell you anything about it other than this one sentence:

"It's about a baker who gets kidnapped by vampires."

Because really, what else do you need?

Other than that, there are a few things I suppose I can share without giving too much away:

1. Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors in the history of ever because (along with Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - and, recently, along with Diana Wynne Jones* as well) she knows how to tell a story and write about magic better than just about anyone. This book is no exception. I'm . . . well, when I say this, please understand that there's A LOT I'm not telling you.

2. Yes, this is a book about vampires. I'm obviously biased in her favor, but I honestly think Robin McKinley has one of the best "takes" on vampires. Ever. Keep in mind that I personally think vampires are usually pretty disgusting.

3. You know how I'm always saying "You are not consumed by the darkness because you are full of light"? That quote is from a (crucial) scene in this book.

Sorry, that's really all I feel comfortable telling you.

Just shut up and find it and read it.

Thank me later.

*Obviously, Diana Wynne Jones isn't "recent," but I personally have only recently started to read her. Thanks, Jeremy!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 10: Bonnie Bennett

"Bonnie Bennett. How do I even begin to describe Bonnie Bennett?"

Well, I guess it makes the most sense to start at the beginning, since the beginning is where all of this started: If I hadn't found out that the main character's best friend was a witch, I never would've ever given The Vampire Diaries --- which is based on a book series that seemed stupid when I was TWELVE --- so much as half a chance.

It's been about a year since I did start watching (although it feels longer), and she is still my favorite character, but she also frustrates me more than anybody else.

But before we get to that, since this is a show where so much of the "plot" is driven by romantic bullshit, let's briefly examine her relationships:
  1. In season one, after every other main character has paired off with someone while she was busy discovering witchcraft, she finally finds the courage to talk to Ben, a bartender at The Mystic Grill. It doesn't go very well because he turns out to be a vampire who wants to kill Elena (of course) . . . but, even before we get there, you can't help but wonder, what the hell is a seventeen-year-old high school junior doing going on a date with a guy who's old enough to be a bartender? I mean, sure, he's hot, and if you're gonna make a bad decision about a guy, the time to do it is when you're seventeen, but the fact that he's into her should've set off her spider-sense. Or, at least, Elena's. She's usually fairly level-headed about these things, but in this case she just came short of physically pushing Bonnie to talk to him.
  2. In season two, she starts dating Jeremy. Who is Elena's little brother. Considering that Elena and Bonnie have been best friends since childhood and think of each other as sisters and either of them would die to protect the other, this is creepy. Shouldn't she think of Jeremy as her own little brother? But anyway, even if you're immune to the creepy, there's really no denying that they have one of the most boring romances in the history of the show.
  3.  In season three, she finally reconnects with her mother, who abandoned her when she was a toddler (long story). She's surprised to find that her mother has adopted a son, Jamie, who is about her age. After her mother is turned into a vampire (again, long story), they lean on each other for comfort and that's great. But then she asks him to be her date to a school dance. Her date. Come on, guys. We know you're not technically related, but you have the same mother. What is wrong with you?
ALRIGHT THEN. Now that we've got that out of the way . . .

Bonnie Bennett is the most powerful character on The Vampire Diaries. Now, to be sure, I have a knack for making statements like this about my favorite characters --- but, in this case, there's really no way you can make so much as a half-coherent argument for anyone else being even in her league (unless they turn out to secretly be a witch or warlock, which would be literally impossible for Klaus, Finn, Rebekah, Elijah, Stefan, Damon, Caroline, Tyler, Alaric, or Elena).

Unfortunately, even when you consider that she's still relatively new to being a witch and doesn't know everything there is to know about magic yet, she's a bit too powerful. There are so many plotlines that don't get resolved because the writers won't let her go near them because she's the only character who could do anything about them . . . but if she did anything about them there'd be no conflict and without conflict there'd be no drama and without drama we'd all be watching some godawful kooky sitcom.

(For example: When Damon and Elena come up with a "secret plan" to finally kill Klaus about halfway through season three using that episode's Ultimate Original-Killing Weapon One of a Kind Only One in the World Act Now TM, it is a very elaborate plan. Which, naturally, blows up in their faces. Because they don't give Bonnie anything to do. Because, from a storytelling perspective, she can kill Klaus by pretty much standing there and saying, "Hey, Klaus --- just DIE already!" Only, you know, in Latin.)

After three seasons, I still find Bonnie's arc to be more interesting than any other character's (although Caroline and Elena are very close seconds). I'm very excited for season four, because it looks like she is FINALLY realizing how powerful she really is and I'm hoping against hope that this new attitude actually sticks.

You know, it's possible that so far I haven't done a very good job of convincing you, the reader, that Bonnie Bennett does indeed kick ass. Fair point. I have just kind of been rambling about other aspects of her character (which, by the way, I REGRET NOTHING; most of this is stuff that's been bugging me for a while).

So here you go.

I think we've all gotten quite tired of Klaus by now --- but, when he was introduced in season two, "the oldest vampire in the history of time" was quite a big deal. They can't kill him because he doesn't have a body, he's determined to kill Elena, and he'll gladly kill anyone who gets in his way. What do they do, then?

Well, here's the very best plan that the heroes (who, at this time, included three vampires, one vampire hunter, and a werewolf) could come up with:

* Distract him.
* Stay out of his way.
* Let Bonnie do some witchcraft in his general direction.
* Hope for the best.

Anyway. There's a lot more I could say about Bonnie and how much it bugs me that she's so hesitant about her own powers (even if you ignore every other thing she can do with magic, there's no getting around the fact that she could easily toss everyone else around like rag dolls with her thoughts) and how badly I want her to track down an older wiser witch to teach her more and how much I wish Lucy would come back and how annoyed I am that "the vampire-hating Bennett witch" has never killed a single vampire

. . . but, oy vey, I think that's enough for now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 9: Rachel

Well, duh.

You know, honestly, trying to explain why Rachel kicks ass is a bit like trying to explain . . . um . . . well, the point is, she's so badass that I can't even think of a decent metaphor here.

Wait, I've got one! Trying to explain why Rachel the Animorph kicks ass is sort of like trying to explain why Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the character, not the show) kicks ass. Frankly, I think the fact that she was born in the wrong universe is the only reason Rachel wasn't the Vampire Slayer instead of Buffy. (That may not make all the sense in the world . . . but, if you're a fan of both series, just think about it for a second and tell me you don't see my point.)

The Animorphs are unusual, as the heroes of a kids' series, because they're not particularly qualified to save the world. Marco and Jake both have personal reasons for fighting; Tobias gets trapped as a red-tailed hawk on their very first mission; Ax is trapped on Earth, which is lightyears away from his home planet; and Cassie can't stand the thought of what'll happen to the planet and everyone on it if they don't fight the Yeerks.

But Rachel jumps into the war like it's her calling.

This may sound lame, but I can't talk about Rachel too much because her character development is probably my favorite part of the entire series and, on the off-chance that anyone reading this is just starting to read the books, I'd rather not spoil anything. I'll just say one thing more: The very first time she morphs, she turns into an elephant and, three seconds later, smashes a Hork-Bajir.

Also: "Earth is a tough neighborhood."*

*I kept thinking of this quote the entire time I was watching The Avengers.

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 8: Cassie

Yes, Cassie.

If you're familiar with the series, you might have expected me to write about Rachel (and don't you worry; she's getting her own entry). If you're not familiar with the series, Animorphs is about six kids who get tossed into a war to save everyone on Earth from being enslaved by a bunch of mind-controlling parasitic aliens from outer space. They could be anyone: your pastor, your teacher, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, your big brother, your president . . .

And our only hope is six kids who can turn into any animal they touch. For two hours at a time.

Yeah, we're pretty much screwed.

Anyway! Cassie!

Despite the fact that the last book was published in May of 2001, you can find corners of the Internet where the fandom is still fairly active --- and, more often than not, whenever the discussion turns to the question of who's your favorite Animorph, Cassie is almost always always always picked dead last. Most fans don't outright hate her, but hardly anyone loves her.

Personally, I can only understand this on an intellectual level. These books were such an enormous part of my childhood that I love all six main characters pretty much equally. They all have fleshed-out personalities with their own believable strengths and weaknesses; picking one favorite would be like . . . well, frankly, it would be even more difficult than picking one favorite from the Mane Six of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

I think a big part of Cassie's status as the not-so-favorite comes from the moment in book nineteen where she briefly quits the group. And I get that, but if she hadn't quit none of the kids ever would've found out that there were some Yeerks who actually felt bad about enslaving other species. (Then again, it could be because she got saddled with The Hidden and The Unexpected, two of the dumbest books in the whole series.)

Alright, then. Here's why she's such a badass:

  1. You know how, in the Harry Potter movies, it takes Professor McGonagall about three seconds to turn into a cat? And, in those three seconds, all of her is turning at exactly the same speed? And it's pretty cool to watch? Morphing in this series is absolutely nothing like that. It's DISGUSTING. It always takes at least a minute or so, and there's no controlling how it'll happen. Say you're turning into a fly. Chances are the first change will be your insect eyes just popping out of your human face --- they won't be the right size until the rest of you starts to shrink. But Cassie is special. She has enough control to, for example, look like an angel for a few seconds when she's demorphing from an osprey. When Ax joins the group, he explains that there are people on his planet who are so good at morphing that it's considered an art, and Cassie could be one of them.
  2. As if that wasn't awesome enough, in Megamorphs 4 we find out that she was born with another power she didn't even know about. When the Drode (who is basically a harbinger for Krayak, the series' Big Bad) discovers this power, he gets downright livid with the Ellimist (Big Good). It's bad enough that the Animorphs include Elfangor's son, Elfangor's little brother, and the son of Visser One's host body --- but, by making sure that Cassie was also one of them, he basically cheated and gave good an unfair advantage.
  3. From chapter one of book one, it is firmly established that Cassie is more sensitive than anyone else in the group. She always knows just what to say to diffuse an argument. Which is badass in its own way, of course . . . but not until book twenty does anyone realize that she is also really good at manipulating people. She masterminds every single detail of the plan to stop David without outright killing him (and you could make an argument that killing would have been more merciful).
  4. As you can see in the picture, Cassie is black. This is only an issue one time in the entire series, when the kids are stuck in an alternate-history Princeton in the late 1930s (long story) and some racist asshole can't believe that a "colored" girl is, gasp, looking him in the eye and speaking to him like they're equals. So she very kindly tells him that she can of course turn white if that'll make him more comfortable. And then she morphs a polar bear.
  5. Whenever she kisses Jake, it is always less of an "I like you because you're a boy and you make me feel all breathless" thing and more of an "I can't believe we're alive!" thing.
  6. It may not seem like a particularly effective way to stop an alien invasion (and it's not), but just think about all the things you could do if you could turn into animals. You could fly, you could become a lot stronger than any human on the planet, you could gain superspeed . . . all of which Cassie points out in the very first book.
  7. Can't believe I almost forgot this one! If you ever want proof that Cassie kicks just as much ass as anyone else on the team, read book twenty-nine. She singlehandedly completes a mission that could have left them all exposed to Visser Three, AND THEN she comes home and performs brain surgery on an alien.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, Number 7: Natasha Romanov

Before we get started, two quick things:

1. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do realize that a zillion and four other comic book geeks are probably tearing up the Interweb with their analyses and dissections of The Avengers this week. But you know what? BITE ME.

2. There are, believe it or not, an awful lot of girls on this list who are not comic book characters. I'll, um . . . start getting to them some other day.

Okay, full disclosure: Despite being one of the most unabashedly unashamed comic book geeks I know, I have never been a very huge fan of the Avengers. I mean, I admire them and respect them in the same way I admire and respect any other superhero team that's been around for almost fifty years, but I don't care about the characters the way I care about the X-Men or the Runaways. I just never have, you know?

Having made that clear, it may not be a surprise that I've never seen any of the movies that led up to this one. I'm not opposed to seeing them, and probably will someday, but right now I can't say I feel like I'm missing anything. Frankly, I wasn't even particularly excited about this movie until I found out about one element.

Obviously, that element was Joss Whedon.

If there's one person in the history of ever who can really make me care about Captain America or Iron Man or Thor or the Hulk or Hawkeye, it's him.

And I knew, just knew, he'd make Black Widow awesome. Sure, she might be the only woman on the team, but she would absolutely not be "the girl."

I was not disappointed.

For one thing, in her first scene she faces off against three arms dealers. They have tied her to a chair. Not only does she knock them all out, not only does she escape from the chair, she USES THE CHAIR AS A WEAPON (before escaping from it).

For another thing, if any other director had helmed this movie, you might expect there to be at least one moment where one of her teammates is genuinely surprised to learn that she kicks as much ass as the boys. That does not happen.

(Personally, I find it very interesting that she's the best fighter on the team. I'll say that again: She is the best fighter on the team. I mean, think about it. Iron Man has basically zero skill in hand-to-hand combat, since he really doesn't, you know, need it, what with having superstrength. Ditto for Thor and Hulk. Captain America does have military training, but she has much more experience than he does. And as for Hawkeye . . . well.)

For another other thing, when you get to the big fight at the end, you might expect her to be assigned to crowd control while the heavy hitters deal with the aliens. This does not happen, either. She plays a key part in defeating the aliens and, you know, saving the entire world from utter destruction.

For yet another thing, her scene with Loki blew my mind a little bit.

Finally . . .

Look, I don't know. Love him or hate him, Joss Whedon has always been very vocal about how and why he's a feminist. Everything he's ever done has featured at least one scene where a girl kicks ass (even if she's not a Slayer or a witch or a soldier or Kitty Pryde). I'm not saying my idea to write this list is entirely his fault, but he certainly had a lot to do with it.

Once upon a time, a reporter asked him, "So why do you write these strong female characters?"

And he replied, "Because you're still asking me that question."

Someday, if we keep putting women in superhero movies --- as superheroes themselves, not as love interests --- and letting them kick ass, maybe people will stop asking.

Because it'll just be the norm.

P.S. To the Morons Sitting Behind Me in the Theater Who Thought You Knew a Little Bit About Comics Because You've Seen Every Marvel Movie Ever Made:

That guy in the post-credits scene was definitely not Galactus.

No Love,

Friday, May 4, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, 1 through 6: Runaways

Ah, Runaways.

I haven't paid much attention to this series in quite a long while --- Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, the creators and "real parents," left it to do other things in 2007 --- but it is one of my favorite comic books in the history of comic books, a title it holds in no small part because of its several brilliant examples of girls who kick ass.

Before we talk about the girls themselves, I want to mention a few things about the series:

* If you love superheroes, Runaways is something you should read. If you love comic books but hate superheroes, Runaways is something you should read. If you're not really into comic books but are willing to give them a chance, Runaways is something you should read. Basically, Runaways is something everyone should read. The only way I can imagine anyone NOT loving it is if you're one of those people who just can't stand sci-fi or fantasy stories, as there is an abundance of both.

* Runaways is very special among superhero comics because, with a few exceptions, the team always has six members --- and only two of them are boys. Brian K. Vaughan's original pitch is very adamant on this point (his exact words are something like, "To hell with tradition!"); even after the line-up is shaken for whatever reason, it eventually settles down to four girls and two boys. So you sort of can't help looking at more popular mainstream books and asking, "Is this really that hard?"

* Honestly, as much as I love the series, it's difficult for me to talk about very much because a) it's one of those things where you'd really rather not spoil anything for a new reader and b) it only takes about three sentences for me to just lose myself and start gushing. It's that good. Basically, the only thing I say when someone asks me why they should read it --- other than the girls who kick ass and the involvement of a dinosaur from the future --- is, "It's about a bunch of kids who find out their parents are supervillains."

Alright, then. Let's get to it!

1. Nico Minoru

Apart from her wickedly good fashion sense (just look at that get-up), I primarily adore Nico for two reasons:
  • She's a witch! Which she didn't even suspect until everybody found out their parents were evil. Any story about magic that's worth reading will eventually reveal that, while it may be ridiculously powerful, magic always has its limits, and Nico is a great example of that. She wields the mysterious Staff of One (which, by the way, lives in her SOUL until she uses BLOOD to draw it out --- intense) (also, there's at least one scene where she draws it out without cutting herself . . . because she's on her period; that kind of thing just does not happen in most superhero books), and can use it to do pretty much anything she can think of . . . once. HOWEVER. Throughout the entire series, it is subtly (sometimes not so subtly) implied that she'd be a lot more powerful if she knew a little more about magic.
  •  She's Japanese, but she does not, for example, cast spells by drawing kanji in the air. That's refreshing.                    
Also, she eventually becomes team leader --- long story --- and, when a new member asks her if they have a rallying cry, like "Avengers Assemble!" or "It's Clobberin' Time!" . . . she thinks about it for a sec and just says, "Try not to die."

2. Gert Yorkes

  • First of all, it is just so great to see a female comic book character who is not a stick. Furthermore, it is too great for words to see a female comic book character who is not a stick who is not just "the fat one." Gert is not merely comic relief. Well, I mean, she does provide a fair amount of comic relief, but that's because she has an acerbic wit, NOT because she's always stuffing her face with candy during fight scenes.
  • Most of the first arc revolves around the kids discovering their powers and gadgets and whatnot. Even though her teammates include a witch and an alien, Gert may have one of the coolest "powers" in the history of comics: She has a very special pet . . .

3. Old Lace
  •  Old Lace is from the 87th century (Gert's parents are time travelers). She has a nose ring. She's very intelligent. She's empathically bonded to Gert. Even if you ignore all of these facts, though, you can't get around the fact that she kicks ass just because she's a DINOSAUR.
  • She reminds me of Quincy from FoxTrot, as both are cartoon animals who cannot talk. Also, they're reptiles who are not universally reviled.
  • You may be wondering about that name. Originally, the kids gave themselves codenames because they didn't want to use the names their parents had given them. Gert chose "Arsenic" for herself. When Chase doesn't get it, she tells him to watch a movie made before 1985. Heh.

4. Karolina Dean
  •  Karolina is devastated to learn that she is an alien --- she's already been feeling different from other girls for a while, if you get what I'm saying --- until she discovers that she can fly. She's so excited by this that she literally starts crying tears of joy. It's one of my favorite scenes in the whole series.
  • I don't know, I just love her. It's difficult to say why, exactly. Part of it is that she's a lesbian. I hate to spoil that for you right away, but . . .

5. Xavin
Honestly, Xavin is a fairly difficult character who you might love in one scene and want to slap in the next. But she makes the list for a rather simple reason: Xavin is a Skrull who shows up and reveals that he and Karolina have been betrothed for years. Their marriage will (theoretically) bring an end to the war their people have been waging on each other since before either of them were born. Karolina wants to help bring peace, but turns down his proposal because she likes girls.

Which, it turns out, is not much of a problem, since Skrulls are shapeshifters, and changing gender is about as big a deal for them as changing hair color.

6. Molly Hayes
While the rest of the kids are old enough to drive, Molly is only eleven --- so it's something of a happy accident that her mutant powers of superstrength and invulnerability manifest when they do.

That's right, she's an eleven-year-old mutant with superstrength.

So, when I originally envisioned writing this list, I was sort of determined to limit my choices to one girl from any given story/series/franchise/property --- for example, if I wrote about Buffy, I would have to leave out Willow. (Note: They will both be getting their own entries. Obviously.) The fact that I decided to relax that guideline is pretty much Molly's fault. She had to make the list, but I couldn't include her and not include Nico, and I couldn't include Nico and not include Gert . . . so, yeah, here they all are.

(You may have noticed that I haven't actually said too much about Molly. That was very much intentional. She may be my favorite part of the entire series, so I'd rather just let you read it and fall for her all on your own.)

Well, there you have it.

Actually, I'm not done yet! Another wonderful thing about Runaways is that, unlike so many girl-centric series, the boys are just as important. They may not be quite as powerful, but Alex and Chase and Victor are definitely not just "the guys."

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you haven't already read this series, GO READ IT RIGHT NOW. You'll be glad you did.

If you have already read this series, don't you think it's time you revisited it?

ALSO: If you're familiar with any other comics that feature female characters who are anything like as awesome as these six, I'd love to hear about them!

More later.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why I Love Korra SO DAMN MUCH

Well, first of all, duh.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of my three favorite TV shows of all time; to this day, despite multiple viewings of all episodes, I can still pick an episode at random and start crying -- not because it's sad or happy or whathaveyou (although there is plenty of that going on, too), but because it is just so good as a story. Every single aspect, from the animation to the voice acting to the music to the characterization to the plot to the history to the mythology to the action, is SO GOOD that you just can't handle it (well . . . maybe if you don't have a soul).

So it was a given that I would love the sequel series, too.

. . . Okay, honestly, I can't even go into detail about how much I love it yet. I am still processing. I'd like to provide full recaps of the first two episodes, but they wouldn't be very interesting to read: "So then this happens and I love it, and then Korra says something funny and I love her for it, and then there's a scene that I just absolutely love . . ."

But there is one point that I want to make:

The main thing I'm loving about Korra so far -- which should not come as a surprise at all to anyone who watched the original series* -- is that absolutely no one finds it weird or "wrong" or surprising that the Avatar, the most powerful person in the entire world, is

a girl.

*Kyoshi, Yangchen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Thoughts on Once Upon a Time

Note: As of this writing, I have only seen episodes one through twelve. If any of my gripes or theories have been addressed or proven wrong since then, please don't tell me.

1. It pretty much goes without saying, but I am almost always going to love any sort of fairy tale that's not intended for children (example: Wicked). That being said, I really can't explain why it took me so long to start watching. Several people told me they just knew I would thoroughly enjoy it . . . and, what do you know, they were right.

2. Back in September or October (in other words, not long after it premiered), I read some article somewhere about how the show was drawing criticism from fans of Fables (which is about as not-intended-for-children as it is possible to be) who felt that it was a ripoff of that series.


I don't even know how to respond to that. Yes, okay, both series are about fairy tale characters living in the real world, and both series give Snow White a prominent role, buuuuuut those are the only real similarities. There are a ton of differences. Off the top of my head, these are some of the biggest ones. In Fables:

* All of the fairy tale characters remember who they are. They came to New York to escape the Adversary, who is also a fairy tale character (I won't spoil his or her identity, but it was originally going to be Peter Pan) who's been systematically killing the rest of them off for centuries.

* Snow White is the deputy mayor of Fabletown, and Old King Cole is the mayor.

* Snow White divorced Prince Charming, who went on to marry Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (in that order?). None of them are on very good terms with him, since he's a complete jerk.

* Boy Blue is Snow's assistant; one of his first lines in the whole series is about how it's not a good idea to ask her about the dwarves. The audience doesn't find out exactly why for quite a while.

* Rose Red is a major character from word one.

* And so on and so forth.

3. Speaking of Fables, there's a scene early on where Snow White recovers from an injury that should've been fatal ("head trauma" is an understatement) and Rose Red -- who, obviously, is her twin -- complains that she can never really die because the Mundies (that's us!) keep re-telling her story over and over and over.

Once Upon a Time is an excellent example of that. Not only is the whole thing yet another retelling of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," it goes out of its way to turn other classic fairy tales into that story. Which is especially interesting when you consider that two different movies based on it are going to be released this year.

4. Probably my favorite thing about this show is that there's no shortage of female characters who kick ass -- Emma, Snow, Regina, and Gretel are the best examples so far, but I've been spoiled enough to know that Granny and Red Riding Hood will reveal their badassery in good time -- and absolutely NO ONE seems to think there's anything abnormal about a woman kicking ass.

5. Was "Regina" the Evil Queen's name in the Enchanted Forest, or did she adopt it upon coming to our world? If it wasn't always her name, what was her name back then? I know it's a little thing, but this really bugs me.

6. I really really like the relationship between Henry and Emma.
Sort of.

7. The Hansel & Gretel episode got on my nerves just a bit. I mean, alright, it's Hansel & Gretel, we all know exactly how that story goes. The witch tries to cook them and they cook her. The end. But here's my question:

ONE of the TWO things we got to see the Blind Witch use magic for was telekinesis* -- so how were they able to lock her in the oven? There's plenty of folklore about iron being impervious to magic, so that could've explained it . . . so how hard would it have been to include a line to, you know, explain that?

Which leads me to . . .

8. It was established in the pilot that the Evil Queen can teleport. So, other than "for dramatic effect," why is she always riding around in that pretentious carriage?

9. For that matter, why does she need guards?

10. In episode two, the Evil Queen pays a visit to Maleficent and teases her for being defeated by Sleeping Beauty. So wait, why is Maleficent still alive?

11. You know, I think it's kind of cool how they've been working other fairy tales into Snow White's story, but it's really rather pointless. We already know how her story ends. Even if we didn't, the pilot makes it clear that she and Prince Charming get married and have a baby and live happily ever after. Well, almost.

All I'm saying is, they keep throwing things like dead dwarves and emotion potions and long-lost twin brothers into the story; they're cool, but they rather lack dramatic tension.

12. The writers are clearly making an effort to populate the Enchanted Forest with people of color, and I love that a whole lot, but . . .

none of them get to do anything!

(Cinderella's fairy godmother does NOT count.)

Which really bugs me, because -- unless there's someone I'm not thinking of right now -- Snow White is just about the only fairy tale character ever who is specifically described as having white skin. Anyone else could be any ethnicity in the world, but they are all white white white.

Well. Except for the Evil Queen (her actress is Puerto Rican) and the Genie (he's half black and half Italian).

Good going, show.

13. It would be really cool if they made somebody gay.

14. It would be almost as cool if they made one of the more popular princesses totally evil. (Example: There could be a VERY GOOD REASON Maleficent is still alive . . .)

15. I'll try not to rage about this too much, but the Beauty & the Beast episode really pissed me off. I did quite like the actress they chose to play Belle, but I did not like the direction they went with for the Beast at all. (I felt a bit like the main character of Sunshine -- which, if you haven't read yet, go track it down right now -- who is annoyed that most artists in her world tend to portray him as looking like a vampire.)

16. There are quite a few questions I would really like to have answered sooner than later, such as:

* Why the hell does Regina even want Henry?

* If Regina is so hell-bent on making sure no one gets a happy ending, ever, why does she keep going around saying things like, "Miss Blanchard, stay away from Mister Nolan OR ELSE"?

* Does Regina still have her powers? If so, why doesn't she use them to keep everyone in line and deal with Emma? Is Emma's mere presence weakening her hold over the town? If so, why doesn't she realize that?

* Why didn't Regina just kill everyone? That would've been a great way to destroy their happy endings, right?

* When is Emma going to start believing Henry about the curse?
Seriously, the show can't go on like this forever.

17. This show is really really pretty to look at. Not the cast (although, um, WHAT'S UP, PRINCE THOMAS?), the backgrounds. The forests and the skies and the meadows and the lakes. Sweet God.

18. If Emma is so so so good at telling when someone is lying, how the hell does she not realize that Sidney Glass is in Regina's pocket?

19. I'm really going to be pissed if they try to portray the Evil Queen in a sympathetic light. She's one of the most evil characters I've ever encountered in any story in any medium, and I really love to hate her. It's gonna suck if I eventually have to start feeling sorry for her.

Well, okay. That would maybe make her more of a well-rounded character, but seriously. How bad can her life possibly have been so far that she had to try to murder her stepdaughter -- not to mention that whole thing where she ripped out her father's heart so she could send every fairy tale character ever to our world and mess with their memories in the process?

20. I find it very interesting that, so far, everything we've seen that's happened in Fairy Tale Land has technically been a flashback.

21. Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison are adorable together. I adore them both individually, and I can totally buy them as mother and daughter.

22. So far, I'm not exactly loving what the show has done with Rumpelstiltskin.

*Yes, I know that, technically, using magic to move stuff around is not exactly the same thing as "telekinesis" . . . but seriously, bite me.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Be Your Own Hero"

Hey, remember how I originally started this blog to talk about dealing with depression?

. . . Yeah.

So today I went to the doctor (a "normal" doctor, not a "head" doctor; reasons are none of your business), which was somewhat scary -- having anything medical done at any time always seems to convince me that, whoops, I'm Patient Zero for the disease we'll discover if we ever cure cancer -- but then, once I actually got there, something wonderful happened.

You know how, any time you go to the doctor for anything, they can't get down to the reason you're actually there until they've asked a zillion and one preliminary questions about any time you've ever gone to any doctor in your entire life?

This visit was no exception!

DOCTOR: So do you have any other existing health concerns I should know about?
ME: We-ell, yes, I have been diagnosed with depression.
DOCTOR: Are you currently in treatment?
ME: Not at the moment, no, but I did go to therapy last year.

You guys, seriously, she was so proud of me for going to therapy that I half-expected her to jump out of her chair and do a happy dance. That didn't happen, but we did have a fairly excited mini-conversation about how entering therapy meant I had to stop drinking, and I decided to keep up my sobriety after therapy for a grand total of one hundred days. We talked about how I had figured out that, for me personally, not reading anything for more than two weeks is probably a sign that something bad is going on in my brain. And so on and so forth. I'm not describing this very well because I'm still excited (also, I'm so hungry I'm sort of dizzy), but . . .

. . . okay, so my point here is "just" that I'm so proud of myself. I can't even begin to wrap my head around how much my life sucked this time last year, and how awesome it is now, and how that change is entirely my fault.

Imagine how awesome my life will probably be a year from now if I keep this up.

Try not to get dizzy.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Which Witch is Best (and Why)

NOTE: This post is completely free of TVD spoilers!

So it's never been a secret that, as far back as the pilot, I have found it pretty much impossible to stop myself from comparing Bonnie Bennett of The Vampire Diaries to Willow Rosenberg of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Today I'd like to talk about why I think Willow is a better witch -- although, honestly, I suppose I could just say something like

Willow is not only my favorite witch in all of fiction, she's pretty much my favorite fictional character of all time. Bonnie is neither of those things.

The end.

. . . But that wouldn't be very much fun to read, would it?


To break the whole thing down in a way that's as simple as it is uncomplicated, it seems to me that Willow is a better witch for two reasons, which I will discuss "at length" (a phrase which, in this context, can be read as "until I get bored"):

1. She is occasionally given storylines that have little or nothing to do with being a witch, and that makes her a stronger character.

Which may be somewhat unfair to Bonnie, whose first line in her first scene in the first episode was, "So, Grams is telling me I'm psychic -- our ancestors were from Salem; witches and all that" (note that I am quoting from memory, so the line may not be exactly verbatim) . . . but that just reinforces the point, don'tcha think? I mean, we are almost done with season three, and what do we know about her? She's Elena's best friend in the world; they're so close that they consider each other sisters. She's a witch who comes from a family of witches. She . . . oh, wait, THAT'S IT. There is absolutely nothing else to her character: anything that we've found out about her in nearly three years has had something to do with witchcraft (example: we finally got to meet her mother, and, well, yeah).

In stark contrast, we know plenty about Willow that has absolutely NOTHING to do with witchraft. Her crush on Xander, her friendship with Buffy, her Jewish background, her status as the smartest student in school, her romance with Oz, her strained relationship with her parents. All of this was established very early on in the series, and it made her a remarkably strong character, and that made her a better witch.

2. She made her own rules about magic.

To compare each of them to other witches from different works, whereas Willow greatly resembles Granny Weatherwax (widely regarded as the most powerful witch alive; doesn't know the meaning of the word "impossible"), Bonnie is more akin to Hermione Granger (very intelligent, very powerful, but rarely uses magic for anything she hasn't read about in a book).

I mean, just think about how much Willow has accomplished with magic. She restored Angel's soul (twice!). She saved her own life by floating a pencil. She attracted the attention of D'Hoffryn, even though she had never done any vengeance. She saved Buffy from the astral realm. She hurt Glory, who was a GOD (again, twice!). She brought Buffy back to life. She broke that whole "one girl in all the world" rule.

To hammer the point home: In the final season, the Big Bad is (kind of sort of) Satan By Another Name. One of the first things he does when he comes to town? He tries to convince Willow to kill herself because his plan would be so much easier without her around to muck things up.

Now, then. Bonnie. To be clear, I don't think her by-the-book approach to magic is necessarily a bad thing. She's obviously performed some pretty extraordinary feats, and she is one of only two humans Klaus views as a threat (note that the other is also a witch). Both of which are all the more remarkable when you consider that she's known about her powers for less than TWO YEARS.

But . . . seriously, it's like she forgets how powerful she is sometimes. Most of the time. I get that Klaus is a Big Damn Deal, and without him the show wouldn't be nearly as dramatic, but she's the one character who can really hurt him without some silly Deus Ex Machina one-of-a-kind super-special weapon, and she seems to spend all her time either worrying about who he's going to hurt next or sitting on the sidelines while the rest of the heroes try to take him out. Or, worse yet, letting him manipulate her into helping him!

So I guess what I'm saying is, I'd like to see her put down her books and start using her power. Stop fretting about what magic "can" or "can't" do, and make it work for her.

Just a thought.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Just in Case You Were Wondering

I haven't said anything for a while because I've had too much to say. I can't pin it down long enough or coherently enough to actually, you know, say it. Life's been getting in the way, and is still getting in the way. Things should be getting much better or much worse around this time next week.

Also, here's a picture I took yesterday:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why I Love What I Love: Witches

In my last post, I mentioned "some" of my favorite witches in all of fiction. Today, I thought it would be fun to talk a bit about exactly why I like them so much. Here goes . . .

Rachel, Alex, and Daphne from the godawful stories I've been writing all my life
 Well, obviously I'm rather fond of my own characters.

Nancy, Rochelle, Bonnie, and Sarah from The Craft
 How can you not enjoy the heck out of this movie? It's the perfect guilty pleasure . . . and by that, I mean it makes for a really great drinking game.

the cool aunt from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Since it's Marion Zimmer Bradley, this book is chock-full of characters who learn everything there is to learn (i.e., everything she personally has to say) about pseudo-realistic magic, which is kind of sort of not quite exactly the same thing as neo-paganism.
Which is actually genuinely interesting to me (I may not be religious, but I do find religion pretty interesting), but still, considering how most magical characters in this book have to consider the phase of the moon and invoke the Goddess to do something as simple as light a candle, I found it so very satisfying when Morgause (that's the cool aunt's name -- thank you, Wikipedia!) finally realizes, in what is essentially a throwaway scene, that the power is there to use whether you believe in the Goddess or not.
Also, two cool things about this book:
1. You know how Wicked re-told the story of The Wizard of Oz by casting the villain in a more sympathetic light and examining her motivation and all that? Years before Gregory Maguire even got the idea, this book did the same thing for the legends of Camelot.
2. Unfortunately, I can't remember exactly how old I was the one time I read it, but I was somewhere between the ages of thirteen and barely sixteen. At this point in my life, I read so many books that, if my mother had known I was reading, would've horrified her. This one may have been the worst. Even if you turn a blind eye to all the rampant paganism going on, even if you ignore the fact that every single Christian character is portrayed in a fairly negative light, the story is chock-full of, for example: rape, incest, violence, murder, deception . . .

Endora from Bewitched
I'm gay. She's one of my icons. Why are we still talking about this?

Marnie and her family from Halloweentown and its sequels
I'm gay. I like Disney Channel Original Movies. This is a bit of a "duh," you know?
But seriously, I love that moment in the second movie where Marnie convinces her siblings that they can break the rules because their magic is the most powerful in the world. I just, I don't know. The way I think about fiction, that's how magic should work. You're as powerful as you think you are. Need to get through a portal to another dimension even though it's impossible? Well, do you THINK you can figure out a way to do it?

all three generations of Owens sisters from Practical Magic - the book, NOT the movie
Oh, Alice Hoffman is good. She knows how to tell a story. This was the first book of hers I ever read, and it's still hands-down my favorite. I learn new things from it every time I re-read it (which, these days, I only let myself do on very special occasions, because I've read it so many times).
If you've ever heard someone talk about "Magical Realism" and you're not as familiar with the genre as you'd like to be, read this book.
As for the movie . . . it's not that I don't enjoy it, it's just so very different. It's less Magical Realism and more straight-up Fantasy. Which I am obviously okay with, but much of what makes the book so special (example: Kylie's empathy) is lost in translation.

the witch queens from Stardust, either the book or the movie
Oh, sweet Lord, can Neil Gaiman write about magic. He just GETS IT, you know?

Thessaly from The Sandman
Speaking of how Neil Gaiman knows how to write about magic.

Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley from Harry Potter
Okay, I've loved Molly from the moment we first met her at Platform 9 3/4 . . . but "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" is my favorite scene in the entire series. 'Nuff said.
As for Professor McGonagall, she's been my favorite character since the very first time I read the very first chapter of the very first book. This is a series full of characters I love and characters I love to hate, but not once in seven books did anyone ever come close to taking her place.

Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, because yes, she totally counts
Okay, so whether or not she counts as a "witch" is perhaps up for debate, but for me, it's close enough: She's the smartest main character; she has a familiar; all Unicorn Ponies have a knack for some sort of magic, but her knack is for magic in general; she carries the spark that activates the Elements of Harmony; and . . . that's about it.
Alright then. That explains why she's on this list. Now, here's why I love her so much: As the protagonist of a show aimed at little girls, she's an amazing role model. She does magic all the time, right, but she NEVER makes funny rhymes or chants or invokes the power of the sun or anything like that. How does she do magic? She reads, she learns, and then . . . she uses her brain to affect the world around her. If you don't understand why that makes her a greater role model for little girls than, say, Hannah Montana, please go get sterilized right now.

Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary from a short story in a book I read long ago that I think was called Things That Go Bump in the Night
I actually just found this book on Amazon and bought it for four dollars. I haven't been able to track it down for about ten years, so you can just imagine my excitement. All I really remember about this story, other than the sisters' names, is that I effing loved it.

pretty much any witch from any fairy tale ever
This is another "duh."

Rita Repulsa from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Every single episode of the first season kicked off with her motivation: "Aaaaah! After ten thousand years, I'm free! Time to CONQUER EARTH!"
That's right. She's been imprisoned for ten thousand years, and as soon as she's finally released, her first and only priority really is that simple: CONQUER EARTH!
All I'm saying is, that's how you make a memorable villain for a children's show.

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
Well, duh. She turns into a dragon. Do you realize how much I adore dragons?
Also, I really like the Disney version of this story because, when you think about it, the Prince and the titular Princess are almost incidental to the plot. It's really about her conflict with the three fairies.

Nico Minoru from Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
Ahh, Runaways. If you like comic books that aren't "typical" superhero stories and you haven't read this one yet, go track it down RIGHT NOW. For a quick summary, it's about six kids who find out that their parents are secretly supervillains -- crime bosses, mad scientists, time travelers, evil mutants, alien invaders, and dark magicians -- and run away and try to stop them from destroying the world. SO MUCH BETTER than it sounds.
Also, one thing I adore about Nico? She's Japanese, but her ethnicity is never an issue. She doesn't, for example, write kanji in the air whenever she casts a spell. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's so refreshing to see an Asian character who isn't all "hey, look at how Asian I am!"

Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Agnes "Perdita" X. Nitt, and - most especially - Tiffany Aching from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books
In my experience, there are only two living writers who write about magic nearly as well as Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett is one of them. (Robin McKinley is the other.)
Picking a favorite Discworld book is somewhat like picking a favorite Shakespeare play, but I do strongly prefer the books about Tiffany. I really like the notion that magic and witchcraft aren't quite exactly the same thing: Being a witch means you have to heal the sick and lay out the dead and settle village disputes and a thousand other little things; but then it also means you have to do complicated, nearly impossible, feats of magic to defeat unspeakably evil forces because, well, there's no one else.
Also, the books are literally so funny that you occasionally have to drop them so you can laugh without risk of a paper cut.

Elphaba and Glinda from Wicked by Gregory Maguire
As I explained in my last post, these two have bugged me since the first time I ever saw The Wizard of Oz, so this book (which, by the way, I read at least a year and a half before the musical was a thing) was such a relief.
And the sexual subtext certainly didn't hurt.

certain characters from Robin McKinley's Sunshine
Yeah, "certain characters." That's all I can say without revealing some pretty massive spoilers. All I'll tell you up-front is that this is a book about a baker who gets kidnapped by vampires. But there are a few things I can say . . .
1. Robin McKinley is famous for re-telling fairy tales, and she's ridiculously good at that, so it was nice to see her write about magic in a more contemporary setting. (Well, okay, not so much "contemporary" as "post-apocalyptic.")
2. Most of the time in vampire fiction, the existence of vampires is a huge secret. That is most definitely not the case here: Every car company in the world has an anti-vampire ward worked into their logo. That's just fascinating, isn't it?
3. There's one scene where . . . um, a magic handler (no one is actually called a "witch") tells another character who knows a bit about magic that she's just done something impossible. (I know this is sort of confusing, but seriously, I would hate myself if I spoiled ANYTHING.) The response is basically, "You couldn't have done that if you had been told that it was impossible."
4. I will always always always love this book for the following line: "You are not consumed by the darkness because you are full of light."

the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus
How can you not love this movie? Seriously?

Frau Totenkinder from Fables by Bill Willingham et al
Once upon a time, fairy tales were most definitely not for children. Fables is an excellent reminder.
So the thing I like about Frau Totenkinder (who, by the way . . . um, if you speak better German than I do, her name is pretty chilling right away) is that, despite potentially being any unnamed wicked witch from any fairy tale ever, she's one of the most heroic characters in the whole series.
Also, her duel with Baba Yaga is that much more epic because we never got to see it.

Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In a list full of "well, duhs," this is unquestionably the biggest "WELL, DUH."
It's common knowledge that Buffy is my favorite TV show of all time, so of course the main character's best friend is going to be one of my favorite characters in all of fiction. That would've been true even if she wasn't a witch. Since she is, though . . . well, as I keep saying, DUH.
I really don't even know what to say. I like Willow and Tara, together and separately, so much that trying to describe exactly why I like them is a bit like trying to explain to someone who's looking right at me that I have dark hair. You know?

Anyway. That was fun.

More later.

Much love,

P.S. You may be wondering why the sisters from Charmed were not allowed anywhere near this list. The answer to that is so long that it may be the subject of a future post. You'd think I would like this show as much as I like Buffy, but you'd be emphatically wrong.