“Invader Zim: The Best of World Domination” – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


WORLD DOMINATION. That’s the goal for ZIM, the Irken invader stationed on Earth. But even an Irken as talented, beloved, and humble as ZIM occasionally has trouble getting his plans off the ground. A brand new collection featuring four favorite stories highlighting ZIM’s greatest plots to take over the world.


This anthology has several authors and illustrators, including Zim creator Jhonen Vasquez. Other contributors include Eric Trueheart, Aaron Alexovich, Megan Lawton, Rikki Simmons, J.R. Goldberg, Warren Wucinich, Dave Crosland, and Fred C. Stresing.

The collection comes out on October 6th. I got an advanced reader copy from Oni-Lion Forge Publishing. (If you’re already a fan of this comic series, spoiler alert: these stories were already presented in issues #3, #8, #18, and #20.)

I hadn’t read any Invader Zim comics before, but I did watch the old cartoon. A familiarity with the characters and style of humor might make this an easier read, but it’s not entirely necessary. If you like absurd scenarios and outlandish egotistical aliens, you shouldn’t have any problems jumping right in.

There are four stories included: Star Donkey, Pants!, Burrito King, and Floopsy Bloops Shmoopsy.

“Star Donkey” has Zim playing the part of a pretentious artist, whose latest installation (at the Museum of Natural History Museum) is really a cover to take over Earth. One of my favorite lines, spoken by a member of the public who is trying to interpret Zim’s great work, is “He’s commenting on the utter banality of commenting.” If that doesn’t sum up life on social media, I don’t know what does! Zim is joined by his companions Gir and Mini Moose in this one, and is thwarted in part by his human neighbor/nemesis Dib.

(But really, isn’t Zim’s biggest obstacle always his own ego and/or Gir getting distracted at an inopportune time?)

In “Pants!,” Zim has invited some aliens to come to Earth and zombify all the humans. The aliens are living pants, and the people who put them on turn into zombies. The story focuses mostly on Dib, as he survives the zombies at his skool and communicates with the alien queen. He and Zim face off in an inevitable Pants Pants Revolution battle.

“Burrito King” sees the return of The Tallest, the overlords Zim is always trying to impress. When Zim sees that another invader is getting recognized for his achievements, he sets out to conquer something he thinks will be an easy win: the local burrito restaurant. He makes all patrons swear loyalty to him in exchange for their burritos – but, of course, Gir is in the kitchen and does not know how to make burritos.

“Floopsy Bloops Shmoopsy” mocks the laziness of good, long TV binge. Zim creates a “conquer blob” to subjugate the human race for him, and then starts watching cartoons with Gir while the blob does the work. They end up watching cartoons for YEARS, though. The blob gets the job done, then gets bored waiting for Zim to come outside, and rebuilds society while he waits. The story ends with Gir saying, “Ooooh, it’s so pretty outside!” and Zim replying, “Yessss… It’s disgusting.”

Don’t we all feel like that some days?

Check out the new Invader Zim compilation, “World Domination,” wherever you get all your fave comics.


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T.J. Tranchell – Author Interview

BY: BRITTANY LEWIS


Author T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween, has worked as a journalist, horror movie columnist, pizza delivery man, warehouse worker, haunted house monster, customer service clerk, college instructor, and other less glamorous jobs. Tranchell has his master’s degree in literature from Central Washington University with, naturally, a focus on the horror genre.

Tranchell published his first novel, “Cry Down Dark,” through Blysster Press in 2016. In 2017, Blysster released a collection of short stories, poetry, and film criticism titled “Asleep In the Nightmare Room.” He has also published horror short fiction, is at work on his second novel, and was co-editor of GIVE: An Anthology of Anatomical Entries, a dark fiction anthology from When the Dead Books. He is a rising star among horror scholars, having presented work on Stephen King at the Popular Culture Association’s national conference, and has been a panelist and interviewer at Crypticon Seattle for several years

He currently is the author development coordinator for Blysster Press, writes for Northwest Public Broadcasting, and is a freelance writer and editor. Email him at tj.tranchell@gmail.com.


BRITTANY LEWIS

T.J. please tell me about yourself. Where did you grow up? How did that inspire your writing?

T.J. TRANCHELL

I grew up in Utah. One thing that did for my writing early was to push me toward darker stories. I’ve always been something of a rebel. In the last few years, however, I’ve accepted that Utah is a place that doesn’t have enough horror stories set in. So I’ve made it a point to do that.

BRITTANY

On the topic of inspiration, what authors/novels/short stories, etc. inspired your writings?

T.J.

I’m a huge Stephen King fan and I borrowed a line from one of his books for the title of my first book. Beyond that, and even beyond horror, I love Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac. Shirley Jackson has been huge for me, too. Lately I’ve gotten more into Brian Evenson, who also grew up in Utah.

BRITTANY

How did you choose which genre to write in?

T.J.

I write mostly horror. I don’t do a lot of gory stuff, though. I’m more about atmosphere and emotion. I leaned toward horror as a place where characters can face the worst of the world (and other worlds) and hopefully come out stronger. It doesn’t always work out like that, but it allows me to explore drama and comedy at the same time without being either. That, and my birthday is on Halloween. It’s a natural fit.

BRITTANY

Tell me about “The Private Life of Nightmares”? Where did the stories come from?

T.J.

The stories in The Private Lives of Nightmares are almost entirely from the last two years. I put all the good stuff I had written before into the collection “Asleep in the Nightmare Room,” so the next one had to be all new work. Many of the stories were written or revised for specific submission calls. They weren’t all accepted, but that’s how they started. Others were written during my brief time as an MFA student. As for the ideas behind them, most of them were inspired by music.

BRITTANY

How has becoming a published writer affected you? Are you the same T.J. you were before? What’s your schedule like?

T.J.

I’m basically the same person. A few more people know me now than did before and I’ve made a ton of new friends. But I am still the same me. Always thinking of stories and thinking “what if?” My schedule now is that I write when I can. I’m homeschooling my seven year old son and my wife now works ten hour days. And I’m a college English instructor (online for the year). Writing time is precious so when I get it, I work hard and fast.

BRITTANY

Do you have any tips for others out there who like to write but might not think publication is possible?

T.J.

These days, anyone can publish. The biggest tip I have is to finish something. You’ll never get anything published if you don’t finish. And don’t let other people tell you not to go for it. You want to be a writer? Then write. Worry about publishing after. You don’t need a Twitter account devoted to writing unless you have something written.

 

BRITTANY

Is there anything you thought I would ask that I did not?

T.J.

The other thing is to read! Read everything for a long time. Read bad books and good books. Short stories, poetry, nonfiction. Read the newspaper. I’ve had some of my best stories come from the news. Listen to people talk. Go to plays (when they return). I want to say “don’t just sit at home” but that was a different life. Find ways to engage with life, even if you don’t like people.

BRITTANY

Tell me more about how Utah pushed you toward darker stories. Is there a specific incident or event from childhood that stuck with you?

T.J.

My first book was set there because it was based on a true story. A friend of mine died from a brain tumor and the book was my grieving process. Then I wrote another (seeking publication still) and set it in a fictional version of the town I grew up in. After that, it’s been universe building.

In “The Private Lives of Nightmares,” there is an essay titled “Street View” that is about some things from my childhood. I don’t want to spoil it, but the unpublished novel is about Mormon exorcists. The incidences in “Street View” are the nugget of that novel. Utah has just seeped in. I’m almost 41 and now truly reckoning with my childhood on the page. Young adulthood was easy to write about because it wasn’t that long ago. Childhood, though, seems like a lifetime in the past.

BRITTANY

Tell me more about how music inspires your writing.

T.J.

When I write, I listen to movie scores. The consistency keeps me on track, and it comes with natural story beats. But the songs that inspire me can have a lyric that sends me off into a story, or something about the performer can give me an idea for a character without actually being that person. “The Private Lives of Nightmares” starts with a story inspired by Bruce Springsteen and John Steinbeck.

BRITTANY

Do you have any ideas for your next book? What have you been writing lately?

T.J.

I’m still trying to get that exorcist book published. I had a publisher who unfortunately closed before it could be released. But I have some scene sketches, not really an outline, for a follow-up that meshes that and “Cry Down Dark,” my first book. I also have an unfinished serial killer novel that my wife wants me to finish before I do anything else. I’ve also started working on a nonfiction project about horror literature. There are many scholarly books about horror films but not enough about horror novels.


Purchase T.J. Tranchell’s latest book “The Private Lives of Nightmares” through Blysster Press.

Even bad dreams have secrets.

Around the corner awaits a new set of shadows, demons, and nightmares. From T.J. Tranchell, author of CRY DOWN DARK and ASLEEP IN THE NIGHTMARE ROOM comes a thrilling set of tales—even a few that are true—to keep you awake past your bedtime.

Showcasing his penchant for bringing the monsters inside of us and the monsters surrounding us together, Tranchell invites you to walk with him through small towns, across a desert, along a beach, and into events that have shaped him and will chill your blood. You are even invited to a once-in-a-lifetime birthday party, where the cake has a special ingredient you will never forget.

And those are only the dreams seen from the safety of a pillow, covered in your favorite blanket. Tranchell has saved the worst nightmares for the bright light of day, where the truth can’t be denied.

The bad dreams are out in the open, but they hold tight to their secrets. Turn a few pages and you will discover THE PRIVATE LIVES OF NIGHTMARES.”

Buy Now!


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“Eliza Hamilton” by Tilar J. Mazzeo – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK


Fans fell in love with Eliza Hamilton—Alexander Hamilton’s devoted wife—in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal musical Hamilton. But they don’t know her full story. A strong pioneer woman, a loving sister, a caring mother, and in her later years, a generous philanthropist, Eliza had many sides—and this fascinating biography brings her multi-faceted personality to vivid life.

Goodreads

If you’re the type to find history hard to focus on, this read might not be for you. Even I found a few parts to be a bit dry, and I actually like history. But, for the most part, there are a lot of great stories in Eliza’s long life.

The Schuyler sisters grew up on the Hudson River, with family land in both Albany and Saratoga. Their father had long been involved in military and political machinations, and was even a liaison with the local tribal communities at times. (The book “Last of the Mohicans” was written by one of Eliza’s distant cousins.) Also of note was that most of the region was being settled by families connected to the Schuylers – they knew just about everybody in New York state during this era, it seemed. Eliza was described as “outdoorsy,” and loved to ride horses.

There is one story about Eliza’s mother, Kitty, that stands out from these early years. When Philip (Eliza’s father) learned that an opposing army was going to pass by one of their properties, Kitty drove there from the other with a team of horses and a few slaves. She loaded up all the good silver at that house, and then got word from her husband to burn all the crops in the field so that the army couldn’t eat their food. None of the slaves wanted to do it, so Kitty did it herself. Then she sent her horses to Philip, because she figured he’d need them on the front lines, and hitched her carriage to some oxen, instead, for the return trip. Apparently, the story of a lady in all her finery setting fire to her crops was a regional legend for years.

Eliza and her sisters also got an education, in New York City. They learned a little reading and writing, and how to manage a household. But they were mostly concerned with finding husbands.

While Eliza had a few crushes, we already know who she ends up marrying – a military man with no family or money, one Alexander Hamilton. Thankfully Hamilton had a good reputation in the military, and Philip Schuyler approved of this son-in-law. The newlyweds would have to rely on Eliza’s side of the family for support, as Alexander had no family.

There are a couple key points from their early years together. One is that Alexander was a prolific writer, and wrote an almost constant stream of letters home to Eliza during both their courtship and early married years. Eliza, on the other hand, did not have a lot of confidence in her spelling, and wrote back to Alexander less often than he would like. This was actually one of their ongoing disagreements.

Another idea that comes up in this part of the book is that of the “Roman wife,” who would sacrifice for the good of the Republic, and the idea of the “American wife,” who was more of a romantic, dedicated to her husband and also to being a socialite. Alexander, in the midst of trying to help establish the new country, wanted a “Roman wife,” and Eliza agreed to be one. The idea was that getting the nation founded was even more important than the two of them always being together.

A good portion of the middle of the book (around 20%) is dedicated to the Reynolds Affair. For those who don’t know the basics: Evidence of payments made from Alexander to a man name James Reynolds lead some to believe that Alexander was engaged in insider trading while he was heading up the national Treasury. Alexander claimed that the payments were made because he had slept with Reynolds’ wife, and Reynolds was blackmailing him.

The author here leans toward the belief that Alexander did not really sleep with Maria Reynolds. This was actually the belief most of his accusers still clung to at the time, to varying degrees. Many thought the love letters from Maria to Alexander were forged. Maria herself claimed this, and offered to give a writing sample for people to compare – yet, one never given. Later, some historians proposed that Eliza burned her own love letters to Alexander because the wording and spelling closely resembled that found in the Maria Reynolds letters – so perhaps Alexander modeled the letters after the real ones from his wife?

Whether or not Alexander was trading for his own benefit or that of others is also at question. He was still acting as the lawyer and executor of all his brother-in-law’s American holdings while (Eliza’s sister) Angelica and her husband were in Europe, and had business and familial ties throughout the widespread branches of the Schuyler clan. Would it make sense for Eliza to go along with a lie in order to be a good “Roman wife,” and protect her husband’s political appointment at the Treasury – even if it made their marriage seem crappy to those looking at it from the outside? Would it give her more incentive to also be protecting her father, sisters, and various other family members?

The Reynolds affair came and went, many times over. Alexander’s political enemies would continue to bring it up for years, even after his death. Alexander almost fought one duel over it in 1795, but that one was averted. The Hamiltons moved out of the inner city, and started building a farmstead north of town. They were mostly happy there, despite family health issues and their older teen children getting into trouble from time to time. Eliza didn’t know how far in debt they’d gone building this home until after Alexander’s death in 1804.

Eliza’s father, Philip, promised to help support her and her children financially after her husband’s death – but he died shortly after. All of her Schuyler siblings were in tight financial positions, and fought bitterly over their inheritances. Eliza was eventually able to keep her house, only because Alexander’s allies and admirers started a fund to help her.

Eliza had always had a soft spot for widows and orphans – this went back to the days of the Revolutionary War, when she had many friends who’d lost their husbands. But after being left to the charity of others in the wake of her own husband’s death, she took on a more formal role in helping others in these situations.

She joined a society of ladies who were trying to start an orphanage, and over the years took on more formal and public roles. (One such promotion took place because one of the founding ladies, Elizabeth Ann Seton, was ousted by the others for converting to Catholicism. Seton would later be canonized as a saint of the Catholic church, the first American to have this honor.) There were constantly more orphans than space, and Eliza used her fame and respect in the community to raise funds for more and more buildings. She served on the board of the society for several decades.

She had one last big adventure when, at the age of 80, she traveled “out West” to Illinois to see one of her sons. She had been in the city for most of her life, but still considered herself a daughter of the frontier. Much of the trip was by boat, and she didn’t love every port they visited – but she was happy to be out of the city for a few months.

Eliza did eventually give up her farm north of Manhattan to live with some of her children – at first in New York City, then in Washington, D.C. She was still mentally sharp, and presidents and other people of influence often sat with her to hear stories of the founding of the nation. One of her final projects was to help raise donations for a monument to be built to honor George Washington – she was in the audience as the first bricks were laid for the Washington Monument on July 4, 1848.

Eliza Hamilton lived to be 97 years old.


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“Bookish and the Beast” by Ashley Poston – Review

BY: BRITTANY LEWIS


“Bookish and the Beast” by Ashley Poston is the final book (as of writing) in the Once Upon a Con trilogy. For fans of Reading Our Shelves, you’ll remember our first review was for the second book in this trilogy “The Princess and the Fangirl.”

Nisha and I both gave the previous book ☆☆☆. Looking back, I think my main dislike for “Princess and the Fangirl” was my general dislike for the fairytale “Prince and the Pauper” as well as how much time was spent at ExcelsiCon. I do enjoy stories that take place in one central location, but those are for short stories and novellas.

So going into “Bookish and the Beast,” I had higher hopes knowing that it was going to take place in a library over an extended period of time.

As usual I listened to the audiobook and I have to say that I loved that Caitlyn Kelly was one of the two narrators. She is my all time favorite book narrator. Curry Whitimire did a great job as well, so kudos.


Looking back at my previous comments related to “The Princess and the Fangirl” I quickly realized that less ExcelsiCon the better. Ashley Poston might have read my mind because there was just enough of ExcelsiCon to establish the aura that is her Once Upon a Con series aesthetic but not shoving it down your throat.

The opening of the book is the ending of that year’s ExcelsiCon. Starting with the big ball and leading to the meet-cute. Rosie – our “Belle” – isn’t too enthused about this ball. It’s too loud and too many people. So she goes off to find someplace quiet and meets Vance – the “Beast” – and his amazing General Sond cosplay (spoiler it’s the actual movie wardrobe).

I very much enjoyed this meet-cute. It sets up Rosie and Vance as two individual people, not just a fan and actor respectively. Rosie isn’t defined by her love of Starfield which seemed to be more prevalent in the previous two books. Yes, she loves Starfield, but her love is more rooted in the Starfield book series and it’s connection with her recently deceased mother.

Vance on the other hand is a nice and charismatic young man, but as the book goes on he shows how his Hollywood lifestyle has somewhat rotted his brain, making him believe he is the bad boy everyone thinks he is.

I’m not going to spoil the novel in this review, but I will speak now on some of my favorite sections and my thoughts on a couple characters. Ashley Poston did a fantastic job with “Bookish and the Beast” that I encourage all of you to read it,

First off, one of my favorite scenes was when Rosie meets Vance. The real Vance, not the General Sond cosplayer. There’s a dog and a pool and a book. It’s funny and sad at the same time. It made me want to shove Vance in the pool too.

Like with “Geekerella” and “The Princess and the Fangirl,” Ashley Poston adds in scenes from Starfield. These scenes are from the novels based on the TV series. They focus on General Sond, who is believed to be the “Big Bad” who steals Princess Amara from the hero Prince Carmindor. There’s a lot of complexity in the relationship between Amara and Sond, and I hope Poston continues to explore the world of Starfield.

Rosie’s father, aka Space Dad (you’ll understand when you read the book), is my favorite side character. The love he shows his daughter and his “I used to be big into the punk scene in my youth” aura made him unique and lovable.

Overall, I would give “Bookish and the Beast” ☆☆☆☆☆. It is my favorite in the entire Once Upon a Con series. You can tell the passion for the story that Ashley Poston put into it as well as all the Beauty and the Beast tie ins. It’s a love letter to geekdom and booklovers young and old. There’s lots of nerd culture and book culture and sweet YA romance. Everything I enjoy in a book, and more.


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“Emma” by Jane Austen – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


“Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.”

Goodreads


“Emma” is a classic, first published in 1815. Many of you have probably read it, maybe in a lit class at some point, but this was my first time tackling Jane Austen. A quick refresher, for those who read it too long ago to remember the details:

From a 1909 version of Emma

The story is broken into three parts. In Volume I we meet our main characters, including Emma Woodhouse, aged 21, who lives with her father near the town of Highbury. Their closest neighbors include the Westons and Mr. Knightley. Her older sister, who now lives elsewhere, is married to Mr. Knightley’s brother, referred to as Mr. John Knightley. The main story in this volume is that Emma tries to fix up a new friend, one Harriet Smith, with the new hot bachelor in town, Mr. Elton. Harriet is an orphan, attending a boarding school nearby, and comes off as somewhat simple. She is also a few years younger than Emma. Emma is convinced that her own good standing and knowledge of society rules will rub off on Harriet, and that she should “aim high” in finding a suitor – which is why she thinks Mr. Elton is perfect. Also of note is that Emma has sworn off marriage herself, presumably out of duty to tend to her father. Emma thinks her matchmaking plan is working, as Mr. Elton hangs around her and Harriet more and more, but is surprised to learn that he was actually interested in her, not Harriet.

In Volume II we meet a few new characters and get expanded views on other townspeople who were periphery to the story earlier. One of the key figures in this section is Jane Fairfax, who is close to Emma in age. Although she has family in town, she was raised with another, wealthier family elsewhere. Emma dislikes Jane, mostly because everyone else likes her so much and talks about her all the time. It’s a jealousy thing, from what I can tell. Another important figure is Frank Churchill, who was also raised elsewhere, despite being the son of Mr. Weston. Emma was predisposed to dislike him, because of his prolonged absence from his father, but finds that she actually likes him very much. And, she thinks he likes her. Mr. Elton, having been jilted by Emma, comes home from a vacation with a new wife, and Emma cannot stand her. Mrs. Elton talks incessantly and acts haughty, like she is too good for most people in the town.

Various society shindigs happen near the end of Volume II and into Volume III that celebrate these characters – the marriage of the Eltons, and the visits from Miss Fairfax and Mr. Churchill are both reasons for people to get together en masse, and frequently. One key tidbit is that, while at a dance, Mr. Knightley offers to dance with Harriet Smith. Mr. Elton was the only other male not dancing, and he refused to dance with her because of their past – so, Mr. Knightly wanted to save her from being embarrassed. Later, on her way home, Harriet apparently gets jumped by some would-be muggers, who are run off by Frank Churchill.

A colorized portrait of Jane Austen

In talking afterwards about the night’s events, Harriet confesses that she has a new crush. Emma assumes she means Mr. Churchill, as he had saved her from the mugging. As Emma has refused to ever marry, she is supposedly ok with this turn.

The first big twist in Volume III comes when we learn that Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill were secretly engaged all along, even before their arrival in Highbury. Most people are convinced that Emma will be crushed, as it was obvious that she and Frank were close. She is worried, of course, that Harriet will be crushed – in her mind, she had already moved on from Frank so that Harriet could have him.

The next twist comes when Harriet confesses that her new infatuation was actually Mr. Knightley. Suddenly, and seemingly without any previous thought on the matter, Emma is not ok with Harriet aiming quite that high, and decides/realizes that she wants Mr. Knightley for herself. Just as surprising is the fact that Mr. Knightley wants to marry Emma, too!


The first thing I want to address is that, when I started reading this book, I heard a lot of people say they weren’t a fan of Emma – as in, the character. They thought she was spoiled, and meddled too much in everyone else’s business. I definitely see that, but also think – she’s 21. I see her as thinking she knows everything, and figuring out that she does not. That could be said of a lot of 21 year olds.

(Back when I reviewed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I gave Coriolanus Snow some similar leeway, for being young and naive. Am I just getting soft as I get older, or is the current state of the world forcing me to be more forgiving? Things to ponder.)

So yea, I had a head’s up that Emma is a bit of a meddler, and I didn’t let it bug me. The book on the whole is decent, and would especially entertain people who like hearing about society balls and the like. It’s not exactly action-packed, but I didn’t expect it to be. Some of the foibles and mix-ups I could see coming from a mile away, and other seemed to just pop out of nowhere.

I knew – again, because the book is part of the pop culture lexicon and referred to in other literature – that Emma would end up with Knightley. And yet, that is the part that seems to just appear, rather than develop over time. Her realization that she wants to marry him comes up about eighty percent of the way through the story. He’d certainly been around the whole time, and had shown himself to be a stand-up kind of guy, but they’d mostly disagreed on all sorts of things throughout the bulk of the book. It was almost like he was trying to correct her on certain things along the way as a method of molding her. She, being fiercely independent, felt free to disagree with him often. And yet, I guess that dynamic “worked” for them? Opposites attract, I guess!

A friend of mine* had said that Emma was her favorite Jane Austen book, and specifically that Mr. Knightley was her favorite love interest of Austen’s writings. Her reasoning:

“I think what I like about him is that he’s very tolerant, tends to do charitable things, doesn’t mind chatting with all sorts, is usually perceptive, and doesn’t mind checking Emma though no one else will. I like his tolerance.”

To which, I replied:

“I could get on board with that.”

Overall, the book was pretty good. And I don’t want to come off like I am against Emma and Mr. Knightley getting together – but I do wish that aspect of the story didn’t seem so hurried.

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen book? Or did you read a classic book this summer? Let us know in the comments!


Check out my friend’s cool stuff at: https://cognizantcreative.com/


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“The First Time” by Cher, as told to Jeff Coplon

By: Angie Haddock


“Cher. There’s really no one else quite like her.
She’s been a pop star, a TV star, a movie star, and a wife and mother, yet as “The New York Times” has written, she’s still “a funny, gutsy woman” who is also “genuine” and “down to earth.”
And now, in “The First Time, ” Cher tells about the important first-time events in her life.”

Goodreads

Let’s start out by saying that I’m biased – Cher is my idol. I love Dolly Parton, too, and Bette Midler is great. But Cher will always be the prime diva in my mind.

This book is not a straightforward memoir, per se, but more a collection of vignettes that are sorted into a roughly chronological order. It’s super easy to read, as most of the stories are 1-3 pages long and include pictures!

Cher’s writing style is also of note. Often self-deprecating, she’ll slide little third-person observations into the parentheses, commenting on her own wayward decision-making or wardrobe choices. (Like, “What were you thinking, Cher?”.) This style made it feel like you were hearing the story from a friend, just dishing around some snacks and mimosas.

It was fun to learn more about her earlier life, growing up in California, and her early days with Sonny Bono. She got to hang with a lot of cool people, even before Sonny & Cher were a duo – The Rolling Stones, Phil Spector, Darlene Love, and many other known names make appearances. She even sang backup on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” by The Righteous Brothers!

She got into show business young, and was naive. It’s hard to think of her that way now, since she’s… ya know… CHER. But she comes across as pretty dumbfounded by a lot of the stuff she encountered getting started. She didn’t want much to do with drugs, which were a big part of the scene at the time. She really wanted to be famous for the cool clothes and cars, it seemed. (And let’s be honest, no one else could pull off some of clothes that she’s worn!)

Eventually, she wanted more, and had to really work to prove herself as an actress. I loved this part, too, as she was in some great movies. She learned a lot from various co-stars and directors she worked with early on, including the likes of Meryl Streep and Sam Elliot.

The book occasionally gets into serious topics, including some charity work she’s done – but the heaviest chapter is the last one, dealing with Sonny’s unexpected death.

Overall, this one was quick and enjoyable.


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“Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK

“The memoir of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.”

Goodreads


“Hustling is to work what surfing the Internet is to reading. If you add up how much you read in a year on the Internet—tweets, Facebook posts, lists—you’ve read the equivalent of a shit ton of books, but in fact you’ve read no books in a year.”

Trevor Noah

I wanted to start with that quote because, as avid readers, I thought you all would appreciate it.

Firstly, all the friends who recommended this book to me said I had to listen to the audiobook, because Trevor reads it himself.  So, that’s the format I chose. Not only is Trevor funny, and a good storyteller, but he’s also fluent in multiple South African languages… which helps greatly, as he uses several in this book.  (Let’s be honest, my brain wouldn’t have the first clue how to pronounce anything in Zulu, even if I was just reading it quietly to myself!)  This is a pretty quick listen, as the audiobook is just shy of nine hours long.

The book tells stories from Trevor’s youth, up until his early twenties.  While he is pursuing stand-up comedy by the end, it does not talk at all about his career as a comedian.  I would say the main topics are race and racism, growing up poor, and his relationship with his mom. Random anecdotes on religion, extended family, and schoolboy shenanigans are also fun rides.  Anyone who came of age in the nineties is sure to feel a kinship with him when he reminisces on the slow hell that was making mixed CDs in Windows ’95. 

While I don’t want to give away too many of the details, a few stories certainly stand out above the rest.  The story of him having a friend named Hitler really stuck with me.  He talked about how, in Africa, Hitler was just one of many “bad dudes” in history books.  He’s not seen the same way there as he is in Europe or America. Then again, various African nations had had dictators and genocides of their own, so those seemed more threatening. One of the things that this story highlighted for me was how we’re shaped by the stories of the culture we’re in, and how we have to understand the stories of other places and cultures to understand the people who come from these places. 

Eventually, Trevor and his friends are scheduled to perform for a high school of Jewish kids.  Obviously, things go awry.  When the administrators at the school get offended, and tell the boys to leave, Trevor interprets their actions as coming from a racist place – racist against them, as black kids.  He only figures out later that it’s the “Hitler” thing that made them mad.  This part brought to mind the George Bernard Shaw quote: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

A few quotes from the book that highlight the topics of race, and related issues:

 “Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”

“In any society built on institutionalized racism, race mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race mixing proves that races can mix, and in a lot of cases want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.”

“In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don’t see the person it affects. We don’t see their face. We don’t see them as people. Which was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place, to keep the victims of apartheid out of sight and out of mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human, they would see that slavery is unconscionable. We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don’t live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”

Another big aspect is Trevor’s relationship with his mom.  Obviously, I did not grow up as a mixed child under apartheid… but I did grow up with a single mom, so some of his musings really struck a chord with me.  His mom seems like a defiant, strong-willed woman who wanted a better life for herself than her family had had, and a better life for her kids than she had had.  The final story in the book is about his mom being shot. I got to the part where he finds out she’d been shot… right as I pulled into my drivewa, done with running errands. I was in shock, and thought to myself, “there’s no way I can stop and get out of the car right now.  Oh crap, I have ice cream in one of my grocery bags.”  Needless to say, I ran into my house and turned the story back on, so I could find out what happened! 

I should mention that the stories in this book are grouped more by theme than by chronology. So, there are some characters that you meet more than once, and you may not know their full story until later on in the book.  Stick around, though, and he’ll put all the pieces together for you.


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Love, Victor: Episode 1 – Welcome to Creekwood – Conversation

“Love, Victor” Episode 1 – Welcome to Creekwood – TV Review

BY: BRITTANY LEWIS & NISHA GODE

“Love, Victor” (2020) is a Hulu original series that is the sequel to the movie “Love, Simon” (2018). “Love, Simon” is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” All 10 episodes of “Love, Victor” are available right now on Hulu.

“Victor is a new student at Creekwood High School on his own journey of self-discovery, facing challenges at home, adjusting to a new city, and struggling with his sexual orientation.” – “Love, Victor” synopsis from IMDB

For this review Brittany and Nisha will discuss their opinions on the first episode “Welcome to Creekwood”


NISHA:

I loved a new person and meeting his family

BRITTANY

The first episode did start off with a vibe that blended well with the tone that “Love, Simon” set, so it’s easy to tell that they’re both in the same universe which I enjoyed. But, I was iffy on that tone with the movie. It was/is a bit idyllic. And the vice principal, Ms. Albright, being too much of a narrative dump kind of threw me off. I know for a pilot episode they need that but with the short time run for each episode it paces off for me.

NISHA

Yeah it did really feel like a Love Simon set especially when we got to Creekwood. I thought it was weird but funny that the Simon story was mentioned so early as a legend around the school. It sets up the insta message though from none other than Simon Spier.

BRITTANY

That’s what’s throwing me off. They make it seem too idyllic. But, from the promo for the season it’s showing how VIctor’s story won’t be like that especially when the grandpa is against his friends kissing. Makes it more realistic. Not everyone is as accepting, especially the older generation.

NISHA

Yeah if it hadn’t been for the trailer I would’ve expected more of the same going in. More of the same movie plot.

BRITTANY

It is a good flip on the movie, that Victor even says in his email to Simon that his story is different. I hope they keep going with that because the pilot was a bit more of the same in a way.

NISHA

Well Simon is probably going to stick around and give more advice to Victor

BRITTANY

I just hope it’s more a bookend thing personally. OK, so let’s talk about the characters. Who did you like and who did you not like?

NISHA

Victor has his own magic moment when it comes to basketball though. Immediately on the team.

BRITTANY

Yea, I like how the coach called him “love” it seemed out of nowhere but made me like him.

NISHA

I think that is just how Coach is.

Felix comes off really strong and I didn’t quite like him but I’m happy they made up and went to the carnival

I don’t know if you’ve watched TVD but Lake was giving me strong Caroline Forbes season one vibes.

BRITTANY

I’m getting some Stiles from “Teen Wolf” vibes from Felix which is making me like him, but there’s just a bit too much ‘trying’ from him that’s throwing me off.

I’ve seen some TVD and I am getting a bit of those Caroline vibes from Lake, but I’m liking how she was happy for her bestie Mia when Victor asked her to go on the ferris wheel. I saw the ship in her eyes.

NISHA

Mia seemed nice I guess.

BRITTANY

Mia is nice for sure, but that’s all I’m getting from her so far. Nice.

NISHA

Really? I thought she seemed jealous

BRITTANY

Lake just had this happy smile on her face when they walked away that made me think she was happy for Mia.

NISHA

Have you seen One Day at a Time?

BRITTANY

No I didn’t.

NISHA

I didn’t like the dad, but that’s my own hang up from watching his homophobic season one ass in One Day at a Time. Not looking good for his character on this show.

BRITTANY

That’s interesting.


Overall, Brittany and Nisha enjoyed the first episode. As of posting Nisha has finished the series and Brittany has not.

Please let us know your opinions down below.


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“Bayfield High Complete Series” by Madeleine Labitan – Review

BY: BRITTANY LEWIS


I recently discovered that my Amazon Echo can read my Kindle novellas. I’ve only used it as a speaker for my Audible and Spotify – and sometimes as an alarm – so this discovery blew my mind. So I went looking on my Kindle for something simple and sweet and Kindle Unlimited recommended me the first novella in Madeleine Labitan’s Bayfield High series “Truth or Dare.”

Preamble for this review: “Truth or Dare” is Madeleine Labitan’s first published novella and each subsequent story improves. These novellas are simple YA Romance romps that hit all the cliches, but that’s what I was wanting, nice simple sweet fluff and a quick read.

I can’t say these novellas are the best books I’ve read this year – certainly not the worst – but they have inspired me to get back to my own personal writing which is a plus.


“Truth or Dare”

This novella primarily happens during a party. Each chapter is a slightly different location at the party, so as I read and saw the hints to other characters who could be the protagonists for the rest of the series, I thought the whole series will be small vignettes of what else happened at this party. I kind of wanted that to be true but as I read more in the series I was so happy my theory was wrong.

This story is about a girl (Mackenzie) whose friend just got cheated on and now they are out for revenge – said revenge involves destroying her ex-boyfriend’s room. When the girls show up at the party they immediately encounter Mackenzie’s “arch nemesis” Sean, who is your typical hot and popular guy who is uber cocky and a full up ladies man and has been since middle school.

Sean and Mackenzie have this epic ongoing prank war going on since middle school and the novella tells you about a great deal of these pranks. Even though Mackenzie and Sean are not major players in the next four novellas their pranks get mentioned or witnessed, which I enjoyed.

The title gives you the basic premise as our two romantic leads play a game of truth or dare. The game lasts only one round leading to the characters skinny dipping. There are some cute interactions before they’re in the water and some tension outside of it as their clothes get tossed into a tree.

After the skinny dipping scene we get more of the party, get more info on the other characters. This is where I, after finishing the series, get a bit annoyed. This novella introduces you to some really interesting characters who barely pop up in the other stories. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if the other four books set up recurring characters, one of whom is only mentioned and alluded to in this one to set up “Kiss and Make Up.” I liked Mackenzie and her friends and wish they would have played bigger roles in the rest of the series.

The “what brings the romantic leads together” section of this novella was really sweet. They end up locked in a bathroom together – Sean’s ex-girlfriend is hooking up with the resident bad boy – and end up talking on a balcony afterwards. Sean talks about being broken up and it is revealed that he has always liked Mackenzie and a misunderstanding in middle school lead to their missed chance at preteen romance (and the start of the prank war). They end up kissing before Mackenzie’s friend tells them they have to leave before they are busted.

What happens as they leave the party might be my favorite little bit of story, so I won’t spoil it for you. This is an 18,000 word novella so it’s worth the quick read just for this scene.

There’s only one bit at the end of the story about the aftermath on Monday where Mackenzie doesn’t know if the kiss meant anything and she didn’t interact with Sean at school so it’s all up in the air. In the end the two come together as a couple, but the prank war continues.

I give “Truth or Dare” 3 ☆☆☆. Not much happens in this novella and it is primarily stuck in one location during a set period of time which makes the natural build up of the characters and their thoughts and feelings seem rushed. A lot of the chemistry and history is told to the reader and given in summarized flashbacks and character dialogue. I wish Sean and Mackenzie got more screen time in the rest of the series, but at least the repercussions of their ongoing prank war continues.


“Kiss and Make Up”

“Kiss and Make Up,” is my least favorite of the 5 novellas, mostly because you know the characters are going to get back together but Madison – our female protagonist – is dragging it out. Adam does deserve it for breaking up with her even though she legitimately didn’t cheat on him (she was seen being kissed by another guy, nothing more).

We’re told Adam said some harsh words in the beginning of the break up – I don’t remember if Madison told us what he said, if so it wasn’t memorable for me – but she also establishes that even before the truth came out (that the guy – name not worth remembering because he doesn’t play a role besides this – kissed Madison because she looked like another girl), Adam was already apologizing. (See “Truth or Dare” review about Sean’s ex-girlfriend making out with the bad boy.)

This novella can be summarized as Madison babysits Adam’s little sister and hangs out with Adam helping her get over being sad about the break up. Madison doesn’t take Adam back, even though she wants to, until Adam sings a song outside her window.

I give “Kiss and Make Up” 2 ☆☆. I enjoyed the introduction of Madison because I enjoyed her in the next three books.


“Perfectly Clueless”

“Perfectly Clueless” is my second favorite book and favorite couple out of the whole Bayfield High series. Bianca and Dylan were foreshadowed in the two previous novellas. They are your typical best friends to lovers trope.

Bianca is my favorite protagonist. She is feisty, the girl who hangs with the guys and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Dylan is the perfect best friend who cares and will drive you home drunk – though it’s revealed later Dylan is threatening guys to not date Bianca which is anti-perfect best friend – and buys you a new doll after breaking the first one.

Our conflict in this novella is that Dylan, who is known to hook up with girls and not have a serious relationship, gets a girlfriend. Bianca doesn’t like this, not with her secret crush and all. This leads to Bianca changing from a tom boy to a more feminine girl (barely). Essentially Bianca is open to hanging out with girls more than before and takes out her brown contacts to reveal her blue eyes. It’s a nice and simple character developmental arc.

This is where characters become recurring. Bianca and Dylan were in all three novellas, as was Bianca’s twin Adam. Madison and Bianca become closer friends in this novella which I approve of. I’m all for positive female friendships.

So, this novella is a best friends to lovers story and it takes until the very end for Dylan to realize that he also has feelings for Bianca after another boy, Rohan, shows interest. This is when it’s revealed that Dylan has been threatening all the other guys who were interested in Bianca which is a no-no. Don’t do that, ever.

In the end they get together, obviously. I just loved Bianca and Dylan’s personalities and interactions. They are the couple that I would root for lasting the longest out of all of them.

I give “Perfectly Clueless” 3 ☆☆☆. Bianca and Dylan were such a great pairing, be it as friends or as a couple. Their interactions were fantastic and made me root for them even with Rohan being a great alternative. I would have made it 5 stars, but Adam’s revelation of his feelings wasn’t set up as much as it could have been and Bianca could have been a bit more conflicted about Rohan especially after they kissed. This is the novella I wish Madeleine Labitan would have made into a full blown novel because this pairing has so much going for them and I just hope they last the test of time.


“Hate to Love”

“Hate to Love,” started off as my least favorite but got so much better as it continued. Alexis and Nick have a playful antagonism that I enjoyed. It reminds me of how my husband and I interact. Nick calls her a “brat” and Alexis fires back with “asshole” (my husband and I use “bitch” in a playful tone with each other).

The premise of this novella is that Alexis spent too much money on a post break up shopping spree and her parents make her get a job. Her best friend Madison (from “Kiss and Make Up”) hooks her up with a job at a local pizza place that happens to be owned by Nick’s dad.

Alexis does start off the novel as a brat, whining about needing to work and that her co-worker Elana (El) hates her. Eventually Alexis gets over herself and realizes that El was just being serious about her job and the two become friends. El just happens to be Nick’s cousin, too. This leads to some drama and awkward moments, not just in this novella but in “Just Friends” since that’s El’s book.

Nick is the typical leather jacket, motorcycle driving, stoner bad boy type. I didn’t mention it in my review of “Perfectly Clueless,” but Nick is actually the one who helps Bianca and Dylan realize their feelings for each other because he is a great friend like that.

This novella shows a lot of Nick hooking up with other girls, which is his MO, but he eventually dates Alexis. It’s a bit rushed and they do a lot of hanging out (going to the drive thru and watching Netflix at Alexis’ house) and making out – typical things you would associate with dating. The main conflict is Nick’s inability to label the relationship and admit he wants commitment.

Out of the other couples who pop up in the last novel, I loved their scenes the most. They are the type of couple who is full on PDA and back alley make out scenes. Reminds me of my favorite couple in Jay McClean’s “More Than” series.

I give “Hate to Love” 4 ☆☆☆☆. Alexis and Nick remind me of my own relationship with my husband. Their bickering and playful antagonism was great to read and I enjoyed their whole arc.


“Just Friends”

“Just Friends” gave my boy Rohan his romantic redemption after the heartache from his date with Bianca in “Perfectly Clueless,” and it gives El time to shine as she was a “friend of female protagonist” side character since the second book of the series.

Rohan is established as this “Mr. Unattainable” guy who doesn’t date and blows off every girl who even tries to flirt with him (also he is from London). El is established as this serious girl who cares about her waitress job and is a gamer, wanting to pursue game design after high school.

Something I didn’t establish previously is that all these books take place during the characters senior year. It wasn’t prevalent plot-wise until this fifth book, as college and graduation are part of the conflict.

Rohan and El become friendly before they become a couple. The main conflict is Rohan’s ex-girlfriend from London wanting him back, and Rohan’s stepmother wanting the same. There’s also the stepmom trying to break them up by telling El that Rohan is going to London for college which is what truly leads to their break up.

In the end everything gets resolved and Rohan reveals he got into the same college as El after graduation. This final scene is also where you finally see more of Mackenzie and Sean from “Truth or Dare” and their friend group I fell in love with in that first novella.

I give “Just Friends” 3 ☆☆☆. It was a nice final couple for the series and ties up some loose ends as to whether the previous couples are still together and gives us some cute scenes with those couples. El and Rohan were the most realistic when it came to conflict, as post high school life is a real worry for new couples who hook up so near graduation like they did.


Overall I give the entirety of the “Bayfield High Series” 3 ☆☆☆. All the couples were cute, some needed more screen time and others were rather boring in the main role but great in later books as side characters – *cough* Madison *cough*. I do recommend this series. It’s five novellas but they are short and sweet. With the world the way it is, something fluffy will brighten your mood.

Currently I am working on reading the rest of Madeleine Labitan’s books. She only has 9 books with the newest “When We Fall” published July 20th, 2020.


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“All Heart: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World” by Carli Lloyd and Wayne Coffey – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


In the summer of 2015, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup behind an epic performance by Carli Lloyd. Carli, a midfielder, scored three goals in the first sixteen minutes–the greatest goal-scoring effort in the history of World Cup finals.

Goodreads

While I am not much of a sports fan in general, the singular sport I do follow is soccer. My favorite soccer to watch, specifically, is the World Cup.

All Heart, by Carli Lloyd

Last year, I was with a few friends at one of those wonderful library book sales. There were racks and racks of books – too many to even look at. But among the hardcovers, I found an autobiography from Carli Lloyd. For those who don’t follow the game, Lloyd was a top scorer on the US Women’s National Team during the 2015 Women’s World Cup. I had not known that she had written an autobiography, but I was excited by this find! It was only a few bucks, and I was supporting the library! Win!

I decided to start my current biography challenge with this one because, despite the absence of most sports for the past few months, soccer is sort of back for the summer. (The current MLS tournament follows the standard World Cup format – more info here.) Only after diving into this one did I find out that Lloyd actually published her story in 2016 – and then released this one, the young reader’s version of the original.

So, needless to say, it was a pretty easy read.

Lloyd details her rise as a soccer player – from playing as a kid in New Jersey, through college teams, the U-21 National Team, and the full Women’s National Team. While the text was pretty straight-forward, I will say that she does not spend any time explaining soccer terms to the reader. If you don’t know the basics of the game, be ready to Google.

The story itself is one of constantly striving for more. Lloyd is a perfectionist, and sometimes that works against her by leading her to overanalyze things and be self-critical. But mostly, she uses it to constantly push forward.

I love quotes, so here are some that I highlighted:

“It is not how you start that matters, it’s how you finish.”

“I know that I am the most free, having the most fun, and playing my best when I am focused completely on my own game, not worrying about what everyone else is doing.”

“You don’t start fixating on the finish line of a marathon when you’re steps into the first mile.”

“Negativity is like quicksand: you hang around it long enough and it will take you all the way down.”

“I don’t want to be satisfied, ever. That may sound grim, but it isn’t at all. It is joyful, because the pursuit of progress is joyful. Playing the game I love is joyful.”

So, that should give you some idea of the vibe of this book – motivational, especially to young people or athletes who like to train hard.

I had only a minor gripe about this one, and it is in two items that seem to be missing from the story. On both the dedication page, and in picture captions, she refers to her husband. We meet him in the book, obviously, but she only tells up to them getting engaged. Maybe it’s the “girl” side of me coming out, but I wanted to know the rest of that story! Did they elope? Girl, details! The other omission is similar, in that the book includes a picture (and caption) about the USWNT’s fight with US Soccer about earning equal wages with the Men’s Team… but it isn’t talked about at all in the text of the book.

Overall, an uplifting and breezy read for a hot, quick soccer season!


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