Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Forgotten Garden Review

The Forgotten GardenThe Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an admittedly impatient reader, I almost gave up on this book early on. The multiple (and to my mind, excessive) POV characters created a winding and difficult path in the beginning. It was very hard to get to know any of the characters and decide who we should care about. Needless to say, I am so relieved I stuck with it, as The Forgotten Garden is an absolute masterpiece as a mystery, a character study, and an advertisement for the coast of Cornwall. Kate Morton's way of weaving together three stories across three different generations was masterful and kept me guessing all the way to the end. Every time I thought I had it figured out—why Nell was left alone on the boat, why Eliza had taken her, why Georgiana had fled in the first place—I was wrong. Like Liane Moriarty, another Australian author, Kate Morton really puts you into the skin of these characters. Whether you like them or not, you completely understand who they are and why they behave as they do. It was a long read, but had a very satisfying payoff. I will certainly be reading more of this author.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Nerds are like prison gangs... sort of


There may be no two groups of people in this world who are more different than self-identified nerds and members of prison gangs. But I found myself writing a scene today between a nerdy white female character and her older, Hispanic captor who had spent the majority of his career working as a prison guard. My character used the term "LARP" only to have her captor stare at her blankly. I came up with a brilliant way to compare the different types of nerds (and the perception of hierarchy therein) to prison gangs. But then I remembered that these characters exist in an alternate future where California is still a part of Mexico. Well, dang it. So while I can't include this wonderful bit of analogy in my book, I can share it here. Bear in mind that there is a great deal of cross-pollination in nerd land. The Babylon 5 enthusiast may also be a writer of Anime fan fiction. The Physicist may also get super excited about Star Wars. With prison gangs, there is no cross-pollination, so these are generalizations based on the overarching and popular perceptions of these groups.


Math/Science nerds are like the Aryan Nation
Cuz we're better than you! And we know it!
 No, not in their ideology, of course, but rather in terms of their respective per capita populations. The Aryan Nation was formed by imprisoned whites who found themselves to be a minority in the California prison system. Despite being a minority, these rednec— Caucasians are quite certain they are superior to all of their numerous fellow prisoners. Likewise, those nerds among us who have the skills and the years of education to back up their Math/Science nerd status (Astronomers, Physicists,  Statisticians, Accountants, etc.), are few and far between in the great swaths of nerd humanity, but they are generally sure they are the best among us.

With the success of the Big Bang Theory, more of us common folk are being exposed (through
Sheldon Cooper does not respect your filthy Humanities degree
humorous fiction) to that special subsection of nerds that presumes to lead us. Science and math people had perhaps the hardest time in school, and nerd culture is tied up in the mistreatment we awkward folk received in our formative years. People like me can hide our comic books and our Battlestar Galactica schematics. Math nerds, try as they might, could never really camouflage their nerdiness in school and perhaps carry a chip on their sloped and slender shoulders. Smug though they may be, the Mathy/Sciency types are a great help to people like me who like to write about time travel, but do not like to study string theory. And if looking for the upside of the Aryan brotherhood.... I hear they have the best crank in town, so there's that.


Do I look like I mess around?
LARPers are like the Black Guerilla Family
The BGF made headlines most recently for its imprisoned leader, Tayvon White (the unimpressed looking gentleman to the left), being indicted for racketeering operations within the prison walls. That same gang leader impregnated not one, but four different female guards while he was there. The Black Guerilla Family are comprised of, you guessed it, black men, at least one of which has an uncommon prowess with the ladies, which you would think makes them an unlikely comparison to LARPers, or really any other subset of nerds. But like the BGF, LARPers are hard core, and even other nerds respect their gangsta. For the uninitiated, LARP stands for Live-Action Role Play. These are the people who dress up in costumes and assume a role within a pre-established world. This could be Dungeons and Dragons or it could be those Middle-Ages Societies. These people are serious. LARPing is not to be confused with Cosplay. Throwing on a Sailor Moon costume when ComiCon rolls around is something anyone can do. But LARPing is not a one-day thing for these people. It's their life, or at least a big part of it. It's not uncommon for LARPers to get ink or other permanent body alterations if it's in line with their characters. It's not exactly like gang tats, but it's still quite a commitment.
Blood in, blood out, Bitch.
People in the mainstream often make LARPers an object of scorn (see the awesome movie Role Models for examples of this). But nerds in the know recognize how much dedication, intelligence, and yes, charisma, it takes to pull this crazy shit off. I won't say they are the nerdiest of us all, but there is a compelling argument to be made in their favor.









Anime Fans are like MS-13
The thing about MS-13 is that they are scary. Really, really scary. Mara Salvatrucha (commonly abbreviated as MS, Mara, and MS-13) is a Salvadoran gang that is super excited about killing people for minor offenses. They distinguish themselves by tattoos covering the body and also often the face, as well as the use of their own sign language. Another group of people seemingly set apart from the rest of society with their own language is Anime fans. Like MS-13, they are not one small, cohesive band of misfits.
They are a large and wide-spread collection of cliques and sets: Shoujo, Shonen, Seinen, and yaoi being a few. While they are like all other nerds (having a passion for something the mainstream world may not understand), they do have something of an image problem. Though Urbandictionary.com hastens to emphasize that Anime fans are not to be associated with Hentai fans (Japanese-style animated hardcore porn. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about), there is an undeniably sexual undertone in the public perception of Anime. Just like MS-13 will forever be known by those times when they thought using a machete was the best way to get their point across, Anime fans have to consistently strive to show they are not in it for the animated pre-pubescent girls in mini-skirts. It's so much of a problem that Anime fans have come together to publish guidelines to discourage their fellow fans from being excessively creepy. You have to figure it takes quite a bit of nerve for a LARPer to sneer at an Anime fan, "Oh, you're one of those people?" But trust me, it happens.  


Comic Book fans are like La Eme, AKA the Mexican Mafia


This was my adolescence. And my 20s.
 We are everywhere, though you may not see us. We are your neighbors, your co-workers, and we can get you no matter where you go. Much like the Mexican Mafia, only much less nefarious (usually). La Eme is something of the Umbrella Corporation of Hispanic street gangs. No matter what neighborhood your local Mexican gang is from, whether they be from SoCal (Sorrenos) or NorCal (Nortenos), chances are pretty high they take orders from and pay dues to the Mexican Mafia. You may have thought your pot dealer, Jorge, had that hand tattoo on his shoulder celebrating his son's fifth birthday, but...no.

La Eme—Like the Walt Disney Company... only horrible.
We are the nerd world's La Eme, only paler. Much paler. We don't get out much. It's right there in the name of our most treasured gathering spot—ComicCon. Yes, I know ComicCon officially jumped the shark when they let the Twilight people in, but Comics are pretty much the backbone of any good nerd enterprise. We have our own divisions (Marvel people don't have much use for DC people and Mad Cow and Darkhorse people just think they're better than everyone). And we are definitely into ink. I have a faded and distorted X-men insignia on my pale, doughy outer thigh. Why that location? Because 18-year-olds are stupid. So even if you're more of a Star Trek person or really you just enjoy the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, at least do some Googling about comic books before you engage in the nerd community, as there is nothing more shameful than being mocked by a group of adults with X-men tattoos.




Gamers are like Nazi Lowriders
D and D Guys. They take this shit seriously.
When speaking of gamers, let's get something out of the way. Just because you enjoy playing Call of Duty, does not make you a nerd. The word Gamer has unfortunately been distorted (intentionally to my mind) by asshole jocks and assorted socially well-adjusted folks looking to cash in on the new geek-chic trend. True Geeks really dislike this. So let me tell you, popular handsome man who plays Assassin's Creed, this section is not for you. This section is for those poor bastards who got wedgies for playing Dungeons and Dragons. Just like the Nazi Lowriders, for some weird reason, felt rejected by the Aryan Nation and had to start their own little club. There are other similarities of course. The conspicuous lack of people of color, for one. The other is that, just like the Nazi Lowriders are ratcheting up their group cohesion and discipline to effectively challenge the Aryan Brotherhood's dominance of the toilet wine industry (or whatever those prison people traffic in, I don't judge), Gamers (many of whom are also LARPers) are at this very moment plotting to take down the Physics nerds. Seriously. I know a guy. He told me.

In all seriousness, role-play gamers have a level of dedication that is to be admired. They kept on playing even when the news media was stirring up that whole "Role-playing games are like Satan worship and Satanists are everywhere" trend. It got so bad that three goth kids who played D and D got thrown in jail for 20 years for murder with pretty much no evidence, other than the fact they played D and D. There are other games of course, all equally dubbed as nerdy, but more recent so they missed out on the Satanist allegations. Magic: The Gathering, World of Warcraft, and a litany of others. These are the Gamers we are talking about. These are our nerd brethren. And they are very prominent in our community, trend setters if you will, and have a great deal of legitimacy. They are coming for you Physics nerds. Run while you can. 



Star Trek/Star Wars/Sci-fi television and movie fans—You don't get to be a gang

That's right, Trekkies and LOTR fans. You are too numerous and ubiquitous to be a prison gang. Rather you (or should I say we) are relegated to the "disruptive groups" category, which includes Bloods/Crips/all those other asshole street groups that are too large and fractured to effectively rule San Quentin. Like the scattered red- or blue-clad heavily armed teenagers running amok through Compton, we strike fear into the hearts of the every day occupants of a city's professional district when we swarm for one of our conventions. We are a rowdy mish-mash of other groups. We wear costumes, but only on special occasions, and the only times are we are "in-character" is to torment the aging yuppies who look at us sideways while in line at Starbucks.


Set Phasers on awesome!
We have no leader, unless you count George Takei. He is our Neutral Zone. But mostly we have
varying alliances, motivations, walks of life, only coming together to celebrate our mutual oddity. I, for one, have a deep and abiding love for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine above all other permutations. My husband (who is a closet trekkie) is ardently pro-TNG. And he gets genuinely annoyed that I own the complete director's cut of all the LOTR movies. But purchasing all those wretched awful Star Wars prequels (that's right I said it)... oh yes, that's a good investment, says he. That's just one marriage. With only two people in it. So we can never really be considered one cohesive group. We're just a mass of individuals bound under one banner. A really awesome banner.
I have every confidence I got something wrong or left someone out, and if there's anything that's fun to read, it's a comment section full of nerds. So go ahead, you pack of geeks. Let me have it.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review of Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark PlacesDark Places by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do the majority of my reading through audio books and Dark Places was no exception. Usually I simply listen while I drive to and from work (45 minute commute). But from the very first line of this book, I was hooked. I listened at the gym, I listened at home instead of watching TV (my DVR is now overflowing), and I even listened while I was preparing meals. Gillian Flynn is a master at creating characters, and though Gone Girl has received the majority of publicity, I find Dark Places to be a superior work. Her construction of Libby, her mother Patty, and most disturbingly Deandra allowed for a very dark, but all too real story of damaged people—people who just never caught a break—gritting their teeth and bearing it the best they can. Ben was also a masterfully drawn character, and despite the revelations at the end *MINOR SPOILER* I think he should have stayed in jail. He deserved to be there. I was intensely emotionally invested in Libby's investigation and I liked the minor character of Lyle and how he slowly helped to draw out her humanity. Even the small characters get their due in this book and I loved every word of it.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review of Chanel Bonfire

Chanel BonfireChanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Memoirs, when done correctly, are always a joy to read. Wendy Lawless, at a distance, could be described as just another privileged girl of the 1970s who got to do some really cool stuff. But Lawless, narrating this audio version of the book herself, shows us differently. It's almost impossible to believe the outright insanity this poor girl was subjected to at the hands of her emotionally unstable mother. Hearing so many of her tales, my blood would just boil. The writing itself is well done, but not fantastic. It was Lawless's calm narration that actually brought it so vividly to life. She sounds ever bit like the duck-and-cover enabling daughter she describes herself to be. Listening to a story like hers reinforces that it is love, not money, that brings us happiness. And though our childhoods may bring us misery, we can still build a life, with or without finishing college. I imagine that I would have been more like Wendy's sister than Wendy herself, if placed in that situation, but we never really know, do we? It's a quick read and I found myself sitting in the car for longer than I had to just to finish out a chapter.

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