Monday, December 31, 2012

Special guest blogger Taylor Reffett: A rebuttal

We need to clarify some things. Yes, you and me. Liz doesn't talk to you much, does she? Too busy talking about herself and making fun of me. But let's get one thing straight: I am not the person Liz portrays me as. I am not bossy or pushy or angry. Well, I'm angry when Liz does something stupid, which is more often than you may think. Like when she tried to make cake balls.

Liz and Katherine, another friend from the cross country team, had a breakfast club in their Geosystems class where people brought in food every class. Every. Single. Class. I imagine they got more done in Geosystems than my class did, since I just napped.

Back to cake balls. Don't ask me why they were making cake balls for breakfast. Probably because muffins are just bald cupcakes, so by the transitive property, cake balls are just spherical muffins. Katherine went over to Liz's house after track practice the night before, and I went home, safe from the horrors of baking. How much could go wrong, I figured. Despite Liz's complete and utter incompetence as a baker (and cook in general), surely Katherine would compensate and prevent any egregious mistakes.

Sometimes I assume too much.

These are Liz's favorite cupcakes. They are carrot cake. She hates carrots, so I made them as a joke. Don't ask me why  she loves them.

The phone calls started during dinner. What flavors should we make? Can we use canned frosting? Baking soda and baking powder are different things, right?

Liz lives five minutes from a grocery store. And by five minutes, I mean a five minute walk, max. But, after many hours and too many questions, they refused to go to the store again when it came time to coat the cake balls in chocolate. After talking them through how to melt the chocolate, clearly stating to melt it on low to medium heat, I got another call.

"What now?" I asked.

"Um," Liz began. "I think the chocolate caramelized."

Caramelized? Onions caramelize. Bananas caramelize. Caramelization is a type of non-enzymatic browning, a chemical reaction that happens when sugar molecules are heated extensively. But chocolate? Chocolate does not caramelize, and if it does, it takes either superb skill or impressive stupidity.

"It--what?" I asked.

"Well, it's solid and kind of brown. And it smells kind of bad."

"It's burnt, Liz." Could she really be that naive?

" do I fix that?"

I sighed and told her to give the phone to Katherine. I told her to go buy more chocolate and melt it on low heat. Low.

Somehow the cake balls ended up edible. I think. I don't actually know since they weren't vegan, and TJ students aren't known for being picky. But no one died (or choked, like with her first attempt at vegan cookies in the fall).

The fiend and me. Plus Apples to Apples in the background.

I've been putting up with Liz for four years. For the first year, I never thought I would be friends with her. She was weird and outspoken, embarrassingly so. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan spoke at our high school my freshman year. After a circuitous speech on how to fix education in America, he opened the floor to questions. Liz immediately stood up and rushed to get in line for the microphone.

Her turn came. "Do you really think that other schools measure up to us?" she pompously asked. The jaws of everyone in the auditorium dropped in unison. How could she have possibly said that? Our high school is the "brain drain" school, where all the nerds go. Yes, we are smart. But we are also (usually) humble about it and don't brag. But Liz said it.

Secretary Duncan scrambled together an answer. But no one remembers the answer, just the question and, more importantly, the asker.

I first met Liz in French class on the first day of high school. To preface, let me just say that Liz is terrible at every language except for English. The random unpronouned letters that characterize French only made things worse.

As expected, our teacher spoke exclusively in French. I was able to pick up most of it and was feeling pretty confident in myself. At one point, Madame made a joke that most people didn't catch but chuckled along anyway, but Liz burst out laughing. Madame asked her to explain the joke. Everyone stared at her as she fumbled for words. She clearly didn't know even know what the joke had been, nonetheless how to explain in French. After an awkward minute, Madame sighed and explained the joke.

That was the not altogether inaccurate view of Liz I held for the rest of the year.

Liz tends to exaggerate me on this blog. But everything I have written about her is completely accurate. When this gets out of hand, I'll be back to set the record straight.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: Royal Flush, by Scott Bartlett

Ah, comedy. Of all forms of writing, comedy is, most of all, suited for pure amusement. It takes a sick mind to analyze comedy, breaking it down into lightbulbs and knock on doors and constituent chickens. Thankfully, I have that kind of sick mind. This week's review is Royal Flush, by Scott Bartlett. This medieval comedy starts a little slow, but soon finds its stride as a colorful cast of characters vie for love, power, and revenge.
The length to wide ratio of this cover art is non-standard. Also, it's got a toilet.
We meet the King--an unnamed sovereign--and his devoted, intelligent advisor. The advisor wants the King to get married to ensure the stability of the kingdom. The King (who only got his throne because no one else wanted it) doesn't want to. Until he meets the alluring but coldhearted Alice, who becomes the first of many women to take--and break--his heart. Of the four parts of the story, the beginning is the weakest, as the first few pages focus on the interactions between the King and his advisor instead of building up a wacky, diverse cast of characters who can simultaneously sustain running gags and lead the story in interesting new directions.

We get Frederick, the King's fiddler, whose girlfriend Eliza/Alice (not the first Alice, a different one), secretly hits on the King and her therapist. We get Duke Edward, editor of the Kingdom Crier, a tabloid magazine that occasionally prints pictures of the king in drag. We get the King's mother, Gertrude, who's spent several years in her son's dungeon and would like to see him overthrown. And we get the Linguists' Guild, a group of travelling scholars developing a unified theory of language that fits all languages in the world (save one, but the King kindly agrees to exterminate that culture for them).

Even though the real plot doesn't fully come into play until about a quarter of the way through the novel, the gags and pratfalls are funny enough to keep you reading. Bartlett's timestamps are particularly good at adding quick infusions of humor: "an issue of the Kingdom Crier later" and "after 7 hours of amazing sleep" are some particularly good ones. The author's intrusions into the manuscript are self aware and witty, for example, "[The King] was beginning to think perhaps he had finally found happiness. Wouldn't that have made for a boring story!" Royal Flush is anything but boring. When Bartlett hits his stride, nothing can slow him down.

Highs: Wit. The humor in this story primarily relies on one-liners and running gags, with a strong undercurrent of situational comedy. Character development. The King started to grow on me, after a while, and I enjoyed his many errors on the road to finding true love.

Lows: Slow beginning. The introduction could have used a bit more wit, to really convince me that this was humor worth reading.

It may not exposed any dark truths about the nature of humanity, but Royal Flush is a fun, easy read that will keep you reading until the bitter (or not so bitter) end. For a comedy, I give it four out of five stars. For a novel, I give it three and a half.

You can download Royal Flush here

Monday, December 24, 2012

Liz's ideas for last minute Christmas gifts

We've all been there, right? Christmas eve and you still don't have presents for that special someone--like your mom, dad, sister, brother, inlaws, friends, stepfamilly, pets, or all of the above. Thankfully, there's some handy solutions to that problem.
Besides reducing your shopping list by force

First of all, try the local frozen yogurt place. There's about fifty different franchises to choose from: Pinkberry, Sweetfrog, Yogenfruitz, Umlautfruitz, ADHDfrog, Cocaine, Berryyogurt, Yogurtyogurt . . . but most of them sell yogurt priced by the ounce. Don't bother getting the actual yogurt, though. Fill your cup up with whipped cream. It's light and cheap and makes a great present for kids from age 2-8.  Bonus tip: scoop the whipped cream on top of a cup of coffee, give it to a teenage girl, and tell her it's Starbucks. Basically, there's no real difference.

If that doesn't work out, try Your Neighbor's Backyard. There's all kinds of good stuff there and most of it is free. Sticks, rocks, and Your Neighbor's cat might not seem like they work well together, but try tying them all together with string. At best, you've got a living, breathing work of art that's sure to impress your fancy mother-in-law. If not, you've got one more cat to give Crazy Aunt Bertha. Also, any toddler in your family will enjoy sucking on the rock.

What about stocking stuffers? Easy! Almost every restaurant fancy enough to offer 'hors d'ovueres' instead of 'appetizers' has a bowl of mints near the hostess stand. It's a bit tricky to figure out how many you can swipe before they throw you out--trial and error will serve thee well. If the maiter'd (look, I suck at French) grabs your collar and tries to haul you out a window, remind him that it's almost Christmas. Santa is watching. I think they have Santa in France. Santa only works one day a year, too.

There's the mall, but it's expensive and crowded.

Gift cards are the perfect solution for your holiday woe. Just grab a piece of paper, write 'Merry X-mas' (because 'Christmas' takes a long time to write, and you've got a bunch of people to give to), stuff it in an envelope, and give them out Christmas morning. It's a gift! It's a card! It's a (wait for it) gift card! Whoever made this a socially acceptable gift has my eternal gratitude

If you want to get fancy (like, say, a gift for your boss), there's no avoiding it: you'll have to go to the grocery store. Stuff here costs money, but has the advantage of being both delicious and coming in all kinds of cool packages. If you've got cool colored duct tape and a few bags of Doritos, you have all the ingredients you need for an awesome your boss can eat! But why stop at packaged food? A tomato is the perfect gift for that special man/woman/cat in your life. It's round, like eternity (apparently, eternity is really really fat). It's red, like a heart (especially when it's been freshly plucked from a human chest). Put it together and you'll see that a tomato is a symbol of eternal love. Also, if you stick it under your shirt, it's pretty easy to shoplift.

If you've got to get a gift for someone you don't really like, try giving some money to a charity in their name. When they ask you what you got them for Christmas, inform them that curing Kim Kardashian's hangnail is way more important than their crass commercialism. While they're stunned by your impeccable logic, steal their purse.
See? Kim needs you.

If all else fails, don't forget: Christmas is magic! Santa's coming to your house tonight and he's bringing the present you want most--those other presents you forgot to buy for your family and friends. So go to sleep and forget all your worries. Santa will save you. Right? Right!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: Domus Inter, by Sarah Carter

            You know, if I ever found myself living in the universe where all YA novels take place, I think I’d start a support group: Parents of Protagonists United. These poor men and women pour their time, energy, and love into their children until they reach age sixteen, at which point they’re killed, kidnapped, and tortured while their child disappears, off on some grand adventure, and comes home with a romance interest who’s dangerous, defiant, and so not the nice doctor or lawyer you hoped your kid would marry. There’s a much more interesting novel in that than in any teen romance ever written.
Hey! I own a necklace that looks just like that!

            This weeks’ review is Domus Inter, the first novel by author Sarah Carter. Ironically, it reminded me very much of my first ever stab at writing—a little monstrosity called The Star, in which a young girl also inherits a mysterious property somewhere in the British Isles. My property was a bit cooler, but Carter’s romantic lead is a great deal sexier, so I’ll call it a tie.

            Domus Inter—which anyone forced to sit through an SAT prep class filled with Latin roots would know means House Between—is a mysterious old mansion in the English countryside. When the last of the Lloyd family, the house’s mysterious owners, dies in a speedboat accident, the family of Harriet Lawson inherits it, despite none of them knowing the Lloyds very well at all. Harriet, who’s always felt like a ‘caged tiger, raised in captivity and taught tricks, but still dreaming an ancestral dream of the jungle’, hopes she won’t be ‘doomed to the normal, stereotypical life of someone of my generation and culture’. Saying that you think a normal life is a kind of ‘doom’ seemed a bit pretentious to me, but it’s also consistent with Harriet’s personality.

            When she arrives at Domus Inter with her parents, older sister Leona, and younger sister Rachel, Harriet becomes caught up with a criminal conspiracy involving the estate solicitor and a young man named Mord, who’s not afraid to get his hands a little dirty to achieve his goals. He needs Harriet to help him cast a magic spell that will transport him to his homeworld of Phaliana. However, when he takes her sisters hostage to force Harriet to cast the spell, Harriet and her two sisters are whisked off to Phaliana with him.

            It’s here that Harriet discovers a mysterious prophecy hidden in Arthurian legend—and the deliciously sexy Jack, whose careless attitude and bossiness is quite attractive. With the help of a magical amulet known as the True Heart, Harriet sets out after an ‘evil’ witch named Morgan—although if one takes a look at all the crimes attributed to her throughout the book (murder, child abandonment, destruction of property), she actually hasn’t done much worse things than anyone else in the land of Phaliana.

            It’s refreshing to see a YA fantasy with morally ambiguous characters. Harriet’s no saint—she has an enormous superiority complex and is capable of being quite ruthless when she thinks the greater good depends on it. She wouldn’t be out of place in the Game of Thrones universe, at least as far as morality is concerned. But she has a strong sense of duty and doesn’t whine, which are always refreshing virtues in a YA protagonist.

            Part of my trouble with Harriet’s character comes from her treatment of her older sister, Leona, who she describes as incredibly fake and shallow. At the same time, we know that Leona also is attending nursing school—an extremely selfless, important profession—and is the only member of the family who actually has a job. The relationship between the two sisters is caustic on both sides, but Harriet’s treatment of her sister feels overly ruthless.
            So maybe Domus Inter isn’t full of sympathetic characters—but they’re sure interesting. First novels are always tricky beasts, and often it’s difficult for the author to distance themselves from the work and look at it with a critical eye. The Last Judges, a book I reviewed a few months ago, is also a first novel (which I was shocked to discover after I’d read it), but I think the author’s collaborative effort helped keep it good.

            Highs: Moral dissonance. It’s good to have a little muddying of the waters sometimes. The love triangle. It isn’t very traditional, which is a good thing.

            Lows: Paragraph structure. Every paragraph was roughly the same length, which can lull the reader into skipping over parts. Names. ‘Phaliana’, the magical land consisting of Avalon and the other country with no real effect on the plot. It just sounds . . . fake. And phallic. Lampshade hanging. Over and over and over, we’re told this is not a fairy tale, that this isn’t the kind of thing you’d read about in books. Except we live in an age where very few books actually tell the traditional fairy tales. You won’t convince anyone your book is different just by saying it is.  

            My rating? As YA fantasy, I’ll give it three and a half stars. As a novel, three.

You can download Domus Inter here

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Return to The Melting Pot

So in celebration of me not being at college anymore, my family and I went out to The Melting Pot. I have a history at that place that goes back a few years, but it's okay, because none of the servers recognized me when I arrived. We got seated and they brought out the first fondue pot. It was full of cheese.

This place again! Minus my nutty friends. Plus my nutty family!

When my family goes out to dinner, things can get pretty interesting pretty fast. Like this time. They brought us fruit, vegetables  bread, and chips. My sister grabbed the chips. My mom grabbed the vegetables  Despite her assurance that the cauliflower was delicious, I was the only one who tried it.

My dad's wearing this sweater that's older than I am. Turns out, it was a Christmas gift for my uncle back in the nineties, but my mom lost it and didn't find it until after Christmas, so it went to my dad. This would explain why it's too big for him. What it doesn't explain is how a garment that's almost twenty years old can be worn out to a formal dinner (although my sister is wearing a sweatshirt, so I guess there's a precedent).

The conversation turns to world affairs, because we're just smart like that. Mom says she'd love to travel more. I mention Scotland, and we both decide we'd love to go there someday.

"Scotland? Why Scotland?" Molly says.

"Because it's a beautiful country," says Mom.

Dad laughs. "I know the real reason they want to go to Scotland. It's because of those stupid--I'm sorry, heartbreakingly beautiful--romance novels."

"The Outlander books are good!" I insist.

"Get this, Molly," he says. "Your mother and sister are reading these books about these Scottish men who wear nothing under their kilts. Diane," he says to my mom, "would you rather I wear a kilt out to dinner?"

"No!" Mom says, thankfully killing the worst mental image ever.

The meat comes. We put it in the boiling broth. You're supposed to leave shrimp in for ninety seconds, red meat for two to three minutes, potatoes for four . . . and it's all really complicated and I don't pay attention. As long as there's no red, it's probably done. Molly, however, is pretty sensitive to getting it right. I hear her over on the other side of the table: ten mississippi, eleven mississippi . . .

"Tell you what," Dad says, when she's gotten to about one hundred twenty seven mississippi. "Why don't I let you borrow my watch?"

So meat is consumed in vast quantities. Looking  back, I'm surprised Taylor put up with that last year. What a good friend!

My mom and dad each stick a broccoli in the pot. Each broccoli falls off its stick. A hunt begins with the search and rescue spoon. The ownership of both broccoli things is contested.

Molly complains about chores. Dad tells her those chores are nothing compared to what he did as a kid (and since he spent a whole summer digging up and leveling his lawn, it isn't). Molly tells him, yes, because he was struggling to survive in the wilds outside of Princeton. To be fair, I know quite a few Princeton people, and it can indeed get pretty wild up there.

"You went to a prep school," Molly says. "What kind of hard work did you have to do there?"

"Schmoozing," I say.

"What's that?"

"Something you practice at douchebag club," I explain. Mom throws her head back with soundless laughter. Dad frowns.

"We're starting a family swear jar," he says. "Every time a kid swears, they put in a dollar. Every time a parent swears, they put in ten dollars."

"Sweet!" I say. "Dad, you owe me money."

He mumbles something about the jar not starting until January, so I guess I'm still allowed to swear.

The sever came and offered us the desert and drink menu. I wondered out loud if they carded. My mom tells me that whenever you're out with your parents, they card. She sounded a bit like she was talking from personal experience. Dad says what I really should do is bribe the waiter.

"Mr. Franklin says I'm twenty one," he says.

Molly winces. "That's a lot of money. What about George Washington? He never told a lie."

I laughed. "George might have been honest, but he's never been that persuasive."

"Try a penny! Honest Abe vouches for me!"

Dad shakes his head. "I think they'd throw you out of the restaurant for that."

Two hours after our arrival, we drag our full stomachs out to the car. It's parked in the same garage we parked in for my eighteenth birthday party, and I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, December 10, 2012

How NOT to find a party

Ahhh, Collegetown. Cornell's capital of cerveza consumption. The landscaping is beautiful, if you're the kind of person who thinks landscaping should be done with a lawn of red Solo cups and a tasteful asortment of crushed beer cans.

Collegetown. It's peaceful about half the time. Peace and quiet in Collegetown are strongly correlated with time of day.

So when you've just finished your first final and have a few days until your next one, Collegetown is the perfect place to go to kick back, relax, and enjoy yourself with your friends, roommates, and that one skinny guy who keeps vomiting in the bushes. So early last Saturday evening, just past midnight, me and my friends decided to go down to Collegetown in hopes of finding a party.

It was, as usual, way more crowded than it ever was during the daytime. People filled the sidewalks, not really caring whether or not you had room to walk past them. Everyone's smoking. Let me tell you, it's not the drinking that's weird, but the smoking. Regular old cigarettes, not weed. At least alcohol gets you drunk, which can be kind of fun. Smoking just makes you smell bad.

Also, I don't know people who party. I know people who know people who party, though, and these are the people I rely upon to help me find said parties. Normally, this involves them texting their friends who party and asking where those friends are. This allows us to gather valuable information, such as 'at the football house' and 'some frat'. Surprisingly, drunk people don't really remember the street address of their locations too well.

So there we were, walking around Collegetown, looking for a party. There were a lot of girls dressed in Santa hats walking around in stiletto heels. One of the unique things about the Cornell Collegetown is the hills. Collegetown is located on a very steep hill, and it is extremely entertaining to watch drunk girls in five inch heels walking up and down the slope. I've yet to see a truly spectacular wipeout, but I have faith that sooner or later I'll witness the awesome spectacle that is maybe four or five sorority girls falling into each other, domino style, and tumbling over into someone's lawn.

My roommate Audrey assures me that's not sadistic at all, as long as I don't actually push them myself.

So we go and stand outside one house that's having a party. Turns out the friend of a friend who was there is now leaving. Onward to text other people! We walk down the hill, then up the hill, then past the shoe store, the pizza place, and the liquor shop. Guess which one is busiest? Actually, it's the pizza place, seeing as how everyone's too drunk to climb up the steps leading to the liquor shop. It's suggested that we try texting a boy someone knows, but that's vetoed after said girl says she hasn't talked to that boy since the time she made out with him while both of them were drunkenly leaning on me.

As we walk past Collegetown bagels, one of those delightful locations open from six thirty in the morning to two in the . . . next morning, we spot a bus heading back to North Campus, where the rest of the frats are.  We hop on. The bus driver's out taking a smoke, so I don't bother swiping my ID card.

The inside of the bus happens to be pink. Because why not?
While we're sitting on the bus, Audrey points out a guy she says she went to high school with. He looks like he's having a good time, so we all go back and talk to him and ask where he was. Apparently, it was a private party for the men's swim team. So we weren't invited.

Sans alcohol, we had no choice but to retire to my dorm room with a bag of Doritos, mozzarella sticks, and an individual pizza with pineapple, mushrooms, and garlic. And that's how NOT to find a party . . . but still manage to have fun.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: Tycho, by William Woodall

            If you were a seventeen year old boy with a moral obligation to humanity to have sex with your girlfriend, why wouldn’t you? This question was not answered to my satisfaction in Tycho, by William Woodall, but I guess he was trying to write something PG and I didn’t want to read two hundred pages of space sex anyhow. Because when the human race has been brought down to fifty people following a devastating bacterial infection, you’d think a whiz kid who’s an expert in both computers and biology would realize that every year his girlfriend spends un-pregnant is one fewer individual to help repopulate the Earth. Also, if I was a Nobel-winning biologist devising a master plan to repopulate earth, I wouldn’t take an equal number of males and females to a refuge on the moon. I’d take as many teenage girls as possible and tubes of preserved sperm.

You know, I'm not sure the sky on the moon looks quite like that. 

            There. Now that I’ve let my inner biologist have a say, Tycho happens to be a pretty interesting book. Reminiscent of Freedom’s Landing, by Ann McCaffrey, Tycho combines the traditional elements of space-exploration sci-fi with modern apocalyptic fiction. The title character Tycho, who at the age of seventeen can already hack into government databases and work complicated biological equipment (which, apparently, still uses techniques like gel electrophoresis despite it being two hundred years in the future), discovers info on a mysterious plague called the Orion Strain. It spreads faster than a speeding bullet, and kills even more effectively than said speeding bullet. Tycho does the math—apparently, humanity is screwed.

            Why the government doesn’t just nuke India, where the plague originates, off the face of the planet, is a discussion for another time. Why the government doesn’t have sterile underground bunkers prepared for this kind of thing, seeing as how this is an age where biologically engineered superplagues are in vogue, is also a question for another time. What matters is that Tycho gathers up his family and friends and, with the help of his well-connected teachers, steals a spaceship and flies off to the moon. The partially terraformed Luna now has an atmosphere and a few handily deserted research lab, but it’s still a pretty terra-fying place to be exiled for the rest of your days. Woodall creates an environment that’s convincingly inhospitable and foreign. It’s clear the moon was never intended for humans to live on.

            Nevertheless, Tycho and his friends make the best of it. With the help of his ex-drug dealer girlfriend, Danielle, and his reckless cousin Jesse, the survivors set up their own society in an abandoned research station. One of the best parts of this book is reading about their adventures—boating on the stormy lunar oceans and jumping off bluffs hundreds of feet tall. For the last humans in the universe, they seem to be having a pretty good time. But can they survive . . . the ultimate disaster?

            Well, I’m not going to spoil the ending for you. That’s not my job. Tycho as a character didn’t really connect with me in the beginning—he seems a little emotionally detached. You’d expect learning that the whole human race was about to be wiped out would be spiritually crushing, but we never get to see Tycho curled up in a little ball on the bathroom floor sobbing his brains out when he learns that everything he knows will be torn away from him forever. Instead, he’s all about action and filling up his 31-person rocket ship. Is it just me, or it 31 an odd number of seats to have on any vessel designed to travel anywhere? But Tycho isn’t really a story about the apocalypse—it’s a story about space and survival. And when that last plane to the moon takes off, so does the story. For any fans of hard-science fiction, it doesn’t get much better than this.

            Highs: World-building. The author creates a lunar world both familiar and alien. Adventure. The plot can be slow in places, but this story is full of imagination.

            Lows: Scientific inaccuracy. I’m not talking about biology here, but the way that computer technology and everyday life doesn’t seem to have changed much all these years in the future. People still use vending machines, eat Snickers, read paper newspapers? People barely read paper newspapers today! Standard characterization. None of the main characters really made much of a permanent impact on my mind.

Did I like this book? Yes. Would I read it again? Yes. Would I recommend it to people who like sci-fi? Yes. My rating? As sci-fi, I’ll give it four stars out of five. As a novel? Three.

—Liz Ellor, O43

You can download Tycho hereYou can also go here and purchase my book, Iceclaw.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How NOT to study for finals

First of all, just want to say that this is my fiftieth post. Isn't that neat? Second, it's finally December. Which means final exams are coming. Which means I should be studying.

Okay, my parents read this blog, and I don't want them to think I'm wasting my time at the very expensive school they're sending me to. Let me reassure them that I'm trying my very best to study, and . . . is that a lighthouse? Yes, it is!

Darn natural beauty gets me every time! Also, so does listening to music and watching the men unloading the FedEx truck parked just below the window. I've got a nice comfy chair in Uris library, I'll probably go running in a bit . . . is it really worth it to just sit down and study for a few minutes? What do you mean, it's already three o'clock? The day is halfway over and I've accomplished about a paragraph of this twelve page paper.

Two paragraphs now! And someone's stuck an Orange Crush wrapper on the library window! Wow, I'm actually making progress on this paper! If only I could make as much progress on studying for these three gigantic tests.

Audrey says that the pressure leading up to a test makes you study most when it's really important, so procrastination is okay. Ayesha says she'll think up something to say about procrastination later.

Has anyone every procrastinated from procrastination? Procrast-inception? Like, when you decide you'll totally write that essay after you finish watching one more episode of The Vampire Diaries, and then you put off watching that episode by screwing around on the internet?

Speaking of which, you'd be surprised how cozy a notebook full of equations becomes when you've banished yourself to the library and forced yourself to try and study. And how hard it is to maintain interest in the book I brought with me to read if I got bored with studying.

Okay, ten minutes wasted with SNL. Kate Middleton is having a baby? OMG! So much British everywhere!

The best thing about studying in the Cornell libraries are the exhibits. Did you know Morrill Hall is the oldest building on campus and is named after the senator who authored the law that . . .Ayesha found the location of Hogwarts on Google Maps! That's funny!

The FedEx truck is driving away and Ayesha wants to know where Scotland is. I realize we're learning a lot. Unfortunately, none of it will be on our finals.
Yes, I realize I'm supposed to be reviewing American foreign policy as it related to the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but all I can think is, Wow, that place was huge.
Three more paragraphs down. Seven more pages to go.

Good luck with finals, everybody!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: The Breeders, by Matthew J. Beier

            It’s not every book that makes me sigh in relief when I reach the afterword and learn the book was written as a satire. No, author Matthew J. Beier does not believe that homosexuals want to take over the planet and control every facet of our lives. That being said, his book The Breeders will make a wonderful Christmas present for hard core right-wingers and gay hipsters alike. How many books can you say that about? But all politics aside, The Breeders is an interesting tale, eerily reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World. It can be overly sappy in places, but by the end of the book, you’ll learn Beier isn’t just a skilled writer—he’s got serious balls.
For some reason, this reminds me of the kids' TV show Cyberchase. Not sure why

            In a society dominated by the flamingly homosexual New Rainbow Army, all heterosexual woman are genetically engineered to be sterile. This poses a problem for Grace Jarvis, who finds herself expecting a baby after an underground heterosexual orgy. As the society she lives in strengthens its crackdown on reproductive rights, Grace frantically searches for a way to save herself and her unborn child—a difficult thing, especially when one of your fathers doesn’t approve of you sexual orientation. Her search leads her to the mysterious Opposition—a rebel group that offers Grace a chance to escape the New Rainbow Army—if she’s willing to leave everything she knows and loves behind.

            Dex Wheelock, the father of Grace’s baby, has a big decision to make: stay home and face possible persecution for his sexual orientation, or follow this pregnant woman across the world. Dex is, naturally, terrified at the thought of leaving his whole world behind. When he lets his fear overwhelm him for a split second, all plans and hopes are dashed apart and he finds himself on a long, terrifying journey to survive and reunite with the mother of his child.

            Along his way, he finds spiritual fulfillment and inner peace. This is excellent for Dex and a little tedious for the reader. It doesn’t feel quite real, and books don’t run well when the main characters are happy and serene. It’s the kind of thought I’d expect from a Buddhist monk, not a man on the run for his life. Pregnancy is idealized—Grace thinks about the miracle of bringing natural life into the world quite frequency, and her swollen feet and constant need to pee not at all. Over the course of the book, the characters do develop—but in becoming parents, the pieces of their relationship fall together a little two neatly. After all, they were random strangers when they met at the orgy. You’d think that two random people would have more points of disagreement.

            The world-building in The Breeders is excellent: Beier has created a society that’s truly frightening in its excesses. It’s not just our world with a little gender flopping, but the strangeness of the story’s world made me wonder if that’s how it is for my gay friends sometimes—that you’re living in a world that wasn’t built for you. The villains are menacing, though distant, and a sense of hopelessness pervades the whole text as we watch these characters struggle against real and overwhelming odds. This is one book you should read twice.

            Highs: Atmosphere. The world Beier builds is genuinely dark and hopeless, filled with characters who, if not perfect, certainly draw you to root for them. Story-first approach. A lot of satirical stories can’t decide if they want to be all satire or tell a story, and Beier picks his direction and stays with it. He manages to tell a complete story in a world based off a ridiculous premise, which is much harder than it looks. Twist ending. I’m not going to spoil the book, but Beier delivers on what he’s foreshadowed all along.

            Lows: Uneven characterization. The characters feel a little too pure by the end of the book. I would have liked it if they'd had a few more, enduring flaws.

Did I like this story? Yes. Would I read it again? Yes. Would I recommend it to people who like science fiction? Yes. My rating? As sci-fi, five stars out of five. As a novel, four stars.

--Liz Ellor, O43

You can download The Breeders here

Monday, November 26, 2012

How NOT to drive: five things your driving instructor forgot to teach you

I consider myself a decent driver. Not perfect, but decent. My car has its share of scratches and dings on the bumper, but only one of those was actually my fault. And despite my troubles at actually getting my licence (see here), I'm a decent driver. The great commonwealth of Virginia has pushed me through more driving classes and scared-straight programs than I can count, but I've actually learned something.

This isn't from an accident. This is what happens when I punch my car after waiting in line for  three hours at the DMV
 But there's some driving tricks you can only learn from experience. Here's a few.

When there's room to change lanes, someone will change lanes. Without signalling. If there is a space the size of a car between you and the car in front of you, expect someone to enter it. Without signalling. Because apparently, you've left that spot open just for them, instead of, you know, to provide a cushion of safe space between you and the driver ahead of you. Apparently, leaving that space open is the equivalent of sending other drivers an engraved invitation: Cut me off! Cut me off! There's nothing you can really do about this. Just be warned.

Sometimes, your car won't work. Sometimes, you'll have a flat tire, or your battery will die, or you'll blow out your clutch. So if you have your own car, there is a second piece of equipment you will need: a cell phone. This is how you call friends and ask for a ride. This is also the step where you need friends with cars, and why car ownership requires certain lifestyle changes. It's easy to chart out how much car owners will spend on insurance, car payments, and those other things your parents pay for (gas! I forgot gas!). Hidden costs include buying Starbucks for your friend when she drops everything to come drive you to school, making the hideous sacrifice of leaving a whole twenty minutes early to come save you. To avoid this common problem, if you're the person with the bad car, make friends. If you're the person with friends, check your phone each morning to make sure you have no emergency texts from said friends.

Be warned: the lane you're driving in likes to change into a turn lane with no prior warning. This is common in all towns across the continental USA. All the fault of shortsighted urban planners who decided after three drinks 'ah, screw it, I'll just make that normal lane into a turn lane, because my girlfriend just dumped me and I want this whole town to suffer like me.' Those little ticks can drive a whole town crazy. If you don't want this to cause you trouble, I suggest memorizing every single one of these annoying little changes. If you can't, try being female and looking just helpless enough that people will let you cut quickly back into their lane.

Your GPS is a really handy tool. It can tell you how to get anywhere. Unfortunately, my GPS was made in 2004 and I don't know how to update the street map, so after eight years of nonstop construction in my hometown it's about as valuable as the copper inside the wiring. Also, since mine doesn't come with a handy dashboard map, I lean it up against that . . . thingie in between the seats, whatever it's called . . . and whenever it's sunny outside, the glare prevents me from seeing the screen. Not to mention that it loves falling down and wedging itself next to the emergency break. I can't count the number of times I've taken the wrong exit because the darn thing fell over. This problem can be fixed with duct tape.

Lastly, dealing with bikes. You've probably seen a few new bike lanes being installed in your town. It sounds like a smart idea. Encourage people to bike to work, save the planet. Those lanes also perform a vital function of getting the stupid bikers out of your way. I enjoy exercise. Many of my friends are triathletes. I understand you have a big race to train for, I understand the law says you have to be on the road, I know you don't like being surrounded by cars either . . . but I still don't like the biker on the road. Namely, how he's going twenty miles below the speed limit and causing the right lane to slow down massively while everyone tries to get into the left lane. The poor fool stuck directly behind the bike--usually me--has no room to accelerate, so they can't match the speeds of the people in the left lane and get out. This leads to many angry people. Bikers, please, if you notice twenty cars backed up behind you, turn onto a less popular street.    Fellow drivers, there's not much you can do about this one unless you're willing to spend the rest of your life in jail. Apparently, 'supreme annoyance' doesn't justify 'vehicular homicide'.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How NOT to freeze to death at college

Editorial note for January 22nd: I wrote this piece when it was forty degrees outside. Fool that I was, I never imagined I'd see a day when the temperature dipped below fifteen degrees. As of now, it's ten degrees and the wind is howling like Penny with her tail stuck in a door. 

Most of you know me as the girl who likes to run shirtless in December. What you may not know is that I've got another side: an adventurous, polar explorer type side. I can climb up icebergs and go surfing in Antarctica. Or at least I tell myself that. Because I'm actually a total wimp when it comes to cold weather. 

For example, this is me studying
You might ask why I decided to go to college in the northeast. Hubris, I say (also, it was the best school that accepted me). To those of you who've heard me brag about my stupendous cold resistance and to all of those I've encouraged to come to Cornell . . . lo, let not my arrogance drag you down into the cold, frozen pit known as New York.

But for those of you foolhardy souls determined to brave the freezing north, I have only these scant pieces of advice to offer you. Choose your clothes wisely, for they determine thine status of freezingness.

Let's start with jackets. A jacket is most people's solution to the problem of Cold. Jackets come in all shapes and sizes. I have a brown sweater I love, but can't wear, because it's too thin to keep me warm. I have a ski jacket that keeps me very warm, but weights about as much as carrying around an extra cat and isn't nearly as good a conversation piece. Most of the time, I compromise on my brown fleece, which feels like real fur and was in fact part of my famous Chewbacca costume last year. I still feel a bit like a wookie when I wear it, but it keeps me warm, so I don't really care.

Shoes. Shoes are important. I have a collection of shoes I love dearly. Unfortunately, I live almost a mile from campus and end up walking that distance almost every day, so my pretty wedges and strappy flats sat in my closet all August while I wore my sneakers everywhere. Thankfully, now that it's practically winter, I can wear my boots. Once upon a time, I refused to wear Uggs as a statement of individuality. Then I tried on    a pair and never went back. Leather boots and plastic snow boots are also in fashion up here. I still see some girls wearing strappy shoes, but they're the ones struggling up the hill at nine AM on a Saturday morning still wearing little black dresses and smudged makeup, so I'll keep my boots, thank you very much.

Pants. Jeans. That's all I own, save one pair of formal pants and a dress so short it's technically illegal in 36 states (plus wherever Taylor is).

 Long underwear. This stuff is a skier's best friend. It's also a wimpy college student's best friend. Those who know me know that, for whatever reason, my pants tend to sink so low on me that my underwear becomes visible. I don't know why. But this winter, all people are seeing is that so-called "black bodysuit" I've got on under my clothes. To all those who mock me: I'm warm. I'm sooooo warm.

Hats. I own several hats. My favorite hat has big fluffy pompoms that swing in my face when I run. I also have a North Face hat I got for free at an event I attended in October. It's very cool looking, but every time I take it off my hair stands on end.

Mittens and gloves. I got a few pairs of three dollar gloves at Target last month and wear them religiously, even when inside. I have a bad case of chronically cold fingers. I also have a pair of big, fluffy mittens, which make it so I can't move my hands, but I wear them anyway, because it's cold outside.

Armed with all my clothing, I am prepared to set foot outside and bravely walk to the bus stop, where I catch the nice heated bus that takes me to campus, where I bravely set foot outside again and step into a heated building, repeating this pattern until spring. Five more months to go!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: Servant to the Emerald, by Stephanie Stallworth

            This week started off with a bang. A nearly apocalyptic bang. For this week, I read Servant to the Emerald, a tale of the zombie apocalypse with plenty of bang. This eerie road-trip tale has plenty of action and romance. Fans of zombie tales will be draw in by the creeping creepiness, fans of YA will enjoy the young characters and romance, and fans of sci-fi will be sucked in by the enduring mystery. Much like The Forest of Hands and Teeth with a modern twist, Servant to the Emerald makes a perfect light read. Though the text can be choppy and could have benefited from a good editor in places—and though the characters can sometimes come off as a little too simple—this is one book I wasn’t able to put down.
The sky's been decorated for the most depressing Christmas ever.

            As the story starts, we meet Amy, a young girl who’s biggest problems are school and dealing with her grandparents. That all changes when, on a weekend trip to her grandparents’ farm, she wakes up to find that the farm—and all of Canada—has been charboiled by some mysterious force. All the animals are dead. Her grandparents’ house has been demolished. Scavenging in the ruins, Amy grabs some weapons, food, and jumps on her beloved horse Emily as the two ride off into a zombie-infested wasteland, in hopes of learning what has happened to her family. The aura of mystery urged me to keep reading, even as I did notice a few flaws in the plot’s logic.

            Soon she encounters Eric, a handsome boy her age who happens to be a trained marksman. Lucky find! With Eric, she encounters and kills her first zombie. In this story, the zombies have eerie green eyes and acidic green blood. There’s a very sci-fi vibe to them—it feels more like an alien invasion story than a zombie apocalypse, but in a fresh way. The party soon gains a third member in Cassie, a victim of abduction who’s been forced to work as a sex slave for the past few years. Together, they set out on a road trip from hell in an attempt to figure out what’s happened to the world. Mad scientists and creepy pregnant women abound. Tragedy nips at our heroine’s heels.

            Servant to the Emerald doesn’t read like a professionally published book, for all its strong storytelling. It can be heavy-handed at times, and focuses more on telling us, not showing us, the characters emotions. It could have benefited from a good editor. I also thought the climax could have been moved up a little earlier—the climax in the text is located slightly after the emotional climax of the book.

            The POV can be choppy in places, and I didn’t like the way the author switched back and forth between Amy’s first person narrative and a third person omniscient POV. The third person omni POV is a longstanding pet peeve of mine, mainly because I feel like it’s a cheap way to show how characters really feel without using descriptive language to convey their true emotions. Also, it’s quite confusing to go from first to third person without warning. The first time this switch happened, I wasn’t sure what was happening. Switching narrators is one thing, but switching person is unnecessary and confusing.

            Highs: Suspense. This is one book that kept me reading until the last page. Character development. I enjoyed seeing how Amy grew and matured over the course of the book. Mystery. The story behind the crisis is revealed slowly, with every bit luring you to read more. Creepiness. One part, where Amy and her friends stay in an abandoned hospital, sent shivers up my spine.

            Lows: Heavy writing. There could have been a lot more description and a lot less saying “he felt bad” or “she was scared”. Plot gifts. It’s awfully convenient that the first person Amy meets after the cataclysm is a handsome boy her age who knows how to use a gun.

Did I like this story? Yes. Would I read it again? Yes. Would I recommend it to people who like YA zombie stories? Yes. My rating? As a YA zombie story, four and a half stars out of five. As a novel, three and a half stars.

--Liz Ellor, O43

 You can download Servant to the Emerald here

Monday, November 12, 2012

How to be late to your own birthday party

It's November again!

And what happens in November? My birthday, of course (don't worry, you've still got a few days to get your gifts in the mail, or post 'happy b-day' on my Facebook page). It's not a big number birthday, so I'm not planning anything too big.

Last year, though, was a pretty big birthday for me, so I decided to celebrate by taking some of my closest friends to The Melting Pot, a fancy fondue place. Pretty classy, right? And since my friend Katherine has her birthday only ten days before mine, we decided to make it a joint party. What could go wrong?

Okay, it's me. Something will go wrong.

The day of the party, I take a nice long actual shower, dry my hair, put on a nice outfit, and get in my car. Taylor's texted me to ask for a ride and I've happily obliged. Despite me constantly telling myself it only takes fifteen minutes to get to her house, it always takes twenty. Whatever. It's only twelve fifteen. Lunch doesn't start until one.

My heels click as I walk up the drive. I causally adjust my nice throw and flick a piece of lint of my nice dark jeans. Taylor opens the door.

"We were supposed to dress up?" she says, wearing her Northern Region Regionals long-sleeve tee. It's grey and purple, and I remember this way too well. Keep in mind this is a trend for Taylor and me. When we went to a concert last summer, I wore an off the shoulder crop top with fabric roses and she wore a TJXC tee shirt.
This was very nearly her prom photo

I sigh, because I'm used to Taylor by now. "Don't worry about it. Let's get going."

We hop in my car and head off to the restaurant. Taylor critiques my driving all the way, despite the fact I've never rear-ended a wrestler from Oakton High while leaving church . . . actually, I've never rear-ended anybody. As I point this out, Taylor blushes and starts critiquing the one thing I've actually got issues with: my navigational skills.

"Do you actually know where this restaurant is?" she asks as I turn in a side street to an office complex. "Because that looks like an office building."

"The restaurant is in that office building. On the ground floor. I've been here before."

I drive in a big circle around the office complex and realize I've pulled in at the wrong place. So I pull back out onto the main road and turn in the next entrance. I drive down to the building where the restaurant was just a year ago and it isn't there. We've still got twenty minutes to spare. Taylor spends five of those calling me crazy. Thankfully, I walk up to the door and see a tiny notice saying that The Melting Pot has moved to 225 Morning Drive.

"I told you I wasn't crazy!" I announce triumphantly.

"Morning Drive. Where is that?" she says.

Bonus points. "I know where that is!"

She looks at me. "No, you don't. I'm calling Katherine and asking her."

In a huff, I walk back to my car. I think about getting out my GPS while Taylor calls Katherine and decide against it, on the principle of Taylor not telling me what to do. As I turn the key in the ignition, I hear Taylor say, "What do you mean, your car broke down?"

Two tense sentences later, and Taylor puts the phone down. "She's stuck near Sunset Hills Road. You know where that is!"

"Yes!" I exclaim triumphantly, and set off driving in exactly the wrong direction.

Five minutes later, there's no sign of Katherine and Taylor asks me to turn around. I do. This is the point where I call the other girls and give them the reservation information so they can be seated without us.

When we come across two cars stopped in the rightmost lane with their blinkers on, we know we've found her. I pull up behind the stopped cars, put on my own blinkers, and hop out of the car. Katherine is standing on the grass while a nearby motorist attempts to jump her motor with his own. She sucks on her lower lip as I walk over, greeting her with a hearty, "Hi, Katherine!"

Taylor starts laughing.

"It wasn't my fault!" Katherine says. "I left with plenty of time to spare, but Reston is confusing and I had no idea how to reach the address you gave me!"

"Don't worry," Taylor says, "It was the wrong address anyway."

"It was an honest mistake!" I say. Then, eager to change the subject, "What happened to your car?"

"I don't know!" She bites her lip. "I was just driving up this hill and it stopped working!"

Taylor's already back on her phone, giving her father directions on where he can come find us. Because apparently three teenage girls aren't capable of fixing a car themselves. "He's five minutes away. Liz, let's move your car,"

"Good idea," I say, and me and her get back in my car and drive up the hill. I turn in a side street and park.

"Stay here," Taylor says, getting out of the car. "I'll take care of this."

"Stay here? What? What makes you more qualified to take care of this than me?"

She rolls her eyes, even though the correct answer here is 'absolutely nothing'. "Trust me. Stay here."

And then she slams the door in my face. Well, happy birthday to me.

Acting like the mature adult I was (or would be, anyway, since my actual birthday wasn't for another five days), I decided to sit in the car and pout instead of going out and distracting the vital car-repair effort by trying to prove to Taylor how mature I was. Three minutes later, Taylor, her dad, and the random bystander push Katherine's car up the hill while a sheepish Katherine walks up behind them. I know exactly how she feels.

So now that the broken car isn't blocking traffic and a tow truck has been called, Taylor and Katherine both get in my car. Katherine slides in the back. I've been productive while Taylor's been gone--I've set up my GPS. Taylor greets this new development by thoughtfully freaking out. "You had a GPS all this time? Why didn't you use it?"

"Because I thought I knew my hometown," I mutter.

"Your town is confusing, Liz," Katherine says.

"I can't believe you had a GPS all along!"

We end up here eventually

So half an hour late, both the birthday girls walk into the restaurant trailed by an extremely irate Taylor. Sarah and Sarah are very glad to see us. And to this day, I maintain that I could have helped if Taylor hadn't made me stay in the car.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Book Review: The Forever Girl, by Rebecca Hamilton

            Continuing in the paranormal romance trend, this week we’ve got The Forever Girl, by Rebecca Hamilton. Witches, vampires, and shapeshifters all mix together in this well-told tale. Full of magic, history, and mystery, The Forever Girl is a perfect read for fans of Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches. It builds a clear-cut and well-defined world, featuring sexy inhuman men and heroines with secret powers. While the tone and pacing were excellent, The Forever Girl can be, at times, a little sterile and low-tension. If you like paranormal romance, this is the book for you. If you don’t, then you probably won’t like it at all.
This book has a lot of subtitles

            We begin by meeting Sophia Parsons, a young waitress who hears mysterious voices in her head. Don’t be confused—this isn’t a Sookie Stackhouse novel. Sophia’s a Wiccan. She’s been hearing these static-y voices for a long time now, but has finally decided it’s time to do something about them. Sophia decides to use a magical ritual to cleanse herself of negative energy, but her ritual is interrupted by a group of mysterious people walking up and down her street. Surprise, surprise, the voices go nowhere. So she turns to an old trunk of her great-grandfather’s medical research . . . and discovers an old court record prompting her to think her ‘curse’ might have something to do with her ancestor’s witchcraft trial.

            Sophia sets out to learn more about her ancestors and the possibility of a family curse, but is interrupted by her friend Ivory, who wants to take her to the mysterious Club Flesh. It’s there she meets the overly sexy, magically talented Charles—a man described in terms of ‘the perfect symmetry of his face’ and ‘this gorgeous specimen sitting before me’. When a bunch of Cruor—this story’s equivalent of vampires—attack Sophia outside the club, Charles comes to her rescue. She learns he’s a Strigoi—a shapeshifting creature who’ll live forever unless he stops shifting. When the inevitable romance blooms between them, this causes major problems for Sophia, who is determined to find a way to convince Charles to give up his immortality to grow old with her. As Sophia and Charles search together for information on her ancestor’s curse, they find themselves plunged into a world of supernatural intrigue.

            The Forever Girl is a good paranormal romance, but it did feel sterile at times. I had trouble connecting to Sophia’s character. Going back to the Sookie Stackhouse books, there’s a great example of creating a character with voice—a small-town girl who’s not afraid to fight a little dirty and gets exited when she realizes a vampire has come to town. Sophia’s a somber character. She can be brave, determined, and fierce, but she doesn’t really have the small quirks that make characters interesting. Her flaws include a tendency to get irritated, but that was never enough to make her feel human to me.

            The issue of Charles immortality aside, this romance is very clean cut and simple. I’m not a fan of romances that constantly force the potential lovers to oppose each other—it can be ridiculous when two people who spend so much time hating the other’s guts suddenly decide to be in love—but I’d wished there’d been more tension between them. Charles is such a perfect guy. He’s brave, loyal, and devoted. His parents absolutely love Sophia, despite the fact she’s trying to convince Charles to give up his immortality to be with her. Come on, this woman is trying to convince your son to die for her! There’s no way any parent would be one-hundred percent okay with that! A little less perfection in their relationship would have gone a long way to making it feel believable.

            Highs: World building. Hamilton creates a world with clear rules and easy-to-understand divisions. Tone. The book is polished and well-paced. Creepiness. There’s one scene involving a ghost that sent shivers down my spine. Story-telling. The book is well-written and tells an engaging, if simple, story. Side characters. Ivory’s tragic and twisted backstory is one of the real emotional high points in the story.

            Lows: Jumping to conclusions. Based on one document telling Sophia her ancestor was executed in Salem, she automatically decides that her hearing voices must be a family curse and the only way to rectify it might be to learn what happened to her ancestor’s body. This is a big logical leap. Repetition. Sophia repeats the line about not being able to be with Charles because he’s immortal over and over, but the audience really doesn’t need to be reminded of this on every single page.

Did I like this story? Yes. Would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it to people who like paranormal romance? Of course. My rating? As a paranormal romance, five stars out of five. As a novel, three and a half stars.

--Liz Ellor, O43

You can buy The Forever Girl here

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Male runners and chick flicks . . .

You've probably seen them. The horde of shirtless boys (even in forty degree weather), pounding down the streets of your neighborhood at the same time every afternoon. Maybe they trample your rose beds or scare your cat. Maybe their short shorts have given your twelve year old daughter some 'funny feelings'. You've heard them whoop, shout, curse. But what you don't know is that, deep, deep down in their hearts, exists the soul of true romance . . . somewhere underneath the stench of the locker rooms and piles of leg hair.

I'm talking about chick flicks
You see, sooner or later, those sweaty hellions will cram themselves into a bus filled with teenage girls to travel somewhere for a track meet. And they'll watch a movie on the way down. And if the girls happen to be my cross country team and the boys happen to have the odd lack of cohesion on what manly movie they want, the coach will end up sighing as he pushes a Nicholas Sparks fueled DVD into the bus player, resigning himself to an hour and a half of fashion, crying, and Channing Tatum's abs.

Now, sometimes, the boys regret letting the girls pick the movie. I distinctly remember watching one scene in Easy A--you know, the scene where she pretends to have sex with her gay friend so the other boys stop picking on him--and cringing as the boys' team freaked out around us. "What is this? What the hell are we watching?" Coach just stared at the screen in disbelief, frozen in a shocked position. I lowered my eyes as another boy shouted, "Ew! This is gross!"

But, generally, the boys were pretty decent about the movie choice. They'd put up a token effort to prove their manliness--like during that scene in How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days where Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey have sex in a shower. They'll say things like "Of course she's falling in love with him," and "I can't believe she's leading him on like that. What a bitch!" When I pointed out that McConaughey's character was also using her, they mumbled something about it not being quite the same thing and resumed sitting on the youngest member of the boys varsity squad.

Oh, and they were wearing nothing but short shorts the whole time.

Like this, minus the top. I can't post any real photos because I think that counts as porn.

But the absolute crowning jewel was the time we watched Dear John. Here's a quick plot summary: Guy falls in love with Girl. Guy joins the Army. Guy gets shot but survives. Girl marries dying man to take care of his kid. Guy's father dies. To quote one prominent member of the boys' squad, "We can't watch it. Because if we watch it, I'll like it, and then I'll know I'm gay." But watch it we did. And I swear, I have never seen a work of fiction dissected with such brutality as happened on that dark, sweaty bus filled with teenage athletes that evening. Boys who run without shirts on in freezing cold to prove their manliness were breaking down into tears.

"She's such a bitch! How could she treat him like that?"

"She only married him to take care of his kid!" said one of the girls, wiping her runny nose on her sweatshirt sleeve.

"No! She's evil and she deserves to die! How dare she leave him?" The mob of men quickly turned towards the girl who brought the DVD. "What is this? Why did you make us watch it?"

Needless to say, on the next trip, we all decided to watch 27 Dresses instead and spent the rest of the trip humming 'Benny and the Jets'.

Bring it up now, two years later, and they'll all insist Dear John is the worst movie ever made. I'll agree with them, but for very different reasons. Women of the world, if you ever meet a man who says he went to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, graduated in 2012 or 2011, and happened to run on the cross country team, know that the quickest way to his heart is a heartbreaking chick flick. But be warned--he's probably going to end up crying on your shoulder.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: The First Book of Demons, by Raquel Dove

            At long last, some decent YA paranormal romance comes my way. This week’s book was The First Book of Demons, by Raquel Dove. As you might have guessed, it’s the first book in a series about demons. Full of demons, magic, and awkward teenage sex, this story builds an engaging world and a romance worth cheering for. While the plot could have used a little more foreshadowing and emphasis on the most important moment, The First Book of Demons—while no great work of literature—is engaging enough to keep the reader reading, even when it means not reading the two papers I was assigned for my laboratory course today. Oh, well, it was worth it.
Digging the fonts. And the fangs.
             We begin meeting the beautiful and clumsy Alexandra, a strong willed heroine with curiously absent parents, who confides everything in her best friend, Sam. When her aunt is brutally murdered, she finds herself without any protection—and the forces that killed her aunt are now after her. The magical dagger she inherited from her aunt proves the key to entering the realm of the demons . . . and falling straight into the arms of the handsome demon prince Balthazar.  

            Balthazar has some big problems. His father’s just been assassinated and he’s got to ascend to the throne of the Devas. To do this, he’ll have to uncover the traitors in his court, marry a princess . . . and an ancient demon sage tells him he’ll also need a human. Happily, Alex turns up a few short chapters later. The two can’t stand each other at first, but, c’mon, we can all tell the attraction is there. Sure, Balthazar’s a bit of an asshole—hey, a demonic sultan has to have a harem full of concubines, right—but I found this romance to be one worth rooting for. Can Balthazar secure his father’s throne? Will Alex ever loose her virginity? It’s a fun ride, as long as you don’t take it too seriously. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the dialogue.

            And now I’m going to rip a little. The amount of ripping is not proportional to my enjoyment of the book. 

            My big problem was with the flow of the plot. Storylines appear and disappear. We see Alex’s aunt die, but she’s sad for a while and then the sadness goes away, even though it’s just been a few weeks. Her missing parents are mentioned in the beginning and at the end, but we don’t see Alex really think about them too much. Alex and Balthazar go on a quest to find magical objects . . . and yet the object attained as a result of said adventure has no effect on the climax. There’s a demon king threatening to invade Balthazar’s land, but we don’t see him, any of his people, and the threat doesn’t feel real and immediate.
            The story switches between antagonists—usurpers in the palace trying to claim Balthazar’s throne, enemy kingdoms who’ll declare war if Balthazar doesn’t mate with the king’s daughter, a mysterious cult of mysterious mages. Personally, I think it would have been better if it had focused on only one antagonist, with another threat maybe lurking in the background. I get that it’s a series, but every installment in a series—especially the first book—should have a self-contained arc. As it was, I wasn’t sure who the final villain would be.

            When the evil plan was revealed, I didn’t have an ‘aha’ moment—a moment where all the clues came together and I realized that this evil conspiracy had been hidden in plain sight all along. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the bad guys weren’t foreshadowed, but Alex doesn’t really have an emotional connection with them. If Alex had known about them and seen their actions throughout the story, they would be much stronger villains. Instead, they only come into direct conflict with the main characters at the end.
            High: Originality. I liked the idea of a world where humans were considered magical creatures. Readability. The tone is very good. It feels professional and well-edited. Dialogue. It’s very snappy and witty. Character creation. Balthazar’s a great character, as far as morally ambiguous characters go. Tone. This story feels professionally edited.

            Low: Lack of scenery description. Mountains and forests are mentioned in certain places, but we never get a picture painted of what they really look like. Do they look different than those in our world? I feel like I don’t have enough information to visualize these places. Rips on Twilight. I feel like every YA paranormal romance has to include a scene where a clueless human mentions something in Twilight and the savvy supernatural laughs at them—but you can’t make fun of a book where a girl falls in love with a vampire in a book where a girl falls in love with a demon. Use of third person omni POV. This is just a pet peeve. Name similarity. We’ve got an Ashdad, an Alex, an Azira, an Adira, and an Aelek. Ack!

Did I like this story? Yes. Would I read it again? Sure. Would I recommend it to people who like YA paranormal romance? Yes. My rating? As a YA paranormal romance, four and a half stars out of five. As a novel, three and a half stars.

--Liz Ellor, O43

You can download The First Book of Demons here

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to Dress for your First Halloween at College

As anyone who's ever sat through The Dark Knight Rises with me knows, I'm a big fan of Catwoman. So when Halloween came around, I naturally decide to dress like Catwoman. I get my black spandex, my ears, make a utility belt out of duct tape, and I'm good to go.

One problem. It turns out Halloween in college is really different from Halloween at home, There's quite a good deal more alcohol, for one. For another, the costumes are very, very different. I think it might just be a style thing. I'm cool with that. Every little place has its own idiosyncrasy for Halloween costumes. Diversity is a wonderful thing.

I just had no clue how horribly diverse these costumes could be.

Let's start with a simple one: the non-costume. This is the costume about half the people will wear to your costume party. They will sheepishly laugh and say things like, 'yeah, I really didn't have time to make a costume' or 'this is my costume. It's ironic.' What they really mean is 'I hate Halloween. You're still dressing up? What are you, five?' These are the people who think Halloween is a fascist plot to control the mindless hordes into consuming the pacifying candy of the Great Capitalist Lie. Unfortunately, they can't say it out loud, as they're currently at a Halloween party and that would mean pissing off the person who invited them, who's probably wondering why their friend is such a party pooper.

Next, we've got the 'animal' costumes. I think we've all seen that scene in Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan walks into the Halloween party and all the girls are dressed in leotards with animal ears on their heads. Look, if you want to dress like a slut, then just tell everyone you're dressed like a slut.  Now, I'm a pretty easygoing person. I don't particularly care what you wear. But I'm also a Biology major, and I'm pretty sure that real animals don't wear stilettos or makeup.

Also, do you really want to attract boys who are attracted to raccoons?

The third type is the half-assed ironic costume. This is the person who tapes the piece of paper to their shirt that says something they heard on the news. I'm expecting to see a bunch of 'horses' and 'bayonets' this year after Obama joked about it in the debate--not people dressed like actual horses and bayonets, because that takes effort, but people with 'horse' and 'bayonet' written on pieces of notebook paper that they've taped to their chest. What they're trying to say is 'look at me, I understand politics'. What I see is 'I spend six hours setting up for this party and I really didn't feel like dressing up, but I'm the host and I had to'.

Then there's the costume bought in five minutes at Target. This person knew they were going to a party, so they went to target and dropped twenty bucks on a pre-made costume. They account for about one percent of the costumes I've seen on campus, which is surprising  since it seems like this is a good way to pick a costume.

Always a favorite, the costume made from red solo cups and flattened cans of PBR grows in popularity as the night goes on.

And last but not least, there's the awkward freshman costume. This is what you wear when your cool upperclassmen friends have invited you to a party in Collegetown. You spend half an hour building a belt out of duct tape and styling your hair to look like Anne Hathaway, convince your two roommates to dress up and assemble costumes from scratch by going through their wardrobes, and parade down to Collegetown. On the way, you realize no one else is in costume and in fact everyone else is staring at you funny. On the way back, you realize it's just because you walked over at nine PM and people in Collegetown happen to be nocturnal.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NEW Submission Rules and Tips

Note: I'm taking a break from reviewing until September, when I return to school. If you want to contact me, please email me around September first, when I'm cleaning out my queue.

New submission rules: Send me an email at with the information for your book, including a link to where I can download it. Kindle books preferred. Tips: I'd appreciate it if you become a follower of my blog and post some comments on my previous reviews. If I review your book, I would very much appreciate if you'd put a link to that review on your website or blog. 

Thank you all in advance,