Favorite Movies Watched in 2013-2014

Romantic Comedies

Obvious ChildObvious Child –  In this funny, feminist rom-com movie, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a New York City stand-up comic dealing with the break up with her long-term boyfriend and with an unwanted pregnancy after an amusing one-night stand. The movie deals with abortion in a funny, sweet, no-nonsense way as Donna figures out how to deal with the earnest guy from her one night stand. Jenny Slate, who played the hilariously obnoxious Mona-Lisa in Parks and Recreation, is both appealing and humorous as Donna.  I also loved the interactions between Donna and her parents—overall an enjoyable movie. (Available on Netflix DVD and Amazon Prime, also on iTunes for purchase.)

Dramas

PersepolisPersepolis– This movie had been on my to-see list forever and I’m glad I finally broke down and watched it.  It’s based on the graphic novel of the same title and follows a young girl’s experience growing up in Iran during the Iranian revolution.  Her family has some connection with France too, because she and her family speech French—so the whole movie is in French with English subtitles. I remember watching the Iranian revolution as an American teen but only knew the details from an outsider perspective.  This movie shows how the revolution personally affected its own citizens, especially young intelligent women.  (Available on Netflix Instant and for purchase on iTunes or Amazon online.)

Frances HaFrances Ha– One of those slice of life movies about some lost young creative person living in New York. I tend to like these kinds of movies.  In this one, Frances is a dancer who is coming to terms with the fact that she’s probably not going to make it professionally in dancing. It’s a more likable Girls or Woody Allen movie. (Available on Netflix Instant, Netflix DVD, and available for rent or purchase on iTunes.)

 

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars- (Available on Netflix DVD, also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online.) I think by now everyone’s heard about John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer.  While I slightly prefer the book, the movie does an excellent job.  If you’re one of the few people who haven’t read or seen it, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through.

 

Animated

Princess MononokePrincess Mononoke– (Available on Netflix DVD) – My son watched this movie with me when I was super sick with thyroid issues.  I can see why it’s one of his favorite movies.  It’s unique to western animation films in that there really is no “good guy” and no “bad guy”.  Instead there are two groups with opposing ideas that they are equally passionate about.

 

 

Favorite TV From 2013-2014

Foreign Political Dramas

BorgenBorgen – In this excellent Danish political drama, moderate Birgitte Nyborg becomes the prime minister of Denmark after a contentious election between two other front runners. This is a fascinating look at Danish politics with all the coalitions and deals that go into winning a vote with a multiple-party system. It makes me wish the US had more than two parties.   (All 3 seasons are available on Netflix DVD. Also check out  Link TV to see if they are streaming any episodes online. )

Comedies

Image- Parks and RecParks and Recreation–  Unlike the Office, which was funny but cynical, Parks and Rec is equally funny but sweetly optimistic.  Each of the characters is an amusing stereotype, that actually grows and changes as the series progresses. The abbreviated first season is pretty rocky, but the show found its center in season two and has been a fun look at the crazy details of local government ever since. (Seasons 1-6 available on Nexflix Instant and Netflix DVD, seasons 1-5 available on Amazon Prime, and season 1-7 available on iTunes.)

Jane the VirginJane the Virgin –  When I heard this show’s concept—a 23-year-old virgin who becomes pregnant after she’s accidentally artificially inseminated— I immediately wrote it off as being to stupid to even try.  Then I started reading Internet comments about how fresh and funny it was.  Finally a friend recommended it on Facebook and I decided to check it out.  Turns out it’s surprisingly good.

The show plays up the Telenovela concept to wink at the audience about how over the top the plots are, but at it’s core the story works because it’s about likable, fully developed characters who actually care about each other. It’s also hilarious. (Some episodes available on Hulu Plus, also all previous and current episodes are available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online).

The Crazy Ones

The Crazy Ones – This is one of the last projects Robin Williams acted in before his death.  Williams plays the president of an ad agency that he runs with his daughter, Sarah Michelle Gellar.  I was sad this show didn’t get picked up beyond its first season. Williams and Gellar had a real father-daughter like chemistry on the show, and by the end of the season the cast really gelled together.  The outtakes at the end of each episode showing Williams improv-ing lines are as much fun as watching the episode. (Highlight clips available on CBS website, whole season available on Netflix DVD, and available for purchase on Amazon online and iTunes.)

 

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Image- Orphan BlackOrphan Black – a fun, cliffhanger-y sci-fi action-adventure show about a young British woman, Sarah Manning, who sees a woman who looks just like her, right before the woman throws herself in front of a train. Tatiana Maslany is so good at playing multiple characters that I often forget they’re not played by different actors. Beware though, each episode ends with a cliffhanger making it dangerous binge watching material. Season 3 starts on April 18th on BBC America. (Seasons 1-2 available on Netflix DVD, season 1 also available on Amazon Prime, season 2 is available for purchase on Amazon online, and seasons 1-2 are available for purchase on iTunes. The show website also includes a thorough list of where to watch previous seasons.)

The Legend of KorraLegend of Korra– This Nickelodeon cartoon went from a being a good kids cartoon that adults could also enjoy to a good all-ages cartoon that kids can also enjoy. Seasons three and four are especially good and downright feminist. By the series finale there are numerous female heroes, with a wide range of ages.  (If you have a cable subscription to Nickelodeon’s channel, you can watch all the episodes online at their website, seasons 1-2 are also available on Amazon Prime and seasons 3-4 are available for purchase on Amazon online, seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix DVD, and seasons 1-4 are also available for purchase on iTunes.)

Favorite You Tube Channels Watched in 2013-2014

Community Channel–  Australian Natalie Tran’s weekly first world problem skits are my favorite videos to watch on You Tube. Tran plays all the parts in her skits as she muses about how she wishes she could save her “good hair days” for a day she’ll spend with her friends—instead of the day she’s just going to read and do yoga—or the horror of realizing her lost phone is on silent mode.  At the end of each video she has a porno music/comment time where she responds to comments from her fans with her deprecating sense of humor.

Vlogbrothers– Brothers John and Hank Green have chatted to each other and their audience of Nerdfighters by vlog since 2007.  For anyone who hasn’t heard of them, John is the author of several bestselling young adult novels, including, The Fault in Our Stars. Hank is an entrepreneur who produced numerous You Tube video series, including, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, as well as the creator of the indie record label, DFTBA (Don’t Forget to Be Awesome).

These entertaining videos tend to be between 3-6 minutes long and focus on the brothers’ lives, how to make the world suck less, and basically any topic that interests them.  I like watching vlogbrother videos because they manage to be both idealistic about trying to improve the world and realistic about how hard that is, but still keep doing productive things to help out—with a sense of fun, too.

Feminist Frequency – Anita Sarkeesian’s channel is full of wonderful videos that look at how women and girls are portrayed in TV shows, books, movies, and games.

Vaginal Fantasy Book Club – (on Goodreads and YouTube) – For a long while I’d been looking for a source for romance novels that were more feminist, preferably with science fiction, fantasy, or historical elements.  I finally found the perfect source in Vaginal Fantasy Book Club.  The book club is run by actor/producer Felicia Day ( Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, The Guild, Geek & Sundry, Supernatural). Every month she and her three friends pick a main selection, plus an alternative read.  On the last Tuesday of the month they get together on Goggle Hang Outs/ You Tube to discuss the book.The discussions go on for about an hour and are like eavesdropping on an especially fun, cool book club.  They also have a forum on Goodreads and a Twitter feed that they use for discussing the book.

Crash Course

A cool warehouse of educational videos produced by John and Hank Green on over a dozen topics. Each video is 10-15 minutes long and there are 25-50 videos per topic.  John teaches in the history and literature videos and Hank teaches in the science videos.  The videos use a combination of cartoons and lectures and tend to be both entertaining and informative.

 

Favorite Short Story Collections Read From 2013-2014

Science Fiction / Fantasy Short Story Collections 

Image of Blood ChildBlood Child and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler (July 2003) – This is an excellent collection of five short stories and two essays from Ocativa Butler—including her “male pregnancy” story. Her writing is deceptively simple, and her stories contain clever ideas in worlds that are so well-developed, in just a few pages, that I wished most of them had been developed into novels. I also liked her reassuring essays about writing.  Reading this collection makes me even sadder that Butler died in 2006, when she was only 58 from a fall/stroke.

Image- Near and FarNear + Far, by Cat Rambo (September 2012) – The paper version of this short story collection is two books in one.  On one side is a collection of “near” future short stories, flip the book over and it’s a collection of “far” future stories. Cat Rambo is probably one of my favorite current speculative fiction short story writers.  Her stories tend to be clever, imaginative, and often feminist, with literary touches.

 

Young Adult Short Story Collections 

Image- KaleidoscopeKaleidoscope Story Collection: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories (August 2014) –  A good collection of YA science fiction and fantasy stories with an emphasis on diversity.   The first story about a disabled super hero is probably my favorite. It’s just so cheerful and charming. There are a number of other good stories though, including one about an Olympic ice skater using future technology, and a story about a young woman befriending alien students at her school.  There is a heavy emphasis on young women as protagonists, which I liked, but I thought the collection might have been more well-rounded if there were also one or two more stories featuring diverse young men as protagonists as well.

Image- My True Love Gave to MeMy True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (October 2014) – I read this YA holiday romance short story collection over winter break. It features stories from Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, and a host of other bestselling YA authors. There’s really not a bad story in the bunch—though I certainly liked some of the stories more than others. Overall, it’s a charming collection of holiday cheer and romance that I highly recommend.

Favorite Short Stories Read in 2013 – 2014

In the summer of 2013 I was too sick to focus on writing a novel and decided writing short stories might be more manageable.  I started reading online science-fiction/fantasy magazines, took several classes on short story writing, and read several short story collections.  Like most of my reading, I tend to like science-fiction/fantasy or chick-lit romance stories best.

Favorite Stories Read Online

There are lots of stories to read online for free—including many science-fiction/fantasy stories.  I try to read a new story every day. Most of the stories I read are just okay, but about once a week, I read a story I really like —a ratio of 80% decent stories to 20% wonderful stories.  Considering I choose my stories pretty randomly that seems like a good ratio, about the same ratio I have with books.   Here’s a sampling of my favorite stories:

On the Big-Fisted Circuit, by Cat Rambo ( Daily Science Fiction.com, July 12, 2013) – I enjoyed this flash fiction piece about futuristic robotic cage fighting. This was my first Cat Rambo story, and since reading it, I’ve read dozens more by her.  Her stories tend to be clever, imaginative, and feminist, often with literary touches.  She also teaches awesome online short story classes, and writes an interesting blog and twitter feed.

One, by Sinead O’Hart (Daily Science Fiction.com, October 21, 2013) – In just 1,000 words this flashfic piece tells an entire sci-fi story with a twist.  This is the kind of story I aspire to write one day.

The Wrong Foot, by Stephanie Burgis (Daily Science Fiction.com, November 1, 2013) – A charmingly cheeky spin on Cinderella.

Stitched Wings, by Beth Cato (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, December 26, 2013) – A lovely heart-wrenching story about a child who catches fairies.

Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable, by Cat Rambo (Clarkeworld Magazine, February 2014)- What if you could clone your beloved dead pet or even your dead spouse?

Cattail Heart, by Kate Heartfield  (Daily Science Fiction. com, August 29, 2014) – A thoughtful story that starts off with a Native American woman being forced into a colonial boarding school and ends with a science fiction twist.

Whose Face This Is I Do Not Know, by Cat Rambo (Clarkesworld Magazine, May 2011) – Another good Cat Rambo story about a unique young woman whose looks can change.

Favorite Online Magazines and Podcasts

Daily Science Fiction.com– This is my favorite short story site.  The stories are mostly flash fiction—so they’re quite short, which I like—but they also tend to be interesting and entertaining as well. There’s a nice range from the very light to the more thoughtful, and a good mix of science fiction and fantasy. The site will deliver a daily story (Monday-Friday) to your email box. You can also read the stories on the website—though each story is posted to the site a week after its email delivery.

Clarkesworld– This is a literary magazine for science fiction and fantasy stories, that also has a podcast—available on the site and on iTunes. You can also subscribe to the magazine on Kindle or Nook, or can purchase a paper copy, too.  I find I either really like the stories in this magazine or totally don’t get them, with little in-between.  There are enough I like that I keep coming back to read though.

Lightspeed Magazine– This magazine has a wide range of science fiction/fantasy stories and I usually end up liking most of what I read here.  They recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign to produce a special issue called, “Women Destroy Science Fiction”, full of stories by and about women.  The campaign was so successful they were able to make fantasy and horror issues as well. Lightspeed also has a podcast with one new story  a week on the site and on iTunes. You can also subscribe to the magazine on Kindle or Nook or can purchase a paper copy, too.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies– I’ve only read a few stories in this fantasy magazine but liked what I read.  They also have a podcast on the site and on iTunes, and you can also subscribe to an ebook form of the magazine or get it on Kindle.  I didn’t see a Nook subscription, though you can buy individual copies of the magazine for Nook.

Escape Pod,  Podcastle, and Pseudopod– 3 podcasts available on iTunes with weekly short stories.  Escape Pod is for science fiction stories, Podcastle has fantasy stories, and Pseudopod is the horror story podcast.

Favorite Middle Read Reads of 2013 – 2014

Over the two years when I was too sick to blog I read 15 middle grade books. I tend to like escapist action-packed stories best, though, I did read one excellent novel in verse. Here are my favorites:

Middle Grade Novels & Memoirs

Image- Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (August 2014)- Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse is about her first 10 years growing up as an African-American girl in Ohio, South Carolina, and Brooklyn during the 60’s and 70’s. Technically it’s written for elementary school aged kids but it’s one of those crossover novels that can be enjoyed equally by adults. Lovely, interesting, quick read.

 

Image- BeswitchedBeswitched, by Kate Saunders (December 2011) An old-fashioned boarding school tale about a spoiled twelve-year-old girl, Flora, who is sent off to a posh boarding school in present day England, while her family takes care of her recently injured grandmother.  Something weird happens on the train, though, and Flora finds herself at a boarding school in 1935 instead!  I love boarding school books and the period details in Beswitched added to the fun.  The “twist” at the end is pretty obvious, but still satisfying.

 

Image- Capture the FlagCapture the Flag, by Kate Messer (July 2012) – This action-adventure story reads like an Disney movie with more diverse casting.  Three kids search for a missing famous American flag while stranded at the airport.  Messer taught for years before writing and it’s pretty clear she knows how to capture the attention of third-seventh graders.

 

Image- Deadweather and SunriseDeadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg 1, by  Geoff Rodkey (May 2012)-  Egg, the youngest son of a fruit farmer, eeks out a dreary life on Deadweather Island, bullied by his older brother and sister while he tries to educate himself with the terrified tutors his father hires.  The day his father takes him for a visit to Sunrise Island is the day his life changes.  This fun action-adventure story— with an especially enjoyable narrator—would make a good bedtime or classroom read aloud.

Image- The Great Greene Heist

 

The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson (May 2014) – An Ocean’s Eleven caper for the middle school set.  Like Capture the Flag, the story hosts a fun, diverse cast and lots of twists and turns.

 

Image- League of SevenLeague of Seven, by Alan Gratz (August 2014) – This steampunk fantasy is set in an alternate- America where Native Americans and Yankees run the country together and electricity is illegal.  Archie—the son of two members of the secret Septemberist Society—must save his kidnapped parents from the Mangleborn monsters who are supposed to be trapped in underground prisons. A Native American girl and a boy apprentice to Edison join forces with Archie in this action-packed story, full of cool gadgets and inventions.

 

Favorite Grown Up Fiction, Memoir, and Non-Fiction Books Read in 2013-2014

While I was too sick to blog I read light, escapist adult novels—lots of chick-lit and action-adventure. Here are my favorite realistic and historical fiction reads over the past two years.

Realistic Fiction/ Historical Fiction for Grown Ups

16071745  Someday, Someday Maybe, by Lauren Graham (April 2013) – It turns out Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood) isn’t just an entertaining actor, she can write too.   Frankie Banks is on the last six months of the three years she gave herself to break into the acting business in New York and is beginning to wonder if she should just pack up and go home to her sweet boyfriend.  I enjoyed this fun, light chick-lit type story.  I could relate to Frankie’s doubts and insecurities about making it in a competitive artistic business and especially liked the behind-the-scene look into acting class, auditions, agents, and commercials.

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Longbourn, by Jo Baker (October 2013) – I enjoyed this spin-off book of Pride and Prejudice that imagines what the lives of the Bennett household servants were like while Lizzy was getting to know Mr. Darcy.  It’s kind of like a novel-version of Downton Abbey but set in the  early 1800’s.  It also has a good audiobook version.

 

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Landline, by Rainbow Rowell (July 2014)- Technically Rainbow Rowell’s third novel has a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy device where a landline phone connects the main character to her husband—but in the past when he was still her boyfriend. The  core of the story, though, is a realistic tale of a young woman trying to figure out what went wrong in her marriage while she and her writing partner finish up scripts for a TV series they’re trying to sell to a network.  I especially liked the behind-the-scenes look at writing for a TV series.

 

Memoirs

image- Yes, PleaseYes, Please! by Amy Poehler –  I love Parks and Recreation so it’s not a surprise that I enjoyed Amy Poehler’s memoir/self-help book. The book is a mixture of stories about her childhood, stories about improv, life advice, fun lists, and comedy riffs. She’s open and funny but manages to keep her private life private—for instance the only real details she’ll say about her divorce to Will Arnett is that it’s “too personal and too sad” to talk about.

At the same time she’s pretty blunt—in an amusing way—about how hard divorce can be.  I loved her summary of books she could now write about divorce, with such titles as, “I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow!” (a book about divorcing while raising small children together) and “Get Over It! (But Not Too Fast!)”.

I think her discussion at the beginning of the book about how hard writing is, was my favorite part though.  To quote Amy, “The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit.  It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.”  Hee!  So true.

Image- Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson ( 2014)- Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse is about her first 10 years growing up as an African-American girl in Ohio, South Carolina, and Brooklyn during the 60’s and 70’s. Technically it’s written for elementary school aged kids but it’s one of those crossover novels that can be enjoyed equally by adults. Lovely, interesting, quick read.

 

Non-Fiction

Image- 7 Secrets of the ProlificThe 7 Secrets of the Prolific, by Hillary Rettig – I read this book for a class taught by the teacher.  It’s a good resource for dealing with writer’s block or just a general lack of confidence about your writing.  Rettig’s emphasis is on perfectionism and how it hurts writing output.  She explains exactly what perfectionism is and how to combat it.  I found her methods and thoughts quite helpful when I was trying to get back into writing after being sick for months with my thyroid issues.