Book Review: The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis (2016)

Monday, September 19th, 2016

There aren’t enough stars in the universe.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including rape and pedophilia. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

The shelter is running a neuter-and-spay clinic next month. One of my jobs this morning is to get the mail, fighting the urge to throw a rock at a speeding car when the driver wolf-whistles at me. The mailbox is full of applications for the clinic, most of them for dogs but a handful of cats as well. Rhonda, the lady who runs the shelter, has me sort them out, dogs and cats, male and female.

Rhonda snorts when she sees all the male dogs on the roster. “People don’t learn,” she says.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Everyone thinks if you fix a male dog it will lower his aggression, but most of the biters are female. It’s basic instinct to protect their own womb. You see it in all animals—the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”

The books didn’t help me find a word for myself; my father refused to accept the weight of it. And so I made my own. I am vengeance.

Like her father before her, who abandoned the family when she was a kid, Alex Craft has violent tendencies. Unlike Daddy Dearest, however, what piques Alex’s rage is injustice: bullying, animal abuse, rape jokes, and violence (particularly that of a sexual nature). If her father had stayed, it’s entirely possible that they would have come to blows, since he sometimes seemed one frayed nerve away from wife beating territory. But Alex saw him as a kindred spirit, and in his absence, she has no one to relate to or confide in. No one to teach her how to channel her rage in a productive way.

Alex’s older sister Anna helped to keep her wolf caged. When Anna was murdered, Alex unlocked the door.

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Book Review: In My Humble Opinion: My So-Called Life, Soraya Roberts (2016)

Friday, August 5th, 2016

“Red is the color of revolution.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review from ECW Press.)

“When I think about My So-Called Life,” WB regular Greg Berlanti told Entertainment Weekly, “I think about that line in Star Wars, when Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Darth Vader, ‘If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.’ That’s exactly what happened here.”

My So-Called Life hit the airwaves on August 25, 1994 – just weeks before I started my junior year of high school. From the first frame – “Go, now, go!” – I was hooked. I still remember the excitement of watching the pilot, on the ancient, staticky hand-me-down tv propped atop my sister’s dresser. (We shared a room. It was literal hell.) It was like someone had scrabbled through my brain, gathered all the best bits, and stitched them into the unlikeliest script ever. I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t be the only kid watching who felt this way. This was something new, something special. Something downright revolutionary. Like, what was ABC thinking?

I wanted to be wild like Rayanne, yet quiet and introspective like Angela. I dyed my hair red and took to toting around a ginormous purse stuffed with all sorts of ephemera and random clutter. I skipped school, drank liquor spiked with Kool-aid, and wore the most outlandish outfits I could come up with: forest green corduroy pants and a vintage mint green polyester top one day; a slip as a skirt or a camisole as a shirt the next. A weird mix of hippie chick and slutty goth. I lusted after Jordan, even though I had my own version (but not, like, really) IRL.

Though it only lasted one season, My So-Called Life stayed with me forever. It’s one of a handful of shows from my childhood that’s held up over time gotten better with age. Now I’m thirty-eight – much closer in age to Patty than Angela – and I think I appreciate it more than ever. Or at least understand it on a different level. The opening credits still make my heart skip a beat, anyway.

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Eat to the Beat: Vanilla Espresso Shake & The White Stripes

Monday, October 29th, 2012

 

The song: “One More Cup of Coffee” by Bob Dylan (and covered by The White Stripes; lyrics)

The foodstuff: A Vanilla Espresso Shake from American Vegan Kitchen

The connection: Espresso-flavored milkshakes – my kind of coffee!

 

Vanilla Espresso Shake from American Vegan Kitchen (0005)

 

This milkshake was inspired by the shakes served at Strong Hearts Cafe in Syracuse, NY, which American Vegan Kitchen author Tami Noyes visits frequently on her way to Vermont. While I don’t need an excuse to indulge in frozen desserts – be it soft serve, ice cream cookie sammies, sundaes, milkshakes, whatever – an espresso-flavored shake is the perfect partner for this Bob Dylan song. I gave up hot coffee ages ago – I took my coffee with so much sugar and soy creamer that I started to fear for the integrity of my teeth (“Want some coffee with your sugar?”) – and so coffee-flavored desserts are the closest I get to the stuff nowadays.

The Vanilla Espresso Shake is about as lip-smacking good as you’d expect. Coffee crystals, vanilla ice cream, vanilla soy creamer, and vanilla extract – that’s it! Bliss can be yours in 90 seconds or less.

For the ice cream, I used the Vanilla, I Scream! from The Tipsy Vegan, which I had left over from last week. I was right: the coffee and (extra) vanilla flavoring completely eradicated the “blah blahness” of the silken tofu I complained about previously. Score! I know what I’ll be doing with the rest of it, wink wink.

 

Vanilla Espresso Shake from American Vegan Kitchen (0023)

 

Supposedly this recipe serves two, which is kind of laughable: it doesn’t even fill up one medium-sized glass! (And I added a little extra creamer, too!) The milkshakes you find at, say, The Chicago Diner are easily double this. Not to imply that I could have eaten more; one recipe was enough for me. But split this with a friend? NEVER!

 

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re: today’s soundtrack, I chose the White Stripes cover of “One More Cup of Coffee,” cause it’s creepier and thus more appropriate for the season. Best described as charmingly awful, Bob Dylan’s singing voice – which I love! – just doesn’t suit this song the way Jack White’s does. IMHO! No haters!

 

veganmofo 2012
Eat to the Beat

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Eat to the Beat: Cheesy Kale Chips & Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

 

The song: “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (lyrics)

The foodstuff: Cheesy Kale Chips from Vegan Junk Food

The connection: Battlestar GalacticaSeason 3, Episode 10, “The Passage”

 

Kale Chips from Vegan Junk Food (0015)

 

So this is one of those food-song pairings which is less obvious and thus requires a lengthier explanation. As much as I love Battlestar Galactica and could ramble on and on about it for days, I’ll try to keep it short and simple. This is a food festival, after all.

For those who aren’t fans (OH MY GODS WHY NOT? YOU ARE MISSING OUT EPICALLY!), the basic premise of BSG is this: after a decades-long truce with the Cylons – sentient robots built, enslaved, and oppressed by humans – the Twelve Colonies are attacked by their “children” (now evolved into android form). Humanity is destroyed. Decimated. Entire cities and planets are colonized by the Cylons – or wiped off the map altogether. The ~50,000 human survivors – most of whom were off-planet, traveling in spaceships, when the attack occurred – flee, with the Cylons in hot pursuit.

At turns, the Cylons aim for the extinction of the human race – or peaceful (yet dominant) coexistence with them. Meanwhile, the humans want nothing but to escape the Cylons; to find a new planet to settle and rebuild human civilization. The duration of the four-season show follows our “heroes” (not really; not always) as they search for the mythical planet of earth, supposedly settled by their ancestors so many centuries ago.

While BSG touches upon a number of heavy topics – democracy, warfare, slavery, civil liberties, abortion – the themes of home and family can be found throughout. Forced to live on cramped, uncomfortable ships for years, some of them subjected to horrific working conditions, the survivors are just that: surviving. Nothing more; for many, less, as war, disease, and hunger ravage the population. The hope of finding a new planet to settle – a new home – is all that sustains them.

In the meantime, they must learn how to make do with their actual homes: the warships, prisons, and luxury liners that carry them through space. (Even in wartime, inequities persist!) The survivors find friends, forge alliances, fall in love, start families. They struggle to find normalcy in the midst of a perpetual emergency.

 

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Though they do eventually find earth, it’s a shell of a planet, ravaged by nuclear warfare. Uninhabitable; in no better shape than the planets they fled. (Oh, humanity. Will you ever rise above your violent nature?) While their faith is shattered, they keep searching. What else is there to do but forge on? In time they find a new earth – earth as we know it – and at long last they stop running; they settle the planet, together, humans and Cylons alike. Among the refugees is young Hera, a human-Cylon hybrid – the first – who will one day come to be known as Eve.

In my own mental BSG soundtrack, “Home” is the very first track (followed at a close second by History Repeating), and for obvious reasons. Home is where you find the people you love. Home is where you are, where you want to be. Home is where you make it, but not always in the place you imagined it.

And how does the kale figure in, you ask? Season 3, Episode 10 (“The Passage”) saw the fleet facing starvation after their food stores were contaminated. In search of sustenance, they stumble upon the “Algae Planet,” which has “an abundance of primitive plant life in the form of waterborne algae which the refugee fleet stop to harvest for food.” While the mission doesn’t go altogether smoothly, the fleet successfully replenishes its food supply. Naturally, much grumbling about the lackluster menu ensues.

 

Kale Chips from Vegan Junk Food (0022)

 

Even though it’s actually algae they harvest, I can’t help but think of kale every time that episode comes to mind. But not in a bad way! I’m convinced that there would have been much less complaining about the food if only they just knew how to prepare it properly. Too bad they didn’t have any nutritional yeast (or Lane Gold) on hand!

Which brings us to the Cheesy Kale Chips from Vegan Junk Food! I tried to make these months ago – back when I was reviewing the book – but the husband accidentally brought home cabbage, and it was all downhill from there. Luckily, the second time’s the charm – once I had a bunch of honest-to-goodness kale to work with, it was smooth sailing. The kale is seasoned with olive oil, salt, nutritional yeast, and cayenne pepper and baked until crispy. A pretty standard recipe, I think, and very tasty. Addictive, even.

They don’t quite taste like tortilla chips as Gold promises, but they’re still good! And healthy! (Seriously, where’s all that junk food I was promised? Wink, wink.)

Just remember to remove the stems – ALL OF THEM. Seriously, even the teenty tiny tertiary baby stems! I left a few little veins intact, and had to eat around them, so tough and gross were they.

 

Kale Chips from Vegan Junk Food (0028)

 

The leaves – dissected as they are at multiple points by the stems – will be much smaller, but also easier to work with.

 

veganmofo 2012
Eat to the Beat

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Book Review: Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey, Valerie Estelle Frankel (2012)

Friday, September 28th, 2012

(Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

The Slayer Who Would Be Queen

four out of five stars

A newbie Buffy fan like myself, I was super-excited when copies of Valerie Estelle Frankel’s Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey: Vampire Slayer as Feminine Chosen One were offered up for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. At the time I was just finishing up Season Seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and picking up Season One of the comics, so the timing was perfect – fresh as the material was in my head.

Frankel didn’t discover the show until long after the final episode had aired; but, once she did, she was quick to devour it all: BtVS, Angel, and the comics. As she watched, she also worked on an impromptu, 100-page draft comparing Buffy’s trials and tribulations to the classic hero’s journey, as described by mythologist Joseph Campbell. Eventually her thesis grew into Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey.

A “monomyth” that can be found in the great epics of every culture (see, e.g., Hercules, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter), the Hero’s Journey takes a somewhat predictable path – beginning with the call to adventure and ending with the “freedom to live” – during the course of which the protagonist gains wisdom and self-knowledge and successfully grows into a fully integrated adult. Of course, many adventures are had along the way: the hero battles with (and triumphs over) a Dark Lord (his Shadow) who threatens the world; he meets his Princess, goddess of the forest and embodiment of the earth’s magic; and he battles monsters of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps he’s also accompanied by a trustworthy friend or two, who function as outward reflections of his inner self.

As articulated in a handy chart by Frankel, Campbell’s Hero’s Journey includes:

* World of Common Day
* Call to Adventure
* Refusal of The Call
* Supernatural Aid
* Crossing The First Threshold
* Belly of the Whale
* Road of Trials
* Meeting with The Goddess
* Woman as Temptress
* Atonement with The Father
* Apotheosis
* The Ultimate Boon
* The Refusal of the Return
* The Magic Flight
* Rescue from Within
* Return
* Master of Two Worlds
* Freedom to Live

In contrast, Frankel offers up a different – but oftentimes parallel – outline of The Heroine’s Journey:

* World of Common Day
* Call to Adventure: A Desire to Reconnect with the Feminine
* Refusal of The Call
* The Ruthless Mentor and the Bladeless Talisman
* Crossing the First Threshold: Opening One’s Senses
* Sidekicks, Trials, Adversaries
* Wedding the Animus
* Facing Bluebeard
* Sensitive Man as Completion
* Confronting the Powerless Father
* Descent into Darkness
* Atonement with the Mother
* Apotheosis through Accepting One’s Feminine Side
* Reward: Winning the Family
* Torn Desires
* The Magic Flight
* Reinstating the Family
* Power of Life and Death
* Ascension of the New Mother

As you can see, many of the points on these paths are quite similar, with nearly all of the differences hinging upon the hero’s gender. (Paging Captain Obvious!) For example, while the male hero has daddy issues (the mother being largely absent), the heroine is plagued with mommy problems – and a weak father (and/or father figure), to boot. Whereas the hero will be seduced by a woman (“Woman as Temptress”), the heroine must remain vigilant against intimate partner violence (“Facing Bluebeard”). The hero meets and falls in love with a mysterious princess/goddess who introduces him to the magic of nature, whereas the heroine must wed the animus – her dark, masculine Shadow Self.

Drawing upon the whole of Buffyverse canon – the 1992 film, seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel, and Seasons One and Eight of the comic – Frankel elucidates the ways in which Buffy’s journey functions as a “perfect example” (I’m paraphrasing) of The Heroine’s Journey. Xander (passionate, practical) and Willow (innocent, intelligent) can be read as aspects of Buffy’s self, manifested externally, which must be nurtured and protected at all costs. Giles is both a manly guardian of knowledge and a (physically) powerless father (figure; Buffy’s actual father is both powerless and largely absent from her life). Maggie Walsh and Glory are Terrible Mothers – destructive forces that Buffy must avoid succumbing to. Whereas Joyce vacillates between a Good Mother and a mother who is at best oblivious to her daughter’s needs, Tara acts as a surrogate Good Mother in the wake of Joyce’s death; after Tara is murdered, Buffy must integrate Tara’s goodness into her own psyche, so that she can care for her little sister/adopted daughter Dawn. As Buffy confronts and defeats increasingly disturbing and powerful opponents – absorbing their darkness into her Self – she matures. So do her weapons: from a common crossbow (which allows to her keep a relatively safe distance from vamps), to a masculine, army-issued rocket launcher, culminating in the ultra-powerful, ultra-ancient scythe, which helps to unleash the power of the feminine so that all women are potential slayers.

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