Fangirl in the Real World

Last night, I dreamed of a parallel universe. I dreamed that I met the incredible Tom Hiddleston after the Brisbane stretch of Thor: Ragnarok wrapped. Got the selfie and made him laugh by pulling out my copy of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris and having him sign it. And then walked away as he moved onto the next fan, glowing with the knowledge that I had been in the presence of true greatness.

Unfortunately, I had to wake up.

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Chris Hemsworth with the QPS, in the hoodie that conjured a whole lot of revenue for the Australian mental health charity, Livin. Picture from the QPS Facebook page.

See, I live in Brisbane. And all this week I have had my newsfeed blow up with pictures of the golden Asgardian trio: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hiddleston. It’s been incredible. Seeing pictures of celebrities I admire in among things I see everyday, like the Lady Cilento, and the front cover of the Courier Mail. I saw the letter that was sent out to the local businesses that would be affected by filming and recognised the street names. It’s been surreal.

 

Then, of course, there were the photos of my friends who met the golden trio. It was indeed true that Hemsworth bought pizza for the fans who had waited to see them. I walked past the Domino’s that most likely supplied the pizza as well! These photos stung.  A lot.

I am a huge Tom Hiddleston fan, as many of my friends can attest. For example, I saw Crimson Peak, despite being barely able to tolerate the suspense and horror of a Weeping Angels episode of Doctor Who, simply because Tom Hiddleston was in it. And even some of you, depending on how long you’ve followed me, would have seen this post. I simply think Hiddleston is one of the most talented and genuinely nice guys in Hollywood. And in a world full of hate, Tom Hiddleston is the kind of celebrity we all need.

The thing is, though. I no longer live the semi-spontaneous life I lived a few years ago. If I

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Tom Hiddleston with the QPS after the final day of filming. That smile, though! Picture also from the QPS Facebook page

need a day off work, I have to ask for it two weeks in advance. I can’t just call in sick, because I need a doctor’s certificate. I also have uni responsibilities that I have to attend to. I am incredibly jealous of all of my friends who were able to be in the CBD, waiting for the Asgardians for hours on end. I wish, wholeheartedly, that I could have been there with them.

To be clear, I do not begrudge these guys their meeting Hiddleston or Hemsworth or Hopkins. I think it’s amazing. I just am now a permanent slight greenish colour with jealousy.

I did make it to the set, just the once. It was yesterday, the last day of filming. The boyfriend and I managed to get to the set at about 5 o’clock. We walked past the make-up trailer, where we saw pictures of Hiddleston and Hemsworth tacked to the wall for reference. We saw the catering tent and a-frames (A-Frames?) emblazoned with the words ‘Asgardian Productions’. We also saw filming equipment, the camera man, and saw how those massive filming lights get moved (a sort of cherry-picker). We were there in the crowd, which was an experience in and of itself.

But we had to leave. My midsemester exam for statistics closed the following morning at 10am. And because I had to work, I was restricted to doing my exam outside of work hours.

Later that night, when I crawled into bed at around midnight, I checked FB. From what I could see, filming wrapped at around 8.30-9pm and that was when the one and only Tom Hiddleston emerged, de-Loki’d, and took photos with and gave autographs to the crowd.

There is no way I could have been there.

This has probably been a bit of a whingy post, and I apologise. The reason this post is going online and not in my journal – yes, I have one – is because I bet there are many of you out there in the same boat. Your favourite celebrities have been in your city, and you’ve known exactly where they are, but because of the set-in-stone responsibilities of life, you’ve missed out.

So let’s commiserate together!

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This is quite possibly my favourite photo of the Thor:Ragnarok campaign, for lack of a better word. These guys went to the Lady Cilento hospital in Brisbane and spent time with the kids, and brought Mjolnir! An actual Hollywood prop. And they’re both still in costume. Well, their super-powered civvies. This just completely blew my mind. 

 

 

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“Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me if I had heard of an author named Catherynne M. Valente. When I said no, she then saw fit to rectify the situation and loaned me two of Valente’s novels. Deathless, obviously, was one of them.

I can’t believe that I hadn’t heard of Valente before that fateful day. The woman is a genius.

The plot of Deathless  seamlessly mixes life in Russia around the time of World War II with folklore and legend. It’s mesmerising. I don’t know about you, but I never thought about how the human world could impact the realm of the fantastic. I thought they were two completely separate entities living in the same world. Kind of like trains running on parallel tracks. But of course there would be some overlap. Just … of course. And Valente fuses the realistic with the mythical beautifully.
In its most basic form, the story follows Marya Morevna and what happens to her after she realises the the bird-husband who comes for her when she turns 15 is somewhat different than the ones who came for her three elder sisters. She travels back and forth between Leningrad (or Petrograd or St. Petersberg, depending on which year Marya went back), and the land of the mythical. It’s incredibly well done and I loved every second of it.

I think what I loved most about the story was its language, though. Valente wrote Deathless like a folk tale; scenes repeated over and over again but with small details changed to drive the point home. And all with the innocent, child-like language of bedtime story fairytales. But, Deathless is bloody and lascivious and brash and the innocent language of the story doesn’t always fit the plot, but in a way that makes you feel the good kind of uncomfortable.

There’s also the fact that time floats along in a way so that you barely register that Marya is suddenly thirty-three until part-way through the book. Or that she’s somehow an old woman when you could have sworn five pages ago that she was still fifteen. Ordinarily, I don’t really pay attention to the timeline in novels. In most of the ones I’ve read, the timeline is a day, month, year, five years maximum. The passage of time in those stories simply lets the plot unfold. but in Deathless the timeline is not so much important as it is another way in which Valente shows us the magic in the mythical realms. You don’t notice it until the book makes you realise that more time has passed than you thought and you have to lean closer to the pages to ensure that you don’t miss the next jump in time. Only you do, because time is fickle like that.

When I finished the book, I immediately messaged my friend to debrief. She replied “So, emotional destruction?”, and I had to stop and think for a moment. I’ve only been emotionally devastated by one book in my time, and that was All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. The end to Deathless is quieter. I think because Deathless  follows Marya Morevna’s entire life, rather than just a segment of it. We see how she lived and who she loved and know that she actually lived her life. So when the end of the book comes, we’ve seen enough to know that this ending is simply the drawing of the curtain at the end of a marvellous play. But it leaves you feeling … something. Only you’re not quite sure what it is.

Deathless is magnificent. It simply is. And so, you probably won’t be surprised when I give it:

★★★★★

P.S. Valente is releasing a sort of companion novel to Deathless. It’s not a sequel, this is an important distinction. It’s called Matryoshka and is, according to Goodreads, “a retelling of Ivan and the Firebird set during the children’s evacuation of Leningrad.” It sounds amazing.

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“Shada (A story by Douglas Adams)” written by Gareth Roberts.

For a self-confessed Whovian, a lover of all things Doctor Who, I shamefully have to admit that I have seen a grand total of possibly eight episodes of the classic series (everything pre-dating the reboot in 2005). When I was living in Canberra, the classic series was being shown on Syfy and, being unemployed for a while, I managed to catch a few episodes.

The very first episodes I ever saw of the classic series was Tom Baker’s Doctor and Sarah Jane’s very last episode together. I mean…really. Thanks universe.

The reason for this prologue is because Shada is a Fourth Doctor’s story. For anyone who doesn’t know, and I didn’t until I read Gareth Robert’s afterword, Shada was actually a storyline in the show, written by the formidable Douglas Adams. However, due to strikes and deadlines and all sorts of other nonsense, the story didn’t go the way that Adams intended. And so this is Roberts reworking Shada into what the story should have been.

And…

Roberts nailed it.

I have read a lot of Doctor Who books in my time, as you probably already know if you’ve been following this blog for a while. But most of them read like scriptwriters attempting to write books, rather than just reading like books. Not this one. This is an actual book with beautiful characters, sparkling dialogue, and the foreshadowing. Oh, geeze, the foreshadowing.
Roberts (or possibly Adams?) uses repetition to not only bring humour to the story, but also to bring out uneasiness. For example, there is one character who is always described as a “nice old man”. No other variation of the words. This starts as humour, but eventually it repeats so much that the reader starts to cotton on that maybe there’s a reason that this phrase is repeated over and over again.

Not only this, but Roberts/Adams does this beautiful thing where they address the whole woman-as-assistant trope but then he (they?) turn it on its head. In Shada there are two human companions, as it were, as well as the lovely Time Lady, Romana: Chris and Clare. Only, in this book it’s Chris that is somehow always reduced to cheerleader/assistant role. And it’s Clare that ends up flying the TARDIS and doing some bonafide life-saving.

And then there’s the fact that Roberts/Adams hilariously gives a human companion’s impression of the Doctor and how he makes everyone feel safe, only, they don’t know why. No reason to trust the strange man with the ridiculous scarf other than that they feel they can.

I really wish I had highlighted some quotes so that you can see this hilariousness right here and now but, oh well, you’re just going to have to read this book!

Finally, I want to bring this review back to my first statement. I have seen only a thin sliver of classic Who. Now, unfortunately, a lot of Doctor Who  books rely on the reader’s prior knowledge of the various Doctors to fill in the gaps left in the story. If you were to read those books without watching the show, you wouldn’t really get much of the characters. We Whovians fill in a lot of personality for the authors. But not in Shada. Every single character sparkles with three-dimensionality and uniqueness and loveliness. Even Wilkins. Even the constable at the end (though, he’s not really ‘lovely’, per se). Characters are a huge part of what makes me love or hate a book and, in this case, Roberts/Adams has made me love this book.

The reason I haven’t given an overview of the story is that I can’t really do that at all without:
a. giving away spoilers
b. possibly turning you off this book by doing a lousy job explaining the genius that is this story.
So if anything I’ve said tickles your fancy you should definitely just read this book. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who. If you loved Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should read this book.

For all of this, and a whole lot more that you will only understand if you experience this story for yourself, I give Shada:

★★★★★

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“Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened” by Allie Brosh.

Look at me go. Three days back and two new blog posts. I’m on fire.

(Probably doesn’t hurt that this book is essentially three quarters pictures).

For those of you who don’t know, Hyperbole and a Half actually started life as a blog, created by a woman named Allie Brosh. There haven’t been any updates on that blog since 2013, but it’s still there. Many of you reading my blog have probably stumbled across hers every once in a while. Brosh is a titan in the blogging community.

This book takes a lot of Brosh’s most popular posts and puts them together in physical form. I don’t read many blog-to-book books (was there a better way to say that? I feel like there was), but from what I’ve heard, I think this is pretty standard practice.

Hyperbole and a Half made me feel extremely uncomfortable. But, I believe this was for pretty incredible reasons. Brosh doesn’t shy away from talking about her battles with depression in this book, or in her blog, and the impact of these discussions reached millions of people. She gave an unforgiving account of what her depression was like and by doing so, helped many other people going through the same thing (just check out this article). But it is uncomfortable to read, because there are no pulled punches. It’s all laid bare. And I think feeling this way is a good thing, when someone is so honest about mental health issues. I don’t know if I’m explaining this right, but I’ll continue and hope my point comes across.

I usually feel uneasy when reading about mental health issues. I think because I know that these issues cannot be resolved. There’s no cure, but mental health issues can be managed. And so there is no real resolution in these stories. And what makes these stories uncomfortable is that it is the same in real life. There’s no real resolution. Especially with all of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

I think feeling uncomfortable while reading these stories is important if, like me, you are one of those lucky people who have never experienced mental health problems. But many, many people I love do, and I think that’s why these kinds of stories make me feel so unsettled; I can’t help Allie Brosh any more than I can help my loved ones. And that’s scary to me.

If you’ll notice, I haven’t really reviewed this book, because I’d essentially be reviewing Brosh’s blog. And I have not been blogging anywhere near long enough to be doing that. Besides, Brosh had millions and millions of followers. She definitely seems to know what she is (was?) doing.

So because I can’t really review this book, I won’t give it a star rating. I will recommend checking out Brosh’s blog before checking out the book version of it, though. Just to see if Brosh’s style is for you, before you go out and buy/borrow the book. Hyperbole and a Half was a quick read with a lot of deep, moving messages. And some pretty funny anecdotes thrown in to keep the balance.

 

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“Written in My Own Heart’s Blood” by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander #8) 

I’m back! I’m finally back! Have you guys missed me? Cos I’ve missed you.

The past few months have been a tad challenging. I got fired for the first time. Ever. But I managed to get a new job, that I love,  within two weeks. Plus, uni is a little brutal this semester, which is a tad worrying seeing as I’m only three weeks in. And apparently I actually have somehow built myself a social life. No idea when that happened, but it’s kinda nice. All of this means that I’ve had less time to read than I usually do. Which is my excuse as to why it took me nearly a month to finish Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.

But enough about me. Onto the review!

Well, maybe not a proper review. Outlander is the very first “grown up” series that I ever read. I read Cross Stitch when I was fifteen, and I’ve been in love with the series ever since. I love everything about the series. World-building, dialogue, and the characters. Holy God, the characters. Like, seriously. All of these characters feel so real that I have actually tried to Google them to find out if they were, in actuality, factual.

Spoiler: they are not.

What I’m trying to say is that I am not at all neutral when it comes to this series. You all should know this before jumping in. But let’s continue.

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood follows the same trend as the rest of the later Outlander books in that there doesn’t seem to be an obvious narrative through-line. There is so much going on, with an incredibly diverse cast of characters, that not everyone can contribute to the one story. In actuality, Outlander is a little like a collection of short stories where all of the stories are inter-connected. A lesser author could not pull this off. But Gabaldon is methodical and precise and takes three years to write each book, so she is a cut above the rest. What makes this convoluted kind of storytelling possible is that Gabaldon truly knows her characters and they all have their own distinct narrative voice. Which is incredibly handy given that there are nine POV characters:

  1. Claire (of course. She is still the only POV that is written in the first person. I think this keeps the reader reminded that without Claire going back to Jacobean Scotland back in Cross Stitch, none of the rest of the stories would be possible).
  2. Jamie
  3. Roger
  4. Brianna
  5. Ian
  6. Lord John Grey
  7. William
  8. Rachel (a little)
  9. Dottie (even less)

What’s interesting to note is that the number of POV characters has grown in each novel. Claire’s voice was the only one we had in Cross Stitch. In Dragonfly in Amber we had Claire and Roger. Voyager was Claire, Jamie, and Roger. Brianna was added in Drums of Autumn. Ian in The Fiery Cross (or it could have been A Breath of Snow and Ashes). Lord John Grey was introduced in An Echo in the Bone which, I believe, was released after at least one of the Lord John Grey novellas. And then, finally, we added William in Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. 

Just reading that list makes me tired. But Gabaldon pulls off this cast flawlessly in her books. She throws in the all of the verbal, mental, and physical quirks of each character to ensure that each voice is unique.

What makes this instalment different to the others is that there are three different time periods at play: Claire and Jamie’s time, the 1980s with Brianna and Roger, and then the early 1700s where we meet a young Jenny Fraser and Jamie’s father, Brian. Which adds just a little more complexity. But each time period is just as rich as the others. Nothing feels contrived or thoughtless.

I’ve read complex novels. I did a writing degree for God’s sake. But in the majority of them, I was constantly flicking backward and forward to make sure I was following the right characters or that I hadn’t missed anything in the plot when I started feeling lost for one reason or another. This never happens in Gabaldon’s stories.

The only thing I will say is that there is constantly so much going on in every single scene of an Outlander story that it can be hard to keep track of where each character is situated. I have a distinct memory of Jamie being fast asleep with his head on Claire’s lap and then on the next page he was sitting at the table eating with Ian. And yes, I checked. Jamie didn’t wake up and have a midnight snack. It is just one of those tiny details that would have been missed while checking for other continuity errors. Also, I’m not even sure whether that was a scene from  Written in My Own Heart’s Blood or whether it was from Echo in the Bone. But my point still stands.

I can’t really talk plot of this book because it will make no sense without the background of the preceding seven novels. But what I can do is plug the absolute hell out of this series. Gabaldon is a rare author who really does bring her characters to life. She puts them in scenarios that are so gritty and real that you forget that none of it actually happened. She never infodumps, never patronises the reader, but you always know exactly where, when, and who you’re with.

There’s a reason that Outlander has been picked up as a TV show. If you have watched the show, I implore you to read the books. No matter how loyal a TV show is to its source material, there are always cuts made to accommodate a TV audience. Think of the book as almost like a behind-the-scenes type deal.

Also, more Jamie Fraser? You can’t go wrong.

I, of course, give Written in My Own Heart’s Blood:

★★★★★

 

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Final nail in the Caskett

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WARNING! THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE SEASON 8 FINALE AND EVERYTHING THAT PRECEDES IT. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS FAR, I SUGGEST YOU TURN BACK. WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

Secondary warning: this is an opinion post. You can disagree or agree with me, I don’t mind, just be classy about it, hey?

For the last 24 hours, I have been bedridden with the end-of-semester cold from hell. Headache, light-headed, salt-water sinuses, coughing, and the terrible taste of phlegm that just kind of lingers. So because I’ve been unable to do anything that didn’t involve lying down and breathing through my mouth, I watched the entirety of Castle Season 8.

From the outset of this season, I wasn’t a fan. Honestly, I felt like Season 7 should have been the final season of this show. As much as I love Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, and the crazy antics that their characters get into, Season 7 had an air of finality to it from the very first episode. Season 7 follows on from when Beckett finally arrests the man, Senator Bracken, who was behind her mother’s murder. So the Big Bad is captured and is essentially not a threat anymore. The through-line of the entire series, I feel, ended when Beckett slapped those cuffs on Bracken. Everything that happens after that feels like an exploration into what Beckett is like without her mother’s murder, and the conspiracy that led to it, to focus on.
Of course, there’s Castle’s disappearance, but I always felt like this was one of those story lines that would standalone. That Castle had been needed for an undercover op because of his notoriety (that is, “Richard Castle is famous, he couldn’t possibly be a spy!”). I was fine when there was no explanation for his missing two months. Like the showrunners wanted to demonstrate that not every case can be solved, not even for the titular character. I liked that.

Then, do you remember that final scene of Season 7? When all of the main cast were sitting around a table, toasting to the future and to Castle and to his lifetime achievement award? It felt like a summation of the show; that everything was changing and yet, everything would stay the same:

Seaosn 7  finale

GATES: It’s a pretty big step, Kate. Have you decided what you’re going to do?
BECKETT: Not yet, but whatever it is I’m looking forward to the adventure.
RYAN: One thing’s for sure: things are going to change.
CASTLE: Well, I know one thing that’ll never change. What we all have. A toast. To us.
(BECKETT’S PHONE CHIMES)
BECKETT: It’s the precinct. There’s been a murder.

(transcript courtesy of SeriesMonitor)

See that? THAT is a series finale. The show should have ended right there. With everyone’s story wrapped up and happy, and the Big Bad finally out of everyone’s way.

But then Season 8 opens and it turns out that oops! The Big Bad wasn’t the Biggest Bad out there. Now, there’s LokSat. And God, I hated it. Castle and Beckett lying to each other, ending up separated, before realising that they were always stronger together and so they team up. Where have we heard this before? Oh, wait, in every single season up until this point. Why did this story need to be explored? Was it just that the show got renewed and the showrunners needed a convenient story? Because the LokSat plow was just thoughtless.
I didn’t believe in the story like I believed in a corrupt politician who had done terrible things for an end game he believed in. I liked Bracken as a villain, because he made a sick sort of sense. I did not like, nor believe, in LokSat as a villain. Even less with the two reveals. I mean, an older man turing out to be the patriarch of an evil conspiracy? Absolutely. That’s the plot of most mobster films. But in those final five minutes when LokSat turned out to be golden lawyer boy Caleb and not Mason Wood of the G.D.S.? And that Caleb had somehow faked his death and ended up in Caskett’s apartment?
Come. On.

And let’s talk about those five minutes. What a half-assed series finale. As a season finale, I would have been fine with it, but a SERIES finale? When there is NOTHING ELSE COMING? No! This could have been the first half of a series finale, but not the whole damn thing.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 12.30.27 pmRecap: Caskett come home, all happy and smiling because everything is finished. Next minute, Caleb Brown appears, shoots Castle in the chest and Beckett in the stomach and the lovers crawl to each other and lie, hand in hand, bleeding out on the floor. Then there’s about a minute, probably less, of flashes of Castle’s empty apartment with Caskett moments voiced over the top. THEN there’s 20 seconds of Caskett sitting at the breakfast table surrounded by a gaggle of young boys and girls with dark hair.

AND THAT’S IT.

My take on those atrocious last seconds is that the breakfast table scene is what flashes before Caskett’s eyes before they die. Because nothing else really makes sense. If it were a happy ending, with Caskett still alive, the rest of the cast should have been there, at that table. Or at least just Martha and Alexis. I know that there was the “seven years later” text on the screen during this part, but I feel like the whole thing was a fantasy cooked up in the final seconds of life. Either way, this was not an ending. Not to a show that has always taken pains to flesh out every single character, not just the main cast. What happens to Martha and Alexis? It could be argued that Castle told Hayley to look after them after he’s gone, but we don’t know. And what about Ryan and Esposito? Lainie? Richard’s dad and step-mum? Hell, we don’t even know why Caleb was LokSat and where Mason Wood came into everything.

The point of all of this is that I feel ripped off. After how long it took Caskett to finally get their ‘happily ever after’, they deserved a better ending than this. We as fans deserved a better ending than this. And I feel cheated.

What did you guys think?

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Day 9: 30 Day Writing Challenge

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In 250 words or less, write a storm using senses other than sight

During my writing degree, we were always taught to use multiple senses in our descriptions. Makes the scene more visceral for the reader. Sight is one that I use a lot. It’s the easiest. Which makes this challenge rather, well, challenging for me. Let’s give it a go.

Peta could taste the ozone on her tongue as she scrambled to find shelter, any kind of shelter. Rain drops pelted down, hitting every inch of her that they could find. Her mother’s voice was blaring in her head, reminding her to never ever shelter oneself under a tree during a lightning storm. Something to do with lightning being attracted to the tallest object around.Peta shielded her eyes against the intruding curtains of rain and located the bus shelter, complete with tin roof, that she’d been walking toward before the storm hit. Peta ran for it, slipping and sliding over mud and sodden grass.

The sound of the rain on the roof rendered thought nearly impossible. The thunder didn’t help much either. Not that there was very much to think about, except how cold she was, with rain drops trickling down every crevice they could find. Maybe thought wasn’t really necessary after all. Peta drew her legs up onto the seat and hugged them to her chest, tossing her drenched curls out of her face as best she could, and waited for her bus to arrive.

Final word count: 186

Hmm, not bad I suppose. I mean, it could be better, but given that I’ve been writing nothing but cover letters for the past week, my creativity has become a little stale.

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