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McCottoney Lives!

mountain-man-mccottoneySo my boyfriend has invented a nickname for Matthew McConaughey because he couldn’t remember his name, (or maybe because he’s jealous of my celebrity crush). He calls him McCottoney (I think that’s the right spelling).

McCottoney has taken on a life of his own as a ragged old gold prospector or mountain man, a sort of character whose hobbies include chewing tobacco and hollering incomprehensible curses like “doggonit.” Apparently his first name has been replaced by the nickname Scraps.

When I saw the trailer for Free State of Jones, it seemed McCottoney had truly sprung to life in all his ragged glory. Talk about self-actualization. Of course, I had to go see that movie. I was there with McConaughey from the beginning with obscure films like Reign of Fire, unlike some people who only like him now that he’s won an Oscar.

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I always watched his movies because he has always been ridiculously good looking. I didn’t really care that much about his acting ability, but now seeing him in Free State of Jones, I thought his acting was amazing. McCottoney–I mean McConaughey portrays an unwilling soldier in the US Civil War, Newton Knight. He’s actually “just a nurse” as one guy refers to him because it’s his job to transport the wounded from the battle field.

free_state_of_jones_From the opening of the film, we see Newton as the kind of person who cares about others’ wellbeing and isn’t swept away in dreams of honour and glory. When his nephew is killed, he quits the army and makes a run for it. But even in his home town, the war effort means that his neighbours are robbed of their livelihood to support the troops, so McConaughey’s character stands up against that injustice.

He falls in with a band of runaway slaves, and this leads him to form his own little group of both white and black outlaws who champion freedom from slavery and oppression, fighting against the Confederacy.

The film portrays all the grim realities of the civil war and its aftermath, even though McConaughey’s good looks make it seem like being a hardscrabble farmer in Middle of Nowhere, Mississippi is quite glamorous. It shows through an interesting flash-forward how little had changed in terms of race relations in Mississippi.

As Richard Grant writes when investigating the real history of Jones County,

On the county line, I was half-expecting a sign reading “Welcome to the Free State of Jones” or “Home of Newton Knight,” but the Confederacy is now revered by some whites in the area, and the chamber of commerce had opted for a less controversial slogan: “Now This Is Living!”

McConaughey embodies his character in a way that is historically accurate and not too showy. He excels at showing Knight’s ability to behave like a true leader, never exploding in righteous indignation but making extraordinary efforts to suppress his burning outrage and anger (either that, or constipation). Seriously though, I think this is one of McConaughey’s best acting moments.

Also, he bears an almost uncanny resemblance to the real Knight:

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In the film, Knight often reminded me of some Old Testament prophet with his long beard and his religious fervour. He proudly declares that “a man’s a man,” meaning that all men are equal, whether black or white. He later married a former slave, Rachel, who had been instrumental in helping the outlaw band. However, he doesn’t seem to do much to recognize women’s achievements.

There’s something patriarchal about him, which is not surprising considering the time and place he lived in. But, despite all that, as Matthew McConaughey says of his character, “He was a beacon of a man, ahead of his time.”

It’s definitely a story that needed to be told. The film has been criticized unfairly in my opinion for being a “white savior” myth, but it is after all, a true story. I think better to make movies about a white savior who was fighting for a good cause than, say, The Wolf of Wall Street, glorifying a “white scammer” who was just trying to make himself rich and acting like a jerk.

outrageous

Of course, there are not enough movie being made featuring non-white main characters, or female ones. I think the story of Harriet Tubman definitely deserves its own movie with a female lead. However, Newton Knight was a really amazing character who also deserves a film of his own.

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Top Dystopian YA Series

It seems I’ve been swept away by that YA book craze. I really enjoy the sci-fi series called “The 100” which is all about teenagers in space and on a post-apocalyptic Earth. So, I read the books that the series was based on, and then I got sucked into more and more teenage books. This is a list of my favorite dystopian YA series.

And as a special bonus, maybe because I’m an adult reading books meant for teenagers, or maybe because I just tend to be annoyed by certain characters, I’ve also made a section for characters who annoyed me.

The 100 by Kass Morgan

Everyone's faces are always covered in paint or dirt. That's a rule on the 100.

Everyone’s faces are always covered in paint, blood and/or dirt. That’s an unbreakable rule on The 100.

The main character is a girl called Clarke, a medical student who lives on a space station along with the rest of the survivors from a post-nuclear holocaust Earth. Clarke becomes privy to some unsavory human experiments, and as a result she is thrown in space jail. However, she and the other juvenile delinquents are let loose on Earth as a kind of test to see whether it’s safe for people to go back to the planet.

Yes, it’s quite a caring and humane society, and it just gets better. The teens actually do a descent job of surviving, until the grownups come along and try to ruin everything.

The books are not as violent and extreme as the TV series that was based on them, so if you’ve seen the series, you might find the books somewhat more boring, but they’re still enjoyable.

Characters who annoyed me: Glass. She has a stupid name, and she is stupid. In the TV show, the writers made a good move by not having her in it at all. Instead, there is a character with a slightly less stupid name, Raven. But Raven is actually kind of cool.

Matched by Ally Condie

In the actual book, the girl is not literally trapped in a crystal ball.

In the actual book, the girl is not literally trapped in a crystal ball.

This is the scariest of all the dystopian books I’ve read because the dystopian world seems like it would be extremely boring to live in, and the way its boredom is described in every detail is… strangely fascinating. Drawing its inspiration from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Matched takes place in a society called Society (you can see how fun and creative they are already), where all daily activities are regulated by the government. Its rules are enforced by a combination of science and extreme anal retentiveness. Even in the marriage ceremonies, the candidates are genetically Matched for an optimal outcome. It’s also the only time people are allowed to eat cake. That, and their final banquet on the day they die.

Oh, and there are only 100 official films that people are allowed to watch as well at 100 official poems, paintings, etc. Well, I won’t spoil it by describing how the entire society works, but it is quite amazing.

Cassia is a teenager who is about to find out who she’s Matched with. It turns out, it’s her best friend, who is an all-round great guy! But then for a moment she sees another image pop up on her screen, of Ky, the mysterious “aberration”, who is basically like a second-class citizen. Of course, trying to figure out what Ky was doing in her matching device drives her crazy with the whole mystery of it, so she starts to fall for him instead of Mr. Perfect. Actually, I’m not sure it was a good choice, as Ky doesn’t seem to have much of a personality other than being mysterious and having suffered a lot at the hands of Society. But it is a really interesting series in terms of the political world it portrays and how Cassia and her friends try to rebel against it.

Characters who annoyed me: Indie, a girl Cassia meets while in exile. It seemed like the author worked really hard to make Indie look suspicious. Even though it turned out later that she was one of the good guys, I still didn’t trust her!

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

under-the-never-sky-veronica-rossi

Alternative title: Spending too Much Time on the Internet Makes You Smell Bad.

This is a lesser-known series, but it’s got a unique world that provides a fun escape. The so-called “civilized” factions live in pods and spend most of their time in virtual reality, but they are slowly going insane. The people who live in the real world are more like medieval hunters. So when Aria, a teenage girl from the pod is exiled into the wild, she is unlikely to survive unless she get she help of Perry, a savage prince who hates the way she smells.

The people in the outside world have mutations that allow them to have extra keen senses, usually sight and hearing and smell. Unfortunately, there were no great touchers, which was odd. Touch is a sense too! Seriously, it could have been interesting to have someone who could know the molecular structure of an object simply by touching it.

Characters who annoyed me: Brooke. She gets the short end of the stick because Perry breaks up with her for no reason. I would feel sorry for her, but she has no personality aside from knowing how to use a bow and being a b*&@%.

Did you read/like some of these books? Have you ever been annoyed by characters in YA books or otherwise? If so, please comment!

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The Unbearable Sadness of Historical Novels

This is the last time I pick books at random. Next time I pick up a new novel to read, I will have spent hours on reviews, recommendations, and cross-comparisons. I say this because I’ve recently read two of the worst books ever. By coincidence, they both happened to be historical novels focused on women in the 1920s.

Now, I try not to do too much ranting on this blog, so the reason I wrote this post is as kind of a public service so that other people can avoid these books. And yes, okay I want to rant about them.

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

east-of-the-sunThis is a book about three women going by ship to India. Rose is a young woman who is going to marry some guy she hardly knows in India. Her friend Victoria or “Tor”, is just happy to accompany her and to be away from her annoying mother. Their chaperone is a slightly more experienced woman called Viva, who only had one love affair, but for some unexplained reason it was terrible, so she doesn’t share many details about it with her charges. Viva is also hiding some other terrible secret about how her whole family died in India. Without spoiling the plot, let me just say that when it’s revealed, it doesn’t seem like it was worth reading the entire 600 page slog for.

So you would think the voyage to India would be exciting, especially since the girls are also accompanied by a teenage boy who is quite rude and a kleptomaniac as well. You would think he at least would do something outrageous like steal everyone’s silverware, but he mostly just mopes around while the girls talk about how freaked out they are about Rose getting married. The one thing this book has that draws you in is great descriptions, but after just pages and pages of them, I got extremely impatient for something to happen. So I skipped to the end of the book, and it wasn’t much better. My recommendation is avoid this book unless you like books in which absolutely nothing happens.

The Paris Wife

pariswifeThe Paris Wife is the kind of novel that makes you want to yell at it. Mostly, you want to yell things like “How could you be so stupid?” or “Oh, your husband is being a jerk? Why don’t you do something about it?” and “Why does Ernest Hemingway come across as such a whiner?”

Maybe I missed the whole point and it’s a novel of literary genius. After all, it takes an amazing feat of penmanship to make one of the most interesting 20th century writers seem really boring and ordinary. And of course, his wife and all his literary friends are even more boring than he is in this strange alternate universe that Paula McLain has created.

As with the other terrible book, I kept waiting for the interesting part to start, for someone to say something witty or shocking as those modernist writers and flappers tended to do, but no such luck! Instead, Hemingway just whines to his wife a lot and they try to meet “interesting” literary people, but having had the experience of East of the Sun, I got smart enough not to read the whole thing to its completion.

I’d much rather just read a book by Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald instead. Sometimes books by dead white guys are the most reliable. That being said, I would still love to see some feminist revisionist stuff from a woman’s perspective, just something that doesn’t suck, so if you have any recommendations, please post them in the comments.

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Fun and Games in the UK

I’ve begun to post about the UK, and we shall begin with fun and games. Not that it’s all fun and games, mind you. It’s quite serious!
There are lots of free exhibits around Oxford so anyone can just wander in, including a wandering writer like myself. Seeing these games made me think about how politically correct our society has become, and I think it’s mostly a good thing. First, there are the war games:

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I’m not sure what this game is all about…

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And my personal favorite: Suffragetto! The fight for women’s right to vote just got real.

I also spotted some medieval and historical games at a country fair. I don’t know what these are but they look fun:
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Then there was this:

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… Don’t ask!

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And last but not least, the Majestic Game of the Asiatic Ostrich.

If political movements such as the suffragettes, world wars, and even racial divides can be made into games, what does this tell us about earlier generations? They were certainly less politically correct, and they probably had some “good guys” and “bad guys” in mind such as in the war games, though when it comes to the ostrich game, I’m just really confused.

Nowadays, our games are more abstract, and usually take place in mythical realms. This is probably a good thing… Would you agree? Or do you wish more of your board games could be about Majestic Ostriches?

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It’s Really Happening!

That’s right, it’s official. I am moving to the UK for three years.

UK-flag

Now, I have never been to the UK, but have read lots about it, so I usually think it looks kind of like this:

Clive-Owen-King-Arthur

Or this:

Robin-Hood-Men-Tights

Maybe even this:

harry-potter

But maybe the reality of it will be much more frightening, such as this:

thefarmingforum.co_.uk

Or this:

sandals

Anyways, I am really excited, and I’m getting my British fashion accessories together:

British Style

But I really don’t know what to expect from the UK. I will keep you updated!

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Find a New Favorite Novel: Multi-Author Promotion

I’m running a special promotion on Dryad, and I’ve joined with several wonderful authors from around the world to bring our books to a wider audience.

promobanner

Dryad is now only $0.99 until November 22, so if you haven’t got a kindle copy, please click over to Amazon here to see what all the fuss is about!

Our whole crew of authors will all have their own special promos starting today and ending on November 22. Enjoy all the discounted books!

Barbara Monier — https://barbaramonier.wordpress.com/ — contemporary literary fiction

John Howell — http://johnwhowell.com/ — fiction thriller

Michael Fedison –https://eyedancers.wordpress.com/ — YA Sci-fi/Fantasy

Shehanne Moore — https://shehannemoore.wordpress.com/ — romance

Janice Spina — https://jemsbooks.wordpress.com/ — middle-grade junior detectives series

Luciana Cavallaro — http://luccav.com/ — historical fiction–mythology retold

Evelyne Holingue — http://evelyneholingue.com/ — middle-grade fiction

Jo Robinson — https://africolonialstories.wordpress.com/ — nonfiction publishing guide for newbies, two short stories, and mainstream fiction

Sonya Solomonovich — https://sonyasolo.wordpress.com/ — time-travel fantasy

Jennifer Chow — http://jenniferjchow.com/ — adult cozy mystery (the beginning of a new series)

Nicki Chen — http://nickichenwrites.com/ — historical fiction–WWII China

Katie Cross — http://kcrosswriting.com/ — YA fantasy

I hope you check out some of these books and let me know in the comments which genres speak to you!

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Count Morelli and the 777 Challenge

I have been challenged! A huge thank you to Michael Fedison, author of The Eye Dancers, for nominating me for the 777 Challenge.

Check out Michael’s Eye Dancers blog here.

Palashov alighted from his carriage, followed by Lorenzo. The officer knocked decisively on the front door.

After several minutes, an impassive butler with heavy-lidded dark eyes set in a bald head appeared in the doorway and made it clear that Count Morelli was not home. His tone was so forbidding that Palashov understood him without Lorenzo having to translate.

What the Russian officer and his translator did not understand was how the maestro could be absent from his home and yet screaming out an exasperated tirade — throughout which they could distinguish quite a few obscenities — from somewhere on the top floor of the left wing.

The ferocious staccato of his high-pitched voice was blasting from all the windows, which were opened to admit a nonexistent breeze.

“Truly, only a genius, a virtuoso of the violin can get away with throwing such tantrums,” Palashov remarked.

Weirdly enough, this is almost exactly where I began writing my very first draft of the novel, but later it was overrun with other scenes that preceded it. I am still revising this novel, so you never know, this may turn out to be the first page rather than the seventh if one day it’s finally sent out into the world.