Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tell Me More, Tell Me More!, or "100 Ghosts": A Review

There are a lot of "gift" books out there, mostly filled with nice sayings about sisters or Jesus or the meaning of life. Some are filled with lovely photographs of the ocean or historical information you never wanted to know. 100 Ghosts is the kind of gift book that is filled with jokes, but unfortunately I think author Doogie Horner misses the mark he sets out to make.
100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts is, to be fair, exactly what the title promises; a pocket-sized encyclopedia of 100 examples of ghosts that are probably more scared of us than we are of them. Each one is a variation on the classic sheet over your head--perhaps the simplest of Halloween costumes ever to exist. Some are ironic or clever, some are just pop culture icons in sheets. So far, so good.
The prologue, however, promises something that it never achieves, namely that the book will prove ghosts are just like us and wouldn't it be funny if they roamed around the world trying to open jars and stuff? It's not to say that the jokes aren't funny, but I think this is a concept that would have or still could be better executed online, perhaps in a webcomic format. I read this book with my sister, with two of my best friends, with my boyfriend--and we all came to the same conclusion. This is the kind of thing we would find hilarious shared on facebook, or on a website where each ghost came with a daily post explaining its quirky life story. Horner achieves this with the graphs and charts on his webpage, where he posts the image and a small paragraph explaining the inspiration or idea behind it. Certainly, the Harry Potter ghost doesn't need much explaining, but why not do a whole series--further breaking the variations into collections. In fact, Horner has since done this three seperate times for EW magazine, creating Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Orange is the New Black collections for the online version of the publication.
The prologue talks about pregnant possums posing a larger threat to you than ghosts in your kitchen...I would love to see Horner take that a step further and tell us what happened when he met each ghost. Perhaps, to keep things simple, he could pose their life stories in interview format.
Maybe I'm over-thinking this, but having flipped through the book several times, I keep coming to the same conclusion. That was fun, but I wish there'd been more.

Check out 100 Ghosts for yourself at Quirk Books' official site.
For more on author Doogie Horner, check out his site, too!
Follow my posts at IHOGeek for more reviews

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This "Little Fish" May Not Be as Different as She Thinks

Almost a month ago, I rode with my mom to drop off my little sister at college for her freshmen year. My sister is seven years younger than me, and while we have a lot in common, there is one major difference between the two of us: while I have always jumped at an opportunity to travel and live somewhere new, she never even liked going on sleepovers.
That's why I was delighted to see Ramsey Beyer's Little Fish on my review pile. In fact, Caitlin (the sister headed off to her freshmen year) was also super excited to see in on my desk, too.

While Ramsey grew up in the Mid-west, our hometown is decidedly city-based. Ramsey had no familiar faces on campus, but Caitlin chose a school where she knew some of her friends would also be attending, and her boyfriend is just fifteen minutes away at a different college. Ramsey headed off to an arts school in Baltimore (fun fact--also where I went to college!), and Caitlin is enrolled in a five year program for early childhood education.

For all their differences, I had to put the book down more than once due to an uncomfortable feeling that I was reading Caitlin's journal rather than a published auto-biography by someone I'd never met. And after a few moments of reflection, I realized the simple truth: we all go through the same shit. While Little Fish's tagline is "A memoir from a different kind of year", it could easily be a memoir from my freshmen year, or Caitlin's, or any of my friends and/or other sisters, too. The details would be different, and I definitely wouldn't have thought of the format, but the meat of the story would be the same. Rather than disappointing, there was something warmly comforting about that fact.

It would seem that it doesn't matter when we go to school, or how much technology there is connecting us with our family and friends. College will always be a tough adjustment. In today's world full of tragic endings, bullys at all levels of school, and feelings of disassociation for a variety of reasons, it's nice to read a coming-of-age tale with a happy ending.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Super Pop" Is Poppin' (Too Bad One of the Lists isn't about Making Better Blog Post Titles...)

Yay! Today The Empire Strikes Forward is being featured on a blog tour for Zest Books! I am reviewing their new title by Dan Harmon: Super Pop! Pop Culture Top Ten Lists To Help You Win at Trivia, Survive in the Wild, and Make it through the Holidays. Harmon has taken on a lofty goal and broken it into bite-sized pieces for our short attention spanned culture--tackling all of pop culture in just 300 pages seems an impossible task, but it's certainly one for which Harmon was well prepared.

Instead of reading the book cover to cover, I decided to use this book the way it in which it was intended. I started with the introduction, to find out exactly what that intention was, and was rather encouraged by Harmon's unique voice and sense of humor. The introduction purports that Super Pop is sort of a field guide to any situation one may find themselves in, and I found myself bored on a Tuesday night, so I started looking through the book for anything that would make me less bored.

The book is split into five major sections for surviving the modern world: "Be More Interesting", "Get Smart(er)", "Stop Doing it Wrong", "Find Happiness" and "Survive the Holidays". Each section then breaks down even further into a handful of top ten lists, and then the lists recommend the top ten examples of pop culture that will help you to navigate, or educate yourself about the indicated situation. My personal favorite (so far) is Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales (the television show) as the number one example of "explorers who can take you to the unknown". Mind you, this is the same list that contains The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo himself.

Using DuckTales at the top of a list normally dominated by Han Solo Indiana Jones Harrison Ford is a perfect example of how Super Pop functions, because, let's face it: you're reading a book about pop culture, so there's a good chance you already know how iconic both Star Wars and Indiana Jones are, and why they are still so popular. You've probably heard of Duck Tales, and there's a good chance you've even watched an episode or two (or you're me and you've seen them all...), but then there's less of a chance that you've read The Travels of Marco Polo. Or maybe you've read it multiple times, and then there's a good chance you never had time to watch Duck Tales, because you were super busy reading books from explorers in the 1200s.

One of Harmon's goals with Super Pop was to change up the game of recommending things, if there is such a game. Harmon explains in an interview with Zest: "I was tired of seeing the same old things recommended all the time, and I thought that if I could just start out with some new list ideas, that the rest would take care of itself". Sometimes Harmon succeeds, but largely because he is recommending things for a list that's never even been written before, like "preparation for every eventuality (and several alternate universes)". This list may be the only place in the world that you can find Spirited Away, Tuck Everlasting, Children of Men, A Wrinkle in Time, Flatland, A Handmaids Tale, Misfits, and Groundhog Day all on one list.

Some of Harmon's explanations of things are somewhat reductive, for instance he explains all of Doctor Who in one paragraph and urges readers to introduce themselves to Star Trek with the 2009 movie (TOS all the wayyyyy). But I suppose if you're unfamiliar with either of those franchises, you're going to have to start somewhere, and you may as well start small. These simple explanations of massive franchises work towards another of Harmon's goals: "I, for one, have a very hard time enjoying a book or a movie unless I feel it's in the service of some greater good--sounding informed, for example, or feeling better about myself, or actually learning something new. With a little planning and ambition, I am convinced that pop culture can lead to a more fulfilling existence." Sounds like a more solid reason to catch up on Star Trek than "are you SERIOUS? how have you never seen STAR TREK BEFORE?".

As I said at the start of this post, I haven't read all of Super Pop yet, but I haven't had to survive every scenario put forth in the list of lists. Harmon set himself a lofty goal with this project, but the love and effort he put into it has paid off, and Super Pop is definitely a success!

You can order your copy of Super Pop today at!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

If Home is Where the Heart is...

My parents are getting divorced. Before you get upset or try and think of what to say...please know it's been on its way for like two years (conservatively) and honestly at this point it's long overdue and I'm sick of most of the circumstances around this situation.

That being said, I'm still obviously not "okay" with it. I'm never going to be "okay" with the end of my family as I've known it my whole life. I'm not really alright with the fact that my mom and dad won't be in one location anymore, and holidays won't be shared all together, and getting them to attend events at the same time is going to be awkward as hell.

I've had a few good grump sessions over this whole situation and more than one or two cries, but today was the first time in a long time when I got really properly sad over it. Today was different because tomorrow there's a realtor coming to look at the house, apparently. There's knowing your future will be changed forever, and then there's knowing, and this was the day when I shifted from regular to italics. It's sort of this pit that I accidentally swallowed a long time ago, but today the pit finally started to get digested. I could feel the weight shifting from my throat to my stomach, sit there like an impossible knot and challenge me to untangle whatever it was that had slid its way down my digestive system.

Now, something else to keep in consideration is my Stella Bean. My tiny 19 month old cousin is battling stage four neuroblastoma but she's constantly happy and light-hearted. She throws up, then motions for another donut. Her life is so full and positive and wonderful--even on the very worst of days. Stella inspires me, and she reminds me that focusing on the negative is a conscious choice that we make as "adults". So often we give in to the temptation to just feel that weight settle in when really we are the ones who swallowed the pit to begin with. If we'd just spit it out, or maybe never picked up the cherry from which the pit came in the first place, then perhaps we wouldn't be up late with stomach pains.

So yeah, I'm really upset. My family is dissolving into smaller pieces, my home is not going to be mine for much longer, my safety net has a huge hole right in the middle of it and I'm this close to falling through like a brick off a cliff. But from another perspective, there's a good chance family gatherings will actually be pleasant from here forward. My parents have shots at individual happiness. And knowing there's no safety net to catch me if I fall simply means I can't fall--I've got to find places that will pay me for my writing and pay me what I'm actually worth.

Anyhow I'm exhausted. I'm going to turn over and fall asleep with Doctor Who on in the background, because this is one of those weird things that soothes me whenever I'm feeling particularly grumpy.



Sunday, June 2, 2013

I need to take more advice from ZeFrank

I need to stop preparing and start doing.

My right hand has been in a brace for the past two weeks, but it's time to start weaning myself off a 24/7 schedule of wearing the brace, so I'm going to type up a post for the blog tonight.

Several things have been going on:
1. I am depressed. I wish that this was just me complaining, but it's not. I'm actually depressed and it's affecting my work, my motivation to do anything besides lay in bed, and pretty much everything else about my life. I'm working on it. It's a very slow process and life situations that I'd rather not get in to at the moment are making that work slower instead of faster.
2. I am co-manager at the Journeys in the mall now, which is great but also means I'm in the store like 50 hours a week. Not a lot of time to sit and reflect on my life, or time to write things that ever see the light of day, let alone the light of the internet. **sigh** That's an excuse, and I'm working on not making excuses any longer.
3. The brace got in my way. I couldn't write or type unless I was using my left hand (in fact as soon as this post is done the brace is going back on). Writing and typing with my left hand was possible, but very slow going and at times so frustrating that I had to stop or else I was going to give up entirely. I found a dictation website that I was using to help with blogging at IHoGeek, but that often caused similar problems when I had to go in and edit what the computer was hearing. Now that I'm getting my right hand back in small doses, I'm going to take as much advantage of that as possible without overworking myself and undoing all the rest I've been giving it. Because if I have to get another cortisone shot, I will literally pass out.
4. preparing for and attending Book Expo America. This didn't get in "the way" as much as took my attention and energy, when I had attention and energy to spare. Now the event is over and if I don't get back to writing, all that work will be for nothing because the whole point of making connections is to find somewhere for my writing to go...besides this blog. So here I am, blogging away until I have to put my brace back on.

Here's a video I found a while ago and I think of it often when I need some inspiration to just start writing and stop preparing to get my life started. Going to leave this here and get started on another project.

More soon.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Favorite Musicals: A Chronology

I went to see Les Miserables in theatres on Sunday. Besides the fact that the audience was atrocious, the movie itself was rather good. I don't really know what people are upset about, but then again this was only my second experience with Les Mis so what the hell do I know?

That being said, I have been thinking about my favorite musicals, and how they have changed over the years and I decided to do a chronology of sorts, tracking what my favorite musicals have been throughout my lifetime. Here we go!