PREVIEW: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

This new book comes from Grady Hendrix, an author who knows how to write a good horror novel. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is his new supernatural thriller that will be released on April 7th. As someone who loves breezy romance novels, and sometimes a good light-hearted mystery, I’m excited to experience the terrifying world Hendrix will create for the main character, Patricia: a Southern housewife who is part of a book club of fellow mothers dedicated to true-crime and suspense novels. When an attractive new man moves to town, children start disappearing and other weird things start happening. Naturally, Patricia launches into an investigation of her own, and could end up mixed up in the world of vampires.

This novel is described as “Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula”. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon (hard-cover or Kindle edition), and will be on sale online at Barnes and Nobles, Bookshop, and Zeebra Books.

REVIEW: Spinning Out

When I first heard of a new figure skating-based Netflix drama called “Spinning Out,” I knew I needed to watch it. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for sports TV shows and movies, for better and for worse. Growing up, I watched Olympic figure skating religiously. So “Spinning Out” was an easy choice to binge, and it was one I didn’t regret.

The premise of “Spinning Out” is similar to many other figure skating books, movies and TV shows I’ve seen. Kat (Kaya Scodelario) is a 20-something figure skater who was training for the Olympics before an injury gave her the yips, a psychological condition where she is unable to complete her jumps. An eccentric Russian coach, Dasha (Svetlana Efremova) encourages Kat to try pairs skating instead with Justin (Evan Roderick), a spoiled — but hot — fellow skater who can’t keep a partner. A significant subplot includes Kat’s relationship with her bipolar mom and sister, Serena (Willow Shields) who has taken Kat’s place as the skating star of the family.

Though the storyline is cliché, Spinning Out has a surprising amount of depth on many issues relevant to society today, including mental illness, self harm, infertility, sexual assault, racism, family pressure, sports injuries, infidelity and homosexuality. While the first few episodes were a bit hard to get into due to the formulaic nature of this storyline, the depth of the show and the characters increased as the season went on and dove into Kat’s relationship with her family, friends and coaches. Several of these storylines were very compelling; I especially enjoyed the characters of Marcus (Mitchell Edwards), Kat’s co-worker, and Dasha.

The main thread of the show was the trauma that Kat is dealing with in the way her singles career ended, especially as someone struggling with bipolar disorder. Kat conceals her disorder from everyone except her family due in large part to the insular nature of the figure skating world — it’s not just about how you skate, but how you look. Kat believes she would be ostracized if she reveals her illness, but concealing it of course leads to more problems.

Kat’s relationship with Serena is also layered and complex. Serena has become the new golden child, a title she has a complex relationship with. The sisters love each other, but their relationship is strained due to their mom’s toxicity. As someone with a sister, though one I’ve always been close to, this storyline really resonated emotionally.

As for the skating itself, the technique wasn’t Olympic-level, but I’m saying that as someone who regularly watches Olympic figure skating, and getting multiple stunt doubles who can actually skate at that level is impractical, so I was willing to let it slip. Other than that, the portrayal of the sport was decently accurate and better than many other sports-themed TV shows or movies I’ve seen.

By the end of the season, I couldn’t put my laptop down, and I even cried a little. At the beginning I wasn’t sure about this show, but it pulled me in and by the end I was sold. The worst part of Spinning Out is that it was canceled by Netflix after one season and I agonized over the season-ending cliffhanger for nothing.

Alas, Spinning Out is still worth watching for anyone who enjoys sports-themed dramas that hit surprisingly hard.

PREVIEW: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

If you haven’t heard of this show, or mentions of Carol Baskin and her dead husband, you must be sleeping under a rock! The mini-series on Netflix was released on March 20th, and is only 7 episodes long, which are each about 45 minutes. It follows several very eccentric exotic animal owners, especially big cat owners, and their interactions with each other and with other people in their communities. Every person filmed is a real person, and they all contribute to the wacky story that unfolds.

Watch now on Netflix!

REVIEW: Anna K

Who would’ve thought New York City’s socialites’ children would have so much in common with Tolstoy’s tragedy set in Imperial Russia?

Jenny Lee, it seems. In her new book, released March 3rd, “Anna K”, TV writer Lee takes on the immense task of modernizing Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” into a fresh, clever, and yes, frivolous, new novel. Welcome to the world of our Anna: daughter of a rich Korean businessman, Anna is NYC teen royalty. It doesn’t hurt that her boyfriend, Alexander, happens to be the well-respected “Greenwich OG”. Every private school, trust-fund teenager knows her for her charm, maturity, and her “endgame goals” beaux. Her life is perfect; until Alexia “Count” Vronsky steals her heart on the train from Greenwich into the city. With all eyes on her, Anna navigates a messy and uncensored love affair with the boy she truly loves in an attempt to go after what she wants, instead of what others prescribe for her.

It doesn’t help that the people closest to Anna seem to be trying to figure out their own romantic lives; Steven, Anna’s brother, unknowingly executes Anna’s initial run-in with Vronsky when he begs her to come home to soothe his enraged girlfriend Lolly who has just discovered Steven’s infidelity. Lolly’s younger sister, Kimmie, is unfortunately also head-over-heels for Vronsky, despite Steven’s friend and tutor, Dustin’s multiple attempts to win her affection. And we can’t forget Dustin’s brother Nicholas, newly released from rehab again, and his desire to find and pursue the woman of his dreams that he met in his rehab facility. The teenagers’ lives intertwine and untangle themselves again and again, with alarming speed and dexterity on the part of Mrs. Lee’s.

When I first started reading the novel, my roommates found a lot of joy in teasing me about my choice of genre. Anna K. fulfills a deeply guilty pleasure of mine. There’s just something about rich tweens and teens of NYC that makes great entertainment; “Gossip Girl”, “The Clique”, and now, “Anna K”. But it isn’t just its frivolity that makes it such a good read; Lee has a habit of sneaking in plain, poignant nuggets about the heart of humanity and love right next to what could be taken as the superficial. Lee places mundanity and phenomena next to each other to see if the audience can spot the difference; rather, in hopes that they can, but also perhaps because the two are not as different as we might generally interpret them to be. What is so lovely about Lee’s “Anna K” is how deeply and unapologetically she lets her young characters feel. It’s worth reminding any would-be readers of the first time they fell in love; how deeply we all fall and how catastrophic it is to our lives the first time we feel it with nothing else to compare it to!

In times like these, a light read about teenagers being well, teenagers, was a much-needed break. For those of you who have read Tolstoy’s novel, (SPOILER ALERT!) you know it doesn’t end well for the parties involved. Jenny Lee diverts from the original ending and fate of Anna for an ending, that while some may argue could be too “cliche”, I found to be very moving.

“[Love] gives us purpose and strength.” Hiding underneath the glitter and maybe one too many uses of the modern teenage colloquialisms, is a novel worth reading.

REVIEW: Yesterday

Streaming on HBO is Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, a story about how we are to prioritize our lives when good fortune drops into our lap. Jack Malik is a struggling musician who wakes up one day to an alternate reality in which he is the only person on Earth who remembers the Beatles and their music. As a hopeful artist who never has felt praised for anything of his own creation, Jack sets out to make a name for himself by producing the music of the Beatles for himself. As success and fame seize him and “his” music, we see Jack struggle with his own identify as he learns of what he truly wants from his life.

As an audience member who has never been a devoted fan of the Beatles, I tried to watch this film without a perspective that is dulled by adoration of the Beatles’s legacy.  Entering into this movie, I expected the themes to be closer to ones of sentimentality, such as desirous love or musical devotion. More prevalent, however, was the theme of what it means to be authentic despite the allure of obtaining mass appeal.

Just like the alternate universe in which Jack finds himself, Yesterday possesses a odd feeling of over-saturation. The execution of the characters’s motivations, while often resonant with real life, seemed slightly off and left me to believe that the script-writers did not properly prepare for certain plot set-ups. That being said, the majority of the characters appeared normal in comparison to Jack’s second manager, Debra Hammer: a representation of surface-level production value that only cares about Jack’s profitability. This larger-than-life persona is a caricature of executives from the music industry in real  life who are in the business of sucking currency out of a creative entity. While Debra works to build a solely-profitable image for Jack, we see Elle, Jack’s first manager, who had only worked to affirm and encourage who Jack already was. The stark distinction between the two managers is offered as a choice for Jack; is it more valuable to be widely profitable as a product, or uniquely valued as an authentic being?

As Jack dives deeper into his woven lie, he grows increasingly anxious that someone knows his secret and that he will be put to shame for the liberties he has taken with the Beatles’s music. The pace and sequencing plays on the feelings of anxiety that many may know as an imposter syndrome. As Jack is credited as a genius, he feels increasingly lost in the image that has been developed for him.

What is the cost of accepting the love that we are freely given? So often it can be easy to hope for love that is given for what we offer the world, but there is a sort of indescribable sacrifice one must make in order to be loved just as they are. Despite its occasional nonsense and the unpredictable writing, Yesterday is a charming film that sparks thought and reflection about personal authenticity, and hopefully draws to mind someone in your own life who has valued you even at your lowest points.

REVIEW: Unorthodox

Wow. If you are looking for a show that you literally cannot turn off, then this is one you should watch. It is only 4 episodes, each an hour, and I watched all 4 of them in the same sitting (which I did not plan to do)! I even convinced my mom, who was watching with me, to stay up much later than she usually would and watch as well because we were both so fascinated with and invested in this show.

First off, the subject matter is interesting, as it is a society most do not get a glimpse at. The story follows a young ultra-orthodox woman who flees to Berlin after her unhappiness with her life in Williamsburg, New York in her secluded community. Although the story begins with her leaving, we get plenty of flashbacks to her old life, and get to watch some of the customs, choices, and frustrations of a group of people who tend to keep to themselves. The story focuses on her journey in Berlin, once she realizes that staying with her mother (who had also fled the community many years before) is not an option anymore.

One of the reasons I think I liked the show a lot was because the main character was so easy to empathize with, and so eager to learn about the world. She wanted to perform music, and she found such joy in both listening to it, watching it, and learning how herself. I am also a musically inclined person, and I really connected to that part of her. I also think she was appealing because of her fascination with everything she sees in the world, because she had lived in her small community her whole life and had never gone anywhere else, so everything was new to her. I loved her child-like fascination and joy at so much of what she saw in Berlin.

It was also very satisfying to watch her shed her old life and start new while literally and emotionally letting go of what had burdened her in her old life. You can see her becoming more happy and more her own person as the show goes on, with not only the way she dresses, but the way she interacts with those around her and her mannerisms. I loved watching her learn how to be unconstrained, and really have fun in the way that she wanted.

But what really kept me watching the show was the drama and thriller of the members of her community who went after her. This was not only her husband, who did a very good job of making me hate him, but a mysterious other member of the Orthodox community who seemed to have a shady past as well. As they followed her, we got to see sort of parallel stories where her and her husband learned some of the more ugly parts of life outside of their neighborhood. And the emotional scene when they finally found her was definitely one of my favorite parts of the mini-series, although there were a lot of really good, dramatic moments.

Overall, I would urge you to watch Unorthodox, and watch the “making of the show” after episode, which was an awesome compliment to the show. It caught my attention from the first episode until the end, and was full of drama, intrigue, and a unique perspective that is not often brought to light or discussed by the general public. Make sure you give yourself a 4 hour block though, because you will want to watch it all in one sitting as soon as you start!