Tuesday, August 29, 2017

News and Things: August Favorites

Normally, I'd be complaining about how every month speeds by so quickly... but honestly? I've pretty much been waiting for August all year.

Between a week spent in the Happiest Place on Earth - don't worry, plenty of pics and a post forthcoming! - and my current Happy Place of Sunriver, Oregon, I've been anticipating our personal designated vacation month since school got out for my siblings in June. While that hasn't amounted to too much reading time, that doesn't mean plenty hasn't been going on in my life, and in the world.

Like I say every month, I've got some News. I've got some Things. So, now it's time for News and Things! 

Allison Page is a comedy writer and director, but as she details in this Medium article, sometimes the experiences of auditioning male comedians - as a woman - can be a lot less than funny. My favorite quote from the article: "Check the staff page, bro. You’ll see my estrogen shining right out of your screen like a terrible beacon of woman-light; my pronoun throbbing away in my bio, nestled in the digital universe that is the company website." 

Just when you think the "women in STEM" issue is starting to see positive change... we encounter people like this month's disgruntled, whinerbaby Google employee. We can keep inviting more diverse populations into the conversation, but as long as there are systemic issues like this holding them back from meaningful work, then the dialogue is just going to get stuck.

I remember in my sophomore year of high school, when some of my friends and I were taking a Home Ec - style cooking course together, my teacher threw a copy of Clean Eating magazine down on the table, and shook her head. "What does this mean?" she asked us. "What does it mean, to you, to 'eat cleanly'?" While some of the more People-magazine members of our class began to espouse the ideals of detoxifying juice cleanses and eating gluten-free vegan, all they got in return was more head-shaking and a lecture on the importance of non-processed food, and moderation. I think she'd feel vindicated, so many years later, that this kind of food-based moral absolutism is facing more criticism. 

Didn't get to catch the eclipse this month? Experience it secondhand with Annie Dillard - one of my favorite memoirists - in her classic essay, "Total Eclipse," which reran in The Atlantic prior to the astronomical marvel.

These dog days of summer leave you feeling guilty about all the work you're not getting done? Don't worry! Take the afternoon off, and enjoy the sun, because you're not alone: in this list from The Cut, 25 famous women detail what kinds of guilty pleasures they like to indulge in every once in a while, too.

As a pretty much broke-and-parentally-reliant college grad, I absolutely love The Financial Diet, and this personal story from Chelsea Fagan about how excess has become the status quo was so needed, especially in months packed with as much fun, food, and spending as summer

There's been a lot of sucky stuff in the news this month, especially out of Washington, D.C., and I'm not going to pretend not to be disturbed by the currently horrifying state of our country. But instead of firing off on those in positions of blatantly misused power - which is what everyone in my Twitter feed / immediate vicinity gets to hear -  I'll just leave you with this Aeon editorial, courtesy of University of California Riverside Philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel, with a formal classification of what constitutes a "jerk."

And, of course, my heart is with those affected by the intense flooding and fallout of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, especially those in the Houston area, and along the coast. While there are plenty of resources available for searching what kinds of causes to donate to, two of my favorite blogs have compiled some of the most comprehensive lists I've seen yet, covering everything from diaper donation banks for small children in need, to protecting pets and shelter animals (who aren't allowed to stay in major relief shelters!). Here's the list from Cupcakes and Cashmere, and from The Everygirl. 

One of my favorite digital creators has a new TV show! Hannah Hart, the optimistic genius and bestselling author behind the YouTube series My Drunk Kitchen, has made the media jump, with a new Food Network show called I Hart Food. While it's a little more stylized than her own produced web content, I'm still stoked to see her light up my screen Monday nights at 10pm.

One of the highlights of our Disney vacation? The coordinated wire-frame floral Mickey ears my sisters and I wore. We each picked the homage to our favorite Disney Princess - mine was Belle (no surprise there), and theirs were Ariel and Rapunzel - and rocked them in the Parks, racking up a ton of compliments from visitors and cast members alike. While there are tons to choose from on Etsy, we had a great time with The Mouse Project!

I've talked about being a fan of the YouTube series Drunk Disney - from Practical Folks - before, but recently, one of their members, James A. Janisse, branched off to form his own side channel, Dead Meat. The horror channel's hallmark is the "Kill Count" series, tracking the kills in scary movies, and the recent rundown of one of my favorite series - the Scream franchise - have been some of the best episodes yet!

The Bachelorette is finally over, and whether you're excited about Rachel's chosen one or not - for the record, I'M NOT - there's someone who's taking the results a little harder than others: Bon Appetit. They recapped every meal throughout the season - all of which were left uneaten throughout production due to time constraints and unappetizing nature of watching people eat onscreen - in memoriam of all the great food lost.

I've been a fan of Damon and Jo - from their eponymous YouTube series - for like a year and a half now, and while there are plenty of travel vloggers with Instagram-perfect, eternally cheerful videos on the platform, none usually get quite as real as Jo did six months ago, after she was shot in the back during an attempted robbery, when visiting family in Brazil during Carnival. Here she talks about the lessons she's learned through the trauma, and how, thankfully, it's not going to deter her from traveling again.

What have been your favorite News and Things of the month? What are you excited for in September? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Recommendations for Disney Lovers!

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Alright, alright... so it's a little late in the day for a Top Ten Tuesday. What can I say? I've been busy. We are leaving for a Disney vacation in Anaheim in just a few days, after all!

And with that being said, after seeing the theme for today's list - "Top Ten Recommendations for..." - you can probably guess what sprang right to the forefront of my mind. So, from hefty biographical tomes to lush art prints to middle grade faves, here are some of my favorite Disney reads! 

Image result for walt disney biography1. Best Biography: Walt Disney: the Triumph of the American Imagination, Neal Gabler
This one isn't for the weak-willed, that's for sure. This wide-reaching and comprehensive exploration of the icon of animation - from humble origins to towering tycoon, to movie flops and theme park successes - is as thick as a brick and twice as dense. Still, it offers one of the most detailed and nuanced looks at the interior life behind Disney's carefully crafted image.

2. Best Art Book: The Art of the Disney Princess, Disney Book Group
Image result for the art of the disney princessI'm not only a downright Disnerd, I'm a fanatical devotee of that exclusive group known as the Disney Princesses. While some of the images within this tome are a little more breath-taking than others, one of the most important elements to me is the year it was produced: 2009, right after the premiere of one of my favorite Disney Princess movies of all time, The Princess and the Frog!

3. Best Business Book: Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
Okay, okay, this isn't so much of a personal favorite, as a genre one. While it was a little too dry and goal-and-teamwork-and-managerial-motivation heavy for this casual college grad, it is definitely a favorite within the realm of business management, especially for companies seeking creative problem solving. Even my mom - who works in hospital management - had to read this book!

Image result for tale as old as time the art and making of beauty and the beast4. Best Movie Book: Tale as Old as Time: the Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, Charles Solomon
It was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and served as the basis for creating the Best Animated Feature category, it features some of the most iconic songs of the entire Disney canon, and it spawned not the first Broadway Disney musical adaptation and a gorgeous live-action 2017 remake, but convinced me for half of my childhood that as a brunette social misfit nursing both a love of books and penchant for the color blue, I was pretty much destined to be a Disney Princess. Of course I love this ode to the timeless animated love story!

Image result for walt disney imagineering a behind the dreams look at making the magic real5. Best Imagineering Book: Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making Magic More Real, Disney Book Group
As you can probably tell from the amount of pure adoration oozing out of this list - or just from the fact that this upcoming trip will be my, what? Eleventh, twelfth trip to a Disney theme park - being a Disney Imagineer is pretty much my most insane career aspiration. And nothing makes it feel more attainable than cracking open the cover of this beautiful book!

6. Best Guide Books: The Annual Birnbaum Guides
Now, listen: I have friends that absolutely swear by the Unofficial Guides, which are also right up there with the Birnbaum Guides for best-selling Disney guide books. However, I think their almost aggressive candor can sometimes put a bit of a hamper on the magic: while the Unofficial Guides can give newbies the get-hip-quick info they need, you're dealing with a life-long Disney patron, here. I don't need to know where to find the best and easiest seating for Fantasmic, I need to know where the pickle stands in Fronteirland and Tomorrowland are, and whether there's any new flavors of churros available.

Image result for hidden mickey guides7. Best In-Park Guides #1: the Hidden Mickey Guides
So apparently there's an app for this now - because there's got to be one for everything - but nothing really beats wandering around with a pen and paper, or furiously scanning set pieces while waiting in ride queues, trying to beat your siblings at spotting that elusive three-circled icon. You'd be surprised at how eagle-eyed my sisters are, but to be fair, my mom and dad get real competitive, too!
Image result for imagineering field guide
8. Best In-Park Guides #2: The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland, The Imagineers
Image result for descendants rise of the isleI don't know how much this particular guide has been updated in recent years, but it offers some of the most unique and detailed perspectives on the construction of the Park in the most concise of packages that you'll find. If you're looking for something to read in line, or while chilling poolside in the mid-afternoon at your hotel, then this might be well worth your time!

9. Best Middle Grade: the Descendants series, Melissa de la Cruz
This one shouldn't surprise you at all, if you saw my "Seventh Bloggoversary" post a few weeks back, where I purchased the most recent installment in this series to share with my siblings. Even as an almost-24-year-old, I'm still a pretty big fan of this campy and vibrant DCOM franchise, and yes, that means reading their middle grade companion novels, too!

10. Best Disney Classic: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
When it comes to the Disney film collection, the source material can get a little lost in the glitter and child-friendliness of it all... then again, no one's asking for a Sleeping Beauty retelling based off of the original fairy tales. However, the book and 1951 movie adventures of Alice are so similar in tone, it's one of my favorite plane-ride reads for the trip down to Cali.

Do you have any favorite Disney reads you don't see listed here? What do you recommend I take with me on my trip this week? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review: Frogkisser!

There's nothing that screams "Summer!" to me quite like reading Fantasy... not only do those books make up some of my fondest vacation memories, but they're often what I would use as a form of escape from the extreme heat. So, naturally, when I heard that Garth Nix - a master of the genre - had a new middle grade book out, I placed a library hold on it back in March, to make sure I'd be able to read it in June. 

Frogkisser, by Garth Nix, follows the story of Princess Anya, the second princess, as she attempts to restore her temperamental older sister's boyfriend back into his true form, after - in true fairy tale fashion - he's been turned into a frog.

What starts as a relatively simple quest, gets a little more complicated when her evil stepfather, a powerful and dangerous sorcerer, decides to make moves towards taking the throne. Now, not only must she obtain the ingredients to brew a bot of transmogrification lip balm, but she must do so while avoiding weaselpeople, assassins, a giant, and more. Not to mention the fact that everyone seems to think that she's going to help save the kingdom, in the meantime... even though she's only the younger sister!

This is exactly the kind of fantasy I would have loved to read, back in those lazy middle school summers. It's a quick read, and absolutely perfect for those in love with fantasy, particularly the younger set who haven't quite graduated to the middle leagues of YA yet.

The book has several strong suits that I think are pretty unique within fantasy, but one of the elements that struck me the most was the concentrated and deliberate inclusion of notable female characters. From fearless and physically strong knights, to capable and wise grand wizards, to even plenty of terrible witches and dark sorcerers, women rounded out significant pieces of the fantasy's main cast. And they weren't just young women, either; there were girls, sure, like our main character, but there were also mothers, and grandmothers, and there were leaders in their field, just as there were novices, as well as women working in teams, and alone, and so much more!

This fantasy was so packed with bad-ass women, it was like it was part of the D&D campaign I play in, rather than a book intended for younger readers. And in a genre that can often get a bad rap for its depictions of female characters, having this tone noticeably set in a middle grade novel was a pretty cool thing to read. 

Another element of the novel that I enjoyed - and demonstrated how Nix is making a deliberate decision to adopt some current social sentiments into this particular work - was the remarkable necessity of having Princess Anya acknowledge her privilege. While she wastes no time in complaining about how her evil stepfather is, and that keeping him from securing the throne is her primary goal, she grows to understand that despite the discomfort of that current position, she's still remarkably better off than others in her surrounding village: she has three meals a day, and a comfy bed to sleep in, and clothes to wear that fit her and keep her warm, and that's more than what's guaranteed to others on a daily basis.

Part of Anya's character growth isn't just finding the strength in herself to take on her stepfather and save the kingdom, it's about understanding her place in her community, and how she can use the position she's been lucky enough to inherit, in order to help improve the lives of those around her. That's a pretty special message to be sending through a kid's book with a guy being turned into a frog as the catalytic action.

While all of these lessons are great, they're wrapped up neatly in the greater unique and engaging journey of the book. The whimsical nature of the story - and in particular, its wide and humorous cast of characters, from a likable, old moat monster, to the band of weasel assassins trying to keep Anya from reaching her goals - really reminded me of other authors within the genre, particularly Dianne Wynn Jones. By the time I reached the end of the novel, I wasn't surprised to find her name in the "Acknowledgements" section of the book as an influential factor.

Final Verdict: A fun and adventure with plenty of unique characters and classic world elements, this new addition to the Fantasy canon of Garth Nix was a quick and enjoyable read.

Have you read any great Fantasy releases this year? Have you read Garth Nix before? Let me know, in the comments below!