Sunday, June 26, 2016

Series: Summer Lovin' -- Week 14

This week marked the official start of summer, which for most of us means nothing more than just higher temperatures and even more humidity. But as the summer wears on, we're still finding more things to love each week. Whether binge-watching the latest Netflix series or picking up a good book for beach reading, we're still immersing ourselves in art each week. Joining me to discuss what they're lovin' are:

What Jenn's lovin': The House Girl

Why she's lovin' it: One of my favorite books of all time is The Poisonwood Bible. And one of the greatest strengths of the novel is the decision made, narratively, to depict the voices of different women. The whole book is told from various points of views and while it might seem like that would make the story unnecessarily complex, it actually makes it extremely strong. The same holds true for my current summer read, The House Girl. I rarely ever pick up books on a whim, but when I do, they are always exceptional reads. I'm not finished with this novel yet, but saw the cover while I was perusing the bookshelves of Target and was drawn to the back cover synopsis. This, like The Poisonwood Bible, is a novel that weaves together different narratives from different eras. Josephine Bell is a slave girl on a Virginia plantation desperate to escape, but also trying to take care of her slowly-dying mistress. Meanwhile, Lina is a young lawyer in New York who is balancing a complicated relationship with her artist father and a new high-profile case. The case? Seeking to compensate families of slaves.

So far, the book is really engaging and the voices are so clear. I love the contrast between Josephine's life and Lina's. They're such different characters in terms of their circumstances, but I'm already seeing similarities in their personalities. I can't wait for the parallels to be drawn further as I continue reading the book. But if you're looking for a good story that blends historical fiction with present-day elements, then The House Girl is definitely for you.

What Deb’s lovin’: American Gods

Why she’s lovin’ it: As news about the American Gods television show has made me more and more eager to see it, I decided it was time for me to revisit the Neil Gaiman novel that started it all. Although his children’s book Coraline was what put him on my “favorite authors” list, it was American Gods that secured Neil Gaiman’s place in my heart forever. It’s an expertly crafted, provocative, captivating story that explores mythology and America and how the two subjects blend together. More than simply entertaining, I find American Gods to be inspiring enough that it's one of only a handful of novels I can pick up and start reading in order to end any sufferings of writer's block — which is pretty fantastic, I think.

The story is about Shadow, a recently-released ex-con who finds himself working for a mysterious man calling himself Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday hires Shadow to be a bodyguard and assistant, so he ends up dragging Shadow to various strange places around the United States in order to prepare for a big showdown... between gods. The modern, melting pot nature of America makes it the perfect meeting place for a battle between the old gods of myth and the new gods of technological progress, and Shadow has a role in it all that is slowly revealed through the main plot and a series of unusual, unsettling dreams.

Neil Gaiman writes with a no-nonsense finesse that is descriptive and beautiful as well as chillingly creepy, creating a fascinating atmosphere that transcends the story itself. His prose makes America into a character in its own right: a confused nation that is simultaneously brand new and ancient, that is both empty of rooted myths and full to the brim with loose, imported ideas. Just as the story of America’s mythology is complicated, American Gods is complicated, and the way Gaiman introduces various elements in the novel feels like it should be disjointed or unpleasant, but isn't. The twisted web of information is a part of the story. It works to keep the reader wondering, to make sure that we feel as off-step around Mr. Wednesday’s machinations as Shadow does.

Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that myth and the ancient tales of gods isn't clean or precise. They're stories full of contradictions, poorly recalled or otherwise altered with every retelling — but the changes over time stick around. In various versions, mythic gods shift shape, they die, they live again (or never died), and all those strange snags and snares in their narrative threads remain part of a large, bewildering canon. While Gaiman is considerably more mindful of American Gods’ continuity than ancient myths are in theirs, that spirit of a long-winding, tangled epic infuses the novel and gives it a special something that I absolutely love.

 What Yasmine’s lovin’: The Night Shift

Why she’s lovin’ it: There’s something about summer shows. They’re gone for so long that you almost forget about them — or at least how good they are — and when they come back and you watch the season’s premiere, you’re just blown away. I don’t know if anyone else feels like that, but I do, and this applies to The Night Shift and Suits (and we will see if others qualify when they return).

I caught up on The Night Shift’s third season this week (four episodes in) and I just cannot get over how good it is. And that is saying something, because I usually do not like hospital dramas. But The Night Shift is something else. While it is very, very, heavy on the hospital and medical part (most episodes take place solely in the hospital), it is just as much, if not more, about the issues and real life problems that these doctors and nurses face. And not only as doctors, but as people. The way this show manages to tie in personal stories with the weekly cases, with the patients’ stories playing in beautifully and pulling it all together, is just so real and so raw. Each week, the patients become as important, in terms of character and plot, as the main cast and this show does it very smoothly and seamlessly.

And my favorite part is that these issues and problems are not about the romantic entanglements among the staff at the hospital. They are far more substantial — not that romance is not often substantial — but they are so much more relatable than just the romance. A number of the doctors are ex-military and that plays into the show heavily. And the show does not shy away from tackling controversial issues and problems that are happening now. They do so without necessarily taking sides — that is to say, they fairly portray both sides of every issue, and somehow manage to make everyone very human.

It is a show that you cannot watch without coming to the end of it clutching a tissue, whether it’s because the characters have gone through hell this week (and these people are so real you cannot help but feel for every one of them), or because that week’s theme hit close to home. It does hit close to home every week. Every week!


What Hope’s lovin’: BrainDead

Why she’s lovin’ it: CBS’s new summer drama is like nothing I’ve ever seen on television. If you’ve seen the commercials, you probably know there are swarms of ants, brains, and exploding heads. If that would gross you out — and I’m guilty of looking away from the screen on many occasions — there’s still plenty to make you tune in each week. The political satire is sharp, fair, and current, with news clips from the 2016 election sprinkled around on TVs. It’s wacky and unapologetic and unique, and knows exactly how to handle and embrace its quirkiness. The tone is perfect. In short, it’s a series expertly executed.

The actors navigate this eccentric storyline and their characters wonderfully, and if you decide to set aside your aversion to watching brain-eating ants, the characters are going to be that reason. Laurel is the most compelling of the characters. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who also had a lead role this year in PBS’s Mercy Street, which was powerful and also worth checking out) balances all of Laurel’s facets — independent, kind, sarcastic, disenchanted with politics, and idealistic — to portray a really strong female lead. Her expressions in all the strange situations are golden. Also, Laurel and Aaron Tveit’s Gareth have an instant dynamic that makes every scene between them wonderful to watch. The rest of the cast is rounded out with politicians and staff from both sides, with more characters being introduced as the ant apocalypse progresses.

The creepy alien-ant drama is compelling, and you can’t say that production and post-production aren’t doing a great job bringing them to life in all their gross glory. My favorite shows are the ones that make me react to my screen, and I’m guilty of freaking out over these ants. Since we don’t quite understand them yet — being only two episodes in — there’s a sense of urgency. We already know more than the characters do, but not very much other than that IT’S THE ANTS, CLOSE YOUR WINDOWS.

I mean, in what other series are you going to find a “previously on” recap in the form of a song? Or a gigantic chocolate dog, courtesy of a strange constituent? Or a senator slowly eating said chocolate dog over the span of two episodes? Or a Tax Prom? Or very long episode titles in the form of academic paper names? Or — gasp! — a Democrat and a Republican who might actually end up working together? BrainDead is delightfully wacky, which makes up for being one of the grossest — actually, no, THE grossest — show I’ve ever watched. If you’re hesitant, give the pilot a chance. I’ll warn you, there are some scenes you’ll never be able to unsee, but by the end of the episode, I hope you’re just as caught up in the brilliantly, bravely original drama as I was.


What Julia’s lovin’: Finding Dory

Why she’s lovin’ it: I was eight years old when Finding Nemo was released in 2003. It was one of my favorite movies, and I always hoped that a sequel would be made. Let’s just say that it’s been a very long thirteen years, but Finding Dory was worth the wait. The much-anticipated film has been smashing box office records for a good reason: Pixar always delivers.

Finding Nemo is one of the most adored animated films of all time and also held the title of the best-selling DVD worldwide until Star Wars: The Force Awakens came along. Pixar had some big shoes to fill with the sequel that almost didn’t happen. But as always, Pixar knocked my socks off with an original, highly entertaining, and beautiful film. Finding Dory is the perfect sequel because it’s just as good as the original. It easily carries itself independently from Finding Nemo with new characters, a reversed plot, and better life lessons.

I loved that the plot was a complete role reversal from the typical Disney film. This time, the child (Dory) is looking for her parents instead of the parents (Marlin) looking for their child (Nemo). It’s a completely different take on a story-type that we all know well. Like a typical Pixar film, Finding Dory also highlights important issues while keeping the film enjoyable for both adults and children. The film expertly shows that every individual should be celebrated for their differences and/or disabilities. Whether you have a physical (Nemo) or mental (Dory) disability, Finding Dory shows kids that nothing should hold you back from achieving your dreams.

Also in classic Pixar fashion, the film is full of every emotion you can think of. The film is incredibly adorable, especially baby Dory, and is downright hilarious. I was laughing for a majority of the movie at the well-written jokes and brilliant work of the A-list voice cast. Finding Dory is a must-see film whether you are an adult or a child. It’s pure perfection and was absolutely worth the wait!

What Megan’s lovin’: Eligible

Why she’s lovin’ it: Look, I love books. I love reading. I love romance and — inexplicably — Victorian England. So it’s not at all surprising that I’m a really big Jane Austen fan. I’ve read the books, I’ve seen the movies, the miniseries, I’ve been to the museum in Bath, and I’ve read all sorts of spin-offs. However, it wasn’t until I came across one of this year’s biggest sellers that I was practically seeing stars.

Eligible is a modern retelling of Austen’s most famous novel Pride and Prejudice and is part of a series of modern authors recreating her famous tales. Liz, a journalist, and Jane, a yoga instructor, Bennett have lived in New York City for almost 20 years now and when their father falls ill, they rush back to Cincinnati to help the family as best they can. Lydia and Kitty are obsessed with CrossFit, Mrs. Bennett has a shopping problem, and Mary never leaves her room. With all five of her daughters back in her home, Mrs. Bennett now has all the time in the world to wonder why her daughters have never married.

Luckily, someone is on the horizon. Instead of being just the most eligible bachelor in the township, Chip Bingley was once the most sought after bachelor in America having appeared on Eligible with 25 women vying for his affections. Oddly enough, he’ll be at the Lucas’s Fourth of July barbecue and it’s there that Jane meets Chip — a doctor — and Liz meet Darcy, a neurosurgeon. From then on, it’s a tale we all know and love.

What I absolutely loved about it is the parallels between this and the original. You see Curtis Sittenfeld how took the story and modernized it in a way that was so clever — when Jane falls ill with the Bingleys and Lizzie has to find a way to get there, the entire Whickam story, when Lydia elopes, etc.. It’s all there and it’s all so good. You can’t help but feel giddy when you’re reading it because if you’ve read the source material; you know what’s going to happen next, but you don’t know how in this modern setting. It’s fantastic.

It’s also a really quick read. The chapters are extremely short — the longest having been maybe six pages — and it’s just so juicy and fun that you can’t stop reading. It’s just so beautiful and wonderful and such a fun summer read. Even if you’re not familiar with the classic love story or the antiquated language is too arduous for you to plow through, I would still recommend this book to you. I also need the movie like, tomorrow.


What Chelsea's lovin’: Orange is the New Black

Why she’s lovin’ it:  ** mild spoiler warning for season four ** Orange is the New Black returned last week, bringing back all of our favorite characters and throwing them through the wringer this year. OITNB proved in its fourth season why it is one of the most important shows on television, and the best show for women, POC, and queer ladies. Nowhere else are you going to get the nuanced queer lady relationships like Poussey and Soso, and Piper and Alex.

This season was all about racism, guard brutality, and tearing down Piper’s white privilege. The writers didn’t let Piper have these advantages and depicted the consequences of her selfishness. We also got to delve into the backstories of some of our supporting characters like Maritza, Blanca, and Maria as they rose to prominence the more the season unfolded.

The show has always been about showing the other side of the coin and that criminals are just people. But the writers went further this year by incorporating the #BlackLivesMatter movement, in what is surely going to be their most divisive storyline. Personally, I found the way they told the story to be a respectful representation of human life and something important that needs to be talked about. Without spoiling much more, I’m glad this show exists with all of these wonderfully diverse characters and stories that make me laugh, but also has stories that start a conversation about society and how we can be better. (Bonus: My favorite scene this season is in Suzanne’s flashback where she verifies this purchase. For having filmed this months ago, it’s just so timely.)

“Orange juice, toothpaste, AR-15 rifle.” 

What are YOU lovin' this week? Let us know in the comments below!


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