Sunday, July 31, 2016

Series: Summer Lovin' -- Week 17

It's been a week since Comic-Con ended, which means that many of people are slowly adjusting to a schedule that isn't packed with panels and overpriced convention center food. As we all cherish the last bits of summer before kids return to school and students to their college studies, we thought we would also tell you what you should be reading and watching this week! Joining me are:

Let's get started!

What Jenn's lovin': Stranger Things

Why she's lovin' it: A co-worker of mine recently asked whether or not I had started watching Stranger Things, Netflix's original series set in the 80s about a young boy named Will who goes missing. The show has been likened to a cross between The Goonies, Close Encounters, and basically anything and everything by Steven Spielberg. Admittedly, when I saw the description for the show and assumed (correctly) the likely presence of jump scares, I was hesitant. I don't watch anything remotely scary, because — in my opinion — that doesn't really qualify as entertainment. But because I'm curious and the show had been raved about so highly, I thought I would give it a shot. I'll warn you that the first few episodes are creepier than the rest of the series, for me personally, and if you're remotely jumpy, it's best to watch during the daytime... and on a television, not via your laptop or tablet. Quite honestly though, I just finished the series today and was incredibly impressed with how well-executed the eight-episode series really was. It's creepy and funny and a wonderfully-acted show. Millie Brown, who plays a child named Eleven, is absolutely incredible. She will completely blow you away with her emotional nuances and also her ability to play shifty and terrifying really well. As the lead (kid) characters in the show, Mike (played by Finn Wolfhard) and his friends Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are complete and utter delights. They're so talented and so young, but they entirely carry Stranger Things.

And if you've heard critics singing the praises of Winona Ryder, you would be right to. She's amazing and throws everything she has into her portrayal of Joyce, the desperate mother searching for her lost son. The rest of the cast is fantastic, too (especially David Harbour who plays the chief of police), and Stranger Things is a show whose premise hinges on the actors' ability to sell the fear and the horror of what is happening around them. I won't spoil it for those of you who have yet to watch, but this show is built on the foundation of some pretty wild, out-of-this-world concepts that could have easily come across as cheesy or trite in the hands of any other writers and cast. But the writing and directing are so on-point that Stranger Things already feels like it has cemented itself in our pop culture canon. Watch this show, listen to the incredible music (music is really key in suspense or horror shows and movies in order to perpetuate mood and anxiety, and Stranger Things has a top-notch musical selection and composition, making you feel on edge when necessary and at ease when safe), and then come back here to discuss the show more!

What Mer’s lovin’: Victoria Dahl books

Why she’s lovin’ them: One of my goals for this summer was to get back into reading. I grew up a voracious reader, and I also read very, very quickly. To illustrate: on family vacations growing up, my father limited me to four books for the flight to our destination/first day, and then every 48 hours or so we would find a bookstore and replenish. I donated all my books to a local library at the end of the trip, because my father refused to schlep 10+ books back home that had already been read. For our honeymoon, my husband bought me a Kindle. I resisted an e-reader for a very long time, but he put his foot down in refusing to carry a suitcase of books with us. Good thinking, because I read 17 books on our 11-day honeymoon (plus the flight to and from Maui). As life, work, and parenthood (plus TV) have taken over, my reading has fallen to the wayside. But since I have the summer off, and not as much TV to watch, I decided to pick it back up again.

A friend’s new job reminded me how much I love romance novels. I can read them quickly and get absorbed in the story and characters, and I can let my mind clear and just enjoy the fantasy of it all. I started a different author’s books based on a recommendation, and then somehow — through Amazon’s “other readers who read this book also enjoyed this book” — I found Victoria Dahl.

Over the last two weeks, I have read close to twenty of her books. They are fantastic — the perfect combination of fun and frivolous, but with layered characters and intriguing stories. Some of them have a touch of mystery, which I love, they all have a dash of humor, and are the perfect summer and/or vacation read for anyone who likes romance. Dahl is a modern feminist and mother, and her characters are independent women who know what they want and seek it out. I have found myself really drawn to her modern romances — mixing the classic idea of the dashing, smart, successful man who sweeps the female protagonist off her feet with a more modern idea of a woman actively pursuing what she wants. The women in her books are all different — a reclusive artist, a confident librarian with a penchant for 50s-style clothing, a police officer, a school guidance counselor, to name a few. They are confident, shy, sullen, happy; there is no caricature of a woman in Dahl’s novels, and I think that’s what I like best. Her female characters aren’t all perfectly gorgeous, perfectly dressed, or otherwise stereotypical in any way. They have different hopes and dreams and goals. I like some more than others, just like in real life. And that’s really refreshing.

If you’re looking for some fun summer reading, and enjoy (or think you might enjoy) a good romance, do yourself a favor and pick up a Victoria Dahl book. You won’t be disappointed!

What Megan's lovin': Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Why she's lovin' it: I'm not really into disaster stories. I don't watch disaster-themed movies, I don't activey watch the news or read about natural disasters around the world, and I certainly don't read books about them. But last year after I saw Everest, with my hair wrapped around my face and my knuckles leaving prints on my cheeks from holding them there too long, I knew that I absolutely had to read the book it was based on.

Well, that was last year. I bought the book and it sat there, waiting to be read. I kept avoiding it because that was some serious emotional upheaval I was facing picking it up, but just last week I finally bit the bullet. And I'm so glad that I did.

Back in the early 90s, there was a surge in guided tours to the summit of Everest. They promised safety no matter your capability (which already was a red flag because hi, there's literally no guarantee of safety on a mountain covered in snow and ice that has a tip that reaches just below where planes fly. Just saying). But Rob Hall, a New Zealander guide, had quite a bit of luck in getting those in his group to the summit. In just a few years, he helped 39 climbers ranging from amateur to professional reach the summit and safely touch back down to earth.

This caught the interest of Outside magazine and they offered Jon Krakauer the opportunity to head to base camp with one of these groups and write about what it's like. He said no, but only if they could get him — a climbing enthusiast who had scaled plenty of large mountains by that time — into a group headed to the summit, he would do it. It took a year, but they managed to get him into a spot with Rob Hall's group and Krakauer was off to Nepal.

Krakauer then details what it was like to travel to Nepal — what it was like to see the peak of Mount Everest not too far below him and think that he would soon be heading toward it. He also details how hard it is to acclimatize, how treacherous the terrain is, and how the combination of the two can severely affect you.

But 1996 was an important year for Everest climbers. It was the year that disaster struck and left many dead. Reading this story, I was unable to take myself away from the page, and even knowing how it ended didn't take away from its intensity or absolute sadness of it all. Into Thin Air was an addicting read, riveting and harrowing at the same time. All of the dangers, the possibility of death and serious illness or injury made you wonder why anyone would ever be in their right mind to want to summit the world's largest peak.

This book is a real page-turner and something that will stick with you for awhile. It will simultaneously make you think that you could totally summit Everest and wonder, "WHO WOULD EVER DO SUCH A THING? WHY?" If you want an engrossing read that's based on true events, I could not recommend this book more. It's beautifully written, rife with imagery and full of emotion. And if you're into that sort of thing, go ahead and watch Everest. It's all just one heart-racing night ahead of you.

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


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