“Look What You Made Me Do”: Another Taylor Swift earworm

Following the “Bad Blood” attack on Katy Perry, and the self-parody of “Blank Space,” Taylor Swift has a new song inspired by her clickbait-headline-friendly behavior. Whether it’s another breakup or her inspiring and validating sexual assault testimony, we just can’t look away. Unsurprisingly, she couldn’t follow through with her earlier attitude toward her reputation and just “Shake it Off,” so now we have “Look What You Made Me Do,” and we love it anyway.

Right away, the song is intriguing with its dark and almost threatening list of boxes Swift resents being forced to fit. Figurative or literal, you can’t help raising your own hackles at the list of injustices and suddenly feeling the courage to bite the hands that have been beating you. Between bridges and choruses, the percussion behind the verses snaps like the individual threads in a rope. When that last thread goes, we should be in for a chorus that blows us away.

But the beat drops, and we land in what almost sounds like a Black Eyed Peas song. Swift sings, “Ooh, look what you made me do,” but it’s hard not to think of Fergie’s voice chanting “my humps” over and over. It’s a lackluster change of pace that feels spliced in from another song, but everything around it is still enthralling enough to keep us singing along.

Unfortunately, the spell of the song is broken by a few self-referencing lines. “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because she’s dead.” At first, it feels like a badass anthem for anyone looking to cast off an old persona and be more of the person they feel they truly are. But once the lyrics sit in your mind for a while, it’s clear the song is the same old Taylor. And she knows it.

Just before that break in lyricism to deliver what reads like a passive-aggressive tweet, Swift sings, “I don’t trust nobody, and nobody trusts me.” Of course we don’t; Swift’s music has become more and more an outlet for indirect responses to the public. Some celebrities ignore the gossip while others release statements to set the record straight. Swift just chooses a new target for her side-eye shade and picks a beat to go with it.

It’s entertaining, but the novelty of the act is wearing off. As the lyrics say, “Honey, I rose up from the dead./ I do it all the time.” At this point, we know she’s only faking her Lazarus Effect party trick; for all the heat she gets, her career and reputation have never been close to dead. Not that it matters; the song is still going to be stuck in our heads until she releases the next one.

Recommended Reads: This Is Not A Writing Manual

writing reference; This Is Not A Writing Manual; Kerri Majors
Book cover image from Goodreads.com.

Despite the title and the text on the back cover, I fully expected Kerri Majors’ This Is Not a Writing Manual to have a few lessons on how to write. Instead, Majors offers advice on how to be a writer. Even when she directly addresses the teenaged writers she expects to pick up her book, her insight is a soothing breath of fresh air to those of us out of our teens, but still reaching for publication. As a writing reference and as unlikely source of support, this book is invaluable to any writer.

Majors clearly states in the introduction just what kind of writing book this is: “This book is just you and me, in writing therapy together, so we can talk about what it means to be a writer and why the writing life is worth living.” That statement hardly does the book justice. With the tone of a friend paddling in the same canoe as the reader and her years of experience as a writer, as well as Editor and Founder of the Young Adult Review Network, Majors expertly delivers the message so many other writing reference books muddle: Being a writer is hard, but we can do it.

That sounds like an obvious takeaway. Many established writers make the same point in speeches and lectures. Majors doesn’t make the point and move on; every page reinforces it. Right after reading the chapter on bosom writing buddies, it’s clear that the entire book is meant to be the reader’s writing buddy. Maybe the book doesn’t comment on or edit our work, but it certainly commiserates and captains our personal cheerleaders. If only every other writing reference could do that.

While some of her advice might induce a few sighs because of how often they are repeated by others — such as the importance of disciplining yourself to write every day — Majors’ take on the information is more forgiving. Other writers momentarily acknowledge the conflicts with a daily writing schedule before sternly telling you to do it anyway. Majors highly recommends a schedule, but doesn’t shame the reader into it. It may be the same advice we’ve been hearing and reading for years, but the delivery is key. Some people need to be shamed into good habits. Others need a ray of sunshine like Majors to coax them into removing their coat and getting to work.

Consider adding This Is Not A Writing Manual to your list of writing references to read. The combination of writing advice and memoir makes it a welcome break from sometimes drier content. Writing is a craft that can often feel lonely and isolated. Majors cannot receive enough credit for how this book eases that loneliness.

Review: Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times

It took very little to convince me to pick up Emma Trevayne’s Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times; it was on the shelf of new arrivals in the young adult section, it’s steampunk, and it takes us from London to Londinium. Like our main character, Jack, we’re taken in by metal fairies, clockwork dragons, and the people with mechanical limbs. We’re also just as surprised that the story takes a dark turn toward a not-so-happy ending.

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
I rated the book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Jack is everything you’d expect the 10 year-old son of wealthy parents to be: selfish, incorrigible, and feeling neglected. It’s no wonder he follows a mysterious man through a doorway to the bleak and fantastical Londinium. It doesn’t take long for us feel conflicted over the wonder we feel with Jack and the understanding that there is something very wrong with this city patrolled by airships and ruled by the immortal and temperamental Lady.

Together with a charming and brave clockwork girl named Beth, and a pair of inventors who thankfully don’t turn into flat surrogate parents, Jack plays the dangerous game orchestrated for him. People and things — not that there’s much of a distinction between them in Londinium — break and die in the name of power in this world where magic and machine blends together. It’s that very blurred line, however, that bends our immersion in the story.

Mechanical fairies and dragons with souls of their own — some born, some built — are easy to accept. But when another familiar creature appears in the form of the legendary Gearwing late in the story, it’s harder to understand this is where we were headed the whole time. There’s little time to breathe between the points where Jack is a disposable pawn, and then the one to fulfill a prophecy. Had this prophecy made itself known a little earlier own, it might not have felt like the plot switched trains without us knowing.

Despite where the Gearwing throws things off — as legendary creatures tend to do whenever they reappear — Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times is still a pleasant read accompanied by whimsical illustrations. The author’s language crafts a story that is just as enchanting as the world it is set in, and just as hard to leave.

Review: The Wolf Wilder

While checking out some new releases at B&N, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell caught my eye in the young adult section. It promised the adventure of a young Russian girl named Feo who, along with her mother, teaches the domesticated wolves forsaken by wealthy owners how to be wild again. Had the story not gotten distracted by a minor revolution in St. Petersburg, it would have been absolutely wonderful.

My Goodreads rating: 3/5 stars. Image source

Feo’s world is thrown into chaos when a cruel general in the Russian Army sets her home on fire and unjustly arrests her mother. With the help of Ilya — a reluctant, barely-teenaged soldier in the Russian Army who would rather be a dancer — and a handful of loyal wolves, Feo sets out to free her mother from prison. Despite Feo’s ignorance of normal social skills, the two quickly become friends. In fact, Feo’s blunt and whimsical statements make her incredibly endearing and entertaining. Seeing men whose beards seem to take up whole rooms and might house an entire family of mice lets us laugh at the little absurdities and forget, for just a moment, that a darker force is at work.

Sadly, that darker force isn’t all that impressive in person. The general is hardly more than a shallow evil-doing maniac with a scary name and madness as the only reason behind his actions. However, his off-stage presence — the way villagers shiver at the mention of his name, the charred skeletons of homes, and the potent mixture of fear and hatred he leaves behind — makes him frightening. It’s too bad the shadow outshines the man who casts it.

Perhaps that’s what made the final confrontation between Feo and the general disappointing. Young readers are saved from what might have been the most graphically violent yet satisfying scene in the whole book, but it didn’t get the focus it deserved. All along, we’ve been cheering Feo on as she goes after her mother and collects a long list of reasons to seek revenge. But her sudden transformation into a child revolutionary — and the leader of a small gang of other children who wish to fight the Russian Army — took us down the wrong path. Maybe if we’d spent more time on Feo’s growing interest in the revolution it would have worked.

Despite it’s unfortunate shortcomings, The Wolf Wilder remains a charming and enjoyable read. It’s hard to not get caught up in the wonder of riding on the back of a wolf across the snowy Russian countryside.

A Recap of 50 Shades Darker

Friends, if you were following my commentary/play-by-play of Fifty Shades Darker on social media two weeks ago, you might have been surprised when that all just stopped suddenly. Truth be told, I didn’t actually finish the book. I have 132 pages left and I probably won’t read them. That’s because the fantastic conflict I had been waiting for fizzled and died about 100 pages ago and nothing following that has been interesting. So you have my apologies for this collection of thoughts on 74.8% of Fifty Shades Darker, in which Anastasia attempts the basics of adult communication, Christian’s a guy, and the awesome ex-girlfriend with a gun subplot gets lost in a bog of uninteresting make-up sex.

50 Shades Darker

Also, it’s unlikely that I’ll get to the third one. I was only invested in this series for the laughs my commentary gives others. That’s normally a pretty good motivator for me, but I’m going to abandon ship right now and spend my time on more stimulating/entertaining in a good way things.

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13 Thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey

For those of you who haven’t heard yet, I’ve been asked to write a review of the 50 Shades of Grey movie coming out this weekend for work. Starting off my research, I borrowed a copy of the book from a friend and randomly decided to update everyone on Facebook with my progress. Since then, I’ve been asked to read aloud (possibly on camera), set up a live reading Twitter, and continue through the rest of the series. I may just do that. Until then, enjoy!

50 Shades

“Transformers: Age of Extinction”: A waste of time

Considering the less than memorable experience of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” it seemed like “Age of Extinction” would have to try very hard to be the worst Transformers movie. But with a humorless look at the American government, inconsistent characters and some cheap CG effects, a movie has never seemed more effortless.

The American government turned on its former allies and hunts down Autobots and Decepticons alike, melting them down to raw materials so Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) can create an American army of Transformers — which only transform into tacky and ostentatious sports cars. Meanwhile, broke garage-inventor and lousy father Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) restores a half-dead Optimus Prime and drags his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) into the fight between the Autobots and the CIA.

At the head of the CIA team hunting Autobots is James Savoy (Titus Welliver), a rude caricature of an American government agent. When Cade tells James the CIA can’t search his property without a warrant, James screams, “My FACE is my warrant!” Sure, the Patriot Act would allow James to search Cade’s property since the Autobots are considered terrorists, but his line was a tasteless mockery of the real CIA. Coupled with the American government’s desire to keep wrecked Autobots out of the hands of any other country that might benefit from the technology, the movie ends up feeling like a long-winded insult.

Cade, who starts out as a man struggling to attain his dream and handle his teenage daughter, devolves into a muscled redneck with a gun, shouting repeatedly at his daughter’s secret boyfriend, “You’re not going to p***y out on me, are you?!” Where did that come from? Maybe it’s a side effect of whatever steroids gave him the strength to go mano-y-mano with Lockdown without turning into gut soup.

Nicola Peltz provides the movie’s quota of long legs in short shorts and cleavage, but not much else. When Megan Fox filled the role, at least she could do something useful like hot wire a tow truck and get Bumblebee out of the line of fire. Peltz’s character amounts to “My life is over!” and “I can’t do this! I’m going back to the ship!” Nevermind that everything on Lockdown’s ship is trying to kill her and she was already halfway to safety.

If only the graphics and action could cover up the script’s shortcomings. Made for 3D, there’s no shortage of cartoony debris and robot swords aimed at the screen. It’s also liberally seasoned with unnecessary slow motion sequences. But even if the whole movie played at normal speed, it would still be too long. The runtime is 165 minutes (two hours, 45 minutes), but there’s not enough to engage the average person’s attention past the first hour. At least this is the only Transformers movie without a scene partway through the credits, so there’s no reason to stay past when the screen cuts to black.