Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Red: An Erotic Fantasy by Tiffany Reisz (Spoiler-Free Review)

"Art should be dangerous, you know. It should say something to society that society doesn't want to hear. Do you know what the opposite of art is? Propaganda." -  The Red

This review is safe for work. The book isn't.

Mona Lisa St. James made a deathbed promise to her mother, vowing to keep their struggling little art gallery open "at all costs." Months later, she's about to fail the promise and just desperate enough to take up the mysterious Malcolm's (no last name) shockingly straightforward offer: become his, on demand, for the next twelve months and make enough money to save her business. Over the next year, Mona finds out the exact cost of keeping that promise, in explicit detail, and discovers some fascinating secrets about her odd lover and his artwork-themed demands.

I often recommend Ms. Reisz's novels because she doesn't write simple smut (that's right: she writes complicated smut), or syrupy romance, and The Red lives up to my expectations. I love Reisz's work for the depth of character and fascinating navigation through complicated and taboo sexual situations. The underpinnings of the story is an exploration of Mona's value, of her own sense of self-worth that becomes stronger and more pronounced as her boundaries are pushed, and her discovery of what she really wants. It's downright voyeuristically compelling, watching Mona's thoughts and actions evolve with each new level of debauchery.

Oh my God, the debauchery. Make no mistake: this is definitely a Tiffany Reisz erotic novel.
WOW. ZA.

Seriously well written, unapologetic lust exists between those covers. I tossed sleep aside to finish it in a night, and this book is worth it, although I may never look at a bottle of water the same way again. From an erotica perspective, The Red has at least one kink that will appeal to you and at least one that will make you terribly uncomfortable. I know what you're thinking, and I definitely don't mean the "blushing and you hope no one notices because WHY are you reading this in public" sort of uncomfortable.

I mean the uncomfortable where you're certain this particular kink shouldn't be so arousing because it's so dirty, but you're turned on anyway. You'll think about it for days afterward and read it again, and you'll want to recommend it to friends but worry they'll figure out that scene worked for you. THAT sort of uncomfortable.

Of course, part of the fun of reading The Red is discovering which encounters fall under which category for you.

The Red is a standalone novel, available on July 11th, 2017 in paperback and e-formats (Kindle is available for pre-order). If you enjoyed her Original Sinners series I don't have to recommend this one, because you already know exactly why you'll love this book. If you're new to Ms. Reisz's work, I highly recommend picking up The Red as soon as you can: it's an excellent mix of erotica and dominant/submissive dynamics, with a hint of the supernatural for flavor.

The Red is definitely exactly the right sort of dangerous art.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

13 reasons to watch 13 Reasons Why (Review)

I've been sitting on this for a bit, mostly because the social media attention surrounding Netflix's 13 Reasons Why is rather fascinating.

For those of you who have no idea what the hell I'm talking about, 13 Reasons Why is an adaptation of the novel by the same name, which follows Clay, a high school boy, on the terrible journey through the reasons why his love interest committed suicide.Hannah's story, her truth, is told in her own words through cassette tapes that each focus on a friend, acquaintance, or adult whom she considered a contributor in some way to how she got to that point.

1) The series itself is well done. From a purely technical perspective, I found all the kids in particular to be good actors, and the story moved along well. I skimmed the book at B&N the other day, and I have to say the series was better, although some of the episodes were hard to watch so it took me a week or so to watch them all - needed breaks.

2) It reminds us that we have NO FUCKING IDEA what's actually going on in anyone's life. That's a terrifying thing to have so baldly depicted; I imagine it's both easy and comforting to think you know exactly what your kid is doing or experiencing. I think the stark reminder is valuable.

3) The 'heroine' isn't a romanticized figure. Hannah is just as flawed and fucked up as the rest of her circle, and it shows. She makes good and bad choices. She's sometimes selfish, overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, and wants to be "good" but makes mistakes that eat at her.  She's closed off, she keeps secrets, and she's unable to cope or open up enough to let out any of what's building up inside.

4) The 'hero' also isn't romanticized, but at first he THINKS he is. I loved Clay's journey from confused horror (that he'd be one of the receivers of the tapes themselves), to working through the idea that he has no insight into his classmates' lives and his ultimate acceptance not only of what she'd done but also how he needs to be more mindful of how he treats others afterward.

5) Bullying and Cyber Bullying. The terrible effects of mob-mentality bullying, not only for Hannah but also many of the subjects in her tapes, are starkly evident. Equally evident is the lengths to which people will go to avoid being the target, even if it means participating or knowingly standing by when shit goes down. It's easy to say "why didn't s/he just stand up for him/herself or that other person", but I thought they did a fantastic job of showing a variety of personalities: some strong, some not, and how even the strongest can be eroded over time without some support.

6) Sex. Drugs. Drinking. If you don't think any of that happens in teenage life, you're just stupid. What I loved about this show is that none of that was depicted in a glorifying way - in fact, they were shown as series of bad choices resulting in being out of control and self-destructive.

7) Sexual harassment, slut shaming, and BOTH rape scenes (which do come with trigger warnings before the episodes, regardless what you may have heard). The nonstop casual sexual harassment and accepted as "boys will be boys" attitude by the school administration is, (and I say this from my personal experience I still vividly remember 20 some years after high school), absolutely accurate: ass grabbing, a barrage of comments, stalking, assumptions that Hannah was 'easy' (a word I loathe in describing a woman's sexuality but I use here because it was specifically used in the show), the administration's obliviousness (perfectly portrayed when the principal had to ask the counselor what the term "cum dumpster" meant, since it was on the girl's bathroom wall). Ugh.

The two rape scenes are terrible in their accuracy and commonality, and really well shot (NOT gratuitously sexual or violent, yet horrifying and so difficult to watch). Because consent is impossible to give when you're incapacitated, and fighting back isn't every girl's instinctual response - sometimes, freezing in fear is all she can do. And you know what? Kudos to the producers/director for the treatment of each of those scenes.

As an aside, one of the big critical arguments about this show is "but why is it always about rape, and why does it have to be a teenager getting raped"? How about: because you can probably count on one hand the number of women you know who HAVEN'T been sexually assaulted or outright raped in their lifetime. And most of us who were in some way or another assaulted? Yeah...a lot of that shit happens in middle or high school. THAT'S MOTHERFUCKING WHY.  I am seriously over this bullshit do-gooder whitewashing of rape from all art, media, and public venue under the guise of "talking about it makes it worse."

Not talking about it makes it worse. Not recognizing it as a major conscious and subconscious contributing factor to a woman's life is just another way to silence us, because even those lucky few who haven't been physically assaulted have likely been verbally assaulted. Because women grow up learning how to not get raped - it's in advice given to us by self defense experts, by our mothers, by police, by the media, by each other: don't wear that. Keep a key between your fingers in your hand when you're walking to your car. Park in lit areas. Go to the bar/bathroom/public in groups. Don't lead him on. Don't make him angry by saying no the wrong way.

NOT TALKING about it, sweeping it under the rug as "that doesn't happen in high school" or "why make her get raped, it's so typical" is utterly idiotic. It's typical because it happens all the goddamned time.

8) Rape aftermath. Accurate. Awful. Not only for the girls', which is self-destructive and terrible and numb and a ringing endorsement for talking to girls and women about getting help after an attack, the show also touches on the guilt the boys who loved them clearly felt for being unable to protect them and how they deal with that (positively and negatively).
And the bro-code and breakdown of the clique as the weight of protecting the perpetrator becomes more than some of the boys to bear.
And the lack of real help when a girl does talk about what happened.
And the way it changes her forever.

9) Adults. I suspect part of the sting of this show when parents watch it is the very clear implication that signs were there, but none of the adults in her life really paid attention. It's true that she didn't say anything - she kept dangerous and damaging secrets, and interestingly that's ALSO depicted as a bad choice. She didn't talk to her parents, to her teachers, to her friends. When she does finally try to talk to a school counselor and is told, BY THE ADULT SHE'S SUPPOSED TO TALK TO when terrible things happen, that if she didn't clearly say "no" and won't name the perpetrator all he can tell her to do is get over it. Every goddamned adult needs to watch that episode. He doesn't refer her to a rape counselor or mental health professional, he doesn't recognize the apathy as a sign, he doesn't report anything to her parents or the police or even his own principal: he doesn't do anything to help her at all.

10) Depression vs Giving Up. The girl in this show wasn't classically depressed in the often-portrayed way, and the word "depressed" never comes up. Even in the flashbacks, there is no clear downward spiral of depression culminating in such a terrible decision. She becomes convinced she's worthless, that she's unloveable and incapable of any "normal" relationship. Then, she reaches a place when the will and desire to live is absent, a moment she recognizes where she doesn't care anymore about anything or anyone and is completely done. Part of the shock and horror of suicide is the lack of indicators, and this show fucking NAILED that horror. 

11) The Suicide scene. I feel like calling out every single person who says "don't watch this show, it glorifies suicide as a viable option" and slapping them for commenting on something they CLEARLY didn't actually watch.  This is not romanticized in any way - it's depicted as horrible, physically painful, emotionally broken, and utterly awful. FYI, it is relatively bloody for a moment, unbelievably difficult to see. I cried multiple times in this episode (which does contain a clear trigger warning).

12) Survivors' emotions. If anyone actually watches the final episode and sees the moment her parents find her, I truly can't understand this idea that suicide is glorified as an option. The whole series is about the pain she leaves behind. Clay, Hannah's parents, the others on the tapes, the others in school, the others' parents...everyone dealt with a myriad of emotional fallout in the aftermath. I liked that the full range of emotion and coping mechanisms (some positive, some self-destructive) appeared, sometimes in the same character over time.

13) Discussion. Suicide, rape, bullying/harassment, depression, anxiety, death...they're so often glossed over, ignored, or quieted in effort to "protect" people from harsh reality. 13 Reasons Why was done specifically as an unflinching look at the darknesses in a teen's life that led to suicide and its aftermath, and if nothing in any of the episodes sparks some discussion, among adults and/or teens, I don't have any idea what would. It's so easy to dismiss what a teen is going through as unreasonable drama, but when you live in a microcosm and your long-term thinking isn't fully developed (as multiple psychologists indicate that part of the brain isn't fully developed until 25 or so), "for right now" seems like "forever".

The point of 13 Reasons Why is to bring it all into the light, to talk about it, to find common ground about it so maybe suicide doesn't seem like a good choice. To talk about rape and consent. To talk about learning to take a step back from the current emotional state and remember that it won't always be this bad, that things can get better, that it's ok to NOT be perfect. To offer resources if someone doesn't feel comfortable talking to their loved ones (if you watch the behind the scenes, the producers, directors, and actors DO discuss the whys behind some of their choices and refer to a site that will find you local resources. http://www.13reasonswhy.info/#usa).

I watched the final episode again last night and thought about suicide (as a topic, not a possible course of action) for a very long time. I was pretty heavily bullied in middle/high school, and at some point my parents must have noticed I was off because I will always remember my dad saying, bluntly and out of the blue one day: no matter how bad something is suicide is never an option: it leaves everyone behind you devastated (a comment that worked for me because I feel more responsibility to others than to myself, so pulling the "it's selfish" card worked...I realize it may not work for everyone), and it robs you of finding out the good things waiting for you. EVERYTHING PASSES. EVERYTHING. All you have to do is hang on. 

I've been on the edge of that same dead-inside moment a couple of times in my life - talking about it with Dad when I was a teenager stuck with me.

Find a way to talk about the bad stuff, the dark stuff, the uncomfortable stuff. It matters. 

"There is nothing about this show that's polite." - 13 Reasons Why - Behind the Scenes

"It has to get better. The way we treat each other. It has to get better somehow." - Clay

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Progress Smells Like Eucalyptus, and I'm Confused

I'm starting to feel more human, less simulacrum.

Maybe it's the sun (60 degrees and sunny in Minnesota is decidedly springy). The yard is clean of all winter dog mess. Chewy is happily lying in the not-yet-grass barking (mostly silently now, as he's gotten old and his voice is giving out) at neighborhood kids. It's nice, even as he slows down, to see him get a hint of his younger self. PROTECT THE YARD FROM ALL THE DEMONS is still happening, it's just muted and often from a prone position.

Hopefully, demons move slow enough for a 1/4 crippled Great Pyrenees to chase them down in a wobbly lumber.

Maybe it's because I joined a fancy (well, fancy for Minnesota) gym recently and the workouts are helping with energy. And screaming arm muscles. And sleeping, but not ON the treadmill because that's frowned upon in upscale establishments with personal trainers and triathletes.

The steam room is definitely helping...it's deliciously eucalyptus-y and burns my sinuses for the first few minutes every time I sit in there. Fuck the treadmill - I could sit in there all day. But I won't, because I'm pretty sure I'd pass out and schlepping a woman my size out of the steam room to the ambulance in front of all the other gym members is NOT my idea of a fun time.

Maybe it's because I only have a few episodes of Downton Abbey to watch, and I'm finally squinting at OUTSIDE to prolong it. Yes, I'm aware I'm like seven years out of date here. You shouldn't be surprised if you've read this blog longer than a day.

Also, seriously, I've been mostly out of my Neflix and Amazon Prime hibernation for the past two months, and I'm so terribly confused. Bingeing on Downton does NOT prepare one for news headlines about spiders being fully capable of eating all humans within a year if they felt peckish, or the bullfighter gored by a foot of bull horn up the rectum (I'm still clenching my cheeks after reading that one), or that a giant reticulated python ate a man whole in Indonesia yesterday.

Also, I saw the trailer for the new version of Stephen King's IT today. Let the nightmares begin.

What the fuck is going on?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I'm getting good at being tired.

Today it's been over six weeks since I wrote anything real. Even my journal looks reproachful.

Yesterday I finally had a chance to pick up Jenny Lawson's new book, You Are Here, a mix of her signature Bloggess humor, random bits of encouragement, and gorgeous designs waiting for coloring attention. It's marvelous. One entry in particular makes me cry every time I look at it, even as the design mesmerizes and I stare at it for long minutes as needed. The theme is "you are not alone."

Maybe I should do a thorough spring cleaning in my universe.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How To Get Out of Babysitting: 101

Actual conversation with my sister (Han and Evil's mom) via text message. Of course I could've just posted the screenshot, but then anonymity for both my sister and Han would be lost. Plus, I MUST fix some of the text shorthand, because I'm a nerd and it drives me nuts how people don't spell out actual words in text.

I know, I know: emojis and shorthand are their own languages now...isn't it interesting how the modern equivalent of Egyptian Hieroglyphs are coming back as a real language through texting?

Um. Anyway...conversation as follows (edited only for privacy and incomplete words. I left the punctuation, because it makes me chuckle to imagine the over-enthusiasm).

S: Han's Actual Name Han asked me at dinner how the babies are going to get out of my belly.......

Me: You didn't show him Alien, did you?

Me: I'm no expert, but showing a 4 year old to explain birth might be bad parenting. Just sayin.

Me: Go with Aliens instead. Better movie all around. 

S: Heehee...I said we'd go to the hospital and the doc would help get them out. Then I changed the subject and said 'guess what!!! Grandpa is going to stay with you while we're at the hospital!!!!!'

S: oh good lord Jess, maybe you shouldn't babysit...*

Yeah. I babysit the kids a lot. They're my favorite. I'm pretty sure when the twins come I won't be allowed to touch them at all if Han and Evil are around.

Also, four kids under 5 all in one suburban house?

If you were wondering when the apocalypse starts, I'm pretty sure she's due sometime in March.

*As it turns out, not actually a deterrent from babysitting. Neither is giving the kiddos cherry popsicles so they look like little vampires.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It Must Be Wednesday - Yahoo Thinks I'm a Rich Frat Boy

Today's Spamalicious Hump Day offerings from Yahoo include eight offers of various sorts of encounter with chicks I don't know. 

I deleted two of them for offering explicit acts...not because I'm a prude: because I probably don't want people finding my blog as a search result for them. Sigh. 

Also, can I just say, Stiffler was 1999. 1999!! 18 years ago...shouldn't "MILF" have gone out of style by now? What the hell?  

Oh my god, I graduated college 18 years ago. I need more coffee for this shit. 


So, multi-aged various nationalities offering *ahem* hot evenings.
Dear Jenny M, no thanks but good luck with your boyfriend.
No, generalized nameless "naked girls", I sure don't remember you, and based on your email subject line you'd think I WOULD. Therefore, pretty sure you have the wrong girl here.

Extended Stay hotel (and apparently I own a timeshare somewhere: Ryan wants to buy it. Fuck you Ryan, I'm not giving up my sweet escape space for hot encounters with people I don't remember.)

Pizza.

See what I mean by wealthy frat boy as depicted in movies? The only offers missing are toga parties and beer.

Hmm. Maybe I should be flattered that Yahoo thinks I'm in my twenties?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I need a weekend from my weekend.

I'm supposed to be working on a couple of book reviews today, and I'm fairly distracted. The writing conference yesterday was both awesomely educational and horribly disheartening, and while I have some helpful suggestions from an agent, working on non-fic is easier today. Therefore, tying up some loose ends and finding some ideas to pitch to magazines is on the docket, which means looking through the notes on my phone. I swear that's not a non-sequitur: smartphones are both awesome and dangerous for someone who has random ideas and conversations, because sometimes I go back and wonder what the hell I wanted to remember. 

So, because a glance of notes in my phone made me chuckle (titles only): 

"Hey! Don't knock Boones Farm. When you're poor in high school that's all you can afford." Said at a family gathering recently by one of my relatives who would never have admitted to drinking in high school when I was a teenager. Of course, that not only means she's always been fun and trouble, but also that I'm old.  

Quilters Dark Web: assassination orders, prohibited patterns, quilting a hellmouth portal... Oh yeah, there's a story in this. It's in my "pending attention" list. 

Lickubus - like succubus/incubus who snacks I have no appropriate explanation for this. Some of my conversations are astounding. 

Crotchless snowpants Came from the same convo as Lickubus. I wish I could remember if the two were related or some sort of weird progression...because I feel like a "bus" of any sort would be ALL ABOUT crotchless snowpants. 

"The Freckly Princess" by Godfried Bomans I'm bummed to discover I can't find this in English. I keep random books/authors in a list on my notes, so I don't lose them when I'm hanging out at Barnes & Noble. 

Dad's sloppy joes recipe Oh yeah!! YUM! DAd's secret to delicious Sloppy Joes is a can of Campbells Chicken Gumbo soup instead of anything ishy like Manwich. Ketchupy Joes and meat loaf make me gag: this is so much better. 

"Ta to cuid anois" = you're hers now Yeah. Not sure if that was kept as a threat or promise. Thanks, iphone. 

EvilRocks! Truth. Not sure why that's in my notes, but it's completely true. She DOES rock. And lately, she'd respond with "Yupper!"

Mt. Hekla in Iceland: gateway to hell Well, either that's part of the to-see list or a story location. Let's go with both. 

I have no decent explanation for any of this, except that my brain is a weird one; luckily so are the brains of my closest friends and family. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Random Crap and Totally Inappropriate Lyrics

Does anyone else feel like 2017 is an extended (terrible) episode of the Twilight Zone? And that's all I'm going to say about the Oompa Loompa in charge, because I think it's covered better by all the media (social and mainstream) out there.

So, I haven't been here much since Thor died. I haven't honestly written much at all since then: worried about Chewy, hanging out with the family while they were in town for holidays, helping my ex get his stuff (well, the stuff left in my house/garage) ready to move down to Texas. My poor drawer-o-journals has been untouched for a couple of weeks now, which is pretty horrid since I MAY have bought yet another recently. *Sigh* yes, I have a problem. 

Tomorrow, I'm going to my first writing conference. It's stupid, but I'm beyond nervous: I'm bringing a page for critique (anonymously, thank all the deities out there) by agents, and signed up to do a pitch session. I can't decide if I'm pushing my boundaries in effort to become a professional writer someday, or if I'm just paying dearly for a moment of insanity months ago when I signed up to do this thing. Let's just all cross appendages that I stay within the non-arrestable forms of inappropriate behavior, shall we? 

Google says "arrestable" isn't a word. I disagree. 

I'm too nervous to come up with decent funny blog items tonight, but I AM back. And so instead I'll subject you to the dirtiest song I've actually ever heard (ok, that's not entirely true). No, I didn't know this song existed until the other day. Feel free to make fun of the video (which, if you listen to the lyrics has NOTHING to do with the song)...I did. Then I heard "cunning linguist" and really paid attention and HOLY CRAP they played this on the radio. Awesome and awfulsome.