Monday, July 18, 2016

Happy Valley: season 1 (DVD)

Happy Valley is a British TV series that stars Sarah Lancashire as a police sergeant upholding the law in a West Yorkshire town that is losing the battle with drugs.  The series may be called Happy Valley, but no one is happy.  And several people become downright miserable throughout the course of events depicted in these six episodes.

Kevin Weatherill, blindly indignant when his boss Nevison Gallagher rebuffs his request for a raise, hatches a plot to kidnap Ann, Nevison's daughter, in order to pocket the ransom money.  You know because kidnap for ransom is an excellent way to raise the money needed to send your daughter to an elite school.  In a fit of ill-advised shock, Kevin enlists the local druglord, Ashley, to run the scheme.  And now there is no turning back from this very slippery slope to hell.

Unfortunately for Kevin and just about everyone else involved but mostly for Ann, Ashley in turn enlists his local hired lads, Louis and Tommy Lee Royce, to 'help'.  Louis isn't so much a bad person--admittedly he sells drugs and agrees to take part in a kidnap plot, but he has lines he won't cross.  However, Tommy is twisted and probably a psychopath.  Every decision he makes related to this kidnap plot advances the whole situation steadily towards what may or may not be a spectacularly bad end from which no one will emerge unscathed.

If the first mistake these low level criminals make is actually committing a kidnap, their second mistake is involving Tommy, a recently released convict with a disturbing attitude toward women.  It is thanks to Tommy's brutal actions that the whole kidnap plot spins out of control and goes from bad to worse and then to hell in the matter of four days depicted across as many episodes.  In fact the first half of this series is largely a study in how bad things can get before they reach rock bottom.

Catherine Cawood is the police sergeant charged with policing this town.  Unfortunately, many of her actions, spurred by Tommy's release from prison, adversely affect the kidnap plot.  But she doesn't find out about the kidnap until it's four days gone, and once she does she's able to put quite a few of the pieces she's been bumping up against together in a web that connects several seemingly unrelated crimes.  Ultimately this series is both a slow burn and a high stakes, pulse pounding, nail biting, suspenseful ride that packs a lot into its six episodes.

Random Rants (You know I had some.)

When your kid is kidnapped, go to the police.  Even if the kidnappers say don't go to the police, go to the police.  Do not try to handle it yourself.  You will only make it worse.  Go. To. The. Police.

Why does everyone end up dead except for the the two people I really want to be dead?  And why does this not surprise me?

I hope Tommy Lee Royce rots in prison.  And by rots, I mean, gets shanked in the showers and dies a painful death.

Tommy is a crap dad.  He lets his kid have a drag on his cigarette.  He gives the kid a beer.  Or is it an energy drink?  I can't tell, but I don't like it.  And how dare his kid be raised by his loving maternal granny without a dad!  Never mind that Tommy's a raping, murdering, misogynist ex-con who doesn't know thing one about raising a kid and wouldn't know love if it bit him in the ass.

I am intrigued to know Tommy's version of his relationship with his kid's mom and what his reaction is to how she died.  But unfortunately the series doesn't explore this.

Kevin is scum.  He almost more infuriating than Tommy because he accepts no responsibility for his part in the kidnap.  It's his boss's fault because he screwed Kevin's father out of his half of the company (allegedly) and then refused to give Kevin the raise he wanted.  It's Ashley the drug lord's fault because if those drugs hadn't (accidentally!) dropped out of that sack right in front of Kevin, it never would have occurred to him to involve the drug lord in the kidnap.  It's his accomplices' fault because they actually did the deed and then took things too far.  And finally it's his wife's fault because she "encouraged" him when he confessed the whole mess to her.  Nothing is ever Kevin's fault and the whole world's out to get him.  Cry me a river.

Why does Kevin expect Nevison to keep paying his salary after he's arrested for the kidnapping and is put in prison to await trial?  Like he's not working and earning it, so why does he expect to get paid for sitting in jail?  Are there laws in the UK that I don't know about?  Or this just another example of Kevin's shirking of the responsibility he has for his current lot in life as well as a sense of entitlement?

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Death of a Bachelor by Panic! at the Disco

Death of a Bachelor, released in January of this year, is the first album by Panic! at the Disco since the band members left the band. Brendon Urie is the sole remaining member of the band. He played most of the instruments in this album himself but received the help of several musicians.

For this album, Urie stepped away from his traditional sounds slightly and mimicked the sounds of both Queen and Frank Sinatra, two of his biggest influences. The music still sounds like Panic! At the Disco, but the new sounds are easily noticeable. The songs on this album sound similar to Panic! At the Disco’s old music just evolved. However, this isn’t a bad thing. Urie has found a new sound that works.

This album includes playful lyrics with some introspective analyses that outline Urie’s life both as a party boy and a married man. Though, like many of their songs, some of the lyrics just sound like nonsense. Many songs on this album quickly became my favorites. I listen to “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time,” “Death of a Bachelor,” “Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “Golden Days” nonstop.

The songs on this album are upbeat with the exception of the final song. This one has a Sinatra feel just like the earlier track “Death of a Bachelor.” These two sound different from this band’s other music, including the other songs on this album, which sound like they were influenced by Queen.

Overall, most of the songs on this album are attractive. The lyrics are catchy, Urie’s voice is excellent, and the instruments used work together to create many unique sounds in each of the songs. Though it may be hard to look past the “emo” stigma that this band has received, Urie appears to have turned away from that, so give this album a listen!

--Reviewed by Miss Shayne

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Miss Shayne returns this week with a new review of a YA title!

“This has a bizarre cover,” I thought as I looked for something to read before I got my hands on the next book in the series I am currently invested in. As I paged through this book, I thought, “it doesn’t look like a long read, either. Lemme check it out.” Let this be a warning to book cover-judgers everywhere: don’t make the same mistake I did!

This story is about the complicated relationship between Wink, Poppy, and Midnight. They are all connected somehow, whether they show it or not. Wink is the imaginative girl who lives beside Midnight. Midnight is the awkward boy who is quiet and analytical. Poppy is the pretty blonde bully. Their lives converge, and their interactions lead up to an event that alters the lives of all three and uncovers some truths in the process.

What I like about this book was how introspective the characters are. Poppy in particular realizes the error of her ways and goes off to be happy by herself. Midnight learns that he shouldn’t let other people take advantage of him as often as he does. Wink learns that it is easy to manipulate people in order to entertain herself. Though I found that aspect of the book wholesome, it had many problems.

To me, characters that have their own personalities, mannerisms, and speech patterns make a good story. The characters in this story were too similar to each other. They started out different, each character with their own personality and mannerisms in their speech, but eventually they all sounded the same. They adopted one another’s speech patterns and habits and started to reference too many books that either didn’t exist or I haven’t read. I understand that another sign of a good story is characters that develop, but these characters just became the same.

I kept coming up with acceptable excuses for the characters’ behaviors; excuses that would make the book worth reading. First I thought “okay, something supernatural is going on here. I can get into that.” But that wasn’t it. Next I thought, “oh boy! This is great! This chick has a mental illness! I love reading about that!” But she didn’t. She was crazy, yes, but not mentally ill. Bummer.  She was simply too imaginative at an age where I found it to be odd. I ran out of excuses for the characters and decided to be disappointed instead.

I had a hard time figuring out what Wink’s motivation was. She didn’t have a good one. Maybe she wanted to bring a story to life? This seems like a very juvenile thing to do, but this teenager decided this would be her source of entertainment. Also, she is not credible. She seems innocent, the girl too invested in fairy tales, but she has a master plan; one that I had to read the whole book to uncover. And it wasn’t worth it.

The synopsis had a lot of promise as well. Too bad it had nothing to do with the story. It sounded like all of the events that transpired were leading up to a life-changing event, but nothing too noteworthy happened. This book was anticlimactic. However, I can understand how this story could appeal to someone. There were entertaining elements to it, but I don’t think I’ll be reading it again.

--Reviewed by Miss Shayne

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Notorious RBG: The life and times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

The book Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik is the literary extension of the internet sensation #NotoriousRBG that celebrates Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.  The internet movement was spawned by Ginsburg's impassioned dissents that followed the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and left Ginsburg as the sole female justice until the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  There's a tumblr, merchandise, hashtags across multiple social media platforms, and now a book.  

Carmon and Knizhnik put forth a well researched book that includes photographs and interviews with Ginsburg herself as well as her family and friends.  In addition to following Ginsburg's life, the book also illuminates the justice's career, including her work with the ACLU prior to her appointments to the D.C. circuit Court of Appeals and subsequently the U.S. Supreme Court.  Excerpts from several opinions and dissents written by Ginsburg are featured with commentary provided by legal experts.

This is an off beat, highly readable, hard to put down biography and account of Ginsburg's life and professional career.  In addition to the fascinating details of Ginsburg's biography and career, insight into the inner workings and personal dynamics of the Supreme Court, and a portrait of the loving partnership between Ginsburg and her beloved, late husband are also provided.  I highly recommend you check out this book from your library--you won't regret it.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reader, I Married Him edited by Tracy Chevalier

I mentioned this short story collection in my previous review of Fall of Poppies.  Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre is edited by Tracy Chevalier and features stories written by many of today's popular authors, such as Audrey Niffenegger, Francine Prose, Emma Donoghue, and others.  All of the stories are inspired by the British classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, specifically by one of the most famous lines in English literature: "reader, I married him."  While most of the authors have read Jane Eyre, at least one or two had never read the novel before penning the short story for this collection, which I thought was interesting.

I have also never read Jane Eyre; however, I have seen the 2011 adaptation that starred Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender (you know, because British period drama).  I'm not as familiar with the story as I am with Jane Austen's novels (via the film adaptations; we all know I'm a Jane Austen fan), but I thought I would like it because British period drama.  But I didn't.  I think if the stories had been inspired by Jane Austen or one of her works, I would have been all over it.  Many of them just didn't hold my attention--and some I just skipped over.

If you've read and enjoyed Jane Eyre, I think you might enjoy this short story collection.  I think you would probably get more out of the collection than I did.  Having never read Jane Eyre and only viewed the adaptation once, I wasn't that familiar with the story, and I felt that I may have been missing a lot in the short stories.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie