Tuesday, September 21, 2021

FX's Reservation Dogs is well worth your time


Photo courtesy of FX and Hulu

Reservation Dogs on FX and Hulu

I'm going to change things up and give you my review of a TV series instead of a book, because I'm really enjoying this one. I seem to be hitting on a lot of content with Native American themes lately. This isn't by design. Creative content crosses my path, and I latch onto what sounds interesting, and modern stories from a Native American perspective are long overdue. Maybe you think this white girl with a 94% Northern/Western European core of DNA has no business sharing her opinions on books and TV shows about the Native American experience, but that 1% Indigenous thread inside of her is itching to be heard.

That thread came from my grandmother who came to this country at the age of 2 and was quickly abandoned by her American father while the system deemed her Puerto Rican mother fit for a sanitarium. That thread of Spanish and Indigenous culture was lost for my grandmother who was adopted and raised by New York farmers with a German surname. As is the case for many Native Americans living today. Their culture, their history, is constantly being eroded, ignored, left behind. And that sucks.

Enter Reservation Dogs. A half hour dramedy about a group of Res kids in their teens, on the verge of adulthood, who are trying to escape the dead end prison that reservation life means to them. Their goal is California. But can they do it. Can they get there without losing the value that is unique to their culture, their heritage. This is a show about the struggle with identity that a Native American kid faces--where do we fit in, and how much of our ancestral history should define us.

Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo are the heads of this creative effort labeled as a comedy, but don't expect Waititi's signature brand of comedy here. The laughs are often bittersweet. There is a deeper melancholy to it all, one that is connected to an event that happened a year prior to where the four main characters are at the start of the show. The event is the reason why these four kids, Elora, Bear, Cheese and Willie Jack want to escape reservation life, and that event is tragic. It's a reflection of how much living on the reservation feels like a dead end for them.

Not to worry, because the adults surrounding these kids may seem like complete and utter losers--until they're not. And that's when the sweet of these bittersweet episodes kicks in. Guest and recurring performances by some familiar faces are stellar. Season 1 episode 5, Come And Get Your Love, is the standout for me after viewing the first 7 episodes. Harjo, who has been the predominant writer of the series to this point, pairs the young character Cheese (Lane Factor) with Big (Zahn McClarnon), a reservation patrolman who isn't taken seriously by the "real cops" of Eastern Oklahoma, or even the residents of the reservation for that matter. But Big takes himself seriously, and it's all because of a special spirit whose presence shaped his seemingly meager destiny when he was a child. Cheese isn't initially thrilled about the opportunity to skip school to join Big on a ride along. He doesn't have much respect for Big. But that changes as nuggets of his backstory unfold.

These kids, who are the main characters, are at a serious cultural crossroad in their lives, and Harjo navigates us through their individual journies with honesty, sadness and humor. So check it out! I’m glad I did.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones—Review


What can I say about My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones. It's a mess. Why give it 5 stars then, you say? Because it's a mess as seen through the lens of a very messed up main character, Jade Daniels, and that messed up, hyperactive, suicidal point of view rings true. Jade's character has some major issues, and a mind that is all over the place as she tries to navigate the hell that is her life. There’s a good chance that you won’t like her from the start, but cut her some slack. She really deserves it.

Jade isn’t even her real name, but it suits her because she’s become so jaded by the people in her life, that her only outlet for pleasure is horror movies. Slashers in particular. And this is where Jade proves that she has a brilliant mind, something to offer the world, if the world wasn’t so cruel. She buries herself so deep in slasher movie lore that, when things start to go awry in her small and picturesque Idaho town, she’s the only one who sees it coming. Because she knows how slashers work. And does that scare her? No. That excites her because she has nothing to really live for, except in terms of a slasher movie, and what a way for her to go out. For her, it’s ending on a high note.

Jade will come to that end with a shocking revelation, something that she refuses to admit to herself from the start. She can never be the final girl in this nightmare come true for a very specific reason. But she can play her part, and she struggles with that.

Of course, if you’re a true horror movie aficionado, you’re in for a treat. I consider myself a mid level horror aficionado—I remember writing a paper in my college days about the importance of horror films as social commentary, so when Jade writes extra credit homework for her history teacher doing essentially the same, I could really relate. Also, Jaws and The Shining are two iconic movies that shaped my own movie viewing tastes in a big way. What I’m getting to is that it doesn’t hurt to be a horror movie fan on some level. Or even an 80’s movie fan. I felt like there were a few nods to movies like The Breakfast Club and Heathers too.

I highly recommend this book. The only dissatisfaction I have is with its symbolic end that I wish had more closure regarding Jade and the mother who essentially abandoned her. The metaphor is clearly apparent but it doesn’t quite reflect how it turned out for Jade.

Thank you, NetGalley and Gallery Books for the opportunity to read this ARC.

You can find My Heart is a Chainsaw wherever books and ebooks are sold.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Book Review: Keyport Cthulhu, by Armand Rosamilia, Chuck Buda and Katilynn Rosamilia

For fans of Lovecraft inspired stories

Keyport CthulhuKeyport Cthulhu by Armand Rosamilia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nice little addition for anyone fond of Lovecraft inspired stories

This was a great read, especially for a .99 cent ebook. It’s a series of short stories about, as the title says, Cthulhu, if he resided off the coast of Keyport NJ. 

I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the homage. Each short story had its own tone, from children’s story (yes, you read that right) to steampunk, to something in the realm of hard boiled detective with a hint of Burroughs. 

I have to be honest, though and mention that I felt the main story (the meat of the collection and maybe long enough to be considered a novella) felt incomplete. I was hoping for a more solid end to that one before I was thrown into the next chapter, which wasn’t a chapter but a new short story.

As a whole, though this collection of Cthulhu inspired stories was a fun read. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Book Review: The Institute -- Stephen King

First of all, it doesn't really matter what I have to say about Stephen King's novel, The Institute. King is an established author with an established following. Some consider him to be the voice of Modern American horror. This book was destined for the bestseller lists before it was a twinkle in Mr. King's eye.

And I'm a fan. I grew up on Stephen King. His work influenced my own work in that I found a passion to write about, well...horrible things. But here I am, a huge fan of King's early works, that have gone on to become iconic horror movies, and I'm only giving The Institute a 3--okay, 3.5 but not quite a 4.

I like it. It was a fine story. Some reviewers have--and will want to make comparisons to the TV series Stranger Things, but let's face it. Stranger Things is a homage to King's work, so you can't really go about saying, "Hey, he's just trying to ride the coat tails of Stranger Things with this one."

What I am going to do is categorize this story as Mainstream Horror. There are truly better horror stories out there right now with a much harder edge to them. I've reviewed a few. And as mainstream horror that will appeal to the masses, this book is fine. It's about a kid with special powers who gets abducted by a secret government organization, to be referred to as The Institute, then is forced to undergo horrible experimentations in order to be used for global political reasons. There are other kids forced to undergo the same treatment, but our MC Luke has a goal--to find a way out.

I admire King's underlying message here--that kids are our future and we need to trust their capacity to change the world for the better on their own, not use and abuse them because of our own fears. Something like that. It's a great theme.

But too much of the story felt too familiar to me, with King relying on tropes and characterizations that are so common in his older works that here they feel like a recycling of old material. I enjoyed reading it. If you're a sporadic reader of King's work, you might enjoy it too. But I wasn't riveted. Like I mentioned, this horror story with scifi elements is on the mild side of the horror salsa spectrum.

You can find a copy of Stephen King's The Institute pretty much wherever books are sold.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Something to Tweet About!


The Chain:Francisco Pizarro is a pilot episode for a historical fiction drama. That's all. That's the tweet. Thank you, Los Angeles International Screenplay Awards!