Tag Archive | book review

Book Review: The Good Women of China by Xinrin

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.49.29 AMThe Good Women of China by Xinran

Rating 4/5 stars

I read a different book by Xinran earlier this year–Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother–that ripped my heart out and left me sobbing at various points.  I approached this book with caution because of that.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother tells one woman’s story per chapter.  Eventually, so does The Good Women of China.  However, the start is much slower, and less engaging.  I picked up and put this one down a few times, easily distracted by other books.  However, once I got to roughly 1/3 of the way through the book, I was sucked in and found myself crying time and time again.

Xinran was, for a time, a presenter of a highly popular radio show in China in the 80’s and early 90’s called “Whispers on the Night Breeze” which focused on the stories of everyday women (or rather, that is what it evolved into).  This is the source material for this book and others.  The stories she shares are most often those of her generation and that of her mothers–the generation that were children during the cultural revolution, and that of the mothers of those children.

My bachelor’s degree is in History.  I have a deep attachment to learning about race, class and gender history.  The thing about studying women’s history, though, is that for every fascinating and empowering story about women, there is often a much larger number of truly depressing stories.

One of the most common experiences that occurs in women’s history, and in this book, is that of rape.  To the point where I would firmly caution that this book needs a trigger warning for rape.  Girls are raped by their fathers.  Girls are raped in the cause of “re-educating” them during the Cultural Revolution.  Girls are raped in the chaos after an earthquake.  Girls who wish for death after rape, who are institutionalized, whose mothers commit suicide after they are raped. 

It is also the story of how a moment of deep change–the Cultural Revolution–impacted not just the wealthy or the well born, but the every day woman as well.  These are stories we almost never hear.  The Japanese expatriate who was in China to teach at a university, and is jailed as a counter-revolutionary.  The daughter of wealthy capitalists who gets to her family’s home too late–they have fled to Taiwan–and has to pose as the illegitimate daughter of her aunt, hoping that the truth will never be revealed.  The women who began an orphanage after their own children were killed by an earthquake–an earthquake the government didn’t find out about for weeks because there was no modern means of communication in the impoverished mountain villages.  A woman who was separated from her love by duty to the party, only to find him again 40 years later—and that he’d married after being told that she was dead.  Weaved throughout the other stories is Xinran’s.  Her parents were accused of being counter-revolutionary, and she and her brother were brought up by the party.  Peasant children were taught to insult them, and treat them as subhuman.  Her deeply complicated relationship with her parents, and with her own past is shown as the book progresses.

We also see Xinran’s growing dissatisfaction with trying to toe the party line as a media representative.  Stories must be edited, others not told (no need to embarrass the party with a story about highly educated women being given to party elite as new wives, or the village wives they left behind).

As an American, I learned very little modern era Asian History in any of my classes.  I was vaguely aware of how Mao had gained power, but I had no context for what that looked like for a woman living in China.  Xinran lends us those voices, which when paired with other resources can help paint a more complete pictures of the experience.

If you have an interest in Asian History, in women’s history, or in women’s studies, this book is definitely one you should make time to read.  But allow yourself to read as fast (can’t put it down) or as slow (too emotional, need a break) as you need.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy read.

Book Review: Dark Witch (Cousins O’Dwyer #1) by Nora Roberts

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.16.42 PMDark Witch by Nora Roberts (Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy #1)

4/5 stars

Nora Roberts has written over 200 books.  I have read at least 100 of those.  I suspect that if I were to sit down with a list and start checking off titles, it’s closer to 150 or more.  One of my closest friends, Brandy, introduced me to Roberts in 1996 with the Dream Trilogy (still a favorite today, if a bit dated).  I immediately devoured as much of her back catalog as I could get my hands on, and read every new release and out of stock re-release for the next 10 or so years.

I’m still a huge fan of her “in death” series written as JD Robb, and read those the day/week they are released.  However, over the past five to eight years, I’ve hit a wall with Roberts.  Her work is still solid…it’s just that as a fan of her work for almost (gulp) two decades it’s also predictable.

While I’m not gasping in shock over a plot twist, Roberts does still pull off an enjoyable read.

While Roberts typically opens a paranormal with a glimpse into the mythology she’s weaving, Dark Witch breaks that with an extended view (2 chapters) into the origins of the Dark Witch and why we’re now dealing with a trio rather than a single descendant of Sorcha.  Part of this is because she’s setting up a fairly  complex backstory between Sorcha (and her descendents) and Cabhan (and his), but it also makes for a nice change of pace.

We then flip forward to modern day Ireland, where Iona-our token American-has arrived in Ireland.  One of the unique twists on this series is that while Iona is new to her powers, she’s known the family legends her entire life.  There is no shocking reveal.  More refreshing is that the entire town knows–there’s no need for subterfuge amongst the magick working characters and the non magickal characters (to use Robert’s preferred spelling).  Because there isn’t, it’s also not a major plot point either way and therefore is easily dispensed with.

Iona is welcomed into the family by her cousins Branna and Connor.  She secures a job at a local stable headed by her assigned love interest Boyle.  The stable is owned by Branna’s (obvious) former lover Fin.  Connor’s (obvious) eventual love interest Meara also works there.

While the who’s going to end up with who is obvious, I enjoyed the path of seeing how Iona and Boyle would end up together, what would push them apart and so forth. I get the feeling that Roberts might well have pushed the resolution of the couple back into the second book, but couldn’t because of genre conventions and that the next book won’t be telling the Iona/Boyle story.  Without going into spoilers, I will say that the wrap of the I/B relationship was rushed and bit dissatisfying.

There is no hint at the Connor/Meara relationship in this book, but without reading it, I can tell you that in book 2 there will be a reveal that at least one of them has pined for the other and the other will be shocked by it.  I will be less interested in this relationship than the other two.  This is a pattern of her trilogies and I know what I’m in for.

Most interesting by far, and why she’s also saving it for book 3 (note, I haven’t actually read the flap copy or anything relating to the other two books, I just know the Roberts pattern) is the Branna/Fin relationship.  They are the former lovers who have broken it off.  That reason is that just as I/C/B are Sorcha’s descendents, Fin is Cabhan’s descendent–something he didn’t find out until after they were a couple.  He has chosen to align himself with the O’Dwyer cousins, but he and Branna are not buddies, and they’re not over one another.  His choice to align with the good side rather than the bad feels like a new (or newer) plot point for her, and one I appreciated.

The pacing of the book is fairly solid.  I didn’t get distracted by other books in my reading queue.  However, I didn’t feel the need to stay up half the night to finish it, either.  Apart from the rushed ending with regards to the I/B romantic relationship, I was happy with the backstory we’ve gotten in this books, the growing friendship/familial relationships that grew in this books and where the plot will go over the next two books.  I’m not running out to read book #2 before I read anything else, and there’s no rush–book #3 isn’t out until Nov 2014–but I’ll buy it and keep it on my kindle as my next “palate cleanser” book.

If you’re an established Roberts fan, you’ll find it fairly standard Roberts paranormal fare.  Worth noting–as with anytime Roberts feels compelled to write “spells” you will sigh at the often bad rhymes.  It’s not her strong point.

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The bigger question is what does this book/trilogy have to offer someone new to the genre/new to Roberts?

Do you like paranormals?  Do you enjoy witches and magick being thrown about not just in a fantasy/historical setting but in modern day Ireland?  If not, move along.

The reasons that I like Roberts as a Romance novelist are that she writes good characters.  She doesn’t write one dimensional stock characters (although read enough work and you do see patterns).  Her women are complex, and they are active participants in the story and in their love life.  Iona goes over Boyle, rather than wait for him to come a knocking and notice her.  Obviously this is a romance book, but the relationship between I/B is A plot rather than the entirety of the plot.  The paranormal side isn’t just filler–it’s a genuinely interesting story on its own.

Roberts takes the time to research to the point where she can write convincing jewel thieves (Honest Illusions among others), cattle ranchers (Montana Sky), homicide police officers (In Death series of 30+ books and others) or a horse riding instructor (as in this book).  I appreciate that Roberts doesn’t phone it in.

The sex scenes are okay.  I’m not the best barometer because as an erotica author, I tend to read (and write) far more explicit scenes.  That said, they’re not boring or trite either.

I don’t know that this is the first Roberts book I’d hand a new reader of hers, but that’s about personal bias rather than the quality of this book versus another. For the record, my favorites include the Dream Trilogy, The McKade Brothers, The Quinn Brothers, The MacGregor Family, and the In Death series.  Individual title recommendations are Honest Illusions and Sweet Revenge (incidentally both feature jewel thieves).

Book Review: Cast Member Confidential by Chris Mitchell

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.51.36 PMCast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir by Chris Mitchell

Rating 3/5 stars for the casual reader

1/5 for those Disney fans who don’t want to sully the brand

5/5 for those who enjoy the peek behind the mask

Last week when I reviewed Spinning Disney’s World, I promised that we’d get to the memoir with sex on property, hijinks and a very different view of life under The Mouse from Ridgeway’s rarefied PR office.  This is a memoir that will give you that peek. There are a few others, but this was the most enjoyable.

Just as the reader has to keep in mind that Ridgeway was intent on keeping both the man and the brand Snow White (sorry, I had to), it is worth noting that Mitchell defines himself as anti-establishment.  At times he tries a bit too hard to convince us of that fact.  To his credit, Mitchell seems far more aware of his bias than Ridgeway, and he does make fairly self aware statements throughout the book to that effect.

One of the things that made Spinning Disney’s World such a tough review was the lack of a narrative.  Mitchell does us the favor of both giving us a sequential narrative, and one with a central theme.  After his mother’s cancer diagnosis (and his parent’s attempt to hide it from him–he finds out from his older brother) he effectively decides to run away to Disney and hide in the magic, playing Peter Pan/Lost Boy in the Magic Kingdom.

Nobody has every died at Disney World (again, no page #’s, so I’ll cite percentages throughout the review–2%)

Mitchell uses this piece of Disney lore as a framing device at both the opening and close of the book.  At the start of the book, he’s told that bit of lore by Nick Elliot–Former X Games Champion turned skateboarding monkey on the Tarzan float in a WDW parade.  (I’ll address that bit of lore at the end of the review)

The narrative shifts to Mitchell’s personal life a short time later–within a very short period of time he is fired from his job, his girlfriend dumps him for a friend, and his brother tells him that their mother has cancer but that he can’t tell her that he knows.  Mitchell’s reaction to all of this is to run away to Disney World to put his professional sports photography skills to use….as one of those guys taking pictures of families with Disney Characters.

“Your job will be to work with the characters.  You’ll take pictures of Minnie and Mickey and Winne the Pooh and Tigger and anybody else our beloved guests wish to meet.  And you’ll try to capture a moment on their faces that doesn’t look like desperate misery, and then you’ll sell the photos back to them at a very reasonable price” (said to Mitchell by his Boss Orville 7%)

Mitchell begins his time at Disney trying to find “The Magic.”  He submits to a haircut approved by “The Disney Look” employee handbook.  He removes piercings.  He shaves.  He tucks in his uniform shirt, and leaves the chain wallet and sunglasses at home (or at least in his employee locker).  He learns to identify Cast Members by their uniforms (photographers like himself wear Khaki uniforms in the Animal Kingdom, for example).  He learns the “Seven Guest Service Guidelines,” such as “(4) If you sense that a guest is a having a less-than-Magical moment, provide immediate recovery any way you can.”

The Never Never Land that Mitchell was seeking when he ran away to Disney does seem to exist.  Or, at least, it is possible to exist in a Disney bubble.  Rather than debate the 2000 election, Cast Members were arguing  passionately over whether Maria in “The Sound of Music” or Mary in “Mary Poppins” was Julie Andrew’s greatest role. (22%)

However, he still doesn’t get off to the best start.  He likes to make snarky comments, only to realize too late that (at this point in the book) the people he’s making them to, and the context in which he’s making them get an icy reception.  You shouldn’t really crack jokes about Mickey getting “a call from his Hollywood agent who just cast him in a movie with Jessica Rabbit” to someone who uses phrases like “oh my ears and whiskers” as part of their everyday conversation.(10%)  Don’t tell a woman who took a job as Pocahontas after finding out she can’t have kids as a way to be a special part of kid’s lives  that “Children are idiots.” (11%)  Even when you just saw someone kick Mickey as hard as they can, you don’t ask that person if they’re okay by their “real” name (21%)

Eventually though, he begins to integrate, then gets a bit too comfortable.  Backsliding begins with snacking on property (38%).  Temptation comes knocking when he begins to do “out of character” photography–Goofy blowing a smoke ring (39%), Mickey picking Minnie’s Nose (39%), Chip and Dale in a 69 (42%) until Mickey Flashing Tit gets the girl in question fired–the tit in question has a very individual tattoo.(73%) .  He has sex on property with a girl who plays Chip on a bunch of boxes of Disney t-shirts backstage at Epcot (41%).

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.34.18 AMA sample of “out of character” photography (found via google/reddit)

Mitchell’s world is populated by characters as colorful as any dreamed up by Disney, although they are hardly what Walt had in mind.

  • Brady is a character actor–Mike Wazowski, Pooh and Roger Rabbit.  Offstage, he’s a bit of a sociopath.  Eventually Brady will rope Mitchell into kidnapping a dog (30%) and taking “medication” to Cuba (81%).  But first, Brady will give Mitchell his first peek into the dark side of working for Disney–an after hours party at an apartment complexes (referred to as ‘the Disney ghetto”) owned by Disney where cast members live.  The party as described by Mitchell is one party Alice in Wonderland esque drug fantasy and one part orgy drenched in alcohol.  (15%)  Brady also becomes Mitchell’s tour guide and translator in the backstage rules and workings of the parks.
  • Johnny works in PR.  A NASCAR and beer enthusiast, Mitchell answers an ad on a cast member bulletin board to become his roommate. (22%)  He’s also a chickenhawk–an older gay man who loves a different younger man every week. (38%)  By the end of the book, he’s trying to become the next Lou Pearlman by creating his own gay-themed Boy band called “Boy Banned” (86%).
  • When Mitchell first meets Calico (50%) she is playing Ariel.  Orville (his boss) tries to warn Mitchell off of her, but he doesn’t listen.  At first there’s no discernable reason why.  She seems like a sweet vegetarian who cries over her Wish kids and wants to be a wedding planner.  Then she starts speaking in a British accent, eating meat and missing dates when she’s cast as Cruella DeVille. (80%)  She lies to Mitchell, claiming she’s been diagnosed with cancer.  He overcompensates, doing for her what his mom won’t let him do as he’s not even supposed to know about his mother’s diagnosis. This all culminates in Mitchell catching her cheating on him with another cast member, telling her sexual partner “You’re a miserable, naughty little puppy!” in her fake British acent.  (93%)

Rather than evoke “true patriot” or “great man” Walt Disney narrative used by Ridgeway, Mitchell says that Walt was–

A product of Midwest values and Industrial Revolution savvy, he learned how to make money the old-fashioned way: from children. (24%)

If you are looking for behind the scenes dirt, there’s plenty dished

  • I used to think that characters were immune to the smells of the outisde world, but, in fact, it was exactly the opposite.  Any scent that drifted into the head stayed i the head: cigarette smoke, perfume, garlic breath.  Passing gas inside a costume was to be avoided at all costs.  The stench was trapped inside the body untilt he character bent down to hug a child, then blew out the only opening in the suit–the mouth.  Within a week, I’d lost count of the number of times I heard a child turn to his parents and say, ‘Eew, Pluto has doggie breath!'” (25%)
  • Cast Members sitting around coming up with Disney themed porn titles (34%)
  • Sex on Property (mentioned starting at 40% and then throughout the book from there)  I used to work at the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum in Boston in the late 90’s and it seemed that everyone hooked up somewhere on property at least once.  I never had sex on property–but I did know every inch of space that the cameras didn’t see.  Do I think a ton of 20 something Disney employees are going to hook up on property?  Abso-fucking-lutely–pun intended.

Just as Mitchell begins his memoir with the rumor that no one has ever died on property, at the 91% mark, he sees an older employee’s heart give out.  He’s reprimanded for ruining people’s “magical experience” on property because kids saw Mitchell administer CPR.  He gets into a massive fight with his manager and quits/is fired.  After attending the funeral of his fellow cast member, Mitchell is having brunch with  two fellow employees and the following conversation happens.

“….I found this amazing, magical place where nobody ever dies, like the Bermuda Triangle, only in a good way, and I actually started to believe that I could settle down here.  I honestly thought I had it in me to be a lifer.” (Mitchell)

Marco looked at me, puzzled.  “What are you talking about?  People die at Disney World all the time.”

I shook my head.  “There’s never been a death at Disney World.  Even Walter.  The paper reported he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.”

Marco and Orville exchanged a look.  Orville took a deep breath before he spoke.  “Nobody’s ever been pronounced dead on Disney property because that’s Disney’s policy.  If somebody passes away at one of the parks, the body gets loaded into the alpha unit and pronounced dead in transit.”….”Hey, don’t look so sad.  I didn’t mean to upset you.”

In reality, I wasn’t at all that surprised.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I knew that was the case the whole time. What really threw me was my apparently innate talent to deceive myself into believing the most absurd fantasies: that I could escape reality in an amusement park, that I could continue to live a life unexamined. …. I ran away from my mom when she needed my support the most.  I was a shallow, self-centered bastard. (95%)

Mitchell drives back to California, shedding his Disney self as he goes–changing his ring tone, re-inserting his labret piercing, and so forth.  He finds out his mom is now in remission.  The book fades to black with the family watching, and him falling asleep to Disney’s Peter Pan. (100%)

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.48.48 AM

Makes for a cohesive, tight, and convenient narrative, doesn’t it?  Boy loses girl and job, finds out Mom is sick, and runs away to Disney World.  Boy loses job and girl friend,  runs back to CA, and mom is well.  The “no one dies on property” rumor is ash is just one more piece of Disney misdirection to bookend the narrative.  All very slick.  Too slick for me, as a critical reader, to take at face value.

Let’s start with that whole “no on ever dies on property” rumor.  According to snopes, it is false.  But does that mean that situations like the one described don’t happen?  Probably not–it wouldn’t shock me that in general the policy is to have the person declared DOA at the hospital, but it isn’t true that it never happens.

Like Ridgeway, Mitchell takes his artistic license too far at times in a way that calls everything into question.  Do I buy that the greeter died on property but got a DOA at the hospital–maybe.  Do I buy that Calico was a bit method?  Sure.  The extent to which Mitchell describes, though?  Especially given the perfection of the timing for everything to fall apart at the precisely correct moment?  Smacks of artistic license.  It’s all a bit too perfectly timed in an After School Special  “Very Important Lesson” kind of way.

Exactly how much exaggeration is going on?  How much of an axe does Mitchell have to grind?  Hard to know.

Both of the Disney books are skewed.  Mitchell is the E True Hollywood Story to Ridgeway’s Travel Channel documentary, so to speak.  When put head to head, which you’ll like better is up for grabs depending on what kind of mood you’re in.

Book Review: The Three Little Pigs by Susanna Davidson (Georgien Overwater, illustrator)

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 7.59.36 PMThe Three Little Pigs by Susanna Davidson, Georgien Overwater (illustrator)

Rating: 3/5 from Elanor

Here is Elanor’s second book review.  Please remember that she is only five, and that she’s new to summarizing and presenting material.

In the end, the only real differences betwixt versions of The Three Little Pigs is how it ends.  For parents who are worried about “scary ending” you should know that this is one of the versions where the wolf climbs on top of the brick house and then comes down the chimney.  The Pigs have boiling water ready to go and have some Wolf Soup.  Or, as we say in my household–bad choice, bad consequence.

We got our copy of the book as part of a 50 book set from Usborne–all soft cover copies of stories from The Three Little Pigs to The Wizard of Oz.  I don’t know that I would make much of an effort to find a specific edition of The Three Little Pigs as a parent, but this is a reasonably good version.

Book Review: Spinning Disney’s World by Charles Ridgeway

This week I’m going to explore two very different books about the same subject–working for Disney.  Today we’ll discuss a memoir from a former PR executive who was with Disney from the early days of Disneyland through the preparations for Hong Kong Disney.  Later this week I’ll review a memoir by a former cast member who will paint a very different picture of what it’s like to work for The Mouse.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 9.52.14 AM

Spinning Disney’s World: Memories of a Magic Kingdom Press Agent by Charles Ridgeway

Rating 4/5 for Disney fans

When reading a memoir like this, it’s important to remember the author’s bias and adjust your expectations accordingly.  Ridgeway is a former press agent for Disney, thus it’s unrealistic to go into the book expecting dirt.  However, if you begin the book imagining that your uncle is going to sit down and spin you folksy stories about the past, then you’ll enjoy the next 23 chapters.

Ridgeway doesn’t tell his story sequentially–it often feels like he’s just writing his stream of consciousness.  One minute he’s talking about Nixon dedicating the monorail, then he talks about why he dislikes the term “amusement park,” he goes forward in time to talk about trash collection strategies, then we are given this tidbit–

Because at ground level the store fronts along Main Street U.S.A. took a daily beating from guests – little nicks and scratches – while the upper level stayed in good shape for a couple of years at least, the painters had a set of colors for the lower half that matched the upper half after it had faded for a year. (12%–sorry, my kindle edition doesn’t give me page numbers, so I’ll note the percentage point where I found the quote)

Then we’re back to trash collection followed by crowd control techniques.

It may sound like a jumbled mess, but it actually works quite well.  Ridgeway genuinely loves his subject material and it shows. Even when he talks about things like how changes in media (the invention of satellites, the internet, etc) have changed how PR works at Disney he’s as enthusiastic as a kid at Christmas, which makes what might otherwise be boring seem like an interesting tidbit of knowledge.

Ridgeway was part of the company when Timex, who made the Disney themed kid watches for Disneyland, turned the company down cold at the idea of making Disney watches for adults.  Timex didn’t think they would be able to sell any, and refused.  They allowed the company to approach other watchmakers.  When Hamilton agreed to make them, and to sell them for what was an absurdly high price of 60 USD….they were sold out before they got to Disneyland.  Ridgeway notes he couldn’t manage to purchase one until the fifth shipment! (21%)

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 12.19.53 AMcurrent watch on sale–not the one he mentions.

One of the pitfalls of life as a Disney press agent was managing expectations.  The opening of Disneyworld was one such example…

One paper predicted twenty-five thousand people for opening day.  We had figured about ten thousand, but were not making any predictions publicly.  We had scheduled it in what is traditonally the lightest vacation month of the year, on a Friday, the lightest day of the week.  But we were really only guessing.

Another paper said fifty thousand, another one hundred thousand.  Finally, Cocoa Today, being used to estimating crowds for the launches at Cape Canaveral, predicted two hundred thousand people.  To make it worse, a veteran Reuters correspondent at the Cape picked up the story and moved it on her wire.  Somehow a zero got added in transmission and all over Europe they read were were expecting two million people for the opening.

At the close of the day, Jack Lindquist and Disney President Donn Tatum were on hand on the balcony at the Polynesian atrium for a press conference to sum up the opening.  Attendance, they reported was about ten thousand.  (I think they counted a few of those cast members who were sailing around the lagoon in Sun Fish sailboats to make the place look alive.)

“That is what we expected,” they said.  But no one there believed them.  The New York Times among others reported, “Disappointing opening.” (44-45%)

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 12.34.34 AM
My favorite parts of the books were the back stories to iconic Disneyana like the famous “What’s next?” commercial.  Ridgeway recounts the genesis, crediting Michael Eisner’s wife, Jane.

(During dinner with pilots who had just gained fame for setting a record for navigating the world without stopping)

In casual conversation, Jane asked, “Now that you have been around the world, what are you going to do next.”

Jokingly the pilot replied, “We’re going to Disneyland.”  And there it was!

“What a great idea for a Disney commercial,” was Jane’s automatic reaction.

…. (this was 2 weeks before superbowl 21)…

The NFL agreed immediately to support the idea of having the hero of the game participate.  Appearance fees were arranged with likely candidates from the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos.  NFL films agreed to supply game footage within an hour of the end of the game in the Rose Bowl.

Some might have been content to tape a commercial to run a week or a month later-not Michael.  He wanted it on air the next day.

…..

With an ENG camera crew in tow, she (Maureen O’Donnell) stood posed on the sidelines, barely waiting until the final whistle to dash onto the field, elbowing her way through fans and interview-hungry tv newsmen to grab New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms by the jersey.

Edited in later, the booming voice of an announcer shouts over the screaming uproar of a just-finished championship game ‘Phil Simms, now that you have won the Super Bowl, waht are you going to do next?’  Phil had just two lines to record.

“I’m going to Disney World!” and “I’m going to Disneyland!”

One was for the East Coast and one was for the West Coast. (86%)

2009 Superbowl winner ad

Uncle Charlie has stories about what it was like to work for Walt Disney (all of which burnish Disney’s halo).

Never a backslapper, Walt didn’t run around praising people for good work.  He expected it.  But one nod of approval or a smile from Walt was enough to keep his creative people enthused for days. (20%)

Those press lunches were where I really got to know Walt’s personality.  He was always at his best with the press.  We posed the group for pictures.  Walt, as usual, stood on tiptoes so he would look a little taller in comparison to tall people like the Fort Lauderdale editor, Fred Pettijohn.  (30%)

When it opened, Disneyland still had several unfinished attraction.  Asked when it would be finished, Walt replied, “Disneyland will never be completed.  It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” (98%)

In truth, Walt Disney was a fairly complex individual.  It is inconvenient to think of such a beloved American icon as a racist, for example…

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 10.42.57 PM

In her article “Fact-Checking the Age-Old Rumors of Walt Disney’s Dark Side,” Angela Dobbins says (among others)

The charge: Walt Disney was racist.
The evidence: These charges stem primarily from the use of racial stereotypes in Disney movies from the 40s: Dumbo‘s black crows; Fantasia’s black servant centaurette; and Song of the South, a movie so offensive that the Disney company will no longer let it be seen in public. Then there is Walt Disney’s own behavior: Gabler cites a meeting in which Disney referred to the Snow White dwarves as a “nigger pile” and another in which he used the term “pickaninny.” The book notes that Disney anticipated the Song of the South controversy and attempted to make it less racist with a rewrite and meeting with the NAACP. The meeting never happened, and the movie was released anyway. There was also some controversy about the company’s unwillingness to hire minorities at Disneyland.
Believability: Those are certainly not flattering facts, but they are facts.  (source)

One might argue that those are all period pieces, to which I’d respond that the modern era record isn’t fantastic, either.  The first princess of color was Pocahontas (1995), followed by Mulan (1998) and Tiana (2009)–a total of three protagonists of color.  All of these token princesses remain problematic when viewed through the lens of a historical/gender/race scholar.

It is also undeniable that the image Disney strives to recreate is that of a largely Rockwellian America–Middle/Upper Middle Class, White, Straight, Christian and Nuclear families.  Disneyland is, i many ways, the embodiment of that–Cast Member regulations are incredibly strict, and require that you look as straight laced and clean cut as possible (we’ll get to things like drunken cast member parties and sex on property tomorrow).  It should be unsurprising to a modern reader, then, to learn that Disney was a Republican (25%).

Ridgeway avoids these topics directly, but he does admit that

At the gate, Marketing Director Jack Lindquist looked over the crowd waiting at the fourteen turnstiles and picked the one that would turn for “First Visitor.”  His family would receive a guided tour, a night in the hotel and other favors, although that was not announced in advance.  By “pure coincidence” Jack picked the one where a family of five handsome blonde guests awaited, man, wife, and three beautiful children.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 10.32.27 AMWilliam Windsor Jr and family, the first visitors to Disneyland.  source

The man whose name is synonymous with wholesome family fare also “remained to the far right on the political spectrum, suspicious of foreigners, and unwilling to hire Jews or blacks in his company,” writes Stefan Kanfer in “Serious Business: The Art and Commerce of Animation in America from Betty Boop to Toy Story.” “More than once he announced his preference for animals over people, and called his time ‘the century of the Communist cutthroat, the fag and the whore.'”

Although in the 1930s Walt is said to have stood by an animator arrested on a charge of homosexuality, compassion vanished when the company’s public image was at stake. In 1963, Tommy Kirk — a child actor in such live-action Disney films as “Old Yeller,” “The Shaggy Dog” and “Swiss Family Robinson” — had his contract suspended “because of growing awareness of his homosexual orientation,” says Griffin, whose book relates the story based upon Kirk’s published comments. “Supposedly [Kirk] got too frisky with a boyfriend at a public pool in Los Angeles, and the other boy’s mother found out about it and went to Disney,” he says. “They called Tommy in and fired him.”

source

But who is the real Walt Disney?  The racist homophobe?  Or the “true patriot”(25%)  Ridgeway describes?  Before Ridgeway’s book, I hadn’t known that the Disney brothers almost went out of business during the WW2 era because they’d spent their time and effort making “training films” and “morale boosters” for the US military. (50%)  One of Walt’s biggest commitments was the Hall of Presidents, which still continues to add an animatronic figure with each new Commander in Chief.

Ridgeway’s best stories are the ones where he is telling his own story, rather than playing press agent for Walt Disney.  There’s enough unbiased detail in the book to convince me that Disney considered himself a patriot and that he genuinely wanted the company and the parks to do things in the service of America without the following anecdote about “America on Parade” in 1975

Among the invitees were Brady Black and his wife.  Brady, then editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, had been interested in Disney parks for a long time.  They brought their draft-age son along.  I knew they had been worried about the young man as had many of my friends with their sons.  He had been against the war and even threatened to burn his draft card.

The four of us watched the whole parade.  I wasn’t close enough to hear, but I saw her son lean over and speak into his mother’s ear.  A few minutes later she told me, with tears in her eyes, what he had said.

“Mom, this country isn’t so bad after all.

“I never thought he would say anything like that,” Mrs. Black said. (50%)

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 12.50.46 AM

These moments detract from Ridgeway’s story.  They take us out of his tales and remind us that he is a PR agent, and thus a master of the fine art of spin (it’s even in the title!).  These moments throw the rest of the content into question.  I would have preferred a more balanced perspective on Disney the man, or less mention of Disney the man and more of his stories about day to day life as a press agent.

Like I noted at the start–if you go into the novel with realistic expectations, it is an entertaining read for Disney fans.  Just read critically.

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitters Club #1 Kristy’s Great Idea Chapters 13-15 (book complete)

I’ve uncovered a great deal of nostalgia for these books among my peers, so when I decided to start the blog, I was thrilled for the excuse to reread and snark them.  I snark with love, friends–I’m still a total fangirl.  So let’s drop what we’re doing, put on our nostalgia goggles, and pretend it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 5:30pm.

Part 1–Chapters 1-3 can be found here

Part 2-Chapters 4-8 can be found here

Part 3-Chapters 9-12 can be found here

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 5.54.50 PMKristy’s Great Idea

by Ann M Martin (confirmed)

Chapter 13

Kristy has been condemned to a fate worse than death.  She is going to have to baby-sit Watson’s demon spawn kids because his ex-wife broke her ankle.  Her future husband is out of town, so Watson is going to go help her at the hospital and ensure she gets home safely.


Waston put his foot on the accelerator and vroomed us down the driveway.  I’ve never seen anyone in such a big hurry–and all over a broken ankle.  If Watson could have flown the car back to his house I think he would have.

Watson practically throws Kristy and the kids out of the car, shouting the bare bones rundown—feed them pbj, and if there’s an emergency to call Kristy’s mom.  I wonder if Mrs. Thomas has been getting to know Karen and Andrew at all, given that Watson is putting in major effort to get to know the Thomas kids?  No mention of Boo-Boo the hellcat.  I guess that means there won’t be a third runaway pet subplot?

I stood in Watson’s front yard and looked at Andrew and Karen.  Baby-sitting for them was the absolutely last thing I wanted to do.

I sighed heavily

Ugh, babysitting.  Amirite President of The Baby-sitters Club?

Karen tells Kristy that she wanted pop tarts for breakfast but her mom said no, even though her dad lets them have them and who knows what because Karen never shuts up or gets to the point.  I may have to put up with that from my own daughter, but I can skim over Karen’s babbling.

Karen ate a few bites of her sandwich, then suddenly looked at me very seriously, her brown eyes glistening.  “Is our Mommy all right?” she asked me.

Kristy is capable of being an asshat to Karen’s dad, but she can’t bring herself to be one to Karen.  So she reassures Karen, sharing the story of how she broke her ankle last summer.  Against her best efforts, and despite Karen’s nonstop babble, Kristy starts to warm to Karen.  Oh yeah, Andrew is in the room, too.

Then this happens…

“My daddy says he loves your mommy.”

“I guess,” I said uncomfortably.  I realized that Karen looked uncomfortable too.

“If they get married, your mommy will be my mommy.”

“Stepmommy, I mean stepmother.”  I corrected her.  “And guess what.  I’d be stepsister.  And yours, Andrew.”

“Yup,” said Andrew.

Karen thought for a while again. “I guess that would be okay,” she said at last.  And then, “Do you like being divorced, Kristy?”

“No particularly,” I said.

Karen confesses that she doesn’t want her mom to get remarried or her dad–that she just wants them to get together again.  Andrew starts crying (which I don’t entirely buy–three year old’s don’t really get stuff like that, and their memories are quite short–he likely doesn’t remember his parents ever being married, although I totally buy that Karen does).  Kristy distracts them with ice cream as a special “divorced kids’ treat.”

Karen and Kristy in particular bond (Andrew is wallpaper…he might as well not even be a character).  When Watson gets home, Karen says she’s okay if Kristy gets to be her stepsister.  Kristy feels shy (which is a nice moment for Kristy, and a bit of personal growth).  Andrew is napping so Kristy hangs out with Watson and Karen for an hour until he wakes up.  She finally ditches the angry tweenager vibe (at least for the moment).

That night Mrs. Thomas comes in and manages not to scream I TOLD YOU SO in Kristy’s face.  Kristy begins to ask the big questions–what will actually happen if her mom and Watson get married.

Apart from the small details, the second half of this chapter is a bit hard to snark because there’s genuine emotion and character development happening.  I’m sure that won’t last though…C’mon Martin, give us more secret diabetes and stereotypes.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 10.48.54 PMfrom the graphic novel

Chapter 14

Great news, guys!  Mary Anne has convinced her dad to let her half her baby-sitting money!  VICTORY!  (West Wing geeks–bring her the finest muffins and bagels in all the land for she drinks from the key of glory).  Claudia has explained to her parents that she isn’t an Asian stereotype, and is willing to give up some tv time to let her grandmother help her with Math homework.  Too bad she can’t get Martin to understand that stereotypes are useless.  Kristy asks Stacey how New York was, and Stacey says it was FINE, OKAY?

“You know, the strangest thing happened on Saturday morning,” I said.  As usual, I couldn’t help it.  I was dying to say what I knew.  There would be no stopping me, despite the fact that Claudia was sending me an urgent telegram with her eyes.  Shut up, they were saying.  Don’t do this.  But it was too late, even though I knew I was going to cause problems.  Even though I knew Claudia still considered Mary Anne and me babies, and Stacey sophisticated, and therefore was going to protect Stacey and whatever she was up to.

“Mary Anne saw you come home with your parents on Saturday,” I said.  “How come you made your mom say you stayed in New York?”

Stacey shoots a death glare at Mary Anne and flips out, calling Kristy a baby.  BURN.  You’re from NYC–even if you are a private school kid you know how to curse her out in multiple languages.  Baby is the best you’ve got? Martin noted that Claudia thinks MA and K are babies not two paragraphs ago.  Someone get Martin a thesaurus–even use juvenile/infantile instead of baby if you’re not going to use dipstick, jerkface, or some other 80’s insult.

Claudia jumps to Stacey’s defense noting (correctly) that Kristy has no tact.  Mary Anne says nothing.  Kristy tells Stacey not to treat her like a little kid by lying to them.

 Claudia’s lovingly described outfits allow her to point out “you are a little kid–look at the way you’re dressed.”  Kristy is wearing a sweater with snowmen and snowflakes on it.

“Well you’ve got sheep barrettes in your hair,” I yelled.  “You think they’re adult?”

Ok, now I’m ready to throw down–we do NOT mock Claudia’s fashion.

Mary Anne tries to make peace and is yelled out, making her burst into tears.  She’s called a cry baby for it.  Oh my god, Anne–according to your author’s note, you used to be  teacher.  In what universe did you teach?  Baby, crybaby and mean is the worst you can conjure up?  My third graders had fouler mouths than these seventh graders.

In the midst of the BSC cage match, the phone rings.  They all try to answer it.  Somehow the mom on the other end still offers them a job….which GASP they’re all available for.  (WOW-Who saw that coming?)  The club looks like it’s about to fall apart when Kristy calls dibs since the club was her idea in the first place.  The meeting breaks up with enough of a chill in the room to inspire what future museum curator’s will refer to as Claudia Kishi’s “ice carving period.”  (I wonder if you can carve other barnyard barrettes out of ice?)

Kristy gets home, sure it will all just blow over.  After all, everyone knows she’s a loudmouth with no tact.

GASP!  In a totally unforeseen plot twist Mrs. Thomas and Watson are ENGAGED!  Mrs. Thomas is sporting serious bling–Kristy describes it as “the size of a boulder.”  Nice to know that Watson made up for being such a pussy in chapter 11.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 11.09.16 PMFor the record, most of the graphic novel is free on amazon in the preview feature.  It’s hilariously bad.

Chapter 15

On Tuesday, Mary Anne and I avoided Claudia and Stacey in school until the very end of the day.  Then I screwed up the nerve to ask Claudia if she wanted to hold a Baby-sitters Club meeting the next day as usual.  She said it was all right with her.

Scene change to Kristy’s family going over to Watson’s for dinner that night.  There is no further explanation, or even dialogue to show us how icy Claud’s demeanor might still be.  Claudia is fine with a BSC meeting because…..Ann is contractually obligated to write three more books in the series at this point.

All six kids and Mrs. Thomas and Watson are having dinner to celebrate the engagement.  Karen is Karen–her mom Lisa and Mrs. Thomas are saints.  SAINTS.

Dinner was fun.  Watson made fondue. He set a pot full of hot, melty cheese in the middle of the table.  Then he gave everyone a long fork and a plate of pieces of French bread.  You were supposed to spear a piece of bread with your fork, dip it in the cheese, and eat it.  Watson made this rule that if your bread fell off your fork and landed in the cheese, you had to kiss the person on your right.

Guess who is sitting to Watson’s left?  New rule–No weird stepdaughter/stepfather moments like this–I’m going to call it the “Petals on the Wind” law.

Everyone starts making up silly rules.  But then Kristy drops some bread in the cheese.  Ruh-roh.  Kristy gives Watson a super fast kiss on the cheek (thus honoring the “Petals on the Wind law”), but feels guilty about it being so fast later (treading the line) and leaves him a note on his bathroom mirror apologizing for it being super weird and fast (and thus breaking the law–she was so close).  It’s just uncomfortable and bizarre and unnecessary.  I’m betting Ann M Martin was almost a big a fan of VC Andrews as I would be once I moved on from the BSC (when *I* was the same age as the BSC girls, for the record).

The next day, Mary Anne and I walked to Claudia’s house for the club meeting.  We went together, sort of as protection.  When we reached Claudia’s room, we found her talking to Stacey.  When we entered, the talking stopped.  Silence.

Mary Anne and I sat down.  I was determined not to be the first one to speak, since I felt I had already made an effort by asking whether we were going to hold a meeting that day.

At long last, Claudia said, “I’m sorry I was so mean yesterday.  I’m sorry I yelled.”  She was looking at Mary Anne but not at me.

This is one of the least believable makeups in literary history.  They make up for the same reason that Claudia agreed to have the meeting in the first place–because Martin has a four book contract.

They offer to get Stacey a salad from the pizza parlor so she won’t be left out during the pizza party.  THANK YOU.  Was that so fucking hard?

Stacey steels herself and confesses that she has a secret.  THANK GOD.

Kristy asks her if she’s anorexic (nope- that will be Jessi’s ballet classmate in book 61).  Shut up, Kristy–let’s get the big reveal over with.

Brace yourselves, y’all…

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 10.23.07 PM

Given the buildup, I thought we needed a big reveal here, too

Diabetes has been so traumatic that Stacey thinks it’s why they moved to Stoneybrook–instead of the Hail Mary Pass on her parent’s marriage that it actually was.  Stacey recounts being bullied because of her diabetes.  Her new BFF’s tell her that they love and accept her, but maybe she shouldn’t tell anyone at school, to which I can only….

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 2.20.28 AMCaptain Picard feels my pain

Sam knocks on the door to leave a snack outside.  Mrs. Thomas isn’t an asshole, and has left an apple for Stacey along with cookies for the other girls.  This is an example of what we call common courtesy, girls.

“Your brother’s so cute, Kristy,” said Stacey.

“I guess. For a boy.”

“No, really….Do you like any boys, Kristy?”

I made a face.

“What do–” Stacey started to say, but I held my finger to my lips.

“Shh!” I hissed.  “Do you hear that?”

“Something at the window.”

We made ourselves quiet.  We couldn’t hear a sound.

“I guess it’s nothing,” I said.

Let’s not wonder what it was—let’s tell scary stories that happened while babysitting instead of checking the yard for a zombie or a serial killer.

I know what that sound was–it was the sound of foreshadowing for book 2.

Kristy feels all warm and fuzzy and hopes the BSC will be around for a long time.  Don’t worry, Kristin Amanda Thomas—Ann M. Martin is going to ride that cash cow and all associated cash cows into the ground.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.00.04 AMThere were apparently not one, but TWO BSC board games.  I have SO MUCH ebay shopping to do….

So fellow BSC fans, that’s book one.  Shall I do the next book?  Or an episode of the TV show.  Or how about the movie?  Any other non BSC snarking nostalgic requests?

 

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitter’s Club #1 Kristy’s Great Idea Chapters 9-12

I’ve uncovered a great deal of nostalgia for these books among my peers, so when I decided to start the blog, I was thrilled for the excuse to reread and snark them.  I snark with love, friends–I’m still a total fangirl.  So let’s drop what we’re doing, put on our nostalgia goggles, and pretend it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 5:30pm.

Part 1–Chapters 1-3 can be found here

Part 2-Chapters 4-8 can be found here

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 5.54.50 PMKristy’s Great Idea

By Ann M. Martin (she wrote the first 36)

Chapter 9

Stacey’s turn.  We see Stacey’s entry in the notebook at the start of the chapter, and we learn that Stacey dots her i’s with hearts.  I know I’m not the only one of us who did that in middle school as well.  Which leads to the question of would I have done that if I didn’t read the BSC or did I do it because I read BSC books?  It’s disturbing, really how much of my life Martin/Lerangis influenced, and how much I still remember about these books.  Shouldn’t I be using that portion of my brain for something more useful?

Stacey says she had a fine time with David Michael in the entry.  Kristy does my snark for me by telling us that the strumpet Stacey had a fine time flirting with her older brother Sam.

Guys, Sam is 14 and in HIGH SCHOOL.  Stacey is 12 and in MIDDLE SCHOOL.  She’s got to be one hot piece of ass for a 14 year old to date down like that.  Two years?  That’s just shocking–as shocking as the exact same age gap between my husband and myself.  Sam and Ravi are cradle robbers, yo.

Kristy introduces David Michael and Stacey and then rushes off to babysit–LOL–the St. Bernards.

Five minutes after Kristy leaves, Sam gets home.  Sam labels Stacey a foxy chick.  She refers to him as a gorgeous hunk.  I repress the urge to go make out with my Wesley Crusher poster.

Kristy tries to figure out what on earth Sam saw in Stacey and vice versa.  We get a paragraph of Stacey’s outfit, and Kristy thinks it was babyish.  Also babyish is the fact that was drinking milk at the time.  What is wrong with Stacey?  Girl hates junk food and isn’t an alcoholic?  Freak.

Sam is wearing a radical t-shirt that says “I know you are but what am I?” immediately triggering this scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure in my brain.

Kristy admits that Sam is pretty cute.  Now, I’m an only child so I’m only guessing, but isn’t it kind of icky to find your sibling hot?  Can we invent/invoke the “Flowers in the Attic” rule?

Sam and Stacey do this gorgeously classic teen flirting that actually feels kind of authentic to me until David Michael interrupts and asks for a twinkie.  Stacey gives him one, and then Sam offers to split the other one with her.  Stacey says no, and Sam compliments her on how hard dieting is (OHMYGOD BOOK STOP WITH THE DIETING TALK).

Stacey suggests to David Michael that they play Candyland.

Heck, I’ll play, too,” said Sam.  “We can have a championship series.  First one to win two games is the Candy Land Champion of the Universe.”

You’re going to play?” David Michael’s eyes widened.

“Yeah, sure.”

“But you nev–“

“Hey, little brother, your shoe’s untied.”

David Michael, quit cock blocking Sam.  He’s working here!  Stacey has to be seriously foxy for anyone to willingly play Candy Land, much less multiple games.   Inventing new rules and throwing the game to make the torture of Candy Land end are my only tools for enduring the hell of that game.  No one over the age of seven would ever do that without an ulterior motive.

I’m pretty sure this is another dead end plotline.  Book 8 is Boy-Crazy Stacey, and there are multiple books on the same variation of the theme of Stacey likes older guy, nothing happens.  Because NOTHING that isn’t PG happens in the BSC–no making out, no second base, and no teen pregnancy.  In real life Stacey and Sam would’ve been playing tonsil hockey in the kitchen while David Michael played nintendo.

The only version of Candy Land that they’d be playing is Strip Candy Land?  Oh crap, now I’m trying to figure out how to play strip Candy Land—see what you’re doing to me, book?

Worth noting–I stumbled into a dark corner of the internet and found out that the BSC fanfic writers don’t think that Stacey and Sam belong together.  There is a serious amount of Stacey and Charlie stories.  Even the fanfic writers realizes that Sam is too young for Stacey.  I predict she will grow up to be the trophy wife of a Wall Street banker twice her age.

BSC Stacey dollI can’t help but notice that the Stacey BSC dolls is sporting less blush than the Kristy doll was–What’s up with that?

Chapter 10

Mary Anne has beautiful cursive writing.  Now you guys see why she’s the secretary (although Stacey’s has always seemed more legible to me, even with those annoying hearts over the i’s.)

She totally does a passive aggressive number on Kristy in the entry–

“I think Kristy would really like them if she ever baby-sat for them.  Are you reading this, Kristy?.”

Question time-do we think that Mary Anne ever really grew enough of a spine that she would be more than the mom who volunteers for everything at school and then sends out emails saying “If any of you could find the time in your busy day to volunteer for the next field trip, because I’ve done the last five, that would be so great…”?  Or, once she goes to college and breaks free of Kristy’s shadow, does she totally vamp up and bust out of her shell?  She is the first one to land a serious boyfriend (Book 10–This totally makes sense when you learn that MA is based on Ann M Martin).  Maybe she upgrades the part of herself that got the sassy haircut and splurges on tight miniskirts.  Does she become a exotic dancer?  She does have all that experience with pigtails, plaid and playing shy.  I see it going either way–what do you think?

Here is what you’ve been waiting for–we finally get to meet Karen and Andrew!  Karen got all the personality for both of them.  Andrew is just sort of a formless lump of age three following around behind someone else…and stays that way for the rest of the series.  Karen has always struck me as swinging wildly between hysterically adorable (hence why she got her own spin-off book series of 128 books–way to milk the franchise, Ann!) and beyond annoying.

We get our next set-up for the eventual discover that Watson is a MILLIONAIRE

Mary Anne says Watson lives in a very pretty, big house.  I guess he has a lot of money.  He’d have to, the way he throws it around, buying Chinese food right and left and taking my mom out on dates almost every night.

I need to stop the review to go die of laughter.  Watson making it rain with dollar bills at Panda Express.  Just picture it.

Anyway, the house is large, and Andrew and Karen have neat rooms.  And toys.  Mary Anne had never seen so many–gigantic stuffed animals, dolls, a train that you could really ride around the backyard, cars, bikes, a playhouse, costumes to dress up in.  It was incredible, kind of like being in Toys “R” Us.

Cue Annie singing I’m gonna like it here.

Boo-Boo the cat is a demonic spirit housed the body of a cat almost big enough to be bordering on the size of a mountain lion.  He bites.  He scratches.  He chewed THROUGH A DOOR.  Everyone warns Mary Anne to stay away from him because he’s vicious.

“Whatever you do, don’t touch him,” added Watson

Golly, guys…I feel like this might be setting something up for later….

Karen tells Mary Anne that their parents are divorced and that their mom is getting remarried.  Hey Watson, you know that having your ex remarry when you’re still single or dating mean that THEY WIN, right?  What are you going to do about it?

Karen then babbles on about god knows what–my eyes starting glazing over, just like Mary Anne’s.  Until Karen tells us that the witch lives next door, and I groan.  Because oh my hell this story line needs to go die–it is funny in one, max two books—but it is a running theme for the next 20 years.  MAKE IT STOP.

“Its Mrs. Porter, and she’s an honest-and-truly witch.  Mrs. Porter isn’t her witch name, though.  Her witch name is Morbidda Destiny.  The big kids on the street told me so.  And she eats toads and casts spells and flies to witch meetings on her broomstick every night.”

If you need me, I’ll be hiding in a closet.  This is exactly who my Elanor will be in a year or two.

Mary Anne strongly considers telling Karen she needs to up her meds, but chickens out.

BOO-BOO IS IN MORBIDDA DESTINY’S YARD, Y’ALL!!!!   MARY ANNE HAS TO GO AND GET HIM!!!!  Wow, who could’ve seen that plot twist coming?  (Although, Ann—Two sub plots about escaped pets in one book?  L-A-Z-Y)

Mary Anne is meekly trying to coax Boo-Boo back toward her and away from the flowers.  Mrs. Porter, who is a bit of the crazy eccentric old lady (okay, so Karen has an eeensy point when you look at her from pov of a 6 year old) starts screaming at the cat and waving a rake at it.  That actually works and Boo-Boo runs back Watson’s yard.

Mrs. Porter shook her rake after him (Boo-Boo).  “Rapscallion!” she cried.  She headed for her house.  Mary Anne could her her mutter things like “Children and pets” and “Darned nuisance.”

Let’s play “What did Mrs. Porter REALLY say” in comments.

Mary Anne then has to explain to Karen that Rapscallion is not a magic spell.  I’m dying of laughter over here…but mostly because it’s not me (yet).

They go in and have an uneventful rest of the day.  Boo-Boo calms down before the Thomas family moves into the house.  I’m guessing Mrs. T required that Watson put him on kitty prozac or got Boo-Boo a regular catnip dealer?  I don’t recall a book titled “Kristy, the Demon Cat, and the trip to the Emergency Room for 105 stitches,” but I could be wrong.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 9.35.05 PMtagged “when you have to baby-sit Karen Brewer”

Chapter 11

BSC meeting on Wednesday.  Mrs. McKeever calls to ask for a sitter for the two most atrociously named St. Bernards in the world (Buffy and Pinky are the names of your miniature poodles, not your miniature pony sized dogs, even if you’re Martha Stewart).  I appreciate the girls’ restraint in not saying “HELLZ NO,” instead explaining that they’re not pet sitters.

Phone call number two is a new client, Mrs. Marshall.  She has 2 little girls.  The girls ask if they have any pets.  A plot hole opens in the space/time continuum and Kristy says that some people are surprised when they ask this–to which I reply exactly how many calls have you gotten off screen?  Because I count three adults calling about 4 baby-sitting jobs, AND if you’d asked McKeever that question the first time, we would’ve only had one runaway pet subplot.  They have a non demonic cat.  Oh, and you’ll have to give Eleanor her ear drops. Maybe it’s age, and maybe it’s just really lazy writing but I can see this plot twist from a mile away–who thinks something will go wrong?

Claudia gets the job because Stacey is mysteriously busy that night.  Maybe she’s using that 10pm curfew to go out on a date with your older brother Kristy?  Nah, she’s just MYSTERIOUSLY busy.  I can’t quite figure out how this could relate to her SECRET DIABETES, so I’m sticking with my theory of date with Sam Thomas.

You know what would be super fun?  Let’s figure out how much money we’ve made at all our sitting jobs!  $26.75?  WOOHOO! Let’s blow it on a pizza party and junk food instead of all those other things we said we were going to buy with our baby-sitting money.

I’m sitting here bitterly contemplating that my average sitting bill on a Saturday night is $60-75.  Even with the almost 20 year cost differential I begin to dream of finding a middle school student I can totally underpay to watch my children.  Or of the day that’s roughly 7 years away when I can underpay Elanor to watch Rhiannon.

Where were we?  JUNK FOOD, AMIRITE STACEY?  Stacey?  Stacey?  Oh, right….  Stacey lies and says she’s going to New York and won’t be around anyway, so it’s no big deal, they should have their pizza party, OKAY?  Every sits there baffled that Stacey’s feelings were hurt that they never remember this really important thing about her because they’re such good friends.

Kristy gets home and WATSON IS THERE.  She notes that this is the third time he’s had dinner with them in the last week.  When do you see your children, Watson???  Cheapskate didn’t even bring food this time–he’s there for leftovers!  Couldn’t he at least have brought food for Kristy to refuse to eat again?

Worse, Mrs. Thomas tells Kristy to go upstairs and put on a dress.  Long time readers of the BSC will understand that Kristy putting on a dress is roughly equivalent to my degree of enthusiasm for taking my children on long haul flights from Singapore to Boston (36 fun filled hours in economy and random airports door to door–WOOHOO!)  Her brothers have also been told to dress up.

Mrs. Thomas and Watson have news, ya’ll.  Brace yourselves.

“Mom,” I said, “will you please tell me what’s happening?  Why is everything so fancy?”

“Because we’re celebrating.”

“With leftover SpaghettiO’s?”

“It doesn’t matter what we eat.  I just want us feeling festive.”

“Why? What are we getting festive about?”

…..

A few minutes later, we were sitting around the dining room table, which looked almost as fancy as it does at Thanksgiving.  Mom had spread out a green tablecloth and put a white runner over it.  We were eating off our good china, and everyone had a wine goblet.  Mom and Watson were the only ones with wine in their wine goblets though.

….

“Something very special happened today,” she (Mrs. Thomas) said.

I drew in my breath.

“Watson asked me if I would consider getting engaged to him.”

Full stop.  Watson asked what?  Pussy.  Grow a pair and ask her for real, dude.  PUT A RING ON IT.

Further, if you’ve got such momentous news, class it up a bit from spaghetti and gatorade–at least get McDonalds or something!

Finally, is there a real reason to break the news like this if Mrs. Thomas wants to think things over or discuss it with her kids?  Especially given that Kristy will explode why are you telling them with Watson there?  You lose like five hundred parenting points.

Kristy freaks out.  Because of course she does.  Anyone who has been reading the book for the last 108 pages could’ve told you that was going to be her reaction.

Kristy freaks out hard enough that the plot hole space/time continuum re-opens and changes Kristy’s meal from spaghetti and gatorade to fried chicken and twinkies.  (Did Scholastic get some sort of product placement deal with Twinkies?  Because they’ve been mentioned with some regularity in this book.)

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 11.32.25 PMThe space/time continuum has broken to the point where the BSC of the future is giving you side-eye

Chapter 12

Apparently Stacey actually had a legit trip to NYC with her parents on Friday, because the whole family left early that day.  Her parents are okay on the permissive/playing along scale but I don’t think they’d take her to NYC just to let her continue to hide her diabetes–that’s taking the subway to crazytown, and I don’t mean Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Kristy, Claudia, and Mary Anne decide to play the whole pizza party thing by ear because Stacey might come back in time for the pizza party, even though she’s made her feelings clear that she’d rather wear ugly clothes forever than go to a pizza party.

Saturday is one of those days.  David Michael has the stomach flu.  Mrs. Thomas is pissy (probably because 1-sick kid means drama, 2-Kristy is being a bitch about the potential wedding, and 3-because she’s thinking FML).

Kristy then spends FIVE PAGES on the phone.

Mary Anne calls Kristy sobbing that her dad says she needs to save her money for things like college and clothes (he’ll come to regret that last one down the line when she starts shopping at Rave instead of GAP) and can’t use it for a pizza party.  She doesn’t want to be a charity case, so she’s not going.

Claudia calls upset that her parents got a letter that she’s not working to her potential and they flipped out so no parties for her.  Claudia points out that multiplying fractions is irrelevant to real life and that school is stupid.  (I have a magnet that says “School prepares you for the real world, which also sucks.”  I think Claudia might need that more than me.)

Kristy calls Stacey’s house because ??? and is surprised when Stacey’s Mom answers the phone.  Damn you 2003 one hit wonder.

I introduced myself to her and asked for Stacey.  There was a pause, then it sounded as if Mrs. McGill might be covering up the mouthpiece of the phone, and then she got back on the line and said, “I’m sorry, dear, Stacey’s not home.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.  “Where did she go?”

“Well, sh’s…um…she stayed in New York with friends, Kristy.  She’ll be back tomorrow night.”

Liar.  Even Kristy can figure out that something bad is happening in Oz (sorry guys, I’m in a music mood today.)

The phone then rings and it’s Mary Anne ratting out that she JUST SAW Stacey. Something fishy is definitely going on.

Kristy calls Claudia and they gossip about Stacey too.  Why is Stacey so MYSTERIOUS?  What is she HIDING?  (For fuck’s sake, it’s diabetes…I’m losing my freaking mind over here)

Mrs. Thomas yells at Kristy to get off the phone and I genuflect in gratitude.  Seriously, Kristy, get off the phone.

The phone rings.  Mrs. Thomas looks like she’s going to lose it. When it turns out to be Watson, and she begs him to take her away makes kissy noises at him.

Then she turns to Kristy and tells her that Watson needs a sitter for Karen and Andrew.  Right now.  HOLY SHIT–ALL THOSE TOYS ARE TO MAKE UP FOR THE FACT THAT HE NEVER SPENDS TIME WITH HIS FREAKING KIDS.  She’d have them dropped off at the house, but they could get David Michael’s illness.  Kristy thinks it through, and realizes she’s the only one available.  She looks at her mom, and knows there’s no worming out of this–she is going to baby-sit Karen and Andrew.

Where’s Kathy when we need her?

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 10.04.03 PMTV Show Kristy says “WHUT?”

The final chapters can be found here.