Monday, May 30, 2022

Memorial Day

 Hello everyone - it's me, Kayleigh. Today's post feels much different to all my previous ones, because it's Memorial Day. I usually keep my topics light (and try to make them fun), but I feel a weight of responsibility this time around, because more than anything, I want to be respectful.

I'm a British person who lives in the UK, so writing about Memorial Day makes me feel like an imposter. I'm not particularly political, and my grasp on American history is flimsy, at best. However, I do know that Memorial Day marks and pays respect to significant loss, and respect is owed to those who sacrificed everything in the name of fighting for what they believed in. I'm not an authority on this day, and don't want to pretend to be one. I can't relate to being in the military, nor to being an American citizen on a day such as this. But what I can relate to is loss.

Like everyone, I have lost people that were precious to me. There's one day per year - the anniversary of a dear friend's death - that affects me more than any other day. It's somber, and sad, and somehow I still find myself smiling at his memory. It's a day of conflicting emotions - renewed grief, humor, anger, pride, but most of all love, however painful it can be.

Thinking about the profound effect that particular day has on me almost blew my mind when I extended that feeling to an entire country of people, all sharing similar feelings on a national scale. In the UK, we do have such an occasion - Remembrance Day - which is celebrated in November. However, it seems different somehow. I am also not an authority on this - I could be completely wrong - but my personal experience of this is that it's still very much respected by older generations, and somewhat of a mystery to the younger generations. Even when I was still school-age (many... MANY years ago now), I remember the 1 minute of silence that was held at 11am every November 11th, and I remember seeing a lot of people wearing poppies as a mark of respect. I used to wear them. But I never actually knew why - in my school at least, we weren't educated on it. The most we were told was that it was to remember those who fought in "the war", but they never even explained which war. Memorial Day, to me at least, by contrast seems like an overwhelmingly significant occasion. 

My American friends - I don't claim to be well-versed in your political histories and struggles, the wars your people fought in, or the casualties suffered. But what I do want to express is that to each and every one of you that finds Memorial Day difficult, my heart is with you. It takes tremendous courage to sacrifice everything for what you believe is right, and I want to acknowledge that that also applies to the families of those who fight, for they are the ones who must carry the burden of loss afterwards.

Love and respect to all. <3 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Step One: Buy Quail... Step Two: ???...Step Three: PROFIT!


I've always wanted to own a farm, but unfortunately, I haven't sold enough books to afford one. Luckily, the opportunity to raise farm animals in my two bedroom condo arose three weeks ago when I decided to add four baby coturnix quail chicks to my indoor menagerie. 

I've always been a bird person. I got my first bird, Charlie the cockatiel when I was 12, and ever since then, I knew I had to always have birds in my life. I adopted my Amazon parrot, Taco, 10 years ago. After Taco, came a rescued deformed parakeet named Chimi, and then got her a friend, Benny. When Benny died unexpectedly last year, I got another friend for her named Chino.

I wanted to try my hand at raising some sort of poultry. After a lot of research, I decided quail were a good fit for my lifestyle. They are small, quiet, and can easily be raised indoors. Thus, my four baby quail were added to the mix. I've got to say, they are fascinating and absolutely adorable. Their rate of growth has astounded me, as they have more than doubled in size since I got them three weeks ago. I hope to be able to get eggs from them to sell, eat, and hatch in the future.

Having animals has always been really important to me. I've kept everything from rodents and reptiles, to insects and arachnids. You might say I am a handful of pets away from being an animal hoarder, but not in a destructive way. They are all well cared for and spoiled. I love exotics and always do my research before adding anything to my collection. Right now, I have 2 snakes, a turtle, a tarantula, and 7 birds. We also have three fish tanks, which belong to my partner, Jose.

Do you have pets? I'd love to see them! 

Stay weird, folks.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Behind "A Special Theory of Circus"

A few years back, I wrote on this blog about the importance of getting a hobby. I recall I was feeling particularly burned out by writing at the time and found solace in, among other things, doing something that had nothing whatsoever to do with books: circus arts. At the time, I'd been taking aerial silks classes for about three months and was still a little in disbelief over the fact that I, a perennial couch potato, was voluntarily showing up at a studio that made me climb things and do, like, exercise.

Wellp, fast forward three years, and I'm still obsessed with circus - not just silks, but also hoop, rope, and flying trapeze (static/dance trapeze, I'm coming for you next!). And what started out as "this is going to have nothing to do with writing" has turned into "okay I really want to write circus stories now."

So when Paige Daniels and I decided to do another volume of Brave New Girls, our YA sci-fi anthology series about girls in STEM (with proceeds donated to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund), I knew right away I wanted to do something set at a steampunk-y circus.

One of the instructors at the Trapeze School of New York, where I take classes, often took the time to explain the physics of flying trapeze to students -- how lifting the bar higher on the platform gives you more potential energy for the swing, for instance. There you have it: STEM plus circus!

In "A Special Theory of Circus," my contribution to the upcoming Brave New Girls: Chronicles of Misses and Machines, a bookish girl goes to visit her trapeze artist sister and uses her knowledge of physics to relate to the the sister's art form. Then things become more eventful than expected when a rival circus attempts to sabotage the show...

The artist who did the illustration for "A Special Theory of Circus," Adriano Moraes, really wanted to highlight the contrast between Hallie, the bookworm, and Lulu, the trapeze artist:

I thought Adriano would be a good fit for this story because I actually met him because of circus arts: One of my instructors was performing, and Adriano was live drawing the performers and selling the pictures. Of course I had to buy one featuring my teacher. A few months later, he live-drew me at a student showcase:

Suffice it to say that my circus and book worlds have totally collided now. What started out as a hobby to get away from writing has ended up inspiring and informing my projects (my story for Bad Ass Moms was also about an aerialist, and I also have a work-in-progress fantasy whose main character is a... you guessed it... circus artist).

Meanwhile, I actually had to learn a bit more physics to write "A Special Theory of Circus," and even though it was all pretty elementary, it actually helped to understand the forces at play during a swing.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Jack's Back! A Look at Jack Reacher on Page and Screen

 Yesterday was a happy day for fans of the Amazon Prime show, Reacher. The star of the show, Alan Ritchson, posted on twitter that season two of the hit show would adapt Bad Luck and Trouble. This is - in my opinion - the best book in the series.

For those unacquainted with the glories of the Jack Reacher series, here is a brief recap. Written by British author Lee Child, they follow retired MP Jack Reacher as he wanders across the country. He has no fixed address, preferring to see the country on his own terms. He winds up helping people out of trouble and cracking a few heads along the way. 

The Amazon series is eminently bingeable and perfectly captures the spirit of the books. I watched the whole series in a weekend. 

To celebrate this season two announcement, I invited my friend and fellow Reacher-phile , Karissa Laurel to come and chat about Jack Reacher on the page and on the screen.  

VICTOR: I've been a fan of the Reacher books for a long time, which is a little strange since this is not the kind of book I usually read. But after I read one, I was hooked and proceeded to read the other 20. What is it about the character that drew you in?

KARISSA: I only got into the Jack Reacher books this past year. I decided to pick up the first book when the new streaming series was announced on Amazon Prime. I had seen the original Jack Reacher movie that Tom Cruise was in and liked it well enough. But when they announced that Alan Ritchson would be filling the role of Jack Reacher, I needed to know why someone with such a completely opposite physical appearance from Tom Cruise was chosen for the role. I wanted to go to the source material and find out what the heck was going on. I read "The Killing Floor" and was instantly hooked.

I'm a huge fan of The Punisher and there are *a lot* of similarities between Reacher and Frank Castle. I like the anti-hero personality. They both have a strong sense of justice, they both approach getting that justice by operating outside the bounds of the law, but they have extremely strict moral codes that keep it all in check. But Reacher steps it up a notch by also being extremely romantic. Honestly, a lot of Jack Reacher novels include a lot of romance novel tropes and I'm a huge fan of romance novels.

VICTOR: Hmm, I never really thought of Jack as a romantic lead. He tends to hook up with women in the towns he roams through, but I always looked at that through the prism of action movie tropes. Can you elaborate on that? Is the brooding loner a romantic ideal for you?

KARISSA: There are two rules in romance novels that are unbreakable. One is that the development of the romance has to be the main plot and the other is that the story has to end "Happily Ever After" or at least "Happy for now". Reacher of course breaks those rules, so his novels can't be completely "romance" by definition, but they have so many of the tropes that they can definitely be considered romantic. Take the Killing Floor for example. Lee Child put a lot of energy into developing the romantic chemistry between Reacher and Roscoe. He didn't skip over the love scenes either. There's this ongoing joke in "Romancelandia" (what romance fandom is generally called) that romantic heroes are always huge and tall. The brooding loner part is certainly part of Reacher's appeal, but it don't hurt that he's 6'5", 250 pounds and has a "mesomorphic body type" (that's a direct quote from "Never Go Back") which is short hand for saying his muscular physique is perfectly proportioned. It don't get more romance cover model than that! Plus he has a really great respect and appreciation for women in general. He's a hard character for women to resist.

VICTOR: Not only that, he embodies the idea of the "man's man." Big, strong, smart, ready with a quip. So literally something for everyone!

KARISSA: He's really a super hero in a lot of ways

VICTOR: He's really kind of a throwback. Back in the '80's and '90's, the ideal action hero was Stallone or Schwarzenegger, big muscly dudes. And, ironically, Alan Ritchson played a superhero, when he was briefly Aquaman on the Smallville show.

KARISSA: I know! I even remember him from those days...vaguely.

VICTOR: Let's talk about casting. We've both seen the Tom Cruise version of Reacher. I saw both of those movies - the first one was fun, the second...wasn't.


VICTOR: And I think we'd both agree that Ritchson is a FAR superior choice in the role


VICTOR: Not just from a physical standpoint, either.

KARISSA: Right! I've talked to some Reacher fans who are defensive of Cruise's portrayal and they say he still did Reacher's personality right, but... I disagree. For a few reasons.

VICTOR: Lee Child has a very direct and sparse prose style. The only character description Reacher usually gets is "big." Like he is described as a refrigerator, hands the size of hams, etc.

Pictured: NOT a ham-handed refrigerator.

KARISSA: But the thing is that "Bigness" of Reacher colors absolutely everything about his psyche too. It affects the way he approaches the world and the way the world approaches him. And that's something that someone who looks like Tom Cruise can never portray.

VICTOR: That's a very good point. I actually didn't mind Cruise in the movies. I had my doubts about him, but I thought he pulled off Reacher's attitude pretty well. But you are right. Jack moves through life expecting people to react to him a certain way and using that to his advantage.

KARISSA: An Alan Ritchson version of Reacher can demonstrate how someone can intimidate simply by walking into a room and scowling. Who want's to mess with a mountain of muscle like that?
But Tom Cruise walks in and scowls and...well...people might be willing to accept that challenge. They'd be willing to fight him.

VICTOR: It was very reminiscent of Tom Cruise as Lestat. Like, the casting choice turned out better than I expected, but it would never have been my first pick.

KARISSA: I never read Interview with a Vampire but I do know what people thought of his casting.

VICTOR: I guess Lee Child and Anne Rice should start a support group. Lestat in the books feels like a version of Sting or David Bowie. And Tom Cruise... is not that.

KARISSA: LOL!!! In some ways, Cruise's Reacher is an extension of his Ethan Hunt character from Mission Impossible

VICTOR: Yes, very much agree. But! That is an entirely different character. That is someone who is literally trying to stay hidden, which is absolutely not Reacher.

KARISSA: I agree with that, but that kind of points back and the physicality discrepancy in his casting.

VICTOR: I did not know a lot about Alan Ritchson going in, but five minutes into episode one and I was won over completely.

KARISSA: Reacher wants to walk into a room and have people take note of his "bigness" and use that as a basis in deciding not to mess with him. Reacher also very much depends on people to look at him and think of him as big and dumb and underestimate his intellect, and Reacher is extremely smart and intuitive.

VICTOR: He just exudes charm and affability. It's almost impossible to dislike him in this role.

Much better...

KARISSA: I picked that up about Ritchson in the trailers before the show even came out. I was like: this is SO different from the Tom Cruise Reacher, I need to know who this character really is, and I think Alan nailed it. I mean... rarely does a character get cast so exceptionally well. I am delighted with his performance.

VICTOR: Yes, I think the series is overall very well cast. I was not familiar with most of the actors, but I was very impressed with them, particularly Willa Fitzgerald as Roscoe and Maria Sten as Neagley

KARISSA: So, that is actually a great segue into something else I want to make sure to point out about Reacher. They did absolutely get Roscoe and Neagley right in this series. Spot on. What's important for me about the series is that people might not expect it but Reacher has a wide feminist streak. Yeah, he loves to romance a woman, but he sincerely enjoys working with them professionally, too.

VICTOR: One of the reasons I'm so glad Bad Luck and Trouble is the basis for next year is that it brings back Neagley and the other special investigators. And you see in the books that he absolutely respects Neagley. She is the first one he turns to when he needs help.

KARISSA: And those women are usually police, military, or some other tough girl type, and they totally captured that in the casting and performances in season one. I LOVE Neagley. I'd love her to get her own spin off series. He is so good with Neagley. She's actually a bit prickly and has had some past trauma. He utterly respects her boundaries.

VICTOR: Absolutely. She's only in a few of the books, and I would love to see her in a spin off following her as a security consultant.

KARISSA: In every book she's been in, I thought she stole the show.

VICTOR: I also appreciate that her past isn't explained. Reacher accepts that it's her business and if she wants to share it she will. He's not one to pry.

KARISSA: Yup! Same thoughts exactly. He never pushes. He never pries. He intuits that she has boundaries and he never oversteps. His respect for her is one of the things that immediately drew me in about him as a character. That differentiates him from so many of those muscly macho men characters.

VICTOR; Another interesting aspect of the character is his "homelessness." He has no home base, rather he wanders the country and dispenses justice. (On a podcast, Kevin Smith compared it to the old Incredible Hulk TV show - where Bruce Banner would roam the country and the Hulk would crack some heads.) It's interesting because currently there are a ton of #VanLife videos on YouTube, with people converting their vans into little mobile homes. Jack Reacher, trend setter!

KARISSA: But Jack would never even have a van!

VICTOR: No, he has the Greyhound schedules memorized.

KARISSA: He utterly eschews physical possessions. That's another (what seems like a tiny) detail that the Tom Cruise movie got wrong. The movie shows Reacher showing up with a bag. Nope. It is at the core philosophy of Reacher's character that he carries NO possessions other than his wallet and maybe a folding tooth brush. He makes a big deal in almost every book about having to find some place to buy an outfit--usually a thrift store or military surplus. He'll sometimes wash his clothes out in a sink and "iron" them by putting them under his mattress. But he'll make one pair of pants last the whole book. Then he throws them away before leaving town. He doesn't do luggage.

VICTOR: Yes, that made me so happy when counted out Jack's possessions when he got arrested in episode one and they pulled out the tooth brush.

KARISSA: I thought the same thing. The tooth brush!!!

VICTOR: I think I've taken up your entire lunch hour. Is there anything else Reacher-related you'd like to discuss?

KARISSA: I guess my only real negative critique of the show was it's tendency to venture into sentimentality. Jack has a soft heart under all those layers of muscle and brooding, hard exterior. But I don't think I'd be wrong to say he is never sentimental. He's loyal, he's caring, but he's not the one-tear-rolling-down-his-cheek type. EVER. In fact, in the first book, he almost seems a bit cold about his brother's death. It's only over the course of the series that you start to see that Jack internalizes his grief.

VICTOR: Yes, they work a lot of his backstory into the series. That's not in Killing Floor, but it comes out in later volumes and some of the short stories. Especially his relationship with his mother.

KARISSA: Yup. There's a book later in the series (another in which Neagley plays an awesome and pivotal role) in which Reacher comes to Washington and meets one of his brother's former lovers. That book did a lot to expose Reacher's complicated relationship with his brother. I know the show can't expect folks to stay in for multiple seasons to eventually see that side of Reacher, but that single tear moment was just a little too much.
But other than that, I can't really complain too much. That was one of the best book-to-screen adaptations I've seen in a while and I am SO STOKED for Season 2.


KARISSA: You and I talked earlier about how badly we wanted this to be the book they did next because we want to see Reacher's team. I'm so excited the producers read our minds.

VICTOR: Absolutely. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about Reacher today.

KARISSA: Thanks for inviting me. Kind of like how you can talk about Batman all day, I can do that for Jack Reacher. So glad for a chance to word vomit about one of my most favorite action heroes.

VICTOR: Batman-Reacher team up issue!

KARISSA: I would die. It would be like Batman v Superman but worse. Talk about conflicting moral philosophies! But that's another discussion for another day. They wouldn't bond over both their mothers being named Martha. It would be pandemonium. Dogs and cats living together!
You don't have to put that in.

VICTOR: Oh, that's absolutely going in.

My thanks to Karissa for joining me today! You can find out more about her books at 

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

Monday, May 16, 2022

Book Review: Saving Noah by Lucinda Berry

 "Saving Noah" by Lucinda Berry

Could you love your child if they were a serial killer? A school shooter? A pedophile? If your fifteen year old son came home and admitted he gave in to his urges of touching young children (that you had no idea existed) what would you do? Noah's parents Adrianne and Lucas find out in this heartbreakingly raw and emotionally packed read. 

Noah had it all. Everyone loved him. He excelled at sports and school. He was the best big brother his seven year old sister Katie could ask for. His swimming talent landed him a coaching job teaching kids to swim. But then, Noah changes. He becomes more introverted. He isn't eating or taking care of himself. And then one night, he comes clean and he speaks the dirty truth he's been struggling to conceal... He molested two girls he was coaching. Desperate to help and make this go away, his mom sets out to make things right, only to realize the lives they led will never be the same. 

This was my first read by Berry and this book put my mind in a place I've never visited before. As a parent myself it asked some seriously tough questions about family, love, and trust. I can't imagine not loving my children but I also can't imagine my children or child confessing to such a heinous crime. Adrianne and Lucas couldn't either. While Adrianne never stops loving Lucas or advocating for him, his father doesn't feel the same. Allowing this book to give a real detailed outlook on how something like this could rip a family apart. 

I definitely shed some tears toward the end when I realized there was only one way to save Noah. I could feel the hurt and frustration from Adrianne. I sympathized for her situation as a parent. I experienced some severe confusion in my feelings towards Noah. He wanted to get better, he admitted his wrongs and he served his time. But those things don't change what he did or might do later, leaving me unsure even now if he truly deserved the treatment he received. I loved the innocence of his sister Katie and how no matter what Noah did she chose to love him unconditionally. 

This story is nothing short of heart stopping. It's a wild ride and it will make you feel and think in ways you never expected. I give this a solid 5 🌟 and ask, what would you do?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Book Review: Revelator by Daryl Gregory

For today's post, I had the option of doing a back jacket hack job, a regularly occurring segment in which we contributors put on the hat of a total industry hack attempting to write the back cover of a book. Here's a link to my previous Hack Job entry for NOS4A2 by Joe Hill as an example: 

But instead of writing bad copy, I'm going to use this opportunity to paste an actual back jacket blurb of an actual book I just finished.  It's already May--we're almost halfway into 2022 (Dear God! Where does the time go?!?!)--and while I have read a lot of books, few so far have completely wowed me. The first exception to that trend is Revelator by Daryl Gregory, with whom I was familiar because of Spoonbenders, his utterly charming, sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes wackadoo book about a family with psychic powers and a history of troubled relations.

Revelator is Gregory's latest book, and with it he takes a darker, eerier turn, creeping very close to horror.

From the back jacket:

ONE OF THE WASHINGTON POST‘S BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR • The dark, gripping tale of a 1930’s family in the remote hills of the Smoky Mountains, their secret religion, and the daughter who turns her back on their mysterious god—from the acclaimed author of Spoonbenders.
“Gods and moonshine in the Great Depression, written with a tenderness and brutality … this is as good as novels get.” —Stephen Graham Jones, author of The Only Good Indians

In 1933, nine-year-old Stella is left in the care of her grandmother, Motty, in the backwoods of Tennessee. The mountains are home to dangerous secrets, and soon after she arrives, Stella wanders into a dark cavern where she encounters the family’s personal god, an entity known as the Ghostdaddy.

Years later, after a tragic incident that caused her to flee, Stella—now a professional bootlegger—returns for Motty’s funeral, and to check on the mysterious ten-year-old girl named Sunny that Motty adopted. Sunny appears innocent enough, but she is more powerful than Stella could imagine—and she’s a direct link to Stella’s buried past and her family’s destructive faith.

Haunting and wholly engrossing, summoning mesmerizing voices and giving shape to the dark, Revelator is a southern gothic tale for the ages.

If I weren't already a fan of Gregory because of how much I enjoyed Spoonbenders, I might have given this book a try simply because it got a great blurb from Stephen Graham Jones. Jones's horror novel, The Only Good Indians, made it onto my list of favorites from 2020 (Here's my very short review of it on Goodreads ).

I'd say what The Only Good Indians and Revelator have in common is a similarly eerie tone, a strong sense of American setting and identity, and both feature "monsters" that are less creatures of fang and claw, and more genius loci. Genius loci are often thought to be protective spirits of the place they haunt, and this is true in both stories. Things only start to go bad when the locals spirits are offended by the  behavior of humans. Both of these books tend to feature that long held theme of many horror novels: Maybe humans are the biggest monsters of all.

I think Revelator particularly spoke to me because it was set in the Smoky Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee. The Smoky Mountains is a region in my own state that fascinates me, but I have visited only a few times, probably because of how utterly remote they are. Most of my life has been spent exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where my parents now live. However, any time spent in the Appalachians will likely have a visitor convinced those ancient hill are crawling with all sorts of Eldritch beings. This book does a brilliant job capturing  Appalachia's atmosphere of stoicism, isolation, and supernatural possibility.

Every time I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, it would change directions and prove me wrong. Also, I *really* liked Stella, the bootlegging rebel at the heart of the story. If you took a shine to Idgie Threadgood in Fried Green Tomatoes, then Stella might be your kind of girl. If you've read Spoonbenders then you get that Gregory likes to write weird things, and he writes them well. At times Revelator might be a bit eerie or dark, but it was never scary, at least not to me, but I've come to understand I have a pretty high threshold for what's considered scary.

Revelator is going to stay with me for a while, and between it and Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory has evolved into an "insta-buy" author for me.

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs