<![CDATA[Allison Muses - Non-Fiction Blog]]>Sat, 27 Feb 2016 01:26:15 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Fuck it, I love my Unibrow.]]>Tue, 07 Jan 2014 14:13:18 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/fuck-it-i-love-my-unibrowI'm going to start this post off with a confession: nothing I am about to say is new.  I'm not going to say anything that hasn't been blogged about and ranted about and screamed about hundreds of times already--but I'm going to talk about it anyway.  It's time for me to discuss why being a woman is so god damn frustrating.  Despite the fact that I have so many good things going for me in my life right now, every day I see a dozen others telling me I could do better--and it doesn't have to do with my drive, or my compassion, or my intellect.  It's all about how I look.  Not only that, it's about knowing that I am not allowed to see myself as beautiful without following the social rules of how to look good.

I'm going to give you a concrete example here.  I listen to Pandora internet radio a lot, and that means that I hear a lot of ads.  One of the ads circling around right now is one for something called "Ideal Images", a laser hair-removal company.  Their ad goes something like this: "Are you sick of shaving, waxing and tweezing?  Then stop!  Call Ideal Images and take a step towards a more ideal you with our laser hair-removal services."  If you don't make a habit of picking apart every ad you hear, it might not seem problematic to you, but let's take a moment to dissect exactly what's being said here.

1.) It is expected that you (woman listening to the radio) are already routinely shaving, waxing, and tweezing.

2.) You will not like to shave/wax/tweeze.  It will make you tired, but you will endure.

3.) As a woman, you have the right to not shave/wax/tweeze--as long as you use some other method of de-hairing yourself.  Remember, the ideal you does not have body hair.

To a lot of people, this ad might sound like just another commercial, but to me it embodies everything fucked up about how modern women view themselves.  It invokes that Holy Grail of Perfection, the unattainable "Ideal You", and that ideal you isn't someone with self-confidence, it's not someone who can be assertive and know her own mind, it's not someone who looks at herself in the mirror and says "Fuck it, I love my unibrow!"  This ideal you is someone reached only by shaving/waxing/tweezeing/mascarizing/powdering/touching-up/starving yourself so much that the person looking back at you in the mirror isn't even you anymore.  But that's ok.  You're going to have to make some changes if you want to be ideal.

Now, I get it.  Capitalism is a system that works by doing two things.  First it tells you that whatever you currently have is inadequate.  Then it convinces you that whatever is being sold is the best possible replacement.

No one's going to take you seriously in that old rust-bucket--you should buy a new Subaru.


This new iPhone is faster, lighter and more attractive than that hunk of crap you've got there, never mind the fact that you only bought it a year ago.


Look at all that hair on your upper-lip!  You'll never get a boyfriend that way.


It's one of the things about Capitalism that makes my skin crawl.  Nothing is ever good enough (especially not your body).

I'm going to let you in on a secret that Ideal Images doesn't want you to know: everyone else is hairy too.  It's not just you.  People have toe hair, arm hair, pit hair, pubic hair, leg hair, back hair, neck hair, facial hair.  Every inch of the human skin is covered in hair.  You might not notice it, but it's there.  Some people have more noticeable hair than others, but almost everyone on the planet is hairy.  Why on earth is it so important for women to be perceived as being hairless when literally 99.9% of the people on the planet are covered in hair?  It's ridiculous.  It's as ridiculous as thinking you have to smear make-up on your face before it's acceptable to be seen in public, or believing that your waistline and bust should somehow be more important than what's going on inside your fabulous, amazing, wonderful brain.  The Ideal You should be someone who doesn't have to strive for some unattainable, unrealistic perfection to be happy with herself.  The Ideal You should be someone who is comfortable in the skin she already has.

Don't get me wrong--I don't have a fundamental issue with the things women use to change their appearances.  I'm not against shaving, I'm not against make-up, I'm not against body-slimming undergarments or high-heels or mini-skirts or lyposuction or nose jobs or anything else you might care to mention.  I'm a firm believer that you should be able to do whatever you want to your own body.  But I think we should be focusing less on changing ourselves and more on loving ourselves the way we are.  Wearing make-up is fine.  What's not fine is believing that you are somehow less worthwhile without it.  Imagine if someone had said "Listen, Frida.  Your paintings are great and all, but really you ought to do something about that eyebrow.  No one's ever going to take you seriously."  What am I saying: someone probably did tell her that.  Luckily she was smart enough to ignore them.

Growing up, there are a hundred things that make it hard to like ourselves.  We live in a society that makes a living out of making us feel unsatisfied.  As a woman, your breasts are too small, they're too big, you're too meek, you're too outgoing, you're too white, you're too red, you're too smart, you're too stupid.  You've got acne, frizzy hair, big feet, nerdy hobbies.  You feel like everyone from the clerk at the grocery store to the president of the United States is judging you every moment of every day and consistently finding you lacking.  Is it any wonder, with ads like the one from Ideal Images being thrown at us all the time?  From the moment we realize that there's a world outside our front door, we learn that our society would rather us laser away our unibrow, our pubic hair, and our leg fuzz than have us learn to just accept the fact that people have body hair.  I know I'm a beautiful person (so are you, by the way) but I've had to wade through a bunch of shit to get here without having to fundamentally change myself first.

There's a reason why the angry feminist is viewed with so much derision.  It's easy to dismiss anger as being irrational.  Who would waste their time dissecting some dumb ad on Pandora?  Who would write an entire blog post about it except for some dumb angry lesbian who can't get a boyfriend and has no other method of getting out her sexual frustration?  It sounds ridiculous, but it's the way that people always discredit women who make legitimate points about social issues.  Don't worry about them--they're just angry, just frustrated, just lonely.

But why shouldn't I be angry?  Why shouldn't I be pissed that not wearing make-up or plucking my eyebrows makes me less ideal?  Are you fucking kidding me?  Life is hard enough without the media constantly telling me all the ways I could improve myself.  And I can't just ignore it.  If it isn't an ad for hair removal, it's an ad telling me that my hair isn't shiny enough, or a movie telling me that I should always be looking for a man, or a billboard talking about how smooth my skin could be if only I would purchase this skin cream.  It is literally everywhere.  So, yes.  I'm angry.  I live in a world where I can't be an ideal person without zapping away my pubic hair, where people say I look tired because they've never seen what a woman without make-up looks like in the morning.

So I guess I'll get to the real point here, which is actually what I said at the very beginning of this post.  Nothing I've said is new.  There is nothing in this blog post that hasn't been blogged about, ranted about and screamed about a hundred times before.  I'll leave you with this question: why is nothing ever done about it?
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<![CDATA[2014: The Year for Acts of Creation]]>Wed, 01 Jan 2014 04:06:02 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/2014-the-year-for-acts-of-creationI appreciate college.  I appreciate the experiences I had there, I appreciate the classes I took, I appreciate the professors I was lucky enough to learn from.  I appreciate the fact that college significantly improved my ability to take a critical look at the world around me.  That being said, I think college also took a big chunk out of my creative drive, and I appreciate how crippling that could be for me.  I've always loved writing, and I've barely written anything since I graduated, despite the fact that I have much more free time now than I did at school.  I say I want to be a writer in the future, but fully-written books don't just pop out of the ground and scream "Publish me, I'm done!"

So, my 2014 New Year's Resolution is this: every day, I want to spend time creating something.  I want to put aside an hour (since I'm lucky enough to have a job where that's possible) and apply my brain to some sort of creative problem.  Whether it's a piece of writing, a piece of revision, a sketch, a doodle, a poem, a dance, a character profile, a song...anything.  Anything that forces my brain to expand a little bit.   Something about college turned a switch inside me, oriented me towards critical thinking and away from creative thinking, and I need to turn it back.

It's no secret that our modern world doesn't have a lot of space for the arts.  Ask anyone who majored in something non-science/math/business related in college.  It's hard to find a job, and any job you do find isn't going to make you much money--no matter how far up the ladder you climb.  That being said, I doubt I'd ever be satisfied with a 9 to 5 corporate business job, and the number one way I can make sure that doesn't happen is to nourish my ticket out: creativity.

Without further ado, I present to you my first act of creation; a probably terrible and grammatically problematic haiku, written to see if I could!  It follows the theme of rebirth and positive internal change.  Granted, it's still the middle of winter and it's unlikely that any buds will be flowering anytime soon, but hey at least it's not snowing today.

雪がやむ
外も心に
芽が咲いた
The snow stops
outside and in my heart
a bud has flowered.
I also want to make sure that I surround myself with creative things from other people, so here's my favorite Japanese poem (not technically a haiku--it's the predecessor to the haiku, a rhyme format of 5-7-5-7-7).  It's written by Ono no Komachi, a famous female Japanese poet from the mid ninth century.  Yes, ninth.

わびぬれば
身をうき草の
ねをたへて
さそふみづあらば
いなんとぞ思ふ
I have sunk to the
bottom and like the rootless
shifting water weeds
should the currents summon me
I too would drift away
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<![CDATA[A Tale of Four Singles]]>Thu, 26 Dec 2013 14:11:49 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/a-tale-of-four-singlesOur story starts, as many of the best stories do, with Tim McGraw.  And YouTube.

I was listening to one of my favorite songs by country music super-star Tim McGraw (She's My Kind of Rain, a single from 2003) when it happened.  I'm sure you're all familiar with the dislike bar on YouTube, and with the tendency for viewers to make a clever comment about the number of dislikes a video has received.  This particular video had twelve dislikes, and one of the fans decided to comment on how crazy someone would have to be to dislike such a lovely song.  I decided to reply.  The conversation went something like this.

Random YouTube Viewer #23,835: "Twelve people must be Obama loving socialists."
Me: I'm an Obama-loving socialist and I love this song.  I didn't know those were mutually exclusive."
Random YouTube Viewer #23,835: "Kill yourself."

Now, I know how stupid it is to get into arguments with people on YouTube, and I've only rarely done it, but on this particular occasion, I decided to.  I'm not entirely sure why.  Maybe my brain got tired of being fundamentally non-confrontational and some aggression just oozed out.  Maybe I ate some anger-toast that morning for breakfast.  Maybe I got sick of people assuming that just because I support Obama I'm required to hate country music and vice versa.

Oh, wait...I think that last one might have accidentally been serious.

I love country music.  I don't love all country music, and some of it makes me want to throw the speaker across the room and barf, but I like most of it.  I know country has it's own share of problems, like a tendency to glorify drunk driving, frequently objectifying women, a decently large religious connection (not really a problem but not something I particularly relate to either) and a sad, sad lack of artists who write their own material, but at the end of the day I still love it.  Part of it is nostalgia.  I started listening to country when I was in middle school, and it's given me many excellent memories over the years.  Any time I hear the song "Three Wooden Crosses" by Randy Travis, I'm that cute blond seventh grader getting into country for the first time.  So, yes.  Part of my love for country is certainly nostalgia.  That being said, part of it is a true appreciation for the fundamental things that Today's Country almost always gets right.

I'd like to share a few songs that are on the radio right now and make my point in excellent fashion.

Joe Nichols--"Sunny and 75"

Joe Nichols, who brought us such gems as "Brokenheartsville" and "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off", recently came out with a single called "Sunny and 75".  Let me explain why i love this song.  There's nothing mind-blowing about it--it's actually a pretty simple song.  There's not anything complicated going on stylistically, and the lyrics certainly don't have all that much variety.  "Sunny and 75" is just a song with a lovely message (namely, that Joe feels a sense of peace and joy whenever he sees his girlfriend) sung by a good-looking man with a nice voice.  If every song on the radio was this pleasant, I'd never be depressed again.  No mentions of sex, no mentions of drinking, no "bitches" or "hoes"--just a song that makes me feel good.  That's why it's one of my favorite country songs on the radio right now.

Lee Brice--"I Drive Your Truck"

There are a bunch of reasons why I love this song, but I'll tell you why I picked it for this list.  It invokes every subject that country music people love to hear about, but it invokes them in an unobtrusive way.  Let's take a look at the country staples involved in the song "I Drive Your Truck", shall we?

-The Military (army boots, t-shirt, dog-tags, the flag)
-Chew
-Pickup trucks
-Mama
-Country music
-Manliness (in the form of arm-punching and the pressure to be emotionally barren)
-God
-Prayer
-Back roads

The only song I know that surpasses this in terms of stereotypical content is Brad Paisley's "This is Country Music" and he was doing it on purpose.  That being said, this song is still a great example of a country song that uses the genre in the right way.  Even though it evokes all these stereotypical country music images, it doesn't slap you in the face with them.  It uses them effectively to tell the story of a man who lost his brother to the war and uses his old truck as a way to feel close to him.  It's an intense message, done (in my opinion) almost perfectly.

Zac Brown Band--"Sweet Annie"

Alright, I'll be honest--I don't really think of the Zac Brown Band as country.  They're not exactly folk music, but they've got an extra something that lifts them out of the rather humdrum and simple country label.  Still, they're on mainstream country music radio and that's good enough for this list!  I think the Zac Brown Band produces lovely, stylistically interesting, unique music, and the fact that they're so popular means that the genre is taking a step in the right direction.  If you like "Sweet Annie", I would recommend listening to their other music as well.  I particularly like "Cold Hearted" and "Colder Weather".

Miranda Lambert--"Mama's Broken Heart"

I really only like this song because of the music video, but I love the fact that Miranda Lambert is allowed to be dorky, crazy and sexy all at once.  She doesn't always ham it up (I like her rendition of "The House that Built Me" quite a lot) but I'm appreciative of the fact that the genre allows her to ham it up when she feels like it.  Country music doesn't have a ton of high-profile female artists right now--the ones that come immediately to mind are Carrie Underwood, Hillary Scott from Lady Antebellum, Kimberly Reid from The Band Perry, and of course Taylor Swift.  Although there is a ridiculous amount of objectification in county music (Thomas Rhett's recent line "You're shakin' that money maker like a heart breaker, like your college major was twistin' and tearin' up Friday nights" comes to mind.  At least he assumes she went to college, right?  Although hopefully a college graduate wouldn't have to shake her ass to make money...) I will say that the ladies of country music are one talented group of women.

I guarantee that anyone listening to the four songs I mentioned above will enjoy them, and that's why I appreciate country music so much.  At the end of the day, it still holds to the ideal that it started with--to provide accessible, easy to relate to music that everyone (from the Obama-loving social atheists to the bible-thumping Republican gun-slingers) can love.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Random YouTube Viewer #23,835.
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<![CDATA[Dear Self]]>Thu, 07 Nov 2013 09:36:12 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/dear-self“For too long, and despite what people told me, I had fallen for what the culture said about beauty, youth, features, heights, weights, hair textures, upper arms.” 

-Anne Lamott
When I was clearing out my bedroom before coming to Japan, I flipped through a couple of my old journals from when I was a kid.  And it made me think.  Most of the stuff in there was pretty normal (I REALLY wanted to be able to shave my legs, which is hilarious now for anyone who's familiar with my lax personal habits in that area).  I talked about the guy I had liked for a really long time, how much I loved my cat, things that confused me in general about life--some of which, I'm sad to say, still get me.

Why do people drive black cars at night?  Come on!  That's an accident just waiting to happen.

Anyway, there was one entry that caught my attention, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.  I had a list of things I wanted to do before the end of the school year, and one of the items was drop ten pounds.  Now, I was not heavy in middle school.  I don't even remember thinking negatively about my weight until relatively recently (the last five years or so) but that list was incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.  It got me thinking--How much of my childhood did I waste feeling bad about myself?  How much of my adult life do I plan to waste doing the same?

I should probably be clear about something here: I have a lot of fabulous things going for me.  I'm smart, I'm compassionate, I'm successful, and I can take care of myself in ways that I'm really proud of.  It's funny, though, how none of those things seem to matter when I'm standing in front of the mirror.  We live in a society where  what you look like trumps everything else.  Even knowing it's a trap, it's hard not to fall into it.

I do see a lot of body positivity stuff going around these days, and every time I see it I'm pleased.  But I feel like that ship has already sailed for me.  It's like racism, or sexism, or any ingrained way of thinking--once it's there, it never goes away.  There was a little girl in middle school ten years ago who needed some body positivity, who needed someone to tell her that her body was not the only thing she had to offer the world, that she did not need to look "perfect" to be desirable or strong, to be a worthwhile person.

After thinking about it for awhile (because this is the kind of thing that needs to be thought about for a good, long while) I've decided that I owe that girl some body positivity.  I owe her good thoughts about myself.  I owe her a body that I love no matter what it looks like.  I wish I could go back and tell her that she's going to be awesome.  In ten years, she's going to be a college graduate with a million different futures ahead of her, a good job, an awesome family, two snuggly cats and friends who'd go to the wall for her.  How much she weighs doesn't matter.  The people who love her won't stop loving her if she puts on a few pounds.  Her cats won't stop purring just because her fingers are thicker when she scratches them just right.  It doesn't matter--it never did.

So, I go to the beach.  I walk around my apartment however I want because I don't have to be modest in my own home.  I buy myself sexy things because I deserve to feel sexy.  I think there's always going to be that part of me that looks at myself in a too-critical way, and it's impossible to blame anyone for that.  Body negativity (particularly if you're a woman, but I know men face the same kind of pressures) is so ingrained in our culture that there's no one source for it anymore.  It's everywhere.
"It was in the air, or so it seemed to Kiki, this hatred of women and their bodies-- it seeped in with every draught in the house; people brought it home on their shoes, they breathed it in off their newspapers. There was no way to control it.” 

-Zadie Smith "On Beauty"
From here on out--for the sake of that little twelve-year-old who thought her body wasn't good enough--I'm going to do my best to cut myself some slack.  After all, it's like RuPaul says: "If you don't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?"

Maybe my twelve-year-old self should have watched more Drag Race.

What actually convinced me to write this post is this video.  There's a lot in it that resonated with me, so I'd recommend taking a listen!
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<![CDATA[BYOB: Bringing Your Own Bags (and what it says about YOU)]]>Sat, 06 Jul 2013 16:39:51 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/byob-bringing-your-own-bags-and-what-it-says-about-youI could go on all day about the way homelessness is treated in our society, or how Boulder pretty much sucks for anyone who doesn't give one crap about how many GMO soybeans are in their fake milk.  But I won't.  I'm going to focus on one thing and one thing only: bringing your own bags to the supermarket, because I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what it means to be classy.

Let me preface this by saying that I've seen the whole spectrum of American social class.  I grew up in a neighborhood that used to be pretty gnarly (and still can be, if given the chance).  There's a big homeless presence because the Denver Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, and the Jesus Saves are all right down the street.  The local cops have bigger fish to fry (like drug dealers and gun fighters) than people who sleep outside because they don't have anywhere else to go.  Even now that a big portion of the local housing has been spiffed up and white-ified, most of the people roaming the streets aren't white, and if you walk around you'll probably hear some questionable domestic disturbances coming from inside the houses you pass (front doors open, because there's not much paycheck left over for air-conditioning).

I also went to school in Boulder, where the average mentality is "Organic or Bust" and the overwhelming presence of Subaru-toting Democrats sometimes makes you feel like you've entered an entirely different dimension.  One where everyone can afford to purchase their very own share of the moral high-ground.

It's an interesting contrast, to put it lightly.

Class difference is a lot like sexism in the sense that it's everywhere if you know what to look for.  It manifests itself in a million and one tiny ways every day, and usually the only people who notice are the ones being wronged.  I don't know that bringing your own bag to the supermarket is a way of wronging those less fortunate, but it certainly does highlight the fact that people who come from different places in life put effort into worrying about very different things.

"Don't be a drag, bring your own bag!"

Picture
Picture this: you're in the Whole Foods parking lot, and you realize that *gasp!* you forgot your wad at home--your wad of reusable bags, that is.  Looking around you, every single cart is loaded with mad stacks of canvas, but your cart is empty.

I hope you remembered to bring your thick skin at least, because you're about to be getting some seriously judgemental stink-eye.

You head on over to the produce section, and the woman next to you reaches into her purse to find her reusable produce bag.  You're so embarrassed to be using plastic (like the heathen you are) that you can't bring yourself to pull the trigger (so to speak.  No guns in the produce section, please).  Those organic, on-the-vine tomatoes are going in your basket naked, damn it!

You head on over to the bulk section only to find that everyone there is reusing their bulk bags from last time.  'Why', you ask yourself, 'why did I throw that bag away when I polished my chocolate off during Teen Wolf last night!?' 

By the time you get to the check-out, you've been slapped in the face with your own worthlessness so many times that you're numb to any further shaming.  You shuffle back to your car, slump into the front seat, and eat a tomato.  Whole.  Unwashed.  It's organic but it doesn't matter; you're so depressed that you wouldn't give a shit either way.

It's hilarious because this is legitimately what happens every single time I walk into Whole Foods.

Now imagine it the other way around: you walk into a Safeway, and you're the ONLY one with your own bags.  You look around, and not only are you the only white person there, you're the only one that has that stupid little canvas bag poking out of your purse and it makes you feel like an entitled asshole.  That's the way it is at the Safeway by my house (locally known as the "Not so Safe" Safeway) and there have been many times that I've walked out with plastic bags because I've been too embarrassed to use the collapsible bag I brought with me.  No joke.  There's not a single thing in this world that makes me more uncomfortable than being seen as "one of THOSE white people".  You know the kind.

(If you don't, just take a day trip to Boulder.)

Here's the thing, though: I don't think that the movement to phase-out plastic bags is a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, I think it's great--less plastic at the grocery means less overhead for the grocery store, less clutter for you, and less permanent nastiness shoved into our planet.  But I also think that it's similar to veganism, similar to GMOs and organic and free-range, in the sense that the only people who really give a shit are people who can afford to.  I'm very aware that my diet is one that I can maintain only because I have the money and the freedom to do so, and if I were worried about whether or not I was going to be able to make the rent this month, it probably wouldn't be nearly as important to me.

Now, in Boulder (because of course it would be in Boulder) they're charging for bags.  $0.10 a pop.  And it wouldn't matter to me if not for the fact that grocery stores were already charging us for the bags.  I mean this in the economic sense that any company is going to have to factor overhead (rent on the building, rotten produce, mop heads, plastic bags, etc.) into the final cost of the product unless they want to get hit with bankruptcy in five years.  It's just the way retail works.  Express has to buy those stupid plastic hangers; my father works from home so he doesn't have to factor in the cost of a secretary.  It's the same concept.  It means that we were ALREADY paying for the bags, it was just invisible so we didn't care.  Now the stores are twiddling their thumbs and pretending like they were giving their bags away for free before and have only now seen the error of their ways.  It's ridiculous.  It's capitalism in the form of pretending to be responsible, and it looks an AWFUL lot like taking advantage of people.

Of course, it's taking advantage of people who can afford it, but still.  It's something to think about.  What are you really saying when you bring your own bag to the grocery store?  Are you really trying to better the planet?  Or are you just one more obnoxious white person being manipulated by big business?  It's definitely something to think about next time you hit up the produce aisle--but I think I'll keep bringing my Chico Bag.  Hey, at least I'm such a klepto that I didn't actually have to pay for it.

Final thought:  Who's making all these reusable bags?  Underpaid workers in China?  At least with plastic, we aren't abusing people.
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<![CDATA[Ruminations on Violence in Game of Thrones (Non-spoilery)]]>Fri, 07 Jun 2013 04:48:46 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/ruminations-on-violence-in-game-of-thrones-non-spoilery"Violence isn't always evil.  What's evil is the infatuation with violence."
-Jim Morrison
Generally speaking, Game of Thrones isn't too much for me.  Sure, the sheer number of perky breasts is impressive, and there's plenty of violence that makes me raise an eyebrow.  It doesn't help that the production values are so high, they can make anything look 100% real, but that's nothing I can't handle.  No one goes into the show without understanding HBO's love of pushing the pornographic television envelope.

"I'm HBO, see?  And I can show breasts, see?  And I can say 'fuck' as many times as I fuck-well please, see?"
PictureHope no one recognizes his biceps...
This season, though, we've finally come across a character arc that pushes all the wrong buttons with me.  It's like over-the-top porn that's too obscene to be even remotely sexy, and it's been going on all season.  For eight episodes, we've been watching one particular character get tortured in every imaginable way.  In order to avoid spoiling anyone, I won't name any names, but it's got my ridiculous, academic brain wondering: What's the point, HBO?

When I was a junior in college, I took a class on American Naturalism Literature, a genre that deals exclusively with The Little Guy getting screwed over by The System (technically known as "Environmental Determinism" for those who actually care).  It's far from my favorite genre of literature, but the class was fabulous and the professor formatted the material in a much more generally applicable way than most literature classes can manage.  Plus, he introduced me to the wonder that is Bruce Springsteen's album "Nebraska", and that album's perfection can't be overstated.

One of the topics we covered at length was a growing tendency in literature to feature violence in a pornographic way--that is, allowing the reader to experience the pleasure of it without having any of the first-hand guilt or responsibility that would accompany it in real life.  We discussed it in relation to Truman Capote's 1966 novel In Cold Blood, an ostensibly non-fiction account of a series of brutal murders in Kansas--just goes to show you, once again, that nothing good happens in Kansas--but I think it has relevance to a lot of modern entertainment.  How often is the violence we're shown actually necessary, and how often is it simply a way to satiate our inner desire to be violent ourselves?

Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that everyone reading In Cold Blood or watching Game of Thrones and enjoying them is getting some vicarious thrill out of the experience, but it must be subconsciously gratifying on some level, or we wouldn't waste our time on it.  Is it the reassurance that no matter what might be wrong with us, at least we're not that fucked up?  Does it say something about me that it took a pretty nasty level of torture to finally offend my delicate sensibilities?  Are we supposed to believe that there's some purpose for this character arc other than HBO firmly characterizing the torturer as a giant bag of dicks?  How many rhetorical questions is too many rhetorical questions?

The answer, if you're wondering, is probably yes.  And also three.

This brings us to the age-old debate about the potential effects of pornography (a subject in which I am MOST well-versed, in case you have the audacity to question my credentials): Is pornography a way of flaming sexual urges or a way of venting them, like steam from a pressure cooker?  This a pretty critical question when you really stop to think about it, and it's obvious that it can be applied to pornographic-type violence too.  Depending on the answer, we might be better off watching The Brady Bunch and reading childrens' books so we don't all become murderous, torturing psychopaths.  Unfortunately, I don't think it's quite that black and white.  Even if it were, violence is such an every-day presence in modern entertainment that it's all-but-impossible to get away from.

And, let's be honest--me and Game of Thrones are already bros, torture and all.  Ain't no use denyin' it.

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More like GAME OF TORTURE-PORN! But....same thing. Right?
Because I am a dorky intellectual at heart, I like to play dorky intellectual games with myself.  It's interesting to try and categorize particular bits and pieces of violence as either necessary to plot and/or character development or completely gratuitous.  Obviously any piece of literature or film that takes itself at all seriously wants every glance and every moment of dialogue to add something to the final product, but there is such a thing as beating a dead horse.  Yes, maybe the torture from this season of Game of Thrones was necessary for the first two or three scenes (in order to set up a character profile for the torturer and to show exactly how far up shit-creek our torturee truly is).  After that, despite the fact that I hesitate to call anything in this series gratuitous, I think the torture became pretty damn excessive.  Torturous, even, one might say.

The real question here, then, is the question we started out with: What's the point, HBO?  By making someone like me--someone who's fairly desensitized to violence  in the name of entertainment--cringe at what they're putting this character through, are they forcing me to become even more desensitized?  Or are they just doing their best to remind me that I'm still not quite fucked up enough to enjoy it yet?

Perhaps that question will be answered next week on the season finale.  One can only hope.  Lord knows I'd love closure for something in that show.
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<![CDATA[Trouble, Thy Name is Teen Wolf.]]>Tue, 04 Jun 2013 22:27:20 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/trouble-thy-name-is-teen-wolfPicture

"Maybe you caught a rabbit or something."
"And did what?"
"Ate it."
"Raw?"
"No, you stopped to bake it in a little werewolf oven."


-Scott and Stiles. S1, E3 "Pack Mentality"

OK, disclaimer: I usually have better taste than some crappy supernatural soap opera aired by that paragon of quality television networks, MTV.  I appreciate Sherlock for it's delightfully intelligent scripting, I've never watched 16 and Pregnant, and I've seen many an independent movie that practically screamed "I'M BEING ARTISTIC, BITCH, APPRECIATE ME!"  Teen Wolf is not artistic by any stretch of the imagination, though it's certainly screaming for something.  A new script-writer?  A better CGI budget?  Who knows.  Most of the acting is singularly atrocious, and there are so many naked-man-chests that I'm starting to become desensitized to 8-packs--a feat I didn't really think was possible, but there you go.  Way to ruin me for life, MTV.

Here's the thing, though.  I love this show.  Occasionally (and by occasionally, I mean several times per episode) I catch myself thinking "Why the hell am I watching this?" and then I get a glimpse of Dylan O'Brien's adorable face, or the hint of a somewhat decent plot on the horizon and I'm hooked once more.  With last night's premier of the twenty-four-episode Season Three, I found myself practically stapled to the couch, terrified that Isaac (my current favorite teen-wolf) was going to get murdered in the hospital, or Derek was going to have shaved off his five o'clock shadow between the seasons.  Now we have twin werewolves that can somehow combine into one giant MEGABEAST (!), a questionably blind alpha werewolf with a sexy and probably fake accent, a veterinarian with somewhat suspicious motivations, and more man-muscle than you can shake a stick at.  All this, packed into 41 minutes of programming interspersed with an obscene amount of commercials.

Let's be honest, though: we are dealing with MTV, so I wasn't expecting 53 minutes of quality programming.  This isn't HBO.  (Also, where the heck did the phrase "more ___ than you can shake a stick at" even come from?  Seriously, English.  Get your shit together.  You make zero sense.)

Anyway.

Here's the deal, for those of you who haven't seen or heard of the show (you lucky, lucky few):  Teen Wolf is based VERY loosely off the 1980s movie of the same name featuring Michael J. Fox.  Our main character is a boy named Scott McCall, a high-school nobody who's unlucky enough to get bitten by a werewolf one night when he's out sticking his nose where it shouldn't be.  He goes from zero to hero overnight because of his new fancy physique and winning lacrosse skills, but his new affliction comes with it's own slew of problems.  It turns out that the girl he's madly in love with (after two whole episodes) is the youngest member of a family of werewolf hunters who've been killing supernatural shit since 1800s France.  Not only that, there's another werewolf in town--Derek Hale--who can't seem to decide whether he wants Scott in his pack or would rather just spend the rest of his life stalking, threatening and assaulting various high-school students.
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You know those moments when you look at your pet and you legitimately cannot stand how adorable they are? Yeah...it happens with Dylan O'Brien too. I'd like to call dibs on that, please.
Scott's best friend, Some-first-name-we-don't-know "Stiles" Stilinski, is 75% of the reason why I watch the show, and if you decide to check it out, you'll soon figure out why.  Not only is he THE BEST best-friend a high-school-loser-turned-werewolf could ask for, he's also played by Dylan O'Brien (see above), one of the more decent actors on Teen Wolf's payroll.  Stiles and Scott have since fumbled through two seasons'-worth of ridiculous supernatural problems, mostly succeeding in not getting murdered or arrested, during which some pretty fantastic shenanigans ensued.

There's a whole cast of additional players (many of whom lack any sort of character development, but that's OK--they're not main characters and probably won't make it to the end of the season anyway) including Jackson Whittemore, the high-school's resident meat-headed asshole; Lydia Martin, Stiles' long-time crush but also, unfortunately, kind of a bitch; Allison Argent, Scott's supernatural-hunting girlfriend (who, coincidentally also tried to shoot him with a crossbow in last season's finale and has apparently been completely forgiven); Derek's motley werewolf pack, consisting of Boyd, Erica, and Isaac; and Derek's psycho uncle Peter Hale.  Seriously.  The sooner someone kills him dead, the better, in my opinion.

There's a lot going on here that I really like, honestly.  Isaac's character, for example, is not only acted pretty well by Daniel Sharman, he's also one of the few characters with an interesting backstory, and the developing friendship between him and Scott is leaving me very on-edge about how Scott and Stiles' friendship might change over the course of this season.  Stiles, as pretty much the lone innocent human bystander at this point, is really beginning to struggle with his purpose in the midst of all this werewolf hullabaloo.  I adore both Stiles and Isaac, so I'm not entirely sure who to root for here.  Maybe we should just get rid of Scott, seeing as how he's a ridiculously boring, one-dimensional character, played by Tyler Posey who might be pretty damn adorable on occasion but is still, at the end of the day, a terrible actor.

Sorry, Bro.  The truth hurts.

So what's the point of all this?  I guess it's that I'm not embarrassed for liking a show that doesn't provide much in the way of intellectual stimulation.  There's questionable race politics going on (something I might touch on at a later date) and an AWFUL lot of male objectification, but I still love it.  I'm a sucker for Derek's tortured past, Stiles' nerdy loyalty, Isaac's abusive-father back-story, Scott's sweet smile, and even occasionally Lydia's unfortunate tendency to get left out of everything.  When it really comes down to it, Teen Wolf is a show that puts a smile on my face for 41 minutes, and maybe that's what TV is supposed to do.  Should you check it out?  Sure.

But only if you can ignore a veritable pit of plot holes and a lot of high-school dramatics.

Also, I can't be the only one who thinks Sheriff Stilinski and Mrs. McCall should just get married already.  Sheesh.
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I'm not sure why Tyler Hoechlin is shoved in the corner, nor why he's wearing a shirt. He certainly never is in the show. Also, the facial expression on Tyler Posey's face? Yeah...that's a pretty decent demonstration of his stellar acting abilities (though, he DID apparently buff up for this season. Not sure I like it.)
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<![CDATA[Book Recommendation: Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy]]>Mon, 22 Apr 2013 18:48:35 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/book-recommendation-garth-nixs-abhorsen-trilogy"Touchstone had never seen or heard a shipwreck--now he knew the sound of a thousand sailors drowning, all at once, in a quiet sea."
-Sabriel, Garth Nix
If you're hungry and looking for a new book series to devour, look no further than the Abhorsen Trilogy (also known as The Old Kingdom Trilogy) by Garth Nix, consisting of the books Sabriel (1995), Lirael (2001), and Abhorsen (2003).  There's also a collection called Across the Wall, which consists of thirteen short stories that take place in the same universe as the three main novels (but which I, admittedly, haven't read).
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I absolutely adore these American edition covers--particularly Sabriel.
I'm not sure why this series isn't more popular in the U.S. than it is.  It has everything I like in a good fantasy series: Kick-ass female protagonists (well done, despite the author being a man), unflinchingly nasty gore, a killer story-line, a fantastically original setting, and an initial concept that would knock your socks off.  As if that's not enough, the audiobook is narrated by Tim Curry.

Twist my arm, Mr. Nix.

For the most part, the trilogy is set in a place called The Old Kingdom, where magic lives strong and human machinery dies a miserable, useless death.  On the other side of The Old Kingdom, south of the wall, is Ancelstierre, a country reminiscent of a 1940s-ish England, where the heroine of the first novel in the trilogy, Sabriel, has been attending boarding school for most of her childhood.  She's not a normal child, though--she was raised by the Abhorsen, a man charged with the thankless, crucial task of making sure the dead stay dead.  The Abhorsen uses a set of seven bells (each with their own particular power and purpose) to control the dead that he encounters along his journey, battling evil necromancers along the way.  The first book begins with Sabriel venturing back into The Old Kingdom on a quest to rescue her father from the clutches of this evil.  The second book focuses instead on a young woman named Lirael, who has been raised amongst the psychic Clayr despite an apparent lack of psychic tendencies.  The third book picks up Lirael's story again with occasional appearances by Sabriel.

This series is rated as young-adult fantasy (classified as "Seventh Grade and up" and published by Harper Teen) but I can honestly say that it holds its appeal no matter how old you are.  I think the main reason why this series is directed towards young adults is that the main characters are all going through that "Oh, crap, I'm done with school and now i have to have an actual life? " thing that many young readers can relate to.  Sabriel's encounter with Touchstone midway through the first book is her first real brush with the possibility of sex, and most of the adult fantasy I've read features a lot more than the possibility.  Other than that, though, I rate this series as being perfectly acceptable fantasy to all age groups above, let's say, thirteen.  They're quick reads, despite being quite lengthy (my Lirael paperback is 705 pages!) but it never feels like Nix is toning down his diction to be appropriate to a younger audience and the gore is certainly uncensored.
"It was human, or had once been human, but now its arms were hanging threads of flesh, and its head was mostly bare skull, all deep eye hollows and shining teeth.  It was unquestionably dead, and the reek of decomposition rolled off it, over the soft smell of the rain."
-Lirael, Garth Nix
Something that I really appreciate in a good fantasy series (indeed, in a good series in general) is an author's willingness to kill off characters who his audience might like--and to keep them dead.  This is why I have a million times more respect for Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist than I do for Kishimoto Masashi's Naruto.  We can always assume--unless we're reading A Song of Fire and Ice, in which case all bets are off--that main characters will probably make it through to the end of the story, but to me the mark of a quality author is someone who can actually pull the trigger when it comes to killing off non-essential characters.  Maes Hughes, for example, in Fullmetal Alchemist, was undoubtedly a fan-favorite, but his death was a necessary evil and so Arakawa didn't hesitate.  Neither does Garth Nix.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like he's dropping people left and right, but there are a certain number of deaths that can be expected when one is battling great evil, and he seems to be fully aware of this.  He's not cruel about it, but the Abhorsen series is one in which you can't assume that a character will make it to the end just because he or she is sympathetic.

The Bottom Line:

If you've already read this series:  Congratulations.  You have fantastic taste in literature.

If you haven't read this series:  What the heck are you waiting for?  An engraved invitation?!
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These covers are nowhere near as good as the others.
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<![CDATA[An Exercise in Losing Weight (Supernatural Style!)]]>Sat, 20 Apr 2013 18:29:02 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/an-exercise-in-losing-weight-supernatural-styleSo, I've recently decided that I'm sick of being overweight.  Before anyone gets all huffy about this, it's not really about how I look--it's about how I feel.  And I feel too heavy to be a healthy twenty-two year old.  My problem, of course, is the same problem that everyone who is overweight and out of shape has: I would prefer not exercising to exercising.  The challenge, then, is to find a way to keep track of what I'm eating and to get in shape without changing so much about my current lifestyle that it feels like a burden rather than the good thing it is.

Something that I've seen circling around on the internet every now and again are these workouts centering around a particular movie or TV show.  You take a show (Supernatural, Doctor Who, House, whatever) and you do a proscribed amount of a certain exercise every time something particular happens.  Ten squats every time Sam Winchester mysteriously has Wi-Fi access when he probably shouldn't, for example.  I'm 99% certain this used to be a drinking game (Ten shots every time Sam Winchester has Wi-Fi access?) but I like the workout version a bit better.  And since I've been watching a hell of a lot of Supernatural lately, I thought I'd come up with my own workout!  So, without further ado, I present:

Allison's Supernaturally Delicious Workout!

A catch-phrase is said (e.g. “Son of a Bitch!” “Idjit” “Balls” “So get this...”):
50 seconds of jumping jacks

There is gratuitous blood splatter:
15 bicycle crunches

Cas pops up out of nowhere:
7 burpees

Cas disappears in the middle of a conversation:
15 fire hydrants each leg

A gay relationship is implied:
10 leg raises each leg

There is an Impala driving scene:
Plank for the duration

Sam cries:
10 lunges

Dean cries:
15 lunges

Bobby fanservice is delivered (aka “Bobby shows up for no real plot-related reason”):
10 push ups

Dean says something crude:
10 squats

A classic rock song is played:
Wall sits for the duration

Sam magically has Wi-Fi:
25 arm circles per arm

Holy Water is used:
10 wall push-ups

Anyone speaks in Latin:
10 windshield wipers

Fake IDs are used:
10 torso twists

Dean references hell:
Superman for 15 seconds

An angel shows up:
Drink some agua (God likes his children well-hydrated!)
Of course, working out in the living room isn't going to be enough to drop the pounds I'd like to drop, so I'm also going to be more stringent about what I'm letting myself eat (and drink!  There's nothing quite like empty calories that don't give you anything but a less-dry throat) and try to actually get out of the house and exercise.  The last time I went out on my Rollerblades, I left a significant portion of each ass-cheek on the Boulder Bike Path, but I'd like to start that up again.  Rollerblading seems to be gentle on my knees, and that's a pretty big consideration since my knees act up on a regular basis.  Still, working out while watching TV is significantly better than eating the whole time!  I shall keep the blogging world updated.
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<![CDATA[A Bodice-Ripping Good Time (or, Romance Novel 101)]]>Fri, 08 Mar 2013 23:54:50 GMThttp://allisonmuses.weebly.com/non-fiction-blog/a-bodice-ripping-good-time-or-romance-novel-101So, my dear reader, you're interested in the varied and exciting world of the twenty-first century romance novel?  You want to know more about the bodice ripping, the turgid lengths, the everlasting, passionate love?  Have no fear!  I am most certainly here to help.

A Quick Introduction

“She was carrying two coffees and a donut bag, and right then and there, he fell in love."
-Jill Shalvis "Animal Magnetism"
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Disclaimer: I have not read this.
To the outsider, romance novels are the worst-kept dirty secret of the literary world.  To the women (and, I'm sure, occasionally the men) who love them, they are the perfect way to indulge in a little fantastic escapism in a world that is too often devoid of heaving bosoms, rippling abs, and happily-ever-after.

Before we begin, I need to be clear about something: romance novels are fantastic.  I mean this both literally and colloquially--Real life doesn't follow the romance novel script.  The type of raging, everlasting, constant passion that slinks through the pages of every romance novel I've come across belongs in the same fantastic realm as Hogwarts and Pern, and we all understand this.  We don't get to the end of a romance novel and think "one day...THIS WILL BE MY LIFE!"  I swear.

Scout's honor.

On top of that, there are certainly things that I don't care for in the genre.  The rather short length and the fact that the narrative is supposed to focus on the relationship between the two main characters means that the romance moves along really quickly.  Then there's the fact that the end-game is marriage (and, time permitting, squalling little brats), so the two main characters have to fall in complete, unbreakable love by the last page.  There's no room for "Ok, so we have pretty excellent sex, but let's just see how dating goes for awhile." or "You know, I'm not really into the whole 'marriage' thing."  Sometimes the sexual initiation is carried out with a little less finesse than I like, and gender roles are adhered to pretty stringently.

All that aside, there's a lot to love about the love genre.  I bring these things up not because they're terribly important, but because the best way to present a decent argument is to acknowledge when the opposing side brings up a good point--these are, undoubtedly, good points.  They're also not enough to discourage me from coming back to the romance genre time and again.  For every book that I have to put down because it's just too shmoopy, I can read ten others that are perfectly acceptable.

A good romance leaves me feeling content, happy, and about as far from intellectually stimulated as it's possible to get--a good thing, since the last seven and a half years of my life have been sacrificed to the dense, intellectual literature that high schools and colleges like to make you read.  This isn't to say that I don't adore literature of all kinds (I do) but it can become a bit much.  Sometimes you need a break from Nabokov and James Joyce to have some brain-meltingly sentimental romance.  To me, a good bodice-ripper (disclaimer: I don't read novels with bodices, as a general rule) to break up the intensity of academic literature is as essential as tea on weekends and cat-snuggles.

There's a time and a place for Nabokov, few and far between though they may be.

The Queen of Romance

To the uninitiated, this lady is Nora Roberts, author of over 200 novels, New York Times #1 Bestseller, and probably one of the only writers ever to make $150 million off her work without any supplements from things like merchandise and movie rights (her work has been made into eight Lifetime Channel Original Movies, but those don't really count.)  If Nora Roberts played the Romance Novelist video game, she'd do it on Expert without breaking a sweat.

When I reach for a romance, I reach for Roberts. (c)

I can't tell you what she's done for the genre, because I honestly don't know; I have heard that she brought romance out of the virginal bodice-ripping and into the twenty-first century, and that's always a good thing.   She's a fabulous writer who has consistently pounded out quality romance for over thirty years--something so obscenely huge that I can't even wrap my mind around it.  Much like my college tuition.  Hahaha.  Haaaa....

Anyway.

I can safely say that Nora's definitely my favorite romance novelist, so without further ado I present:

A Nora Roberts Rec List for the Bodice-Ripper Virgin

"You go to California, or you go to hell, but you stay away from this boy, and you stay away from me."
-Nora Roberts, "Inner Harbor"
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Tribute is an excellent romance to start off with if you're looking for a stand-alone book.  The characters (Cilla, an amateur carpenter, and Ford, a graphic novelist) meet when Cilla moves into the house across the street and begins to renovate it.  Wrapped up in the romance is a mystery--someone wants Cilla and her nosy ways out of town, and they won't stop at anything less.

It's a very well-paced book.  It's well-researched, and the plot is unique and interesting.  The two main characters are some of my favorites, and the mystery is a mystery right until the end.  Of Roberts' books, this is the only book that I really enjoyed despite not being part of a series.

Romance novels often suffer from a lack of good character development because they're short and so focused on the romance.  Nora gets around this by preferring to write in either quartets or trilogies--she follows a set of characters throughout several books, pairing them off as they go, and can then develop their characters as much as she needs to.  It's the reason why her series tend to be much more well-received than her stand-alone novels.  What follows are my three favorite series by Nora Roberts.

The Chesapeake Bay Saga (1999)
Sea Swept, Rising Tides, Inner Harbor, and Chesapeake Blue

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The Chesapeake Bay Saga is my favorite Nora series for a lot of reasons.  The main characters are all fabulous, and their various backstories are dark and lovely.  The premise is this: Cameron, beaten and abused by his father, runs away from home.  He comes upon the house of Ray and Stella Quinn, and, more specifically, comes upon their fancy Corvette.  He plans to steal it, but is intercepted by Ray Quinn, who offers Cam the chance to escape his childhood hell and come live with the Quinns instead.  Cam is the first of their adopted children, but Ethan and Phillip (both having equally if not more horrific backstories) are soon taken into their care as well.  Years later, Ray Quinn dies and leaves behind one last adopted son--ten-year-old Seth.  The brothers are charged with Seth's care (fighting a three-book-long custody battle) while trying to figure out why Seth looks a bit too much like Ray Quinn, a man whose wife couldn't bear children.

It's an intense series, but the novels are long, the characters are really well developed, and the female characters are fabulous--not to mention that the writing is gripping, and the setting of a small town on the Chesapeake Bay is lovely.  Highly recommended, although admittedly darker than Nora usually goes for.

The Three Sisters Trilogy (2002)
Dance Upon the Air, Heaven and Earth, and Face the Fire

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The Three Sisters Island trilogy centers around three women (Nell, Ripley and Mia) who are all descendants of three witches who used to live on Three Sisters Island.  In order to counteract an ancient curse implemented by their ancestors, the three women must learn to accept their magic and open their hearts to love.

Nora likes the idea of the supernatural, and she uses it to great effect in this series.  The magic is well-implemented, and it affects the three main characters in different ways.  Nell, the heroine of Face the Fire, comes to the island after running away from her abusive husband, while Mia and Ripley have lived there their whole lives.  Mia embraces her powers, while Ripley rejects them (and Mia) because she is frightened of what she might be capable of.

This was one of the first series I read when I first started getting into the romance novel genre, and I've read it several times since.  It's a great first series, because it really highlights the fact that romance can be the biggest genre-hopper out there, incorporating anything from supernatural material to espionage and crime.

The MacKade Brothers (1995)
The Return of Rafe MacKade, The Pride of Jared MacKade, The Heart of Devin MacKade, 
and The Fall of Shane MacKade

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These four books center around the MacKade Brothers (Rafe, Jared, Devin, and Shane) who live in the town of Antietam, Maryland amongst the restless spirits left over from the Civil War.  Each of the brothers has made something out of himself even when no one thought they would.  Rafe is a successful contractor, Jared, a wealthy lawyer, Devin, the town sheriff, and Shane, the caretaker of the family farm.  Their stories are all centered around the spiritual activity of Antietam, and their various love interests all play a part in putting the ghosts of the past to rest.

It's an older series, but it's still quite relevant.  The history is incorporated really well, as is the paranormal element.  Bonus: there's a bed-and-breakfast (another theme that Nora Roberts seems to enjoy using) and antiques, two of my favorite things.  It's hard to go wrong with this series, and like the Three Sisters Island trilogy, it was one of the first romance series I read.  Don't worry, though--it's still excellent.

I hope this was a good introduction to the world of romance novels, and I'd love for you to check out some of my recommendations, or even ask me for more!  I think you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised if you do.
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