The Mommy Gamers

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Ashley Montgomery

    A Comedy & A Tragedy: A Memoir of Learning How to Read and Write

    From Travis Hugh Culley and Ballantine Books


    As a student of writing and literature, my literacy is one of those things which I constantly utilize within my life, but it is also something that I often take entirely for granted.  I began reading before I entered public school, and wound up being placed in a pre-1st classroom after essentially “testing out” of kindergarten.  So, as large a role as literacy has played in my life, it’s never been something that I was even all that conscious about.  It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

    [quote]The idea of an established writer being someone who did not come to literacy until age seventeen lays the groundwork for an incredibly impressive and inspirational tale.”[/quote]

    A_COMEDY__A_TRAGEDY_coverThis was a huge factor for why the opportunity to review A Comedy & A Tragedy was so appealing to me.  Written by Travis Hugh Culley and published by Ballantine Books, A Comedy & A Tragedy: A Memoir of Learning How to Read and Write details Culley’s struggle toward literacy among a seemingly-endless field of obstacles.  Emerging from a history of abuse and a toxic family environment, Travis begins to find inventive ways to hide his illiteracy while navigating life as the epitome of the nontraditional learner.  His experiences in theater become a fitting gateway to learning to read and write, but the journey is an arduous one.

    [quote]It was difficult to hide my fear of reading from my acting teachers.  They were training us to take a piece of writing and translate every word of it into action.  They saw behind the process.  In every way, the theater was a threshold for learning literacy because it depended on a full and exact understanding of the actions.” (Culley 139)[/quote]

    The idea of an established writer being someone who did not come to literacy until age seventeen lays the groundwork for an incredibly impressive and inspirational tale.  Culley’s ideas about what writing means to him are so unique and intelligent, it almost seems as if his “late blooming” ended up being a tremendous advantage in his future as a writer.  He seems hyper-aware of the meaning of words, and the spectrum of that meaning; no doubt thanks to his theatrical experience and the idea that the same set of lines in a play can be performed in endless ways with endless nuance of meaning.

    [quote]The script we’d rehearsed so many times seemed to completely disappear between the actors.  This incredible instructive illusion, this force of coordination, was magical because at the end of the night it led me back to myself” (Culley 181)[/quote]

    Even though my path to literacy was quite different, the traumatic circumstances that Culley encountered were things I found myself relating to on a very deep level.  I’ll admit, this is not exactly a lighthearted read.  There are moments which are difficult to get through, but they are also incredibly compelling, because they highlight the immense achievement of Culley’s eventual mastery of written language.

    Travis_Culley_credit_Megan_HicklingI would recommend this book to anyone, though perhaps especially to writers and aspiring creatives.  But this is a unique experience for people, because as you read Culley’s words, you become more aware of your own process of reading, of why it is important to you, and the power that words have over our lives and our interactions with others.  And, when it comes to writing, Culley beautifully expresses that which every writer from amateur to professional holds dear: that writing has the power to teach you more deeply about yourself and your environment, and it will force you to examine and heal your deepest wounds in the process.

    TRAVIS HUGH CULLEY is the author of The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power. Travis has an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was a recipient of the Ox-Box Fellowship in Saugatuck, Michigan.

    A Comedy & A Tragedy: A Memoir of Learning How to Read and Write (ISBN: 9780345506160) is available now through retailers including Amazon in Hardcover ($26.00) and Kindle ($12.99) formats.

    [box type=”info”]This post contains an affiliate link. You can read more about our official disclosure policy here. A review copy of A Comedy & A Tragedy: A Memoir of Learning How to Read and Write was provided to The Mommy Gamers by Random House.[/box]

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    “Mommy! That Kid Called Me Batman!”

    The Healing Power of Fandom on Childhood Wounds

    York Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG51XA, England, United Kingdom.  Two school girls are whispering and laughing at another school girl (foregound) who looks sad and is crying.

    I had an experience yesterday that left me in complete awe.

    I was at a McDonald’s restaurant, walking back out to my car. There was a small family with two young girls sitting in the enclosed playground area eating their dinner. I looked over to them and remember making a mental note of how cute they all were. They seemed like such a sweet family just by looking at them.

    Then, I heard it. One of the little girls, probably no older than 4 or so, said, “Look at that lady, Mommy!”

    And I was ready for it. I’d heard this set-up a million times before on the playgrounds where I grew up.

    I was ready for, “She’s fat.”

    When you grow up fat, it becomes impossible to live your everyday life without constantly having your body on your mind in some capacity. Whether it’s about your physical capability, or about how much space you occupy, or the most likely culprit of being overly-concerned with how someone else is perceiving you, your body ends up taking up as much metaphorical space in your mind as it does in the world — and sometimes a whole lot more.
    [quote type=”center”]I was ready for, “She’s fat.”[/quote]

    So you prepare yourself for these moments. You steel yourself to them. Your mind races with witty comebacks, or the warm prickling of anxiety washes over your skin. And even if you’re really good at pretending that it doesn’t hurt, at some level, it always does, even if it shouldn’t.

    We should all be allowed to be happy and live our lives free from the judgement of others and ourselves. There are plenty of things I can’t do because of my fat body, but there are plenty of things that I can. In fact, there are probably plenty of things my body can do that would surprise people (like when I took a yoga class over the summer and outperformed a third of the class even though I was twice as big as most of them). My body is strong and capable and lovely and dammit, it should be celebrated.
    [quote type=”center”]I had psyched myself up to be ready for the gut-punch that always comes.[/quote]

    As a mom, I understand how kids can be though. That little girl was only about 4, and at that age, they’re really just making observations. It’s rarely an attempt to be malicious, it’s simply an “Oh, that’s different” comment.

    So I had psyched myself up to be ready for the gut-punch that always comes.

    And then the little girl said, “She’s wearing a Batman shirt! She’s cool!”

    All at once I felt warm: foolish and happy at the same time. I smiled wide at her and continued walking to my car, happy with my being proven wrong, but concerned with my premature judgement.

    In the end though, I walked away from the situation with the revelation that fandom is powerful. It can transcend so many levels of judgement that are woven into the fabric of our society and bring people closer if they open their hearts and minds to it. There’s nothing better than sharing something you geek out about with another person who will geek out about it with you — regardless of what they look like.

    And, I mean, Batman. Because … Batman.

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    Marsha Mellow Goes Missing: An Unofficial Story for Shopkins Collectors

    from Kenley Shay and Sky Pony Press

    Marsha Mellow Goes MissingMost parents who have been in a toy store in the last year are familiar with Shopkins, the tiny grocery-themed collectibles that fly off of shelves whenever a new shipment comes in. Their popularity has sparked hundreds of millions of views of Shopkins fan videos online, and an official cartoon series set to release in 2016. So, needless to say, they’re kind of a big deal.

    Marsha Mellow Goes Missing is the first novel in a series of unofficial Shopkins stories from publisher Sky Pony Press, known for their exceedingly popular unofficial series for Minecrafters. Written by Kenley Shay, this adventure follows nine-year-old Maggie and her friends of the Shopkins Kids Club on a camping adventure where, as the title suggests, a Shopkin goes missing: the ultra-rare blinged-out Marsha Mellow. As Maggie searches desperately for her most prized possession, accusations fly and friendships are put in jeopardy. But when her little brother Max goes missing, Maggie starts to learn the importance of her relationships with friends and family, and that maybe she hasn’t been acting like the greatest sister or friend.
    [quote type=”center”]Kids who read this story will learn about the bonding power that exists when we are passionate about something, and the importance of inclusion.[/quote] 
    This middle grade novel is perfect for independent readers ages 7-12 and could certainly be read by an adult to younger Shopkins enthusiasts. Kids who read this story will learn about the bonding power that exists when we are passionate about something, and the importance of inclusion. We all know that fandom can be a means of bringing people together or tearing them apart. This novel shows both sides of that, settling on the lesson that bringing more people in just makes things a lot more fun.

    Shay, a Shopkins enthusiast herself, captures the excitement of these adorable collectibles while handling very age-appropriate lessons for young readers, about caring for your belongings, relationships with family and friends, and knowing when it is time to apologize when you’ve done something wrong. The writing is both captivating and easy to understand, and the balance between the intensity of fandom and the accessibility of narrative is perfection. Shopkins lovers and those unfamiliar with the brand would both find much to love about this book.

    [quote type=”center”]We all know that fandom can be a means of bringing people together or tearing them apart. This novel shows both sides of that, settling on the lesson that bringing more people in just makes things a lot more fun.[/quote] 
    My daughter (who is eight and is also, coincidentally, named Maggie) and I have been into Shopkins for several months now and this novel has only fueled our mutual excitement for the toys. She can’t stop talking about how much she wants a Marsha Mellow of her own! She found an ultra-rare Shopkin over the weekend and was so excited because it made her feel just a little bit closer to these characters.

    While reading through the book, my daughter and I split reading duty so we could include my son who is four. Their relationship often mirrors that of the characters Maggie and Max in the text, and reading through their struggles and triumphs has brought my children even closer. As a parent, I was relieved to discover that the story was so appealing and entertaining that I wanted to find out what happened next as much as my kids did!

    We had such a lovely time reading through this story, and I would say that it is a must-read for Shopkins kids and families. I look forward to getting my hands on more books to come in this series, as well as check out the unofficial stories for Minecrafters published by Sky Pony Press. These books are a genius way to blend fandom for toys and games with literature and get kids truly excited about reading!

    Marsha Mellow Goes Missing is on sale now from a variety of retailers (including in both paperback ($7.99) and Kindle ($4.99) format.

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    Late to the Game – Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead


    Last month, I had the transcendent experience of playing Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, Season 1. As a busy single mom, it’s really difficult to find time to play games. I generally tend to not get my hands on even the best games until at least a year or two after they’ve released. Fortunately, my incredibly busy schedule also tends to minimize my time reading about games, and thus I  miss most spoilers. And, though I usually end up kicking myself for not having played the good ones sooner, it’s a fun experience when my friends get excited about my play-throughs like they’re vicariously experiencing their “first time” all over again. That, and I have a propensity for geeking out about things.


    I’ve been waiting for a game like this to come along since I started gaming. I became intoxicated by the power of choice in games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins, but typically my complaints would be “Man, I wish there was more talking/relationship building and less fighting”. I even brought this game up in my philosophy class today (yes, I interrupted the professor to talk about games, someone high-fived me) when we were talking about ethical thought experiments; because this game is essentially a series of said experiments which all tie-in to one another, and where not only is there no clear “good” answer, but you’re essentially punished for every decision you make.

    I know that might make it sound like a very unfulfilling gaming experience, but I assure you it is quite the opposite. The emotional ride that this game will take you on is absolutely unlike any other I’ve experienced. There’s a reason why people everywhere fell in love with this game, even with it’s lack of the action/battle-fueled pwnfest archetype.

    If you’re looking for a game that’s going to make you feel something, this is at the top of my list of recommendations.  With a gold star next to it.  And a button that releases confetti and plays “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang.


    I don’t intend to turn this into an official “review”, because by this point there are a million and a half of those plastered all over the internet written by people much more knowledgeable and articulate than me. But I will say this: when it comes to story and character development, the power of player choice and emotional experience, this game has no rival — nothing even comes close. It’s a living, breathing comic book, just waiting for you to read it and write it for yourself.

    Play it. It will change you.

    (And then talk to me about it so I can geek out about it all over again.)

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