Lady Midnight (Book Review + Ending Cheat Guide)

lady midnightI wanted to reread Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows before Queen of Air and Darkness came out earlier this week, but my books were in storage for a few months while I moved from Hawaii to Texas and I didn’t get them back until too late to time it perfectly. I thought about skipping the rereads and going straight to the new book, but I’ve learned that lesson way too many times to put myself through it again, so I’m forcing myself to delay reading the new book. It’s a good a thing, too, because—while I remember most of the major things from Lady Midnight—there are a lot of minor things that’d I’d forgotten.

Summary: What’s it about?

Years ago, Emma Carstairs’ parents were murdered during Sebastian Morgenstern’s war (if you don’t know what that is, go back and read The Mortal Instruments series, starting with City of Bones). Everyone tells her that her parents were victims of that war, but she knows better, and—with the help of her parabatai Julian Blackthorn—has been investigating the murders on her own. When she becomes aware of a string of bodies that are marked the same way per parents’ were, Emma knows she’s closer than she’s ever been to finding the murderer. Amidst romantic woes, secrets, a Cold Peace that discriminates against faeries, the return of a long-lost family member, and more, Emma—along with the Blackthorn family and her new friend Cristina—investigates the murders, discovers a cult, and strives to unmask a necromancer.

Review: What’d I think?

I remember I was initially reticent about The Dark Artifices series because I disliked Emma and Julian’s sections in City of Heavenly Fire. Happily, they’re a lot more compelling when they’re older and when they’re at the center of their own story rather than on the outskirts of someone else’s. As a whole, Lady Midnight does a really good job of expanding the world set up in The Mortal Instruments. It’s now a much darker world. After all this time, readers that have been with this series since the start have aged up a little, and this trilogy ages with them and increases the emphasis on moral ambiguity. The Cold Peace in particular is fascinating. The villains are motivated by love and the heroes by revenge. One of the main characters is a talented and ruthless liar. There’s no line between good and evil here, and that’s exciting. Morally ambiguous YA fantasy is my favorite.

One thing that has really interested me about Clare’s writing over the course of all her shadowhunter novels is the way that things have developed over the course of the books. The  parabatai bond particularly stands out to me. It is a huge deal in Lady Midnight. Back in City of Bones, it was a thing… but not a thing. As that series progressed, Alec and Jace’s relationship got stronger and more magical, and by the end it was essentially what it is now. However, the part about romantic love between parabatais is definitely new for the Dark Artifices. If it weren’t new, law-abiding Alec would have been absolutely flipping out about it back in the day. It’s an interesting inconsistency, and even though it is a mild plot hole, it’s more interesting to think of it as watching the creative process in real time, so that’s how I look at it.

Faeries are probably my favorite fantasy creatures. I love the darkness mixed with the glamour and royalty, and I’m fascinated by the mix of deceitfulness and the inability to lie. Bringing the faeries to the forefront is really cool, and I love how central they are here.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 14×08 Review (I’m Not the Person I Used to Be)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4

I did not realize that “I’m Not the Person I Used to Be” was Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s midseason finale until it was over. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense, because this episode has a lot of the staples of a finale: most of the cast is there—including some recurring characters who are important but often absent—the drama is heightened, and there is a cliffhanger. It is a very fun, very meta episode, but most importantly, it (sort of) brings back the character that everyone—including, apparently, some of the characters—has been awaiting with bated breath. That’s right! Greg is back!

Greg could if i wanted to crazy ex girlfriend

A few episodes of spontaneous romantic music aside, Rebecca and Josh’s roommate situation is going pretty well. They’re quite happy with each other. Rebecca is worried that she doesn’t seem to be totally past thinking of Josh (and Nathaniel) romantically, though. She wants Paula’s feedback, but Paula is too busy bonding with the rabbit she got to replace Brendan and doesn’t answer her phone. AJ is around to provide some snark, but Rebecca needs Paula.

Everyone is getting ready for their “ten year” high school reunion. Josh is particularly excited about the reunion because he was prom king back in the day.

JOSH: My ten-year high school reunion is coming up and I’m stoked. I may not have mentioned, but I was prom king.

REBECCA: Yeah, no, I think it’s, uh, come up once or twice. Wait, ten years? Didn’t you graduate twelve years ago?

JOSH: Yeah, okay, what happened was the class president is supposed to plan it, and our class president is Hector.

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Supernatural 14×08 Review (Byzantium)

SPN season 14

Jack doesn’t last long this episode. Poor kid. Of course, his death doesn’t last long either, so make of that what you will. “Byzantium” is a nail-biter of an episode. I never expected Jack to die and stay dead—like Cas says, Jack dying so quickly and from something like this feels unnatural and premature; like I said last week, Jack has now been around for a year and a half, so he was due for his first death—but it sets off an unexpected set of events that are both exciting from a plot perspective and horrifying from a character perspective… so ideal for a drama.

As Jack lies on his deathbed with his three fathers standing vigil (the fourth father, who shall remain nameless because I’m sick of him, does not count), he worries about life after death. He wants to know what is going to happen to him. You’d think that of all the people in the world, Sam, Dean, and Cas would be the best people to ask since they’ve died a collective 377925789927 times.

They boys are weirdly unable to answer the question since between the three of them they’ve been to all the places: heaven, hell, purgatory, and the Empty. My immediate thought was that Jack should go to the Empty, as that’s the place for angels. Sure, Jack is only half (arch)angel, but considering how powerful he is was, I’d classify him as more angel than human. Apparently there’s a lot more debate about this inside the canon of the actual show than in my head, though, because Jack’s death throws the balance of the afterlife entirely out of whack.

 

Dean, who doesn’t process grief particularly well, storms out of the room because he can’t handle it. Cas goes after him, in part to comfort him, but mostly to remind him that Jack needs him and that he can’t fall apart yet. Cas convinces Dean to go back into Jack’s room, but it’s too late. A heartbroken Sam tells them that Jack is dead (RIP Jack) and then splits. Cas wants to go after him, but Dean says to give Sam space.

SPN Jack trenchcoat
RIP Jack

When Dean finds out that Sam left the bunker, though (after leaving a voicemail for Mary to tell her that Jack died), he changes his tune.

CAS: Dean, you said to give him space.

DEAN: Yeah. Space. In the bunker. With us. Not this.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 4×07 Review (I Will Help You)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4

With “I Will Help You,” we’ve reached the Naomi episode of season four. There’s always one. Naomi is one of those characters that I perceive that other fans really like. I think the actress was a big deal on The Walking Dead at some point (I could definitely be wrong about that; zombies aren’t my thing). I’ve never particularly liked her. The problem with her is that she’s always heavily featured whenever she shows up, and while I don’t hate her, I don’t like her enough that she warrants singing two of the 2<x<3 songs in the episode. That being said, Josh and Nathaniel are hilarious enough to make up for her, so it’s all good.

Remember how Rebecca volunteered to help the women from the prison at the beginning of this season? Well, she’s still doing that even though she’s not a lawyer anymore. Based on the girls’ reactions to Rebecca’s announcement that Paula will be subbing for her at the next session, though, she hasn’t been the most enthusiastic of mentors. In any case, Rebecca will be going out of town to attend a ceremony where Naomi will be winning a Jewish charity award. Possibly because she is subconsciously aware that she is the least charitable person on the planet, Naomi overcompensates with Jewishness by using approximately one Hebrew word per sentence throughout this whole episode. But we’ll get to her in a minute.

Before she leaves for New York, Rebecca hangs out with Josh and explains her new, incredibly honest online-dating method. This includes a number of unusual choices, including using her mugshot for her profile picture and listing “Group therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder,” “Recovering from recent suicide attempt,” and “Have been known to stalk my exes” as her hobbies. Rebecca is confident that this is the way to go, though.

REBECCA: Look, lying is bad for me. It’s a slippery slope. I tell one little lie, next thing you know, jail.

Since Rebecca picked a person from Josh’s dating app earlier in the season, Josh does the same for her. I’m a little worried about anyone who doesn’t immediately run away from Rebecca’s profile. My response to “stalks exes” would be “don’t get involved with this person.” Shockingly, Josh actually finds a match, and it’s someone Rebecca knows! Remember Jason, the guy with the smelly carpal tunnel balls? If you said yes, it’s either because you’re a super fan (good for you; me, too) or because he’s in the weird position of being a one-off character in season one who is in the current theme song three seasons later. He has now appeared more times in retrospect than he did when he was actually on the show.

Rebecca is pretty excited to have a date for when she comes back from New York.

Josh has moved out of Hector’s mom’s house. Poor Hector’s mom. Side note: does Hector’s mom have a name aside from “Hector’s mom?” As far as I know, no. Josh has never lived by himself, and since moving out he has been sleeping at the YMCA.

JOSH: Don’t listen to the song. It’s not fun to stay there.

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Ghost Boys (Book Review)

ghost boysI met Jewell Parker Rhodes earlier this year when I attended a writer’s conference (my first one! It was really fun, really helpful, and really stressful). I had never read one of her books before I met her, but after listening to her speak I knew I had to because A) she is legitimately one of the nicest human beings on the planet B) she clearly knows A TON about writing and especially the craft of it and C) she is a very compelling speaker. She spoke first just to YA writers about tension and relief in storytelling and it was incredibly helpful. Then I went back for her second talk, which was for everyone, which was about her own career as a writer. She talked specifically about her newest book Ghost Boys and about how she is often asked to write about difficult subjects for a young audience. I think she moved everyone there to tears. But seriously. She is the nicest person you could ever meet.

Since she primarily talked about Ghost Boys, that’s the one I read.

Summary: What’s it about?

Jerome is a twelve-year-old black boy. Well, Jerome was a twelve-year-old black boy before he was shot and killed by a white police officer who thought Jerome’s toy gun was real. Jerome does not entirely understand what happened to him until, as a ghost, he witnesses his family and friends’ grief, watches his killer’s preliminary trial, and comes into contact with other ghost boys… and with a living white girl: Sarah Moore, the daughter of the officer who shot him.

Review: What’d I think?

Jewell Parker Rhodes spoke a lot about how one of her aims for her books, including Ghost Boys, is to open difficult subjects up to younger readers without patronizing them. She spoke about how writers have a responsibility to write stories that matter in such a way that children will still “be in love with the world.”

A book like Ghost Boys could easily make people hate the world, because it is full of darkness, violence, and truths that people try to deny because it’s easier that way. Ghost Boys is amazingly full of love for a book about the murder of an innocent child. If I had to pick one word to describe my takeaway from Ghost Boys it would be “forgiveness.” That isn’t to say that the issues or racism or police brutality are brushed under the rug. Rather, the characters treat each other as individuals inside a bad system. Jerome is murdered by Officer Moore, yes, but Officer Moore is not pure evil.

In Ghost Boys, characters are able to move forward because they refuse to hate. They open each others’ eyes to the real issues and gradually move forward together. Should Officer Moore have been prosecuted for shooting Jerome? Yes, absolutely. Would Jerome and his family be completely justified in hating Officer Moore? Again, absolutely. But at least he learns. It’s obviously not the ideal situation, but considering the circumstances, it’s better. It would be nice if, in real life, people would learn from their mistakes and let people teach them when they’re unable to learn on their own.

The novel also has an interesting historical bend. Jerome meets the ghost of Emmett Till, and by so doing learns Emmett’s story. There’s an interesting moment in the novel when it mentions in passing that people don’t usually learn about Emmett Till in school until late, which made me realize… I didn’t learn about Emmett Till until college, and I first heard his name on Tumblr. After that, it was mostly novels like Ghost Boys, The Hate U Give, and All American Boys that taught me his story. If Ghost Boys had ended with Officer Moore in prison for murder (or manslaughter) and racism dismantled, it would–unfortunately–not look like our world as it is now; this is the story of a step in the right direction, not a solution.

The writing is very good. It is affecting without being graphic, and the alternating sections depicting Jerome’s experiences both before and after his death make the story even more powerful. As an older reader, I personally would have liked a longer book with more, but the length and amount of detail is perfect for the intended audience. The language is simple and straight to the point, but it hits exactly the way it’s supposed to. One of the best examples of this is the short passage when Jerome reflects on Officer Moore’s defense that he shot Jerome because he was in fear for his life:

If I were alive, my whole body would be trembling. Officer Moore speaks (I think) a truth he believes. When truth’s a feeling, can it be both? Both true and untrue?

In truth: I feared for my life.

It’s just so good.

One of my most often repeated critiques of junior fiction is that it often irons out nuance and over-explains simple concepts. One of the best things about Ghost Boys is that Rhodes never does that. She trusts her readers to understand difficult subjects and moral complexity, and doesn’t shortchange us by simplifying things. The light use of magical realism, which blends with religion and culture in interesting ways, is also really well done.

What’s the verdict?

Ghost Boys is a very quick but very powerful read. It is a great book to use to start a conversation about systematic racism because it covers it clearly but complexly, and the writing is so good that even readers who have aged out of junior fiction will be able to enjoy it. Report card: A.

NaNoWriMo 2018

Logo_of_National_Novel_Writing_Month

It’s December 1, which means that NaNoWriMo just ended (as I’m writing, NaNoWriMo ended literally four minutes ago). This was a tiring one, especially towards the end. I made my word count, but the actual plot of my story didn’t get as far as I hoped it would. That being said, between my NaNo project (54k) and this blog (24k) I wrote more than 78,000 words in the past thirty days which is an accomplishment even if a large percentage of those 54,000 NaNo words are going to end up on the chopping block.

I’m proud of that, and I’m hoping to keep working on my book regularly, but for now I’m going to take (at least) a week off from novelling and focus on other things (like starting a new job on Monday… yikes!)

NaNoWriMo continues to be one of the highlights of my year. I love the reminder of what I can do when I actually dedicate myself to it. If you’ve never done NaNoWriMo and have any desire whatsoever to try your hand at writing a novel–even if you never intend to do anything with it–you should absolutely try it, because it is hugely rewarding.

For those of you that did participate this year, how’d it go? Are you happy with your project? Did you make your goals (word count or other)? Are you going to write again next year?

Whether you won or not, great job and happy writing!

kermit typing muppets


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Supernatural 14×07 Review (Unhuman Nature)

SPN season 14

“Unhuman Nature” is not the best episode this season has to offer. It has distinct two plotlines, and one is terrible enough that it spoils the episode as a whole even though the other plotline is different and fun.

Let’s speed through the dumb plot first.

Caution Angry RantNick (also known as the character literally no one wanted but who is sticking around for some unfathomable reason) continues his murderous spree. He is ostensibly looking for whomever killed his wife and kid way back in the day, but mostly he is just gleefully murder-spreeing. This is proved by the fact that he kills innocent people and he enjoys the killings even if he feels slightly guilty about them. I feel like we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, but… no. I don’t. At all. He meets with a crime reporter who puts him in connection with the beat cop who was on his street the night of the murders, because apparently Artie (the first guy Nick murdered) told Nick that the person he saw leave Nick’s house was a cop, and the whole investigation was a cover up. Nick goes to that cop and learns that the cop was possessed by someone called Abraxus (a quick google search confirms that this is a demon), which is just… urgh. Not that I have ever been interested in Nick, but the revelation that a demon killed his family removes any possible interest for me. At least before his origin story spoke to the monstrousness and evil that humans are capable of. But anyway.

Nick murders the cop even though he knows the cop was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and then has a meltdown about how he’s sad that he has to feel guilt about murder so he prays to his old buddy Lucifer, who reforms as a hokey-looking black skeleton with red eyes. I’m pretty sure that there is not a single person in the audience who hasn’t long since gotten tired of Lucifer (except maybe Mark Pellegrino’s mom). The fandom did a collective fist pump when he died “permanently” last season.

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Moxie (Book Review)

moxieNext up in my unofficial series of books everyone recommends but I put off reading for some reason that makes no sense in retrospect: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. I feel like I’m so late to the party on this book that there isn’t anyone left who hasn’t read it (or, at least anyone who is in the sphere of YA book bloggers). Now that I’ve read it, all I can say is: you guys are right. This is an awesome book.

Summary: What’s it about?

Viv’s school is a sexist cesspool. A disproportionate amount of school funds is given to the football team, and the football players are treated like gods: perfect and untouchable. One day, fed up with the sexist harassment from both students and faculty alike, Viv snaps and—using her mother’s “misspent youth” as inspiration—creates “Moxie,” a zine that encourages the girls at East Rockport High School to fight back against the unfair status quo and stand up for themselves and each other.

Review: What’d I think?

Moxie is a somewhat educational novel in that it does a lot of work to explain feminism and why we need it (especially now). Even though the issues depicted in each are very different, Moxie reminds me slightly of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give; both deftly insert important (and timely) social commentary within a story that is rooted firmly in its characters.

(There are some mild spoilers here; they’re mild enough that, honestly, they might only register as spoilers if you’ve already read the book)

I love the way that all the girls come together to support each other. It’s a very tired trope to have girls continually pitted against each other, and Moxie subverts it. Mathieu’s Moxie girls step around every possible barrier between them. When one of Viv’s black classmates worries that Moxie is a club for white girls, Viv immediately goes “whoops” and changes this up to ensure Moxie is inclusive. The queer girls are welcomed, and even the popular, perfect cheerleaders who fit the patriarchal view of the ideal female are able to move past the usual stereotypes.

Speaking of stereotypes… I’m so used to certain storylines that when Viv’s best friend Claudia initially doesn’t understand Moxie and why Viv cares about it, I assumed that the two would drift apart and Viv’s new friend Lucy would eventually take Claudia’s place. So I was extra relieved when Mathieu took her characters the other direction. Claudia begins to understand why Moxie means so much to Viv and Lucy (and it becomes important to her as well) and the three all become friends, because it’s better to have two friends than to have to choose between them.

Every character has excellent growth, and I really like how a lot of the growth fits in with the feminist theme. Over the course of the novel, Claudia learns about feminism and what it means to her. Her growth is the most obvious, but the others are deeply connected to feminism as well. As Viv creates Moxie and gets more and more involved with it, she becomes more confident and starts to realize that she deserves to stand up for her own worth, and as her confidence in herself grows, she becomes more confident in standing up for other girls as well.

The only thing in the book I don’t like is Seth, Viv’s love interest. He is basically a walking, talking “not all guys.” Narratively he is there so that there is one male character who isn’t awful, which would be okay, I guess, if he didn’t spend so much time repeating “not all guys” with increasing whininess. In my opinion, he is a garbage boyfriend, because even if he isn’t a sexist pig, he doesn’t let Viv ever talk about her frustrations without making it about him and his friends. He’s so needy. He monopolizes every conversation about feminism and makes it about him, and Viv has to console him—repeatedly—that of course she knows he isn’t like the others and she knows not all guys are like that. Seth is not the peak of male feminism. Wanna know who is? Frank from the copy shop. He helps Viv with her copying, compliments her zines, and never—not once—whines about the audacity of a movement for girls. Seth just… ugh.

kat male asshole

The intergenerational element of the novel is really well done. Viv’s relationship with her mom and grandparents give the story a nice reference point. The contrast between the generations and their activism (or lack of) is not a central element, but it adds an interesting angle.

What’s the verdict?

Moxie is absolutely worth a read. It’s all about girl power, and the girls at the center of the novel are dynamic and awesome. It’s a quick but good read that is both a very fun story and a good crash course in feminism.

Report card.

Writing: A       Characters: A-           Themes: A         Fun: A           Plot: B+           Final: A


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That Inevitable Victorian Thing (Book Review)

that inevitable victorian thingBetween Thanksgiving, applying for jobs, and NaNoWriMo, my reading has taken a hit lately. It has been so long since I wrote a review that I’m almost afraid that I’ve forgotten how to do it. I read That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston mostly because the premise is interesting. I’ve read one of Johnston’s novels before. I read Exit, Pursued by a Bear and gave it a B. Ultimately, I think that That Inevitable Victorian Thing is pretty much the same deal: great title, interesting concept, but a slightly messy result because of the attempt to do too much.

Summary: What’s it about?

In an alternate timeline to our own, royals and other world leaders made better decisions that resulted in a world that is a mishmash of Victorian traditions and modern technology. This world is more accepting, more racially diverse, and generally less -ist and -phobic (although not entirely). Margaret is the crown princess, and she is permitted one summer of freedom before taking on a bigger mantle of responsibility. During this summer, she falls in with Helena and August, a young couple who is all but engaged and who each have their own secrets.

Review: What’d I think?

 

There is so much going on in this novel. Even if you just isolate the setting, or the characters, it’s hard to keep track of everything. I never got a good grasp of the society. There is a lot of political matchmaking to presumably make the kingdom stronger, but even something as straightforward as that is needlessly convoluted. To be completely honest, I can’t say for sure if Margaret is the crown princess of England, Canada, both, or some other country entirely because the specifics are either incredibly waffly or incredibly unnecessary.

I’m also confused about the timeline. Some of the excerpts I thought were from ancient texts are apparently pretty recent. At times it comes across like this world is entirely progressive and globalism has come hugely into style and anything else is ridiculous, but at other times everything is weirdly regressive. The precise combination of modern and antique found here is simply more confusing than compelling.

There are a lot of extraneous characters, and the decision to use first names for the protagonists’ parents strikes me as odd, as it just muddies the water even more. August has entirely too many siblings who never contribute anything to the story. To be fair, I might be predisposed against August’s siblings because I think August is extraneous. For me, he is the least interesting character by a wide margin. His problems are entirely of his own making, he basically only has two personality traits, and he is dug out of his problems too easily by people who shouldn’t owe him anything. He gets one easy pass after another and he is eternally let off the hook for things he absolutely should have had to make personal reparations for. I had to write a spoilery, ranty section about August’s unearned triumphs, but for the sake of making this review readable for people who haven’t read the book yet, I’ll stick that at the end.

Some books can balance a million ideas and make it look easy. This isn’t one of them. It tries to do too much and ends up shortchanging everything. That Inevitable Victorian Thing tries to rewrite history, tell the story of a young royal strapped with responsibility, create a new and more progressive Church, chronicle a romance that grows from childhood, explore the plight of a young woman who learns unexpectedly that she’s intersex and doesn’t know how to tell the people around her, present an atypical love triangle, and a lot more. At a certain point, I was just like, “Okay, but do we really need pirates on top of all this?” I would argue that no, we don’t need the pirates, let alone the somewhat underdeveloped idea that the pirates are Americans and the American republic is a crumbling, primitive country left because it never got on board with everyone else. It’s an interesting idea, and one that certainly warrants exploring, but it’s one that needs more than just the word ‘pirates’ tacked onto it.

I wish that the POV didn’t switch quite as erratically. It sometimes jumps from Margaret to Helena to August and back within the space of a single scene. It makes everything feel a little messy, a little unfinished, like it needs a few more rounds of revision. The novel would have been better served if it picked one perspective and stuck to it. Helena is the most central character, so she probably would’ve been the best bet from a plot standpoint, but Margaret is the most compelling character. Even if Johnston had done nothing but reduced August’s role and removed the pirate plotline, the novel would be more streamlined and much better.

Did you notice that I don’t like the pirate subplot? Just checking.

Ultimately, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is simply too ambitious. It takes place in a universe that would need a whole series at least to do justice to. The Victorian elements and the technological elements unfortunately don’t mesh well as written, and some of the contradictions undercut the main story. Is this a world where diversity is celebrated and necessary, or it is a society that requires its princess to wear a wig because her natural, black hair isn’t good enough for royalty? Is it a world that has moved beyond homo- and transphobia and aversion to same-sex relationships, or is it one that values marriage matches purely for the genetics they will pass to offspring and doesn’t even recognize gender neutral names (Helena, because she has a Y chromosome, is forced to enter a male name on the –gnet)?

It’s frustrating, because the novel can never really settle into anything. The tone isn’t consistent because sometimes it’s a romance and sometimes it’s a bildungsroman and sometimes it’s a weird pirate adventure and sometimes it’s about dynastic politics.

What’s the verdict?

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a weird book. It’s fun enough, and Margaret is a lovely character, but at the end of the day I don’t feel that I can recommend it because I never had that moment where I felt I had to keep reading or I had to put off everything else to read. I didn’t dislike the book or dread reading it, but I did find myself getting distracted by memes and Pinterest in the middle of a chapter, which is rare for me. That being said, this novel does approach things differently, so for that reason it’s an interesting read, if not a great one. Report card: C

Let’s talk about August.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Book Review)

eleanor oliphant is completely fineI finally got around to reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeycomb after seeing and hearing good things about it for more than a year. Eleanor Oliphant is far from fine, but the novel she stars in is excellent.

Summary: What’s it about?

Eleanor Oliphant can take care of herself. She works in an office during the week and spends the weekend with crosswords, documentaries, and vodka. She’s totally self sufficient, which is good because she doesn’t have anyone in her life (except her terrifying Mummy, who calls on Wednesdays). Everything changes when Eleanor, along with her coworker Raymond, witnesses an elderly man collapsing on the street. When Eleanor and Raymond step in to help the man—Sammy—Eleanor finds her lonely, solitary existence shifting to let other people in.

Review: What’d I think?

I’ll admit that, at first, I was a little confused why everyone loves Eleanor Oliphant so much. It took me more than a week to read the first half of the novel (admittedly it is NaNoWriMo, which slows me down, but still). It picks up in the second half, though. The writing is good throughout, and there are certainly hints about the major developments that come to the surface at the end, but it’s a bit of a slog to get through the first part. It’s a weird feeling to keep reading a book because you can feel that it’s about to turn into something, but not actually feel currently invested.

I really, really like the book in retrospect, but I am definitely more enthusiastic retroactively than I was at the time. At first, Eleanor is exhausting. Her social skills are just… yikes (and that is coming from me, a person with limited social skills). She is a functioning alcoholic and her loneliness is palpable. She is likable and it is impossible not to have sympathy for her, but there’s also a definite Eleanor limit that is quickly reached. It’s difficult to keep watching as Eleanor misreads every social cue and puts increasing importance on something that will obviously (to anyone but Eleanor) not work out. To borrow the common phrase, it’s like watching a crash in slow motion.

This slow, laborious character work makes the second half of the novel much more compelling. The intense moments and twists have been thoroughly earned, and if the first half hadn’t moved as slowly and painfully, they might not have been. It’s possible that the pacing could have been handled a little better, with Eleanor’s rock bottom coming slightly earlier so that the meatier emotional parts of the novel get more page time to be spread out, but it is still good.

Sammy’s part in the novel is the only thing that I never connected to. For me, he’s a bit extraneous and cheesy. He exists mainly to bring Raymond into Eleanor’s life, but he’s more plot device than complete character. That being said, bringing Raymond into the story is very important, because Raymond may be the nicest person on the planet and Eleanor absolutely needs him.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is in extremely internal novel. Reading it is to inhabit Eleanor’s mind, which is as terrifying as it is entertaining. Eleanor has not had a good life, and her denial and depression (which look at first like quirks before being delved into) are painfully but authentically created. Eleanor is so alive that this is not a book that can be read and quickly forgotten.

What’s the verdict?

Overall, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is excellent. The pacing is a little off, leading to a slow start and a breakneck second half, but the emotional center is strong, and the dark elements and twists are well-earned and incredibly affecting. It is not at all surprising that this book is so lauded.

Report card.

Writing: A            Plot: B         Characters: A         Themes: A            Fun: B         Final: A

 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 4×06 Review (I See You)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4

I’m very happy to report that any fears that Valencia and Heather would leave Crazy Ex-Girlfriend were entirely unwarranted. They both make appearances in “I See You.” Heather’s role is as no smaller than we’re accustomed to, and next episode is going to have more Valencia. So hooray!

This whole episode can be summarized as “terrible road trips come to a good end.”

Rebecca is keeping up with Valencia and Heather after their moves via videochat, which is great, but unfortunately they’re not there to take a road trip with her. Rebecca is exhausted from all her therapy. She knows that it’s helping, but there’s only so much inward reflection and deep emotional work a girl can do before she needs a break, and a trip to an excellent barbecue joint seems like just what she needs. Since Heather is working and Valencia is in New York, they suggest that Rebecca go with Paula, but that’s a no go since Paula’s final test is coming up and she needs to study.

Rebecca turns to an old Whitefeather group text and invites anyone and everyone who wants to come. Heather and Valencia are concerned that Darryl will RSVP, not because they don’t like Darryl, but because Darryl is too emotional for Rebecca at the moment. They’re not the only ones who worry. When Rebecca invites AJ, he shuts her down (he’s working for her at the moment; besides, he’s very tired of hearing about Rebecca’s life) and reiterates the warning about Darryl:

AJ, ABOUT DARRYL: Dude is extra.

As it turns out, Darryl is the only one who wants to go. His nanny suggests that he take a day for himself and do something with a friend since he’s been around taking care of Hebby while she’s there, so Darryl is all in. And by “all in” I mean he has a cowboy outfit and everything. I have never committed so fully to going to a restaurant. It’s possible I have never committed so fully to going anywhere.

Paula has decided that she absolutely cannot study unless she has a perfect, professional, lawyerly desk. Luckily, she’s found one. It’s a long drive and she doesn’t have a truck, but she has found an app—Bro with a Truck—that connects her to, well, a bro with a truck who will take her where she needs to go. Scott isn’t sure why she’s going, but stops asking questions when Paula pulls the Tanya card.

Reminder: Tanya is the woman Scott cheated with. The sting of the affair is clearly gone, because Paula is obviously happy that she can use it to get practically whatever she wants. She doesn’t seem hurt at all, and while Scot seems sheepish he doesn’t seem worried or defensive when Paula brings it up.

Paula is  less excited by her plan when she discovers that her personal bro with a truck is Josh Chan, but since the cancellation fee is $200 she decides it will be less painful to just go with it.

Bert tracks Nathaniel down at Home Base because he wants to spend time with him outside the office. He brings Nathaniel’s mail as an excuse to find him. Nathaniel is not exactly happy to see Bert. On the contrary, he’s terrible. He’s rude to Bert and Heather, who is serving. When Nathaniel goes through his mail, something he finds upsets him and he sprints out, leaving Bert and Heather to discuss him. Bert suspects that Nathaniel is actually a good guy and that he’s just emotionally constipated. Heather disagrees. She thinks Nathaniel is a dick.

nathaniel i go to the zoo crazy ex girlfriend

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Supernatural 14×06 Review (Optimism)

SPN season 14

“Optimism” continues the streak of excellent episodes in season fourteen. I’m really enjoying the slower pace this season is taking. The character and relationship work has been great, and it hasn’t been shortchanged by plot necessities, as is sometimes the downfall of supernatural and epic quest style storytelling. I particularly like mixing old Supernatural with new Supernatural by tossing extra characters into the weekly hunts. Dean has killed many a zombie, but having Jack along for the ride makes it a very different adventure. As for Sam, he gets to fight an entirely new monster with Charlie by his side. There’s not a lot about Michael or the mytharc in “Optimism,” but it still informs Dean’s character and his relationship with Jack, which is the best possible way to keep it in the viewer’s mind when it isn’t the focus of the episode.

In the cold open, a young librarian—Harper—unenthusiastically agrees to a dinner date with a guy that she’s clearly not interested in while a jealous coworker, Miles, looks on. Even though Harper clearly isn’t into the guy who asks her out, he is over the moon. The good mood doesn’t last long, though, since he gets murdered almost immediately after. This is why you should never channel John Travolta by dance-walking your way down the street accompanied by the Bee Gees. Also, there’s just something that’s extra embarrassing about dying while “Stayin’ Alive’ is playing.

Jack finds the case. Since Sam is in charge of the hunters and wants everyone to hunt in pairs, Jack suggests that he and Dean go check it out. Sam is off on a case with Charlie (Dean was visiting Mary and Bobby and Sam couldn’t wait for him to get back). Dean isn’t sure about this plan, since—despite Jack’s good instincts—Jack isn’t entirely ready to be a hunter. Apparently Cas being with Jack has been an insurance policy of sorts (which is kind of funny, since Cas isn’t a particularly experienced hunter, either. Soldier, yes. Hunter… eh.)

then supernaturalQuick side note: if you don’t watch the episodes on the CW website with captions on, you might have misses a hilarious unintentional diss to Cas. Remember when Cas was boosting Jack’s morale by telling him he was a good hunter? Well, the captioner either doesn’t recognize Cas’ voice or just doesn’t care because it shows up in the THEN like this:

MAN: You have the mind of a hunter.

Jack doesn’t have any patience for Dean’s reticence. He relates to Dean’s Michael-guilt by explaining that he feels guilty because he could have killed Michael if he’d has his power. He knows it’s not really his fault, just like Dean knows it’s not really his fault, but you know those Winchesters. Guilt is their favorite thing to bond over.

Dean is a worried about Jack’s persistent cough, but Jack brushes it off and then cleverly segues it into another plea to go hunting.

JACK: Maybe I’m allergic to sitting around doing nothing.

Dean relents and calls Sam to get his okay, which Sam gives. I love that Sam is now such an authority that even Dean calls him for permission.

As for Sam and Charlie, their hunt is not going great. They’ve staked out the place where four people disappeared, but now they’re just chilling in the car—Charlie’s car, maybe; it’s not the impala—playing with fidget spinners (Sam) and being judgy about the fidget spinners (Charlie). There’s so little going on that Sam wonders if they’re in the right spot. Charlie found  suspicious-looking goo there, though, which convinces him.

Meanwhile, Dean and Jack make it to a diner where their dead guy was a regular. Dean explains that the diner was mentioned in the obituary because no one knows what to write when a young guy dies. It’s the most depressing explanation Dean has to give Jack this episode, but it’s far from the last one. He gets some solid fathering in. 14×03 was the Cas-parents-Jack episode; 14×06 is the Dean-parents-Jack episode; has their been a Sam-parents-Jack episode? Maybe back in season thirteen, when Sam helped Jack harness his powers. In any case, I would like to formally request another Sam-parents-Jack episode.

Jack is absolutely adorable during their investigation. While Dean bribes a waitress for information, Jack takes incredibly unnecessary notes and demonstrates his obliviousness; specifically, he dutifully writes down that their victim is dead. He also doesn’t understand innuendo of any kind, no matter how obvious.

The waitress, once bribed, tells the guys to look into Harper. They then conduct interviews about her and hear the same story over and over: after Harper’s high school boyfriend left town, every guy who has hung around her has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

EVERYONE: She’s bad luck.

Interviews conducted, Jack and Dean take advantage of the diner’s really delicious-looking pie and Dean promises that eventually he’ll rectify Jack’s total dearth of information about love, sex, and romance and give him “the talk.”

DEAN: Eat up. Pie is important.

pie dean supernatural
I complained that Dean didn’t mention pie on Thanksgiving last year, so the fact that he had some this year makes me extra happy.

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Be More Chill (Book Review)

be more chillA few months ago, I got in a discussion about how great it would be if there were a gong that went off in your head anytime an opportunity you were supposed to pursue arose. Literally the next day I saw Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini at Barnes & Noble, which has a very similar premise. The timing was so weird that there was a part of me was like, “Hey! It’s the destiny gong! I should read this!” I didn’t, though, since I’d previously read Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which I didn’t particularly like. Later, I found out that there’s a musical adaptation of Be More Chill; I listened to it and liked it a lot. It’s not a new favorite, or anything, but it’s definitely catchy and enjoyable. I figured that the combination of ‘interesting concept’ and ‘was made into a musical’ would add up to ‘book I will love.’ Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true. The musical is better.

Summary: What’s it about?

Jeremy is a painfully uncool high school loser. He spends his days lusting after his beautiful classmate Christine and tallying his daily humiliations. Everything changes when his cool classmate Rich offers the secret to his success: a squip. A squip is a swallowable pill-sized computer that, once ingested, tells its host how to behave in order to be more chill and therefore more popular. With the squip in his corner, Jeremy finds his life and social circle changing dramatically.

Review: What’d I think?

Be More Chill poses some really interesting questions about technology dependence and the pressure to be cool, but in my opinion it fails to deliver on the promises made by the premise. The emotional core of the story is better rendered in the musical adaptation. I am more attached to the characters in their musical form than in the novel form despite the fact that I’ve never actually seen the musical (I’ve listened to the soundtrack, which is on YouTube).

My major problem with the novel is that none of the characters are likable. Unpopular Loser Jeremy and Chill Squip Jeremy are basically indistinguishable. I can’t figure out how I’m supposed to feel about Jeremy with his squip. Is he supposed to be different pre- and post-squip? Does the squip change him or just indulge his worst tendencies? I feel like it’s supposed to be the former, but the squip doesn’t change Jeremy all that much.

Obviously my expectations were skewed by the overtly evil musical squip, but book Jeremy’s squip is… not that insidious. Jeremy can turn it on and off at will. It can’t control him in any way. It’s cheerful and boosts Jeremy’s self esteem. The worst thing that it does is tell Jeremy to blow off Michael, but when Jeremy makes it clear that’s not something he’s willing to do, the squip just kind of shrugs and is like, okay, whatever; makes my job harder, but fine. It doesn’t like Michael, because Michael is so obviously uncool, but it doesn’t sabotage the friendship. In fact, in many instances, all the squip does is encourage Jeremy to act on his own impulses. The squip gets Jeremy to work out, stop masturbating, speak his mind, and tell his parents the truth. It also teaches him to drive.

The bad things that the squip does are all guided by Jeremy’s awfulness. The squip encourages Jeremy to act grossly towards girls when Jeremy indicates that all he wants is to get laid; when he clarifies that he wants a relationship with Christine and not just to have random sex, the squip changes its course of action to be decidedly less disgusting.

Michael and Christine both fare much better in the musical than in the novel. In the musical, Michael is an incredibly loyal best friend who is sweet and a little dorky but overall pretty awesome and ultimately heroic. In the book, he’s a nonentity with a fetish for Asian girls. Honestly, he does so little in the book that I’m confused why Vizzini bothered with him. He should be a true friend that Jeremy gives up for cool points, but instead he’s just… there. He is never emotionally affected by anything that happens to him. He just rolls with the punches, but it doesn’t feel  like a character trait as much as a lack of characterization. It’s hard to go from “Michael in the Bathroom” to “Michael is so busy having sex in a bathtub that he doesn’t notice anything going on around him.” As for Christine… in the musical she’s an over-earnest but charming theatre nerd. Book Christine is clearly supposed to be a person of substance, but that’s lost in her constant slutshaming and negativity and bizarre overreactions.

In general, I think that musical Michael is what book Michael is supposed to be and ditto for Christine. The writing just isn’t good enough to hit the right the emotional beats.

The secondary characters are weird as well. The theatre director’s dialogue is randomly punctuated with bizarre noises, and Jeremy’s dad is pointlessly idiot. He walks around naked a lot and spouts homophobia and misogyny that goes largely unchallenged. Jeremy hates his dad, but the hate is mostly directed towards the fact that his dad is fat, not towards the more serious issues, like the fact that his dad seriously laments that it’s no longer a thing to take teenage sons to brothels to lose their virginity. What? What? And that’s just, like, background color.

dean gross supernatural

My biggest issue with the novel, though, is the end. If you don’t want major spoilers, this would be a good time to bow out of this review.

What’s wrong with the end? MAJOR SPOILERS!

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 4×05 Review (I’m So Happy for You)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4

“I’m So Happy for You” is simultaneously a great episode and an entirely devastating one. Heather, Valencia, and Brendan all make plans to move away from West Covina, shipping hopes and dreams are crushed, and Rebecca suffers from the painfully relatable fear that she’s losing at life.

Rebecca’s new life is shaping up pretty well. She really loves her new job running Rebetzel’s Pretzels, but when she hears that her friends are moving on she starts to feel left behind. Hector got a new job, so he and Heather are moving closer to the beach (though Heather will still be around, as she still manages Home Base). Valencia and Beth are moving to New York, and Paula is about to graduate from law school. Rebecca suddenly feels considerably less successful.

REBECCA: It’s a little hard for me. It kind of feels like I am losing two friends at once. But I will be cheering you all on very sincerely from my small, unprofitable pretzel store with my no boyfriend, having not had sex since before the slammer because, oh right, I was also in jail!

Paula is pretty sage about Valencia and Heather leaving, but when she gets home and hears that her son Brendan is leaving as well, she’s not nearly as calm. Brendan announces that he’s joined Peeps for Peace (which is basically the Peace Corps) and Paula has a meltdown. She didn’t expect to lose Brendan right after they started liking each other.

Not everyone is leaving, though. Darryl and White Josh are both here to stay, at least for now. They’re making the most of Darryl’s paternity leave (and his Netflix account) by binging TV shows together. They’ve fallen into a very comfortable pattern as friends, though they do wonder if they’re weirdly close considering that technically they’re exes. They don’t wonder too much, though.

WHITE JOSH: Hey, it’s not weird that we spend so much time together, is it?

DARRYL: No. Besides, that murder’s not gonna solve itself.

WHITE JOSH: You do realize we don’t solve the murder, right?

I love them so much.

Rebecca talks to Dr. Akopian about Valencia and Heather moving, since it is obviously bothering her a lot. She’s upset that she’s losing her friends, of course, but that’s not the only reason why she’s suffering. Even though her current concern is incredibly relatable, Rebecca is ashamed and whispers so much that Dr. Akopian has to continually ask her to repeat herself. In true Rebecca fashion, her confession starts as something pretty natural and escalates.

REBECCA: I see life as a contest, and I’m now losing.

then

REBECCA: I feel less when others are doing better than me.

and finally

REBECCA: Okay. I want to cryogenically freeze all my friends to buy me some time to find a better career and a life partner. And then, when I’m ready, I’ll wake them up, and I’ll throw a party for all of our mutual milestones.

Dr. Akopian is not alarmed. By this point, she knows how to translate Rebecca’s ridiculousness. She explains that it’s fine for Rebecca to feel that she’s behind, and moreover it’s fine to be behind. Rebecca has had to work through a lot of issues in her life, and the fact that she took the time to do that is to her credit, not her detriment. It’s a nice thing to hear, especially as a person who always feels behind. Rebecca, however, does not hear it. All she hears is that she is behind Heather and Valencia and everyone else.

REBECCA: It’s slightly jarring when a medical professional confirms your worst fears.

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Supernatural 14×05 Review (Nightmare Logic)

SPN season 14

Maggie goes missing, Sam rallies the hunters, and Bobby faces his personal demons. “Nightmare Logic” starts out as a fairly straightforward monster of the week episode, but by the end it evolves into something more serious for the Winchesters.

While hunting alone in a graveyard, Maggie gets jumped and misses check in. Yep, hunters have check in now. Sam “The Chief” Winchester has instigated a whole slew of protocols for the newcomers that includes body cameras, check ins, and other safety measures. For the most part, everything goes over well. Dean, of course, has to make fun of his little brother’s adorable camp counseling. Bobby—as we’ll see later on—is not exactly on board with Sam’s leadership.

The body cam turns out to be a helpful addition to the arsenal. Sam and Dean  watch footage from Maggie’s camera and see what happened to her: she was jumped and dragged away by whatever she was hunting, which looks like a ghoul. Sam, who has been running himself ragged organizing the apocalypse-worlders, feels pessimistic and guilty about Maggie’s probable death, but Dean stays optimistic. They don’t know for sure that she’s dead, so they head to Oklahoma to investigate.

They find the cemetery where Maggie disappeared, but before they can investigate thoroughly, they are intercepted by a suspicious gardener. They pretend to be from a historical society to gain access to the main house and the family. It turns out that they’re not the only ones who went to check in on Maggie. When then get to the house, they find that Mary and Bobby answered the call as well (and used an identical cover story). There’s a tense standoff: Sam is upset that Mary and Bobby didn’t check in with the home office, and Bobby accuses the home office of being manned by idjits.

This is as good a place as any to talk about new Bobby. Until now, Bobby2 has been pretty much the same as OG Bobby. “Nightmare Logic” is the first episode that really emphasizes that these are two entirely different people. They might look the same and use the word ‘idjits,’ but they’re not interchangeable. This Bobby even dresses slightly differently. His newsies cap is eerily reminiscent of Michael’s, but that is far from the only thing about this Bobby that feels jarringly off. We’re used to Bobby being a little crusty but firmly in Sam and Dean’s corner. We’re not used to him being unnecessarily secretive, and we’re definitely not used to him being actively dismissive of the Winchesters. When he disparages Sam here using a word that is usually an affectionate nickname and later when he outright verbally attacks Sam, it is a very pointed reminder that this man is not the Bobby we lost. RIP Bobby1.

supernatural cas dean sam bobby

The four hunters eventually agree to work the case together, but when they begin to question Neil, the man that they assumed is the owner of the house, they learn that he is actually a nurse. The owner, Mr. Rawlings, is in a coma, strapped to all sorts of bags and appliances. That’s not even the weirdest thing about him: Sam and Dean recognize Mr. Rawlings from Maggie’s  footage. Mr. Rawlings is the one who attacked her. Dun dun dun!

Before leaving the house, the Winchesters and Bobby also briefly meet Mr. Rawlings’ daughter Sasha, but she doesn’t want to talk to them.

Outside, Bobby launches into Sam. He thinks that Maggie’s disappearance is Sam’s fault. According to Bobby, Maggie was not ready to go out on her own, and any sort of leader would know that. If I’m being completely honest, Bobby has a point. We haven’t seen all that much of Maggie, but what we have seen of her hunting has been far from impressive. Remember how it was heavily implied that Maggie had never killed a monster before 14×01? That being said, Bobby’s unnecessarily aggressive tone of voice (and fourteen years of following Sam’s story) makes me take Sam’s side on this issue pretty firmly.

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