Supernatural 15×04 Review (Atomic Monsters)

I was excited for tonight’s Supernatural episode in large part because I didn’t realize that there was no episode last week (who scheduled things so that there was no Halloween episode? Boo). Thankfully, this is a very good episode that was worth the long wait. It’s very self-reflexive. One half of the episode in particular does some really interesting meta work, and even though from the outside this might look like one of those old-school bros only hunting episodes, there’s actually a lot more going on.

Just to get this out of the way: the monster-of-the-week episodes are always my least favorites. Supernatural has been going on long enough that placeholder episodes with no plot or character development beyond finding and killing a monster don’t do anything for me anymore. The episode needs to have something special, like a secondary character who isn’t usually present for the hunts (like Hunteri Heroici, when Cas decided to become a hunter) or a silly gimmick (Yellow Fever is the one that comes immediately to mind) or some reference to the main plot of the season. Otherwise the episodes just feel like treading water. I thought Atomic Monsters was going to be one of those, but the guest stars saved it.

The episode opens on a dream/AU/vision. It takes place in a beard-inverted universe saturated in red. Well, not totally beard-inverted. While the usually beardless Dean has one and the normally bearded Benny is unrecognizably clean-faced, Sam’s facial hair situation is the same as ever. I’m not kidding when I say Benny’s unrecognizable. If Dean hadn’t addressed his friend by name, and if Benny hadn’t busted out the catchphrase, I wouldn’t have known who he was.

Benny appears only to die (RIP Benny), which seems at first to be a waste of a fan-favorite character. But after thinking about it more, I’ve decided it’s actually a freaking brilliant cameo, for two reasons. The first reason is both more immediately obvious and more of a stretch. AU!Dean and his crew are racing through a bunker, fighting demons. Before killing one, Dean demands, “Where is he?” I thought that the ‘he’ in question was going to be, well, a question for longer. We find out quickly that Dean is referring to Sam, specifically a Sam who is evil and high on demon blood.

That said, a scruffy Dean running around with Benny, killing monsters, and searching desperately for someone rings a bell. What is it? What is it? Oh, yeah.

dean where's the angel supernatural

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Ninth House (Book Review)

ninth houseEvery few months, I read one of Leigh Bardugo’s books and then explode enthusiasm all over this blog. It’s been a few months since I read King of Scars, so it’s time for another one. She is one of my instant-read authors. When I heard about Ninth House, I knew I was going to read it and love it before I even read the synopsis. Then I found out that it was the choice of the book club I run for work and I got even more excited. You mean now I get to read the new book by one of my all-time favorite writers and then I get paid to discuss it for an hour? Score.

What’s it about?

Alex has always been able to see ghosts, an ability that has reduced her to a state of constant terror. When she is discovered at the site of a bloody mass murder, passed out from an OD next to the body of her friend, she is hospitalized, eliminated as a suspect, and picked up by the dean of one of Yale’s secret societies. Because of Alex’s sight, she is ideal to join the Ninth House, Lethe, which exists to keep the other houses—and, more specifically, their dangerous and bloody magical rituals—under control. Lethe seems like a lifeline, but things quickly get out of control when Alex’s mentor Darlington disappears mysteriously and a young woman’s body is found campus on a night when a ritual nearly went sideways.

What’d I think?

This book is so, so good. It absolutely lived up to my high expectations.

six of crowsIt has a pretty different feel from the Grishaverse, but I wouldn’t say that it’s more adult. Before reading Ninth House, I wondered what was going to be in it that would classify it as adult fantasy rather than YA like the rest of Bardugo’s books. If you’ve read Six of Crows, you know that it’s not exactly bright and cheery. Think about Kaz’s beginnings in Ketterdam. Remember the time he rips a dude’s eye out? Yeah, it goes to pretty dark places.

crooked kingdomNinth House actually addresses some of the same larger themes that are present in Bardugo’s earlier books. Alex turns to drugs to drown out the ghosts and Darlington takes a magical drug to be able to see them; Nina gets hooked on the jurda parem and Crooked Kingdom deals in detail with her recovery. Alex’s boyfriend essentially Len whored her out to get in with unsavory types; Inej spent years as a prostitute before Kaz rescued her. Like Alex, the crows are experienced with hunger and poverty. Both stories deal with the violent underbellies of society. The difference isn’t the content; it’s the context.

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Book Club: Ninth House

ninth housePlease enjoy these discussion starters for Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. Feel free to use them in your own book clubs or to respond to them in the comments. These questions are full of spoilers, so make sure you’ve read the book before diving in!

It’s also worth mentioning that Ninth House deals with difficult subject matter and as a result these questions reference sexual assault and rape, violence towards women, abuse, drug use, and more. So… proceed with caution.

I’m also wrote a regular review for Ninth House. If you’re interested, you can read that here

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Ghosts of the Shadow Market (Book Review)

ghosts of the shadow marketI love Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters. I’ve read The Mortal Instruments many, many times (before I started this blog; maybe I should reread them again so I have reviews!), and I’ve read the rest of the books at least once. I’ve seen the movie and have watched about half of the show (I want to pick it back up, but I need to find it streaming somewhere). I’m not usually a fan of short stories, as I generally need more time to get invested in characters and storylines, but if Cassandra Clare wrote it, I’ll read it.

That’s how I found myself reading Ghosts of the Shadow Market. It’s not new anymore. I usually read Clare’s books as soon as they come out, but I was somewhat disappointed by Queen of Air and Darkness, so I put off reading this one until I found it in the library.

That’s probably a good thing. Unlike The Bane Chronicles or Tales from the Shadowhunter AcademyGhosts of the Shadow Market does not follow one of my favorite characters. I adore Magnus and Simon. I liked Jem fine in The Infernal Devices, but that series remains my least favorite of the three, and I have very little interest in those characters outside their original story. Ghosts of the Shadow Market takes place over many years and checks in with main characters from all three of the Shadowhunter series, but all the stories sooner or later check back in on Jem and his search for the missing line of Herondales. While it’s helpful to have a narrative line that runs from one story to the next, I could’ve done with considerably less of Jem, particularly considering that we all know where his search ends up.

Since Ghosts of the Shadow Market is made of lots of stories by several different writers, I figured the best way to do this review would be to write some brief thoughts about each story individually. Also I felt the need to find a gif for each one, because I’m me and I love gifs. Some of the stories I loved. Others I barely made it through. I figure overall that averages out to C/⭐⭐⭐

Cast Long Shadows (Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan)

harry potter who are you?
Me

I was so confused by this one. It’s been long enough since I read either The Infernal Devices or Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy that I had literally no idea who Matthew or James or Lucie or anyone was; every new sentence was a guessing game. Who is this fool? Have I heard of this person before? Some of them were definitely Tessa and Will’s kids, but I couldn’t tell you which. James, maybe? They’re pretty obsessed with naming kids after people. I’m very relieved that this was the only story that required me to deal with large populations of people I don’t know about, because I probably would’ve given up if there’d been more like this.

Every Exquisite Thing (Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson)

viola badass hunky dude she's the man
Anna

I still don’t know which kid is which and who is related to whom, but at least this story reduces the sheer number of characters to a manageable amount. Anna’s pretty cool, I guess. This wasn’t one of my favorites in Ghosts of the Shadow Market, but it was also not one of my least favorites.

Learn About Loss (Cassandra Clare and Kelly Link)

Image result for brand new information gif
Me, pretending I’m surprised by the reveal that the hot Silent Brother is Zachariah/Jem.

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Supernatural 15×03 Review (The Rupture)

There’s not really a good way to respond to “The Rupture” except, like, incoherent wailing. This is such a great episode (I’m increasingly convinced that Berens is the best writer Supernatural has on staff), but my goodness is it painful. Three major characters die. Cas suffers multiple betrayals. Sam is forced to kill someone he loves. Jack’s death is still fresh. Dean and Cas fight and Cas walks out. It’s a lot, and it’s going to be hard to wait for next episode (and doubly hard to wait for the next Cas episode, which may not be for a while).

Even though everything implodes by the end of the hour, things start pretty well. The ghosts are still swarming the border, but the crew is confident. Rowena has a plan to reinforce the barrier to keep all the ghosts in. She’s so sure that everything will work out that she took the time to change into a new, fabulous gown. Oh, Rowena. I will miss you and your impeccable style.

She, Sam, Dean, Cas, and Belphegor head to the crypt where they can bunker down and she can work her magic. Because Rowena is amazing, her spell works perfectly. The ghosts are trapped forever, and now everyone can live happily ever after.

Oh, wait. No. That’s not what happened.

The spirits are too powerful and evil and desperate for Rowena’s spell to work. She collapses and tells the boys that it’s all over and they’re all going to die. Sam is inclined to believe her, but Dean is pissed. He’s basically like, what? After all the considerably-worse-than-ghosts things we’ve fought, ghosts are what do us? No.

DEAN: This whole mess. This sloppy-ass ghost apocalypse. That’s Chuck’s ending? No. No, I don’t think so. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let some glorified fanboy get the last word.

Meanwhile, Cas follows Bel out of the safety of the crypt to take a look at the rift in the ground. Bel explains that it’s a wound in the ground, not an actual gate or portal like they thought, and he has a new plan. Remember Lilith from way back in the day? Bel does. Apparently she had a crook that she could use to control topside demons. It used to be locked away in hell, but now that all the doors are open, Bel can waltz in, grab it, and use it to suck all the evil spirits back down while Rowena heals the rift.

supernatural cas and jackI really, really love Cas and Bel’s dynamic. Supernatural is at its best when it mixes humor with sadness and humanity, and Cas and Bel really capture that. Cas hates Bel because Bel took Jack’s body, and Bel clearly enjoys being a little shit to him.

BEL: That’s the longest you’ve looked me in the eyes.

CAS: You don’t have eyes.

BEL: True.

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The Prom (Book Review)

the promIf I ran the world, all musicals would be professionally recorded and made available to anyone who wants to watch them. Sadly, that’s not the case. I listen to a lot of Broadway soundtracks, and then either read the Wikipedia synopses or find another way to understand what’s going on in the story. It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing. A lot of shows are adaptations, and there’s an increasing trend of shows having adaptations. When there’s a book version of a musical I’ve listened to, I generally read it. Les Mis and Be More Chill were both books before they were musicals, but I read both books after hearing the music (the former is spectacular and life-changing in all forms; the latter is enjoyable but not great). I read and loved The Scarlet Pimpernel before learning it was a musical, but I now love that soundtrack, too. So reading books with musicals is not a new thing for me.

Honestly, The Prom is not a musical I particularly like. While I think the subject matter of The Prom is important, I find the music itself to be less than inspiring. It’s fine and it’s got some funny bits, but even after listening to it two or three times I can’t sing more than a line or two of any of the songs (and not just because I can’t sing). Despite that, I figured it would be entertaining to read the novelization (and I’m sure I’ll watch Ryan Murphy’s adaptation for Netflix whenever it comes out, especially since Andrew Rannells is going to be in it). I love books and I love musicals, so you’re always going to find me in the place where those two worlds collide. 

What’s it about?

Image result for the prom musicalAll high school senior Emma wants is to dance with her girlfriend at prom. Unfortunately, she lives in Indiana, which isn’t exactly gay-friendly. Her parents disowned her when she came out, and she’s been the target of homophobic abuse for years. She’s been the only target, because her girlfriend Alyssa is still in the closet, in large part because she’s terrified how her mother will respond. Everything comes to a head when Emma dares suggest she’s bringing a female date to the prom. The community, led by Alyssa’s mother, flips out… and two over-the-top Broadway stars swoop in to stir up trouble and protest on Emma’s behalf.

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Loki: Where Mischief Lies (Book Review)

lokiMackenzi Lee is one of my favorite authors. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a perfect mix of silly, snarky, stirring, and sweet. I didn’t know that she’d written a new book until one day at work I rung a customer who was purchasing Loki: Where Mischief Lies. I’m not entirely convinced by the recent trend of comic book characters being adapted to novel form by the top YA writers. Why reshape well-known characters to fit a format they’re not designed for? Why take writers at the top of their game away from original fiction? It can work, but I haven’t exactly been seeking these books out. Still, I’ll read anything by a favorite author (I read Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer as well), and matching Mackenzi Lee with Loki was clearly brilliant. If there’s any writer who could do justice to the utter queer chaos that is Loki, it’s Lee.

What’s it about?

Young Prince Loki knows he’s not his father’s favorite. His brother Thor is big, strong, blonde, and clearly destined for kingship. Loki wants his father’s approval, but how can he achieve it? All his talents are frowned upon and he is consistantly pitted against Thor in competitions catered for Thor. Loki is not a fighter, but he is clever and has powerful magic. Unfortunately, his cleverness is taken for untrustworthiness and he is forbidden from using his magic except in the tiniest doses. But there’s one person who understands Loki and believes in him. Amora is an enchantress-in-training, at least until she and Loki accidentally destroy a magical relic and she is banished to Earth. Years later, Loki too goes to Earth—ostensibly to investigate a series of murders, although everyone knows he really goes in exile—where their paths may cross again.

What’d I think?

Fair warning. This is a somewhat nitpicky review. It’s not a rant, because I liked the book a lot, but there are a lot of small things that disappointed me.

loki avengersI did like Loki, but I wasn’t as blown away as I expected to be. There’s a long segment before the real action begins, where Lee introduces the major Asgardians—Loki, Odin, Thor, Amora, and Amora’s teacher Karnilla—and their relationships. It’s not bad by any means, but I had a hard time getting into it. At the beginning, Loki is an earnest young prince. He plays the occasional trick, but his magic amounts merely to a few parlor tricks and his idea of chaos is bewitching the floor to change color to clash with his father’s outfit. He doesn’t feel like Loki or like one of Lee’s usual characters. He doesn’t have the charming magnetism of Monty or Felicity or the MCU’s Loki, all of whom are fun and feisty and prone to inappropriate behavior. I wanted a fun, feisty character who is prone to inappropriate behavior, so it was disappointing to get a lovestruck goth.

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Supernatural 15×02 Review (Raising Hell)

So “Raising Hell” was considerably worse than last week’s episode, right? It had one or two redeeming scenes, but wasted most of its runtime on an out-of-the-blue attraction between Rowena (?) and Ketch (???) and an unconvincing ghostly Jack the Ripper.

Side note: I’m surprised there was still a “Hell” pun available. “Raising Hell” seems like it should’ve been used as an episode title a long time ago, but I guess it hasn’t. Cool.

Because the Winchesters aggressively didn’t think through their plan for quarantining the town, the town is only nebulously quarantined. The villagers have way more questions than Sam can answer, and at least three of them sneak into the Ghost Town without being stopped. At least one gets murdered, so… Good job, guys.

dean spn thumbs up

Sam even brings in some of his remaining hunter pals to help man the border (which is somewhat of a surprise, since I thought that his whole hunter network got murdered back in 14×14). They don’t do a very job because, as I said, they let a lot of random humans past them and didn’t even notice. I guess maybe just the competent hunters (and Maggie) got killed off.

Dean and Belphegor go ghost hunting within Bel’s magic border, which is a little pointless. The ghosts all reappear shortly after getting ganked and none of them have made it through the border. It’s not like walking around in there is doing any good, but Winchesters gotta Winchester, I guess. It does let Dean and Bel talk, though. Dean is slightly more self-aware than he was last week.

DEAN: Can’t believe I’ve teamed up with a demon again. Think I’d know better by now.

Bel, despite protesting that he’s just a soldier who did what he was told in hell, is a little more obviously up to something this episode. I mean, he was obviously up to something last week, but I think we were supposed to at least sort of trust him  Now we’re supposed to feel a little less easy about the alliance. That said, we’ve had it confirmed definitely that he is Belphegor. That was a big fandom discussion, with people guessing he was secretly everyone from Ruby to Chuck to Crowley. In any case, we know slightly more about Bel now, including that a female demon called Ardat wants him dead (and hired Ketch to kill him). Personally, I’d have pressed for more details about Ardat, but Sam and company move right past that conversation. Oh, well. I’m sure it won’t come back to haunt them.

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Frankly in Love (Book Review)

frankly in loveI was really excited to read Frankly in Love by David Yoon. Something about it caught my eye, and I came close to buying it multiple times. The synopsis sounded promising, and all the reviews promised that it was at once a great love story and a dynamic look at racism and the immigrant experience. I’m glad I ultimately found the book at the library, because while it would be misleading to contradict those claims, overall I found Frankly in Love kind of annoying.

What’s it about?

Frank Li is a Korean-American whose parents are very, very Korean and pretty racist towards anyone who isn’t. For a lot of obvious reasons, Frank has a testy relationship with them. He barely speaks Korean; his parents barely speak English. Frank really wants to date Brit Means, a white girl in his calculus class; his parents literally disowned his sister for daring to date a black man. So Frank decides that the best way to deal with his issues is to make time for Brit by pretending to date his Korean friend Joy, because his parents approve of her.

What’d I think?

everything everythingAbout halfway through this book, I discovered that David Yoon is Nicola Yoon’s husband and I was like, “Oh. That makes sense.” I know a lot of people like Nicola Yoon’s books but I really, really don’t. And I know that it’s not fair to judge the husband for the wife’s crimes (or vice versa) but if I’d known they were married before starting Frankly in Love I probably would’ve skipped it on that criterion alone. I probably would’ve been better off. Frankly in Love is better than Everything, Everything… but that’s a very low bar.

Even though it was really interesting to read a story about the experience of a second-generation Korean-American—that’s not a perspective you find a lot—that’s pretty much the only good thing I have to say about Frankly in Love. There’s not any huge thing that’s wrong with the book, but there are lots of things that are annoying. When enough little things are annoying, the whole thing becomes annoying. Here’s a quick list of the most grievous offenders:

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Wayward Son (Book Review)

wayward sonI never expected Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On to have a sequel. I love that book, and I love Rainbow Rowell generally, but the possibility that there’d be a sequel never occurred to me. Carry On lovingly parodies fantasy series like Harry Potter and acts as the final novel in an epic series, relying on the reader’s knowledge of fantasy tropes to provide the setup that leads to the given conclusion. It’s a brilliant meta work, but also entertaining as a fantasy. Like, I definitely could see myself reading the Simon Snow series from start to end even without the meta. Simon, Baz, Penelope, and the rest are great characters who have a life of their own even beyond that as expies; when I found out that Rowell was writing another book about them, I knew I was going to read it eagerly. But I didn’t know what to expect. When book one parodies the end of a series, what comes next? More parody? Or would it read like a straight sequel?

It reads more like a straight sequel (well, not a *straight* sequel lol). I expected there to be more winking at the audience than there actually is. I understand that Simon Snow has grown beyond the meta experiment, which is fine, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it some. Because of the title and Simon Snow’s origins in fandom culture (via Fangirl), I expected Wayward Son to play off Supernatural the way that Carry On plays off Harry Potter. It does, a little (though I might think that because I was specifically looking for it). In Wayward Son, the heroes go to America and road trip cross-country, encountering various monsters. The action is episodic. There’s no Insidious Humdrum to act as a Big Bad. Instead, the trio runs into vampires one chapter and then falls into an unrelated magical dead spot shortly after. There’s even a twist at the end that has a very Supernatural feel, so it’s not like there aren’t any similarities. That said, if there’s any source material that allows for lots of meta winking, it’s Supernatural. I am a little disappointed that there’s not a little more of it, since it’s in large part what made Carry On so great.

charlie supernatural spn meta madness
For non-Supernatural people, the song “Carry On Wayward Son” is deeply associated with the show. Since Simon Snow is rooted in fandom, and SPN is one of the biggest fandoms out there, the chance that Rowell could’ve titled her books this way without knowing that is negligible.

As a result, Wayward Son has a very different feel from the novel it follows. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing. Since Carry On has to essentially set up and resolve a major series-long storyline, there’s a lot going on. In the new book, the reader knows the history of the characters. We already know them and like them. Carry On came out four years ago, and had a pretty definite ending; Rowell could be confident that anyone reading Wayward Son is a big fan of the characters. She could trust that we’re here for more Simon and Baz, not because we randomly picked up a book that’s hot this week or because we just had to know how a cliffhanger ends up. As a result, Wayward Son is decidedly less epic. It can take its time getting to the plot. The first half of the book is very slow and, from a plot standpoint, not much happens. Simon—now winged, magic-free, and post-Chosen-One—is depressed and confused. How does one go from being the most magical, powerful, destined-for-greatness person alive to being nothing? Not gracefully, if you’re Simon Snow.

carry onHonestly, can you blame him? I can’t, and as much as “Former hero is depressed” sounds boring, it’s actually fascinating. I love Baz, Simon, and Penelope, and when you love characters enough, all you really need is to go on a road trip with them. Wayward Son is a fun magical romp, but Rowell doesn’t shortchange the emotional sides of it. Simon has lost his whole identity. He was betrayed by his mentor. He lost a close friend. He lost his magic, which defined him for most of his life. He no longer even looks human: even though he has no magic, he’s got wings and a demonic tail. He still has Penelope, but that’s literally the only thing that hasn’t changed. Even the good things in his life are drastically different from what he was used to: now that he’s dating Baz he has to readjust to acknowledge that 1) he’s not straight 2) he and Baz aren’t rivals/enemies anymore and 3) he should probably stop equating “vampire” with “evil.” Simon slowly coming to terms with his new life is the most interesting storyline, and it’s pretty cool to read a fantasy novel where the magic, good-vs.-evil stuff is there as background noise to the emotional storylines, because—and I say this as a big fan of fantasy—fantasy is usually a pretty plot-heavy genre.

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Finding Yvonne (Mini Book Review)

finding yvonneFinding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert has all the elements needed to be a great read, and while I did like it quite a lot, I didn’t love it as much as the set-up suggested I might.

It’s about the daughter of a phenomenally successful chef who, after dedicating her youth to music, realizes that she’s not talented enough to be a professional violinist and loses her passion for it. Her older almost-boyfriend is also a supremely talented cook, and Yvonne doesn’t know how to live with mediocrity. When she meets Omar, another violinist, she feels a connection–both to him and to music–that she’s been lacking.

I liked the writing. Colbert has a light but mature tone. She seamlessly integrates fascinating socioeconomic elements into stories that at first glance seem to be straightforward romances. The dialogue alone gives great insights into the character, and there’s an ideal balance between showing and telling. Clearly a lot of craft went into writing Finding Yvonne, but it’s not obvious. It’s an easy read, but a good one.

I didn’t like some of the plot points. I don’t want to get into the specifics, because doing so would be way too spoilery, so I’ll just say that there are some late developments that I didn’t care for. It’s nothing against Finding Yvonne specifically, because the twists are executed exceptionally well. It’s a personal preference. Some storylines I’ll always like, and some will always fall a little flat for me. That, more than anything else, is the difference between Finding Yvonne (which I liked) and Little and Lion (which I loved): the former includes storylines I rarely get invested in, and the latter tells stories I find naturally interesting.

I really liked the friendship between Yvonne and her best friend Sabina. The two girls are really different, but they compliment each other really well. Even though they have different backgrounds, life goals, and ideas about sex and relationships, there’s no questioning their closeness. Even when they fight, they do so in a very supportive, loving way that is really great to read.

I didn’t like the pacing at the end. About three fourths of the way through the novel, the pace picks up considerably. Several conflicts are introduced and solved quickly, and it’s a bit disappointing since the writing and pacing up until that point is excellent. Furthermore, the novel is so short that no one would begrudge an extra fifty pages or so pages that could’ve fleshed everything out.

little and lionI liked how Yvonne’s journey to self-discovery comes through her falling out of love with her violin. When she realizes that she isn’t good enough to become a professional musician, Yvonne struggles with what that means for the rest of her life. Does she quit? Does she keep playing with lowered expectations? Who is she without her music? It’s a really well-done storyline. Is there anyone out there who can’t relate to that? Life puts a lot of pressure on people to be the best, but not everyone can be the best (and it’s even harder for people, like Yvonne, who are surrounded by success stories). Coming to terms with the fact that something is going to have to be a hobby, and not something to central to your life, is tough. This storyline hits especially hard for me, because I spent a lot of my life playing the violin. I was never as into it as Yvonne, and I never expected to make a career out of music, but watching Yvonne realize that she’s not good enough for a future in music and that she doesn’t love it quite enough to get that good was quite powerful.

I didn’t like the age gap with the characters. Both Yvonne’s love interests are notably older than her, and while Colbert approaches the age gaps more tactfully than most, it stick struck me as squicky.

I didn’t love Finding Yvonne like I did Colbert’s other novel Little and Lion, but I continue to be impressed by her writing. Finding Yvonne is a superbly written bildungsroman that suffers only from a few pacing issues at the end.

B/⭐⭐⭐⭐

Supernatural 15×01 Review (Back and to the Future)

Even though I’ve been writing Supernatural recaps for the past two years and had every intention of doing my usual season recap post, I had absolutely no idea that “Back and to the Future” aired yesterday until I saw that entertainment sites had their recaps up. Whoops. If someone specifically comments that they’d like to read a recap of season fourteen, I’ll write one, but otherwise I’m just going to press on and pretend that I was on top of things.

then supernaturalThis is the last season-opening “Road So Far” we’ll ever get, and I expected more. It could have been gloriously nostalgic, but instead focused on the straightforward plot of last season. I expected to see some of Supernatural’s most iconic moments: “Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home in a few days.” “Hey, assbutt.” “I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition.” “Hello, boys.” “Saving people, hunting things. The family business.” You know. The parts of Supernatural that end up on t-shirts and that everyone will always associate with the show. This thing has been on for a decade and a half. Let’s send it home with a bang!

The recap also should’ve reminded us of the important emotional storylines. It did a great job recapping exactly what Jack was up to last season, which is, you know. Fine. But Jack’s dead, so his shenanigans aren’t exactly the most important things right now. I would’ve liked to be reminded that Dean is pissed at Cas, because I totally forgot about that and was like, “why is Dean being such a dick?” And then I remembered and was like, “oh, yeah. Wish that had been in the recap.” Oh, well.

gravestoneWe pick up right where we left off last season. Jack is dead and the other three are surrounded by an angry horde of zombies, compliments of Chuck, who’s gone. Being a huge Cas fan, I was happy to see him pull his weight in this fight. Too many times—like, for instance, last year’s season opener—he gets to pretend to be wimpy so that everything looks more dangerous or so that the humans can be more heroic. I like stakes high and I like heroic humans, but not at the expense of my boy. My point here is that the first few minutes of the episode gave me some Cas-fan whiplash. The recap made it seem like Cas wasn’t going to be a priority this season, but then the first actual cas supernaturalscene both gave him a lot to do and let him speak first, both of which are good signs.

Cas gets the shaft a lot, is what I’m saying. This is the last season for him to get closure on all his open plotlines and emotional storylines and I really hope they’re done right. I trust that the writers will take good care of Sam and Dean, but sometimes Cas gets the short end of things.

Eventually the guys realize that if they just stay there fighting, things are going to go poorly for them. Cas grabs Jack’s body and they flee to a crypt. Sam locks the door. It’s iron, so it’ll hold against the ghosts. I’m glad that Sam said that specifically, because it did not look even a little bit secure. They’re safe for the moment, but they’re surrounded with very few options. If they leave, they’ll get ripped apart. If they stay, they’ll starve to death.

CAS: I wouldn’t starve.

DEAN: Well, good for you.

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After I Do (Book Review)

after i doAfter I Do is my third Taylor Jenkins Reid book, and my second favorite. I read Maybe in Another Life a few years ago and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo more recently. I liked the former and loved the latter, and I’ve been hearing great things about Reid’s latest book Daisy Ridley and the Six. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been hearing good things, because Daisy Ridley wasn’t at the library when I went, which is why I ended up with After I Do instead.

What’s it about?

Lauren and Ryan fell in love in college and got married shortly after. But now, after just over a decade together, they realize that they are no longer in love. Not only that: they can barely stand living together. So they decide not to. For one year, they’ll live apart. They won’t see each other. They won’t even communicate. And then, at the end of the year, they’ll reassess and find out if they can make their marriage work or if this is the end.

What’d I think?

I’ve said many, many times on this blog that romance isn’t my favorite genre. As a whole, it’s just a bit too cheesy for me, and the happy endings are often too neat and easy. So these two people have gotten over their issues long enough to make out. We’re supposed to believe that that means living happily ever after is imminent. But, like. That’s not how life works. So I was intrigued by the concept of After I Do, because I have only rarely read books about romantic love after the first love/honeymoon phase has worn off.

the seven husbands of evelyn hugoAnd the fact that Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote it made me extra interested. As I mentioned above, I’ve read some of her work before and liked it, but thematically there’s a lot of variety. Maybe in Another Life is a good book, but in my opinion, it seems to posit that only one lifestyle (heteronormative, married with kids) is acceptable or desirable (I did a book club on Maybe in Another Life once; maybe I’ll post the discussion questions someday). Since that was my first introduction to Reid’s writing, I was… hesitant… to keep reading her work. I find that attitude very personally upsetting as I probably don’t want to get married but definitely don’t want kids, and whenever people act like that’s the best/only way to live, it feels like they’re saying, “you’re wrong.” And then I read Evelyn Hugo, which centers around a fascinating woman who absolutely does not live that cookie cutter life. Thankfully, After I Do is more like Evelyn. In After I Do, there’s no one way to live or one kind of acceptable family. Sometimes traditional works. Sometimes it doesn’t. A family can be a single mom and her three adult children. It can be a couple and their overenthusiastic dog. It can be a lesbian couple with small kids. Sometimes marriage comes before kids, and sometimes after. Sometimes a couple doesn’t want kids. Sometimes a person doesn’t want a committed relationship. Sometimes people are happier opening a bakery than pursuing romance. Everyone has their own path, and that’s okay.

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Emergency Contact (Mini Review)

emergency contactI read Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi almost entirely because Rainbow Rowell provides the cover blurb. It also has a very adorable cover, which is not supposed to be a reason to pick up a book but definitely is. Seriously, though. There are so many books out there, and we have to make our selections somehow. Why not the cover? And Emergency Contact‘s cover tells the reader a lot about the book; it’s a very accurate, very specific, very good cover.

What’s it about?

Penny is a college freshman; Sam is a college dropout working at an artisan coffee shop to pay off huge debts. They meet through Penny’s roommate, who used to be Sam’s niece (his mom briefly married her grandfather) and are later thrown together when Sam—reeling from terrifying, life-changing news—suffers a panic attack and Penny rescues him. From there, the two grow closer almost exclusively through text and become each other’s “emergency contact” for both emotional emergencies and run-of-the-mill loneliness.

What’d I think?

I can see why Rainbow Rowell enjoyed Emergency Contact. In addition to being cute, it has a similar feel to Fangirl. Both center around a shy college freshman with some family issues who ends up befriending an older guy they meet through their more sociable roommate, and both relationships eventually build towards romance. Both novels even have a frantic trip to visit an overdosed family member in the hospital somewhere in the final act.

Tangent TimeFor the record, I’m not complaining about similarities. At this point, every story has been told, and the new ones are just variations on the theme. Yes, some stories are so similar to something else that they feel derivative or lazy, but most of the time similarities are just similarities. And Fangirl is one of my favorite books, so I’m not complaining about a book that reminds me of it. I just thought it was interesting.

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Book Club: The Testaments (+Mini Review)

the testaments
This is such a great cover! I didn’t notice the second girl for the longest time. 

As a general rule, I’m suspicious of unplanned sequels. If a writer goes into a story with the expectation that it will take more than one novel, I’m all in. If an author writes a novel they expect to be a one-and-done and then change their mind later, I’m skeptical at best. Like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. That was one of the worst reading experiences of my life, because it wasn’t intended, there was an awkwardly long gap, and the end product simply doesn’t fit in with the existing series.

So when I hard that there was going to be a sequel to Margaret Atwood’s spectacular Handmaid’s Tale, my reaction was pretty much to nod knowingly at the TV show and mutter, “Cash cow.” To be perfectly honest, I probably wouldn’t have read The Testaments if it hadn’t been for book club, because as good as The Handmaid’s Tale is… there’s a nearly 35-year gap between books, which leads me to believe that if there was supposed to be a sequel, Atwood would’ve written and published it years ago.

It would be wrong to say I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. Atwood is a consistantly good writer, and I found myself once again transported to her fictional and horrifying Gilead. I raced quickly through the book, and it was no problem whatsoever to finish it in the three days I gave myself before I needed to be ready for discussion. I never once worried about finishing on time or had to push myself to keep reading past when I was bored.

That being said, it would also be wrong to say that I wasn’t disappointed by The Testaments. Atwood builds Gilead masterfully in The Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead is a deeply disturbing dystopian world that feels terrifyingly possible. The rise of the regime is described in terrifying detail, and Atwood hammers out the details with just enough specificity that the world is fully realized and frighteningly powerful. If The Handmaid’s Tale is about the rise of Gilead, The Testaments is about its fall, and the fall is nowhere as stunning. After its horrifying preciseness in the original novel, Gilead feels downright sloppy in the sequel. The protagonists are given powerful opportunities despite their obvious rebelliousness. Leaving Gilead is suddenly not only possible but, for some, a matter of routine. The architect of Gilead’s fall presents herself as brilliant and ten steps ahead of everyone else, but she avoids detection only by dumb luck; her plan has a lot of unnecessary steps and depends on occurrences that I can’t imagine happening in the Gilead of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Everything is too easy in The Testaments. I’m glad to see Gilead fall, naturally, but when the horrors of Gilead feel real, I want the joy of its collapse to feel real as well. I don’t want my response to a grand triumph to be a surprised and halfhearted, “Oh, wow. I guess that worked.” If anything, Gilead’s fall concerns me, because Gilead had to change so much and its leaders had to make so many careless oversights for it to crumble. The Handmaid’s Tale is the landmark piece of fiction it is because it is so skillfully written and feels so petrifyingly plausible. The Testaments, while also skillfully written, lacks the tightness and plausibility, so while I enjoyed reading it, I think on the whole The Handmaid’s Tale is better as a stand-alone novel.

Discussion Questions!

Feel free to use these at your own book clubs or wherever else they might be helpful. Be aware that there are major spoilers from here on out.

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