George (Mini Book Review)

It’s Banned Book Week. I’ve always liked highlighting and reading banned books; the genres I read tend to get challenged a lot. I love young adult fiction, fantasy, classics, and books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters and those types of books often get targeted by the kinds of people who are still trying to censor reading. This year at work I was in charge of making a display of banned and challenged books, so I spent some time researching ones that have gotten a lot of heat recently, and I realized that—despite having it on my to-read list for something like four years—I’ve never actually read George by Alex Gino.

It’s not exactly surprising that George has been on the ALA’s top ten banned books list the last four years in a row, and topped it the last two. Unfortunately, books with queer content (and especially those for children) are challenged disproportionately. How pro-censorship are homophobes, you ask? Well, in 2019, eight of the top ten banned books were banned specifically for LGBTQ+ content. In the years leading up to that, at least 50% of the most challenged books were queer (and were challenged because of that queerness). And books with trans characters get hit even harder. I try to read queer books, and even I rarely come across trans characters in my reading. But the people who like to ban books seem to be pretty good at finding them.

My point is that no one tells me what I can’t read, and I celebrate Banned Book Week by reading the books that people would tell me I shouldn’t. George absolutely should not be banned. It is a sweet, innocent novel about a little girl who wants to star in her school play. There’s nothing salacious about it. The only thing potentially objectionable about it is the bullying, but even then… every book needs an antagonist, and honestly you’d be hard pressed to find a story that takes place mostly in a school that doesn’t include bullies to be triumphed over.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Don’t Rain When the Parade Passes By

For Musical Monday this week I decided to zero in on two movie musicals that I recently saw for the first time. It’s actually shocking to me that I hadn’t seen these before, because they’re classics in the movie musical genre and I LOVE movie musicals.

I didn’t used to sort shows for Musical Mondays. I wrote about whatever show I felt like at whichever time. That’s very disorganized, though, and I don’t like it. Recently, I’ve been trying to group musicals into categories that make sense, and this time I’ve come up with the most ridiculously specific category of all time:

Musicals that end act one with a large-scale number about a parade and that have movie adaptations starring Barbra Streisand

Hello, Dolly!

How I’ve experienced it: I saw a touring production live with Carolee Carmello (who, trivia time, was in the original cast of Falsettos; obviously I haven’t seen that particular performance, but I love the revival). A few months later, I watched the 1969 movie with Barbra Streisand and Michael Crawford.

What do I think? I knew very, very little about Hello, Dolly! before I saw it. A lot of the time, I listen to shows before I see them, but I didn’t with this one. I’ve changed my mind now that I’ve actually seen some of her movies rather than just hearing a few songs out of context, but I’d previously thought that I didn’t care for Barbra Streisand (Rachel sings a lot of Streisand songs on Glee, and I found them overall fairly boring). But Hello, Dolly! surprised me. It’s much funnier than I expected. There’s a running gag about Dolly always having a business card for even the most specific occasion that makes me laugh out loud every time, and the way Dolly inserts herself and meddles in everyone else’s lives is annoying in the most hilarious way possible. It takes a certain kind of actress to pull that off, to flirt with annoyance but remain charming throughout, and thankfully both productions I saw—the live one and the movie—had an actress who could pull it off.

But even funnier than Dolly herself are Cornelius and Barnaby, the two apprentices who run away from their normal lives for a day of adventure in a big city. I have a definite type when it comes to favorite characters. It just doesn’t get better than a slightly stupid but sweet and well-meaning comic-relief character who has a fully-formed storyline. Another staple of great musical theatre is the dancing, and Hello, Dolly! has some amazing dance numbers. Several main characters are played by excellent dancers—specifically Ambrose, Barnaby, and Minnie—but the real showstopping moment is in the second act when the ensemble dancers get a chance to shine in the “Waitors’ Gallop.” It’s insane how such a large group of people can be so hilarious while also being so technically brilliant. The whole show is charming and fun.

Continue reading

The Pull of the Stars (Mini Book Review)

There are two types of people: those who are more likely to read plague fiction during a pandemic, and those who are less likely to do so. Emma Donoghue’s novel The Pull of the Stars—which depicts a maternity ward in a grippe-plagued hospital in 1918—was pushed quickly to publication to capitalize on the former group. I’m definitely a member of the latter. I read enough about COVID-19 that I know as much as possible about how to keep myself and the people around me safe, but that’s the extent of my interaction. I’m too stressed out and prone to anxiety to want to read fiction about deadly diseases. I read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood as this was breaking out and it was extremely mentally taxing on me.

If it were up to me, I would not have read The Pull of the Stars. From a mental health standpoint, a book about a pandemic was not my best choice. Also, as I’ve said many times on this blog, I have no interest storylines about pregnancy. When I found out this was the book I had to read for book club, I resigned myself to struggling with it. It was both better and worse than I expected.

Continue reading

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (Mini Book Review)

I’ve been a nerdfighter since 2012—so, not since the beginning but for a pretty long time—and I love young adult fiction, so I’m unsurprisingly a huge John Green fan. I was, honestly, a little skeptical when Hank wrote his first novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. I’d always thought of Hank as “the science one” and I am not a science one. It was my least favorite subject in high school by a wide margin, and I only very rarely read sci-fi. Still, I gave An Absolutely Remarkable Thing a shot and was surprised by how much I loved it. There’s definitely some science in it, but it’s much less a story about science than it is about humanity, and namely the way humanity responds in the face of the unknown.

I didn’t manage to read the sequel until a few months after it was released (but it’s still hanging onto the bestseller list, so I don’t feel too terribly behind), so there was enough time for other bloggers to read and review it. I saw lots of reviews excitedly proclaiming that A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is even better than An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, and while I’m not going to actively disagree, I will say that’s not true for me.

While the two novels are clearly connected, they also feel very different. The world of aART is very much like ours. The only difference is the Carls, and the main idea of the novel is to examine the way humanity would approach something mysterious and absolutely unlike anything anyone had ever encountered before. The media frenzies, the factionalism, the explosion of social media… it’s all heightened, but it’s all recognizable. Yeah, this is a universe with aliens, but it all feels like something we could easily experience, and even something that we already do experience in smaller and slightly different ways. The focus of the sequel has shifted. Obviously the world changed quite a lot at the end of the first book, and it would’ve have made sense from a story perspective if everything still felt exactly like our world, but since the social commentary was my favorite part of aART, I missed the strong parallels.

Continue reading

In Other Lands (Book Review)

in other landsSarah Rees Brennan is an author that I very firmly thought I’d read until I Googled her books and realized… I haven’t read any of them. I’d somehow sorted her into a category of writers who I like but don’t read regularly. Of course, she does also collaborate with Cassandra Clare on the Shadowhunters short story collections, most of which I have read, but there’s a difference between a short story based in someone else’s universe and featuring their characters and a full original novel. I read In Other Lands specifically because one of my coworkers had put it on a display because of its attractive cover. She had read Brennan’s other work, and recommended her strongly. When I read the inside cover, I was definitely intrigued; there’s nothing in it that states specifically that In Other Lands challenges the status quo, but I could just tell, and that’s the kind of fantasy I love best.

Report Card: A/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What’s it about?

Elliot Schafer is that annoying unpopular kid that no one likes, so when he finds out that he has the ability to see into the Borderlands, he jumps at the chance to leave his old life behind and go somewhere magical. But the magical border camp is not what Elliot expected. It’s dirty and violent and not all what it’s cracked up to be. The only thing that is as good as advertised is Serene, a beautiful elf with whom Elliot immediately falls in love. Together, Elliot and Serene—and Luke, who Elliot does not like, but with whom he has a truce somewhat resembling friendship—move through their schooling, encountering dangerous skirmishes and fledgling romances and political coups along the way.

What’d I think?

The first sign that In Other Lands was going to be great were the blurbs. Any book that can get both Leigh Bardugo and Holly Black to sing its praises has to be excellent.

Tangent TimeThe best way to find a new book is to pay attention to the blurbs. I’ve never been disappointed by anything that Leigh Bardugo or Adam Silvera has hyped. Find a few writers whose opinions you trust and then read anything with their stamp of approval. This is different than a comp. Comps are occasionally good, but sometimes they’re a baldfaced attempt to jump on a bandwagon. I’ve seen some books I hate compared to my absolute favorites, so I’m generally skeptical of them. In short: trust blurbs, but be skeptical of comps.

Right after that rant about comparison titles, I’m going to offer one: Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. Aside from a few obvious comparisons—magic school, a bisexual male lead, etc.—both books engage with fantasy tropes. While Carry On acts as the final book to a long-running series that doesn’t exist, In Other Lands condenses what might have been a whole series into a single novel. It is split into five segments, each detailing one year at the border camp. Each new year comes with its own challenges. The Borderlands are always at the brink of at least one war, because the society values warriors above all else. The primary thoroughfare from section to section—aside from Elliot’s character development and growing relationships with Serene and Luke—is Elliot’s uphill battle to get his superiors to acknowledge the importance of diplomacy or, really, anything that isn’t the ability to kill people.

Continue reading

Book Club: The Pull of the Stars

It’s been a little bit since I’ve had book club, because–like everything else in the world–COVID-19 threw a wrench into it. But my club is meeting for the first time since all the shutdowns (virtually, for the first time ever!) and that means that it’s time to dig into another book. This time, the book is The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. I’m planning to post a standard review of it some time in the near future; this post is for discussion prompts only.

Update: here’s that review

As always, please feel free to use these questions in your own book clubs, and be aware that they do include spoilers.

Discussion Starters for The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Duets

I recently rewatched all the High School Musical movies. I love those movies, both because they’re legitimately great and because I have a ton of nostalgic affection for them. I used to watch HSM2 on the last day of school every year, and even now it wouldn’t be right to go the whole summer without seeing it. During the rewatch, I noticed that the High School Musical franchise has a lot of non-romantic duets. I realized that duets are almost always sung by lovers, and that duets by friends or rivals are, strangely, a lot less common. Platonic friends don’t usually get duets to themselves; I guess the duet seems like a romantic medium. Thankfully, though, there are musicals–like HSM–that expand the types of duos who get to sing together. I decided I’d compile a list of ten musicals with at least one great platonic duet. It was surprisingly difficult to come up with them at first, but as soon as I got to ten I thought of a few more I couldn’t leave off and eventually ended up with fifteen.

1) High School Musical

High School Musical is what inspired me to start this list, so obviously I had to start with it. Across three movies, High School Musical has a ton of great duets. My favorite songs are the ones sung by Ryan and Sharpay, who are siblings. They sing “Bop to the Top” and “What I’ve Been Looking For” in the first movie, “Fabulous” and “Humuhumunukunukuapua’a” in the second, and  “I Want It All” in the third. The second movie has “I Don’t Dance,” which is sung by Ryan and Chad as they transition from rivals to friends. Finally, Troy and Chad sing “The Boys Are Back” in the final movie, which is a song about their lifelong friendship. I like all the songs in HSM, but if I ranked them all, these songs would all rank highly; that’s actually true of all these entries. Plantonic duets are freaking awesome and I wish they got more attention.

High School Musical' fun facts and trivia about the movies - Insider

2) The Spongebob Musical

There isn’t any romance in this musical (I mean, I guess aside from Plankton and his computer wife, but whatever), but there are a lot of friendship songs and that’s a big reason for why I love this musical as much as I do. Having a best friend is awesome, so it’s kind of sad how few songs there are about best-friendship. Spongebob and Patrick’s “BFF” is a precious song and it’s not even the only platonic duet in this show. It’s not even the only platonic duet for Spongebob and Patrick! They also sing “(I Guess) I Miss You.” The best thing about the duets in this show is they demonstrate how versatile duets can be. Love duets are pretty much all I love you and you love me, but Spongebob has a wider variety. “BFF” is about being friends. “(I Guess) I Miss You” is about owning up to your issues and reaching out to friends. “Daddy Knows Best” is about family, communication, and misunderstandings. “Chop to the Top” is about resilience. They’re all dynamic, fun songs and they’re all totally different.

BFF | Encyclopedia SpongeBobia | Fandom

3) Be More Chill

“BFF” is my favorite song about being best friends, but I also really like Be More Chill’s “Two Player Game.” As in Spongebob, the most important relationship in Be More Chill is between the protagonist and his best friend rather than the one between the protagonist and his love interest. I’ve written a lot—in my book reviews—about my love for quality platonic and/or familial relationships, and I’m glad that at least a few modern musicals are using duets to emphasize them. “Two Player Game” is sung by two unpopular best friends, Jeremy and Michael, and it’s about teamwork and how their friendship sustains them through the hard times.

Original Broadway Cast of Be More Chill – Two Player Game Lyrics | Genius  Lyrics

4) RENT

RENT has some absolutely spectacular duets, but most of them are sung by people in romantic relationships. There are two that aren’t, and one of them is—not coincidentally—my favorite song in the whole show. I rarely see “What You Own” on other people’s lists of favorite RENT songs but it is just so good. Unlike the other songs on this list up until this point, it’s not so much a song about a relationship as it is about two people sharing an experience. Mark and Roger are good friends, but they’re not singing about their relationship to each other; they’re singing about a shared disillusionment. I love every song in RENT, but whenever I listen to it, I repeat this song at least once. I don’t know if it’s the rock sound or the highly relatable search for meaning, but this is one of the most addictive, powerful musical songs I’ve ever heard. “The Tango Maureen,” which is an aggressively contentious song sung by Mark and Joanne about a mutual love interest, is also great.

Continue reading

Call Down the Hawk (Book Review)

call down the hawkI was a part of the Harry Potter generation, so when I was a kid, I was very used to waiting two years between books. I was a seasoned hiatus pro. Since then, though, I’ve perfected the art of jumping on the bandwagon when the whole series is available or, at least, of sliding in at the last minute to enjoy the hype when the final book is published without having to wait more than a week or two. I’ve been late to the party on just about every fantasy series that I’ve gotten deeply invested in for at least the past decade: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Charlie Bone, The Mortal Instruments, Cinder, Six of Crows, and now The Raven Boys. If you were on my blog at all last month, you know that I devoured Maggie Stiefvater’s tetralogy about five peculiar teens and their quest for a long-dead magical Welsh king. I loved the series, and was very loathe to leave it behind (I’m deeply upset that the once-proposed TV show never got off the ground). Then I found out about the Dreamer Trilogy, a sequel series centered around my favorite Raven Boy. Of course, I read it immediately, only to finish it and realize… I am no longer late to the party.

Report Card: A/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Before we start… don’t read this unless you’re okay reading spoilers for the Raven Cycle.

What’s it about?

Ronan has never been more alone: Gansey, Blue, and Henry are on a post-graduation extended trip and Adam has moved on to college, leaving Ronan at the Barns to reckon with a life determined by his dreams. But dreaming has become more dangerous. Going too long without dreaming could be deadly, but dreaming could be equally so; hunters are tracking down and killing dreamers based on intel that one of them will dream up a blaze that will consume the world.

What’d I think?

raven boys
review

Call Down the Hawk is a really good book, and Ronan makes the transition from central supporting character to leading man look easy. That said, I’d be lying if I claimed I didn’t sorely miss the rest of the Gangsey. This is far from a hot take. Nearly every online response to Call Down the Hawk that I’ve seen either laments the absence of the rest of the crew or is dedicated to Adam’s brief appearances. This is unsurprising. So much of what made the Raven Cycle work was the interplay between Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Blue, and Noah or Henry. Even though Blue is a false-lead leading lady, there’s a reason that the Raven Cycle isn’t a series named for its protagonist: it is very much an ensemble cast.

I expected to miss Adam the most, since he was easily my second favorite character in the Raven Cycle, but surprisingly I didn’t. Adam may not be physically present for the majority of Call Down the Hawk, but you can still feel him there; his absence is a deliberate hole that Ronan is constantly aware of. Stiefvater knows exactly what she is doing with Adam, both when he is around and when he isn’t. I loved Ronan and Adam’s romance in The Raven King, and it’s even better now. They’re a pair that really get each other and compliment each other well, even when they’re not exactly on the same page:

“And like that, the fight was over. It had never been a fight between them, anyway. For Adam, it was what it always was: a fight between Adam and himself, between Adam and the world. For Ronan, it was what it always was, too: a fight between truth and compromise, between the black and white he saw and the reality everyone else experienced.”

But as much as I adore Adam and wish he were around more, I actually missed Gansey the most. I never would’ve guessed that (see: all my reviews where I couldn’t figure out if I liked Gansey or not). Gansey’s absence is also very important to the plot of Call Down the Hawk, if not in the blatantly textual way Adam’s is, because Ronan’s emotional journey is centered on the fact that his friends are moving on with their lives while he is unable to do so. While writing the Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater kept a note that the worst thing that could happen to the gang is that they stopped being friends. That hasn’t happened—Adam keeps in regular contact, and when Ronan needs Gansey or Blue they immediately pick up their phones—but the distance between them is definitely hard. When you really think about it, Gansey and Ronan were it. They’re the center of the crew, and everyone else joined them. There was a Gansey and Ronan before there was a Ronan and Adam or Gansey and Blue or even a Gansey, Ronan, and Adam. Ronan feels uncomfortably afloat without Gansey.

Continue reading

Nevernight (Book Review)

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle): Kristoff, Jay ...I got Nevernight by Jay Kristoff from the library because I picked a few books from my goodreads to-read list at random. I don’t know how Nevernight ended up on that list in the first place, as I don’t generally read dark or adult fantasy and while I have read Kristoff’s work in the past (specifically, I read Illuminae), his name on the cover of a book is not necessarily an incentive to pick it up. I think I must have seen Nevernight on an online list somewhere, probably one with small pictures, because I suspect I wouldn’t have read it if I’d seen the cover artwork up close and personal. It’s intriguing, certainly, but nightmarish. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but if the cover is well done, there’s no reason not to. Nevernight’s cover is well done: both the image and the novel itself are interesting, compelling, creepy, and violent.

What’s it about?

Long ago, Mia swore to revenge herself on the important men who executed her father and sent her mother and brother to a miserable prison. In order to obtain the skills necessary to kill these men, though, Mia must become a Blade, a sanctified assassin for the Red Church and its deity, the Lady of Blessed Murder (the blasphemous sister of the officially recognized sun god). She joins a group of thirty-some hardened acolytes at the church and is informed that only four of them will achieve their goal to become Blades.

What’d I think?

I have a strict rule about reading: I have to read 100 pages of a book before I decide whether or not I’m going to finish it. Usually at that point I’ll finish it regardless because once I’ve sunk 100 pages into a book, I’d rather finish it and be able to claim I’ve read it (I’ve actually only DNF’d one book that I can remember). Maybe it’s not the best rule, but it’s how I operate. But let me tell you: Nevernight needed those one hundred freebie pages. If I’ve read another book that starts as badly, it’s been long enough that I don’t remember it. The opening chapter has some interesting things going on, stylistically, but after that… yikes. Mia and Tric, another important character, make their way across a dangerous desert to the Red Church, chased by monsters. You’d think running from monsters towards a murder church might be at least kind of interesting, but you would be wrong. It’s mind-numbingly boring. At that point in the novel, neither Mia nor Tric had done anything to get me to care about them as characters, and their repartee is not nearly as witty and charming as it’s evidently meant to be. The monster fights go on way too long and the narration doesn’t help it at all. More on the narration in a bit.

Continue reading

August 2020 Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe another month has gone by! 2020 has been a bizarre mashup of time flying by but also looking around and just going when will this end??? I’m still riding the wave of my YA fantasy kick, and I spent much of this month trying to find another series I could latch onto as significantly as I did the Raven Cycle. I didn’t succeed… I started two totally new series to middling results (I liked both, but don’t think I’ll continue reading either) and while I did read two YA fantasy novels that I loved, one is a stand-alone and the other is essentially the Raven Cycle Part II and can’t be counted as a new discovery. That said, if you know of any addictive YA fantasy series, please leave titles in the comments because I’m always looking for them!

Here’s what I read this month:

Book review: Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan | GLBT ReviewsGirls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

I’m always looking for a new YA fantasy series, so whenever I read a positive review for one I put it on my TBR without too much vetting. This was the case for Girls of Paper and Fire. I don’t remember where I first heard about it. Knowing that something is the first book of a generally positively-regarded fantasy series is usually enough to hook me; Girls of Paper and Fire centers on Asian and queer characters, and that got me even more interested. The title worried me slightly (why are so many YA fantasies titled something of something and something?) but I read it anyway.

While I think Ngan is a very skilled writer who does an excellent job of distilling important ideas–like the danger and prevalence of the patriarchy, the trauma of sexual assault, and more–she struggles more with creating a fully-fledged fantasy universe that I could fall in love with. I like her characters, but I don’t love them. I was interested to find out what would happen next, but I was never in danger of staying up all night to find out. I like to be obsessed with fantasy books. I often want to reread them as soon as I finish. I’m tempted to buy the ones I borrowed from the library. I like to scroll tumblr for fanart and inside jokes. I like to make predictions about subsequent books and wish for TV adaptations. I liked Girls of Paper and Fire, but it didn’t make me want to do any of those things.


Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean RhysWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I read Wide Sargasso Sea because I’ve heard that it is, essentially, required reading for fans of Jane Eyre. I am certainly a fan of Jane Eyre, but I could take or leave Wide Sargasso Sea. It’s not exactly a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel, but it’s closer to that than anything else. It follows the largely-ignored Bertha Mason, Rochester’s first wife, through her childhood in the Caribbean to the yearly days of her marriage. It’s a challenge to the Euro-centric storytelling of the original novel, and while that’s laudable, Wide Sargasso Sea fudges too many of the original details for my liking, and overall failed to fully capture my attention. It’s very possible that, going into this book as a casual reader intending simply to enjoy myself, I missed a lot of the nuance. I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’m in any way knowledgeable about the history of the Caribbean, so it might be my own fault that I didn’t especially like Wide Sargasso Sea, but the fact remains: I didn’t especially like Wide Sargasso Sea.


Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle): Kristoff, Jay ...Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

I seriously have no idea why I read this. Did I read a good review of it? Did someone recommend it to me? Did I see it on a shelf at work and think it sounded good? I have legitimately no idea. It was on my to-read list on goodreads so I got it from the library. And I was confused, because it’s not really my type of book. I don’t read a lot of dark fiction (I’m easily frightened) and while I love YA fantasy, I don’t read a lot of adult fantasy (aside from the majorly popular ones like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings). I do know that I thought Nevernight was YA until I was about halfway through it and then… it really, really isn’t. If you asked me if I liked Nevernight when I was about two-thirds done with it, I probably would have said I really did. If you’d asked me before that, I’d have told you I hated it and was close to DNFing it (the beginning is borderline unreadable, and I only powered through it because I’ve only DNFed one book in the past 10+ years and it’s not in my character to add to that list). Now that I’ve finished, I’m not sure how I feel. There’s a very surprising twist at the end that is very effective from a plot perspective but slightly disappointing from a thematic or character-based one. It’s possible that later books in the series salvage this (I did a brief Google search and it sounds like this is the case, that books two and three course correct a bit), but at the moment I’m on the fence, leaning towards no, about continuing the series.


call down the hawkCall Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

I spent almost all of July obsessively reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle. I sped through those books as quickly as I could get them and requested Call Down the Hawk as soon as I finished because it’s been a while since I’ve loved a character as much as I love Ronan Lynch, the magical dreamer from the original series who becomes a fully-fledged leading man for this sequel trilogy. Right now, I’m having a hard time thinking anything about Call Down the Hawk except that… I was very spoiled with the Raven Cycle. They were all readily available to me. I didn’t have to suffer through any long hiatuses. I skipped from one book to the next with no more than a few days–or, in the case of Blue Lily, Lily Blue and The Raven King, a few hours–in between. And apparently I didn’t quite internalize that the Dreamer Trilogy is, in fact, a trilogy. And there’s only one out right now. AND IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER. And I have to wait until MAY 2021 to find out what happens. But I need to know where Ronan is! And what is going on with Adam? What’s Bryde’s deal? I NEED ANSWERS. And yeah, I have thoughts about parts of the book that aren’t the last chapter which I get into in my full review, but right now I’m just screeching internally because it’s been a long time since I’ve been properly devastated by finishing a book too long before its sequel is available. Review to come.


in other landsIn Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

This book is SO ADORABLE. I mostly read it because a coworker recommended Sarah Rees Brennan to me generally and I realized that–aside from her Shadowhunters-verse short stories written with Cassandra Clare–I haven’t actually read anything by her. I thought I had. In Other Lands is kind of a fantasy story, kind of a friendship story, and kind of a romance. It’s also pretty meta; I’d definitely recommend it to fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, although it engages differently. It’s basically what would happen if you released a genre-savvy asshole into a fantasy world and let him run amok, and it’s hilarious because said genre-savvy asshole manages to be both extremely lovable and deeply annoying at the same time. I really had no idea what I was getting into with In Other Lands, but I’m so glad I read it because I won’t be surprised if it makes it into my top ten list this year.


Here’s what I watched this month:

The Umbrella Academy

klaus where are you going with this umbrella academy

Season two of The Umbrella Academy dropped on Netflix at the very end of last month and I’m embarrassed at how quickly I tore through it. It’s such a great show. It balances silly moments with genuine emotion and manages to pair over-the-top fantasy action with nuanced storylines that touch on real-world issues like racism, homophobia, addiction, and abuse. Despite balancing lots of different storylines and a large cast of characters, The Umbrella Academy doesn’t seem to struggle with characterization or pacing. Season two lets the characters who were previously slightly sidelined get their chance to shine and tries different things without losing sight of what worked previously. I’m always a little worried that I show I love will drop in quality between seasons, but thankfully that’s not the case with The Umbrella Academy.


Star Wars

darth vader father and son star wars

I watched The Mandalorian last month. It didn’t make that much of an impression on me, honestly (it didn’t even make my monthly recap). Baby Yoda is absolutely adorable; I love him and spent the whole show cooing at his sweet face. If the character designers hadn’t done such a great job on that little guy, though, I have a hard time believing anyone would care all that much about the show. The reason I mention this, though, is because my parents were extremely confused about the timeline (they were convinced Baby Yoda is, in fact, Yoda as a baby); my sister and I tried to explain it and at the end of it decided it would be easier to just rewatch all the movies, including Solo and Rogue One, in chronological order. It’s been a while since I watched them, and even though I’m a big fan (there have been a few Star Wars themed birthday parties in my family) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Different things struck me this time than previous viewings. Like, I’ve always loved Han and Leia but I was really sleeping on Luke. And I did not understand politics as a child. I’m bewildered as to how I made it through the prequels because I had literally no idea what was going on. I think I just liked Padmé’s outfits. As for the sequel trilogy, I think it’s probably the weakest overall because of The Rise of Skywalker (wtf Palpatine) but I love the other two. I’m one of the few fans who absolutely, enthusiastically thinks The Last Jedi is great (I wrote a tiny bit about that in my review for Solo, which is linked above, if you’re interested). I fully, unironically like all the Star Wars movies but haven’t done a full watch ever (at least, not since the existence of the sequels), so this has been a lot of fun. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll write a longer Star Wars review, because I have Thoughts™ .


gif credits here and here

10 Reasons to Watch Galavant (Musical Monday)

Galavant (Series) - TV TropesHello, and welcome back to Musical Monday! This blog is almost entirely dedicated to reviewing books, but every two weeks on Monday I dedicate a post to one of my greatest loves: musicals. For the most part, I’ve stuck to reviewing traditional stage musicals, but I thought I’d take a departure this time and write about a TV musical that is criminally under-appreciated: Galavant. I watch a lot of TV, so it’s hard to pick an outright favorite show, but if I did, it would probably be Galavant, because it is just about perfect. TV viewers definitely let themselves and Galavant down by not watching it while it was airing, because it got cancelled after only two short, hilarious seasons. Yes, it has the most satisfying final scene in the history of television, but it deserved to have at least two or three more seasons.

If someone had looked inside my brain and formulated a show specifically to my tastes, they couldn’t have done better than Galavant, which is a musical parody of medieval fantasy. It’s hysterically funny but engages with tropes in surprisingly sophisticated ways. Galavant does for medieval fantasy what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does for romantic comedies. It is one, but it’s also a meta commentary on them. It works as a surface-level comedy, but is also clever enough to be the subject of a college report (seriously! My sister did one!).

It has a charming cast that’s a combination of recognizable actors (Psych’s Timothy Omundson plays King Richard, Luke Youngblood of Harry Potter and Community fame plays Sid, and Downton Abbey’s Sophie McShera plays Gwynne) and relative unknowns (some of the biggest roles—from Galavant to Isabella to Jester—are played by actors whose imdb pages are still pretty short).

What’s it about?

When the evil King Richard kidnaps Madalena, lady love to the gallant Sir Galavant, it sends Galavant into a long depression he only shakes when Princess Isabella, whose kingdom was captured by the same King Richard, approaches him to engage his help in freeing her family and her people. Galavant jumps on the chance to win Madalena back, unaware that Isabella is leading him into a trap.

So without further ado, here are 10 reasons to watch Galavant

1) The Songs

Even though the episodes are very short, they all have at least one or two original songs that hilariously advance the story but are also catchy enough that you can listen to them on their own (I have often done this, including while writing this post). There are a pretty wide variety of musical styles, from a rap battle to a Les Mis parody to a song set to the dirge of an executioner’s drum to a cheesy karaoke-style number. There are some blatant homages to well-known songs (I particularly love when Richard and Galavant sample from West Side Story and even pull out the classic Shark and Jet snapping move; there’s also a clear reference to Grease). The lyrics are playful and often challenge their form. A song about hatred is sung like a loving duet, songs break the fourth wall  to acknowledge that they’re being sung, and so on.

Oh, and did I mention that Alan Menken—who worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Newsies, Pocahontas, Hercules, Enchanted, Tangled, and more—did the music? Because he did, and it’s brilliant.

In Memoriam: Shows & Characters We Lost in the 2015-2016 TV Season  [Contributors: Jenn, Rae, Maddie, Deb, Lizzie, Megan, and Chelsea] ~ Just  About Write

2) The Meta and Satire

I love a good bit of metafiction, and that’s something that Galavant does best. It makes liberal use of anachronisms and tropes to cheerfully mock its genre and the time period it’s set in. Galavant as a whole is a masterclass in effective meta. One of the best meta moments is in the first song of the second season, which absolutely defies explanation. Every line is deeply, deeply meta, lampooning both Galavant itself and the larger entertainment landscape. Just watch it.

If you don’t love it, I don’t trust you. Later, before the climax of the season, a character sings a recap song to catch everyone up and then, unwilling to fight in an upcoming battle, offers to sing it again to delay, in case someone missed it. At a tense moment, Galavant suggests that it’s a good day to die and someone replies, “We won’t, there’s one more episode.”

Continue reading

Wide Sargasso Sea (Mini Book Review)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean RhysCharlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre has been one of my favorite classic novels since I first read it some time in early high school. I also love the BBC version with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens (I’ve also seen the one with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender; it’s okay). Because I love it so much, I wrote one of my biggest college papers on it. I read a lot of literary criticism about it, and I was surprised that a lot of those scholars mentioned another book: Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s first wife, and it is centered in the Caribbean, a place where Rhys spent a significant portion of her childhood. It surprised me to see Wide Sargasso Sea held in such esteem, not because I knew anything about it—at the time, I didn’t—but because it’s essentially fanfiction.

Of course, lots of books are published that reimagine the classics, and they aren’t considered fanfiction. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, Longbourne by Jo Baker, Pride by Ibi Zoboi, and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides are all different versions of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. And those are all retellings of the same book that I was able to come up with off the top of my head. There’s even a precedent for me reading Jane Eyre retellings; while looking for Wide Sargasso Sea I read Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. So rewriting the classics is clearly a common and accepted thing that is considered a more elevated artform than the fanfiction that you might find on something like Archive of Our Own. But putting Wide Sargasso Sea right next to Jane Eyre feels weird to me, because a lot of people do put it right there. Almost every article I read for my Jane Eyre essay either dedicated a paragraph or more to the ideas posited in Wide Sargasso Sea or explicitly stated that they were not going to.

I wrote that essay about five years ago, and it’s taken until now to find Wide Sargasso Sea. My old library supposedly had a copy, but even though I worked there and looked for it on and off for two full years, it never turned up. So finding it at my current library was very exciting.

Continue reading

Girls of Paper and Fire (Book Review)

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha NganWhen I stop to think about it, I actually haven’t read many review of Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire. I saw it on a few vague lists of diverse YA fantasy and since that’s my jam, I added it to my to-read list and then got it at the library because it was more readily available than some of my other choices.

Have you ever unintentionally read two books in close proximity that are bizarrely similar to each other? It happens to me all the time, and I don’t know if that’s just because I get in a certain mood and pick books that I can tell subconsciously are going to satisfy the same want, or if the universe is telling me something. In any case, in the last month or so I have read two different fantasy novels about a young woman who is forced to leave her family to be the companion to the king of a distant kingdom, only to fall in love with another woman. The books even have similar titles. The first was Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, which is a more romanticized version. The protagonist is sent to marry a largely inoffensive prince, and she falls for a princess. Girls of Paper and Fire has much harsher edges: Lei, the protagonist, is a low-caste human woman who is ripped from her family to be one of eight personal prostitutes—called “Paper Girls”—to a demon king who is a cruel, inhuman rapist. Lei’s love interest is one of the other Paper Girls, and it’s understood absolutely that the consequences of discovery will be violent, disproportionate, and catastrophic.

Amazon.com: Of Fire and Stars (9780062433251): Coulthurst, Audrey ...I wasn’t a huge fan of Of Fire and Stars, and as I read Girls of Paper and Fire, I couldn’t help thinking that this was what Coulthurst meant to write. Girls of Paper and Fire is intense. The stakes feel high, the caste system makes sense, and the characters are well-drawn. We understand why Lei falls for her love interest, and we understand how dangerous the love story is while still understanding why our heroine pursues it. There’s not a minute when the reader isn’t painfully, horrifically aware of the violence inherent to Lei’s situation.

Continue reading

Everything About You is So Musical

Welcome back to Musical Monday! To the best of my ability, I’m going to try to theme these more. When I first started writing about musicals I did it totally randomly. I’d pick five random shows with nothing in common and slap them onto a post together. Last time I did a Musical Monday I wrote about three shows that were loosely based on historical events, and I like the idea of having them sorted.

This time, the theme is even tighter. These three musicals–none of which I’ve actually seen–are all about unpopular high-schoolers making their way up the social ladder in, let’s say, less than ideal ways. Furthermore, none of them are original musicals: two were based on movies, and one on a YA novel.

Mean Girls (musical) | Mean Girls Wiki | FandomMean Girls

Which cast recordings have I heard, and which is my favorite? I think there’s only one… the OBC recording.

Are there any good YouTube-available clips? Actually, yeah! Mean Girls is pretty good about putting clips on YouTube. There are actual performances of “Sexy” and “Stop” as well as music videos for “World Burn” and “I’d Rather Be Me.” “Apex Predator” has a music video in addition to a live performance on the Today Show. Plus, the cast performed “Where Do You Belong/Meet the Plastics” at the Tony Awards.

What’s it about? It follows the same plot as Tina Fey’s 2004 classic movie. Basically, a new girl who has been homeschooled her whole life goes to a public high school and falls in with the popular clique, realizes how terrible they are, and then brings them down from the inside with the help of a few outsider pals.

See the 2017–2018 Broadway Season in GIFS | Playbill

What’s so good about it? It’s cute and silly, just like the movie. Mean Girls is not the kind of musical that’s going to change lives or be remembered as a classic, but it’s still fun. The songs are catchy and expand the characters from the original movie, so it’s unsurprising that it is popular with young adults, especially those of us who grew up with the movie.

My favorite songs: “World Burn,” “’Till Someone Gets Hurt,” and “Meet the Plastics”


Be More ChillBe More Chill

Which cast recordings have I heard, and which is my favorite? There are two main ones, and they are honestly only subtly different because most of the cast stayed with the show as it moved from Off-Broadway to Broadway. I heard the Off-Broadway version first and—possibly because I saw it first—prefer it. That said, I’m not a huge fan of the direction for the Broadway version. The Squip, in the original novel, sounds like Keanu Reeves and the Broadway version leans into that to the detriment of the songs; Michael is also played a little different (read: more stoned), and I prefer the original characterization. Still, if you’re a Dear Evan Hansen fan you’d probably be interested to hear the Broadway cast, because the insanely cool Jared Kleinman (aka Will Roland) plays Jeremy.

Are there any good YouTube-available clips? A few. That is, there are some good ones but if you know this musical at all you have to cringe a little at a few of the censored lines. It’s not, like, Spring Awakening at the Tonys censorship, but it’s still enough to warrant a shaking of the head. Still, we’ve got “Pitiful Children,” “Two-Player Game,” “More than Survive,” and “Michael in the Bathroom.”

What’s it about? Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini, Be More Chill is about a tragically unpopular high schooler who downloads a supercomputer called a Squip into his brain. The Squip is intended to help him navigate the world in a cooler, chiller way… but it goes about as well as you’d expect.

Broadway Theatre GIF by Be More Chill Musical - Find & Share on GIPHY

What’s so good about it? It’s silly fun. This is the rare adaptation that improves its source material 100%. I didn’t care for the book—there’s some sexist, racist, and homophobic stuff in it, which the musical thankfully eliminates and/or outright criticizes—but the musical improves on it drastically, making the characters more sympathetic and the social commentary stronger. The songs are very catchy, and have a kind of electronic sound you don’t often hear in musicals. Seriously, like half of them are major earworms. Be More Chill only made it to Broadway because it went viral with teens and young adults, which actually makes a lot of sense. This is a musical for people for whom technology plays a large role, which means that it probably has a pretty steep generational divide (I have a hard time picturing my grandparents enjoying it, even though they love theatre) that I happen to be on the right side of.

My favorite songs: “Michael in the Bathroom,” “Pitiful Children,” and “Two-Player Game”


Heathers: The MusicalHeathers

Which cast recordings have I heard, and which is my favorite? I think there’s just the one with Barrett Wilbert Weed. I mean, there’s also the soundtrack from that Riverdale episode, but, like, lol.

Are there any good YouTube-available clips? Not very many. I found two montages, plus a studio recording of “Candy Store” and a low-key performance of “Seventeen” at Barnes & Noble.

What’s it about? Mean Girls but with more murder. A girl falls in with a group of popular mean girls, which is bad enough, but then her unpopular boyfriend turns out to be a murderous psychopath.

Heathers the musical uploaded by Nightwing on We Heart It

What’s so good about it? This is the weird show that I like but also I don’t. It has some very good songs, but I don’t think I’d actually want to ever see it because it’s dark. Like, really dark. There are a couple of shows that have compelling music but are too graphically violent for me to enjoy actually watching (Sweeney Todd and Little Shop of Horrors are also in this very specific category) and Heathers is one of them. So, yeah. Great songs. I loved to listen to this one and then I read the Wikipedia synopsis (I have not seen the movie it’s based on) and went yikes. Still like the music, though.

My favorite songs: “Candy Store,” “Freeze Your Brain,” and “Dead Girl Walking”


gif credits here, here, and here

The Lightness of Hands (Book Review)

Amazon.com: The Lightness of Hands (9780062382894): Garvin, Jeff ...If you haven’t read Jeff Garvin’s first novel Symptoms of Being Human, you should do yourself a favor and do so. It’s a very powerful, beautifully written story about a gender fluid teenager trying to make their way in the world. Riley is an adorable, eloquent, compelling protagonist who’s impossible not to love, and Symptoms of Being Human made a huge impression on me. The Lightness of Hands is Garvin’s second book, and I knew when I saw his name on the cover that it would be well written and emotionally raw.

What’s it about?

Ellie’s father used to be a famous magician before he flubbed a big trick on live TV. Now he and Ellie live in an old RV, skimming gas and occasionally swiping wallets to get themselves from one low-paying gig to another. They’re at the end of their rope and out of their much-needed medication (Ellie’s is for Bipolar II, her father’s is for his heart) when an unexpected lifeline appears: the chance for a do-over. Now all Ellie has to do is get her father across the country and persuade him to perform the escape that ruined their lives.

What’d I think?

symptoms of being humanPersonally, I did not like The Lightness of Hands as well as Symptoms of Being Human, even though from a writing and storytelling standpoint I think it is probably equally good. Riley is an adorable nerd, and I’m always a sucker for an adorable nerd. Ellie is more than her diagnosis, but I’d be lying if I said that her Bipolar II doesn’t dictate most of her story. Between that and her extreme poverty, Ellie doesn’t have a whole lot of mental space for anything else. She only manages to steal a few minutes a day for herself because otherwise she and her father would be unable to keep their heads overwater. This makes for a powerful and depressing picture of poverty.

The Lightness of Hands shows us the dark side of following your passion. So much fiction shows us people achieving their dreams and being majorly successful, so it’s almost surprising to come across the opposite of that. It makes that tale-as-old-as-time struggle more compelling. Ellie loves the highs of performing, but she fears the crash that comes after it, both the depressive crash from her bipolar and the lack of economic stability that she has grown so uncomfortably comfortable with. For Ellie for much of the novel, the dream is a stable, well paying career that she is not passionate about.

Continue reading