Book Club: Frindle (+Mini Book Review)

frindleWhat’s it about and what’d I think?

Frindle by Andrew Clements is about a boy who causes a phenomenon when a dictionary-obsessed teacher gives him a project on etymology and he ends up replacing the word ‘pen’ with the word ‘frindle.’ It’s Andrew Clements’ first book, and arguably his best one.

Having read it for the first time many years ago, I was very surprised by how fast-paced it is. While that is probably appealing to young and reluctant readers, for me it was slightly offputting how quickly one plot point was rushed to the next. However, overall Frindle is a very interesting story about how ideas spread and how powerful they are. I particularly like the way Clements wrote Mrs. Granger, as she avoided the irritating black and white villain role that many JF books (and, honestly, most of Clements’ later work) cling to. I also greatly enjoyed the discussion of language and the ways that it informs the ways we can and do think.

I did enjoy the book, which is somewhat impressive as there is a part of me that resents Andrew Clements for the disaster that was the book club discussion of No Talking. Pro tip: if you have an immature group of kids, don’t pick a book that can be easily misinterpreted to mean “disrespect is creative and cool and if you’re disrespectful long enough people will come around and agree with you.”

Discussion Starters

Remember, my discussion starters do reference the end and therefore are not spoiler-free. Also, feel free to use these questions in your own book club.

spoilers

  1. Discuss Nick as a character. How would you characterize Nick? What do you think of the initial description of Nick as a character who would not be listed among the smartest, best, or worst students at his school (1)? What impression did you get about Nick from that description? Was your first impression accurate? If not, why not? What sort of list would you put Nick on?
  2. Did Frindle make you think about language differently? What is language? Do you agree that “Clear thinking requires a command of the English language” (11)? How is having an advanced vocabulary related to being a clear thinker? Is it possible to reflect on ideas when you do not have the requisite language and vocabulary to express those ideas? Discuss Mrs. Granger’s letter, in which she writes: “So many things have gone out of date. But after all these years, words are still important. Words are still needed by everyone. Words are used to think with, to write with, to dream with, to hope and pray with” (100). What makes a word “real?” How does language evolve? Consider new words like “humblebrag,” “selfie,” or “photobomb,” which did not exist a few decades ago but which are now in common usage. Who or what gives words meaning? If you are familiar with Ferdinand de Saussure and/or semiology, compare the theory of sign, signifier, and signified with the study of language as presented in
  3. Chatham says that “there have to be standards” when it comes to language (52). Where is the line between appropriate and inappropriate words? Why are some words appropriate for some settings but not for others? Consider slang words and colloquialisms as well as “bad words.” Consider words that are perceived as highbrow such as “shall” or “hitherto.” Who decides that some words are better/more formal/fancier than others? How does a word’s history and etymology affect its usage? Why are some words used by certain groups but not by others? Consider both groups such as nationalities and smaller, more personal groups such as families or circles of friends. Are there words or phrases that have different meanings in different settings? How does the hierarchy of words affect communication and language as a whole?
  4. Judy Morgan writes in her article that “Nick Allen masterminded this plot that cleverly raises issues about free speech and academic rules” (68). How is frindle a debate about free speech? How does it challenge academic rules? To what degree do you agree with the use of the words “masterminded” and “plot?” Do you think Nick masterminded the frindle incident as a way to challenge authority? If not, does it matter? Which is more important, the intent behind an action or the result of the action?
  5. Discuss the way that the frindle incident grows. How and why does the word become such a phenomenon? Which characters in the book are responsible for the growth of the story? How might things have gone without Mrs. Granger playing the villain? Without Judy Morgan to run the original story? Without Alice Lunderson to bring it to the national stage? Without Bud Lawrence to trademark and monetize the word? How does something grow from an idea to a tangible thing? At what point does “frindle” become real?
  6. Nick briefly struggles with the “price” of being a hero? What is the price? How does Nick’s newfound celebrity change him? What are the repercussions of fame, both for Nick specifically and for famous people generally? Discuss Nick’s mother’s warning to Nick about the reporters: “these reporters are just looking for a quick story that will make some excitement. But you have to stay here and live in this town. So mind your Ps and Qs” (75). How does Nick’s regular life change as a result of his newfound celebrity? How does it stay the same?
  7. sue
    A rare time when a language breakdown does not prevent clear communication.

    Discuss Mrs. Granger as a character. What characterizes her? What is Nick’s first impression of her? What is the reader’s? What sort of a character is she? In her letter to Nick, Mrs. Granger writes “I have chosen to be the villain” (99, my emphasis). How does this line change your impression of her, or does it? Discuss the different roles that people play, both in fiction and in real life. By virtue of being a work of fiction, does a story like Frindle need a villain? Is it significant that Mrs. Granger only plays the role of the villain? Narratively, what role does she play? Once again, discuss motivation. Is Mrs. Granger Frindle’s antagonist because of her actions, or is she something else? An antihero? A mentor figure? How might the novel be different if Mrs. Granger had actually opposed Nick and frindle?

  8. What do you think of Clements’ writing style? Consider the fast pace of the narrative, the revolving focus (one-off characters like Bud, Judy, and Alice are given perspective chapters despite being absent for the rest of the book), and the occasional direct address to the reader (pg. 93: “that would delay the end of this story”). How might the story be different if Clements had used language differently? In a novel about language, how important is the language used? What would you say Frindle is primarily about? Is it about Nick? The word frindle? Something else? If you have read any of Clements’ other novels, compare them to Frindle. What similarities are there? Discuss the various roles and plotlines that are recycled throughout his work. How is Frindle different?
  9. Discuss the word frindle. What is it? How did Nick get it to catch on? Why do you think people were so enthusiastic about the new word? Why did Nick choose to replace the word pen directly rather than creating a completely new word/concept? Is it significant that the central item in the novel is a pen, which is used to produce language and communication?

 

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Book Club: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (+Mini Book Review)

What’s it about, and what did I think?

mr lemoncello.jpgEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein is a cute book that’s kind of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except about books instead of candy. And no, that’s not my original comparison. It’s an observation that the novel makes about itself. These sorts of references are my favorite aspect of the novel by far. Grabenstein obviously loves books and libraries, and his references—which for the most part stay in the realm of well-known JF and YA literature—are plentiful. Anyone who loves to read will either glorify in the title-dropping or pick up a lot of new books for their reading list.

The book is about a group of twelve year olds and the game they play in Mr. Lemoncello’s library. Mr. Lemoncello, a famous maker of games, has opened a public library for a town that has never had one (at least in the kids’ lifetime) and it is full of puzzles and games that the children must solve to escape the library and by so doing win fame and fortune. It is a cute book, and one I would happily recommend to young readers. However, while the riddles and references are lots of fun, there is not too much beyond the surface level, so I would not personally have chosen it as a book for discussion.

Side note: Apparently this is being made into a movie in 2017. I had no idea.

Discussion Starters:

Remember, these questions do not shy away from spoiling the end of the book, so beware.

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  1. The number one rule in the library—and the one that ultimately gets Charles disqualified from the game—is to “Be gentle. With each other and, most especially, the library’s books and exhibits” (49). How does this rule inform the novel? In what ways are the characters gentle or not gentle with each other? Why do you think that Lemoncello specifies to be “especially” gentle with the library? Which is more important, to be gentle with the books and exhibits or to be gentle with the other children? Which half of the rule is more relevant to the novel?
  2. Discuss the team divide and the way that it develops as the game goes on. What does the novel as a whole have to say about the nature of teamwork? Discuss the group dynamics of each iteration of each team. What is it about Kyle that draws people to his team (first Akimi, then Miguel, then Sierra, and finally Haley)? On the flipside, how does Charles drive his teammates away (discuss both Andrew and Haley)? What drives various characters to abandon their solitude and join a team?
  3. The game initially seems to promise a single winner and a large group of losers. Is that how it ends up? Do the rules of the game change, or do the players simply find a better way? What does the novel seem to say about the value of teamwork? Could Kyle have won the game by himself? Could Charles have won if he had agreed to work together with the other children? Is it a coincidence that the “good” kids won? Why do they seem like the good guys? Is it because they are willing to team up? What separates Charles from the other children? Do you think Kyle and company would have allowed Charles to join them if he had been amenable to it? Discuss Charles assertion that “[all for one and one for all] is not how things work in the real world. Out here, it’s every man for himself. What good is a prize if everyone wins it? (231). To what degree is Charles right? If you agree that the world is an every-man-for-himself sort of place, why do you think that is? Is the world populated with Charleses or Kyles? Both? Neither? Discuss the gift card scene at the beginning of the novel. How does that early scene set up the characterizations that follow?
  4. Discuss the dynamic between Charles and Andrew. Why does Andrew let Charles use him? How does Charles view Andrew?
  5. Discuss Kyle’s growth over the course of the novel. What motivates him at the beginning? Is it the same as what motivates him at the end? How and why do Kyle’s priorities change over the course of the novel? Discuss Kyle’s love of gaming, his obsession with competing with his brothers, and his unconventional original essay (as well as his methods of getting his real essay read).
  6. Towards the beginning of the novel, Charles says that “After all, the prize is the most important part of any game” (58). Do you agree or disagree? Which position does the novel seem to take? If not the prize, what is the most important part of a game? Why is it important that Kyle’s team wins the escape game? Is it because of the prize? Do you think that the children would have been equally motivated to play the game if there were not a prize attached to it? What role do prizes and winning play in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library as a whole?
  7. Discuss Charles as a character. Why does he act the way that he does? Discuss Charles’ family life. In what ways is Charles’ family to blame for the way that he is? Remember, “I’m a Chiltington. We never lose” (61, my emphasis). Is it important that Charles speaks this way not purely as himself but rather as a part of a much larger family unit? Consider Charles’ language: how often does he use collective pronouns (we, us) and how often does he use singulars (I)? In what contexts does he use them?
  8. Discuss Haley as a character. How do people perceive her? Is the perception an accurate representation of who she is? Discuss her family’s money problems. Discuss “With certain people, mainly grown-ups and silly boys, pretending to be a ditzy princess made getting what she wanted a whole lot easier” (110). Why might it help her to maintain this act? Why are adults and boys more likely to give her what she wants if they think she is shallow and insipid? What does this say about Haley? What does it say about the people around her? Discuss how, when, and why Haley drops this façade. Does acting fake help her get what she wants in the novel?
  9. Discuss the dynamic between Andrew and Miguel. Why does Andrew dislike Miguel so much? Does the animosity stem more from Andrew or from Miguel?
  10. meggie
    Yay reading.

    What did you think of the book references that Grabenstein drops (usually in Mr. Lemoncello’s dialogue)? Did you catch them all? Have you read the books referenced? If so, what do you think of Mr. Lemoncello’s taste in reading material? If not, did you find any titles to add to your reading list? Did this novel make you more enthusiastic about reading? About your library? Discuss: “a library is more than a collection of dusty old books. It is a place to learn, explore, and grow!” (75). What do books mean to you?

 

Release (Book Review)

releaseRelease by Patrick Ness is kind of a weird book. It’s based loosely on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which I have read. Unfortunately that was a long time ago and I did not like it much, so I do not remember much about it. I knew about the Mrs. Dalloway thing before I read Release, and if it had been by any other author I probably just would have skipped this one, but I love Patrick Ness so I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

What’s it about?

Release follows Adam, the gay son of a very conservative preacher, over a very unfortunate twenty-four hour period leading up to the going away party for the ex-boyfriend who broke his heart. Meanwhile, the spirit of a dead girl who was murdered by her meth-head boyfriend entwines with a mysterious “queen” and walks the earth looking for revenge.

What’d I think?

Although I had some quibbles with Adam’s half of the story—specifically, it was a little too explicit for my personal taste—overall I liked it. It is easy to get invested in Adam as a character; he is lost but likable, and Ness does an excellent job of letting the reader into Adam’s head to share his confusion and heartbreak. Adam’s relationship with his boyfriend Linus is sweet; his strained relationship with his family—but particularly his older brother Marty—is compelling. The heart of the story, however, is Adam’s friendship with his best friend Angela. Their closeness and the inclusivity of Angela’s family is beautiful; the found family narrative is perhaps the strongest element of the novel.

I was not invested in the other storyline. Usually I like magical realism, but honestly the satyr and his queen felt out of place for me. Thematically it is relevant, I guess, but on the whole I was just confused about why it was included. I don’t know. It isn’t bad or anything. It just feels a little like it belongs in a different novel.

How is it like Mrs. Dalloway?

mrs dallowayI did like the callbacks to Mrs. Dalloway. As I said before, I don’t remember a lot about Woolf’s work, but the little bits I do remember were reflected well in Release. There’s the obvious opening line about getting the flowers him/herself, of course. And then there’s the main character’s crushing disappointment and continual looking back at an old friend/lover in regret. Both novels end with a party. It’s interesting that Release is an explicitly queer novel; Mrs. Dalloway has prominent queer interpretations but does not main-text that reading. Both novels have two narratives, one about regret and dissatisfaction and the other dealing with death and trauma. I suppose that’s the main reason for Katherine van Leuwen’s half of the novel; it stands in for Septimus’ story in Mrs. Dalloway. Unless I’m misremembering Mrs. Dalloway (which is a very real possibility), Release is a much more hopeful novel as the characters seem to achieve their release rather than simply wallowing in despair. I’m not one for wallowing in despair, so that was a plus for me.

What’s the verdict?

I enjoyed Release, but I definitely prefer some of Patrick Ness’ other works (specifically A Monster Calls and The Rest of Us Just Live Here). I do think that it is an interesting read, but I don’t think I would ever go out of my way to recommend it to someone.

report cardReport card.

Characters: A

Plot: B

Writing: A

Overall: B

Seven Ways We Lie (Book Review)

seven ways we lie.jpgI read Riley Redgate’s sophomore novel, Noteworthy, a month or so ago and really enjoyed it; for that reason, when I found her debut, Seven Ways We Lie, I grabbed it without even reading the summary. I’ve found a lot of new-to-me authors this year that I’ve loved, so I can’t 100% say Riley Redgate is my favorite find of 2017, but she’s definitely in the running. Seven Ways We Lie is excellent.

What’s it about?

Seven Ways We Lie is told from the perspectives of seven high school students in the midst of a student/teacher romance scandal. Although the scandal provides the backdrop of the story, it is far from the only thing going on. Friendships are being tested. Romances are starting up and falling apart. Families are imploding. A depressing school play is being staged. Olivia, Kat, Matt, Claire, Juniper, Lucas, and Valentine all have their own secrets and concerns. The school scandal affects them–directly or indirectly–in different ways, but they all grow throughout the course of the novel.

What’d I think?

one of us is lying
Seven Ways We Lie is a lot like One of Us is Lying. Both center on a high school mystery but focus more on the characters and their secrets. Seven Ways We Lie is better, in my opinion

Olivia, Kat, Matt, Claire, Juniper, Lucas, and Valentine are all complicated, flawed characters. I think it would be difficult to find a single reader who couldn’t identify at least a little bit with any of them. It’s amazing that Redgate managed to balance so many characters so well. They’re all fully developed and lovable. Obviously I had my favorites. Valentine (the awkward loner with absolutely no people skills) was the best, with Lucas (the school’s charming golden boy who is also a drug dealer) a close second and Claire (head of all the clubs, but absolutely wracked by low self-esteem) and Olivia (the school “whore” who’s just trying to manage a dysfunctional family) trailing not far behind. I didn’t personally particularly care much for Kat (angry theatre loner) or Matt (school stoner with family problems), but I acknowledge that they were just as well written as the others.

Juniper was the weak point of the novel, but she also had far less page time, so disliking her did nothing to curb my enthusiasm for the novel as a whole. My dislike of Juniper may have been that her chapters were written as pseudo-poetry, and I have a strong anti-poetry stance. She felt slightly more like a plot device than a character, but even she had her moments.

noteworthy
Read this one, too.

I loved the ways that the characters’ stories interwove. The Olivia/Matt romance fell a little flat for me, but I loved how Claire’s jealousy tied Lucas’ storyline to Olivia and Juniper’s. I loved Lucas and Valentine’s friendship. Basically, I loved how all the characters interacted with all the others. If there’s one thing to know about Seven Ways We Lie it is that the characters and their relationships are done phenomenally well.

When I started reading, I kept trying to match the characters up one to one with the seven deadly sins. Even though a few of them seem to line up (Claire/envy. Lucas/greed. Matt/sloth. Kat/wrath. Valentine/pride), it’s hard to know who was supposed to be gluttony; both Olivia and Juniper could be matched with lust. At first I was a little disappointed that the delineations weren’t more obvious, but then I realized… why on earth would I want to read about characters that can be boiled down to a single trait? It’s far more interesting to read about characters with multiple secrets, contradictions, and multi-faceted motivations.

What’s the verdict?

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Supernatural 13×07 Review (War of the Worlds)

spn 13Previous Reviews: 13×01 13×02 13×03 13×04 13×05 13×06

I have to say, I am very disappointed that this episode aired on Thanksgiving but did not have a single pie reference. Don’t tell me Dean Winchester can make it through Thanksgiving without eating copious amounts of pie.

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Happy Thanksgiving

So far this season has been largely about the characters. Even the mytharc so far has been centered on them: their relationships, their mental health, their capacity for good or evil, etc. “War of the Worlds” stepped away from that to set up the main season plotline more specifically.

After Jack’s abrupt departure last episode, everyone is looking for him. By ‘everyone’ I do pretty much mean literally everyone. Sam, Dean, and Cas are looking, obviously, but so is Asmodeus. Excuse me. Asmodeus is not looking for Jack; he is looking for “the Jack.” The angels want Jack, too, because they plan to use him to create more angels. Apparently they’re in danger of extinction. (To be honest, a large percentage of that is probably Cas’ fault. I was surprised no one accused him of that).  Lucifer also wants to find his son.

kevin.jpgOver in the alternate earth, Michael has decided that he doesn’t like his wasteland of a world, so he plans to come through to the real world and take over. He has captured Lucifer and apparently Mary as well, even though there was no sign of her. Michael has an AU Kevin Tran working for him. I have to be honest: as excited as I was to see Kevin when he first came on the scene… I was a little disappointed in his appearance as a whole. I loved OG Kevin. He was a huge fan favorite. I think he deserved a better cameo, especially considering that Ketch got legitimately resurrected this episode. I mean, talk about a character that didn’t deserve a reprise. Hopefully this isn’t the only time we see Kevin, but it seemed like it will be. The fact that Michael promised to bring AU Kevin through the breach despite the fact that the spell only allows one person to make it through isn’t exactly a promising sign. Anyway… AU Kevin manages to make a breach big enough for one person, but since Michael’s security guys are the worst, Lucifer slips through them and makes it through the breach before Michael can, albeit with his powers significantly weakened. Once back, he teams up with a reluctant Castiel (“if you could just shelve the eternal enemies thing for a second…”) to find Jack and beat Michael.

LUCIFER: It’s time to save the world. Be the heroic Castiel instead of the butt of Heaven’s joke.

CASTIEL: I am not the…

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Eliza and her Monsters (Book Review)

eliza and her monsters.jpgI read Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia because I saw it reviewed favorably on a few blogs and because I’m always on the lookout for books about fans and fandom, and it fit that bill. Reading Eliza and her Monsters was weird because I really liked the book but really disliked the main character. I related to Eliza a lot, and I saw a lot of myself in her, but I also had very little patience or sympathy for her.

What’s it about?

The novel follows Eliza Mirk, the creator of the breakout webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza created Monstrous Sea under the name LadyConstellation and she maintains her anonymity religiously. Her family doesn’t know how big Monstrous Sea is. Her fans don’t have the slightest idea who she is. In the whole world there are only two people who really know Eliza, and they’re online friends… which means that her parents (and classmates) see her as a friendless loner who is obsessed with the Internet and doesn’t know how to socialize. Things start to change when Eliza meets Wallace, aka rainmaker, who writes Monstrous Sea fanfiction and can only speak in controlled settings and who confides his secrets to Eliza and who has no idea Eliza is LadyConstellation.

What’d I think?

The novel as a whole is excellent. It took me a little while to get into the swing of it because the tidbits about and from Monstrous Sea include so many characters and references that at first I had a hard time keeping track of it. Once I got that mentally i acknowledge your painstraightened out, though, I was all in. The writing is elegant and addictive, and Zappia approaches her characters with gentleness and acceptance. I love the way Eliza and Wallace find each other through their mutual understanding of each other’s insecurities. They accept each other despite the weird quirks that cause almost everyone else to steer clear. Wallace’s selective mutism might have come off as gimmicky in the hands of a less talented and sympathetic writer, but instead he is an incredibly well-rounded character. Put it this way: Wallace is the main character’s love interest, but he is still my favorite character. I can count on one hand the number of times that’s happened.

Once I got used to the world of Monstrous Sea I really liked the occasional snippets of it that are provided between chapters. Even though on paper Monstrous Sea’s actual content doesn’t seem to have much to do with Eliza’s actual life, seeing it is critical to understanding her character. Eliza is not Eliza without Monstrous Sea, and in order to know Eliza the reader has to see her work. I also enjoy the way the novel transitions seamlessly between the straightforward first person POV to online chats and emails.

Why do I dislike Eliza so much?

Well, I do and I don’t. I find Eliza really frustrating. Maybe it is because I see a lot of myself in her that I dislike her. She is just so cruel to her parents. She refuses to include them in her life at all, and she blames them for not understanding her despite making absolutely no attempt to help them understand. She is horrifically self-centered. Not telling Wallace about being LadyConstellation is the worst for me, though. On some level, I get it. It can be nerve-wracking and embarrassing to share creative works, especially for shy, introverted people. There’s often more of us in our work than there is in quote-unquote “real life.” It’s hard, I get it. But it comes across as emotionally manipulative to bond with Wallace over a mutual love of Monstrous Sea and not reveal that she created it. Eliza is all take and no give with her relationships. Share your secrets with me. Help me solve my problems. Work hard to understand me, but don’t expect me to do the same for you. Me, me, me.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 11.53.54 PM
But sometimes characters feel more like real people than characters.

And yet she is an intensely compelling character. She feels incredibly real. Even when I had completely had it with her and wanted Wallace to just give up on her, I wanted to know what would happen to her. There were times when I thought, “Eliza is so ungrateful; she does not deserve her good luck and kind family and remarkable career.” At other times I actually did like her. In other words, I think I actually ended up liking Eliza as a protagonist precisely because I disliked her so much. And, as I said before, because I see a lot of painful similarities between Eliza and myself. Ouch.

So basically I both like and dislike Eliza because she was so well-written and so real.

Comparisons!

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 3×06 Review (Josh is Irrelevant)

crazy-ex-girlfriendPrevious Reviews:  3×01 3×02 3×03 3×04 3×05

Thankfully but unsurprisingly considering that she is the main character of a still-running television show, Rebecca did not die between “I Never Want to See Josh Again” and “Josh is Irrelevant.” Instead, she is hospitalized and her #girlgroup4evah stays with her. Paula refuses to leave Rebecca’s side, Heather brings Hector, and Valencia keeps Rebecca’s “really sweet, very annoying” friends and family updated on what’s going on with upbeat videos about Rebecca’s recovery.

Rebecca’s new doctor, Dr. Shin aka Dr. Dan aka Dr. Damn! because he’s extraordinarily handsome according to Paula, informs Rebecca that he thinks that she’s been misdiagnosed over the years. Thinking that getting diagnosed is a one-stop solution to her problems, Rebecca sings the first song of the episode (well, barring the theme song): “A Diagnosis.” It’s a weird song for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, because it is mostly earnest. There are a few funny moments, like when Rebecca notes that she could rock a tin-foil hat, but for the most part it is a sincere song: Rebecca feels that despite the stigma that comes with mental illness, a diagnosis will give her a community and make her feel like she belongs. Since she feels that she “ran out of stories to tell [her]self,” that’s important.

rebecca
Rebecca Bunch, getting bad news from technology since 2015

Unfortunately, the diagnosis isn’t what Rebecca wanted. Dr. Damn! tells Rebecca that after consulting with Dr. Akopian (who’s back, by the way. Apparently she’s been busy with Kevin, Greg’s old boss, and presumably some other patients who actually attend sessions), he’s determined that Rebecca has Borderline Personality Disorder. Under strict orders not to google BPD, Rebecca googles BPD and learns that it is one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses there is. She initially rejects the diagnosis by going to Dr. Akopian for a second opinion—

HEATHER: Maybe don’t crawl through her doggie door

—but walks away from that meeting with the realization that Dr. Damn! is right about her. She’s still not overjoyed, obviously, but she recognizes that she has a good support group in Paula, Heather, Valencia, Darryl, and even Nathaniel (and Hector), and even though she can’t promise not to attempt suicide again she does commit herself to attending therapy and working to try to get better.

Hey, we’ve seen group therapy work on this show before. Yay Greg. (Apparently I can’t write a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend recap without mentioning Greg).

what'd i miss
Darryl, basically

Obviously Rebecca is the main focus of the episode, but we also get to see how her friends deal with the aftermath of her suicide attempt. Shockingly (sarcasm), Paula forgets about her family and makes Rebecca her priority. Darryl doesn’t hear about Rebecca until the very end of the episode because he was taking time off with White Josh outside cell phone reaction, but returns ASAP (and with a bad sunburn from driving in the desert in a convertible with no sunscreen) to lend support.

Valencia masks her own fear about losing Rebecca by starting an online movement in which she projects confidence about Rebecca’s recovery.

VALENCIA: This has way transcended any one person. Rebecca’s story and her courage and my courage sharing her courage is inspiring an entire movement.

She even sings a ridiculous song about it that is basically an extended poop innuendo (which Heather lampshades) that sounds a little like Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.” It’s definitely a more traditional Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song. It’s funnier, for sure. The highlight of the song is probably when Valencia tells off an extra who works at a suicide hotline, telling her that she doesn’t have a movement because she doesn’t have a hashtag. Oh, Valencia. Props to that extra, though. She has an amazing voice. (Not that the regular cast isn’t really talented; that lady just made a big impression on me with, like, two lines)

The scene in which Valencia breaks down crying due to her fear about losing Rebecca is really interesting. I totally get it, because it would be terrifying to have a friend attempt suicide (remember when Valencia didn’t have any girl friends, and didn’t even know how to?), but it does seem kind of wrong that Rebecca has to console Valencia in that moment. That’s one of the reasons I like this show, though. It tackles hard subjects without dumbing them down or sugarcoating them.

hector.gif
Exhibit A

Josh has a hard time coming to terms with the fact that he’s not the central figure in Rebecca’s life. He is convinced that he needs to see her even when everyone tells him he shouldn’t. Paula, Heather, and Valencia all tell him emphatically to leave it alone, and even Hector knows that a single person can’t cause depression. I love how Hector is stupid 99% of the time and then unexpectedly comes through with remarkable insight.

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One of Us is Lying (Book Review)

one of us is lying.jpgFor a while, it seemed like I couldn’t go anywhere without running into One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus. I saw it in every bookstore I went into. It popped upon bestseller lists. Bloggers mentioned it. Since it looked good to me, I finally got around to reading it.

What’s it about?

One of Us is Lying is a high school murder mystery. Five kids—Bronwyn, Cooper, Nate, Addy, and Simon—get detention one afternoon. They’re seemingly as different as it’s possible to be. Bronwyn is a straight-A student who runs just about every extracurricular club the school offers. Cooper is the homecoming king whose remarkable pitching ability basically guarantees him a baseball scholarship. Nate is a drug dealer on probation. Addy is obsessively in love with her controlling boyfriend. Simon runs a nasty blog that reveals his classmates’ deepest secrets. But it turns out they all have something in common: they all have a secret that Simon is poised to reveal. Then, in the middle of detention, Simon dies… before the secrets get out. It’s not an accident; someone killed him, and his four detention-mates are the primary suspects. Told from four alternating perspectives, One of Us is Lying is about high school cliques, societal pressure, and the ways that people come together in trying circumstances. But, of course, the main question is… who killed Simon?

What’d I think?

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Me whenever I correctly guess something

The main thing that I’d heard about this novel before reading it is that the actual whodunit is pretty easy to guess, but that it’s worth the read anyway because of the characters. I have to say… that assessment is 100% accurate. I don’t think there are many people who could read this book without seeing the end coming by at least the ¾ mark. However, the murder club is made up of intensely likable (albeit flawed) characters and their development absolutely makes One of Us is Lying worth reading.

As is the case with any novel with multiple POV characters, some of the storylines are far more rewarding than others. The early part of the book rests more heavily on Bronwyn and Nate and is therefore pretty slow. It took me a few days to get into the book because I found Bronwyn and Nate a little boring. They weren’t badly written characters, but straight-laced-girl-falls-for-bad-boy has been done before, and honestly it is not a storyline I’ve ever especially cared for. The book starts to pick up speed when Cooper and Addy get more involved. Addy’s transformation from passive, manipulated girlfriend to unrepentant badass (and not just the Strong Female Character™ brand of badass) was really well. I started the book rolling my eyes at how pathetic she was and ended it by being like, “You go, Addy! Befriend the downtrodden! Eschew pointless romantic drama! Do some sisterly bonding!” Seriously, she was the best.

I do have a few more things that I want to say about One of Us is Lying, but they all deal with the end of the book and can’t be discussed without spoilers. I’ll stick them at the end, after a spoiler-free verdict. I can’t write this review without at least mentioning them in passing, though, because it is hard to write a review without mentioning my absolute favorite part of a book.

What’s the verdict?

so closeWhile I can’t honestly say that One of Us is Lying is one of the best books I read this year, it was definitely a rewarding read. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to mystery readers since the solution was too easy to guess. I would, however, wholeheartedly recommend it to someone who likes teen drama, as it does it very well; everything is heightened and dramatic, but the characters still feel very honest and real. I loved the characters’ individual growth, as well as their growing friendship with each other. I thought that the balance between romance, platonic friendship, and sibling friendship was balanced pretty well, which is very important to me. Honestly, the genre blending was probably the strongest element of One of Us is Lying. Is it a mystery? A romance? A teen school story? Yes, yes it is.

Spoilery Section.

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Supernatural 13×06 Review (Tombstone)

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Team Free Will in their usual state of “WTF, Dean.”

Previous Reviews: 13×01 13×02 13×03 13×04 13×05

A lot of this episode was just reveling in the fact that Cas is finally back. Yes, technically there was a case. But let’s be real. The main point of the episode was to explore the dynamic of Team Free Will 2.0, which to be honest is exactly the same as Team Free Will except that they’ve got Jack now. Well, they don’t, but we’ll get to that. It’s kind of interesting to look at the way the descriptions have changed, though.

Team Free Will: “One ex-blood junkie, one dropout with six bucks to his name, and Mr. Comatose over there.”

Team Free Will 2.0: “Two salty hunters, one half-angel kid, and a dude who just came back from the dead again.”

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Cas is not impressed. Also, his hair is better than it has been in years.

Apparently the main takeaway is Castiel’s penchant for unconsciousness. I kid. Cas’ eyeroll when Dean described his continual resurrection was priceless, though. Like, seriously, Dean. Have you ever met yourself? I love how Cas got introduced as the scariest, most powerful thing in existence and while technically he’s still that, now he’s just Dean’s dorky buddy who complains about being to made to wear this absurd hat. But more than that, it is interesting that Sam is no longer the paranormal one of the group and that Dean’s description is no longer a put-down. And it’s funny that Cas has never been described as angelic or powerful in this context. Maybe it doesn’t make the group as a whole look enough like underdogs. Anyway…

terrible hat

“Tombstone” starts off roughly where “Advanced Thanatology” left off. Sam and Dean pick Cas up and bring him back to meet Jack, who is overjoyed to have his chosen father figure around. However, he is completely clueless about the fact that he woke Cas up in the first place.

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Draw the Line (Book Review)

draw the lineLaurent Linn, the author of Draw the Line, apparently worked as a puppet designer and builder for the Muppets, which is awesome. His book wasn’t awesome, but it was entertaining. To be totally honest, I picked it up mostly for the cover, which is cool, and the fact that the cover flap describes the main character as “a sci-fi geek.” I love stories about fangirls/fanboys and nerds.

What’s it about?

Draw the Line is about Adrian Piper, a closeted gay high schooler who reimagines himself as a comic book superhero called Graphite. Adrian posts his Graphite comics anonymously and mostly hides himself at school until the day he witnesses the gay bashing of a classmate (Kobe) at the hands of the school bully,  Adrian inserts himself into the scene and as a result finds the lines between his heroic, fictional secret identity and his under-the-radar real self being blurred.

What did I think of the characters?

I never found myself fully invested in the characters. Adrian’s friends Audrey and Trent are mostly one-dimensional, and Adrian’s eventual boyfriend, though occasionally charming, is kind of boring. My main problem is with Adrian, though. I got the impression that he is supposed to be an underdog hero, but he is also kind of insufferable. At the beginning of the novel, he laughs Kobe for being too stereotypical, while applauding himself for being properly (read: not obviously) gay. Adrian is also pretty conceited. He is convinced that his drawings are perfect. He draws his friends and posts their likenesses online even though they indicate that it makes them uncomfortable and that they’re not wholly onboard with his interpretations. This, by the way, includes romantic drawings of Adrian’s still-closeted boyfriend. Although this is addressed a little bit, the narrative ultimately places Adrian in the right. Mild spoilers coming: Adrian eventually dresses up as Graphite to a school Halloween dance. There is just something about that that rubs me the wrong way. It strikes me as incredibly self-impressed. It is supposed to be an empowering moment, though. I don’t know. Let me know in the comments what you thought. Spoiler free from now on.

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Adrian, basically

Perhaps most irritatingly, though, is that Adrian is the most incompetent human being of all time. I can’t take him seriously. Almost everything he does is a klutzy disaster. He gives himself a bad haircut not once but twice. He can’t go more than a day without catastrophically spilling food down his shirt or onto his crotch (and yet he never learns to have an extra set of clothes handy). He runs into tables and car doors and at one point manages to give himself a nosebleed and two black eyes just by falling down. Seriously. He makes Bella Swan look like a ballerina.

What else did I think?

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 3×05 Review (I Never Want to See Josh Again)

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Previous Reviews: 3×01 3×02 3×03 3×04

Although “I Never Want to See Josh Again” has its moments, this episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not as much fun as usual. To be fair, that’s intentional. Following her rant last week, in which she alienated all her friends, Rebecca retreats to her mother because she needs someone to take care of her. Naomi does her best [side note: why does Naomi have a specifically designated “popcorn” bowl when she’s never made Rebecca popcorn before? Did she make it for herself and withhold it? Or did she buy the bowl specifically for this visit?], and Rebecca starts to think that maybe “She’s Not Such a Heinous Bitch After All,” but then she realizes that Naomi has been secretly feeding her anti-anxiety medication and hoping that Rebecca will get sorted out enough to go away to a mental health institution. Not taking this well, Rebecca intentionally overdoses on her flight back to LA.

REBECCA: I’m just too tired to buy things or do things or get things or say things or face things.

She hits the help button before dying, though, and the promo for next week proves that she’s still alive. So that’s good. Side note, though. What’s up with all my shows being super depressing this week? First Dean, now Rebecca.

The other half of the episode is much lighter. Despite the horrible things Rebecca said to them, her friends miss her. Nathaniel hires a competent woman named Cornelia to replace Rebecca. Nathaniel, Maya, and Jim all want to force Cornelia to fill the hole that Rebecca left, despite the fact that Cornelia is emphatically not Rebecca.

NATHANIEL: Ignore them. They are idiots.

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Supernatural 13×05 Review (Advanced Thanatology)

spn 13So far, season thirteen of Supernatural has been excellent. (Previous Reviews: 13×01 13×02  13×03 13×04)

“Advanced Thanatology” could easily have been on par with the previous four episodes if the first half of it had been a little more innovative. The second half picks up, but that ghost hunt was not great.

Ghost hunts don’t really have any curveballs left. They’ve pretty much done every iteration of them so far. They’ve even hunted ghosts in an old mental ward before. At this

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Side note: Dean’s eyes were really pretty this episode.

point, it’s predictable: the Winchesters stay in a quirky hotel room, interview some witnesses, get pushed into the walls a little, and then salt and burn either the body or some other item connected to the ghost. Then they crawl back into Baby and leave. It’s happened so many times that there isn’t enough to that story to fill out 45 minutes of screentime. I’m assuming that’s why there was a nearly six minute scene of this week’s one-off characters at the start of the episode. Usually the first death takes about fifteen seconds. Nope. We needed five minutes and forty seconds with these boys. And then later Sam interviews a third boy who was friends with the victims, but who doesn’t have any information that couldn’t have been obtained just as easily (and more quickly) some other way.

Despite all the time wasting with one-off characters, Sam and Dean managed to deal with the evil, murder-spree ghost in about twenty minutes. Like I said, the hunt itself was typical. Sam, who is extremely concerned about Dean after Dean’s confession that he doesn’t have faith in anything anymore, suggests that they leave Jack alone in the bunker and go on a brotherly hunt. He’s found a case: a boy was found on the side of the street muttering about monsters, and his friend is missing. Dean agrees, so they go. As they go about their usual business—Dean attempts to bond with the traumatized kid, i acknowledge your painSam figures out that the ghost they’re looking for is an evil scientist who who lobotomized people suffering from any type of mental illness, the ghost beats them up a little, and eventually Dean burns all the plague masks and the ghost goes up in flames—Sam tries to cater to every one of Dean’s whims to help cheer him up. He gives Dean beer for breakfast, gives Dean the choice alias, doesn’t complain about Dean’s music, and suggests they go to a 4.5 star strip club (he read reviews). Dean finds all of this suspicious.

DEAN: You ordered me chili fries.

SAM: You love chili fries.

DEAN: Everyone loves chili fries. That’s not the point.

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The Mirror Sisters (Book Review)

mirror sistersI have read a lot of YA this year. I mean, yes. I always read a lot of YA because it is my favorite, but I do try to expand outside my comfort zone a little bit every once in a while. The Mirror Sisters by V.C. Andrews (ghostwritten by Andrew Neiderman) is pretty outside my usual preference, at least ostensibly. I’m fairly certain that I could make a convincing argument about why it would fit better in the YA section than the adult section, but since it’s not my job to categorize books I won’t bother getting into that. The point is, I don’t usually read a lot of psychological thrillers, and I definitely don’t read horror on purpose. I didn’t realize that this was going to be a horror book when I picked it up, but it was, so…whatever.gifI didn’t find it particularly scary, though, so make of that what you will. 

What’s it about?

The Mirror Sisters is about two identical twins, Haylee and Kaylee, whose mother is creepily and obsessively determined to keep them absolutely and completely identical. It is taken well past the point of sanity. If Haylee misbehaves, Kaylee is given equal punishment because Haylee’s behavior indicates the potential for misbehavior in her twin. Kaylee cannot be asked a question unless Haylee is asked the same one. They are forced to wear matching clothes—down to the makeup and hairstyles—even well into high school. Neither may receive a gift if the other is not given one that is exactly identical. Naturally, this causes problems. The girls’ father is increasingly uncomfortable with his wife’s single-mindedness. The twins themselves—and particularly Haylee—resent the parameters set on their individuality and social lives. This eventually results in horror.

What’d I think?

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Robinson Crusoe (Book Review)

robinson crusoeIt took me an embarrassingly long time to finish Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. For some reason, I never got into it. It’s not a bad book or anything. It just never grabbed me.

What’s it about?

Robinson Crusoe follows the title character, a young man driven by desire to go to sea. Against his father’s wishes, he follows his heart. Unfortunately, Robinson Crusoe at sea is unluckier than Toby Flenderson crossed with Jerry Gergich. He has pretty much every conceivable at-sea misadventure possible before eventually shipwrecking on an island and getting stuck there for twenty-eight years. On the island, he creates an impressive home and livelihood, has some brushes with cannibals (one of whom he rescues, befriends, and names Friday), and finds religion.

What did I think?

Apparently Robinson Crusoe is one of the earliest novels, which accounts for most of its deficiencies. That being said, the book never picked up speed with me because my favorite parts of novels are character relationships and character development. Robinson Crusoe didn’t have much either. To be fair, Crusoe is shipwrecked on an island ostensibly by himself for most of the novel, so it makes sense that he didn’t spend a lot of time interacting with people. I suppose that it could be argued that Crusoe’s growing love of God and apparent acceptance of his father’s position that the best position in life is the one in the middle between wealth and poverty counts as development, but I didn’t find it all that compelling. 

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 3×04 Review (Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend is Crazy)

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Previous Reviews: 3×01 3×02 3×03

The obvious question at the end of this episode is, “Where on earth is Dr. Akopian when you need her?” Rebecca’s shrink has been MIA all season, and Rebecca has never needed her more.

Following her friends’ less than effective intervention—

HEATHER: It was kind of a last-minute mess.

—Rebecca takes her crazy to the next level by creeping outside Josh’s house dressed as a

sexy fashion cactus
Not to be mistaken for the sexy fashion cactus from season 2

bush  and terrifying him with classic horror movie tropes like the ominously creaking swing and howling wolves. She also gets Josh suspended from his newly-reinstated job by making it look like he was stealing, and low-key kidnaps his mother. Of course, she’d never actually hurt Lourdes, but the magazine-letter note she left for Josh made it pretty dang creepy.

Rebecca is really lost without Josh, around whom she’s defined her life for a while now.

REBECCA: I don’t know who I am if you aren’t in my life anymore.

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