Middlesex (Book Review)

middlesexI definitely saved the weirdest for last. I have a list of 100 classic books that everyone should read that I’m working through, and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is on it. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into: I read Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot about five years ago and didn’t care for it, but Middlesex is a Pulitzer Prize winner, so it really could have gone either way. Thankfully, I’m more inclined to agree with the people that handed out that prize than with my previous opinion of Eugenides. That being said, Middlesex is a really strange book.

What’s it about?

Bear with me on this, because there’s no real way to accurately explain what exactly Middlesex is about. I suppose that first and foremost it is a family drama. It follows three generations of the Stephanides family across many decades. It is a historical drama: various members of the family flee to America from Greece, work on early assembly lines, fight in WWII, run a speakeasy, witness race riots in Detroit, turn hippy in the ‘60s, and more. The novel is narrated by Cal, the younger of two children in the youngest generation, who traces his lineage in part to follow a chromosomal mutation that has caused his intersexuality.

i got nothing

So what’s weird about it?

I said that it is a weird book, and it is. For one thing, there’s just so much incest. Actually, that’s the main thing. Cal/liope’s family is horrifically inbred. Middlesex is a pretty difficult book to get into because of the incest that comes in right off the bat. It is not a comfortable subject by any means, and it is definitely not in the background. It’s right there, front and center, and remains there for most of the novel.

Okay, but aside from that, what’s the deal with Middlesex?

Uncomfortable subjects are central throughout Middlesex. Cal’s story is very much about how her/his unusual genitals have characterized the life s/he lives (she is raised female but is biologically male, and is therefore female up until her teenage years, at which point Cal identifies himself as male). Cal is studied and gawked at throughout the novel, and it is uncomfortable for the reader. It is. But it is also pretty interesting. There is a lot about gender identity in this book.

dean uncomfortable.gif

Is the whole book about unusual sex?

No, because if it were I would have hated it. The historical aspect of the novel is fascinating, but the main strength of the novel is Cal’s narration. Cal takes the reader through the Stephinades family history in a mostly, but not entirely, straightforward manner. However, he also occasionally jumps forward or backwards to clarify a point. He occasionally makes remarks about his present-day life or flits into various other characters’ minds. Cal’s insights take on a sort of magical omnipotence that forces the reader to empathize with and relate to almost every member of his bizarre family. The writing is beautiful and compulsive. Middlesex is almost impossible to put down.

Cal’s awkward place between girlhood and manhood is certainly central to the novel, but to say that Middlesex is about Cal’s gender identity is way too reductive. Like I said above, it’s pretty much impossible to say what this book is about. Even Jeffrey Eugenides struggles with it.

JEFFREY EUGENIDES: I’ve always had a difficult time explaining the book in a sentence—or even a paragraph. The best thing to do is to get people to read the first 50 pages and let things take care of themselves. If pressed, I say that Middlesex is the story of a family with a genetic mutation in its bloodline. The book is told by the final inheritor of this gene, who traces the recessive mutation down through three generations. True, the mutation in question results in the narrator’s being intersex—labeled as female at birth, he later adopts a male identity. The novel itself, however, concerns a welter of events aside from his own sexual transformation. Rather, Cal’s transformation makes him suited, intellectually and emotionally, to tell these other tales of metamorphosis, be they national, racial, or historical.

(You can read more of Eugenides’ insights about Middlesex here)

What’s the verdict?

If you’re the sort of reader who is willing to reflect on a number of difficult topics—everything from incest to racism to hermaphroditism to politics to the sex trade to national identity—Middlesex is a fascinating read. It is full of characters who are compelling if not traditionally likable. It forces its readers to think a lot, and the writing is masterful: it takes the reader effortlessly forwards and backwards through time and into different characters’ minds without every losing track of the central narrative current. I am certain that I will never reread Middlesex, but I did find it an engaging and rewarding read.

report cardReport card

(Yes, I keep adding categories)

Writing: A+

Characters: B-

Plot: A

Themes: A

Fun: B-

Overall: A


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My Bottom Ten Books of 2017

Caution Angry Rant
Since I enjoyed making my Top Ten Books of 2017 list–and because, despite generally trying to be a positive person, I do like ranting–I decided to make the natural follow-up list: my bottom ten books of 2017.

I read a lot of phenomenal books in 2017, but I read just over 150 books total; statistically, it’s not likely that all of them would be good. Most of them were, but there were still a few clunkers.

Not all of these books are necessarily bad. Some of them are, sure. But others are included for other reasons: I had a bad experience reading them, perhaps, or I just didn’t get them for one reason or another.



10) No Talking by Andrew Clements

no talkingI don’t actually dislike this book all that much. Or, at least, I didn’t when I read it the first time. But then came book club. If you have an immature group, do not under any circumstances allow them to read this book. Basically, my group of (already terrible) fourth graders decided that the moral of No Talking is to totally disrespect and disregard authority until those in authority bend to your will. Is that actually the theme? Nope. Did the kids pay enough attention to be able to figure that out? Nope again. Is No Talking actually a bad book? For a third time, nope. Do I now hate it with a fiery passion? Yes, I do.


20k leagues9) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

I do not like science. I have no interest in sea life. Those two facts made this a very long, very painful read. Like with No Talking, this is not actually a bad book. It was simply written for people who are absolutely nothing like me.


octavian nothing8) The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson

I honestly can’t tell if this was a good book or not. I certainly found it painfully boring, mostly because the protagonist describes even the most agonizing moments of his life with detached, scientific analysis. I read to get attached to characters, and I can’t form an emotional attachment when the protagonist separates himself from his own experience. Also, I don’t like science (see above).


tithe7) Tithe by Holly Black

Tithe is full of skeevy characters and centers on a boring why-do-they-even-like-each-other? love story. The plot is convoluted and the only interesting characters are pushed so far into the background that they’re barely present. All this is made worse by the fact that I usually really like Holly Black.


pippi longstocking6) Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This is another one that suffers from the fact that I read it in order to run book club. Unlike with No Talking, though, I disliked it even before the fruitless discussion began.  I found Pippi insufferably obnoxious. The chapters are their own little anecdotes, barely connected to each other, which makes the book as a whole feel weirdly disjointed. But then the kids at the book club started laughing about shooting guns and about how much they’d like to be friends with Pippi, so… urgh.


guyinreallife5) Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

I was pulled in by a very adorable cover, and ended up being disappointed due to unlikable characters and the author’s halfhearted attempt to be woke that ended up seeming to endorse romantic obsession and stalking.


4) Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

where'd you go bernadetteI saw Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette on tons of best-book-of-the-year and you-absolutely-must-read-these-books-this-summer lists, so I read it even though the summary was uninspiring. I am frankly bewildered why anyone, let alone lots of people, voiced such enthusiasm for this book. It’s not good at all. It is the sort of book you read and then forget you read two weeks later. It’s the sort of book you read and then never mention to anyone because there’s nothing to say about it. It’s the sort of book you’re glad you got from the library because it is not worth anywhere close to the asking price of $25.99. Honestly, this book could almost be a case study in how to write a book that isn’t memorable in the least. Plot that doesn’t engage the reader but isn’t quite boring enough to tip over into memorably-bad territory? Check. Characters that are mildly grating but forgettable enough that two hours after finishing the book you can’t quite recall their names? Check. Writing that’s technically correct but not good enough to impress? Check. I should have gone with my gut reaction to the cover flap summary and not read this. I can’t believe I let a bunch of faceless Internet articles dupe me.


3) Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

kill the boybandI grabbed this one because books about fandom is my current subgenre obsession. I’ve loved nearly every one I have ever read (Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is one of my all-time favorite books, and Sarvenaz Tash’s The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love made my top ten list), but Kill the Boy Band is the clear exception. It was a painful read. Its attempt at humor is either awful or absolutely nowhere in line with mine. Moldavsky seems to despise her protagonist and anyone remotely like her; she characterizes all fangirls as sexual perverts, kidnappers, and brainless morons. I would say that she hates fangirls even more than I hated her book.


2) The Hollow by Jessica Verday

the hollowI read The Hollow back in late January/early February and honestly didn’t even remember having read it. However, at the time I hated it so much that I wrote a review (just for myself) so scathing that I decided it would be better not to put it up on this blog. In it, I described the writing as “cringily bad.” I described the hero as “the useless, broody paranormal romance boyfriend that people who hate YA assume populates all YA books… why people hate YA.” I also took offense to the bad pacing and the fact that the main character is apparently more upset when her boyfriend of a few days breaks up with her than when her lifelong best friend died. The fact that The Hollow is simultaneously awful and forgettable is a feat that definitely earns it its place on this list.


1) A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

a discovery of witchesThis legitimately may be one of the worst books I have ever read. It combines everything that’s wrong with adult literature with everything that is wrong with YA. The book has all the dense pretentiousness of mediocre adult novels that think they’re all that, mixed with a profoundly uninspiring paranormal romance. The heroine is a textbook Mary Sue. Her boyfriend is controlling, possessive, and sexist. He is also a vampire, because of course he is. The book never figured out what it was about, either: At first everyone wanted some alchemical book. Then there was some garbage about where vampires came from. Then it was a badly written romance novel that was even worse and creepier than the average (saying ‘I love you’ now makes you married, apparently). Then there was something about all of history leading up to the two protagonists getting together and procreating. And then Harkness introduced time travel. Like with The Hollow, I wrote a short review of A Discovery of Witches directly after I finished, but deemed it too mean to post. However, I can’t resist repeating my conclusion because I still think it is hilariously accurate: In conclusion, this book was all over the place. The only place it did not stray into was the territory of books that are not terrible.


 

What books disappointed you this year?

 

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #18: The House of Unexpected Sisters (Book Review)

house of unexpected sisters

The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith is the 18th book in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. On one hand, I can’t believe that this series has been going this long. On the other hand (the dominant hand), I love the series and will keep reading them for as long as they keep coming out, so… forever.

What’s it about?

In The House of Unexpected Sisters, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi team up with Mr. Polopetsi to help a woman who was allegedly unfairly fired from her job. That’s not all that’s going on, though. Mma Ramotswe hears that her abusive ex-husband Note is in town, and she also finds a mysterious Ramotswe she has never heard of before. Almost every major character from the previous books makes an appearance: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Charlie, Fanwell, Mma Potakwane, Puso and Motholeli, and Violet Sephotho all make appearances. Phuti Radiphuti, while mentioned, is the only no-show that I noticed.

What’d I think?

There is nothing revolutionary in The House of Unexpected Sisters, but that’s one of the things that I like about the series. It’s so gentle, and yet so funny. Mma Ramotswe does all the things that one would expect her to do. She drinks red bush tea. She contemplates the advantages of being traditionally built. She continues to drive her tiny white van well past its expiration date. She eats humorously large portions of Mma Potakwane’s famous fruit cake. She contemplates life with Mma Makutsi, who regularly challenges/changes her title to the point that no one can remember it. Around Mma Ramotswe, everyone else likewise falls into line: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has opinions about cars and continues to be known only by initials. Charlie flirts inappropriately. Violet Sephotho is up to no good, and Mma Makutsi flaunts her 97% from the Botswana Secretarial College.

precious and grace

That makes it sound like it wasn’t a good book, which isn’t true at all. The world of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is familiar and comfortable and hilarious. The running jokes are my favorite part of the series, and the new elements–particularly the introduction of Mingie Ramotswe–work well to add to McCall Smith’s Botswana, though I do have to say… the title is a little more on-the-nose than I expected.

If I had any complaint, it would be that the main plots got wrapped up too quickly. However, if I were reading for intense plot development, I would have gone for a different book, since that’s not what #1LDA is about. I also found Mr. Polopetsi far less irritating than usual; I usually can’t stand him, but this time around I found him mostly inoffensive. Overall, though, The House of Unexpected Sisters is another quality addition to one of my favorite series.

What’s the verdict?

no 1 ladies' detective agencyAnyone who loves Mma Ramotswe and her buddies will like this one because it has the same gentleness and wit that is characteristic of the whole series. However, I can’t really recommend that someone jump into a series at number eighteen. That being said, everyone should go and pick up The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, the first book, because it is amazing.

report cardReport card.

Writing: A

Characters: A

Plot: B-

Themes: B

Overall: A

Twenties Girl (Book Review)

twenties girl.jpgMerry Christmas!

I’ve always liked Sophie Kinsella. She has a very readable, compelling voice and I’ve enjoyed everything by her that I’ve read. I would not count her amongst my top tier of favorite writers, but she is one that I can always depend on for a few hours of easy fun. I put off reading Twenties Girl for a while since I’m generally not a big fan of intergenerational stories, because they tend—in my opinion—to be cloying and/or preachy, like wasn’t my great great grandmother so inspiring because she experienced all these horrible things but stayed cheerful and loving anyway? Now I feel bad for selfishly focusing on my own life.

Twenties Girl did not entirely avoid that but I liked it anyway. It’s certainly not my favorite of Kinsella’s novels, though. That would be Finding Audrey.

What’s it about?

The novel follows Lara, a modern twenty-something who was just dumped by her boyfriend Josh. She also recently quit her job to start a headhunting business with her best friend, who flaked out and left her to handle things on her own despite the fact that headhunting is not something Lara has ever done before. In other words, Lara’s life is kind of in shambles when she encounters the 23-year-old ghost of her recently deceased Great Aunt Sadie, who demands that Lara help her find a fancy dragonfly necklace for her. Lara and Sadie become friends as they search for the necklace, meddle in each other’s love lives, dance the Charleston, and discover secrets from Sadie’s past.

What’d I think?

As usual, I liked the breezy writing. I flew through the novel, mostly because I really liked Lara. Watching her overcome obstacles in both her love life and professional life was satisfying, and I enjoyed her family drama immensely. Both her parents were realistic and entertaining. Obnoxiously rich Uncle Bill of Two Little Coins and coffee fame was a highlight of the book for me. Aside from being actually plot relevant, he also just kind of floats around and refuses to help anyone out because if you start out with two coins you can end up making billions. He does the self-help seminar circuit. Pierce Brosnan is going to play him in the movie. His face is on all the coffee cups. I found him hilarious.

josh rebecca
This is how I pictured Josh and Lara, obviously.

I also thought that Kinsella did a good job with Lara’s romantic storyline. Lara’s heartbreak over Josh and her burgeoning relationship with her other love interest (I don’t want to put his name, since it’s a mild spoiler) are both done well. I was actually quite invested in Lara’s boyfriend situation, which doesn’t often happen for me in books that are largely romances.

I did enjoy the central relationship between Lara and Sadie for the most part, but I had some issues with it. I liked the way that Sadie pushed Lara out of her comfort zone and told her the things that she did not want to hear. I did not like that Sadie had magic ghost powers that allowed her to bend people to her will. She kept abusing her power to help Lara, first by scoring her dates and later by convincing clients to sign up with her, and it cheapened Lara’s victories for me. I wanted Lara to succeed on her own, not because Sadie shouted at people until they called her. I also found some of the ghosting in irritating and frustrating, like the scene with Lara’s attempted business deal. I get that that was the point, but still. I would not have had the patience with Sadie that Lara did.

Spoilery section!

spoilers

I was slightly disappointed that Sadie felt that her life did not matter, and was proved wrong because her ex-lover had become famous and the mostly-nude portrait he did of Sadie became a worldwide phenomenon. Sadie’s place as a piece of art history apparently made her important, as did the fact that she had been loved. I don’t like the idea that a person’s life doesn’t matter unless there was romantic love in it, and the idea that Sadie matters because she was in the portrait is even worse: the takeaway is either that life is more valuable if you’re famous or that the best way to leave a mark on the world is to sleep with someone talented. I liked the intergenerational mystery aspect of the novel, but the implications bummed me out a little. That being said, I do also like that part of Sadie’s legacy was Lara’s love for her and the relationship they had–plus the relationship between Lara and Ed that Sadie helped cultivate–so there’s that.

What’s the verdict?

Sophie Kinsella is a very good writer for people who like quick, easy, fun romances. I wouldn’t necessary suggest Twenties Girl as the one to read if you’re looking to start reading her books, but it is by no means a bad read.

report cardReport card.

Writing: A

Characters: B

Plot: A

Themes: B

Overall: B

 

Merry Christmas!

 

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Mini Review)

portrait of the artistI was first introduced to James Joyce when I had to read a single section of Ulysses in a modernism course in my last year of college. I didn’t care for it, but I stupidly decided to go ahead and try A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man anyway (I have one of those 100 Classics to Read Before You Die lists, and Portrait is on it; also, the copy I found at the library has very appealing green pages). It’s kind of taboo to say that you don’t like classic books, and understandably so. There has to be a reason that a work of literature has stood the test of time. For a lot of classics, I get it. There are a lot of classics that I love: Les Misérables, Jane Eyre, everything by Jane Austen, The Count of Monte Cristo, Lord of the Rings, Much Ado About Nothing, etc.). Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I barely made it through, and it took me an embarrassingly long time.

cats
I wore my Cats shirt to class literally every time we discussed Eliot, and no one got it.

I just didn’t get it. And by ‘it’ I mean both ‘why this book is a classic’ and ‘what on earth is going on in this book.’ Now, I’m not a bad reader. I was a straight-A English major. I find modernist writers more challenging than other writers, but I still generally do okay with them: I made my way through T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and even wrote a 20-page research paper on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. But there’s something about Joyce that I struggle with. I’m not a big fan of using Sparknotes, but I leaned pretty heavily on it. Seriously, I think this may actually be the fist time that I’ve used Sparknotes for more than one or two moments for minor clarification. I don’t like stream of consciousness much, especially when everything is stream of consciousness. So I got a little lost in that, but I also got bored, so some of the stuff I missed might have been because I fell asleep a few times. Oops.

rachel you fell asleep

The whole thing just came across as pretentious to me. Protagonist Stephen Dedalus spends a lot of time lecturing his friends on what art is, and there’s a lot of unnecessary Latin. The whole book seemed to exist to broadcast Joyce’s ideas about art and religion and education and politics and Ireland, and while that’s fine, it’s also not my cup of tea.
intended audience

My Top 10 Books of 2017

Since 2017 is almost over, I thought I’d compile a list of my favorite books I read this year. I was going to make two different lists, one for YA and one for everything else, but then I realized that I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the non-YA books I read this year, so I’m just going to fold them into this list. To make the job easier for myself, I’m also adding some arbitrary rules: I’m not going to rank rereads (though I’ll give them a nod before I get started), and I’m only allowing one book per author. I’m also going to admit right off that bat that, while I did my best on the order, I easily could have ranked everything differently.

Amazing Books I Reread this Year 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Inkheart by Cornelia Funke; Looking for Alaska by John Green; The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan; Attachments by Rainbow Rowell


Audra’s Top Ten Books of 2017

geek's guide10) The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash

I got really into books about fans and fandom this year. I’ve been seeking them out and reading them, and this was my favorite one that I read this year. It’s not a mind-blowing book, but it is cute. It is relatable and feminist and I coincidentally finished it the day before I attended my first Comic-Con, which gives it extra memorability points.

hamilton revolution


9) Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

I am usually not a nonfiction person at all, so the fact that there’s a nonfiction book on this list is a huge surprise to me. That being said, I got really into Hamilton the musical this year, so reading all the lyrics and seeing pictures of the cast/set was a lot of fun (I am one of the approximately eighteen billion Hamilton fans who has never actually seen the show). I also loved the insights into the writing because I am 1) a wannabe writer and 2) a giant Broadway nerd. Making musical references is an easy way to win me over.


wonder8) Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I managed to read this just before the movie mania kicked in. A coworker was shocked that I’d never read it (I’d never even heard of it!) so I felt I had to read it to defend my honor. Once I got started, though, it no longer felt like an obligation. Taking recommendations is always a risk (I also read some major duds off recommendations this year), but this one paid off big time.


hate u give7) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

There’s not a lot to say about this novel that hasn’t already been said. It is immensely powerful and tackles hard subjects head-on. It does a great job of addressing divisive issues without coming across like an After School Special. It is first and foremost an excellent novel, but its greatest strength is probably in the way that it pulls the reader into its main character’s life and allows us to see the world through her eyes.


LOS_cover6) Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

I absolutely love Cassandra Clare’s shadowhunters. The Dark Artifices hasn’t quite reached The Mortal Instruments for me since I prefer the tMI gang (I love Alec, Izzy, Simon, and Magnus too much for Clare’s new heroes to be anything but poor replacements), but it has gotten pretty close. I love the increased darkness in the world; the risks are bigger this time around, which makes for a more exciting read plot-wise. I’m fascinated by Julian’s extreme selfishness and ruthlessness, as main characters/primary love interests are rarely permitted to be selfish and ruthless.


turtles5) Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

John Green is one of my favorite writers, and Turtles is gaining headway; it may actually eventually pass Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines as my favorite John Green book, but it’ll have to undergo one or two rereads before I can say that confidently. The depiction of Aza’s mental illness is sympathetic and terrifying. The mystery is fun, but it is the novel’s voice and characterization that really shine.


seven ways we lie4) Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

I had never heard of Riley Redgate when I picked up her novel Noteworthy at the library a few months ago. I thought it would be a frothy, surface-level read and was surprised by how poignant it was. I was so impressed by it that I bought Seven Ways We Lie without bothering to read the synopsis, and ended up liking it even better. Redgate manages to balance seven narrators; each has his or her own distinct voice and storyline. All seven characters are well developed and lovably flawed, and the novel as a whole has the same diversity and nuance that I loved so much in Noteworthy. 


simon3) Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I read this book through the night in one sitting despite the fact that I was in a hotel room and looking at a several hour road trip the following morning during which I had nothing else to read. The central romance is adorable, but the novel refreshingly does not neglect its many platonic relationships. Aside from being cute and full of interesting, well-developed relationships, the novel is also really funny. It had me totally won over from its first sentence. I’m excited that this one is turning into a movie, since it deserves it but isn’t an obvious choice for Hollywood.


a monster calls 2) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I also easily could have put The Rest of Us Just Live Here on this list, but I had to go with A Monster Calls. This was the book that introduced me to Patrick Ness, and it’s the reason that he is now one of my favorite writers. I never, ever cry over books/movies despite how overly invested I get in them (I can remember crying legit tears over fiction only about six times). I teared up for A Monster Calls both times I read it this year (I did it for adult book club in February, and had to reread it to prep for the young adults next month). I passed it on to several members of my family immediately after reading it, and they loved it as well. The movie is equally beautiful, and is an example of adaptations done right.


i'll give you the sun1) I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Like most of the other books on this list, this was a one-sitting-read. It is a beautifully written novel. Both perspectives are distinctive; Noah’s chapters in particular are linguistically unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I also love the way that Nelson tells her story across two different time periods. Usually I find that sort of thing annoying, but somehow the structure of I’ll Give the Sun made the story even more compelling. It is absolutely no surprise to me that it won the Printz Award back in 2015; I’m just disappointed that it took me all this time to hear about it.

 

What were your favorite books from 2017?

 

Book Club: Absolutely Almost

absolutely almostDiscussion Starters for Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Remember, spoilers abound!

  1. What does the title of the novel mean? What is Albie almost? Discuss Albie’s academic situation at school. In which areas does he struggle? In which areas does he excel? Consider: “I’m good at noticing things” (27). Do you consider Albie a normal student? Were you surprised when it was revealed that Albie is not dyslexic? How does the story change—or does it?—if you read Albie as someone with a diagnosable learning disability? Why do you think Albie and his mother were so disappointed when Albie did not test positive for dyslexia? Consider: “The only thing wrong with my brain was my brain” (123). Consider: “ ‘Almost, Albie,’ Dad said slowly… ‘isn’t nearly good enough” (151). Discuss the struggle of being almost… How does it present a different set of challenges than not ever coming close? Discuss Albie’s assessment of B’s: “But I didn’t get an A. I got a B. Getting a B didn’t feel like the best feeling in the world. It felt almost Almost happy. Almost proud. But not as good as an A” (274).
  2. glinda popular.gifDiscuss Albie’s social situation at his new school, paying particular attention to his relationships with Betsy and Darren. Why do you think that Albie and Betsy band together? What do they have in common? Why does Darren antagonize the two of them? What is it about Darren that is so appealing that, despite his cruelty, Albie drops Betsy in order to join Darren and his friends in the “cool” group? Why is it that people like Darren find themselves on the top of the social hierarchy? What makes someone cool, and why is it important (or is it)? Why are people like Albie and Betsy left at the bottom? Consider Grandpa Park’s assessment that “Not everybody can be the rock at the top of the rock pile” (1). In what ways is Grandpa Park’s rock metaphor accurate to Albie’s situation? In what ways is it not? Do you agree that the people at the top need the support of those beneath them? If so, why? If not, why not?
  3. Discuss Albie’s relationship with his father. Why is it so difficult? Consider the model plane and Albie’s desire to build it with his father. How is the A-10 Thunderbolt indicative of their relationship? Consider both sides of story; it is easy to understand and sympathize with Albie who, aside from being a neglected child, is the story’s protagonist. Can you understand his father? What is his workload like? How might it be difficult to have a child like Albie? Consider: “Any son of mine should be able to spell. Do better” (117). Consider also Albie’s realization (about his mother) that parenthood is someone a person does rather than something that a person simply is (242). Be sure to discuss the moment when Albie tells the truth about the Thunderbolt rather than continuing to be patient with his dad (227). Why is this moment a turning point in their relationship? Why do you think Albie’s story about the airplane is so surprising to his father?
  4. Discuss Albie’s “math club.” Is it significant that Albie never seems to realize that it a remedial math class rather than a club? Why is it important for Albie to have a class with other students who struggle with academics? How does being around them help Albie’s development?
  5. sueDiscuss the power of words as depicted in the novel. Where do words get their power? Why do some words have the power to hurt us while others don’t? Darren uses language as a weapon: he calls Albie “dummy” and “retard” and also uses language to bully Betsy. Mr. Clifton tells Albie that he can control which words he lets hurt him.“ ‘Don’t call her that,’ I said to the skateboard shirt boy. Darren. ‘That’s mean.’ I didn’t know why it was mean, but sometimes you could tell that a person wasn’t being nice, even if you weren’t sure how” (32). Does it matter what words are used if they are used maliciously? How can you tell that something is mean even if you don’t understand what it is? Also discuss this event as the origin of Albie’s friendship with Betsy and rivalry with Darren.
    1. “ ‘Would it bother you if this kid called you a three-toed yellow featherbed?’ … ‘No… Because I’m not a three-toed…” (218). Mr. Clifton indicates that it is not words themselves that hurt; rather, it is the fact that the words hit on insecurities. Being called ‘dummy’ hurts Albie because he believes that he is unintelligent. Discuss.
    2. kurt bullied.gif“Darren still called me ‘dummy’ sometimes, even though he was my friend now, only he said it while he was laughing and not laughing at I didn’t think, so I figured maybe it was okay. Even if I didn’t actually like it a whole lot” (166). How does the intent behind language affect its meaning? Why does Darren’s “friendship” make his mean words marginally less mean? What if the friendship were true? Do you know anyone who uses traditionally mean words as endearments or traditionally kind words as insults? Also consider the way something is received. Albie dislikes being called ‘dummy’ even when the delivery is not overtly mocking. Discuss the way that delivery and reception must be synced in order for proper communication to occur.
    3. Darren is eventually disciplined for using the word ‘retard,’ and the word is officially banned from the school (179). Albie narrates, “Darren Ackleman doesn’t call me ‘retard’ anymore. But I think maybe it’s not words that need to be outlawed” (180). What, if not words, need to be outlawed? Why are certain words banned if doing so does not eliminate the root problem? What else could Albie’s teachers have done to keep Albie from being bullied? Was banning the word ‘retard’ an appropriate step?
  6. What do you think about Calista? Is she a good babysitter for Albie? What does she do for him that the other characters do not? She seems to understand him—or, at least, empathize with him—more than anyone else can or does. Why might that be? Objectively, do you think that she is a good influence on Albie? Consider both the ways that she helps him (getting him to read more, listening to him, teaching him to draw, etc.) and the questionable ways she goes about them (allowing him to skip school without parental knowledge/permission, encouraging him to lie on his reading logs, etc.). As a reader, which are more important considerations? What about as a parent?
  7. Discuss Calista’s mostly off-screen relationship with her boyfriend Gus. What do we know about Gus? Why is Calista so unhappy when they break up even though Gus was clearly bad for her?
  8. When Calista and Albie discuss the relationship between loving something and being good at it, she suggests that “maybe the love part comes first” (106). Do you agree with this? Are there things that you enjoy doing purely because you are good at them? Are there things that you have grown to excel at because you liked them enough to put in the hours? As a general rule, which would you say comes first? Also consider Albie’s father’s assertion that “ ‘the hard thing for you, Albie… is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is. Once you know what you want—really, truly—I know you’ll get it” (266).
  9. Discuss the evolution of Donut Man, Albie’s superhero. When Calista asks what Donut Man’s superpower is, Albie replies that he doesn’t have one and he doesn’t need one. “ ‘He doesn’t have a superpower. He just really likes donuts… Some people aren’t good at anything. Some people just really like donuts’” (138-139). How does this reflect Albie’s feeling of self-worth? Is Donut Man more a case of Albie believing that he isn’t good at anything, or in an optimistic hope that it is possible to be a superhero despite a lack of superpowers? What do you think? Towards the end of the novel, Calista leaves a cartoon for Albie, telling him that his superpower is kindness (282-284). Discuss. Keeping in mind Donut Man as a reflection of Albie’s self-worth, discuss Albie’s artistic improvement over the course of the novel and the way that he adds to and improves Donut Man.
  10. Why do you think Graff included the subplot about Erlan and his family’s reality TV show? How does Erlan’s strange situation contribute to Albie’s story? Consider: “I couldn’t help thinking that it would behollywood-clip-art-lights-camera-action-hollywood-clip-art awfully nice to have people think you were interesting enough to put on TV” (16). Consider: “It was hard to feel bad for Erlan when I was feeling so bad for me. He’d still have his brothers, and his sisters too, plus all our other friends. And once his show was on TV, everyone in the world practically would know who he was and love him and think he was cool” (17).
  11. Albie is half Korean, half Swiss. He does not speak Korean or get along particularly well with his Korean grandfather, and most people cannot distinguish between someone who is Korean and someone—like Erlan—who is Kazakh because it is seen as generic Asian-ness. Is Albie being mixed-race another almost? What affect, if any, does it have on the novel as a whole?
  12. report cardClifton proudly displays an elementary school report card with an F for math. “ ‘You can’t get where you’re going without being where you’ve been,’” he tells Albie (84). Do you understand Mr. Clifton’s attitude? How has failure shaped Mr. Clifton? How has failure shaped Albie? How can failure be viewed as success? Is it possible that in some cases, it might be better in the long run to fail (or almost succeed)? Discuss.

gif sources here, here, and here

Wife 22 (Book Review)

wife 22Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon randomly caught my eye. I’d never heard of the author or the book before deciding to read it, but it looked interesting. Mostly I read it because I’d been hanging out in juvfic/YA land for too long and figured that I should at least pretend to be grown up and read something in the adult section for a change.

What’s it about?

Wife 22 follows Alice Buckle, a forty-four year old woman who is deeply unhappy. Her marriage has become a chore. Her children are pulling away from her. She feels small and important because her playwriting career crashed just as it was getting started. She has reached the age that her mother was when she died, and as a result feels unmoored. When she unexpectedly receives an email asking her to join an anonymous survey about married people and married life, she signs up and becomes “Wife 22.” As Wife 22, Alice confides everything to Researcher 101: her worries about her children, her disappointment in her marriage, the difference between her romantic expectations and her reality, her favorite foods and stories, her secret shames… As the survey goes on, Alice and her researcher grow closer, because it turns out that having someone really listen is aphrodisiacal.

What’d I think?

nuanceI really like it when stories about relationships get into the important stuff and treat long-term relationships as something real: they’re not fairy tales, but they’re not something to be immediately discarded the moment they become difficult. Gideon does this very well. Alice’s present day narration and her survey responses do an excellent job of juxtaposing the slog of middle age and a decades-long marriage with the breathless romance of new love. I feel like a lot of relationships in fiction are treated as either idyllic or the absolute worst, and I always appreciate a depiction that falls in the middle.

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Alice trying to figure out her life/priorities

Alice is a compelling protagonist. She can be overbearing and a bit ridiculous—at one point she pretends to inspect her son for lice in order to check the direction of his hair swirl to determine if he is gay; at another she has a group of elementary schoolers sing a goose-themed cover of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” in a production of Charlotte’s Web—but she feels very real throughout. Even when she is making mistakes, she is sympathetic. But she’s not the only well-done character. Her husband and both her children have their own problems and storylines. I’m personally more interested in in Alice’s friends than her family, though. She also has a good support system in her best friend Nedra (a divorce lawyer whose impending nuptials to her long-time parter provides an interesting counterpoint to Alice’s marital woes) and mentor Bunny (who helped Alice with her playwriting back in the day). She also has a group of other women who lost their mothers and who alone understand how much she struggles with the knowledge that she is about to hit the age at which she lived loner than her mother.  I don’t know if I’ve just been reading the wrong books or if complex, compelling middle-aged women are underrepresented in fiction but I found the women in Wife 22 refreshing.

I was initially a little wary because I was worried that Wife 22 would take the easy route out and have Alice throw her marriage away in exchange for a shiny new boyfriend, but that’s not how it goes. Gideon treats Alice and William’s marriage delicately. Both parties are at fault for the current situation. Both have made mistakes, but both deserve better. William is not a disposable husband for Alice to toss aside for a forbidden romance. Wife 22 is better than that. The ending is satisfying, but it also took me totally by surprise. I like being surprised.

The writing style is interesting. It is a combination of Alice’s first-person narration, Facebook interactions, emails, Alice’s responses to survey questions, Google results, and events written out like a screenplay. The switching format is engaging, though I have to say I wasn’t entirely sold on the survey sections. While it is admittedly interesting to attempt to guess what kinds of questions Alice is answering, it is also a little frustrating. Pro tip: the questions can be found in the appendix if you, like me, wanted to understand the context for Alice’s more vague answers.

What’s the verdict?

I enjoyed Wife 22. It was a quick, easy read with compelling characters. I particularly liked the fact that it had several round middle-aged female characters, which in my experience is a rarity. I also liked the honest depiction of long-term relationships and the difficulty of real connection in a world full of responsibilities and distractions. It is not a book I would necessarily shout about from the rooftops, but I definitely enjoyed reading it and think that fans of contemporary novels and messy romances would find it well worth their time.

report cardReport card

Characters: A

Plot: B

Writing: B+

Themes: A

Overall: A

 


gif credits here and here

Favorite Characters

My favorite part of any work of fiction is the characters, and I have very strong feelings about my specific favorite characters. The funny thing, though, is that I pretty much have the same favorite character in everything. It’s gotten to the point that I’ll play a game with my sister where we have to guess each other’s favorite characters. We both have a type, to the extent that we can guess correctly 99% of the time. A few of my favorite moments of extreme predictability:

  1. When I first read City of Bones, I summarized the general plot and characters for my sister since she hadn’t read it. About five minutes into the conversation she asked me if Simon was my favorite. At that point, he was.
  2. She started Glee before I did and before I got deeply into it I asked who my favorites would be. I initially told her that she was wrong, but about three episodes later I realized that I was wrong: she’d gotten it exactly.
  3. She watched Riverdale before I did, and when I asked her who my favorites would be she got it 100% right with less than a second of consideration.

I think you can tell a lot about someone from who their favorite character is, especially if it tends to be the same character across a lot of media. My sister is a very softhearted, empathetic person and her favorite is whomever has the worst luck. If a single character dies on the course of a show, chances are good that he was my sister’s favorite. If one character repeatedly has her hopes and dreams crushed… yep. That was her favorite. Sometimes I double check with her before picking my favorite just to make sure I’m not setting myself up for heartbreak.

My favorite character is…

…generally a secondary character, usually male, and often slightly removed from the plot. He’s the kind of character who sometimes disappears for long periods of time only to reappear with no explanation. Sometimes he just pops in to provide commentary about the actual main characters. In TV shows, he’s a recurring character. In books, sometimes a hundred pages go by without his name popping up.

kevin can't breathe
My mom was able to identify Kev as my favorite because he’s minor enough that it took her half a season to learn his name.

…good for comic relief. Getting pushed backstage often means that my favorite is far enough away from the main plot that the darkness doesn’t weigh quite as heavily on him as on the protagonist, which means he gets most of the good one-liners. He tends to be pretty snarky.

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…a little socially awkward. Often he’s a huge dork. Sometimes he just doesn’t relate well to other people. He means well and fits in well with his chosen group, but that’s about it.

cas people skills

…fiercely loyal. I may like the sidekicks, but they’re quality sidekicks. My favorite is always there for his best friend. In other words, he’s a Hufflepuff.

ron knight
Harry is a Slytherin, Hermione is a Ravenclaw, and Ron is a Hufflepuff. They’re all in Gryffindor by choice/circumstance. You can fight me on this.

…prone to self-hatred or, at least, jealousy. It’s amazing how often it’s the insecure character who provides the comic relief.

dean 90% crap

…well connected. Ever notice how some characters have one or two friends that they hang out with? Or the one who gets a significant other and effectively forgets that everyone else exists? That’s not my favorite. My boy can interact with almost any other character and therefore has fresher storylines.

richard

…romantically stable. I’m not a big fan of the on/off romances. I like my favorites to have one major love interest and limited pointless drama. That’s a lot easier when your favorite isn’t the lead.

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So… who’s your favorite?


gif credits here: Kevin, Alec, Cas, Ron, Dean, Richard, Chandler/Monica

The Silver Mask (Book Review)

silver mask.jpegI had no idea The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare was coming out until I saw it at the library, so that was a nice surprise. It is the fourth book in the Magisterium series (following The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, and The Bronze Key). Because I’m an idiot, I did not reread the first three books, but since it hasn’t been all that long since I read them and I remembered the broad sweeps of what came before. I forgot some of the specifics, which meant I was a little surprised when the novel opened up with main character Call in prison, but whatever. There was enough in the book to jog my memory for any necessary details.

Note: this review contains big spoilers for books 1-3 since it’s not possible to discuss book 4 without them. I do not, however, spoil The Silver Mask itself.

What’s it about?

The Silver Mask picks up a few months after the dramatic conclusion of The Bronze Key. The fact that Call has Constantine’s soul and is therefore supposedly the Enemy of Death reborn is common knowledge, and Aaron is dead. The action of Silver Mask picks up when Tamara breaks Call out of prison but things go sideways and she, Call, and Jasper end up with Master Joseph, Alex, and Constantine’s mother. This villainous trio wants to reawaken Constantine within Call and increase his magic so that he can finish Constantine’s work by raising the dead—starting with Aaron—and by so doing make peace with the Magisterium.

What’d I think?

iron trialI love Cassandra Clare. She’s the reason I started reading this series. I love The Mortal Instruments and Dark Artifices (I liked Infernal Devices, but never got as emotionally invested in it). Holly Black is hit or miss with me, but I loved The Darkest Part of the Forest, which I read earlier this year. I have not read all her work, so I can’t say too much about how much Magisterium resembles it. However, I will say that anyone who likes The Mortal Instruments will likely enjoy Magisterium. There are quite a lot of similarities. I wrote a comparison between the two after I finished the first two books of Magisterium. If people actually read this review, I might post that, but for now suffice it to say that the feel is similar even though tMI is written for a slightly older audience.

Magisterium is a very good series. There’s a maturity to it that  is lacking in a lot of juvenile fiction; a lot of juvfic is enjoyable for its target audience but doesn’t fare well with older readers. That’s fine, obviously, but as an older reader, I like the extra substance. One thing that I like about Magisterium is that it feels suitably epic. It’s significant that a major character dies. A lot of the time, fantasy for children has low dean what's dead should stay deadstakes. There’s never any question that the good guys will win, and it never feels like anything irreplaceable will be lost. Deaths are uncommon (and deaths that stick are even more so), and the characters who die are generally either adults or minor or both. Aaron dying, while sad, made me respect the series more because it actually fulfilled its promise of significant evil. The Silver Mask deals a lot with the aftermath of Aaron’s death. The characters grieve Aaron’s passing. However, the novel also brings up
resurrection, which pretty much always rears its head in fantasy these days. Call is tasked with finishing Constantine’s work and bringing Aaron back. Resurrection seems like a good idea to a young boy who misses his best friend and moral compass, but it is also the attempt at necromancy that made Constantine the evil and feared Enemy of Death in the first place. Call’s struggle with being good and with wanting Aaron back despite the black magic aspect of it was interesting without being macabre.

 

copper gauntletbronze keyThat description makes it sound like the whole book was dark and gloomy. It wasn’t. It was perhaps not as light and fun as the earlier books (series do tend to get darker as they go, now that I think about it), but there were still lots of lighthearted moments, mostly thanks to Jasper. I love Jasper. He’s so awful.

The only real complaint I had with the book was that I thought that the Call/Tamara romance was overemphasized and the buildup to it from the other books is evidently something else that I’d forgotten about.

What’s the verdict?

Anyone who likes Cassandra Clare’s other books will likely enjoy Magisterium, but there’s really no point in including a read-this-if section about the fourth book in a series. If you read and enjoyed the first three books, you should read The Silver Mask. If you haven’t or didn’t, probably skip this one.

report cardReport card.

Characters: A

Plot: B-

Writing: A

Themes: A

Overall: A

 

 

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 3×07 Review (Getting Over Jeff)

crazy-ex-girlfriend
Previous Reviews:  3×01 3×02 3×03 3×04 3×05 3×06

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s midseason finale “Getting Over Jeff” succeeds at something that most TV shows struggle with: giving all the characters something to do. Well, almost. Sorry, Valencia. I have an overall mixed response to the episode—for the most part I like it, though there are some elements that I find lackluster—but I will always give props when I feel that an ensemble cast is balanced well. This balancing act is particularly important to me because my favorite characters are always the first ones to have their screentime/subplots sacrificed.

For the first time since the show started, basically, Rebecca is not the central character. She is still important, though. As I predicted before the hiatus, she’s doing pretty well recovery-wise. She has been making her way through lots of workbooks in hopes of getting an “A+” in recovery, but her doctor explains that she needs to find a midpoint between being perfect and totally falling apart.

REBECCA: What’s better than an A+?

DOCTOR DAMN: A C+

REBECCA: *horrified gasp*

She joins Paula on a visit back to Paula’s hometown to care for Paula’s injured, conservative dad, with whom she gets on surprisingly well. She gets an Annie inspired musical number in which she revels in having a father figure.

REBECCA: You’re like the dad I never had.

PAULA’S DAD: You didn’t have a dad?

REBECCA: I do, but he sucks.

It’s a middling song: not a favorite of mine, but also not one I dislike. My only major beef with it is that Rebecca claims “It’s the healthiest relationship I’ve had with a man” and I’m just sitting over here like…

darryl rebecca
Look at this terrible, unhealthy relationship

Rebecca also flirts with Nathaniel and ends up sleeping with him again. Considering that “Let’s Have Intercourse” is playing in the background of all their scenes, that isn’t exactly surprising, but I was hoping that Rebecca would be smart enough to stay single for a while. I mean, yes. At this point I should know better than to expect Rebecca to make any legitimately good decisions pertaining to her love life, but apparently I don’t.

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Supernatural 13×09 Review (The Bad Place)

dean what
*Deep sigh.* What? What even what was that episode? What happened to this season? It was so good and then it ran off the rails with the past two episodes. The early episodes
were strong on character development and had some interesting reflections on good and evil and grief and all that good stuff (Previous reviews:13×01 13×02 13×03 13×04 13×05 13×06 13×07). And then last week (13×08) there was a thematically dissonant heist; this week’s episode, despite being the midseason finale, lacked any particular epic drama and spent a lot of screentime introducing a character that, at least so far, isn’t compelling or likable. I’m very confused since Berens is usually one of my favorite SPN writers. Also there were dinosaurs. I’ll back up.

sam jack
Sam, you suck at magical mentoring

Jack makes his long-awaited reappearance and is the episode’s one redeeming element. He’s a little ray of sunlight even when he’s conning his way into a rehab facility by cheerfully explaining that “I like cocaine.” Since his last appearance he’s been getting a grip on his powers—clearly Sam is a terrible teacher, since Jack has made huge strides since he decided to go the independent study route—and looking for Mary. With the help of a dreamwalker, he managed to get close. Unfortunately a group of angels on his tail killed said dreamwalker, so he has found another one, Kaia.

The Winchesters also track down Kaia and therefore find Jack. Jack tells them that Mary is alive but in danger and they make rescuing her their first priority. Dean in particular takes the news badly; he feel awful that he’s been pushing the Mary-is-dead agenda and flips so hard that he threatens Kaia with a gun to get her to help. Poor Dean is going darkside again. Quick, someone go get his angel.

dean-wheres-the-angel

Jack shows Kaia one of his magical golden visions and she gets on board. Unfortunately, the pursuing angels catch up to the group and they’re forced to put their plan into action hurriedly. Jack uses Kaia to open a breach, which murders all the evil angels and scatters team Winchester. Jack ends up with Mary, Kaia ends up on the side of the road where she will presumably get picked up by Jody and company for Wayward Sisters, and the boys get blasted to dinosaur land. Roll credits.

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Seriously, wtf

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Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (Series Review)

sword of summerSince I don’t have a very good memory, I figured that I would reread The Sword of Summer and The Hammer of Thor before diving into The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan. I learned my lesson with The Golden Yarn. It was definitely the right call to do a reread, because despite the attempts to provide refreshers when they’re warranted, there are enough specific incidents that carry over from the previous books that hazily remembering the main points and general characterizations isn’t quite enough. Also, it’s always a better experience to reread the whole series. Always. Anyone who disagrees with that can fight me on it.

The easiest way to describe this series is that it’s Percy Jackson, except with Norse mythology rather than Greek. Personally, I prefer Percy Jackson and the Olympians to Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, but I do not necessarily think that is because it is better. I like MCGA a lot, but I’ve always particularly enjoyed Greek mythology. Also, I read PJO first; that alone is usually enough to warrant a preference.

What’s it about?

loki
He also presumably does not look like Tom Hiddleston

The series centers on Magnus Chase (yes, he’s Annabeth’s cousin) and his post-mortem (yes, he’s dead) adventures to prevent Ragnorak, the Norse end-times. This largely consists of going up against Loki and a bunch of giants. Loki is a lot less pleasant in Riordan’s series (and actual Norse mythology) than he is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Aside from being charming, he’s cruel and manipulative and trickily kills people just because he can.

Thankfully, Magnus has his own team. This primarily consists of two of Loki’s children (Sam, a devout Muslim Valkyrie, and Alex, a sarcastic and genderfluid shapeshifter); Blitzen, a fashionable dwarf; Hearthstone, a deaf elf wizard; and Jack, a talking (and singing) magical sword. There are a few more, but Magnus, Sam, Alex, Blitz, Hearth, and Jack make up the core cast.

What’d I think?

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Supernatural 13×08 Review (The Scorpion and the Frog)

spn 13I’ll be interested to read other people’s reviews of “The Scorpion and the Frog” to see if anyone legitimately liked it, but my immediate reaction to it is to say that it’s the worst episode of season thirteen by a very wide margin.

Revisit better episodes: 13×01 13×02 13×03 13×04 13×05 13×06 13×07

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RIP Crowley

It is pretty straightforward. The new crossroads demon has gotten his hands on a spell that can summon a nephilim and offers to trade it to the boys in exchange for their help in a heist. Since the Winchesters really need to find Jack, they agree. Basically, they have to steal Discount Crowley’s bones from a creepy immortal guy. Right before they make the swap, they learn that Discount Crowley is actually super shady and that the creepy immortal guy was actually not quite as bad as he initially appeared, so the bones get torched instead and the spell goes up in flames. Basically, this episode had no lasting consequences, which would be fine if it had been better as a standalone.

It wasn’t all bad. The early scenes were quite good. The phone call—in which Sam helpfully informed Dean that Bart was a demon when it was glaringly obvious and Dean was like, duh “smart one”—was hilarious. I enjoyed Bart’s explanation that why he was helping the Winchesters instead of Asmodeus because “I trust him less.” Dean pondering the nature of miracles was possibly the highlight of the episode.

DEAN: You know what “miracles” are called from demons? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s not “miracles.”

I was not totally crazy about the idea of getting a new Crowley, but honestly Bart did kind of work for me. Yes, he was too similar to everybody’s favorite demon: he was British, he was the crossroads demon, he dressed similarly, and he even had a comparable build (and beard). But he was still pretty funny and even a discount Crowley is far from terrible. It’s not like I’m heartbroken that he died or anything, but if we had to be promised a return appearance from one of 13×08’s new characters I would much much much much rather it have been Bart than Alice. Or even that other demon that died in Untitledthe heist. Or the creepy old guy, who also died. Or, I don’t know. I’m sure there was an extra in the back of the diner scene or something. The point is, I hated Alice. There is nothing specific that I can point my finger at and say ‘yes, that’s why I hated her.’ But I found her extraordinarily irritating. I can’t remember the last time I took such an immediate, visceral dislike to a character.

I also wasn’t happy with the apparent takeaway from the episode. Supernatural is usually about choice and free will and all that good stuff. This episode took its title from a story in which a scorpion murders a helpful frog instinctively because it is a scorpion and scorpions sting. Supernatural has shown us good angels and bad angels, good demons and bad demons, good humans and bad humans, and good vampires and bad vampires and… you get the point. This whole season is about Jack learning to be good even though he has evil inside him by virtue of his father’s identity. But if Bart has to be evil because he’s a demon and the scorpion has to sting because it’s a scorpion… what does that say for Jack specifically? For choice generally? It seems to undercut everything else the show seems to say.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way Dean got written this week. I have no problem with him being goofy or  being afraid. He’s usually goofy, and sometimes he’s extremely goofy (see: “Tombstone”). He is often scared of things one wouldn’t necessarily expect (planes, germs, that ghoul hole) but usually it doesn’t come across as being for a cheap joke. But he just seemed stupid and borderline wimpy this week. At least he didn’t get his butt kicked by an old guy who, despite being immortal, had no specific fighting prowess (lookin’ at you, Sammy).

Also…

dean-wheres-the-angel
Side note: You all noticed it was Sam who talked to “Cas” this week, right? Presumably so the Dean-knows-Cas spidey sense doesn’t go off for at least another week.

Yeah. I don’t know. This episode just felt really off. The Winchesters seemed off. The themes seemed off. The tone seemed off. The (hopefully) one-off characters weren’t nearly as compelling and/or likable as they’ve been recently. Oh, well. I suppose every season can have a dud or two, and this was one of them. Thankfully there’s at least one more episode before Supernatural goes on hiatus, because this is not the sort of showing that ensures people will stay excited over the break.

Next week: Mary’s back!

 

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gif credits here and here

NaNoWriMo Recap

Logo_of_National_Novel_Writing_MonthHey, this is my 100th post. How about that?

So… NaNoWriMo is over. Congratulations to everyone who participated. It was not my best showing, but it was also not my worst. I managed to make my daily goal every day but two. All told, I managed 58,346 words on my novel. I also managed to learn the same lessons that I learn literally every time.

writing is hardNamely, I was reminded that planning is essential. I’m very good at the first part of starting a book. I love figuring out my characters and their world and how they interact with it and with each other. Once it is time for the actual plot to get going I realize… well, it’d be nice to know what the plot is. I wrote a lot of words that will eventually get cut because it is basically me twiddling my fingers, fishing for plot. On the flip side, I do now have a very good understanding of my two lead characters, so I can chalk the wasted words up to character work.

I’m also reminded how badly my reading gets tossed by the wayside when I have to write. I managed to keep up with this blog, but only because I read a lot fewer books than usual. I wish there was a way for me to read and write prolifically at the same time, but it seems that I have to choose.

i got nothingI also learned a little more about myself as a writer, including that I have to write by hand during the day if I want to get anything done. If I work late at night I’m fine to type, but during the day I am not nearly inspired and decide that the internet > my novel. Admittedly, that’s true at night too, but I’m less aware of it.

 

Basically, I’ve decided that the best way to win NaNoWriMo is to

  1. Write a little every day; think more about the daily goal than the final goal
  2. Make a plan before you start
  3. Figure out your own writing preferences and use them

What NaNoWriMo tips do you have? How did you do this year? What are you going to do now?

 

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