Foolish Hearts (Book Review)

foolish hearts.jpegI grabbed Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills mostly because it was on the new shelf at the library and it sets its action around a staging of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I LOVE that play, and I thought that Foolish Hearts might be a modern retelling of some kind, which I thought would be fun. It’s not a retelling, but it is still fun.

What’s it about?

In Foolish Hearts, high-school-senior Claudia does not quite fit in. She’s attending a fancy private school because she got a scholarship and is much poorer than her classmates. She’s more at home looking for bonus quests in her favorite MMORPG than she is doing any of the typical high school things, so she continuously feels like a hanger-on. Things change when she unwittingly (and, at first, unwillingly) finds herself spending time with Iris, who is notoriously difficult. It’s even more awkward considering that Claudia accidentally overheard Iris’ brutal breakup. Iris and Claudia, plus Iris’ ex-girlfriend Paige, the charmingly over-the-top Gideon, and a spattering of other students put on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” meddle in each other’s lives, and try to figure out who they are.

What’d I think?

Overall, there’s more to like about Foolish Hearts than not. First and foremost, I love Iris. She is initially introduced like this:

 [Iris is] “ruthless and unforgiving and, some would say, ill-mannered and incredibly unpleasant.”

Iris is difficult. She doesn’t like or know how to talk about feelings. She wears purple to a pink party just to spite people. She doesn’t necessarily think about what other people want. But as Claudia (and the reader) gets to know her, she gets more and more rounded out. There’s no miracle fix that takes her from difficult and rude to perfect and friendly, but there is some definite growth as she injects some empathy into the usual act; her journey, facilitated in large part by Claudia’s friendship, is the highlight of the novel.

Also, she’s an unrepentant fangirl, which is always a selling point for me. I also like the way that Iris bucks a lot of the negative stereotypes associated with fangirls: she is high achieving and politically savvy, and she fangirls over a boy band despite being a lesbian. In other words, fans aren’t all trivial, and being a fan is about more than just being attracted to someone.

On that note, there are all sorts of nice, nerdy shoutouts. There are several references to High School Musical and Harry Potter, and the prominently-featured MMORPG ties into the story quite well. I’m not really into that world myself, so I don’t know how accurate the descriptions are, but it Claudia’s gaming is a major bedrock of her relationship with her older brother Alex and her childhood best friend Zoe, and I really like those relationships. Claudia also bonds with Iris over a shared love for the boy band mentioned above. In fact, all the relationships are well done, and the supplementation of the deeper conversations with shared enthusiasm lends a realism to the relationships.

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Supernatural 13×20 Review (Unfinished Business)

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Go here for previous reviews

I’ve pretty much decided that I’m not going to bother writing Supernatural recaps next year even though the show did get renewed. It was fun while it lasted, but it is starting to fatigue me, and since no one reads them anyway, I think I’ll finish this season and then go back to being a regular fan next year. I mean, obviously I reserve the right to change my mind about that, but for right now that’s how it is. I am going to write reviews for season fourteen!

B Plot: Jack and Mary

kevin“Unfinished Business” brings Jack and Mary back into the narrative, though they don’t do much. Since the last time we saw them, they have been fighting the angels and, thanks to Jack’s power, winning. When they hear that Michael’s troops have been leaving his fortress and going elsewhere, they—plus a group of other rebels—go there to see if anything important got left behind. When they arrive, they learn that Michael is planning to invade their world. Honestly, Sam and Dean have known that for so long that I didn’t realize that Jack and Mary didn’t know it. They learn this from Kevin Tran, who was locked in Michael’s dungeon. Kevin tells them that Michael left him because he couldn’t complete the spell, but the truth is that Michael promised Kevin a place in Heaven to be reunited with his mother (I miss Linda. RIP AU!Linda). Before anyone can stop him, Kevin presses the sigil on his chest, which blows him up and kills everyone except Jack and Mary. Mary survived only because Jack shielded her with his wings. RIP Kevin. RIP rebel goons. Jack wants to go find Michael and fight him, and won’t let Mary’s cautions sway him.

jackThere are a few takeaways from this, but the main one is… Jack has wings? Is that something that we’ve known before now? In any case, it surprised me. Also, Jack has gotten very cocky very quickly. He is apparently now convinced that he can’t lose a fight, and that is definitely going to be dangerous.

 

A Plot: Sam, Dean, and Gabriel

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Drama (Book Review)

dramaI have been meaning to pick up one of Raina Telgemeier’s books for a long time. I try to read the most popular kids’ book so that I am prepared when asked for recommendations, and Telgemeier’s graphic novels are really popular at my library. For whatever reason, I never got around to it until I found out that she is going to be at the Comic-Con I’m planning to attend this summer and realized that now is the time. Telgemeier has a number of books, but I decided to go with Drama for a number of reasons, including:

  • I love the theatre. I would have been a broadway kid if I had any extroversion or singing ability whatsoever
  • Drama is one of YALSA’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens
  • It won a Stonewall Book Award Honor
  • It was also a #1 New York Times bestseller
  • It’s fiction, whereas many of Telgemeier’s other books are skewed more towards memoir; I generally prefer fiction
  • Drama was one of 2017’s most banned books, and I am a rebel (only when it comes to reading banned books)

What’s it about?

Drama follows seventh-grade Callie, who is passionate about stage crew. During a production of Moon over Mississippi, Callie befriends a pair of twin boys—loud, exuberant Justin and shy, brainy Jesse—and drags them into the world of defective prop cannons, creepy costume basements, and casting calls. As the production thumps along, Callie deals with other normal middle-school stuff like romantic heartbreak, annoying little brothers, and (most relatable of all) lacking the funds to by the book of her dreams.

First things first. Why is it banned?

It’s banned because there are a few gay characters, and apparently there’s nothing more upsetting than an innocent middle school crush.

What’d I think?

The book is really adorable. The illustrations are really cute, and I really love Callie’s amazing pink/purple hair. I personally am not a super visual person, so I thought I would struggle to keep myself from just kind of skimming over the pictures to get to the words; while that was a little bit true, the more I got into it the more I slowed down and appreciated just how expressive the illustrations are. Reading a graphic novel is definitely a different experience, but I did really enjoy it. My sister is an artist, and I’ve picked up enough from her secondhand to see that Telgemeier does a great job with her pictures.

The characters are all really likable. Telgemeier does a really good job fleshing out a lot of characters with just a few words, and I really liked the way she handles the relationships between the characters. Callie’s string of ill-fated crushes amuses me, and I really love the relationship between the two brothers, which is really sweet. There’s a scene in which Jesse tells Callie that he has decided against singing/performing…

JESSE: “When you’re a twin, people just assume you’re the same person. It’s not fair, really. I guess I want to give [Justin] the chance to shine.”

… and it really gets me, especially since there are other scenes that prove that it’s a reciprocal thing. There are a lot of fictional depictions of siblings who can’t stand each other, and I love when I come across one like this that has siblings who are actually best friends who do things together because they love each other and love being around each other and not because anyone told them to.

LesMisLogoI love all the nerdy touches, like the flashback to when Callie’s life was fundamentally changed after she saw Les Misérables or when she flips out over the amazing bookstore Jesse takes her to. I just wish I were familiar with Moon Over Mississippi.

The story is fun. I got really invested in the production (and particularly in Callie’s ridiculously over-the-top confetti cannon). I love how things are messy and do not turn out perfectly or cleanly. There are some things that surprised me but that, in retrospect, should not have surprised me because the clues were all there. The whole thing felt very true to life: there are ups and downs and some things that majorly don’t work out, but in the end even the failures aren’t crippling because love and enthusiasm are more powerful.

What’s the verdict?

I really enjoyed this one. The characters are all likable and well rounded (considering the limited page time) and the relationships in particular stand out. There are some very relatable moments. The drawing style is clean and cute. I’m glad this was my first foray into graphic novels, because I liked it a lot. Report card: A

Surprise Me (Book Review)

surprise me.jpegFor me personally, Sophie Kinsella is an author best enjoyed in small doses, and with Surprise Me I think I’ve hit my limit (at least for a while). I enjoyed it, but I felt vaguely fatigued by the end of it. I’ve been reading her novels on and off for the last few years, ever since a classmate gave a ‘my favorite author’ presentation on her (if anyone is interested, I did mine on Cornelia Funke, though I have so many favorite authors I could give a different presentation every day for at least a month). In general, I find Kinsella’s novels charming and strangely compelling. I say “strangely” compelling because I have very little in common with her characters due to the fact that:

  • I’m not really into clothes
  • I hate shopping (except for books)
  • I’m really, really cheap
  • While I like the idea of romance in theory, in real life I find the concept of having a romantic partner actively unappealing

Despite all of this, I have ended up reading most of her novels over the years (I didn’t read the whole Shopaholic series, but I read the first two) and consider Finding Audrey the standout. Surprise Me, while not bad, would probably end up towards the end of the list if I ever bothered to rank them.

What’s it about?

Surprise Me follows the romantic turmoils of protagonist Sylvie and her husband Dan after they realize that, due to increased life expectancy, they are looking at nearly seventy years of marriage; they realized that ‘til death do you part was for forever, but they didn’t realize how long forever was. In an attempt to keep the relationship interesting, Sylvie suggests that they make a point of surprising each other regularly. Unfortunately, what starts as harmless but ill-thought-out surprises morphs into something else as the two start to clash over bigger issues, some real and some imaginary, including financial problems; Sylvie’s hero-worship of her charming, perfect, attention-stealing late father whose legacy casts a shadow of resentment over Dan; and a possible infidelity.

What’d I think?

I really like the concept behind the novel. Is marriage still feasible when life expectancy has soared? The book does a mostly good job of handling the question at its core, but I wish Kinsella had dug into it a little more. The novel devolves a little into ridiculous hijinks, which is fine, but not what I was hoping for. Finding Audrey and Remember Me?, Kinsella’s best novels in my opinion, are a bit more serious, and I think that they show off Kinsella at her best. To my mind the sillier parts of Surprise Me, like when Sylvie buys Dan a disgusting tray of gloopy foreign dishes because she thought it would be sophisticated and romantic, take away from what the novel might have been.

cristina laughing internally grey's.gif

I’m not saying I wanted the book to be less fun, but I thought that the slightly more serious (but still funny) parts of the book were more enjoyable.

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Ruin and Rising (Book Review)

Now that I’ve finished Ruin and Rising, the third novel in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, I have officially read all of the novels that take place in the Grisha universe (that have been published to date). Although I was particularly excited going into this one because I thought there was a major uptick in quality between Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, I was ultimately a little disappointed. I did still like Ruin and Rising, but it unfortunately is my least favorite of the five. In case you’re wondering, this is my official ranking (updated to reflect the publication of King of Scars):

  1. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)
  2. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2)
  3. Siege and Storm (Grisha Trilogy #2)
  4. Shadow and Bone (Grisha Trilogy #1)
  5. King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1)
  6. Ruin and Rising (Grisha Trilogy #3)

Update 4/3/21: I reread all the books to prepare for Rule of Wolves and have come to the conclusion that I was way, way too harsh on Ruin and Rising when I first reviewed it. What was I thinking? It’s fantastic. Nikolai is far more present than I remembered, and Mal is spunkier and more interesting than I originally gave him credit for. He’s still not one of my favorite characters in this series–there are too big personalities for a straight-laced soldier like Mal to make it to the top of the list–but I liked him a lot more on the reread. Here’s my reranking:

  1. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)
  2. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2)
  3. Ruin and Rising (Grisha Trilogy #3)
  4. Siege and Storm (Grisha Trilogy #2)
  5. Shadow and Bone (Grisha Trilogy #1)
  6. Rule of Wolves (Nikolai Duology #2)
  7. King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1)

Actually, the quality of the series is so consistent that the most accurate, honest ranking would be this:

  1. Six of Crows Duology
  2. Grisha Trilogy
  3. Nikolai Duology

Back to the original review!

What’s it about?

The novel picks up the action shortly after the events of the previous novel, which is a good thing, because that was quite a cliffhanger. Alina, Mal, and the others are essentially hostages of the Apparat, who—along with his group of believers—treats Alina like a saint, but refuses to allow her any agency. Although she is grateful to the believers for helping save her and the life of her few remaining Grisha, Alina is desperate to get away from the Apparat and his followers in order to find the firebird and use the power of Morozova’s three united amplifiers to defeat the Darkling for good.

What’d I think?

I mentioned in my review of Siege and Storm that Nikolai/Sturmhond is by far my favorite character in this series. He is funny and energetic, and there is enough moral dubiousness about him to keep him from being one-note (at every moment, Alina—and the reader—has to ask herself how sincere he’s being, and which persona he will put on). Unfortunately, Nikolai is mostly absent in this novel. He and Alina split up at the end of the previous book, and though they do come together on more than one occasion, they are on very different journeys. Since the novel, like its predecessors, is told in Alina’s first person, this makes for a distressing lack of Nikolai.

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Book Club: Hana’s Suitcase (+ Mini Book Review)

hana's suitcaseI read the anniversary edition of Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, and I’m very glad I did because I found Levine’s author’s note in the extra pages a lot more moving than the book itself.

The weird thing is that Hana’s Suitcase is an amazing and upsetting true story. It is about a young Jewish girl who died in Auschwitz; the Japanese woman who discovered her story decades later and shared it with the world; and the Jewish’s girl’s brother, who survived the world war and joined the Japanese woman’s efforts in spreading the story. Hana’s Suitcase is one of the most decorated children’s books in Canada, and it forces the reader to step away from the scope of the Holocaust to see the horrible effect it had on individuals, including individual children, like Hana.

The problem  is that the writing is oddly rigid in its simplicity. It’s almost like Levine wanted to make sure that the story was easy to understand, so she leeched any and all artistry out of her language. The power of the story shines through, but getting through the boring, trite writing is a challenge at times. It’s made even more annoying from the fact that in Levine’s author note, she talks about her personal reaction to Hana’s story and betrays the fact that she can actually write very well. There’s more genuine emotion in those pages, in which Levine retells Hana and Fumiko’s story in just a few sentences, than there is in the whole book.

Hana’s Suitcase tells a powerful story of the horrors of the Holocaust, the dangers of intolerance, and the power people have to come together but it is undercut by language is too simple and regular to do it justice.

Read on for discussion questions, but please be aware that they are not spoiler-free.

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Supernatural 13×19 Review (Funeralia)

Castiel Egg Crochet
Previous Reviews: 13×0113×02 13×03 13×04 13×05 13×06 13×07 13×08 13×09 13×10 13×11 13×12 13×13 13×14 13×15 13×16 13×17 13×18

“Funeralia” is a really good episode. Dean may be my favorite favorite character, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it when he takes a week off and lets Sam and Cas do the heavy lifting for an episode. Sam just doesn’t get enough to do most of the time. This was a really good Sam episode and a really good Cas episode. So win-win.

thenThe episode starts out with a monster of a recap, because there’s a lot to know for this one: Cas’ history with Duma, Rowena’s powerup, Dean’s last death and subsequent meeting with Billie, the existence of Jessica the reaper, Billie’s promotion to Death, Asmodeus’ death, and Gabriel booping away. Is it just me, or has this season had a lot more plot elements than previous ones?

With the impending AU!Michael invasion, the Winchesters decide that they need all the help they can get. They get in contact with Rowena but find her slippery and unhelpful. Sad for them, Rowena has been doing an uncomfortable amount of murdering. Dean still isn’t happy with Sam for allowing Rowena’s powerup, but Sam swears that if it comes to it he’ll take Rowena down… and it looks like that time might have come.

After hanging up on the boys and dissing their lifestyle by remarking that they never go to parties–

CAS: You know, she’s right. You never go to parties.

–Rowena pulls off the most stylized murder of all time: she incinerates a woman (and a reaper!) while dancing dramatically.  Say whatever else you will about Rowena, but [*Kingsley Shacklebolt voice*] she’s got style.

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Siege and Storm (Book Review)

siege and stormSince I absolutely adored Leigh Bardugo’s amazing Six of Crows duology, I was a little let down by Shadow and Bone, even though it was actually pretty good. I’m happy to report that the second book in the Grisha trilogy, Siege and Storm, is better than the first; although Six of Crows still blows it out of the water, Siege and Storm is a very enjoyable read.

What’s it about?

After the events of the previous novel, Alina and Mal find themselves desperately fleeing the Darkling. Alina still wears the necklace amplifier from the stag the Darkling slew, but she discovers that it is a part of a trio of amplifiers; she has a burning desire to track down the rest of the set. Aside from dealing with the Darkling as her enemy and the need to find Morozova’s amplifiers, Alina must contend with a swashbuckling privateer, a charming but deceptive prince, a religious group that sees her as a saint and a martyr, the other Grisha she now needs to follow her, and more romantic turmoils.

What did I think?

I complained in my review of Shadow and Bone that the characters did not excite me. Thankfully, there are some new cast additions that help in that regard. Nikolai, Tamar, and Tolya are all pretty cool characters. Tamar and Tolya admittedly don’t do all that much, but there is something about them that makes them spring off the page more than any of the original characters do. Nikolai has to be my favorite, though, which is unsurprising; he pops up at the end of Crooked Kingdom, and when I googled his name and read just enough to confirm that he was from the Grisha trilogy, I saw a lot of love for him. There’s a reason why everyone seems to like him best. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s unpredictable. Neither Alina nor the reader can figure out exactly how much to trust him.

Nikolai is a fun, interesting character… so much so that he reflects really badly on Mal, who did not improve at all in my opinion. He is a lot like Matthias from Six of Crows, which is not a great comparison since Matthias is the only character from that series that I didn’t love. Mal is just… mal. He’s boring and just kind of there. Supposedly he’s really handsome, but other than that there’s not much reason for Alina—or anyone else—to be in love with him. Thankfully, Bardugo leans into Mal’s flaws in the latter half of the novel, exploring the way his relationship with Alina changes—and fails to change—to accommodate their fluctuating roles in the new order.

shadow and boneI really liked the expanding world. While book one is very centered in Ravka, Siege and Storm begins to explore Ravka’s neighbors. Even though the main action does not stray too far, I love the detail that Bardugo puts into her novels that make it obvious that her world extends past the borders of Ravka; Ravka is not alone in its universe.

I also really liked the increased focus on powers aside from the Darkling. In Shadow and Bone, the Darkling essentially reigns supreme. He’s technically second to the king, but the king is weak and does nothing. In Siege and Storm, other groups come forward. The crown becomes an actual presence thanks to Nikolai and his older brother Vasily. The Apparat takes on a slightly larger role. The Grisha split up so that they’re not all under the Darkling’s thumb. It makes the conflict less dark vs. light, like it was (literally) in the first book, and adding nuance only every improves a story.

What’s the verdict?

I very much enjoyed Siege and Storm. It is a big step up from Shadow and Bone: the world expands, more likable characters enter the story and inject charisma, and the conflict becomes larger and more nuanced. Although I still think that Six of Crows is better overall, I had a fun time with this one. If you read book one and liked it, you’re bound to be happy with book two because it picks up the story and ups the stakes. Report card: A

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Supernatural 13×18 Review (Bring ‘Em Back Alive)

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Previous Reviews: 13×0113×02 13×03 13×04 13×05 13×06 13×07 13×08 13×09 13×10 13×11 13×12 13×13 13×14 13×15 13×16 13×17

The funny thing is that I was looking forward to “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” because there was going to be significant Cas+Sam interaction for the first time in at least a year, and then that was actually the weaker half of the episode. Honestly, the best part of their storyline was Cas heartily disapproving of Dean and Ketch going through the rift… you know, the scene from in the promo.

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This one.

Cas arrives back and the bunker and he and Sam try to get Gabriel back to himself. They learn that Gabriel faked the death back in season five and then hung out in Monte Carlo with a bunch of porn stars, because of course he did. The best part is that poor Cas has to read Gabriel’s testimony about porn stars aloud, and does so in his unamused, deadpan voice. Sam gives Gabe a pep talk, and eventually Gabriel imbibes his own grace, which powers him up a bit.

texting and murder.gifThen Asmodeus calls Sam and is like, “Give me Gabriel or else.” For some reason I find it hilarious that bad guys have Sam’s cell phone number. Fighting baddies like the king of hell has gotten so commonplace that they don’t even have to break out the summoning kits anymore.

Asmodeus gives Sam and Cas ten minutes to return Gabriel or he’ll attack. Obviously they don’t, so he does. Sam and Cas are able to take down Asmodeus’ goons—although I’m a little concerned about Sam’s warding skills that he couldn’t keep regular, level-one demons out of their supposedly super secure bunker—but when Asmodeus shows up, they’re pretty much hopeless against him. Thankfully, Gabriel takes the initiative to send Asmodeus up in flames. RIP Asmodeus.

Gabriel, however, is not a team player. Sam and Cas ask him to stick around and help with incoming Michael problem, and Gabriel is just like…

nine no

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Shadow and Bone (Book Review)

shadow and bone.jpg
Also of note: this is a perfect cover: it has Russian-inspired architecture and a stag’s antlers. I love it when books have specific covers.

I started hearing about Leigh Bardugo’s duology Six of Crows a few years ago, but my library did not have it at the time. Instead of reading it, I tried the first book of Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, Shadow and Bone. I liked it. I did not love it, but I liked it well enough that I intended to eventually get around to reading the rest of the series. Fast forward about a year. I didn’t get around to Siege and Storm, but I did finally get my hands on Six of Crows and LOVED it. I’ve read 44 books so far this year, and Six of Crows is easily one of my favorites. Of books that are new to me, it is the clear #1. Reading and loving that duology made me wonder what I’d missed in Shadow and Bone. Also, I wanted answers to the questions that I had left over from Six of Crow’s sequel, Crooked Kingdom (which reintroduces primary characters from the Grisha trilogy).

In other words: Shadow and Bone, take two!

What’s it about?

Shadow and Bone takes place in the same universe as Six of Crows, but in Ravka rather than in Kerch. It follows Alina, an orphan serving in the Second Army with her best friend Mal. Ravka, her country, is plagued by border wars and by a huge, dark, deadly void—called the Fold—that cuts Ravka in half and limits access to necessary ports. When a journey into the Fold reveals Alina’s unknowingly suppressed Grisha power, she is thrown into the path of the darkly charming Darkling, a powerful Grisha who has been alive for more than an hundred years and who is second only to the king.

What’d I think?

After rereading Shadow and Bone, I understand both why I planned to read the sequel and why I never actually got around to it. I’ll start with the good, because there is a lot to like about the novel.

The Good:

I love the Russian-inspired Ravka. Most fantasy worlds are vaguely British, and whenever a world—particularly one as fully developed as Ravka—takes its inspiration elsewhere, it stands out in a good way. Bardugo does an especially good job with her universe building. The reader experiences Alina’s world with her. There are no awkward, drawn-out descriptions of what regular life is like or what the customs are, but there is enough natural description that the reader never gets lost. The Grisha order, which is a bit complicated, is depicted as such an ingrained part of society’s collective knowledge that the reader has no choice but to pick it up and keep up.

The magical system is really well set up as well. There are few things I like more than a system of magic that is unique, logical, and exciting. Grisha power is fascinating, and the way that it intersects with Ravka’s politics is even more so. I am interested by Alina’s power, of course, but I am even more interested in the powers of more ordinary Grisha, like Genya. Bardugo clearly put a lot of thought into how her magic works, and it pays off. There’s a reason why she’s one of the biggest names in YA fantasy.

The writing is very clear and very easy to read. Plot elements are well spaced out, so that there is never a section that lags too long without a development. The worldbuilding is consistent over the course of the novel, and the novel is an admirable first installment because it ends on a cliffhanger that is as much a conclusion to one section/storyline as it is a segue into the next.

My absolute favorite aspect of the novel has to do with a major plot development in the second half. I can’t resist talking about it, but for the sake of staying as spoiler-free as possible, I will do so only at the very end of the review.

The Less Good:

six of crowsThere’s only one thing that keeps me from gushing over Shadow and Bone the way I did over Six of Crows: the characters. There’s nothing wrong with Alina or Mal or Genya or Zoya or Baghra or the Darkling. They’re all perfectly serviceable characters. The problem is that I didn’t get particularly emotionally invested in any of them. I adored the cast of Six of Crows. I panicked over the fate of my favorites when I thought they were in danger of dying or getting rejected or failing in their mission. I don’t feel that for anyone from Shadow and Bone, and since I’m a character person, that’s a problem for me. If I love the characters in a story, I’ll love the story as a whole even if literally all the other elements are weak. If I don’t love the characters, the plot needs to be pretty breathtaking to make up the difference. The plot in Shadow and Bone is good, but not as good as the heists in Six of Crows.

To be fair, there are way worse criticisms to make of a novel than “I just loved the author’s other book too much.”

What’s the verdict?

I’m definitely going to read the rest of the series this time. I like the novel well enough for that, but I don’t think I’m going to accidentally stay up all night reading the rest of the series like I did with the duology. That being said, character dynamics often improve over the course of a series, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that Siege and Storm kicks it up a notch in that department.

Shadow and Bone is a well-written first installment to a well-regarded fantasy series that I’m excited to continue reading. The strength of the novel is in the ways that it goes against the common conventions of YA fantasy; the worldbuilding in particular is fantastic. The only thing that keeps me from jumping up and down is that the characters are not as well-developed or compelling as those in Bardugo’s sequel series, Six of Crows (which is deservedly more popular). That being said, if you’re a fantasy person, you’re unlikely to be disappointed in this one.

report card 2Report card.

Writing: A                  Characters: C                  Themes: A                                              Plot: A              Fun: B             Overall: A

This is the end of the spoiler-free review. 

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Patrimony (Book Review)

patrimony.jpegI generally don’t read a lot of memoirs, so Patrimony by Philip Roth is a step or two outside of my comfort zone. It is also kind of an odd choice even in that category since I’d never read anything of Roth’s before or even heard of him. A quick Google search has informed me that that is my bad, though, since he is very well regarded writer who has been awarded many awards. Patrimony is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, which is an award that I have never heard of, but it sounds impressive. I read this since one of my coworkers is leading a book club on it, and I like to keep up on book club books even if I’m not in charge of discussion.

What’s it about?

In Patrimony, Roth writes about his experiences during the last period of his father’s life, during which his eighty-six year old father struggles with the effects of–and decisions regarding–a giant brain tumor.

What’d I think?

intended audience

While I’m not exactly jumping up and down with excitement over this one, I liked it fine. Considering that memoirs aren’t necessarily my thing, and my preference for the memoirs that I do read is for those written either a) by writers about the craft of writing or b) by comedians, I did enjoy Patrimony. It’s a quick read. Admittedly I had to speed read it to get it done before the book club meeting, but I was able to get through it in one day pretty comfortably.

That being said, it is not a fun read. It is about Roth’s experiences with his very grumpy, very sick father and because of that it’s painful. I personally prefer not to think about things like arranging for a parent’s will and/or life support plan. I didn’t even like Roth’s father—he is grumpy, rude, kinda self-righteous, and just plain awful to his poor girlfriend Lil—and I found myself getting upset as things kept getting worse and worse.

The writing is, for the most part, very good. Patrimony is easy to read but, as I mentioned, it is very emotional. I do have to say that that Roth’s editors should have been a little stricter, though. There are some sections that simply go on for too long. There are some recollections that, in my opinion, did not belong in the novel; most of Patrimony is about Roth’s relationship with his father, but there are a few that seemed to serve little purpose aside from reminding the reader that Roth is a well-known writer. The fact of the matter, though, it that this kind of story is emotional enough because of the subject matter that the emotional beats don’t actually have to be hit that hard to have an effect. In fact, Roth doesn’t emphasize the emotions as much as I would have expected. There are one or two passages of great emotion (and those, naturally, are my favorite bits), but I felt something throughout.

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Why am I getting so much use out of this gif lately?

There are a few incidents that are described in greater detail than anyone ever needs to be subjected. There is a major gross-out moment that I kind of wish someone had warned me about. The funny thing about that scene (and if you’ve read the book, you know what scene I’m talking about) is that Roth promises his father that he will not tell anyone about it. Dude, describing said incident in great, unnecessary detail in a memoir is not an appropriate way to keep a secret.

What’s the verdict?

Anyone who likes memoirs will probably like this one, particularly if you are interested in diving into subjects like legacy, mortality, and family ties. It is a deceptively easy read language-wise but difficult content-wise. It is not my favorite memoir. It is not my favorite book about death and dying. It is not my favorite story about family dynamics. That being said, it’s a decent entry in all those categories.

report cardReport card.

Writing: A              Personas Depicted: B                    Plot: C

Fun: C            Themes: B              Overall: B

 


gif credit here

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Book Review)

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Translated by Gregory Rabassa

I have never been so happy to finish a book. Never have I been so happy to be able to return a book to a library and never think about it again. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is a classic, and the author actually won the Nobel Prize for Literature. According to the about the author in the back of the book, Márquez is “widely considered one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.” I would very much like someone to explain to me why that is, because I hated every minute I spent reading this one… and I feel like I was reading it for a hundred years.

This is not the worst book I’ve ever read, but it may be my least favorite.

Caution Angry Rant
Honestly, I don’t even rant that much. I just list some of the worst things that happen in the book with limited commentary as a way to explain why I didn’t like it.

What’s it about?

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Supernatural 13×17 Review (The Thing)

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Previous Reviews: 13×0113×02 13×03 13×04 13×05 13×06 13×07 13×08 13×09 13×10 13×11 13×12 13×13 13×14 13×15 13×16

Supernatural is no longer animated, but that doesn’t mean that Dean is going to let Sam forget about Velma.

DEAN: Jinkies!

SAM: You’re going to stop saying that eventually, right?

DEAN: I don’t know. Probably not.

dean-wheres-the-angelDean is generally in high spirits at the top of the episode. Apparently when Dean is in high spirits he sticks insulting post it notes to Sam’s back, despite the fact that—with Jack and Mary in the AU and Cas inexplicably missing—there is no one around to enjoy them.

They’re not just messing around though. They’re still searching for the seal of Solomon, which is one of the few ingredients for their spell that they haven’t managed to find yet. They dive into their books and Dean eventually finds something that points them to a small Men of Letters hideout in Rhode Island.

They drive over and let themselves in. There, they find a girl chained to a table and begging for help. Dean recognizes her from a picture he found earlier in the search, which dates her as nearly a hundred years old. She very obviously does not volunteer her own name, though, only agreeing with the identity that Dean suggests to her. The boys do test “Sandy” (offscreen) for all the usual things, but you think they’d be a little more wary by now. It was glaringly obvious to me that Sandy is not what she claims to be. Besides… I know that the MoL have done some shady stuff (see: Ketch and Toni Bevell), but they’re not exactly in the habit of locking up humans. Sam and Dean even know that, but disregard it:

DEAN: And this doesn’t sound like the Men of Letters either. I mean, they’re boring. They wear tweed and smoke from pipes. They don’t kidnap people.

SAM: Except apparently they did.

I reiterate: if Dean thinks that something’s wrong… trust that. And yet they never do because Dean is supposedly the dumb one.

They take Sandy to a diner to get some food, and they’re immediately noticed by the chef, who spikes their food and makes a call. While they’re waiting for the food, Sandy tells the Winchesters that she was kidnapped by robed guys who chained her up to feed a monster.

The robed guys show up to try to recapture Sandy. They grab Sam (who is incapacitated by his salad) and explain to him that Sandy wasn’t feeding the monster. She is the monster or, more specifically, she’s an unkillable god. They’re from a branch of the MoL that got disavowed when their ancestor summoned Sandy as some sort of deranged plan to cleanse the world. Over the generations, they’ve been keeping Sandy captive and starving so that she’s weak. They warn Sam that if Sandy feeds, it’s Game Over™.

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Book Club: The Hate U Give

Logo_of_National_Novel_Writing_MonthI’ve been kind of MIA recently because April is Camp NaNoWriMo and I have consequently been reading less. However, I did manage to finish my discussion questions for Angie Thomas’ amazing The Hate U Give. There’s a lot to discuss in this book, so buckle up for a long one.

  1. The largest issue the novel deals with is that of racism. Discuss the ways Thomas approaches the subject.
    1. Thomas directly tackles some of the most common defensive responses to claims of racism, including asking “Why does it always have to be about race with you?” (53), arguing that whites don’t kill blacks as much as blacks kill blacks (53), not realizing that it is possible to do or say something racist without being a racist (112), falling into the trap of assuming that victims of police violence must have deserved what they got (341), and arguing that ‘all lives matter’ (see Hailey and Starr’s argument on pg. 248: “‘What’s wrong with saying his life matters, too?’ ‘His life always matters more […] That’s the problem!’”).nuance
    2. Discuss the institutionalized racism presented in the novel. Pay particular attention to Maverick’s speech to Starr about the ways society unintentionally creates a situation it is nearly impossible to escape: “‘Corporate America don’t bring jobs to our communities, and they damn sure ain’t quick to hire us. Then, shit, even if you do have a high school diploma, so many of the schools in our neighborhoods don’t prepare us well enough. That’s why when your momma talked about sending you and your brothers to Williamson, I agreed. Our schools don’t get the resources to equip you like Williamson does. It’s easier to find some crack than it is to find a good school around here’” (169). He goes on to explain the cycle of drug dependence and concludes that “‘That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life. […] It’s easier to fall into that life than it is to stay outta it, especially in a situation like [Khalil’s]’” (170). Discuss the way the system affects various characters, and the different relationships they have to their privilege. Consider that Maverick is one of the few who did manage to break the cycle for himself (although he had to go to prison to do so) and his children, who have the opportunity to attend a better school, an opportunity that other people in their neighborhood don’t get. Discuss THUG LIFE in general, using both Maverick and Khalil’s explanations of what it means (Mav’s on pg. 169, Khalil’s on pg. 17).
    3. donna it gets old.gifDiscuss the difference between Garden Heights Starr and Williamson Starr. Which, if either, is more real? Does Starr have to put on an act for everyone in her life? Why does Starr have to regulate her behavior so strictly when she is around her white peers? What stereotypes is she afraid of playing into? How do Starr’s white classmates—particularly Hailey—respond when Starr steps outside of the patterns of behavior that are deemed appropriate? Consider the language that Starr can and can’t use in different situations; the way being black is, to a certain degree, considered cool; Hailey’s response to Starr’s occasional, passive activism; and the assumption that Starr should be dating Ryan, the other black kid in her grade. Consider Lisa’s anger about Starr and Seven fighting because “‘This is exactly what They expect you to do” (343). Consider: “I just have to be normal Starr at normal Williamson and have a normal day. That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang—if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her ‘hood.’ Williamsson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the ‘angry black girl.’ Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is unconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto” (71). Consider the fact that Starr describes Williamson Starr in the third person. In what ways is Starr punished for being black? Consider: “Funny how it works with white kids though. It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black” (11). Discuss the everyday concerns that consume Starr but that her white classmates do not have to be aware of. Also consider Starr’s position as “the official representative of the black race” at her white high school (186).
      1. What happens when Starr’s worlds finally collide (359)?
    4. Discuss the presence of non-white, non-black characters in the novel, like Maya and Detective Gomez.
  2. Discuss police brutality and the black protests of it. Why are people (both inside the novel and outside it) so hesitant to acknowledge black narratives about this issue? Is the question of police brutality black and white? Consider characters who do not necessarily fit the usual narrative, like Uncle Carlos, Chris, and the black officer who forced Maverick to the ground (193). Why is it important for a story like The Hate U Give to have characters who do not line up precisely the way they’re expected to? Does it reframe the way you think about racism to realize that a black man can have internal biases against other black men? Does bias/racism have to be something intentional? Can someone be unaware of his/her own biases? Do you think that the police bias against blacks is personal (stemming from individuals) or institutional (stemming from the organization)?
    1. Discuss the investigation. Do you think that there was ever any chance that Officer Cruise would be convicted? Why or why not? Starr wonders if the investigation is “investigating or justifying” Khalil’s death (102). What would need to have happened for Office Cruise to be punished? Why is the reputation of a white man considered more valuable than the life of a black man? Should it matter that the person killed was a drug dealer? Why does it? To whom does it matter? Consider Starr’s assessment that “‘I didn’t know a dead person could be charged in his own murder’” and that “Khalil and I have been on trial since he died” (288, 333). Discuss Thomas’ decision to make Khalil a drug dealer. How would the story have changed if he weren’t? Would people have been able to find another justification for his murder? Does the murder feel less like murder because of Khalil’s dealing? Why or why not?
    2. In addition to the usual sex talk, Starr and her siblings were given a talk about what to do if approached by the police (20). Is this typical? Were you given a talk about the police? Compare your experience with those of your peers. Is this sort of thing more or less likely in different racial groups?
    3. Discuss the distinction between condemning certain behavior (ie. Shooting unarmed black men) and condemning a whole group (ie. The police force). Starr explains that “‘My uncle’s a cop. I know not all cops are bad. And they risk their lives, you know? I’m always scared for my uncle. But I’m tired of them assuming. Especially when it comes to black people’” (289). Later, she reflects on the enthusiasm with which people are rapping ‘Fuck the police’: “I yell it out too. Part of me is like, ‘What about Uncle Carlos the cop?’ But this isn’t about him or his coworkers who do their jobs right. This is about One-fifteen, those detectives with their bullshit questions, and those cops who made Daddy lie on the ground. Fuck them” (394). When protesting, Starr highlights the problem with essentializing a group of people: “I turn to the cops. ‘I’m sick of this! Just like y’all think all of us are bad because of some people, we think the same about y’all. Until you give us a reason to think otherwise, we’ll keep protesting’” (412). It is difficult to maintain moral superiority when you refuse to consider the other side’s position. The Hate U Give presents cops like Carlos and cops like Cruise, protestors like Starr and protestors who become rioters. This makes an already difficult topic even more difficult. Why do you think Thomas chose to emphasize the messiness of the situation?
  3. Discuss family as it is presented in the novel. What does it mean to be a family? Is it significant that Starr does not have a traditional nuclear family? What makes a family? Is it blood? Experience? A combination? Starr’s family includes people with a different parent (like Seven), people who are not technically related to her (like Kenya), people in different social classes (like Carlos), and people that are generally disliked (like Iesha). Discuss the circumstances of the Carter children’s parentage, specifically Maverick’s arrest and Carlos’ fathering. What is the point of Starr seemingly having two dads? Which of the two men, Carlos or Maverick, is more fatherly? What does Starr mean when she says “I realized that ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ weren’t just names, but they meant something” (119)? Contrast this with Starr’s assessment of Miss Brenda being Khalil’s momma “regardless” even though “ ‘She wasn’t there for Khalil. You know how many times he cried about her? Birthdays, Christmas, all that. Why does she get to cry now?’ […] She hasn’t acted like a mom to him” (92, 91). Why is “ ‘carr[ying] that boy, birth[ing] that boy” enough to be a momma in some cases (92)?
    1. Discuss Kenya and Starr’s conflict over Seven and the way that Kenya claims him as “my brother” because she feels that he would leave her half of the family if he could.
    2. Discuss Starr’s relationships with various individual members of her family. How does her relationship with Uncle Carlos develop over the course of the novel? What about her relationship with Seven? With Kenya?
    3. Consider Starr’s description of her neighborhood as a dysfunctional family (328).

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      Anyone else amused Archie Andrews is going to play Nick? Just me? Okay, then.
  4. Discuss Starr’s religious beliefs. Starr and her family believe in “Black Jesus.” Why is it important for Starr to continually reinforce her Jesus’ blackness? Is this a reinforcement for Starr herself, or for The Hate U Give’s audience. How does Starr’s belief in God propel her to act the way that she does? Consider Officer’s Cruise’s cross— “a silver cross pendant hangs from his neck, like he’s saying Jesus endorses what he did. We must believe in a different Jesus”—and Pastor Eldridge’s belief that “Faith isn’t just believing but taking steps toward that belief” (244, 211). Discuss the conflicts—both in the novel and outside it—caused by different interpretations of religion. Also discuss the way in which Starr’s behavior is based on acts of faith and a desire to achieve her beliefs.
  5. Compare Khalil and DeVante. Is DeVante intended as a Khalil do-over (179)? What circumstances saved DeVante from following Khalil’s path to the end? Discuss the Carters’ relationships to DeVante and their willingness to go against King for him.
    1. Discuss Starr’s response to Khalil’s death. Why does she feel that she does not deserve to have been with him at the end? Why does she feel that she is stealing the sympathy from the people, like Ms. Rosalie and Khalil’s friends, who deserve it? Would things have happened differently for Khalil if Starr and/or her family had been consistently there for him like they are for DeVante. Why does Starr feel partly responsible for Khalil’s death?
  6. samcedesDiscuss Starr’s relationship with Chris. In what ways is theirs a typical teenage romance? In what ways is it different? Consider their families’ concern about the relationship being interracial. Why is there a stigma attached to a black/white relationship that there doesn’t seem to be with a black/black, white/white, or even black/Chinese relationship?
  7. Starr eventually owns her voice, which is her “biggest weapon,” after being afraid to speak out (410). Discuss the power of a voice. Early in the novel, speaking out—“snitching”—is portrayed negatively; Starr actively avoids knowledge of certain events because “you can’t snitch if you don’t know anything” (16) and Mr. Lewis is mocked and memed for his interview (189). As the narrative progresses, however, the emphasis changes. Maverick tells Starr that “We can’t be silent” (171) and in the end King is taken down when everyone speaks out against him. Inspired by Starr, DeVante reclaims the word “snitch” by saying “‘that lady said our voices are weapons. I should use mine, right? […] I already need the stitches. Might as well snitch” (430). Discuss the progression.
    1. One major roadblock to speaking out is fear. People fear retaliation. Starr says, “I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak” (34-35). Why is Starr afraid to speak out? From whom does she fear hostility? What has to happen before Starr feels that speaking is worth the risk?cas talking to people
    2. Discuss the power words have in making something acceptable or unacceptable, particularly when they’re used casually or just as a joke. Starr says, “That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments when you shouldn’t be?” (252). How do you determine which moments need your voice and which don’t? Which do you think is more harmful: casual, racist jokes that are seen as fine and funny or blatant racism? What different effects can each have?
    3. Discuss April Ofrah’s role in bringing voices forward. Discuss her introduction, in which she gives a speech that concludes with, “ ‘Khalil was silenced, but let’s join together and make our voices heard for him’” (129).
    4. Contrast the open discussion that can be used for positive change with the angry riots that “won’t solve anything” (389). Keep in mind that Thomas never presents honesty as a surefire solution: Starr’s testimony accomplishes nothing in the case against Office Cruise, and Lisa helps assuage Starr’s guilt by reminding her that sometimes things go wrong even when you do everything right (154). What is the solution to a problem when doing things right and doing things wrong fails to accomplish anything?
  8. Discuss Starr’s relationship with Hailey and Maya. What does Starr get out of her relationships with them? What eventually causes the falling out between Hailey and the other two? Discuss Starr and Maya’s “minority alliance.”
    1. rebecca misogynist mythDiscuss the scene in which the three girls watch a basketball game that reinforces sexist gender roles. Hailey dives in, complaining about the “‘ ‘play like a girl’ mind-set the male gender uses to belittle women, when we have as much athleticism as they do’” (107). However, Hailey is not nearly as willing to go to bat against racism as she is for feminism, and she constantly dismisses Starr’s concerns. Starr thinks, “Oh, so you can drag me to play basketball during one of your feminist rages, but you can’t follow my Tumblr because of Emmett Till?” (108). Despite the fact that Hailey is able to see the disadvantage of a group she is a part of (women), she is blind to—and even perpetuates—the mistreatment of a disadvantaged group she is not a part of (people of color). Discuss the places where privilege overlaps, and discuss the presence—or absence—of other marginalized groups in the novel. Is it important for stories like this to acknowledge other areas of discrimination? If so, in what cases? If not, why not?
  9. no friendsStarr experienced the death of a friend long before Khalil died. Discuss what happened to Natasha. How did her death affect Starr? Remember that Maverick and Lisa sent Starr to Williamson after Natasha’s death. How is Natasha’s death different than Khalil’s? Discuss how Starr processes and deals with her grief. Discuss: “See, that’s why I hate it when somebody dies. People do stuff they wouldn’t usually do” (36). How did Natasha’s death change Starr? How does Khalil’s? What things does Starr do after the deaths that she wouldn’t normally do? How normal is death/gang violence in Garden Heights? How does it affect Starr and her family to live in a neighborhood where they’re “used to gunshots” (136).
  10. Discuss Garden Heights and the gang scene there. What is life like in Garden Heights? Why do people join gangs? How do they join? How do they get out once they’ve joined? Starr admits that Garden Heights is the ghetto, but she does not want her friends to say it (139). Gunshots are common (136). Ten year olds get gunned down. Good people like Maverick, Khalil, and DeVante get sucked into the life. Consider that Starr can’t have her friends stay the night and that she admits to being ashamed of Garden Heights (441). Consider DeVante’s explanation for joining the King Lords: “With King Lords, we had a whole bunch of folks who had our backs, no matter what. […] It was just cool to have somebody take care of us for a change, instead of the other way around” (238). Is there anything good about Starr’s neighborhood? What?
    1. How can a situation like this be fixed? Consider Maverick’s concern about schools in Garden Heights (quoted in 1.2). Can Garden Heights be fixed from the inside? From the outside? Maverick and Lisa send their kids to school outside Garden Heights and eventually move out despite Maverick’s arguments that doing so would make them like “‘all the other sellouts who leave and turn their backs on the neighborhood. We can change stuff around here, but instead we run?” (180). He presents it as if it were an either/or situation. What changes his mind? What is his compromise? Consider Mr. Lewis’ insistence that Maverick rebuild his store after the riots because “‘the neighborhood still needs more men like you. Even if you just running a store’” (439).
  11. Do you think that Khalil’s story will have any wide impact? Officer Cruise was not convicted. Do you think that the next officer will be? Discuss this both in-universe and out. What impact has Starr had on her community? What impact has Angie Thomas had on her readers? Has The Hate U Give changed your perspective in any way? What impact do you see it having on people in general? What do you think will happen when the movie comes out and more people experience the story?

gif credits: Rebecca, Donna, Cas, Rebecca (again), Sam

Also, a sidenote: I’m slowly realizing that 99% of my reaction gifs are of white characters. I don’t know if that is because of me or the shows I watch or of entertainment in general, but I am aware of it and will try to do better.