Openly Straight (Book Review)

openly straightI read a lot of really positive blog reviews of Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight and kept an eye out for it for about a year. Because it took me so long to find, it eventually became the object of a quest and my anticipation for  it resultantly increased exponentially.* When I finally found a copy, I was mostly disappointed. It is enjoyable, but it’s not quest-worthy.

*I realize that this is a pretentious phrase worthy of Ben

What’s it about?

The novel follows Rafe, the openly gay teenage son of ridiculously liberal hippie parents, when he decides that he’s tired of all the baggage that comes with being openly gay. At his new school, a boarding school for boys, Rafe enjoys the perks of being assumed straight (but not closeted), including being welcomed into the jock circle and being able to form close platonic bonds with his teammates without the barrier that forms from straight guys ‘tolerating’ gay ones. Things get complicated, though, when Rafe starts to fall for his new best friend.

What’d I think?

The book is a quick, light read… which is interesting since I expected it to be a slightly more complicated rumination on labels. It’s partially that, but it is also very much a romance story. That’s not bad… it’s just a bit more frothy than I wanted.

Rafe’s exhaustion with being seen as gay first, everything else second is interesting. His solution doesn’t entirely make sense, though. He effectively puts himself back in the closet but claims that that isn’t what he’s doing. Of course, the narrative (and other characters) call Rafe out on this, but it’s still a little frustrating. The result is that he does get welcomed into the manly gang, but he has to expend a lot of effort in trying not to look or act gay.

The idea of coming out repeatedly and even constantly in different contexts is not a thing that Rafe or anyone else thinks at all out, which ends up causing a lot of issues (not least the fuss that arises when people find out about the experiment). Everyone acts like it is a huge betrayal of who Rafe is, and in some ways it is, but in other ways… no way would people react the way they do if Rafe had never been out. He’s not out because he’s not comfortable with the reception he’ll get. How is that so drastically different than not being out at all? I kept waiting for someone to point out that being out in some spaces is not the same as being out in all spaces, but no one ever did.

Rafe isn’t exactly honest, but by the way people act you’d think that he was doing something unspeakably horrible.

Continue reading

Rereading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda After Reading Leah on the Offbeat (Book Comparison)

I reread Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda after reading its sequel, Leah on the Offbeat. That’s not normally the order I read things. I’m usually very sequential, but whatever. It was actually a really interesting reread, since Leah puts a very different perspective on my least favorite character from the original novel. It’s always fun to look back at characters to see how they started out.

Mostly for me and mostly for fun, I thought I’d make a list of the main things that stood out to me on the reread. Major spoilers for both novels follow, so proceed with caution.

spoilers river song doctor who

Leah

Leah is easily the most irritating character in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. She is continually grumpy, and even though she is great at throwing birthday parties, she can be kind of a crappy friend. She makes everything about her and she makes it difficult for her friends to be around her. Her crush on Nick makes her continually surly. She refuses to welcome Abby into the group because she feels that Abby is replacing her. She gets mad at Simon for coming out to Abby before he comes out to her. Admittedly, it wasn’t cool of her friends to blow her off the way they do, but I can definitely see why they do. There are a few other little things about her that seem a bit off, particularly her obsession with slash. It comes across a little fetish-y.

With the added context from Leah on the Offbeat, Leah is a heck of a lot more likable. Getting the explanations behind the standoffishness makes Leah’s behavior understandable rather than douchey. In retrospect, I do see that Leah is obsessed with Abby even in Simon. I wouldn’t have guessed it was a romantic thing without Leah, but now that I do know… it’s clear, if not obvious.

Continue reading

The Scarlet Pimpernel (Book Review)

scarlet pimpernelIf you’d like to get into classic novels but find it a daunting task, you should definitely give The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy a try. Published originally in 1903, the novel gives us a titular character who often considered the first modern superhero. In her introduction to the Barnes and Noble Classics edition to the novel, Sarah Juliette Sasson writes that:

“Superheroes had not been invented when the baroness wrote her novel, but the Scarlet Pimpernel’s chivalry, courage, and impressive powers make him, in certain respects, their ancestor.”

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my favorite classic novels. It is exciting, romantic, comedic, mysterious, and swashbuckling. It is a ton of fun, and I have literally never met anyone who doesn’t like it.

What’s it about?

During the French Reign of Terror, an enigmatic hero known as the Scarlet Pimpernel emerges to save doomed French aristocrats from the guillotine by smuggling them to Britain. He is chased doggedly by French agent Chauvelin. To help in his hunt, Chauvelin blackmails Lady Marguerite Blakeney—the most intelligent/fashionable woman in England, and the wife to the famously dimwitted Sir Percy—by threatening the life of her beloved brother, Armand.

What’s so good about it?

There is some of everything in this novel: romance, comedy, mystery, heroics, etc., and all of it is done well. There’s a wonderful balance of elements. The funny parts often have a sting (there’s quite a lot of dark humor). The story serves exciting adventures and emotional turmoil in equal parts. The mystery and the romance share about equal pagetime.

The central character—Marguerite—is fascinating because she is full of contradictions: she is fiercely devoted to her brother and hopelessly in love with her idiot husband, and her attachments and childish blunders leave her open to be extorted by an old friend turned enemy. At nearly any given moment in the novel, Marguerite is at war with herself, trying to balance her many loyalties.

michael what to do office
Marguerite

Marguerite is the most complex character, but the others are excellent as well. Chauvelin is a cunning and chilling villain. If you’ve read Les Misérables… Chauvelin is a more dogmatic, sinister Javert (he is also a more dogmatic, sinister Javert if you have not read Les Misérables, but you get what I mean). Sir Percy is uselessly lovable and very fashionable. Armand is fine (Armand is the only character for whom I do not have strongly positive feelings). The mysterious Pimpernel is everything you’d want in a hero, and the mystery of his identity—while not particularly difficult to predict—is compelling.

The writing doesn’t feel old at all. The Scarlet Pimpernel is actually very easy to read. A lot of people are hesitant to read the classics because they worry that they’re dry and difficult to read. While there are some classics that are dry and difficult, The Scarlet Pimpernel is emphatically not one of them.

What do I think of the adaptations?

There are a lot of sequels to the novel, but they’re not as popular. I’ve looked for them in bookstores and libraries and been unable to find them. (I’m sure if I looked on Amazon I’d have better luck, but I’ve never gotten around to it.) I have, however, watched a movie adaptation (I saw the 1982 one with Sir Ian McKellan, which makes a lot of changes but is a lot of fun anyway). Pro tip, though: don’t look at the cast list unless you want to be spoiled as to the identity of the titular character.

scarlet pimpernel musicalI am also really obsessed with the soundtrack to the musical 1997. If you have any interest in musicals, you should check it out because it’s amazing. I particularly recommend:

The opening number, Madame Guillotine

The villain song, Falcon in the Dive

The full cast number, The Riddle

The songs are all good, though. Seriously. Read the book first and then listen to the soundtrack. You will not regret it.

What’s the verdict?

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a darkly humorous adventure story with one of the most deservedly famous mysterious heroes of all time. There is something in this novel for everyone: it is a mystery and a romance in addition to being an early superhero story. I’d be hard pressed to come up with any category of reader who wouldn’t like this one. Report card: A


gif credit here

Leah on the Offbeat (Book Review)

 

 

leah on the offbeat
How great is this cover? Leah is wearing her yellow floral dress.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli was one of my absolute favorite books from last year, so I was really excited to read the new sequel, Leah on the Offbeat. Unsurprisingly, I love it. I think that Simon is better, but Leah is also adorable.

What’s it about?

It’s senior year, which means that soon, everyone will be going their separate ways. Picking colleges, figuring out long-distance relationships, experiencing prom… Leah and her group of friends—including everyone’s favorite characters from Simon: Simon, Abby, Nick, Bram, and the rest of the gang—have to figure it all out, and they’re running out of time. But Leah may have it even harder than the rest of them. As the daughter of a young, single mom, she doesn’t have the same financial resources as her friends do. She’s bisexual but awkwardly not out. She may have let her perfectionism and hard-edges make her miss experiences she shouldn’t have missed. She has a crush on the absolute wrong person. But whether she likes it or not, things are moving forward and Leah has to deal with it all.

What’d I think?

I have to admit upfront that Leah was not one of my favorite characters from the original book. She was just kind of there for me. Thankfully, when she becomes the central character, she is revealed to be awesome. She’s very relatable in the timid, anxious way she interacts with the world. At the same time, I love how she marches to the beat of her own drum (sorry for the cliché but I had to. Leah’s a drummer. She’s on the offbeat.). She has her own style. She doesn’t let people pressure her to do things that she doesn’t want to do. She stands up for herself. She’s somehow both very self-conscious and very self-possessed.

simonSimon is just as adorable and lovable and geeky as he was in his own book, of which I am glad. He’s central enough that people who loved him in his book (so, everyone) will be happy, but not so central that he pulls focus from Leah. The same is true of Bram. Still adorable. Still fun. If anything, he’s actually more adorable and fun than before. He actually gets a bit more pagetime here than he did in Simon, because his identity is not a secret anymore.

I also weirdly love Taylor. She is so hilarious and bizarre. Please tell me I’m not the only one who adores her (and how done everyone is with her, always).

I hate to say it, but I like Abby (and Nick) less in this book than in Simon. I can’t put my finger on why exactly that is. Maybe it is because she comes across as manipulative occasionally in Leah. It might just be because her friendship with Simon is entirely pure and sweet and it’s weird with Leah. Maybe it’s because Abby criminally overuses and misuses the word ‘literally.’ Maybe it’s the narrative role she plays. It’s frustrating to me to not LOVE Abby like I did before, since she was one of my absolute favorites in Simon. As for Nick… he has some issues in this book. Like, major issues. I was legit scared of him at one point.

I like the romance in the novel fine. I don’t want to spoil how it plays out or who Leah pairs off with (or even if she pairs off with someone), but I do want to say that there’s a secondary love interest who is perfectly nice and viable as a significant other but who is passed over simply because of Leah’s lack of romantic interest. I love that. So many works of fiction give the disposable love interests major, unsurmountable flaws. A lot of the time they turn into unrepentant assholes just so that there’s no question that the protagonist picked the right person. There’s none of that here, and I’m so glad.

As always, Albertalli does a great job with addressing some issues—namely poverty, racism, bisexual erasure, and fatshaming—in ways that enhance the story but do not come across like a very special episode. At one point in the novel, Leah’s awesome mom encourages her to “embrace the suck,” and for some reason I really like that.

I also like the way that Albertalli addresses romance. It’s not all making out and talking about how they can’t live without each other. Possibly my favorite quote from the novel is when Leah thinks,

“I get so jealous sometimes. It’s obviously not just Simon and Bram. It’s couples in general. And it’s not about the kissing stuff. It’s just—imagine being Simon. Imagine going about your day knowing someone’s carrying you in their mind. That has to be the best part of being in love—the feeling of having a home in someone else’s brain.”

upsideBecky Albertalli has a unique talent for writing relationships: familial ones, romantic ones, platonic ones, ones that are somewhere between romantic and platonic, etc. I love a lot about her novels, but if I had to pick one thing, that would be it.

I love the continued Harry Potter references. I liked the brief shoutout to the characters in The Upside of Unrequited. I have to say, though… Leah ships Inej and Nina? What the heck, Leah? I was with you until that. How can you possibly ship that when you have Jesper and Wylan?

What’s the verdict?

If you loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, you should absolutely read Leah on the Offbeat. It has a similar feel and features (for the most part) the same set of characters, but it in no way feels like a retread. It is a very fun YA bildungsroman, and Leah is just as badass and snarky as Simon is geeky and lovable. In other words, read it! Report card: A

Landline (Book Review)

landlineI’m in the process of moving and had to leave/close my account out at the library, so I had to pick some books from my personal collection to reread. Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorite writers, and Landline has been at the top of my to-reread pile for a while (in part because I learned that Cath and Levi from Fangirl make cameos).

What’s it about?

Landline tells the story of TV comedy writer/married mother-of-two Georgie, who decides to stay home to work on the first few scripts of her dream show rather than go with her husband and daughters to her mother-in-law’s home for Christmas. As this decision comes after a fight, everyone—even Georgie herself—assumes that Georgie’s marriage is over or almost over. Frantic and in possession of the world’s worst cell phone, Georgie uses the landline in her childhood home to call her husband and–determined to fix things but afraid that she should let Neal go free–finds herself speaking to a much younger Neal… Neal during the one previous time they’d broken up, the week before he proposed.

What’d I think?

The main thing that I love about Landline is how messy it is. Rowell doesn’t pretend that marriage is easy or simple. Georgie and Neal really have to work at their marriage. The novel asks big questions about relationships: what does it mean to be a soulmate? How do kids change romance? Is love enough to keep two people together despite everything else? What does it mean to be in love? How does love change as people get older?

There aren’t a lot of writers (that I’m aware of) that write about fully-developed, nuanced, realistic middle-aged women or who will depict a marriage that has progressed far past the honeymoon phase (Liane Moriarty is another writer who does it brilliantly). Georgie is a really good character. She is intensely real. I do wish that Rowell had let her make more jokes, though. I know Landline takes place during an off-period for Georgie, but still! She’s a comedy writer!

Georgie’s relationships are also really well written. Obviously her relationship with her husband Neal is the focus of the novel, but her bond with her best friend/writing partner Seth is also excellently done.

The other side characters are fun, too. Georgie’s whole family is hilarious. Heather is super fun and Georgie’s pug-obsessed mother is a hoot. The only character who doesn’t land for me is Georgie and Neal’s youngest daughter, Noomi, who I found to be very annoying.

fangirlWhat’s the cameo?

I enjoyed Cath and Levi’s cameos, as I knew I would. It’s not over-the-top; if you haven’t read Fangirlyou might not even notice that it’s a cameo. For those of you who want to know what the cameo is: Levi is the boy who lends Georgie his phone, and then he and his now-fiancée Cath drive Georgie through the snow.

What’s the verdict?

Landline is Rainbow Rowell at her best. Like Rowell’s other novels, it focuses on relationships, but the relationships here are more mature. This novel is not just about first love. It’s about love over time: what it is, how it changes, what has to be done to sustain it. The writing is, as always, easy to read and littered with nerdy references (I liked the nods to Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Arrested Development, and Gilmore Girls, but there are plenty of other ones in there to things that I’m not personally into). If you’re already one of Rowell’s fans, you’ll adore this book. You’ll also adore it if you just want a really good novel with fully developed middle-aged characters. Or just a good book in general. Report card: A

Spoilery section!

spoilers river song doctor who

I absolutely love that Georgie decides to make it work with Neal rather than splitting up with him to start something new with Seth. A lot of lesser novelists would have taken that route, and I’m overjoyed that Rowell didn’t. It is one of my absolute favorite aspects of Landline, and I couldn’t write a review without mentioning it.


gif credit here

This Savage Song (Book Review)

this savage songV.E. Schwab is a relatively popular fantasy writer. I’ve been encouraged to read her Darker Shade of Magic series, but never have. (Update: Now I have, and it is one of my favorite series; Addie LaRue and Gallant are great, too). Instead, I read This Savage Song, which is published under the name Victoria Schwab. It’s okay, but it is certainly not one that is going to send me running after her other books.

What’s it about?

This Savage Song is a dystopian fantasy novel in which murder creates monsters. Fighting and monsters have split Verity City in two: the north follows a ruthless man called Harker, who has enslaved monsters and sells safety; the south’s leader, Henry Flynn, believes that the monsters should be killed (except for his own sunai, which are a different class of monster). An uneasy truce exists between the two men, and it is on the verge of breaking when Harker’s daughter Kate returns to Verity. Wanting to keep tabs on Kate in case the agreement falls through, Flynn sends August—a sunai—to keep tabs on her.

What’d I Think?

Although there are some good things to say about This Savage Song, my main takeaway is that it’s a bit boring. I found it difficult to get invested in either Kate or August as characters, and until the twist at the end of the novel, I did not find the main conflict compelling.

I will say that the concept of sunai monsters is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel. They come into being in moments of mass violence. They use music to steal “red” (read: sinful, murderous) souls, which they feed on. Because the first beautiful sound he heard was from a violin, August uses a violin to steal the souls of his victims. (As an amateur violinist, I particularly enjoyed this aspect.)

The official summary on the cover flap asks, “how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?” It’s a promising question, and I really felt that the novel had the chance to really run with it. One of its duel protagonists is literally a monster! However, I don’t think that This Savage Song does much in the way of nuance. It essentially boils down to ‘murder is bad,’ ‘monsters can be people (but only if they’re sunai),’ and ‘people can be monsters.’

loki i'm the monster.gif
August

I hate that Schwab invests so much in confirming that August is not evil just because he has to eat souls to live… only to reduce the other two types of monster to nothing more than evil with teeth. It’s also frustrating that the only kind of good monster is the kind that looks human.

I also wish that the rules for reddening the soul were less hard and fast. Kate intentionally sets a chapel on fire and is still innocent. She kills several monsters and remains innocent. She kills a human and becomes a sinner. But… if monsters are people, why didn’t anything happen after she killed the monsters? Why is she ‘innocent’ when she happily pulls a knife on a classmate or breaks a teacher’s collarbone? Why is human murder apparently the only thing that steps over the line?

I enjoyed the first section of the novel, in which August is undercover and the two protagonists attend school together and try to dig into each other’s secrets. In my opinion, it is is way more interesting than the rest of the story, when monsters start attacking and August and Kate have to band together and run away. The beginning is fun, if unremarkable. The rest is basically every montage of screaming survivors in a disaster movie.

texting and murder supernatural
Aside from running away from monsters, killing monsters, and debating about humanity, August and Kate expend a lot of energy arguing about stolen cell phones.

I do really appreciate the lack of shoehorned romance, though.

What’s the verdict?

This Savage Song is about what you’d expect from a book that gets a C. It’s fine. There are some parts that are fun. There are some ideas that are interesting. For the most part, though, it is a decent fantasy dystopia in a world full of excellent ones. Personally, I will not bother reading the rest of the series.

Report card.

Writing: B         Characters: C             Plot: C-          Themes: B-             Fun: C-             Final: C


Gif credit here and here

Supernatural 13×23 Review (Let the Good Times Roll)

supernatural spn season 13
All s13 reviews can be found here

I’m in the middle of moving, so I didn’t get a chance to watch the season finale “Let the Good Times Roll” until the day after it aired. That gave me an extra day to get hyped up for it. Since I ended up thinking that is one of the (though not the) weakest episodes of the whole season, that’s kind of a bummer.

Before I get into the actual recap and review, I thought I’d revisit the predictions that I made last week.

Prediction Wrap-up

Last week I said:

I initially thought that Michael was going to break free right at the end and be the big bad for season fourteen. I still think that might happen.

I was mostly right! Michael made it to the real world about halfway through the episode, possessed Dean, and is now poised to be the new big bad.

Last week I said:

I ’m afraid that Jack is going to be swayed by Lucifer, kill Michael, and by so doing confirm everyone’s worst fears about him.

I was wrong, and I’m glad to be wrong! This was definitely teased, but instead Jack lost his powers, renounced Lucifer, and reaffirmed his love for his family.

Last week I said:

I still think that Lucifer is going down.

I was right! Of course, I thought Sam would kill him and that Rowena would help, but I got the broad strokes right.

Last week I said:

I don’t really think that Gabriel is dead.

I was wrong. I guess it’s still possible that he’ll come back next season, but there is nothing this episode to indicate that.

Last week I said:

I hope that Dean doesn’t get possessed long-term.

Urgh.

Last week I said:

I can’t really see [Destiel] happening in a season finale… Maybe there will be some more of the usual last minute backtracking.

I was right. Dean and Cas barely interacted, largely because Cas did essentially nothing.

Last week I said:

I kind of expect Cas to get the short end of the stick.

Sadly, I was right. Cas was barely in this episode. All he did was get thrown around.

don't like it no one likes it deancas supernatural

Last week I said:

I expect that a lot of the apocalypse world characters will have to stay in the real world.

I was right. I was wrong about people dying, though. The only apocalypse world person who died got resurrected. This episode had a surprisingly low body count.

A Caveat about Finales

Like a lot of people, I tend to be harsher on season finales than on other episodes. I expect them to do it all. They have to have a good plot. They have to wrap up the mytharc. They have to contribute significantly all the ongoing emotional arcs. They have to have a good mix of characters. There’s no saying ‘this was a good Jack episode, but Cas was on pause; he’ll get to do something next week’ because there is no next week. I probably would have liked this episode more if I hadn’t judged it as a finale.

Recap with Commentary

Continue reading

Symptoms of Being Human (Book Review)

symptoms of being humanI saw some positive reviews of Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin and figured that I’d check it out. I’m very glad that I did, because it is an excellent example of why I read so much young adult literature and why I like it the best.

What’s it about?

Symptoms of Being Human follows Riley, the gender fluid teenage child of a congressman, after an incident (and a campaign tactic) necessitates relocating to public school for the first time. Following the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog in which Riley shares private thoughts and insights about being gender fluid. Riley’s blog becomes an overnight success, but real life is more difficult. Riley isn’t out to the parents. Riley can’t quite interpret the actions of the mysterious and attractive Bec. Riley can’t find a truthful means of expression that won’t result in abuse. Worst of all, Riley is bullied at school… by someone who may have discovered the blog.

A Rant about Grammar and the English Language

The fact that we don’t have a commonplace, usable gender-neutral singular pronoun is infuriating. We have so many pointless words and so many words with endless synonyms. But we haven’t figured out a word to refer to a person without a proper noun or a gender? It’s not like there’s no need for it. It would be super helpful for:

  1. Keeping things ambiguous or anonymous. What pronoun do you use when you don’t know or don’t want to reveal that person’s gender?
  2. Providing a hypothetical. Here’s an actual sentence from later on in this review: “Whenever a character is told that he or she is a good writer, the writer of the work is actually complimenting him or herself.” That is complete garbage. It’s so clunky and awkward, and yet I can’t think of a better way to say it.
  3. Privacy for the LGBTQ+ community. Language should not force people to come out in situations where they wouldn’t choose to do so, and a gender neutral pronoun would make it easier for:
    1. A person in a same-sex relationship to refer to a partner without having to either out him/herself or perform linguistic gymnastics to avoid using pronouns or other gendered words for which there is no natural neutral replacement (like, you can’t actually use ‘lover’ for ‘girlfriend/boyfriend’ or ‘spouse’ for ‘wife/husband’ without it sounding weird).
    2. A gender neutral person to use for him/herself.
    3. A gender neutral or trans person in situations when he or she is uncomfortable discussing or revealing how he or she identifies. I know some people use ‘they’ to refer to themselves, which is their choice, but the grammar nerd in me is upset by the plural.

Also, it is just really freaking hard to discuss a person like Riley without words to accommodate that discussion. There’s a reason Symptoms of Being Human was written in first person. Yes, there are storytelling reasons, too, but mostly it would be an impossible story to tell simply because there aren’t the words for it.

English language, do better.

Update: Obviously I know that we can and do use they/them as a singular when necessary and of course using they/them for anyone who has chosen them as their pronouns is absolutely mandatory. But I still can’t help but think that the English language would be better served if there were a gender neutral singular. Look back at my example #2. That sentence could be written “Whenever a character is told that they are a good writer, the writer of the work is actually complimenting themselves.” In fact, that is how most people would naturally write it. I think that’s a case of our language use changing to accommodate a deficit, not a sign that there’s nothing wrong with the language. That said, anyone who uses they/them… you’re awesome, and I hope this aside hasn’t hurt you!

For the sake of this review I am going to alternate which pronoun I use for Riley since it is simply too difficult to write a full review without ever using a pronoun. Since Riley drifts from feeling more masculine to more feminine, I’m hoping that this is an appropriate way to go about it.

Before moving fully away from grammar, I have to say that the moment I was sold on this book was when Riley ripped an anonymous hater a new one by lambasting the incorrect use of their/they’re.

Ross you're:your.gif

And now on to the actual review!

Continue reading

100 Days (Book Review)

100 daysI know that I’ve seen 100 Days by Nicole McInnes somewhere before, but I’m not sure if it was in someone’s review or just on the shelf of a bookstore. I grabbed it hoping that it was the former and that someone whose reviews I trust had said good things about it, but I have no idea. My guess is just that I thought that the cover was cute, because it is. The book itself is okay, but not remarkable.

What’s it about?

100 Days is about three friends: Agnes, Moira, and Boone. Agnes suffers from progeria (which basically means that, at age 15, she has the body of an octogenarian), Moira is Agnes’ best friend/bodyguard and suffers from body image issues since she’s been teased for her weight, and Boone has a myriad of problems at home (he’s poor and has recently been given fewer hours at work, his dad was mean and had brain damage before he died unexpectedly, and his mom never recovered from her husband’s death). Boone used to be friends with the girls, but they had a falling-out several years ago. Now, however, he is reentering their life 100 days before Agnes dies.

What’d I think?

There are a few things that I want to discuss about 100 Days, and I figured I’d break them up into categories. Here we go.

The Dramatic Irony

The 100 Days of the title refers to the fact that the novel takes place over the last 100 days of Agnes’ life. Here’s how I know that:

  1. The summary tells me that “Agnes doesn’t know it, but she has only one hundred days left to live.”
  2. I read the book and know that Agnes dies at the end.
  3. It’s easy to assume from the title/format of the novel.

Here’s how I don’t know that:

  1. There’s something in the text of the actual novel to indicate it.

gravestoneThe weird thing about this is that it creates a Schrödinger’s cat of dramatic irony. How aware am I as the reader supposed to be of Agnes’ imminent death? It’s spelled out in literally the first sentence of the summary, but in my opinion McInnes never capitalizes on the potential. There’s no reason why the 100 days couldn’t be regular days. The fact of Agnes’ upcoming death doesn’t really change anything about them and as a result, I’m left wondering what the point is of the knowledge and the countdown.

The Format

i'll give you the sunThe format doesn’t work at all. By having each chapter one of the 100 days, McInnes is using her format to emphasize the present (or, possibly, the future). It’s a countdown to Agnes’ death, which indicates that the present is made more important by the future. However, the actual story focuses much more on the past. Agnes has limited time left, but full days (lots of full days) are wasted on flashbacks. One could argue that this is a symptom of the characters not knowing that the end is coming, but it causes a huge disconnect for me. I feel like the different elements of the story are working against each other. I can’t help thinking that a format like the one in I’ll Give You the Sun, in which two timelines—including the buildup to a falling out and a kind of reunion years later—are interwound, would have worked much better.

The Intent

Continue reading

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Book Review)

born a crimeI really like Trevor Noah; I think he’s hilarious, and I watch a lot of him on YouTube to try to bridge the gap between being a person who knows nothing about what’s going on in the world to being a person who knows something about what’s going on in the world. I noticed that I’d been on a major YA kick lately (which is saying something coming from me, since I’m always on a YA kick) and figured I would broaden my horizons a bit and read his memoir, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

What’s it about?

Born a Crime is an autobiographical collection of essays about Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s childhood as a half black, half white kid growing up first under apartheid and later in its aftermath. The subjects covered in the book include Trevor’s mother’s unconventional love, the foibles of awkward teenage dating, life in the hood, navigating complicated race relations as a person who doesn’t fit into any group, religion, and more.

What’d I think?

My main takeaway from Born a Crime is… wow, I have an easy life. Also, I’m amazed that one person could have this wide array of experiences. I also felt like I learned a lot: about race, about Africa, about apartheid, about privilege, etc. I love how many different topics are covered, but even though I don’t really see a better way to have told all the stories, I wasn’t a huge fan of the essay format because it jumps back and forth in time and is not particularly narrative. To be fair, that is characteristic of memoirs, so I can’t really complain about it.

I particularly like the way Trevor talks both about really intense things (like when his mother got shot in the head or how his existence was literally illegal for the first few years of his life) and comparatively simple, silly ones (like his childhood dog that used to hop his fence and live with another family while he was at school).

trevor noah mind blownThe book is funny in places, but overall not quite as funny as I expected it to be. Considering the material, I don’t think it is intended to be hysterically funny but I did expect a few more laughs than I got.

Even though I generally dislike audiobooks, in this case I kind of wish that I’d listened to the audiobook instead of reading the physical copy of the book, because the writing definitely mimics the way that Trevor speaks; it very much sounds like it was meant to be spoken, and Trevor’s speaking patterns and accents are a big part of why he is so entertaining as a performer.

What’s the verdict?

Even though I don’t generally like memoirs, I did enjoy this one. There are memoirs that seem pointless, and there are some that use extraordinary personal experiences to make interesting social and political commentary. Born a Crime is the latter. The mostly lighthearted tone provides a nice juxtaposition for the intense events and concepts depicted, and if I had to pick one memoir to recommend, this might be it. Report card: A


gif credit here

Superatural 13×22 Review (Exodus)

supernatural spn season 13
Recaps for previous episodes can be found here

then supernatural“Exodus” starts off right where “Beat the Devil” left off. In fact, last episode is so important to this one that nearly the whole thing gets compacted and rehashed in one of the longest THEN segments ever. It was so long that I honestly thought that “Carry On Wayward Son” should have started playing. After reminding the audience that everyone universe jumped and then Sam died and got resurrected (although, honestly, enough happened last week that it would be a bad one to miss), the episode zips right along.

Recap and Review

No one blames Sam for bringing Lucifer to the camp. I’m glad that they’ve all gotten out of the blame cycle they had going on a few seasons ago, but I still think it’s kind of funny that none of the AU people were upset by it. Like, remember how concerned they were to have Jack in their camp because he’s half angel? And now they’re totally chill to have one angel and two archangels. Sure, Mary and Jack could vouch for Cas, but Gabriel? Lucifer? And yet no one seems to have a problem with it.

jack supernatural
Sooo, 4 dads > 3 dads, right?

Lucifer wants to get to talk to Jack. The Winchesters are naturally very against this. Jack, however, suddenly wants to listen to Lucifer. I was a bit confused about this. It felt a little out of character to me since Jack has spent the whole season up until this point denying Lucifer as his father. Remember how worried everyone was about Jack at the start because they thought he’d take after his father? And then Jack was like, “Nah. Who needs Lucifer? I like Cas better.” And since then he’s claimed both Sam and Dean as additional dads. Did he just decide somewhere along the way that dads are cool and he should collect as many as possible?

Jack is upset at Dean for being so adamant about Lucifer’s evilness, and the arguing scares him so he flies away. Everyone is mad about that, too. In order to prove that he’s going to be a team player, Lucifer allows Cas to cuff him with a set of special angel-proof cuffs. I find it strangely adorable that Cas just casually reaches into Dean’s bag to get them. It’s less adorable that the cuffs don’t actually work in this universe, but no one except Lucifer knew that at the time, finding out only later when Lucifer zaps a whole group of attacking angels. It’s not the worst thing he could have done, but still.

wayward sisters supernatural
[Side note: I’m bummed Wayward Sisters didn’t get picked up. On the plus side, maybe Supernatural will get to keep Bobo Berens, who is definitely one of my favorite writers.]

Continue reading

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Book Review)

wonder woman warbringer.jpgI was not sure if I was going to like Wonder Woman: Warbringer. On one hand, I’m not a huge comic book character person (aside from Marvel movies, like the rest of the world) and for some reason the idea of a comic book/movie character being the subject of a novel seemed like a bad idea to me. On the other hand… Leigh Bardugo. In the end, I’m glad I gave it a shot.

What’s it about?

The novel tells an origin story for Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. When Diana saves the life of a teenage girl from a shipwreck just off the coast of her hidden homeland Themyscira, she risks exile for breaking a sacred oath of the Amazons. However, there is more at stake than just Diana’s future on Themyscira: the girl Diana rescued, Alia, is a warbringer, which means that there is a terrible power inherent in her blood that causes discord and could plunge the world into war and chaos. Alia and Diana’s only hope is to get Alia to Greece, where she can be purified in a spring associated with the original warbringer, Helen of Troy.

What’d I think?

The Plot

The basic storyline of the novel is not particularly groundbreaking, for the most part. It is certainly clever—the power of Alia’s blood explains the violent overreactions of the minions sent after Diana and company, and there are some little details that make a tantalizing trail straight to the twist that is somehow mindblowing anyway—but it is also an origin story and superhero origin stories all start to blend together after a while.

The 2017 Wonder Woman movie made 821.9 million USD at the box office, and Bardugo’s Warbringer came out—if my twenty-second Google search can be trusted—about two months later. It’s hard not to compare the two stories, since they cover the same ground: Diana leaves Themyscira and becomes a hero in the violent, arguably undeserving world of men. Obviously there are differences: Bardugo’s Diana is a teenager who leaves home in the modern day to assist a half black, half Greek girl with a magical bloodline. Movie Diana is older, fights in WWI, and helps an ordinary white male pilot. The difference in ages did not keep me from picturing Diana as Gal Gadot, though, which is a bit discordant since all Warbringer!Diana’s companions are about sixteen.

wonder woman

The Themes

While I did like the movie quite a lot, I think that Warbringer does a better job with its themes. Diana’s insecurity as a result of her origins (her mother made her from clay, so she alone of the Amazons did not come to Themyscira after a glorious and heroic death) ties beautifully into her companions’ marginalized identities, and there is some very nice paralleling of their respective experiences of being blamed and maligned purely for existing. There’s also the question of legacy. Diana has to find her place as the daughter of the queen of the Amazons. Alia and her older brother Jason grapple with the legacy of their late parents’ hugely influential bio lab. There’s an interesting question of good vs. evil: the novel’s heroes are trying to save Alia’s life even though killing her would certainly prevent a hideous world war, and the ‘bad guys’ who are trying to kill Alia are actually trying to achieve peace through her death. The novel, like its heroine, is also unapologetically feminist. The bond between the female characters is wonderfully developed, and the sisterhood of the Amazons is strong and palpable. The male characters aren’t left out or underdeveloped—Jason is fascinating and Theo, Alia’s love interest, is goofy and loyal—but the strength of the novel is in the girl power, and it’s awesome.

The Characters

I really like all the characters. Since the novel is named after Diana, it is only fitting that she’s the best of them. She is brave and kind and loyal and all the other things that you would expect of Wonder Woman, but Bardugo also gives her a humanity that keeps her from feeling alien or unreachable. She is not perfect: she longs for attention and acceptance from her fellow Amazons, and her arguably selfish need for validation is a strong motivator. She is also adorably awkward because she does not understand modern slang or the nuance of social interaction. Socially awkward characters like this are always hit or miss, because it is often really forced, but Diana is a hit. Her mistakes are amusing but endearingly honest, just like her.

i don't understand cas

Alia, James, and Theo are good characters as well, but the other standout for me is Nim, Alia’s adorable best friend who has fashion suggestions and obscure trivia for every occasion. I just really love her.

The Miscellaneous

There are lots of little touches that I really enjoyed. Chief amongst them is the fact that Diana gets shot in the legs all the time. I found it really funny since every time I watch Wonder Woman (or, let’s be honest, any superhero movie) with my family, someone always says, “Why don’t they go for the legs?” Well, in Warbringer, they do go for the legs and it doesn’t work. So take that, Wonder Woman naysayers.

I also love love love the ending. I usually do a good job of predicting endings, but I failed to do so with Warbringer. The fact that I didn’t (I am honestly annoyed with myself for missing so many signs) is really exciting and a testament to Bardugo’s great writing.

What’s the verdict?

Although Wonder Woman: Warbringer largely rehashes the major plot points of its titular heroine’s origin story, it benefits from Bardugo’s consistently excellent writing, engaging characters, and strong thematic focus. I’m still not convinced that novelizations of characters from comic books and movies is a great idea overall, but I did enjoy this one. I can’t speak to how satisfying the novel would be to a Wonder Woman aficionado, but I can say quite confidently that YA, fantasy, and mythology fans will have a fun time with this one. Leigh Bardugo has very quickly become one of my favorite writers and, once again, she did not disappoint me.

Report card

Characters: A         Plot: B          Themes: A             Writing: A               Fun: B+             Final: A


gif credit here

Supernatural 13×21 Review (Beat the Devil)

spn 13
Previous reviews can be found here

Well, it’s that time of year of year again. And by ‘that time of year,’ I mean the time when the plot kicks into high gear and starts moving about 300% faster. It amuses me that after thirteen years, Supernatural still inches along for most of the season, sometimes totally benching the plot for weeks at a time, only to rev up and sprint to the finish line once May comes around. I don’t mind it, since character studies are my favorite parts of any show and slowing down provides more time for them, but it still makes me laugh that the last few episodes of any given season are so breakneck.

“Beat the Devil” is no exception. After searching for the ingredients for the spell for so long—and fearing Lucifer for so long—Team Free Will + Rowena and Gabriel are able, in the space of about twenty minutes, to find, kidnap, and depower Lucifer in order to use him to open and keep open the portal. And by the end of the episode, Sam has died and been resurrected after having reluctantly semi-teamed-up with Lucifer. They reunit with Jack and Mary. Lucifer meets Jack for the first time. It all happens so fast. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Recap

The extended Winchester family puts the spell together, but it doesn’t work the way that it’s supposed to because Gabriel is still not powerful enough to contribute enough grace to do it correctly. This leads to a lot of impotence jokes. Like, a lot. For a while, they’re stumped, but then Cas—the official Speaker of Bad Ideas—reminds them that Gabriel’s not actually the only archangel kicking around. Sam, who has been possessed and tortured by Lucifer, naturally balks at the idea. Cas can empathize, but knows they can’t dwell on it.

CASTIEL: Look, Sam, I was used by Lucifer, too. It was the worst possible violation. So I’m not taking your reluctance lightly, but he is already out there, and we’ve been ignoring it and avoiding dealing with him because we’re afraid. We let Lucifer out of the Cage, and he has never stopped being our responsibility.

While “the three amigos with their bro hugs, pep talks, and melodrama” figure that out, Gabriel and Rowena hook up for some reason. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but sex jokes rarely land for me. The weird voiceovers are really jarring, since Supernatural rarely utilizes those (6×20 “The Man Who Would Be King” is the only one, right?), and I don’t really see the point. The only good thing that comes of it is how Cas hangs his head in disappointment/disbelief. Cas has great reactions to things. There’s a reason his is like 50% of my reaction gifs.

deancas awkward

Also, does Rowena just have a weird thing for archangels? Maybe instead of fighting AU!Michael, they should just have Rowena seduce him.

Continue reading

Shine (Book Review)

shineShine by Lauren Myracle is an odd book. It is very compelling, and the central mystery kept me up late reading, but by the time I had finished I had a bad taste in my mouth. The writing is good, the characters are generally well-developed, and the pacing maximizes the suspense, but everyone and everything in the novel is a little icky.

What’s it about?

In a small hick town, a gay teenager is brutally attacked and left for dead with a homophobic slur written on his chest. His former best friend Cat, who does not believe that the local law enforcement did enough to investigate the crime before writing it off as the work of homophobic out-of-towners, takes it upon herself to investigate and ends up opening herself up to danger and town secrets she would rather not know.

What’s wrong with it?

I already summarized the things that I liked about the book. The writing is quite good, and the mystery is really fascinating for the first three-fourths of the novel. In the last fourth, I was able to figure out the end, just in time to dread it and thing, “oh, gosh. Anything but that.”

The problem is that the novel is full of absolutely disgusting homophobes. Homophobia absolutely saturates the town, and while Cat dislikes many of the characters and is unhappy with some of the rhetoric, as a whole the pervasiveness of offensive language is left unchecked. Even supposedly good characters who are friends with Patrick, the victim, make a point of being his friend despite his being gay. Cat reiterates multiple times that Patrick is the sort of boy who would laugh in the face of cruel jokes and who is a good enough kid to befriend anyone, regardless of their treatment towards him.

spoilers
Seriously. SO MANY SPOILERS. This is the part where I start talking about whodunit

Continue reading

Caraval (Book Review)

caravalI’ve seen a lot of favorable blog posts about Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I’ve found a lot of new favorite books by picking up the books I saw people blogging enthusiastically about, even if I wasn’t initially all that excited about them (See: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, I’ll Give You the Sun, Six of Crows). I suppose it was only a matter of time before this method of selection failed me.

What’s it about?

Caraval is the story of two sisters, Scarlett and Tella Dragna, who are pulled into the magical world of Caraval. Caraval is an amazing magical carnival/hunt that the girls have long desired to see, in part to escape their abusive father. When Scarlett is personally invited to play (Tella is kidnapped; finding her is the goal of the game), she is thrown into a dangerous game where nothing is what it seems and dangers lurk around each exquisitely enticing corner. Although she is frightened that participating will ruin the arranged marriage that she sees as her only chance to protect herself and Tella, Scarlett throws herself into the game in a desperate attempt to find her sister before time runs out.

What’d I like?

The world of Caraval is actually pretty cool. I like the idea of a magical treasure hunt, and the little details of the world are quite interesting: Scarlett makes purchases by revealing secrets about herself and by giving up days of her life. There are tunnels that make people go mad and actors who deliberately mislead the players. It makes for a very mixed up universe that is quite fun.

I also liked the mystery about identities. Caraval’s sinister architect, Legend, is rumored to be lurking around the Caraval, but people know him only by his distinctive tophat because his face is never seen. Scarlett is engaged to a mysterious count, whose identity she does not know. Trying to guess who might be Legend and/or the count is one of the most compelling aspects of the novel. I felt a bit let down by the actual reveals, but up until that I was kept guessing.

What didn’t I like?

Continue reading