History is All You Left Me (Book Review)

history is all you left meI have rarely had such a hard time getting through a novel… and I mean that in the best possible way. History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera is a really, really difficult read because it is really, really sad. It is also really, really good, but I can’t remember the last time I had to set a book aside for a few minutes to give myself time to recover emotionally.

What’s it about?

High school junior Griffin’s best friend and first love Theo has just died, and Griffin—who is crippled by OCD—falls apart. Even though they broke up when Theo moved to California for college (earlier than expected, by skipping senior year), Griffin believed that eventually he and Theo would find their way back to each other… even after Theo met Jackson. But now Theo is dead and Griffin sees his endgame crumble apart; all he has left is their history and the hope/belief that somewhere in another world, Theo can hear him explain and grieve, because for Griffin, life cannot go on without Theo:

“Trust me when I say I’m not talking down to you as I recall this memory, and many others, in great detail. I doubt it’ll even surprise you since we always joked about how your brain worked in funny ways. […] I just want you to remember things the way I do. And if bringing up the past annoys you now—as I know it did when you left New York for California—know that I’m sorry, but please don’t be mad at me for reliving all of it. History is all you left me.”

What’d I think?

Unsurprisingly (I was really impressed by the writing in More Happy Than Not), the writing in History is All You Left Me is unique and beautiful. In alternating chapters, Griffin recounts his present day—in which he speaks directly to Theo as if Theo could hear him—and his history with Theo that leads to the present situation. The two sections are very distinct emotionally.

The history section is warm and funny. Theo is a dynamic, adorable character and though the other characters who populate that section—most notably Theo and Griffin’s third wheel Wade—don’t stand out as much, that’s just as well because it contributes to the feeling that Theo is the center of the universe and everyone else is just revolving around him and reflecting his brightness.

leslie everything hurts and I'm dyingThe present day section is crushingly, desperately sad. The ocean may have taken Theo, but Griffin is drowning and Silvera’s writing is so good that the reader drowns with him. There were moments (if I’m being totally honest, lots of moments) when I felt literally breathless, like the air had actually been squeezed out of me. That’s why it took me so long to make it through this book. I had to take a step back every so often to remind myself that I haven’t actually lost anyone.

Aside from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, no book has ever forced me to feel loss so acutely. (Funnily enough, Ness actually blurbed History is All You Left Me)

“I don’t know what will be left of me if love and grief can’t bring you back to life. Maybe I need to be brought back to life, too.”

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Autoboyography (Book Review)

autoboyography
Trivia time: Christina Lauren is actually two people, not a single person!

I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews of Autoboyography by Christina Lauren lately, so I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon. I also saw that the Amazon description says “Fangirl meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda…” and those are two of my absolute favorite books. (I don’t think Autoboyography hits those heights, but I did really like it).

What’s it about?

When his best friend Autumn goads him into taking a prestigious novel-writing seminar during their final semester of high school, Tanner–who by necessity is a closeted bisexual–has no idea what is in store for him. He expects that writing a novel in four months will be easy, but he doesn’t count on Sebastian. Sebastian is the seminar’s success story: he took the class the previous year and managed to sell the book that emerged from it. Now he is mentoring the class and Tanner falls desperately in love with him. There’s a catch: Tanner and Sebastian live in a very conservative Mormon town and Sebastian is the son of a Mormon pastor.

What’d I think?

This is a little longer than I’d intended, so here come some subcategories.

Queerness + Religion

Autoboyography is mostly a standard YA romance (which is not to say that standard YA romances are bad; I like them a lot). What makes it stand out is the way that it simultaneously deals with queer and religious issues. It is an important but difficult topic, and Autoboyography does an excellent job of dealing with the issue without demonizing anyone.

It would easy for a queer person/character to write off religion because of the way most major religions deal with queerness, but Autoboyography’s protagonists don’t do that. Sebastian is wholeheartedly Mormon. He prays regularly, attends services, and identifies first as Mormon (other identities, like being a writer, an athlete, or a gay person all come decidedly second to Mormonism). Tanner is not religious (his father is a nonpracticing Jew, and his mother was kicked out of the LDS for supporting her lesbian sister), but rather than trying to convince Sebastian to renounce his religion—a path a lot of novels might have gone down—he accompanies Sebastian to some of his religious events in order to better understand it. 

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The Bell Jar (Book Review)

the bell jarLast year, I had a calendar full of famous literary women that featured Sylvia Plath early in the year. Since I had read the featured writers for all the previous months, I figured I would use the calendar to dictate at least some of my reading for the year. Since Plath was pictured alongside a quote from The Bell Jar, I decided to start with it. My library didn’t have it and, weirdly, neither did the Barnes and Noble nearest my house; I gave up on my calendar reading schedule. When I found out my brother had The Bell Jar, though, I borrowed it. It’s more than a year since I put it on my list, but whatever. I got to it eventually.

What’s it about?

The Bell Jar is about Esther, a young woman who finds herself in New York on scholarship. However, rather than feel excited and lucky by her good fortune and glamorous start to life, Esther is morbidly fascinated by death and feels stationary and apart from the rest of the world. When she returns home, Esther’s mental health rapidly declines and the novel follows her breakdown.

What’d I think?

It’s hard to say that I liked The Bell Jar because it is hideously depressing. I don’t know much about Sylvia Plath aside from the fact that she wrote a lot of poetry and eventually committed suicide. After reading The Bell Jar I read a little bit about her and learned that she was abused by her husband before her death and that there was some shadiness with his handling of her remaining unpublished writing after her death. Knowing this makes the book even more depressing, if that’s possible. There seems to be some debate amongst scholarly circles about how autobiographical The Bell Jar is, but it is certainly upsetting and depressing. Being inside the head of a character who is clinically depressed, suffers a mental breakdown, attempts suicide, gets placed in a mental institution, and is subjected to shock therapy is not exactly my idea of a good time.

depressed kurt glee

On the other hand, the novel is beautifully written. Aside from a few references to past events and a handful of words whose meanings have changed, the novel could have been written this year. A lot of classic books sound… well, classic. The Bell Jar is conversational and internal. I was surprised by how easy it was to read language-wise.

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The Incredibles 2 (Movie Review)

incredibles 2I really enjoyed The Incredibles 2, which isn’t a surprise. You don’t just make a sequel after fourteen years that’s not good. It’s not like they churned one out right after the first one to capitalize on the success. If the script was bad, they could have scrapped it before anyone found out that they’d written it. Also, all the reviews that I saw before going were positive, which is saying something.

The movie goes by really fast. It’s almost two hours long, but the laughs are spaced out really well, so much so that when the bad guy was getting captured I was like, “Really? Already?” I always find it a good sign when a movie flies by. I’m a pretty restless person, and if I’m not enjoying myself I get antsy when I’m not able to jump up to walk around or do sit-ups or something.

The Incredibles has a really nice balance between family comedy (Mr. Incredible trying to watch the kids) and superhero epic (Elastigirl chasing the legitimately frightening Screenslaver) that emphasizes both storylines but does not value one over the other. Both storylines are well developed—though, me being me, I prefer the family side of the story because it is hilarious—and the way that they come together for the end sequence is pretty cool.

There are tons of really great jokes. Mr. Incredible’s response to pie graphs detailing his destructive saves, a cringy trip to a diner (this scene got the biggest laugh), and a villainous henchman’s quip to try un-punching something were highlights. Edna and Frozone are also standouts. I like that Frozone had slightly more to do this time around.

loki avengersThe movie does a good job with its villain. The best villains are the ones who you can empathize with (see: Loki from Thor, Vulture from Spiderman, Killmonger from Black Panther, etc.), and Screenslaver does have a point even if the resultant actions are kinda evil.

There are lots of nice references to the first movie, but there are plenty of new characters, storylines, and themes as a whole to make the story feel fresh. I may be a bit biased because I love superhero movies–particularly the funny ones–but I don’t think that The Incredibles 2 suffers at all from superhero fatigue. Superheroes weren’t as big a thing in movies back when the first Incredibles came out, but I don’t think it matters at all that that’s changed. The Incredibles 2 has the advantage of focusing on ideas that aren’t exactly central to DC and Marvel superhero stories (there are more female characters, more kids, and more focus on everyday life in both Incredibles movies than there are in other modern superhero stories).

The only complaint I have—and it’s honestly not a huge complaint—is that there is an easy-to-see-coming twist. It doesn’t detract from the movie, but it did give me (and the other members of my family who saw the movie with me) an ‘I called it’ moment instead of a surprise.

quicksilver see that coming avengers

I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I won’t go into any more detail. Essentially, The Incredibles 2 is really funny, goes by quickly, and stands up well to the original (and this is coming from someone who still yells ‘Syndrome’s remote!’ every time I’m in charge of the TV remote). There’s not really a point in recommending it since everyone is going to go see it anyway, but just in case: recommended.


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Counting Thyme (Book Review)

counting thymeWhat’s it about?

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin follows eleven-year-old Thyme Owens, who—along with her family—moves from California to New York so that her younger brother, Val, can get into a drug trial that will hopefully help him overcome his nerve cancer. Although Thyme loves her brother, she is sad to leave her home, her grandmother, and her best friend Shani. Luckily, she has a plan: collect enough personal time—promised to her whenever Val’s treatments distract her parents from paying attention to Thyme—to go home early.

What’d I think?

The time-collection plotline does not work for me. Part of that is the fault of Counting Thyme itself, and part of it comes from conventions of juvenile fiction. Anyone who has ever read a middle grade novel can tell you that parents are absent as a rule. They are either dead, negligent, or missing. When a parent does anything in a middle grade novel, it’s unusual. For that reason, Thyme’s parents do not come across the way they’re supposed to.

Thyme complains that her parents—and particularly her mother—never have time for her, but in actuality Mr. and Mrs. Owens are quite present in their children’s lives. They regularly make time for marathon game nights. They eat dinner with the kids almost every night (they don’t cook it, but they’re definitely there to eat it). When Thyme collects time, she can use it for personal time as long as there is no Val-related emergency that prevents it. The problem with this is that Thyme gets plenty of time to herself and plenty of time with her parents even without “spending” any of what she’s collected. We are told over and over again that Thyme gets overlooked and ignored, but we rarely see it.

Plus, Thyme gets lots of time for doing easy activities that she should be doing anyway. She gets a full hour for unloading the dishwasher. Seriously.

Unloading the dishwasher

  1. is something that kids are expected to do even if they don’t have a sick brother
  2. takes like ten minutes at maximum

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This is a Book Review

this is a bookI read This is a Book by Demetri Martin on my brother’s suggestion, sort of (he actually recommended it to my sister, but I have a very long road trip coming up, so I have to preserve all of my new books, so I’m reading loaners for now).

What’s it about?

This is a Book is a collection of humorous essays, drawings, and charts by a comedian that I have never heard of but who—according to the cover flap—is an award-winning standup who has written for late night people like Conan O’Brien and Jon Stewart. There’s not an obvious theme to the collection, though it does hit similar ideas across several of the pieces.

What’d I think?

This book was hit and miss for me. I absolutely love some of the pieces, but others absolutely do not work for me. The best of them poke fun at stupid people and movies. “Protagonists’ Hospital,” which mocks the paltry injuries suffered by white male protagonists in Hollywood movies–as well as the fact that most protagonists are white males–is the best one by a wide margin; I also really like “Optimist, Pessimist, Contortionist”; “Frustrating Uses of Etc.”; and “Fruit Vendor (Diary Excerpts).” Others didn’t work for me at all. Reading “A Crossword Puzzle” was an exercise in patience, and “How I Felt” was almost as bad.

I think it was overall more funny than not, though. I did read it essentially straight through, which is always a good sign.

intended audience
In honor of Martin’s charts, here’s one I made back in the day, which somewhat applies now.

One thing that I had a gut reaction against was that there are some instances of POV characters saying/doing vaguely sexist and racist things. The first few times put me off, but once I got into the swing of the book I realized that Martin is actually making fun of those types of people. Since I don’t read books like this very often, I had to pointedly remind myself that a first person narrator ≠ the author.

What’s the verdict?

I’m not going to run out and find more of Martin’s work, but it was a fun diversion. I don’t usually read this sort of book because it isn’t really my thing, but if comedic essays are something you like or think you would be interested in trying, this is a fun book with a lot of accolades and you should check it out.

Report card.

This one is hard to grade because it doesn’t really have characters or a plot and because I had such different reactions do different sections, but here it goes.

Writing: A      Characters: n/a     Plot: n/a        Themes: B          Fun: B              Final: B

I Went to Comic-Con!

Comic-Con is so much fun. I’ve done it once before; last year, I went to the Honolulu Comic-Con for one day and really enjoyed it. This year, my sister volunteered at the Denver one, and my mom and I went for three days and it was awesome.

Another year, another TARDIS

I’m a very shy, awkward, claustrophobic person most of the time so there was a part of me that worried that there would be too many people and that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Weirdly, it ended up being the exact opposite. I’m used to being the nerdiest person in the room, and it was really invigorating to be around people who are like me and/or like me but turned up to eleven. I can’t remember ever feeling energized by being around a lot of people. I also can’t remember ever having initiating a conversation with a total stranger, which I did twice this weekend (once to give directions, which is its own miracle).

Also, it is so much fun to people-watch at Comic-Con because the cosplay is phenomenal. I kept a list of everyone I saw (and recognized) and it took up about six pages in my journal, two-columned. Some of the costumes were amazing because of how well executed they were, like the Maleficent with the six-foot wingspan or the Groot with stilt leg extensions. Others were just amazingly clever, like the Cassandra (from Doctor Who) or the Matt Kylo Ren (from the SNL Undercover Boss segment).

There was a robotics club there that had built a bunch of Star Wars droids (some of which actually worked!) you could take photos with for free, which was super fun. Actually, there were tons of cool photo ops, particularly for people who like Star Wars and Doctor Who.

Everyone there was super nice. I saw some adorable interactions, like a full-grown Batman giving a baby Batman an enthusiastic high five when they passed, and a kid in an amazing Dalek getup (seriously: it was not a kid dressed as a Dalek; it was a Dalek that happened to have a child inside it) who spotted a girl dressed as the Eleventh Doctor and said in the Dalek voice, “I have found the Doctor! Exterminate, exterminate!” There were some people whose costumes were good enough that so many people would ask for their photos that they barely made it ten feet in an hour, but who seemed perfectly happy anyway.

I need to up my cosplay game. I dressed up every day (as Hermione Granger on day one, as the Eleventh Doctor on day two, and as Percy Jackson on day three) but they were pretty lame costumes.

Since it’s Comic-Con, there were obviously a lot of lines that were long, but it is true that if you just roll with it the lines can be fun. Chilling in the lines was prime costume-watching time, and it was fun to chat with the other people waiting. Very few people complained about anything, even when it must’ve been really disappointing.

Case in point: there was some misunderstanding about whether we could stay in a room between panels. Everyone thought we could, but that was not actually true, so anyone who saw Mark Sheppard’s panel had to miss David Tennant’s because by the time the former got out, the line for the latter was so long that it took literally twenty minutes to go from the end of it to a place where you could see the door to the stage. Instead of being indignant about missing what was clearly the biggest ticket panel, people just laughed about the ridiculousness of the line and shrugged it off. Instead of being upset, we all just chatted about our favorite Doctors and how Mark Sheppard is in everything but is arguably typecast. The people I personally talked to may have been chill because Matt Smith–rather than David Tennant–was the general favorite. However, people were even okay about the fact that Matt Smith backed out of the con at the last second. Someone even made a joke about it. Specifically, the ‘Matt Smith can’t be here because it would cause a pair-o’-docs’ joke.

The panels/panelists were really nice as well. Across the board, there was kindness and inclusivity to spare. I didn’t go to any of them personally, but there were tons of panels about diversity, race, self-esteem, sexuality, feminism, and more over the whole weekend. There were lots of Pride flags around. It was nice. It was very obvious that everyone was welcome.

denver comic con

Despite initially scheduling myself from morning to evening every day, I actually didn’t end up going to all that many panels. I went to one with YA authors who confirmed everything I’ve ever said about how great YA is and another one with literary agents who were so informative and helpful that I decided to forgive the one who rejected me in the past.

My first big panel was Sean Gunn (from Guardians of the Galaxy and Gilmore Girls).  He talked about working with family, getting his nose broken on set, and told stories about playing Kirk. Kirk is my favorite Gilmore Girls character, so that was funny (he said he didn’t play Kirk as funny because Kirk takes himself very seriously). He told us that we’d find out next movie whether or not Kraglin survived Infinity War, but that any spoilers would result in him getting hit by a poison dart.

garfieldJim Davis (the creator of Garfield) was sincere throughout. He was extremely appreciative and supportive of young artists. Mostly I was amazed at the quick answers he had to even the most specific questions the kids threw out at him, like how he chose his colors (Garfield is the most visible hue, Odie is yellow because there was already a famous white comic dog, and Jon is blue because blue fades into the background) and how many hours per day Garfield sleeps (the high end of a cat’s normal sleeping habit, so upwards of eighteen hours a day). He also talked a lot about humor and what works and what doesn’t. I really enjoyed the panel, and it was my mom’s favorite of the weekend.

captain jack
Captain Jack Harkness is THE Captain Jack. Jack Sparrow can take a backseat.

John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who) spent about ninety percent of his panel making inappropriate jokes, twirling around in his glittery TARDIS dress and messing with the signers. He did take questions, but he forewent a moderator and essentially put on a stand-up routine. The funny thing was that my sister had seen him briefly at the very beginning of the day and the panel was at the very end, so we were all thinking that he’d probably be tired… nope. He danced around and jumped off stage and slid down banisters and essentially had more energy than I have ever seen from anyone. He was hilarious, most of the time, but slowed down at one point to have a really sweet, serious moment with a girl in the audience who asked his advice about coming out to her family. (His advice was essentially tell them on your own terms rather than having to explain it after they find out, invite them to celebrate your life with you but be prepared to walk out—after making sure you have somewhere to go—if they refuse to). He also sang a few songs for us at the end.

i did not see that coming crowley supernatural
I did take pictures of almost everyone, but the lighting is bad so I decided not to post them.

Mark Sheppard (Crowley from Supernatural) was equally but less ostentatiously funny. He snarked at the audience, told stories about being lit on fire on the X-Files, complained about how many people were dressed up as ‘that idiot angel,’ and described Supernatural as boring for four seasons before getting great and then essentially being over. He got a Father’s Day call from his son in the middle of the panel, which was cute. Like John Barrowman, he signed off on a serious note: remember that you’re never alone; Comic-Con is a great place to look around and realize that there are other people in the world like you and that if you reach out of help there will always be someone to hold onto. His was the last panel I went to, and it was nice way to tie up the theme of the whole weekend.

Mostly, going to Comic-Con was really affirming. The world can be kind of isolating and depressing, and it’s really nice to be somewhere with literally thousands of people who are—with only a few exceptions (like the shady guy who was trying to sell speed tickets for fifty dollars when the convention was less than an hour from ending)—kind, creative, and over-the-top enthusiastic about the same things I am.


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The Martian (Book Review)

the martianI read a sci-fi book! I don’t usually read much sci-fi since I don’t like science and find that fantasy is similar but generally more focused on characters, but I did like the movie adaptation of The Martian by Andy Weir so I borrowed the book from my brother.

What’s it about?

After a storm cuts their Mars mission short, a group of astronauts leaves the planet to return to Earth, leaving one of their group—the presumed dead botanist/mechanic Mark Watney—behind what they don’t know is that Watney survived. When he comes to, Watney realizes that he is alone on the planet. The Martian follows Watney’s struggle to survive while the geniuses at NASA try to find out how to save his life and bring him home.

What’d I think?

I generally liked The Martian, but man does it have a lot of science. All sorts of things go wrong and get fixed and then break again and it is all explained how and why, and I understood absolutely none of it. Honestly, I couldn’t even keep track of the NASA people, let alone what they were doing. I felt more and more stupid the longer I read.

[Side note: I feel compelled to add that I had a 4.0 GPA through both high school and college; I am not actually an idiot, but I sure felt like one reading this.]

Also, I advise you to avoid reading this book in an inclosed space. I’m claustrophobic to begin with, but I happened to be sitting in the backseat of a smallish car when I read the part with Watney’s days-long trek in the rover. It was pretty unpleasant. I had to shut the book a few times just to catch my breath. Weirdly, though, when I mentioned this to my brother, he was surprised. I felt like I could barely breathe while Watney was in that stupid rover, but maybe it’s just me.

As is the case with most sci-fi thrillers, The Martian is more about plot than character. Watney is funny at times and I inexplicably really like Beck (I think it’s just because he has the coolest name), but there really isn’t a whole lot of focus on the characters and anyway—as I mentioned—I barely had all the characters straight in my head. If you read for character, The Martian probably won’t be your favorite book, but it is also true that characters were certainly not Weir’s first priority when writing it.

Though I didn’t love the whole book, I would very much recommend the last two pages. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but just know that the very, very end of the novel is thematically the best part of the whole thing. 

What’s the verdict?

The Martian is very well written, funny in parts, and definitely exciting. The narration—a combination of Watney’s logs and omniscient third person narration about the other people involved in the rescue—is compelling and the ending is surprisingly touching. I don’t think that I would reread this one, but I did enjoy it. 

Report card.

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

Ship It (Book Review)

Ship ItI’m always for the prowl for a good book about fandom—it’s one of my favorite YA subgenres—so when I saw people blogging about Ship It by Britta Lundin, I knew that it was one that I would need to track down. The first place I found it was in an amazing little independent bookstore, as an uncorrected advance proof. Since it was really cheap, I bought it even though I am now aware that the actual corrected real book is already out. Whatever. I suspect that it’s very close to the real version. I didn’t even notice any typos, and I’m the queen of typos.

What’s it about?

greg i ship them crazy ex girlfriendClaire is a huge fangirl. She adores the show Demon Heart and passionately ships SmokeHeart, the uncanonical relationship between the two lead male characters, the demon Heart and the demon hunter Smokey. Forest is an up-and-coming actor who got his big break playing Smokey. He likes that the job pays the bills, but he really has his heart set on playing the lead in the upcoming adaptation of his favorite video game. When Claire attends a Comic-Con, she accidentally gets into it with Forest; she speaks up about SmokeHeart and he calls her crazy. As reparation—and in a desperate attempt to boost their ratings— Demon Heart’s publicity team invites Claire to join the cast and crew on the Con tour, and Claire decides that it is her responsibility to make SmokeHeart go canon.

What’d I think?

Sooo… this review got really long, so I’m going to put in a lot of subheadings to that you can jump around and read only the sections that appeal to you. Sorry for the excess words, but I have a lot of opinions about fandom.

Fandom and Fandom Politics in Ship It

Books about fandom and fandom politics are always interesting because everyone has a different idea of fandom’s point and what is and isn’t acceptable. Claire is a prolific writer of fanfic. She even writes RPF (real person fic). She believes that showrunners have a responsibility to represent different kinds of people, particularly LGBTQ+ ones. Her friend/love interest Tess thinks that fandom should stay within the fandom. She doesn’t see the point in campaigning for canon, and she thinks Claire’s demands are entitled. Forest, at least initially, doesn’t get it at all. He is upset by the fanfic that he finds about himself. He’s concerned that being associated with a gay character/gayness will make it harder for him to get the kinds of roles he wants in the future. All of these characters are sympathetic and well rounded, so it is difficult to take one side over another.

pride flagIt becomes even more difficult when you realize how much identity plays into this question. Claire is questioning her sexuality—a storyline that is very compellingly and empathetically told—and subliminally needs the validation of seeing herself represented onscreen, not just as someone who is queer but also as someone who is figuring it out. Tess is pansexual and black and has long since stopped expecting to see anyone like her, so she doesn’t see the point in pushing.

Fandom and Fandom Politics (My Take)

While I’m torn about some of the biggest questions of fandom despite being very enthusiastically a part of it—I’m uncomfortable with RPF and am unsure to what degree fans should be entitled to demand storylines—but I wholeheartedly agree (as, I’m sure, any person who is not bigoted would) with the idea that

“ ‘The world would be a better place if there were more queer characters, more black characters, more of everything that is not the same old same old.'”

The issue of shipping and canon is honestly one that doesn’t have a good answer. When a show has a gay pairing that is passionately shipped but isn’t canon, the powers that be can shut it down immediately and risk alienating fans and coming across as homophobic. They can play into it by neither confirming nor denying it, thereby queerbaiting. They can go ahead and canonize it, therefore caving into fan demands. It’s hard to know what the best course of action is, though it is obviously not queerbaiting.

Ship It doesn’t really seem to know, either. When Forest and Jamie, the showrunner, tell the fans in no uncertain terms that they don’t intend SmokeHeart, everyone gets mad. Generally, yes, there should be more LGBTQ+ characters on TV. Specifically, though… it’s hard to know where to draw lines.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (Movie Review)

solo

Honestly, I went into Solo: A Star Wars Story assuming that it would be kind of bad. When I first heard that they were making it, my reaction was a combination of “Literally no one asked for this,” “only Harrison Ford can be Han Solo,” and “Isn’t half the allure of Han Solo that we don’t really know what his deal is?” After watching it, though, I can say that I legitimately enjoyed it.

falconI also had a really fun movie experience in general. There was a giant interactive display of the Millennium Falcon out front of the theatre, so obviously my brother and I pretended to fly it. He made Wookiee noises, and I didn’t only because I sadly can’t make Wookiee noises. Also, before the movie instead of the usual behind-the-scenes looks at stuff I’ve never heard of, there was a hilarious tribute to Star Wars that included recapping Han Solo’s part of the original trilogy with snarky commentary, tongue-in-cheek pitches for more spinoffs, and a montage of cinema’s best Han Solo rip-offs. So that was fun.

The movie itself is a lot of fun. It’s true that Alden Ehrenreich is not Harrison Ford. He looks passably like him, but his nose is too pointy for it to be a great likeness (I apparently identify faces about 80% from nose shape, so that’s really the thing you have to get right for resemblance for me). Aside from that, he works in the role. I’ve always seen Solo as a bit of a dork who fakes suaveness until it looks real, and that’s kind of how he’s played in Solo. He’s not the galactic cad a lot of people assume he is: he’s a romantic with a good heart who does everything it takes to seem like a badass. There are a few moments where Ehrenreich really nails the mannerisms, though. There’s a moment towards the end of the movie when he does the sort of squinty eyed, head tilted thing that Ford-as-Solo does a lot, and that kind of cemented it for me that I could accept this new guy as Han.

han solo head tilt star wars
This one.

I expected Lando (Donald Glover) to be the standout of the movie and I was not wrong. I love Lando in the original trilogy and it makes me sad that he doesn’t have as much as a presence in those movies or in any of the extras (put Lando in episode nine, please and thank you) because he is awesome. I thought that he beginning of Solo dragged, but it really kicks into gear when Lando shows up. That’s not necessarily all because of Lando, but he certainly contributes. He also initiates by far the best exchange in the whole movie, which references the difference between Billy Dee Williams’ (OG Lando) pronunciation of the name “Han” vs. everyone else’s.

Obviously Chewbacca is around, and he’s as awesome and hairy as ever. In fact, the movie does a good job of using established canon and building on it without contradicting anything. We get Han’s friendships with Chewie and Lando, Han becoming a smuggler, references to the empire and Jabba the Hutt, Han and Lando gambling over the Falcon, and more. There are nods to the originals everywhere, from costume and prop design to dialogue to foreshadowing.  It’s obvious that the filmmakers did their homework/legitimately like Star Wars.

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Infinite In Between (Book Review)

infinite in between

I picked up Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler both because “Bestselling and Printz Honor-winning author” is a major selling point and because I know that I’ve enjoyed some of her novels in the past even if I don’t particularly remember them. It’s a fun enough book, but I expected more than I got.

[Side note: Sorry for the lack of images. WordPress was glitching like nobody’s business and eventually I gave up.]

What’s it about?

Infinite In Between follows five teenagers—Gregor, Zoe, Jake, Whitney, and Mia—over the course of their high school careers. The five of them come together on the day of freshman orientation and write letters to their future selves, agreeing to open them four years later at graduation. Over the course of those four years, they encounter all the highs and lows of high school, and even though they do not necessarily hang out in the same circles, they find their lives intersecting at important moments.

Let’s talk about the unusual format.

The standout of the novel, for better or for worse, is the format. It is arranged by month, and in each month Mackler checks in with her protagonists. Not every character gets a POV chapter every month, but they are all about equally weighted. As a result, the reader sees the results of development, but not necessarily the development itself. Often, the narrative is forced to fill in the gaps between check-ins. Many events that are promised in one chapter (Whitney’s prom and Jake’s carpool with his love interest particularly come to mind) are passed over entirely, only to be referenced as past events at the next stop. It is definitely an interesting technique, and there are things that I like and dislike about it.

It lets Mackler cover four years with five characters in a relatively short novel (462 pages, but there is a lot of white space). It shakes up the traditional high school narrative by speeding past moments that usually carry a lot of weight and focusing instead on smaller moments. Everything moves so fast that it recreates the feeling of time blowing past unceasingly, which is cool, but accurate to high school.

On the flipside, it also zips past emotional moments that I’d have liked to see, and it is occasionally difficult to reorient to the new reality. For example, Whitney has commitment issues and has a new boyfriend and breakup story almost every time we see her, which can be hard to keep track of. Some minor characters, like Zoe’s Uncle Rich and Jake’s can’t-get-rid-of-her friend/nuisance Allegra, have to be reintroduced almost every time they crop up.

Every time I think about it I flip-flop about whether I liked it or not (both the format and the book as a whole). I definitely really enjoyed reading the novel. Now that I’m done, though… there are a lot of things that bother me in retrospect.

What bothers me?

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The Vacationers (Book Review)

the vacationers
Semple’s blurb reads: “Witty, bighearted, and packed with wisdom… A breezy read that sneaks in its emotional wallops and leaves you smiling for days.”

The Vacationers by Emma Straub was another random pick, but in retrospect I probably should have taken the endorsement by Maria Semple (of Where’d You Go Bernadette? fame) as a warning. I really disliked Bernadette, so the fact that I had a similar response to a book Semple blurbed is hardly surprising. I say ‘similar’ response instead of ‘identical’ response because overall The Vacationers is okay, whereas I found Bernadette actively annoying.

What’s it about?

In honor of their daughter Sylvia’s graduation from high school, Jim and Franny Post plan a vacation to Spain. Along for the ride are Bobby—Jim and Franny’s elder child—and his much-older girlfriend Carmen and Franny’s BFF Charles and his husband Lawrence. What should be a fun, relaxing send-off for Sylvia ends up as an incredibly tense exercise in quiet resentment. Jim and Franny’s marriage is falling apart, and Jim just lost his job. No one likes or approves of Carmen, and Bobby has changed since the last time anyone saw him. Franny and Charles’ friendship leaves Lawrence feeling like a third-wheel, and the vacation comes at a potentially inconvenient time for Charles and Lawrence (even if Lawrence had wanted to come in the first place). As for Sylvia, she’s just counting the days until she can escape her messed up family and the mess she left back home and be a completely new person in college.

What’d I think?

If you have ever read any of my reviews, you’ll know that I care about characters far more than everything else. A book can have terrible writing, a stupid plot, and little thematic relevance and I’ll forgive it all if I love the characters. The opposite is also true. The best writing, plot, and themes and the world can’t prop up a crop of weak characters. Therein lies my main problem with The Vacationers: of the seven main characters, there’s only one (Lawrence) that I actually care about.

You need a lot of pages to have seven complex main characters, and The Vacationers does not. It’s just short of three hundred pages, which explains why most of the vacationers only have one or, at most, two things going on:

Franny likes to cook and hates Jim for cheating on her. Jim likes to walk and regrets cheating on Franny. Charles is a cheerleader for Franny. Sylvia’s boyfriend cheated on her and now she wants to lose her virginity. Bobby is in debt and [spoiler redacted]. Carmen is a fitness nut. Lawrence is the only one who is a little more complicated. He’s jealous of Franny because she was Charles’ friend for years before he met Charles, and feels he can’t compete with that friendship. He does the budget for movies and is plagued by endless stupidity regarding a terrible Christmas werewolf film that needs reshoots and fake fur. He desperately wants to adopt a baby but is worried that Charles isn’t as enthusiastic.

[Side note: I have to ask. Why is ‘disagreement over kids’ such a common storyline for gay couples? It seems to crop up disproportionately often.]

Whenever a character appears, you can pretty much guess what they’re going to do or what they’ll be thinking about. Personally, I think that the novel would have been better served to cut a few characters to expand the others’ roles (I would’ve cut Sylvia and her Spanish tutor/love interest Joan).

It didn’t help that the novel’s perspective slides from characters consistently, often within scenes. It is not necessarily a bad writing technique—the book is actually very easy to read and the writing as a whole is quite good—but it does make it difficult to get emotionally attached to any of the characters as individuals.

There are some interesting plotlines that I thought were done a disservice by being underdeveloped. The rivalry for Charles’ attention could have built into something fascinating: where does loyalty lie between a lifelong platonic friend and a spouse? There’s also an interesting moment towards the end of the novel when Joan (who is Mallorcan) blows up at Sylvia because

“You are such an American. Some of us have actual pride in our history, you know! You sound so stupid!”

But this goes literally nowhere. There’s a short argument and then things progress as if this never came up. Until this scene, there is very little about Spanish culture in the novel, which is odd. You’d think part of the point of sending a cast of characters to another country would be to make the setting a large part of the story. In The Vacationers, it really isn’t.

The Vacationers also has a really weird obsession with peeing and who can and can’t drive a stick shift. These may be real-life considerations, but I defy you to find another book that brings these subjects with such dedicated frequency.

There’s also the fact that literally every single relationship in the novel touches on cheating in one way or the other. Who hurt you, Emma Straub?

What’s the verdict?

The Vacationers is a pretty forgettable book. It’s fun enough and the writing is pretty good, but there’s nothing in it that will stick with me. That being said, dysfunctional families aren’t generally my cup of tea, so someone who particularly likes reading those stories would probably like this book more than I did.

report cardReport card.

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

Beyond Clueless (Book Review)

beyond clueless.jpegBeyond Clueless by Linas Alsenas is cute. I’d never heard of it or its author before, so I picked it up mostly because the cover is cute (yes, I judge books by their covers. Deal with it). Also, I love musical theatre and Into the Woods in particular so the promise of Broadway nerdiness sold it for me.

What’s it about?

In her first year of high school, Marty (Martha) is forced to go to an all-girls school, which means that she is separated from her lifelong best friend Jimmy. In an attempt to spend more time together, Jimmy—along with his boyfriend Derek and a few other friends from his school’s GSA—auditions for Marty’s school’s musical, which needs guys. Marty adores theatre, so getting to act in Into the Woods is a dream come true, especially since that means spending time with Felix, an extremely handsome and charming guy who seems just as into Marty as she is into him.

What’d I think?

Beyond Clueless is cute and easy. Honestly, there’s not a lot to it beyond the surface level, but sometimes that’s fine. The characters are fun. Like Marty, I love theatre, so I always love stories that are sprinkled with references to Broadway. I have no singing talent and was never a part of the theatre scene in high school, and books like this always make me a little sad that I missed it because it seems like so much fun.

into the woods charming not sincere.gif
All versions of Into the Woods are amazing, but if this one is the only one you’ve seen, you should check out the one with Bernadette Peters because it is amazing.

The main strength of Beyond Clueless is the background characters. I like Marty, Jimmy, and Xiang a lot, but what really impresses me is that even the incredibly unimportant characters have depth to them. There are a number of background girls who get very little pagetime overall but who all seemed fully fleshed out and who have each other’s backs. It’s really nice.

There are admittedly one or two characters who could’ve used a bit more characterization. At one point Marty says that Jimmy’s boyfriend Derek has the “personality of a cardboard box” and… well, she’s not wrong. That’s not a huge complaint, though. There are plenty of other characters (even plenty of other gay characters) who pick up the slack. Besides, Derek is more a plot device than a character, and sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

pride flagThat’s the other thing that I love about this book. It is light and easy, but it has a diverse, supportive group of characters. Nearly half of the main characters are gay. Xiang, Marty’s best female friend, is a fully-developed character who goes against Asian stereotypes, but not so completely that she’s just a Stereotype Flip. There’s no fighting between girls even though there are several characters more beautiful and more talented than Marty; other books might make these girls rivals for Marty, but here they’re simply beautiful, talented girls who make the play better. There’s a bit of a love triangle in the novel, but even that’s not regressive. One love interest backs off upon realizing his affections aren’t welcome, and only acts upon them when invited to.

It’s particularly nice to have all this in such a frothy book. Straight, white characters shouldn’t have a monopoly on brain-off books.

I do have one and a half complaints about the book, but they’re both spoilery so I’ll discuss them after the wrap-up and report card.

What’s the verdict?

Overall, Beyond Clueless is a cute book. It is fun and nerdy and has diverse, developed, likable characters. There’s nothing particularly deep or important about it, but if you’re just looking to turn your brain off and spend a few hours on cute, silly high school drama, this would be a good one.

Report card.

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

What are the 1.5 complaints?

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Book Club: Noteworthy

noteworthySo… I left my job at the library, so I am no longer regularly running a book club, which makes me very sad. I do have a few more sets of questions, which I will continue to post. I love doing book clubs and don’t want to see it end, so… if you have suggestions/recommendations for books I should write questions for, please let me know. Also, please have a conversation with me in the comments if you’ve read the book so I’m not just shouting into the void. Thanks!

You can read my review of Noteworthy by Riley Redgate here.

As usual, feel free to use these questions in your own book clubs. Also as usual, beware spoilers.

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All the Bright Places (Book Review)

 

Caution Angry Rant

If you liked this book, don’t read this review.

all the bright placesI have read a lot of glowing reviews of All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, so I read it without even glancing at the blurb, figuring that that many people couldn’t be wrong. Now that I’ve finished it, I think there must be a secret second version of it, because I hated this book and for the life of me can’t see what people liked about it.

What’s it about?

All the Bright Places is about troubled teenagers Violet and Finch. Violet is struggling to recover from her sister Eleanor’s death. Finch has obvious mental issues and is afraid of falling Asleep. The two meet at the top of a tower, both half intending to jump off. Finch talks Violet down, and the two become romantically connected over a school project that requires them to wander Indiana.

So why did I hate the book so much?

One word: Finch.

What’s wrong with Finch?

michael i hate so much
Me, to Finch

Finch is the actual worst. I can’t remember the last time that I hated a fictional character this much (actually, that’s a lie. I can: Jo from Grey’s Anatomy. But I digress.). Aside from being annoying (“Violet Remarkey-able” was horrifically awful the first time he said it, and then it became a running thing), which is bad enough, Finch aces the Terrible Boyfriend Checklist:

  • Pushes for a first date even when it’s obvious he’s not welcome
  • Pushes for sex
  • Pushes for emotional intimacy and then refuses to reciprocate
  • Stalks
  • Is overly jealous
  • Drops the ‘not like other girls’ line (on multiple occasions!)
  • Encourages recklessness/disobedience

He’s also very, very gimmicky. He tries new personalities on like hats. He spouts statistics about suicide. Towards the end of the novel, when he’s given his (obvious) diagnosis,  Finch is upset because (spoiler omitted):

“Labels […] say This is why you are the way you are. This is who you are. They explain people away as illnesses.”

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