Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 4×03 Review (I’m On My Own Path)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4

Now that Rebecca is taking responsibility for her own life, she’s taking stock of the life she’s taking responsibility for. While Rebecca is in the process of getting her license to practice law reinstated after her stint in jail, her long-suffering therapist Dr. Akopian tells her that she doesn’t actually have to go back to being a lawyer. Even though her job has never brought Rebecca any joy and is, in part, the reason she was so depressed in the first place, Rebecca initially can’t grasp the idea of giving it up.

DR. AKOPIAN: Because you know you don’t have to be a lawyer. There are other fields.

REBECCA: Other fields? Nah, I think the ship has sailed on that a long time ago.

DR. AKOPIAN: I just want you to be mindful about what makes you truly happy.

REBECCA: Got it. It’s a good note. It’s a good note. I will keep that in mind as I go back to the only thing anyone has ever paid me or valued me for.

On the way out of her session, Rebecca runs into Josh waiting for his. They mutually apologize for all the crappy stuff that they’ve put each other through and Josh mentions that he’s planning to start dating again. This is probably one of the healthiest exchanges Rebecca and Josh have had during the course of this whole show, and it continues throughout the episode. Now that they’re both actually focusing and working on their personal issues, they’re able to actually talk to each other and have a good relationship. Josh/Rebecca as a romantic pairing is an actual sailed ship, but now they are pretty good friends, and I’m quite excited for their newfound relationship.

Rebecca heads back to work, where one of the firm’s biggest clients is waiting for her (since everyone else is incompetent). She gets sidetracked by the new Pretzel Central that has appeared in the lobby during her absence. Since pretzels have been a motif throughout the show, Rebecca is very excited. Also, she just loves pretzels. She heads over to buy one and is surprised to discover that it is owned by her colleague Jim. Yep, Jim used to be a lawyer, but he quit because being a lawyer sucks.

rebecca pretzel crazy ex girlfriend.gif

Jim doesn’t get a lot of screentime. He’s usually lost in the background amongst all of the other kooky Whitefeather Plimpton, Plimpton, and Plimpton MountainTop employees. Heck, he is literally one letter away from being Tim. He wasn’t originally a memorable character, but he is now because “Don’t Be a Lawyer” is an amazing song.

JIM: The job is inherently crappy. That’s why you’ve never met a lawyer who’s happy.

There are some really great and unexpected rhymes, like “professions” and “Sessions”, “soul-destroyer” and “lawyer”, and “debt” and “regret.” I love clever lyrics, particularly ones that make me think, “Who on earth came up with this rhyme?”

JIM: Your only expertise is running up fees and speaking legalize like a dick.

The bright costumes and jaunty dance moves juxtaposed with the depressing lyrics about the lack of money and job satisfaction is hilarious. Plus, the suicidal CW lawyer who pops up towards the end is a classic example of how meta Crazy Ex-Girlfriend can get. People with more popular music knowledge than me could probably pinpoint exactly what “Don’t Be a Lawyer” is parodying since the dance style and costumes are pretty distinctive, but I unfortunately can’t.

When Rebecca gets back to work, she can really see Jim’s point. Nathaniel is giving her the silent treatment (in a really childish, obvious way), and while she crushes her meeting with Wendy (Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame), she doesn’t enjoy it and basically sprints out to take a job at the pretzel stand.

I love the continuity on this show. The echoes of previous episodes both in dialogue (“This is objectively fantastic”), wardrobe, and music is one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

 

This is the blue dress/black blazer of lawyerly discontent

She claims that she’s waiting for the confirmation that she can still practice law, but she’s actually really enjoying work at Pretzel Central… even though all her creative pretzel creations are going to get Jim in trouble with HQ.

Honestly, I think she does more work at the pretzel stand in this one episode than she does the whole rest of the show as a lawyer. That being said, she still doesn’t do a great job. She hands out free pretzels (though she does pay for them herself) because it feels like handing out happiness, and she takes time to help Josh with his dating life, which isn’t going well.

The first girl Josh meets expects him to be the same cheerful, dancing guy from high school and is horrified to learn what he’s been doing since then (like briefly working as a go-go dancer at a gay bar, trying to become a priest, and moving in with Hector’s mom). She fakes getting a call from an Uber, and poor Josh is dumb enough to not realize that’s not a thing.

Rebecca thinks that Josh is just swiping the wrong people on his dating apps.

REBECCA: I have amazing taste in people

JOSH: Is that true?

REBECCA: Definitely not.

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What If It’s Us (Book Review)

what if it's usI have been looking forward to reading What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera for a long time because I love both of the authors. I was also really curious about the book, since—great as they both are—Albertalli and Silvera don’t seem like natural writing partners. Albertalli’s books—Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Upside of Unrequited, and Leah on the Offbeat—are upbeat coming-of-age stories about first love. Silvera’s—More Happy than Not, History is All You Left Me, and They Both Die at the End—are heavier and generally focus on death or heartbreak. I wondered which tone would win out, and how the two disparate styles would (or wouldn’t) compliment each other. My expectations for this one were high, and unfortunately, they weren’t quite met.

Summary: What’s it about?

While interning in New York for his mother’s law firm, Arthur briefly meets an adorable boy with a box and follows him into a post office. During their brief conversation, Arthur becomes convinced that the universe is setting the two of them up. There’s a problem: he failed to get either the name or the number of his potential soulmate.

The potential soulmate is Ben, who has just broken up with his first boyfriend/former best friend Hudson. Ben’s stuck in summer school and is convinced that his life is basically doomed to suck. He’s as intrigued by Arthur as Arthur is by him, but he assumes that it is just a missed connection.

Over the course of one summer, Arthur and Ben look for each other, find each other, and dare to wonder: what if it’s us?

Review: What’d I think?

In answer to my own question posed above, What If It’s Us is more like Albertalli’s usual offerings than Silvera’s. It is primarily the story of a summer romance between two apparently different boys whose lives probably wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for a very unlikely set of circumstances (and Arthur’s perseverance). Ben and Arthur’s relationships has its ups and downs, of course, but the novel is generally cheerful and hopeful. No one dies, and I can’t imagine anyone crying while reading this one.

pride flagIf the two writers have any common ground generally, it’s that they both usually write about queer romances. What If It’s Us is, unsurprisingly, a queer romance in the sense that it is a romance and the two protagonists are gay. More than that, it’s just a romance. Arthur and Ben’s sexualities are a nonissue. Weirdly, though, I found the central romance the least compelling aspect of the novel. I never fell in love with Ben and Arthur’s love. It feels rushed, and the complementary traits that they supposedly have aren’t quite as developed as I’d have liked. They’re not a bad couple, but I certainly never felt the relationship was primed for longtime success, even without the specter of Arthur’s immanent departure looming. Since it is the heart of the novel, I wish I could’ve liked Ben and Arthur’s relationship more than I did.

That being said, there are other relationships present that are a lot better. Ben’s friendship with his ridiculous longtime dudebro bestie Dylan is unquestionably the best part of the novel. Dylan is the best friend that everyone needs. Dylan is at times supportive and inappropriate, helpful and self-absorbed. When I first started What If It’s Us, I was more interested in Arthur’s side of the story; by the end, I preferred Ben’s by a wide margin, and that is down almost entirely to Dylan’s involvement. His bumpy relationship with his new girlfriend Samantha is also really adorable and silly. 

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Supernatural 14×03 Review (The Scar)

SPN season 14

Dean is back, Jack struggles with powerlessness, and Jody makes her first appearance in season fourteen. “The Scar” is a solid episode that advances the season-long mytharc and balances character development and relationships in equal measure. There may only have been three episodes so far this season, but in my opinion, this one is the best.

Sam isn’t quite sure how to get Dean to open up about his possession. In typical fashion, Dean tries to play off his trauma like a joke.

DEAN: It’s just every time I think about it it’s like a nightmare. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. It’s always just there watching me.

SAM: It’s just a beard. I’ve been a little busy lately.

DEAN: Yeah, well that’s not an excuse, you know. ‘Cause Duck Dynasty called. They want it all back.

SAM: Some people say I look good.

DEAN: No. No, Sam. No people say that.

For the record, I’m with Dean–not Jody–on this. Sam’s beard is far from the most egregious TV depression beard, but it still needs to go.

The truth is that Dean doesn’t actually remember what happened with Michael. He’s also thrown by the changes in the bunker. There are tons of people around, which he wasn’t expecting (thanks for the heads up, Sammy), and he’s not impressed with Sam’s new nickname.

DEAN: Chief?

SAM: I asked them not to call me that, but…

He is glad to see Jack and Cas, though, and they them. Jack gets a hug. Cas doesn’t. There is a dramatic swell of music right as Cas runs in, though, and Cas looks happier than we’ve ever seen him. I honestly don’t know how it is possible not to read Cas and Dean as in love at this point.

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Seriously, Cas never looks this happy

While Dean is taking off Michael’s clothes, he discovers a weird scar on his shoulder. He’s desperate to find out what the scar is from, because it is the only known way to hurt Michael. Since he doesn’t remember his time hosting Michael, he needs Cas to get in his head and find the memories. Cas does—even though Sam worries that it is too invasive right after a possession—and they discover that Dean-as-Michael got the scar from the hooded figure that killed Kaia in 13×10.

Left: Dean’s titular scar. Right: the scar everyone’s thinking about

When they call Jody to ask if there has been any more word about the Bad Place, she tells them that she has been investigating murders that left headless corpses with the same scar as Dean has. Road trip to Sioux Falls!

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The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Book Review)

the lady's guide to petticoats and piracyI have the good luck to have a birthday that falls right in the middle of new book releases from almost all of my favorite authors. The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee is the first of my amazing birthday stash that I read, and I loved it just as much as I expected to. I read the first book of this series, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, earlier this year and adored it. I’d been looking forward to Lady’s Guide since I found out that it was a thing, and I’m so glad (but not surprised) that it didn’t disappoint.

Summary: What’s it about?

Felicity Montague is discovering that being tenacious and independent isn’t enough to get her through the doors that get slammed purely because she is a woman who wants to make her way in medicine, a male-dominated profession. Felicity struggles to find her place in a world that expects her to marry and settle down; that’s the last thing that she wants. Desperate to study medicine and change the world, Felicity is determined to meet her hero, Dr. Alexander Platt, in part because he has a reputation that suggests he might be willing to take her on. When she finds out that Dr. Platt is soon to be married to her childhood best friend, Johanna Hoffman, Felicity decides to invite herself to the wedding even though she and Johanna haven’t spoken since a falling-out years ago.

If you want to read a more specific summary that includes clarifications about the plot (mild spoilers only), read Summary 2. If you want a completely spoiler-free experience, you can jump down to the review section.

Summary 2: What’s it really about?

Mild Spoilers! The plot evolves from the initial premise, so the summary above only hits the first third or so of the book. This is a summary of the main plot, and mentions some things that are revealed after a hundred pages or so.

In order to get to the wedding, Felicity makes a nebulous alliance with Sim, a pirate who is also desperate to get to the Hoffman home. Of course, even when Felicity finds Johanna and Dr. Platt, things aren’t as easy as she expected. She catches Sim trying to rob Johanna, and then Johanna runs away the night before the wedding. To make matters worse, Platt is not the hero Felicity thought he was. It turns out that Johanna’s mother, a naturalist, drew valuable maps, maps that might be the answer that Felicity needs… if she can get to it before Platt, the pirates, and anyone else who might stand in her way.

Review: What’d I think?

gentleman's guide
You should have read Gentleman’s Guide before moving on to the sequel, but it is okay if you don’t remember all the specifics.

The main thing that I love about this novel—and its predecessor—is the delightful combination of genres. It is a fantastical historical fiction novel that is the tiniest bit anachronistic. There’s something really impressive about the way that Lee introduces fantasy elements late in her novels but makes them feel absolutely at home in the world. Sometimes that can be jarring, but the world in these novels is already so fun and surprising that the revelation that magic exists just makes sense. I think that these books would make really good movies, because they’re so fast paced and swashbuckling. The visuals are also really well done; I can picture everything going on, but the narrative never gets bogged down in overly long descriptions.

These are really, really fun books because the combination of historical facts and atmosphere and adventure romp makes for a story that feels both educational and like a guilty pleasure.

The language feels fairly modern, and the characters are almost all marginalized people that existed back then, but who don’t often get represented in historical novels. It’s something that struck me in the first book and which continues to be excellent in the sequel. Lee addresses the complaint that “women in historical fiction are often criticized for being girls of today dropped into historical set pieces, inaccurate to their time because of their feminist ideas and independent natures” in her Author’s Note, and it’s a little sad that she has to. The note discusses the precedents for characters like Felicity, Johanna, and Sim, and it is quite fascinating.

history is a whitewash

The truth is, Felicity does sound a lot like a modern girl, but that’s only because we still have the same problems. There is a lot of male gatekeeping. People conflate female beauty with female worthiness. People are expected to live their lives in accordance with the roles associated with their sex. It’s frustrating now, and it can only have been more frustrating then. As Sim says,

“I have spent my whole life fighting for what would be mine without question if I were a man, and to be better at it than my brothers, because women don’t have to be men’s equals to be considered contenders; they have to be better. […] That’s the life of it all. You have to be better to prove yourself worthy of being equal.”

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Ink (Book Review)

inkInk by Alice Broadway is a teen dystopian novel that is somehow both incredibly creative and painfully predictable. Interestingly, it was a NaNoWriMo book. I mostly picked it up because of the cover, which is atypical and beautiful.

Summary: What’s it about?

In Leora’s world, skin tells stories. Tattoos are an integral part of her society and her religion. People believe that marking the skin takes weight off the soul, and as a result bodies tell the story of lives and souls. When a person dies, the skin is flayed and bound into a skin book, judged for worthiness, and then either kept for remembrance or burned for damnation. At around the time when Leora comes of age, her father dies, leaving behind secrets that Leora had no idea of.

The government is snapping down on crime. Fearful of violence and war from the blanks—unmarked people—young Mayor Longsight increases punishment on anyone helping the blanks, editing marks, or otherwise resisting the dominant ideology. When Leora witnesses a public marking, she learns about the crow mark that signifies crimes that warrant being forgotten, and she realizes that her beloved father bore the mark.

Review: What’d I think?

The society Broadway has created in Ink is incredibly inventive. The marking system cleverly combines politics, religious rhetoric, and even fairy tale retellings. There is something appealing and comforting about the idea that people are open enough to display all their accomplishments and mistakes where anyone might see them, and it is absolutely logical that someone raised in that system would automatically distrust anyone who did not display everything openly.

The problem is that someone who did not grow up in the society—like the reader—can see the cracks easily. There is nothing to stop someone from not getting a mark that would damn them. Since the marks are tattooed rather than showing up naturally, the dividing line between blanks and markeds is completely arbitrary. There’s no such thing as “blank blood” because nothing real separates the blanks from the markeds. Also, it’s obvious from the start that the government is  corrupt. I mean, this is a dystopia. And any society with a compulsory religion that dictates everything from policy to clothing is dangerous. There’s supposed to be a separation between church and state for a reason.

I predicted the truth about the blanks about ten pages into the novel. I could even correctly guess what Leora’s long-contemplated first personal mark was going to be a few hundred pages before she settled upon it. It’s frustrating, because the setup is so creative at first look, but it falls apart and into common tropes when you study it more closely.

The novel also follows most of the other conventions of teen dystopia. Leora meets a random guy and basically falls in love with him immediately. Everyone is a little too young and immediately successful. The mayor is a very young, handsome man. Mel, the renowned storyteller, is only twenty-something, but based on the descriptions of her fame and reputation I’d assumed she was at least sixty or seventy before I was told otherwise. Leora is fast-tracked through her inking apprenticeship and is eventually singled out by government officials. Her best friend Verity is put on important government cases on literally her second day of work there. Even the central crow-as-rebellion image invokes The Hunger Games’ mockingjay.

There are things that are done well, though. I really like Verity and Leora’s friendship. It is strong and central, and it is nice to read about fictional friends who actually have each others’ backs and don’t pointlessly keep secrets from each other. Overall, Ink is very easily readable, and it goes by quite quickly.

What’s the verdict?

Ink is a perfectly serviceable teen dystopia novel. It unfortunately relies a little too heavily on the tropes associated with the genre, and most of the novel is easily extrapolated from the society as first presented. It is still pretty fun, though. The writing is good, and the main characters are interesting. That being said, I don’t think I am going to bother continuing with the series unless the next book is easily and immediately available.

Report card.

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

The Age of Innocence (Book Review)

the age of innocenceIt was time to read another classic, so I picked The Age of Innocence, which won author Edith Wharton a Pulitzer Prize… in fact, the first Pulitzer Prize won by a woman. With this history, it is unsurprising that the novel is well-written, fiercely feminist, and full of biting social commentary.

Summary: What’s it about?

Newland Archer is a typical young man, newly engaged to a typical young woman and destined for a typical life in New York society. However, everything is shaken up by the arrival of Ellen Olenska, Archer’s betrothed’s cousin. Ellen is fleeing her abominable marriage to a Polish Count, and depends upon the open-mindedness and freedom promised by the States. However, New York’s promises do not entirely reflect the truth of its society. Ellen finds herself continually at odds with fashionable propriety, and is all but ostracized for it, except by Archer, who sees in her an alternative to the empty vessel that is his fiancée.

Review: What’d I think?

One might assume that the title reflects a kind of nostalgia for a better and more innocent time, but that is hardly the case. The Age of Innocence is intensely critical of the conservative society and the way it sweeps anything and everything unpleasant—and individual—under the rug if it cannot weed it out entirely. Although Archer is initially infatuated with May, he becomes aware over the course of the novel that society has kept him from knowing anything about her, lest her appearance as a nice, worthy girl slip:

“What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty, as a ‘decent’ fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a marriageable girl, to have no past to conceal?”

Not only that, he realizes that there is nothing to know. May is a product of society, so indoctrinated into it that she doesn’t realize that she is defined entirely by the ideas that are fed to her by others and the desire to fit seamlessly into society.

“As she sat thus, the lamplight full on her clear brow, he said to himself with a secret dismay that he would always know the thoughts behind it, that never, in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea, a weakness, a cruelty, or an emotion.”

Yet Wharton paints and even more damaging picture of what is required to have a polite, “innocent” social environment. The home of the most proper couple is stark and uncomfortable, but no one is allowed to point it out. People pressure Ellen not to divorce her husband, but rather to go back to him. His crimes against her go unstated, but are said to be unlivably abominable (reading between the lines, I assumed physical violence, probably including marital rape). When another woman’s husband ruins himself by speculating illegally, she is also forced to stay with him, and is ostracized for having done so. The status quo for “the age of innocence” is good for no one, but particularly damaging for women.

“A woman’s standard of truthfulness was tacitly held to be lower; she was the subject creature, and versed in the arts of the enslaved.”

An interesting aspect of the novel is that things likely would have turned out better had people taken the improper, liberal option whenever faced with the choice. Ellen should have ignored the plea not to pursue divorce. Archer should have broken it off with May, and May in turn ought to have been brought up in a way that allowed her to develop an individual identity. Society should be dictated more by the Ellens of the world (untraditional, perhaps, but kind, freethinking, and honorable) than by the van der Luydens (cold, judgmental, and absolute).

Best of all, Wharton makes this idea plan right from the start:

“Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the ‘new people’ whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to.”

She may specifically be referring to the theatre, but the sentiment is equally appropriate about New York society as a whole.

What’s the verdict?

I enjoyed The Age of Innocence. The writing is excellent and the argument about society is clear and unfolds organically with the story. While these are the best elements, everything else is strong as well. The pacing is slower than most modern readers are accustomed to, but it is definitely still worth the read, as its ideas are still relevant today.

Report card.

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

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 4×02 Review (I am Ashamed)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4.jpg

In my opinion, the season premiers of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are always the weakest. They also always seem to be missing a character (Greg wasn’t in 2×01, Josh wasn’t in 3×01 had no Josh, and White Josh wasn’t in 3×01). The show always picks up around episode two, possibly in part because episode two generally debuts the season’s theme song. This is all a long way to say that I wasn’t crazy about last week’s episode, but enjoyed this one a lot more.

The new themesong is “Meet Rebecca,” which gives Rebecca a jaunty introduction like you might see on a reality show or in romcom trailer, but it gets mixed up when weird scenes from Rebecca’s past (including: attacking Nathaniel like a flying squirrel and moments from “Love Kernals,” “Sex with a Stranger,” and “After Everything You Made Me Do”) make her too difficult to summarize her in a few brief, happy lines.

NARRATOR: You know, we’re not really seeing a common theme. Meet Rebecca! She’s too hard to summarize.

I like the new theme song. This whole show has been about deconstructing the romantic comedy, and this song really works, because it avoids the one or two note romantic heroine who generally has a few quirks that all fit into a singular narrative.

nuance rebecca crazy ex girlfriend

I’ve liked all the theme songs, but if I had to rank them, I’d probably do it like this:

  1. Season One Theme Song
  2. Season Four Theme Song (“Meet Rebecca”)
  3. Season Two Theme Song (“I’m Just a Girl in Love”)
  4. Season Three Theme Song (“You Do/You Don’t Want to be Crazy”)

This episode is also one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s few holiday episodes. It’s Halloween themed, which is fun. It has enough Halloween moments to be seasonally appropriate, but not so many that it’s annoying.

Rebecca, Heather, Valencia, and Paula

Last week Rebecca got released from prison, but she is not free from notoriety. She’s known as the Rooftop Killer, and there’s a lot about her online.

PAULA: Hon, have you been online today?

REBECCA: That’s a terrifying sentence. No, I have not. Why?

The Daily Covina—an online publication that, hilariously, about half the secondary cast apparently spends half their time commenting on and/or editing—has a story about Rebecca. She goes down the rabbit hole in the comments for three full days. She really doesn’t have any self control on the internet. The horrible comments convince Rebecca that the world is watching and judging her, which makes her afraid to go outside. Heather tries her best to get Rebecca out of the house, but even a personal FaceTime from Rebecca’s favorite Hocus Pocus witch can’t get her outside.

This leads to the first nontheme song of the episode: “Time to Seize the Day.” It’s… the least good of the songs this episode. It’s catchy and cringy and it’s possible that I’ll like it more if I heard it again, but I don’t think it’s one that I’ll sing at random times. As is common, it leans hard into its most awkward elements (in this case, Rebecca’s porn preferences), and that works out better in other places than it does here. I like most of the songs that this show produces, but there are a few that I just quote in random conversation.

Greg could if i wanted to crazy ex girlfriend

“Seize the Day” is fine, but it’s not going to be one of them. 

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Supernatural 14×02 Review (Gods and Monsters)

SPN season 14

In this week’s episode of Supernatural, Michael creates supermonsters, Sam—with Mary and Bobby—investigates a lead, and Cas sucks at babysitting. Like last week’s episode, this is a slightly unusual episode in that the focus is not on Sam and Dean. Dean is still 99% offscreen and Sam also has an abbreviated role. Cas is slightly more central than usual, but even he mostly serves to buck up Jack and Nick’s storylines. Jack, I get. Nick… Sorry, but I still don’t get why Nick is even around.

Now that Michael has decided to ally himself with monsters rather than humans or angels due to the sort of twisted logic that could only come from a narrow minded, anti-free-will villain, he has a more definite plan for the future. Using a combination of grace and blood, he has found a way to supercharge monsters, making them more deadly and—worse—impervious to many of the things that hunters use to defeat them. It takes a few tries to get the formula right, though; Michael kills off a coven of vegetarian vampires before he gets things exactly the way he wants. Of course, he also uses said coven to set a trap, so it isn’t a total bust.

Sam, Bobby, and Mary go to Duluth to look for Michael; they suspect his presence when they hear about a bunch of bodies with their eyes burned out, a sure sign of an angel killing. This time, they don’t take Jack with them, because “last time [he] sucked when it mattered.” They also don’t take Cas, because someone has to take care of Jack and Nick and because he’s an angel, and Michael would be able to sense his presence. I think it’s a slightly hackneyed excuse, but then again Cas often gets left behind on missions with barely a handwave. Poor guy.

Poor Cas. Being an angel is a really sore spot this episode. He gets left behind because of it. Mary and Bobby make snide remarks about angels’ veraciousness in his hearing (they do apologize when they see Cas, and Cas does agree). Nick rages at him to tell him that his taking a vessel makes him as bad as Lucifer. So, yeah. Not a good day to be an angel in the bunker.

Cas isn’t happy to be left to “babysit” Jack and Nick.

don't like it no one likes it deancas supernatural

CAS: And you need me to stay here to babysit Nick and Jack.

SAM: It’s not babysitting, Cas.

CAS: Only in the sense that they’re not infants. But they both have to be supervised.

He is also aggressively terrible at it. The absolute minimum required for babysitting is that you keep your charges from murdering anyone.

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Dress Codes for Small Towns (Book Review)

dress codes for small townsIt’s always a risk to pick up a book you’ve never heard of by an author you’ve never heard of. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes you get something like Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens. Oh, well. At least it’s short.

Summary: What’s it about?

Billie is the daughter of the preacher in a very small country town. She is not the kind of girl one would expect from that background. In fact, she (along with the rest of her crew, “the hexagon”) is a bit of a rebel without a cause. In her hometown, there is a hugely popular annual Harvest Festival at which a Corn Dolly is prestigiously awarded to the town’s most deserving female. However, the festival is in trouble following the death of one of the town elders, and Billie and company decide to step in to save it. She also questions her sexuality along the way.

Review: Why’d I dislike it?

While I appreciate that this book is trying to address homophobia and stringent gender roles in religious small towns, it really doesn’t work as a novel. Billie is simply not the sort of protagonist that I can care about. She and her friends are obnoxious. We’re supposed to believe that the town needs to be more openminded because they don’t accept Billie because she dresses like a guy, but that is only partially true. The real reason people don’t like Billie is because she does stupid things just for the sake of doing stupid things. At the beginning of the novel she and her friends literally set the church on fire. And the town is actually surprisingly openminded. There’s a lot of acceptance at the end, but Billie never actually changes anything… which indicates that the town was probably fairly chill to begin with.

Mostly, I just can’t stand “the hexagon.” Billie isn’t even the most annoying member of the squad. One of her friends does nothing but puke. Seriously. He throws up in every scene he’s in and it’s supposed to be funny, I guess. And another one of Billie’s friends pretends to be gay because he thinks it’ll help Billie come to grips with her sexuality, which is manipulative at worst and pointless-love-triangle-angst at best.

And the Corn Dolly thing is just ridiculous. In a book that is ostensibly about dismantling antiquated gender roles, it seems kind of odd that no one ever questions or devalues the grand prize that is awarded to the woman who is the best at being a woman. And no, Billie winning it at the end does not change anything.

One final thing: people are kind of over love triangles unless they’re done really well. You can’t just add more people and make it a love hexagon and expect that to make it more interesting.

What’s the verdict?

I wanted to like this book. YA usually handles sexuality, growing up, shifting identity, and first love really well, but this book is unfortunately frustrating and a little boring. If you want to read a book that deals with the intersection of religion and queerness, you should try Autoboyography by Christina Lauren instead.

Report card.

Writing: C         Plot: C        Characters: F       Themes: C         Fun: F        Final: D

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 4×01 Review (I Want to Be Here)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4

This is the final season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! I’m excited since this is one of my favorite shows, but in all honesty this is not one of its best episodes. There are some funny moments and one very good song, but overall my impression that it had to do too much plot work to be one of the better offers, since this show is primarily about character.

Rebecca’s plight is actually much less serious than it appeared at the end of last season (you can go here for a recap of last season). Her guilty plea is not accepted, so while she has to go to jail for a few weeks, she’ll get another hearing. Rebecca plans to keep pleading guilty over and over again, but Paula refuses to let that happen. Despite the fact that she (and Darryl) are in real estate law rather than criminal law, Paula is certain that she’ll manage to get Rebecca out even though Rebecca keeps dragging her feet and repeating that she deserves to be imprisoned.

eliza hamiltonOf course, jail is scarier and sadder than Rebecca anticipated. She’s lonely and scared, but she thinks that she’s found the answer when she discovers the theatre group in the prison. She thinks that she’ll be able to do her penance there, and maybe even get Lin-Manuel Miranda to tweet about it.

VALENCIA: he is so inspirational.

The other ladies really don’t like Rebecca’s contributions to the group, though. They don’t like her song choices, and when Rebecca tries to put on a Chicago “Cell Block Tango”-esqe song (“What’s Your Story?”) she finds that she’s the only one who can put her story into a snappy musical anecdote. Everyone else’s stories are super depressing, and many of them are related to systematic issues. The song itself is repetitive and cringy, which is, I guess, kind of the point. A lot of CEG’s songs are catchy and singable, but this one isn’t. The point of it is to point out that real incarceration isn’t showy or sexy, so in that sense it works. It’s not one of my favorites, though.

The other song is a lot better. Rebecca, Nathaniel, and Josh all feel very alone and sing “No One Else is Singing My Song.” The three of them feel alone in the world, and are sure that no one else anywhere could possibly have any idea what they’re going through, unaware (at least until the end) that they’re singing together. Not only are all three of them singing the same rhythm, the “whole company” is singing! Well, kind of. Where’s White Josh? There was no sign of him, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate he won’t be back this season, so I’m a little worried. Other than that minor qualm, I really enjoyed “No One Else is Singing My Song.”

white josh airquotes crazy ex girlfriend
Is it the whole company? IS IT?

Rebecca starts to realize that maybe going to jail was a stupid, empty gesture that won’t actually accomplish anything, and when Paula gets Trent to admit to everything, she goes free with only mild complaints.

Meanwhile, Josh has been living with Hector’s mom (something that he doesn’t see as weird until Hector points it out). Josh realizes that he actually misses a lot of things and becomes convinced that he has a disorder. He self-diagnoses himself using online quizzes before realizing that maybe that’s stupid. He goes to see Dr. Man Akopian, who tells him that he doesn’t have any disorders, but that doesn’t mean he’s exempt from looking inward, figuring himself out, and working hard.

Nathaniel finishes out the episode. He decides that the best way to overcome his heartbreak is to go on a death defying retreat. He pays $100,000 to have a group beat him up and dump him at an undisclosed location to fend for himself. Luckily for him, George finds him—bringing with him meat, water, ska music, and, eventually, the news that Rebecca has been released from prison—and Nathaniel manages to feel a little better. He runs back to tell Rebecca that he still loves her.

She still loves him, but when she expresses a desire to better herself and actually try to make a difference for good, Nathaniel accuses her of being silly and selfish and she calls it off again.

By the end of the episode, Rebecca has found a way to do good that might actually do good: she is going to offer free legal advice to her previous jailmates. And don’t worry, she’s going to study up on criminal law because she is also a real estate lawyer.

This is not my favorite episode. It has its funny moments—the best are probably the repeated Lin-Manuel Miranda and Cats one-liners, Heather’s hilariously specific party decorations, Darryl’s epic fail at acting casual after eavesdropping on Rebecca and Nathaniel, and Josh’s therapy session—but it is not as strong an episode as I expected/hoped for. On the other hand, it gets Rebecca out of jail and positions her in a place where she can move forward, and it’s probably better to do that all in one swoop than to draw it out over several episodes when everyone pretty much knows that it’s inevitable. Plus, it’s interesting that for the first time the episode title is explicitly about Rebecca, not any of the men in her life. First all the episodes were named for Josh. Then they were all named for Nathaniel. This one has “I.” Rebecca is finally owning herself!

josh huzzah crazy ex girlfriend.gifNext week: Josh is going to try online dating.

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Episode Credits:

Written by Rachel Bloom

Directed by Stuart McDonald

Starring Rachel Bloom (Rebecca), Donna Lynne Champlin (Paula), Vella Lovell (Heather), Gabrielle Ruiz (Valencia), Pete Gardner (Darryl), Scott Michael Foster (Nathaniel), Vincent Rodriguez III (Josh), Erick Lopez (Hector), and Danny Jolles (George)


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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Book Review)

the seven husbands of evelyn hugo
Whoever made this cover actually read the book! Evelyn has her signature green dress and unnaturally blonde hair!

There are some books that it almost everyone reads and recommends, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of them. For almost a year, it seems like I find it every time I turn around, but I put off reading it. I’m not completely sure what I initially found so off putting about it—unless it’s just the prominent nail polish on the cover, which is definitely a pet peeve (although I will admit that I’ve come around to liking the cover apart from that)—because I previously read and liked Maybe in Another Life. Since I’ve been on a YA run that’s been long even for me, I figured it might be a good time to give this one a shot.

Summary: What’s it about?

As a relatively new writer, Monique is shocked when the opportunity of a lifetime falls into her lap. Evelyn Hugo, Hollywood legend, is going to give a rare interview, and she has specifically requested Monique for the piece. When the two meet, Monique discovers that Evelyn has more in mind than just an article about a charity auction. As Evelyn tells the story of her long, scandalous, tragic, glamorous life in Hollywood, two questions rise to the forefront: which of Evelyn’s seven(!) husbands was the love of her life, and why—of all the journalists in the world—did Evelyn choose Monique to tell her story?

What’s it really about (summary with spoilers)?

Evelyn doesn’t just want Monique to write an article. She wants Monique to write a book about her whole life, uncensored. The book will be a bestseller for certain, and it will skyrocket Monique to success in her field. It’s a huge opportunity for an up-and-comer, but Evelyn promises that it isn’t just a gift, and that Monique will probably hate her when all is said and done.

As a young woman, Evelyn Herrera does everything in her power to escape her abusive father and follow her late mother’s dreams to Hollywood. Evelyn is clever, relentless, and perfectly prepared to use her greatest gift—her beauty—to get what she wants. Over the years, she does what it takes to become the It Girl. She erases her Cuban-American identity by dyeing her hair and changing her name. She marries the right men to get her where she needs to be and she makes connections with the right people. Her dedication to her fame is such that her public persona—that of a flighty, husband-crazy sexpot—is in fact carefully constructed to hide the truth of her relationship with the love of her life, her fellow actress and onetime rival Celia St. James. As Evelyn tells her life story to Monique, the reader is enveloped in the tale of a woman proud and capable of orchestrating everything except, perhaps, her own happiness.

Review: What’d I think?

I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would. It doesn’t start particularly strongly, so I struggled a bit through the first few chapters. Honestly, it’s a pattern that’s consistent throughout: the sections with Monique are considerably less compelling than those that center solely around Evelyn. For some reason, I was never able to get completely onboard with Monique. There’s not much to her as a character. Even when she is around, she is there mostly to listen to Evelyn’s story. As a result, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo feels less like a story about two women and more like a life story that is occasionally interrupted by commercial breaks. It doesn’t help that, at least in my opinion, the much-hyped and long-hidden reason that Evelyn chose Monique falls flat. It is a personal connection, but it’s not nearly as upsetting or dramatic as I was expecting.

However, those are really my only major complaints with the book. Everything else is done really well and really engagingly. Evelyn Hugo is a fascinating heroine. It makes sense that it takes a whole novel to explain her life, because it would be impossible to get a complete picture of her more quickly. One thing that I particularly like is that many aspects of her seem to contradict each other, since that’s common in real people but not always in fictional ones. And Evelyn is far from being the only multi-faceted character. Celia is sweet and open… until she’s callous and petty. Evelyn’s many husbands are not all what they first appear, either.

into the woods charming not sincere
Evelyn at her worst

A lot of this comes from people being complicated, but it also comes from the glitzy, deceptive Hollywood setting. There, people make concerted efforts to appear other than they are, and the press—who always want a story—exacerbates the lies. The news clippings that provide the outside world’s perspective of Evelyn are essential for the juxtaposition of the Evelyn the world knows (gorgeous, careless, on top of the world) with the one only a few people get to see (manipulative, frightened, desperate). The title plays into this double life as well. When I heard the title and read a basic synopsis, I thought I knew exactly what this book would be: a very heterosexual story about an actress who destroys her life by throwing everything away partying, doing drugs, and sleeping around. But there is a lot more to the story. It is so much better than it sounds.

What’s the verdict?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a well-written novel with an enchanting heroine at its heart. Evelyn is an incredible character whose twisting life and love stories entrance the reader as much as they do the people around her. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an in-depth character study, a kind of biography for a fictional character, but Evelyn is fiercely real despite not being, well, real. Readers who like character-driven stories, forbidden loves, and the glitz and scandal associated with celebrity will love this one.

Report card.

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


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Supernatural 14×01 Review (Stranger in a Strange Land)

spn-season-14.pngSupernatural’s season fourteen premier feels a little off, but it feels off in a completely intentional way. It is the first episode in the show—which, I might remind you, has had 288 episodes counting this one—that’s totally missing a Winchester brother. In every other episode, even when the boys are possessed or otherwise changed (lookin’ at you, demon!Dean), they are never totally absent. Since Dean is the heart of the show, it’s definitely unsettling not to have him around in any capacity, particularly since I expected to at least see some sort of internal scene, like when possessed Cas was depressingly watching TV inside his own head in season 11.

then supernatural
If you need a more specific THEN, you can read my recap of last season here

The episode starts, as always, with the Road So Far. This one is… eh. Serviceable. I think it focuses a bit too much on Lucifer and Asmodeus, who both died last season, apparently permanently. And Cas barely features. When Cas gets ignored inside the episode by the characters, I take it as intentional, a slight that will eventually be maintexted and corrected, but when the recaps ignore him, it makes me worry a bit that it’s the writers who like to ignore him.

I really like the transition from recap to main episode that has a (depression) bearded Sam switching the music off on his way back to to the bunker.

From the offset, this season has a different feel from previous ones, because we’re used to having Sam and Dean (and occasionally Cas) alone in the bunker, which is full to bursting with people. It’ll take some getting used to, but I’m excited for it. It’s about time the boys stopped thinking of having a family as an impossibility and let family find them. It’s nice to have all these people around, but they’re certainly no replacement for Dean.

SAM: Maggie, can you hack the traffic cams?

MAGGIE: Uh… no.

Sam and Mary commiserate over their lack of leads on Dean; Sam’s lead was a bust, and Ketch and Cas aren’t having any more luck (actually, Cas is having considerably less luck, but we’ll get to that in a second). Neither is Jack, who is powerless but training. He’s struggling, though, even with Bobby to help him. On the plus side, he can apparently tie his shoes now! In any case, his shoes have laces rather than Velcro, which is more than can be said for him last season. The occasional reminders that Jack is a one-year-old crack me up. 

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All American Boys (Book Review)

all american boysI have been hearing good things about All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely for more than a year. It is usually recommended in conjunction with Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, which is understandable. They’re both about police brutality and racism, so I can see why there’s a if-you-liked-that-then-you’ll-like-this link between them, but it is also kind of a shame that doing that reduces them both to being Police Brutality and Racism Books, which isn’t fair to either one.

Summary: What’s it about?

All American Boys centers around two high school boys, Rashad and Quinn. One night the boys’ paths cross when they both go to a convenience store before a party and Rashad—who is black—is mistakenly accused of shoplifting and brutally beaten by a police officer. Quinn—who is white—witnesses the attack and, more to the point, knows the officer: it’s Paul Guzziano, Quinn’s best friend’s older brother, who has been Quinn’s mentor since childhood. When a video of the beating gets out, it starts a movement and a hashtag, and both Rashad and Quinn have to figure out how they fit into the narrative.

Review: What’d I think?

The novel is told from both Rashad and Quinn’s POVs in alternating chapters, which gives the reader the ability to look at the situation from different angles, particularly considering that Quinn is so close to Paul, Rashad’s assaulter. While there is definitely something to be said for having multiple angles—more on this in a minute—throughout the whole novel I had the uncomfortable feeling that Quinn gets too much POV. Like, I get it. It’s rough to take a stand about something that, for whatever reason, ruffles so many feathers. I’m not saying that it isn’t hard, and I’m definitely not saying that it isn’t important. But Quinn’s half of the story is not as important as Rashad’s. I’m sorry. White people already talk too much about issues and experiences that we can’t understand.

Yes, Quinn has an interesting role in the story. He’s an interesting character, and he has some good growth. But he’s not a hero. He doesn’t deserve the moments towards the end when people excitedly tell stories about the things he’s done or when people nod importantly at him at the march. It’s not exactly a white savior storyline, but it does make me a little uncomfortable.

The one thing about Quinn’s storyline that is done really, really well is the addressing of privilege and how it lets people off the hook in a way. A person who can turn a blind eye to a systematic problem—or mistakenly think that said problem is not a real concern—can only do so by virtue of not being affected by it. However, ignoring a systematic problem is not taking a middle path, which Quinn realizes when he tries it. You can’t take a middle path because there isn’t a middle path. You’re either accepting racism or challenging it. If you don’t challenge it, you’re accepting it. As Quinn observes:

“… some people had told me racism was a thing of the past, they’d told me not to get involved. But that was nuts. They were nuts. And more to the point—they’d all been white people. Well, guess what? I’m white too—and that’s exactly why I’m marching. I had to. Because racism was alive and real as shit. It was everywhere and all mixed up in everything, and the only people who said it wasn’t, and the only people who said, “Don’t talk about it” were white. Well, stop lying. That’s what I wanted to tell those people. Stop lying. Stop denying. That’s why I was marching.”

There are some other elements of the novel that I don’t think are done quite as well. There’s a long subplot about the basketball team possibly going to state that I just never cared about. It’s possible that this was intended as a way to juxtapose the things that matter with the things that really don’t—and the basketball team admittedly does serve as a pretty good petri dish for the community as a whole—but there is way too much abou it. The problem is not so much that the subplot exists as how long it drags on. It could have been condensed into a few sentences and nothing would’ve changed.

There are also a lot of characters who are all but indistinguishable. Both Rashad and Quinn have friend squads that are unnecessarily large. Quinn’s friends Guzzo and Jill and Rashad’s friend English are the only three who I could reliably keep track of; everyone else fades into the background, but occasionally gets dragged out to emphasize racial dynamics or to fill out a scene that takes place at school. However, it’s hard for such scenes to hit any of the right chords when the characters involved are so nondescript that I can’t remember if they’ve showed up before, let alone what color their skin is.

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The Language of Thorns (Mini Book Review)

language of thornsLeigh Bardugo is one of my favorite authors. I read everything of hers that I come across, so I excitedly picked up The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic even though short stories aren’t generally my thing.

The Language of Thorns is a collection of six fairy tale retellings that are set in the Grishaverse. While they have recognizable connections to some of the most popular and well-known stories—the most obvious ones are probably The Nutcracker and The Little Mermaid—they are quite different. They’re dark but strangely beautiful. While they’re all set in the Grishaverse (the majority of them are Ravkan, but the other countries are represented as well), it is not necessary to have read Six of Crows or the Grisha trilogy to enjoy them.

The stories themselves are all really good—they are exactly the right combination of dark, creepy, and hopeful that makes for the best fairy tales—but what really makes this book are the absolutely gorgeous illustrations by Sara Kipin. Each page has an elaborate border that expands and changes the more deeply you read into the story. The combination of the stories and illustrations is pretty magical.

Personally, I prefer novels to short story collections, so this isn’t going to be one of my top ten books from the year, but it is still really good and definitely worth the read if you like the world and mythology of Bardugo’s Grishaverse, or if you just like fairy tale retellings.

Report card: A

 

They Both Die at the End (Book Review)

they both die at the end
This is such a good cover!

They Both Die at the End was the first of Adam Silvera’s books that I heard of, but I read his older books first mostly because I thought this one would too sad. Now I have to kind of laugh at myself, because History is All You Left Me is so, so, so, so much more depressing (and, honestly, so is More Happy than Not). That’s not to say that this one doesn’t have the emotional impact of Silvera’s other books; however, for me, it is the least affecting.

Summary: What’s it about?

When Mateo gets the Death-Cast call telling him that he’ll die in the next twenty-four hours, he’s doing what he’s always doing: hiding out in his room, awkwardly avoiding the world. When Rufus gets the call, the same day, he’s doing something wildly out of character: beating the crap out of his ex-girlfriend’s terrible new boyfriend. Faced with only one day left before certain death, the two boys make the decision to focus on living, not dying.

Review: What’d I think?

As I said above, this is not my favorite of Silvera’s books. It’s still really good, and I loved it, but after the emotional destruction that was History is All You Left Me, They Both Die at the End is a piece of cake. Part of that is, of course, the fact that HiAYLM is about death and TBDatE is about life. Normally I would prefer the latter, but I got sucked more completely into the former.

gravestoneTold in alternating POV primarily from Mateo and Rufus—but also various characters that they come in contact with over the course of their last day, including friends, enemies, passersby who are slated for death, and passersby who are not slated for death—the novel chronicles the effects the two boys have on each other after they meet through the app Last Friend. The contrast between the two is set up right off the bat: Mateo is introverted, anxious, and innocent while Rufus is an extroverted doer who doesn’t always think through his actions. They’re tied not just by the deathdates but also by their recent traumas. Rufus’ parents and sister died in front of him a few months ago, and Mateo’s father is in a coma.

While the two characters do work well together, the contrast between them is not as stark as it first appears. Rufus is not really the bad boy he seems to be at the beginning, so while Mateo certainly grows from having met Rufus, the opposite is less true. The main idea behind both the novel and the relationship is the fact that, by being each other’s Last Friend, Mateo and Rufus help each other grow and really live. It’s true for Mateo, who learns to loosen up and do things without being constantly afraid and self-conscious about it. Rufus gets past a temporary funk, but Mateo’s contribution to him is much smaller than his contribution to Mateo… which is kind of odd considering that, at least in my opinion, Mateo is the more developed character. Rufus isn’t bad, but I didn’t necessarily connect to him as much as I have to Silvera’s others, both in this book and in his others, who are all painfully and complexly human.

I am a little inclined to say that the friendship between Mateo and Rufus develops too quickly, since they become very close very fast, but I also feel like I can’t say that, because how could timelines not be accelerated in a situation like this?

I’ve read a lot of reviews that compliment the short chapters by the secondary and tertiary characters, and I agree completely. They expand the world, increase suspense exponentially, and add a lot of interesting contrast. The novel wouldn’t be bad without them, but they certainly take it up a level.

denton little's deathdateThe main themes behind the novel about living and avoiding regret are really well done. It was particularly interesting to read this novel so shortly after Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin, which tackles the same concept with a few minor differences—in Silvera’s world, people are informed of their imminent death on the day it will occur, whereas in Rubin’s they know the date their whole life—but with a decidedly more comic take. It’s fascinating how differently people can think about the same thing. In any case, now I’m stuck wondering… what does it mean to live, and why does our behavior change in the face of death even though we know that we’re all mortal?

What’s the verdict?

Adam Silvera is an immensely powerful writer. They Both Die at the End may not be my favorite of his books, but it is still really, really good. It is a deeply emotional story about two boys learning to live right before they die, and the inevitability of their ends (yes, they do actually both die in the end) serves to make them more poignant when they come.

Report card.

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

So… what would you do if you only had one day left to live?