My brother and my sister are both artists, so Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has been on their radar for a long time because of the unique animation style. I knew about it and that there were multiple Spidermans (Spidermen?) in it, but that was the extent of my knowledge before my siblings took me to see it with them. There’s actually something pretty exciting about going to see a movie that you know next to nothing about.
There’s also something exciting about going to see a movie that’s this good. Spider-Verse manages to feel entirely unique even in a market that is completely inundated with superhero movies. Honestly, we’re even inundated with Spiderman movies, but Spider-Verse turns that—which could so easily be a drawback—into a strength. It uses the audience’s collective knowledge of Spiderman but doesn’t retread anything.
Side note: I’m using “Spiderman” when I mean Peter and “Spider-Man” for Miles.
By putting Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), rather than Peter Parker, at the heart of the story, Spider-Verse stands out. I am not a comics person, so previous to this movie I didn’t know anything about Miles aside from the fact that he exists. As a casual superhero fan, it’d be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Peter Parker is the only Spiderman and Spider-Verse plays with that a lot, to excellent (and comedic) effect. The meta moments that arise from Peter’s fame are amazing. I particularly love when Miles, alarmed by the process of turning into Spider-Man, turns to Peter-Parker-as-Spiderman comic books for guidance and information. There are jokes like this throughout, and I love them. Meta humor is my favorite and it is really well executed and not at all overdone here.
The year is almost over, which means it is time for my annual top and bottom ten lists (here’s 2017’s top ten). I didn’t read as much this year as I did last year–124 books to last year’s 151–but I still read enough to have a pretty healthy list. Of course, what with book clubs and moving, I reread considerably more this year than I have done recently. I disqualify rereads from my official list since they have an unfair advantage (the books I reread tend to be some of my absolute favorites). I also only allow one entry per author per list.
Still, it’s always nice to give a shout out to my amazing rereads, so here are some of the best:
YA is my favorite, so the vast majority of my top ten list is YA (54% of what I read this year was YA, and YA makes up 70% of both my top and bottom ten lists). Weirdly, a lot of my top picks are downers. Apparently I read mediocre happy books and brilliant sad ones this year. Anyway… onto the list!
Jordi Perez is a ray of sunshine. It is relentlessly cheerful and empowering. It features a queer, feminine, plus-sized heroine who is never given crap for any of that. It’s the kind of sweet, fluffy romance that queer, plus-sized people don’t usually feature in (except, at best, as the sassy sidekick to the straight, conventionally attractive heroine). Plus, it has a significant platonic relationship that never takes the backseat to the romance (or vice versa), which is unfortunately pretty rare.
This book is exactly the right kind of bonkers. It puts its heroine into a kind of choose-your-adventure, and depending on how she prioritizes things, she is tossed into a number of different genres that somehow all work together to create a cohesive whole. It’s the sort of novel that really shouldn’t work, but actually really does. When you read as much as I do, you end up having to accept that very few books will feel completely unique, but this one absolutely does.
Symptoms of Being Human tells the often-untold story of a genderfluid teenager trying to navigate a world that is far from welcoming. The novel is warm and funny at times, and educational and heartbreaking at others. The novel forces the reader to consider some of the most deeply ingrained assumptions of our society, and although it deals with difficult subjects like bullying, violence, and bigotry, it is more a celebration of individuality and strength than it is a demonstration of cruelty and ignorance.
I went into this one somewhat reluctantly because I thought that I could tell from the title exactly what it was going to be… thankfully my preconceptions were completely wrong. Evelyn Hugo surprised me with how compelling, complex, and glitzy it is. The two timelines work together to tell a the story of a time gone by with a modern morality and flair that works really well, and I ended up loving Evelyn despite all the bad decisions she made and all the people she hurt on the path to ultimately unsatisfying fame and fortune.
This is one of those classics that feels terrifyingly modern, like it could have been written this year. It is distressingly relatable at times, and painfully depressing at others, but there’s no dismissing just how powerful the writing is. It certainly makes for uneasy reading… but, dang, it’s good.
Speaking of sad… I discovered Adam Silvera this year. I read everything of his I could find (More Happy than Not, What if it’s Us?, They Both Die at the End) and History is All You Left Me is the best by a wide margin, which is saying a lot considering how consistently good he is. I’ve never had such a visceral reaction to a book. I felt literally choked by Griffin’s sadness, and I’ve never been so physically exhausted after reading a book. If you want to really feel with a character, this is absolutely the book to read.
This is another one that I heard a lot about online. I love mythology, so I jumped in with some knowledge of what I was getting myself into. Despite that, there are a lot of surprises. Like basically everything on this list, The Song of Achilles is beautifully written and populated by characters who are flawed and real. Achilles in particular is fascinating because he is often selfish and violent and he regularly chooses fame over love, which are all more associated with villains than with characters we’re intended to sympathize with. And yet… I defy anyone to read this book and not hope fruitlessly that it won’t end the way that you know it has to.
3) Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul
Since I blog mostly about books, I don’t get the opportunity to write much about my deep, encompassing love of musicals (though I did see Phantom of the Opera live recently and am considering writing a review of it). I’ve loved the soundtrack for Dear Evan Hansen since I first heard it, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see it. When I heard that the novelization is good, I went ahead and read it. Even though I’m generally against novelizations, this risk paid off. It’s amazing. The escalation of Evan’s lie feels terrifyingly inevitable, and poor Evan is such a relatable, lovable character even when he does cringily awful things. I was bound to love this novel because I love the musical so much, but it’s a good book in its own right.
I heard about this book over and over before I finally read it myself, and it is deserving of every bit of hype that it gets. It is relentlessly high energy and ridiculous from front to end, and its characters are three-dimensional and hilarious and lovable. The character development in particular is amazing. Diversity is not often associated with historical fiction, but The Gentleman’s Guide makes it a priority. It is a hugely entertaining romp that sends its characters on a bizarre adventure that is equal parts unlikely and hilarious. I also read the sequel, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, which is also fabulous, but nothing beats the original.
This book is legitimately phenomenal. I got it from the library and immediately regretted not buying it. It is so smart, so tightly-plotted, and so gripping that I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up so late reading Six of Crows and its sequel Crooked Kingdom, you have no idea. It’s one of those books where you say, “Okay, one more chapter and then you will go to bed,” and then all of a sudden it’s three in the morning and you’ve finished the whole thing. I love Six of Crows so much that I eventually did go out and buy it, and then I reread it because you can’t buy a book and then not read it before putting it on the bookshelf. And I stayed up all night reading it again, even though I had already read it less than six months ago and knew everything that happened. Then I went to the library and got Crooked Kingdom again because you can’t just read Six of Crows and not finish out the series. I didn’t sleep that night, either. Like with Adam Silvera, I found every one of Bardugo’s books and read them all, and I guarantee that I will read every single book that she ever writes, because she is just that amazing.
I’m going to pretend that my absence from blogging for the past month or so was a planned hiatus rather than a pause caused by moving, starting a new job, getting sick, having family over, and reading slowly. This will most likely be the last regular book review of the year, though I’m hoping to get my annual top and bottom ten lists out sooner rather than later.
I wish I could close out the year with a book that I liked more, but it is what it is. I had been looking forward to Cassandra Clare’s Queen of Air and Darkness for a very, very long time, so the fact that I ended up being disappointed with it is just… a major bummer. There are, frankly, a lot of flaws in this book and it coasts a lot off the goodwill that comes from the many other novels that came before it.
Summary: What’s it about?
Queen of Air and Darkness is the final book in the Dark Artifices trilogy (Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadowsare books one and two, respectively), and it follows Emma, Julian, Cristina, Mark, and the rest of the crew as they continue to combat the risen Annabel, a conflict that is even more personal after the death that occurred at the climax of Lord of Shadows. Grief exacerbates the Blackthorns’ problems, as Ty starts down a dark path—and brings Kit with him—and Julian makes a drastic decision that he believes will save him from pain and from the still-looming threat of the terrible parabatai curse that looms over him and Emma. Plus, the bigoted Cohort is still around, and faeries from both the Seelie and Unseelie courts pose threats.
Review: What’d I think?
I love Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters, and I’ll continue reading about them for as long as she keeps writing, but after finishing Queen of Air and Darkness I’ve come to the conclusion that she simply does not finish well. Instead of focusing on giving one story a satisfying conclusion, Clare gets distracted by starting the next one. I was incredibly disappointed in City of Heavenly Fire (the final book of the Mortal Instruments) when I first read it because of the long sections about Emma and the Blackthorn children. I remember thinking, “I hate these stupid kids. They’re so pointless. Why do Jace and Clary care about them so much?” At the time, I was convinced that I wouldn’t read the Dark Artifices because of the awkward way Clare shoehorned its beginning into her first series. Lady Midnight convinced me that I was mistaken and that this new series was worth reading, but it was hard work undoing that terrible, terrible first impression. Unfortunately, Queen of Air and Darkness makes the same mistake, but it is even worse.
The excruciatingly long middle section of the novel, during which Julian and Emma visit Thule, the alternate dimension in which Sebastian killed Clary and kept Jace enslaved, and discover the power of Ash—the powerful son of Sebastian and the Seelie Queen—is agonizingly painful. I barely made it through it. I flipped ahead to see how much longer of it I had to endure before returning to the actual story. I thought Ash at least would be important now, but nope. He’s just a plant for the next series, a plant who gets entirely too much pagetime in a novel that loses itself by having too much going on.
I reviewed Cassandra Clare’s Lord of Shadowslast year, so I’m not going to review it again. I figured I’d still write a cheat guide, though. I wrote a list of the most important plot points from Lady Midnightfor anyone who didn’t have the time or the energy to reread it before Queen of Air and Darkness, so here’s the next installment of that.
SPOILERS! SERIOUSLY. SO MANY SPOILERS. ALL THE SPOILERS.
Well, I’m running behind. Usually I watch Supernatural late on Thursday night and then write the recap/review Friday morning, but I’m settling into a new job that has me working much earlier mornings than I’m used to, and I didn’t have the energy to stick to the schedule. I doubt anyone was actually waiting on this recap with baited breath, but just in case… that’s why.
It’s also why this review is shorter than usual. I’ll get it together soon, I promise.
“The Spear” is Supernatural’s midseason finale, which means two things: it starts with one heck of a recap and ends with one heck of a cliffhanger. It’s pretty par for the course for a finale, midseason or otherwise. It’s interesting how conventions are necessary to storytelling, but they can also be a detriment. The story wouldn’t really work if things got solved too early (like in mid-December rather than in May), but it’s unfortunate because we all go into an episode knowing that, no matter how good things look at the start, everything is going to go horribly wrong. Of course, I was so late watching this episode that I accidentally stumbled onto a massive spoiler, so that may have had something to do with it as well. Whoops.
Michael, who has found a new vessel, is still making plans. He’s still recruiting monsters and he plans to enact a mass transformation as a way to take over without the bloody, exhausting ordeal that is a coup. One of Michael’s newest recruits is Garth, who tells Michael that he’s there despite his friendship with the Winchesters because he has to take care of his family.
Worry not, though! Garth is undercover for the good guys.
I wanted to reread Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadowsbefore Queen of Air and Darknesscame out earlier this week, but my books were in storage for a few months while I moved from Hawaii to Texas and I didn’t get them back until too late to time it perfectly. I thought about skipping the rereads and going straight to the new book, but I’ve learned that lesson way too many times to put myself through it again, so I’m forcing myself to delay reading the new book. It’s a good a thing, too, because—while I remember most of the major things from Lady Midnight—there are a lot of minor things that’d I’d forgotten.
Summary: What’s it about?
Years ago, Emma Carstairs’ parents were murdered during Sebastian Morgenstern’s war (if you don’t know what that is, go back and read The Mortal Instruments series, starting with City of Bones). Everyone tells her that her parents were victims of that war, but she knows better, and—with the help of her parabatai Julian Blackthorn—has been investigating the murders on her own. When she becomes aware of a string of bodies that are marked the same way per parents’ were, Emma knows she’s closer than she’s ever been to finding the murderer. Amidst romantic woes, secrets, a Cold Peace that discriminates against faeries, the return of a long-lost family member, and more, Emma—along with the Blackthorn family and her new friend Cristina—investigates the murders, discovers a cult, and strives to unmask a necromancer.
Review: What’d I think?
I remember I was initially reticent about The Dark Artifices series because I disliked Emma and Julian’s sections in City of Heavenly Fire. Happily, they’re a lot more compelling when they’re older and when they’re at the center of their own story rather than on the outskirts of someone else’s. As a whole, Lady Midnight does a really good job of expanding the world set up in The Mortal Instruments. It’s now a much darker world. After all this time, readers that have been with this series since the start have aged up a little, and this trilogy ages with them and increases the emphasis on moral ambiguity. The Cold Peace in particular is fascinating. The villains are motivated by love and the heroes by revenge. One of the main characters is a talented and ruthless liar. There’s no line between good and evil here, and that’s exciting. Morally ambiguous YA fantasy is my favorite.
One thing that has really interested me about Clare’s writing over the course of all her shadowhunter novels is the way that things have developed over the course of the books. The parabatai bond particularly stands out to me. It is a huge deal in Lady Midnight. Back in City of Bones, it was a thing… but not a thing. As that series progressed, Alec and Jace’s relationship got stronger and more magical, and by the end it was essentially what it is now. However, the part about romantic love between parabatais is definitely new for the Dark Artifices. If it weren’t new, law-abiding Alec would have been absolutely flipping out about it back in the day. It’s an interesting inconsistency, and even though it is a mild plot hole, it’s more interesting to think of it as watching the creative process in real time, so that’s how I look at it.
Faeries are probably my favorite fantasy creatures. I love the darkness mixed with the glamour and royalty, and I’m fascinated by the mix of deceitfulness and the inability to lie. Bringing the faeries to the forefront is really cool, and I love how central they are here.
I did not realize that “I’m Not the Person I Used to Be” was Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s midseason finale until it was over. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense, because this episode has a lot of the staples of a finale: most of the cast is there—including some recurring characters who are important but often absent—the drama is heightened, and there is a cliffhanger. It is a very fun, very meta episode, but most importantly, it (sort of) brings back the character that everyone—including, apparently, some of the characters—has been awaiting with bated breath. That’s right! Greg is back!
A few episodes of spontaneous romantic music aside, Rebecca and Josh’s roommate situation is going pretty well. They’re quite happy with each other. Rebecca is worried that she doesn’t seem to be totally past thinking of Josh (and Nathaniel) romantically, though. She wants Paula’s feedback, but Paula is too busy bonding with the rabbit she got to replace Brendan and doesn’t answer her phone. AJ is around to provide some snark, but Rebecca needs Paula.
Everyone is getting ready for their “ten year” high school reunion. Josh is particularly excited about the reunion because he was prom king back in the day.
JOSH: My ten-year high school reunion is coming up and I’m stoked. I may not have mentioned, but I was prom king.
REBECCA: Yeah, no, I think it’s, uh, come up once or twice. Wait, ten years? Didn’t you graduate twelve years ago?
JOSH: Yeah, okay, what happened was the class president is supposed to plan it, and our class president is Hector.
Jack doesn’t last long this episode. Poor kid. Of course, his death doesn’t last long either, so make of that what you will. “Byzantium” is a nail-biter of an episode. I never expected Jack to die and stay dead—like Cas says, Jack dying so quickly and from something like this feels unnatural and premature; like I said last week, Jack has now been around for a year and a half, so he was due for his first death—but it sets off an unexpected set of events that are both exciting from a plot perspective and horrifying from a character perspective… so ideal for a drama.
As Jack lies on his deathbed with his three fathers standing vigil (the fourth father, who shall remain nameless because I’m sick of him, does not count), he worries about life after death. He wants to know what is going to happen to him. You’d think that of all the people in the world, Sam, Dean, and Cas would be the best people to ask since they’ve died a collective 377925789927 times.
They boys are weirdly unable to answer the question since between the three of them they’ve been to all the places: heaven, hell, purgatory, and the Empty. My immediate thought was that Jack should go to the Empty, as that’s the place for angels. Sure, Jack is only half (arch)angel, but considering how powerful he is was, I’d classify him as more angel than human. Apparently there’s a lot more debate about this inside the canon of the actual show than in my head, though, because Jack’s death throws the balance of the afterlife entirely out of whack.
Dean, who doesn’t process grief particularly well, storms out of the room because he can’t handle it. Cas goes after him, in part to comfort him, but mostly to remind him that Jack needs him and that he can’t fall apart yet. Cas convinces Dean to go back into Jack’s room, but it’s too late. A heartbroken Sam tells them that Jack is dead (RIP Jack) and then splits. Cas wants to go after him, but Dean says to give Sam space.
When Dean finds out that Sam left the bunker, though (after leaving a voicemail for Mary to tell her that Jack died), he changes his tune.
CAS: Dean, you said to give him space.
DEAN: Yeah. Space. In the bunker. With us. Not this.
With “I Will Help You,” we’ve reached the Naomi episode of season four. There’s always one. Naomi is one of those characters that I perceive that other fans really like. I think the actress was a big deal on The Walking Dead at some point (I could definitely be wrong about that; zombies aren’t my thing). I’ve never particularly liked her. The problem with her is that she’s always heavily featured whenever she shows up, and while I don’t hate her, I don’t like her enough that she warrants singing two of the 2<x<3 songs in the episode. That being said, Josh and Nathaniel are hilarious enough to make up for her, so it’s all good.
Remember how Rebecca volunteered to help the women from the prison at the beginning of this season? Well, she’s still doing that even though she’s not a lawyer anymore. Based on the girls’ reactions to Rebecca’s announcement that Paula will be subbing for her at the next session, though, she hasn’t been the most enthusiastic of mentors. In any case, Rebecca will be going out of town to attend a ceremony where Naomi will be winning a Jewish charity award. Possibly because she is subconsciously aware that she is the least charitable person on the planet, Naomi overcompensates with Jewishness by using approximately one Hebrew word per sentence throughout this whole episode. But we’ll get to her in a minute.
Before she leaves for New York, Rebecca hangs out with Josh and explains her new, incredibly honest online-dating method. This includes a number of unusual choices, including using her mugshot for her profile picture and listing “Group therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder,” “Recovering from recent suicide attempt,” and “Have been known to stalk my exes” as her hobbies. Rebecca is confident that this is the way to go, though.
REBECCA: Look, lying is bad for me. It’s a slippery slope. I tell one little lie, next thing you know, jail.
Since Rebecca picked a person from Josh’s dating app earlier in the season, Josh does the same for her. I’m a little worried about anyone who doesn’t immediately run away from Rebecca’s profile. My response to “stalks exes” would be “don’t get involved with this person.” Shockingly, Josh actually finds a match, and it’s someone Rebecca knows! Remember Jason, the guy with the smelly carpal tunnel balls? If you said yes, it’s either because you’re a super fan (good for you; me, too) or because he’s in the weird position of being a one-off character in season one who is in the current theme song three seasons later. He has now appeared more times in retrospect than he did when he was actually on the show.
Rebecca is pretty excited to have a date for when she comes back from New York.
Josh has moved out of Hector’s mom’s house. Poor Hector’s mom. Side note: does Hector’s mom have a name aside from “Hector’s mom?” As far as I know, no. Josh has never lived by himself, and since moving out he has been sleeping at the YMCA.
JOSH: Don’t listen to the song. It’s not fun to stay there.
I met Jewell Parker Rhodes earlier this year when I attended a writer’s conference (my first one! It was really fun, really helpful, and really stressful). I had never read one of her books before I met her, but after listening to her speak I knew I had to because A) she is legitimately one of the nicest human beings on the planet B) she clearly knows A TON about writing and especially the craft of it and C) she is a very compelling speaker. She spoke first just to YA writers about tension and relief in storytelling and it was incredibly helpful. Then I went back for her second talk, which was for everyone, which was about her own career as a writer. She talked specifically about her newest book Ghost Boys and about how she is often asked to write about difficult subjects for a young audience. I think she moved everyone there to tears. But seriously. She is the nicest person you could ever meet.
Since she primarily talked about Ghost Boys, that’s the one I read.
Summary: What’s it about?
Jerome is a twelve-year-old black boy. Well, Jerome was a twelve-year-old black boy before he was shot and killed by a white police officer who thought Jerome’s toy gun was real. Jerome does not entirely understand what happened to him until, as a ghost, he witnesses his family and friends’ grief, watches his killer’s preliminary trial, and comes into contact with other ghost boys… and with a living white girl: Sarah Moore, the daughter of the officer who shot him.
Review: What’d I think?
Jewell Parker Rhodes spoke a lot about how one of her aims for her books, including Ghost Boys, is to open difficult subjects up to younger readers without patronizing them. She spoke about how writers have a responsibility to write stories that matter in such a way that children will still “be in love with the world.”
A book like Ghost Boys could easily make people hate the world, because it is full of darkness, violence, and truths that people try to deny because it’s easier that way. Ghost Boys is amazingly full of love for a book about the murder of an innocent child. If I had to pick one word to describe my takeaway from Ghost Boys it would be “forgiveness.” That isn’t to say that the issues or racism or police brutality are brushed under the rug. Rather, the characters treat each other as individuals inside a bad system. Jerome is murdered by Officer Moore, yes, but Officer Moore is not pure evil.
In Ghost Boys, characters are able to move forward because they refuse to hate. They open each others’ eyes to the real issues and gradually move forward together. Should Officer Moore have been prosecuted for shooting Jerome? Yes, absolutely. Would Jerome and his family be completely justified in hating Officer Moore? Again, absolutely. But at least he learns. It’s obviously not the ideal situation, but considering the circumstances, it’s better. It would be nice if, in real life, people would learn from their mistakes and let people teach them when they’re unable to learn on their own.
The novel also has an interesting historical bend. Jerome meets the ghost of Emmett Till, and by so doing learns Emmett’s story. There’s an interesting moment in the novel when it mentions in passing that people don’t usually learn about Emmett Till in school until late, which made me realize… I didn’t learn about Emmett Till until college, and I first heard his name on Tumblr. After that, it was mostly novels like Ghost Boys, The Hate U Give, and All American Boys that taught me his story. If Ghost Boys had ended with Officer Moore in prison for murder (or manslaughter) and racism dismantled, it would–unfortunately–not look like our world as it is now; this is the story of a step in the right direction, not a solution.
The writing is very good. It is affecting without being graphic, and the alternating sections depicting Jerome’s experiences both before and after his death make the story even more powerful. As an older reader, I personally would have liked a longer book with more, but the length and amount of detail is perfect for the intended audience. The language is simple and straight to the point, but it hits exactly the way it’s supposed to. One of the best examples of this is the short passage when Jerome reflects on Officer Moore’s defense that he shot Jerome because he was in fear for his life:
If I were alive, my whole body would be trembling. Officer Moore speaks (I think) a truth he believes. When truth’s a feeling, can it be both? Both true and untrue?
In truth: I feared for my life.
It’s just so good.
One of my most often repeated critiques of junior fiction is that it often irons out nuance and over-explains simple concepts. One of the best things about Ghost Boys is that Rhodes never does that. She trusts her readers to understand difficult subjects and moral complexity, and doesn’t shortchange us by simplifying things. The light use of magical realism, which blends with religion and culture in interesting ways, is also really well done.
What’s the verdict?
Ghost Boys is a very quick but very powerful read. It is a great book to use to start a conversation about systematic racism because it covers it clearly but complexly, and the writing is so good that even readers who have aged out of junior fiction will be able to enjoy it. Report card: A.
It’s December 1, which means that NaNoWriMo just ended (as I’m writing, NaNoWriMo ended literally four minutes ago). This was a tiring one, especially towards the end. I made my word count, but the actual plot of my story didn’t get as far as I hoped it would. That being said, between my NaNo project (54k) and this blog (24k) I wrote more than 78,000 words in the past thirty days which is an accomplishment even if a large percentage of those 54,000 NaNo words are going to end up on the chopping block.
I’m proud of that, and I’m hoping to keep working on my book regularly, but for now I’m going to take (at least) a week off from novelling and focus on other things (like starting a new job on Monday… yikes!)
NaNoWriMo continues to be one of the highlights of my year. I love the reminder of what I can do when I actually dedicate myself to it. If you’ve never done NaNoWriMo and have any desire whatsoever to try your hand at writing a novel–even if you never intend to do anything with it–you should absolutely try it, because it is hugely rewarding.
For those of you that did participate this year, how’d it go? Are you happy with your project? Did you make your goals (word count or other)? Are you going to write again next year?
Whether you won or not, great job and happy writing!