Ghosts of the Shadow Market (Book Review)

ghosts of the shadow marketI love Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters. I’ve read The Mortal Instruments many, many times (before I started this blog; maybe I should reread them again so I have reviews!), and I’ve read the rest of the books at least once. I’ve seen the movie and have watched about half of the show (I want to pick it back up, but I need to find it streaming somewhere). I’m not usually a fan of short stories, as I generally need more time to get invested in characters and storylines, but if Cassandra Clare wrote it, I’ll read it.

That’s how I found myself reading Ghosts of the Shadow Market. It’s not new anymore. I usually read Clare’s books as soon as they come out, but I was somewhat disappointed by Queen of Air and Darkness, so I put off reading this one until I found it in the library.

That’s probably a good thing. Unlike The Bane Chronicles or Tales from the Shadowhunter AcademyGhosts of the Shadow Market does not follow one of my favorite characters. I adore Magnus and Simon. I liked Jem fine in The Infernal Devices, but that series remains my least favorite of the three, and I have very little interest in those characters outside their original story. Ghosts of the Shadow Market takes place over many years and checks in with main characters from all three of the Shadowhunter series, but all the stories sooner or later check back in on Jem and his search for the missing line of Herondales. While it’s helpful to have a narrative line that runs from one story to the next, I could’ve done with considerably less of Jem, particularly considering that we all know where his search ends up.

Since Ghosts of the Shadow Market is made of lots of stories by several different writers, I figured the best way to do this review would be to write some brief thoughts about each story individually. Also I felt the need to find a gif for each one, because I’m me and I love gifs. Some of the stories I loved. Others I barely made it through. I figure overall that averages out to C/⭐⭐⭐

Cast Long Shadows (Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan)

harry potter who are you?

I was so confused by this one. It’s been long enough since I read either The Infernal Devices or Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy that I had literally no idea who Matthew or James or Lucie or anyone was; every new sentence was a guessing game. Who is this fool? Have I heard of this person before? Some of them were definitely Tessa and Will’s kids, but I couldn’t tell you which. James, maybe? They’re pretty obsessed with naming kids after people. I’m very relieved that this was the only story that required me to deal with large populations of people I don’t know about, because I probably would’ve given up if there’d been more like this.

Every Exquisite Thing (Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson)

viola badass hunky dude she's the man

I still don’t know which kid is which and who is related to whom, but at least this story reduces the sheer number of characters to a manageable amount. Anna’s pretty cool, I guess. This wasn’t one of my favorites in Ghosts of the Shadow Market, but it was also not one of my least favorites.

Learn About Loss (Cassandra Clare and Kelly Link)

Image result for brand new information gif
Me, pretending I’m surprised by the reveal that the hot Silent Brother is Zachariah/Jem.

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Supernatural 15×03 Review (The Rupture)

There’s not really a good way to respond to “The Rupture” except, like, incoherent wailing. This is such a great episode (I’m increasingly convinced that Berens is the best writer Supernatural has on staff), but my goodness is it painful. Three major characters die. Cas suffers multiple betrayals. Sam is forced to kill someone he loves. Jack’s death is still fresh. Dean and Cas fight and Cas walks out. It’s a lot, and it’s going to be hard to wait for next episode (and doubly hard to wait for the next Cas episode, which may not be for a while).

Even though everything implodes by the end of the hour, things start pretty well. The ghosts are still swarming the border, but the crew is confident. Rowena has a plan to reinforce the barrier to keep all the ghosts in. She’s so sure that everything will work out that she took the time to change into a new, fabulous gown. Oh, Rowena. I will miss you and your impeccable style.

She, Sam, Dean, Cas, and Belphegor head to the crypt where they can bunker down and she can work her magic. Because Rowena is amazing, her spell works perfectly. The ghosts are trapped forever, and now everyone can live happily ever after.

Oh, wait. No. That’s not what happened.

The spirits are too powerful and evil and desperate for Rowena’s spell to work. She collapses and tells the boys that it’s all over and they’re all going to die. Sam is inclined to believe her, but Dean is pissed. He’s basically like, what? After all the considerably-worse-than-ghosts things we’ve fought, ghosts are what do us? No.

DEAN: This whole mess. This sloppy-ass ghost apocalypse. That’s Chuck’s ending? No. No, I don’t think so. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let some glorified fanboy get the last word.

Meanwhile, Cas follows Bel out of the safety of the crypt to take a look at the rift in the ground. Bel explains that it’s a wound in the ground, not an actual gate or portal like they thought, and he has a new plan. Remember Lilith from way back in the day? Bel does. Apparently she had a crook that she could use to control topside demons. It used to be locked away in hell, but now that all the doors are open, Bel can waltz in, grab it, and use it to suck all the evil spirits back down while Rowena heals the rift.

supernatural cas and jackI really, really love Cas and Bel’s dynamic. Supernatural is at its best when it mixes humor with sadness and humanity, and Cas and Bel really capture that. Cas hates Bel because Bel took Jack’s body, and Bel clearly enjoys being a little shit to him.

BEL: That’s the longest you’ve looked me in the eyes.

CAS: You don’t have eyes.

BEL: True.

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The Prom (Book Review)

the promIf I ran the world, all musicals would be professionally recorded and made available to anyone who wants to watch them. Sadly, that’s not the case. I listen to a lot of Broadway soundtracks, and then either read the Wikipedia synopses or find another way to understand what’s going on in the story. It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing. A lot of shows are adaptations, and there’s an increasing trend of shows having adaptations. When there’s a book version of a musical I’ve listened to, I generally read it. Les Mis and Be More Chill were both books before they were musicals, but I read both books after hearing the music (the former is spectacular and life-changing in all forms; the latter is enjoyable but not great). I read and loved The Scarlet Pimpernel before learning it was a musical, but I now love that soundtrack, too. So reading books with musicals is not a new thing for me.

Honestly, The Prom is not a musical I particularly like. While I think the subject matter of The Prom is important, I find the music itself to be less than inspiring. It’s fine and it’s got some funny bits, but even after listening to it two or three times I can’t sing more than a line or two of any of the songs (and not just because I can’t sing). Despite that, I figured it would be entertaining to read the novelization (and I’m sure I’ll watch Ryan Murphy’s adaptation for Netflix whenever it comes out, especially since Andrew Rannells is going to be in it). I love books and I love musicals, so you’re always going to find me in the place where those two worlds collide. 

What’s it about?

Image result for the prom musicalAll high school senior Emma wants is to dance with her girlfriend at prom. Unfortunately, she lives in Indiana, which isn’t exactly gay-friendly. Her parents disowned her when she came out, and she’s been the target of homophobic abuse for years. She’s been the only target, because her girlfriend Alyssa is still in the closet, in large part because she’s terrified how her mother will respond. Everything comes to a head when Emma dares suggest she’s bringing a female date to the prom. The community, led by Alyssa’s mother, flips out… and two over-the-top Broadway stars swoop in to stir up trouble and protest on Emma’s behalf.

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Loki: Where Mischief Lies (Book Review)

lokiMackenzi Lee is one of my favorite authors. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a perfect mix of silly, snarky, stirring, and sweet. I didn’t know that she’d written a new book until one day at work I rung a customer who was purchasing Loki: Where Mischief Lies. I’m not entirely convinced by the recent trend of comic book characters being adapted to novel form by the top YA writers. Why reshape well-known characters to fit a format they’re not designed for? Why take writers at the top of their game away from original fiction? It can work, but I haven’t exactly been seeking these books out. Still, I’ll read anything by a favorite author (I read Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer as well), and matching Mackenzi Lee with Loki was clearly brilliant. If there’s any writer who could do justice to the utter queer chaos that is Loki, it’s Lee.

What’s it about?

Young Prince Loki knows he’s not his father’s favorite. His brother Thor is big, strong, blonde, and clearly destined for kingship. Loki wants his father’s approval, but how can he achieve it? All his talents are frowned upon and he is consistantly pitted against Thor in competitions catered for Thor. Loki is not a fighter, but he is clever and has powerful magic. Unfortunately, his cleverness is taken for untrustworthiness and he is forbidden from using his magic except in the tiniest doses. But there’s one person who understands Loki and believes in him. Amora is an enchantress-in-training, at least until she and Loki accidentally destroy a magical relic and she is banished to Earth. Years later, Loki too goes to Earth—ostensibly to investigate a series of murders, although everyone knows he really goes in exile—where their paths may cross again.

What’d I think?

Fair warning. This is a somewhat nitpicky review. It’s not a rant, because I liked the book a lot, but there are a lot of small things that disappointed me.

loki avengersI did like Loki, but I wasn’t as blown away as I expected to be. There’s a long segment before the real action begins, where Lee introduces the major Asgardians—Loki, Odin, Thor, Amora, and Amora’s teacher Karnilla—and their relationships. It’s not bad by any means, but I had a hard time getting into it. At the beginning, Loki is an earnest young prince. He plays the occasional trick, but his magic amounts merely to a few parlor tricks and his idea of chaos is bewitching the floor to change color to clash with his father’s outfit. He doesn’t feel like Loki or like one of Lee’s usual characters. He doesn’t have the charming magnetism of Monty or Felicity or the MCU’s Loki, all of whom are fun and feisty and prone to inappropriate behavior. I wanted a fun, feisty character who is prone to inappropriate behavior, so it was disappointing to get a lovestruck goth.

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Supernatural 15×02 Review (Raising Hell)

So “Raising Hell” was considerably worse than last week’s episode, right? It had one or two redeeming scenes, but wasted most of its runtime on an out-of-the-blue attraction between Rowena (?) and Ketch (???) and an unconvincing ghostly Jack the Ripper.

Side note: I’m surprised there was still a “Hell” pun available. “Raising Hell” seems like it should’ve been used as an episode title a long time ago, but I guess it hasn’t. Cool.

Because the Winchesters aggressively didn’t think through their plan for quarantining the town, the town is only nebulously quarantined. The villagers have way more questions than Sam can answer, and at least three of them sneak into the Ghost Town without being stopped. At least one gets murdered, so… Good job, guys.

dean spn thumbs up

Sam even brings in some of his remaining hunter pals to help man the border (which is somewhat of a surprise, since I thought that his whole hunter network got murdered back in 14×14). They don’t do a very job because, as I said, they let a lot of random humans past them and didn’t even notice. I guess maybe just the competent hunters (and Maggie) got killed off.

Dean and Belphegor go ghost hunting within Bel’s magic border, which is a little pointless. The ghosts all reappear shortly after getting ganked and none of them have made it through the border. It’s not like walking around in there is doing any good, but Winchesters gotta Winchester, I guess. It does let Dean and Bel talk, though. Dean is slightly more self-aware than he was last week.

DEAN: Can’t believe I’ve teamed up with a demon again. Think I’d know better by now.

Bel, despite protesting that he’s just a soldier who did what he was told in hell, is a little more obviously up to something this episode. I mean, he was obviously up to something last week, but I think we were supposed to at least sort of trust him  Now we’re supposed to feel a little less easy about the alliance. That said, we’ve had it confirmed definitely that he is Belphegor. That was a big fandom discussion, with people guessing he was secretly everyone from Ruby to Chuck to Crowley. In any case, we know slightly more about Bel now, including that a female demon called Ardat wants him dead (and hired Ketch to kill him). Personally, I’d have pressed for more details about Ardat, but Sam and company move right past that conversation. Oh, well. I’m sure it won’t come back to haunt them.

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Frankly in Love (Book Review)

frankly in loveI was really excited to read Frankly in Love by David Yoon. Something about it caught my eye, and I came close to buying it multiple times. The synopsis sounded promising, and all the reviews promised that it was at once a great love story and a dynamic look at racism and the immigrant experience. I’m glad I ultimately found the book at the library, because while it would be misleading to contradict those claims, overall I found Frankly in Love kind of annoying.

What’s it about?

Frank Li is a Korean-American whose parents are very, very Korean and pretty racist towards anyone who isn’t. For a lot of obvious reasons, Frank has a testy relationship with them. He barely speaks Korean; his parents barely speak English. Frank really wants to date Brit Means, a white girl in his calculus class; his parents literally disowned his sister for daring to date a black man. So Frank decides that the best way to deal with his issues is to make time for Brit by pretending to date his Korean friend Joy, because his parents approve of her.

What’d I think?

everything everythingAbout halfway through this book, I discovered that David Yoon is Nicola Yoon’s husband and I was like, “Oh. That makes sense.” I know a lot of people like Nicola Yoon’s books but I really, really don’t. And I know that it’s not fair to judge the husband for the wife’s crimes (or vice versa) but if I’d known they were married before starting Frankly in Love I probably would’ve skipped it on that criterion alone. I probably would’ve been better off. Frankly in Love is better than Everything, Everything… but that’s a very low bar.

Even though it was really interesting to read a story about the experience of a second-generation Korean-American—that’s not a perspective you find a lot—that’s pretty much the only good thing I have to say about Frankly in Love. There’s not any huge thing that’s wrong with the book, but there are lots of things that are annoying. When enough little things are annoying, the whole thing becomes annoying. Here’s a quick list of the most grievous offenders:

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Wayward Son (Book Review)

wayward sonI never expected Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On to have a sequel. I love that book, and I love Rainbow Rowell generally, but the possibility that there’d be a sequel never occurred to me. Carry On lovingly parodies fantasy series like Harry Potter and acts as the final novel in an epic series, relying on the reader’s knowledge of fantasy tropes to provide the setup that leads to the given conclusion. It’s a brilliant meta work, but also entertaining as a fantasy. Like, I definitely could see myself reading the Simon Snow series from start to end even without the meta. Simon, Baz, Penelope, and the rest are great characters who have a life of their own even beyond that as expies; when I found out that Rowell was writing another book about them, I knew I was going to read it eagerly. But I didn’t know what to expect. When book one parodies the end of a series, what comes next? More parody? Or would it read like a straight sequel?

It reads more like a straight sequel (well, not a *straight* sequel lol). I expected there to be more winking at the audience than there actually is. I understand that Simon Snow has grown beyond the meta experiment, which is fine, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it some. Because of the title and Simon Snow’s origins in fandom culture (via Fangirl), I expected Wayward Son to play off Supernatural the way that Carry On plays off Harry Potter. It does, a little (though I might think that because I was specifically looking for it). In Wayward Son, the heroes go to America and road trip cross-country, encountering various monsters. The action is episodic. There’s no Insidious Humdrum to act as a Big Bad. Instead, the trio runs into vampires one chapter and then falls into an unrelated magical dead spot shortly after. There’s even a twist at the end that has a very Supernatural feel, so it’s not like there aren’t any similarities. That said, if there’s any source material that allows for lots of meta winking, it’s Supernatural. I am a little disappointed that there’s not a little more of it, since it’s in large part what made Carry On so great.

charlie supernatural spn meta madness
For non-Supernatural people, the song “Carry On Wayward Son” is deeply associated with the show. Since Simon Snow is rooted in fandom, and SPN is one of the biggest fandoms out there, the chance that Rowell could’ve titled her books this way without knowing that is negligible.

As a result, Wayward Son has a very different feel from the novel it follows. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing. Since Carry On has to essentially set up and resolve a major series-long storyline, there’s a lot going on. In the new book, the reader knows the history of the characters. We already know them and like them. Carry On came out four years ago, and had a pretty definite ending; Rowell could be confident that anyone reading Wayward Son is a big fan of the characters. She could trust that we’re here for more Simon and Baz, not because we randomly picked up a book that’s hot this week or because we just had to know how a cliffhanger ends up. As a result, Wayward Son is decidedly less epic. It can take its time getting to the plot. The first half of the book is very slow and, from a plot standpoint, not much happens. Simon—now winged, magic-free, and post-Chosen-One—is depressed and confused. How does one go from being the most magical, powerful, destined-for-greatness person alive to being nothing? Not gracefully, if you’re Simon Snow.

carry onHonestly, can you blame him? I can’t, and as much as “Former hero is depressed” sounds boring, it’s actually fascinating. I love Baz, Simon, and Penelope, and when you love characters enough, all you really need is to go on a road trip with them. Wayward Son is a fun magical romp, but Rowell doesn’t shortchange the emotional sides of it. Simon has lost his whole identity. He was betrayed by his mentor. He lost a close friend. He lost his magic, which defined him for most of his life. He no longer even looks human: even though he has no magic, he’s got wings and a demonic tail. He still has Penelope, but that’s literally the only thing that hasn’t changed. Even the good things in his life are drastically different from what he was used to: now that he’s dating Baz he has to readjust to acknowledge that 1) he’s not straight 2) he and Baz aren’t rivals/enemies anymore and 3) he should probably stop equating “vampire” with “evil.” Simon slowly coming to terms with his new life is the most interesting storyline, and it’s pretty cool to read a fantasy novel where the magic, good-vs.-evil stuff is there as background noise to the emotional storylines, because—and I say this as a big fan of fantasy—fantasy is usually a pretty plot-heavy genre.

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Finding Yvonne (Mini Book Review)

finding yvonneFinding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert has all the elements needed to be a great read, and while I did like it quite a lot, I didn’t love it as much as the set-up suggested I might.

It’s about the daughter of a phenomenally successful chef who, after dedicating her youth to music, realizes that she’s not talented enough to be a professional violinist and loses her passion for it. Her older almost-boyfriend is also a supremely talented cook, and Yvonne doesn’t know how to live with mediocrity. When she meets Omar, another violinist, she feels a connection–both to him and to music–that she’s been lacking.

I liked the writing. Colbert has a light but mature tone. She seamlessly integrates fascinating socioeconomic elements into stories that at first glance seem to be straightforward romances. The dialogue alone gives great insights into the character, and there’s an ideal balance between showing and telling. Clearly a lot of craft went into writing Finding Yvonne, but it’s not obvious. It’s an easy read, but a good one.

I didn’t like some of the plot points. I don’t want to get into the specifics, because doing so would be way too spoilery, so I’ll just say that there are some late developments that I didn’t care for. It’s nothing against Finding Yvonne specifically, because the twists are executed exceptionally well. It’s a personal preference. Some storylines I’ll always like, and some will always fall a little flat for me. That, more than anything else, is the difference between Finding Yvonne (which I liked) and Little and Lion (which I loved): the former includes storylines I rarely get invested in, and the latter tells stories I find naturally interesting.

I really liked the friendship between Yvonne and her best friend Sabina. The two girls are really different, but they compliment each other really well. Even though they have different backgrounds, life goals, and ideas about sex and relationships, there’s no questioning their closeness. Even when they fight, they do so in a very supportive, loving way that is really great to read.

I didn’t like the pacing at the end. About three fourths of the way through the novel, the pace picks up considerably. Several conflicts are introduced and solved quickly, and it’s a bit disappointing since the writing and pacing up until that point is excellent. Furthermore, the novel is so short that no one would begrudge an extra fifty pages or so pages that could’ve fleshed everything out.

little and lionI liked how Yvonne’s journey to self-discovery comes through her falling out of love with her violin. When she realizes that she isn’t good enough to become a professional musician, Yvonne struggles with what that means for the rest of her life. Does she quit? Does she keep playing with lowered expectations? Who is she without her music? It’s a really well-done storyline. Is there anyone out there who can’t relate to that? Life puts a lot of pressure on people to be the best, but not everyone can be the best (and it’s even harder for people, like Yvonne, who are surrounded by success stories). Coming to terms with the fact that something is going to have to be a hobby, and not something central to your life, is tough. This storyline hits especially hard for me, because I spent a lot of my life playing the violin. I was never as into it as Yvonne, and I never expected to make a career out of music, but watching Yvonne realize that she’s not good enough for a future in music and that she doesn’t love it quite enough to get that good was quite powerful.

I didn’t like the age gap with the characters. Both Yvonne’s love interests are notably older than her, and while Colbert approaches the age gaps more tactfully than most, it still struck me as squicky.

I didn’t love Finding Yvonne like I did Colbert’s other novel Little and Lion, but I continue to be impressed by her writing. Finding Yvonne is a superbly written bildungsroman that suffers only from a few pacing issues at the end.


Supernatural 15×01 Review (Back and to the Future)

Even though I’ve been writing Supernatural recaps for the past two years and had every intention of doing my usual season recap post, I had absolutely no idea that “Back and to the Future” aired yesterday until I saw that entertainment sites had their recaps up. Whoops. If someone specifically comments that they’d like to read a recap of season fourteen, I’ll write one, but otherwise I’m just going to press on and pretend that I was on top of things.

then supernaturalThis is the last season-opening “Road So Far” we’ll ever get, and I expected more. It could have been gloriously nostalgic, but instead focused on the straightforward plot of last season. I expected to see some of Supernatural’s most iconic moments: “Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home in a few days.” “Hey, assbutt.” “I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition.” “Hello, boys.” “Saving people, hunting things. The family business.” You know. The parts of Supernatural that end up on t-shirts and that everyone will always associate with the show. This thing has been on for a decade and a half. Let’s send it home with a bang!

The recap also should’ve reminded us of the important emotional storylines. It did a great job recapping exactly what Jack was up to last season, which is, you know. Fine. But Jack’s dead, so his shenanigans aren’t exactly the most important things right now. I would’ve liked to be reminded that Dean is pissed at Cas, because I totally forgot about that and was like, “why is Dean being such a dick?” And then I remembered and was like, “oh, yeah. Wish that had been in the recap.” Oh, well.

gravestoneWe pick up right where we left off last season. Jack is dead and the other three are surrounded by an angry horde of zombies, compliments of Chuck, who’s gone. Being a huge Cas fan, I was happy to see him pull his weight in this fight. Too many times—like, for instance, last year’s season opener—he gets to pretend to be wimpy so that everything looks more dangerous or so that the humans can be more heroic. I like stakes high and I like heroic humans, but not at the expense of my boy. My point here is that the first few minutes of the episode gave me some Cas-fan whiplash. The recap made it seem like Cas wasn’t going to be a priority this season, but then the first actual cas supernaturalscene both gave him a lot to do and let him speak first, both of which are good signs.

Cas gets the shaft a lot, is what I’m saying. This is the last season for him to get closure on all his open plotlines and emotional storylines and I really hope they’re done right. I trust that the writers will take good care of Sam and Dean, but sometimes Cas gets the short end of things.

Eventually the guys realize that if they just stay there fighting, things are going to go poorly for them. Cas grabs Jack’s body and they flee to a crypt. Sam locks the door. It’s iron, so it’ll hold against the ghosts. I’m glad that Sam said that specifically, because it did not look even a little bit secure. They’re safe for the moment, but they’re surrounded with very few options. If they leave, they’ll get ripped apart. If they stay, they’ll starve to death.

CAS: I wouldn’t starve.

DEAN: Well, good for you.

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After I Do (Book Review)

after i doAfter I Do is my third Taylor Jenkins Reid book, and my second favorite. I read Maybe in Another Life a few years ago and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo more recently. I liked the former and loved the latter, and I’ve been hearing great things about Reid’s latest book Daisy Jones and the Six. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been hearing good things, because Daisy Jones wasn’t at the library when I went, which is why I ended up with After I Do instead.

What’s it about?

Lauren and Ryan fell in love in college and got married shortly after. But now, after just over a decade together, they realize that they are no longer in love. Not only that: they can barely stand living together. So they decide not to. For one year, they’ll live apart. They won’t see each other. They won’t even communicate. And then, at the end of the year, they’ll reassess and find out if they can make their marriage work or if this is the end.

What’d I think?

I’ve said many, many times on this blog that romance isn’t my favorite genre. As a whole, it’s just a bit too cheesy for me, and the happy endings are often too neat and easy. So these two people have gotten over their issues long enough to make out. We’re supposed to believe that that means living happily ever after is imminent. But, like. That’s not how life works. So I was intrigued by the concept of After I Do, because I have only rarely read books about romantic love after the first love/honeymoon phase has worn off.

the seven husbands of evelyn hugoAnd the fact that Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote it made me extra interested. As I mentioned above, I’ve read some of her work before and liked it, but thematically there’s a lot of variety. Maybe in Another Life is a good book, but in my opinion, it seems to posit that only one lifestyle (heteronormative, married with kids) is acceptable or desirable (I did a book club on Maybe in Another Life once; maybe I’ll post the discussion questions someday). Since that was my first introduction to Reid’s writing, I was… hesitant… to keep reading her work. I find that attitude very personally upsetting as I probably don’t want to get married but definitely don’t want kids, and whenever people act like that’s the best/only way to live, it feels like they’re saying, “you’re wrong.” And then I read Evelyn Hugo, which centers around a fascinating woman who absolutely does not live that cookie cutter life. Thankfully, After I Do is more like Evelyn. In After I Do, there’s no one way to live or one kind of acceptable family. Sometimes traditional works. Sometimes it doesn’t. A family can be a single mom and her three adult children. It can be a couple and their overenthusiastic dog. It can be a lesbian couple with small kids. Sometimes marriage comes before kids, and sometimes after. Sometimes a couple doesn’t want kids. Sometimes a person doesn’t want a committed relationship. Sometimes people are happier opening a bakery than pursuing romance. Everyone has their own path, and that’s okay.

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Emergency Contact (Mini Review)

emergency contactI read Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi almost entirely because Rainbow Rowell provides the cover blurb. It also has a very adorable cover, which is not supposed to be a reason to pick up a book but definitely is. Seriously, though. There are so many books out there, and we have to make our selections somehow. Why not the cover? And Emergency Contact‘s cover tells the reader a lot about the book; it’s a very accurate, very specific, very good cover.

What’s it about?

Penny is a college freshman; Sam is a college dropout working at an artisan coffee shop to pay off huge debts. They meet through Penny’s roommate, who used to be Sam’s niece (his mom briefly married her grandfather) and are later thrown together when Sam—reeling from terrifying, life-changing news—suffers a panic attack and Penny rescues him. From there, the two grow closer almost exclusively through text and become each other’s “emergency contact” for both emotional emergencies and run-of-the-mill loneliness.

What’d I think?

I can see why Rainbow Rowell enjoyed Emergency Contact. In addition to being cute, it has a similar feel to Fangirl. Both center around a shy college freshman with some family issues who ends up befriending an older guy they meet through their more sociable roommate, and both relationships eventually build towards romance. Both novels even have a frantic trip to visit an overdosed family member in the hospital somewhere in the final act.

Tangent TimeFor the record, I’m not complaining about similarities. At this point, every story has been told, and the new ones are just variations on the theme. Yes, some stories are so similar to something else that they feel derivative or lazy, but most of the time similarities are just similarities. And Fangirl is one of my favorite books, so I’m not complaining about a book that reminds me of it. I just thought it was interesting.

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Book Club: The Testaments (+Mini Review)

the testaments
This is such a great cover! I didn’t notice the second girl for the longest time. 

As a general rule, I’m suspicious of unplanned sequels. If a writer goes into a story with the expectation that it will take more than one novel, I’m all in. If an author writes a novel they expect to be a one-and-done and then change their mind later, I’m skeptical at best. Like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. That was one of the worst reading experiences of my life, because it wasn’t intended, there was an awkwardly long gap, and the end product simply doesn’t fit in with the existing series.

So when I hard that there was going to be a sequel to Margaret Atwood’s spectacular Handmaid’s Tale, my reaction was pretty much to nod knowingly at the TV show and mutter, “Cash cow.” To be perfectly honest, I probably wouldn’t have read The Testaments if it hadn’t been for book club, because as good as The Handmaid’s Tale is… there’s a nearly 35-year gap between books, which leads me to believe that if there was supposed to be a sequel, Atwood would’ve written and published it years ago.

It would be wrong to say I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. Atwood is a consistantly good writer, and I found myself once again transported to her fictional and horrifying Gilead. I raced quickly through the book, and it was no problem whatsoever to finish it in the three days I gave myself before I needed to be ready for discussion. I never once worried about finishing on time or had to push myself to keep reading past when I was bored.

That being said, it would also be wrong to say that I wasn’t disappointed by The Testaments. Atwood builds Gilead masterfully in The Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead is a deeply disturbing dystopian world that feels terrifyingly possible. The rise of the regime is described in terrifying detail, and Atwood hammers out the details with just enough specificity that the world is fully realized and frighteningly powerful. If The Handmaid’s Tale is about the rise of Gilead, The Testaments is about its fall, and the fall is nowhere as stunning. After its horrifying preciseness in the original novel, Gilead feels downright sloppy in the sequel. The protagonists are given powerful opportunities despite their obvious rebelliousness. Leaving Gilead is suddenly not only possible but, for some, a matter of routine. The architect of Gilead’s fall presents herself as brilliant and ten steps ahead of everyone else, but she avoids detection only by dumb luck; her plan has a lot of unnecessary steps and depends on occurrences that I can’t imagine happening in the Gilead of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Everything is too easy in The Testaments. I’m glad to see Gilead fall, naturally, but when the horrors of Gilead feel real, I want the joy of its collapse to feel real as well. I don’t want my response to a grand triumph to be a surprised and halfhearted, “Oh, wow. I guess that worked.” If anything, Gilead’s fall concerns me, because Gilead had to change so much and its leaders had to make so many careless oversights for it to crumble. The Handmaid’s Tale is the landmark piece of fiction it is because it is so skillfully written and feels so petrifyingly plausible. The Testaments, while also skillfully written, lacks the tightness and plausibility, so while I enjoyed reading it, I think on the whole The Handmaid’s Tale is better as a stand-alone novel.

Discussion Questions!

Feel free to use these at your own book clubs or wherever else they might be helpful. Be aware that there are major spoilers from here on out.

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War and Peace (Book Review)

war and peaceWell, I finally did it. It took me thirty-two days and an honest-to-goodness reading schedule to do it, but I finally finished Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It has been on my to-read list for a very, very long time but it never quite made it to the top because it is so intimidatingly huge. I read quickly and love long books, and War and Peace still scared me. I can’t imagine how daunting it must be for people who only have limited reading time or who aren’t used to books clocking in at over a thousand pages. Still, I did it!

What’s it about?

War and Peace tells the intertwined stories of several families—the Rostovs, the Bolkonskys, and the Bezukhovs—during the Napoleonic wars. War campaigns and love affairs together paint a picture of a world controlled as much by fate as by the actions of any one individual, however grand, making his mark on the grand stage.

What’d I think?

Even though I liked War and Peace, my main takeaway after reading it is “I am so relieved to finally be finished” instead of “what literary mastery!” I would be very interested to know what people would say about War and Peace if it were stripped of its highly venerated place in the literary canon. Personally, I have a hard time with grappling with criticizing the classics. Intellectually, I don’t think that any novel should be above criticism and that no criticism should be dismissed merely because the reviewer is without fame or accolades. Still, a classic is a classic for a reason, and I feel uncomfortable saying that I think a classic is bad (even though I’m willing to do it if I think it’s that bad). There are things that I very much disliked in War and Peace, but at the same time… who am I to criticize one of the best writers who ever lived?

But let me say this very clearly: I don’t think War and Peace is bad. I think it’s mostly excellent, minus a few parts that bored me and which don’t appeal to my personal preferences. I think there are better classics out there, but obviously the whole world is never going to agree on one novel as the supreme best novel ever. For some people, War and Peace might have that crown. It’s not in the running for me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve its acclaim.

The Bad: Pacing

What Caused The Crash Of 'Comet' On Broadway? | Here & NowI mean… the pacing is honestly bizarre. The Broadway show Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is based on War and Peace. Kind of. It comes from a short section that’s only about 5% of the original novel. Two hours worth of action takes place in that 5%. A lot happens, and that’s not the only section of the novel with frenzied, condensed activity. But there are also long, long sections in which literally nothing happens. The two-part epilogue is more than a hundred pages, and literally no characters appear in the second half. It’s just Tolstoy waxing poetic about free will. It might’ve worked as an essay or something, but in a novel it feels anticlimactic. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with an ending that makes less of an impact. There are two modes in War and Peace: full throttle and standstill.

Did editors not exist back in the day? Did Tolstoy seriously not have a single friend who could pull him aside and say, “Leo, you’ve written a great book, but do we really need all this preaching about how it is impossible to explain why anything happens historically? I think you covered it more than sufficiently.”

The Bad: Painfully Regressive Attitudes about Women and Marriage

And then there are issues that arise from my being a modern reader. There are some parts of War and Peace that have really, really not aged well, particularly in regards to women, like when Tolstoy writes,

“As always happens when women lead lonely lives for any length of time without male society, on Anatole’s appearance all the three women […] felt that their life had not been real till then.”


“There were then, as there are now, conversations and discussions about women’s rights, the relations of husband and wife, and their freedom and rights, though these themes were not yet termed questions as they are now; but these topics were not merely uninteresting to Natasha, she positively did not understand them. Those questions, then as now, existed only for those who see nothing in marriage but the pleasure married people get from one another, that is, only the beginnings of marriage and not its whole significance, which lies in the family.”

Maybe I just don’t understand the significance of the family, but it’s a little disheartening to me, as a woman, to read that my life is fake when there’s no guy around and that my rights would infringe upon what a family unit ought to be. Thanks, Tolstoy. I really appreciate that. Maybe all women, like Natasha, can dream of the day when we give up all our previous hobbies and friendships and let ourselves go to the point that we place ourselves “in the position of a slave to her husband.”

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2019 Quarterly Wrap-Up (July-Sept)

Somehow we’re already 3/4 done with 2009. I have no idea where the time went. Actually, that’s a lie. Most of it went towards reading War and Peace. Really, though. This year has been flying and it’s time for another rundown of what I’ve been reading and watching. I’m still behind on my overall reading goal, but at least I read better books this quarter than I did last (last quarter was kind of a bummer). I unfortunately still read a lot of books that were, for me, one or two stars; thankfully I rounded those out with some rereads of old favorites.

I’ve been reading…

we told six liesWe Told Six Lies by Victoria Scott 

YA thriller

We Told Six Lies is like a young adult version of Gone Girl, except without Gone Girl‘s nuance. It centers around a deeply codependent, toxic relationship that it ultimately seems to romanticize. The characters are deeply unlikable, but without the interesting complexity required to make readers care about them. An ill-advised final twist squanders any limited goodwill the reader might’ve managed to scrounge up, and the result is that I’ll probably forget this book entirely except to retain a lingering sense of disappointment.

nick and june were hereNick and June Were Here by Shalanda Stanley ⭐⭐⭐

YA romance

Nick and June Were Here is the sort of book that is almost really good. The writing is excellent, and June is a very well developed, interesting character. Unfortunately, the novel falls into a common trap for romances: its romance is its least interesting aspect. There are so many storylines in Nick and June Were Here that warrant more exploration (June’s relationship with her new diagnosis, Nick’s brother’s discharge from the military, June and Bethany’s plans for after high school, Nick’s family dynamic, etc). If I were to rank every plotline in this book by my level of interest in them, Nick and June’s romance would come dead last, because it’s just dysfunctional enough to be troubling and just typical enough to be boring. Overall, Nick and June is a decent book, but it’s probably not one that I’m going to remember having read.

Image result for sea of monstersPercy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

JF fantasy, mythology, adventure, humor

What can I say about Percy Jackson that hasn’t been said a million times? It’s hilarious. It’s sassy. It’s one of the best fantasy series out there, and I spend half my life talking about it. That’s an exaggeration, but not a huge one. I work at Barnes and Noble, and I talk to a lot of moms trying to find books for reluctant readers, and Percy Jackson is one of the best ones for that. I have met so many kids who hated reading before they found Percy, or who claim that they hate reading except when they’re reading Percy. This series is so consistantly funny and exciting that I had a blast rereading Sea of Monsters even though I’ve read it a lot and I’m no longer  “young reader.” There’s a reason I own a Camp Half-Blood t-shirt and once threw my sister a Percy Jackson birthday party. You can’t go wrong with Rick Riordan.

kiss quotentThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang ⭐⭐⭐

adult romance

I liked The Kiss Quotient about as much as could be expected. Traditional romances don’t particularly appeal to me, but I read this one because it got such good reviews and promised to deviate from some of the more insidious romantic tropes. It does deviate some, but not as much as I suspect it intended to. While I think it’d be difficult to find a romance fan who wouldn’t like The Kiss Quotient, it’s not for me. I didn’t care for the subtly controlling male love interest, and I felt that the central relationship relied too heavily on physical attraction, sex, and love-at-first-sight. That being said, it’s still an entertaining, quick read with breezy writing and an atypical heroine who is a welcome change in an often homogenous genre.

apocalypse of elena mendozaThe Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson ⭐⭐⭐⭐

YA, fantasy, apocalyptic, LGBTQ+

Shaun David Hutchinson is an excellent writer with big ideas. The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is a high concept novel that forces its readers to grapple with questions of faith and morality along with its protagonists. The intense internal focus makes this a story that stands out amongst the many end-of-the-world narratives. It’s populated with extremely well-written characters who break stereotypes and feel extremely real, and who are so compelling that they mostly make up for the fact that the novel is so hyper-focused on asking difficult question that it offers few answers.

love hate and other filtersLove, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed ⭐⭐⭐⭐

YA romance, bildungsroman

Love, Hate, and Other Filters does an excellent job of balancing its romantic and familial storylines with darker subject matter like racism and violence; it never gets so depressing that it stops being fun to read, and it never gets so upbeat that the reader forgets the realities of the world. It’s a perfect book for reluctant romance readers, because it replaces shoehorned drama for real-world issues and reframes itself as a coming-of-age tale with romance sprinkled in. It’s also a great novel for seeing the world through different eyes, as Ahmed does an amazing job of creating her world through Maya’s experiences and perspective.

lessLess by Andrew Sean Greer ⭐⭐

romance, LGBTQ+, comedy

I expected to love Less, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning gay comedic Odyssey, but it let me down. Even though there are some interesting themes and well-structured meta allusions, the story as a whole never grabbed me. The narration style grated on me from the start and only got worse the deeper I got into the story, and I found it pretty difficult to sympathize with the woe-is-me Arthur Less; it’s clearly intentional, but the corresponding likability did not come through for me; it’s difficult to read a couple hundred pages about a character who is neither likable nor sympathetic, and only occasionally interesting. While the novel is decent enough, I mostly stepped away from it feeling frustrated, especially since it commits the cardinal sin of comedy: it’s simply not funny.

naturally tan queer eyeNaturally Tan by Tan France ⭐⭐⭐⭐

memoir, LGBTQ+, television

Tan France’s memoir Naturally Tan is a fun, light read, full of funny anecdotes and fashion advice. It is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from Queer Eye‘s fashion expert, though I suspect he was given a lot more freedom content-wise in his book than he is on the show. While he certainly has a snarky side on the show, it is much more apparent in Naturally Tan. He’s humorously sarcastic throughout and there are lots of anecdotes about racism and the pressure and responsibility to represent the underrepresented in media. Queer Eye fans will love Naturally Tan. Biographies aren’t my usual thing, but I enjoyed this one.

little and lionLittle and Lion by Brandy Colbert ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

YA contemporary, romance, family drama, LGBTQ+, bildungsroman

I loved Little and Lion. It’s a beautifully written novel full of memorable and richly diverse characters who complement each other wonderfully. Sibling love is rarely the focal point in literature, and it’s a treat when it is, especially when it is done as well as it is here. Lionel and Suzette are a great pair of protagonists whose struggles to grow up in unusual situations intertwine in ways that are heartwarming in their best moments and terrifying in their worst. Brandy Colbert is an immensely talented writer, and I am absolutely going to keep an eye out for anything else she’s written.

queer eye love yourself love lifeQueer Eye: Love Yourself, Love Life by Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk, and Karamo Brown ⭐⭐⭐

personal growth, self help, television, LGBTQ+

Like Naturally Tan, this is a book for Queer Eye fans. While I think non-fans might like the former, however, this one is probably for hardcore fans only. It’s full of life advice alongside personal anecdotes and photos. Jonathan’s voice comes through the most, and is quite funny in book form. As much as I’d like to say that reading this has totally overhauled my life and made me a more productive, attractive, happy person… I don’t think it has. Jonathan’s tips, while supposedly simple, seem really daunting to me (I wake up, make my bed, get dressed, do my hair, pack a lunch, and leave home for work in 15 minutes because I like sleeping, and there’s not a lot of pad time in there for skincare). That being said, I’m trying! And I am very organized! And I do occasionally French Tuck.

nickel boysThe Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead ⭐⭐⭐

historical fiction

This book consists almost entirely of unrelenting misery. Obviously any novel that takes place in the aftermath of the Jim Crow laws is going to deal with intense racism and other unpleasant subject matter, but  fiction has an obligation to be more than a depiction of historically accurate suffering. That suffering has to be connected to something. A sense of hope. A call to action. Compelling characters. Empathy and understanding for the suffering. Anything. The Nickel Boys just left me feeling hopeless. I’m glad to be done with The Nickel Boys; I struggled to pick it up and jumped at any opportunity to set it down. I had such a hard time struggling through this one that I actually forgot that I like to read. However, I should say that after discussing The Nickel Boys at book club, I retroactively found a lot to like. I definitely hated it while I was reading it, but outside perspective did wonders for me.

the tail of emily windsnapThe Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler ⭐⭐

JF fantasy

I speed-read this in literally one hour because I found out I was running an event for it at work and ended up reading it on my break the day of. Thankfully, it’s not long. Unfortunately, it’s also not great. Some young readers’ books absolutely stand up to an adult eye. This isn’t one. While I can see why it would appeal to its intended age range (who doesn’t want to be a mermaid at that age?), the deficiencies in character logic and pacing kept me from getting invested. Emily’s mother can’t stick to a decision for more than twenty seconds (No, you can’t take swim lessons because I’m afraid of water. Oh, now you want to quit? Guess what? I’m very invested in them now. Also, we live on a boat, because that makes sense). Emily’s schoolmates bully her for… being good at swimming? What? Any given character’s behavior depends on what the plot needs, and problems are introduced and solved at breakneck speed. Characters show up and conveniently info-drop every few minutes. All this was convenient for me and my time crunch, but if I’d been reading this at a normal, leisurely pace, I would’ve wanted bigger stakes, more push-and-pull, and more consistency. Lastly, and admittedly this is petty, I cannot remember the name “Windsnap” to save my life. I’ve had to look it up about a hundred times because I keep thinking it is anything from “Windspar” to “Wingstrap.”

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson ⭐⭐⭐⭐

the edge of the universeYA fantasy, romance, LGBTQ+, apocalyptic

Even though I wish there’d been a little more explanation at the end of At the Edge of the Universe, I continue to be impressed by Shaun David Hutchinson’s creativity. He mixes the terrifying fantastical elements of his novels expertly with the more realistic—but never mundane—ones. I love that the real-world issues in At the Edge of the Universe are given as much weight (and, at times, arguably more weight) than the collapse of the universe, both because the real-world issues can be considered in the reader’s own life and because real people worry about their own lives more than the abstract end of the world. Oz is a teenage boy, not a superhero. Of course he cares more about his personal life, his boyfriend, his friends, and his family than he does about a few stars many lightyears away. This is an apocalypse story, but it’s surprisingly grounded. I’m very surprised that I don’t see more people gushing about Shaun David Hutchinson because his books–while similar to each other–are unlike anything written by anyone else.

which witchWhich Witch? by Eva Ibbotson ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

JF fantasy

Eva Ibbotson is fabulous. I spent half my childhood reading her books (specifically reading Which Witch? and the equally charming The Secret of Platform 13) and I can’t recommend her work strongly enough to fantasy fans. Which Witch? in particular has a great mix of lighthearted humor and darker, more dramatic material. It’s the fantasy literary equivalent of a dating game show, and it is incredibly fun. It may be intended for children, but that didn’t keep 25-year-old me from loving it as much as I did when I was actually a part of the target audience.

benedict societyThe Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

JF sci-fi/magical realism, adventure

I’m so glad that I reread The Mysterious Benedict Society because it is absolutely as good as I remembered. It’s always a good sign when a novel is as delightful and surprising to me now as it was when I first read it more than a decade ago. Filled with one-of-a-kind characters, legitimately frightening villainy, good-natured humor, and a huge scoop of cleverness, this novel is a treat. It has one of the most hilarious and unexpected twist reveals of all time, and everything before and after it is equally compelling. I had a smile on my face the whole time I read this, and I really wish that more people knew this series because it deserves to have a much bigger audience than it does.

i'll give you the sunI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

YA magical realism, bildungsroman, LGBTQ+

I talk about I’ll Give You the Sun all the time on this blog. If you’ve visited me before, you might have noticed that it was my favorite read from 2017 and that I listed it in a Pride Month post about great books with LGBTQ+ characters. I absolutely loved this book when I first read it, so much that when I looked back I thought, “Surely it’s not as good as I remember.” I mean, when I look at the books that it beat back in 2017–Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaA Monster CallsThe Hate U GiveWonder–it seems impossible that it could’ve been that good. But it absolutely is. It’s so good that I devoured it in a single sitting the second time. There’s a magical undercurrent to the novel that expertly toes the line between real magic and simple belief that gives I’ll Give You the Sun a precariously beautiful tone that wavers right on the edge of what’s believable. It’s a story about art, but it also is art. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that gets to the heart of why art is so important, and the sibling relationship that anchors the novel is heartbreaking. And, of course, the gorgeous writing that brings it all together makes I’ll Give You the Sun the sort of book that no one should miss.

fan artFan Art by Sarah Tregay ⭐⭐

YA contemporary, fangirls, romance, LGBTQ+

Fan Art is a gay love story facilitated by nerdy lesbian shippers, which sounds like something I’d like. Unfortunately, author Sarah Tregay doesn’t seem to have a firm understanding of either queer issues or fandom; when the whole story hinges on those two things, that’s a problem. I think she meant well, that’s unfortunately not enough. Even though the story has its cute moments and does its best to create a sweet, supportive friendship and romance, as a whole the book has an uncomfortable voyeuristic undertone that was impossible for me to ignore.

ramonda blueRamona Blue by Julie Murphy ⭐⭐⭐

YA romance, bildugsroman, family drama, LGBTQ+

Julie Murphy is a talented writer who does herself a disservice by writing romances. The love story is a huge part of Ramona Blue, but it’s also the weakest part of an otherwise solid story. Ramona Blue is a great character who fully deserves the honor of having her novel take her name. Watching her chafe against circumstances conspiring to keep her locked in a town too small for her is delightful, and her relationship with her sister is both lovely and frustrating. Ramona Blue might have been a great novel if the focus had been more on Ramona and Hattie, but unfortunately a large swath of it is dedicated to Ramona’s uninspiring boyfriend Freddie, who detracts from the novel by adding nothing to it.

social intercourseSocial Intercourse by Greg Howard ⭐⭐

YA romance, LGBTQ+

Social Intercourse is primarily a hodgepodge of tropes and clichés slapped together in uninspiring ways to create a novel that is somehow both nothing new and actively annoying. For all its good intentions, it pairs tired tropes with dangerous stereotypes and unlikeable characters. Its attempts to be funny end up putting an uncomfortable filter on things that should be viewed with horror or disgust rather than laughter, but it doesn’t seem to be done satirically or for intentional contrast. Because Jax and Beck are placed narratively into heroic roles, the reader is meant to like and sympathize with them and forgive them for their transgressions even though their transgressions are easily bad enough to cast them as the villain in any story that isn’t invested in their happily-ever-afters.

inlandInland by Téa Obreht ⭐⭐⭐

historical fiction, magical realism

I enjoyed parts of the novel, but others dragged and overall I’d say my reading experience was mostly neutral but overall more negative than positive. Inland is simply not my kind of book. I’ve never liked westerns or survival stories, so a western survival story was never going to be my jam. Still, I did enjoy half the story; when the novel focuses on Nora, I kept reading and wanted to know more. Any time Lurie and his camel took center stage, though, I had to fight against myself to keep from setting the book aside because no matter how much I tried, I could not care about them. It didn’t help that I found the resolution of the novel, when the two storylines finally come together, singularly disappointing. I read 367 pages expecting that, eventually, Lurie’s presence in Inland would be warranted; in my opinion, it never was, and Obreht could have saved her time and mine by scrapping his half entirely. That said, the book club came through for me again. After discussing Inland for two hours, I walked out with a much better appreciation of the novel and of Obreht’s considerable talent as a writer. Discussing books really helps me see the difference between “this was a bad book” and “I did not like this book.”

not your sidekickNot Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee ⭐⭐⭐

YA, romance, superhero, LGBTQ+, family drama

Despite my criticisms—namely that the concepts are bigger than the writing manages to execute—I really liked Not Your Sidekick. I’d read lots of really positive reviews for the book and had been looking for it for more than a year, so I let my expectations balloon too big. I expected to love this book, and I didn’t. I really liked it, and if I can find the sequels, I’ll read them, but I didn’t love it. Combining superhero fun with post-apocalyptic governmental corruption is an interesting concept, but I wish that Lee had done more to differentiate her world from the real one. That being said, the writing is breezy, the characters are sweet and lovable, and the story is entertaining. Anyone looking for diverse genre fiction should consider giving this one a chance.

denton little's still not deadDenton Little’s Still Not Dead by Lance Rubin ⭐⭐

YA magial realism

Denton Little’s Still Not Dead lacks the clarity of the novel that came before it, and it suffers for it. While Denton Little’s Deathdate knew exactly what it was—a quirky story about a stupid teenager trying to cheat death long enough to go to prom—Denton Little’s Still Not Dead struggles to find itself. Rubin’s irreverent silliness is his biggest strength, but that feels out of place in a story about protests and government conspiracy. There are a lot of troubling undercurrents, like the fact that a huge percentage of the female characters are only there to fall in love with the hero, but the biggest problem is that the novel tries to set up a bunch of interesting, nuanced conflicts but then takes the easiest way out by ultimately opting not to address them.

war and peaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy ⭐⭐⭐

classic, family drama

It took me a full month to trudge through War and Peace, a 1308-page monstrosity that alternates between legitimately compelling storytelling and overly long ruminations about fate that read like an exceptionally dry textbook. Even though I did enjoy bits of the novel, on the whole I am happier to have read it than I ever was actually reading it. I have rarely been so relieved to finish something. There are some interesting things in War and Peace, but for better and for worse it is a CLASSIC. I get why people read it, and I get why people like it, but I can’t imagine anyone would want to read it if it weren’t for its reputation as one of the best novels of all time. If it weren’t for the ‘I’m smart and well-read’ status boost that comes with having reading it, I’m not sure it’s entirely worth the 32 days it took to read.

I’ve been watching…

Stranger Things ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Season three of Stranger Things came out, and it was just as great as the two that came before. Stranger Things does a great job of mixing genres. While the genre divides aren’t as clear in season three as they were in previous seasons (in season one, for example, the adults were embroiled in corporate espionage, the kids had a Image result for stranger thingsfantasy quest, and the teens operated somewhere between romance and mystery before all coming together), there’s still some excellent play. This show is also consistantly good with character development, and Steve–and his friendship with Dustin–continues to be a highlight.

Stranger Things deserves a lot of credit for the way it introduces its new characters. When an original cast is as strong as this one, a new character can sometimes feel unwelcome and unnecessary. However, every time someone new shows up (most notably Max and Bob in season two, and Robin in season three), they are seamlessly integrated and they quickly become just as interesting as those who were there from the beginning. I love that season three sidestepped the Max+Eleven feud that was teased in season two. Watching girls fight over a guy who is arguably not good enough for either of them (sorry, Mike) is an annoying trope, and letting them be friends instead is way better. I do wish that poor Will had been given something more to do (or that someone would just freaking play D&D with him!), but other than that I thought the new season was great.

GLOW ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image result for gLOW

Speaking of excellent third seasons of popular Netflix shows… GLOW. This is such a good show. Before I watched it, I really thought it’d be bad. A wrestling show? Really? I’m glad I watched it anyway, because it’s a really well-written show that manages to be extremely funny while tackling some really tough, sensitive material. There’s some absolutely phenomenal character development from lots of different characters, the makeup and costume design is on point, the cast is refreshingly diverse (so many women, including women of color, queer women, and women who aren’t tall and thin!), and it’s simply hilarious. If you haven’t given this one a chance, you absolutely should, even if you think wrestling is gross and pointless. GLOW will change your mind!

Grey’s Anatomy ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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I’ve watched Grey’s off and on in the past, I finally caught up when season fifteen landed on Netflix. It’s not the best show ever, but it is deeply addicting and when it’s good, it’s good. It has made some major, major missteps over the years (George and Izzie getting together, Callie and Arizona breaking up, Mark’s death, George’s death, Owen, etc.) and has tried way too hard to get its viewers invested in characters who are major bummers (Derek is a whiny manchild, Jo “I lived in my car” Wilson is annoying, Ben is painfully indecisive, and Owen is… ugh. Owen), but it has some major ups. There are some great storylines and characters (a few favorite characters: Arizona, Addison, George, Richard, Cristina, Callie, Mark, Schmitt, Bailey, Koracick, and Karev). Today’s Grey’s has very few of the same characters as vintage Grey’s, but I’m still quite invested and I only rarely miss the old crew. Would I like to see them back? Yes. Do I need them to come back to enjoy the show? Nope. I’m also really impressed that characters have developed so well over the years. It’s not easy to let characters grow when you have a hit. It would’ve been easy to leave Meredith and Alex like they were at the start of the show, but they’ve changed a lot, and for the better. In season one, Meredith was one of my least favorite characters. Now, in season sixteen, she’s one of the best.

One Day at a Time ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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I’d been idly interested in watching One Day at a Time ever since I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda tweet about it, and I finally went ahead and watched it. I didn’t love it the way a lot of people love it, but I did enjoy it. It is very funny and the cast is great. The episodes are short and fun, so it’s easy to get sucked in. The only problem is that, in my opinion, it can be a little on-the-nose with its issues. Don’t get me wrong: fiction with a message is great, and fiction without a message rarely interests me. But ODaaT can come across a little preachy at times. Sometimes it’s amazing; often, like Elena, it’s too much (yes, that’s a joke; I love Elena). I feel that I should mention that my values align with everything the show preaches, so it’s not like I’m pushing against ideas I don’t agree with. Overall, though, this is a very good show.

The Boys ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image result for the boys amazon primeI initially didn’t think I’d like The Boys, but then I found out a lot of the creative team worked on Supernatural. Plus, it was something I could watch with my dad, and our entertainment overlaps tends to be pretty small, so that’s always a plus. The start of the show is great. The latter half, I felt, dragged a bit (maybe because the world-building was so good that being in the universe wasn’t as fun as discovering it) but it’s a really cool take on superheroes. The Boys is darkly funny and simultaneously exposes issues with the superhero stores and with our own world. The social commentary in The Boys is top notch. I know that comics often tackle controversial, political subjects, but the cinematic superhero world is pretty safe and traditional, so it’s pretty cool to see The Boys deal with things like religious hypocrisy, corporate greed and dishonesty, drug abuse, grey morality, sexism and sexual assault, and more. I’m very interested to see where the story goes from here.