Posted in Podcasts

Katherine Ryan’s Ice-Cold Take on MLMs

Katherine Ryan is best known as a comedian and actress, for her work with Netflix and appearances on British panel shows. Since April, Ryan has been releasing a podcast called Telling Everybody Everything, which is basically what it sounds like. She shares her life with her fans, in a slightly more vulnerable and real tone than she typically uses for her public persona and on stage. She has had several moving episodes, including one on pregnancy loss, but this week she really stepped in it, and seemed conscious of doing so.

Ryan begins by saying that she got some flack for saying something positive about an MLM on social media, and that she doesn’t understand the hate for MLMs online. She then begins by calling her younger sister Carrie, who has had experiences with MLMs. “I’m not a fan,” Carrie says, saying that she likes the products but doesn’t like MLM culture. “They- it’s a group of like really super positive people, and they’re like ‘slide into people’s DMs’.” She doesn’t love the hard sell. Carrie doesn’t sell, she just uses the products, and she says that it is expensive to try.

Katherine shares some warnings against MLMs that she has found, to be balanced. 1) Social relationships can be ruined by MLM recruitment drive 2) the market can be oversaturated 3) MLMs use feminist language to push a #girlboss narrative. She then goes on to talk about the many Latine families who have lost their savings to Herbalife, including selling their businesses to invest. Ryan essentially victim-blames these families, saying “I don’t think anyone’s asking you to sell your construction business.”

Then, Katherine rings up a friend in an MLM, Amy, a friend who is an MLM-made millionaire. Amy is basically exactly the MLM demographic- she’s a mom, who started in MLMs young, and then found one she could get in on early enough to actually make money. She is also charismatic and friendly enough to get people to join her downline and buy products from her. She admits that she did fail, over and over, in various MLMs. She and her husband agreed she would stop, because she kept losing money, and then she decided to get into another MLM as a distributor anyway. She claims that she was successful because she worked when no one else would have- when she was on bedrest while pregnant (should anyone have to work on bedrest while pregnant just to be successful? Because civilized countries have maternity leave). Amy provides the usual MLM platitudes, saying that the “the difference is the mindset.” She claims that other people aren’t successful in their MLMs because they don’t think big enough. Amy basically uses all of the MLM party lines, and even reiterates the MLM-is-a-business-model-not-a-scam shtick. She even compares her experience to Ryan’s stand up career, which Ryan agrees with. Amy says that her success doesn’t come from getting in early, but from being ready for the opportunity, more MLM language. When asked, Amy confirms, “I 100% believe that this could be for anyone- there’s no requirement for getting into network marketing.” Except to shell out money for the products and starter kits. I’m not going to keep transcribing all of what Amy says, rest assured that she’s exactly who you think she is, albeit very friendly-sounding. At the end, Ryan offers Amy some time to promote the business book she has coming out? Seems like all of this was to help a friend promote her scam business, but okay, go off.

Ryan purchasing or supporting a friend in an MLM doesn’t make her a bad person, but promoting MLMs to her audience is harmful. Ryan does compare her work to MLMs, even though selling items through a pyramid scheme is very different than developing a talent. Basically, this is a bad take, and I really hope that no one is going to join an MLM based on her recommendation. I normally am a big fan of her work, and it’s disappointing that she didn’t do her research in-depth and relied on anecdotal evidence.

If you’re interested in further information about MLM scams, YouTuber Savy Writes Books has a great anti-MLM playlist.

Posted in TV

The Kids Are Not Alright: The Student-Teacher Relationship Trope Needs to Die

We’ve all seen some iteration of this plot: older person and younger person, doomed love, triumph over adversity, and acceptance. Sometimes, it ends badly, sometimes, it ends in a wedding. It is a problematic, destructive plot device that needs to stop being portrayed as sexy and cool. In some cases, it’s a crime, in others, merely immoral or unethical. However, the May-December romance between young adults and teens being portrayed as hot and dynamic only perpetrates relationship norms that hurt young people.

One of the best instances of this trope being played out is on Pretty Little Liars, with the main characters Aria and Ezra. Their relationship begins when Ezra supposedly does not know Aria is underage, though it is later revealed that he did know. He is also her teacher. While they acknowledge that their age difference is only six years, it is made clear that their relationship must remain a secret, or Ezra could go to jail. The thing is, the show wants you to root for their relationship. The fans loved it, and the creators built on that. Never mind that Ezra had other serious relationships before Aria, and she’s a sixteen year-old-girl. Never mind that he is a college graduate, and in a position of power over her. The show makes their love something you want to root for, and there’s the problem. Ezra could have easily been an excellent villain- their relationship isolates her from her friends and family, because she has to lie about it. Aria comes from an unstable family, with parents mostly tuned out of her life. A strong connection with someone older and stable would be very tempting to someone like that, even with strings attached. Young men and women from broken homes are also more likely to engage in risky sexual and romantic behavior. Aria was an at-risk youth, and she got taken advantage of. The fact that the show validates their relationship by literally having them get married at the end is horrifying. In the books, Ezra is rightfully run out of town in shame when their relationship is exposed.

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More recently, season one of Riverdale had its own student-teacher romance. Ms. Grundy, a young music teacher, had a summer fling with the main character, Archie Andrews. Again, Archie is a young person looking for his place in the world, and for validation. It is expressed that Archie “got hot” over the summer working for his dad’s construction crew, and Ms. Grundy is the first person to express interest in his new physique. She also fulfills his need for recognition when she nurtures his musical talent. The writers couldn’t seem to decide how we were supposed to feel about this relationship. Betty, Archie’s childhood friend, thought it was wrong, but when she tried to snoop, she was condemned by her friends. Obviously, breaking into someone’s car is bad, but the show tried to make us feel sympathy for Ms. Grundy by revealing that she had been a victim of domestic abuse. Their scenes together are lit rosily and underscored with romantic music. Here’s the problem: the whole subplot could have been easily made less problematic with some subtle changes. Ms. Grundy, having escaped an abusive situation, is looking for relationships where she can be in control, i.e. minors. Being the adult in the relationship gives her the power, and that could have been made more overt. Ms. Grundy is murdered, so it could be argued that the writers and the show were condemning her predatory behavior, but it was still a bad story-line, and this time, the fans did not approve.

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Another instance of this ick factor is in the relationship between Lex Luthor and Lana Lang in Smallville. Unlike the other story lines, I don’t think this one was in any way salvageable. The entirety of it made me want to throw up. There is a significant age difference, Lana is only fifteen when she meets Lex for the first time. He is also a business associate and friend of her aunt’s. At the time of their meeting, Lex was twenty-one. When they begin their relationship, Lana is about nineteen or twenty, as she would have been starting her sophomore year of college. Lana is the poster child for abandonment, and it shows. She seeks out stable, loving relationships with commitment. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, except that in season four she begins a relationship with Jason Teague, a sophomore in college, so between nineteen and twenty. With Lana still in high school, and Jason later getting an assistant coach position at said high school, their relationship was incredibly questionable. Jason picks up and moves to Smallville without consulting Lana, and this puts pressure on their relationship. He also lies to her, manipulates her, and isolates her from her friends. Sound familiar? Lana claims to be a mature adult, but her relationships are actually incredibly volatile, and Lex is no exception. There are multiple points in the season where Lana clearly doesn’t trust Lex, and it’s also clear that she clings to him because of the stability he represents. He has a home, a job, a life. Lex is an adult, and that’s what Lana likes about him. He also loves her, while she doesn’t love him, which gives her a kind of power in the relationship. Lex manipulates Lana, lies to her, and controls her life through a couple different ways. Once she moved into the mansion, it becomes worse. He monitors her comings and goings, puts a camera up in her room without informing her, and even fakes a pregnancy in order to trap Lana into being with him. Lex is in his mid twenties, he’s rich, he’s powerful, and he uses those assets to control his girlfriend. While Lex does not try to separate Lana from Chloe or Lois, his relationship with her is isolating. She can’t confide in her friends, because she knows Lex is manipulating her.

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Unhealthy relationship dynamics in TV are interesting, but the mentor-mentee or student-teacher relationship becoming romantic is not. It’s gross, it’s immoral, and it’s creepy. Let’s hope creatives can find some new taboo to write about.

Posted in Books

“Fangirl” The Manga, Vol. 1

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell came out in 2013, and has remained popular in the years since. Rowell has been the darling of the young adult world, with her 2015 follow-up Carry On, and its sequel Wayward Son, as well as a number of graphic novels for Marvel and other works.

Be that as it may, a Fangirl manga seemed a bit a of a stretch to me. The book came out seven years ago, and though it remains popular, not every book needs a graphic adaptation. I was a big fan of the book, but haven’t reread it since 2015, so I decided to give the first volume a shot to see how it holds up.

The art is beautiful, for a start. Character design is on point, Cath and Wren in particular stand out as well drawn, easily differentiated both by their minor physical dissimilarities and by their body language and expressions. Reagan was one of my favorite characters in the novel, and she is really well portrayed here. Levi looked a little different than I expected, but his facial design is so open and smiley that it perfectly captures his character.

I think this adaptation really captures the mood of the novel, which is generally pretty gloomy and lonely, with some lighter moments and humor. I think the manga really conveyed the loneliness Cath feels, and her emotional state as she tries to transition to college life without the support she needs. Cath still comes across as very sympathetic, even as her flaws are easier to understand through a visual medium. I think the adaptation to manga actually adds quite a bit to the perspective the reader has on the story, and is a very enjoyable read. For me, it really held up, and reading it again reminded me of all of the things I liked about it. I would recommend picking up the first volume, at least to see if it’s for you.

Fangirl, Vol, 1: The Manga comes out on October 13, 2020, and can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. You can also buy it using our Amazon affiliate link, which supports this blog.

Posted in Books

“A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik has been the darling of fantasy in the last few years, with her best-selling award winners Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but she’s bit off a new challenge this year with A Deadly Education, the first of the Scholomance trilogy. 

While Novik is known for her spell-binding fantasy, this book brings a surprising amount of social commentary to the mix. Novik’s protagonist, El, is one of thousands of young wizards ensconced in a mechanical marvel of a school reminiscent of Howl’s moving castle. The haves in this case are “enclavers” young wizards from prominent or established families who belong to an enclave, a wizard community. The have-nots are pretty much everyone else, wizards from all over the world who are less well-connected, and less prepared for the trials of wizarding life. Isolated from the world, these teenagers must survive nearly constant attack by maleficaria, monsters with the fervent wish to consume tasty wizardlings. 

El is a have-not, a girl used to being disliked. She has no one but her mother, a healer who could have her pick of enclaves but chooses to live apart. El is just looking for her best shot to impress the enclaves, and with her particular power, she knows that a show of force would get her the moon. She did not plan on being aggressively befriended by the class golden boy, who suspects her of a kind of magical corruption. El is eminently likable, a character with a short fuse and an observant nature. While she is closed-off from others, she has a big heart and a huge capacity for love, just little opportunity to exercise it. She is a great view into a world teeming with complexity and potential. It’s also great to have a female character who isn’t a missish teen with a hero complex- El isn’t out to save the world, and she has a realistic, if a little cynical, view of things. She’s a sweet little prickly hedgehog and I adore her. 

The world Novik is building here is beautiful and interesting, although the book indulges a little too much in exposition towards the front end, by the halfway point, any reader will be on edge to find out if El will survive junior year. The book also leaves some lovely tension about El’s destiny to keep you excited for her next adventure. 

A Deadly Education is out on September 29, 2020. You can buy it anywhere books are sold, or borrow it from your local library. If you are buying it off of Amazon, you can do so using our affiliate link.

Posted in Books

“Instant Karma” by Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer is a YA author best known for The Lunar Chronicles, her science fiction fairytale quartet that spawned a graphic novel sequel duology and a handful of short stories set in the same universe. Since their publication, Meyer has published a handful of other titles, but Instant Karma is her first foray into realistic fiction. It’s a YA romance, set in a Florida beach town just when summer is getting started.

Prudence is not just an over-achiever, she’s the over-achiever. Unfortunately, her lab partner, Quint, is the worst kind of slacker, and after a disastrous final project, Pru is determined to resubmit their assignment. However, their teacher won’t accept it without Quint and Pru’s input, and Quint is not inclined to spend his summer on schoolwork. Pru makes him a deal, but to hold up her end, they have to spend a lot of time together- like, a lot.

Not only does Prudence have to spend an unfortunate amount of summer with her nemesis, after a weird karaoke accident she finds herself the instrument of karmic justice. Pru realizes that with a gesture, she can dish out the universe’s recompense on anyone, and they will be rewarded or punished. Unfortunately, it isn’t up to Prudence to decide what people deserve, and karma can really be a bitch. When faced with the consequences of karmic retribution, Pru has to to figure out if the upside of instant karma is worth the potential fallout.

This book runs a little long for a YA realistic fiction title, and it definitely takes a while to get into. Prudence is an unpleasant, off-putting character, difficult to like. She has a tendency to judge and write-off others, and while she certainly has her moments, she’s not the best character in the book. Quint is more interesting, he has a lot of depth to him, and I enjoyed the parts with him most. The story does work, as Prudence is written to be unlikable, but it could have been a bit more subtly done. It’s supposed to be a big deal for Prudence to realize that she’s wrong and she’s been making snap-judgements, but the reader picks up on that from the third chapter. The pacing isn’t great, the story drags its feet for the first half of the book, and then picks up and doesn’t stop running.

The pacing problem comes from the book trying to do too much- this is a stand-alone novel, and it doesn’t have the space for character development a series does. There are too many sub-plots, which leaves the novel feeling bulky without adding at all to the narrative cohesion. The karma aspect of the plot is underdeveloped and seems as though it was put in just to justify some of the plot-twists rather than as a novel concept. It reads more like a romantic drama than anything else, which does work for the story.

While the book certainly has its flaws, Meyer’s fans will certainly enjoy it. The book is just as romantic as her previous work, and it’s a pleasant read. There are a lot of really fun characters, and the setting is really inventive, but it’s not what you might expect from the premise. The book veers less towards supernatural justice and more towards environmentalism, which isn’t a bad thing, but certainly isn’t something expected, given the cover and the publisher summary. 

I did like the Pride and Prejudice-like relationship between the two protagonists. Their animosity is amusing, and it’s fun to watch that slowly melt away. There are some pretty great side characters, and overall, the story holds together and ends satisfyingly.

Instant Karma will be available for purchase November 3, wherever books are sold, or at your local library. You can also purchase it from Amazon using our affiliate code. The reviewer was provided with an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Books

“Shit, Actually” by Lindy West

Film commentary comes in many forms, from the long-form newspaper review to the poster blurb. Lindy West’s new book Shit, Actually is a series of essays that offers a chatty, light overview of an eclectic collection of movies. While fans of West’s work might enjoy Shit, Actually, I found it to be a departure from her normal thoughtful, intense writing style and had trouble getting through it. West’s past work includes a lot of deconstruction of the societal norms that surround women and fat people in incisive, lingering prose, while this book is much less focused on actual film commentary and more interested in providing humorous summaries. While West’s previous work has been timeless, this collection comes across as very of-the-moment rather than evergreen. 

West introduces her work with a note on the COVID-19 crisis, and there are multiple references to the global pandemic throughout, which kind of puts a clock on how long this book can feel relevant. In a lot of ways, these essays come across much more as blog posts than essays edited and published in a book. While that works really well in some collections (see anything by Sam Urby) these essays have no flow, they don’t form a cohesive narrative about movies, the industry, or anything, really. There is a lot of use of Internet grammar, which does come across as very funny, and works well within the medium. The choice of films is also a bit difficult to parce, West offers her criteria for inclusion as movies she likes, cultural touchstones, and movies she thinks need to be talked about. She then proceeds to not actually talk about any of the movies, just summarize them and throw in the occasional one-liner. 

There were definitely great, funny parts of this book. The titular “Shit, Actually,” which deconstructs the 2003 British romantic comedy Love, Actually is far and away the funniest and most polished of these essays. This makes sense, as this was one of the essays, originally published on Jezebel.com, that inspired the collection. This essay is truly funny, and provides pretty good commentary on the movie, pointing out the nonsensical elements and sexist tropes that populate the film. It’s not exactly an original take today, but it was originally published in 2013. There are some moments of genuine insight, but for the most part the entire book is just speed-of-light summaries of the movies that are still somehow too long. While the book is marketed as an examination of popular film, asking big questions, most of the essays come off as movie reviews dictated into a cell phone and promptly abandoned. West’s previous work might lead a reader to expect a thoughtful, well-constructed commentary for each film, that takes into account gender, race, and social stigmas, but that reader would be disappointed. Instead, Shit, Actually provides just under two dozen movie reviews containing a Wikipedia summary with a few jokes thrown in. West, normally a writer of startling originality and spectacular voice, really falls flat here. While I have in the past written a positive review of West’s work, this book was a big disappointment.  

Shit, Actually, will be published October 20, 2020. It can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. You can also buy a copy on Amazon, using our affiliate link here.    

Posted in Miscellaneous

7 Smaller YouTubers You Need to be Subscribed to

Everyone knows the bigger fish in the YouTube game, but there are a ton of smaller creators, especially queer creators and creators of color, who deserve way more subscribers. Here are a couple you’ve been missing out on, all of whom have less than a million subscribers.

TheGeekyBlonde – 36k subscribers

Rhiannon is a spoken-word poet who makes videos about feminism, Shakespeare, and writing. Her condensed Shakespeare recaps are super funny, and make the text really fun and accessible. She also has done a lot of work with Brave New Voices, and her poem “Rape Joke” with Belissa Escobedo has received over five million views. She hasn’t made any videos in a while, but her channel is still worth checking out.

STRANGE ÆONS – 760k subscribers

Strange Æons is a creator who does deep-dives on tumblr and Reddit, and reacts to weird stuff like the Girl Defined channel. She also a lesbian, and talks about queer topics. One of her funniest videos is about r/SaphoAndHerFriend.

Sabrina – 313k subscribers

Sabrina does videos on science, history, and being a person on the internet. She got her first big subscriber bump when she guest-hosted on the Vlogbrothers channel, and has been producing videos for her personal channel for the last four years. She’s also a Canadian Filipino, which is an excellent reminder that the great north isn’t as white as some people think! Plus, she dispels the myth that you have to be a science or humanities person- she’s both!

Jessica Kellgren-Fozard – 753k subscribers

Jessica vlogs about disability rights, queer issues, and vintage clothing. She talks about her own physical and cognitive disabilities, chronic illness, and cultural depictions of disability. She does some videos with her wife, and history videos about queer and disabled folks through the ages. She has recently come out with an amazing video that explains the #FreeBritney movement and why it’s a civil rights issue.

SAVY Writes Books – 7.65k subscribers

Savy is a writer, small business owner, and booktuber who also talks about MLM scams. She got her first big bump with a critical review of Rachel Hollis’ self-help book, Girl, Wash Your Face. Savy does amazing deep dives on scamming self-help gurus, and talks about her journey as a small business owner and author. My favorite of her recent videos is this one about Classically Abby, Ben Shapiro’s little sister who’s been in all of your YouTube ads.

Carlos Maza – 68k subscribers

Maza recently went independent on YouTube, after leaving Wired, and has quickly found his feet. He’s a queer creator of color, and anti-capitalist, which is basically all I need to know to subscribe. His production value is INSANE, and while he only has a few videos up so far, there’s definitely more to come.

courtreezy – 573k subscribers

Courtreezy gained notoriety in the last month or so because of videos she’s made about TikTok users using racial slurs. She’s a Nigerian-American creator with a really unique voice who makes some cool content. Her latest video is about Tyra Banks and all of the crazy stuff we let her get away with in ANTM.

Posted in Books

The Destruction of Sydney Sage

220px-Bloodlines_NovelThe character of Sydney Sage first appeared in the fourth Vampire Academy book, Blood Promise, introducing the alchemists, humans who hide vampire activity from the world. Despite an ingrained hatred of vampires, dhampir, moroi and strigoi alike, Sydney helps Rose, and comes to have a grudging respect for her. While Rose is much beloved by the fandom, Sydney has a special place in a lot of hearts: she is intelligent, complex, and is terrifyingly competent. It is remarked upon frequently that she can do anything, and she pretty much can. Syndey gets her own series, Bloodlines, six books which follow many of the characters from the Vampire Academy series.

Sydney goes through incredible growth in Bloodlines, but the end of the series completely destroys all of the progress she’s made, and relegates her to domesticity. Sydney begins the series disliking vampires, and distrusting them, forced to work with Adrian Ivashkov to protect Jill Dragomir, a moroi princess. Over the course of the series, Sydney overcomes her distrust of vampires, becomes adept at magic, and falls in love with Adrian. She makes friends, develops new skills, and discovers that the alchemists are not always the good guys. She makes tough decisions, overcomes seemingly impossible odds, and defeats those who seek to control her. All of that, to end up living in the middle of nowhere with Adrian, and to become a mother by adoption at twenty.

Sydney spends a lot of her life sacrificing for others- she becomes the alchemist in her family to protect her older sister, who was a victim of abuse. Sydney deals with an eating disorder brought on my control issues, which stem from her upbringing. She realizes that the alchemists are essentially a cult- a cult built on brainwashing, xenophobia, and fundamentalist Christianity. Sydney breaks free, and tries to get her sister out. This is no small thing- Sydney has built her entire life around a belief system, and has to break free of it almost completely without help. It is through the love of her friends, people she was told to distrust, that she detaches herself from the alchemists and makes her own choices.

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Adrian and Sydney are a couple fans love, and for good reason. They started out with completely different world-views, and basically hating each other. Over time, they develop a mutual trust, an attraction, and then they fall in love. They each bring out the best in the other- Sydney helps Adrian with his self-destructive behavior, Adrian sees the best in Sydney and is proud of her at every turn. Both help each other to stop repeating patterns of behavior that harm them. Their love helps them grow, and it is a complex, nuanced relationship, which is tested both by its forbidden nature, and their differing backgrounds.

Sydney and Adrian go through hell to be together, before they marry to protect Sydney from the alchemists. This might have been earned by the trajectory of the previous books- since they have been separated by the alchemists, they need a way to never be torn apart again. I can buy them getting married, despite it not really being completely in character for Sydney to make an impulse decision like that. It makes some kind of sense for them to marry, considering how high the stakes are at this point, but it still feels  a little wrong. It doesn’t ruin Sydney’s character arc, though. She’s still herself, even if she marries Adrian, she has the potential to follow her dreams and live the life she wants. At the end of Silver Shadows, one has a reasonable expectation that they will find a way out of their predicament, defeat the bad guys, and live happily ever after.

And then The Ruby Circle happened.

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To make a long story short, Olive, a dhampir restored from being strigoi gives birth to a baby, one she claims is fathered by another dhampir. This should be an impossibility, but she thinks it’s because of the spirit used to restore her to life. She dies in labor, after being attacked by a strigoi, and tells Adrian and Sydney to bring the baby (whom she names Declan) to his father. His father rejects him, and later runs away, telling Sydney and Adrian to look after him. And then . . . they just do? They adopt Declan, pass him off as their child, and move to Maine, where Adrian teaches kindergarten and Sydney goes to college.

Bill Hader Reaction GIF by Saturday Night Live

There are a couple of reasons this makes no sense. Firstly, the reason Declan “needed” to be hidden is because he’s the child of two dhampirs, and his mother didn’t want him used for experiments by the moroi or the alchemists. This is an easy fix, one of two ways: either tell Lissa, the queen of the freaking vampires about it, and have her sort it out, or just lie about who his father is. Declan has a living aunt, Nina, his mother’s sister, who loved Olive so much that she nearly sacrificed her life to restore her sister’s. It makes zero sense to have Adrian and Sydney adopt him just to conceal his identity and abide by the wishes of a teenager who ran away from fatherhood. Sydney is way too smart not to realize these options.

Secondly, there is no way anyone would feasibly believe that Declan was Sydney and Adrian’s child. They have been in the public eye of the vampire court the entirety of when Sydney would have had to be pregnant with him, when she clearly wasn’t. Did they just hide him for a year, and then trot him out, hoping no one noticed that she was never pregnant?

Thirdly, even if Sydney and Adrian had to make a choice about taking him in or letting Nina have Declan, they would have let him be with his aunt. No matter how much they might have bonded with him, or felt bad about not saving his mother, they are young, dependent on others, and unready to be parents.

There are a few other reasons that this ending is unsatisfactory, and unworthy of the Sydney Sage fans love. After uncovering corruption in the ranks of the alchemists, Sydney merely bargains with them for the names of corrupted alchemists, in exchange for her freedom. She also has some words with her father, but just to get her younger sister the freedom to see their mother. Sydney knows that the entire alchemist organization is a corrupt, zealous cult, with dangerous, inhumane practices, and she just . . . walks away? She has been the victim of reeducation, brainwashing, and torture, and she just negotiates what amounts to amnesty for herself, and shared custody for her sister. The Sydney Sage fans love would have (and should have) torn the alchemist organization asunder. Allowing a corrupt institution like that to continue to exist would not be acceptable to her- Sydney is a pragmatist, but she’s also uncompromising in her morals. Whether Sydney would have destroyed the alchemists, or reshaped them, she wouldn’t have let them continue to do their work and just move away.

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Another source of rage is what Sydney and Adrian do with their fresh start- move to Maine and live a low-key life. Sydney deserved to go to an Ivy League school, or run the UN, or do something equally extraordinary. She could have done those things, even with a husband and a young child, if she wanted. It doesn’t make any sense for them to settle in the middle of nowhere. Adrian becomes a kindergarten teacher, which is equally out of character. Sure, he loves art, and has a childlike sense of wonder, but Adrian can’t get up that early in the morning, nor does he have the qualifications to teach kindergarten. It would make more sense for him to go to art school, or become a reclusive artist who supports his high-achieving wife by providing childcare. This ending isn’t disappointing because they left the vampire world behind, Adrian didn’t have much to keep him there. It’s disappointing because they both wanted something else, and deserved better. They both grew so much, and learned so much from each other, and ended up in a completely illogical place. It is especially tragic for Sydney, who worked so hard, and achieved so much, only to live in relative obscurity in the human world, where she would never be able to be her true self. While Adrian certainly deserved better, the triumph of the series is Sydney, a young woman who went from being controlled to controlling her destiny, from being strong-armed to making her own choices, and from an isolated existence to a life full of love. She deserved to have a real ending, one worthy of her journey.

Posted in Books

“No Offense” isn’t just bad . . . it’s kinda offensive

I’ve been a Meg Cabot fan forever, since I picked up my first Princess Diaries book. While she’s best known for that series, Cabot is a prolific writer, and has dozens of novels available for both teen and adult audiences. I loved her Size 12 is Not Fat series, and the Queen of Babble trilogy. Her romances are engaging, her heroines are plucky, and I’ve always found her books enjoyable. I say all this to explain that it brings me no pleasure to hate on No Offense, her latest romance coming out August 11.

This is the second book in a new series of seaside romances set in small town Little Bridge, one of the islands in the Florida Keys. It follows arrived librarian Molly Montgomery, an unlucky-in-love new resident in Little Bridge, and John Hartwell, the sheriff. They bump heads when John is called to investigate a baby abandoned in the library bathroom, and sparks fly, despite their differing world views. Molly thinks that no one could abandon a baby in a bathroom without a good reason, and John thinks that anyone who could do it should face consequences. Both endeavor to find the baby’s mother, while John simultaneously juggles his teen daughter, and a thief breaking and entering all over town.

This book has a lot of problems, the worst of which is the main couple. Neither is all that compelling, and both lack enough traits to make up a personality. John is a career cop, which doesn’t really play well in this day and age, when the public is rapidly realizing that policing as it is traditionally undertaken in America does more harm than good. There isn’t a lot to him besides his job and his kid. Molly has a similar problem, she seems like an amalgamation of what people think of older millennials- she loves true crime, stalks her ex on social media, and drinks wine pretty much whenever she’s not at work. While Cabot’s protagonists usually like a drink or two, Molly might actually be an alcoholic. She gets drunk at a city function, as the guest of a prominent resident, and she is a city employee. She’s also intensely cringey. Also, as a library employee, I was personally taken aback at how little research Cabot appeared to have done about library operations. Completely inaccurate, with the notable exception of when a guy yells at Molly for no reason- that’s spot-on. Just to give an example, Molly keeps books in her bathroom. In her bathroom, where the moisture and the steam is. I can’t think of a self-respecting librarian who would expose books to that kind of environment.

48836843I saw my other main issue of this book written cleverly in another review, which I was unfortunately unable to track down. Basically, all of Cabot’s books now are “white woman solves mystery with associated man, featuring ethnic best friend.” Given how much better her other books are, it’s really sad to read this phoned-in claptrap.

I wasn’t originally going to write a review of No Offense, but then I saw it on a couple lists of exciting books coming out this summer, and I felt bad. Don’t waste your time on this, go read one of Cabot’s better books. I promise, they’re just as romantic and much less disappointing.

No Offense will be published August 11, 2020, and can be found wherever books are sold, or at your local library. You can also purchase it on Amazon using our affiliate code. The reviewer was provided with a advanced reader’s edition in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Books

“Spoiler Alert” is a match made in AO3

cover196169-mediumSpoiler Alert is the story of two friends who share a passion for fanfiction. Gods of the Gates is the biggest show on television, based on an incomplete series of beloved books, and April and Marcus both write fics online. Both keep their fanfiction intentionally separate from their real lives, for very different reasons.

April is a scientist finally moving into the public sector, and able to bring her passion for the fantasy world to her personal web presence. Finally, she doesn’t have to worry about trying to get individual jobs and can post her cosplay pictures.

Marcus is an actor- one of the stars of the Gods at the Gates TV show, and sick of seeing the books he loves destroyed by the show creators. His fanfiction helps him soothe his anger at the butchering of his character, and the coming end of the show, which promises outrage from fans. If his fics were to be discovered, his career would be over, and he would be sued to oblivion. Marcus and April read and edit each others’ fics, and have been friends online for years, when twitter brings them together, entirely by accident.

April and Marcus have distinct character voices, and nuanced inner lives. Both of them are real adults in their late thirties, not post-adolescents mired in indecision. April is an amazing, intelligent fat woman who knows that the world will only ever see her as the latter. She knows she is beautiful, and does not apologize for the way she looks. She faces her personal challenges with aplomb, and doesn’t allow people to treat her poorly. Her strength is one of her best qualities, and watching her shine is a delight.

Marcus has found that the best way to be in the public eye is to present himself as an empty-headed jock, a pretty boy who can act but doesn’t have much between his ears. He faces the difficult choice about whether to open up, or keep his real self inside. Marcus has always felt like a disappointment to the people closest to him, and if he wants a chance with April, he has to let go of that fear. Marcus is a hugely likable, fun guy who knows who he is, but isn’t sure if anyone else should be let in on the secret.

April and Marcus have crazy chemistry, this book is sexy, funny, sweet, and incredibly passionate. The secondary characters are just as interesting as April and Marcus, and add hilarity to a book that already has snappy writing and amazing dialogue. April is intensely relatable, with a voice TV fans and book-lovers will both fall for. Gods at the Gates is also a very thinly veiled analog for Game of Thrones, the last season that launches a thousand angry tweets. The criticism of the TV adaptation rings true, and adds a bit of extra humor to this already funny book. This book is an exciting new read, and one hopes it is a sign of even bigger things to come from Olivia Dade.

Spoiler Alert will be published October 6, 2020 by HarperCollins. You can preorder it wherever books are sold. You can also get it through Amazon using our affiliate link here.