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.   

Posted in Books

“Lore” by Alexandra Bracken

Lore, upcoming release from best-selling author Alexandra Bracken (you may know her from The Darkest Minds) takes advantage of the mythology craze and brings you another tale of the Greek pantheon of gods in our modern world. The trend has ridden the coat-tales of the Percy Jackson phenomenon, but this book is different than the many other pretenders. 

The Greek gods have been cursed, and every seven years their godhood is stripped from them, and for one week, they are forced to walk the mortal world, vulnerable. If one of the mortal hunters kill a god, they take on that god’s power. There are few of the original gods left, and the hunters are not merciful. This is the Agon, a bloodthirsty trial of endurance and cunning. The hunters are a few families, descendants of great heroes, each vying for the chance to bring honor to their house, whether through battle or ascension to godhood.

Lore is busy prize-fighting, taking the edge off some grief, when an old friend stumbles into her path, an old friend who should be dead. Warned that her life is in danger, Lore half-heartedly plans to skip town before she and her housemate find a goddess lying in wait for them.

Lore is offered a choice: she can walk away from the world she’s been hiding from, or she can get the vengeance she has long desired. She can leave New York, where the battle has already begun, or she can stand her ground. If she can live through the next seven days, she might be able to discover the truth of what happened seven years ago, at the end of the last Agon. But the choice stands before her: will she pursue vengeance, or peace?

Lore is a great character, and her voice is refreshing. She wants to leave a world that has taken everything from her, but she also feels responsible for righting the injustices that have befallen her. She’s not a chosen one, she’s just trying to survive. She is a unique character the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while. Lore isn’t just a badass, nor is she firmly in damsel territory. Her moral compass isn’t fixed, but she values her humanity above all else. The secondary characters are all well-defined and have their own unique perspectives on the world they have been thrust into. The book is surprisingly romantic, despite the bloodshed, and will leave readers hungry for more. It’s an exciting story that can’t come out soon enough.

Lore has the expected publication date of January 5, 2020. The reviewer was provided an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. It can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. If you would like to buy it from Amazon, you can do so using our affiliate link.  

Posted in Books

“American Royals” is full of wasted potential

Young Adult lit is always exploring new frontiers, and royalty is often a fixture of the genre. Whether it’s alternate history, high fantasy, or dystopias, royalty and fairy tales have their place in YA cannon, and American Royals by Katherine McGee is the perfect storm of royalty tropes, designed perfectly to appeal to YA readers. The audience is there, and McGee is already the author of the wildly popular Thousandth Floor trilogy. 

The book is designed to be broadly appealing, and it succeeds, it’s a best-seller. However, the book is disappointing to avid young adult readers, and the answer why is obvious: the book isn’t what it’s been marketed as, it’s as one reviewer described it, “like Gossip Girl on steroids.” Having seen the buzz about this book, any reader might assume that the book is an alternate reality novel about how the US would be different if the government figurehead was a hereditary monarch, rather than an elected representative. Sounds exciting, no? Too bad that’s not what it’s about.  

Clichés galore

This book is one cliché after another. The heir to the crown can’t marry for love, the younger princess feels ignored and acts out, there’s a lot of pressure on the oldest child. The heir falls in love with her bodyguard, an unsuitable choice, but gets engaged to an approved suitor for her country. The father is terminally ill, adding tension to Beatrice’s choices. The prince has a scheming ex who wants to get him back, another royal, but he’s pursuing a commoner. There are no original ideas in this book. It’s pretty disappointing, considering the novel premise. 

Introduces an interesting premise and fails to deliver

This is objectively a cool idea- what would have happened if there was an American hereditary monarchy? The book squanders this really neat premise, barely addressing how the world is different because of this altered history. There are still royal families in Russia and Germany, and we do get some little tidbits, but mostly the coolest idea in the book is ignored for the intriguing question of whether Jeff is stupid enough to trust his ex-girlfriend over his sister’s lifelong friend. It’s more frustrating than anything else, because this book is disappointing!   

Fails to address race

One huge oversight in the book is that it basically ignores the issue of race in America. One of the main characters is Latina, and that is mentioned once. When she’s dating the prince, none of the condemnations of her are racist. There are a couple of Black royal families, so of course racism doesn’t exist! There are maybe two paragraphs total devoted to race in the book, one of which is about the abolition of slavery, which is quickly explained away. I guess this world is one in which racism is eliminated, but exchanged for elitism? It’s more acceptable for the future queen to marry a Black future duke than a white bodyguard, so we have to assume class structure has replaced racism in the social order. It’s just such an oversight in pretty lily-white book- the book also tries to address class, but the only middle-class characters are directly royalty-adjacent, and so experience “real life” but tempered with the privilege of proximity to power. 

There’s also some token gay acceptance in the book, mostly as a few throw-away lines. It felt half-hearted and squished into an already bloated, boring book. 

Bland, cookie-cutter characters

The characters in this book might have redeemed it if they weren’t so intrinsically boring. It’s impossible to get invested in Beatrice’s love story because she’s boring, she has no interests, friends, or even personality traits beyond being trapped by royalty, smart, and devoted to her country. I honestly felt bad for her love interest, because he deserved better. Sam is equally boring, she’s a stereotyped party girl whose only plot tension is jealousy of her sister and frustration over wanting a guy she can’t have. Jeff is clearly a dolt, and hard to be sympathetic to as a result. If he was dumb and sweet, it would be one thing, but he also pretty much lacks a personality or consistent motivation. 
Daphne is by far the worst offense- she’s a scheming lower-tier royal determined to marry the prince. She’s teased at the beginning of the book to have done something horrible, and when it is revealed it’s a total dud. She’s a liar, manipulator, and social climber, cruel and clever to a fault. She’s also the only character in the book to engage in sex, which is highly implied to be immoral? All of the royalty are not sexually active, which a pretty hard pill to swallow, but the one villainous character who actively is trying to sabotage our heroes is the only one having sex? This smacks of slut-shaming. 

Too many POV characters

Having four point of view characters is way too much- it certainly served the purpose of the story, but it’s disconcerting for the reader and some of the characters are less interesting than others. Beatrice and Sam are particularly boring, and despite being the villain Daphne is possibly the most engaging character in the book. At least you can hate her, as opposed to being casually disinterested in the other characters. I found that the male characters in particular were lack-luster, Jeff and Connor have almost no characterization to speak of. The best fleshed-out is Teddy, and his character is mostly parental pressure and feeling responsible for his family. 

Terrible Pacing

So there’s basically no plot until half-way through the book, as there’s no tension. Beatrice needs a husband, but we don’t know why, so there’s no urgency. Daphne is trying to destroy Jeff’s relationship, but we don’t know what she’s capable of, aside from media warfare, so there’s no fear. Plus, we care zero percent about the characters, so it’s not like we’d worry anyway. The book is also far too long for a book in which nothing happens.   

Derivative and unoriginal

This is one of the main issues I had with this book, it’s complete failure to bring something new to the table. It starts with the damn cover. Did it look familiar? It should.

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The cover looks strikingly similar to another recent best-seller, the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend. The art style is similar, but the details are what really stands out: the blue background, sunglasses, dark hair done up, even the barely perceptible nose. The similar cover is a short-hand for a potential reader, “This is like that other book you like.” 

But the biggest place this book draws its content from is The Royals, a TV show that aired from 2015-2018. Its subjects were a fictionalized British royal family, and their story might sound familiar. Here are a few notable similarities between the narratives: 

  1. There are three children, Robert, Liam, and Eleanor. Liam and Eleanor are the younger, and twins.
  2. Robert contracts a political marriage to a woman Liam cares about, angering Liam.
  3. Eleanor has a clandestine relationship with her bodyguard, which is considered inappropriate.
  4. While Robert is staid, and committed to his duty, Eleanor and Liam are wild and obstreperous, chasing their whims and indulging themselves.
  5. Liam has a crazy ex-girlfriend who is a part of the upper class, and schemes to get him back. Liam falls in love with the daughter of the head of palace security, and his ex sabotages that relationship. 
  6. The king dies suddenly, throwing the succession into a place of importance.

While The Royals is more intense, more murder, mayhem and intrigue, the bones are the same, at least in early seasons. Even if the author didn’t directly rip the show off, it’s clear that no original ideas populate this book.    

Posted in Books

“Written in the Stars” by Aisha Saeed

This book is a hard one. I will preface this review by saying that some people may be triggered by the content of this novel- it includes honor violence, forced marriage, rape, and domestic abuse. Please do not read further if these themes will cause you undue distress. Additionally, while this book is fiction, it reflects the stories of many real girls and women who experience this kind of abuse. This abuse is a crime against humanity, and a violation of the human rights of women and girls. It happens all around the world. It could be happening in your town, in your city, to girls in your class, to women you know. Naila’s story is fiction, but it is familiar to many.

See the source image

Naila is a young woman, seventeen, of Pakistani descent, but born in Florida. She has a scholarship to college, to a six-year medical program. Naila is the model minority we are all looking for. Her one secret is her boyfriend of one year- Saif. Naila can’t have the normal teenage love story- there are no sports games, cheering from the sidelines, but she can sneak out one night and go to prom. One night of romance at a school dance results in her parents finding out everything, and deciding Naila has betrayed all of their teachings. They tell her a month in Pakistan will help, visiting their family will remind her who she is. Little does Naila know, all along, her parents never intended for her to return and go to school.

Without her knowledge, Naila’s mother and father set up meetings with families, seeking out a husband for her. As their stay lengthens, Naila becomes suspicious, and eventually her cousin Selma breaks down and tells her the truth. Naila tries to run away, but is found, drugged, and eventually frog-marched through a marriage ceremony. Her in-laws have purchased her for the purpose of bringing her new husband’s sister to America, as she has failed to find a husband in Pakistan. Her husband seems initially kind, but fails to understand Naila’s situation, and rapes her to prevent her from being returned to her family. She becomes pregnant as a result.

Naila looses hope- her family has abandoned her, and she has no doubt that if she is returned to them, her uncle will kill her. Returned for a visit to her family, Naila wants to try to escape, but has no opportunity. She disowns her mother, and is taken  back to her husband’s house. All this time, Naila has remained in love with Saif, with whom she has sporadic contact. He tries to help her, but can’t do much from the states. Eventually, he and his father track her down with the help of her brother, and come to Pakistan, planning an escape. Naila’s spiteful sister-in-law reveals to the family that Saif is in town, and they cast Naila out, inflicting grievous bodily harm on her in the process. Naila’s husband allows her to leave with Saif and Saif’s father, instead of returning her to her family.

The book ends in an epilogue two years later, with Naila and Saif living and attending college together back in the US. Naila miscarried, probably due to the beating her in-laws doled out. Saif’s parents have welcomed her into the family, helped her get a divorce, and supported her emotionally. While she does not have her scholarship, and looses the opportunity to enter the prestigious medical program, Naila attends college with loans and is grateful to be in school. She and Saif get married. Naila even allows her parents to come see her, following the news that her mother is very sick. She has found peace, and happiness, and is putting the past behind her, one day at a time.

While this story is ultimately a hopeful one, about love triumphing, it is also deeply tragic. It is difficult to read about Naila’s family dehumanizing her, and treating her as an implement of the family’s destruction or honor, rather than as a person in her own right. Even though Naila is ultimately freed, it is hard to think about the other women in her family, who are stuck within the structures she has escaped. In the epilogue, Naila faces seeing her parents, knowing that they can’t do anything to her anymore. But her cousin of the same age, Selma, is still living with the family who abused Naila. They both say that they are like sisters, and Selma’s fate could just as easily be the same.

The ending is also a little rushed, not really allowing Naila’s new life and happiness to sink in for the reader. Her miscarriage and the trauma incurred from the beating her in-laws gave her is mentioned, but only as a sad experience that causes her regret. As Naila became pregnant by rape, as a result of her forced marriage, it rings a little false to me that her only feelings would be of sadness. I think having mixed feelings would certainly be realistic, anger, certainly, sadness, even relief. While it seems within character and very realistic for Naila’s in-laws to beat her, and for her to miscarry as a result, as a reader it seems like the author merely wanted to avoid wading into the controversial waters of abortion. The end of the book seems just a tad sped through. Naila’s journey to get to her happy ending was so fraught, I would have liked to savor it for more than a few pages. It would have also been nice to feel as though justice was served in some way- in reality, most women who escape abusive marriages do so with only their lives. It would have given me some closure as a reader to see Naila not just escape, but get some kind of restitution for her suffering. I suppose living well is the best revenge.

Posted in Books, TV

“Shrill” by Lindy West

I recently picked up Shrill after finishing the Hulu show of the same name in a weekend. Having watched Aidy Bryant portray a version of writer Lindy West, I thought I should give her book a read. I love Bryant’s work on SNL, which is great not just because she is funny and talented, but because she is a fat woman on television. She’s also very attractive, but I digress. The book mostly tackles the intersection of difficult identities: woman, fat, loud.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, is not written as a narrative, but as a series of essays. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Samantha Irby’s work. Fittingly, Irby has written some episodes of Shrill. Parts of the show are nestled in West’s memoir- Annie’s obnoxious boss is based on West’s former editor Dan Savage, of advice fame. West writes about her abortion experience, and writing an essay about her fatness. West articulates the feelings that every woman at a comedy club has felt when she hears a joke that makes her feel unsafe. When she writes about no one wanting her, feeling undesirable, unlovable, I can relate to that. Despite always being average-sized, or at times too small, I can relate to a lot of the pain West lays bare.

Shrill is an important reminder that we need to internalize: fat people are an unprotected class, a class that experiences discrimination much like minorities and women. There are a lot of ways that it is harder to be a fat person, and as a society we have made it possible to actively dehumanize them, and make it even worse.

What was truly enjoyable about the book was West’s candid honesty, her realness and her self-acceptance. Lindy West is what is really special about Shrill– so it’s a good thing she writes for the show. One thing that really got me was when she writes about representation, how seeing fat bodies makes fat bodies normal, and how important that is. West is doing some of that work, by leading a public life, and being unapologetic, and the television show does another part of that work, by casting fat actresses to play fat women. West writes attempting to evoke the empathy of people who actively hate her- and I know she hates being called “brave,” so I’ll just say, she seems pretty cool.

Posted in Books, Movies

Movie Adaptations That Were Irredeamably Bad

A lot of great books become okay movies (Ella Enchanted), and some become really great movies (The Princess Bride.) A few become horrible, weird disasters that are not recognizable as the books we love. A lot of these adaptations are young adult fantasy, partially because so little effort goes into making media for young adults and kids. Here are some movies that were face-palmingly disappointing. Of course, the people who worked on these movies worked hard and are human beings, but we can critique the films without being too critical of the people who made them happen.

The Percy Jackson Series

It is almost universally agreed within the fandom that the Percy Jackson movies were terrible. They even made a second one despite the horrible reception the first received, in an attempt to save the franchise. The biggest mistake this movie made was taking the heart out of the series. They aged up the characters in order to sell the movie to teens, and instead of sticking to the source material, made cheap jokes about sex and used a lot of expensive visual effects. While a lot of books don’t translate well to the screen, Percy Jackson could have been amazing. It could have been on the level of Harry Potter as a film series, if it was done right. It literally would have been better if they had a robot voice read the text of the book and had the only visual be the Microsoft screen saver. Even the author publicly repudiated the movies. Zero stars. 

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Divergent

The Divergent series has a lot of issues- and we won’t get into those now, but the movies were a huge flop. They did not even complete the series, which gives you an idea of how poorly they were received. The studio kind of got in over their heads by splitting the last book into two films. The last book was pretty bad, and while the first movie didn’t divert much from the book, it only exposed the weaknesses inherent in the book. One of the central facets of the book was the love story, which was wooden in the movie. It doesn’t help that the male lead looks about ten years older than his costar. As movies go, I’d skip these ones and save a couple of hours.

The Mortal Instruments

While Cassandra Clare’s popular series is a byzantine, magical journey, it’s also kind of a crazy ride. Some of the source material didn’t exactly translate well to the screen (incest, but not the real kind.) The movie flopped, and then there was a second attempt with a TV show, which hit a lot of the same beats without fixing the inherent issues (too many characters, too much plot, too much explanation.) While Clare has continued writing her books, it’s probably safe to say that they won’t be making their way to the screen any time soon.

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Me trying to make sense of this movie

Vampire Academy

Admittedly, this movie is only really bad if you read the books. The books are kind of dark, emotional, and intense. The movie is a campy comedy, with romantic subplots. It’s mostly disappointing for fans of the books, which are much deeper and more complex than the movie, which basically just makes vampire jokes for two hours. It’s kind of a fun, silly thing, but it’s barely recognizable, with the exception of the book’s basic mythology and characters. Like the Percy Jackson series, there was a lot more source material, but further films have not metastasized. It’s just disappointing that the studio beefed it on what could have been an epic saga. They also un-ironically subtitled this film Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters, which is so menstrual that it has to be on purpose?  

The question remains: why are all of these excellent books being butchered to make movies that barely recoup their costs? To my mind, the answer is twofold, and fairly straightforward. Firstly, movie studios think that they can make a quick buck if they make films even vaguely based on source material that is popular. They think that people who liked the book will go see the movie on principal. Even if you go to hate-watch it, they still have your money! Secondly, Hollywood thinks kids and teens are stupid, or at the very least, not demanding. This is wrong on several levels, but believing it means that they can write lazy movies with bad casting on the assumption that people will watch anything. To some extent, they’re right. Mortdecai made 47.3 million dollars. Some people will go see anything, once. However, if you have a viable franchise, and you throw it away for a cash-grab, people aren’t going to come see the next one. That’s why all of this is so disappointing, and such a waste. These are decent books, some of them are brilliant, and they deserved better than they got. Studios have proved that they can make great movies for teens and kids, they’ve just decided not to try. Two thumbs down for effort.


kerry washington ugh GIF by ABC Network

 

Posted in Books

“Nathalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

Click for Hi-Res image.This book is promising from the outset- you can see some of what it is from its beautiful cover, designed by Vikki Chu. The cover incorporates elements of the book without delivering any spoilers, for which readers should be grateful. Nathalie Tan is highly spoilable, so a good design that reflected the spirit of the book without oversharing is priceless.

We are introduced to Nathalie Tan, gourmand, world-traveler, and distant daughter. At the beginning of the novel, Nathalie receives a premonition of her mother’s death, in the form of birdsong. This lays the groundwork for the magic that is weaved into the tapestry of this story, which is equal parts achingly tragic and surprisingly hopeful. Our heroine returns to her home in Chinatown, only to find it much less prosperous than when she left. Nathalie’s mother posthumously grants her blessing for Nathalie to reopen her grandmother’s restaurant, allowing her to realize her dream. However, the neighborhood is in a downturn, and Nathalie fears it is her fault for abandoning her mother years ago. A prophesy tells her that she must aid her neighbors with her grandmother’s recipes, in order for her restaurant to be successful. Reluctantly, Nathalie agrees to help her neighbors, still resenting them for not helping her when her agoraphobic mother, Miranda, was alive. As Nathalie begins her journey, using her grandmother’s recipe book, she begins to understand that not everything is how she remembered.

As Nathalie interacts with the neighbors she left behind, she realizes that in her absence, they have cared for her mother. She also begins to see that they were a bigger part of her upbringing than she gave them credit for, and opens herself up to a relationship with the people who have known her all her life. She even contemplates a relationship with a man, when she previously thought she was too broken for love. When all of Nathalie’s plans begin to backfire, and her kitchen is destroyed, Nathalie tries to run away. A spirit seeking his peace reminds her about her grandmother’s courage, and inspires her to stay and fix her mistakes. Nathalie is able to repair her fractured relationships, and bring prosperity back to her home, with the help of an unexpected mentor.

This book is deep, complicated and nuanced, like a lot of Nathalie’s dishes. Unlike a lot of other coming-of-age romances, the love story is mostly not romantic, but familial. Through reading her mother’s journals, Nathalie is able to find the love that they always has for one another. She also connects with her grandmother, who died before she was born, but who Nathalie much resembles. Nathalie makes peace with her past, and in learning the truths she was never able to ask her mother for, she frees herself from anger, and resentment. She opens herself up to love, and finds within herself a strength and determination her grandmother would be proud of. Nathalie connects herself to the family she has lost by becoming closer with those who knew them, and in making peace with the neighbors she resented, Nathalie becomes whole.

One of the greatest strengths of this book, and one thing that makes it so unique, is the magical realism that permeates Nathalie’s world. Its presence makes you read each line extra carefully, lest you miss something significant. Nathalie’s grief, and her catharsis, are rendered in haunting, gorgeous detail that wrenches at your heart. This book will enchant and delight its readers, and leave them craving more.

 

Posted in Books, Podcasts

“Just Between Us” From YouTube to the NY Times Best-Seller List, a podcast is born

Allison Raskin and Gabby Dunn are best known for their YouTube channel, Just Between Us, where they do sketches and a more talk-y couch show. They got their start together a couple years ago, and have since developed a strong online following. Raskin has been open about her struggles with mental health while Dunn is a prominent LGBTQ+ activist, or what she calls a bi-con, or bisexual icon.

Dunn and Raskin have since co-authored two novels, NY Times best-seller I Hate Everyone But You and recent release Please Send Help. Individually, Raskin is a writer and director and Dunn has a financial memoir based on her podcast, Bad With Money.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the first live recording of their podcast, also titled Just Between Us, which was recorded at the DC Improv, to a packed house. The podcast covers similar ground to their couch show, where they pick a subject, and discuss it at some length. On the podcast, they do a couple little bits about their current goings-on, have a guest, and then talk about a topic of personal or professional interest.

One of the reasons I personally have really connected with this podcast is that Allison and Gabby are Jewish, and they provide a different representation of what that looks like in media. Jews in media are pretty one-note, and it can be difficult to find anyone that looks or feels like me, but Allison and Gabby are relatable. They both have their own unique personalities and ambitions, and are not defined by any one aspect of themselves. Both have also been forthcoming about their mental health struggles, which is incredible. Their whole shtick has been that they are an odd couple, but you can also clearly tell that they are a unit. They really care about one another, and know each other well. They have amassed a following because they are so genuine, and because fans gravitate towards that realness.

The first segment of the show was devoted to their misadventures in traveling, some bits about the show being live, and an introduction to the podcast, for the uninitiated. Dunn wore a killer print suit, very summer and super on-brand, and Raskin sported a black jump suit, which is true to her simple but classic style.

The show’s guest was Dani Sauter, AKA Blonde in the District, who is a fashion blogger and style queen, also showing up in a summer printed suit, although hers was in a citrus color. I was not previously familiar with Sauter’s work, not being super plugged in to the fashion blogging community, but she was delightful. She was funny, engaging, and I cannot emphasize enough how much she was killing it in that suit. She is everything I imagined a fashion blogger to be, honestly. She’s put together, she’s glamorous, she’s what I imagine Eloise at the Plaza would be all grown up. In short, I am in love.

The three discussed Sauter’s work as a blogger, as well as her role in the body positivity movement. What really struck me about their conversation was something Sauter said. “People think body positivity is just for curvy girls, it’s not. It’s for everyone.” She could not be more right. She inspired me so much that I wore something fun to work today, instead of just one of my regular outfits from my rotation.

After their guest, Dunn and Raskin introduced their TOPIXXX segment, (my personal favorite part of the podcast) where they discussed Bachelor Nation, the Bachelor family of products, including the Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise. I’m familiar with the concept, as I too hate-watched the show guiltily in college, but it lost my interest after I realized I only really got negative emotions out of it. Basically, I don’t really care about the show, but I thought it was interesting to hear them talk about it. They were trying to figure out if they can ethically justify watching and engaging with the show, considering how destructive it seems to have been, especially in the past. Personally, I’ve watched Unreal, and found it to be a very entertaining satire of the whole Bachelor genre, so I’d prefer to watch that than the actual show.

Finally, when the two usually bring on a producer to talk about what they’ve learned and rate the show, they surprised Allison’s dad and brought him up. He was adorable and they had clearly not warned him, but they ribbed at each other and wound down the show in a good-natured way. He is pictured here, looking flustered and dressed almost identically to my dad, another middle-aged Jewish man who is a lawyer. He got a few good bits in, and was a good sport about being called to the stage without warning. Allison’s mom was perhaps the most amused, the look on her face when he jogged up to the stage was itself worth the price of admission.

Overall, I think Just Between Us, in whatever iteration you prefer, is worth a watch or a listen. You can find their podcast wherever you find podcasts, and their books are available wherever books are sold. You should try your local bookstore, because if you listen to Bad With Money or read the news, you know Amazon is probably evil. They also have merch available, and you can find out if they’re coming to a city near you here.

Posted in Books

“Storm Cursed” Mercy Thompson’s Latest Adventure

I love the last installment in the Mercy Thompson series, and was excited to get my teeth into this one. Ever since Mercy joined the pack and got married, a new life has been breathed into the story. In a lot of serialized supernatural stories, settling down and getting married is an indication of the story slowing down, of domestic life taking the reigns from the fantastic. What’s great about Briggs’ stories is that many of her characters find love and then go on to have further adventures, meaning that the reader gets to have their cake and eat it too.

I’ve also loved watching the pack itself be further fleshed out- seeing them as people and wolves, rather than just a group who either benignly dislike Mercy or outright hate her. Mary Jo, for example, has been truly hate-able in the past, as has Honey, who has less of a presence in this book. What we’ve been seeing in the latest books, and especially early in Storm Cursed with Paul’s sacrifice, is the pack’s loyalty to Mercy, whether they like her or not. Eventually, people come to like Mercy, in spite of themselves, or because they see how devoted she is to Adam. It is remarked upon that she’s not anyone’s “little wife,” but even the most stubborn of wolves can see that Mercy is loyal to her pack, which is as close to making her “worthy” of Adam as anything could be.

I obviously have a lot of problems with the way people define Mercy- the idea that she has to be worthy of someone to deserve their respect is pretty misogynistic. The internal structure of most werewolf packs is incredibly sexist, and it would be nice if we can see some changes in that in the next couple of books. Mercy’s strength is usually in being underestimated by others, but in some ways it’s also a weakness: she underestimates herself. The way that Mercy has had to define herself, by her relationships with men, is kind of uncomfortable. To most people, she’s the mate of the alpha of the Columbia Basin pack. To some, she’s Bran Cornick’s adopted daughter. To even fewer, she’s Coyote’s daughter. Defining herself by the people she loves and protects would be fine, but a lot of her story has been about people trying to use her to control those who she is affiliated with. Other adventures have been about her heritage, and her using her powers to help others. I would like to see more of Mercy’s story being about her, and less of it being about the men in her life. I really loved the last book, because even though she was kidnapped as a bargaining chip, Mercy managed pretty decently on her own, and seeing her faring for herself made Silence Fallen a really exciting read.

Storm Cursed had a lot of what I’ve been looking for in move Mercy books- lots of Zee, one of my favorite side characters, for one. I love Zee and Tad, and seeing them around the garage is a ripe opportunity for both humor and exposition. I loved getting more into the witches- Elizaveta has been spoiling for more time on the page, and I couldn’t be happier. Her story is bittersweet, but very well done. I also love how vain and catty the witches are, it really strengthens the witch mythology of this universe, wherein different families usually don’t get along, and might actually kill each other rather than sit down to tea. One thing I was less jazzed about was seeing Mercy in the hospital so much- it’s just a lot. I get that she’s more breakable than the other characters, who have enhanced healing due to being werewolves, but seeing Mercy get hurt is just heartbreaking every time. Ever since the horrifying rape she experienced in Iron Kissed, seeing Mercy get injured cuts deep. I feel like she got extra beat up in this book, and while that’s believable given the circumstances, it doesn’t make it any less palatable.

A lot of neat threads were weaved in for future intrigue, like the senator who is a descendant of Hawk, and I’m excited to read the next one. Hopefully, book number twelve will be out in 2020.

 

Posted in Books, TV

“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Liberties in Adaptation

I’ve watched both seasons of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, starring Kiernan Shipka, but I’ve only recently come across the original comic book that served as inspiration for the show’s creepier premise.

I really enjoyed “Book One: The Crucible”, which is what I’ve read so far, but I did notice that there were considerable differences between the source material and the television show. Here are a few notable changes, and my thoughts.

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1. Sabrina’s Parents

In the show, Sabrina is an orphan, both of her parents having died when she was an infant in a plane crash. In the comic, it’s a little more austere. Edward Spellman is a more shadowy figure in the comics, while he is still dead. At the beginning of the story, it is clear that Sabrina is going to be taken away from her parents, and Diana is forcibly institutionalized by Edward. She recovers her sanity later, but it doesn’t paint Edward in the good light we see in the show. He even refers to Diana as a “vessel,” as though she is merely intended to bear a child. Overall, we get the impression that Diana was a mark and Edward is not to be trusted.

2. Madam Satan

While Madam Satan in the comic does pose as a teacher to gain Sabrina’s trust, she isn’t there at the behest of the Dark Lord Satan. Iola, as she is named in the book, is Edward Spellman’s first love, whom he spurned to marry Diana. After he left her, she killed herself and was consigned to hell. She is accidentally raised from the pit at the beginning of the book by a set of familiar-looking witches from Riverdale, Betty and Veronica. Iola’s motivation for tormenting Sabrina is revenge, rather than Lilith, who merely does the will of her master.

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3. Roz, Harvey & Friends

In the comic, Roz and Sabrina are not friends, but rivals, and Roz doesn’t have the sight. She’s just a one-dimensional mean girl. Theo Putnam is also absent. Sabrina doesn’t really have any other friends, except Harvey.

Harvey is very different from his television portrayal. While TV Harvey is a slim and boyishly handsome artist, comic Harvey is a muscly, gorgeous football player. Of course, the greatest difference between the two is that in the comic, Harvey dies by Madam Satan’s hand, or rather, lips. Unlike in the show, when Harvey’s brother dies and is resurrected with gruesome results, Harvey’s body is resurrected, but he’s not in it- Edward Spellman is.

4. The Church of Night

While the elders of the Church of Night do hold a trial for Sabrina regarding the Harvey incident, there is way less of a presence in the comic than in the television show. Nor does Sabrina attend the Academy of the Unseen Arts. There is no Father Blackwood, nor do the weird sisters make an appearance. A lot of elements of Father Blackwood’s character seem to have been drawn from the portrayal of Edward Spellman in the comic.

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5. Time Period

The comic book is set firmly in the sixties, while the television show doesn’t seem to have a set time period. Like Riverdale, which comes from the same creators, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina doesn’t seem to have a firm foothold in time, but does definitely have a retro vibe.chilling-adventures-of-sabrina-ending

6. Nicholas Scratch

While he appears as a main character in the show, Nick has no presence in the comic book. This is particularly big, because Nick is Sabrina’s main love interest in season 2, and probably the driving force behind some major plot action in season 3, when he’ll be rescued by Sabrina and Co.

I have yet to get my hands on further issues, but I will say that I have enjoyed the comic as much, if not more, than the show. If you’re a fan, I’d encourage you to read it.

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