Posted in Books, Podcasts

“Everybody Has a Podcast (Except You)” by the McElroy Brothers

If you’re familiar at all with Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy, you probably know that their careers have been rather eclectic. If you are not, strap in.

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The three brothers began a podcast over ten years ago, My Brother, My Brother and Me, which is the cornerstone of their podcasting empire. Their body of work is substantive, with each of the brothers working on multiple podcasts, sometimes including other cohosts, like their father, or their respective spouses. Their success is widely attributed to their brand of comedy, which is somehow both wholesome and incredibly vulgar. The McElroys (or, as my partner and I sometimes refer to them, the McElboys) have a devoted fanbase of listeners, including myself. This is your warning that this review is biased, as I have literally listened to every episode of MBMBaM. Yes, including the first twenty. Yes, even the one with that weird sound thing.

The premise of Everybody Has a Podcast (Except You) is fairly straightforward. As the McElroys have a pretty solid expertise in the world of podcasting, this book is intended to advise fledgling podcasters, be they aspiring professionals or hobbyists. While I was skeptical going in, as I do not have a podcast of my own, this book was delightful and amusing. If you are familiar with the particular McElroy flavor of humor, it really shines through in the book. The illustrations are adorable, and the design overall is gorgeous, making the reading experience a true pleasure.

My main worry going into this book was my utter disinterest in technical matters. Because the subject matter is podcasting, there have to be chapters on equipment and sound editing, and that’s just not my area of interest. Fortunately, I found even the chapters I thought would least engage me to be charming and entertaining. I think that any reader interested in McElroy content will be happy reading this book, and it also does provide actual, attainable steps and practical advice for your podcasting pursuits. I think that those interested in creative pursuits outside of podcasting will also find inspiration between these pages.

I think one of the biggest issues a lot of how-to guides face is bogging themselves down in logistics. This excludes the voice of the instructor, and can make these rather dry books. In this case, I found that I learned a lot while enjoying myself, and I definitely think this book is worth a read. I would also be interested in an audiobook version, as audiobooks are like reaaally long podcasts and it would be interesting to see how that would pan out given the collaborative nature of the book. One of the biggest tests of a book written by well-known people is whether or not the book can find an audience outside of die-hard fans. Given the content and quality of this book, I would not be surprised if enterprising podcasters pick it up as a textbook, though admittedly, a very funny one.

Everybody Has a Podcast (Except You) can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from you local library. This reviewer was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Books

“Concrete Rose” by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas has been one-to-watch in YA since The Hate U Give was released in 2017. While she has since had another book out, fans have been itching for more about the characters from her debut, and this year we got our wish: Concrete Rose, the story of Big Mav before parenthood and his coming-of-age as he deals with the slings and arrows of fortune.

Concrete Rose (The Hate U Give, #0.5)

Like many fans, I was compelled by Starr’s parents in The Hate U Give. They and their generation had such an intricate backstory and a gravity to them. In so many YA books, parents are absent, present as obstacles, or blandly supportive, but Lisa and Maverick have such life. While prequels can be a bit of a toss-up, I was excited to get my hands on this one. I was not disappointed.

Mav’s story, while in many ways more tragic than Starr’s, has many parallels to that of his daughter. Maverick experiences a huge loss, and that shapes the way he lives his life. But, ultimately, he does the hard, right thing, much like Starr does. Starr’s fight is for justice, while Mav’s is for survival. His story also shows why he is so determined to keep his kids out of the streets, given the effects it had on his life, and the lives of the people he loves. We see Mav growing into the man and the father he wants to be, and moving away from the people who influence him to be otherwise.

I was a little surprised that the book ended where it did- I guess given that it’s about Mav coming to terms with his roots and his desire for more, it ends succinctly with him confirming he wants to leave the King Lords, but given how much backstory there is to cover, I was a bit taken aback that the story winds up so soon. The journey for Mav is about deciding to pursue a different life, and so the ending does work, even if you might want more. I think my favorite part was reading about young Lisa, who is as much a spitfire as you would expect. Maverick’s mother Faye and his other family members were also wonderful supporting characters, and they really flesh out a world that is already so full of life.

I unreservedly recommend this book to any fans of Angie Thomas’ other work, it’s a wonderful read, and honestly worth buying if only for the gorgeous cover. Potential trigger warnings include: unintended pregnancy, gang violence, drugs, and gun violence.

Concrete Rose can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. Chamber of Spoilers always encourages folks to try to buy from independently owned bookstores.

Posted in Books

“Candy Hearts” is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your sweetheart

Tommy Siegel’s Candy Hearts started out as a single idea for a comic during a project. Siegel was drawing a comic a day for 500 days, and dashed one off. In the introduction to this book of comics, Siegel writes “I started to realize that candy hearts made for a pretty convenient setup to illustrate inner monologues . . . on the outside. A way to cut through to the truth and bluntly show what people are feeling but not expressing to their loved ones.” The idea is a fun, novel one, and really captured a lot of attention when Siegel posted it, on Valentine’s day in 2018. Now, a whole book of candy heart comics await anyone who wants to read something earnest and short.

While obviously anthropomorphic candy hearts have different physiology to human beings, they really come across in Siegel’s comics as bizarrely human. Their faces are expressionless, but their body language expresses almost as much as the lettering on the hearts. The collection is humorous, blunt, and raw, full of jokes that hit hard and sometimes come a little too close to the truth. While it is a fast read, it is a joy to revisit, and well worth a place on your shelf. Some of my favorite bits include the tiny baby hearts, and the dogs, which are both cute while the latter are adorably derpy. There is just something so sweet about a little candy heart playing with a truck, and a dog with one of its eyes hovering out of focus. Word to the wise, I did find myself reading the funnier ones aloud to my significant other, so if you do buy this book for a loved one, prepare to listen to it as they chortle over the more amusing tableaux.

Candy Hearts is out February 2, 2021, and can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. If you wish to support this blog, you can also buy it from Amazon using our affiliate link.

Posted in Books

“Family Ties” by Sarah Richman

Family Ties

Family Ties is a middle-grade novel set slightly in the future, in a world where androids and humans coexist, though not entirely in harmony. The first generation of androids lived on the edges of society, but now the second generation is slowly being integrated into the mainstream. Android neighborhoods are established, and there are even programs opening up schools to android kids and teens. But, some humans fear and hate androids, and want to prevent them from finding a place in the human world.

Julie is a freshman in high school, and though she loves media club and doing the morning announcements, she’s made few friends. Julie knows that her family will be moving soon, so she keeps to herself. Julie’s parents are anti-android, and don’t want to live anywhere where androids are accepted in society. When Julie’s high school accepts its first android students, Julie is told she’ll have to share the morning announcements with Leila, a junior- and an android. Julie has a choice to make- can she move past prejudices and make new friends, or should she stick to what her family believes?

This book is an entertaining read that still asks deep questions about what it means to be a person. While the parallels to the civil rights struggle aren’t exact, it’s obvious that this narrative is meant to show the dangers of extremism, with anti-android sentiment standing in for white supremacy. In fact, though possibly not intentionally, this novel more closely reflects the experience of refugees, people who struggle to make a home in the United States but still face prejudice from many.

The story lands really well- Julie is a sympathetic protagonist, but clearly still in the wrong. When she fails to understand the damage her parents’ views are doing, she experiences a kind of “human privilege.” The other characters are well-defined and easy to understand, even the ones we’re not supposed to like. Julie’s parents, in particular, are very well-written. The android teens are by far the most fun, and I would have really liked to see more of them. Overall, this is an engaging read and a great book for anyone looking for some middle grade science fiction that still hits heavy.

Family Ties can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. The author of this book provided a copy for review. Disclosure: This reviewer is a friend of Sarah Richman’s, however, reviews at Chamber of Spoilers are unbiased and reflect only this reviewer’s opinion of the book.

Posted in Books

“Bury the Lede” by Gaby Dunn

Bury the Lede

Bury the Lede is a murder-mystery graphic novel by NTY bestseller Gaby Dunn, a queer writer known for their work with writing partner and frequent collaborator Allison Raskin, as well as their podcast “Bad with Money” and the associated financial memoir.

The book has beautiful art by Claire Roe, which really conveys the mystique and the dark energy of the story, while not venturing too deep into surrealism. The story follows intern Madison Jackson as she struggles to prove herself in the midst of a salacious crime. Content warnings include: sexual assault of minors, drugs, and graphic depictions of violence.

The story, while convoluted, is an interesting journey through a reporter’s big break. Madison, while clearly a sympathetic figure, crosses a lot of lines to get the story, and that makes her a morally ambiguous protagonist, one who you nonetheless root for. Despite her motives, it is difficult to watch Madison alienate herself from the people who care about her and destroy her relationships to get the headline. It will be interesting to see if there are further books that follow this character, to see if she can right the ship or if she’ll spiral deeper into darkness.

Dunn is an expert at creating well-defined characters, and the art aids in differentiating the characters populating the story. There are a number of interesting figures who will hopefully be explored in the future. Though Bury the Lede works fine as a stand-alone, further volumes could really deepen what already exists in the text. I guess we’ll see.

Bury the Lede can be bought wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. If you can, support your local book store.

Posted in Books

“Written in the Stars” by Alexandria Bellefleur

I am always excited to get my hands on a good queer romance, and this one has a gorgeous cover and got some really good initial reviews. While I enjoyed reading it and connected with the characters, it didn’t really live up to the hype for me. It was a really pleasant read, but I thought the premise of it being a Pride and Prejudice retelling didn’t really pan out. I also had a couple of character issues that took away from my enjoyment. I would say it’s still a great book, I think I just went in with my expectations really high due to how much friends and reviewers talked it up.

In terms of what I loved about the book, I really enjoyed Darcy and Elle. Darcy is really easy to understand, and her issues lie really close to the surface, despite how together she looks. Elle felt a little young to me, probably because her issues are mostly based on seeking external validation for her success. I also liked Brendon, he’s a good brother, although I did have a small issue with him initially.

The problem I had with Brendon was mostly that he seemed like a really caring, loving sibling, but he was essentially strong-arming his sister into going on dates and putting herself out there when she clearly wasn’t ready for that. Darcy is closed-off because of past heartbreak, and isn’t willing to open herself up to getting hurt again. Brendon seems like a thoughtful guy and it irked me that he was so clearly not reading her. Their boundaries seemed pretty loose, and Darcy really needed to tell her brother that she needed more time.

I feel like the Pride and Prejudice retelling was a little played up- basically, Elle has a family who doesn’t appreciate her success, a whole mess of siblings, and is an open, dreaming type. Darcy is buttoned up and high-end, wears designer labels and makes snap judgements. The fake-dating trope didn’t really seem like something Elle, who is an honest person, would agree to do. Still, when they got the ball rolling, that worked for the story. I don’t really think this is a “retelling” just because so few of the story beats are followed.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who loves romance and is looking for a good f/f read, it’s not too serious and a fun book to pick up over the holidays.

Written in the Stars is available now wherever books are sold, or at your local library.

Posted in Books

“No One Asked for This: Essays” by Cazzie David

I never like to judge a book on anything other than its own merit, but that becomes difficult when the writer has such a visible public persona. While Cazzie David isn’t necessarily a celebrity in her own right, she has a kind of adjacent fame, due to her father’s success and her relationship with Pete Davidson. David is also fairly young, which doesn’t mean her work is juvenile by default, but does give me pause. The point has been made that without her father’s fame, David would not have this book out, and I tend to agree. While No One Asked for This shows definite potential and some of the essays are worth reading, the book is sloppily cobbled together with essays of middling and low quality in addition to the more polished ones. I do think some of the essays are genuinely good and I did enjoy parts of the book. But when putting out essays they should be of uniform quality, and this ain’t it, chief.

No One Asked for This: Essays

In terms of the make up of the book, I would say 50% of the essays were totally intolerable, which automatically means I cannot recommend it in good conscience. 30% of the essays were decent, and 20% were excellent. I can only assume that David had to pad the book with some slapdash work, because her best efforts show a decent writer. It’s just disappointing to read something good, and then immediately be hit in the face with the written equivalent of a leaky garbage bag.

I am probably the closest thing to an ideal reader for this book: I am a mentally ill, Ashkenazi Jewish woman in her mid-twenties who enjoys comedy. That being said, I found some of David’s writing impossible to stomach and way more self-involved than self-exploratory. She exposes a lot of vulnerability, but without any artistic merit, it is completely superfluous and soulless. If you’re going to get deep, you have to draw something out of it, and it felt more like she was like, “Look! Look at my thorny pain!” Which is fine, but not especially interesting. I did find her anxiety relatable, but at some point an essay needs to be about more than just your feelings of dread. I also felt a little weird about her insistence that she didn’t want to take medication for her mental health, which was repeated throughout the book. Why? Medication is pretty great. She described herself as someone bowing under the weight of anxiety and depression in an alternating manner, which sounds pretty terrible when the alternative is going to the doctor and possibly some side effects.

The best essays in the book are “Mean Sister,” “Tweets I Would Tweet If I Weren’t Morally Opposed to Twitter: I,” “I Got a Cat for My Anxiety,” “Moving Out,” and “Erase Me.” The rest are either outright bad or mostly forgettable, so I would advise just checking the book out of a library and reading these ones. I did enjoy reading David’s depiction of her family, which seems about as eccentric as you’d expect. Her obligatory Pete Davidson essay was actually quite impressive- being the ex of a person who suddenly becomes Very Famous for dating someone Ridiculously Famous is a rare experience. I think it comes across that Davidson was deeply mentally ill, as was David. I don’t agree that it’s an unflattering depiction of Davidson or his ex-fiancĂ©, pop star Ariana Grande. Frankly, given how David was treated by the media and Grande’s army of child fans, the way she writes about them is fair. Leaving an emotionally exhausting and unsteady relationship is a fair thing to do, and I think becoming more Famous by Relation than David was used to effected her a lot. Being a famous person’s kid is very different than being the ex-girlfriend of the fiancĂ© of one of the most famous people in the world. Overall, I thought it was fine.

While I wasn’t overly impressed by No One Asked for This, I will keep an eye out for further writings by David. I think her work shows a lot of potential and I’m interested to see what is next for her.

Posted in Books

“The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad” by Mike Birbiglia

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad is one of those weird books that started out as something else- while Birbiglia is a writer, he is probably best known as a stand-up comedian and an actor. He has had success in a variety of mediums, has authored multiple books, starred in films, and most recently, toured with the show this book is based upon, The New One. I was fortunate enough to see the show on its stop in Washington, DC, and it’s great to see in person, Like all of Birbiglia’s works, it is a deeply constructed, intensely intricate, uncomfortably intimate production. The book expands on those themes, featuring further stories and some poems by Birbiglia’s wife and writing partner, poet J. Hope Stein.

While I tend to distain further expansions of established works as money-grabs, The New One works on every level. Despite having watched the show once in person, and a second time when it became available on Netflix, the jokes still hit for me. Despite being familiar with the material, it still feels new, as it’s been refreshed by additional detail. The book is fundamentally about becoming a father, but doesn’t center fatherhood in the narrative of parenthood. Rather, Birbiglia centers his failure as a father, his failures to provide support, to connect with his wife and child, who have formed a unit. The book is about being a family, and how becoming a new kind of family is difficult. It is not just funny, like a lot of books by comedians, but Birbiglia’s work always has that undercurrent of existential dread, so that’s no surprise. The poems were occasionally quite profound, but the book would have benefited from truncating those sections a tad.

This book is well worth a read, especially if you’ve enjoy Mike Birbiglia’s other exploits. If you’re interested in The New One, you can view it on Netflix. The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad is also available wherever books are sold, or to check out from your local library. If you are buying it from Amazon, you can support us by using our affiliate link.

Posted in Books, Movies

5 of the Best “Pride and Prejudice” Retellings

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of the most retold stories, and there are numerous adaptations, retellings, and novels based on the story available for lovers of Elizabeth Bennett and William Darcy. Here are a few of my favorite versions of the classic novel.

Bride and Prejudice

This is one of my top films of all time, and for good reason. It’s a Bollywood style movie, filmed mostly in English. There are a million reasons to love it: the songs are catchy and amazing, it’s really funny, and the actors are top-notch. The casting is perfect, in particular Indira Varma, who I love in everything she does but perfectly encapsulates Kiran (Caroline Bingley) and her bitchy, classier-than-thou energy. The biggest star-power in the film comes from Naveen Andrews, best known for Lost, and Aishwarya Rai, who does not require any introduction. If you haven’t seen this movie, you have not lived!

The Lizzie Bennett Diaries

This cross-platform multimedia web series drew a lot of eyeballs when it first debuted, and if you’re looking for a slow-burn long-form P&P experience, this is for you. There are a hundred episodes on the main channel, and a lot of supplemental material for one looking to fully immerse in the world of Lizzie Bennett, communications grad student living at home, and tormented by her mother’s ambition to marry off her daughters to eligible Bing Lee, a young med student new to the neighborhood. I watched all of the vlog-style episodes as they were released, and have embarked on a rewatch this month.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker

This novel shows how the other half lives, telling the story of the domestic servants in the Bennett household as the events of Pride and Prejudice unfold. Housemaid Sarah, orphaned and lonesome, sees the world through fresh eyes, and experiences love, loss and triumphs of her own, in a life entirely different from the comparably privileged Bennett family.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith

While the whole monster adaptation thing got kind of out of hand, this book is actually a very enjoyable read. It’s a darker take on P&P, with the love story set against the backdrop of a zombie plague ravaging seventeenth century England. It’s gritty, sarcastic, angsty, and incredibly entertaining. It was made into a starkly mediocre movie, but the book really holds up and it a fun, unusual version of the tale.

Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld

This novel follows the Bennett sisters in the modern-day, all single and with their mother desperate to see them married, especially as Jane is pushing forty. Jane hits it off with new neighbor Chip Bingley, but Liz has friction with Chip’s friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is less than charming. This book is sexy and surprising, plus it answers a lot of the questions Austen fans might have about a modern Elizabeth Bennett- does she want kids? Will she get married? Does she use Tinder? This novel is a heftier read than a lot of other similar books, but worth it.

These are some of the best Pride and Prejudices, but there are a million more! If you’re looking for a new favorite, The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley might be for you. It tells the story of Charlotte Collins, formerly Charlotte Lucas, discovering that love might overcome being sensible for the first time in her life. We’re giving away a paperback copy of The Clergyman’s Wife! To enter, all you have to do is like this post. You can also follow us to see giveaways for the rest of November!

Posted in Books

“With a Dog AND a Cat, Every Day is Fun” Vol. 1

This adorable manga chronicles the life of a manga artist and animal lover Hidekichi Matsumoto and her animals. Her dog, Inu, is an adorable fluff ball composed entirely of enthusiasm and sunshine, and her cat Neko is an equally cute but insidiously diabolical feline.

This book is pretty much what it sounds like, most panels depicting the trials and joys of a multi-pet household. It’s just so inherently joyful- a really laugh-out-loud read full of relatable moments for people who love animals. Some of the funniest panels are the ones which cast Neko, a domestic house cat, as a demonic creature hell-bent on emotional manipulation. Inu is primarily characterized as a sweet dumb baby, though both animals are written and drawn so lovingly, even when they are clearly actively impeding Matsumoto in daily tasks.

The art style is very distinct, and Matsumoto switches it up in a few places, which keeps the manga visually interesting and overall a pleasant reading experience. I do tend to have low expectations for books about my favorite topics, but this one blew me away! I laughed, I teared up, I flipped back to look at panels so I could enjoy them again. I cannot recommend With a Dog AND a Cat, Every Day is Fun enough. Once you read one, you’ll be as ravenous as Neko.

With a Dog AND a Cat, Every Day is Fun, volume 1 can be purchased wherever books are sold. You can support the artist by following her on twitter, where she posts this series.