Well, hello there! Turns out it’s January now, and WordPress just reminded me of my blogging anniversary! This is possibly not the best time to create a new post, seeing as there’s crashy and bangy construction going on in my kitchen, but here we go!
So, 7 years of this blog! I can’t even say I’m impressed, since I’d honestly forgotten it had been that long, and while I kind of wish I could state with certainty, “Look how much I’ve accomplished!”, I really do have to step back and sort of take stock to remember what I actually HAVE done since…2015? (See what I mean?)
Anyway, yes, it’s an achievement, partly because it simply takes a lot of energy and effort to keep finding topics you want to continue blogging about, AND either consistently taking notes or doing research so that you know you know what you’re really discussing. Lots of blogs go inactive within a few years, and I can see why, and I don’t blame anyone who feels this method of conversing with the community just isn’t for them anymore. But I really enjoy my little platform, my corner of the thoughts and musings and floating particles of book-related stuff, and I do keep making the effort to tackle a subject time and time again.
Getting my own ramblings out of my head and into this space also helps me get a little more concrete with plans and notions and possible schedules. Verbally, or in writing, setting a goal or deadline for a project can help motivate and bring back the creative passion. So, while I can’t commit to frequency (or quality?!) of posts, I can definitely declare I’ll still be around this place!
So, what are my initial plans for 2022? Well, to begin with, I am not really making any. I know, that sounds contradictory to what I said above, about needing the motivation by saying out loud, “I am going to…”, but my life is at a point where the minute I map out an entire month or even week, Murphy’s Law throws it back in my face laughing uproariously. I feel it’s better right now to have general-objective-shaped concepts, and very realistic expectations as to what counts as progress. First up: the TBR.
I went to Barnes & Noble for my annual splurge, during which I stock up on recent releases that sound intriguing, engaging, or just plain fun (often depending on the mood I’m in at the end of whichever year). For December 2021, it was all about what simply sounds fun. To hell with learning something new or becoming more informed, 2022. (Sorry-not-sorry, there are too many alarming, disheartening, or enraging facts in the world today.) And I truly intend to turn into a massive mood reader this calendar cycle — whether that means Terry Pratchett re-reads on Monday and a cozy mystery on Tuesday, followed by no reading and YouTube on Wednesday, bring forth the whims of feel, yo.
Next is: Volume 4. (Dun-dun-duuuuun!) After the state of life in 2021 meant my writing time was severely compromised, I decided to abandon (all hope ye who enter here) previously-insisted ideas that I could still finish my final draft of Volume 4 before Christmas. I stopped feeling guilty, and just went with being glad for whatever I got done each day, or any day, no matter how unimpressive in terms of numbers. It’s a much better strategy for my mental health — and probably for the quality of the book, too.
Although I HAD hoped to have a release date to share with everyone by now, what I can reveal is: IT HAS A TITLE. (Drum roll, please.) The final installment in The Order of the Twelve Tribes series is called: Prodigies and Legends. It also involves: time travel! more fey and sith! tying up certain character backstories and answering some burning questions! (Well, they were burning questions for me…) It also will establish another companion story (that I’ve been dyyyyying to work on), and there IS a direct sequel to the canon already outlined. (Which may or may not see the light of day before 2028. Ahem.)
The other flippity-floppity umbrella that covers my creative ambitions falls over the deluge of new movies and TV shows that I haven’t been able to get to yet because Muffin was home for holiday break. Top on my list are the Hilda movie (if you use Netflix and haven’t watched Hilda yet, so do!), the DVDs I got (myself) for Christmas, and very realistically a third re-watch of The Vampire Diaries. (NOT SORRY!)
I’m also ruminating that I’ll write a bit more about different kinds of entertainment this year — not just reading, more films and maybe audio — as my other “goal” (ssssh) is to listen to more music and audiobooks, so reviewing that stuff as well could be fun!
All right, have a tolerable Monday, everyone, don’t freeze, stay healthy, and to Hades with those New Year’s resolutions — be happy!
Yup, that’s it, that’s the post today. And I will be absolutely waxing poetic about my love for this show and rambling on and including ALLLLLLL the spoilers; so if you aren’t prepared for any of that, I give you permission to spend the next half hour emptying your dishwasher or petting the cat or defeating that latest boss in Genshin Impact. But otherwise, get a cup of tea, a comfy cushion, and settle in for my unabashed gushing on this series that has literally changed my entertainment life.
So, I never saw this show when it was originally aired on live TV. I did come across the occasional, brief ad for The Vampire Diaries, circa 2010-2015, but that was only because it was on the same channel as Supernatural, which was my obsession then. So I knew TVD existed, but that was it. I knew nothing about the premise, the characters, any of the plot.
Then this fall, I was completely bored with my usual choices on Netflix, and I’d noticed The Vampire Diaries come up in a couple of searches, so I decided, why not? How little did I guess the impact this impulsive click of the remote would have on my storyteller’s soul.
This program is, in a word, amazing. Not a hundred percent of the time; it’s not immune to some bad writing or a lapse in continuity; there are a handful of episodes that I’m not excited about re-watching. BUT, on the whole: YES, AMAZING.
The Vampire Diaries was made in an era when TV dramas were all about atmosphere — and everything, from the writing and directing, to the cut scenes, the soundtrack, the photography and set pieces, contributes directly to the atmosphere of the overall story. There are so many gorgeous little touches throughout the filming of almost every episode in the first, second, and third seasons that establish character connections and hint at the unveiling plotline as we travel through each arc. The showrunners had foreshadowing down to an art. And even then, even when there were twists I guessed, there were still plenty of other moments that had me literally gasp aloud or laugh unexpectedly or get very teared up the first time I watched.
I do feel it’s fair to say this is a show that came about as the purely magical result of an excellent cast and crew that simply clicked so brilliantly and created something nearly genius at just the right moment. While I’m certainly not a 17-year-old fangirl (ahem, sorry; we all were once), I am completely not exaggerating when I say this show has profoundly touched my heart, and will stay with me for quite a while.
So what makes TVD more than just another weekly drama about vampires and werewolves? Well, lots. We start with a sleepy town, Mystic Falls, and an ordinary girl, Elena Gilbert, who’s recently lost her parents in a car accident, and is intrigued by the handsome, kind, mysterious new guy at school, Stefan Salvatore. If you’re getting Twilight vibes from that synopsis, don’t worry, the similarities end there. Yes, Stefan is a vampire, and, yes, he’s trying to be a “good” vampire (feeding only on animals), but he absolutely harbors deep, dark secrets, and is full of surprises — some of which actually make Elena not want to be with him, rather than drawing her to him like a dysfunctional magnet (a.k.a. unlike Bella and Edward).
Enter the bigger twist to this tale: Stefan has a brother, Damon, who’s also a vampire, as they were turned by the same person, a woman named Katherine, during the Civil War. So there’s a different sort of love triangle established — and the mystery deepens even further, because Elena looks exactly like Katherine.
As we proceed through season 1, we get to know more about Elena’s best friend, Bonnie, who discovers she’s a witch; just how much history Stefan and Damon have in Mystic Falls; and what Elena and Katherine’s stunningly accurate physical resemblance has to do with it all.
This is the first program I’ve seen where the topic of dopplegangers was treated not as the comic relief, and portrayed brilliantly. Too often when you have one actor playing twin roles, it goes badly. But the actress who singlehandedly slayed simultaneously being sweet, kind, innocent Elena and duplicitious, murderous Katherine did an incredible job. She utterly sold both characters, so that everybody loved Elena and hated Katherine. AND I have to say, it really shows the strength of the entire cast from this early on, that by early into season 2, all the actors showed awesome, solid connections to Elena, as well as an intense dislike or fear of Katherine — sometimes in the very same scene.
So, with the explanation of dopplegangers, and a nice bit of history repeating — since Stefan and Damon were both in love with Katherine, and now they’re both falling for Elena — we also get the introduction of one of the most interesting and best-played-out plots in the show — the Originals. This is because Klaus, the ringleader of the Originals, is on the hunt for dopplegangers.
I LOVE THE ORIGINALS. Not the spinoff series (that’s a disappointment for another discussion). The Original Family is SUCH a great idea for a vampire origin tale. And the main siblings — Klaus, Rebecca, and Elijah — are excellent characters, not black-and-white evil, not even definitively morally gray in the case of Klaus and Rebecca. These antagonists-turned-frenemies-turned-maybe-allies are so well-written in their own right, but they also taught our main leads SO much about themselves and their relationships. Seasons 2 and 3 are the biggest focus on the Originals (before they got their own show), and it makes for nail-biting, spine-tingling, tear-jerking, even laugh-out-loud storylines that still make me cry and smile and reminisce fondly.
One of the major things with the Originals is the importance of family, and when an entire family becomes vampires, how many terrible deeds are siblings willing to overlook or forgive as the centuries march on? There’s also a very powerful theme of being asked to give up too much of one’s own dreams or aspirations in order to serve an ideal or a group of people that you may no longer feel loyalty or obligation towards. Not only did these actors and writers create a total slam dunk on the characters and the topic, but introducing the Originals expanded the worldbuilding exponentially and meant there were multiple ways in which future plotlines could go.
I must take a moment to gush unchecked about ELIJAH MIKAELSON. He is absolutely my favorite Original, without a doubt the paragon of nobility and conflicted virtue, and I desperately adored every minute he was on screen in The Vampire Diaries. He totally did not deserve the hate he got from the Salvatore brothers, seeing as he saved not only Elena’s life but all their lives more than once, and inadverently helped protect their sireline (before anyone even knew that killing an Original would mean destroying all the vampires they’d ever sired), by maintaining his undying hope that Klaus was worth redeeming. This is the stuff of great writing, folks.
Now, for the part about the Originals’ plot in TVD that I didn’t like: the twist with Esther just made me mad. Finn was simply a scenery-chewer whose only purpose was to present the fact about accidentally killing a sireline. Kol was a one-dimensional villain (again, great acting, but otherwise no point as a character). And Esther ruining everything for Alaric was just mean.
Yes, let’s go off on my Alaric rant. Guess it’s as good a time as any? Alaric Saltzman went from being one of my favorite characters to the lowest of the low, and this is something I do not take kindly to. He started as a self-made, not-so-good vampire hunter, spurned by a truly narcissistic ex-wife; to being used as a vessel for Klaus against his will (excellently played by the actor), to settling in as Elena and Jeremy’s guardian and Damon’s best friend and a decent vampire hunter. Then bloody Esther messed with him, and made him into a cold-blooded killer who targeted vampires — including people he cared about. Then he died for real, in the midst of so much drama for our main characters, and honestly, that still hurts. Alaric deserved better.
Um, actually…he did deserve better — until season 6.
Hmm, okay, putting the rest of this rant on pause. I do need to go back to my chronological breakdown.
Okay, so now we’re getting into the things I don’t like about TVD. In my opinion (which is all that matters on this blog), seasons 1 through 4 were (with a couple of exceptions) truly magical, even the bad parts, and I AM HERE for all of it. Besides the awesome Originals, there were some great subplots, from the whole doppleganger reveal; to Jeremy and Anna (I ship!); Bonnie growing as a witch; Caroline is fantastic as a vampire; Tyler becoming a werewolf was not cliche and had a poignant portrayal. The scenes where Caroline helped Tyler through his first full moon transformation were EPIC. The sidebars of Damon and Liz Forbes’ friendship, how Tyler’s mom reacted to finding out he was a werewolf, and the drama with the Founders’ Council all blended in well.
Except. And these are big excepts for me. Yes, it really does tie in to my Alaric rant, and my overall “this is what I didn’t like,” I promise. The first except is: Dr. Meredith Fell. Dr. Fell is a terrible girlfriend for Alaric. Also, the intensely unethical ramifications of her using vampire blood on patients without their consent needed to be explored further. After all, Dr. Fell’s illicit practice is the reason Elena becomes a vampire following her accidental drowning at the end of season 3. This has NEVER sat well with me, because everybody knew that, eventually, Elena would most likely turn — either she’d decide to, or a Salvatore or Caroline would turn her to save her life from one of the many perils she faces through the early seasons. BUT having Elena’s turn be the result of the fact Dr. Fell slipped her some of Damon’s blood after an accident, without Elena’s — or Damon’s — knowledge really sticks in my craw.
So, I never liked Dr. Fell, and I stand by it. Next: The introduction in season 4 of Silas as the first immortal being creates a massive conflict with the origin story of the Originals. Basically Silas invalidates everything that was established in season 2 and 3 as to where vampires first came from. So to say this is a problem is a major understatement. It means that the storyline of Silas needs to exist in kind of a worldbuilding vacuum, away from TVD canon, or we all need to mentally re-write what Silas actually was — more like a would-be self-appointed god or devil — and certainly not Stefan’s doppleganger.
OH. MY. GOD. Taking the concept of dopplegangers TOOOOOOO far in season 5 just about did me in. Finally killing Katherine off was great; we did not need more dopplegangers, of any gender or persona. And again, making Silas and Amara the initial shadow shelves COMPLETELY INVALIDATES WHAT KLAUS AND ELIJAH SAID ABOUT THE ORIGINAL DOPPLEGANGER. Ahem. Okay, I’ll stop yelling now, but this is why — and with good reason — for me the show begins going downhill in season 5.
Between that and the Travelers (stuuupid antagonists), Liv and Luke (hate liberally applied to these twins), and — deep breath — the RIDICULOUS “Augustine Society” part (GAAAHHHH), I almost didn’t survive my re-watch of season 5.
Unfortunately, season 6 is only marginally better. Here, in a nutshell, is why: Pardon my language, but who decided to make Alaric such a dick? Agreeing to compel away Elena’s love for Damon — his best friend! — is a properly asshat move. I could see agreeing to compel away the pain of thinking Damon was lost forever, but being complicit in erasing the love that made his best friend a better person?!?! Plus, Alaric was practically a father figure to Elena, so what kind of parental advice is that?!?! Elena’s love for Damon also made HER stronger and deeper, so, seriously, who DOES that to their nearly-adopted daughter?!?!
And now we get to the final domino in Alaric Saltzman’s descent into dickishness: The fact he was paired with Jo Laughlin. Jo Laughlin is my LEAST favorite character (even over Dr. Fell and Esther Mikaelson). Between her brash uncaring about keeping Elena and company safe from her absolutely crazyfamily, and being a manipulative, control freak, narcissist girlfriend to Alaric, Jo is indirectly responsible for ALLL the CRAP that unfolds by the season 6 finale. Yes, I said it, and stand by it!
Now, before I complete the rant portion of this post, I have to highlight the biggest perk of season 6: Damon and Bonnie being trapped together in the Prison World was terrific. The bond they developed and nurtured was fabulous. It, rightly so, lasts until the series finale, and is hands down my favorite enemies-to-friends arc in this program.
And, prior to diving into the trainwreck that was season 7 and 8 (yup, standing…), I have to state: I applaud the show for letting two major leads — Elena and Jeremy — leave, but keep it open for them to come back, and maintain that part of the story accordingly. Poor Jeremy had just the worst luck — all his love interests died, he died (like, 4 times), his sister almost died like a million times; so if the character and the actor were ready for greener pastures, go with God, my child. And Elena must have been exhausted after playing dual roles for several seasons — in some episodes, in the same scenes! So she deserved a break before coming back for the series finale.
And now: DRUMROLL: Here I will identify the moment The Vampire Diaries jumped the shark — it was the Heretics. From the premiere of season 7, we see that the writers should’ve abandoned the notion of the Heretics. Not only does the idea of witches-who-are-also-vampires go right against canon lore, those characters were one-dimensional, unengaging flops, simply yawn-worthy, and shoehorned in to canon events just to try to make them fit into a world that was already established. Nope, it didn’t work. The whole concept of bringing back Stefan and Damon’s mother just to have her repeatedly abandon her own children was, frankly, disturbing.
Then the whole Rayna Cruz, Vampire Hunter plot was LAAAAME. With the only exception of them running to Klaus (!!!) for help (hands up, who else shipped the HELL out of Caroline and Klaus?!?!); and that one super-great Damon-Bonnie-Stefan-Enzo evil-vampire-hunting scene. Otherwise, I also didn’t like the Armory (nooooot well thought out at all, writers), the time jumps were confusing, and who thought the whole Caroline and Alaric thing was okay?! And, sorry not sorry, Jo’s twins would not have survived in Caroline’s body, because they were syphons and would have killed Caroline on day one.
OKAY, here we go, grand finale for the rant (I promise!): In season 8, Cade and the sirens were POINTLESS. The brilliant Alison Scagilotti was wasted in her bit part. Alaric becomes an even bigger jerk. Tyler’s death was unnecessary. The idea of a vampire’s compulsion failing if they’re cured and become human again was extremely problematic. Stefan and Caroline: Too little, too late, writers, it doesn’t work now. And what should’ve been an epic final battle in the last episode was lackluster at best.
THERE! Complaining done, I swear!
If you’ve made it this far in the post, CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU for sticking with me! I saved the best for last!
It’s time to talk about Elena and the Salvatore brothers.
Elena is, as previously mentioned, not at all like Bella Swan of Twilight. Yes, Elena is a very ordinary teenage girl, a bit too trusting and a little naive; but she’s no damsel in distress. She tries to stop her attraction to Stefan, tries to keep her friends out of danger, and the real reason she ends up in constant peril is because she’s a doppleganger — a fact out of her control and not something she caused.
In the early episodes, Elena writes frequently in her diary (hence the title), a tool she’s using to try to deal with the survivor’s guilt she feels after making it out of the car crash that took her parents’ lives. This is natural, relatable, and makes the audience immediately connect to her desire for something normal and pleasant — like a sweet love affair with Stefan.
Elena and Stefan do work well together, and they are plausible as a couple. The caring is genuine; the bond they develop feels authentic. Yes, Stefan is determined to be the sacrificial lamb if it comes down to his life or Elena’s, and that is a bit predictable. But when Stefan’s dark past comes to light, the entire thing gets turned on its head.
I liked that, after season 1’s insistence that Damon was the more dangerous brother, it turned out Stefan was in fact the Salvatore most likely to go on a murderous rampage. The irony was well-delivered, too, with the flashbacks proving Stefan always had a harder time controlling his bloodlust — and even establishing that it was in fact Stefan who pushed Damon to complete the transition to vampirism after Katherine had fed on both brothers.
This is also where the writing begins to make it clear there are hidden depths to Damon as well, and very subtly, Elena starts to realize them — though not consciously.
It isn’t a typical love triangle. The brothers have plenty of other, non-Elena problems between them. Elena has her own demons to face — finding out she’s adopted, a doppleganger, and that Klaus wants to kill her, for example — so she has to learn to be strong whether she’s with Stefan or not. (Again, the opposite of Twilight.)
Elena and Stefan’s relationship also runs a natural course; Damon is a factor, but not the only reason Elena’s feelings shift. When Stefan goes on a killing spree with Klaus, Elena maintains complete confidence that Stefan can be redeemed, brought back to his broody, caring, squirrel-munching softer self. And her belief is not unfounded, since Stefan had gone through a similar “recovery” before.
In the end, what sounds the death knell for Elena and Stefan as a couple is Stefan’s overthinking, overreacting, and overly neurotic approach; when Elena turns, Stefan doesn’t teach her how to embrace her new self (interestingly, the opposite to how he acted when Caroline turned). Stefan is so focused on not losing the Elena he knows that he overdoes urging her to live only on animal blood and just accept this is her life now. Damon gives Elena the free rein to grow as a vampire, discover what about herself still rings true and what needs some adjustment, at her own pace.
In season 4, there’s an episode where Elena tells Rebecca that Stefan has started treating her like “a project,” whereas Damon makes her feel like she can do anything. That really says it all.
Despite the fact I did like Elena and Stefan together, for me there was never any question that it was Team Damon all the way. The chemistry of these two was off the charts, and even Caroline and Matt (decidedly Team Stefan) could see it. Even Klaus and Rebecca saw it. Jeremy knew it, Bonnie knew it, even Enzo (one of the most ambivalent characters) could tell Damon-and-Elena was true love. Towards the end of season 6, Elena says to Damon, “I always find my way back to you,” and this indeed is the case.
The writers were (mostly) excellent about Elena and Damon’s relationship evolving naturally, (generally) not pushing them apart too much, nor dragging out the “which brother” drama too long. Yes, there were a couple things I wished hadn’t become canon (Alaric’s memory wipe, grrrr), but on the whole, Elena Gilbert and Damon Salvatore is a fictional love story for the ages.
In season 3, when Damon and Elena go to Denver to pick up Jeremy and ask him (back when he could talk to ghosts) to speak to the dead-vampire Rose, Rose tells Jeremy that she’s hoping Elena will choose Damon, not just because Elena makes Damon a better person, but because Damon brings Elena out of her shell, challenges her. It isn’t just the strongest indication yet that the writers were already making up their minds on the love triangle outcome; it perfectly encompasses why this is the couple for the win.
Sure enough, after less than a year with Damon, Elena was bolder, more confident, proud of what she had survived — and knew Damon expected nothing more of her than what was already inside her, waiting to be nurtured. And Elena’s faith in the kinder, gentler side of Damon had boosted his self-esteem and bolstered his ability to make deeper friendships with people that he struggled with before (like Bonnie). Whereas Katherine always made Damon feel inferior, Elena always pushed Damon to expect more from himself — and there were frequent hints that Damon wasn’t “just evil,” anyway. Elena’s insistence on finding the better positively affected all her friends; even the Originals were impressed by her eternal quest to highlight the good in situations or people. When she saw it in Damon, he started seeing it in him, too, and that made witnessing this blossoming romance magical.
Okay, I did it! Post done! Now you can go back to your chores or Christmas decorating or rearranging your bookshelves! A-men!
Graphic novels used to be found only in comic shops, and if anyone over the age of 12 was seen reading one, the likely reaction would be a sneer or even a laugh. Until very recently, graphic novels were considered “not real books,” and “not appropriate” for adults to consume. Honestly, I’d never even heard of the genre until I was in my mid-20s, and when I did, the connotation was mostly to comics, and debates around the legitimacy of their “literary merit.”
Fast forward to 2021, and graphic novels are absolutely having their moment in the sun. The debate has completely shifted, from rolling eyes and derisive comments to gushing and awe. Granted, the majority of the market is still concentrated among juvenile readers, but adults caught reading a GN on the bus probably won’t face social backlash anymore. Entire kids’ clubs at libraries and schools are dedicated to the GN of the month. Children are happily learning to draw in GN art style. Budding writers want to create their own GN, rather than the chapter books my generation frantically scribbled on lined paper.
None of this is as seen as bad, either, by parents, teachers, librarians, and even writers. GN have opened up a whole new world to kids who really struggled with following storylines and character motivations amidst confusing grammar rules and “proper” sentence structure. Kids who used to say they didn’t like reading are gobbling up entire GN series. Those who enjoy a good story without the obstacle of learning to apply conflicting English Language constructs have been given the most wonderful gift.
In some ways, I can’t help but wonder what took us so long.
In times past — until about the 20th century, actually — vast populations were largely illiterate, and books without any pictures at all were considered a luxury for the highly educated. While I do agree that increasing literacy rates worldwide is only a good thing, I do feel that still encouraging reading to be a coveted past time of the well-to-do will make the whole operation backfire. I mean, any middle class bookdragon in 2021 KNOWS how much new hardcovers cost, and that this is why our TBRs will haunt us until we die, and this is a major reason we spend a good deal of our spare time crying. Anyway, interestingly, despite much more ink being used to create graphic novels, GN tend to be priced a little more reasonably, especially for kids. And when you’re the parent of a voracious reader, this is a big plus.
Also, humans are visual creatures. There’s a very good reason movies and television are so popular — most people can more easily visualize a story rather than picture it all in their mind’s eye while having it told to them or reading the words. It’s why art that, historically, also told the tale of everything from religions to laws was so important to our ancestors. People who say they have a hard time picturing what characters look like when they’re reading a non-illustrated book don’t show a lack of intelligence; this is just one of those interesting ways our brains are wired. I have an extremely difficult time while reading figuring out how this character looks, or what color those curtains truly are, or what that breed of dog is because I’ve simply never seen the word spelled out in print before. Adjectives are hard, man.
So, while it’s undeniable that graphic novels are totally having a moment right now, the next question is: What does this mean for the future of the genre?
Will we start seeing GN on the elementary school curriculum? Maybe even middle and high schoolers could take advantage of the adapted classics? Perhaps more colleges will start offering courses in illustration and animation?
At the library, we can’t seem to order new graphic novel series fast enough to keep up with the demand among young patrons. More and more picture books are taking on a format similar to GN — such as speech bubbles above characters’ heads, rather than sentences of third person narration at the bottom of the page — which shows that other parts of the publishing industry are taking notice of GN’s wave-making.
I also wonder if this trend could mean we start to see more adult animated films being made — not in the lame (not sorry) fashion of Adult Swim, but rather in the way Japanese anime has an entire genre devoted to films and TV shows of grown-up content and storyline. And I don’t just mean R-rated stuff; I mean simply rom-coms with some inneundos and action with a little more violence than we’re comfortable watching with our 15-year-olds. I’d watch well-animated versions of Shakespeare and Austen and Dickens — and I’m probably not the only one.
But, we all know that trends can be over in a hot minute, or may, paradoxically, take quite a while to truly catch on. Maybe the bandwagon won’t get crowded right away. Maybe those of us who want to see graphic novels pave the way for a whole lot of things will just need to exercise patience.
Whatever the future of the genre will be, I have a feeling we’re just at the start of something.
Hello everyone! Long time, no see! I ended up taking not an intentional break from blogging, but it became inevitable, and good for me. To begin with, I was intent on trying to get my final draft of Volume 4 FINALLY FINISHED BECAUSE FINALLY MUST ONE DAY FINALLY ARRIVE. Ahem. And then I got a nasty cold the week before Thanksgiving, and was really out of commission for many regular things, so taking on additional (unnecessary) tasks was simply not advised. Anyway, now I am doing better, and hope you all had a lovely holiday!
And now, it’s time to broach the subject that will almost certainly get me into trouble, but that I feel is kind of overdue for discussion here. A few years ago, I did write a blog post detailing why I felt it was not only totally acceptable but also beneficial for adults to read YA and children’s fiction. So, I swear I’m not throwing myself — or many of my blogging friends — under the bus when I say what I’m about to say:
I do believe I’m done reading YA fiction. Okay, probably not done in the way people give up a bad habit or a negative thing — first and foremost, because I stand by THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ADULTS READING YA, and also, because there are surely future publications aimed at the under-18 audience that I will stumble upon and be drawn to. BUT, in the last several months, I’ve been noticing stuff about the genre, and about myself as a reader in this stage of my life (post-The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything) that has tipped me off to impending shifts in my literary consumption.
One: I can handle familiar plots, character tropes, and recycled settings. When I can’t relate to the content itself anymore, that’s a red flag for boredom and dissatisfaction.
I’ve made no secret of how old I am, and memories of high school amount to the lingering sense of dull, repetitive days that I generally daydreamed through — without the frenemy drama that apparently every teenager in the 21st century goes through. The internet wasn’t even a thing yet (and nobody had to turn their phones off in class, because their phones were all wired up to their kitchen counters), so to say that in some ways I will simply never understand the world of screaming adolescent fanfiction, texting your bestie at 2 a.m., and shopping for your prom dress via Amazon is a huge understatement. I do have an 18-year-old child, I am quite aware of present teen lifestyle and mentality. But, in the same way that kids today just won’t grasp “Be Kind, Please Rewind,” I merely remain out of the loop when it comes to contemporary YA fiction.
Two: Being expected to feel invested about subjects I’m just not invested in means I do not, er, invest.
I’m an only child. I’ve always been an only child. While most of the people around me do have siblings, I simply don’t, and therefore the brother or sister character that almost always comes as part of the YA package (whether it be contemporary, historical, or fantasy) has begun to grate on me. Yes, sibling relationships are even an important part of my own writing! But since most people do have brothers and/or sisters (my own kids included!), I knew having “too many” only children characters would not feel realistic to readers. But for me, as a reader, diving into the latest teenage sibling rivalrytends to feel like “going back” to high school for the hundredth time — I am over it.
Three: While I appreciate the excitement and ooey-gooeyness of first love, I cannot keep reading about it again and again and again.
First love is SUCH a hardcore part of any YA series, and while it tends to be a touchstone for publishers and many adults are convinced it’s age-appropriate, here are the cold, hard facts: Most kids experience their first crush in middle school, NOT the age of 16, and the relationship is NOT marriage material. Kids worried about acne and braces and how to spell the words for intimate anatomical parts will NOT be having epic love stories. The trend in YA since about 2010, that every first love is perfect and “fated to be” and will survive the infamous love triangle (with the “correct” person picked every time!) is LUDICROUS. I am SOOOO done with that part of it, too.
The final verdict is: I definitely feel over YA, at least for the foreseeable future.For very good reasons, and this is a solid decision I can — and should — feel confident about.
The next question, naturally, becomes: What do I read now? Luckily I am building up to my annual Barnes & Noble splurge, and I’ve already elected (autism efficiency for the win!) to explore the cozy paranormal section, which has grown tremendously in recent years, and provides a nice mix of fluff and relatable substance, while certainly maintaining the escapism I beg my reading material for. Most of these authors write long series as well, so I’ll have plenty to sink my 2022 literary teeth into! I’m already looking forward to new characters I’ll meet, tropes I may fall for, and the awaiting adventures! Here’s to new horizons!
Good afternoon! While I’m a self-proclaimed wuss and avoider of many frightening things, I do enjoy the sense of possibility that falls into the air (ha, second pun of the post!) during this time of year. I like autumn and agree that the increasingly chilly days and colorful leaves do create a slightly skin-tingling atmosphere. So, I do skirt the creepier and gorier aspects some folks indulge in through October; but I’ll also be having fun with light-hearted takes on legends and folklore, and I always enjoy a well-thought-out good-vs-evil plotline.
Here are some of my favorites to recommend for the spooky season:
An oldie but still a goodie, Hocus Pocus stands the test of time for campy Halloween entertainment with heart. This originally came out when — ahem — I was still trick-or-treating, so finding it on some streaming services may be difficult, and a TV repeat broadcast or a rented DVD will probably be your best bet for viewing. But it’s worth it for some fictional witchy flair and fun. There are enough eerie or kind of icky elements that I do suggest not turning this on if you have kids under 10 (and I’m pretty sure it’s a PG rating). Generally, though, Hocus Pocus will be a laugh for most of the family; curling up on the couch under a cozy blanket with popcorn and apple cider will definitely help set the mood!
Despite not being set near Halloween, nor even in autumn, Coraline is one of the spookiest tales around. Based on the Neil Gaiman novel, this story of a girl who finds another world hidden behind the walls of her house and has to escape its unexpected perils is delightful and chilling. I love the voice acting and characters and THE CAT in this inventively-animated film. Again, don’t let very small ones at Coraline until they’re almost ready for middle school. And you may want to have your own cat ready to protect you from the Other Mother…
Also not directly related to Halloween, but rather focusing on the Day of the Dead, The Book of Life is cute, charming, silly, just a little spooky, and heartwarming all at once. It’s part historical, part musical, part folklore, part animated fun (with one of the dang cutest pet pigs EVER). There’s a love triangle and some spirits meddling in human affairs, and ultimately a happy ending.
Another Day of the Dead film — though with a very different premise and different presentation of the afterlife from The Book of Life — Coco focuses on family and coming to terms with life not going the way you’d hoped. This movie surprised the wombats out of me; I really wasn’t expecting very much at all, and everything from the visuals to the story to the characters impressed. One note: Since the passed-on loved ones are depicted as skeletons, if you have kids who get the shivers from cartoon bones, you might want to pass on the otherwise lovely-and-charming Coco for now.
Definitely just for adults, Midnight Mass is not an action-packed or quick-paced series, but it is SO GOOD. There is some gore, some creepiness, and I will absolutely warn about that one part with all the animal death (ugh, at least it only happens once). But if you’re a fan of horror and the supernatural, this is a MUST WATCH. Most of the storytelling strength is in the dialogue and character growth and photography (there’s hardly any CGI, and the old-school effects DO NOT disappoint). Expect major chunks of these episodes to be discussions on faith and tragic backstories, but it is all beautifully crafted, and it all feels relevant while slowly revealing the bigger plot. The ending nearly brought me to tears, and this show will stick with me for quite a while.
Totally forget about the horrible excuse for a movie entitled “Hellboy” that was released in 2019 — the 2004 film with Ron Perlman in the lead role is where it’s at, baby. It’s PG-13, with some more intense parts (I mean, we are talking about Nazi experiments and necromancy and black magic here), but there’s still a good dose of comic relief and characters you can root for. Some of the action gets rather violent, and the monsters are definitely borderline scary, but most grownups who like the genre (Lovecraft-Lite meets Catholic-ish-lore) will be okay with that, and enjoy this entertaining take.
And there we have it! Now I can go back to hiding under the covers with my plush Baby Yoda! Happy autumn, everyone!
So, I wasn’t going to write a review of this book. But I finished it over a week ago and can’t stop thinking about a few key issues. I’ve read other reviews – both negative and positive – and am a little miffed to find that no one else seems to have latched onto something I find to be an incredibly problematic part of the story.
Prepare yourself for a bit of a rant, and a lot of former psych major hypotheizing. This was a novel that I didn’t enjoy in the end, for a number of reasons, but it will certainly stick with me, and unfortunately, not in a good way.
First: I chose A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee because the theme for my book club last month was academia, and I figured dark academia was much more interesting, and this book seemed to have it all – troubled student returning to elite boarding school after traumatic incident, shadow of rumors of ghosts and Salem witches, secretive cliques, and prodigy author researching her next book on creepy campus. Ah, yes.
Well. Not quite.
The story begins with a flowing, erudite, compelling style that successfully introduces the narrator, Felicity, and her tale of woe; following a tragic mountain climbing accident, her best friend is dead, and while there’s only circumstantial evidence, rumors abound that it was murder. Dun, dun, dun!
Combine this with the legend of mysterious, unexplainable deaths among former students who were supposedly witches (oooooooh), and with a new enrollee being a prodigy bestselling teen author who wants to research this mystery for her next publication – while not believing in the witchcraft aspect for a second – and Felicity growing rather unsure what’s reality and what’s her PTSD, all of it comes together for a very atmospheric Gothic-esque tale.
Now, while remaining as spoiler-free as possible (and that’ll be tricky, but I swear I’m trying here), as we proceed further into the story, there are more and more hints to the Big Reveal, and honestly, everything’s going swimmingly – until the narration starts twisting back on itself to become unreliable.
Here begins my literary-quality rant for this book and on this ploy in general: Unreliable narrators do NOTHING beneficial for the story, or for the reader. I don’t mean when you realize the person you hoped wasn’t the murderer is, indeed, the culprit. I’m talking about when writers spends 100, even 200, possibly even 300 pages building trust between themselves and the readers – only to turn around and throw all of that away (generally in the vein of pouring a ton of gasoline to the established relationship and aiming a blow torch at it), by revealing that, in fact, the character you’ve been sympathizing with is a certified grade-A psychopath.
So, without sharing any details on what actually happens in A Lesson in Vengeance, I will say, definitively, that although I was truly enjoying the story – the flow, the tone, the building of the plot – until a little more than halfway, when it all came crashing down for me, it crashed so hard, I’m the one with the matches now.
On to the psych major rant portion of this post:
A million years ago, before I became a spouse and a parent, I wanted to major in psychology, and eventually work with at-risk children or something similar. Therefore, I have taken several classes in the overlapping subjects, and am informed enough to be able to determine when the mental health/mental health treatment rep in YA fiction is problematic. And oh, boy, is A Lesson in Vengeance one for that category.
I don’t think the author did any actual research on what the symptoms of PTSD following a traumatic incident are; Felicity doesn’t really act like someone who was so shaken by a friend’s accidental death that she was, in fact, committed to an institution. There are no scenes describing behavior or actions that would have pushed Felicity’s mother to arrange for the commitment. We certainly get the idea Felicity is depressed, and anxious, but it seems much more at going back to school, knowing everyone is whispering about her. When Felicity wonders if the ghosts of the witches are haunting her, it’s much more because of sudden bumps in the night and little unexplained – coincidental? – things. And Felicity’s guilt, and her apparent belief that she deserves to be haunted, is used as the reason for all of her jumpiness. The later explanation is that Felicity feels guilty because she and her best friend were arguing, and had been drinking, when the latter fell from a great height – and, yes, this would be extremely difficult to reconcile with oneself. However. Wouldn’t most people decide returning to the same school – with all the memories, especially the terrible ones – was just plain a bad idea? Even most fictional people? Wouldn’t most people with a psychotic diagnosis not be allowed to go back to their pre-trauma lives, with little supervision – no, I don’t care that Felicity’s mother is filthy rich and that’s “why” she gets to return to an average teen existence – seriously, doesn’t the psychiatrist have a say in this?!
So, the stage is set through most of the story that Felicity is a “misunderstood” young woman suffering from grief. And then the author throws in some very disturbing twists regarding other characters that make the reader question everything.
Again, no more details, for anyone who wants to read for themselves.
But I can’t recommend this title in good conscience, because of how irresponsible it is with the discussion – or lack of – around mental health. Yes, treating survivors of trauma with compassion is right and absolutely helpful. But ignoring unprovoked violent tendencies and hallucinations (both of which Felicity admits to) are the total opposite. The author claiming that Felicity was all but implicated in a murder and just released back into the world because “her mother’s filthy rich” doesn’t fly in the 21st century. In fact, given the family’s financial status, it’s MUCH more likely that Felicity would have been kept in a private residence, with a live-in therapist on hand, and that her treatment would have been swept under the rug, so no one at the school gossiped about the crazy girl who killed somebody.
And when Felicity does return to campus, she gets involved with Ellis, the “prodigy author”, who is, clearly nothing but a toxic, gaslighting, deeply disturbed individual from the first page of her introduction. If the author had taken a different turn in writing the girls’ developing bond, if Lee had capitalized on the opportunity to highlight the troubles of toxic friendships – especially for adolescents – then I might have felt differently about big chunks of the plot. Might. Too much else was already set up to go in the wrong direction.
I also didn’t like the way the legend of the witches was used as a scapegoat – of course Felicity would think she saw a ghost because of all the stories about the school’s past. Of course there would be secret meetings where the current students tried to emulate whatever debacherous activities the “witches” engaged in. (Not at most boarding schools, I imagine.) The line between what’s real and what’s not about the suspected witches is constantly blurred as well, and the author seems to keep coming back to it only to insist there was no way these girls were anything but smart women in an age when smart women were demonized. While there is a lot of evidence from the Salem witch trials to support this theory, to passively take this perspective only muddies the plot waters further. There are plenty of books and movies that have used this topic as a premise, and the individual tales have either concretely said: A) Yes, the witches were real, and using good magic is how you defeat them; or B) No, none of it is real, and the “hauntings” were staged by nefarious humans trying to gain something or cover up a crime. Victoria Lee never completely determines if the Dalloway Five were actually witches or not, and her being so wishy-washy about what, the dust jacket insisted, was a big part of the story, really grated on me.
And in the end, the title itself was a misnomer – there was no clear answer as to who sought vengeance, for what, why someone needed to receive it. Maybe it was because a murder really did take place? But again, since no one still living knew about it, who would be after revenge?
I will admit, the most dramatic twist towards the end made me wonder if that was where the title came from. (And, yes, it’s almost impossible, but I did promise no spoilers!) Though, at 25 pages from the final scene, I found that concept rather difficult to hinge an entire plot on. Unless the author always intended to write the tale in this sort of backwards way…
Ugh. My brain hurts.
I guess what I learned from this experience is: I shouldn’t read thrillers. Or dark academia. Or bad mental health rep. Or any fiction about the Salem witch trials.
Or, maybe, authors should just learn to write better about these subjects.
So, since my household got a streaming subscription during the pandemic, I’ve been hit hard with a string of big disappointments. I’d heard such ravings about Netflix originals, that I couldn’t wait to dive in. But, Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy, The Order, Fate: The Winx Saga, and Enola Holmes all let me down in one way or another (in some cases, several). Therefore, I returned to thinking programs on streaming weren’t for me.
Then my kids stumbled on a string of winners: The Last Kids on Earth, Kupo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Dragon Prince, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, and the amazing Hilda. And I decided to give the search function on Netflix another go.
A few weeks later, I am here to report success.
Yes, that is in fact Scarlet Witch playing a role that is not Scarlet Witch or Avenger-ish in any way. In Kodachrome, she’s a nurse for a cancer patient, an elderly bastard of a photographer with an attitude issue and earned regrets. The patient wants his estranged son to take a road trip with him to the last place in the country that develops Kodachrome film. There were some snippets about the changing face of professional photography, but for the most part this movie is about dysfunctional families and dealing with loss, trying to make up for mistakes, letting go of terrible hurts and learning to forgive and love again. This is a realistic, raw, definitely adult and not always nice portrayal of what brings people together, drives them apart, and draws them back to individuals who have wronged them. This is so good.
There are also some great scenes discussing pop music and the industry, as the old man’s son is a record label executive, struggling to keep up with the changes in his own field. Thanks to this movie, I was reminded of one of the best 90s songs in existence, “Lightning Crashes” by the band Live. I do believe it’s the first time I’ve ever heard Live music used in a film as well, so major kudos to the crew for hunting down this forgotten gem. I found that, despite it being easily 21 years since listening to the song, I remembered all the words, and that its power has not diminished. This is also so, so good.
While Kodachrome isn’t one I’d recommend for the masses, if you don’t mind R-rated content, appreciate grunge music and pop psychology, and can handle the subject matter, I absolutely am shoving this one in your face. It’s got a fantastic cast, terrific writing, and the directing never feels heavyhanded. Completely a thumbs-up from me.
This show is my top adult 2021 recommendation. I loved it. The Chair is an honest, realistic portrayal of being in academia in the 21st century, the struggles women — especially women of color — still face in higher education, and the challenges subjects such as Literature are being forced to reckon with in the era of no one wanting “useless” degrees.
Since leaving Grey’s Anatomy, Sandra Oh (who played Meredith Grey’s best friend for 10 seasons, and always was second fiddle in that cast, let’s be frank) has become a leading lady in her own right. While I found her crime drama, Killing Eve, WAY too unnerving in the end, Oh’s role in The Chair hits such a sweet spot. As Professor Joon Yi, she capitalizes on her ability to be serious and funny and clever and vulnerable all in the same series. The chemistry between Joon Yi and her co-worker Bill is undeniable. And the personal issues all the characters face — whether it be career-focused or family-related — ring so true and poignant. Bill lost his wife; Joon Yi has a troubled adopted daughter; Yaz wants to change teaching methods for the better, while Joan is caught between her comfort with the past and the intrigues of the present. I am hardcore fangirling over this show.
Nothing is left off the table, either, when it comes to the plot — the dangers of cancel culture; the pain and irrationality of grief; the obstacles of bi-racial adoption; hanging onto a vanishing way of life, deciding whether to embrace the new with impartial compliance, or whether to forge the path ahead for yourself. Again, this is rated TV-MA, and I totally understand if that’s not someone’s cup of tea. But if that doesn’t bother you, and you’re at all interested in academia, then start watching this as soon as humanly possible. It’s a short season (only 6 episodes, I think), and it will totally leave you wanting more (NOW!), but, OMG, is it GOOD.
There better be a second season coming up before I even have time to ask about it.
The Loud House movie
Thanks to Muffin for discovering this. The Loud House used to be one of his favorite shows on Nickelodeon (and honestly, the only reason he stopped watching it is because he simply watches YouTube and Netflix much more than any network channels anymore). It’s a modern cartoon, with some of the pitfalls one comes to expect from any children’s programming (the occasional episode that just doesn’t make sense, even for an animated universe; tropey characters overdone; recurring plot points that begin to feel dusty). But it’s not often nowadays that a cartoon with truly endearing characters and a more believable premise comes along, and in that regard, The Loud House stands apart. Also, it’s very uncommon for movies based on kids’ shows to be at all decent, and this was certainly a breath of fresh air; this feature-length story goes in a new direction plot-wise, while maintaining the concrete traits of the characters, and not relying too much on slapstick or the tropes to carry the tale. Well done, I (get to) say again; well done.
Not new, but one hundred percent worth the mention: Monty Python, Labyrinth, We Bare Bears
None of these are Netflix originals, either, important to note; but when other streaming services or on-demand providers stop offering back-catalogs of older shows or movies (that are still plenty popular) (looking straight at you, Cartoon Network), I’ve found Netflix is doing a pretty good job of keeping a lot of oldies-but-goodies in the lineup.
Cancel culture has especially come down hard on comedy and satire, and Monty Python is a perfect example of content that might be shunned by other channels or platforms. So the fact I was able to add The Holy Grail to my list the other night really warms my heart. Like almost anyone who has already watched that film approximately 14 times, I still have a number of the lines memorized, and after re-viewing am seized by the sudden desire to terrorize innocent townsfolk by shouting “Ni!” at them as I gallop past, clapping my coconuts together.
(Bonus points for anybody who gets those references.)
As an unapologetic Jim Henson devotee, I am so excited that Labyrinth is now available on streaming. I haven’t watched it yet, but it is in the queue, and I will be ready with tissues and my singing voice!
Since We Bare Bears got cancelled (and I can’t afford DVD box sets lately), having this show at the touch of a few buttons has been great for the kids. With its infectiously-catchy theme tune, lovable misfit characters, and offbeat humor, this is a winner for all ages, I feel.
And there we have it! Congratulations on making it to the end of this rather long post! Now go watch the recommendation of your choice!
Have you ever impulsively purchased a doorstop of a book (hang on, let me finish), dove into it straightaway, gotten about 200 pages in, felt that you hit a wall, and put it down…but then couldn’t stop thinking about it?
I’m not referring to the general disappointed feeling we’ve all experienced when we discover that newest addition to the TBR just isn’t for us. I don’t mean that moment of going, “It was such a good idea, too bad the _________ just stunk.” Rather, I refer to the syndrome of If-I-Don’t-Finish-This-Title-It-Will-Haunt-Me-But-I-Can’t-Say-Why. (Yes, I’ll think of a better name, I promise.)
And then once you start reading again, you can’t stop until you reach the final pages… Even as the bottom drops out and you realize that foreboding sense you had early on was in fact a reliable indicator of things to come…
This is exactly what happened to me with Sarah J Maas’ latest release, House of Earth and Blood.
Interesting, isn’t it, that the title alone grabbed my attention rather than turning me off? Explicitly violent and erotic and constant rude language content generally isn’t my thing, and I know all of these can be expected, if not guaranteed, in an urban fantasy by the author of A Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses. But I also absolutely judge a book by its cover, and I was totally sucked in by the aesthetics of this new series.
And, 3 months later (yes, of course it took me that long, it’s 800 pages!), I have this to say about House of Earth and Blood:
I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.
I. ALSO. HATED. THIS. BOOK.
And now I don’t know what to do with it, or myself.
We’ll start with the good.
To begin with, the worldbuilding of this story is INCREDIBLE. Set in a more or less modern place that sounds like California, but called Crescent City (or Lunathion), this universe establishes right away that faeries, shapeshifters, witches, vampires, merfolk, and humans all live together, under the rule of a group called the Asteri (but in laymen’s terms, angels). The Asteri have near god-like status, and no one really dares to mess with them — except a group of human rebels that started a war that’s still raging in another country.
So the main focus of HOEAB’s setting is life in Crescent City, which blends magic and technology, normal stuff like restaurants and cell phones and tourist destinations, but the industries and culture and history all swing in the favor of the Vanir (all the non-human creatures described collectively). So shapeshifters walk the streets in their animal or bird forms; the Vanir run the city government and police force; the witches are basically doctors, because of their healing abilities; the local sport is played by fae and shifters, with plenty of human fans.
The depth and breadth of thought put into how this system works was ASTOUNDING. It was really easy for me to picture the city and its inhabitants as I read, and get a pretty good idea of what their lives could be like. The protagonist of this tale, Bryce, is a half-fae, half-human woman, working for a sorceress who sells and buys magical artifacts on the black market. (WOW – no sarcasm, things like this were SO well developed.) Anyway, in the prologue, Bryce and her best friend and roommate, Danika (a wolf shifter) are party girls in their early 20s, forever loyal to each other, more like sisters, and then something terrible happens. BEGIN SPOILER ALERT.
I loved most of the characters:
Bryce Quinlan is a sassy on the outside, soft inside heroine. She used to dance, wanted to be a professional ballerina (OMG, YES), but was told she didn’t have the “best body type” for the stage, so eventually, she quit. (RELATING SOOOO HARD) Early in the story, she suffers a traumatic loss, and her grief is palpable. The writing of Bryce’s agony, avoidance, and angst following the brutal murder of her best friend is SPOT ON. Grief isn’t logical, it doesn’t take the same path for everyone, and Bryce’s behavior is raw, realistic, and so easy to feel. Two years after the crime, she’s put herself in a routine of work, exercise, and cheesy television, so that she can keep going, but all she wants is to erase her present and have her past be real again.
The love interest, Hunt Alathar, is introduced in the prologue, but really enters his role when a murder mirroring the one that gave Bryce PTSD occurs in the city, and Hunt is assigned as guard duty and investigator. Hunt is an angel, but he’s a slave to the Asteri, because there was an angel rebellion centuries ago, and he was on the losing side, so since then he’s been punished for rising up against his masters. (HOLY EXCELLENT LEGEND RETELLING, BATMAN!) Hunt’s conflicted feelings about wanting to complete his sentence so he can be free, while not really regretting the rebellion, while being very aware he could be killed for any tiny infraction, and mourning those already lost to the cause — was all AMAZINGLY written. Hunt considers himself a soldier, not a killer, and the author brilliantly captures the trauma he’s already endured along with a pushing desire for revenge.
There’s also Ruhn, a faerie with family connections to Bryce, and he is the definition of a LOVABLE CINNAMON ROLL. He’s the heir to a massively influential and powerful throne, and he doesn’t want to be, and he hates his father, but he doesn’t want to disappoint his father, and he loves Bryce, who’s mad at him AND SOBBBBING!
Let’s totally bring up SYRINX, who is Bryce’s pet chimera (ENOUGH SAID), and Lehabah, a sweet little fire sprite, who has Bryce’s back no matter what. THE FEELS, MY SON, THE FEELS. Ruhn’s besties, Declan and Flynn, are awesome, too — I really wish they got more time on page! And we can’t forget Bryce’s college friends, Juniper — a faun who’s a dancer in the city ballet!!! — and Fury, a totally badass assassin who is completely there for Bryce at the eleventh hour.
My biggest issues with the characters were how underdeveloped the wolf shifters were, after hints in the prologue that they’d be a much bigger part of the story; and how the antagonists were, generally, just chewing the scenery. Only Jesiba, Bryce’s sorceress boss, was more than one-dimensional, but Jesiba was legit so hateful I simply waited to see someone kill her, kill her a lot.
Okay, now onto the bad:
The romance between Bryce and Hunt did not click for me. As their relationship developed from not liking each other — for no apparent reason, I must add — to tolerating one another to lust on steriods and then of course LURVE, I really felt the LURVE aspect didn’t fit. By the halfway mark (page 400 or so), I could absolutely see them becoming close friends, maybe like cousins, NOT as a couple. Something about the author’s insistence that they found each other hot-hot-hot…turned me off the notion.
None of the antagonists had believable motivations. Sabine (Danika’s mother) did not act one bit like a grieving parent; she was just a bitch, all the time. Her biggest character trait was slut-shaming Bryce (when the narration suggests Bryce had a few past boyfriends and a couple of one-night stands — erm, o-kay???). The Autumn King (Ruhn’s father) was a cardboard cutout of an all-powerful Fae king — who did nothing when his city was in dire peril. Even the Viper Queen, who seemed interesting at first, really faded off the scene as a murder suspect — or as a secret ally — until the very last minute, as if the author forgot about her for 27 chapters.
Even when the real Bad Guy behind the murders was revealed, it wasn’t surprising. It wasn’t even coherent, as — SPOILER ALERT! — the person in question was reputed to be so powerful, he WOULDN’T HAVE NEEDED THE ARTIFACT HE CLAIMED HE DID TO END THE WAR. That was the other MAJOR letdown on the plot — that the civilian murders tied in to the war against the humans, WHICH WASN’T EVEN HAPPENING IN CRESCENT CITY. Which DIDN’T EVEN NEED TO BE A PLOT POINT, since, if the Asteri were really practically divine, they could have JUST SMITED ALL THE REBELS AND BEEN DONE WITH IT. The concept doesn’t hold water against the established rules of this universe. Especially given the fact that Maas never provides us with reasons why some of the humans are fighting the Asteri. All the humans in Crescent City seem to like being around the Vanir just fine. Where Bryce’s parents live, in basically the suburbs, humans seem to have a bias against Vanir that’s akin to racism, but again, no reasons for this are presented. Some of the Vanir don’t like Bryce for being half-human, indicating the bias might very well go both ways — but, once more, we need reasons for the discrimination, and those never take root.
So, here we are at the worst moment of when-it-all-fell-apart for me:
THAT. ENDING. Holy Crow and all of the Raven Cycle, WHAT HAPPENED to the narration?!?! For the majority of the text, we switch back and forth between Bryce’s and Hunt’s POVs, so we get a pretty good understanding of what’s going on and who knows what. BUT THEN, somewhere around page 600, the author drops a BOMBSHELL that turns Hunt into a possible Bad Guy. And then does THE SAME EXACT THING about 50 pages later WITH BRYCE. It’s revealed — in a really lazy style, in the manner of, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention” to the reader — that BOTH HAVE BEEN LYING TO EACH OTHER, and the author KEPT THAT FROM HER AUDIENCE. So now, we don’t know who to root for, whether they should end up together because they’re both so awful, or if it’s all a trick leading up to the Big Reveal in the climatic action (which wouldn’t be cool, either, by the way).
This meant I couldn’t cheer for Bryce as (MASSIVE SPOILER) her hidden power came out to save the city. I couldn’t cheer for Hunt as (MASSIVE SPOILER) he finally defeated those who enslaved him.
I felt Bryce didn’t deserve Danika’s loyalty, or Ruhn’s. Bryce’s mother, who I admired, turned out to be a CONNIVING BITCH. Bryce had kept from Ruhn information he NEEDED, for YEARS.
I felt Hunt didn’t earn his release from slavery. I didn’t support the other angels and Heads of the City rallying behind him. In fact I wondered who had had a lobotomy when.
I was so disgusted with their behavior that I wanted to see the other Vanir take down our two main characters.
I wanted to throw the book. I almost threw it in the recycling bin. I did toss it on top of my donation pile. Then I thought of Syrinx, and Ruhn, and Juniper, and moved it to a corner of my bookshelf.
I could literally CRY with the feeling of betrayal I’m experiencing.
The author is a jerk, for using a “surprise, they’re keeping secrets!” technique as a “twist” — plain and simple.
It actually HURTS. I connected to these characters, and now…I want them written out.
This is messed up. Seriously. WHY would an author obviously spend a great amount of time and energy developing such an intricate world, with so much worth exploring, draw us in, get us invested, and then — literally ruin it??
I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way. I’ve disliked characters for being whiny, shortsighted, selfish, making bad decisions, using people, and even having questionable taste in music — but never I have felt like an author earned my trust and then stuck their middle finger up to it.
Anybody want to help me figure out what to do with my copy?
Between August 2020 and August 2021, I was the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything — I was 42 years old. Just hush with the reminders that it’s only a joke in a science fiction novel; like many other fans, I had already decided that this number would be significant to me throughout the year. I was ready to have cosmic wisdom bestowed on me.
So, what did I learn while I was 42? The fact we were in the midst of a global pandemic did make for some interesting circumstances and situations to mull over or to seek information from. This also meant that how I would usually have defined my personal goals for a 12-month period needed to be adjusted — without any guilt or blame directed towards myself if I happened to fall short.
That would probably be the first big lesson: Let plans change and don’t feel bad about it. If lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing taught us anything, it should’ve been that being able to adapt to a sudden, uncontrollable shift in one’s environment is healthy and helpful. While I absolutely would rather have been in the dance studio and writing more than attempting to homeschool Muffin, the situation was out of my control and I shifted my expectations and priorities to cope. I didn’t have to release a new book; I didn’t have to hit that next follower mark; I didn’t have to read every hyped publication. And all the things I wasn’t doing should have no effect on my self-esteem.
If you aren’t where you thought you’d be by now, it’s totally okay. When I was 35, I decided that I’d like to open my own dance studio by 40. Obviously that hasn’t happened. At 41, I was kinda sad about this. But there were many valid reasons why the resources just weren’t available, and needing to push back a goal I really wanted to stick to became easier and easier to accept. I hadn’t failed; I hadn’t let anyone down; there was no one I needed to worry about disappointing or messing with. Not even myself.
Knowing what you like, how you are, and sticking by it is completely all right, no apologies required. I’ve been approaching this pretty steadfastly for the last few years, but now it’s quite stuck in. There’s nothing wrong with me liking light-hearted fantasy, television and movies that ask for a suspension of reality, and YouTube channels that revolve around video games I’ll never play. I don’t have to defend my talking to Muffin’s stuffed animals while making his bed. I won’t be ashamed that puppies and Baby Yoda always make me smile — no matter what else has gone on in the day. I choose to be a glass-half-full person, approach tough times with a bit of humor, a lot of sarcasm, and vast stores of hidden bravery, and the world can just deal with it.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. While I knew this refrain for most of my life, I don’t think it really kicked in until recently how it applies. I have to accept if someone ends a friendship I’m not done with. I have to accept that some people will never like my tastes, my preferences, my views. I won’t win any friends or favors by pestering people to concede to my opinions. If there are ideological issues that will only result in hitting a brick wall, then cutting ties, letting go, and wishing others well is a mature and compassionate path forward. (By the way, I’m not targeting anyone specific with these remarks — I think we can all relate after such a year of division.) I don’t need to try to change beliefs that I hold steadfast, to, either, to find more online community; I’m doing myself a great disservice fighting to fit into a mold that I break. Connecting with folks that I get along with and who listen and show respect will fill my inner well a lot more.
Life is what you make of it. I’m disabled, with a chronic illness; I have children that sometimes test the very limits of my patience; I have many daily frustrations. I could be bitter and complain and rage constantly. Or I could smell the roses, pet the cats, look for the unicorns hiding in the forest. I could seek peace and growth. In some ways, I do feel rather zen these days about determining what matters and what I can let go of.
When I passed the torch to whoever may have turned 42 this August 14th, I did experience a bit of sadness at the mantle being lifted. But more so I felt proud, and grateful. Whatever the cosmos and the divine hoped to teach me during my 42nd year of life, I hope I got it.
So, a little while ago, I mentioned I was reading The Lunar Chronicles for the first time, and enjoying it. And I didn’t go into much further detail, as at the time I hadn’t yet finished the final book, and was waiting until I had to do a full review. Last week that goal was achieved, so here I am.
This is a series that’s been on the radar of YA/sci-fi/fairytale retelling/crossover fans for a number of years now. Many of us read it ages back, and I’m late to the party; but in this case it means I got to read everything at once, and appreciate the well-done tropes from a non-cynical point of view.
In the 2010s, I was so over fairytale retellings; the niche genre had really started gaining steam, and they were everywhere. So, while I like fairytales as much as the next former childhood-dress-up princess, I avoided these novels — and that included Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter.
Then, finally, last year, I bit the metaphorical bullet; now that the series has been published for a while, sets of all the paperbacks are cheaper than they used to be, and it was lockdown, and… I think everybody knows how the rest of that sentence goes. Anyway, onto the review already!
Cinder isn’t your typical rags-to-riches Cinderella-inspired story. For one, it’s very realistic, set in the future after a huge war, and lot of the problems society constantly struggles with — poverty, inequality, lack of resources, political trickiness — totally exist, and therefore the setting is quite relatable. Cinder herself is in fact a cyborg — basically half human and half robot — and her stepmother (not evil, but certainly nasty and unpleasant) resents having to buy her upgraded parts when something malfunctions or wears out. So, in the early chapters of the first book, Cinder is an excellent metaphor for disability and prejudice — neighbors and colleagues don’t completely trust her, for no reason other than her cyborg status; she’s deemed inferior by her stepmother, and only worthy of being assigned the chores no one else wants to do. The way this sentiment is expressed, in this context, is powerful. For all of us who couldn’t really understand why Cinderella was so put upon — they made her scrub the floors and stoke the fire because she was…pretty?? — Cinder is an infinitely more relatable figure.
While the most familiar elements of the original fairytale are present — there’s a handsome prince and a royal ball the servant isn’t allowed to attend — the rest of Cinder includes plot twists worthy of gasps, such as a worldwide plague of mysterious origin, a colony on the moon, a monarch who uses mind control to maintain power, and rumors of a lost princess. Despite a lot of heavy content, the writing style keeps an easy, flowing pace, with enough introspection that we get to know Cinder and the other characters pretty well, but don’t get bogged down in armchair psychology. There are some scenes that deliberately don’t reveal enough — seeing as it’s the first in a series — but the reader doesn’t feel lost or too puzzled.
The next book takes up where Cinder left off, and introduces the next protagonist, Scarlet, who’s a Little Red Riding Hood-ish figure. Scarlet lives on a farm with her grandmother — a very different setting from the big city Cinder lived in — so we get to see another perspective of this future Earth. Scarlet’s grandmother has gone missing, and while searching for clues to her loved one’s whereabouts, she encounters an unlikely ally, interestingly nicknamed Wolf.
Again, the familiar components of the fairytale have been turned on their head. Instead of a red cloak, Scarlet wears a red hoodie; Wolf looks human, but acts like an animal; the grandmother is hardly an innocent bystander, but has classified information that secret super soldiers from the moon colony would do almost anything to obtain. The result is that Scarlet is an exciting adventure that delves deeper into the lore of this universe, keeping up as well with Cinder’s new endeavors (now that she’s fled her city and been labeled a “cyborg fugitive”).
Author Marissa Meyer did a great job following her major plot threads through the series; before the end of Scarlet, we’re seamlessly introduced to our next heroine, Cress. Although there are now 3 storylines meeting in Cress, Meyer pulled it off. Here we add a Rapunzel-type to the mix; instead of a tower in the woods, Cress lives in a satelite, orbiting the Earth. She’s a prisoner of and unwilling spy for the evil Queen of Luna (what the moon colony is called). Due to a combination of factors, Cress’ satelite crashes in the Saharan desert, and after a lifetime in space, Cress finds herself on Earth.
As we proceed on this never-dull journey, the pieces don’t get convoluted, and rarely challenging to follow. All of the adventures lead towards going to the moon for justice and revenge in the final installment, Winter, named for the Lunar princess who is rumored to be more beautiful than the power-hungry Queen.
While I usually support trilogies over longer series, I could absolutely see the necessity of having a fourth book in The Lunar Chronicles. There were many hints to Snow White references in Scarlet and Cress, anyway. However, for the first time, I felt that the author struggled to maintain all the plates she had spinning.
It doesn’t help that, for me, Winter is the least likable main character in the robust cast. This book is the first occurrence of Meyer telling rather than showing, so the refrain that “all the Lunar people love their princess” falls flat. Winter is presented as rarely leaving the palace, and rumors run rampant that she’s going crazy, so how would the citizens be fond of her? The author also can’t seem to decide whether Winter in fact is losing her mind, or faking it to encourage her stepmother’s (the evil Queen) perception that she’s flaky and harmless. There are many written scenes which contradict each other, first indicating it’s all a trick, then detailing hallucinations Winter has out of nowhere. Before the halfway mark, Scarlet definitely feels Winter isn’t playing with a full deck, and Scarlet has been proven a reliable narrator. Then why does the Queen determine Winter should be killed, as she presents a threat to the evil throne? What threat? Being too corny?
The last third of Winter is where a lot of the premise fell apart for me. I really enjoyed the story, and the characters, until then, and the introduction of new narrators and subplots didn’t throw me off. But the turn taken around page 400 of Winter (yes, it’s an astoundingly long book) revels far too much in Hunger Games-like sentiment, the plan of fostering a revolution to overthrow an unjust leader… Which was, quite honestly, totally unnecessary in this monarchy-based universe.
Yes, Levana is quite evil, and guilty of many reprehensible crimes, and should be removed from power. But, because she’s a queen, you don’t have to establish a citizens’ rebellion — especially since the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth on Earth finds the lost princess of Luna, and can legitimately invade the moon with an army and someone else with a claim to the throne. All the chapter after chapter of subterfuge and falling into danger and getting captured and risking innocent civilian lives is just…dumb, and it sends the last book off the rails for me.
It also means that valuable dozens of pages spent on rejecting Suzanne Collins’ nihilism (not sorry) were wasted, when there was so much backstory on the Lunar royal family we needed to get. It’s never once mentioned who the father was of the lost princess, what happened to Levana’s sister (other than she died in suspicious circumstances), why no one on Earth ever tried to overthrow Levana… The reasons that Earthens and Lunars don’t really trust each other are vaguely suggested, never cemented, and there are so many pieces regarding this history that were underdeveloped, and getting more information on that would’ve been a much more interesting finale.
And so, I finished The Lunar Chronicles with a bittersweet taste; I’d still recommend it to others, but I’m not sure I’ll re-read it. I do appreciate what it did for the genre of crossover fairytale retellings, but I’m not inspired to read any more of the category. Despite stretching the writing of Winter out to 800 pages, Meyer left a lot of loose ends for her character arcs; hints at a sequel are provided in spades, but the very last page literally says, “And they all lived happily ever after.”
I am aware there’s a graphic novel (called Wires and Nerve) that does follow the further adventures of Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf, Cress and Thorne, Winter and Jacin. But I highly doubt I’ll ever read it, since graphic novels are a struggle for me; and I have to say, leaping from one format to another to tell the same story seems…a bit convoluted?
Besides, as we all know, there are plenty of other books already on my TBR.