March 2019 Recommendations

 

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Show Title: The Magicians

Episodes: 52 (by the end of s4)

Where to Watch: The first three seasons are on Netflix, s4 is available on demand or to purchase)

I originally started this show sometime last fall, got busy and lost interest halfway through season one. After some excited screaming from the fandom in the midst of season four, I got inspired to start the series over and quickly watched the available episodes over the course of a couple weeks. There are some things I don’t love about the first couple seasons but season three is genuinely one of the best seasons of TV I’ve ever seen. It completely rejects the “we’re actually making a ten hour movie” mentality and instead embraces the strengths of its medium by giving us a character-focused, season-spanning quest. There was an overarching storyline that swiftly moved along, but it also took time to make each episode count and play with the form and structure of the show. There are not nearly enough shows that pull off that episode/season balance as well as The Magicians has and while it hasn’t quite hit the same peak in season four, it has still taken risks and embraced the chaos that comes with a fantasy show that isn’t interested in being complete misery at all times. The characters are damaged and messy and make big mistakes but they also love and fight hard for one another, even when they don’t like each other. They grow and evolve in ways that make sense for their journeys and what they have been through and it is beautiful to watch. You can’t help but love them even (and sometimes especially) when they are assholes. And, as you’ve heard if you are at all engaged in fandom spaces on the internet, they are telling what is so far a beautiful and painful love story in an incredibly satisfying way that I am unused to as a fan. They are excelling at so many things that make me love TV and it is everything I needed in this moment. It’s already been renewed for a fifth season and even if you can’t watch it right now, it’s well worth taking a look at before next January.

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Book Title: That Ain’t Witchcraft

Author: Seanan McGuire

Genre: Urban Fantasy

I don’t think there’s a current author who knows how to write an ongoing series better than Seanan McGuire. The individual pieces are good and compelling stories with characters that I love but when you put them all together and look at them as a whole, they become something greater. The climax of this book would not have had the impact it did without 8 books and numerous short stories (especially The Recitation of the Holy and Harrowing Pilgrimage of Mindy and Also Mork) to back it up. We needed to know the legacy of the Price women and to understand the purity of the faith the Aeslin mice have in their priestesses. We needed Annie to truly feel the strength of those bonds and her love for her family, blood and chosen. It was emotionally earned and incredibly effective, given how hard it made me cry. This book was, in many ways, the end of one chapter of this story and the beginning of something new and exciting and I am already anxious to see the next part of the extended Price-Healy family’s story.

 

 

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February 2019 Recommendations

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Show Title: One Day At A Time

Episodes: 39

Where to Watch: Netflix

This isn’t a new show by any means. I’ve talked about this show in nearly every end of the year post I’ve written since the show debuted in 2017 and I will almost certainly continue that trend this year. But once again, it faces an uncertain future with Netflix’s opaque standards and an outside production company, so once again, I will ask that you give this show a chance if anything about it even sounds a little appealing to you.

This show is the new standard for how to do a smart, funny multicam sitcom well. The cast is terrific, the writing is sharp, and you can feel how much everyone involved loves what they are doing. You can feel Norman Lear’s continuing influence on this show and variety of timely comedy that blends laughter with discussion of serious topics like addiction, mental health, and consent. It’s a show that will make you cry because it’s genuinely touching but also because you love these characters and want their success and happiness.

Todd Grinnell is particularly exceptional in the third season throughout Schneider’s relapse and once again, I will be needing Justina Machado to be showered in every award possible. Every member of the main cast is doing truly incredible work and the amount of care that has gone into crafting these characters is evident. Elena gets to be taken seriously as a feminist teenager with a lot of opinions and her relationship with her Syd-nificant other is unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV. Alex gets to be a teenager who makes mistakes but is also a tremendous source of compassion and emotional support for his family. He’s not a warning (although the show is quick to point out the discrepancies in the way drug offences are treated by race in this country), he’s just him. And Lydia is as fabulous as any character played by Rita Moreno should be. She sparkles and is full of life and love for those around her and is a delight every moment she is on screen.

I could gush about the wonders of this show all day because it is incredibly special to me and it means so much to the communities that it represents. It deserves many more seasons and now is the time to start watching it on Netflix and fall in love with it as so many have.

Continue reading February 2019 Recommendations

January 2019 Recommendations

Over the course of a year, I watch and read a lot of things that I love. Some make it on to my year-end lists but others (like the two shows I mention today) aired last year or earlier and I didn’t get to them in time for them to make my list. There is so much content out there and depending on who you follow on social media, you may or may not see any buzz for an individual show or book so I wanted to draw some attention to things I enjoyed in the hopes that someone will find something to add to their TBR or to-watch lists. What good things did you read or watch this month?

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Show Title: Élite

Episodes: 8

Where to Find It: Netflix

If you like high school dramas and don’t mind subtitles, this is the show for you. Part Gossip Girl, part Riverdale, this teen soap is full of characters trying to figure out who they are, budding and faltering romances, and lots of bad decision making skills. If that weren’t enough to deal with as a teenager, there’s also a murder mystery that’s told in flash-forward glimpses of the investigation and interrogations. Secrets are unraveled and alliances are formed as the final episode reveals the culprit and sets up what is sure to be an equally entertaining (and most importantly, already ordered) season two.

This sort of show is an easy sell for me. I love a well-made teen soap and the added suspense of the murder mystery makes it all the easier to binge. What I wasn’t expecting was to love these characters as much as I did. No one is entirely what they seem and as walls come down and circumstances shift, we get to see new sides to everyone that don’t make them better people necessarily but do make them more complicated and less archetypical. They are messes but they’re now my messes and I can’t wait to see more of them next season.

Continue reading January 2019 Recommendations

Best of 2018: TV Shows

Finally, it is time to wrap of this year’s “Best of” collection with a look at my favorite shows. I may have watched fewer things than is typical for me this year (though still more than most people I know), but on the whole, I loved the things I watched more. As both my top 10 and honorable mentions indicate, I’m appreciating comedies more than dramas at the moment and would argue that they are doing better work as a whole. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the things I’ve appreciated in 2018 and as always, leave your own favorites in the comments below!

1. The Good Place I occasionally have a hard time believing that a sitcom about moral philosophy aired on NBC at all, let alone has been running for three seasons and has been renewed for a fourth. However, I also can’t think of a more fitting show for this moment in time. What do we owe one another? How do we fix broken systems? What does “doing good” look like? This show addresses them all head on while also telling a beautiful story about four people, one demon, and a Janet who have undoubtedly improved themselves because of the impact they’ve had on each other. They’ve started to overcome old struggles and hurts, become clear about the people they would like to be, and seem to be in the midst of fixing the afterlife for everyone. This is a show that never entirely goes the way you think it may but it does everything so confidently that you can’t help but trust in the end results. There is a solid vision for what this show wants to be and intelligent plotting that rivals many dramas, all in half the time and while making us laugh. It is a remarkable accomplishment and I’m waiting for the award recognition is strongly deserves.

2. One Day at a Time This show is responsible for one of my favorite memories of the year and while that shouldn’t technically count because it involves season three which has yet to air, I’m still counting it because all it did was amplify my love for this special show and all the people involved. This show is everything you want a family sitcom (or honestly, just a good show) to be. The cast is incredible and I will sing their praises constantly, the writing and directing are terrific and take advantage of the cast’s abilities, and it is the perfect blend of funny and warm. In true Norman Lear style, the way they integrate social issues into episodes is beautifully done and I think they topped themselves this year with the episode centering around Penelope’s depression. Rather than being “very special episodes” that are never addressed before and after, they involve issues that have simmered in the background and that flow through into future episodes. I cannot say enough about this show and if you’re not already watching, go to Netflix and hit play on the first episode and catch up before it comes back in early February.

3. Pose I want this show to be Ryan Murphy’s legacy. He has been involved with so many different television shows, many of them critically acclaimed, but he has done something really special with Pose. And he’s done it largely by letting others tell their own stories and using his influence to get it a platform. This is a story by and about queer and trans people of color and it’s full of joy. There is struggle, fear, and loss as it takes place in the 80s during the AIDS crisis but it doesn’t take center stage. Instead, it highlights community and chosen families and love. It feels unlike anything else on television and not just because it’s telling a story about people who are still underrepresented. It’s the heart and core of sense8 with the tight plotting and character work of The Americans and the result is a compassionate, smartly crafted show about identity and life. It has the pageantry of ball culture alongside quietly intimate moments and it all came together to form a beautiful piece of media.

4. The Americans So much of this season will make your heart ache for these characters but it did so in the most beautiful and fitting way. This has always been a show that is very comfortable with what it is. It lingers in the slowness and tedium of spy work and uses small changes in facial expressions and body language to say most of what these characters are feeling. It’s never been a loud, flashy show and it’s better for that quiet examination of these characters. Elizabeth Jennings has given everything for her country. She has been the true believer who is willing to do the ugly, dirty work that is necessary because she thought she was fighting for something bigger. Then she wasn’t. That cause she was working toward turned out to be as corrupt as the one she had been fighting against. It stopped being something she could believe in and she turned to the one thing she could still rely on – her relationship with Philip. It had been broken nearly irreparably as they stopped being able to truly see each other but it was the thing that kept her tethered to herself and in the end, it was all she was left with. This was always Elizabeth’s journey and Keri Russell’s understated performance was the anchor of this series. I didn’t actually intend for this entry to just talk about the brilliance of Elizabeth as a character and Keri as an actress but it feels right and encapsulates what I loved most about the series. It absolutely deserves the recognition it gets as one of the best shows of this time.

Continue reading Best of 2018: TV Shows

Best of 2018: Sci-fi/Fantasy Books

This is my genre of choice. This was the first year I purchased a supporting membership for the Hugo Awards, giving me voting privileges for this year and nominating privileges for next year, and as you will see, that’s where I found a lot of these books. It encouraged me to read books I may not have picked up otherwise, expanded my horizons within the genre, and introduced me to new authors that I’ll now enthusiastically follow. I am so excited by the variety of work that’s coming out and being celebrated within this large and varied genre and can’t wait to read more next year.

1. Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn This book is sort of urban fantasy/superhero meets Devil Wears Prada and is as much fun as that description makes it sound. There are demon cupcakes and difficult people to work with and a fantastic portrayal of the difficulties in taking full responsibility for a younger sibling but that’s not why it attached itself to my heart like it did. In my 30 years of life, I’ve never seen myself in a piece of fiction as much as I have in this book. Representation matters. Letting people see their cultures and people who look like them in fiction as the protagonist of a story is so important and something that fortunately is becoming more common for more groups of people. It’s explicitly addressed in the book as an influence for Evie and Aveda becoming who they are and something I had no idea I could have in this specific way. I am Evie. We share numerous personality traits, areas of academic interest, ethnic backgrounds, and even a favorite comfort food that she was made fun of for bringing to school which I refused to do for fear of the same result. So to read a story in which she worked to overcome her emotional repression (which I was actively doing to an unhealthy degree when reading this book) and let herself feel and own her feelings, both good and bad, was incredibly important to me and I can’t thank Sarah Kuhn enough for that gift.

2. Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire My love for Seanan McGuire’s work is well-established by this point and this series is something special. I was thrilled to be back at Eleanor’s and with some of the characters I fell in love with in Every Heart a Doorway and the introduction of new characters like Cora and Rini. I love that it’s a book about loving and accepting people for who they are, even when you don’t understand their reality. It’s a book about friendship, hope, and kindness and therefore everything I needed. I spent the majority of my first read-through in near tears for reasons I still don’t fully understand, it was just one of those pieces of fiction that resonates perfectly with where you are at that particular moment in time. For a series about finding the place where you fit, this is the story that has called to me the most. Confection wouldn’t be my world but this book is a partial glimpse of what mine would look like.

3. Wayfarers Trilogy by Becky Chambers This character-focused sci-fi series is going to be one of my go-to comfort reads from now on. There isn’t a lot of plot, it’s largely exploring the universe Becky Chambers has imagined and the day-to-day lives of her characters, but there is a lot of heart. There is a gentleness that runs through the trilogy and a sense of compassion for each of these characters that make these books feel warm and cozy. The world she has created is full of different species with different appearances and social structures that often aren’t like our own but without the othering that sometimes comes into the sci-fi and fantasy genre when creating new species or races. Everyone is simply allowed to be. It’s filled with found families and the acceptance that comes with finding your people and your place in the world and that made it everything I could have wanted to read this year.  

4. Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin It’s fair to say that N. K. Jemisin is among the best fantasy writers of our generation, if not the best. While slightly more traditional fantasy than her Broken Earth trilogy, it feels anything but stale as Jemisin gives us a world of imprisoned gods and their captors. It’s a story of balance and the way forces push and pull against each other to find equilibrium. It’s a story about love and jealousy and rediscovery. It’s a look at power structures and the way they are perpetuated as well as a reminder that we need each other to survive. Each novel in the trilogy revolves around a different set of characters (though still connecting to the larger whole) to create a full picture of this universe from its creation to the present. The worldbuilding is stunning as are the characters, from the mortals to the gods and everyone in between.

Continue reading Best of 2018: Sci-fi/Fantasy Books

Best of 2018: TV Episodes

There were some truly spectacular episodes of TV this year. As always, the episodes I love the most tend to be the ones that highlight the relationships between characters. Whether it was people coming together to support each other or fracturing over hurts that were too big to be easily contained, each of these episodes work as well as they do because of the strength of the character work and the talent of the actors.

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1. Not Yet (One Day at a Time) This episode is a masterpiece. It’s basically a bottle episode that takes place at Lydia’s bedside and it is full of emotion, laughter, and so much love. Each of these characters has their own relationship with Lydia. Some are uncomplicated, like Alex’s love and understanding of who his grandmother is, while others are trickier, as Penelope’s was considering their fight that ended the previous episode. But she is a woman who these characters all admire and care for so much. We see that in their actions to make sure she looks like the vibrant, dramatic woman that she is and in their words, all of which make me cry. But where I completely lose it is from Penelope telling her that it’s OK to go if she needs to and Berto’s appearance. As a television moment, it’s brilliant and beautiful and made me extremely concerned for Lydia’s survival. It’s very good and that only barely matters to me. What it also does, and what I value more, is how much it reminded me of my own grandma’s death. She said it was time, that my grandpa had told her to hurry up. She was ready and we told her that it was alright to go be with him again. I defended my master’s thesis the day after getting home from her funeral. She didn’t get to see me graduate or my cousin get married the following spring. This episode brought me right back to that time and made me remember the incredible woman that she was. It reminded me of all the love that surrounded her. It captured that so beautifully and so perfectly for me that everything else, as technically impressive as it is because every single actor is at the top of their game here, fades in comparison. That’s the beauty of fiction for me – those moments that connect with the person you are and the life you lived so powerfully. This episode absolutely nails that and I’ll carry that with me forever.

2. START (The Americans) This is how you end a show – with perfect clarity about what your show is about and who your characters are. This finale was nothing like anyone expected. It was much quieter and opted for bittersweet over outright devastation. It was always a story about the Jennings and their marriage. It was a story of two people who loved their country and used that as an excuse to do horrible things. It was a story of having nowhere to belong except by the side of the person you unintentionally fell in love with. It’s not a spy show, just a show about two spies. No one dies in a hail of gunfire and no one really wins. The dramatic moment everyone expected of Stan discovering the truth turned into a twelve minute dialog-heavy scene in a garage and the show is absolutely better for it. The garage scene is going to be a highlight of Matthew Rhys’s career and as Phillip weaves just enough lies into a pained confession to his best friend in order to save his family. It’s heartbreaking and raw and you feel just how broken Phillip has been by everything, especially the realization that he has to leave his son behind. It’s a stunning scene in every single way and for all the words that are exchanged in it, the rest of the episode is comparatively silent. It lets the body language and facial expressions of this tremendous cast take center stage as they say goodbye to everything they know and start again in their home country that no longer feels like home. It is nothing like I expected and everything I needed from the conclusion of this extraordinary show.

3. Love is the Message (Pose) Billy Porter is phenomenal in this episode from start to finish. This episode in general is incredible and beautifully kind. Blanca and Prey Tell are the emotional core of this series and their hearts, fears, and vulnerability are on full display throughout this episode. The threat of AIDS was ever present in the 80s and this episode is a love letter to all who were lost and a refusal to let what they went through be forgotten. The cabaret Prey Tell organizes sought to bring life into a place that had experienced too much death and is one of those gorgeous acts of humanity that Pose does so well. His duet with Blanca is a standout moment of the year. Not only do they sound amazing, the song choice of “Home” from The Wiz perfectly encapsulates what this show is all about (which is echoed earlier by Angel as she talks to Patty and attempts to explain the concept of community as home). It is a place where there is love overflowing. And despite the very real fear that his community could have been wiped out and no one would care, in the end, Prey Tell promises to live. He promises to embrace life and everything that is to come because it won’t last. And he challenges Blanca to do the same. There is a reason this episode is showing up on every best episode list of the year. It’s touching and powerful in ways large and small. It makes the most of its characters while also being about something bigger and it pulls that balance off spectacularly.

Continue reading Best of 2018: TV Episodes

Best of 2018: Books (Not SFF)

Approximately half my reading this year was sci-fi or fantasy so I wanted to talk about those in their own post but didn’t want to leave out some of the other terrific books I read this year, so this is a catch-all for all the non-YA, non-SFF I loved. This year I got back into reading more romance novels after a several year break and it was one of the best decisions I could have made. I love seeing what this genre is doing as it starts to embrace different voices and perspectives and the sheer variety of work that is available. There really is something for everyone and the focus on growth and love in many forms was exactly what I wanted to read.

1. Agents Irish and Whiskey trilogy by Layla Reyne This trilogy took over a weekend for me because I did not want to put it down. The mystery portion of the books is solid, if not a little overcomplicated by the end, but it’s the romance that sells it. Aiden was told to take Jamie under his wing and train him for fieldwork, while also enlisting his help to discover the true story surrounding his husband’s death. Despite his fears and hesitation, Aiden falls for Jamie (who already had a bit of a crush on him that was only enhanced by actually getting to know him) and that progression from “it’s only a physical thing, I’m not attached” to “I want to spend the rest of my life with this person” is perfectly done. Their banter and dynamic is terrific and you can’t help but fall in love with these two characters and root for them even when one of them is being dumb (in a good, in-character way) and you want to yell at them. It is so incredibly satisfying to read and there is a bonus short story of their wedding available for free to look forward to once you reach the end of their journey.

2. Forbidden Hearts Trilogy by Alisha Rai I started this trilogy at exactly the right time. I needed Livvy’s story and stubbornness and mistaken belief that strength meant never being weak and that shoving down all your emotions was the way to handle life. I love the romance and the work she and Nicholas had to do in order to make their relationship strong again but it was her journey in particular that unexpectedly brought me to tears. And that’s a trend that held through in all three novels, it was the women and their journeys that I loved most of all and the romance was a (wonderfully done) bonus. They had good friends and their own baggage to deal with and they refused to take sole responsibility for fixing the men they loved. I love the depth the rest of the family was given and the love that was so clearly present in all forms throughout the book. Grandpa John is the very best and I was cheering for him getting his whole family back just as much as I was cheering for the love stories. It’s touching, it’s hot as hell, and will make you run through the full spectrum of emotions out of love for these fantastic characters.

3. Tequila Sunrise by Layla Reyne I know this is technically considered part of the Agents Irish and Whiskey series but the main characters are different and I love Mel so she gets her own entry on this list. I will forever love couples with badass ladies and men who are utterly delighted by the fact that their significant other can kick their ass. This whole novella is Mel being the talented and trained former special agent in charge that she is and protecting the people she loves while getting a glimpse at the key moments in her relationship with Danny that took place during the timeline of the main trilogy. It’s sexy and suspenseful and just plain fun.

4. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng While there is a small mystery around which the story revolves, it’s never the point. Instead, it’s a focused look at one family shrouded in secrets and insolation who never really found a place they could feel settled. But instead of talking, they held all their pain inside until it made them lash out at each other. But it’s also about healing and the process it will take. Lydia’s death changed the family forever and they’ll never be the same but in some ways it brought them together in a new understanding. It’s a melancholy, bittersweet novel that tugs at your soul and makes you think about all the things you keep to yourself and how that limits the way others understand you.

Continue reading Best of 2018: Books (Not SFF)

Best of 2018: Television Moments

There’s really nothing better than finishing a scene and only being able to say “wow”. Or needing to pause because you’re in tears or need to control your excitement before continuing so you don’t miss what comes next. Whether they are ship-related, a strong character moment, or a stunning example of acting and writing, it’s those moments that stick with us after an episode finishes. It’s what makes us look back on them later and remember how good they were, often ignoring other plotlines in the process.

There are many moments this year that I skipped over in favor of writing about the episode they are contained in as a whole in an attempt to highlight a greater number of shows and episodes. A lot of them are fairly lowkey and a not-small number revolve around characters showing or expressing what they mean to each other. That’s what I wanted most of all from TV in 2018 and I feel like I captured that well here.

1. Wedding scene + sex montage (sense8) This is only a small clip but the last 25 minutes of this show are the best representation of what sense8 is about that you could want. It’s a show that says that feelings matter, that love comes in many forms, and that the connections we share with others are the most important things in the world. Nomi and Amanita’s wedding is full of joy and love from everyone involved, even Nomi’s largely terrible mother. It is a reunion and a meeting and celebration of everyone significant in their lives, all of whom also mostly already know and love each other. It’s about family in every way possible, from Bug walking Nomi down the aisle to the presence of everyone significant to the cluster. And this show was never going to end without one last orgy and it is beautiful. The montage leading to the orgy looks at each relationship throughout the two seasons and where they are now, which is in bed and having the time of their lives. It is filmed so lovingly with the warm lighting and the slowly moving shots and while it’s naturally sexy because these are all very attractive people, the love between them all is what is front and center rather than their bodies or the acts themselves. It was the best, most-fitting way for the show to end and while I will always want more, I still feel a little amazed and blessed that it existed at all. 

2. Let’s try (The Good Place) I am failing at the internet because I cannot find a gifset or video of this moment, but it’s the one at the end of “Jeremy Bearimy” when Eleanor reveals her plan to the rest of the group. For two and a half seasons, this show has asked the characters and audience what we owe to one another. In this moment, we get the answer. We try. We do what we can to make the world and the people around us better. It’s reminiscent of Angel’s famous “if nothing we do matters, than all that matters is what we do” realization and reminds me of one of my favorite bits of Leverage commentary when John Rogers described Eliot as someone who knows he’s going to hell but who can do some good before he gets there. That is where Eleanor is. There is no redemption, no happy ending or ultimate salvation at the end of all this. But there is still something she can do because that’s who she is now. That’s what hundreds of reboots and friendships with these five other people have done for her. She is now someone who wants to put more goodness in the world because it would make it a better place. It is the message we all needed from this year. We can choose good no matter how hopeless it feels or how little it impacts our current situation. We try. We put in the effort and that’s how we make a difference.

3. Two people who love each other (Elementary) There are very few television shows who have showcased a male/female friendship as beautiful as what Elementary has done with Joan and Sherlock. Unlike some iterations of Sherlock, which feature him as aloof and at least feigning at emotional distance from all others, Elementary’s Sherlock has learned the value in the relationships he’s made and that is largely due to Joan’s influence in his life. As he says in this scene, she saved him. Not by being his sober companion, but by being his friend. She pushed him to be more than he thought he could be and as a result, he’s gotten so much more than he thought was possible and he’s found he is happier this way. They are partners, as all their best moments remind us, but at the core of it, their partnership works because they are two people who love each other. They have made the commitment to be in each other’s lives and support each other in their goals and do what they can to help shoulder the burdens placed upon them. This beautifully simple declaration of platonic love was a terrific end to an incredibly strong season and while it would have been a fitting end, I’m glad it won’t be.

4. I’m pretty great (One Day at a Time) First of all, Isabella Gomez SLAYS this scene and needs all the recognition for it. This scene breaks my heart and also fills me with incredible pride for Elena. I hate that these are lessons she had to learn, especially from her dad. I hate that he was the first person to truly reject her because of her sexuality. I hate that it changed her image of who he was in a way that may not be repairable. But she also learned she can survive it. She learned who her support system was and learned that she is capable of living a full and terrific life without him or anyone else who tries to bring her down. She found that her strength and heart wasn’t just for all the causes she marched for but could be turned inward and help her thrive. She is a remarkable character on her own and means so much to so many people and this scene was incredibly powerful. And no discussion of this scene would be complete without mentioning how much that reaction shot from Penelope gutted me. It’s quiet devastation and pride and overwhelming love all mixed up in one and Justina Machado was perfect.

Continue reading Best of 2018: Television Moments

Best of 2018: YA Books

According to my very convenient reading stats spreadsheet, young adult books made up about a quarter of my reading this year. While I am now much older than a YA protagonist, there is still plenty for me to enjoy in these books. As your teen years are often a time of growth and change, they tend to be primarily character-focused, which I greatly prefer. They also feel like they are more likely to be socially conscious and inclusive, although that may be some amount of selection bias that goes into that perception. There’s a variety of genres within YA represented in this post and I hope you’ll find something new to enjoy!

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas This isn’t a book that needs any introduction. It was made into an acclaimed movie this year and when it was released, it spend 50 weeks on top of the New York Times YA bestseller list. If you read anything about books on the internet, you have heard how good it is and they are entirely correct. This was one of the first books I read this year and I knew instantly it would be on one of these lists. It is a story about demanding better. We shouldn’t be a society where Black parents need to talk to their kids about dealing with cops, not to respect their position but so they have a better chance of making it home alive, but we do. The ending, with Starr remembering and honoring real life victims of police brutality alongside Khalil and pledging to fight in their memory for a better future for her younger brothers, was simply stunning. It grounded the novel in a powerful way and ended the book on a message of perseverance. Because that’s what is needed to bring about change. This book is about fighting for a better future and Starr figuring out her role in that. This is going to be the type of book that represents this generation of teenagers and young adults who are loud and engaged in working toward the world they want and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish.

2. In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan I love a genre-savvy protagonist and that is exactly what Elliot is as in this take on a portal fantasy. He’s grown up on Narnia and Alice in Wonderland and understands what it means to fall through into another world. Unlike some who find other worlds, he fits just as poorly in his new world as he did in his old one. He’d rather study than fight, a detriment in a warrior-based society, and he’s a giant, often condescending pain in the ass. But despite that, he settles into himself and finds the people he fits with. His best friends are everything you would want in an iconic trio, I love the way Sarah Rees Brennan flips typical fantasy gender stereotypes as a way to point out how ridiculous they are, and I love the subversion of a typical YA love triangle especially in combination with Elliot being the most oblivious person in the world. The romance is a delight and if you’re a fan of pining fanfictions and yelling at characters because they’re obviously into each other, you’ll have a lot of fun here. It’s an incredibly fun twist on a genre we’re familiar with and you really can’t go wrong with it.

3. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera This is the sort of book that I can’t imagine existing when I was a teenager. A book about finding your voice and feminism and intersectionality and queer identity doesn’t feel like something that would have been published 15 years ago and I am thrilled that it does now. At its core, this is a book about learning to trust yourself and opening yourself up to your own truth then embracing that truth. It’s about learning your idols are human and just as susceptible to flaws and blind spots as you are but also that they can still be an important part of your development. It’s about understanding your history and surrounding yourself with different types of people and becoming the amazing, unstoppable force you were meant to be. In Juliet’s closing letter to herself, she says to “read all the books that make you whole” which I adore as a reader in general but it is also a perfect description of what this book was for me.

4. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson If you like murder mysteries with a great collection of characters that will make you yell at the cliffhanger ending (that I was completely unprepared for, I didn’t realize this book was the start of a trilogy), this is the book for you. The school setting is terrific and leaves plenty of room for teens being teens and falling in love and worrying about fitting into their new environment alongside the mystery and takes full advantage of Maureen Johnson’s talents. She knows how to write protagonists you’ll love and root for and Stevie is no exception. My former forensic science-loving teenage self adored her love of true crime and determination to solve the decades-old unsolved mystery surrounding her school. While she embraces the spirit of Ellington, she has a harder time with her new classmates and her growth and learning to find her place and her people was also very satisfying. I can’t wait for the continuation of the story next month.

Continue reading Best of 2018: YA Books

Best of 2018: TV Characters

As I said in Sunday’s post, I watched less TV than usual this year. I think I loved the things I watched more on average but it did give me fewer characters to choose from. As I started making this list however, one similarity jumped out at me. It was a harsh year and as a result, I trended toward kind characters. I wanted to see people who cared about others and weren’t afraid to show it. I wanted characters who did what they could to make a difference. I wanted characters with strong connections to others. They were the perfect balm for me this year and I imagine will continue to be so in the future. What characters did you love most this year?

1. Penelope Alvarez (One Day At A Time) Justina Machado is one of the most underrated actresses on television right now, as I tend to mention on twitter after each new season of One Day at a Time and during awards seasons, so it’s unsurprising that Penelope is one of my favorite characters. She is strong, and driven, and an incredible mom, and most of all, feels so incredibly real and human. I love her when she is strong and fighting for herself and her family and I love her when she gets scared and wants to quit school and when she’s in the middle of a rough depressive episode. She is everything I would want to be in life and I feel so fortunate that she exists for me to love and admire.

2. Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista (Pose) This was a year of loving found families even more than usual for me and there is no one better to represent that than Blanca. When she was disowned by her biological family, she found a new one in the ballroom world. When Elektra couldn’t provide the emotional environment she desperately wanted, she went out and started her own house so that no one would need to feel alone and without anyone in their corner again. She has fought for the life she wants and she’ll fight to help her children and her friends have the lives they want as well. She is the kind of person the world needs more of and exactly the type of character I want to celebrate most this year.

3. Charlotte Wells (Harlots) My darling girl. She is a fascinating set of contradictions and complexity and I love her for it. She feels so deeply, whether that feeling is good or bad, and because of her position, she often needs to keep those feelings locked away because they are dangerous. She is full of love for her sister and her pa and for her ma, as she learned this season, even as she is full of rage and resentment toward her ma and Lydia Quigley and the entire system that has enabled their actions for the pleasure of men. She is simultaneously cunning, patient, impulsive, and reckless. For better and worse, she is the daughter of Margaret Wells and that has given her strength and a steely determination while also giving her wounds she may never fully recover from. Her reunion with Margaret only to lose her again was heartbreaking and I’m very curious to see where she goes from here as she steps up to run the house next season.

4. Eleanor Shellstrop (The Good Place) It’s been quite the year for Eleanor. She visited the Bad Place, got brought back to life, learned she and her friends were ineligible to ever get to the Good Place, made peace with who her mom was and wasn’t, and learned she was in fact still capable of love. Eleanor is a mess a lot of the time, but she’s also grown beyond the person she was at the start of the show. She has a strong group of friends, she’s facing her past demons and confronting them, and she’s found the value in doing good even without the potential reward of an afterlife. She’s become a better version of herself without fully losing the Arizona dirtbag part of herself and it’s been a terrific journey to watch.

Continue reading Best of 2018: TV Characters