Category Archives: Best of the Year

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

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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

Best of 2018: Non-fiction Books

It’s that time of year again! I always love taking December to reflect on the things I’ve loved most throughout the year and sharing them with you all. It’s an excellent way for me to see what I needed and connected with in the past year and use that knowledge to better understand myself and my growth and it gives you something to look back on in the future and remember the person you were. As always, these are just the things that stuck out to me the most. It’s a blend of what I thought was exceptional and things that resonated with me. This year, I read a lot more books than usual and watched a little less TV, so I’m doing more book posts and fewer TV posts. My book lists will go up on Sundays, TV lists on Thursdays and I hope you’ll join me in sharing some of your own favorites from the year – I’m always looking for recommendations.

It was a fantastic year of nonfiction for me. I definitely have strong preferences on the types of books I’m likely to pick up – typically memoirs/biographies or anything that examines societal systems – and that shows in this list. I loved reading about so many incredible women, some familiar and some unfamiliar to me, and am excited to continue that trend in 2019.

1. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor Regardless of your interest in the law or Supreme Court, you should read this memoir. I didn’t know anything about Justice Sotomayor before reading this and now I’m hoping she writes a follow up after she retires (which will hopefully not be for many years). I love her measured but still approachable writing style, it suits someone in her position and with her predisposition to look at systems and the world holistically. I love the sense of community that fills this book, from her biological family to the extended network of people she has come to know and count as her own. We see the people who helped shape her and the value she places in human connection. Her comfort with complexities and contradictions in people and understanding that success and mistakes need not be exclusive make her an extraordinary judge and seemingly a terrific person to know and have in your corner. It is a beautiful look at an extraordinary life that has lead to extraordinary achievement.  

2. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister Realistically, I was always going to like this book. Rebecca Traister’s previous book All the Single Ladies was one of my favorite nonfiction books last year and the subject matter of this book immediately appealed to me. Even with high expectations, this book managed to surpass them. It was exactly what I needed to read at this particular moment in time. I am always going to be interested in historical and sociological looks at the construction of culture and the world we’ve built and Traister’s writing consistently draws me in. But I also appreciated the commitment to intersectionality and the impact race makes on the expression and perceived acceptability of anger (and the way it can mitigate anger if you’re closer to power).  Overall, It inspired me and made me feel hopeful for a future in which more women embrace their anger and use it to fuel change. We don’t have a shortage of things to be mad about these days but we do have plenty we can do to use that anger to better ourselves and bring about the future we want, even if we’re not the ones who directly benefit.

3. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine My degree is in social psychology with a focus on gender and sexuality, this book is just about perfectly tailored to my academic interests. So take that as a declaration of all the bias and external knowledge that I brought to my reading of this book. It is smartly researched, easy to follow and understand, and a wonderful look at the complicated ways biology and society contribute to our understanding of gender and upholding of gender roles and rules big and small. Most excitingly to me, she talks about some of the failures of science in the way we research gender. We cannot separate the work we do from the world in which we live. As researchers, we bring our own set of biases to our experiments and reporting, and that is something that is absolutely critical to keep in mind when talking about something like gender that affects the real experiences of people outside of a laboratory setting. It fit so well with my worldview that I can’t be at all objective about its merits but if this is an interest of yours, I would wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try.  

Continue reading Best of 2018: Non-fiction Books

Best of 2017: Shows

This was easily the hardest list to make and the one that changed the most as I was making the list and writing. There was so much I loved that I once again couldn’t narrow it down to just ten, and the honorable mentions are as solid as my actual list. It was a year where I wanted comedies and stories about women finding understanding and joy with each other. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and they warmed my heart.

If you are looking for some more end of the year reading, head over to MGCircles to check out their Best Of lists and Nerdy Girl Notes for her thoughts on hope and new ways to be a hero in The Last Jedi.

1. One Day at a Time Since watching this show in January, it has been my pick for the best show of the year. This is how you reboot a show and make it feel fresh and relevant. Norman Lear’s style of socially conscious comedies is one that already appealed to me (though I will admit I’ve never seen any of his original shows, just those who have been inspired by his work) and I loved Mike Royce’s previous comedy Enlisted so I went into the show ready to love it. It exceeded my already high expectations. I mind multi-cam comedies far less than most people but this is an example of the form at its best. The writing is clever and hilarious and took full advantage of this cast’s considerable talents. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno were terrific casting choices and they play so well off of each other. They are both so well-rounded as actors and this show understands how to use that. They both made me laugh a lot but they were also responsible for many of the moments that made me cry and tugged at my heartstrings. I love this family full of strong women who support each other through anything life throws at them. I love that they gave both Elena and Penelope female friends who were there for each other when they needed it most. I love that they made me love Schneider and Leslie so much because it felt like they tried. They wanted to do better when they messed up and owned their lack of knowledge and unintentional blind spots. Everyone on this show cares so much and that warmth comes through in every moment. Each episode had something smart to say about a current issue, whether it was mansplaining and sexism, immigration, a lack of support for returning veterans, or coming out and telling the world who you are. This show was everything I love about television and what I can be all wrapped up in an entertaining package and I need everyone to watch it before it returns at the end of January.

2. Playing House Sometimes the simplest concept can lead to the greatest results. Playing House has never tried to be anything other than what it is, which is a beautiful tribute to two lifelong best friends and the unbreakable bond they share. It’s not high concept or serialized and it’s a relatively small cast with simple sets but it is intimate and honest and genuine. This season was the most ambitious with the overarching plot about Emma’s cancer diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. It was telling a real story and I loved that we got so many episodes to explore the healing process and how that looked for both Emma and Maggie. As good as all of that was, it’s always been the relationships and the small moments that make this show so special. It’s Maggie leaving Emma a “congrats on the sex” cheese plate and then attacking her as she eats it. It’s Emma being Tina’s biggest cheerleader and helping her find something she’s passionate about. It’s Mark’s coworkers showing amicable exes and co-parents who love and support each other and the new relationships they’ve found themselves in. They’re one big, weird family kept together by actual affection for each other and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wish that we were getting more seasons with this show but it went out on a high note.

3. Big Little Lies Until recently, “prestige” dramas have been all about the antihero. They were very masculinely focused and often involved isolation from those around them. We’re slowly moving away from that concept but there was still a bit of a battle for Big Little Lies to be taken seriously because it focused on the lives of women. It could be fun and frothy and Madeline had some endlessly quotable lines while also addressing domestic violence, the way we shield our truths from our loved ones and ourselves, and our expectations of women and the roles they inhabit. Celeste is kept at home out of Perry’s need for control, Renata is happy to be CEO but feels judged by the stay at home moms, Madeline is desperate for something to give her the fulfillment she’s not getting at home even though she feels like it should, Jane is a financially struggling single mother in a town full of wealthy two-parent households, and Bonnie is one of the few women of color in this very white town. No one feels like they are meeting all the expectations placed upon them. But other the course of the season, they find each other. It’s easy for Celeste, Madeline, and Jane. This is in large part to Madeline’s forceful personality and need to take Jane under her wing but these ladies develop a true friendship. With Perry’s death, Renata and Bonnie are drawn into the fold as now it is up to each one of them to stay silent and protect the group. They find their strength when they stand together and it made for a refreshing change. We were encouraged to take these women and their struggles seriously. We were supposed to find the power in their combined forces. And it was rewarded with critical acclaim and a lot of award nominations. I hope it is the start of more “prestige” dramas about different types of women finding their strength in each other and joining together in different ways to overcome different struggles. I’m never confident that networks take away the right reasonings for a show’s success and I’m not sure we needed a second season of this show, but at the end of the day, I know I will always be ready for a show about women supporting and encouraging other women.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Shows

Best of 2017: Fiction Books

As I said in my list of my five favorite non-fiction books, this was a big reading year for me. I read more than I have before and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to try out new genres and expand my reading comfort zone. Not everything I read was a success. This was also the year I finally learned to give up on a book rather than see it through to the bitter end and I think I was happier for it. The following list weren’t all necessarily my favorite in the moment (though I rated all of them 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads) but they are the ones that stayed with me the most. They are full of the worlds and characters I see myself most wanting to revisit in the future and share with those I love.

1. Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin I couldn’t pick just one book in this trilogy so I picked them all. With Hugo awards for the first two books with a definite possibility for a third next year, this series has gotten a lot of praise and attention. It deserves every bit of it.  The world that Jemisin has built is unlike our own while simultaneously being informed by our own. The blend of science and magic is so cleverly and vividly sketched out. There is so much lore and history of this other world contained in these books and it is fascinating. Where I feel this book really shines, however, is in its understanding of humanity. It understands our psychology in all its beauty and ugliness. It understands the worlds we built for ourselves and how those worlds could fall. It’s a story about oppression, survival (both physical and emotional), anger, and the lengths a mother will go through for her daughter. It takes some time to adjust to the structure of the first book and orient yourself within the world but once it hooks you, you won’t want to put it down. You may want a highlighter or notebook handy, however, because there are so many lines that are beautifully insightful and resonant that’ll you’ll want to save. It’s diverse, incredibly plotted, and explicitly political. This is what the sci-fi and fantasy genre can be at its very best and I am thrilled with the success it’s found.

2. A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas To give you an indication of how much I enjoyed this book, I read it four times over the course of the year. I love the characters in this book more than any others I encountered this year with the exception of the Leverage team. Within pages of meeting them, I felt like I had a sense of who they were and the bonds they shared. Each member of the Court of Dreams has survived cruelty and cages of various sorts and disregard and it didn’t break them. It made them stronger and it made them kind and it made them the sort of people who dreamed of a better future. Who would fight and give their lives for that future because of how strongly they believe it is worth it. They are all extraordinarily powerful but that’s not what defines them. It is their heart that draws me in everytime. This whole book is about finding your inner strength and learning how to fight for yourself and the life that makes you happy all while finding people who will love and support you through it. Who will take your blows and carry you to freedom and open their arms and embrace you for who you are rather than what you can do. It’s a book that makes me feel from start to finish, from heartache to utter delight and everything in between.

3. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera In life, we don’t always get closure. We imagine possibilities for ourselves that never come to pass, things are left unspoken, and we can be left with regret over the things we didn’t do. But as Griffin and Jackson learn through this book, those regrets and unfilled promises don’t mean we can’t move forward. As they learn, it’s sometimes the most unlikely people who help us to do that. Griffin never wanted to like Jackson. He was the boy who was dating his ex-boyfriend. The last boy who would ever date him. In the aftermath of Theo’s death, however, they feel like the only two people in the world who understand what it meant to lose him. They became friends and got lost in their grief together. They isolate themselves and make bad choices. It’s only after they confront their histories, the real history and the version they imagined for themselves, that they can begin to move forward. It’s about first loves, grief and healing, and living with OCD. I love the way this story is told, with alternating chapters between the past and present. We see Griffin and Theo fall in love and fall apart and everything leading up to the phone saying that Theo was dead, bringing us back full circle to the start of the present in the beginning of the book. It’s a gorgeously written book that draws you into Griffin’s emotional world so effectively. It’s the first book of Silvera’s that I’ve read but it won’t be the last.

4. One Salt Sea (October Daye #5) by Seanan McGuire This particular book encapsulates two of my favorite things about McGuire as an author. First, I love her vivid world-building. This book expands our knowledge of Faerie by introducing us to the Undersea and gives us more backstory on the Luidaeg and in doing so, we start to see the scope of the world she has created. Her background in mythology and folklore shines through and brings these characters and this world to life in a fantastic way. Second, I love her ability to make me yell at my Kindle and feel all of the things. Because her characters feel so real and developed, we feel each victory and failure keenly. We’ve had four books up to this point to get to know and love these characters and everything builds so naturally on what has come before. It makes perfect sense for Quentin to want to be Toby’s squire (and for May to take bets about it) and for Raj to be as much Toby’s apprentice as he is Tybalt’s heir and for Tybalt to know how much Toby would want his leather jacket back. They made me emotional because they felt right, like the emotional was earned. On the flip side of that, Toby’s devastation after losing Connor and Gillian also felt earned. I was admittedly less invested in Connor but Toby’s realization that Gillian had been pulled too far into Faerie to come out of this unscathed caused me to curse at the book. I want that kind of engagement from my books, I want them to make me cheer and cry and most of all, believe in the emotions of the characters. And for me, no one does this better or more consistently than McGuire.

5. The Rewind Files by Claire Willett You can always tell when someone gets to write something they are really passionate about and that’s exactly how I felt reading The Rewind Files. I knew going into the book that Willett was a big fan of All the President’s Men and the Watergate scandal and that natural love and large amounts of research make this book pop. It’s an area of history I know little about but this book made me want to learn more, which I feel like always speaks well of any historical (or historical-adjacent) fiction. But the detail that went into reconstructing the fall of Nixon’s presidency is only one part of what made this book great. The time-travel portion is really solidly done and takes great care to address time loops and paradoxes and cause-and-effect. Basically all those things that make time-travel such a difficult thing to write and maintain some sense of rules and logic. But not only is the science and internal logic written well, it also dives into philosophical issues. It brings up interesting questions about fate and the ripple effect actions, both big and small, can have on the future of the world. Finally, and probably most importantly to me, these characters are amazing. I love Reggie Bellows so much. She is sarcastic and doesn’t really like people but will fight to the death to save them and she is fantastic at her job. It’s a job that I find super appealing for my particular skillset and strengths for all the reasons Reggie loves it and I loved seeing that part of myself reflected in her. Her relationships with the other people in her life feel authentic and draw you into a beautiful group dynamic that blends biological and chosen families. Honestly, the best evidence for how much I loved these characters is the fact that it made me care enough about them and what they wanted to cry over them. They came to life and I won’t forget them.

6. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie This is a beautiful story about a teenage girl discovering freedom and the life she desires in the midst of an oppressive father and regime in Nigeria. It’s a story that works on several levels. It’s perfectly enjoyable if you just look at the emotional journey Kambili goes through in this book to realize the way her life had always been at home wasn’t normal. Life could be full of joy and play and mistakes and love that wasn’t contingent on your achievements. Her father is a respected member of the community and the church, but he was also a tyrant who demanded strict adherence to his views. Those who don’t fall in line, including his own father, should be shunned. He rejects his own culture and their traditional beliefs in favor of the Catholicism brought to Nigeria by the British. Growing up that way caused Kambili to shrink. Her own wishes were minimized and the only goal was to prevent her father’s displeasure. But when she goes to stay with her aunt and cousins after it gets too dangerous to stay at home, she blossoms. It’s a slow process but she learns how much more can be accomplished and enjoyed in life than what she had been taught. People could differ but still be good and valued. She is encouraged and falls in love and learns to think for herself for the first time and it’s tremendous to watch. I imagine this book works even better when read with more knowledge of postcolonialism than I currently have. It would provide a richer understanding of Eugene and the underlying political structure of Nigeria that is a secondary feature in the book. It’s a terrific debut and I can’t read to read the rest of Adichie’s fiction books.

7. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant In the process of reading this book, I had a moment where I genuinely forgot that mermaids weren’t real. I was marveling how cool mermaid anatomy was and was completely engrossed in the science before realizing that it was all made up. The science (I think) was sound and reasonably plausible, but it did in fact come out of the genius mind of Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire’s sci fi & horror pseudonym).  Her ability to blend scientific research and fact with just enough fiction to make it believable is incredible and it’s all borne out of a love for all the weirdness and possibilities that science offers and the people who are discovering it. She writes and understands scientists so well and brings their passion to life. As much as I love the scientific elements of a Mira Grant story, they are just one element that makes them great. I am not ordinarily a big fan of horror and suspense but I loved every moment that made me curl into my hoodie in anticipation. Since her Newsflesh trilogy, she has only gotten better at creating tension through her words and the atmosphere she creates. As a giant fan of her work, both as Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire, it excites me to see her continually strive for better. Finally, it has all the diversity and character development that is the other defining characteristic of her works. She wants to make a world where more people can be seen in the fiction they consume and she actively takes steps to make that happen. People are never tokens, they are complex and treated with care. It doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to them (this is a horror novel, after all) but it does mean that they’re allowed to be people rather than concepts. The protagonists aren’t saints and the antagonists aren’t faceless evil. Everyone is nuanced while never falling into the trap of making everyone equally morally gray. Some people are better humans than others and as is often the case in Grant books, the bad ones often get eaten. I may never want to go into the ocean again but I do hope we’re able to return to this world in the future.

8. Kindred by Octavia Butler While this is technically a science fiction book (or at least it involves time travel, classify it as you wish), it is mostly an unflinching look at slavery in America through the eyes of a young Black woman in the 1970s as she is pulled back through time to save her ancestor. Octavia Butler’s straightforward prose is the perfect fit for this story. Nothing is sugar-coated or needs to be embellished, we experience Dana’s horror at the life her ancestors experienced right alongside her. The exploration of Dana’s complicated relationship with Rufus is incredible. He was her great-grandfather and until the point that he fathered a child with her great-grandmother, Dana needed him alive for her own history. He was also her master and sometimes friend. He could be cruel, as his father was before him, and manipulative. He was entitled and despite Dana’s best efforts to make life for herself, her fellow slaves, and the children he would bear better, he never really outgrew the person his father and his time taught him to be. Equally well-explored was Dana’s relationship with her husband Kevin. On later visits, he was pulled back through time with her, but as a young white man, his experiences were very different. Understandably, this sort of life changes a person. Dana carries the physical and mental reminders of her time in the past with her, even as she is finally able to stay in her correct time. Similarly, this book is one that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.

9. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker Through no choice of their own, two mythical creatures find themselves transported to New York City in the early 1900s and into communities where they sort of fit in but find something lacking until they meet each other. Despite the presence of mythical creatures who can do some extraordinary things, this book feels very rooted in its time and place. It’s a story about immigrants and a tribute to the communities they’ve always built for themselves in new lands. It’s a story about feeling understood and connected to another person. Chava and Ahmed are fascinating characters on their own and through them, we are able to explore and question things about humanity as a construct. We see our contradictory desires and the pain they cause. We see the desires we impose on others to make them fit exactly as we think they should. Their independent storylines kept me engaged as they learned about their new world and found a comfortable place for themselves but it’s the slowly growing friendship and love that shows the book at its best. By their natures, they were very different. Chava is made of earth while Ahmed is made of fire. Together, they teach each other and push each other and get each other to a place where they are no longer constrained by their natures. It’s a beautifully written book that made me feel like I was getting a glimpse into a world that could have existed, unseen to our eyes.

10. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein I don’t fully know how to talk about this book without spoilers but I think it’s one that benefits from allowing yourself to be taken through the ups and downs and twists of the book as you experience it for the first time. I suspect it will be a rewarding book to reread when I get back around to it. What I can say, however, is that it is a story about two young women who take part in World War 2. When we think about the war effort, we often think about all the brave men who served around the world. We tend to overlook the contributions that women made so to read a book centered around them was a refreshing change. They fought to the best of the ability and were brave even when they were scared. They rose to every challenge placed in front of them. They were also best friends. This is among the best depictions of a life-changing female friendship I’ve seen in a novel. As Julie says, “it’s like being in love, discovering your best friend”. Their love for each other will grab hold of you and refuse to let you go. The style of the book takes some getting used to and made it initially difficult for me to fully emotionally invest in the story but by the end, I cared so much about these girls and their story that it had me in tears. Even if historical fiction isn’t your preferred genre, this book is one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.

Honorable Mentions: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Emily M. Danford), Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli), Nimona (Noelle Stevenson), Shadowshaper (Daniel José Older), Room (Emma Donoghue), Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Helen Simonson), The Color Purple (Alice Walker), Redshirts (John Scalzi), Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Seanan McGuire), Uprooted (Naomi Novik)

Best of 2017: Episodes

Unsurprisingly, many of my favorite episodes this year dealt with the idea of connection in some way (or the lack of it). There’s our connection with ourselves and our desires, connection with our friends and family, and connection with our cultures. They are about seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole and the confidence and power that brings. No one does anything alone, we need each other to create a better and functional world. That will always be my favorite kind of fiction and it was a good year to see that reflected on TV in a variety of ways.

If you want more year end fun, be sure to check out all of MGCircles’s lists as well!

1. You Wanna Roll With This (Playing House) This episode is perfect. In 21 minutes, there is not a single misstep. This show is always full of warmth and laughter with just the right amount of weirdness but this episode goes above and beyond. This cannot have been an easy experience for Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham to relive and fictionalize but the fact that they had just been through this together makes all the emotion that much more real. It’s a serious episode and a serious arc but the show never gets too bogged down in worry and unnecessary drama. It’s always treated as something Emma will survive, even when characters give into their natural concerns. The guest casting in this episode is flawless. Laurie Metcalf makes an appearance as Emma’s oncologist and Michaela Watkins as her plastic surgeon, both of whom are the sort of doctors anyone would want on their team. They are the best at their job and their bedside manner is the right amount of comforting but firm (especially on the “no Googling” rule) and I can’t imagine anyone else more fitting for the roles. I’ve already talked about Emma and Maggie but this episode really shows that these two are the best. They are on each other’s team forever and it’s consistently beautiful to watch. Similarly, Emma and Mark are so easy and free together. It’s the natural extension of where they’ve been headed since Emma moved back and the history between them just makes this second chance even sweeter. They know each other and have seen each other at their worst and weirdest and they still love and chose each other. No one ever compared to the other and all those years apart didn’t chance that. They tease each other with the ease of people who have known each other for a long time. It’s completely without venom and so full of affection that you can’t help but smile watching them. And those are just the main relationships! Even in the minor characters like the rest of the police squad and Dr. Ericson, there is so much love and kindness toward Maggie and Emma that makes me cry every time. I cannot say enough good things about this episode, it truly is the best of an incredible show.

2. You Get What You Need (Big Little Lies) Everything about this episode is stressful as the lies and secrets that these women are keeping from the world come tumbling out. While Madeline’s breakdown during the fundraiser is important as she confesses her infidelity to a supportive Jane and it gets everyone in one place for the extraordinary conclusion to this episode and season. But the star of this episode is Nicole Kidman and everything she puts into her role as Celeste with a strong but terrifying supporting role from Alexander Skarsgård. From the opening scene, the tension builds as Celeste comes to the realization that she has to leave. She can’t pretend things will get better any more, not after it’s clearly starting to have a negative impact on the man Max is growing up to be. By the time Perry calmly tells her that she missed a call from her property manager about her apartment while calmly checking Max’s loose tooth, the tension became nearly unbearable and stayed that way until the end. Things were reaching their boiling point and there was no going back. We got momentary bouts of relief as other characters pulled the focus away but it isn’t fully released until the beach scene. It is masterfully done. As Celeste stands her ground, Jane recognizes the face of the man who raped her. The horrified look on her face clues in Madeline who gets Celeste’s attention and it is the three of them against the world, with Renata joining their union. Seeing these women stand together is an emotional experience. No matter what has happened in the past, they are united in their attempt to stop Perry. Bonnie is finally the one to get rid of him and their group expands once more. And by stopping this man together, they find unity, peace, and freedom. They found they are stronger together and its together that they will build a better future for their children, without the petty rivalries of the past. Watching these women support and care for each other was beautiful to watch and I am so glad it got the recognition that it did. We don’t see enough of it but it’s a start.

3. Late (The Handmaid’s Tale) This was a fantastic episode of television that I never want to watch again. This episode was designed to be chilling and horrifying and it accomplishes that goal well. Alexis Bledel is the best she has ever been as Ofglen is forced to watch her girlfriend hang before forcibly undergoing female genital mutilation surgery. It was intentionally one of the most upsetting moments on TV this year and both Bledel and director Reed Morano deserve the praise they received for creating it. Regardless of anything else, that portion of the episode was always going to be hard to watch. But there was a world where the rest of the episode would still have been powerful but had a less visceral impact. The nature of this book and similar dystopias is that something in them will always feel relevant. They are a critique of one or more aspects of our current society and those often change pretty slowly. This book felt resonant when it came out in the 80s, it felt resonant when I read it in 2012, and it still feels resonant today. However, seeing the way the US turned into Gilead may have felt less timely if we didn’t have a Speaker of the House who belongs to a party who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade who says we need to get our birth rates up or a Vice President who won’t be alone in the room with a woman who isn’t his wife. Nothing changes instantaneously but more and more freedoms are stripped away until we realize we no longer live in the world we thought we did. Seeing that change and hearing all the things that the citizens of what was now Gilead let slide was a stark reminder of how easily we can be led down a dangerous path as long as a nice justification is given to us. I wouldn’t have minded this portion of the episode feeling a little more theoretical but that’s not the world we ended up in. It was also a stellar episode for Yvonne Strahovski, who gave us a nice look at life as one of the privileged women in Gilead. She has more perceived freedom and actual power over the Handmaids and she will use every bit of that when she isn’t given her way, but even when it isn’t her body, she’s still defined by her ability to bring children into the household. The change in her attitude when she learns that Offred isn’t pregnant is scary, but unsurprising. There is no solidarity between them, Offred exists only as a means to get what Serena Joy desperately wants. That kindness she displayed wasn’t genuine and was easily ripped away. We can feel her longing for a child and have sympathy for her while also being disgusted at her attitude and Strahovski finds that balance well in her acting. The acting, writing, and directing are all extraordinary in this episode which only served to make it more difficult to watch.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Episodes

Best of 2017: Non-Fiction Books

As much as I enjoyed television over the past year, 2017 was the year I returned to books in a big way. I have always been a voracious reader but a difficult personal year in 2016 made concentration difficult. I read a lot this year, enough to make choosing my top books of the year difficult because there were so many I loved. So while this is a television blog, these lists are also a way to share the things I love with everyone else and it didn’t seem right to leave out the books I connected with this year. I’ll share my top 10 fictional books next week but today the focus is on the non-fiction that inspired me throughout the year. Looking through this list, it’s very clear where my interests lie this year and where I could expand the perspectives I read for the upcoming year. I’m always looking for more non-fiction recommendations in any area, so feel free to share some of your own favorites in the comments!

And if you’re looking for more television content to enjoy, MGCircles and Nerdy Girl Notes have you covered with their own end of the year lists.

1. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley This is an incredible collection of essays. As Kameron Hurley is a sci-fi and fantasy author, it is geared slightly toward people who are familiar with some of the recent issues and discussions within that community but I don’t think it’s a requirement in order to get something fantastic out of this book. Things like GamerGate and the Sad Puppies takeover of the 2015 Hugos and the idea of representation and the need for more diverse voices are issues that have recently and are still being addressed within SFF fandom but they aren’t exclusive to that fandom. Those attitudes are found everywhere and we’ve seen the entitlement, resentment, and fear that drove those movements in a wider political and cultural sphere more clearly than ever this year. Claiming our voices and widening a narrative that has been largely geared toward a very narrow market are part of a larger cultural revolution. Changing the stories that we tell and the people those stories are told about matter and Hurley does a fantastic job showing us how and why. If you have any interest in the power of story to change the world, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

2. Shrill by Lindy West Even more than the humor or the sharp insights into fat shaming, mysogyny, and rape culture, I appreciated the openness and candor that underlies the entirely of Shrill. Throughout the book, Lindy West unapologetically owns her life and her opinions and there is a tremendous amount of power in that. To be a loud woman can by a scary proposition. You are stepping out of the bounds society has tried to construct around you. You are rejecting a culture that wishes you would just be quiet and leave the status quo alone. You are claiming your voice when women weren’t even legally considered independent beings in the all too recent past. West is deeply familiar with the hate that brings. But she continues to fight and do it anyway. Her memoir is funny, heartbreaking, angering, and above all, honest. I finished it feeling braver and more inspired to find and amplify my own voice.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Non-Fiction Books

Best of 2017: Moments

One moment can say so much. It can fittingly conclude a character arc, provide a moment of sweetness, move characters forward, and capture the theme of a show. We remember the ones that touch us in some way and carry them with us as we remember the show and its impact on us. As always, there were too many to choose from and my final selections are all over the place as far as tone goes but I feel like they are a good representation of what I loved most about TV this year. There is so much character growth and catharsis in these scenes as I watched the characters I love move forward in much-awaited and surprising ways.

1. Philip and Elizabeth get married (The Americans) It was never supposed to be real. They were put together to have children and spy for Mother Russia. They weren’t supposed to fall in love along the way. But they did and we’ve gotten to watch it happen. At a time when Philip is drifting further away from the cause and even Elizabeth is getting tired, they chose to make a vow to each other. They pledged that no matter what happened, their love was real. It’s a simple scene. There aren’t elaborate vows, a wedding dress, or even very much light. No one else is there, it is just the two of them and a priest performing the ceremony entirely in Russian. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’s performances are so understated but moving. This is something neither of them thought they would ever have. It’s not something they’re supposed to have, even now, but they are so sure. The love on both of their faces is impossible to miss. There is a peace and vulnerability in Elizabeth’s expression and it’s all the more beautiful for its rarity. She lives in a world with carefully constructed walls, full of identities that allow her to be whoever she needs to be to get the job done. But here, with her husband, they all fall away. She’s allowed to just be Nadezhda. She doesn’t have to play a role with him any more because it’s real now.

2. Donna and Cameron imagine their next company (Halt and Catch Fire)  One of the most important relationships on this show was the one between Donna and Cameron. After a shaky start in which both pre-judged the other, they came to an understanding and found something each needed in the other. They cared for each other and became a part of each other’s families then both got stubborn and Donna broke Cameron’s heart. The trust they had in each other was shattered and they couldn’t even occupy the same space without fighting. Gordon’s death reminded them that life was short and they didn’t want to spend it fighting. They apologized for everything they had done to each other although they were still hesitant to ever mix their personal and professional lives again. But that fear didn’t stop them from dreaming together. They visited the former Mutiny office and reminisced about good times before taking a leap into an imaginary future where they built a second company, fixing many of the mistakes the made the first time around. They dreamed of a company where they could be true partners, where they were still the same people who made the same choices but didn’t let those choices break their friendship. They gave themselves a second chance to do better. This time, in their new history, they walked away together. It let them heal some of those old wounds so that when inspiration actually did strike Donna, they were ready to face it together.

3. Jules confronts Nate (Sweet Vicious) Eliza Bennett is extraordinary in this scene. She is angry and hurting and raw in a visceral way that I felt deep in my gut. Rape is used as a device on television far too often but we rarely get to see the lingering effects on the person raped. It may fuel someone else’s revenge arc or simply be dropped all together, but viewers aren’t forced to confront the fear and anger and pain felt by the survivor. Especially when the person responsible remains in your life in some capacity, as Nate has for Jules. He can lie to himself and everyone else that it was consensual but Jules refuses him that comforting lie in this moment. She tells him she said no. She tells him he physically kept her from saying no again. She tells him exactly what he took from her and who she is now. It is honest and brave and powerful. Nate had convinced himself both that he had gotten away with it and that Jules wanted it. Both those illusions are shattered here. And none of it was for Nate’s benefit. He’d already proved that the desires of others meant little to him if it meant getting his way. This was a moment that was solely for Jules and what she needed to say. The focus was exactly where it should have been and it’s stronger for it.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Moments

Best of 2017: Episodes that Didn’t Air This Year

Good television doesn’t stop being good after some time has past. While we are in the midst of Peak TV and there is more new scripted shows on television than anyone can keep up with, there is also a lot that aired in the past that I missed out on the first time. I always try to have at least a couple older shows that I’m slowly working through and this year, they were among some of the best things that I watched. This collection of posts is all about celebrating the things that brought me the most joy this year and these 10 episodes definitely qualified.

Libertus (Spartacus) The last 15 minutes of this episode are such a glorious spectacle that only Spartacus could pull off. Not that the rest of the episode isn’t fantastic but the arena battle has stayed on my mind for the past 9 months. Starting with the most human of the battles, the fight between Oenomaus and Gannicus had so much emotional history behind it. They were best friends, they were brothers in arms, and both slaves to the House of Batiatus. They were also in love with the same woman and Oenomaus’s wife died in Gannicus’s arms. There was pain and anger and betrayal that infused each blow and it was captivating to watch these men fight each other and Gannicus being unable to take that final killing blow. Oenomaus always represented the best parts of Gannicus, the parts that he lost when Melitta died, and it was only right that he gave up freedom to save his brother. Then there was the larger plan on Spartacus’s mind. He wasn’t just going to free his men, he was showing up to the arena that day to burn it all down. Just as far as plotting go, it’s a brilliant move that opens up a whole new future for the second half of the season. It was a blow to the heart of Rome at the hands of the slave rebellion. It also solidifies Glaber’s status as a legitimate villain and not just a bothersome antagonist. Killing his father-in-law and the chilling way he reminds his wife that there is no longer a way out of the marriage she came so close to leaving is really the first time we see him as the monster he is. It’s his personal uprising and he will use his newfound freedom to crush all those who sought to belittle and undermine him. But what made it truly remarkable to me is the deeper level on which this show works. Yes, there is a lot of over-the-top violence and nudity and delightfully campy dialogue in Spartacus, but at its heart, it is a story about oppression and freedom. And in this episode, the oppressed rose up and burned down the institution that was used to justify their enslavement. They sent the message that they would no longer be used for the gain of others. Their bodies would no longer further the wealth of others. It’s a powerful message, not just within the show but also for the viewers. In the spirit of resistance that has characterized much of 2017, I can’t imagine a more mood-appropriate episode to have seen for the first time.

The Queen’s Gambit Job (Leverage) Narrowing this down to one episode of Leverage was nearly impossible because there are so many that I love. There are three things about this episode that make it one of my favorites (four if you count Sophie’s especially fabulous outfits). First, Sterling is such a compelling antagonist and his relationship with Nate is fascinating. These two have an underlying respect for each other even if it is coupled with a lack of trust. There is no one else Sterling would have gone to in order to get his daughter back and no one who would have understood why he needed a con to do so better than Nate. Second, there are few things I love more than Eliot Spencer being a disaster when it comes to his feelings and never has that been more apparent than in this episode. Only he would unthinkingly hug Hardison and then immediately be annoyed that he did and try to pretend that Hardison initiated the hug. The lingering effects of the drugs lowered his inhibitions and walls and his instinctual response was to be as affectionate as Hardison would probably prefer. But he won’t let himself have that because he doesn’t think he deserves it and attachments are dangerous and whatever else he needs to tell himself to maintain that grumpy facade. Finally, Hardison is one of the best fictional boyfriends in the history of television and this episode is the reason why. He lets the hug thing slide and recognizes that Eliot would probably feel better if he beat some people up and finds some for him while they rescue Sophie, which is delightful on its own. But where he really comes through is with Parker. When we’re at our least confident, we revert back to old and familiar tendencies. So when faced with a heist that made her doubt her ability to get the job done, Parker lashed out and yelled at Hardison about things weighing her down (physically and metaphorically) and killing her. And he responds with understanding and kindness. That was true for much of Parker’s life and he’s never expected her to resolve her past issues immediately. He knows that trust doesn’t come easy for her. So he reassures her that she’s not alone any more, that’s he’s got her back and will be looking out for her. He calms her and refocuses her, not just in training but in the middle of the heist when she starts to doubt again. He plans ahead and makes sure he’s not leaving her without an escape route so he gives her a parachute and the opportunity to jump from one of the tallest buildings in a row. It’s the best gift he could have gotten her and one that comes out of the deepest understanding of who she is. They aren’t just words to him, he’s gonna back it up with his actions and do whatever it takes to help Parker feel safe and comfortable. I need more men like Hardison and more relationships like this one on TV because they are perfect.

Punchline (Take My Wife) I was really mad when I watched this for the first time because I didn’t watch it in time to include on my end of the year list for last year. This episode wasn’t the primary motivation for starting this new list but it was certainly on my mind as I did so. I love everything Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher wanted to do with this show and this episode in particular. In 22 minutes, they talked about the Bury Your Gays trend, the proliferation of rape jokes in comedy, and misgendering issues in bathrooms all while being funny and in love and Cameron meeting her fictional celebrity crush. In the midst of all of the greatness, there are two moments that stand out for me. The first is Cameron telling Rhea that she loves hosting their show with her and that she loves her. These two are wonderful together. They have so much love and admiration for each other and that naturally bleeds into the fictional versions of themselves and their relationship. It’s authentic and sincere and still not something we see very much of on television. The second is the Me Too moment that comes near the end of the show. I watched this episode a few months before the Harvey Weinstein article came out and raised the cultural awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. It wasn’t something that was being widely talked about at the time and was (and would continue to be if someone wanted to pick up the show and put the first season back online) a powerful and important moment to see on screen. As a whole, this is an episode I couldn’t get out of my head and a show I loved with all my heart. It was special and its voice will be missed.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Episodes that Didn’t Air This Year