Category Archives: Best of the Year

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.

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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

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)