Best of 2019: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books

I love the possibility that sci-fi and fantasy offer and there’s really never been a more exciting time to love this genre. All but one of these books were published in the last two years and the wealth of talent in the genre at the moment is ridiculous. There’s truly never been a better time to fall in love with these very wide, diverse genres and dream up a better future with them. If you want stories about hope, healing, and compassion, this list is a good place to look. Those were the stories I wanted to hear most this year and these books delivered.

1. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal When a meteor strikes the Earth, causing initial problems as well as long-term climate change, the need to get to space and establish a colony becomes increasingly critical. This alternate history takes place in the 1950s and centers around Elma York, a member of the WASP program during World War II and a scientist, who dreams of becoming an astronaut. But it’s still the 1950s in America and thoughts on what’s acceptable for (certain types of) women are what we know them as. She gets to struggle with the roles she’s placed in as well as becoming aware of the advantages she had in comparison to other women at the time. We get to see her learn and grow and struggle and overcome as she reaches toward and achieves her dream. It’s a story of drive and longing and friendship that I enjoyed from start to finish. 

2. How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin I am not always a fan of short stories – it’s a format that I often struggle with, even when the work itself is good. With that said, this is an incredible collection. I didn’t love everything, as is to be expected, but the writing is undeniably strong. Most of the stories are standalones with one set in her Broken Earth universe (which I was delighted to return to) and another in her Dreamblood universe (which immediately got moved up my TBR list). Some of the highlights include “The Ones Who Stayed and Fight”, an interrogation of the concept of utopia that was no less enjoyable for the fact that I hadn’t read the Ursula LeGuin story it interacts with; “Red Dirt Witch”, which blends the Fae with the Jim Crow South and is above all about the necessity of hope; “The Trojan Girl”, a AI story about dreams helping to make us human; and “Cuisine des Mémoires”, which muses about memories and getting stuck in our past through the use of a restaurant that can recreate any dish so long as you know the place and date on which it occurred. 

4. The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley I had previously read and loved Hurley’s nonfiction essay collection “The Geek Feminist Revolution” but hadn’t read any of her fiction yet and WOW was this a good way to be introduced to it. This is what I want my science fiction to be. Yes, it’s bloody and dark and the world created is both grim and all too believable, but in the end, that darkness doesn’t triumph. There is hope and people and things worth fighting to keep. The non-linear construction of the book is brilliant as Dietz jumps around time seemingly without rhyme or reason (with smart, thought out time travel!) alongside the interview snippets talking about a future event that gradually coalesce into a single narrative. It’s sharp, incisive, powerful and I need it to be nominated for awards next year. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books

Best of 2019: Moments

There were a lot of noteworthy bad decisions written for television in 2019, often with cringeworthy interviews that followed that doubled-down on the poor choices. But sometimes, writers got it exactly right. They gave us moments that reassured us, surprised us, spoke to important societal topics, and made us feel. They were the ones that understood their characters and the contexts in which they operate and created worlds we wanted to be a part of. They gave us something to aim for as we make the world around us a more compassionate and inclusive place. They valued relationships and emotional history. They were the moments that reminded me why I love television even when it’s frustrating me.

1. Jaime knights Brienne (Game of Thrones) This moment, even more than their sex scene, is the culmination of five seasons worth of character and relationship development. It is everything Brienne has secretly wanted for so long yet it felt outside of her grasp because of her gender. Until Jaime (thanks to a good idea from Tormund) decides to change it. There was no way for this scene to be any more meaningful. It needed to be Jaime that gives this to her. He has seen very clearly who she is for the past 5 seasons and been grateful for and humbled by her sense of honor and duty. It’s her firm belief in the vows of knighthood that reminded him of his own and called him to fight for Winterfell and humanity. It’s a moment that only Nikolaj and Gwen could have made together. Their love for these characters and their ability to have full conversations with nothing more than a look were absolutely essential. There is love and admiration and gratitude and the terrifying and healing nature of being so clearly seen. I love how thrilled everyone else in the room is for Brienne (especially Pod) but it’s evident how much they all faded away during the actual knighting. It was Jaime’s declaration of love and something that needed to be said on what they thought could well be their last night alive. For one moment, Brienne of Tarth got everything she wanted. She got the honor of being called a knight and a man who genuinely cared for her as the extraordinary woman that she is and she deserved nothing less.

2. Aziraphale and Crowley Through Time (Good Omens) TV shows spend time on what matters and too often, that’s used as an excuse to forego character moments in favor of plot. But that character and relationship building matters, it’s why viewers care about what happens. The episode three cold open told us what Good Omens valued. They spent half an episode (about 8% of the total show runtime) dedicated to Aziraphale and Crowley’s incredibly slow courtship. The bond and trust between them and shared appreciation (or at least lack of disdain) for humanity is vital to understanding why they make the choices they do in the following 3.5 episodes of the show. It is an utterly delightful half hour as we fast forward through history including the Flood and a production of a struggling Hamlet and watch these two settle into their roles as something approximating allies and friends. We see the moment that Aziraphale realizes that he’s a little in love with Crowley, not after he rescued Aziraphale from the Nazis but when he saved the books from the ensuing bombing, and the moment where it all gets to be too much with Michael Sheen’s devastating line reading of “You go too fast for me, Crowley”. These actors are fantastic together and by the end, we’re rooting for them to succeed in their mission to avert the apocalypse and settle down together. That is the whole point of that cold open and it’s perfect. 

3. Queer Gatekeeping (Vida) I wish that this scene was available somewhere as a clip but in lieu of that, each word is link to a different tumblr gifset and that will have to do. Before we get to the content and why it’s remarkable, I want to take a moment to point out how gorgeous the lighting in this scene is. Their designer did a terrific job fitting the mood of a wedding but also making everyone look incredible. I absolutely adore Emma’s righteous indignation at yet another group of people trying to police her identity and her expression of it and Nico’s use of sarcasm to rebut all the ridiculous gatekeeping present in this scene. It’s cathartic for anyone who has ever been worried that they’re somehow not queer enough because they don’t tick certain boxes or for anyone who has been explicitly excluded from a community in which they’d hoped to find acceptance based on appearances or snap judgements. It’s an incredible scene and I so appreciate the writers for very clearly pushing back against that sort of judgement and policing.

4. Jimmy’s non-vows (You’re the Worst) I cannot thank Stephen Falk enough for this moment. Nothing about Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship has ever been conventional. In their words, it’s “ugly and uncomfortable and haunting and brilliant and thrilling”. But it’s theirs and its what’s right for them as people in this moment of time. Their happy ending isn’t necessarily a wedding and kids and promises to be together forever. Instead, Jimmy promises to love Gretchen and commit to being with her every day until they decide otherwise. It doesn’t require long-term commitment on either of their parts but does ask them choose each other over and over again. And that is perhaps one of the most romantic things I’ve seen a show do. Gretchen has never been convinced that she’ll be anyone’s choice nor has she believed she should be. As she mentions prior to this moment, she can’t promise Jimmy forever when she’s not convinced she can promise herself forever. But they can give each other one day at a time. They get an ending that feels right to them, not only to honor the characters and the journey they’ve been through over five seasons but also to honor the attachment the show has cultivated to them. Falk never ended to pull the rug out from under them and have them end up alone and miserable because it felt cruel to the audience and in a year where that seemed all too common because of “clever writing” or “realism”, I appreciated it more than ever.  

Continue reading Best of 2019: Moments

Best of 2019: SORTEDfood Videos

These lists are my way to look back on the things I loved and the reasons I loved them in any given year and as a result, the categories shift a little depending on what captured my attention the most. So this year, we have a new category that I suspect will be of interest to few people but few things brought me as much joy this year as the SORTEDfood YouTube channel and corresponding club which makes it more than deserving of a special bonus list this year. I love watching and listening to these guys and the ways they’ve already changed the way I think about cooking and the types of things I try and hope that maybe someone will read this and learn about them for the first time and be similarly inspired. It’s truly a celebration of food, travel, and friendship and there’s something for everyone to enjoy about the channel.

1. Sake Series (SORTED Goes to Japan) Including the two battles, this is a series of seven videos and one of my favorite things this channel has done to date. Before watching the first episode, I didn’t know anything about sake and wasn’t particularly interested in trying it (partly because of my lack of knowledge and I felt overwhelmed). I still don’t entirely know where to start with it but now I’m excited to try it the next time I go out for sushi. That open-minded approach to food is the kind of thing SORTED encourages in its audience and one of the best things about the ethos behind the company. They love food and want us to love food with them. Their trip to Japan looked truly incredible and I’m glad it’s something the five of them got to experience as a team. Their friendship will always be the backbone of the channel and to see them collectively step outside their comfort zone to learn more about the culture and food of Japan in order to create a meal that honored that history was a gigantic source of pride as a viewer, especially one with (admittedly rather distant at this point) roots in Japan. 

2. Chefs “Remote Controlling” Normals Mike is a genius for this new format and how perfectly it works as a promo for their new Packs app. The food looks amazing and like ideas I should keep in mind for future holiday leftovers (or just a weeknight dinner tbh). But even more than that, I love the friendship dynamics that shine through here. You can tell Jamie and Ben have known each other for most of their lives and how often James and Barry have to coordinate their respective efforts on projects like the cookbooks. I will forever love Ben trolling his friends while managing to look perfectly innocent so radio-speak with Jamie was everything I could have wanted from them. I would also love to see this with competitive Ben, he’s so good at explaining things and walking people through cooking after 10 years of this channel and would be a force to be reckoned with. Then with James and Barry, their natural styles are incredibly well-suited to working together. James calms Barry’s panic and is good at knowing when to push and when to provide encouragement. It’s the Pizza Nachos video all over again and it’s just soothing to watch. I can’t wait to see more of this format and to see how they change it up in the future but this is a terrific start to these videos. 

3. 2 Chefs Review Classic French Cookbook I am pretty sure this is one of my very favorite SORTED videos (and still it ended up 3rd on this list, so you can see what a great year they’ve had). I love the concept of this reference book even if I would never want to cook from it and seeing the different interpretations of what is a very short and vague dish description is fascinating. Anything that brings out the differences of opinion between Ben and James is pretty much automatically going to be great (as is Jamie’s reaction whenever such a disagreement occurs) and the teamwork needed to create a finished dish, especially one that James was so pleased with, was both fun and educational. Both of them are very good at what they do and I loved getting to see them show off a bit. 

4. Beat the Chef: Mystery Box vol 5 This video is utter chaos and I love it. First of all, I applaud Ben and Jamie for opting for what was probably the harder route of a dessert instead of the steak + jam combo. They stepped outside their comfort zones and suffered for it in the moment, but it made the video more interesting. I would have genuinely been happy to eat either of their dishes and experience the flavor pairings for myself. Second, James and Barry’s glee at their friend’s panic is the best. Whether they’re being judgy over plating choices or laughing so hard they’re crying, it is hilarious to watch. Finally, the “interesting” counter during Mike’s judging as he attempts to find words for these very unexpected dishes and be upbeat about them was a terrific editing choice. It’s entertaining to watch from start to finish and always leaves me with a smile on my face. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: SORTEDfood Videos

Best of 2019: Relationships

So much of my interest in television (or really any fictional media) is due to the relationships between characters. I want the friendships that steady people and make them better, the sweet love stories, the complicated love stories, and the families (biological or chosen) that form. I want characters and the dynamics between them to matter to the story, to help drive their choices. No one does anything alone and the relationships we form with others matter. That’s the TV I’ll come back to again and again and for all its disappointments on that front, something I managed to find a lot of in the shows I watched and loved.

1. Aziraphale and Crowley (Good Omens) After a spring where two ships I completely adored went in directions that were the exact opposite of what I would have liked (and in ways that didn’t really work with the writing that came before it), Aziraphale and Crowley were a breath of fresh air. The angel and demon who fell in love with humanity and with each other in the process. They managed to combine the best elements of a slow burn romance with a comfort and ease that normally only comes with married couples thanks to the 6000 years they spent knowing each other. I love that Crowley is incapable of giving Aziraphale anything he asks for, whether that is a miracle to make Hamlet a success, a clean jacket, or stopping time so the Antichrist they misplaced can save the day. For someone who shouldn’t be capable of it, he loves Aziraphale so purely and it’s beautiful. On the flip side, you have Aziraphale who is a being of love and he’s terrified of what loving Crowley means. He does, how could he not after everything, but he’s the one who isn’t ready even after all this time. So to watch him be able to take that final step at the end is everything I needed. They got a happy ending and to finally be on their own team and brought me an incredible amount of joy. And if you haven’t seen this fanvid, the scene choices and timing are flawless and make me emotional every time I watch. 

2. Fleabag and Hot Priest (Fleabag) To be seen for everything you are is a powerful thing. To find that person who sees through all your defenses and taps into that vulnerable part of you that’s real and that you’ve kept hidden because you don’t truly believe anyone could love that piece of you is terrifying. Especially for someone like Fleabag who perpetually feels alone and like there is something fundamentally wrong with her and the way she exists in the world. And along comes Hot Priest with his slight awkwardness and fear of foxes and desire to truly know her. Their chemistry is intense and all-consuming and too much to experience alone. We know it can’t last. But wow do we want it to. In less than 3 hours, we get to see and experience every stage of this relationship from meeting to its dissolution and it is one hell of a journey. It’s painful and hopeful and beautiful and tragic all rolled into one. It gave them both something they had been searching for and they’ll both go off changed because of what they shared. It affirmed something in them and they’re better because they loved each other in a way that won’t ever really pass. Not entirely. And that’s what hope looks like. The possibility of a new future, even when it’s not a shared one. 

3. David and Patrick (Schitt’s Creek) These two are a warm hug (or an oversized black sweater). They are solidly together and in love for the whole of this season and it is beautiful. You feel the ease and comfort and casual intimacy that comes from feeling free with another person and I can’t thank Dan enough for intentionally choosing to write them this way. Being in a committed relationship didn’t take away from either character or suddenly make David boring or a different person, it enriched both their lives and hasn’t changed who they are. Patrick is still going to love baseball and hiking more than David and think tax seminars are an important thing to attend and David will have none of it but they will love those things about the other. Patrick’s proposal is absolutely perfect and for him to be in a place where he can be sure and unafraid and David able to accept and trust in that love is beautiful. They’ve both come a long way to get to that point and it has been so incredibly satisfying to watch. 

4. Nadia and Guzman (Elite) These two hit all my narrative kinks. I am a sucker for guys that are kind of terrible but fall in love with strong-minded, incredible ladies who they think are the best thing in the entire world and who want to be better for them. Both of these two were in difficult emotional places this season as Guzman grieved for Mariana (then found out one of his best friend’s killed her) and Nadia felt the increased pressure to be the perfect daughter her dad thinks she is after her brother left home and a sex tape of her made its way around the internet. Neither reacted overly well and attempted to shut out any of their own feelings and everyone else along with them but they also managed a few moments of genuine connection where Nadia was able to admit to both of them how much she wanted this and Guzman continued to be his utterly besotted self and also finally break up with Lu. And those moments were magic. Their chemistry is off-the-charts ridiculous (and it’s really a wonder all of our screens didn’t combust during Nadia’s sex dream) but we also see how good they could be for and with each other if they could find a way to get through everything internal and external holding them back. There is real care and affection between them and I need them together for good by the end of s3. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Relationships

Best of 2019: Miscellaneous Books

My first list of fiction books this year is kind of a grab bag. This is everything that didn’t fit neatly into my two dominant genres – sci fi & fantasy and romance (those lists are coming later in the month) but that I still wanted to talk about in some way. From award-winning short stories and classic novels to YA mysteries, there’s a little for everyone on this list and I hope you find a new book you want to add to your list! What did you love reading this year?

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid This book ticked all the right boxes for me. I loved the memoir-like writing style to tell Evelyn’s story interspersed with Monique’s personal life growth and the introspection that arose as a result of Evelyn’s past. But mostly, I fell in love with the complicated story of Evelyn’s past and the choices she made to have the life she wanted. There was so much more to her life than the snippets of news articles the world saw of her or the characters she played in movies, there was a real person who schemed and wanted and hurt behind every decision she made and its those complications that made her so fascinating. She wasn’t nice by her own admission. She could be cruel and manipulative and hurt the people she cared most about to achieve a very specific end but she also loved deeply and was trapped by a world that only wanted her to be one thing. They wanted the glamour of an actress not the real person behind it, they wanted a white movie star instead of her biracial heritage, she needed to pretend to be straight instead of revealing her bisexuality and that her final act was to proudly declare that she was both and all of it was remarkable. If you loved complicated women making difficult choices, read this book and come cry over it with me. 

2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri This is a stunning collection. It was my first introduction to Lahiri’s writing and I was instantly taken in by the mood and style of these short stories. They were emotionally evocative and made you feel so much for these characters in a small space and to be able to accomplish that so effectively takes an incredible amount of talent. There’s a sense of melancholy as many of these characters look for a bigger world. Circumstances and choice have left them feeling boxed in by expectations or obstacles in their path and there’s a sense of emotional and sometimes physical isolation that runs through these stories that really resonates. The writing is beautiful and the collection as a whole is smartly chosen and flows together to create a cohesive whole. If literary short stories are something you’re even a little interested in, give this book a try. 

3. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel Stories that center around food in some way are likely to work well for me but the particular way that this book blended the recipes with magical realism was perfect. Tita’s connection to food and the way she is able to (quite literally) pour her emotions into her cooking when they become too overwhelming to keep inside was the perfect vehicle to tell this story of her life and forbidden love. I was not actually a fan of Tita and Pedro’s love story and preferred her relationship with John but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the storytelling and the lives of Tita and the rest of her family. The fairytale-like feel combined with the beautiful writing made this something memorable and unique in my reading this year and I’m so glad I picked it up on a whim. 

4. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid A bittersweet love story about two people who see and understand each other in beautiful, profound ways but can’t be together for a variety of reasons is so entirely up my alley and sure enough, I could not get enough of this book and the overwhelming number of feelings it delivered. First of all, emotional pain aside, I really love the format of this as an interview-style retelling of memories. The individual perspectives and how they overlap and differ work perfectly to tell this story of this band and these people. Second, for anyone who has ever shipped a slowburn, doomed ship (or dabbled in any sort of RPF fandom) will see exactly where this is headed and Jenkins Reid completely nails the set up and feelings payoff. These characters all jump off the page and feel like they could have really been a band in the 70s. It has excitedly already been optioned for Amazon as a miniseries and should translate onto screen beautifully. I cannot wait to hear these songs for real and experience the pain all over again. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Miscellaneous Books

Best of 2019: Characters

This is always one of my favorite categories as I get to see the types of characters I was drawn to over the past year. There are usually trends that can be picked out (and that’s certainly still true this year) and it’s a good look back at the arcs that shows were able to pull off particularly well.

Who were your favorite characters this year?

1. Emily Foster (Chicago Fire) Chicago Fire has successfully added a lot of new characters in the past year and a half but none have reinvigorated the show quite as much as Emily. With her arrival, we’re seeing a shift toward celebrating the women on the show and the camaraderie that they’ve made in their very male-dominated profession. We’re seeing what three talented women who support each other and champion each other are capable of tackling together and it’s been wonderful. While that’s a choice the writing team has made, it’s one Emily would be proud to take partial credit for if she were real. She is all about ensuring the ladies in her life are taken care of in the manner that they deserve to be and she wouldn’t hesitate to stand up for them personally or professionally. It was Emily that told Kelly that he needed to step up and be better if he thought he wanted to try to fix his relationship with Stella (or leave her alone if he couldn’t or wouldn’t do that) without prioritizing his feelings or her tone and Emily that recognized Sylvie wasn’t happy and needed to come home and led the charge to bring her back. Her girls are everything to her and we could all use someone in our life who fights for us as much as she does. 

2. Stevie Budd (Schitt’s Creek) It was a really great year to love Stevie. She took changes on herself and let herself be vulnerable, first with Emir and then with Cabaret, and while her romantic relationship didn’t work out the way she might have liked, she was an amazing Sally Bowles and her performance of “Maybe This Time” was nothing short of remarkable. Even more than that, Stevie was so loved. She’s a part of the Rose family now and every single one of them got to had moments where they supported and believed in her in a way that she’s never really had before. Her friendship with David continues to be a highlight of the show and I love that it was her blessing Patrick wanted before the proposal. She may feel like she’s behind or that everyone is moving on in life while she’s standing still but she has come so far and I cannot wait to see what the final season has in store for her. 

 3. Charley Bordelon (Queen Sugar) I cannot believe it’s taken me this long to write about my undying love for Charley. She has been my favorite from the very beginning, even when she is making the worst choices and allowing the privilege she enjoyed from her marriage to Davis blind her from the harm she was doing. She is ruthless and willing to fight for everything she feels she deserves and has always been fascinating and complex. As the seasons have gone by, she’s become a part of the community of St. Jo and fought for its Black farmers with as much ferocity and certainty as she’s fought for herself in the past. This season, she ran for city council to push back at the Landry’s influence on the parish and won, despite accusations that she set her mill on fire and the revelation of past scandals and it was truly glorious to watch. She may not have won the long game yet but she’s undeniably a force to be reckoned with and I will continue to love watching her take people down.

4. Emma Hernandez (Vida) Emma coped with being kicked out of her house as a teenager for being queer by hardening herself so nothing could ever hurt her again. You don’t get second changes in her world and are frankly lucky if you get a first chance. People are there for a purpose and get dismissed when the purpose is completed or they fail to live up to her need for controlled perfection. And that goes doubly for herself. She’s the one with a plan who is going to go in and fix everything and to hell with anyone who gets in the way of that. But when that illusion shatters, when people and life don’t respond as they should, she breaks hard. But by the end of the season, we see her start to let her guard down. She lets Nico in, she apologizes to Baco for treating him terribly, and she gives Lyn some long overdue recognition. She still has things to fix and her own trauma and learned responses to contend with but she’s trying. I want to see what an Emma who is able to accept the vulnerability that comes with relationships and intimacy looks like and until then, will love her just as she is. She’s trying so hard all the time and I love her for it, even when she goes about things in exactly the wrong way. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Characters

Best of 2019: Nonfiction Books

I love nonfiction and seem to read a little more of it each year. I love the new ideas and new perspectives it gives me and the chance to learn about something I may have been less aware of. That said, I definitely have a strong preference for feminist nonfiction as you will see below. It ties into what I loved learning about most in school and getting a variety of opinions and understandings feels critical to me in order to be more comprehensive and inclusive with my own feminism. Not all of these books are recent but many have come out in the past couple years and while some of the topics discussed overlap, there is so much to gain by reading more than one.

As always, I want to hear your thoughts! Do you enjoy nonfiction? What did you read and love this year? What books should I add to my list to read next year?

1. Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly This was so extremely right up my alley and sure enough, I loved it. This book was often rage-inducing to read as it highlights all the ways our anger has traditionally been suppressed but also affirming in its understanding of anger as a tool for change, much like Rebecca Traister’s “Good and Mad” and Brittney Cooper’s “Eloquent Rage” and I strongly recommend that you read all three. This book in particular delves into the sociological forces that influence the expression of women’s anger. There is a lot of discussion of how emotion management (both our own emotions and those of the people around us) is tied to gender roles and the role violation that occurs when women are outwardly angry that is pivotal to understanding how this suppression occurs and how those role violations intersect with other aspects of our identity to create a multifaceted societal response. But it reminds us that our anger has power. Our anger is the reclamation of voices that many would prefer to stay silent and that demands a better world. We can use it as fuel when it is turned outward to push for change and there is strength to be found there, alongside others who have fought, are fighting, and will continue to fight. 

2. Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper In a similar vein to Traister’s “Good and Mad” and Chemaly’s “Rage Becomes Her”, Dr. Cooper reminds us of the virtues of anger and the importance of not settling for what’s been given to us. She writes exclusively about Black female anger and is a much needed voice in this area. The ways in which the anger of Black women is policed differs from the anger of white women and we cannot truly proceed and move forward until we acknowledge that along with the ways white women have been accomplices to this policing. It’s a phenomenal collection of essays that blend the personal and academic to create an incisive and powerful whole that ends in a beautiful benediction that’s stayed with me since reading this early in the year. “May you have joy. May you have gut-busting belly laughter every day. May you ask more and better questions. May your curiosity be unceasing. May your rage be a force for good.”

3. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde How many books, essays, and other internet articles have included Lorde’s quote about anger (“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being.”) in some form? This collection of essays is a classic and for good reason. Lorde’s writing is stunning and powerful as she discusses the way her particular intersections of gender, race, and sexuality have touched her life and how to build a world where we can recognize and celebrate both our similarities and our differences instead of trying to move closer to the idea of a universal experience that can never exist. It’s about sitting with ourselves and our feelings, the good and the bad and learning how to use those feelings and what we can learn from them to create something better. It’s a stunning book that I really can’t recommend enough. 

4. Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom I love books that make me feel challenged to expand my thinking and that’s exactly what this essay collection did for me. It pushed me to think deeper about socioeconomic status and how capitalism works with and exploits existing hierarchies of race and gender. It unapologetically centers black women in its analysis and asks its readers to consider all the ways we and society have failed to do the same. It is an incredibly strong collection that introduced me to a writer I had been missing out on and I’m excited to dive into her other work. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Nonfiction Books

Best of 2019: Actors

Welcome to the kickoff of my Best of 2019 month! I have 10 posts planned for the month covering my favorites in the world of television and books and a bonus post about my favorite YouTube channel, so I hope you’ll stick around and share your own favorites with me. In addition, be sure to keep an eye on MGCircles and Nerdy Girl Notes for their own end of the year content and enjoy all the enthusiasm that comes from people sharing the things that most resonated with them.

As always, these lists are less about crafting an objective list on the best/highest quality things of the year and more about reflecting who I was in 2019 though the things I love. So let’s get started with a list of the actors and actresses who gave standout performances to me this year!

1. Michelle Williams (Fosse/Verdon) For eight episodes, Michelle Williams was Gwen Verdon. She so fully inhabited the role and brought a woman who was a powerhouse of talent to the forefront of the relationship that defined her life. You can see the passion and love that went into this role and how Williams, along with the writing team, wanted to do right by Verdon. She is complicated and feels so deeply and conveys so much by small gestures and facial expressions. She nailed the dancing and the singing despite neither being her main skill and the end result was brilliant. We understood who Gwen Verdon was and the choices she made in her life because of the time and energy that Williams put in. I knew nothing about her going into this show but I feel like I do now, not just on stage but in her personal life as well. That’s not easy to do, to make sure a real person maintains all the nuance and history and complexity without becoming a symbol of something greater. But she did and it was truly spectacular to watch. 

2. Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) I could never have chosen a better actress to play Brienne of Tarth. The amount of love and effort that Christie put into the role gave Brienne the complexity that I suspect the scripts were lacking but that the story needed. Her ability to have full conversations with just her facial expressions alone is remarkable and all of that was on full display in the final season. From her initial defense of Jaime to Daenerys and the way we get to see her physically draw herself up and ready herself to speak to her queen on behalf of someone who had caused a lot of harm to the Targaryean family to the combination of hope and honor that blooms across her face during the knighting, all of Brienne’s emotions are right on the surface and that’s a perfect character choice. She never learned to bury her feelings and deny them to even herself. It makes her very bad at the politics of Westeros but it’s what allows her sense of goodness and honor to shine through. It’s also what made her choice to cry as Jaime left and seemed to confirm her worst fears about him so good. It was talked about and picked over so much but it rang true to me and I don’t think the woman who had to go for a walk because she was so upset about this choice for Brienne was going to do anything further that felt wrong for her. She let her guard down and was disappointed in the worst way and that needed to be written all over her face and body language. We felt it and Nikolaj felt it and it was a choice that felt like it was coming from a deep place of understanding and grief rather than one made as a reductive act for the character. Christie was consistently brilliant throughout this season and I was so thrilled to see her get the recognition she deserved, even if it didn’t come in the form of an Emmy. 

3. Aya Cash (You’re the Worst) My undying love for You’re the Worst has been discussed at length over the past few years and so much of that has to do with what Aya Cash has done with Gretchen. Gretchen is kind of the worst. She can be mean and self-destructive in a very real way and then instantly drop all of those defense mechanisms and show the very scared and damaged person underneath that is never sure in her self or that the people she loves feel the same way about her. So much of her character is a persona and if it stayed up, it probably would still be an entertaining, if more frustrating, show to watch. But Cash continually shows a deeper side to her that rips my heart out every single time and this final season was no exception. Any time Gretchen’s depression or fear or self-loathing got the best of her, you felt it and you hurt for her. Even at her worst, you love her because we’re given the chance to truly see her and that’s all due to what Cash has brought to the role. 

4. Todd Grinnell (One Day at a Time) Between finding a girlfriend, seeing his father again, and relapsing, it was a tumultuous season for Schneider and Grinnell stepped up to the challenge beautifully. He’s been a steady touchpoint of the show, simultaneously a source of humor and heart, but this season expanded on the character and gave him the opportunity to show us how much he’s capable of. Everything about the relapse arc broke my heart and I love that he was both given the opportunity to share his own history with addiction and brave enough to include so much of it in the role. I imagine it can’t be easy to get yourself back into that headspace and to occupy it with the compassion the show is known for. He’s vulnerable and hurting and that comes through even when he’s being defensive and lashing out to protect his addiction. He is terrific as a comedic actor but his dramatic skills can’t be overlooked and I hope to continue a little bit of that in s4. Also, as much as I love the idea Penelope and Schneider romantically on the show, you cannot deny how completely adorable he is with real-life wife India de Beaufort as his onscreen girlfriend. There’s a beautiful ease and lightness that he brings to all of their scenes together along with a truly excellent set of heart eyes. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Actors

October 2019 Recommendations

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Show Title: All Rise

Episodes: 6 (at time of writing)

Where to Watch: CBS All Access

It’s been a long time since I started and stuck with a CBS drama but this one immediately captured me and became my favorite new show of the fall season. Probably my favorite fall show of the past few seasons, if I’m honest. It feels more like an ABC drama in some vague, undefined way with its emphasis on character development and their relationships with each other and less focus on the case itself and that’s absolutely for the better. The cases are designed to tell you something new about these characters and what they stand for, while being interesting in their own right. The choice to center the show around a judge and not a lawyer provides more flexibility in what they’re able to cover and means justice doesn’t have to look like a guilty/not-guilty verdict. But mostly, it’s all about the characters. I love that the majority of the show revolves around people of color and that there are so many women who not only respect each other professionally but champion each other in their personal lives. I love everything this show has done so far and I need it to continue for many more seasons, so if anything I’ve just said sounds appealing, please go watch this show! 

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Book Title: All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages

Author: Saundra Mitchell (editor) – anthology w/various authors

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

This anthology is packed full of incredible stories by many popular YA authors. I love the idea of a book designed to show that queer people have always existed even if our terminology has changed throughout time, especially one aimed at teenagers. It does skew very American and European and seeing something that takes place in 1999 in a historical fiction collection makes me feel ancient. However, as a whole, it’s a very strong collection and I really enjoyed the majority of these stories. Some particular highlights for me were “Roja” by Anna-Marie McLemore, which is exactly as beautiful and lyrically written as everything else she writes and starts the anthology on an extremely high note. “Burnt Umber” by Mackenzi Lee was very cute with a similar style to “Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue”, “Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake was a new take on Robin Hood that I adored, and “Three Witches” by Tessa Gratton was beautifully emotionally evocative. It was a great blend of known and unknown authors to me and one of the stronger anthologies I’ve encountered recently. 

September 2019 Recommendations

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Show Title: What We Do In The Shadows

Episodes: 10

Where to Watch: Hulu

The Halloween season has been well underway for a month already but as we head into October and our interest in all things supernatural grows, it is an excellent time to watch this wonderfully ridiculous show about vampires. I haven’t seen the movie (an oversight that needs correcting) but even without that prior connection, this show was a lot of fun. It has a delightfully weird sense of humor that is more than a little absurd and I absolutely recommend it alongside any other Halloween viewing you choose next month. 

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Book Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Contemporary

I couldn’t put this book down. The majority is set in the past and told memoir-style and it was the perfect stylistic choice. We get to experience the Evelyn the world saw through news snippets as well as Evelyn in her own words and all of the smart manipulation of the former that Evelyn used to survive an industry that asked her to deny large pieces of herself. I love a story about complicated women who know exactly what the world thinks of them and plays that to their own advantage. I love that through the release of her story, the world would finally get to see a woman who tried to cram herself into the various boxes Hollywood wanted to put her in only to find the most happiness when she broke free and lived her life on her own terms. There’s a melancholy to it as she reflects back on her life and what could have been different if she made different choices but there’s also a defiance as she insists on people’s ability to be more than one thing. Despite the narratives that Hollywood (and the rest of the world) wants to push, we  don’t fit in easy narratives and the truth of a person is often more complicated and deeper than the flattened version we present to all but those closest to us. I also love the impact that Evelyn’s story had on Monique, her biographer. There are some people who change our stories and the direction our life will take and Evelyn was one of those people to Monique and that portion of the story is equally as compelling. Other people sharing their stories gives us the freedom to be more open and contemplative with our own and that was captured really beautifully. This is easily one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year and I desperately need more people to talk about it with. 

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Book Title: The Unkindest Tide

Author: Seanan McGuire

Genre: Urban Fantasy

This is less a recommendation for this specific book and more a recommendation for the series as a whole (just in case I haven’t talked about my undying love for Seanan as an author enough this year). This is one of those books that came at exactly the right time. I love what Seanan is building as far as a long-term plot and overall world is concerned, things are revealed smartly and are seeded very skillfully throughout the previous books so that rereads are extremely rewarding and cause you pain when sentences suddenly take on more meaning. But most of all, I love the story Seanan is telling. It’s a story about hope and growth and healing from trauma. Each of these characters has been through a lot and will continue to go through a lot so long as they are anywhere near Toby and her job as Hero. But they aren’t alone and they don’t have to survive on their own. They are a family and family fights for each other even when someone can’t quite fight for themselves yet. Tragedy isn’t the end of the story and hope remains. That’s never been more clear than in this book, which made me cry multiple times in a very cathartic way. I didn’t think anyone could nudge Georgia out of her spot as favorite Seanan-created character but I think Toby has managed it by insisting the world be less unkind as her soon-to-be husband phased it. That’s a story I want to hear and I’ve never been happier I started this journey.