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Book Review

Spring by Ali Smith

Publisher: Anchor
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

The short synopsis of Spring describes spring (whether the book or the season) as “the great connective” and as such the novel brings together the lives of three unlikely people: a grieving director, an immigration custody officer, and a young schoolgirl. As the story is told through each of their perspectives the reader is introduced to the intricacies of their lives and the presence of today’s most pressing challenges. As their lives intersect the reader is exposed to the impact of these challenges on not just individuals but a nation.

Thoughts

Ali Smith’s novel Spring is the third book in a four-part seasonal series with three other novels titled Autumn, Winter, and Summer. The series explores a post-Brexit United Kingdom and highlights some of the most pressing, controversial, and painful realities of the nation through their characters. I studied abroad during the Spring 2022 semester and while at a bookstore I picked up Smith’s Spring. I have yet to read the other novels in Smith’s series, but even without this reference I was frozen with interest and continuously taken aback with emotion while reading the novel. While seemingly simple in plot and fast to read, it is a novel you will want to read multiple times given the depth of the story. The narrative is similar to stream-of-consciousness mixed with poetry and in conjunction with the plot, the story struck me like a force. The narrative requires more from the reader, acting almost as a puzzle that boldens the hidden context in our everyday lives to the turmoil and complex socio-political landscape. As well, the gradual reveal of the plot allows the reader to assume the role of the characters as they, too, approach their journey blindly. 

Spring focuses on immigration in the United Kingdom and while I lack the personal connection to the geographic and political context I found it a useful tool to begin understanding the current political climate in the United Kingdom. This was not just demonstrated with the physical aspects of the plot – one character’s attempted suicide, the viewpoints and decisions of the immigration officer, and the efforts of a young child to reach her mother – but also the subtext of the characters actions. I also found a lot of the commentary similar to discussions within the United States which proved revealing to the nature of social and political narratives today. Smith’s Spring is daring and tragic and truthful and it is a statement and looking-glass into not just the United Kingdom’s current state of the nation but can draw parallels to the current state of the world.

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Book Review

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Publisher: Viking
Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Nora doesn’t want to live. It’s not complicated: she has experienced enough to know that her life has been a complete and utter waste. Thinking upon all her mistakes, the decisions she made and the ones she didn’t, she knows there is nothing left for her in the world. When she finally acts on this knowing, however, she didn’t expect to end up in a library. 

The Midnight Library is a place that can show her every regret, but also every possibility and it is up to Nora to decide whether she wants to say – in her life or another.

Thoughts

I think the question of “what if ______?” is universal because despite all wanting to live without regrets or making peace with the unknown details of the future we allow such an intrusive question to linger with every decision. Despite hours of wondering and regretting every decision we’ve ever made there is rarely an answer and while Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library doesn’t offer a strict answer, it does explore the depths of this question and reveals the amazing possibilities we have in our choices and our decisions. Nora is incredibly cynical and straight forward to the point of comedy and there is no doubt that she wants to die. While this blunt self-hatred can be offsetting it is layered with laughter and warmth and humor which makes it relatable and revealing to the reader. I found myself laughing as Haig illustrated the undeniable truth that our own expectations and perceptions of life do not align with those of reality. It is a sarcastic story but full of truth when Nora goes through every major possible alternative life and realizes that it is not the differences in choices which decide her happiness but her perception of them. Every life she visited proved disappointing and the idea of happiness – of fame or wealth or marriage – came with its own disappointments. A sunny life in Australia had hidden depth and a life of fame proved unstable. The Midnight Library was a book that made me laugh and cry and think; it was straight-forward but also heart-warming and was universally relatable. I haven’t read a book that so easily changed my perspective without the messy connotations of allegories or metaphors. Matt Haig presents a direct look at life and our perception of happiness, choices, and possibility and it is a book I would strongly recommend to anyone who has ever thought “what if _______”.

5 Summer Book-to-Screen Adaptations

Where the Crawdads SingComing to theaters in July 2022, the movie adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing is directed by Olivia Newman and starring Daisy Edger-Jones. The novel, written by Delia Owens, is a coming of age thriller set in the fishing village of Barkley Cove. A young girl named, Kya, lives alone in the nearby marsh until one day a local boy is found dead. Locals suspect the “Marsh Girl ” is guilty, but soon she becomes dangerously entangled in the world she’s always lived apart from.

The Summer I Turned Pretty Young Adult writer Jenny Han’s novel comes to life as a new Amazon Prime series premiering in June 2022. Both the book and adapted television series is a perfect summer binge for romance fans. The first book of a trilogy, The Summer I turned Pretty is about the complicated love triangle between Isabel Conklin and her two long time family friends. If you enjoyed the Netflix adaptation of Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy this is sure to be a can’t miss!

The Time Traveler’s Wife Written by Audrey Niffenegger and previously adapted into a movie in 2009 starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, the story follows Henry DeTamble and Clare Anne Abshire as they navigate the complexities of love amidst Henry’s rare genetic disorder that causes him to spontaneously and involuntarily time travel. The book, originally published in 2003 is now being adapted to a HBO series released in May 2022. The series stars Theo James and Rose Leslie as the leads and is sure to tug at the heart.

Pachinko Released as a series on Apple TV+ in March 2022, Pachinko was originally written by Min Jin Lee and published in 2017. The novel follows the lives and experiences of a Korean family who immigrated to Japan. The adaptation is directed by Kogonada and Justin Chon and stars Youn Yuh-jung, Lee Min-ho, Jin Ha, Anna Sawai, Minha Kim, Soji Arai, and Kaho Minami.

Heartstopper Directed by Euros Lyn and starring Kit Conner and Joe Locke, this Netflix series dropped season one in April 2022. Based on the novel by Alice Oseman with the same name, the story follows two young boys, Charlie and Nick, as they navigate the complexities of young love and the deepening of their friendship into something more.

Book Review

55 Slightly Sinister Stories

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 119
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Racha Mourtada’s 55 Slightly Sinister Stories is touted as “55 Stories. 55 Words Each. No More. No Less.” leaving the reader as to no doubt what they are getting.

Mourtada’s author’s note reveals that book was born of a New Year’s resolution to write one 55 word story each day…which lasted until May 5th (clever girl!)

This quirky little book also features illustrations by Lynn Atme, and each story occupies two pages.

Thoughts

In honor of the sheer discipline it takes to create a complete story in just 55 words (I have been working on my own set of 101 word stories for quite some time) I have decided to give Racha Mourtada’s 55 Slightly Sinister Stories a 55 word review.

An eclectic grouping of romance, death, heartbreak, and even the woes of that all-important first line of a story, Mourtada presents readers with this fun collection. It’s satisfying to be able to complete two or three stories in the time it takes to read the first page of a novel, and the illustrations are delightful.

It’s not as easy it sounds!

4 Unfinished Series So Good You Won’t Mind The Wait

I know what you’re thinking, why not wait until all the books are out? Well, my counter is: where’s the fun in that? Don’t you want that feeling of anticipation when the day of your favorite series’ next book finally comes? You head to the bookstore and see it front and center in a towering display of joy and satisfaction. You purchase it because one of the thrills of being a bookworm is, in fact, purchasing more books than you have room for. Then you go home and spend the next couple of hours reading the book you’ve been waiting for all your life. Here are four unfinished series with sequels coming soon that have the potential to become that book.


American Royals—Katharine McGee. I did not expect to love this as much as I did and now it’s one of my favorite books. I finished the first one in a couple of hours and headed straight back to buy the second. I thought this was a duology and almost cried when I found out there was going to be a third one. I need more of this story! The third book, Rivals, is expected May 31st. A short wait for such a high reward. (Preorder here.)


The Inheritance Games—Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Puzzles. Romance. Danger. I bought this on a whim without seeing if it was a completed series or not. It wasn’t, unfortunately, and now I find myself in the position of having to wait until August 30th to find out what happens next in The Final Gambit. So many twists and turns. So many questions left unanswered. (Preorder here.)


Once Upon a Broken Heart—Stephanie Garber. I thought this was a standalone spinoff to the completed series Caraval. It turns out it just continues the story of Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, and a new character Evangeline Fox. It’s full of fantasy and romance. You will want to read all of the books by Stephanie Garber. The expected publication is September 13th so there’s plenty of time to read Caraval and Once Upon a Broken Heart. (Preorder here.)


Gilded—Marissa Meyer. Perhaps the longest wait on the list, but it’s Marissa Meyer. I would wait an eternity for one of her novellas. Cursed is expected November 8th and I will be waiting outside the bookstore for this one. Gilded is a haunting retelling of Rumplestiltskin. Follow Serilda and her magical stories as she discovers an ancient curse.

Book Review

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Publisher: Quirk Books
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 424
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 3/5 stars

Summary

Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires has a title that doesn’t leave much to the imagination. It is what it says it is! Set in the 1980s and 1990s Patricia—doctor’s wife, mother to two teenagers, and caregiver to her mother-in-law—is bored to tears with her country-club and pearls lifestyle. Her book club, which should be somewhat of an escape, is just more of the same…rich women posturing by reading pretentious books that they only skim through at best. 

But things get kicked up a notch when some of the ladies defect, and begin their own true crime gathering. Immersed in the world of serial killers, Patricia feels like she may have found a little excitement. That is until a stranger moves into town, some kids go missing, and Patricia and her Southern book club sleuths find themselves facing something a lot more sinister than Dahmer or Bundy. 

Thoughts

I wanted to love this, but ended up just liking it. The title grabbed me right away, and immediately I was thinking Blanche Dubois or any of the Sugarbaker ladies from Designing Women (look it up) or Steel Magnolias with a stake in one hand, and a Mint Julep in the other ready to “y’all” the bloodsucker back to hell where he belonged.

No such luck. While the premise is fabulous, and there were some chuckle-aloud moments, I wanted more camp. I was hoping for more comedy with my horror—but it was less comedy, more drama, and mystery. Hendrix spends some time on Patricia’s feelings of isolation and abandonment when the book club isn’t really feeling up to the detective work she is so eager to engage in. I have to wonder if that was his commentary on how women who may be a little longer in the tooth (get it?) seem to get cast aside if they don’t fit a certain mold, or want just a little more than what they have been given. From their initial defection, I got a little female empowerment at times from this crew of Van Helsings.

Hendrix does turn a few vampire legends upside down (I won’t spoil them here) but they aren’t anything I rebelled against. No one glittered or procreated. Thank goodness. In fact, I rather enjoyed the method in which you have to destroy this particular vampire’s kind. Some reviewers of the book complained about the level of gore (high), but that didn’t bother me in the slightest. Rats eating flesh, people eating flesh. Isn’t that what vampire novels are supposed to include? 

There are a couple elements that Hendrix slays (pun intended) beautifully. He has the art of suspense down. Even though it’s been done numerous times, there is a particular scene where Patricia is in the vampire’s house, and there’s that feeling of will-she-get-caught-or-won’t-she that is well-handled and anxiety inducing. The other element that really worked for me is Hendrix’s atmosphere-building in this novel. You can just feel the Charleston humidity rising up from the pages, and see the Spanish moss dripping from those thick trunked trees. Ah…I could use that Mint Julep right about now. 

If you like a good amount of gore and a few laughs mixed in with a heaping helping of drama, you’ll like this novel. For me, it was enough to generate some interest in Grady Hendrix’s other work, so stay tuned. 

Sensational She-Hulk, an Interview

It is truly rare when a story enters your life that changes the way you approach storytelling as a whole. As a fan of Byrne’s, I knew about his run on Sensational She-Hulk, but didn’t give it much thought until one dreaded night—overcome with boredom—when the book just called to me. It was truly—hang on, this is embarrassing. Do you hear that noise? Sounds like it’s coming from—

All right, hold your applause!

Take a look at how I can move between comic panels– truly Sensational, if I say so myself! -She-Hulk

She-Hulk?! For the love of—I knew something was up when I saw I was in italics! How’d you get in here?

We only have 800 words in this article, and you want to write about THAT?

Ah, right, I get it. When you were relaunched, Byrne wrote your series with the unique twist that you were aware you were in a comic book. But Shulkie, this isn’t a comic book! Why are you here?

To give you an exclusive interview, of course! It’s been a while since someone has talked about my Byrne days. You really should be reading something a bit more…contemporary.

W-Well… I’m flattered! But quite frankly, this was supposed to be an article, not an interview. I don’t… really know where to begin. Also, what’s wrong with the classics? The late ’80s/early ’90s were a great time.

Ouch. I’m still young, you know. Don’t call me “classic”.

Oh, right. You don’t age as long as you’re in print. How has that been going for you?

Well, after I killed Byrne—

HANG ON! You can’t just SPOIL the last issue of Byrne’s run in my article talking about Byrne’s run! What about the people who want to read it? And HEY! GET THAT PAGE SCAN OUT OF HERE!

Michael can’t stop me from putting up this page scan, he doesn’t have editor access! -She-Hulk

Do people really want to read the things you’re writing about? Looking at your analytics…

W-Whoa! Come on now, you can’t just look at a man’s analytics…!

Y’know, now that I think about it, I don’t even know why I agreed to this interview at all. You’re barely even qualified to call yourself a writer. 

Hang on a sec—

And you own an entire longbox worth of my comics? I mean, talk about obsessed…

HEY! First of all, that’s PERSONAL. BUSINESS. What I read is sacred! Second of all, of course I have a bunch of your comics: I’m writing this article about you, after all! Third, I NEVER WANTED TO INTERVIEW YOU. You just popped in with your bold font and took over my article! You spoiled the ending to Byrne’s run and you insulted me for being a loyal fan! That hurts, Jen.

Don’t call me Jen!

But that’s your name! You’re Jennifer Walters—you were a regular old lawyer until a car hit you and your cousin Bruce Banner gave you a blood transfusion. Everyone knows that.

You don’t just expose a girl’s entire tragic backstory after calling her by her former pet-name. 

Oh right, sorry. I forgot that you and Wyatt Wingfoot—your boyfriend in Byrne’s run—haven’t really been…a thing recently. Your relationship history as of late has been interesting. Speaking of relationships, how are you and Byrne doing?

Well, killing him didn’t stick. Something to do with him being a Life Model Decoy. Typical. So we mutually agreed to part ways. 

I’m sorry to hear that. I really enjoyed what you two managed to do together.

Nothing good ever lasts.

Like your good characterization.

And besides, he’s a bit of a jerk from what I’ve heard. It’s a good thing for my brand to distance itself from…wait. What do you mean by my “good characterization?”

Well, you haven’t been breaking the fourth wall recently for starters. We’ve missed the Snarky She-Hulk! You were breaking the fourth wall before Dead-

-before Deadpool. Right. You and everyone who’s ever read a cheap clickbait comic book news article says that. Well you know what? A girl just wanted to have fun. Is that too much to ask?! I’ve been stuck in Jason Aaron’s Avengers book for YEARS, and I knew that he didn’t really get me. He took away my smarts, my looks, my legacy. All because he wanted Hulk in his comic. But what could I do? Marvel Editorial no longer took my calls, and I’m not even sure if they even exist anymore. The Comics Code Authority has long since been abandoned, so I couldn’t complain to THEM about MY IMAGE being RUINED. 

Shulkie, the Comics Code Authority wasn’t established for-

LET ME FINISH! Then I come to find that Byrne is neck-deep in controversy, so I can’t even go back to him. Peter David’s busy writing for Cousin Bruce, so I can’t work with HIM anymore. Sure, being in Dan Slott’s recent Fantastic Four book was fine and all, but I wouldn’t call that book anything special. I haven’t been…me for a while. They haven’t…Marvel hasn’t let me be…me. So I just…went into autopilot. Put on a smile…

Are you…are you okay She-Hulk? …do you want a hug?

Ugh…what? No…It’s…It’s fine. I’m fine. I just, I just need a minute. Let’s not lose the readers, you go on talking about me.

Okay…if you say so. We are a bit short on words so I’ll make this quick: Byrne’s She-Hulk was so good that it built the foundation for what would be many more years of brilliant She-Hulk stories. The run brought in an amazing amount of female readers, old and new. It was a pretty great comedy comic for its time, and it’s now considered a fan favorite. Jennifer Walters—She-Hulk—is more than just a female version of Hulk. She’s one of comics’ feminist icons, going so far as to-

F-feminist icon?

Well, yeah! You fought against Byrne’s odd obsession to sexualize you, and with Weezi’s help, you gave yourself a good life.

Can I really be a feminist icon in comics when the internet keeps showing out-of-context pictures of the…“jump rope issue?”

Ah… the jump rope issue. Where you told readers of Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk that you’d jump rope naked if that’s what it took to get sales. To be fair, you started that. But you also ended it. You were poking fun at how comics were using sex appeal to sell issues at the time, I thought it was a pretty clever stunt. That sounds like feminism in comics to me. You did that a lot in Byrne’s run, and you continued to do that with other writers.

Huh…I never thought about it like that before. I was just being…y’know, me. 

Like Daisy Miller?

Like Daisy Miller!

Except you’re a much more intelligent, deliberate Daisy Miller who knows that promiscuity makes men uncomfortable. You just…own who you are. It’s inspiring. Truly. And I’m excited for your show.

Oh that’s right—I have a show coming out! Well if your readers like my old “feminist” Byrne comic then they’d love to check out my show! I didn’t even think to talk about that…

Well, we can’t. We’re way over my word-limit for this article.

Oh…I didn’t even realize.

Eh, neither did the readers. Unless they’ve been counting every word. That would be…obsessive.

Said the pot to the kettle.

Ouch! Alright She-Hulk, this has been a pleasure, but I think I’ll call the interview off here. This has truly been a dream of mine, and I’m glad my readers have had a chance to get to know the real you. 

And they can continue to get to know the real me by watching my upcoming Disney+ show and reading my new She-Hulk series—written by Rainbow Rowell—coming to your local comic shop this January, 2022! 

Alright alright, I’m not getting paid for any of these endorsements. Get out of here!

Phew…she’s gone. Oh…hey! The italics are gone too! I’m free! I’m…lonely…Well, at least I have you, my loyal readers! Right?

Oh.

6 Books I’d Love to See as Television Series

It is not often that I find myself thinking “I’d like to see that on the screen!” Most of the books I have read fit into three categories: so good that the film would mess it up; so important that transforming into film would be unethical; or so terrible that no money, time, or effort should be wasted on this story. Occasionally, however, a story takes on a unique, colorful, and euphoric sort of life in my mind and I quickly fall into the belief that creating this visual experience in film would be a thing of cathartic beauty which would leave viewers breathless—and in this breathlessness, they would examine their own lives and improve upon them. That might be a bit idealistic, so, at the very least, I am talking about my own self-improvement. The following six books are the handful that I would watch as a television series in a heartbeat.


Cemetery Boys—Aiden Thomas. Cemetery Boys follows Yadriel, a young transgender boy born into a Latinx family of the brujx community in East Los Angeles. Brujx is the all-encompassing word for a community of brujos and brujas, which is a Spanish word generally translated as a sorcerer. When young brujos and brujas in the community come of age, they perform a ritual to gain their powers, which differentiate based upon gender. Yadriel, who was assigned the biological sex of female at birth, wants to prove that he is actually a young man by performing this ritual. After this, Yadriel goes to find the ghost that murdered his cousin, but in the process, he accidentally summons the spirit of Julian Diaz, one of his classmates. As the novel unfolds, the characters work to solve a mystery, an adorable love story takes place, and we grapple with the question of what a family truly is. 

This entire book is set to the backdrop of magic and colorful imagery, which I imagine people in the film industry would trip over to create. There are far too many neutral tones and darkness in television, but this book would take something that could be darkly lit and place pops of color and life everywhere. Besides that fact that it would be visually appealing, this book has LGBTQ+ representation written literally everywhere. It isn’t the kind of story that awkwardly sticks a gay best friend in the corner as an afterthought. The author of Cemetery Boys and all of the main characters are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, so the audience is made aware of real issues that far too many of them face, including homelessness and rejection by their family. What I especially love about this book, however, isn’t simply that the author raises these issues, but that they show a possible world where they find people who love them and those who were previously opposed grow to become accepting. This is the kind of sweet magic we should be putting on our screens.


Girls Save the World in This One—Ash Parsons. June has been obsessed with zombie films her whole life, especially a zombie apocalypse show called Human Wasteland and its dreamy lead character. When she and her two best friends head to ZombieCon to meet him and other prominent actors from zombie-themed films, she is ecstatic. When they arrive, however, some of the fans are acting a bit off. Before they know it, chaos breaks out and June discovers that it’s because real zombies are taking over ZombieCon. June must do everything she can to save her and her friends from the zombies, relying on the skills she has learned as such an avid fan. Along the way, she meets the star of Human Wasteland, and she learns what it means to be a leader in an unlikely situation. 

This is exactly the kind of hilarious, light nonsense I would love to see as a limited series. None of that Marvel-women-coming-together-in-one-scene-as-a-forced-show-of-feminism nonsense. The prospect of this show is giving off the vibes of Netflix’s new show “The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window”. It’s the perfect satire of those popular zombie shows, while also being powerful, sweet, and relatable (at least in the sense that an avid fan has wished for something like this to actually happen).


Macbeth—William Shakespeare. This play follows the titular character Macbeth on his quest to amass more power and take over as Scotland’s ruler. Persuaded by his wife, Lady Macbeth—and his own ambition—he sets out to obtain this position by any means necessary. Interwoven into the story are themes of love, murder, prophecy, and paranoia, as well as questions about proper gender dynamics, what it takes to be a good leader, why we seek power, and how we should seek power. 

Like many other Shakespeare plays, Macbeth has made it to the big screen many times, the most recent being at the end of 2021 with Denzel Washington playing Macbeth. Call me critical or filled with hubris, but I believe that we should give Macbeth more than a two hour movie. At the very least, it deserves to be a limited series so that we can properly explore the intricacies of this play. There is so much to unpack, and I haven’t seen a single rendition that fully encompasses this story. They’re either lacking the philosophical questions Shakespeare poses about how power corrupts and how a good ruler is made, or they play too far into modern notions of entertainment: blood, drama, sex, and violence (which is ironic because that is exactly what Macbeth covers in the play). Macbeth shouldn’t simply serve as entertainment. It should shock people so deeply that they begin to understand how malleable human nature is and undertake a strengthening of their own character. 


Ash Princess—Laura Sebastian. Ash Princess, which is now a finished trilogy, follows Theodosia, a young woman whose country was taken over when she was a child. She is forced to live among her captors, enduring abuse and ridicule. That is, until a series of events forces her to choose between continuing this life and fighting to regain her and her country’s freedom. This story raises themes of imperialism, colonization, and slavery. In typical Young Adult Fantasy fashion, these characters have powers, Theodosia herself having her own unique force. 

I thought the book series was excellent, but I did think there could have been more detailed storylines. In my vision of a television series adaptation, this story would not stay so much in the Young Adult genre. It would expand on the effects of colonization, and Theodosia would be less whiny. The books spend far too much time on her love triangle, and they don’t adequately show the strength that someone in her position and making those choices would require. In at least five seasons, I can see this story being the next Game of Thrones. 


Second First Impressions—Sally Thorne. Ruthie Midona likes to play it safe. She has a stable job, and her appearance is an absolute paradox—she is a young woman, but she dresses as if she were an elderly lady. Moreover, she works at a retirement villa called Providence. When Teddy Prescott enters her life, he is everything she is not: a motorcycle-riding, tattooed young man who has trouble committing to much of anything. He is everything she wants, though. When Teddy’s father, the owner of Providence, has him live on site with Ruthie and the other residents, Ruthie tries her best to avoid falling in love with him. He’ll be gone soon enough anyway. However, Teddy’s charm and persistence makes her efforts impossible. Every single character, not just Ruthie and Teddy, has a unique and quirky personality that everyone is sure to enjoy. 

When I imagine the setting of this novel, it brings me great peace. In my mind, the cottages of Providence are sporadically placed amid a giant garden-like plot of land. A staple of the novel is also the tiny, endangered turtles that wander around the grounds. This beautiful setting, as well as the eccentric characters that fill the novel, would create a fabulous limited series of absolute hilarity and romance. 


We Were Liars—E. Lockhart. This book follows Cadence, a member of the wealthy Sinclair family who spends their summer vacations on a private island with large estates, one for each little family. When Cadence is fifteen, she suffers a head injury, but doesn’t quite know how this happened to her. Over the next few years, she receives little communication from her two cousins and friend, who she normally spends the summers with. When she finally returns to the island, everyone seems a bit off, and she is pushed to uncover what actually happened to her when she was fifteen. This novel is filled with mystery and frustration over unnecessary wealth and class differences. In a shocking twist at the end (one that had me screaming in my car because I was listening to the audiobook), we are forced to think about how our actions can have severe consequences, even when they begin from someplace righteous. 

This would make an excellent limited series. It’s energetic, exciting, and traumatizing. The setting of a private island during summer would give us so many beautiful scenes. Most of all, I want to see this on the screen because it calls attention to wealth and class disparities, how money can corrupt our personalities, and how it can misguide even the best of our intentions. This is the kind of story humanity needs in order to see the true effect of our actions and become more conscious of our choices. 

My One Year Anniversary on Bookstagram

Bookstagram (n.)—a place people can go to geek out about their favorite books and not be judged.

After looking in like a kid outside a candy store on a world with perfectly crafted feeds of flat lays, stacks, and bookshelves, with aesthetics ranging from minimalist to dark academia, I decided that I wanted access to all the behind the scenes happenings of this magical world. 

I am so glad I did.

I posted my first photo of a heavily filtered Circe by Madeline Miller thrown on my wrinkled bedsheet on December 30, 2020, and still got about twenty-seven comments welcoming me to bookstagram. A little over a year, I now have 500 friends who are as crazy about reading as I am. 

Where else could I post a million cast pictures of Shadow and Bone and talk about Dramione fanfic and not get blocked? The same place where I once got a birthday letter from a character in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas from a fellow bookstagrammer.

I’ve had conversations with people in my same book fandoms who obsess just as much as me, posted amateur photos that I’m still so proud of because they showcase my lovely books, and gotten to know so many people with amazing book recommendations and even more amazing feeds. I’m telling you I could scroll through book flat lays for hours. Another benefit to bookstagram is that you can post your reading progress throughout the year. It’s helped me stay accountable for my reading goal. There is so much support and likeness to bookstagram that it’s impossible not to feel at home.

Now, you might be reading this thinking, “Wow, what a nerd!” But, if you love reading as much as I do and want to join a community where all reading is accepted, I encourage you to make an account and post a crappy photo of your favorite book. You’ll be surprised how many people welcome you.

And if Instagram isn’t for you, there is also Booktok and Booktwt. How awesome is that by the way? Bookish people are the best.

Book Review

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Frida is a sleep-deprived single mom trying desperately to juggle the requirements of work and the needs of her toddler Harriet. On one very bad day she leaves Harriet home alone, just for a little bit, so she can get a coffee and a report from the office. She admits this wasn’t a good idea, but when you’re sleep deprived you do stupid things, and it wasn’t for long. But one bad day is enough to earn her the state’s attention.

The judge offers an ultimatum: lose custody of your child or attend a year-long residential program using the latest scientific techniques to turn bad mothers into sparkling specimens of devotion.

If Frida wants to see Harriet again, she must first prove herself at the school for good mothers.

Thoughts

In Good Mothers, the protagonist of a slice-of-life literary novel finds herself trapped in a bureaucratic panopticon written in the style of Philip K. Dick. The science fictional elements of the story introduce themselves slowly. By the time the android children programmed to feel pain and love in order to be better training tools show up, Frida is too numb to react with much surprise.

I have never before read a book which conveys in such clarity the feeling of living within the self-perpetuating logic of the carceral state.

The American justice system operates on the premise that crime is a failing of the individual whose proper antidote is punishment of the individual for their moral failing (denying systemic problems and those based on material conditions). Criminals are only eligible to re-enter society as citizens when they have “paid for their crimes” and undergone some sort of personal rehabilitation. This insidious reasoning has becomes so endemic in our society that many Americans would define justice as synonymous with punishment for crime.

So when single, working mother Frida fails to meet the exacting standards of motherhood mandated by the state, the solution is for her to be punished and then rehabilitated. That Frida will never be able to meet standards designed for stay-at-home mothers of petite bourgeois families only serves to proves that she is indeed a bad mother.

She has been put into a Sisyphean struggle. Society demands that she work in order to live, but society has also conveniently defined labor traditionally associated with women as not real work deserving of wages. Frida is therefore expected to excel at the labor of motherhood without payment and still work for a living in a profession whose labor is granted material value by society. When she fails to perform perfect motherhood according to these standards, she is punished.

And not merely punished. At the titular school for good mothers, Frida participates in her own humiliation. She repeats over and over the mantra “I am a bad mother but I am learning to be good” as if she were in a 12-step program. She doesn’t have to say it, but if she refuses, her noncompliance will be noted in the file which the judge will use to determine if she can ever see her child again.

Frida’s constant self-abnegation struck a familiar chord with me. To be poor or marginalized in America is to be constantly groveling. The service worker must apologize to the customer who screams at them or else lose their job. The poor student must right essay after essay flogging their personal traumas for the chance at a life-changing scholarship. The parolee is forced to act as their own warden, enforcing on themselves the onerous terms of their semi-freedom on threat of re-imprisonment.

To become an active participant in one’s own subjugation is the ultimate horror of the carceral state.

I won’t spoil how Good Mothers ends, but I will say that the final scenes are neither hopeful nor despairing, and more than worth the horror one must wade through in the preceding pages.