After falling in love with Once & Future two years ago, I knew I had to get my hands on book 2 as soon as possible. Unfortunately, after having to wait a year for its release, I couldn’t find it at the library or my favorite bookstore. But lucky for me, I managed to find it at Barnes & Noble over break, and I didn’t hesitate to buy a copy! While this sequel wasn’t as good as its predecessor, it was still a fantastic ending to a one-of-a-kind duology.
🗡BE WARNED! This review may contain spoilers for book 1, Once & Future, so tread lightly! 🗡
A near miss has landed Ari, Merlin and their ragtag band of intergalactic knights back in time. All the way back to the Middle Ages, to be exact, the time of the very first King Arthur. There, they are faced with an impossible task: to steal the grail of King Arthur and end the Arthurian cycle once and for all. Faced with the obstacles of blending in, dodging the…shortcomings, shall we say, of the time and its people, and not messing with the canon, Ari and the others must look to the past in order to save their future.
Everything’s more fun when you throw your characters in space, but throwing them in the Middle Ages is…tricky. Sword in the Stars was lacking in some of the elements that I loved most about book 1, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I did enjoy it, as a matter of fact. IMMENSELY!
It’s clear how much fun Capetta and McCarthy had with throwing a slew of characters suited to life in a progressive (mostly), technologically advanced future into the Middle Ages. There’s no shortage of weird, strange, and downright hilarious hijinks that ensue on their quest for the Holy Grail, and through it all, there’s nods to Arthurian legend and its many retellings aplenty. Once again, Ari and the other characters had wonderful chemistry, bouncing off of each other well while still maintaining their distinct personalities.
That being said, the Middle Ages part was also a bit of what dragged this book down for me. Coming right on the heels of a novel that was almost purely sci-fi, it didn’t quite fit with the mood that the duology tried to maintain. They do return to the future eventually, but as someone who was particularly hooked on the “King Arthur retelling in SPAAACE” part of the premise, that part was a little bit of a letdown. That’s just the raging sci-fi fan in me, I guess.
That’s where my criticism ends, really, because Sword in the Stars was just as action-packed, fast-paced, and downright fun as book 1. Daring escapes, supernatural forces, knights, space dragons, dismantling corporate greed…you want it, this duology probably has it. I laughed, I very nearly cried, and I felt myself overflowing with joy, just like I did with book 1, and man, I’m so glad this story exists.
But beyond that, what truly shone about Sword in the Stars was its message. Throughout the whole book, there’s a resonant theme of breaking free of a cycle of conformity and injustice to become your true self. The whole story is focused on individuality and changing narratives, and especially seeing as it’s a cast of almost entirely queer characters and written by two queer authors, it really hit the right note in me. The Once & Future duology is lots of action and fun, for the most part, but at its heart, it’s a story of resistance. It’s a story of finding yourself. It’s a story of defining yourself in the face of a world that wants you to do the opposite. And for that, this novel was truly special. I’m firm in the belief that this book will save somebody’s life someday. And I don’t say that for every book.
All in all, a phenomenal ending to an action-packed, inclusive, sci-fi fantasy duology.
And bonus points for the Prince references, the Monty Python quote at the beginning, and successfully breaking the fourth wall.
4.75 stars, rounded up to 5!
Sword in the Stars is the final book in the Once & Future duology, preceded by Once & Future. A.R. Capetta is also the author of Echo After Echo and The Lost Coast, and Cory McCarthy is also the author of Now a Major Motion Picture and You Were Here.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I meant to post this earlier in the month, but, alas, school. But hey – March isn’t over yet, is it? And here in the U.S., March is Women’s History Month! So for the occasion, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite YA novels with feminist themes not just for March, but for all year round, because we should all be uplifting the voices of women every day of every year.
I mean, how could the premise of an Arthurian retelling where the reincarnation of King Arthur is a POC, pansexual woman not hook you? Plus, lots of dismantling imperialism, sword fights, and an almost entirely queer cast.
Can I rant for a minute? I loved this book to death, but the Netflix adaptation of it looks AWFUL. I watched the trailer, and it looks like it COMPLETELY misconstrued the message of the book. The movie makes feminism look like a joke; in the book, Viv was already conscious of the toxic environment of her high school, but in the movie, they (unintentionally?) painted feminism as something that was “trendy” or “what the kids are into.” (In the beginning of the trailer, Viv magically has this feminist awakening from seeing her mom’s old Riot Grrl pictures…) Also in the trailer, she only starts to notice the rampant sexism in her high school AFTER SOMEBODY TELLS HER…
Okay, I know this has been shelved as both adult and YA, but…hey, Rory’s 15 for most of the book, so I think I can slip it in this post. Plus, what’s not to love about disobedient, patriarchy-smashing princesses in space?
As disappointing as the sequel was, Girls of Paper and Fire still remains a book that stunned me like no other. A powerful tale of rebelling against oppression and corruption – and some lovely forbidden romance!
A super twisty and inventive novel with plenty of morally grey characters and secret societies. Plus, it raises some great points about vigilante justice. And there’s nothing better than getting back at misogynists and rapists, right?
Every time I look back at this book, I think something along the lines of “man, I’m so glad I bought this.” Secret libraries, alien invasion, quality music references, cross-country road trips, and more than a little bit of resistance. Very nearly flawless!
A beautiful romance set against the backdrop of protest and resisting homophobia in 1977 San Francisco. There’s lovely representation for both lesbian and bisexual characters, and it’s such a tender and resonant read!
TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! Have you read any of these novels, and if so, did you like them? What are your favorite feminist YA reads?
The novel I’ve decided to review this week came in my last library haul. This is only my second foray into Noah Hawley’s novels after I fell in love with Before the Falllast month, but I can tell from just these two novels that he’s become an auto-buy/borrow/read author for me.
Joe Henry is dead, but what he leaves behind is a dysfunctional family in tatters. His wife Doris, has all but given up on life, his eldest son David struggles to keep two separate relationships (and his constantly teetering emotional state) afloat, and his youngest son Scott grapples with paranoid cynicism and a luckless love life. The three surviving members of the Henry family are brought together to scatter Joe’s ashes, bringing to light everything that Joe kept in check while he was alive and leaving all but chaos in their wake.
TW/CW: loss of loved ones, description of illness, substance abuse (mainly smoking), mild physical violence (hence the title), cheating
As I mentioned earlier, this is only my second Noah Hawley novel, but judging from this one and Before the Fall, he’s easily earned a spot as one of my favorite authors. The Punch had a very different feel to it than the latter, though; all at once tragic and laugh-out-loud funny, a superbly written story of the trials and tribulations of a dysfunctional family.
Let me just start off by saying…I think The Punch boasts one of the best opening scenes/images that I’ve ever seen in a book; the story of the Henry family begins/ends in a hospital on Valentine’s Day, with sickly and injured patients being wheeled about amidst cheery heart decorations and a pianist playing “Wonderwall” in the background. It’s hysterical, it’s so well-crafted, and in one scene alone, the mood of the entire book is encompassed–equal parts tragedy and comedy.
Having a novel with a cast of unlikable characters is usually hit-or-miss for me; I had a hard time getting through Watchmen for the first half or so because of how despicable most of the characters were. (and on that note, PLEASE 👏 STOP 👏 ROMANTICIZING 👏 RORSCHACH 👏 HE’S 👏 AWFUL 👏 [ahem] I digress), for example. The difference between my being able to enjoy a novel with an entire cast of characters like this is usually a mix of whether or not you’re supposed to like the characters and how well-written they are. (And no, that’s not a dig at Watchmen – it ended up being a four-star read for me in the end.) Clearly, the cast of The Punch are all deeply, deeply flawed people, but they’re not framed as the “good guys,” but simply protagonists. That, coupled with Hawley’s stellar writing, made me stick around even when the characters were at their all-time lows (which were…pretty low, not gonna lie.)
What also made a difference with the characters was the familial chemistry that they had with each other. They all bounced off each other so authentically, behaving exactly how you’d believe a dysfunctional family would, producing no shortage of weird occurrences and plenty of quotes that made me laugh out loud. (I can’t seem to find the quote, but there was this one that made me just WHEEZE…it was something along the lines of “It’s like it says in the Bible. All is full of love.” “No, I think that’s a Björk song…”) (I wish I’d written it down, I borrowed a copy from the library…)
But in its (tragically) short entirety, The Punch was a perfect blend of tragedy and comedy, a story of family, dysfunction, and a whole lot of miscommunication and shaky relationships. Clever writing, memorable imagery, and hysterical quotes – this one really has it all. 5 stars!
The Punch is a standalone, but Noah Hawley is also the author of Before the Fall, Other People’s Weddings, The Good Father, and A Conspiracy of Tall Men. He is also the creator of FX’s TV adaptations of Fargo and Legion, the latter of which in association with Marvel Television.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
Me? Reviewing non-YA books two weeks in a row? I’m in rare form…
I just have to review this one, though. I’ve been a massive fan of Noah Hawley’s work on television for years; Fargo is my favorite show, and Legion follows very close behind. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that he’s written several books!
I spent some of my Christmas gift card money for a local bookstore on this one, and man, I’m so glad that I did. I’m not usually one for mystery, but Before the Fall is a slow-burning but visibly intricate novel that I’m sure I’ll never forget.
One night in August, an unknown disaster causes a private plane to crash into the ocean with 11 people onboard, including the crew. Most are powerful media giants or their companions, some soon to be convicted of crimes, others on the road to even more fame and fortune. The only exception is that of Scott Burroughs, a struggling painter on his way to New York.
Scott, along with the four-year-old son of a powerful newscaster, are the only survivors.
Now in the midst of a national conspiracy, Scott finds his privacy tumbling down around him as the media attempts to decipher the cause of the plane crash–malfunction, terrorism, or something else entirely?
TW/CW: Plane crash/resulting trauma, loss of loved ones, death(s) (adults and children), substance abuse
[chanting to myself in front of the mirror] “stop talking about Fargo…stop talking about Fargo…STOP TALKING ABOUT FARGO…”
My first 5-star read of 2021, ladies, gentlemen & others! I’ll admit that my expectations were absolutely through-the-roof high, but I’m delighted to say that Before the Fall 110% met them.
This was my first exposure to Noah Hawley’s novels, but I’ve adored his work ever since falling in love with Fargo and Legion. But even though there’s a significant gap between experiencing a TV show and a book, this still felt just as cinematic. It really felt like I was watching an episode of Fargo; the writing did meander a bit and linger on things for too long, but it felt like drifting through plot points as we get more information on the characters. Something that I always value in any good novel is a clear care for even the smallest of details, and Before the Fall was exemplary in that department.
Now, I read fast. It’s a problem, at this point. But it’s not every book that makes me actively think “man, I can’t wait until I have a break so I can pick this up again!” And Before the Fall built up such a suspenseful and gripping story that I found myself looking forward to the times in my day when I could kick back and read it. Hawley’s writing instantly pulled me in and didn’t let me go until the final page. Everything in this novel felt deliberate, placed just so to make for a plot that kept me guessing all the way through.
Normally, writing that tends to ramble bothers me sometimes; it feels like the author’s going off on random tangents that have no pertinence to the central plot. And maybe I’m biased, but Hawley made it work in such a way that I looked forward to all of the little digressions throughout the novel. Throughout Before the Fall, backstory and suspense are built through a series of thorough snapshots–obituaries, days in the lives of the dead passengers, and more. Even Scott’s paintings–the subject matter of which is far more important than I would’ve thought at first–help to make the mystery unravel. (As well as help Scott’s reputation unravel…oops…) Every single character, even the side characters that seldom make an appearance, felt astoundingly authentic, someone you could pass by on the street, so fleshed-out they were.
All in all, a stunning and intricate mystery from one of my favorite creative minds. I’m 100% going to read Hawley’s other novels now. 5 stars!
Before the Fall is a standalone, but Noah Hawley is also the author of The Good Father, A Conspiracy of Tall Men, The Punch, and Other People’s Weddings. He is also the executive producer/writer/director of the TV adaptations of Fargo (FX) and Legion. (FX/Marvel television)
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles! (And hey, Trump is out of the White House tomorrow, so that’s certainly cause for celebration! Won’t to worry about my basic human rights being taken away for a while…[relieved sigh])
Anyway, I read this one in close to one sitting yesterday on my day off. I expected it to take me a few days to read (close to 500 pages long), but I gobbled it up at alarming speed. Zero Repeat Forever had been on my TBR for almost exactly two years, and I had no idea what was in store for me. A diverse dystopia that was all at once tense and tender!
Raven and her friends were away at summer camp when a legion of heavily armored aliens invaded Earth, laying waste to cities and leaving almost no survivors. After one of the aliens–dubbed the Nahx–kills her boyfriend Tucker, her friends flee, eking out an existence in the Canadian wilderness.
Eighth, a member of the Nahx, has no name–only a rank. After his companion is killed by a human, he sets off on his own. An encounter with a young human leaves him questioning his mission to kill all humans in sight, and he makes it his quest to find her and bring her to safety.
Chance brings Eighth and Raven together, both separated from their friends and fending for themselves. They soon realize that their situation may not be so black and white–and that there may be a chance to turn the tides.
TW/CW: Graphic violence, descriptions of injury/sickness (fever, broken bones, etc.), racism, loss of loved ones, loss of parents (off page), substance abuse (smoking, drinking)
WOW. I didn’t even have any expectations for this one–I just picked it up because I needed some more sci-fi in my life. But Zero Repeat Forever was such a powerful novel–a tale of setting aside differences in the midst of division that threatens to split the world in two, and the relationships that define our lives.
First off, there’s some amazing diversity in this novel. Raven, our protagonist, is mixed race (half white/half Black–Black mother, white father, and she also had an Indigenous stepfather), and there’s several other POC characters present. As a mixed-race person, it always makes my heart so happy to see mixed-race characters starring prominently in their own stories. 💗
There’s also a gay couple that features in the first part of the novel, but the thing about them is a bit complicated–they’re the only explicitly LGBTQ+ characters in the novel, but they both end up getting killed, which would fall into the bury-your-gays trope. However, these characters weren’t harmfully stereotyped, and it really doesn’t seem like killing off the gay characters was intentional in a homophobic way. (Plus, by the end of the novel, most of the main characters are dead–we’re talking Fargo levels of main character deaths.) Even so, it didn’t sit completely right with me. Again, it didn’t seem intentional and it’s a small part of the novel, but I think it’s important to take that into account. (Most of the reason why I didn’t rate this one the full five stars–see my rating below.)
Zero Repeat Forever is a special kind of dystopia–sure, there’s plenty of dark and bleak material, but it manages to balance that with tenderness and hope, making a beautifully poetic kind of novel. One way that this novel really shone was in the portrayal of human emotion, and how different people deal with different things. Each character is distinct in dealing with the horrific subject matter, and the interactions between all the different personalities were executed in a refreshingly authentic way.
I especially loved the relationship between Eighth/August and Raven. Their dynamic did have an unusual tendency to be a bit mercurial (Raven’s feelings about him seemed to change at a startling frequency, but it makes sense to some degree), but at its heart, it was so poetic. Messy, but poignant and tender. It called to mind everything from The Iron Giant to The Shape of Water, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get a little bit choked up. I love those two.
And the cherry on top? EDGAR ALLAN POE REFERENCES, OF COURSE! Can it possibly get better than that? I think not.
All in all, a truly unique dystopia that yields the perfect balance of darkness and tender love. 4.75 stars, rounded up to 5!
Zero Repeat Forever is the first book in G.S. Prendergast’s Nahx Invasions duology, which ends with Cold Falling White. She is also the author of the Ella series (Audacious and Capricious) and the middle grade novel Pandas on the Eastside.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
As this dumpster fire of a year comes to a close, I thought it would be nice to reflect on what made it bearable: books. Reading was what kept me going through good times and bad this year, and while I read a whole lot, there were a select few books that stood out from the rest, from new-to-me authors and authors I’ve been following for years.
(NOTE: this list also contains books that I rated 4.75 stars and rounded up to 5.)
Happy Friday, bibliophiles! I suppose that the bibliophile greeting doesn’t *quite* fit for this post, but hey, you probably followed this blog for books, right? Today, we’ve got something a little bit different–but at least I kept my promise, didn’t I? I hinted at doing a review for at least a week prior to today…
At the beginning of quarantine, my brother and my parents had just started binging Fargo. So like so many of us have done with different shows in the last 6 months, I starting doing some serious binge-watching. I’d already been exposed to Noah Hawley’s masterful storytelling through Legion, but Fargo never ceased to wow me. I forgot about it for a few months after finishing up season 3, and then the trailer for season 4 came out in September. I didn’t see it coming, but little did I know that this newest season would be my favorite yet!
Here’s the special thing about Fargo: each season follows a plot that, chances are, you’ve seen before: murder mysteries in small towns, sibling rivalries escalated to astronomical proportions, dysfunctional crime families; this season, in particular, centers around the politics of rivaling Italian and African-American gangs in 1950s Kansas City, and a mortician’s family who unwillingly gets caught up in the action. But every season, without fail, Noah Hawley spins it into something that you’ve never seen before, be it with the characters, the cinematography, and the plot twists (and there’s a LOT of plot twists). Fargo is all about the unexpected, and season 4 brings the factor of the unknown and unseen up to levels that I haven’t seen since…well, I guess that season 3 ending…(no spoilers.)
And maybe I’m biased for this one. October was one of the hardest months I’ve had in quite a while, and Fargo was, without a doubt, one of the things that kept me going through it. As the season came out, my days started to revolve around the Monday nights that would inevitably bring another episode to fuel me with enough dopamine to keep me going through the rest of the week. But I genuinely believe that this show embodies what storytelling should be–what good TV should be, really. And this season has truly cemented Fargo as my favorite show. (And considering that I don’t readily jump for murder mysteries/historical fiction, that’s definitely saying something. That’s just the power of Noah Hawley, folks…)
Now, TREAD LIGHTLY! This review may contain some minor spoilers, but for your benefit, I’ll try to keep it light on them. But even so, be warned…
I…can’t really find anything major that I didn’t like about this season, so consider this review a breakdown of most everything that I loved.
Characters/casting/acting: With every Fargo season, there’s no shortage of complex characters and masterful actors (for previous seasons, see: Martin Freeman, Bokeem Woodbine, Jean Smart, Ewan McGregor, David Thewlis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, etc.), but season 4 in particular had them in no short supply. I loved all of the (HUGE) main cast and many of the supporting characters, but for one reason or another, this is the first season where I’ve gotten really attached to more than one character. And considering that Fargo is one of those shows that 75%-80% of the main cast is killed off by the time the finale rolls around, it…didn’t go over well with my emotions. But in all seriousness, THESE CHARACTERS!
Let me just digress to talk about my three favorites in this season:
Doctor Senator (Glynn Turman): let’s be honest, what’s not to like? He consistently has some of the best lines/general dialogue in this season, he’s strategic, he’s clever, and he’s instantly likable. I’ll get more in depth on the morally gray theme of the whole season later on in the review, but leave it to Fargo to make us AGGRESSIVELY sympathize with all manner of mobsters and criminals…anyways, this guy’s the best.
Ethelrida Smutny (E’myri Crutchfield): LOVE HER! She’s one of the few characters in this season who’s morally right and seeks to do the right thing, and she is such a lovable character in every way. She’s frequently underestimated by most of the adults in this season, but she shows herself to not only be smart–smarter than them, in some cases–, but compassionate and determined to do the right thing. The world needs more people like Ethelrida.
And last but most definitely not least…
Patrick “Rabbi” Milligan (Ben Whishaw): [SCREAMS AND CRIES INTO THE VOID]
Out of the three I just mentioned, he’s absolutely my favorite. He’s endured so much tragedy and trauma over the course of his life, but all he wants is for Satchel to have a better life. Again, no shortage of clever and insightful lines, and objectively one of those characters that just needs a big hug and a mug of hot chocolate. Just…just trust me on that one. You’ll see.
But as far as characters, it doesn’t stop there. Everybody, from Chris Rock (Loy Cannon) to Jason Schwartzman (Josto Fadda) to Jessie Buckley (Oraetta Mayflower) truly shines in season 4. Each character is distinct, complex, and it was an absolute joy to see all of their stories unfold. (Also, it’s worth it just to see Jason Schwartzman just SNAP…that scene of him just pretending to hold a gun and just go “HAGAGAGAGAGHGHAGSDHAGHGHGH” just lives rent-free in my mind now…)
(Plus…THE GAYS WON 2020, EVERYBODY! Can we just talk about how Zelmare and Swanee INVENTED “be gay, do crime?”)
Whew, that went on for a while. BUT WAIT–THERE’S MORE, BECAUSE THIS SHOW IS VERY NEARLY FLAWLESS:
Score and soundtrack: At this point, I think it’s just impossible for Jeff Russo to ever make a bad score for a movie or a TV show. Besides all of the remixes of the music from previous seasons, I loved all of the new songs. I particularly liked Odis (Jack Huston)’s theme (somehow it almost sounds like a car alarm? But in a good way) and the Legion-y song with the shootout with Zelmare and Swanee at the train station. And I loved all of the other songs that were slipped in. No spoilers for the context of the Johnny Cash song in the finale, but when I tell you that I SOBBED…
Timely themes: One of the main complaints I’ve seen about this season is that it’s “too woke,” (🙄) which I think is utterly idiotic. This season’s set in 1950, but it’s more timely than ever–there’s discussions of race, police brutality, immigration, and what it means to be an American. And it’s all handled quite well, I think. One thing I’ve always appreciated about the show as a whole is how it depicts the American police system–for the first three seasons, there’s usually 1-2 cops that actually know what they’re doing, but they’re frequently dismissed by a largely unbelieving and sexist police force. This season is the first where we have both of our main cops as largely corrupt, but we still sympathize with one of them (PTSD relating to WWII). Most of the characters are morally gray as well (I mean, most of the main cast are members of separate gangs), and that contrast was also well-done.
That classic, Noah Hawley weirdness: in every season, there’s at least one episode or plot point that’s highly out of the ordinary, and lucky for us, we got that in the form of episode 9. Besides having a whole episode of Rabbi and Satchel after not seeing them for two episodes, there’s an amazing Wizard of Oz theme with the whole episode. I’ll shamelessly admit to thinking about it for a solid WEEK.
All the Coen Brothers references, of course: Treehorn? The Raising Arizona screaming? Everything that I missed? LOADS OF FUN.
All in all, this was a masterful show from start to finish. My favorite season out of the four, by far, although I love them all. I’m already rewatching the whole season over again…
MY RATING: ★★★★★
TW/CW: Graphic violence (mostly gunshot wounds, but there’s some parts that definitely made me queasy), racism, xenophobia, police brutality, some brief racist/homophobic/ablelist slurs, poisoning, loss of loved ones, alcoholism/substance abuse
EDIT: Whoooooooa, apparently this is my 500th post! Dang…😳
That’s it for this TV review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
Ever since I read and adored On a Sunbeam back in August, I’ve had all the Tillie Walden I can get my hands on put on my holds or for later shelf at the library. I figured I needed some more Walden in my life for Thanksgiving Break, so I checked this one out. Even though it only clocks in at about 68 pages, I love this part is filled with so much raw emotion and heart.
Two girls, unnamed in a rural town, realize that they have a shared love of music. They gravitate towards each other, and slowly but surely, their friendship develops into something more. But when their relationship begins to crack, they drift apart–but it may be the thing that brought them together that might mend their relationship once more.
Now that I’ve read four of Walden’s graphic novels, I can say with certainty that there hasn’t been a single miss in her catalogue so far. I love this part is no exception–it’s not every day that so much authentic love and emotion can fit perfectly in the span of only 68 pages.
Walden’s art is always stunning; normally, I usually don’t gravitate towards styles that are more simplistic, but she proves time and again that facial detail isn’t always necessary to convey a wide range of emotion. Her use of color was what stood out to me most in I love this part. Most of the graphic novel is rendered in black and white, but splashed with purple. What stood out about it, though, was that the purple was almost symbolic; in the times that the girls were in love, the purple was present, and when they fell out of love, it disappeared, fading to black and white. But even in the black and white panels, there were still hints of purple, if you looked closely–hinting their love never truly died.
Beyond that, I love this part maps out every aspect of falling in love–the joy, the fear, the heartbreak, the yearning. It’s the kind of book that makes you mourn relationships you’ve never even had, but in the best way possible. It’s raw, it’s honest, and it’s vulnerable, but it also brims with hope and love. And at the center of it all, to have a multiracial, sapphic couple in the starring roles? True beauty.
My only complaint? It was too short.
All in all, a triumphant and vulnerable tale of queer joy, love, and heartbreak that resonated on levels that I didn’t even know were possible. Five stars!
I love this part is a standalone, but Tillie Walden has several other graphic novels out, including On a Sunbeam, Are You Listening?, A City Inside, The End of Summer, and her graphic memoir, Spinning.
Hey bibliophiles! Thanksgiving break is here, and that means I’m back to posting semi-regularly!
Luckily, after the absolute dumpster fire that October was, November really picked up for me! I’ve started getting my grades up, Biden won the election (!!!!!), and my general mood and mental health have just gotten a lot better.
But before I begin, I’ll just start off with this: I’ll probably start being a little bit more fluid with my posting. I’ll still stick to weekly updates and reviews and such, but depending on how I am that week, I might not do Top 5 Saturdays as much. We’ll see how December goes, anyway. School’s 100% remote now, and everything’s starting to close down again here in Colorado, so I’m fairly certain of another lockdown.
And so this post is for all of the notable novels I read in hiatus, as well as some movies and TV I’ve been enjoying. (Of course, the time I take a break is when I get all the 5-star books…)
Let’s begin, shall we?
WHAT I ENJOYED WHILE I STEPPED INTO THE VOID FOR A FEW WEEKS
It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”
Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.
Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.
As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.
WOW. I was excited to read this one, but I didn’t expect it to pack as much of a punch as it did. This is the prime example of a genre-bending novel–all of the sci-fi, contemporary, and magical realism elements blended seamlessly, and even if I separated the different parts, I enjoyed each little cog in the machine just as much as the other. I found myself rooting for Sia at every step of the way, and her journey and struggle were so heartfelt and painful. Add in some #ownvoices representation and no shortage of timely themes, and you get this novel–unexpected, seamless, and nothing short of a joy to read.
Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.
When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.
This one was on my TBR for almost two years, and I’m so glad I picked it up now! The Revolution of Birdie Randolph was one of those rare books that manages to discuss a myriad of issues, but in a way that doesn’t make any of them sound preachy. The struggles of all the characters felt refreshingly real and dealt with in a way that serves to raise conversations. Everything about this novel felt so authentic, which brought me immeasurable joy.
And at the same time, tackling all these issues, Colbert didn’t make it overly heavy–there’s certainly parts that are hard to read, but I didn’t leave it feeling sick to my stomach. At times, it even felt like a slice-of-life story, but I enjoyed that 100%. There’s POC and LGBTQ+ representation aplenty too! All in all, a beautiful and diverse piece of contemporary fiction.
This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.
At this point, every time I read something by Tillie Walden, I’m guaranteed to rate it in the 4.5-5 star range, and Are You Listening? is no exception. A family friend recommended this one to me a few months back, and it wasn’t available at my library at the time, so I ended up reading On a Sunbeam and Spinning beforehand.
I ate this one up in the span of a few hours, and I enjoyed every panel of every page. It’s a story of bonding in the toughest of situations, of sticking together no matter what, of trust. Walden’s artwork is as stunning as ever, turning an unexpected road trip through rural Texas into a strange, desolate, and trippy landscape where nothing is as it seems. And we have two queer women at the wheel–what’s not to love? And a CAT! A CAT!
Alyssa Farshot has spent her whole life trying to outrun her family legacy. Her mother sacrificed everything to bring peace to the quadrant, and her uncle has successfully ruled as emperor for decades. But the last thing Alyssa wants is to follow in their footsteps as the next in line for the throne. Why would she choose to be trapped in a palace when she could be having wild adventures exploring a thousand-and-one planets in her own ship?
But when Alyssa’s uncle becomes gravely ill, his dying wish surprises the entire galaxy. Instead of naming her as his successor, he calls for a crownchase, the first in seven centuries. Representatives from each of the empire’s prime families—including Alyssa—are thrown into a race to find the royal seal, which has been hidden somewhere in the empire. The first to find the seal wins the throne.
Alyssa’s experience as an explorer makes her the favorite to win the crown she never wanted. And though she doesn’t want to be empress, her duty to her uncle compels her to participate in this one last epic adventure. But when the chase turns deadly, it’s clear that more than just the fate of the empire is at stake. Alyssa is on her most important quest yet—and only time will tell if she’ll survive it.
“Perfect for fans of Aurora Rising” [SLAMS THE WANT-TO-READ BUTTON]
This was one of my most anticipated reads for the second half of the year, and I was…a little bit disappointed, not gonna lie. It wasn’t bad, per se–I liked it, but it left me wanting a little more.
There’s no doubt that it was super fast paced and threw me right into the action–a blessing and a curse; a blessing because it kept me reading for a while, on the edge of my seat, and a curse because…we’re given very little information about the world(s) we’re in. I liked the banter between Alyssa, Hell Monkey, and the others, and they had decent chemistry. (Also, there’s quite a lot of LGBTQ+ characters, including Alyssa herself–I’m not sure if she’s bi, pan, or another identity, but she’s definitely shown to like several genders! Woohoo!)
The breakneck speed definitely had me forgetting where everybody was, why x and y was so important, etc. But for a debut novel, I’d say that this is a solid start on Coffindaffer’s part! Not my favorite, but I think I’ll tag along to see what book 2 holds.
MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Fargo: Year 4 (2020)
Yep, it’s settled: Fargo is officially my favorite show. Noah Hawley is a true mastermind of storytelling, and every ounce of his creativity truly shines through in this season. I’ve always loved his characters, but this is the first season where I’ve really gotten attached to some of them (which, given the rate at which characters are killed off in this show, is…not good…). Episode 9 (East/West) is, hands down, my favorite of the season so far–the characterizations of Rabbi and Satchel, all the weird Wizard of Oz references…I haven’t been so invested in a show in such a long time. There’s only two episodes left in this season, so you can expect a review in a few weeks’ time…
Alien: Covenant (2017)
David: GUESS WHO’S BACK
Prometheus is definitely one of my favorite movies now, but Covenant wasn’t quite as good. I still enjoyed it though, don’t get me wrong–I love some good, old fashioned sci-fi action, and the twists were so well-executed (though the big one was a tad predictable…I still loved it, though. No spoilers.). I didn’t get attached to any of the characters, but I still adored David, and the creepy little workshop he had going. Everything felt a little rushed, but with where the movie ended, I’m excited to see what else Ridley Scott’s going to pull out of his hat.
Blood Simple (1984)
My family’s Fargo kick has made me put a whole bunch of Coen Brothers on my list. We watched this one last night, and…WHOA. I ASPIRE TO HAVE A DEBUT AS GOOD AS THIS. Sure, it took a while to pick up, but it had that signature tension that makes you get invested in so many of their films. Also, even though I’ve never been to Texas, it definitely captured that weird vibe you get when you’re in the South at night, and you’re super tired, and there’s all this humidity and weird ambience floating around…
So that’s what I’ve been up to while I was gone. As always, thanks for stopping by! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I put this one on my TBR almost exactly a year ago (what are the odds?), forgot about it for a little bit, and once I remembered its existence, I got INCREDIBLY excited. I did a Goodreads Monday on it about a month ago, and it seemed like my dream book. (Aliens, secret libraries, music, and LGBTQ+/POC representation? Of COURSE you have my attention!) I recently bought it on my first trip to the bookstore since the pandemic started. And while it wasn’t without its flaws, The Sound of Stars was a beautiful and poignant tale of resistance.
⭐︎ A mini photoshoot I did with my copy (feat. some similar YA sci-fi books I own, as well as my trusty iPod and David Bowie) ⭐︎
Janelle–Ellie for short–Baker lives in a world not so far from our own, but one ravaged by the aftermath of an alien invasion. The Ilori now have control over most of the population, and have deemed all forms of creative expression, be it art, literature, or music, as dangerous. Ellie ekes out a living in New York City, running a secret library of her personal collection. She knows that if she’s ever discovered, it could mean execution for her and her parents, but her love of books keeps her business going.
M0Rr1s (Morris), an Ilori boy raised in a lab, knows that his differences could also mean the death of him. Unlike most others of his kind, he has the capacity for emotion–and a penchant for music. He finds solace in the old human music, illegally downloading it into his mind to hear. When he stumbles upon Ellie and her secret library, he knows that he should turn her into the authorities. But their shared love of literature and music leads them on a road trip, smuggling their artwork to a safer place, where they may be welcome and accepted. The journey won’t be without its obstacles–namely, the Ilori authorities–but Ellie and Morris will do anything when it comes to the fate of their art–and humanity itself.
YOU GUYS. WHAT. A. BOOK. This is, without a doubt, one of the best books of 2020. And I don’t say that lightly.
The Sound of Stars is a powerful and poignant novel about the power of friendship and resistance–and the uniting power of music and literature.
Let’s start off with the characters. I ADORED both Ellie and Morris. Ellie’s strong will and love of books truly resonated with me, and it’s great to see characters with her representation (Mixed race/POC, demisexual, has anxiety) in literature. Her chapters always have lovely YA references and quotes from classic novels slipped in there, so I enjoyed every minute of her perspective. And MORRIS. MORRIS IS AN ABSOLUTE SWEETHEART. I also resonated with his love of music, and he was just such a tender-hearted character in general. His chapters were laden with GREAT music references–David Bowie, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, all the good stuff. And having Ellie and Morris in a romantic relationship was everything I’ve ever wanted–not only are they super cute together (adorable enemies to friends to lovers dynamic), it’s great to see LGBTQ+ characters in straight-passing relationships. There’s an awful stigma these days with bi/pan/etc. people that if they’re in such a relationship, they “aren’t valid,” and it’s great to see the stigma being broken down in the best possible way.
Beyond that, The Sound of Stars is just the kind of story we need for these times, in an age of bigotry and division. There’s a clear commentary against racism and colonialism, and to have Ellie and Morris fighting back against the system is something I love to see. Some of the more obvious political commentary was a bit ham-fisted at worst, but at this point, it’s probably what readers need to wake up and realize the situation around us. It’s the perfect story for those looking to make a difference in their communities–especially with the power of art.
For the most part, I found this book to be almost flawless–the writing, the characters, the representation, you name it. But I did have one problem, which, judging from the reviews I’ve read, seems to be common–the ending.
It’s…weird. Not in the best way, to be honest. It’s a bizarre, deus ex machina kind of deal, where the characters are on the brink of death, and BAM…well, I won’t spoil it, but it kind of had me scratching my head. The very end was hopeful, at least, but it still left a strange (metaphorical) taste on my tongue.
But all in all, The Sound of Stars was a phenomenal gem of a resistance novel. 4.75 stars, rounded up to 5!
At the moment, it seems like The Sound of Stars is a standalone novel, though it had an open ending that could *potentially* lend itself to a sequel. (I’d be happy either way, honestly.) This novel is Alechia Dow’s debut novel, but as of now, she has another book, The Kindred, scheduled to be published in 2022.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!