Saturday, December 30, 2017

My 2017 Favorites: The Third Annual Pinecone Awards!

Here it comes, the third annual Pinecone Awards, and the first in a (nearly) full year without America. But that's a subject for another day. Today, we celebrate my favorites of the year, and damn, was this a good year for the creative types of the world or what? Though there's a few surprises - like, one of my all-time favorite shows, The Flash, slipped out of the rankings entirely this year, and its sister show Supergirl, whom I fully expected to take its place, fell victim to a similar third-season curse of excessive grimdarkness and crashing a fine, fine ship in favor of one that repels most viewers - most of this year's final rankings are about in line with what I expected.

And this year, as the third time being the charm, I'm going to introduce, in addition to the Honorable Mentions, some Special Salutes for faves of mine that, in some way, really broke my system. Call them Zeroth Place, even though I'm going to list them before the Top 5's.

Ready, Pinecones? Let's press on.


Honorable Mentions:

* Cassandra Clare, Lord of Shadows
* Clay Griffiths and Susan Griffiths, Arrow: A Generation of Vipers
* Marissa Meyer, Renegades
* Jomny Sun, everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too
* Jen Wilde, Queens of Geek

Special Salute: Adam Silvera, History Is All You Left Me and They Both Die At The End

Adam Silvera never fails, as far as I'm concerned, and in this calendar year he super-succeeded, giving us no less than two terrific novels in his signature style. Lightly speculative, unapologetically queer, loaded with laughs, loaded with cries, and of course loaded with glorious geekgasm moments. I've long thought Silvera was essentially the Latino version of me, and his two novels of 2017 do everything they can to suggest this particular headcanon of mine may, in fact, be real. It says a lot about Silvera's level of talent that History Is All You Left Me is my least favorite of his three novels so far, because that one's bloody damn good in its own right. And They Both Die At The End? That one has been known to fly off the shelves at the Stanford bookstore at my command, for good reason, spoilery title and all. I, for one, look forward to everything Silvera's got in the pipeline with great interest. Like his collab with Becky Albertalli, What If It's Us. But especially to his forthcoming first stab at the fantasy genre - which he promises will not be a defictionalized Scorpius Hawthorne, but if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that Silvera will for sure write the Carry On worth reading (I say having never even read Carry On, though if literary agents can compare my own manuscript to it, it can't be half bad, right?)

5. Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give

What can I say that hasn't been said before? By now, of course, everyone knows who the undisputable queen of YA is (undisputable, though not for lack of trying on the part of many a misguided soul.) On the surface, it's only too easy to describe The Hate U Give as "Black Lives Matter: The Novel," which isn't entirely inaccurate, but is pretty reductive even for me as a novice marketer. At work, I pitch this book starting with the inevitable BLM elements, but am always quick to add how much more there is to Angie Thomas' debut. Delivering both much-needed racial commentary and a not-inconsiderable appreciation of the little things in life (you'll never be able to unsee the interpretations Starr's family makes for Harry Potter, no you won't!), it's no wonder The Hate U Give dominated the NYT bestseller list as long as it did, and, as I remember, now holds the record for the longest time charting on the list, period. It's a standard of success which I don't see myself ever achieving, but will still strive for all the same. If you haven't read the book yet, read now before the movie (starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr!) hits theaters late next year.


4. Victoria Aveyard, King's Cage

I've been a big fan of Red Queen from the beginning, and was especially enamored with Glass Sword when that book, as Mockingjay-esque as it was, drove away a lot of my friends from the fandom. The infamous cliffhanger (which made me coin the term "Aveyardian" for any such rage-inducing ending from now on) didn't help, of course. But with the third book in the series, King's Cage, Aveyard jumped up into the stratosphere with a novel so incredible it actually makes its predecessors pale in comparison. Though I've long pitched this series to friends as The Hunger Games, X-Men, and Game of Thrones having had a baby, it's this third book, with its massively improved world-building, multiple POVs (which help make this book one of the more diverse releases of 2017 too, adding a black POV and a lesbian POV not present in previous Aveyard novels), and continent-wide expanded scope, where the Game of Thrones comparison finally rings true. It's a rare book where there's so many hundreds of pages, and so much of it is fantasy-world politicking, but I'm there for it all - and especially for 2018's forthcoming finale, War Storm, with its promise of an epic, electric, two-tone bloodbath.

Rise, red as the dawn.

I'm still not over how much the Lakeland king resembles Alex Snow in both appearance and superpower, BTW.

3. Jason Reynolds, Miles Morales: Spider-Man

Spidey as a psychological thriller? Leave it to Reynolds, and he does it so well. My introduction to the character of Miles Morales, and my introduction to the work of Jason Reynolds, this short but sweet book doesn't really feature a lot of Miles doing whatever a spider can, but the psychological thriller elements (my initial review likened the Big Bad of this book, a pretty much original creation on Reynolds' part as far as I'm aware, to Mysterio by way of Get Out, and having finally seen Get Out since I read this book, I stand by this assessment), the bromantic dynamics between Miles and Ganke, Miles' family life getting lots of well-deserved attention, and even a few passages which I interpreted as Reynolds coding Miles as autistic, all combine to help this book earn my approval and then some. I sincerely hope Reynolds writes more Miles books going forward, and that Miles himself gets to finally appear in live-action in the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming (more on that one later in the Movies section, of course.)

Don't mess with any Spidey on my watch, but especially not this dude.

2. Marie Lu, Warcross

If I'd read the Legend trilogy a little more on time when they'd first come out (except for the third book, I was all caught up by then), or if I'd had this blog at that point in time, all those Marie Lu books would've made the Pinecone Awards for sure. The only one I can think of that wouldn't have (and didn't) is The Midnight Star, but this year, Lu returned to the Legend universe with an all-new story that manages to outdo all her previous efforts in the action department, and that's saying something. The start of a duology (and again, I'm really bummed that duologies are the big thing, especially with such a story as great as this one!), Warcross is the colorful, diverse, romantic video-game story to end all video-game stories. Yes, even Ready Player One. It's virtually impossible to put down, and I reiterate from my initial review: do not read this book while caffeining up, or else you may just risk a heart attack. You've been warned.

Really, the only problem I had with this one was how hard to read the title was. The colors, though!

1. Ava Jae, Into the Black

I loved Beyond the Red well enough - in fact, I think that book was the Star Wars-Game of Thrones hybrid that Carve the Mark should've been but oh so very much wasn't, for too many reasons - but when Ava Jae finally dropped Into the Black late this year, I was lucky enough to win a Twitter contest in which they sent me a signed ARC. Turns out I was pretty well-chosen as a reader for this book, in which Jae not only builds on the royal intrigue from their debut, not only includes sweet family dynamics for Eros, but also - making me extra-happy - confirms on the page that Eros is bi. Reading about his struggles with self-acceptance and being out in a society that needs to work a shit-ton on its queer-inclusiveness resonated strongly with me. For Eros' arc alone, Into the Black wipes the floor with the rest of 2017's fine literature. I'll chalk this up along with the likes of Keiynan Lonsdale's coming-out post and the trailer for Love, Simon and pretty much all the bibliography of Adam Silvera - and of course my dear friend Harry at work, whom you should all meet someday if you ever pop by the Stanford Bookstore - as inspirations for me to (hopefully) make 2017 the last full year in which I'm closeted at home.

Still waiting for Book 3 to give us a blue cover to complete the bi-colors theme the first two have started. 💗💜💙


Honorable Mentions:

* Get Out

* Dunkirk
* Kong: Skull Island
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
* Wonder Woman

Special Salute: Power Rangers

I was never a big fan of this franchise as a kid, and all through the run-up to this latest live-action reboot, I was rather decidedly meh on it, even with the promise of a tone akin to two of my favorite movies - Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man. And then along came, in addition to the already-in-place racial diversity among this movie's Ranger team, some unexpected diversity in the form of an autistic Blue Ranger and a queer Yellow Ranger, and I knew right then I owed it to myself to watch this movie. Though neither Billy nor Trini fits me perfectly in terms of matching my autism or my queerness, respectively, they match enough for me to truly appreciate them. For these two, especially (and for Elizabeth Banks' delightfully campy performance as Effie Trinket's Evil Twin, Rita Repulsa), I'm going to give Power Rangers, as B-grade as it was for me (really, its tone oscillated enough to give me a bit of whiplash at times), the Special Salute Pinecone Award.

Lionsgate, Saban, you better give this movie the bloodydamn sequel it deserves.

5. Thor: Ragnarok

In which our Asgardian friends finally get to cut loose. The third time was truly the charm for the Thor series, for the first movie was a little too melodramatic at times and the second was utterly unmemorable for me. But going a Guardians of the Galaxy-style route, heavy on the classic rock and wall-to-wall humor (maybe a little too much so at times with the latter because one or two of the jokes was ill-timed at best) and demonstrating incomparable directing skill and on-point critique of Western imperialism on Taika Waititi's part (and now I need to watch more of his previous movies too, because I've heard so much good stuff about them!) proved to be only to the benefit of Ragnarok, even if the very point of the movie was to build up to an unstoppable apocalypse.

Proposal: Based on this movie alone, Taika Waititi gets to direct the Red Rising movie. You're welcome. Obviously.

4. Logan

Another threequel from one of the more contested sections of a popular superhero film franchise that exceeded expectations this year, especially since its predecessors (The Wolverine and especially the terribad Origins: Wolverine) were nothing special. James Mangold's R-rated swan song for Wolverine, though, is primed to shred all your feels. Even as it highlights the importance of family, Logan, by subjecting said family (and others) to the terrors of having to constantly be on the run from lethal agents out to get you just 'cause they can, is an absolute heart-render of a movie, one that'll leave you gasping and crying by the time it's over. The feels are just that Amazing Spider-Man-grade. You've been warned.

Another bonus to this movie, of course, is the lovely desert cinematography. No piss-yellow shots here, it all looks real.

3. Spider-Man: Homecoming

I didn't think it was possible that Tom Holland could well and truly swing out of Andrew Garfield's shadow until this movie, his first solo outing as Spider-Man (not without a pretty heavy assist from Iron Man, though) came along. I still love Garfield's two movies more than any other, but Homecoming is just so much fun that it's hard to reject it for any good reason. Increasing the cast diversity to more accurately reflect a big-city environment, giving Peter some strong and meaningful friendships where previous adaptations often failed to do so, and being loaded with retro references to the 80s and the Ramones and more? What's not to love? Well, there's one part that's pretty love-to-hate: Michael Keaton as the Vulture, the second-best MCU villain as far as I'm concerned - yes, beating even Loki, but not Ultron. Nobody beats James Spader as Ultron, but Keaton's performance here was the closest the MCU's ever come to meeting that high-water mark.

Also a high-water mark: that nifty Stark-designed suit.

2. Coco

My best friend loves this movie to death because of how accurate it is to Mexican culture, especially re: Día de Muertos and how Mexican family dynamics work. And because it's just plain a damn good movie, meeting the usual Pixar standard and then some. Extraordinarily well-researched, beautifully designed, and filled with surprisingly timely themes - and of course boasting an all-Latinx cast, as well it should - Coco has no problem taking its place deservedly high up in the Pixar pantheon, and yet it still feels like it's not getting the respect it deserves. For Miguel's sake, for Dante's and Héctor's, you gotta watch this movie yesterday, especially now that they finally removed that silly Frozen short that had no business being there in the first place.

Miguel, te mereces el mundo.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Reylo feels! Leia feels! Vulptices and Porgs! The Last Jedi gives us all of these and more in one of the finest films of the entire Star Wars saga by far. It's subversive, but no less fun for it, and never once loses its sense of wonder even as it shows a darker side to some of our favorite heroes. It's also loaded with at least two or three of the most hands-down killer awesome Star Wars scenes EVER. I once again leave you with Speedy's words for that one scene that silenced the soundtrack for at least ten whole seconds: "I. AM. DECEASED!"

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Johnson.
Ben. Let me have the spotlight for once.


Honorable Mentions:

* Zoo

* Timeless
* The Good Doctor
* Trial and Error
* Fear the Walking Dead

Special Salute: Teen Wolf

After six seasons and 100 episodes, Teen Wolf came to an end this year. I didn't discover it until about halfway into its initial run, around the time Season 4 was happening - and by that time I'd already begun work on the Red Rain series, and noticed a lot of stylistic similarities between my book and this show. Jeff Davis and I both being seriously inspired by Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer really helped. Teen Wolf is a show that's made me laugh a lot (thanks, Stiles, and you too, Derek, I suppose), made me cry too (again, thanks, Stiles, and also thanks, Scott and Allison), and given me over to some pretty blistering rage (thanks, Nogitsune and Kate and Gerard and, from time to time, Jackson.) All my Red Rain characters are pretty well-versed in its mythology now, for good reason - hell, Alex resembles Scott enough that he could get a double-armband tattoo for cosplay purposes. And of course I'll always point to this show as the star-maker for my generation's Tom Cruise, Dylan O'Brien. To Teen Wolf, I now say ave atque vale.

But really, though. Stiles. I could fill this entire page with GIFs of this guy.

5. The Good Place

"Holy motherforking shirtballs" pretty much accurately sums up The Good Place after the end of its first season, and now, at the end of the year, after the first half or so of the second. No surprise there, given that the series not only lampoons religion and the afterlife, but also high-stakes serialized thrillers in the vein of Lost, especially. I'm not about to spoil the surprises for those of you who haven't seen a single episode, but if you haven't, you need to immediately reevaluate every choice you've made thus far in life, then start watching every single side-splitting chapter The Good Place has to offer.

You said it, Eleanor.

4. The 100

A consistent staple in the Pinecone TV rankings, The 100, unsurprisingly, becomes the first three-time winner with the fourth season taking the show to truly apocalyptic and morally-challenging heights. Forget Game of Thrones, and especially forget The Walking Dead - The 100 is the dark fantasy we all need to be watching every time they air a new episode. Even though the writers sometimes get a little overboard with the sheer lack of good luck our good guys have, and even though the fanbase is still a little plagued with toxicity because of all the shipping and other assorted controversy that led to widespread cancellation campaigns during Season 3, especially, The 100 is still one of the CW's best shows, if only for the fact that it doesn't quite fit the network's formula. Any of them.
Well, of course, Clarke. Stop trying to pretend we shouldn't have any.

3. Stitchers

It's absolutely unfair that this supremely underrated Freeform series isn't getting a fourth season. I mean, three seasons were all well and good, especially for a show that's consistently been responsible for some of TV's biggest feels-bombs you never even heard about. But ending the third and final season on that Wham Line that will never get resolved now? Freeform, you done screwed up. At least you still have Beyond and Shadowhunters, but your lineup just won't be the same without the wonderful presence of Camille, Linus, Cameron (God, Cameron, what a guy to want to be), and Kirsten, whom I still maintain as autistic in my headcanon because she has a lot of symptoms in common with me. I dare you to watch Stitchers and come away thinking autistic and emotional are mutually exclusive. I. Bloody. Dare. You.

*cries in fanboy* Stop asking us these unanswerable questions, Stretch!

2. Arrow

Unexpectedly, this year, the Arrowverse mothership has jumped up and become my favorite of the four shows currently airing, and it's petty to say this, but it's largely because this is the only one of the shows where I'm A) super invested in the shipping, and B) my ship is actually sailing. (Olicity FTW!) Not only that, but between the later stages of Arrow's fifth season (culminating in a truly diabolical cliffhanger, the most Aveyardian in the show's history, and that's including the infamous midseason finales of Season 3 and the barely-canon, if Stephen Amell's jokey comments are anything to go by, Season 4) and the first stages of the sixth, the show finally resurged back to the first two seasons' stellar quality level. Bringing in Michael Emerson to basically play the dark side of Harold Finch was a massive help, as was quietly removing Malcolm Merlyn from the equation (as quietly as you can get when John Barrowman is about the loudest guy in the room, every room.) Of all the Arrowverse shows, this is the one I'm most looking forward to seeing return in January, and I'm also disappointed that we don't get Legends back till February...but that's neither here nor there. What's here, though, is Ollie and Dig and Felicity and, sometimes, Thea. And our new friends Rene and Curtis, especially. Though there's always room for the rest of this season to plunge in quality as Season 4 seriously did, my sincere hope is that Season 6 really bucks the rest of the Arrowverse's unfortunate trends.

Felicity Smoak, my fave. I paid for a beautiful photo op with Emily Bett Rickards for a reason!

1. Agents of SHIELD

The year 2017 gave us the second and third storyline "pods" of Agents of SHIELD Season 4, LMD and Agents of HYDRA, and eventually, the opening to the planet-breaking Season 5, delayed as it was due to ABC and Marvel's highly ill-advised experiment with Inhumans. Sorry, but this show's already home to the most stannable Inhumans, Daisy Johnson and Yo-Yo Rodriguez, and all others simply pale in comparison. (Quite literally too, since a lot of Inhumans' leads were white as it gets.) And while our favorite characters deal with threats that would've seemed unimaginable back when this show was getting its start as a Marvel-ized X Files, the writing jumps so far out of the atmosphere in terms of thrills and addictability that there's really no contest. Though Fringe is still my favorite show ever, Agents of SHIELD is rapidly rising up to be the first genuine threat to Fringe's stranglehold on that throne since The Flash began. For proof, look no further than Season 5's first episode, "Orientation: Part I" (not so much "Part II," but the Lost-meets-Alien "Part I" for sure), and also to Season 4, Episode 15, the conclusion of the LMD pod in "Self Control," an episode so intense I almost had to bite my fists just so I wouldn't wake up the rest of the house with screaming reactions. For the first time, the top spot in the TV Pinecones goes not to The Flash, but instead to the most underrated, underappreciated, unbelievably inventive show on TV.

Yeah, pretty much. (Credit to the artist for this one.)


Honorable Mentions:

* Arcade Fire, "Chemistry"
* Imagine Dragons, "Walking The Wire"
* K.Flay, "Blood In The Cut"
* The Killers, "The Man"
* Mark Mothersbaugh, "Planet Sakaar"

Special Salute: ChronoWulf, "Snow"

As Alex says in a recently published chapter of Peppermint, "ChronoWulf...because who else would I club to?" Maybe I'm a little prejudiced giving my buddy Koda the Special Salute here, but THIS SONG THOUGH. The aesthetic here is truly something else - a gently heart-twanging guitar intro before the beat drops and the rap starts. This is pretty much the song Alex is listening to in that "club to" moment, because of how much he connects to the lyrics - as do I, of course. Self-destructive though the lyrical imagery may be, it plays out sounding more like a creator getting his negative impulses out in a socially acceptable way - a bit of sublimation to which I can relate all too well. Spend even a minute talking with Koda and you'll see just how much of a genius this guy is, because his brain works on a level most of us regular old humans can't comprehend. Just wait till his song "Another Place" comes along. Though he didn't drop it this year, I've been lucky and honored enough to get to hear a demo of that song, and also to know the concept Koda's got in mind for the video. When he makes this video, you'll never be able to unsee it, and it will make you cry Amazing Spider-Man-grade tears and that's a promise.

"I can't be a savior, no, 'cause I can't even save myself..."

5. Sir Sly, "High"

Featured, as I remember, on an episode of Lucifer where Luci himself found his way to a pot farm and started co-opting the business for himself for a second or two, this song from a band I'd never heard of before this year was the comeback hit Foster the People should've had, but didn't. (Doesn't help that Foster the People's actual comeback this year left me feeling whelmed at best.) "High" is a song that's tailor-made for chair-dancing in the driver's seat of your car, as I've often done to the amusement of other Starbucks patrons arriving around the same time I do. No seriously, if nothing else, this song is absolutely perfect for reenacting Baby's moves in the opening scene to Baby Driver.

"Feels good for the first time in a long time now!"

4. St. Vincent, "Los Ageless"

I don't think I could ever love a St. Vincent song more than "Paris Is Burning" (part of the official soundtrack to my fourth Red Rain book, Black Mirror) or my first St. Vincent song, "Digital Witness" (part of the soundtrack to my Mark of the Spider-Man crossover fanfic with Elementary, Person of Interest, and Deadpool.) I have yet to find a place to use "Los Ageless" on one of my soundtracks (perhaps Orange Crush?), but as the most logical spiritual successor to "Digital Witness" St. Vincent could give us, you know I'm going to stuff this social-commentary-heavy jam into all your heads as part of the price for listening to my weird-ass Spotify playlists.

"In Los Ageless, the waves, they never break
They build and build until you don't have no escape
But how can I leave?"

3. Linkin Park, "One More Light"

One of the last of the great Linkin Park songs, "One More Light" and its message of being there for those who are suffering resonates too damn well in the wake of Chester Bennington's suicide. It's now so tragic that this album got such a drubbing from critics and fans alike - sure, it's not really stylistically compatible with Linkin Park - but to think that perhaps that negativity was a factor in Bennington's terrible final decision is all but unbearable. Good luck listening to this song, ever, without tearing up. If you somehow manage to do so, it's a sign that you're soulless and need to get that fixed ASAP.

"Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well, I do."

2. Arcade Fire, "Everything Now"

Back to a more positive musical realm here, the title track and lead single of Arcade Fire's long-awaited fifth album is a satirical take on consumerism and modern life, and is undeniably way up there on the list of best bops of the year. Getting a lot of comparisons to ABBA, and with Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter fueling the disco-esque production to a degree even "Reflektor" didn't anticipate, the biggest kicker of all in this song is that bassline, one of those that makes me, more than ever, want to master the bass. Is it too late? Nah, it's never too late, though it's definitely too late to assume that me having "Everything Now" will give me the happiness I so desperately need.

"And every film that you've ever seen
Fills the spaces up in your dreams!"

1. Imagine Dragons, "Believer"

Holy bloodydamn goryhell. Imagine Dragons' return, the lead single for their third album Evolve, truly lived up to that album's title while also retaining the band's genre-busting sonic core. Building on the style of that underappreciated song "Gold" from Smoke + Mirrors (which rightly won a Pinecone in 2015), "Believer" is uplifting without being preachy, hellishly distorted while taking the listener to aural heaven, and one of the most organic blends of rock, pop, and hip-hop I've ever heard. Between this song, and the works of ChronoWulf and Twenty-One Pilots, this rock fanboy's been finding himself developing more of a taste for the stylings of hip-hop in general. "Believer," with its tongue-twisting lyrics, wide-ranging vocal demands, and flow that freely accelerates and decelerates on a dime as a counterpoint to the uniform rhythm of its digitized backbeat, is also a massive challenge to sing successfully - a challenge I can't meet as I type this while still fighting through the nasty cold that's plagued me since the day after Christmas, but in the New Year, I'm hoping that'll change again for the better.

"But they never did, ever lived, ebbin' and flowin'
Inhibited, limited, till it broke open
And rained down, it rained down like...

And for this year, so endeth my annual awards. This time next year, here's hoping for a few of my old faves to jump back up in the rankings again. I'm looking at you, Flash and Supergirl, especially.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: Arrow - A Generation of Vipers

Arrow - A Generation of Vipers Arrow - A Generation of Vipers by Susan Griffith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The conclusion of the two-part crossover begun in The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen, Arrow: A Generation of Vipers is jam-packed with story threads. Not only does it have an all-new storyline centered on Oliver Queen and his team - early Season 4 vintage, roughly, so we pretty much get all Ollie, Dig, Felicity, and, thankfully, Thea as well - trying to recover an important artifact from the castle of an evil count in a country mashing up Austria and Russia, but we still have to deal with Barry's little problem of blurring out of space and time whenever he combines his speedster powers with emotional responses.

And then, because this is an Arrow story, we get a fair few flashbacks to Ollie's past. Not only to his old playboy life - including Tommy Merlyn, and Ghasi Lazarov, a previously unseen old friend from the same country he and his friends are currently hoping to pull off a sort of heist in - but also to his days on the island of Lian Yu, of course.

Clay and Susan Griffiths have their work cut out for them, juggling the many story threads over the course of 400 pages again. It's a delicate balancing act, but they pull it off with the aplomb of Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland as Spider-Man - that is to say, they do it well. Maybe there's a few too many scenes that aren't really necessary - like Barry almost getting honeypotted by a Russian agent, because it happens once, Ollie calls him out on his carelessness, and then it's all but forgotten - or, also, just about every Malcolm Merlyn scene because I'm still so over his extra ass after the show (as well as Legends of Tomorrow) ran his welcome into the ground years ago. But hey, those Malcolm Merlyn scenes, like a lot of others in both of the Griffiths' books, played out just enough like one of my old fanfics that I was very much able to appreciate them.

What I really appreciated, of course, was how the cast of The Flash being part of the stoyr didn't feel like an afterthought. Sadly, it's not a perfect integration in most cases. Caitlin has just about nothing to do (except maybe a scene or two that plays out like a SnowBarry hurt/comfort fic, which the previous book had many more of), and neither does Joe - or Iris, which is a shame considering how much Haunting significantly improved her characterization compared to what we get on the show. (Virtually eliminating WestAllen romance was a massive help in that regard, of course.) But Cisco? Here, he gets an improved role compared to Haunting, because he gets to basically be the comic relief, as he should because it's his element. Though the source material tends to lapse into excessive grimdarkness at times, bringing in two of the brightest sparks from The Flash - even if one of them, his story is about him suffering serious psychosomatic torture and I just wanted to fraking hug the poor guy the whole bloodydamn time! - alleviates that most common Arrow flaw magnificently.

Though I'm disappointed that this is the end of the Griffiths' involvement with the Arrowverse, for now - I can always hope for a good Legends story where they put Wally West to good use 'cause The Flash never does, though that apparently owes somewhat to Keiynan Lonsdale's busy schedule too, or perhaps a Supergirl story that ignores the ridiculous ways in which the writers of that show bend over backwards to torture us poor Karamel fanpeople - I'm very happy that they again delivered some terrific material to cap off this duology - a duology which Marc Guggenheim has supposedly canonized, to my delight.

Ave atque vale, Flash and Arrow, till you guys return to my small screen in the new year.

And on another happy note - fellow Olicity fans, this book is for you too. No BS.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: Angelfall

Angelfall Angelfall by Susan Ee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4000 five-star reviews on Amazon (according to the back cover blurb) can't be wrong. Well, maybe they can be wrong, but not for this novel. It takes the Silicon Valley that I've lived near for so long and turns it into a disaster zone of epic proportions, and stars a pair of unforgettable characters - Penryn Young, being a Katniss Everdeen-type but with martial arts instead of archery, and Raffe, the sarcastic, de-winged angel who feels strongly reminiscent of Castiel.

Maybe I've been getting into way too many YA apocalypse novels, but given my poor experience with some of these (namely, the lousy Ashes) that I'm just desperate to find better versions of such stuff to cleanse the taste from my mouth. This one qualifies for sure, especially given it inspired me to create my "Why Isn't This A Bloody Movie Yet?" shelf. Yeah.

AngelfallThe Hunger Games,, of course, with The Walking Dead, Supernatural, and unbelievably, The Event (anyone who ever watched that show should immediately know what I mean after finishing this book.) It's a real shame that it flies under the radar as much as it does, but hopefully someday they'll make the bloody movie out of it and it'll finally get the recognition it deserves.

Soon, I'll be rereading Books 2 and 3 and hoping to see more new material from Susan Ee someday!

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Review: The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen

The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen by Susan Griffith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks so much to my dear friend Ariel for clueing me in to the existence of this book and its sequel, Arrow: A Generation of Vipers, which I'm to read ASAP now. Maybe this one's more of a 4.5 than a 5, being a tad bit bogged down by overwrought prose and a few of my favorite characters not being present due to the book taking place roughly around the start of Season 2, meaning no Harry Wells or Wally West, boo hiss! - and, personally, I feel that the Griffiths' decision to write Barry's POV in third person instead of first was an oversight on their part, a missed opportunity to get into the guy's head like nobody else. But as a story worthy of being part of the CW series' canon, The Haunting of Barry Allen more than delivers enough to earn the full fifth star from me.

As I was telling my friend Koda while kinda-sorta pitching this book to him, it's professional fanfiction, but very good professional fanfiction, y'know? Hell, I noted a few similarities between my own fics and this book, particularly when Ronnie Raymond shows up - you'll know it when you see it. Between this and the other Flash story I read recently, Barry Lyga's more kid-oriented Hocus Pocus, I've got serious competition if I'm ever to take my unofficial Flash fanfiction career and make money from those speedster skills. I prefer the Griffiths' story, though, for several reasons.

One, being more for the adult audience allows it to pack much more of a punch, being a little less fun and games.

Two, the characterizations are not only super-duper on point (not that Lyga lacked in that department - I'm especially impressed with his depiction of Wally West, so superior to what we get on the show and so much more ready for Keiynan Lonsdale to properly portray him), but they give me all the right feels that I've come to expect from this world. Barry's actions from the end of Season 1 shape the story considerably, and the Griffiths take the opportunity to improve on the characterizations of just about everyone from that point in the timeline. Caitlin is smart and clinical but also very warm-hearted, far from her Killer Frost persona that sacrificed book smarts for street smarts. Joe is every bit the loving dad we all know he is. And Iris? She's perhaps best improved because there's no sign of the nonsense that befell her character in Season 2 and beyond, like the show pretty much forgetting her journalism career (the Griffiths don't forget, though), or of course the whole WestAllen adoptive-sibling-shipping shenanigans that have repelled the vast majority of my fanpeople friends. (Sure, maybe there's a hint of WestAllen romance in the future, but this book paints the two of them as best friends, as I feel they should be.) And God, Barry. If you don't at least tear up and want to pull him out of the book and hug him, you have no soul.

Three, the very welcome inclusion of the Arrow cast - pretty much Original Team Arrow (Ollie, Dig, and Felicity) owing to the book's location in the timeline, so before the infamous Season 4 which Stephen Amell would have us all forget. They hit it off so beautifully with Team Flash that it makes me wish the Griffiths wrote both shows, because maybe then they'd both be my favorites - though they'd still have Agents of SHIELD to compete with, and that show ain't yielding the top spot on my current faves list easily. And while the main metahuman threat gets eliminated thanks to Team Arrow's help, the Haunting issue...erm...doesn't. There's a pretty meaty cliffhanger to set the stage for A Generation of Vipers, and again, why the hell don't the Griffiths write the two shows already? Or at least the crossovers. They could do better than most of the ones we did get, except for "World's Finest" or "Invasion!" (They only did better than "Crisis on Earth-X" because WestAllen dragged that crossover down for me. Hashtag #SorryNotSorry, I'm dying on that hill!)

Bottom line, this book, which I read in one sitting, forms the beginning of a super-promising two-part crossover that I need to complete ASAP. My review of A Generation of Vipers will come very soon, and my expectations are incredibly high!

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Monday, December 25, 2017

Review: Made for Love

Made for Love Made for Love by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the bookstore, my friend Harry told me about how amazing this book was, and encouraged me to pick it up myself as soon as possible. Which I did, and while I expected a lot of humor just from the promise of a woman learning about her dad's creepy life-size sexbot (hence the title, huh?), I sure as hell didn't expect this book to be as smart and critical as it was. And that's a good thing, that Nutting was able to subvert my expectations so well. The sexbot stuff is funny, as is the separate storyline (until it eventually meets the main one) of Jasper, a con man who almost resembles an Americanized version of Javier from Good Behavior, aside from an inexplicable fetish for dolphins that wouldn't be out of place on SNL. But the real story of Hazel is the source of this book's genius, the story of a woman struggling to find herself and her identity when her soulless tech CEO husband wants to keep her collected and captured like a butterfly through the assistance of a sinister mind-meld - sorry, mind-control - chip.

Though Harry's warned me that Nutting's previous book is...rather disgusting, to say the least, Made for Love was, for me, a terrific first taste of Nutting's talent, and one I'll be able to happily hand-sell to customers at work. If the subject matter doesn't somehow manage to put them off, that is, but I hope it doesn't, for the reader's sake.

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Review: Timekeeper

Timekeeper Timekeeper by Tara Sim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not at all surprised Victoria Schwab blurbed this one - Tara Sim's debut would pair magnificently with Schwab's signature work, the Darker Shade trilogy. Welcome, my friends, to another alternate 19th century England, later in the century than Schwab wrote in her famous trilogy, but no less magical for it. Maybe a little too magical, in that the magic system isn't quite as well-explained as I'd hope for, but that's okay. It's really all about the fairytale quality of the story, anyway, with the forbidden love between clock spirits and the human mechanics tasked with their maintenance. Clock spirits prone to self-harm, even when they're already getting hurt by terrorists with pipe bombs. So that alone lends this story some pretty strong feels, and when the main ship in this book is m/m too? Well, I'm sold. And soon, I'll hopefully get my superiors to restock on Timekeeper - and its soon-to-publish sequel Chainbreaker at the bookstore. Well, one team lead did say she was looking to sell more queer YA, after all... :)

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wait, it's been five years now since this book came out? And I slept on it for that long? Well, thanks to my friend Harry, no longer, and I'll soon be reading through the rest of Benjamin Alire Sáenz's bibliography on his advice.

There's a few reasons why this book shouldn't work as well as it does - like the prose style, consisting of about 75% dialogue in not even close to full lines at a time, which leads to the book getting tons upon tons of negative space. That negative space, while a major point against Our Dark Duet when I read it earlier this year, was a little more welcome here because Aristotle and Dante is more of a thinker's book - and a feeler's book too. Because truly, as Sáenz shows us here, contemplating what it means to be a man requires getting in touch with the strength of said man's heart and soul, not just his brains and brawn. As a guy, I related way too well to Ari. As a raised-Catholic guy, I related to him all too well too. As a queer guy, well, I can only hope that coming out to my parents is as unexpectedly easy for me as it is for Ari. Maybe I didn't relate to him perfectly, but then I've written my own Author Avatar with a few Ari-like traits - namely, propensity for self-sacrifice and violence in the name of those he loves - without even realizing.

And apparently Sáenz is planning a sequel. My question is, when the hell will that come out? And there better not be any overriding of the hope left at the end of this book!

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: The Reader

The Reader The Reader by Traci Chee
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book. It sounded pretty cool, a sort of latter-day Inkheart in a fantasy world full of all sorts of kingdoms, a sort of bridge between MG and YA readership, and bringing a good amount of diversity to the table too. Unfortunately, in execution, The Reader left a lot to be desired. I found myself scratching my head a lot at the whole "This is a book" thing, which felt like it was playing a little too much with Magritte-style "Treachery of Images" and, of course, if this is supposed to be a world where reading isn't a thing, where do people know what "This is a book" even says? I'm sure there's an explanation somewhere, but after about 150-200 pages of a narrative that constantly gets interrupted for long stretches that travel completely elsewhere, I don't particularly feel like discovering it. DNF, for now, but maybe I'll take another try at this one someday.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review: It Devours!

It Devours! It Devours! by Joseph Fink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At some point, I'm going to need to pick up the printed collections of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast transcripts to increase my exposure to this weird and wonderful world. As for this second full-length novel from Fink and Cranor, it's another delightfully macabre tale, this time dialing up the Lovecraftian horror and highlighting the balance between science and faith and how opposites may often attract. It Devours! boasts a better, more cohesive, and more memorable story than the first novel, and thankfully doesn't require reading that first novel in order to enjoy it. This one, I'll be more easily able to recommend to customers at the Stanford bookstore, no problem.

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The Last Jedi: Mr. Johnson's Magnum Opus


"Let the past die. Kill it if you have to."
-Kylo Ren

"This is not going to go the way you think!"
-Luke Skywalker

Two years ago, I saw The Force Awakens and fell in love with it, declaring it J.J. Abrams' magnum opus. I hereby make a similar declaration to The Last Jedi as the magnum opus for writer-director Rian Johnson. Though quite outside his wheelhouse - Johnson being better known for harrowing and/or psychologically involved episodes of Breaking Bad, or the convoluted time-traveling mob thriller Looper - Johnson has no problem ably taking the reins from Abrams on this eighth episode of the Star Wars saga. Actually, though, if he does have a problem, it's a problem with meeting viewers' expectations - expectations which, especially of the predictive fan-theory variety, he makes it a point of burning down and dancing on the ashes like there's no tomorrow. And along the way, it's a long, though incredibly action-packed, ride.

*Tom Holland Spider-Man voice* Hey everyone.
*Andrew Garfield Spider-Man voice* Hey, how ya doin'?

I can't remember much of Looper, to be honest, and those Breaking Bad episodes Johnson directed were some of the darkest that show ever did - except maybe "Fly," which was more blackly comic than anything else. So while I was expecting Johnson to give us a darker and more dangerous Star Wars movie, which he did, I certainly didn't see it coming when he jacked up the humor game almost right from the start. Not that Poe Dameron's not enough of a jokester already - he's clearly got a Han Solo personality, which explains why General Leia is so torn on whether or not to respect or chastise him at all times. But seriously, the way he makes his entrance in this movie is so Guardians of the Galaxy-grade funny that it makes me a really grateful fanboy knowing that Abrams et al. reversed course on the initial plans to kill him off so quickly in The Force Awakens.

A great relationship in this GIF, though I'm of course rooting for canon StormPilot on the romantic front.

It's a good thing that Poe gets a ton more screen time for Oscar Isaac to really show off his chops in places where he's not a despicable creeper (Ex Machina) or spending most of his time hospitalized (his upcoming role in Annihilation.) Poe's screen time comes up in this movie, but there are a few other underused characters who don't get that benefit. Chief among them, of course, is Phasma. Though Gwendoline Christie makes the most of her role, she still gets only about five minutes at most in the whole damn movie, and to be honest, Delilah S. Dawson's Phasma novel kinda ruined her character for me, painting her as less a badass and more a dirty coward pretending to be the dictionary definition of "cold steel fish." Maz Kanata, whom we all love because of her wisdom and her take-no-prisoners attitude and her more than passing resemblance to Edna Mode and Hetty Lange, gets only a glorified cameo on a hologram call in this movie - a supreme disservice to Lupita Nyong'o that I sincerely hope Episode IX rectifies. Maybe they'll rewrite that movie so that the role initially meant for Leia, now obviously unfulfillable by her due to Carrie Fisher's untimely death, will go to Maz instead? God, I hope so.

Pictured: we the fans when they actually give Lupita something to do.

There's also Snoke, who's extremely underwritten and even more impossible to take seriously as a villain in this film now that we actually get to see him and he wears a silly Goldmember-looking bathrobe while sitting on his throne. But after watching this movie, I have to conclude (without spoilers, of course) that Snoke's underwritten nature is entirely by design, because there's truly a Bigger Bad out there than this guy whose motivations and characterization remain pancake-flat.

Yeah, you, Snokey, you ridiculous half-melted Trump statue, you.

Most of our returning faves, though, deliver beautifully on the character development front. Finn gets to raise his badass game and runs a sort of co-lead on at least one mission with young maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran, who's quite the fangirl in character and out from what I understand.) Leia, in her final film appearance, finally shows us how strong with the Force she is, stronger perhaps than anyone else in Star Wars history. I mean, sure, Force lightning and telekinetically stopping blaster bolts is all well and good, but the feats Leia pulls off in this film have to be seen to be believed. Luke too, though he starts out in this movie, of course, as a serious Knight in Sour Armor, unwilling to help Rey learn the ways of the Force because he fears her incredible strength. Given the history this movie reveals between him and Kylo Ren, I don't exactly blame him...but I still do wish he would've tried a little harder, a little sooner, to help Rey and take some steps towards redemption for his own failures. And of course Kylo Ren. I admit, I despised him after The Force Awakens, but over time, a couple of my Kylo-fan friends, Ginny and Sam (both being in the minority, of course), showed me a few good pieces of evidence that he wasn't as irredeemable as he seemed, and hopes that he would start fighting the good fight - if not in this film, then at least in the next. Incidentally, both of my friends have also gotten me shipping Reylo right alongside them. Hashtag #SorryNotSorry, but the tension between these two, especially with their unusually strong Force bond, is palpable - and adds to the movie's humor sometimes, to the point where Sam theorized that Rey was really talking to Ben the whole time, not villainous Kylo, and that Ben's got a bad, bad case of dissociative identity disorder - which, if even remotely true, would make him more sympathetic, I think.

Also, though I'm a Rey fanboy for life, I identify way too much with Ben too. Like me, and like Ezra Miller's Flash, they need...friends.

Shipping-wise, though, I confess myself disappointed. Even though I knew going into this that Rian Johnson had all but stricken down the possibility of there being a major romantic storyline, it's still sad to me that neither of my ships (both of which I've become a passenger on between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, though I didn't ship either of them while watching the former for the first time) set sail at all. Hell, both of them feel like they've been mercilessly torpedoed, and the one that Johnson pushes in this movie kinda damages it by giving them exactly the scenes that could most easily have been cut down because they slowed down the otherwise stellar pacing. But then again, I felt like Olicity was irreparably sunk on Arrow a couple years back, and that's changed for the better by now! There's still one more episode in this sequel trilogy, so I have to put my trust in J.J. Abrams to do my ships right the way Johnson didn't.

That said, though, Johnson delivers so much on the experience with this movie, it's not even funny. The funny, as mentioned above, is there, as is the high-stakes awesome. Leia gives us some, Luke gives us some, and we get a surprise cameo or two. There are so many terrific action scenes that had my entire theater (an IMAX one, so you know it was filled with at least a hundred fans) screaming and swearing and cheering that I quickly lost count. I'll leave it up to you to figure out which one had my bestie Speedy declaring to the entire theater, and I quote, "I. AM. DECEASED!" The real genius of Johnson's action scenes is, you know how they go maybe a full minute before they really take off, and yet it's still so immensely satisfying when they do go - a sort of predictable unpredictability, which is basically the theme of The Last Jedi along with the dimming of hope, the tiniest of sparks being enough to potentially resurrect said hope, the stubborn refusal of self-redemption, and the aforementioned dancing on the ashes of fan theories. Let's just say that Luke's first action in the movie is pretty emblematic of all those themes, so when you're done laughing at the sheer unexpectedness of it all, keep it in mind and it'll really help your mindset going forward for the next two and a half hours or so. Two and a half hours of several plotlines running about 5-10 minutes at a time, but (with the exception of the stretched-thin Canto Bight casino storyline) terrifically tightly paced. Sure, Johnson sacrifices a bit of scientific credibility - the whole movie takes place in the span of maybe about 36 hours and yet has a lot of extremely quick hyperspace jumps across almost the entire galaxy and then some. But just as in any of the other movies, where the whole "lightspeed" concept clearly has to be faster than the actual speed of light by a factor of at least ten in order for the story to work, it's only too easy to park your brain at the door as needed.

On a final note, the movie's visual effects are perhaps the most top-notch yet. Like The Force Awakens, practical effects are favored wherever possible, and lend a certain hokey charm at times - the much-ballyhooed porgs, for instance, which are extremely obvious in their animatronic artificiality, but lose none of their cuteness for it. (Though I'd rather have a pet vulptex, to be honest. They're the coolest creatures Lucasfilm ever gifted us and they don't get enough to do, gorrammit.) The CGI is consistently the best of any of the films - the prequels' CGI having not aged very well (particularly Attack of the Clones, and to a lesser extent The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith) and the current era's work having quite a few spots of unintentional failure, like the Force Awakens Rathtars or Rogue One's terribad Tarkin face - but The Last Jedi visual effects are of incredible quality. (Zack Snyder, you better be taking notes. You too, Abrams. Can't let Rian Johnson beat you in this department too, now can we?) And there's one scene in particular, a mindscape-type sequence that owes a hell of a lot to Divergent, that you'll love more than any other if only for its unsettling nature.

The Last Jedi hopefully won't prove to be the sequel trilogy's peak, but it shatters expectations so powerfully that it earns nothing short of an A+ from me, and leaves me in hopes of finding that balance between my own light and dark sides going forward. Perhaps better than a certain someone who deserves better and will probably only get done justice by fanfic writers.

Good day, fellow fanpeople, and may the Force be with you.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Review: Long Way Down

Long Way Down Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even after greatly enjoying Reynolds' take on Miles Morales, I've found myself sleeping on his bibliography for quite a while. Thanks to Long Way Down, I have another reminder that I should pretty much not be sleeping on said bibliography. Though very different in style from Miles Morales, especially since it's a novel entirely in verse as opposed to prose, this book is no less unforgettable and thought-provoking and an authentic look at the experience of a black teen boy. Inner-city life in all its grittiness is on full display here, a life governed by three rules - no crying, no snitching, and revenge. Maybe not so much the middle one, but the first and last are absolutely rooted in toxic masculinity, and Will's following them all to the letter because it's all he knows.

Until he leaves this life and steps into the elevator. In the elevator is a world where time slows to a crawl, the ghosts of Will's past jump in to haunt him and hotbox the joint with everyone infinitely smoking, and this waking nightmare (or perhaps just plain a nightmare) turns into a sort of gangland, magical-realist-influenced Christmas Carol...or does it? Such is the genius of Reynolds, who tells a complete story even when he leaves it with one of the most open of open endings. And normally open endings piss me off, but this one, it made sense, one hundred percent, leaving the ultimate outcome open to interpretation as Reynolds did.

Though it's a slim hope, I do hope that everything comes up Will eventually in this universe.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm sure this 150-page Final Dossier contains a few spoilers for the 18-episode Twin Peaks revival, but I couldn't really tell, and in any case, it was a pretty good read. Not as in-depth as The Secret History, of course, and certainly a lot less historical-conspiracy oriented, but for its deep dive into what happened to a lot of popular characters in the 25-year-plus gap between the original series and the revival, it was fairly engrossing - and, at the very least, did eventually bring about some kind of resolution to "HOW'S ANNIE?!?!?!?!" I guess David Lynch, even if he fought tooth and nail, failed to prevent the answers from coming to light. Thank God for Mark Frost, in that case.

Someday, I'll be able to complete my journey through Twin Peaks and finally watch the revival. That day might be a long ways off yet, but it'll come. I promise.

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Moxie

Moxie Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By now, of course, I think it's pretty plain that the infamous Kirkus review of this book was...pretty misinformed in its suggestion that Moxie somehow promotes not "real" feminism, but empowerment through gender segregation. Nope nope nope. Just feminism, straight up, as only our heroine Vivian can serve it. Girl power and punk music and smashing the patriarchy, with a glowing recommendation from Amy Poehler as if you didn't need another reason to read this book? What's not to love?

And as for the idea that guys are excluded from this narrative and/or all painted as sexist pigs and rapist monsters, well, clearly that Kirkus reviewer must've glossed over Seth's character entirely. Seth ain't perfect, and his social blindspots do have a way of wreaking havoc and creating conflict from time to time. Most of the time, though, he's a damn good role model for all male-ally feminist dudes. (Sure, it's a low bar to clear, being respectful to women just because it's goddamn right, but Seth clears it with a pretty flying leap, I think.) And when he's the love interest to such an engaging and fundamentally good protagonist as Vivian, well, you've got the recipe for one of the most shippable ships I've ever seen in YA. In between the serious issues that Vivian has to take on with her school's systemic sexism, their romance makes a great counterpoint. Awkward, as can be expected, but sweet and real, and you gotta love how Mathieu makes sure they never, ever so much as make out without both giving and receiving consent.

Sexism is the main social issue this book tackles, but it's not the only one. We get a few allusions to race relations too, and sexual orientation. Not much, but it's a nice tip of the cap from Mathieu to remind us all that there's not just one problem, and that society can always benefit from being more inclusive.

While Moxie is my first Jennifer Mathieu book, it's absolutely not going to be my last. But her other books now have to live up to this extremely high standard - can they? It'll be quite the challenge, especially given that I read this book in one sitting. It's that good.

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Review: Flashfall

Flashfall Flashfall by Jenny Moyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After taking part in a BBTC chat with author Jenny Moyer in anticipation of this book's sequel, I realized I had to read the original for the first time - a book that somehow managed to fly under my radar, probably because of how YA dystopians are supposedly dead thanks to overexposure from the likes of Divergent, The Maze Runner, Red Queen, etc.

Flashfall, however, feels like a still-pretty-fresh spin on the genre, combining elements of The Maze Runner - solar-flare-induced apocalypse, lots of monsters in underground tunnels and the like - and Arclight, particularly in terms of this book also boasting a weird light barrier between the sheltered world and the broken remains of the world beyond.

The story itself treads fairly familiar ground, but its real strength is the characters, particularly Dram and Orion. They're tough, both of them, and of course they're in love, but I never once feel like they're in love just to satisfy the typical requirements of a YA novel. Their relationship feels genuinely sweet, and I'm honestly terrified that because I love them as a couple, the sequel is going to sink this ship in the worst possible ways.

But I'm going to read the sequel, hopefully soon, and if I don't enjoy it as much as I did this book, I'll be very surprised.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trigger warnings for this book: miscarriage, slut-shaming, rape.

I was lucky enough to acquire the ARC of this book in a trade, and I've since passed it along to one of the team leads at the Stanford bookstore, who's quite the Seraphina fan, enough to have made that book one of her official Staff Picks. Tess of the Road, it's quite a different kettle of fish than Hartman's previous two fantasy tales, and while I give it the same official GR rating, it's really more of a 4.25, if not a 4.5, than Seraphina or Shadow Scale were. While Tess has a way of rambling over its not-inconsiderable 500+ pages, and builds up to a strangely abrupt ending that doesn't feel like an ending at all, the character of Tess herself, and her interactions with a variety of other characters on the road (and also Seraphina from time to time), proves extremely endearing and supremely sympathetic.

Perhaps the strongest selling point of this book is its feminist take on the fantasy genre. Especially when it comes to sex-positivity, because one thing that Tess of the Road reflects from our world is the absolutely ridiculous preoccupation with sexual "purity," and particularly that of women, while men are expected to "sin" repeatedly and often and that's just the way nature goes, or so the culture of this world (the human culture, that is, not so much dragon culture) and ours would have you believe. Religion is greatly to blame for this problem, with so many references to St. Vitt and his Biblical-style admonitions. Not to mention how women are so repeatedly taught not to enjoy sex, ever, while men are told they have a basically saint-given right to do whatever the hell they will with a woman's body (and, during scenes when Tess takes on a male persona, the guys she winds up traveling with at one point actually set up a fund to relieve "Tes'puco" of his virginity. No joke.) And, on a related front, how does consent figure into this warped-as-hell dynamic? The answer...probably won't surprise you, but it'll leave you feeling pretty down and wishing to all the saints that you could use this book, literally, to beat some sense into those who would uphold the patriarchy.

This book was a very good, very thought-provoking return from Rachel Hartman. I imagine it'll be a hit when it comes out early next year, but again, be warned - it's not for the faint of heart, this book.

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