MMXX

So 2020 was a year that certainly happened.

I don’t want to write much about the year on a personal level. I used to do that with these reflections, but the last couple of years have been rough, to say the least, both on a personal scale and, you know, a global one, and I find myself with little energy to expound much on the hardships of life at the close of it all. I doubt there’s much I can say that hasn’t already been said by thousands of others, anyway. We’re all passengers on Spaceship Earth after all; we’re all going through the same kind of bedlam.

So I talk about books and stories. It’s the best I can do.

Books are โ€” and they always have been โ€” the beams of light that break through the darkness of any given time period, after all. I can’t think of a better, more appropriate way of saying good riddance to this plague year than by putting forth a small selection of these bright, shining beacons. These talismans against despair.

Continue reading “MMXX”

PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke

49 piranesi

๐‘ท๐’Š๐’“๐’‚๐’๐’†๐’”๐’Š was the very last book I read in 2020. I finished it thinking that it was probably the best thing I read in the entire year, but that I needed time to dwell on it before I could say for certain.โ €

I think two weeks is more than ample time. It’s not only the best book I read last year, but it’s also simply one of the best I’ve read in, I don’t know, the last decade? Susanna Clarke just writes the kind of stories I love reading the most: full of wizardry and wordplay and whimsy and wistfulness. Fairy tales, in other words, in their purest, most primal form. โ €

Alan Moore, the comic book writer and actual honest-to-goodness magician, often writes about art as being true, literal magic, a notion that has always stuck with me:โ €

Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. The very language about magic seems to be talking as much about writing or art as it is about supernatural events. A “grimoire,” for example, “the book of spells,” is simply a fancy way of saying “grammar.” Indeed, to “cast a spell,” is simply, “to spell.” To manipulate words. To change people’s consciousness.

Itโ€™s an interpretation I love, because while I donโ€™t really believe in actual, wave-thy-wand magic, I sure as hell believe in the power of art.โ €

Which is all really to say, for what seems the hundredth time, that I think Susanna Clarke is a true mage, and I will read any spell she chuses to cast on the world.

SEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak

seven days of us

I was going to attempt to do one of my overly verbose, wordplay-filled summaries for this novel, as they are turning out to be one of my very favorite things to write, but I found that the publisherโ€™s copy is actually pretty perfect as on its own, particularly in capturing the frantic, frenetic tone of the story. It goes:

๐˜๐˜ต’๐˜ด ๐˜Š๐˜ฉ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ด, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ง๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜บ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ด ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜‰๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜ง๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง. ๐˜Œ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜Œ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ’๐˜ด ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ถ๐˜จ๐˜ฉ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ โ€” ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ถ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง๐˜ง ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ โ€” ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ซ๐˜ฐ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ๐˜บ๐˜ง๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ ๐˜๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ญ. ๐˜‰๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜–๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ข, ๐˜ข ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ, ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ข๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ. ๐˜š๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ’๐˜ด ๐˜ซ๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ง๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ค ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜บ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฒ๐˜ถ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ข ๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฌโ€ฆ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ด๐˜ฐ ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜ง๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜บ.

๐˜๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜น๐˜ต ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜บ๐˜ด, ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜‰๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ๐˜ฏ, ๐˜ค๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง๐˜ง ๐˜ง๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜ฉ๐˜ถ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜บ, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ’๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฃ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ด. ๐˜ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜จ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ, ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜ง๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ด ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ถ๐˜จ๐˜ฉ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜—๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ง๐˜ช๐˜น๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜ถ๐˜ฑ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ, ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ ๐˜–๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ข ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ด ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ค๐˜ถ๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ฌ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜ง๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ต-๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฃ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ด.

๐˜ˆ๐˜ด ๐˜ˆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ฒ๐˜ถ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ง ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ถ๐˜ฅ๐˜บ ๐˜ธ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ด๐˜ค๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜จ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜บ๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜ข ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ณ ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต, ๐˜Œ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜ข ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ต๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ง๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜ถ๐˜ฑ๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ๐˜ฏ.

๐˜๐˜ฏ ๐˜ค๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜น๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜บ, ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ต ๐˜ฎ๐˜ถ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜ค๐˜ข๐˜ฏ ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜บ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฅ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜จ, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜จ-๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜จ๐˜ฉ๐˜ต, ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ฌ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜น๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜จ๐˜ถ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ’๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ….

I mean, come on.ย  I suppose it does also make it sound like a Lifetime and/or Hallmark movie, but, unremarkable and problematic as they may be (must they all center around white, upper-middle class people and their problems, in this the year of our Lord 2020), you kind of have to admit that they seemed to have cracked a hell of an alluring formula. Why else would my mother audiences keep coming back for more?ย 

But thatโ€™s the vibe I got from Francesca Hornak’s ๐‘บ๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’ ๐‘ซ๐’‚๐’š๐’” ๐’๐’‡ ๐‘ผ๐’”. And while I may not generally be a fan ofย  the tried and true trope of melodrama stemming from people not communicating clearly with one another, Iโ€™ll be damned if I didnโ€™t enjoy the hell out of it in this telenovela of a novel. Admittedly, my interest in it only began about the midway point, finding the first halfโ€™s set-up and exposition excessive to the point of being tedious. The nearer the story got to Christmas however, the more all the secrets and pent up tension from the preceding pages threatened to explode. The outcome of which was the bookish equivalent of not being able to look away from a trainwreck. I was surprised to find myself gasping and harshly whispering out things like โ€œโฟแต’โ€ and โ€œแต–หกแต‰แตƒหขแต‰ แตˆแต’โฟ’แต—โ€ and โ€œแต’สฐ แตแต’แต’แตˆ แตแต’แตˆ สทสฐสธโ€ so often. It was pretty great.

Much of that enjoyment was a direct result of Hornakโ€™s remarkable job at writing this bevy of fastidious, slightly unlikeable characters. You may not wish to spend some time with them in real life, but you can certainly, assuredly, relate and empathize with every single one of them. We might not be going through many of their specific set of issues (Olivia labeling them first world problems is spot on for the most part), but we know how family can be a battleground almost as often as it is a haven. Itโ€™s another time-tested trope โ€” one that rings particularly true in this time of quarantine and lockdowns.ย 

Itโ€™s a little wild to think that this stay-at-home angle was probably the one aspect of the novel the author must have thought not many readers would find relatable. Why would she? This book was first published in 2017, after all. Back when we were all still taking the act of being able to go outside your house and mingling with other people who are not immediately related to you totally and utterly for granted. Ha ha ha who would have ever thought.

SERPENTINE by Philip Pullman

serpentineWhen it comes to human affairs, a billion invisible filaments connect us to our own pasts, as well as to the most remote things we can imagine; and I hope that, above all, these books are about being alive and being human.โ €

โ€” Philip Pullmanโ €

I began this year by reading Philip Pullmanโ€™s ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜š๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ, so I only thought it fitting that I would end it by reading yet another of his fantastic expeditions into human nature. ๐‘บ๐’†๐’“๐’‘๐’†๐’๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’† is a brief excursion into Lyraโ€™s world, and actually acts as a sort of thematic prequel to ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ, the second entry in ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜‰๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฌ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜‹๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ต series. โ €

๐‘บ๐’†๐’“๐’‘๐’†๐’๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’† tells a small, intimate story in which Lyra Belacqua joins some colleagues at an archaeological site that happens to be near the home of a past acquaintance โ€” someone who just might be able to answer some of the many burning questions Lyra has been carrying ever since the events related in ๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜‹๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ด. She and her dรฆmon, Pan, have been growing apart in the aftermath of these earlier exploits, a predicament they canโ€™t seem to be able to solve, causing them both great emotional turmoil. Lyra, true to her curious nature, is determined to decipher this dilemma. She gets some clarification by the end of this novella, but the relationship between humans and their inner-selves is something that will preoccupy Lyra well into her adulthood. Indeed this concern forms the central theme in ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜š๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ (and, I suspect, ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜‰๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฌ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜‹๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ต as a whole).โ €

I was well into my twenties when I first read ๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜‹๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ด, but the series still ended up being acutely formative. It’s a story that spoke to me on a host of different levels (not least of which a spiritual one) and even though I’ve never sat down and revisited the novels, they still, to this day, live rent-free in my head and heart.โ €

This makes every subsequent glimpse into this world feel like a privilege and a homecoming. There’s something intensely warm and comforting about these novels โ€” probably due to the fact that despite them being mostly dark, serious tomes of the fantastic, they are also some of the most human books out there.โ €โ €

Which is a roundabout way of saying that each return visit to Pullmanโ€™s world has felt like coming home. Like visiting old friends. Like gaining some fresh, new insightโ€” however small โ€” into what it means to be human and alive. And the experience of reading ๐‘บ๐’†๐’“๐’‘๐’†๐’๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’† was no different.

KINDRED SPIRITS + THE PRINCE AND THE TROLL by Rainbow Rowell

46 rainbow rowellHey so speaking of โ€” did you know Rainbow Rowell once wrote a Star Wars story? Well, Star Wars-adjacent, at any rate. For World Book Day a couple of years ago she came out with a short little story about a group of fans waiting in line for the premiere of ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด. I read it a short while after the story came out and, like a lot of Rowellโ€™s work, I pretty much loved it. Hereโ€™s a short review from an old blog:โ €
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๐™ธ ๐š•๐š˜๐šŸ๐šŽ ๐š๐šŠ๐š’๐š—๐š‹๐š˜๐š  ๐š๐š˜๐š ๐šŽ๐š•๐š•. ๐™ธ ๐š•๐š˜๐šŸ๐šŽ ๐š‘๐šŽ๐š› ๐šš๐šž๐š’๐š›๐š”๐šข ๐šŠ๐š—๐š ๐šŒ๐š•๐šŽ๐šŸ๐šŽ๐š› ๐šŠ๐š—๐š ๐š™๐šŠ๐šœ๐šœ๐š’๐š˜๐š—๐šŠ๐š๐šŽ ๐š ๐š›๐š’๐š๐š’๐š—๐š (๐š’๐š ๐š๐š‘๐šŽ๐š›๐šŽ ๐š ๐šŠ๐šœ ๐šŠ ๐š‹๐š˜๐š˜๐š” ๐šŽ๐šš๐šž๐š’๐šŸ๐šŠ๐š•๐šŽ๐š—๐š ๐š๐š˜ ๐˜Ž๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Ž๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ญ๐˜ด, ๐š’๐š ๐š ๐š˜๐šž๐š•๐š ๐š‹๐šŽ ๐šŠ ๐š๐š˜๐š ๐šŽ๐š•๐š• ๐š‹๐š˜๐š˜๐š”). ๐™ธ ๐š•๐š˜๐šŸ๐šŽ ๐š‘๐šŽ๐š› ๐šŠ๐š–๐šŠ๐šฃ๐š’๐š—๐š ๐šŠ๐š—๐š ๐šž๐š—๐šŒ๐šŠ๐š—๐š—๐šข ๐šŠ๐š‹๐š’๐š•๐š’๐š๐šข ๐š๐š˜ ๐š–๐šŠ๐š”๐šŽ ๐šข๐š˜๐šž ๐š๐šŠ๐š•๐š• ๐š๐š˜๐š› ๐šŠ ๐šŒ๐š‘๐šŠ๐š›๐šŠ๐šŒ๐š๐šŽ๐š› ๐š’๐š— ๐šŠ๐š•๐š–๐š˜๐šœ๐š ๐š—๐š˜ ๐š๐š’๐š–๐šŽ ๐šŠ๐š ๐šŠ๐š•๐š•.โ €
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๐šƒ๐š‘๐š’๐šœ ๐šœ๐šŠ๐š–๐šŽ ๐š๐šŠ๐š•๐šŽ๐š—๐š ๐š’๐šœ ๐š‹๐š›๐š’๐š•๐š•๐š’๐šŠ๐š—๐š๐š•๐šข ๐šœ๐š‘๐š˜๐š ๐šŒ๐šŠ๐šœ๐šŽ๐š ๐š’๐š— ๐‘ฒ๐’Š๐’๐’…๐’“๐’†๐’… ๐‘บ๐’‘๐’Š๐’“๐’Š๐’•๐’”, ๐šŠ ๐š—๐š˜๐šŸ๐šŽ๐š•๐š•๐šŠ ๐š๐š‘๐šŠ๐š, ๐š˜๐šŸ๐šŽ๐š› ๐š๐š‘๐šŽ ๐šŒ๐š˜๐šž๐š›๐šœ๐šŽ ๐š˜๐š ๐šœ๐š’๐šก๐š๐šข-๐š๐š ๐š˜ ๐š™๐šŠ๐š๐šŽ๐šœ, ๐š–๐šŠ๐š—๐šŠ๐š๐šŽ๐šœ ๐š๐š˜ ๐š‘๐šŠ๐šŸ๐šŽ ๐š–๐š˜๐š›๐šŽ ๐šŒ๐š‘๐šŠ๐š›๐šŠ๐šŒ๐š๐šŽ๐š› ๐š๐šŽ๐šŸ๐šŽ๐š•๐š˜๐š™๐š–๐šŽ๐š—๐š ๐š๐š‘๐šŠ๐š— ๐š–๐š˜๐šœ๐š ๐šœ๐š™๐š›๐šŠ๐š ๐š•๐š’๐š—๐š, ๐š‹๐š›๐š’๐šŒ๐š”-๐šœ๐š’๐šฃ๐šŽ๐š ๐š—๐š˜๐šŸ๐šŽ๐š•๐šœ. ๐™ธ๐šโ€™๐šœ ๐šŠ๐š— ๐šž๐š—๐š๐šŠ๐š’๐š› ๐š๐š’๐š๐š, ๐š›๐šŽ๐šŠ๐š•๐š•๐šข.โ €
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๐šƒ๐š‘๐š’๐šœ ๐š’๐šœ ๐šŠ ๐šœ๐š๐š˜๐š›๐šข ๐šŠ๐š‹๐š˜๐šž๐š ๐š๐š‘๐š›๐šŽ๐šŽ ๐š‚๐š๐šŠ๐š› ๐š†๐šŠ๐š›๐šœ ๐š๐šŽ๐šŽ๐š”๐šœ ๐šŒ๐šŠ๐š–๐š™๐š’๐š—๐š ๐š˜๐šž๐š ๐š’๐š— ๐šŠ ๐š๐šŽ๐šœ๐š˜๐š•๐šŠ๐š๐šŽ ๐š•๐š’๐š—๐šŽ ๐š’๐š— ๐š๐š›๐š˜๐š—๐š ๐š˜๐š ๐šŠ๐š— ๐™พ๐š–๐šŠ๐š‘๐šŠ ๐š๐š‘๐šŽ๐šŠ๐š๐šŽ๐š› ๐š๐š˜๐š› ๐š๐š‘๐šŽ ๐š™๐š›๐šŽ๐š–๐š’๐šŽ๐š›๐šŽ ๐š˜๐š ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด. ๐™ธ๐š ๐š’๐šœ ๐š•๐š˜๐šŸ๐šŽ๐š•๐šข, ๐šŠ๐š—๐š ๐š’๐š ๐š’๐šœ ๐šŒ๐š‘๐šŠ๐š›๐š–๐š’๐š—๐š, ๐šŠ๐š—๐š ๐š’๐š ๐š’๐šœ ๐šœ๐š˜ ๐š ๐š˜๐š—๐š๐šŽ๐š›๐š๐šž๐š•. ๐™ธ ๐š๐š’๐š—๐š’๐šœ๐š‘๐šŽ๐š ๐š๐š‘๐šŽ ๐šœ๐š๐š˜๐š›๐šข ๐š’๐š— ๐š˜๐š—๐šŽ ๐šœ๐š’๐š๐š๐š’๐š—๐š, ๐š๐šŽ๐šœ๐š™๐šŽ๐š›๐šŠ๐š๐šŽ๐š•๐šข ๐š ๐š’๐šœ๐š‘๐š’๐š—๐š ๐š๐š‘๐šŽ๐š›๐šŽ ๐š ๐šŠ๐šœ ๐šŠ ๐š๐šž๐š•๐š•-๐š•๐šŽ๐š—๐š๐š๐š‘ ๐š—๐š˜๐šŸ๐šŽ๐š• ๐š๐šŽ๐šŠ๐š๐šž๐š›๐š’๐š—๐š ๐š๐š‘๐šŽ๐šœ๐šŽ ๐šŒ๐š‘๐šŠ๐š›๐šŠ๐šŒ๐š๐šŽ๐š›๐šœ ๐š๐š‘๐šŠ๐š ๐™ธ ๐šŒ๐š˜๐šž๐š•๐š ๐š’๐š–๐š–๐šŽ๐š๐š’๐šŠ๐š๐šŽ๐š•๐šข ๐š™๐š’๐šŒ๐š” ๐šž๐š™. ๐™ท๐šŽ๐šŠ๐š›๐š๐š ๐šŠ๐š›๐š–๐š’๐š—๐š ๐šŠ๐š—๐š ๐š‹๐šŽ๐šŠ๐šž๐š๐š’๐š๐šž๐š•.โ €
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Like every December since the first film in the sequel trilogy came out, Star Wars has been on my mind a lot, which is why I decided to revisit the slim volume. I enjoyed it just as much this time around, appreciating especially how it captures the eager, edgy excitement a lot of fans of the saga felt in the run-up of the release of TFA. You know, before the dark times. Before the ๐˜‹๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ. This does tragically make the story act somewhat like a time capsule, however, portraying as it does a facet of fandom that seems quaint and innocent considering the meaningless gatekeeping and toxic rhetoric that is so maddeningly prevalent these days. Alas. โ €
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You and I can still enjoy things, though. Itโ€™ll be our secret. โ €
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Shortly after finishing the novella, I was made aware of a series of fairy tale retellings a bunch of prominent authors were doing for the Amazon Original Stories initiative. Rowell was one of these writers, contributing ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ท๐’“๐’Š๐’๐’„๐’† ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ป๐’“๐’๐’๐’, an odd little tale that doesnโ€™t seem to be an interpretation of any one fable in particular but instead plays with the troll-under-the-bridge narrative. The story seems to be a blend of Rowellโ€™s realistic contemporary style and the dark whimsy found in her fantasy fiction. This makes it a bit disjointed but it works for the most part. The aforementioned gift is once more in full display here as I also finished this peculiar yarn wanting to know more about the two protagonists, and about the world in specific, which appears to be a sort of post-climate apocalypse mythical land (that, you know, still has Starbucks). Also because once I read that title I just ๐˜ฌ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ Rowell would make them fall in love with each other and that I would buy it hook, line, sinker โ€” and, reader, I ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ฅ.

THE VISITOR by Sergio Gomez

45 the visitorIn the proverbial middle of nowhere a group of travelers wait out a severe snowstorm inside of a diner. Inside they find warmth and food and drink and casual conversation. Most of them quickly develop the quick camaraderie commonly found between people sharing in a particular, peculiar experience. They are hopeful the rough weather will disperse before long, allowing them to continue their particular journeys. โ €
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A fellow traveler will soon be trying to join them, however, one with less than benevolent intentions in mind โ€” and the group will quickly realize that there are far more dangerous things outside than the miserable elements.โ €
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You know, Iโ€™ve never really associated the holiday season with horror. Dwell on it enough and it does begin to make a perverse sort of sense, though. Fiction centered around the holidays (and around Christmas especially) is brimming with stories about disparate groups of people finding themselves stuck in an isolated, often claustrophobic setting, after all, and that is as traditional a horror set-up as you can get. Why ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ต just throw a monster into the mix?โ €
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The monster in ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’•๐’๐’“, a novella by Sergio Gomez, arrives in the shape of an alien, coming to terrorize our protagonists. Despite the otherworldly antagonist and the wintry setting however, this story is less ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ than it is ๐˜—๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ, as we quickly find out this creature wants to join in on the Yautja fun by trying to hunt down our core characters one by one.โ €
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This being a brief sojourn of a story, my only expectation was to have a good time โ€” a prospect that was indeed met. Gomez has written a tight tale that boasts a breakneck pace, while also somehow finding the space to develop the characters enough that we can recognize and sympathize with their plight. Not an easy thing to do in less than a hundred pages, but Gomez did a creditable job with the material.โ €
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If there is one thing I found lacking was the monster itself, especially in terms of its appearance. Gomez keeps it understandably vague, but the impression that we can glean from the details he ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด drop ends up beingโ€ฆ a tiny bit goofy. This is disappointing seeing as how the cover depicts what looks like a traditional Grey alien, which is an image that has always haunted and disturbed me (hullo, my name is Rick, and Whitley Strieberโ€™s ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฎ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ is one of the most terrifying books I have ever read). I would have found the story much more effective and unsettling if we got the same spindly extraterrestrial inside the story itself. But I confess that this is more of a personal preference than it is ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ถ๐˜ข๐˜ญ criticism.โ €
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๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’•๐’๐’“ is a fun and bloody ride that makes for some excellent holiday reading.

FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK by Various

44 from a certain pov - empireThe first volume of ๐˜๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ข ๐˜Š๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜—๐˜ฐ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด had, well, awakened a long-dormant excitement for Star Wars, pushing me down a nostalgic-tinged rabbit hole that led me to things like ๐˜š๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ณ ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ด ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ด (which still stands as my favorite piece of new SW media) and, eventually, inevitably, to the books. Up to that point, in the aftermath of the Disney acquisition most of the stories had to do, naturally, with the new sequel trilogy of films, broadening the narrative and developing certain key characters. Occasionally some of the books dropped dealt with characters and events from bygone eras, but for the most part the expanded universe focused on the ๐˜ค๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต. And then ๐˜๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ข ๐˜Š๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜—๐˜ฐ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ suddenly arrived, an anthology featuring a wide array of writers telling the stories of dozens of peripheral characters from the film that started it all. Itโ€™s an idea that perfectly embodies this franchiseโ€™s most charming, playful notion: that ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ has a tale that needs to be told; that ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ has an important role to play in this far-away galaxy. โ €
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I ate it all up. The collection somehow managed to satisfy my nostalgic yen while also injecting some much needed, much welcomed fresh ideas to this familiar universe: from boasting a more diverse cast of characters (people of color! a touch of queer representation!) to playing with styles and genres. There was a lot of emphasis on lighthearted humor, of course, but a lot of the stories also packed quite the emotional punch. It was a wild ride, and definitely one of my favorite reads the year it came out. It made me hope they would continue this concept with the rest of films. And so when this volume, telling the story of ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Œ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜š๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜‰๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฌ, was announced I was nothing if not thrilled.โ €
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Which just makes it all the more the shame that ๐‘ญ๐’“๐’๐’Ž ๐’‚ ๐‘ช๐’†๐’“๐’•๐’‚๐’Š๐’ ๐‘ท๐’๐’Š๐’๐’• ๐’๐’‡ ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’†๐’˜: ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฌ๐’Ž๐’‘๐’Š๐’“๐’† ๐‘บ๐’•๐’“๐’Š๐’Œ๐’†๐’” ๐‘ฉ๐’‚๐’„๐’Œ mostly disappointed me. It still boasts a broad battalion of authors, many of whom have written works Iโ€™ve enjoyed in the past, who do an admirable job with the material given while also continuing to ramp up the diversity aspect established in the first volume. Really, the ingredients that made me love the previous collection are all here, itโ€™s just that, somehow, the recipe doesnโ€™t particularly work with the story ๐˜Œ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ is trying to tell. โ €
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It makes sense โ€” the first film introduced us to a vast cast of characters, giving the stories a wider area in which to play and let loose. In contrast, ๐˜Œ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆโ€™s story is smaller in scale, and much more personal, concentrating less on the galaxy at large and more on the trials and tribulations of our protagonists. This leaves the authors of this collection to either focus on a scattering of minor characters or create new ones whole cloth. In any other context, this would be a freeing conceit; here, though, it just ends up making the collection feel helter-skelter. Add to that the fact that most of the stories are mostly irreverent in nature, focusing on the humorous, slightly ridiculous side of the saga, seemingly eschewing the poignancy found in much of the first volume in favor of knowing winks at the audience. And while you will never find me stating that camp has no place in the Star Wars universe (itโ€™s been there from the start, etched into its genetic makeup), I do think that, much like with the Force, there needs to be a balance. โ €
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But before I feel too bad about being a bit harsh on this volume, I want to make note of the stories that ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ฅ end up leaving a big impression on me, of which there were a handful:โ €
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Django Wexlerโ€™s โ€œAmara Kelโ€™s Rules for TIE Pilot Survival (Probably)โ€ and Mackenzi Leeโ€™s โ€œThere Is Always Anotherโ€ feature the sort of clever cheek that ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด work for me, where humor is used to ground all these fanciful figures. The opening line in Leeโ€™s story in particular will stand as one of the funniest in all of Star Wars. โ €
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Jim Zubโ€™s โ€œThe First Lessonโ€ and Lydia Kangโ€™s โ€œRight-Hand Manโ€ in contrast, delve deep into the pathos of some of these mythical characters, and they were the stories I feel actually added some more substance to the story being told in the film. โ €
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And finally, Austin Walkerโ€™s โ€œNo Time for Poetryโ€ and Alexander Freedโ€™s โ€œThe Man Who Built Cloud Cityโ€ both tell the type of story I currently enjoy the most in this universe, narratives which โ€” much like my other two favorites, ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ฏ and ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ด โ€” manage to perfectly blend that mix of earnestness and enthusiasm that made Star Wars so damn precious and exceptional in the first place.โ €
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Iโ€™ve mentioned it before but it bears repeating: disappointment is as much an integral part of being a Star Wars fan as the feeling of delight. And if there is anything to living in this post-Disney supersaturated world is that, for the foreseeable future at least, we can be certain there will soon be something else to anticipate, anyway.

CHILLING EFFECT by Valerie Valdes

43 chilling effectEva-Benita Caridad Larsen y Coipel de Innocente โ€” Eva, for short โ€” captain of ๐˜“๐˜ข ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข ๐˜•๐˜ฆ๐˜จ๐˜ณ๐˜ข, is tired. She’s led a rough life, one riddled with tragedies and mistakes that she would soon like to forget. She’s doing a decent job at it, too, with having cut ties with most of her family and concentrating on growing her mostly legal shipping business. Helping her in this endeavor is a capable, crackpot crew that is beginning to feel like a sort of family. Sheโ€™s even considering starting a new relationship. Eva Innocente’s past seems to be staying well behind her, where it belongs.โ €
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Right up until it catches back up with her in the form of the shadowy, mob-like organization known as The Fridge, who Eva learns are holding her younger sister, Mari, captive. With the threat of harm coming to her sister lest she comply, the captain of ๐˜“๐˜ข ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข ๐˜•๐˜ฆ๐˜จ๐˜ณ๐˜ข is coerced into doing increasingly dangerous and bizarre tasks for the secretive faction, all while trying to keep her close-knit crew in the dark as to the origins of these odd jobs, a deceit that soon begins to unravel, bringing back all the tension and drama Eva has tried so hard to evade all these years.โ €
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What you definitely wonโ€™t get from that synopsis though is just how funny and irreverent ๐‘ช๐’‰๐’Š๐’๐’๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐‘ฌ๐’‡๐’‡๐’†๐’„๐’•, the debut novel from Valerie Valdes, actually is. The book starts out fun and light, a tone that, thanks to characters who are instantly compelling, it manages to keep even as the tension and melodrama ramps up like a proper telenovela. Like many science fiction romps, ๐‘ช๐’‰๐’Š๐’๐’๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐‘ฌ๐’‡๐’‡๐’†๐’„๐’• deals with a diverse, ragtag group of people traveling the universe and getting into trouble โ€” a classic, well-established trope present in many personal favorites such as ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜บ ๐˜‰๐˜ฆ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฑ, ๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ง๐˜ญ๐˜บ, and most recently Becky Chambersโ€™ excellent ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜บ๐˜ง๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด series, to which, at least in the beginning, my brain kept comparing this novel to โ€” you might say this novel is the delightfully vulgar, foul-mouthed cousin.โ €
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Which brings me to the dialogue, an area in which Valdes excels. Main character Evaโ€™s rhetoric in particular was a stand-out for me, packed as it is with shrewd Spanglish witticisms that I couldnโ€™t help but appreciate: there are particular phrases (and insults and profanities) that I have never come across in a work of fiction before. It made me feel seen in a way I did not expect. It was great.โ €
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The first half of the novel is episodic in nature, which is another aspect of the plucky crew trope that I highly enjoy. Unfortunately though as the vignettes gradually connected with the overarching storyline, the picaresque plot began to feel repetitive and drawn out, and it made the last half of the book a bit of a slog to get through.โ €
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Ultimately it was the characters and the clever, sharp writing that compelled me to finish the space opera telenovela, and I wouldnโ€™t mind traveling the galaxy and getting into trouble with these bunch of misfits again.

TRULY DEVIOUS by Maureen Johnson

truly deviousStephanie โ€œStevieโ€ Bell leads a life of crime โ€” studying every aspect of it, at any rate. Most of her free time is spent reading old case reports or listening to true crime podcasts. She wants nothing more in life than to find a body in the library.โ €
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She writes as much in her application letter to the Ellingham Academy, a boarding school that focuses on unorthodox learning, basing itself on its founderโ€™s philosophy of play as the best method for gaining knowledge. The grounds also happen to be the site of a particularly heinous crime committed back in the early days of the institute that was never suitably, satisfyingly solved. Itโ€™s a cold case Stevie has long been obsessed with and is certain she can crack.โ €
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She is soon admitted into Ellingham, but before she even gets close to thawing the famous case, however, she gets her primary wish granted when she stumbles upon the body of a fellow schoolmate. The victim appears to have been murdered in a theatrical fashion not that dissimilar to the ones carried out all those years ago in the school by someone calling themselves Truly Devious, and this โ€” along with other ominous coincidences โ€” leads Stevie to believe the incidents are somehow connected, and that there is still much of the old mystery to uncover.
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Maureen Johnson’s ๐‘ป๐’“๐’–๐’๐’š ๐‘ซ๐’†๐’—๐’Š๐’๐’–๐’” is a riveting, utterly captivating read. A curious and effective mix between a classic Agatha Christie-style mystery and the more modern trend of true crime accounts โ€” podcasts, in specific. Indeed, much of this book reads like a podcast transcript, which does a lot to help ground the story.โ €
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A foundation that is much needed given the fact that Johnson populates the story with a cast of truly eccentric characters โ€” think a Poirot mystery but with the residents of Stars Hollow running around. Curiously itโ€™s the characters that prove to be both the bookโ€™s strength and weakness. One the one hand, the cast is wonderfully diverse, and Johnson has done an admirable job in terms of representation (cute queer representation! realistic portrayals of mental health issues!); on the other hand, they all have somewhat flat, one-note personalities: they are introduced at a certain level, dynamically speaking, and they rarely waver from it moving forward. In any other case these sort of hollow personalities would have been detrimental to the story, but Johnson writes such funny, witty dialogue for them (she essentially turns them into walking memes) that I can forgive it here. Murder mysteries are not traditionally known for fully-drawn, well-developed characters, at any rate; they deal with more flamboyant figures, the better to contrast with macabre misdeeds.โ €
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But my favorite aspect of this novel is definitely the recounting of the Ellingham case, a narrative that is immediately arresting. Alternating between the chapters set in the modern day, the events are laid out through various forms: from website articles, to interview transcripts, to what seem to be passages of a nonfiction book (perhaps Stevieโ€™s own report of the matter โ€” the novel never explicitly states who is writing these). Johnson shows a deep understanding of the true crime genre with these entries, and they add an authentic air to the entire affair.โ €
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๐‘ป๐’“๐’–๐’๐’š ๐‘ซ๐’†๐’—๐’Š๐’๐’–๐’” is the first book in a series, naturally, and while I have had a hard time getting into sequels lately, Iโ€™ll be damned if this didnโ€™t make me want to immediately pick up the next one.

๐–๐–†๐–‘๐–‘๐–”๐–œ๐–Š’๐–Š๐–“ ๐–Ž๐–˜ ๐–Š๐–™๐–Š๐–—๐–“๐–†๐–‘

October is my best reading month. I’m a very seasonal, themed-oriented reader, and Hallowe’en, more than any other holiday, lends itself to these qualities pretty perfectly.ย  I cut loose and read books that are a bit more fun than my usual fare, which makes it really easy to pick up book after book after book, something that I definitely don’t do in any other month of the year.

This particular Hallowe’en, however, felt a little off. It was to be expected considering, well, everything, but I guess I was just confident the holiday would lift my spirits up. It did during the harrowing aftermath of Hurricane Marรญa, after all. But as tragic as that event was, this pandemic is obviously so much worse and I foolishly ended up underestimating just how much it would affect my mood.

Add to that the fact that I decided to go all in on my bookstragram for Hallowe’en, wanting to put out pictures and reviews on a more or less consistent manner throughout the month. I succeeded, too, and I’m happy and proud I did it, but it was draining, and that sucked a bit of the fun out of it a bit.

I still ended up having a tremendous amount of fun, though, and I read a lot of damn fine books. I’m sad to see the spooky season go, but we all know that โ„Œ๐”ž๐”ฉ๐”ฉ๐”ฌ๐”ด๐”ข’๐”ข๐”ซ ๐”ฆ๐”ฐ ๐”ข๐”ฑ๐”ข๐”ฏ๐”ซ๐”ž๐”ฉ anyway. Continue reading “๐–๐–†๐–‘๐–‘๐–”๐–œ๐–Š’๐–Š๐–“ ๐–Ž๐–˜ ๐–Š๐–™๐–Š๐–—๐–“๐–†๐–‘”