THE TRULY DEVIOUS TRILOGY by Maureen Johnson

truly devious trilogy - maureen johnson

My murder mystery midsummer truly reached a zenith with the completion of Maureen Johnson’s ๐‘ป๐’“๐’–๐’๐’š ๐‘ซ๐’†๐’—๐’Š๐’๐’–๐’” trilogy. I had first read โ€” and thoroughly enjoyed โ€” the first entry last year, and I finished it feeling something I had not felt toward a series in quite some time: an eagerness to get to the sequel straightaway.

Despite my excitement, that did not happen. It’s that same old story: other books got in the way. But the news for the ๐˜’๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜–๐˜ถ๐˜ต follow-up that began to come out out in May once again sparked my interest in the genre (the original film did the same โ€” hence me picking up ๐˜›๐˜ณ๐˜ถ๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜‹๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ด in the first place).

Anyway.

If you’ve followed my Instagram stories at all during these past few months then you already have an idea of how much fun I’ve had reading these books. They hit many of my targets: quirky, clever characters who are as ridiculous as they are resourceful; snug, well-thought out settings; atmosphere in abundance. All aspects that pretty much guarantee my enjoyment. I also admired the way Johnson was able to combine the tense, thrilling facets of true crime narratives with the more classic and considerably more chill vibes of the mystery genre.

Mainly though, I loved how, with the character of Stevie (our tenacious protagonist), Johnson explored the matter of anxiety with a perspective that can only come from intimate, immediate experience with the disorder: candid and sincere, but so full of empathy.

Mental health is health, and health is always a situation in flux. Many, many people have anxiety and depression, or other issues. Itโ€™s just a part of life for them. For me, anxiety has been an issue, and the way I have worked with it is to accept it as a part of me. I do stuff with it. Itโ€™s just there.

โ€” Maureen Johnson

If I had anything in the way of criticism is that the conclusion did leave a bit to be desired. This may seem like a crucial misstep, but Johnson’s writing is so damn clever and compelling that it more than makes up for it. But in any case, it was the journey that made the whole experience worthwhile for me, and I will readily trail along in whatever other jaunts Johnson decides to send her stalwart sleuth next.

THE MURDER ON THE LINKS by Agatha Christie

IMG_9119Disappointed at the severe lack of golf-related hijinks in this, but other than that Agatha Christieโ€™s ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ด๐’–๐’“๐’…๐’†๐’“ ๐’๐’ ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ณ๐’Š๐’๐’Œ๐’” is an utterly fun and thoroughly twisty ride.โ €
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I’ve been working my way through the Poirot novels out of order, picking up whichever one happens to catch my fancy at the time. It wasn’t until I read the back matter that I realized that this particular book was only the second entry in Poirot’s mysteries, and, having read a couple of the later novels, I was just impressed with how much of a complete character he seemed even this early on. One would assume that in a long-running series such as this one the defining characteristics of the protagonists would emerge gradually and organically over time. But Poirot seems clearly defined from the outset. The reliance on psychology over physical evidence to solve crimes; the emphasis on using oneโ€™s โ€œlittle grey cellsโ€; the general air of outlandish grandiosity and pompousness. It was all there from the start. Good show, Christie.โ €
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Anyway.โ €
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A fun fact about me is that my godfather was an amateur golf player and used to take me out to play when I was a kid. I had my own set of small golf clubs and everything. It was adorable. I inherited his regular-sized clubs after he passed on. They’ve all regrettably been lost or thrown away through the years due to my own carelessness, but I still have one huge driver that I keep in my room. It has the name “Big Bertha” engraved on it. I’m convinced she would make an excellent weapon in a murder mystery. Someone get on that. My gift to you. โ €
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Also yes I one hundred percent read this after watching ๐˜’๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜–๐˜ถ๐˜ต for the hundredth time.

ALICE FLECK’S RECIPES FOR DISASTER by Rachelle Delaney

alice fleck's recipes for disaster - rachelle delaneyAlice Fleck has two main loves in her life: her father and food. Her dad is a culinary historian and cooking is how they bond and connect. They recreate dishes of ages past for fun. When they are not in the kitchen, they are watching their favorite cooking competition show, or reading dusty cookbooks full of esoteric recipes and gastronomic facts. They have a routine, and Alice has settled into it comfortably.โ €
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Until her father’s new girlfriend shuffles into their lives and proceeds to shake everything up. Alice has trouble adjusting to sharing her father’s attention with a veritable stranger โ€” an irritation that is only aggravated when Hana, the new love interest, signs Alice and her dad up to compete in the latest season of ๐˜Š๐˜ถ๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜Š๐˜ฉ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด, their favorite show, taking place in a nearby fancy estate (which also happens to be hosting a Victorian festival).โ €
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Cooking in a competitive environment is more than enough change for the Fleck’s. Once they arrive, though, they are further distressed to find that the wholesome, good-natured cooking show they both know and love has been completely overhauled, now styled as yet another cutthroat cooking competition, judged by an infamous chef known for his biting, ruthless remarks.โ €
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The contest is soon underway, but a series of consecutive mishaps with the competitors leads Alice and her newfound friends โ€” budding detective Henry Oh and spirit enthusiast Octavia Sapphire โ€” to suspect sabotage, and take it upon themselves to solve the perfidious plot before it threatens to ruin not only the show itself, but potentially Alice’s relationship with her dad.โ €
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Culinary history! Cooking competitions! Historical festivals! Victorian ghosts? Sherlock Holmes?? Bartitsu??? Mysteries! โ €
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If all that sounds like a lot โ€” it’s because it sort of is! Mixing just one or two of those elements would have been enough to cook up a fun middle grade adventure, but author Rachelle Delaney daringly decided to go big or go home and opted to just throw every single thing into the broiling pot.โ €
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It’s a move that would easily overwhelm any other story โ€” and indeed if there is one criticism I can give this book is that the first half, which introduces most of these pieces almost all at once, feels a bit overstuffed โ€” but, like any decent chef, Delaney manages to make something delightful out of all these seemingly incompatible ingredients. ๐‘จ๐’๐’Š๐’„๐’† ๐‘ญ๐’๐’†๐’„๐’Œ’๐’” ๐‘น๐’†๐’„๐’Š๐’‘๐’†๐’” ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐‘ซ๐’Š๐’”๐’‚๐’”๐’•๐’†๐’“ is a charming concoction, full of clever, charismatic characters, and I had a blast reading it.

๐šŽ๐™ฐ๐š๐™ฒ ๐š™๐š›๐š˜๐šŸ๐š’๐š๐šŽ๐š ๐š‹๐šข ๐™ฟ๐šŽ๐š—๐š๐šž๐š’๐š— ๐š๐šŠ๐š—๐š๐š˜๐š– ๐™ท๐š˜๐šž๐šœ๐šŽ ๐™ฒ๐šŠ๐š—๐šŠ๐š๐šŠ ๐šŸ๐š’๐šŠ ๐™ฝ๐šŽ๐š๐™ถ๐šŠ๐š•๐š•๐šŽ๐šข

SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN by Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru

superman smashes the klan - gene luen yang, gurihiruThe Lee family has just made the move from Chinatown to the surrounding suburbs of Metropolis thanks to the patriarch’s new job at the cityโ€™s health department. Teenager Roberta has difficulty acclimating to their new surroundings, but her older brother, Tommy, seems to be thriving in the new home, making fast friends with the locals and even trying out for the community center’s baseball team. Tommy shines at the practice, and that gets him on the bad side of a fellow player who storms off the lot in a jealous fit. Later that night, the Lees wake up to find a wooden cross burning out in their front yard, and they realize that old prejudices have come knocking on their door. The Clan of the Fiery Cross, a white supremacist hate group, soon takes credit for the loathsome act, which not only gets intrepid reporter Lois Lane involved, but the famous Superman as well. The group’s influence turns out to run deep, however, and manages to exhibit enough resources to cause even the Superman considerable trouble, notably through the use of mysterious green rocks that seem to weaken the Metropolis Man of Tomorrow…. โ €
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๐‘บ๐’–๐’‘๐’†๐’“๐’Ž๐’‚๐’ ๐‘บ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’”๐’‰๐’†๐’” ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฒ๐’๐’‚๐’, written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Gurihiru, is an important book. It was one already when it was first serialized a couple of years ago, highlighting as it does moments of U.S. history that are either glossed over in contemporary conversation or just plainly, actively suppressed, whitewashed into obscurity. It resonated with an audience that was growing increasingly aware of the prejudice and injustice that is so deeply rooted in Western culture and which, thanks in part to the heated, hateful rhetoric of modern politics, was gaining enough momentum and stimulation to aggressively push itself into the public eye once more. Readers saw movements like Black Lives Matter and similar social justice organizations reflected within. โ €

In a lot of ways I’m kind of sad that [Superman Smashes the Klan] hit like this. A story from 1946 shouldn’t be as relevant as it is.

โ€” Gene Luen Yangโ €

Fast forward only a year, and the recent, disturbing onrush of heinous, cowardly attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have now given the story a renewed relevance, and an alarmingly greater sense of urgency. โ €
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The range of topics Yang manages to pack into this relatively slim volume is wide and impressive indeed: racism (both outer and inner); classism; identity; code-switching. These are all themes you’ll find within the pages of this book, and they are handled with prudence and proficiency (Yang is nothing if not a master storyteller). But what engaged me the most was the story’s exploration of identity, because of how well it tied to both the Lee family and to the character of Superman himself. A running motif throughout the book has to do with the characters constantly concealing facets of themselves in order to fit in and blend with the world around them. Roberta and Tommy’s father chides his wife for speaking Cantonese around their children, prefering to immerse them in an English-speaking world, an edict that extends even to their traditional names (๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข rather than ๐˜“๐˜ข๐˜ฏ-๐˜š๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ). Tommy, to his sister’s chagrin, constantly cracks jokes about their race with the locals in the hopes of being more readily accepted. Superman himself โ€” who is, lest we forget, an immigrant โ€” holds back on his own powers and represses his extraterrestrial identity, fearing the response of the public were they to find out. Not calling attention to one’s self is often an intrinsic part of the immigrant experience, something that Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, being the sons of European Jewish emigrants who also changed their names once they reached the States (from Shusterowich and Segalovich, respectively), would have understood, as they, consciously or not, imbued their creation with the same concerns in mind.โ €
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Itโ€™s why so many writers over the years โ€” from contemporary ones like Yang and Grant Morrison, to those from way back in the forties who wrote the original radio play on which Smashes the Klanย was loosely based (a fact that surprised me to no end) โ€” have often depicted Superman as the ultimate defender of the disenfranchised and the oppressed: because he’s someone who can easily imagine what being powerless would feel like, and has the power to do something about it.โ €

I’m guessing that the Superman writers knew on a visceral level, three years out from WWII’s end, that pursuing a peaceful future in America requires tolerance โ€” the willingness to respect, be good neighbors to, and invest in those who do not look like us or live like us.

โ€” Gene Luen Yang

Itโ€™s important to remember that Superman is, and always has been, a warrior for social justice.

Superman_American_599fc05023f332.03698933โ €โ €
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As it often happens with stories that reflect the trying times of the real world, one wishes things were different: that the events depicted in the pages of these books are just things of the past, human failures that we outgrew and overcame and which bear no resemblance to the reality of today. Sadly, we live in no such world. Which is why we still need these types of books: to reflect our current condition, yes, but also to distort and transform it, to allow us to see what could be. These stories are hope, distilled. โ €
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๐‘บ๐’–๐’‘๐’†๐’“๐’Ž๐’‚๐’ ๐‘บ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’”๐’‰๐’†๐’” ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฒ๐’๐’‚๐’ is then ultimately a book full of hope. As well it should be. It’s a Superman book, after all.โ €
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This also means that, despite the weighty subjects this story touches upon, this isn’t a heavy-handed book at all. Again, this is a Superman book, and it contains all the colorful, flashy fun that this implies. Yang has a wonderful take on the character, writing an earnest Boy Scout figure of endless charm in such a way that somehow never veers into schmaltzy overbearing territory. The rest of the cast are distinguished as well, in particular Roberta, who acts as our daring protagonist. Her role in the radio play was relegated to a single line in a single episode that didnโ€™t even bother to give her a name โ€” here, she gets a spectacular stand-out scene where she gets to call out Superman for endangering those around him by inhibiting his own abilities. Itโ€™s one of the crucial, central acts of the book, and one that also happens to fit so well with the overall Man of Steel mythos (which is yet another thing Yang handles wonderfully well here).โ €
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In terms of art, I love the work that Gurihiru, the Japanese design team consisting of penciller Chifuyu Sasaki and colorist Naoko Kawano, did here. They brought an anime aesthetic that’s not usually found in the world of Western superhero comics, but that lends itself wonderfully to a Superman story. They have produced a beautiful, beautiful physical object.โ €
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The book ends with “Superman and Me”, an essay by Yang that connects various threads of history: that of Superman and the original โ€œClan of the Fiery Crossโ€ radio play; of anti-Asian racism in the United States; of the author’s own experience with prejudice. The result is a deeply compelling read that not only enriches and puts into greater context the fictional story that precedes it, but it’s also strong enough to stand as its own invaluable history lesson. Yang ends the personal piece with the following appeal:โ €

Superman is one of our nation’s โ€” and the world’s โ€” most enduring icons. He seems to have always been there, and he’s not going away anytime soon. Ever since defending a Chinese American family in 1946, he’s stood for tolerance, justice, and hope.โ €
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Even today, the immigrant from Krypton challenges us to follow his example more fully and more perfectly.โ €
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We have to meet this challenge.โ €
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After all, though our yesterdays may be different, we all share the same tomorrow.

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In the spirit of a tomorrow full of tolerance, justice, and hope, Iโ€™ve compiled a small list of relevant resources that I encourage you all to check out.โ €

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin

06 the storied life of aj fikry๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘บ๐’•๐’๐’“๐’Š๐’†๐’… ๐‘ณ๐’Š๐’‡๐’† ๐’๐’‡ ๐‘จ.๐‘ฑ. ๐‘ญ๐’Š๐’Œ๐’“๐’š by Gabrielle Zevin is a maudlin, overly sentimental affair with a contrived, predictable plot riddled with clichรฉs and tropes that it embraces rather than trying to subvert. At times it is so full of melodrama that it reads like the bookish equivalent of a film that is trying its very best to bait an Oscar.โ €
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And good grief did I buy into it hook, line, and sentimental sinker like a sucker. Did I love every single page of it all.โ €
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Every description of this book makes it sound insufferable, but Zevin โ€” much like she does to her characters โ€” pulls the rug out from under us by positively filling it up to the brim with a charming, endearing and painfully human cast that you fall in love with almost immediately. I loved the experience of reading this story, and can easily see myself revisiting over the years.

THE FIRE NEVER GOES OUT by Noelle Stevenson

03 the fire never goes outReading Noelle Stevenson’s ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ญ๐’Š๐’“๐’† ๐‘ต๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’“ ๐‘ฎ๐’๐’†๐’” ๐‘ถ๐’–๐’• was a cathartic affair. I picked it up during a particularly demanding week, emotionally speaking, in my life, and found a lot of the emotions I was experiencing at the time (good, bad, unseemly) echoed in this book. It helped give many of these messy feeling some semblance of shape and form, which in turn made me feel less like a vulnerable blob just floating in the void.โ €
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It was also a slightly surreal experience in the sense that this book is essentially a candid glance behind the curtains of a career and life of someone whose work has provided you with a great deal of amusement and delight over many years and, despite knowing that compassionate and lively art can come from grief and hardship, seeing it depicted in such a frank and vulnerable manner can still be somewhat of a shock to the system. The raw, intimate vignettes collected in this volume are as surprising and startling as they are engaging and illuminating.โ €
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๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ญ๐’Š๐’“๐’† ๐‘ต๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’“ ๐‘ฎ๐’๐’†๐’” ๐‘ถ๐’–๐’• is a portrait, and a work in progress at that, in the truest sense of the term. It’s honestly been a privilege to watch Stevenson’s work grow all these years, and hope I get to see it evolve even further.โ €
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๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ด๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐˜„๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ป๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด๐˜€: ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—น๐—ณ-๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—บ, ๐—ฏ๐—ผ๐—ฑ๐˜† ๐—ถ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ด๐—ฒ ๐—ถ๐˜€๐˜€๐˜‚๐—ฒ๐˜€, ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—น๐˜๐—ต ๐—ฑ๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ฐ๐˜‚๐˜€๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜€, ๐—ต๐—ผ๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ฝ๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ฏ๐—ถ๐—ฎ, ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—น๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ถ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜€ ๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜, ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐˜€๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ผ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป

THE VISION by Tom King, Gabriel Hernรกndez Walta, Jordie Bellaire

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Well this seems like the perfect time to revisit this most surreal superhero comic.โ €
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Along with seemingly the rest of the world, I caught the first two episodes of ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ over the weekend. And I thought they were fine! A little clunky, perhaps, although I suppose it’s to be expected given that the show is the MCU’s opening stride into uncharted territory. But I love the concept of the thing, which is weird enough and new enough for me to not support the endeavor.โ €
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It helped that the series definitely seems like it’s inspired by the 2015 run of ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’ by Tom King, Gabriel Hernรกndez Walta and Jordie Bellaire, which still stands as one of my favorite comics in the last few years. Like ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ, it views our titular character through a domestic lens, although the effect in the book feels more immediately uncanny and sinister: Vision has created a family in his own image, part of his continuing efforts to become more human (more “normal” as he frequently puts it), a venture that is destined to end in catastrophe as the ominous opening captions in the very first issue candidly, wickedly declare.โ €
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The comic has been hailed as “๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ถ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ with rฬทoฬทbฬทoฬทtฬทsฬท synthezoids,” which also means that it’s not exactly what you might call a happy book. Much like that story and those it inspired (like ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฅ ๐˜”๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ), ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’ is a dark, cerebral, meticulous tale of melancholy, anxiety, and the sheer harrowing grace of human nature โ€” viewed through the eyes of an artificial superpowered being who may just be exactly like us.โ €
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It’s also a book that perfectly illustrates the notion that you can tell literally any and every type of story with superhero comics. If ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ explores even a modicum of the terrain laid out in this comic book, then we are in for a curious, wild treat indeed.

LIGHT OF THE JEDI by Charles Soule

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One of my reading resolutions for this year was to read more non-fiction books, and my intentions were to start off 2021 by doing exactly that. But then this dropped on my device, and I opened it meaning to read just a handful of pages in order to get the lay of the land, as it were. But a couple of pages quickly turned into a couple of chapters, and before I knew it I was halfway through the book with absolutely no plans to stop.โ €
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Then again, I began last year with a Star Wars book. Just as well I started ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด year with yet another one. It’s like poetry, sort of. It rhymes.โ €
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And ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต a first book to start things off, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜บ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜บ.โ €
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I have been excited for this new era of Star Wars ever since details started to come out. I love the Skywalker gang of melodramatic misfits dearly, but the saga sorely needs to step away from them to feel fresh again. It needs to gain some more space to breathe. Hundred of years before their story sounds like distance enough.โ €
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๐‘ณ๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰๐’• ๐’๐’‡ ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฑ๐’†๐’…๐’Š met and exceeded each and every one of those expectations. Charles Soule managed to write a Star Wars story that felt both familiar and new; that feels relevant to our current climate while still also adhering to themes that are intrinsic to Star Wars; that feels intense and austere while also being just an incredibly fun thrill ride. In short, Soule has written one of my favorite entries in the entire saga. Can’t wait to see what more he brings to this universe. And I definitely can’t wait to see where this era is headed. The future (the past?) looks bright.

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.