Not Just Books: July 2021

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

Documentary: “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young”

After watching “Eco Challenge” and reveling in my own laziness as I watched teams complete ridiculous feats of strength and endurance, it was only natural to jump into another such story. This time, a documentary on the strange, bewildering world of The Barkley Marathon, a crazy-pants race that embraces all the weirdness. For one thing, you have to be invited to participate. And then there are a bunch of random rules, like the fact that on the day of the race’s start, no one actually knows when it will begin until they hear the sound of a Conch shell being blown. And once the race actually begins, its a cross-over between endurance cross-country racing and one’s ability to navigate a largely unmakred trail. Oh, and it’s five loops of a brutal, uphill and down 20 mile track that must be completed within 60 hours. The thing is so crazy that it went years and years before anyone even completed it, and only 15 people have completed it in the race’s 35 year history. The documentary is not only a great look in the the history of the marathon, but it follows a particularly interesting year for the race itself. Definitely check it out if you want to be amazed at what the human body can do!

Reality Websites: Zillow/Realtor.com

This is only being included because there’s finally a happy ending to what was a grueling spring for me and my family. After our second son was born last fall, our cozy little house was suddenly way too small, so we got into the housing market. At THE WORST TIME EVER! Anyone who’s looked for a house this last year can attest to how crazy the market has been. We looked at around 50 hours and made double digits’ worth of offers on houses before finally getting one. We move in about three weeks, so really what I’m highlighting here is my absolute joy to NEVER look at Zillow or Realtor.com again (at least not for the foreseeable future!)

Movie: “Ford v. Ferrari”

Lastly, a movie that I really enjoyed (though there were more tears than I was expecting from a moving about car racing, something I’m actively uninterested in for the most part). This movie had been on my radar for a bit, mostly because I like Matt Damon in practically anything. However, I’m not a huge Christian Bale fan (though I recognize his talent) and, as I said, car racing…But I enjoyed the heck out of this movie! I didn’t know anything about this story or the car companies behind it and their connection/process with race cars. Most likely, I enjoyed this history side of the story more than anything. But if you’re into car racing, this is definitely a movie to check out. And even if not, the strength of the story and acting are enough to elevate it to appeal to most everyone, especially those who appreciate movies with connections to true stories.

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “Cold Case”

Right after I graduated college into a recession and limited employment options, I would spend my days job searching and watching reruns of cop procedurals on cable. One of my favorites was “Cold Case”, a show about homicide detectives who would reopen unsolved cases that could span back decades, and also deal with their own personal issues. For years I figured that it would never be released on DVD or streaming, as every episode used popular songs from the era of the case, and therefore licensing would be a nightmare. Well either it’s different with streaming or HBO ponied up, but regardless “Cold Case” is on HBOMax WITH THE ORIGINAL SONGS! That was my one caveat on a rewatch: it had to have the music, as the music really sells the emotional punches and beats (there are actually a few episodes I know I can’t watch because they are so sad, no small part due to the music selections). I also like that we get to know the victims a bit because of the flashback format, which makes it feel more personal and resonant. I’ve cried MANY times on my rewatch, so you know it still packs a wallop.

Podcast: “I Pray You Put This Journal Away”

I’ve mentioned the podcast “Some Place Under Neith”, and when they did a series on the Institute on Basic Life Principles cult with a focus on the Duggar family, I was both deeply fascinated and also completely horrified (especially when they went into a deep dive on predator Josh Duggar; my God. LOCK HIM UP AND NEVER LET HIM OUT). One of the podcasts that they recommended was “I Pray You Put This Journal Away”, and I knew I had to listen to that next. It is a podcast by a man who not only grew up in the IBLP, but was also friends with Josh Duggar, and left the church when he was older and realized how oppressive and predatory this fundamentalist Christian lifestyle was. This podcast is partially him talking about the Duggars, but is mostly him reading through his journal at the time and reflecting about what it was like to grow up in this kind of culture, especially as someone with undiagnosed autism. It’s personal and very reflective, and I enjoyed his insight into the IBPL’s fucked upness, as well as how he and his wife (also an ex-fundamentalist) went on journeys of self discovery and empowerment.

Film Trilogy: “Fear Street”

Trust and believe, I am going to go into full deep dive reviews on all three movies in this trilogy to complement my “Revisit to Fear Street” series on here, but I just want to give a shout out to it as a whole. Because AHHHHH, this trilogy is SO DAMN FUN! As you all probably know, I grew up reading “Fear Street” books, and couldn’t have been more pleased to find out that Netflix was releasing movies based on the books. Well, sort of. They’re a lot gorier than anything on the page, but that works out just fine for me because I love me a good slasher film! A group of teens in 1994 accidentally awaken the dark powers of long dead witch Sarah Fier, and to save themselves they need to figure out what she wants. This happens to involve a curse that goes back centuries, and therefore they are going to need some help from those who have dealt with it before. With homages to the original series and some new mythos, as well as really enjoyable characters and gnarly death scenes, the “Fear Street” Trilogy is a blast. Look for more comprehensive reviews in a couple weeks!

Not Just Books: June 2021

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

TV Show: “Lucifer”

I’ve highlighted this one before, but it finally, finally, dropped the second half of episodes for its two-part fifth season. I was particularly excited for the musical episode that had been promised in the promotions, and boy, did it deliver! The show came up with a clever excuse for this sort of episode and it, of course, played perfectly to Tom Ellis’s strengths as a singer. My favorite song was his spectacular rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” As a whole, I’m still enjoying the heck out of this show. It’s been particularly good in recent seasons as it has embraced the supernatural aspects of its concept and moved further and further away from its strictly procedural beginning. The sixth season has already been filmed, so I’m hopeful that the wait won’t be as long before we get our next set of episodes!

Documentary: “This is a Robbery: The World’s Greatest Art Heist”

My husband and I took a break from watching documentaries about bombers and instead dived into this interesting piece about a robbery that took place in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Neither of us had even heard about this robbery, but the documentary is quick to point out that, by price, it was the largest art theft to have ever taken place (a bigger one happened only in 2019). There are many curious events all wrapped up in this robbery, from the strange selection of pieces that were taken to the baffling fact that none have been recovered in thirty years, despite massive rewards being continuously posted. I don’t have any unique interest in art theft, so it speaks to the quality of this documentary that I was completely absorbed by the story and still think about it fairly often. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for an interesting documentary series that isn’t focused on a serial killer!

TV Show: “The 12 Monkeys”

I never watched the 90s movie “The 12 Monkeys.” For some reason, I had it in my head that it was a horror movie? Thusly, when I saw that there was a tv show inspired by it, I assumed that, also, was horror. Well, I randomly looked into it a bit more recently and discovered, nope, it’s pretty much just a straight up time-travel/post-apocalyptic story, the exact kind of thing that’s right up my alley. So far, I’ve really been enjoying it. The best that can be said is that the show is entertaining enough that I’m not getting too caught up in the mechanics of time travel, something that is always the biggest challenge for any story featuring that device. Instead, the use of time travel so far has been very clever and interesting. We’ll see how it resolves in the end, though, since I think that’s always the biggest challenge with time travel: how do you finally close the loop?

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “Loki”

I’m definitely not at all caught up when it comes to the MCU, and I’m not really in a hurry to be (my one regret: I still haven’t watched “Wandavision” and I know I need to!). But I’ve always had a soft spot for Loki, and I DEFINITELY have a thing for Tom Hiddleston, so I bumped the new TV series “Loki” to the top of my MCU priority list. Am I a little lost? Sure. But it doesn’t matter! It’s still fun! Loki has found himself detained by The Time Variant Authority, a bureaucratic organization that monitors the Timeline to make sure nothing messes it up. Which Loki has. Now he has to work with them to stop a more dangerous time ‘variant’, and perhaps earn his freedom. Hiddleston is great, and the show is both really funny, and also a snappy crime thriller procedural. And Owen Wilson is a fun TVA agent named Mobius who is a mentor to Loki, and is utterly not phased by his histrionics.

Film: “The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It

This selection is partially about the film itself, but partially about the context in which I watched this film. I have vaguely mixed feelings about “The Conjuring” franchise, as while I really love Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real life Warrens were manipulative, overzealous con artists. I also have a really hard time with the fact that these films are, in a lot of ways, Evangelical Conservative propaganda. BUT ALL THAT SAID, they’re pretty fun as well as kinda gross. And my friends in my Terror Tuesday horror movie club decided that we should get together in my backyard to watch it so some of us could meet in person for the first time. In this one, Ed and Lorraine investigate the case of a man who is accused of murder, and claims that he is possessed and the demon was the one who killed his victim. It has some fun scares, and some creepy content. So “The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It” was not only a fun film, horror movie wise, but also it was a wonderful time with dear friends who could finally get together and see each other.

Film: “Moana”

This is definitely not a ‘new to me’ film, as I have loved “Moana” since around the time that it came out. It is making this list because my kid just discovered it, and therefore we have been watching it almost every day together. But as I’ve been watching it, again and again (and again and again) it hasn’t lost any of it’s shine or charm. I really love the story of Moana, the daughter of an island leader who is chosen by the ocean to return a magical stone to a goddess. For if she doesn’t, the entire world, including her island, will fall to waste and rot. The songs are phenomenal, the main character is well drawn out, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is always a joy, this time as Maui, the demi-God who inadvertently set off the chain of events. I suppose I’m lucky that my kid’s obsession is a movie that holds up after repeated viewings. Because I have a feeling this is going to be a thing for awhile…

Beach Reads: Summer 2021

Back for 2021, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

Fantasy Title: “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik

I highlighted “Uprooted” in this list several years ago, but I think now is as good a time as any to return to the well and select Novik’s follow-up fairytale fantasy, “Spinning Silver.” In theory, these two books exist in the same world. In practicality, they each can be read as complete stand-alones. This time, Novik tackles “Rumpelstiltskin,” but her complete expansion and unique take on the fable leaves only the barest hints of the original story. Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, and when forced to take up the role herself, find she has has a particular talent for the role. So much so that she draws the eyes of powerful magical beings who would put her skills to an even greater use. But this isn’t simply Miryem’s tale. We also follow the path of a nobleman’s neglected daughter and a peasant girl who is trying to protect her family. Honestly, it’s hard to say which I like better between this book and “Uprooted,” so just go ahead and read both.

Science Fiction Title: “Driftwood” by Marie Brennan

This was a favorite sci-fi read from last summer, and a perfect book for this summer’s beach read list. Not only is it a stand-alone title, but it’s also a short, quick read. Driftwood is the world where all other worlds go to die. After whatever apocalypse took them out, the final scraps of the land and its inhabitants find themselves mashed up against other failed worlds, slowly grinding themselves into oblivion. But even here, life flourishes and civilizations rise and fall. But where everything eventually comes to end, one being endures, a man named Last. Weaving through a variety of tales and worlds, Last’s story slowly unfolds, though there, too, histories and mysteries are layered one upon another. This was such a unique read that I’ve been raving about it pretty much since the moment I set it down. Definitely check it out if you want a quick, science fiction read.

Mystery Title: “Crocodile on the Sandbank” by Elizabeth Peters

I actually had to look past through our Beach Reads posts of the previous summers, because I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t featured this one yet! It’s been a while since I’ve read a book in the “Amelia Peabody,” series, but I will never forget the sheer joy of reading this first book for the first time. I was sitting outside a coffee shop in the summer, and I ended up sitting there for like four hours just blowing through this book and laughing out loud. Oh, the days before children! Of all the books I’m featuring this go-around, “Crocodile on the Sandbank” is by far the best fit for a Beach Read in that it’s just a sheer joy to read. Fans of historical mysteries have to check it out, and if you like intrepid heroines, this one’s also for you!

Historical Fiction Title: “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler

Technically, this book could fall under sci-fi/fantasy as well, as it features time travel at the heart of the story. But as most of it is focused on the historical aspects of time travel rather than the science fiction behind it, I thought it would work well here. Dana, a young African American woman, suddenly finds herself wrenched from her life in 1976 back to antebellum Maryland. She saves a young white boy from drowning and only barely escapes with her life. The story jumps back and forth through time as Dana’s life continues to intertwine with this same young man. This book is a staple of science fiction literature and, obviously, Butler is one of the genre’s most beloved authors. If you’re looking for good historical fiction novel as well as one to check off on many “must read” lists, definitely get your hands on “Kindred.”

Kate’s Picks

Horror Title: “Feed” by Mira Grant

I reviewed one of the spin off books on this blog, “Feedback”, which takes place in the same zombie tech universe, but I haven’t touched much upon the original story that started it all. In a world where cures for the common cold and cancer became a reality, the solutions merged into a virus that turns people into zombies. Now society has figured out ways to adapt and move on, and bloggers and vloggers act as sources of news. We follow Georgia and Shaun Mason, sibling reporters who are in high demand, and who have been hired by a Presidential candidate to cover his campaign. But as they get deeper into the politics, they start to find disturbing connections to the zombie hordes. It’s savvy, it’s fun, and it’s wholly unique, and a great read for a vacation.

Thriller Title: “Help for the Haunted” by John Searles

When Serena and I and some of our friends stumbled upon an Alex Award presentation about this book at ALA in 2014, we hadn’t heard of “Help for the Haunted”. But it became clear almost immediately that it would be a thriller that is right up my alley. Sylvie Mason is one of the daughters of a famous ghost hunting duo, and after a call in the middle of the night takes her and her parents to an abandoned church, her parents end up dead. A year later, Sylvie is living with her older sister Rose, who may know more than she’s saying about their parents’ deaths. On top of that, the family basement, which houses the haunted artifacts left over from their parents cases, has been acting up. Sylvie wants to find out the truth about her parents… no matter what that truth may be. Given that this is loosely based on Ed and Lorraine Warren, and that “The Conjuring 3” is now released, this thriller is a timely choice.

Graphic Novel Title: “Ms. Marvel (Vol.1): No Normal” by G. Willow Wilson and Adrial Alphona (Ill.)

While my reactions to the “Ms. Marvel” stories have had their ups and downs, I absolutely loved the very first book, “Ms. Marvel: No Normal”. In this first volume we meet Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City who suddenly has super powers thrust upon her. She becomes Ms. Marvel, and her life of fighting crime as well as trying to survive high school begins. “No Normal” has the perfect set up which introduces Kamala, as well as her family and friends, and shows us a dynamic and engaging superhero that gives voice to those who aren’t as represented in comics. And while the series does have moments of being a little aggressively quirky, “No Normal” is pretty much on point and excellent from start to finish. Definitely check this one out if you are looking for a comic series with a lot of heart.

Non-Fiction Title: “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish

Non-fiction is such a broad swath of genres, but I thought that for beach reading you probably want to keep it lighter! So instead of going for my usual true crime pick, we turn to humorous memoirs, and there we find “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish! Haddish has established herself as a gifted comedienne in the past few years, and her memoir is a collection of reflections about her life. Some of it is VERY funny (naturally), while other parts of it are poignant and at times hard to read. But through it all Haddish has wry self awareness and some really fun stories about her life. “The Last Black Unicorn” feels like a good mix of the fun and the painful, and I found myself laughing and shedding a few tears throughout. It’s the kind of memoir that you won’t want to put down, and will make you root for Haddish the whole way through.

What books are you taking to the beach with you this summer? Let us know in the comments!

Not Just Books: May 2021

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

TV Show: “Victoria”

My love for romantic period pieces is ever-lasting. However, I had been long resisting checking this one out because, well, obviously the ending isn’t super happy. But in a moment of weakness, it being too long since my last period piece indulgence, I finally started it up a few weeks ago. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since! This is a beautiful show full of all the period touches that lovers of this genre look for. Gorgeous costumes! Excellent dialogue! Romance summed up in tension-filled dance sequences! It’s also gotten me down a number of historical rabbit holes as I’ve researched the real-life events the show incorporates. But I’ve still promised myself that I’m going to preview upcoming seasons/episodes so that I can “nope” right on out of there before getting to, you know…that part. Don’t judge me!

Amazon Show: “The World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji”

So, apparently this was a show from super early in the reality tv era, back in the 90s in fact! But these types of extreme races have taken place continuously since then and Amazon wisely read the room on reality competition shows and revived it. I had never heard of adventure racing before this, but man, it’s crazy. Essentially, teams of racers have to cover a massive course and have time limits on reaching certain mileposts along the way. I’m talking hundreds of miles over crazy terrain (hiking, biking, swimming, etc.) covered in a few days on very little sleep. It’s truly insane watching some of these teams go. It was also really interesting seeing teams from around the world and the various cultures and approaches they all brought to the race. If you enjoy reality competition shows, this is definitely one to check out.

Movie: “Prospect”

I’m probably in the huge minority for this opinion but…other than baby Yoda, I didn’t really like “The Mandalorian.” So much so that I haven’t even bothered to watch the second season. Part of my displeasure with it was the absolute waste of Pedro Pascal as the main character. He’s such an excellent actor, and losing the ability to watch his expressive face as he portrays a character is just such a shame. So I was really excited to check out a sci-fi movie where we get to better appreciate his skill! Add to that the intriguing, tension-filled concept of an odd-couple pair trying to escape a dangerous planet in order to catch the last ship going by. The world building was really interesting and both lead performances were phenomenal. Definitely check it out if you enjoy science fiction stories.

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “The Serpent”

In a moment that feels classic to my mother’s and my relationship, she texted me asking if I was going to watch “The Serpent” on Netflix because it sounded like I’d like it but would be ‘too dark for her’. I immediately looked it up, and on my viewing list it went. Surprisingly to me, I had never heard of French serial killer Charles Sobraj, who murdered backpackers in South Asia along the Hippie Trail. “The Serpent” is a dramatized mini-series about Sobraj, and the Dutch Embassy investigator Herman Knippenberg who is on his trail after two Dutch tourists go missing while in Thailand. Tahar Rahim plays Sobraj with cool malevolence, his demeanor incredibly calm as he does terrible things. But honestly, it was Jenna Coleman who really shined, as she plays Marie-Andree, the wife of Sobraj who is complicit in his crimes after falling madly in love with the killer and the lavish lifestyle he uses to lure in his victims. It’s suspenseful, disturbing, and addictive as we watch Sobraj kill, and Knippenberg pursue.

Film: “Nobody”

I have loved Bob Odenkirk since his time as Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad”. I’ve also had a not so subtle crush on him since about that time as well, which a few people have informed me is strange. So when the trailer dropped for “Nobody”, in which Odenkirk plays a former hitman and kicks a whole lot of ass and looks good while doing so, I pretty much yelled from the rooftops “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW, HUH?!” In “Nobody”, Odenkirk plays Hutch, a retired ‘auditor’ whose profession had taken out incredibly dangerous people that the Government couldn’t get otherwise. His retirement has made him feel soft and inadequate, and after his house is robbed and he doesn’t act, his frustration gets taken out on bad men with bad connections. Now Hutch has to save his family from an eccentric Russian mobster who loves karaoke. It’s a whole lot of fun, over the top, and Odenkirk looks damn good and puts in a fun performance.

Video Game: “New Pokémon Snap”

If it’s a new Pokémon game, I’m going to be on board, as relaxation and cuteness are two things that I like to indulge in from time to time. And this past month I was dealing with some frustrating medical issues (nothing dangerous, just inconvenient) that made me really want to be able to relax and relieve any kind of tension I was feeling. So I got myself “New Pokémon Snap”! Like the original game on the N64, the basic premise is that you go around taking pictures of Pokémon, and the better or more interesting the shot, the more points you get. Given that the original game only had the original 150, and this new game has ALL of them up until this point, this has a lot of potential for novelty (especially since I am not as familiar with a good chunk of the newer Pokes). It’s cute and chill and low stakes, and I love taking pictures of all these cute critters!

Another Take: Spring 2021

Don’t just take it from us, other readers like these books, too! And we have decided that we would like to showcase other reviewers and bloggers that have their own thoughts and feelings about books that we have loved. Here are a few of the books we’ve enjoyed recently and what other bloggers have to say about them.

Book: “Dustborn” by Erin Bowman

Book Description: Delta of Dead River has always been told to hide her back, where a map is branded on her skin to a rumored paradise called the Verdant. In a wasteland plagued by dust squalls, geomagnetic storms, and solar flares, many would kill for it—even if no one can read it. So when raiders sent by a man known as the General attack her village, Delta suspects he is searching for her. 

Delta sets out to rescue her family but quickly learns that in the Wastes no one can be trusted—perhaps not even her childhood friend, Asher, who has been missing for nearly a decade. If Delta can trust Asher, she just might decode the map and trade evidence of the Verdant to the General for her family. What Delta doesn’t count on is what waits at the Verdant: a long-forgotten secret that will shake the foundation of her entire world.

Serena’s Review (Rating 9)

Reader Voracious

Books in the Skye

Pacific Northwest Bookworm

Book: “A Desolation Called Peace” by Arkady Martine

Book Description: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

Serena’s Review (10 Rating)

A Fox’s Wanderings

Wishfully Reading

Literature Science Alliance

Book: “The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones

Book Description: The creeping horror of Paul Tremblay meets Tommy Orange’s There There in a dark novel of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Kate’s Review (Rating 9)

Drizzle Review

Tiny Navajo Reads

Horror Bound

Book: “You Love Me” by Caroline Kepnes

Book Description: Joe is done with the cities. He’s done with the muck and the posers, done with Love. Now, he’s saying hello to nature, to simple pleasures on a cozy island in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in a long time, he can just breathe.

He gets a job at the local library—he does know a thing or two about books—and that’s where he meets her: Mary Kay DiMarco. Librarian. Joe won’t meddle, he will not obsess. He’ll win her the old-fashioned way… by providing a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. Over time, they’ll both heal their wounds and begin their happily ever after in this sleepy town.

The trouble is… Mary Kay already has a life. She’s a mother. She’s a friend. She’s… busy.

True love can only triumph if both people are willing to make room for the real thing. Joe cleared his decks. He’s ready. And hopefully, with his encouragement and undying support, Mary Kay will do the right thing and make room for him.

Kate’s Review (Rating 9)

The Bookworm’s Fantasy

Book Rant Book Reviews

FanFiAddict

Diving into Sub-Genres: Space Opera

We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

The term “space opera” was originally coined as a dismissive term applied to some science fiction. It was essentially a variation on the term “soap opera” and was used to convey a similar, high-minded rather snobby view of the book being described. Often, these would be ensemble cast stories featuring a space ship, a crew, and the shenanigans they would get into. The use of the term often indicated that the reviewer thought there wasn’t enough “hard science” in the story, and the book had an over-reliance on character beats and corny adventures.

“Star Wars” is the classic example of a space opera film. It’s light-hearted, features a story that revolves largely around the personal stories of its characters, jumps from planet to planet, and isn’t too interested in getting into the how’s and why’s of how its space elements work (how is the “Force” different than magic? how does the Death Star’s planet killing ray actually work in space?, etc.) However, over the last several decades, the term has begun to not only be used in a much less negative light (science fiction reviewers must have realized everyone seems to love “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”), but it has also begun to describe a different sort of science fiction story altogether.

Today’s space opera is essentially the science fiction equivalent of epic fantasy more than anything else. There are no hard and fast rules (like all sub-genres, really), but more often than not, modern space operas operate on a grand scale. There are multiple planets and space systems with layered political maneuverings taking place between these players. Most stories include interstellar travel with characters who move between various locations and who are influenced or influencing the larger movements between these forces. While there is still an emphasis on adventure and character, the stories are often of a more serious nature, veering even further away from the “soap opera” caricature from which the term was derived.

Here is a list of some examples of space opera science fiction. I’ve read most of them, but not all, and have varying opinions on my enjoyment of some. But each, in their own way, helps represent the scope and range to be found within this sub-genre.

Book: “A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine

This and its sequel, “A Desolation Called Peace,” are the two most recent space opera science fiction books I’ve read recently. They are also perfect examples of what the sub-genre represents to modern readers. The title itself makes the grand scale of the story clear. This isn’t a book concerned only with the small happenings on one planet. It covers and entire Empire and the continuous tug and pull this sprawling force on the outlying stations and planets that have not yet been consumed into this grand, but overwhelming, force. But on a smaller scale, the story follow the more straight-forward adventure of a diplomat who finds herself entangled in the political maneuverings within the Empire itself, all while trying to maintain her own entity and that of the independent station that she represents. On top of all of that, there’s a clear, focused use of scientific advancements that allow these societies to exist. They all feel appropriately futuristic, but they are also easy to imagine as the next step to technologies we see in our own world currently.

Book: “Red Rising” Saga by Pierce Brown

“Red Rising” is an example of a series that starts out with a book that only walks the line of space opera but is the beginning to a set of books that definitely fits the bill. On its own, “Red Rising” can be summed up as “Hunger Games in space,” essentially. There is reference to the multitude of planets and systems that make up this universe, but the story itself feels more contained and insularly focused. But as the series continues, the focus broadens and by the end, the story is fully re-focused on huge battles and political movements that are reshaping the way these planets and systems have organized themselves. These books also have a stronger helping of action than “A Memory Called Empire.” In the beginning, we see smaller fights between the young adults battling each other to earn spots in the greater spectrum of society. And from there we see action-packed space battles with large forces coming together with a clash. While we have one hero, he is surrounded by a larger cast of characters, another common trait found in space operas where the stories follow ensembles and ships with large crews.

Book: “The Word for World is Forest” by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is a classic example of “space opera.” It’s also part of a very loose series (there are concepts and references to technology that are the focus of other books, but it can be read as a standalone story). This book stands out from the first two I highlighted in that it has the more old-fashioned space opera focus on interactions between humans and the native alien species of the planets they encounter (the first two I mentioned above are mostly focused on the politics between various human factions). The story itself follows a fairly traditional colonization conflict. The human race show up at a planet whose environment is essentially one huge forest. The native people have built their entire system of life around this habitat. They are also unfamiliar with the concepts of tyranny and slavery, so the culture clash is real and painful. When a terrible event sparks resistance, the trajectory of both cultures is changed forever. The story definitely is of the time it was written (the late 70s), but it’s an excellent example of classic space opera.

Book: “Leviathan Wakes” by James S. A. Corey

I mean, it’s right there on the front page: “kickass space opera.” But it would also be fairly impossible to create this list currently without including this book, the first in the “Expanse” series that inspired the popular Amazon show. While “Star Trek” reigns alongside “Star Wars” as some of the most popular space operas stories to grace the silver and big screens, the “Expanse” series is one of the few, popular science fiction shows that is currently running. Fantasy seems to be in vogue a bit more at this time (the lasting affect of “Game of Thrones,” likely). Like “Red Rising,” “Leviathan Wakes” focuses on the politics of various human colonies within our solar system, Mars, the Moon, and the Asteroid belts. But it also narrows in on a group of individuals who begin to uncover secrets that will forever shake the boundaries of these systems and their conflicts. It deftly balances the grand scale of various factions within the solar system with the smaller, personal stakes of one ship’s crew and a few key players. It’s a long-running series and definitely one to check out if you’re interested in a multi-book space opera story.

Book: “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie

This is space opera at its most removed. The story is set far in the future and features such a shift in the culture and world-building that in many ways very little is recognizable. Which makes the book particularly challenging and definitely one that will likely only appeal to the strongest science fiction fans. In a time where gender is essentially not even recognized and “she” pronouns are used to identify everyone, a individual crew member who was once a great starship wanders a remote planet. With a sharp focus on loss and the collective nature of a ship and its crew, the story is a slow build of redemption and justice. It’s probably one of the hardest books to tackle on this list, but it is also very beloved by many science fiction fans and an award-winner to boot.

Book: “A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers

This is a more recent example of a science fiction novel that meets the more classic definition of space opera. It features a crew made up of quirky individuals, both alien and human, and the story essentially follows their adventures as they travel the galaxy. It’s more light-hearted than any of the other books on this list and places a greater emphasis on the characters themselves and how their escapades affect each of them individually. It’s not a soap opera, by any means, but it’s definitely the kind of book that the original penners of the term “space opera” would have thought was beneath the dignity of “true” science fiction. It’s a fun read and probably the most approachable book on this list for those looking to dabble their feet into science fiction and “space opera.”

What’s your favorite space opera??

Read Deliciously: Books and Food

Last week was Pi Day, a fun quirk of a holiday that celebrates the mathematical value of Pi (3.14) with pie! All this fun pie talk was certain to make us hungry, and books and food go hand in hand in many different ways! Here are just a few books that either have recipes, or food themed plots, or anything to do with food in honor of a food centric holiday!

Book: “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg

While this story is mostly about the power of female friendships, sapphic romance, and the unrelenting spirit of women in the face of societal roadblocks, “Fried Greed Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” is also a book that has many food references that just sound amazing! As the characters of Idgie and Ruth run their own diner by a train stop in rural Alabama, they serve up all kinds of delicious treats like pies, hearty meals, and, of course, fried green tomatoes. And, uh, a side of cannibalism here and there, but that was never the main menu item! And it isn’t included in the recipe section that can be found in the back of the book, holding treats and delights from cafe head cook Sipsy. Highly recommended and not too hard to make either!

Book: “The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookie Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes” by Robin Davis

This cookbook is sure to be a treat for “Star Wars” fans of all ages! Pop culture cookbooks are definitely a thing, and while a lot of them will create and derive recipes from actual food that is found in the source material, “The Star Wars Cookbook” goes in a different direction and decides to make recipes that work on puns, rhymes, alliterations, and imagery. From the titular “Wookie Cookies” to “Boba Fett-ucine” to “Bossk Brownies”, you have character inspired goodies, as well as recipes that just look like things in the saga (such as the “Tatooine Twin Sun Toast”, which is essentially eggs in a basket but with two eggs that can look like the suns on Luke’s home planet). Lots of simple recipes, fun pictures, and encouragement for the whole family to get involved makes for a really fun day of cooking!

Book: “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain

Many people agree that the culinary and food world lost an icon when Anthony Bourdain died due to suicide in 2018. Not only was he a lover of food and cooking, but he also was a man who had a reverence and respect for the many cultures that he explored as he traveled the world doing his culinary adventures and research. “Kitchen Confidential” is probably his best known written work, and it still remains as a go to for memoirs about cooking and cuisine. While he talks candidly about the things in his own life, he also talks about the ins and outs of restaurant kitchens, and gives advice on what to definitely order, and what to definitely avoid, when it comes to eating out at a restaurant (someday we’ll get back to that, right?). Bourdain’s mark on the food world is positive and permanent, and his voice is missed.

Book: “Redwall” by Brian Jacques

This could hold true for the entire series, but I’ll list the first book here because, well, it’s first. None of the books in this long-running fantasy series about warrior animals and a mythical abbey inhabited by monk mice are overtly about food. HOWEVER. Anyone who has read even one of these stories will immediately understand why it’s on this list. Every book includes at least one feast scene with entire pages devoted to listing out the various forest food dishes the animals are eating. It’s all so lovingly and lavishly fixated on that you begin to forget that acorn pie is not really a thing. It all sounds delicious! Now, could it be said that there is a little bit too much talk about all the ins and outs of what everyone is eating at all times? Why, yes. But if you like to revel in fantasy food scenes, this is the book/series for you.

Book: “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquirel

This is a lovely book that perfectly combines a poignant love story and also includes recipes! This was a super popular book when it came out, but as I was a kid then, I didn’t get around to reading it until much later. I also don’t typically read this sort of book, but I found it absolutely delightful. It was surprisingly witty and the installment-style of storytelling worked much better than I had anticipated. I’m also not a big cook, but I grew up in a part of the country with a lot of Mexican immigrants who opened some amazing restaurants, so I recognized a lot of the recipes and dishes they included. Perhaps now would be a good time to re-visit this one, as I might be more capable of attempting some of these. Fans who want both a lovely book as well as some fantastic Mexican cuisine recipes should definitely check this out.

Book: “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal

And, of course, we could complete list this without including a book that touches on the cuisine of our beloved Midwest. Yes, we eat more than casserole here! More so than “Like Water for Chocolate,” however, this is primarily a fictional novel that also happens to touch on the food found in the Midwest. Told from a large variety of POV characters, it’s the story of a single father attempting to raise his small daughter, Eva. As she grows, her father, Lars, works to instill in her a love for the food of Minnesota, a combination of dishes ranging from the seemingly-strange Norwegian meals and to the homey, comfort foods found in an all-American meal. Each chapter introduces and focuses on a new type of food that connects to Eva’s story as she grows, highlighting how so often food is a focal point for communities and relationships. A must read for residents of Minnesota and a nice window looking in for those curious about Midwest culture and cuisine.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks or books that focus on food?

Diving into Sub-Genres: Literary Fantasy

We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

Literary fantasy is a hard sub-genre to even wrap your head around. Many of the other sub-genres of fantasy (portal fantasy, epic fantasy, steampunk, urban) have very distinct elements that are easily recognizable even from a short blurb about the book. Literary fantasy…not so much. It’s tempting to say that literary fantasy is simply contemporary fantasy where the story is simply light on fantasy altogether. But this writes off historical works which would also fit this category. So perhaps it is simply the light fantastical elements? But even that I don’t think is correct (you’ll see that a couple of books I’ve included here have fairly extensive magical elements).

Instead, I think it’s largely contained in a certain style of writing that is often found in these books. Literary fantasy is often just as focused on a beautiful turn of phrase as it is on describing a magical spell’s effects. There’s often an elegance to the writing, a compulsion to appreciate the words themselves rather than fully immerse oneself in the book to the point that the reader forgets they’re reading. Indeed, knowing that one is reading is half of the joy of these types of books, with more focus given to descriptions and omniscient narrator musings than action-packed set pieces. In many ways, I’m essentially describing “literary fiction” but with some fantastical element involved. However, I think that “literary fiction” typically includes other notable elements that don’t necessarily rely on a style of writing as strongly as literary fantasy does (often tragic, more experimentation with word-play and style of writing).

So with that in mind, here are a few examples of favorite books of mine that I would file under literary fantasy.

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue”

This was actually the book that inspired this entire review series, after one of our readers commented on my labeling it as “literary fantasy” and asked about other titles that would fit in that sub-genre. So here we are! This story, that of a young woman who strikes a deal to live forever but to never be remembered by anyone she meets, fits the criteria in a few ways. It definitely has fantasy elements, what with the main character living forever and all, but the themes of the book are much more focused on identity, one’s own history, and what it means to exist in a world made up of so many other people living out their own journeys. There’s also a big focus on art and how it expresses the lives of both the artist and the subject of art. Between these themes, much of the story taking place in a standard contemporary/historical setting with very little magic involved, and the beautiful style of writing, it definitely meets the criteria for literary fantasy.

“The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

If “The Invisible Lie of Addi LaRue” was the inspiration for this post, “The Starless Sea” was my immediate answer to the question posed by our blog reader for another example of literary fantasy. I could also include Morgenstern’s first novel, “The Night Circus,” under this category, but as this is the one I’ve read and loved most recently, I’ll include it here. It’s also an example of a book I would classify as literary fantasy but one that includes many, many fantasy elements. If anything, it walks right up to the line of what I would classify as fairytale fantasy or portal fantasy. The story is a winding affair of exploration and mystery throughout time and space, all held together by a mysterious library that exists right through a doorway, if one is only brave enough to open it. There’s much reflection on love and passion, but half of the magic is the sheer whimsy of the entire thing. Behind every door is a new wonder, and the writing seems to wrap you up in a warm blanket of delight and you’re left wondering if you perhaps travelled to this magical world after all, simply through the process of reading this book. It is this lovely style of writing and the effortless feel of the magical elements involved that classifies it as literary fantasy.

“Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

This book walks even closer to the line of fairytale fantasy than the last, in that it’s largely inspired by Russian myth and the Russian folklore character, Kuschei the Deathless. But again, it’s all in the style of writing. I debated including one of Valente’s “Fairyland” stories, which I think skirt this sub-genre fairly well themselves. But I think “Deathless” hits the mark a bit better with its supposition of fantastical creatures and myths over almost all of the important events of the 20th century in Russia. Of course, knowing even a little of Russia’s history during that time period, it’s a safe guess that the story, while beautiful, has its fair share of tragic moments, as well. Valente expertly wields her magical elements in such a way as to shine new light and new insights into some of the better (and lesser) known parts of the country’s history. Anyone who has read a book by her before can also testify to the unique and beautiful style of her writing. She’s definitely an author whose stylized sentences and combinations of thoughts often makes the reader stop and re-read certain sections just to revel in her use of words.

“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

This is another literary fantasy novel that is at least as much concerned with delving into its real-life, historical themes as it is in exploring the two magical creatures who are the story’s main characters. Yes, our two leads are the titular golem and jinni, but their story is much more than that. Instead, in many ways, the book is more concerned at looking at the experience of immigrants in the early 1900s and life in New York City during this time period, in general. Not only are both of our characters origins not of the United States, but each, of course, is even more “other” in that they aren’t human. But at the same time, each has such core human traits that define them, that their experiences and struggles feel almost amplified for it. This is a long book, and one that definitely takes its time carefully depicting the details of the place and time as much as it does the history of the golem and jinni. It’s the kind of book that could fairly easily be recommended to straight-up historical fiction fans as well as fantasy readers.

“Tigana” by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay is another author who’s entire catalog of books would likely fit in this sub-genre. My favorite books by him, “The Fionavar Tapestry” quartet, definitely meet the criteria for style of writing, but they fall closer to portal fantasy, in my opinion. But I could have easily put “The Lions of Al-Rassan” or “Children of Earth and Sky” or many others on this list. I selected “Tigana,” however, because it’s probably, universally, one of his most beloved and well-regarded novels. Gavriel Kay’s books are also unique to this category in the fact that they are entirely set in alternative worlds. The settings and events are often inspired by real-life countries and events, but the worlds are still entirely fantasy-based, ultimately. This story touches on themes of war, love, and the tangle that politics makes of it all. It is expansive and marvelous, and, too many, set a higher bar for what readers can expect from fantasy fiction and specifically literary fantasy.

“The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

Lastly, I wanted to include the first book in a trilogy of books that would all fit well in this category. Like some of the others, “The Bear and the Nightingale” has a definite fairytale vibe to the story. But the slow build of the story, the attention spent on developing atmosphere, and the beautiful, lyrical style of writing all fit perfectly for literary fantasy. The sharply beautiful description of the Russian winter landscape are particularly poignant, and the themes regarding religion, magic, and one young woman’s journey to carve out a place for herself in a world that doesn’t have a place for women who don’t fit a certain type of mold. What starts out on a fairly small scale expands across the three books until Vasilisa’s story starts to encompass the entirety of Russia itself. I loved this entire tirlogy and would recommend all three (though they can’t be read separately, other than the first one, perhaps) to fans of literary fantasy.

What fantasy books would you categorize as literary fantasy? What are some of your favorites? Share in the comments below!

Highlights: March 2021

The temperature is finally starting to rise, the snow is starting to slowly melt, and we can sometimes hear a bird or two chirping in our neighborhoods! Does this mean that we can assume that we’re in the clear regarding another snow storm? Not on your life! But as we start to dream of Spring after an arduous pandemic winter, we have some books that we are also looking forward to this month.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The Bone Maker” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publication Date: March 9, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Durst has always been a bit of a hit or miss author for me. But when I do enjoy her books, I really love them. Conversely, of course, there are a few of her that I really haven’t enjoyed. But a few things about this title stood out to me. First, it’s main character is a middle aged woman. I’ve talked before about how rare it is to find fantasy books that feature with middle aged or older women. Everyone has to have their grand adventure in their twenties, apparently! The story also focuses on what happens to the heroes after they have one. Kreya and her friends defeated their mortal enemy, but at great cost. And now she and they have had to go on living their lives for twenty more years coping with the fallout. Of course, evil lingers in the dark and seems to be rising again. I so hope that this is one of Durst’s hits!

Book: “An Unexpected Peril” by Deanna Raybourn

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Why I’m Interested: “Interested” is definitely the right word here. I can no long unequivocally say that I’m “excited” for the next entries in this series. There have been too many flops, most recently the last one to come out, for me to think of this series as at all reliable in what it delivers. I’ve really loved some of the books, but it’s also begun to all feel a bit tired and stretched too thin. However, this book seems to involve Veronica and Stoker solving the mystery of a mountaineer’s death and sees them tied up in international politics when a princess goes missing. Seems like a fresh enough story, though I’m not to pleased about the line in the description about Veronica’s own ties to the Royal family. I’m so sick of that plot line. We shall see!

Book: “Namesake” by Adrienne Young

Publication Date: March 16, 2021

Why I’m Interested: I really loved “Fable” when I read it last year. I love pirate/sea-faring stories but I also seem to be fairly picky about what I expect those sorts of books to deliver. “Fable” had it all. An appropriately ruthless main character. Adventure on the high seas. A treasure hunt. And a constant guessing game as to who one should trust. In the end, it seemed to wrap up most of the plot lines before jumping to a sudden cliffhanger. The book description seems to be hinting that Fable will begin to uncover more about her mother. This is a really interesting concept, as the first book largely focused on Fable’s dysfunctional relationship with her father. I’m a bit wary about where the romance is headed, though, since it was already well-established at the end of the first book. Please no added drama in some misguided attempt to pique interest!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “She’s Too Pretty to Burn” by Wendy Heard

Publication Date: March 30, 2021

Why I’m Interested: This one grabbed my attention as I was perusing NetGalley, and I decided to go out on a limb and ‘Wish For It’. After getting lucky, and reading up on the description, it became VERY clear that I had hit the jackpot. Veronica is a fledgling teen photographer who is looking for inspiration. She then meets Mick, a shy and magnetic girl, at a party, and they immediately hit it off and fall for each other. When Veronica impulsively takes Mick’s picture, even though Mick hates having her picture taken, it starts a chain reaction of desire, obsession, art elevation, and perhaps even murder. We have a teenage Sapphic romance in the art world, AND, not only that, it’s a re-imagining of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. I mean COME ON! It just SCREAMS ‘KATE IS GOING TO LIVE FOR THIS!’

Book: “Good Girl, Bad Blood” by Holly Jackson

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Why I’m Interested: I loved loved LOVED “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” last year, and I told myself that I would absolutely hop into any more stories that concerned teenage detective Pip Fitz-Amobi and her penchant for looking into mysteries in her home town. This time, Pip has sworn off of her detective work and has instead dived deep into a podcast about her previous case and the court cases that come after. But when one of her close friends approaches her to investigate his older brother’s disappearance, Pip thinks that maybe she could solve another crime. But as she starts to investigate, she starts to find weird connections to people in her town, and begins to wonder if there is more danger at hand than she thought. Wherever Pip goes, I will follow, and given this book has been on my list awhile, the excitement is real.

Book: “Later” by Stephen King

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Why I’m Interested: My man Stephen always has a spot on my highlights lists when he has a new book coming out, for one thing. The pulp looking cover is also to die for. But as always, it’s the content that pulls me in, and “Later” is no exception. Jamie is the son of a single mother who has preternatural abilities that he is trying to keep secret. But when a detective catches wind of his talents, she enlists him to help her in a strange case involving a dead murderer who may make good on a promise to keep on killing. It sounds like it’s going to be eerie, and in line with King’s old school stories about coming of age, grey areas of morality, and a good old fashioned supernatural threat. Hopefully my wait on the library hold list won’t be TOO long…

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

Tainted Love: Unromantic Couples in Literature

In honor of Valentine’s Day yesterday, we thought it would be fun to talk about relationships in literature. Specifically, unhealthy ones or ones that we personally cannot abide for whatever reason. Given that this kind of thing can get people riled up, these opinions are our own and anyone can feel free to disagree. But we have our reasons! So here are our least favorite couples in literature.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer

The Couple: Edward and Bella

We’re just going to get this one out of the way right off the bat. It’s not a unique pick and we all probably know the reasons why it belongs on this list. But it also can’t not be included. Edward and Bella are terrible. Edward on his one is terrible. Bella on her own is terrible. Together they are ultra terrible. That’s not to say I’m “Team Jacob” either; all the romances in this story were pretty messed up. But this one tops most YA lists for bad romances for a reason. Edward is centuries older than teenage Bella. He’s super creepy and possessive with his nighttime stalking and abusive antics, like cutting her car battery lines. And Bella becomes the worst version of the abused member in an unhealthy relationship: her life becomes a literal blank page without Edward, she becomes suicidal, and by the end, all of her own life goals and passions have been set aside in her obsessive drive to live her life with Edward. There’s nothing here that remotely resembles a healthy romantic relationship and what’s worse, it set the stage for solid block of years in YA fiction where this was the only type of romance to be found.

Book: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

The Couple: Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester

This one was tied with “Wuthering Heights”‘s romance for me. Both are lauded as great Gothic romances of their time, but I really struggled with them. I like the book “Jane Eyre,” and I’ve really enjoyed a few of the movie adaptatiosn I’ve seen (particularly the mini series featuring Ruth Wilson). But man, Mr. Rochester, he wasn’t all that. I neve really understood what Jane saw in him from the start. He came across as a creep to for most of the first half of the book, particularly with the gypsy ruse which I felt was a fairly cruel prank to pull on people you call your friends. And then, of course, the whole wife in the attic bit. Yes, she’s insane, but it also doesn’t feel quite right to be lauding a character as a romantic hero when he’s got his wife locked away in a tower. Beyond that, the fact that he seemed perfectly happy to marry Jane and just hope that this little secret never came out. I mean, if he had died and then Bertha was discovered, Jane could have been left with nothing considering her marriage was never legal. Not to mention poor Jane’s reaction finding this out some ten years into a marriage potentially. It’s all pretty bad.

Book: “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling

The Couple: Hermione and Ron

This one hurts my heart to include, for two reasons. One, I’m incredibly thankful that Hermione and Harry were never a thing. That pairing would have been so unoriginal and predictable that it would have underwritten many of the unique aspects that Hermione brought to the group, making her ultimately just the romantic interest/prize for the hero in the end. And two, I really do enjoy reading Ron and Hermione’s romance and think that they could be a good couple in the end. The problem is that we never really see it in the books we have. Some of that is understandable, they’re kids during the first several and teenagers during the last. And teenagers aren’t particularly known for forming healthy, balanced romantic relationships. So most of the actual romantic build up we see are a bunch of moments where Ron continually proves that he doesn’t really deserve Hermione. By the end of the seventh book, we begin to see how he can/will. But that still leaves the majority of the story highlighting these two clashing, and Ron repeatedly letting Hermione down. And then we jump to the epilogue. I think that’s probably a really good example of how the two could work well together, but there’s about 90% of Point A, a few brief moments in the last book that show the beginnings of a healthy relationship, and then bam! We’re at Point B and they’re married with kids. So as a romantic pairing in the books themselves, they’re not great. But I love them. But they’re not great. But…ugh!

Book: “Shadow and Bone” trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

The Couple: Alina and The Darkling

This probably goes down as one of the most frustrating “romances” I’ve ever read. Seriously, I can’t understand why people think this couple was ever a thing. I remember finishing the first book, and then the second especially, and reading reviews where people were wringing their hands about their worries that Alina and The Darkling weren’t endgame. What?? The guy’s a psychotic murder! “But in a hot way!” they all croon. What the actual hell. In my mind, this never even approached being a love triangle because, for me, that would mean to viable options. And The Darkling was a mass murderer. If you think he’s a viable love interest…well, we have very different understandings of romance I guess? I don’t know. Netflix is coming out with a show featuring character for the entire “Grisha” universe and I feel very conflicted about it almost exclusively because of my feelings about this relationship. I love “Six of Crows” and the relationships there. But I hate the Alina/Darkling stuff so much that it might tip the scales against the entire thing, depending on what direction they take it, I guess.

Honorable Mention: “Blood and Chocolate” by Annette Curtis Klausse

My sister reminded me of this one right when I was finishing up my list. But the romance in this book (another love triangle ultimately) and the endgame pairing between Vivian and Gabriel was so very bad that the movie actually swaps out the ending, switching which of the two characters she ends up with. That just proves how godawful terrible it was. I won’t go into all the messy details, but think Edward/Bella with a dash more abuse and heaping pile more “mating bond” nonsense.

Kate’s Picks

Book: “The Hunger Games Trilogy” by Suzanne Collins

The Couple: Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorne

So this may be a BIT of a cheat, as I don’t think that Katniss and Gale were ever REALLY together, at least not officially. But given that there was a huge love triangle in the fandom between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, I feel a need to explain why I can’t get behind the Katniss/Gale relationship that many people wanted. No, it’s not because I’m a huge Peeta fan or anything like that. It’s because Gale is a literal WAR CRIMINAL whose strategy of bombing civilians and medics gets Katniss’s sister Prim killed. Like, my GOD, that QUITE the deal breaker! Even if it hadn’t led to the death of Prim, the very fact that he thought that this was a justified and legitimate strategy is incredibly disturbing! It boggles the mind that people could come out of that series thinking that Katniss should have ended up with that guy!

Book: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Couple: Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan

I mean, obvious, but sometimes I see people kind of romanticize this relationship as forbidden and star crossed love, and guys, that isn’t what this is. On one hand you have Gatsby, who is so OBSESSED with a woman that he builds up his entire fortune and livelihood for her, in spite of the fact he’s more in love with an idea than an actual person. And then there’s Daisy, who certainly has a raw deal with her gross husband Tom (and has few choices as a woman of that time), but is perfectly willing to let both Tom AND Gatsby put her on pedestals until things become messy or inconvenient to her lifestyle. Also she ran over Myrtle and let Gatsby take the fall, and probably knew that her husband had a hand in his ultimate demise. Careless people, indeed.

Book: “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud

The Couple: David and Meg

This was a book club pick a few years ago, and while I did find “The Sculptor” able to convey the frustration of being an artist in a world that doesn’t see you, I just couldn’t abide the romance between the main characters. For the unfamiliar, “The Sculptor” is a graphic novel about an artist named David who, so frustrated with his lack of success, makes a deal with Death that if he is given the ability to sculpt anything into a masterpiece, he will give up his life in two hundred days. And then of course, he meets Meg, a care free performance artist, whom he falls head over heels in love with. My problem was that their ‘love story’ felt very toxic, in that David is a narcissistic whiner who is more concerned with his ‘legacy’ than his actual life and relationships, and Meg is merely there to be an emotional road bump in his deal with Death, and is the worst kind of ‘manic pixie dream girl’ stereotype who is only there to prop him and his pain up. The drama and emotions feel hollow, and it’s just dramatic to be dramatic without actually doing the work to make it feel real. On the plus side, the art is great. But that isn’t what we’re critiquing here.

Book: The “Temperance Brennan” Series by Kathy Reichs

The Couple: Tempe and Andrew Ryan

This has been a SAGA for many, many books, and while I know we are supposed to want Tempe and Andrew Ryan to be endgame, boy oh boy do I NOT like them as a couple. I’m probably being far less forgiving than I could be. But let me lay it out plain (and this is going to have spoilers for elements of the entire series, so watch out). Tempe and Andrew Ryan have some pretty fun will they or won’t they chemistry. They eventually decide to give it a go, and it’s going fine. Then, Ryan finds out that he has an adult daughter from a previous relationship that he never knew about, and she is an addict. Ryan decides that the best way to support this long lost daughter is to dump Tempe and try to make it work with her mother, a woman he hasn’t spoken to in years! And THEN, it’s all for naught, he and his former lover break up, his daughter dies of an overdose, and he proposes to Tempe and is IRRITATED when she is reluctant to give him an answer!!! To that I say SCRAM!! While it’s kind of mellowed as the series has gone on, I’m still not on board with their relationship. He did her far too wrong.

Honorable Mention: “Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

I think that the obvious choice is probably Romeo and Juliet, but let’s think outside the box and pick a terrible couple from a comedy. I present to you Hero and Claudio! This young couple is set and ready to get married, but then Claudio is tricked into thinking that Hero has had an affair with someone else. Then he truly and HORRIBLY humiliates her on their wedding day and leaves her at the altar, like REALLY humiliates her and basically calls her a whore, and her own father says that he wants her to DIE because of Claudio’s tirade. Of course the truth comes out and ALL IS FORGIVEN OR SOMETHING and they get married like it’s a happy turn of events, God it’s awful.

Well that was a nice cathartic rant! What romantic couples do you find genuinely awful? Let us know in the comments!