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!

A New Year: Books About Hope and Peace

2020 was…a lot. No part of life felt untouched by the complete upheaval that was life during a summer full of powerful protests, a fall made up of an ugly election cycle, and an entire year burdened by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021 has started with an insurrectionist attack in D.C., but will soon see a new president sworn into power. We could all use a little hope and peace looking forward, so here is a list of books with themes such as these at their core.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

Not only is this just a good book to read during the winter any year, but it feels particularly apt now. Even though Christmas technically came, the general feeling of “always winter but never Christmas” definitely pervaded this last year. But at its heart, this is a story of hope in the midst of what feels like endless darkness. Even the part that is set in the real world, with the children sent to the country to escape the bombing in London during WWII. What could just be a grim war story turns into a magical adventure. And right next to the grand example of goodness and kindness set by Aslan himself, there are the smaller, quieter moments that stand out just as much. Mr. Tumnus inviting Lucy in for tea. The beaver family taking in the children and leading them across Narnia’s wintery forest. And while the cold of the White Witch is always present, it’s also impossible to miss the sense of peace and wonder that winter always brings with it as well. Especially when Christmas finally arrives.

Book: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World”

Yes, the premise of this book doesn’t sound too peaceful or hopeful. The world has ended. But life goes on and even sort of peace has come along with it. That is until Griz’s beloved dog is stolen away. And so begins a trek across a barely recognizable world, but hope burns eternal and beauty can be found even amidst the destruction that remains. It’s a lovely story, with perhaps some sad bits, but a nice message at the end about the rewards waiting for those who persist in the face of unknowns and seemingly hopeless cases. This book probably goes down as one of my “most recommended” titles in the last several years. I feel like it’s the kind of story that appeals to almost all types of readers and it has hidden gems that surprise even the most savvy reader.

Book: “44 Scotland Street” by Alexander McCall Smith

This is actually a book recommendation from my husband who is also an avid reader, though he tends towards long, Russian novels much more than myself (much to his dismay as he knows I’ll probably never read any of them myself!). But I was talking about this book list and looking for peaceful, hopeful books and this was one of the first ones he thought of. Unlike the first two books on this list, this recommendation is based more on the peaceful feeling he described as having when reading it. The story is essentially just a character study of a small community in Edinburgh and all the quirks and foibles that make up the lives of the people in it. Strong on plot it may not be, but full of warmth and laughs, it definitely is!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

So this may seem like an odd choice given that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world after a devastating pandemic. But “Station Eleven” is, at its heart, about hope and the human will to keep going, and finding joy and peace in the things that are left. After a virus wipes out a majority of the world’s population, groups of people who survived are scattered about in the wild. One of these groups is a troupe of actors who travel around and put on plays for those that they meet, bringing reminders of the old world and joy through art. True, there is conflict, and true, we still see the pain of the world falling apart through flashbacks, but even with all of that “Station Eleven” is a very hopeful tale about human perseverance even in the worst of times, and how important the arts can be when they provide happiness and escape.

Book: “I Am Malala: The Story of a Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

It’s been almost ten years since education activist Malala Yousafzai was nearly murdered for her activism while she was living in Pakistan. After she survived the attack, and given that she was only a teenager at the time, she became a symbol of tenacity and hope in the face of violence and oppression. Her memoir “I Am Malala” is a very hopeful and powerful book about doing what’s right, standing up against injustice, and the sacrifices that sometimes have to be made for the greater good. What I loved most about this book is that Malala is not only a very powerful writer as she talks about her life and her activism, but it’s also very much a story about a teenage girl with a lot of the dreams and anxieties that you would see across the age group. It’s a book that not only gives hope to me for younger generations, but also gives hope that things can get better if you fight for it.

Book: “Unbowed” by Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmental activist whose work had mostly been in Kenya, and her life story is written in this memoir, “Unbowed”. Her work in environmentalism as well as in feminism and political activism brought a number of positive changes to her home country. Not only did she help shift the Kenyan government system to a democracy (and then served in their Parliament), she also established the Green Belt Movement which encouraged the restoration of forests and trees, and put women in countryside communities at the forefront of the movement and action it took in the restoration efforts. While it’s true that she wasn’t without a little bit of controversy during her activism (there are questions about some remarks about HIV/AIDS conspiracy theories she was accused of saying, though she denied it and released her own statement HERE if you’re curious), her contributions to environmentalism and women’s rights cannot be overlooked, and her story is one that is filled with hope for what people of the world can do to make it a better place.

What books fill you with home and feelings of peace? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2020: Picks 5 through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, five to one. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

#5 “Ship of Smoke and Steel” & “City of Stone and Silence” by Django Wexler

“Ship of Smoke and Steel” Review & “City of Stone and Silence” Review”

I read the first book in a military fantasy series by Django Wexler a few years back. I really enjoyed it, but was following so many other series at the time, that I still haven’t managed to get back to it. But I was gifted the first in Wexler’s YA fantasy series over Christmas and absolutely adored it. Luckily for me, the second one was slated to come out shortly afterwards, so I was able to read both of them in a short amount of time. And what a blast they were! The action is nonstop, the magic system is fun, the monsters are creepy, and the stakes are high with real teeth behind the threats to our main character(s). I liked the first one a bit more than the second, but still really enjoyed them both. I have the third all queued up on my Kindle and will have a review of it coming up here shortly in January. I’m so nervous. I’m so excited.

#4 “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” Review

I’ve liked most everything I’ve read by V.E. Schwab to a certain extent. My favorite probably still is her “Shades of Magic” trilogy. But I was very intrigued when I saw that she was releasing a stand-alone, adult fantasy novel with a really unique concept: a young woman blessed (cursed) with the ability to live forever but to never be remembered by those around her. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into, but I was so happy with the story Schwab presented. It delved much more deeply into the importance of memory and identity, and explored concepts of art and individuality in a really interesting way as well. The magic was incorporated in a very natural way that felt authentic but didn’t overwhelm what was ultimately a more literary, reflective novel. There was a sweet romance at the heart, but the story also didn’t follow the trajectory I had initially thought it might, instead throwing in a few twists and turns towards the end that took my completely by surprise. Fans of Schwab’s work or literary fantasy are sure to like this one!

#3 “Chosen Ones” by Veronica Roth

“Chosen Ones” Review

Talk about a book taking you by surprise! I didn’t really care for Roth’s “Insurgence” trilogy. As a matter of fact, I’m fairly certain that I didn’t even finish it! I know she also came out with a duology since then which I also hadn’t read. But the description of this book, the story of what happens to the “chosen one(s)” after they kill the big villain, was intriguing enough that I thought I’d give it a shot. And here we have it! Number three on my Top 10 list for the year! It was everything I had wanted from this type of story and more. There was a great exploration of the type of PTSD and trauma that would be long-lasting for the heroes who survived this type of childhood and teenage period of years spent fighting some great evil on behalf of humanity. But on top of the reflective portion of the story, there was an excellent adventure and conflict that kept the pace moving at a swift clip. I really, really liked this book and am definitely more on board with checking out future books by Roth in the future.

#2 “Empire of Gold” by S.A. Chakraborty

“Empire of Gold” Review

Unlike some of the other books on this list, this one comes as no surprise. I’m pretty sure the first and second book in this trilogy also made this list each year they were released. But it’s always the scariest going into the third and final book. Will the author stick the landing? Or will it end in such a disappointing way that it taints one’s ability to appreciate the books that came before? Luckily, this one did just what it should and even more than I had hoped for. With the fall of Daevabad, Nahri and Ali have been forced to return to Cairo. But once there, it becomes clear that they can’t simply leave their other lives behind. How can they fight against the almost all-powerful Dara, though? And does Nahri even want to? Their adventures take them to new and unexpected destinations, and the story unravels an even more complicated history of mixed loyalties and broken promises that we’d had before. And yet, somehow Chakraborty manages to wind it all up in a way that is both believable and satisfying. Fans of the series so far are sure to love it!

#1 “A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik

“A Deadly Education” Review

Novik is definitely an absolute favorite author of mine, so it’s no wonder that her new book this year is at the top of my list. Really, I think she’s moved into the “instant buy” category for me, as far as authors go. There are only a handful of them, so it’s quite the distinction! This book was marketed as a more adult “Harry Potter.” I can see where this reference comes from with the story taking place in a darker, more dangerous magical school, and it plays around with the idea of “chosen ones” and the limitations of this title. But at the same time, I think this undersells the sheer novelty and imagination to be found in this book. This is definitely not Hogwarts, and not only is our heroine, not the “chosen one,” but the “chosen one” himself is a bit of a weirdo enigma. Also, kids die left and right in this thing to the point that the reader becomes almost equally blasé about it as our main character and the other students. And yet, the book is hilarious and fun, never becoming too dark or depressing. It’s a miracle of master storytelling and balance. The story also ends in a satisfying manner, but introduces a new twist at the very end that leaves you on tenterhooks waiting for the next one. Pretty much any fantasy fan should enjoy this one!

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2020?

Kate’s Favorite Reads 2020: Picks 5 Through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, and I also realized that sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top. Boy let me tell you it was a HARD year to pick ten, as it was a year of HIGH quality books. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway”! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, five to one. 

5. “This Is My America” by Kim Johnson

“This Is My America” Review

This YA thriller/mystery took a hard look at the racial disparities in the American Justice System and threw in a suspenseful mystery as well. I devoured this debut novel from Kim Johnson, in which Tracy, a Black teenage girl whose father is on Death Row for a murder he didn’t commit, now has to contend with her brother being accused of a murder he didn’t commit. As Tracy tries to find evidence to clear her brother’s name as well as bringing light to the miscarriage of justice regarding her father, she uncovers a corrupt and racist sector of her community that puts her and her family in danger. This book was fast paced, timely, and thought provoking, and I greatly enjoyed it.

4. “Grown” by Tiffany D. Jackson

“Grown” Review

Tiffany D. Jackson is one of my favorite YA thriller authors writing right now, and “Grown” is probably her best book yet. This gripping and raw look into misogynoir, rape culture, and sexual exploitation is a hard read, but again, necessary as well. Teenage Enchanted Jones has dreams of stardom, and when R and B megastar Korey Fields notices her talents and offers to make her a star, she jumps at the chance. When he romances her she thinks it’s too good to be true, but their ‘romance’ turns abusive, controlling, and dangerous. When Korey ends up dead, Enchanted has to clear her name. Inspired by true events, “Grown” shows how Black girls have to grow up too fast, and how society doesn’t protect them the way that it should. Again, hard to read. But necessary.

3. “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel

“The Glass Hotel” Review

Emily St. Mandel follows up her plague tale “Station Eleven” with a story about Ponzi Schemes, responsibility, and power. Lives intersect and weave in and out, as one man scams a number of people into financial ruin, another man makes a decision that costs him a job and a relationship, and a woman, before she disappears, has to confront the part she played in wrecking others lives by standing by in silence. St. Mandel pulls together a tragic yet hopeful and very haunting tale that finds the little things that keep people resilient, and how resilience can sometimes come at a terrible cost. Her writing style is lyrical and beautiful, and as a friend of mine once joked, ‘can make Ponzi Schemes seem interesting and gripping!’ What a beautiful literary tale.

2. “The Last Book on the Left” by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski

“The Last Book on the Left” Review

My favorite podcast turned into a book, and boy was it worth the wait and the hype in my mind. Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski bring deep dive research, non fiction narration, and witty (and sometimes stupid) commentary to a number of stories of notorious serial killers. They manage to bring the best elements of their podcast to book form, and while I had been expecting the research and actual story aspects to translate just fine, it was the hilarious commentary that caught be my surprise in how well it worked. I would absolutely love it if these guys would do what “Lore” did and write more books within the other realms of their podcasts, and to do what “Lore” didn’t do and to continue making original and new content regarding these stories. Hail Yourselves, guys! This book was fantastic!!

1. “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson

“The Year of the Witching” Review

My number one pick of 2020 eked out “Last Book on the Left” because of the timeliness and cathartic nature of the story, as well was the theme: motherfucking witches, baby. Feminist witches at that. The story of Immanuelle Moore, a teenager in a puritanical society of zealotry and misogyny, is an outcast from society because of her mother, who ran into the woods where witches dwelled, and came back to give birth to a baby out of wedlock. Immanuelle has been drawn to the Darkwood, and after getting lost inside she encounters the dark things that live there, who give her her mother’s diary. As Immanuelle reads the diary, something inside of her starts to arise, and the hypocrisy of the Church and its leaders may not be able to silence her. The feminism! The witch lore! The damning of the Patriarchy! “The Year of the Witching” is scary, empowering, powerful, and my favorite read of 2020, a year where it was very hard to feel powerful sometimes.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2020?

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2020: Picks 10 through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

#10 “The Body in the Garden” by Katharine Schellman

“The Body in the Garden” Review

This was a book that definitely took me by surprise this last year. I had fairly randomly requested it on NetGalley just based on the fact that it was a historical mystery. The cover looked kind of derpy and I hadn’t heard of the author. But then it absolutely blew me away! Not only do I just love this type historical mystery featuring a crime-solving lady, but this one broke a lot of the molds and tropes that I had begun to tire of from other similar series I’ve been reading recently. Our main character is a widow, for one thing, and one who has only fairly recently lost her husband and is still clearly mourning him. There is, of course, a gentleman friend introduced in the story, but given the circumstances, the development of any romance will look very different and there was none in this book. I also liked the inclusion of a more racially diverse cast with one of the main character’s friends being a POC young woman. The book also featured a solid mystery and found ways for a lady such as Lily Adler to solve the crime without falling into too many traps of anachronisms in behavior for a woman of the time.

#9 “Driftwood” by Marie Brennan

“Driftwood” Review

I also read the first in Brennan’s popular “The Memories of Lady Trent” series this year, but it was this, her recently released stand-alone novel that really captured me. It’s a strange little book about essentially the afterlife where worlds go to finally die after whatever apocalyptic event took them out in the first place. There, these worlds shrink slowly and whatever people remain, must make due in a patchwork place made up of all sorts of different peoples and worlds. It’s a place where change is everything, except for one man, Last, an individual who no one seems to really know but who has been around forever. The story jumps through various people’s tales of their interactions with Last, and through these tales, we explore a taste of the wide variety of worlds and peoples that make up Driftwood. It was such a unique story, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it. It’s definitely a must-read for fans of science fiction/fantasy.

#8 “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Mexican Gothic” Review

This was a joint review for both Kate and I, and we both enjoyed it immensely. I think I’ve included a book by Moreno-Garcia on my last two “Top 10” lists, as well, so that should demonstrate my general love for this author. All of her books have been completely different, a Regency romance/fantasy, a Mexican folklore/fable, and here we have a Gothic horror story also set in Mexico. I never know what I’m going to get, but I do know that it’s always good. This book was definitely the creepiest thing I’ve read by her. It plays with all of the Gothic horror tropes in really creative ways and even has tinges of other horror stories like “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The setting is so cool, a rural town in Mexico during the 1950s, and Noemi is an excellent heroine. Fans of the author will definitely enjoy this, and as Kate can attest, horror-lovers will likely enjoy it, too.

#7 “The Poppy War” by R. F. Kuang

“The Poppy War” Review

I’m currently reading the second book in this series, “The Dragon Republic,” and it’s bringing back all the memories of why I enjoyed the first book so much. Don’t get me wrong, both the fist and the second are tough reads, but that’s also because Kuang doesn’t shy away from the absolute horror that is warfare, especially the terrible impact it has on innocents caught in the crossfire. The series also explores the burdens that warfare places on its soldiers. Rin’s story is dark, heavy, but also completely compelling. She’s just the sort of character you can’t help but fall in love with while also wanting to constantly shake her and say “No, don’t do that!! Can’t you see??” I also really enjoy the interesting magic system and pantheon of gods that are introduced. Magic comes with a heavy, heavy price, and we see Rin’s struggle with it lead her into incredibly challenging moral areas. The third book came out this fall, so I’m a bit late to this series, overall. But fantasy lovers, especially military fantasy lovers, are sure to enjoy this.

#6 “A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine

“A Memory Called Empire” Review

I think this was the most straight-up science fiction story I read this year, and it’s only fitting that it made it’s way onto this list. It’s also another one that came out a bit ago and for whatever reason, I didn’t get to until this fall. I blame long library audiobook wait lists for delaying the pure joy that was my experience reading this book. I really loved everything about it: the interesting technology that is introduced, the various cultures that we see, the exploration of topics such as colonialism, empire, and reform. And, of course, our main character Mahit Dzmare is lovely. Taking on the role as a new ambassador to the sprawling Empire, Mahit’s story is one of untangling a complex web of politics and opposing motivations. Through her eyes, we, too, get to explore the tensions that come between both loving and fearing such an immense force as an Empire that is slowly sprawling out across the galaxy and subsuming all it finds in its path. The second book in the series is coming out this spring, and I have an e-ARC all queued up, so this time I’ll be more on top of things!

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2020?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2020: Picks 10 Through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, and I also realized that sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top. Boy let me tell you it was a HARD year to pick ten, as it was a year of HIGH quality books. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway”! Today I’m going to countdown my favorite reads, ten to six. 

10. “Superman Smashes the Klan” by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru (Ill.)

“Superman Smashes the Klan” Review

I love me some DC as you all know, and I am still super thrilled that Gene Luen Yang will take on various titles every one in awhile. But “Superman Smashes the Klan” is above and beyond his other Superman stories, if only because of how seamlessly he weaves in themes of social justice and anti-racism along with the Superman stuff. Not only do we have some well done and nuanced takes on the difficulties of immigrant families when it comes to dealing with racism and the expectations to assimilate, we get a fantastic juxtaposition with Superman, who has his own identity hurdles that he’s facing. And who doesn’t love seeing a stand in for the Klan get their asses handed to them by one of the most beloved superheroes of all time?

9. “The Return” by Rachel Harrison

“The Return” Review

Weird hotel? Check! A strained female friendship? Check! Creepy imagery and a totally unsettling horror undercurrent that ties these things together and more? Check mate! “The Return” is an unsettling horror story about a missing woman who suddenly reappears, and her closest (but waning) friend realizes that something about her is… off. But what “The Return” is really about is how sometimes friendships slowly melt away, and how we have to come to terms with letting go of something that is no longer giving us what we need, even though it brought us joy in the past. It’s a horror story that had the right amount of pathos, frustration, and bittersweetness to go with some really scary moments.

8. “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Mexican Gothic” Joint Review

A Gothic horror story set in the rural Mexican countryside, starring a Latina woman who is battling an unknown malevolent force that is inside the home of a white, Colonialist family? Hot damn, now THAT sounds interesting! And “Mexican Gothic” certainly was a wild and disturbing read that subverted a lot of Gothic tropes. Noemí enters the strange and dark setting of My Place and introduces us to some twisted body horror, a screed against colonialism, and a genuinely haunting and atmospheric tale of terror that continues the grand tradition of using horror to address issues of social justice. And now Silvia Moreno-Garcia is on my must read list of authors.

7. “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Holly Jackson

“A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” Review

While sometimes popular YA thrillers don’t quite catch my attention as much as I want them to, “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” completely exceeded my expectations and became one of my favorite thrillers of 2020! Plucky teen Pip’s obsession with a local murder case sucks her into a tangled web of suspects, threats, and lies, and as she works to clear the name of a suspect whose family is still grieving, she finds twists, turns, and lots of surprises. I was completely enthralled by this book, and I cannot WAIT for the sequel, which will be arriving in April (and has already been pre-ordered from my favorite indie children’s book store)! “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” is a hoot and a half.

6. “The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones

“The Only Good Indians” Review

2020 was the year I finally got in gear and read Stephen Graham Jones, and his newest horror novel “The Only Good Indians” was quite the story to start with. This folk horror tale about four Indigenous men who did something terrible on a hunting trip, and then become hunted themselves, burrowed into my brain and kept me thinking about it for days afterwards. But again, along with the horror comes a story about identity, tradition, grief, and trauma, and the heart and hope that glimmer amongst the despair and destruction was incredibly emotional and touching. A truly visceral and haunting horror tale that may not be for the faint of heart, but should be read by horror fans everywhere.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2020?

Not Just Books: November 2020

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:

Movie: “The Aeronauts”

My husband and I celebrated our anniversary recently, and so we were looking for a good movie to watch on our “date night” at home (damn you Covid). This was one that I’d on my list for a while, and it seemed like a good fit. Inspired by a true story, it’s the tale of a scientist and an aeronaut who set out to study the patterns of the weather and attempt to rise to the highest elevation achieved in a balloon at the time. Of course, things don’t go to plan, and I can testify to this being a bit more stressful than I had anticipated. But it was also beautiful to look at an Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne are excellent in everything they’re in. It’s a lovely little movie, and one I highly recommend.

Netflix Show: “Away”

I really like movies and shows about space. They can be pretty hit and miss, but the ones that are good are often very good. This made it a no-brainer for me to check out “Away” when it dropped on Netflix. Telling the story of a group of astronauts setting off on the first mission to Mars, the show is a gripping tale of family, exploration, and the struggles we all bring with us, even out into space. The acting was all solid, and I really enjoyed Hillary Swank’s performance. Some of the space stuff…was, eh. I feel like there were times where the show definitely veered into the unnecessarily dramatic. Real astronauts are incredibly professional and put that above almost everything. Some of the early events of this show definitely had me raising my eyebrows. But, hey, it’s still a space show, so I enjoyed it overall.

TV Show: “Documentary Now!”

My husband and I are becoming more and more pathetic on our general bedtime. We can blame the kids, age, whatever, but it’s still a fact. It’s gotten to the point that if it’s even close to 9, we feel hesitant about starting up another 40-60 minute episode of whatever show we’re watching. But we also don’t want to be in bed before 9! What to do? Start watching a 20 minute parody show of course! I hadn’t heard of this show before, but Aaron had. It’s basically mocking our current obsession with documentaries and the different ways they’re filmed. We’ve only watched a handful at this point, but they’re pretty good. If you’ve seen the original documentary or documentary series that a particular episode is mocking, it’s all the better. I’ve particularly enjoyed the one about professional bowling and the one about a famous chef who is know for his beans and rice. If you’re looking for a way for fill 20 minutes or so, this is definitely worth checking out!

Kate’s Picks:

Video Game: “Blair Witch”

As someone who is a huge, HUGE fan of “The Blair Witch Project”, when I heard that they were coming out with a video game called “Blair Witch” I was super interested. Unfortunately it was right around the time I had my kid, and I didn’t have much time for video games. But this past Halloween season I was reminded that I still hadn’t tried this game, so I got it for my Switch. You play as Ellis, a man suffering from PTSD who is in a not so good place, and who joins a search party for a missing boy in the woods outside Burkitsville. Using your dog Bullet and various items, you find clues about the missing boy… but as the game goes on, you find yourself lost in the woods hunted by something. I wasn’t able to REALLY pick it up and concentrate until recently, and boy oh boy is it freaky.

Disney+ Show: “The Mandalorian”

If you asked me if I was a “Star Wars” fan, I’d probably say ‘kinda’. I like the original trilogy, as well as a few of the (previously canon and now non-canon) Expanded Universe books. I also don’t really like Westerns. So because of those, I held off on “The Mandalorian” for awhile, and now I’m regretting not diving in sooner. A nameless Mandalorian (bounty hunter group that Boba Fett belonged to as well) has adventures in bounty hunting across the galaxy, and after rescuing a baby from Yoda’s species (or Baby Yoda as he is called) he has found a new purpose. It’s a sci-fi meets wandering gunslinger tale, and it works really, really well. I’ve always liked the Mandalorian mythology, and this show is very ‘Mad Max’ in the sense that it’s also very much about the people he helps in each episode (and soooo many guest stars!). I’m hooked. And Season 2’s premiere ended with a HUGE moment that made me gasp.

Film/TV Franchise: “The Purge”

So my anxiety was off the charts going into Election Night at the beginning of the month, and for whatever reason I decided to alleviate those anxieties by watching a bunch of “The Purge” content. I watched “The Purge” TV show Season 2, I watched “The Purge: Election Year” (on Election Night itself!), and then as we waited for counts I watched “The First Purge” and “The Purge: Anarchy”. While it may look like this franchise is another foray into torture porn horror or other splatter punk genres, it is also a deeply interesting satire of American society and the violence that runs deeply within it (and those who benefit from that violence, and are the main victims of it on a systemic level). And hey. It’s not too audacious to say that I see a LOT of similarities between the New Founding Fathers of America, the evil far right party in the “Purge” universe, and the current GOP. Sorry not sorry.