Four and Twenty Tributes Baked in a Pie

WARNING: Spoilers.

This, apparently, is what happens when I have whole weeks off of work: I read all day and post without rhyme or reason. I honestly was going to get something accomplished today but then my scheduled reading time spiraled out of control and long story short I’m now 192 pages into The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

For those not in the know, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy, in which children from twelve districts fight to the death for the pleasure of the privileged. The Hunger Games started as a form of war indemnity extracted from the districts but evolved into a spectacle-driven circus over the 75 years they were held, until they eventually fused into a bizarre cross between a battle royale and a beauty pageant. Songbirds and Snakes explores the origins of Coriolanus Snow, the cruel, money-grubbing showman who serves as the main villain in the original trilogy, and shows how the Games began to evolve from war punishment to murder pageant.

I don’t remember if Snow’s origin story was mentioned at all in Mockingjay and I don’t feel like reading it again just for the sake of checking, but as far as I can tell there hasn’t been any retconning so far. Of course, my memory of the original trilogy is hazy at best because I last read it sometime around 2013, so if anything’s been retconned I probably won’t catch it unless it’s fairly major. In any case, he doesn’t start as a despotic showman; he starts as an ambitious, controlling 18-year-old whose wealthy family has fallen on extremely hard times following an almost decade-long war between the districts and the Capitol. He is given a coveted position as a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games but finds himself stuck mentoring Lucy Gray Baird, the female tribute from District 12, whose tributes generally die in the first five minutes of the Games. As of page 192, he has made friends with her, and has also (extremely predictably) developed a crush on her, which may or may not be unrequited.

The good stuff first, because there’s less of that: I don’t hate it. I feel more positively disposed towards it than I did by page 192 of Mockingjay. I thought it would be boring and/or hard to get through, based on what others have said, but it goes by pretty quickly. I like that there’s an unintentional mini Hunger Games, with tributes and mentors dying like flies even before the official Games even start. It would’ve been easy for Collins to rehash the original trilogy, but Songbirds and Snakes is actually quite different so far. I like that the Capitol residents aren’t entirely the depraved hedonists they are by Katniss’s time; they may be overprivileged and oblivious, but at least some of them are still aware that the Hunger Games are backwards and barbaric. I like Lucy Gray. I thought that either she was going to get killed in the arena or Suzanne Collins was going to retcon the ending to let her win because I was for some reason convinced that Haymitch was District 12’s only victor, but I checked my copy of The Hunger Games and it does say that District 12 has had two victors in its history, one of whom is (1) dead and (2) unnamed. I’ll be pretty surprised if she doesn’t win, but this is the series that killed Finnick Odair for absolutely no reason, so I suppose it’s anybody’s game.

And now the bad stuff, which can be summed up in one overarching question: Why do we need to humanize President Snow?

I cannot get behind him as a protagonist. I cannot think of him as Coryo, as his family and classmates call him, or even as Coriolanus. He’s President Snow. He will always be President Snow. I don’t care how much he loves his family or how much he suffered in the war because, thanks to the original trilogy, I already know he’ll lose all his redeeming features over the next 64 years. I already know he’s going to commit horrific crimes against his own people. I already know he’s going to sell future Hunger Games victors into sexual slavery. I already know he’s going to dress up the horror of the Games in bright lights and fashion. I already know that no matter how much he may love Lucy Gray, HE’S STILL GOING TO KEEP THE GAMES RUNNING ANYWAY.

This, for me, is the biggest problem in this whole “President Snow is a person too!” narrative. The opportunity to tell his story is a grace he doesn’t deserve, because he’s still going to become probably the most heinous war criminal in Panem history. No one is going to force him into this. This is something he’s going to choose to become, over and over and over again. It’s something he chooses with every crime he commits against the people he’s supposed to protect. The seeds of it are there from the beginning of the book, where he is introduced as a haughty private school brat who’s more worried about the state of his shirt than he is about the state of his country. He spends the first chapter whining about having nothing to eat but cabbage soup, about the damage to the one good shirt that fits him, about his Very Bad Prospects if he fails to produce a Hunger Games victor. Don’t get me wrong: he’s up against some very serious problems. His future and his finances are no laughing matter, but, as much as he complains, he still has food, clothes, and family. He lives in a penthouse, goes to school, has a reasonable chance of getting into college, and has enough social standing to obtain favors from the right people. He is able-bodied and doesn’t appear to suffer from any mental illnesses. His physical needs are more or less adequately met and he will never find himself fighting for his life in the murder arena, which is a damn sight more than children from the districts can say. He does have a fractured relationship with the dean of his Academy, who seems to be out to get him, but that’s his own stupid fault. Cry me a river, dude, because I have no sympathy.

I will say that he’s gotten better over the course of the story, but, again, this doesn’t mean much because it’s going to be straight downhill from here. It’s a little too early to tell if he’s going to come out of this as a hero or not, but, given that he’s going to become the Panem version of Hitler, this seems unlikely. My best guess – and biggest fear – is that the general rationale behind his whole story is going to be something along the lines of “He was really poor for a few years and the girl he liked kicked the bucket, which is why he went crazy.” Because, make no mistake, something is going to happen to Lucy Gray. Even if she wins the Games, which she may very well end up doing by default, I don’t see this having a happy ending. I don’t see Snow ending up as a happily married man. At best he may find some temporary happiness with Lucy Gray, but whatever he gets isn’t going to last unless Collins has planted a major retcon at the end. (For the record, I hope she hasn’t, because that would be beyond lame.) The people in the Capitol generally have this “If you hit us, we hit back twice as hard” mentality, and I’m pretty sure that’s going to be a major factor in Snow’s evolution from schoolboy to tyrant. Of course, it’s equally probable that he’s going to betray and/or abandon Lucy Gray if he finds himself forced to choose between her and his own advancement, which he most likely will at some point.

However this ends up playing out, I can’t reconcile my knowledge of Snow’s future with his (relatively) innocuous present. I’m not okay with him being given a chance to tell his side of a story that should only ever be one-sided. Obviously he’s human just like everyone else and he didn’t spring fully formed from his father’s head, but some origin stories are better left untouched.

P.S. If you’ve already finished the book, don’t tell me what happens.

Book Bites 3

Happy Sunday!

I’ve realized recently that I have a tendency to fall into reading slumps the minute I finish whatever book I’ve been reading. I finished two books this week, but I’m trying not to get hit by a double dose of the reading doldrums because so help me I am going to finish Dune before my vacation time starts on Wednesday. I’ve been trying to motivate myself to read Dune for the better part of a month, and I refuse to have it hanging over me during my staycation.

As a side note, I seem to have gotten into a pattern of reading heartbreaking books with beautiful writing lately. However, since all of the heartbreakers I’ve read this year have been amazing, I’m not inclined to complain.

Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers.

Theme of the week: Books that broke my fuckin’ heart.


The Book of Longings
Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longings tells the story of Ana, wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth, and her life before and after her marriage. She begins as an impetuous fourteen-year-old, educated and ambitious. Guided and encouraged by her incredibly badass aunt Yaltha, she grows into a fearless writer, a feminist far ahead of her time, who strives to tell the stories of women who have been silenced. After her first marriage falls through, she marries the twenty-year-old Jesus against overwhelming odds, and joins his family in Nazareth. Over the course of the book she makes friends with a goat, sets animals loose in a temple on a whim, and finds ways to save her writing from her arson-minded parents. In case this wasn’t obvious already, she’s really fucking cool, and I want to be like her when I grow up.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the characterization of Ana and Jesus. She calls him “Beloved”; he calls her “Little Thunder.” They are literally the cutest couple. Ana is fierce, hilarious, and iron-willed. She makes impulsive decisions, but she’s not stupid. She’s strong and resourceful, and she finds ways to get what she wants. Jesus is kind, hard-working, and loving. He sees Ana exactly as she is, and he loves her for it.

“I’m unsuited for you,” I said. “Certainly you know this…I have ambitions as men do. I’m racked with longings. I’m selfish and willful and sometimes deceitful. I rebel. I’m easy to anger. I doubt the ways of God. I’m an outsider everywhere I go. People look on me with derision.”

“I know all of this,” he said.

“And you would still have me?”

“The question is whether you will have me.”

Unlike other men of his era, Jesus delights in Ana’s spirit. He never orders her to be demure or ladylike. He encourages her to write and supports her use of birth control, despite his own desire for children. When Ana’s herbs fail her and she becomes pregnant, he celebrates with her; when their daughter is stillborn, he grieves with her. Though they don’t talk about it much, he later tells her he would’ve called their daughter “Littlest Thunder,” which broke my heart into a million tiny pieces. Throughout the course of their marriage, Jesus frequently goes away in order to find work, but he always returns to Ana.

Unfortunately, their peaceful life cannot last, and after several years Jesus starts to feel he is being called to a higher purpose. After a brief stint with John the Baptist (here referred to as “John the Immerser”), Jesus begins to spread his own teachings, gaining a huge following of people who name him King of the Jews. This puts him at odds with Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea, who feels he is better suited to the title than Jesus. After warning Herod’s first wife that Herod intends to kill her following his second marriage, Ana flees to Alexandria to avoid arrest, and spends the final two years of her marriage separated from Jesus. During her second year in Egypt, she and Yaltha find refuge with the Therapeutae, a religious sect with whom Yaltha had previously lived. Eventually Ana receives word from her adopted brother Judas that it is more or less safe for her to return to Galilee, but her journey suffers multiple setbacks, and she arrives in time to find Jesus being paraded through the streets on his way to his crucifixion.

The rest of Jesus’s life should be fairly clear to anyone even vaguely informed on his general life and times, but Ana’s story doesn’t end with his. After his death, she returns to Alexandria to live with the Therapeutae*, eventually becoming their leader, and dedicates the rest of her life to her writing. At the end of the book she buries a copy of her writings to save them from possible future destruction, and leaves the secret of their location with other members of the Therapeutae, to be handed down from generation to generation. I didn’t really know going in what to expect from this book, but that ending was absolutely perfect. If you haven’t already, add this book to your reading list, because everybody needs to read it.

*Just to be clear, the Therapeutae live on the shore of Lake Mareotis, backed by cliffs and with a clear view of the water. They spend their mornings in engaged in the work that keeps them all alive (farming, animal care, etc.) and their afternoons engaged in spiritual work (reading and writing). I have no words to explain how jealous I am. I feel like I could live with the religious angle if I were allowed to spend all my time reading and writing.


The Girl with the Louding Voice
Abi Daré

I am a word snob. My opinion of a given author’s facility for words will make or break my opinion of the book itself, regardless of its actual story, so I want you to take my full meaning when I say that the broken English employed in The Girl with the Louding Voice did not bother me. I don’t know how Daré did it, but the language she used was so beautiful and so well done that, even though it didn’t fit within English grammatical norms, I never struggled to understand what she was saying. Everything she wrote made perfect sense, and it used the language in ways that would never have occurred to me. Jennicorn and I read this one together, and we were both blown away.

The Girl with the Louding Voice tells the story of fourteen-year-old Adunni, who lives in Ikati, a village in Nigeria. Her first language is Yoruba, but she and everyone else typically communicate in rudimentary English. Adunni wants nothing more than to go to school in order to get a good job and develop a “louding voice,” a voice so loud that people will listen to what she says, but she is forced to stop school when her mother dies and her tuition money runs out. Even faced with these obstacles, Adunni continues to study on her own and starts teaching her eleven-year-old brother, Kayus, as well as other children who haven’t had the chance to go to school. All of this ends, however, when she is sold to Morufu, a twice-married taxi driver old enough to be her father. I mean that literally, not hyperbolically. His eldest daughter is Adunni’s age. He already has two wives, Labake and Khadija, but the minute you get to his compound and you see his four daughters you know exactly why he wants a third wife. Morufu is not shy about his reasons; he tells Adunni that he fully expects her to give him a son, and he also tells Khadija that if her fourth child is not a boy, he will send her back to her father’s house and let them all starve to death.

Adunni endures several months of torture, both from Morufu and Labake, but Khadija is a kind-hearted woman who befriends Adunni and helps her to survive, even helping her with her homemade birth control. Things abruptly take a turn for the worse when Khadija dies, and Adunni goes on the run, knowing she may be executed for Khadija’s death, even though she had nothing to do with it. She eventually ends up in the hands of Kola, a man who makes his living selling young girls as maids to wealthy families, and is sold to a woman named Big Madam, in whose house she suffers horrific abuse. While working for Big Madam, she learns that the last housemaid, Rebecca, was raped and groomed by Big Madam’s husband before going missing, and she begins to worry that she’ll share Rebecca’s fate, which is an entirely reasonable concern. One of the more troubling patterns in the book is the ways in which the women are screwed over by the men they know, which I’ve enumerated below.

Adunni’s Father
Adunni’s father marries her to a man so old he already has four children and has to take drugs before he can get it up.

Morufu
Morufu frequently threatens his wives with beatings, starvation, and death. He makes Khadija so desperate for a son that she conceives her fourth child with Bamidele, the man she originally wanted to marry, whose family produces mostly boys. He also marries his eldest daughter, Kike, to a significantly older man in order to get rid of her.

Bamidele
Bamidele tells Khadija that the women in his family have to bathe in the Kere River before giving birth, and that the ones who didn’t have all died. When her baby starts to come a month early, Khadija goes to Bamidele, believing he will help her with the bathing ritual, but he instead runs away and leaves her to die on the riverbank, presumably to keep everyone from finding out that he had an affair.

Kola
Kola tells Adunni he will collect her wages for her and bring them to her after her first three months, but predictably absconds with the money. When Adunni brings this up to Kofi, Big Madam’s chef, he tells her that Kola did the same thing to Rebecca.

Big Daddy
Big Madam’s husband, Big Daddy, is a useless alcoholic fuckboy who spends his days chasing after other women while Big Madam does all the work and makes all the money. While Big Madam is in the hospital visiting her sister, Big Daddy watches TV and demands cupcakes from Kofi. When Big Madam calls him out on his bullshit, he beats her. He also raped and groomed Rebecca prior to the events of the story. He got her pregnant and convinced her he was going to marry her, but gave her a drug to make her miscarry at four months, after which Big Madam kicked her out of the house. He attempts to groom Adunni as well, offering her money to try to win her over, but finally snaps and tries to rape her. Big Madam so resents his courtship that she treats Adunni more harshly than she treated any of her previous maids.

Dr. Ken Dada
While working for Big Madam, Adunni meets Tia Dada, who is kind to her and later becomes her tutor. Tia’s husband is infertile but doesn’t see fit to share this information with her because he believes she will never want children. As a result, his mother pressures Tia into a fertility ritual that is supposed to be a bath but actually turns out to be a vicious flogging intended to drive out “the evil of childlessness.” Adunni, who encouraged Tia to go through with the bath, is horrified and guilt-stricken at the brutality of the flogging.

I want to ask why [Tia’s husband] didn’t come too. Why didn’t he come and get a beating like his wife? If it takes two people to make a baby, why only one person, the woman, is suffering when the baby is not coming? Is it because she is the one with breast and the stomach for being pregnant? Or because of what? I want to ask, to scream, why are the women in Nigeria seem to be suffering for everything more than the men?

Good questions, Adunni. I wish I had answers. And yet, even with everything that Adunni has been through, even after everything she and the other women have suffered, the book isn’t completely without light. Adunni is smart, hard-working, and feisty as hell. The morning after her wedding night, she has this to say:

The knife make me wonder evil a moment. Make me think, if I take that knife and keep inside my dress, then when Morufu want to rough me this night, I just bring it out and slice off his man-areas.

Upon learning that Kola will run away with her money, this is her first thought:

“You mean he will be running away with my moneys?” I ask, feeling my heart begin to climb up and down, up and down. “Because I swear I will be finding that man and knocking his head with this too-big shoe on my feets.”

Good Lord, I hope she never changes. I seriously doubt that she will; she has a strong personality, and, despite the number of people who tell her to sit down and shut up throughout the story, she persists in asking questions and learning as much as she can. Though she initially sees herself as unworthy of attention, owing to a lifetime of dismissal and abuse, she spends the book learning to see herself instead as a person of value, a person who deserves to live her life the way she wants to, a person who can help strengthen Nigeria. She never loses sight of this goal, and, with help from Kofi and Tia, she eventually wins a scholarship and manages to leave the world of servitude behind, hopefully forever.

This is what I mean when I say that I seem to have gotten into a cycle of heartbreaking books, because Louding Voice broke my heart so many times and in so many inventive ways, both happy and sad. I am now officially that person who cries over books. Like with The Map of Salt and Stars, I was and still am abjectly grateful that Louding Voice has a happy ending, because it wasn’t always clear that it would. I was expecting Adunni to win the scholarship, but the story could just as easily have gone the other way. It could have made Adunni lose everything. It could have turned her into the next Rebecca, and I’m so glad that it didn’t.


Final Thoughts

Both of these books were amazing and I want to read them again, which is why I now have them in audio form as well. I’m a borderline obnoxiously fussy reader but I had no problems with either of these books, which should really tell you something. I only had one tiny gripe with the cover of Louding Voice, which is a gripe I have with the publisher and the industry in general rather than with the book itself. Please stand by, I’m going to have a quick tantrum…

WHAT IS THIS CRAP ON MY COVER?

Dear Publishers,

You seriously need to stop putting this shit on my book covers because it is pissing me off. I don’t give two shits who recommends this book. I’m still going to read it anyway. I’d read it even if Margaret Atwood said she hated it. I’m a grown-ass woman and I can decide for myself if the book sounds interesting or not. I don’t care about this “Read with Jenna” nonsense. I had to Google that to find out which fucking Jenna you were talking about. I’m mad that it’s not a sticker and I can’t remove it. This cover is so beautiful and so perfect and there’s this stupid little “Read with Jenna” circle messing it up. I’m also mildly annoyed that the author of American Dirt is quoted on the cover. I refuse to read American Dirt, which pirates the work of better writers with minimal effort, and I feel like it’s already received more than enough air time without crawling onto other writers’ books.

I told you I was fussy.

Obviously, none of this is the fault of either the author or the book. My reading was not stained by this dumbass permanent sticker on the cover. With or without the sticker, The Girl with the Louding Voice is an absolute must-read.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Anti-Trans Tweets

Well, hello.

It’s summer, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and JESUS, KAREN Rowling has – bizarrely – gone on an anti-trans Twitter spree. This seems like an odd time to start trying to stamp out trans people, given that Black people are being actively murdered for reasons that would not stand up in a fair court of law, but whatever floats your boat, Karen. We don’t usually post as a group, but, as three Potterheads who are still waiting for their Hogwarts letters, we want to make this inescapably clear: We do not support this.

For anyone who’s not really following right now, J.K. Rowling, who already has a history of opposing basic rights for transgender people, was recently offended by an article that referred to “people who menstruate.” She then went on to offend other people with a handful of inane tweets that contained such gems as “Erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.” In other words, it’s all about her. In the middle of an extraordinarily difficult year that has already brought us a global pandemic, social upheaval, and murder hornets, she has decided that legally acknowledging transgender people by their chosen identities will somehow erase her own womanhood. She also tried to tell LGB people they were being erased along with her (“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction”) and then threw in the “Some of my best friends are [XYZ]” argument (“I know and love trans people”). You cannot claim to love trans people while in the same breath refusing to acknowledge their right to choose their own identities. Whether taken by themselves or set against the general backdrop of 2020, her tweets are ridiculous, egotistical, and self-indulgent.

Besides the obvious fact that her logic is completely bananas, her transphobia is particularly bewildering when viewed against the broader context of the Harry Potter series, which is built around the themes of love, acceptance, and overcoming misconceptions. I honestly don’t know which is more ironic, the fact that all of her hero characters would be horrified by her attitude or the fact that several actors from the Harry Potter films have openly disagreed with her, or the fact that Voldemort and Grindelwald would happily have adopted her rhetoric to justify their Muggle-born exterminations.

Can you imagine?


Resources

If you have the means, please consider donating to The Trevor Project. They are a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people younger than 25. If you’re sick of Rowling’s bullshit, Daniel Radcliffe published a very thoughtful, loving statement on their website. If you feel like you can’t look at the Harry Potter books the same way anymore, he has some thoughts on that too.

“To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life – then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.”

If you’re looking to support Black trans people, please see this #BlackTransLivesMatter resource list. Besides providing a list of organizations to support, the creators of the document have included lists of books and articles to read, videos to watch, and podcasts to listen to.

As a final note, we would like to remind you all that the TERF community’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.

If only Rowling had listened to her own wisdom.

Book Bites 2

I have got to learn to bake scones.

Scones seem to be a predominant theme in cozy mysteries, or at least in the ones I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks. First there was The Secret, Book & Scone Society, which features a bakery that specializes in “comfort scones” completely customized to each diner. Then there was Brownies and Broomsticks, whose protagonist regularly bakes cheddar-sage scones. Fortunately for me, Brownies and Broomsticks at least had the decency to include recipes in the back.

I’ve been curious about cozy mysteries for a while and liked the general idea of the genre, so I finally decided to investigate. And I can’t mince this: the writing really threw me for a loop. My judgement of books is generally predicated on the quality of their writing. If the writing is bad or typo-ridden, it’s very unlikely I’ll give the book a good rating. The fact that I gave the first two books I read four stars apiece is a testament to the addicting nature of the stories, and possibly also to my newfound ability to lower my standards. (Look, that tends to happen as you get older and more disappointed with the world. I’m not proud of myself, I’m just saying.) I had originally planned to give each book three stars because that was what I honestly thought they deserved until probably about the last quarter, when everything suddenly became fascinating and the endings turned out to be extremely satisfying*. I don’t know how they managed to hook me in, because the writing was uniformly awful. The prose was dumb. The dialogue was bad. The first two books read like they were ripped off of Wattpad. One of the three seemed to have a typo every other word, either because it wasn’t proofread or because the proofreaders didn’t know what they were doing. Two of the three had at least one serious error involving a homonym. I get that we’re all human and there’s only so much we can do, but the number of errors I’ve found in these books is ridiculous. It’s almost like the publishers are cutting out the proofreaders so they can print these faster, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they were.

In any case the writing clearly hasn’t put me off yet because I’ve read two of these things and am working on a third, so I suppose we’d better get on with it.

Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers.

Theme of the week: Cozy mysteries.

*UPDATE 8/7/2020: I’ve downgraded them to three stars because, in retrospect, they really don’t deserve four.


To Helvetica and Back
Paige Shelton

I’m a graphic designer and a card-carrying type/print nerd, so To Helvetica and Back seemed like a great place to start. This was the one that most convinced me that proofreading is not A Thing anymore, because it has at least one major continuity error, the prose is repetitive, and it gratuitously dips into the pluperfect several times mid-scene for absolutely no reason. There were innumerable typos that I would consider common among native English-speakers on the internet, but which are inexcusable in a professionally published work. It also became clear to me that Shelton doesn’t know the difference between “discrete” and “discreet.”

The valley was spectacular though. You could see part of the monastery’s walls and a few discrete houses around the perimeter.

Generally I take it for granted that most houses are separate units, given that we’d be calling them townhouses if they weren’t, so I’m assuming the intention here was to describe the houses as unobtrusive. I weep for the future of English.

The trouble for me, at least as far as abandoning this book and my headache went, was that the story was irritatingly addicting and I needed to know what was going to happen because I’m nosy as hell. The narrator, Clare Henry, is a mid-to-late-twenties (I think?) dork who works at The Rescued Word, a typewriter repair shop owned by her grandfather, Chester. Her duties also include restoring vintage books, selling stationery, and supervising her 17-year-old niece, Marion, who handles the custom stationery orders. They have a resident cat named Baskerville, son of their first cat, Arial. This shop is fucking GOALS. The details are something that Shelton actually did really, really well, because the type nerd in me was screaming like a little girl and wondering why The Rescued Word couldn’t be real and in Maryland. (And then, like the type snob I am, I started thinking I would’ve named my imaginary cats Avenir and Aperçu. Go figure.)

Clare and Chester generally have a quiet time at the shop, but things turn upside down when they discover a dead body in the alley out back of the shop, and they get swept into a murder investigation. Along the way Clare discovers strange numbers and letters scratched into the bars of a client’s typewriter and meets a hunky geologist, Seth Cassidy, who asks her out after she restores his copy of Tom Sawyer. I normally don’t go for romance, but this one was unobtrusive enough that I didn’t mind it. It was an important part of the story, but it didn’t overtake the plot. Seth was adorably dorky and apparently makes a mean lasagna, and I actually really liked him, even though I was suspicious of him for half the book. Their relationship almost seemed to be going a little too smoothly, though from what I’ve seen from both Helvetica and Book & Scone that seems to be somewhat typical for the genre.

Overall this book was kind of a mixed bag. It was riddled with typos, the dialogue was clunky, and the prose was just cringey, which is a shame because the book was actually genuinely funny.

Jodie honked the horn, causing Seth to jump and turn toward us.

Jodie smiled and waved. Seth waved hesitantly, until Jodie pointed at me in the passenger seat. Then Seth smiled and waved back confidently.

“It’s a wonder anyone has ever wanted to date either of us,” I said without moving my lips from a smile.

JFC. This is what I meant when I said these books read like they were ripped off of Wattpad. I loved this exchange until I got to “without moving my lips from a smile.” That sentence should have ended after “I said.” If Shelton was really convinced that I, the reader, would not understand that Clare was joking without her help, then she maybe could’ve written “‘It’s a wonder anyone has ever wanted to date either of us,’ I said, still smiling,” or something similar.

My other major gripe was that the plot was pretty predictable. There were a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming, but the general shape of it isn’t hard to grasp when you see these numbers:

11111438802966NW

I’m not sure why everyone in the book had such a hard time figuring out what these were. I mean, come on, those are clearly coordinates. Even if you don’t know how many digits there are in coordinates – I didn’t – the NW should give it away, and did give it away in my case. Given that there were coordinates scratched onto the typewriter and given that somebody was murdered shortly after demanding said typewriter, it wasn’t a big stretch to figure out that those coordinates probably led to a treasure of some kind. (Spoiler alert: I was right.) It also seemed clear to me that Seth would be able to identify those numbers, which he was.

Despite all these problems, I thought this was a good first installment: it was interesting, it was funny, it was easy to read, and it introduced me to an engaging cast of characters. I love The Rescued Word and I wish I could live in it. I probably won’t be pursuing this series, because I read the synopses of the next two books and wasn’t wildly intrigued, but I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things during this quarantine and may very well change my mind about this.


The Secret, Book & Scone Society
Ellery Adams

I usually don’t buy scones unless there’s literally nothing else to eat in the bakery case. This book is going to change that because Merlin’s Beard I really want a scone right now.

The story is narrated by Nora Pennington, a thirty-something woman living in Miracle Springs, North Carolina. Miracle Springs is a healing destination, and Nora has established herself as the owner of Miracle Books, a defunct train depot that she bought and turned into a bookstore. Her store is packed with books and shelf enhancers (tchotchkes used to brighten up the bookshelves), and she also provides comfortable chairs and coffee for those who want to sit and read. She calls herself a “bibliotherapist,” which means she helps people overcome their private issues by recommending a certain set of books for them to read. When a prospective client is murdered, Nora is called in to give a witness statement and connects with June Dixon and Hester Winthrop, who also met this client shortly before his death. Despite their testimony, the death is ruled a suicide by the corrupt sheriff, and the three women form the Secret, Book & Scone Society along with Estella Sadler, who owns the salon next door to Miracle Books. Together they make it their mission to solve the case and ultimately succeed, sharing their most intimate traumas with each other throughout the course of the book.

Bad news first: The writing in Book & Scone was just as cringey as it was in Helvetica, and the dialogue was pretty bad. On the other hand, there weren’t as many typos, so maybe it went through some form of proofing, and the book overall is funny and interesting, though the characters tend to fall into archetypes more easily than they do in Helvetica. There’s the shy, traumatized woman who just wants to keep herself to herself and avoids men like the plague. There’s the “town Jezebel,” who dresses provocatively and dates whatever she can get her hands on but – surprise! – has daddy issues. There’s the one obligatory character of color, who literally seems to be on her own as far as diversity goes. There’s the former “good girl” who made a mistake and became estranged from her family. And there is, of course, the evil real estate agency whose leadership has been popping in and out of each other’s beds and defrauding  local townsfolk on a grand scale.

Honestly, I don’t mind the archetypes too much. The characters were still fairly engaging, even if they were a bit flat. I don’t really know what it is, but I didn’t get into them as much as I’ve gotten into others; still, they weren’t unsympathetic, and they didn’t ruin the story, though they could on occasion be irritating.

“If you threaten those things, Estella, he’ll be your enemy. And what if we’re not around to rescue you the next time he gets angry?”

“I’ve never needed rescuing. I’m no helpless princess,” Estella snapped.

Before June could reply, Nora performed a referee’s time-out gesture.

Gag. Personally I would’ve said “Nora made a time-out gesture,” but that’s just me. And the thing is, Estella did need rescuing. She baited a terrible man and then started asking him stupid questions like “Just how ruthless are you, Fenton? Would you pay someone to push your partner in front of a train?” What the fuck? I thought these women were supposed to be smart. It’s true that Estella was smart enough to make sure she wasn’t truly alone with this man, but luring an entitled prick to a pool at night, stripping naked, and asking him really unsubtle questions about his possible role in a murder doesn’t seem smart to me. What exactly was the plan if her friends hadn’t been there? Would she have been able to fight him off, or was she banking on her friends to save her? Did she have any plans in the event that he, oh, I don’t know, maybe came to her salon after hours and tried to assault her again? Fill me in, Estella, because I’m kinda lost. I’m a huge fan of the “I Rescue Myself” thing, but I really don’t think the poolside interrogation would’ve ended well if June hadn’t intervened.

Of course, none of this really matters, because I will be continuing with this series. I can complain as much as I want, but in the end I can’t resist a series based around a bookstore and a scone shop. There’s two more books after this one, so I’ll be all set when the fourth one comes out in January. Maybe I’ll even have learned to bake scones by then. We’re still in lockdown and you can learn a lot when you’re bored, so the sky’s the limit.


Brownies and Broomsticks
Bailey Cates

I’m only on page 123, but Cates writes better than Shelton and Adams and I’m a sucker for witches and bakeries. The story is narrated by Katie Lightfoot, a 28-year-old pastry school graduate who’s just signed on as the head baker at Honeybee, a Savannah-based bakery owned by her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben. Aunt Lucy and Katie’s mother are hedgewitches, which means Katie is too, because it’s hereditary. Their powers deal primarily with herbcraft, which is why Katie has always had a green thumb, to the point where she jokes that she couldn’t kill a plant if she tried. While preparing for Honeybee’s grand opening, Katie meets Mavis Templeton, a grouchy old bitch who threatens to shut down Honeybee before getting her neck broken, most likely by somebody whose life she ruined. To be clear, I am 100% onboard with this. The back cover describes Mavis as “curmudgeonly.” This is an extremely generous term. I was picturing an endearingly crabby old man with a heart of gold. Mavis Templeton is a wealthy, entitled c*** who has no qualms about using her money and influence to shut down businesses, get people blacklisted within their industries, and just generally destroy lives. She can’t even be bothered to pay the full catering fee she agreed to in writing, and that kind of behavior infuriates me. She gets bumped off on page 32 and that’s still not soon enough because she is genuinely awful and I will be so pissed off if I get asked to feel sorry for her later. The book is kinda hinting that she might become more sympathetic later.

My overall impressions so far have been positive. I really really really love the premise. I had a feeling going into this book that this might be the one cozy mystery series that really gets me invested in the genre, because it’s pretty much what I was looking for. It’s funny and easy to read, it’s not badly written, and it has a magical bakery and a little black Cairn terrier named Mungo the Magnificent, who might or might not become Katie’s animal familiar. (I figure it’s either that or he’s a human who crossed the wrong witch, but I’m okay with that as long as he stays a dog.) If you don’t know what a Cairn terrier is, look them up because they’re seriously adorable. There are amazing foods scattered liberally throughout the 123 pages I’ve read, including but not limited to fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, crab cakes, spicy rice and beans, and peanut butter swirl brownies. There’s a couple recipes in the back, which I fully intend to try because SCONES. There’s even more than one character of color.

My main problem is pretty major, but I’m not actually sure if it’s a problem. Shortly after moving to Savannah, Katie mentions that she only sleeps for an hour at night but doesn’t seem to suffer for it.

For a while I’d wondered whether I was manic. However, that usually came with its opposite, and despite its recent popularity, depression wasn’t my thing.

Okay.

Not gonna lie, I had a full-on “You wanna run that by me again?” moment with this one. I had to wait almost a full 24 hours to cool down. I don’t want to rush into judgement, because I know I wouldn’t want my entire character to be judged by one misfired joke. Cates is clearly trying to be funny here. I know a failed joke when I see one, and this one is a failure of monumental proportions if it means what I think it means.

The trouble here is that Cates is suggesting that depression is a choice. She is implying that people decide to become depressed because they think it’ll make them cool. As somebody who has been living with a mental illness and will continue to do so despite the large body of people who think mental illness is self-indulgent and can be overcome through sheer force of will, I find this incredibly offensive and patronizing. Depression is not suddenly “popular.” The fact that celebrities have been increasingly talking about their struggles with depression and other assorted mental health issues doesn’t mean that depression is trendy or cool. Depression has probably been around since the dawn of man. We just notice it more nowadays because it is becoming more socially acceptable to talk about your feelings. The stigma is by no means gone and it’ll take a lot of hard work and social change to improve general attitudes towards mental illnesses and the people who have them, but we’re sort of getting there.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily what Cates meant to say. I don’t want to assume ill intent from bad phrasing. Maybe she just wanted to point out that more people are openly suffering from depression than before and it came out more flippant and dismissive than she intended. Maybe she thought it would be funny and didn’t have the background to consider the full ramifications. Maybe she’s suffering from depression herself and this is how she copes with it. Maybe in the future Katie will meet someone with mental health issues and acquire deeper empathy. (That one doesn’t seem too likely because these things aren’t that deep, but you never know.) I don’t have the context to make this call. This is the first book I’ve read of the Magical Bakery series, and the first of Cates’s works. I don’t know her, and I don’t know her style well enough to say if she was poking fun at depression. She hasn’t mentioned it since page 8, so I’m trying not to let it ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the book. On the other hand, if she did indeed mean it exactly how it sounds, then she and this series can go to hell. She is of course entitled to her own opinion and she has every right to write what she wants, barring hate speech, but I have the right to choose not to read things that piss me off.

My only other problem so far has been the slightly old-fashioned attitude towards courtship (Katie meets two hunky-dunkies, one of them keeps insisting on opening the car door for her and helping her down from his truck), but Katie likes it and that’s all that matters since she’s the one being wooed. The book has a host of promising female characters who all have names and talk to each other about something other than men and the men have all been playing supporting roles, so I don’t really care about this one.


Final Thoughts

Overall I’ve been enjoying this new genre (which isn’t new to other people, but is new to me). Cozy mysteries haven’t really been on my radar until fairly recently, and, yeah, they’re silly and cheesy and kinda dumb, but they’re also engaging, addicting, and pretty fast-paced. I like that each installment is quick and doesn’t require you to pay too much attention. I like reading about all the foods these characters eat, particularly in Brownies and Broomsticks. Of course the problem with that is that it makes me hungry, but yesterday I was prepared. I feel like I’m going to end up pursuing the Magical Bakery series with or without my qualms because any book that gives me an excuse to bake brownies is all right by me. For some reason I was really in Kitchen Mode yesterday and I wanted glass noodles and brownies, so I ended up making a three-course dinner for myself and my parents. We started with tofu with pickled mustard greens, which I made with both silken and medium-firm tofu, then had spicy glass noodles with ground pork (ma yi shang shu [蚂蚁上树], “ants climbing a tree”). I know, weird names, but I swear they’re both amazing and they don’t have ants in them. After dinner I made the brownies and omg they were AMAAAAAAAAZING. 😭❤️ We usually don’t make brownies but I’ve been craving them recently, so my mom brought home the Ghirardelli chocolate chip brownie mix.

So good. ❤️❤️❤️

2020 Vision: Use It

It’s officially 2020.

And in honor of the saying, “Hindsight is 2020,” I have some shit to say.

  1. Whatever and whomever you left in 2019 (or even years before that) can stay back there. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever, and whether time has simply caused you to part ways or they’re toxic and you burned that bridge after you crossed it, recognize that it isn’t worth your time and energy trying to maintain every single relationship. In 2020 we are letting sleeping dogs lie. My personal rule is that if someone wants to walk out of my life that’s fine; I will even hold the door. But I don’t do second chances. Once someone’s gone they have to stay that way. They made their bed and they have to lie in it. Life’s too short to go in circles that are really downward spirals with people who have already told us at least once that we don’t matter to them. When people show you who they are, believe them and act accordingly. Give that time and energy to your ride or dies. They’ll always have your back, and you get better ROI from investing time and energy into those relationships that you know are solid.
  2. Diets are dead, okay? By all means, make a healthy lifestyle change but enough with the “quick fixes” and marketing schemes. I’m sick of this shit. No more fucking gummy bears or shakes or teas or wraps or whatever the fuck some Insta-famous or reality tv celeb is trying to sell you. The only thing they’re selling is you out to immoral companies that use marketing tactics instead of science to eat away at your mental, emotional, physical, and financial health while doing nothing for your actual health. Knock that shit off. Stop letting them make money off of your insecurities. Stop letting them tell you something is wrong with your or needs to be fixed and buying their bullshit. If you want real advice on your health and wellbeing consult a medical doctor or licensed registered dietitian. Not an online trainer, not a YouTube video, not an Instagram model, not anyone trying to sell you anything. You are perfect just as you are, and we aren’t listening to anything else from anyone else. Which brings me to number three…
  3. Toxic people, if you didn’t leave them behind already, they gotta go. The guy you really like who gaslights you? Boy, bye. Your relative who always has a comment on your appearance? Should learn how to shut up if they don’t have anything nice to say. Your coworker who always wants you to cover for her and defend her even when she drops the ball but she never makes an effort to NOT drop the ball? Not anymore, satan. Arguing about dumb shit with strangers online? You know you feel bad afterwards even if you’re “right” – your mental and emotional health are more important (and frankly your eyes could use a break from the screen time, no matter how cute your blue light glasses are). Feeding trolls and clowns and asshats is like getting into a zoo animal’s enclosure. In case we haven’t learned already, it’s a terrible fucking idea don’t do it (but also like, what part of the fence and the “KEEP OUT” did you miss?).
  4. Do SOMETHING new this year to take better care of yourself. I don’t know how to tell you this but all of us are only getting older and shit’s only gonna get harder (oof, what a pun). But seriously; I don’t care if it’s as simple as “drink more water,” “get more sleep,” or “move more.” If you have the financial means to get medical treatment if something goes wrong, use it instead of being stubborn or lazy and letting a small problem become a big problem. Stop eating take-out five nights a week and start meal prepping real food. Seriously, your wallet and your stomach will both thank you. The body you have is the only one you’re ever gonna have. Start acting like it.
  5. Love people louder. If there’s a hard lesson I’ve learned over and over and over again it’s that no time is promised to us or anyone else. It’s a damn miracle we all made it to today. A lot of people didn’t. Don’t miss opportunities to tell the people you love that you do. You never know when your last chance will be, and I can guarantee you that leaving things left unsaid is a special kind of aching burden to carry once someone is gone. So give that person a call, send a letter or a card, go spend an afternoon with them. Time is our most precious commodity. Spend yours wisely.
  6. Find things that set your soul on fire, and give them the time you give Netflix or whatever other non-constructive pastimes you waste untold hours on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this, too (arguably more than anyone). But spend more time doing shit that makes you happy. Dance, write, go somewhere, go outside and do something (hike, kayak, ride a bike, whatever), cook, read a book, explore your area. Do things that make you happy and make you a better you. If for no other reason than when someone asks what you did last weekend you’ll have more to say than, “lol watched netflix.”
  7. Keep learning. I’m not saying go become a master of Kung Fu, a musical savant, a Michelin-rated chef, and learn two new languages. But maybe try to read more books, keep tabs on global news, try new cuisines, listen to different TED talks, take an art class, pick up a new hobby… make your brain work a little harder and it’ll pay you back in spades when you aren’t a mushy-brained vegetable in a few decades. You might also find it gives you more to think about and more to contribute to conversations (at work, with friends, with family, et cetera). No more awkward silences for you, friend.
  8. Stop being so damned hard on yourself. I don’t care if you didn’t get that promotion you applied for or you haven’t cleaned your place in a month or forgot your grandma’s birthday. Don’t beat yourself up. Life’s full of obstacles and distractions and even though technology can help us be organized it cannot make us infallible (besides, that’d be boring AF). We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to forget things even if they’re important to us. We’re going to hurt someone’s feelings even when we didn’t intend to. We’re going to drop the ball, miss the mark, whatever. It’s okay. It happens to everyone all the damn time. Don’t believe the seemingly “picture perfect” life of people who are on social media posting photos of their vacay in Bali and their #blessed bullshit. Those people don’t always fit in their jeans or get to work on time, either. Don’t worry about other people, just worry about yourself. And frankly if you’re doing your best you’ve got nothing to worry about anyway.
  9. Laugh more. You can do this with videos online, sure. But I personally highly recommend getting your laughs from real life, in real time, right in front of you. This is coming from someone who laughs if she trips walking on flat, stable surface, so bear with me here, but learn to laugh about it. Find the humor in the every day. I laugh when people misspell things (at work, on signs in store windows, etc). I laugh when I leave one room and go to another and can’t remember why. I laugh when my coworker makes a face when one of our peers is being obnoxious (whose idea was open office spaces, honestly?). I laugh when my cats are being goofy (you ever seen a cat on catnip?). Life’s just a lot easier when you find the humor in it.
  10. Just fucking be a decent human and be environmentally and socially conscious, okay? Recycle, turn your lights off if you don’t really need them on, unplug shit when you’re not using it, don’t leave your heat or your AC on some ridiculous temperature if you’re home by yourself (seriously walk around naked at that point no one cares), try to reuse if possible, use fewer disposables and single-use items, don’t run half-empty loads of laundry or a half-empty dishwasher, don’t have your existential crisis in the shower and waste water, don’t waste water when you’re brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, either… you get the picture. And let’s be honest, we know that corporations are the biggest polluters, but we play a role in that. Want palm deforestation to stop happening so orangutans can keep their homes and we keep healthy forests? Me, too. So stop buying peanut butter and coffee creamer and other products with palm oil in them and find alternatives. Don’t like the climbing temperatures, over-flowing landfills and abuse of laborers? Stop buying fast fashion and fast food. Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Buy local, in-season produce and products when available (bonus points: this also supports your local growers, artisans, and economy). We aren’t getting another planet to live on, so let’s not trash this one. Waste not, want not. Just kidding, I want a planet that’s not simultaneously on fire and going underwater due to rising sea levels. Thanks, pollution-fueled climate change.

Blessed Be The Fight?

WARNING: Significant spoilers ahead for season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and the ending of Game of Thrones. If this matters to you, come back after you’ve caught up.

Ofmatthew deserved better.

There was a definitive moment this past Wednesday when I was staring at my screen with numb fury and thinking, Fuck June. If you watched the episode too, you might have experienced the same almost-but-not-quite-disloyalty I felt when Ofmatthew, who from here on out will be referred to as Natalie, murdered a Guardian and aimed his gun at June. I say “not quite” because this is a June I do not recognize. In the lead-up to season 3, one of the crew – possibly Bruce Miller – stated that June would be radicalized over the course of the season, and that it was necessary to harden her into the person she would need to be to lead the revolution. That person, apparently, is selfish, pigheaded, and cruel.

Don’t get me wrong: a little revolution now and then is a healthy thing, especially in Gilead. If we see nothing else in the ten seasons Bruce Miller has been threatening to inflict on us, I want to see Gilead fall. I want this regime to burn, even if we’re left with nothing but ash. The first two seasons were promising: season 1 primarily focused on adapting the book, which it did excellently, and season 2 was fascinating as well. Season 2 succeeded because even though it was off book, the writers continued to incorporate elements from the book that didn’t make it into season 1, most notably June’s mother and Luke’s first wife. Season 3 on the other hand has gone completely off the rails, to the point that it feels more like Game of Thrones started to feel when it ran out of book material and started to sacrifice story for spectacle. As with Game of Thrones, nothing makes sense. We’re meeting new characters and going through new story arcs, but all the rules from the first two seasons have gone out the window, and a lot of the things I thought I knew – both as a hardcore book fan and a more cautious TV fan – have been turned on their heads. (Why, for instance, has June suddenly become untouchable? Is it because of that weak-ass Nichole video excuse, or is it just because she’s the main character?) I have now officially become one of those people who claw through cast/crew interviews and Inside the Episode videos to try to understand the intentions of the writers. This approach sort of worked with the first half of season 3 but it’s apparently not foolproof, because I don’t understand Unfit. I don’t really want to watch the episode again, so here’s the general gist of it while I still remember:

June and the other Handmaids, excepting Janine, embark on a joint campaign to destroy Natalie. They are wildly successful. Everyone is somehow surprised when Natalie snaps and tries to shoot up the grocery store. Flashbacks inform us that in the time before, Aunt Lydia was a devout Christian teacher who had an amazing first date with an embarrassing aftermath, which made her angry and bitter. Okay, if you say so.

It would be easy to blame this lack of sense on the absence of book material, but season 2 didn’t suffer from the same problems. If I didn’t know better I’d think season 3 had been taken over by a completely different team who didn’t know the story, because June isn’t fucking learning anything. Her mistakes in the first seasons were forgivable because we were all learning together, but we’re kinda past that now. If she’s going to spearhead this revolution we’ve been promised, she needs to start making smarter decisions, which is something at which she historically has not excelled. In more practical terms, this means she needs to try to get Commander Lawrence on her side instead of sucking up to Fred, who will never help her get out of Gilead. It means she needs to stop dragging other people into trouble on an impulse, without ever once thinking of the potential consequences. It means she needed to try to cultivate a relationship with Natalie.

One of the most frustrating aspects of June’s character is her longstanding habit of shunning women she doesn’t like, then learning too late that they’re actually people too. I was hoping she’d learn something from her experience with Lillie/Ofglen 2, but then she met Natalie and she started doing the same damn thing that she did with Lillie, rebuffing Natalie and abandoning her for secret conversations with Alma. Natalie wasn’t completely hardened: I can’t say I liked her, but she did show signs of a softer side from time to time, especially when she told June she was glad Nichole and Luke were safe in Canada. June could’ve taken this as an opportunity to try to befriend her, but she didn’t. To be completely fair, I have no idea if she would’ve succeeded. I have no idea if a real friendship would’ve changed the decisions Natalie made, or if she still would have acted the same way. We’ll never know now, because the new radicalized June seems utterly intent on burning all her bridges.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER, BECAUSE WE ARE ON THE INTERNET: I know June has good reason to be angry with Natalie. I realize Natalie’s actions led to the execution of Frances, who also deserved far better. June’s bullying cabal does not excuse Natalie’s decisions. I know all that and I still say Natalie deserved better, because The Handmaid’s Tale has done to her what Game of Thrones did to Daenerys Targaryen.

Natalie vs. June

June is angry with Natalie in the wake of Frances’s execution and Hannah’s relocation (episode 7, Under His Eye) and sets out to make her life miserable, completely ignoring her own role in this mess. Most of the other handmaids rally around her and gang up on Natalie, relentlessly bullying and isolating her. Though June acknowledges that she pressured Frances into helping her and is in fact an indirect factor in her execution, she doesn’t express anything approaching real remorse until Aunt Lydia points out that June’s actions have harmed Hannah, (1) because her family relocated and (2) because she loved Frances. In a grand twist of irony or hypocrisy or both, part of the reason she’s mad at Natalie is that Natalie has not expressed remorse either. After her testimony, June decides it’s time for revenge and throws Natalie under the bus.

Wow, that was bitchy. Is this what the Handmaids social media team means when they say “Blessed be the fight”? Is this the fight? Are we expected to cheer for June as she sticks it to her fellow Handmaids, who have suffered the same things she has? Is this supposed to be revenge for the death of Frances, inflicted on someone who didn’t actually order Frances’s execution? Somebody please explain this to me, because my numbers aren’t adding up.

After June outs her, Natalie is forced into the center of the circle, and is quickly driven to tears by Aunt Lydia and the other Handmaids. The only one who feels bad for her is Janine, who has a much stronger moral compass than the others. The rest of the episode is a study in the development of mass shooters, interspersed with flashbacks from Aunt Lydia’s past, all of which culminates in Natalie’s attempt to shoot everyone in the aforementioned grocery store before she gets shot herself. I THOUGHT HANDMAIDS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE SACRED AND PROTECTED WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCKING FUCK.

This was about the point where I started thinking Fuck June, because this smile did not amuse me. In the Inside the Episode video, Elisabeth Moss says Unfit is a real sign of what the Gilead regime can turn someone into, and that’s fair enough, but then Bruce Miller went and said that while it was creepy to watch the main character enjoy so much death and violence, we’re just as satisfied as she is. Uh, no, Bruce. I enjoy watching women taking power for themselves. I do not enjoy watching women getting unceremoniously gaslit and then murdered by shows that should know better. I do not enjoy watching June standing by with that fucking smug little smile while Janine gets beaten in a grocery store. I was so proud of her when she threw herself over Janine to protect her from Aunt Lydia’s completely irrational attack (episode 4, God Bless the Child), but apparently she’s decided that Janine doesn’t deserve to be protected anymore. Equally upsetting is the fact that while June somehow found a way to show compassion towards fucking Serena, of all people, she made no such effort with Natalie. You could argue that Serena was potentially useful, being highly placed, or just capable of sending June to either the gallows or the colonies, but you would also have to remember the multiple occasions that June talked back to Serena, cursed her out, or defied her in some other way; and, given the thoughtlessness of many of June’s other actions, long-term strategizing doesn’t seem too likely.

Aunt Lydia vs. The World

This week we were treated to a bit of Aunt Lydia’s backstory, which I never knew we needed and am still not sold on because I honestly don’t give a fuck where she came from. Apparently she started as a family law attorney, then divorced her husband and became a teacher. She then befriended a young mother, Noelle, who was struggling to raise her son, and enjoyed a happy relationship with them until Noelle pushed her into dating again. She went on a date with a coworker and had a great time, then invited him to her house, where he told her that he didn’t want to go too fast because he wasn’t ready to move on from his wife’s death, but he still wanted to see her again. This somehow turned her bitter overnight because, I don’t know, maybe she was embarrassed at how close she got to extramarital sex? In any case, she decided to get revenge by reporting Noelle to child protective services – or maybe she just felt Noelle’s sinfulness had rubbed off on her and was punishing her instead of punishing herself. It’s all ridiculously unclear. The whole backstory makes about as much sense as Hermione turning evil and bitter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child after Ron fails to fall in love with her. I don’t know which one is more disturbing, Lydia’s decision or the clear parallel between the petty, bitchy revenges exacted by both her and June.

TL;DR

I hope Janine can talk some sense into June next episode, because if I have to watch seven more seasons of June throwing other women under buses and burning whatever bridges she has left I’m going to scream. Actually, I really just need June to stop making stupid-ass decisions. Seriously, what the fuck did she think she would accomplish by dragging Mrs. Lawrence to Hannah’s school? Did she have a plan at all? Was she hoping Commander Lawrence would turn up in his big black car and spirit them all away? THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING.

Anatomy of a Food Blog

I am a food blog junkie. I surf food blogs during my lunch break and have a whole board dedicated to recipes I’ll probably never try. If there were a Food Blog Lurkers Anonymous, I would join it.

Me: Mew.*

Group Leader: Did you just fucking mew?

Me: Mew.**

* Hello, my name is Karo. I’ve been addicted to food blogs since 2014.
** Yes.

Yeah, that would go really well.

Anyway. I love food blogs but there are days when I find them le rage-inducing, and this was one of those days. I have a very long list of Things That Do Not Amuse Me, but one of the top ones is cooking blogs that are so bogged down with ads and fucking autoplay videos that they literally SHUT DOWN MY COMPUTER.

For those who suffer rage blackouts before the scroll, here’s a more accurate screen view:

I’m not even joking. I went to grab a recipe from one of my favorite blogs today and waited five minutes for the page to load, at which point my laptop told me I had run out of “application memory.” After another five to ten minutes of spinning wheels of doom the screen went black and I had to force-restart the computer what the actual fuck I just want recipes and I don’t have money for a machine that can keep up with this shit (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

PSA: IF YOUR WEBSITE IS LOADED DOWN WITH ADS AND UNNECESSARY VIDEOS TO THE POINT THAT IT’S NO LONGER USABLE, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

Don’t get me wrong: I love instructional videos and accept that ads are a necessary evil, but I want to flip a table every time a food blogger thinks they need to have a gratuitous autoplay video follow you all over the screen. I visit the recipe page and there’s the autoplay video mucking up my page load and giving me rainbow death wheels. I scroll down and IT FUCKING FOLLOWS ME because Jane Blogger is just so confident that this video is exactly what I need even though it has nothing to do with the recipe it’s preventing me from reading. I love this blog but I don’t like visiting it, which seems somewhat counterintuitive. /rant

On a happier note, I finally got my Try Guys book!!!

I am a hardcore Tryceratops and go out of my way for everything and anything relating to the Try Guys, up to and including watching all their videos, supporting them on Patreon, donating to things that they care about (but only if I care about them too, I’m not a complete sucker), listening to their podcast even though I never listen to anybody else’s podcasts, and going to their show even though it’s on a weekday and I almost never go out on weekdays, all of which means that I also had to preorder their book, both hardcopy and audio. (Yes, you, judging me. I don’t care.) I never thought I could love four strange men so much, but that was before I saw them doing ballet and asking little girls for fashion advice. ❤️

I’m on page 39. STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT THRILLING INSTALLMENT

The Count of Monte Creepo

I’ve been chugging through this brick for the last couple of months and it’s very interesting but man there sure is a lot of it x____x

Goodreads says I’m 70% through, and I’m gonna have to take its word for it cus this thing is huge. There’s about five million chapters, but they’re all pretty short, so overall you can get through large chunks of it fairly quickly. After I’m done I’m going to go back and reread the abridged version I started with, because I have almost no memory of the details and have no idea what got cut out when they abridged it. In this translation it takes him about 230 pages to break out of prison and get to the treasure pffffffft no wonder it’s almost 1300 pages 😣

I’ve been enjoying the book, but lately I’ve been getting that creeping feeling you get when you know that Adulthood Is Ruining Everything. I first found out about Monte Cristo when I was 11 because my mom started reading it to me when I had pneumonia and couldn’t run away from her, which didn’t seem like much of a compensation when I was missing the sixth grade Outdoor Ed trip. For context, here’s what I was probably reading at the time:

YES I KNOW I’M REALLY DATING MYSELF HERE SHUT UP.

Suffice it to say that Monte Cristo was a bit different from what I was reading by choice, but I liked the book and ended up finishing it on my own, which is a damn sight better than what happened a year later with Gone with the Wind. That was the abridged version, which is now falling to pieces and is currently sitting in my drawer at work because I keep forgetting I was going to run it through the glue binder. It worked for me because it was about getting revenge and punishing your enemies, and I wasn’t quite old enough to realize that the hero is actually super fucking creepy.

Maybe it’s adulthood, maybe it’s because I know the story now and can pay better attention to the details, maybe it’s because the unabridged translation is more precise, maybe it’s a little of all three, but the Count is so unabashedly creepy that I can’t quite like the book the way I used to. When I was in sixth grade, it was beyond reproach. As an adult, I’m finding I don’t particularly care for Monsieur le Comte. I’m currently on page 890. Here are the things the Count has done in that time:

  • While in Africa, he buys a mute slave named Ali, who was supposed to be executed by having his body parts hacked off over the course of several days. Ali is not naturally mute. The Count doesn’t offer to buy him until after his (Ali’s) tongue has been cut out, because “[he] had always wanted to have a dumb servant.” Ali is painfully loyal and grateful; the Count, in return, refers to him as “[his] dog” and makes it clear that he is willing to kill him if he stops being useful.
  • He lures Franz d’Epinay blindfolded into a cave, introduces himself as Sinbad the Sailor, tells him the creepy story about Ali with “cruel good humor,” gets him high on hashish, and sails off early the next morning without so much as a how-d’you-do. Actually, considering what he does to everybody else, this one seems remarkably kind.
  • He follows Albert de Morcerf to Rome, then proceeds to stalk the shit out of him, up to and including taking the hotel rooms right next to Albert’s, showering Albert with extravagant favors, and getting his bandit friends to kidnap Albert so that he can then rescue him. This kind of behavior looks like kindness and generosity to clueless Albert, but nowadays we call it “grooming.” If I didn’t already know Monte Cristo’s actual intentions, I’d think he was a rapist.
  • While posing as an abbot, he learns that a Corsican smuggler named Bertuccio tried to murder Gérard de Villefort. After hearing Bertuccio’s confession, he bails him out and sends him to himself (literally, he gives him a letter of recommendation and tells him that the Count of Monte Cristo will hire him as a steward), then buys the house in which Bertuccio attacked de Villefort and forces Bertuccio to retell the story of the murder and its aftermath.
  • Shortly after arriving in Paris, he arranges for Héloïse de Villefort’s carriage to crash in front of his house, then stages a dramatic rescue. When Madame de Villefort tells her son to thank Ali for saving their lives, the obnoxious little snot refuses on the grounds that Ali is “too ugly.” Ali does not speak French; the Count considerately translates Edouard’s remark into Arabic for him. (Excuse me, but why was this necessary?) After the rescue, the Count sends Madame de Villefort a recipe for poison, knowing she will use it to bump off most of her family.
  • He also owns a woman named Haydée, who was sold into slavery after her father was betrayed by Fernand de Morcerf. Though he treats her well and is about as affectionate with her as he can be with anyone, he still regards her as a slave. He makes her relive the story of her father’s death for the benefit of Fernand’s son (Albert), but specifically instructs her not to mention that Fernand was the one who betrayed her family while simultaneously telling Albert not to mention that his father served hers. After she finishes her story, she looks at the Count “as though to ask if he was satisfied with her obedience.”

I would include his manipulation of the Calvacantis and the Danglars, but I don’t give a fuck about either one of them. To be fair, the Count also uses his vast and apparently inexhaustible wealth to help the people he still cares about, but these acts of benevolence are so few that they don’t really balance out the fact that he’s expanded his revenge to include people who had nothing to do with his arrest. GOOD JOB, MONTE CREEPO.

I seem to have become one of those people who take pictures of their books, so here we go:

Since it was (1) Memorial Day weekend and (2) just generally a lucky day for buying books, I hit up two used bookstores today and I swear I was only looking for Moral Disorder but I somehow came home with nine books and since I seem to be confessing all my sins I might as well mention that I cracked and read Ghost Bride even though I said I wasn’t going to until I’d finished Monte Cristo oh gawd don’t judge me.

(Full disclosure: Moral Disorder actually isn’t my favorite but the main character is a copyeditor and I feel really represented and it’s still by Margaret Atwood and I’m about to build a shrine to her greatness and I will be the High Priestess and yeah okay you can judge me now 😖)