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Why is Hating on “Nice Characters” Becoming Cool?

A lot of this is TV-related, but since TV shows tell stories, I feel like it’s worth talking about here.

How many Office fans have seen the recent Pam hate circulating the internet? Memes call her out for being jealous of Karen, “cheating” on Roy, and for “destroying Jim’s dream” near the end of the show…even though *spoilers* she felt bad about it and secretly sold their house so he could pursue said dream? At first I thought it was a joke. As one of the saner characters in the show, I thought, “okay, haha, that’s a funny way of looking at it.” But as this meme started circulating and people began to get angry, I wondered if people were truly starting to hate her.

Of course, people are entitled to like or dislike any character they want. But Pam hate is becoming a weird fad that hasn’t really started until the past year or two. So the online hivemind is one option for this trend, I suppose. Maybe the argument was presented in such a way that people started to believe it. Or maybe people like that others have a dark side that you wouldn’t think they’d have. The Office’s Angela rarely gets talked about or made fun of for her personality, maybe because her abrasive nature is what viewers see a lot already. Angela tried to have someone killed, and it rarely gets talked about in favor of Pam’s “flaws.”

One other disconcerting “flaw” that some others have pointed out is that Pam “lost her appeal” when she became more outspoken. Most of these fans, that I saw, were men. Do they dislike her for using her voice? So, people don’t like Pam for speaking out, but it’s also bad when she’s not particularly loud or noticeable? That’s a double standard, one that I have experienced for myself–and a concerning one at that. Should female characters be attacked for growing and changing? I don’t think so!

But the same thing happens for other characters too. Taken with a major grain of salt since I am not a big show watcher, there is also Alex from Modern Family. Although neither of these sisters are perfect, I see absolutely no dislike for Haley, who is (in my opinion) one of the most awful characters on modern television–a popular bully who makes fun of almost everyone and doesn’t show a lot of kindness (at least earlier on). Could Alex be a know-it-all? Perhaps, but compared to being cruel, this seems like a much less questionable trait to make fun of or dislike. Or maybe they think she doesn’t have much of a personality?

Another example: Natalie Manning of Chicago Med fame. Like Pam, she started standing up for herself a bit more–and the online community hated it. I am not sure where these accusations of being selfish and whiny come from. Although she is definitely flawed (like all characters in the show, something I feel it excels at) these accusations seem to come out of left field. Natalie simply gets more hate for it because of her personality.

But what about characters we are inadvertently trying to root against? Joe Goldberg in “You” is such an iconic character because readers often forget that they’re supposed to be rooting against him, especially with the very flawed cast of characters. Such is the case with Beck, his girlfriend. She is flawed too. She cheated, among other things. However, she too gets an irrational amount of hate, sometimes for no reason other than “she’s bland.” Okay, she’s not overly quirky. But as an English major, I could see myself in her, or possibly as someone to be writing buddies with. I couldn’t help but like her overall and did not understand how she offended so many people that much, especially compared to some other characters. Is is possible we are turning our backs on “good” characters because we are determined to root for the enemy? If so, maybe we should ask ourselves questions about why we root for them—something that You has succeeded at, except for the Beck hate train.

I imagine that modern society has its impact, too—people want edgier over kind and gentle. But is it worth hating them over when they deviate from a certain type (as long as its in character), or because they–heaven forbid–actually stand up for themselves? I personally like characters like Pam because I can see myself in them. And it’s also concerning to me, slightly, that the good, girl-next-door characters are being hated on, maybe mindlessly as characters take turns in the limelight through Internet fanbases. Characters who aren’t overly quirky have a place in TV and real life, too, and are good for balance. These characters are simply just flawed, like everyone, and don’t deserve disrespect because they are “nice” or “good.”

Thoughts? Which characters here do you like or dislike?

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Screen Stories: Reviewing the Polly Pocket Movies

I spent time working on this last summer while I wasn’t feeling well. Movies are stories, too, right?

I grew up with Polly Pockets. Not the freaky mutant ones that are out today, or even the minuscule ones that fit very snugly in your pocket. I’m talking about Fashion Polly dolls, slightly larger dolls with many rubbery clothing options. They were the highlight of Christmases, birthdays, and going to the toy store with Grandma and Grandpa. There was nothing like the pure joy of opening up a new Polly doll and thinking of all the wonderful new styles and adventures to be had, feeling the rubbery, buttery newness of the doll’s fresh outfits. Sometimes, I’d have to play with it immediately upon opening it, even if we were celebrating Christmas at a house that wasn’t my own and Polly had no other friends to play with at the moment. The possibilities!

Man, the world we created with these was so complex we could have actually made a TV show of them. So imagine our joy when DVDs came out. (Polly World is past my time, and technically so is 2 Cool if not for the fact that I played with these things longer than I should have; I had to go and watch Polly World more recently.) So today, I thought I’d go where no one else has gone before and review them. Someone has to do it, right? And let’s face it: I love the Nostalgia Critic, but he’d tear these apart. What the reviewers don’t know is that good, fun doll movies have a place too. So I’ll be taking that stuff into account.

Mattel came out with two DVDs and a full-length movie. I will not be discussing the poorly animated online webisodes. Not only have I not seen them but they look hideous. I’m sorry to have to be that person, but it’s true: my generation’s Polly was better than your gen Z version.

To rank them, then, I will put each DVD in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. They will get 3 points for first, 2 points for 2nd, and one point for third.

Story

Generic “Polly Pocket!” DVD (came with a playset): Polly and friends are assigned a science project on the eclipse. To get a great grade for Lila (who will be banned from playing in the band at the school dance if she does as poorly as her last project), they travel to Pocket Island to get good pictures. But what if mean girl Beth tries to sabotage their project first? And what if a dolphin rescue mission distracts them from their photo taking? Will they still ace their project so the band can play at the dance?

2 Cool at the Pocket Plaza: For the opening of Polly’s dad’s new hotel, Polly and friends will be staying in the penthouse suite over the weekend and will perform the opening number for Eric Wilder’s concert. She invites her British cousin Pia to come too, and when Pia asks to join the band for the performance, they of course say yes. But chaperone Miss Throckmorton isn’t so sure. Maybe if Pia and Polly dress and act alike, they can just switch places in rehearsal when Miss T isn’t around. But things get complicated when Polly’s dad needs Polly to give the dedication speech, and when Beth finds out about the plan–and tries to expose Polly so she can become the most popular girl in school instead.

Polly World: Polly and her classmates are headed to the Polly World amusement park for a scavenger hunt competition. Together they’ll hit all the rides and take part in a few contests to try and get the win. Disrupting the weekend is Polly’s dad’s girlfriend Lorelei, who is jealous of Polly–and it sounds like Polly isn’t a fan either. When Lorelei teams up with mean girl Beth to get rid of Polly, does the weekend stand a chance?

***

As with all these types of movies, there’s a lot of wish fulfillment here that allows viewers to delve into a different world for another day. Polly and friends go to amusement parks, try on clothes, live in fancy houses, and just have fun together. Some of the scenes are just devoted to these things, as one should expect with girly doll movies. However, the target audience will be fine with this. Sometimes you just need plain fun, and you’re probably not looking for much more in 20-minute DVDs (one of which comes with a playset). In the generic DVD, though, the fun wish fulfillment actually helps to fill in the lackluster plot of completing a school project. It’s just fun to watch the girls have adventures at home and on the island.

2 Cool definitely had the most solid story, if not with some logic flaws that really present themselves once you’re an adult. (Miss Throckmorton isn’t angry with Pia for dying her hair, or somehow doesn’t even notice that Pia was literally just speaking in her accent before and now is impersonating Polly’s American one? Pia just starts randomly giving a speech about following her dreams instead of the dedication speech that was supposed to happen?) Pia is instantly likable, and the idea is a lot of fun that we haven’t seen a lot before (at least not before Hallmark’s Princess and the Pauper trope took over years later). But it also tries maybe a little too hard to throw a moral about being yourself in. When Pia ends up on stage playing violin, something the girls didn’t want her to do at first, Polly says that it would have been better if they had accepted Pia right from the start. But they kind of had to disguise her anyway, because of Miss Throckmorton’s disapproval. And the central story really wasn’t about what instrument Pia played? Oh well. That’s super nitpicky.

Polly World lost me with some of the fantasy-esque storylines…how many more evil stepmothers do we need? And the idea of her conspiring with Beth was just silly. Never mind that Polly’s dad enrolls her and de-enrolls her in boarding school in the span of an hour, under the recommendation of a woman who doesn’t even know Polly. Lorelei’s story seemed a bit far-fetched as they are engaged without Polly even having met her yet. Also cliche was the girls not winning the contest, despite the fact that Beth’s team forfeited and the boys had their final act ruined. Whenever there is a contest in a movie like this, the leading ladies typically don’t win, maybe to promote the idea that fun and teamwork are more important. It just didn’t make sense here; they were clearly in first place. And despite, or maybe because of the long running time, a considerable amount of the movie is filler. On the other hand, the idea of going to a theme park for a contest is much more interesting then working on a school project. This is a movie you appreciate because it’s fun, not because it’s logical.

The general DVD could have had a snooze-worthy plot, but it is actually saved by the”fun” scenes that also bring some conflict. It’s a fun escapist story without the crazy drama, but there’s also not a lot of solid plot holding it together. Like, basically none. Despite Polly World’s corny subplotting, I would much rather watch the girls go to an amusement park than work on a project. Of course this too has its share of silly things, from traveling around the world and back in a day, a three-minute montage of watching everyone enjoy a water park, and a dolphin rescue mission.

Still, long story short, there is a clear order.

1st place: 2 Cool
2nd place: Polly World
3rd place: Generic DVD

Animation

Easily the best-looking of the three is 2 Cool. The girls look exactly like their animated drawn counterparts and it is obviously a Polly Pocket film. The colors are nice and everything is very well drawn. Of course, you have to look past people standing still in the background and a random cut to a guy holding a violin, but you know.

Polly World is… not bad, I…guess. But the non-people of color are very washed out. They hurt to look at and Lea actually looks like a ghost. A couple of Beth’s friends appear to be albino, but I don’t know if this was because they were or because the animators wanted to give them a different skin tone that happened to be light. So are some of the backgrounds. This is the same drawing style that the later playsets used, but it doesn’t come off well on TV. Note to animators: “peach people” are better than “white people.” Another problem I had with Polly World was some character appearances. Polly’s dad and future stepmom look like characters in a Disney movie. Dad has the “dapper guy walking around in 1900s Central Park” look going on and Lorelei looks like the villain in a princess movie. They just don’t look like real people. The scenery is also a bit blurrier here.

And, oh dear, the generic DVD. I honestly wondered if this was made by a different company. The backgrounds are lovely and saturated and remind me of some children’s books I used to read. But they really screwed up on Polly’s design….the animators could have decided she was Barbie and it wouldn’t have made a difference, because they are both equally far from this character’s design. She does not look like Polly Pocket. The strange part? Nearly everyone else, including Beth and Polly’s butler Samuel, looks like a Polly universe character. It’s only the five girls who ran into design mishaps for some reason. Ana probably looks the best of the five. However, the generic DVD doesn’t hurt my eyes when I look at white people, and the colors are again nice…and most of the other characters are fine there. I can probably even forgive Polly’s friends, who aren’t spot on either, because they still resemble the characters. I’ll have to give the edge to the generic DVD for second place, because the colors are much better and in the end, the girls don’t look *that* much different than they do in Polly World.

1st place: 2 Cool
2nd place: Generic DVD
3rd place: Polly World

Music

I have to say, the music here is pretty fun for these types of movies. Each one features the song “Perfect Kind of Day,” a peppy song that Polly’s band performs in the first DVD and is used for background music in the other two. Songs performed by the band include 2 Cool’s Work the Angles and Polly World’s Rock This Town. Concert scenes themselves are again wish fulfillment, but that’s to be expected and they’re not bad songs. And it’s not like they don’t have a purpose; they all fit into the story. The lead singer’s voice is quite good in both.

2 Cool also has Not Just Make Believe as a background choice, but it’s not memorable and is literally straight from a Disney Princess DVD. Polly World has several tween pop selections too, none of which are extremely interesting but fit the spirit a little better. As such, I’ll give a slight edge to Polly World here because Rock This Town is so solid and because the music fits the tone. I don’t have a lot to add regarding the generic DVD because there isn’t much at all.

1st place: Polly World
2nd place: 2 Cool
3rd place: Generic DVD

Acting

You can thank Polly World for having me select this as a category , because the voice acting was so awful here. It was just bad. For one thing, most characters’ voices were squeaky, super girly, and high-pitched. Beth and Lorelei’s actors didn’t know how to read a script, though they did speak just like cliches, and Beth especially was super dumb here. I couldn’t believe them as people for a second. Don’t believe me? Look at her conversations with Lorelei and on the big screen at the concert.

Also, let’s talk voices. Everyone is so high-pitched and squeaky. Maybe that’s one reason why Polly World feels more like a generic doll brand movie–more on that later.

2 Cool and the generic movie were better. I don’t have complaints about either.

1st place: 2 Cool and generic DVD
3rd place: Polly World

Characters

Yeah, you’re looking at Mary Sues here. For sure. But again, that’s the kind of movies these are supposed to be, so they’re on even ground in that respect. Polly and friends don’t have a ton of time to gather personality in any, but we still pick up tidbits. Ana and Lila are good artists, with Lila being snarky, Shani is funky, Ana is shy, Polly is a levelheaded leader, etc. They’re all equally developed. In all 3 is also Samuel, Polly’s butler/driver/chaperone. He could be bland, but you learn to care about the guy because of their good relationship. So mostly, I’ll be taking a look at the side characters.

So what makes them different? Polly World obviously gets points here for having more time to develop the main characters and probably does the best job of the three. However, it again loses points for very bland side characters-. Beth is very one-sided and cares only about popularity and fame and nothing else over the course of the movie. I think her lines are meant to be funny but end up being pretty cringey. Lorelai too is a very one-dimensional villain and cares about–what else?–getting Polly’s dad’s money. These things hurt the movie a bit.

And Polly is WAY too perfect here. She literally catches Lorelei tangled in a plot to get her dad’s money and decides not to tell her dad because “he’s happy with her.” Gah. Points off for Polly World.

2 Cool introduces side characters that do have personality in Pia and Miss Throckmorton. Miss T is strict but also caring, and Pia is somewhat insecure and idealistic. On the other hand, the Polly friends aren’t developed as much, but they’re still there. We do see Shani with a goofy fangirl personality, Lila as somewhat sassy, and Polly as levelheaded. But Pia and Miss T do it well, and I am placing more emphasis on side characters here. The characters here, in general, also seemed the most real.

There were no particularly bad characters except in Polly World, so that one gets last place. Overall, although there wasn’t a ton of development, they did a good job.

1st place: 2 Cool for overall for best job
2nd place: Generic DVD for being neutral
3rd place: Polly World for slightly stronger main characters, but with bad side characters

A winner here? Congratulations to 2 Cool for being the winner with 13 points. The generic DVD was second with ten points and Polly World winds up with seven. I guess that’s pretty fair. 2 Cool was obviously the most accurate to the franchise in looks, personalities, and everything else. The generic DVD wasn’t a bad first effort; the characters were true to self but the animation and plotlines were clearly ones that you’d put into a DVD you were including with a playset. That’s exactly what they did, so no harm there I suppose. Quite frankly, for what it’s worth, it was pretty good quality. Polly World wasn’t terrible and tried to do something new by coming out with a longer movie. Actually, it’s even an enjoyable watch for a Polly fan. The original music was well done, but the animation (literal white people!!!!), plot, and characters were a little bare-bones for it to be considered great. It also felt a little more like a Barbie or Bratz movie, whereas I felt the others were more authentic to the Polly universe.

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Book Tour: Luckiest Girl Alive

Welcome to Fictionista Book Tours, where our job is to take you on a journey into the real-world locations behind a book and your job is to sit back, relax, and take it in.

Upon picking it up, I was so excited to find out that Luckiest Girl Alive took place pretty close to me. The author so clearly based it off her own experiences that even street names were the same. So I knew I had to do a Book Tour! (This used to be referred to as Exploring Setting in the inaugural post, but now it’s a Book Tour because it sounds better.) Now unfortunately, she does name a lot of roads and such that don’t have a lot of spottable locations. Others I couldn’t find (such as “The Spot” which had later been torn down) because they were probably fictional. There is also no Google street view for Nantucket, where they vacation, so that is omitted as well.

Disclaimer: Screenshots are grabbed from Google Maps and are an attempt to make a setting more authentic. Allegations to fictional places are not necessarily true and some are just speculation. Images of buildings or businesses does not mean endorsement or lack thereof.

First, we’re going back to school. Our MC TifAni attended the Bradley School, but in real life the author attended the Shipley School, a school that my middle school used to play in sports. I’m almost positive that she based her experiences off of it, even down to the school colors. The mansion-like main building, which in real life is probably administration, is shown below:

A lot of the private schools in my area didn’t exactly fit the stereotype exactly (what school does?). I never had an evil clique ruling the school, and if you were ever nervous about lunch it was because you just needed someone, anyone, to sit with. But given the ritzy area, I’m sure there are some not-so-nice, spoiled kids as well. Isn’t this when you think of when you think “private school?”

TifAni goes to a diner with some “friends” at one point in the novel. Minella’s is real, and there is a Chili’s next door as described in the novel. It was here that she asked her mom to come pick her up.

The documentary project meets near a Starbucks that’s described as being next to a “sad looking pub.” I haven’t found that arrangement yet, but there is a beer shop behind this one, so perhaps this is where that section was based on?

TifAni stays at the Radnor Hotel when she comes to town to film the documentary (it was more of a demand that they put her up). I was shocked to see that it looks like a dump; apparently it looks nicer in the front but the streets here are so winding that it’s hard to find a front view of anything! It was very hard to find the front of the place to begin with, as it’s tucked away between some businesses. It’s not a place I can imagine adult Ani staying.

Ani somehow convinced her mom that she needed an entirely new wardrobe to impress her classmates so they took off to the King of Prussia mall for new clothes. I still haven’t been to this giant mall, but I’m sure it’s an adventure.

Speaking of Ani and her mom, one of their “things” to do was go to a Chinese fusion place. Yangming also plays a part near the end of the novel where Ani is tricked into having dinner with her mom. She also has a last talk with her former teacher in this parking lot.

Although not a major point of interest, the train station is below. Ani often took a train to school (hard for me to imagine personally). It’s also where she first noticed the Planned Parenthood.

Probably the inspiration for the school where Arthur transferred, Archbishop John Carroll is located in the next town over. That clearly didn’t work out well for many people.

I would probably have a hard time adjusting to NYC life after going to school in Bryn Mawr. However, that’s exactly what Ani did. While I don’t have any images from there yet (it’s been a while since I read the book), perhaps they’ll be here in the future.

Thank you for taking another journey with Fictionista Book Tours. If you have requests for any other destinations, let me know in the comments!

reviews

Review: Positively Izzy; Terri Libenson

Positively Izzy: Terri Libenson
Genre: Middle grade– graphic
Published: 2018
Pages: 220
Hogwarts House: Ravenclaw

Izzy is the DREAMER. She loves acting and making up funny stories. The downside? She can’t quite focus on schoolwork.

Bri is the BRAIN. But she wants people to see there’s more to her than just straight As.

The girls’ lives converge in unexpected ways on the day of the school talent show, which turns out to be even more dramatic then either Bri and Izzy could have imagined.

Middle school graphic novels are HUGE right now. I myself have been looking for a good graphic novel, but the problem with most adult graphic novels for me, at least, is that they tend to fall into the three S’s: science fiction, social issues, and superheroes. Where is the realistic fiction or the funny stuff? I might have been inclined to write one as a fresh new take on adult lit, but I can’t draw worth anything. So forget that idea.

The kids’ department has what I’m looking for, oddly enough. Positively Izzy is the story–or two, rather–of Bri and Izzy. Izzy is super creative, as the back cover says, and Brianna is super smart. Brianna wants to do well in school, while Izzy just can’t find herself to care. The two stories intertwine, but they don’t really connect–though that is explained later through an interesting twist. I assumed that the two girls would find a way into the other’s talent show event and find a way to help the other where they needed to (i.e. Brianna sees from Izzy that it’s okay to loosen up and Izzy learns from Brianna the importance of studying), but this is not the case. I also believe this is some sort of sequel, with hints of drama or other problems that seem like they’ve been going a while in this established universe. However, readers, and myself, can get the gist of what is going on easily.

Despite the story taking place in only a day, an aspect I thought was pretty interesting, the stories resolve themselves nicely as well (obviously not completely; Izzy isn’t going to become a great student in a day). It makes for a nice little slice-of-life tale. Character development doesn’t suffer in any way from the short timeline.

The artwork adds a unique take on the school experience. Sometimes there are comic panels, sometimes there is just text and drawings. I love Libenson’s asides in the artwork; often quite funny. Is it me, or is it because I already have been though middle school that I laughed harder at the little things? Additionally, the facial expressions are great, particularly when someone is reacting to something.

The story itself also presents a more authentic middle school experience. It’s not just lumping people into “popular girls” and “jocks” and “nerds,” though labels can exist–Brianna, for example, is tired of being “The Brain.” There are mentions of popular kids, but they seem to be popular because they’re athletic or know lots of people, not because they’re mean kids who rule the school. People are unique and may have friends in other classes. Brianna is smart, but she has friends instead of being in “the nerd group.” She is, in my opinion, also portrayed as being somewhat stylish rather than completely uncaring to break the stereotype. This is all very refreshing and more accurate to middle school in my experience. And of course, there are the crushes and parent spats–things that are just as applicable to adult life as they are in middle school.

I found myself thinking fondly of my own middle school memories thanks to Positively Izzy. If you’re hesitant to try another genre or kid’s book, give a graphic novel a try. Sometimes you just need fun, right?

4-stars

reviews

My Life in a Cat House; Gwen Cooper

My Life in a Cat House: Gwen Cooper
Genre: Nonfiction/pets
Published: 2018
Pages: 258

If you’re a cat lover…have you ever struggled to take your cats to the vet? Have you been simultaneously irritated and enamored with your fluffy friends at the same time? Have you ever been perplexed by a cat’s eating habits or wondered why you feel the need to let them rule your life? Gwen Cooper feels you, and she’s here to tell the stories of five different cats she’s owned and loved. From the frustrating to the funny, these cats and their “tales” will remind us all of the struggles and rewards of having pets.

Because the stories here are about the author’s life with her cats, I wondered how much I was actually going to get into My Life in a Cat House. The first story, starring adopting a finicky cat, started slow. As time passed, though, I found the stories to be relaxing and enjoyable…and hilarious and sweet.

Each chapter is its own story. They originated, I believe, as stories in Cooper’s Curl Up with a Cat Tale subscription series. We start with three stories, each about one of her “first generation” cats, that both succeed in telling a story and giving us kind of an “overview” of who that cat is. Homer seems to be the “star” of her life, as Cooper’s career took off with the book she wrote about him specifically. However, each cat has equal time. This gives readers a sense of who each cat truly is. There’s that “one cat,” Scarlett who refuses to take to Cooper. There’s the beautiful Vashti’s certain—artistic—talents in how she expresses her thoughts. There is Clayton’s desire to play fetch, Homer’s friendliness and adventurous spirit despite being blind, and Fanny’s food obsession. There are aloof sides to the cats, annoying sides, and sides that are just plain endearing.

Cooper does a great job of choosing story-worthy moments to write about as well, which are easy-to-read and makes one of the most relaxing books I’ve read in a long time. This is not an easy task. Just because you think your cat does something interesting doesn’t mean that readers won’t be easily bored, but the stories here were good picks. She is also always taking time to explain her cats’ behavior, sometimes to the point of crazy-cat-ladyness. One might wonder if she is truly an expert on her cat’s thoughts and feelings. But when paired with the context of the story, her reasoning actually kind of makes sense. The last story may have been a little deep for its own good, but it still has some interesting insights into cat behavior.

If I had to critique this book for one little thing, it’s because these stories were part of an email subscription, sometimes we get fed the same information a lot. Vashti’s namesake is explained several times, as is Homer’s blindness and Scarlett’s attitude problem. If an author is going to write a book out of stories she’s already written, they should give the reader something new; in this case, a story that flows better and was edited for publication purposes (and maybe a bonus story that wasn’t online). I should also mention that her constant asides get annoying–I think that you could take out every phrase in parenthesis that appears and we wouldn’t lose any relevant information, or we’d gain the loss of lots of unimportant information actually. But that’s nitpicky and something I mostly just want to point out for you future writers out there.

If you’re a pet lover, a cat lover, an animal welfare supporter, a shelter volunteer, a Best Friends donor/magazine subscriber–I think that’s how I found out about this book actually– My Life in a Cat House is for you. I think that the subject matter and constant praises of the cats will get a little cheesy for people who want more than reading about the lives of pets. But if you’re within the target audience, this is a charming hidden gem. I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel late this year.

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Are Keyboard Warriors Needlessly Hurting Authors? (A Case Study of JK Rowling vs. The Fandom)

rowling_debate

Update 6/16/20: With the addition of Rowling’s most recent comments, I am no longer claiming to support this author–previously, I needed a bit more evidence to determine what her views really were. However, my point still stands that the online rumor mill is doing no good by inventing reasons to get upset and using simple, malicious attacks. Rowling has many good points, and I believe that she can come to know better. Educating ourselves and each other goes much farther than what spewing Nazi-support rumors and name calling will ever do.

Recently I came across a Pinterest thread discussing the Harry Potter series. The Pin in question was a Tumblr post, where the author made a snarky remark about JK Rowling making stuff up for attention after the books were published. This post isn’t unique. There are many online blog posts where authors are making fun of Rowling’s tendency to drop new facts about her beloved book characters. And it seems like they are just going after her because they are attacking her ideas on a social issue. But is there really a problem with Rowling’s ideals, or are people being quick to make assumptions? Maybe both, depending.

Internet discussions and rumor mills have allowed these debates to spiral out of control. Of course, it’s not just books. It’s also the same stuff that drives the (in my opinion, unwarranted) fear mongering about the coronovirus and false information seeping into debates of political candidates. But the harm from this false hysteria is the same: people start to believe things that aren’t true for the wrong reasons, and sometimes people on the other end are treated accordingly.

It started with one concern: that J.K .Rowling is transphobic. This is mostly old news now; her Tweets in support of certain users have gotten controversy, and it’s not unfounded.

Then the “J.K. hate” began to snowball, at least in this Pinterest discussion. Accusations were now being thrown that she was anti-semetic; a common place where these debates end up. Another user than said, “It was never about the readers. It was all about her money!” when, in fact, she is one of few people to lose her billionaire status by donating money to charity and even has her own foundation. Personally I have yet to see concrete evidence that Rowling is an evil villain promoting a political agenda. Yet, users keep acting like she is on the basis of these rumors. These attitudes can be seen when keyboard warriors use the alleged fact that she is transphobic as an excuse to attack Rowling for unrelated things, such as coming out with “ridiculous” behind-the-scenes facts. I have seen people insult her for everything, from being bad at math (??) to inconsistent dates.

Following that progression, we can see how needless rumors begin. We have gone from “Rowling is (perhaps) misunderstood about being transgender” to “Rowling is a bad, lazy writer” to “Rowling has an agenda, only cares about money, and her work belongs to us now.” Readers later started criticizing Rowling for being lazy in that she answered’ readers questions after she published the books, claiming that she couldn’t fix the plot holes.. In years past, it has been my experience that these bonus “reveals” were things to look forward to. For me, they kept the world alive. It is strange that after all the excitement of having bonus material to consider, people are now starting to attack Rowling for coming out with them. While it’s certainly possible that she is trying to go for Diversity Points (another unproven rumor brought on by fandom assumptions) by saying that Anthony Goldstein is Jewish, I am also inclined to believe that these are just fun facts, just like it’s a fun fact that Ginny became a professional Quidditch player, or that Luna married Newt’s grandson. Furthermore, as I wrote last year, I think complaining about a lack of diversity in this series is a waste of time.

It’s worth noting that a BuzzFeed article pointed out the Goldstein tidbit a while back. However, this headline, something along the lines of, “J.K. Rowling Has Announced There Is At Least One Jewish Person at Hogwarts,” intentionally paints Rowling in a bad light so readers will get upset and click it. Sometimes it’s the sources that spur the drama, and we should keep that in mind. (Just ask the Daily Prophet staff during the end of the Fudge era, or Luna Lovegood.)

Random attacks also harm the fandom. Harry Potter is a community, with video games and fanfiction and thoughtful discussion. When people spend most of their time attacking the author (sometimes the Potter fandom refers to this as “divorcing” Rowling), this sense of community is lost. And, ultimately, we do have to respect the writer’s work. This means that we can’t claim ownership of the characters, as one Tumblr post in particular tried to do. Readers need not feel bad about continuing to read the books—after all, we still read books by Hitler and far more questionable people as literature. But if you’re still going to read the books and participate in the community, it seems in poor taste to constantly use that time to attack the author. I know it’s been less fun for me to be a a part of, just because of all the vile hate-spewing. However, I also know (er, knew?) at least 2 people who are transgender and if there are allegations against Rowling, they too should be taken seriously—as long as they’re not just rumors spurned by readers. The problem is, who knows what to believe anymore?

When it comes to author (or any) controversy, readers would do well to look at the evidence and decide for themselves what is right and wrong. Otherwise, rumors begin to snowball and the online hivemind decides to “take over.” Sometimes I wonder in an era of cancel culture whether we are too quick to make mountains out of molehills. Users who are into social justice might even use the issue at hand as a starting point for discussion rather than to create more harassment that they claim they are against. It’s good to stand up for equal rights, but let’s do it in a productive way while making sure that we are getting sources about things an author says or does from reliable places instead of from reactive online users.

What do you think? Are you a Potterhead? Has the experience changed for you at all?

challenges

Follow Along with My 2020 Reading Challenge!

Reading challenges seemed interesting to me, but it was hard to find one I liked. This particular challenge was started by From My Bookshelf back in 2015, but I’m going for it this year. I may even make my own reading challenge for next year.

There are many ways to go into a reading challenge. For one, they can actually help me determine what to read next when I go to the bookstore. For another, they’ll give me excuse to try things I want, like reading a graphic novel, which I’ve been curious about forever.

I usually don’t read THIS many books in a year, but we’ll see how far I can go! I’ll write down the titles below, along with a link to a review or at the very least, my Instagram post on it. Unfortunately blog traffic has come to a weird standstill, especially for reviews, so you can find some thoughts there now. Books can only count for one category on the list.

Come and join me in a Reading Challenge for 2015! A friend posted this on Facebook and it sounded like fun to try this year.
Thanks to From My Bookshelf for the inspiration!

A book with more than 500 pages:
A classic romance:
A book that became a movie:
A book published this year:
A book with a number in the title:
A book written by someone under 30:
A book with nonhuman characters: The Dog I Loved, Susan Wilson
A funny book:
A book by a female author:
A mystery or thriller: The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena
A book with a one-word title:
A book of short stories:
A book set in a different country: The Ex-Girlfriend, Nicola Moriarty (Australia)
A nonfiction book: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottlieb
A popular author’s first book:
A book from an author you haven’t read yet: The Family Next Door, Sally Hepworth
A book a friend recommended:
A Pulitzer-winning book:
A book based on a true story:
A book at the bottom of your TBR list:
A book your mom loves:
A book that scares you:
A book more than 100 years old: Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
A book based entirely on its cover:
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t:
A memoir: Endurance, Scott Kelly

A book you can finish in a day:
A book with antonyms in the title:
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit:
A book that came out the year you were born:
A book with bad reviews:
A trilogy:
A book from your childhood:
A book with a love triangle:
A book set in the future:
A book set in high school:
A book with a color in the title:
A book that made you cry:
A book with magic:
A graphic novel:
A book by an author you’ve never read before (another one of these?):
A book you own but have never read:
A book that takes place in your hometown:
A book that was originally written in a different language:
A book set during Christmas:
A book written by an author with your same initials:
A play:
A banned book:
A book based on or turned into a TV show:
A book you started but never finished:

CURRENT 2020 TOTAL: 7/50

Follow along this 2020 and see what titles you can discover!

reviews

Harry Potter Reviews: The Sorcerer’s Stone

When I first tried reviewing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I wanted to find issue with it. After all, it wasn’t really a plot-heavy book, and seemed to serve as simply an introduction. However, that doesn’t stop me from loving the book’s magic and a “weaker” plot doesn’t hurt it too much. Does it? Maybe the Potter series just has to be ranked within itself.

sorcerers-stone-review

To review the books in this series, to be as fair as possible, I’m going to give it a ranking out of five stars in several categories: Plot, Suspense/Good and Evil Battle, Characters (primarily the main characters of the novel), Worldbuilding, and Writing Style. I will then give it a total score out of 25.

Goodreads summary:

Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid. But even within the Wizarding community, he is special. He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.

Though Harry’s first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect. There is a dangerous secret object hidden within the castle walls, and Harry believes it’s his responsibility to prevent it from falling into evil hands. But doing so will bring him into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.

Characters:

The characters just seem so…natural. They jump off the page and can be real people. Despite what people say about Harry (he tends to be few people’s favorite), he has a personality too: he likes to play the hero sometimes, gets into trouble, and more. You have Ron and Hermione, the best friends with traits of their own, a scatty goofball but loyal friend and a smart-aleck. It doesn’t just end there. I personally love Hagrid. He’s almost a great father figure to Harry, but is best as a friend. Even each professor has their own personality without being too far-fetched. They don’t even need a ton of page time for us to get to know them. As for the Dursleys? Yes, we’ve seen these people in kid lit before. But, do they do the things the Dursleys do? I find them to be fascinating Rowling does a commendable job of making these characters come to live without resorting to stereotypes. This could be the real world.

Worldbuilding:

This is the standout point of the entire series, and even moreso for the Sorcerer’s Stone since it is tasked with setting the stage for the next six books. And it does it so well! The way the school runs…houses, house points, classes, common rooms, even a sport of its own…is just done so thoughtfully. My only question which is so small no points are taken off: how do the dorms know how many first years are going to be there, given that we don’t know who is going to be in what house until the arrival feast? There seem to be exactly the number of beds needed….unless that all-knowing Dumbledore just knows somehow?

Plot

This is where the Sorcerer’s Stone doesn’t accomplish as much as the other books. Basically, there is a mysterious object being stored in Hogwarts and Harry, Ron, and Hermione believe that someone inside Hogwarts is going to steal it. They spend some time on researching its lore and trying to figure out how to get it back. I didn’t get why they thought it was their job to do something like that; most students would probably stay far away. It does accomplish some things, however. It’s an introduction to Voldemort, the series’ main villain, though we don’t hear too much about him either. Overall the plot is okay, and pretty traditional of fantasy kids’ lit. I think the real magic of this book lies in school life, which isn’t a bad thing. Draco Malfoy is placed in the villain role more than Voldemort, and for being a bully he does a good job of it. There is also a lot of time spent at the Dursleys’; almost half the book.

Suspense/Good and Evil Battle

There is decent suspense here, stuff that doesn’t really take away from the school year. For what it does, Sorcerer’s Stone does suspense well. Nothing really detracts from the magical atmosphere, but clearly danger is lurking…on the the other hand, nothing much is at risk since the danger is relatively small. Still, it’s present!

Writing Style

One thing that really stands out to me about the Sorcerer’s Stone is the writing style, which is different than the other books. It reminds me of the way Roald Dahl occasionally talked to his readers, slipping into the second person to make a comparison to modern day, or in this case something in Harry’s life with the Dursleys. We’ve seen this before, of course, especially in British children’s lit. For the most part I don’t have much to add. It does a good job of telling the story. I especially love when someone’s about to say something inappropriate and Rowling compensates for this by having another character suddenly butt in.

OVERALL: 21/25= 84%

The percentage seems a little low, but never fear: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a super magical tale. The characters and setting alone make it shine, despite the plot that isn’t anything terribly special or time-consuming. But since it’s the first book, isn’t that what it should be doing? (Fortunately, they’re big books.) If you haven’t read this already, give it a try.

reviews

Book Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Couple Next Door: Shari Lapena
Genre: Mystery/thriller
Published: 2016
Pages: 352

couple-next-door-review

Baby Cora has gone missing! While Anne and Marco were at a dinner party, someone has broken into their house and taken her. They vowed to check on her every half hour, but perhaps that wasn’t even enough. When Detective Rasbach begins working their case, he feels sorry for them…at first. Soon it’s revealed that the seemingly happy couple has been keeping secrets from each other as well. How well do these neighbors actually know the couples next door?

Review

Shari Lapena has so far pleasantly surprised me with her seemingly average-sounding stories, and such is somewhat true for The Couple Next Door. Many familiar elements are here. You have a couple with secrets. You have a protagonist who drinks too much AND has a mental illness (two unreliability factors for the price of one!). You have unlikable neighbors, one of whom is very attractive. You have potential affairs. I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but there is enough here to make it somewhat stand out in a sea of thrillers.

Granted, we don’t learn a lot about these characters. The novel is told in present tense, third person omniscient. This is definitely a unique choice for a novel like this; if there is one problem with it it’s that we don’t learn a lot about the main players and that it allows Lapena to summarize. On the other hand, readers get a full perspective into the story of Anne and Marco: a woman of wealth who married a working-class businessman against her parents’ wishes. Readers learn how Anne feels, how Marco feels, how her parents feel. The addition of the neighbors, Graham and Cynthia, do add their own tension and drama.This broad scope allows for readers to get a full picture when trying to crack the case. Of course, these characters aren’t terribly likable. Anne is pathetic and does little but cry. We learn that she is in a “fragile emotional state,” which is a phrase said so often that I felt like this was a non-digital attempt to SEO-ize the book so people who wanted that particular trait could find a book with it! Marco has his own issues which I won’t give away. So do her parents. But maybe you’re not supposed to like them. Either way, I was focused on the story more than the characters, which we learn the basics of but nothing more.

And that’s not necessarily a problem, because the story isn’t as straightforward as I believed. Lapena does something that most domestic suspense writers don’t do and shifts into reverse halfway through the book. It becomes less of “who did it?” and more of “why?” and “how?” Of course, there is still some of “who did it?” I didn’t find any of the reveals here to be a super big surprise, though. The detectives suddenly seem to get answers out of nowhere, and things settle too quickly. The neighborly dynamics reminded me of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; you have the loving but messy family and then the uptight horror couple living next door.

Adding to the book’s differences were its’ subtle sentiments on judging others. After the kidnapping, the media doesn’t know how to keep their distance. Anne is flooded with hate mail from people who make assumptions about what “she” did. This was thought-provoking. Maybe we need to remember that others are human too, and that we shouldn’t be so quick to make assumptions.

I’m going to be honest: what really takes off points here is the ending. Readers of this blog know that endings can ruin thrillers for me, and what happened really didn’t even have anything to do with the plot, making me realize that one of Anne’s secrets was only included to lead up to a shocking ending. Bummer. I was very close to rating this book 2.5 stars because of it, however the interesting points of The Couple Next Door are interesting enough to consider it a standard novel.

specials

2019 Fictionistas Unite Book Awards

Happy almost-New Year and almost-year-of-the-presidential-election!!! I hope you all had a wonderful year and if you didn’t, may the next year be filled with blessings for you.

Anyway. One of my favorite things to do in December is look on all the things I did that year.. Books are no exception. So now I present to you my second annual Book Awards. I want to give you a quick rundown before we get started. New this year, too, each book will get to wear its award badge on its review. If you are reviewing a book that one one of my awards, and are looking for award graphics or blogger testimonials to put with it, you may use the images I provide so long as you don’t white out the name of this blog. Links, of course, are appreciated.

Check out my 2018 Book Awards here!

Check out the list of all the books I read this year here.

For a few more books that were not reviewed on the blog this year, visit my Instagram to see what I thought!

Eligibility
-The book had to be read, and finished in, the year of the awards. It may be any genre. Young adult books are eligible. DNF books are also eligible, typically if they win something it will be for “Worst Overall” or “Best Cover.”
-The book must be a full-length novel or novella. Short story collections are eligible as long as they are all by the same author.
-The book must have been read for the first time. Thus, books that I’ve read before that I re-review this year, such as Picoult’s Storyteller, are ineligible because I read them beforehand.
-The book does NOT have had to be published in the year of the awards.
-The book may win multiple awards.

Keep in mind that earning very few awards won’t stop a book from becoming Best Overall. Most books won’t fit into all categories and it’s very possible that the Best Overall winner will hardly have awards at all.

I give out the following awards. The first two are given because they are my favorite genres and can usually be counted upon to be plenty represented in my library each year.
Best Women’s Fiction
Most Suspenseful
Character Development Award
Best Plotting
Best Non-Fiction
Most Unique Story
Best Writing
Most Likely to Become a Classic (current classics are not eligible; Pride and Prejudice, for example, would not win).
This category answers several questions. Is it timeless? Could anyone, regardless of gender or older young people, read it and find something to enjoy? Will the messages endure? Does it age well? All these are the makings of a future classic.
Worst Overall Book
Best Overall Book

The three new awards include:

Best Cover
Best Cast of Characters- Main (Eligible characters generally include narrators, the MC, main, antagonist, the closest friend, and significant other, though this is subject to change)
Best Cast of Characters- Supporting (Eligible characters include secondary best friends, less important classmates/coworkers, side parents, anyone who plays a lesser role than the above characters)

Other nominees: Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe, Things You Save in a Fire

This was a hard one this year. I wasn’t thrilled with most of the women’s fiction options; while most sat at a solid 3 stars, there were enough problems that few of them were anything to write home about. I did find myself enjoying the world of Cafe by the Sea. It has the highest ranking of mine at 4 stars, and follows the Colgan formula while also providing something just a little different. It’s an entertaining story of finding new opportunity and returning to your roots.

Other nominees: Nine Perfect Strangers, Cafe by the Sea, A Dog’s Promise

Through the course of this novel, we watch Eleanor naturally grow from an awkward woman (well, maybe she still is, because being an introvert is not a character flaw) and start to thrive in social environments, becoming a happier person. It’s a pretty inspiring story.

Other nominees: Woman in the Window, The Babysitter, Watching You, Behind Closed Doors

Just because you can guess a book’s ending or the”who” or the “why” doesn’t mean it’s bad or predictable. In fact, that can often means that the author does a great job laying clues and plot for you. I didn’t love this book at first as it seemed like a bland straight-up mystery, but as I got invested in these characters and asked myself about possible motives, I found myself figuring things out faster and ultimately coming to my own conclusion, coming away with a new respect for mysteries. Overall, an entertaining story.

Other nominees: Lock Every Door, Woman in the Window, The Babysitter, The Perfect Girlfriend

Holy moly. This is a TOUGH category this year. I read some of my favorite thrillers of all time. This should really be a four-or-five-way tie. However, because it doesn’t stop from start to finish, Behind Closed Doors is the winner. The novel’s narrow focus really helps readers to focus in on these problems and the protagonist’s fear. I can’t say much without giving it away, but WOW. This is a hard book to put down. And like I’ve said, since this is possible (with a bit of work), it’s one of the scariest books I’ve ever read.

The first book I read this year was also a clear contender for Best Non Fiction. Even in January, I thought, “yeah, this is probably going to be the winner.” Ghostwriter or no, this is a very well-written book and never stopped entertaining me from start to finish. It was thought-provoking, interesting, and all sorts of good stuff. On top of everything, she is a good writer too! It’s just not fair! I kid, of course. Highly recommended for all.

Jenna Fischer’s book about acting was unique, but didn’t have quite the staying power of Michelle’s book. Jacob Tobia, too, should be commended for coming out with their story, but the writing wasn’t nearly as strong there.

Other nominees: Becoming, A Dog’s Promise

In some cases, dropping tons of references really doesn’t work. However, for the atmosphere in Woman in the Window, it works and only adds to the Hitchcock-like atmosphere. While it has a similar title, it’s not the same story, and an unpredictable plot will keep readers guessing.

Other nominees: A Dog’s Promise, Woman in the Window

The idea of a lonely, socially awkward woman is something that we can all relate to. So is the pursuit of a relationship, or even just friends. These ideas will keep Eleanor on the shelf for years to come.

Other nominees: Luckiest Girl Alive, Life on the Leash, The Kiss Quotient

I love the playful, vintage feel of this cover. It communicates well what the book’s message is. There are also textured spots of glitter. Overall, a very cool and stylish cover design, reflecting the author themselves. It also gets the book’s message home: gender need not be taken so seriously.

Other nominees: The Actor’s Life, Behind Closed Doors, Woman in the Window, Luckiest Girl Alive, Sissy

Yay to Jenna Fischer for doing something totally new with the memoir genre! She tells her story, yes, but its her acting story. She tells it to us through giving advice to her readers, and she actually paints a fairly straightforward portrait of a not-so-straightforward lifestyle. It makes acting look easy. We have very few down-to-earth acting guides out there, and Jenna writes hers as if she is talking to a friend. This book has gotten positive reviews and many people are picking it up just because they’re interested, not because they want to get into acting.

Other nominees: A Dog’s Promise, Perfect Girlfriend, Things You Save in a Fire, Nine Perfect Strangers

I said it above and I’ll say it again: this series has wonderful characters. Issy I love; she’s a strong woman character who isn’t a typical, in-your-face strong female character: she loves to bake! Her coworkers Pearl and Caroline are wonderful too, and we get to hear lots about them this time around. Austin, as bloggers might know, remains my favorite love interest. So there you go.

Other nominees: A Dog’s Promise, Cafe by the Sea, Woman in the Window

Moriarty does it again with her unique group of characters! One strength of hers is that she never goes too over-the-top in her characterization. From Jessica the influencer to Lars the lawyer to Zoe the teenager, I cared about this group of people, especially when they were interacting with one another.

Other nominees: The Kiss Quotient, The Endless Beach

Here we go: the Razzie of my awards. 2019 was a record year in that I didn’t finish three books, and almost quit a fourth, which typically earn 1 star by default. I rarely DNF, ever.

Now as for those other nominations: first The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan. I had problems that weren’t necessarily the book’s fault (but also were). You needed to be acquainted with a certain short story from the author in order to get the most from this. I gave it no score. The Kiss Quotient didn’t earn it because the diverse characters were a plus, especially so because they weren’t constantly playing the race card, even though it was a very boring book and too erotic. So the winner is The House Swap.

It was a boring novel. Twists were insanely predictable. It was very, very, very repetitive. I learned nothing about these characters and didn’t even care for them anyway. We’ve seen this concept done a LOT and it brought nothing new to the table. I mean, nothing. I actively dreaded picking it up, and when I keep going to Instagram to take breaks, that’s a bad sign. It went the same way: husband and wife plan a day together to try and fix things, wife freaks out, awkward evening, they try again tomorrow. The past focuses simply on scenes of the wife’s affair that did nothing to drive the plot forward except create useless sex scenes. This was a bare-bones novel that needed so much more. I believe that Fleet will be putting out better in the future.

Let’s end on a positive note! Before I announce the winner, here are the five nominees:

A Dog’s Promise, W Bruce Cameron: This endearing tale of a dog’s love as he wraps up his life’s purpose is sweet and sentimental in all the right ways with Cameron’s usual well-done insight.
Behind Closed Doors, B.A. Paris: This extremely suspenseful tale isn’t too far fetched with the exception of some of the planning behind it, making it much scarier than the average horror tale about dolls or clowns.
Lock Every Door, Riley Sager: This is another horrifying book. Despite how people say it’s too over the top, I am inclined to disagree because it works. The subject matter in the book really does exist, even if not to this degree, and it’s a very unique take on an arguably overdone plot.
The Woman in the Window, AJ Finn: The atmosphere and writing style made this thriller stand out in a crowded genre.
Becoming, Michelle Obama: This entertaining and insightful life story makes me wonder how Michelle is a first-time author.

And the winner is…

This surprised even me! What’s there to say, other than that it’s well-written, deep and thoughtful without being pretentious, entertaining, and meaningful. Even that character development is great! The first book I read in 2019 was the best one, and that’s what I have to say about that. But I read so many good books this year that this was a hard choice, and if I had a Best Fiction award, Behind Closed Doors would win it. (Maybe I’ll entertain that idea next year…) I recommend both books to everyone.

See you guys in 2020! I would love to get back to blogging, but my entries mean nothing if they’re not being read and liked by you. It’s thanks to you guys that I have been able to review books. But without any traffic, this won’t be able to continue. With the risk of sounding like a PBS special, I hope that you will continue reading and supporting this book blogger for a long time to come so I can keep sharing my ideas without sounding like I’m shouting into the void. Help me come out of hiatus by stopping by once in a while. Happy New Year!