Saturday, March 23, 2019


Rating: A desktop-sized collector-quality Samurai robot flashing a peace sign

Highlight of note: A man writes a bisexual female lead without making her sex-crazed and promiscuous.

Will you read more by this author? Probably, yes.

Favorite Quote: This is from the author's notes rather than the actual text, but I loved it so much I have to share it: "I also want to say thank you to every single person who ever says "You have to read this book!" to a friend. I don't care if it's this book; I just want people to remind each other how wonderful books are." To which I can only say, "Amen, Hank!"

Obviously, the main reason I picked this book up is because it was written by Hank Green. I know him largely from Crash Course (see the Crash Course YouTube page if you don't know what that is and feel free to thank me later for alerting you to its existence), which he does with his brother, John. It's one of my favorite things ever. Now here's a confession that I make knowing it will upset a lot of people: I don't much care for John Green's books. It's not that they aren't well written; they absolutely are. It's just I'm depressed enough already, thank you. I've read several of them but usually ended with a sense of "Why did I do that to myself?" Despite that, I was intrigued when "the other Green brother" wrote a novel and wanted to check it out.

I went in knowing absolutely nothing about it other than that it had an unexciting cover, a nondescript title, and an author with a high level name recognition in the circles I travel. Therefore, when protagonist April May came across the massive samurai robot statue that would come to be known as "New York Carl" I had no idea if I should be assuming this was an artwork or an alien mech warrior. I enjoyed that uncertainty enough that I'm not going to tell you anything more detailed unless you go past the spoiler warnings below.

At the end of the day, it didn't really matter what Carl was because the book was only about him or even about its plot on a very superficial level. It's mostly a discourse on the nature of fame and on human tribalism.

April May has the name of a Mary Sue. And my son, who has put a lot of research into the concept of the cloyingly perfect characters known as Mary Sues, tells me "bisexual female" is a modern Mary Sue trait. (This confused me because it's been my experience that while bisexual women are treated more favorably than bisexual men, we're still under-represented and frequently very poorly portrayed. This was touched on in the novel when April is advised to "just be lesbian" by her agent under the theory that the optics of bisexuality are mostly negative.) April isn't a Mary Sue, though. If anything, she's more of an antihero. Despite the fact that people eventually start trying to kill her, her main enemy through to the very end of the narrative is herself. Her brand is about loving each other and trusting in the goodness of others, yet she constantly sabotages her own relationships and even her safety through her flaws of insecurity and hubris. (Odd how often those two things pair up, isn't it?) At times it's really hard to like April, in part because even though she is the narrator, there's a part of her that actively wants you to dislike her so that she'll feel less pressure to care about your feelings. Yet, she's not a heartless bitch; she's just a young woman with faulty defense mechanisms.

As I said, this story is a discussion as much as a narrative. Things happen. Interesting things, even. But they're not really the point of the book. The point is to tell us about humanity through the lens of a regular girl (April is only twenty-three) who rises to global fame. At times it felt a bit too overt in its lecturing, leaving me rolling my eyes and going, "Yes, yes, tribalism leads to poor behavior. This is known!" but the plot is strong enough to make pulling through all that worthwhile.

I found the ending a little anticlimactic, but I'm not sure it isn't the sort of thing I'll like more than longer it percolates in my mind and I'm honestly not certain how I would have ended it differently.

Overall, I don't regret reading this and don't think most people would. So while it didn't jump onto my list of favorites, it did leave me interested in Hank's future works.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.



4% Wait, why is a dude writing from the POV of a lesbian (or possible bisexual)? As he's someone I feel familiar with, I'll not toss the book down in disgust, but really? Also, April May is dating someone named Maya. What's up with that?

5% There's a character named Andy. It's always weird when a character has your name, isn't it? This a boy Andy, which throws me off even more.

8% That didn't seem like a particularly interesting video. Not sure how it beat out the music videos that usually claim the title to be the most viewed thing on YouTube.

9% There are big robot samurai all over the world? Viral art or alien invasion? I know nothing about this book other than who wrote it, so I honestly don't know if it's sci-fi or not.

11% "Don't Stop Me Now" Hmm... Could indicate aliens. I mean, there are words like "I'm traveling at the speed of light" and "I'm a rocket ship on its way to Mars." Or it could be saying it's going to assimilate people "I wanna make a supersonic man out of you!" Or the artist could just really like Queen.

(Also, Other Andy hadn't heard of this song. I weep for today's youth.)

Also, is 23rd Street a reference to the human genome?

12% Ok, this Wikipedia thing is weird and creepy. A universe where new misspellings appear every time you fix a misspelling and the original misspelling doesn't even get resolved is something I may have had nightmares about.

13% I A M U hmm...

14% It would have been awesome if these things WERE viral advertising for a previously unreleased Queen album coming out. Not a great story, but I'd love a new Queen album.

26% Agent wants April to "just be gay" because apparently she doesn't think bisexuality is good for marketing. This does not endear her to me.

30% Carl's hand ran away... Well, that's interesting.

35% The new assistant is moving to NYC on three hours notice? That's some career dedication.

36% She was right. The way she treated Maya was horrible.

51% April is deeply flawed. The Defenders are even more so though. Why is everything about fear for some people?

56% I have been expecting Miranda and Andy to hook up since LA... Wonder how much longer it will take.

60% Oh, dear. April has hooked up with Miranda. That complicates things 

64% I feel the allegory has become excessively lecturey over the last few pages.

65% Global attacks by Defender types. Can't say I'm shocked.

65% Something shoved April out of harm's way and she doesn't know what... Could it have been the missing hand?

66% It was the hand! One might wonder how it got from LA to NYC, but it's a mysterious alien hand, so what's the point?

69% "It's not really news until they stop running ads." Very valid observation...

73% The attempted assassin turned to goo? Huh?

78% Ah, the Carls turned him into goo. Got it. So why are they repeatedly protecting April while letting tons of other people die around them?

80% Grape jelly? That's more humorous than I was expecting. Trying to lessen the scariness of someone dying by having their insides turned to goo?

83% The answer to the 747 puzzle is "Call Me Maybe?" Literally laughing out loud here.

88% I TOTALLY forgot that clue! Well played, Mr Green.

89% "Of course it's Bowie." I mean how could it NOT be Bowie?

91% Eek. Trapped by the bad guys! The Carls aren't going to like that. And, also, the local authorities should be on their way because everyone knows where she is... Unless they blow the building before anyone gets there...

91% Or is it the bad guys? Someone has changed Bowie's lyrics on the Spotify copy of Golden Age, which is playing in the building April's trapped in. That sounds like a Carl thing to do. But the building's on fire, which implies someone really is trying to hurt her 

98% All this stuff from Andy would probably have me misty eyed if I thought April was really dead. But she wrote the rest of this book later, so the worst she is now is a computer-hosted consciousness.

Hmm... A little anticlimactic. A message from April proving she's not dead (although not that her body recovered because it's just a text) but giving us no information. I'll need to process how I feel about this.

Monday, March 18, 2019

ON THE COME UP by Angie Thomas

Rating: A glittery scepter suitable for royalty and a considerable amount of respect.

Highlight of note: Compassion and realism combine as we get a second look into Garden Heights, an innercity neighborhood that is every bit as much of a character in this novel as any of the humans.

Will you read more by this author? This is the second novel I've read by Ms Thomas and the only way it will be the last is if she doesn't publish any more.

Angie Thomas has a tendency to make me feel like an impossibly middle class white woman. I did catch the title of her first novel, The Hate U Give, as a reference to Tupac's THUG LIFE, because I've appreciated that acronym since I first came across it (The Hate U Give Little Infants F*s Everyone), so it could be worse, but I was sitting in my arm chair drinking tea and listening to melodic rock while reading about innercity rap battles. It made me examine why I was reading this book and whether it was a form of tourism. I had to admit that part of my attraction to the book is seeing a culture I'm not part of, but isn't seeing people who aren't exactly like you part of the point of reading? Thomas is black, grew up in an innercity neighborhood not unlike Garden Heights, was herself a teen rapper, and has studied hip hop at a collegiate level, so this is clearly not something that exists just to entertain white people. She's giving a voice to the girl she used to be, and I think that's something people of all races should listen to.

It's impossible to set aside race when discussing this book. Much of its focus is on the black experience, both the good parts and the not great parts. We're shown a culture where bonds between people are tight and community is important, but we're also shown a world where teens are violently tossed to the ground without provocation and fathers get shot down between their house and their car. This is not the sort of book where you could just pick the story up and drop it in a white suburb while expecting it to still make sense. Parts of it would still work. The romantic arcs of both the main character and her close friends could take place in any sphere. But much of Bri's soul searching and struggle is wrapped up in being from the Gardens.

There's drama here: a father who was murdered steps from the family's front door, a mother who fell into drug addiction when she lacked proper resources to help her recover from being widowed with two young children, an aunt who belongs to a gang and makes a living selling drugs. There's a fledgling career in rap accompanied by a battle to determine what values a young artist wants to instill in her music. There's conflict with the mostly-white authorities at school. And since we're talking about teenagers, there's unexpected romance. There's a lot going on in this book, but it all blends together seamlessly.

Bri is easy to cheer for. She's vibrant, caring, and wicked clever. While not the best student, she's clearly highly intelligent and quick thinking, which is demonstrated well in her quick rap compositions. And she adores Tweety Bird while thinking Big Bird is a thing of nightmares. How could anyone not love her?

Bri's family are likewise people you come to care about. Her mother's strength in regaining her life after addiction would have any reader cheering for her. It would be easy to sum Aunt Pooh up as a drug dealer, but she's also a loyal supporter of her niece, a helper to her sister, and an adorably affectionate girlfriend to her girlfriend. (Yes, the gang affiliated aunt is a lesbian. You don't want to receive the look she'd give you if you raise an eyebrow about that.) I'll admit I found Bri's grandmother's judgmental nature to be a bit too much for me to handle, but Grandma redeems herself in the end by proving how much she truly cares about her family.

Overall, I found nothing to complain about in this book and a lot to praise. When The Hate U Give was first released, I was skeptical before reading it. Was it really as good as everyone was gushing or were people just responding to the topic? (That book was about a girl who witnessed a childhood friend shot by a cop at a traffic stop even though the boy had done nothing threatening.) Well, it was really that good. It's high on the list of books everyone in the US should read, combining a powerful message with expertly worded narrative. On the surface, On the Come Up might seem less important, being about a rapper rather than a victim of police violence, but it features both the outstanding delivery of the first book and the ability to open conversations we as a nation need to be having.

In short, this is a book people should read and I'm glad I'm one of the ones who has.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.



4% Girl's smart enough for a rap battle but not good in school, because not only does she not apply herself but she's a major troublemaker. Seems a bit cliche, but alright. Also... Popkenchurch. Going to three restaurants to make one meal does seem like something one wouldn't do lightly. Wonder what's up with Mom.

5% Gang member aunt has a girlfriend. That's nice.

6% When someone says "May the force beam you up, Scotty," I assume they're pulling my chain, not honestly confusing space operas. I do like that our young hero is into Star Wars, though.

6% "I fiend for that feeling." I haven't heard that usage of fiend before, but I like it.

8% Asshole pulls out her daddy's murder as a slam line? And smirks like he's proud of himself rather than being ashamed at the lowness of that blow  There goes my hope he might be a worthy love interest.

10% Although maybe Asshole was just saying what his dad told him to and can have a redemptive arc about overcoming your upbringing.

11% I don't know much about rap, but those seemed like damned good lines.

24% Girl wrote a publishable song within half an hour of hearing her beat. I'm impressed. But then she does it improv style too, so I guess she's got practice going quickly.

27% Wow, that grandma... She makes the most negative people I know seem supportive.

28% Interesting vibe from Curtis. "I do care about you," may be underselling it.

32% Hmmm. Not sure if lunch with Malik is a date or not either. Guess we'll find out at lunch.

32% Well, he's bringing another chick with them, so probably not a date.

37% I've got a bad feeling about this manger guy.

42% I think I agree with Pooh that Bri's going to seem fake at best and piss off the wrong people at worst. She's thinking ? is better at making hits, but she hates the last song he made popular because it's shallow as hell.

47% I like Miles-without-a-z. He does seem like worthy love interest material now that he's apologized. 

50% I think Miles might be the mystery guy, which would make him a love interest, but not Bri's

56% "If he can keep his act straight" is apparently a funny thing to say about Miles. I'm going to double down on the idea he's Mystery Boy.

62% Sonny's heard Mystery Boy's voice before but can't place where. Yep. It's definitely Miles.

65% Shit. Bri's going after a gang member? We were having a lovely YA personal drama scene and now that? Damn.

66% Okay, Pooh's going after the gang member. And she's a gang lord herself. Still...

74% She didn't commit murder, but Pooh's still arrested. And I feel physically sick about it.

75% That's one nice kiss...

81% I like Curtis. Glad they're going to "do romantic shit" together.

83% And now Supreme shows his sleeze.

87% Yep, Miles is Mystery Boy.

96% Yes! Bri went up there and told Supreme and the label guy to screw themselves, just like I wanted her to. :)

98% I don't know who the big name that wants to rap with Bri is, but I'm tears-in-my-eyes happy for her.


Friday, March 8, 2019


Rating: A nutshell full of magic

Highlight of note: Holly Black's trademark creepiness meshes with a surprising amount of sweetness.

Will you read more by this author? Absolutely. This book wasn't going to change that in either direction though as I have loved many of her books before and am fervently awaiting the conclusion of a series of hers.

I don't know how I missed this book when it first came out, but I'm glad I've remedied the gap in my reading.

As I said above, this book retains Black's normal creepiness but adds something innocent and pure. Something that, oddly enough, never gets tainted. The main character is a human named Hazel who has made a deal with the Elderking that I shan't get into the details of since it isn't known at the start of the book. Along with her brother, she has spent years romanticizing a faerie prince who sleeps in a crystal coffin near her hometown. Then the prince awakens and the siblings, along with a changeling friend, find themselves in the middle of a heck of a lot of faerie drama.

I found the characters likable, perhaps more so than Black's usual offerings. There are two romances present, both of which I believed and pulled for. (And one of which was a same-sex pairing if that details important to you.) Hazel's brother was perhaps a little melodramatic, a classic tortured musician type, but it worked for him.  Faerie changeling Jack seemed particularly touching to me, quietly struggling with a duality of nature. The Elderking does lack a bit of depth as a villain, but he's given little enough page time for there to be an implication that maybe there was more going on with him and it was just never revealed to our party.

The story is strong with a plot that is cohesive and moves at a decent pace. I did feel a little disengaged for most of the opening half, but the second half pulled me along quite well. The conclusion is solid, leaving it clear that life is going on but still making us feel like we've witnessed the full story. And it ends on an optimistic note that I approved of.

Holly Black's faerie stories take place in different kingdoms but in the same world. Her current series mentioned the sleeping prince in passing and there is some hope that the characters from this book could appear elsewhere as this is something that has happened with other characters from the universe. I'm hoping to see them again, but I'm also okay with leaving them to their lives.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.



9% Very interesting... I wonder what stupid thing Hazel had to give in her bargain.

22% Maybe it's just me, but I don't think I'd be hanging around waiting for this horned guy. The siblings seem to be assuming he's not dangerous.

24% Wow. Kid broke his hand because he thought playing music while upset killed someone. That's extreme. I mean, he could just refuse to play while upset. Or did he think not being able to play would get the family to move?

36% A girl with plants growing out of her mouth and an uninvited kiss from a reawakened prince. Interesting stuff, although I'm not feeling overly invested in any of it. I do wonder if Severin really knows as much as he claims.

38% Interesting tidbit about Jack using his glamour on people. And having liked Hazel in the past (I thought there was something of a "I'm not going to play because I want you to actually care about me" thing going on with their kiss at the party.) I want to see more of Jack.

46% School attack was creepy as hell.

52% Whoa. Hazel's a faerie knight by night? That's groovy. And scary since she has no memory of it.

63% Jack has finally mentioned being in love with Hazel. She really should return the favor. Although that smile... Maybe he knows.

65% I'm really loving the dynamic between Ben and Severin.

72% Interesting way to defeat Sorrow in battle. I wonder what she'll do now. Is she better forever? That seems too easy.

79% A little disappointed not to see the scene with Knight Hazel. I assume that's for tension.

83% Severin's declaration of love is super-sweet.

90% I still really like Jack. :)

91% THE END (The rest of the book is previews for other works that I have already read.)
It's a good ending. A little more of an optimistic happily-ever-after than Black usually offers, but I'm more than okay with that.

Saturday, March 2, 2019


Rating: A glistening FabergĂ© egg

Highlight of note: This is not the first time I've been exposed to the moral question behind this story, but it felt much more real this time. Oddly enough, I feel that Le Guin's repeated breaking of the fourth wall is part of why.

Would you read more by this author? Oh, yes. I was actually thinking recently that there are books by her I have never read and that I should fix that, but this solidifies that. I also need to figure out where my copy of her book on writing is hiding, because she was certainly someone who knew what she was talking about.

This story is more of a setting than a complete tale. It describes a place, the city of Omelas, and its society and the conditions under which it thrives. Yet it is captivating and powerful.

Things start out rather slowly as Le Guin contrasts the world of the Omelas, who reside in a joyful Utopia, to an exaggerated (or perhaps merely overstated) version of our own jaded reality. I was starting to tune out and wonder why the story had been recommended to me when I hit this line, "...I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy." This struck me as writing advice to someone who is doing an erotic novel for NaNo. The usual advice is that if you get bored, you should add ninjas, but surely in an erotica, an orgy would make more sense. Anyway, it amused me into continuing to read.

A few lines later, the writing delivers a complete punch to the gut and I suddenly realized why Le Guin mentioned Dostoyevsky in the intro despite my shoddy memory of The Brothers Karamazov. I'm not going to describe what's written in any more detail because I don't feel I'd add to many people's understandings if they've already read it and I fear spoiling its impact for any who have not. I will say that I feel Le Guin did a better, or at least more emotionally evocative, job of presenting the scenario than her Russian predecessor.

The version of the story I borrow from my library came with an afterword written in 2016 in which Le Guin discussed some of the responses people wrote her with. While discussing this, she wrote, "In talking about the meaning of a story, we need to be careful not to diminish it, impoverish it. A story can say different things to different people. It may have no definitive reading." She then tells of a response that challenged her own understanding of the work years after it was written. That's what kind of story this is: the sort of deep exploration of existence where even the author has trouble identifying what is meant by it. It is complex and painfully beautiful. If you haven't read it, you should remedy that.