6/08/2019

Love is a game: “Level Up” by Cathy Yardley

I’m an original cover truther. It’s too wholesome and adorable!

I guess this one is fine. Whatever. 

A friends-to-lovers romance with a geeky Latina heroine who is a Whovian to boot. "So, you bought and read that the second you heard about it, right?" you may ask. And you'd only be half right, because after I bought Level Up, it sat on my Kindle for at least a year. Sometimes I do things that don't make sense. I'm unpredictable like that. It keeps people on their toes.

Deciding that my long list of owned, unread books and continuing trips to Barnes & Noble on my way home reflect poorly on me as a person, I have made it a point to work through my TBR. Level Up reads quick. It might even be short enough to fall in novella territory.

Tessa Rodriguez is terrified of social interaction. That, and love, aren't priorities for her, because her sole focus is getting promoted to game engineer at the male-dominated gaming company where she works with her roommate, Adam London, a project manager. Adam, as she is at least sort of aware, is a total smoke show, and as her roomie/landlord, totally off limits.

To his credit, Adam has never made a pass at Tessa. To his discredit, he is still butthurt about his ambitious ex who left him for a job opportunity, so that same ambition in Tessa is a red flag for him.

Early in the book, Tessa is forced out of her introvert bubble and befriends some very cool fellow fangirls who own a struggling bookstore. Tessa gets the wild idea that creating a fandom-based video game for a contest a few weeks away will get them some publicity to save the store. She's a skilled coder, but that fast turnaround means she'll have to enlist (and try to impress) the tech bros at her job who underestimate her.

As she and Adam spend more time together, their budding sexual tension is exacerbated by bets, arrogant jerks, and winter power outages. Never did I think anything about a snowstorm would appeal to me, but this cutie patootie, sexy romp of a book surprised me at every turn.

The highlight of this book was Tessa. She was full of realistic contradictions, like being painfully shy and awkward, yet blossoming with assertion if she felt strongly about something. I kept picturing her as Cierra Ramirez, because shades of her and her workplace reminded me of the show Good Trouble. Particularly, dealing with tech bros, though this group is less vile than the crew on Good Trouble.

This book was a delight, and if I weren't playing catch-up with my shelf, I'd be binging the rest of the Fandom Hearts series. Read this if you want a fun, lighthearted rom-com that still has depth and relatable stakes.

Level Up, by Cathy Yardley

P.S. I recently got an iPad and an Apple Pencil, which have transformed my writing. I can work on my book anywhere, in longhand, which I feel helps my ideas flow better (and makes me feel like a very old- fashioned, Serious Writer). I use handwriting recognition to convert to text. However, it can struggle with my sloppy handwriting sometimes, so when I use it to write reviews, you'll have to pardon some weird errors and spaces between words when I'm too lazy to proofread. I welcome flawed tech. If it gets too smart, the robots WILL take over. Stay woke, yinz!

5/31/2019

Oh the humanity: “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb



One of the perks of having my own office is being able to close my door and cry when I'm listening to a very emotional audiobook.

This book destroyed me. When I heard about it, it sounded like the spiritual successor to the excellent Love's Executioner by Irvin Yalom. I was psyched to read another therapist memoir. Margaret Atwood said, "We all have unlived lives." I was a psychology major for two seconds (I changed it before my first day of college), and when I was in career transition, I thought of going back to school to become a counselor (then I decided I'm better off continuing to write fictional therapists and give real ones my HSA dollars).

What makes this particular therapist memoir interesting is that it's not just about a therapist and her clients. It's about a therapist and her therapist. After the man she thought she'd marry dumps her because he decided he didn't want to be tied down to raising her young son, therapist and writer Lori Gottlieb decides to seek some support. But in the grand tradition of Seeing A Therapist, Gottlieb learns to dig deeper than what she thinks is her only problem.

As Gottlieb's therapist helps her unravel her BS, she tells us about her winding path to her career, her journey to single motherhood, her relationship, and her clients.

The stories of her clients' therapy journeys were my favorite part of the book. Gottlieb captured the beautiful, hideous, complicated humanity of her clients. The arrogant TV writer who can't stop looking at his phone. The hot mess who drinks too much and flirts with the guy in the therapy waiting room. The newlywed fighting cancer. The lonely older woman contemplating suicide. Gottlieb brings empathy and compassion to their stories. She doesn't shy away from the messiness of it all. Or the fact that personal development can sometimes be a comedy of errors.

The sentimentality doesn't feel exploitative or maudlin. And while there's plenty of joy and progress for some of the clients, Gottlieb doesn't pretend all their problems are magically fixed forever because of their work.

I was so filled with love reading this. It made me want to dig deeper in my own life and look for meaning and purpose, and it made me feel more connected to the people around me.

Read this if you want to feel delighted and inspired. Just make sure you've got a box of tissues.

2/26/2019

Interlude: This and that

I had an ill-advised post-dinner cup of coffee and cannot sleep, so why not write a random update?

Just finished reading: You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian


I didn't read "Cat Person" when the story story originally went viral. It was all Twitter could talk about for a few days, but I think I had that same aversion that I have to watching Game of Thrones. I don't want to do it just because you told me to.

Originally, I saw this on Audible and was intrigued that my girl Aubrey Plaza is one of the narrators, but in the end I got this in hardcover. (The hardcover feels soooo nice. It has this velvety soft but ridged design that's a tactile delight.) I read a big chunk of this on a plane, including "Cat Person," which I now understand the hype about.

But it was also very grounded and relatable, an outlier in this collection of disturbing short fiction. Roxane Gay gave this a pretty harsh but accurate review. But joylessness aside, I enjoyed this one. It reminded me a lot of Chuck Palahniuk in how it mined the mundane for horror and reveled in shock value.

Spending a lot of time: Painting





I've been having a lot of fun experimenting with painting. My taste has changed a lot, so I've been repurposing old canvases from my early days with acrylic (not all of them — some of them I still enjoy) and heading to Michael's for more supplies every time I get a coupon. These are all over my house right now.

Watching: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


This isn't just the best superhero movie I've ever seen. It may be the best movie I have EVER seen. I keep trying to explain why it affected me the way it did. But I keep falling short and just fangirling. I sit in therapy every week and talk about some pretty heavy shit but crack jokes the whole time. Then I go in after seeing Into the Spider-Verse, and I don't get past saying the title of the movie before bursting into tears. This movie has ruined me.

P.S. The last two paintings above? My abstract odes to Gwen Stacy and Miles Morales. Get on my level, nerds.

Writing: Like it's my job

I got a bee in my bonnet after I bought a Passion Planner that I was going to finally finish my novel this year. Then a strange thing happened. I broke my goal down into a word count, then broke it down into daily chunks, and I've been crushing it. My goal is pretty modest, and some weeks I've fallen short. Turns out I'm not the type of writer who can stay focused while on vacation.

But when I do get into a flow, it's glorious. I feel like this story that I've been working on for years is finally coming together in a way that makes sense. It's so different from what it started as, because I'm so different. And I feel really good about where it's going.

The weirdest thing about writing it, though, is that I've found myself connecting a lot more to my hero than my heroine. I'm constantly in that character's head, despite having more in common on paper (har har) with my heroine than with him. But if the words are coming, why question that?

That's all for now. Here's hoping this lemon ginger tea does the trick.

1/14/2019

Homegirl intervention: "Eloquent Rage" by Brittney Cooper


This one took me to church.

Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper's Eloquent Rage reads like a sermon on intersectional feminism, and specifically, black feminism and how it informs views on relationships, friendships, power structures and even pop culture. 

I heard about this one on the Book Riot podcast. I believe it was in one of their holiday recommendation episodes, and it was mentioned alongside Rebecca Traister's Good and Mad. Because I'm painfully aware that my feminist theory and praxis need to level up on the intersectional front, I chose this one over the perhaps more hyped Traister book. 

This book is an intellectual high-wire act. It takes complex concepts and breaks them down in a way that is nuanced and thoughtful, but still forceful and impassioned. And I think that's at the heart of what Cooper is exploring here — how rage has power and purpose.

Audiobooks have been a godsend for me recently, and Cooper's narration really does feel like a sermon. There wasn't a single stretch of this during which I tuned out. Every word out of her mouth was fire. She is equally as thoughtful and compelling when she's critiquing the church as when she's praising Beyonce's feminism. 

This book is downright devastating at times. Cooper spares no one's delicate sensibilities when she looks at issues like the epidemic of violence against black people. But it is a necessary devastation. And like any good sermon, in the end, it's a hopeful call to action.


*I realized part of why I don't update that much is that I hate the tedium of setting up my posts with all the book stats. Since 2019 is The Year Liz Does What She Wants, yinz are just getting a Goodreads link from now on. You're welcome.

10/09/2018

It's SUPER SEASON! My Hopes for the CW Fall Season

Everyone who knows me knows that I'm a CW stan. The last time the Arrowverse shows were on, I had about 14 shows that I had to watch every week, and most of them were on The CW.

Since I started on my DCTV journey during my dog days of pantsless unemployment, all my shows have delighted and disappointed me. With the fall season kicking off tonight, I thought I'd share my hopes for this season and how some of my wayward TV babies might turn their behavior around.

The Supes



The Flash

Out of all the Arrowverse shows, The Flash had the most disappointing season last time we met. It has a bad habit of creating a mystery that's easy to solve and then lying to us all season about it. We were all right the first time when we guessed who Savitar was. We were all right the first time when we guessed that the Mystery Girl was Barry and Iris's daughter — way back in the crossover!

The show has also struggled to create compelling non-speedster villains. The premise of The Thinker was interesting, but the execution was lackluster. The Thinker was so OP by the end of it and his defeat was wildly anticlimactic. My hope is that Cicada and The Flash are evenly matched this season. I'm also very excited to see Nora West-Allen in action. A child who through magic or time travel is the same age as her parents while interacting with them is a sci-fi/fantasy trope that I really enjoy, and Jessica Parker-Kennedy's casting is perfect. She's got the looks and mannerisms down to be convincing as a little bit of Barry and a little bit of Iris. I hope the writers use the most refreshing development on the show in recent memory to full effect and don't give us predictable storylines.

And please, more Killer Frost and less of stupid Ralph!



Black Lightning

In its freshman season, Black Lightning started strong. The socially conscious family drama just scratched the surface on topics including systemic racism, addiction, gang violence and homophobia, and I hope it gets to have hard conversations in depth.

This season, I really want to see the Pierce sisters at the forefront. I want to see Jennifer embracing her powers and suiting up. And I want to see the romance that was only hinted at between Anissa and Grace.

But most of all, I want to see it tie in with the other superhero shows on The CW. It truly pisses me off that the one superhero show on The CW not explicitly linked to the Arrowverse is the one with a predominantly black cast. It's hard for me to read that as anything other than the network not being convinced a black superhero would pull in the ratings to justify it linking to a wider arc.




Arrow

Oh, Arrow. You are my least favorite child. Don't get me wrong — I enjoy the show. But it borders on a hate-watch so, so often. Consider the fact that I'm a huge Olicity shipper, even though I absolutely hate Oliver. That's a microcosm of my feelings about the entire show.

I think it's a huge, stupid error to have Ricardo Diaz back for another season as the Big Bad, and I hope they wrap this up before the midseason, IF NOT SOONER. His kingpin storyline was interesting enough, but after the villainous mastery that was Prometheus, I have higher standards for my Arrow antagonists.

Speaking of antagonists, I think what I'm most interested in is seeing Earth-2 Laurel's redemption arc. I love a bad girl, but I really love a bad girl with nuance and complexity. Seeing her try to assume Earth-1 Laurel's identity to the public could go so many ways, and I hope the show devotes some time to that.



Supergirl

Supergirl is what I think of as baby woke. It's socially conscious in a hamfisted way. I never quite know how to feel about it or whether it's sincere or opportunistic, like when they changed the intro to have Kara refer to herself as "a refugee on this planet" or when they used aliens as a metaphor for the immigration debate but didn't really dig in to why immigrants shouldn't be vilified. Alex's coming out story was so beautifully done, but they misstepped by having a white actress of Italian descent portray her Latina love interest. I hope the show continues to explore progressive issues but in a more daring and intellectual way.

And aside from social issues, I was so upset that Mon-El was brought back and sucked up so much of the oxygen on the show. I want to see Kara be strong yet vulnerable but not falling apart over a man who doesn't deserve her. If Kara gets a love interest, I want it to be someone who is truly her match and who doesn't diminish her in any way. I want the same for Alex.

I also hope the secondary characters get their due. This show still has no idea what to do with James, and it needs to figure that out fast. They've really neglected J'onn, one of the best characters of the first season. As for Brainy, I really enjoyed him last season, and am eager to see how he fits into the main cast — and whether they ever get his makeup right.



Legends of Tomorrow

Legends is the best show in the Arrowverse. Yes, it had the weakest start. Then it found its winning formula: a bunch of misfits screwing things up for the better and having the best time in the world fighting bad guys and fixing time whoopsies of their own making. Its a show that had the confidence to have its heroes defeat an ancient demon by manifesting their combined powers as a giant Tickle-Me-Elmo ripoff. Your faves could never.

Granted, I didn't watch Constantine, and although I loved the character in his cameos on Arrow and Legends, I'm concerned that he's too much of a presence and will overpower the rest of the cast. The guy has too much charisma! However, I'm really excited to see Team Legends tackle magical threats. They could have a lot of fun with that. I'm sad to see Kid Flash go because I had long hoped for Wally to join the Legends, and he was a great fit on that team, so I hope he gets a dignified sendoff. I also hope to see lots of Ava and Sara smooches. Love that couple, and Sara deserves happiness.

The Civilians



Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Few shows have touched my heart the way this one has. I've never seen anything like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's unflinching and, yes, nuanced portrayal of mental illness. It's been able to show Rebecca's actions as wholly deplorable yet relatable, and it's managed to be a sensitive portrayal of borderline personality disorder, which is so misunderstood and rarely portrayed outside of thrillers in which the sufferer is the villain.

I trust this show 100 percent, but I was devastated that Rebecca went to prison at the end of last season. It felt like a rejection of everything the show said last season about Rebecca deserving compassion and redemption. What I hope for is a happy ending for Rebecca, one that honors the journey she's taken toward being a healthier person.



Riverdale

Riverdale is a fascinating pastiche of genres, a surreal drama existing in some alternate present, some parallel America that's dark and a little bit retro and where people are just way too attractive. I loved the first season, but the disjointed and nonsensical second season filled me with rage. You just know they had no idea who they were going to reveal to be the Black Hood, and the plot holes are glaring. And the back and forth enmity between Varchie and Bughead was exhausting and boring.

My hope for this season is that Riverdale gains a sense of focus. It has tons of potential, but twists still need to make sense. Characters and their motivations still need to make sense. This whole Legion of Doom storyline with Hiram could be awesome, or it could turn into a runny mess real quick. I hope the show grounds whatever plot(s) it explores in character relationships. And while we're talking about relationships, I need more Choni in my life. I am obsessed with Cheryl Blossom and I'm eager to see her become more developed.



Dynasty

Seriously, what is even happening on this show? I avoided this show like the plague until I got really bored one weekend and watched it on Netflix. Then I got hooked, and then there was that cliffhanger, and then Nathalie Kelley unceremoniously announced she wouldn't be back for Season 2. I can't even begin to imagine what they're going to do with that character and the "real" Cristal. I hate recastings, and I don't know that the soapy nature of this show will make this change less annoying.

My hope for this show is that it gets a little more ambitious. It is shallow for the sake of being shallow, and that's fun and all, but eventually I need to care about the characters and the stakes a little more.

And with that, let the live-tweeting begin! Are you excited for fall on The CW?

8/19/2018

Movie review: "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"



Like the protagonist of the new Netflix movie To All the Boys I've Loved Before, I, too, had a fake boyfriend in high school. Our relationship lasted an entire football game. We were trying to make his ex-girlfriend and my current crush, who were dating each other, jealous. But my ulterior motive was that I relished flirting in the bleachers with the boy I'd been obsessed with since seventh grade.

I hadn't made the connection between the plot of To All the Boys I've Loved Before and an experience from my formative years. That's probably because everything about that experience and the insane crush leading up to it is super hazy. That's the thing about getting old. 

But once I started watching, I was overwhelmed by the memory of how heightened everything was when I was a teenager. That's something I enjoy about YA novels even as a solidly 30-year-old woman. They remind me of a more vulnerable and open time where everything felt monumental. And it's refreshing that there are more YA movie adaptations lately that make use of the already intense emotional stakes of youth, without having to throw in tyrannical dystopian regimes or terminal cancer. Lest we forget 2018 also blessed us with  Love, Simon. It's not just YA, though. With films like the instantly iconic Set It Up, it seems like the rom-com genre is on the come up again.

Lara Jean Covey is a shy high schooler whose love life consists of reading romance novels and writing secret letters to her crushes. When her letters get out, she panics because one of them was written to her sister's boyfriend, Josh. So she agrees to a fake relationship with one of the other letter recipients, Peter, to avoid coming clean to Josh about her feelings. But in the grand tradition of romances, things don't exactly go according to plan.

This movie is so adorable and benefits from two charming leads with fantastic chemistry. It pays homage to the teen romantic comedies that came before it, from John Hughes movies (referenced outright, naturally) to hints of films like She's All That and Easy A. And although it feels fresh, it does lean on a lot of old tropes and only sort of tries to subvert the problematic ones, such as teen girls fighting over a boy.

But overall, I was delighted by this and really hope that there's a sequel, since there were two more books in the series this was adapted from and there was a major hint toward a sequel in the mid-credits scene. It's got romance, laughs and John Corbett as a hot single dad. So while this movie may be for the young adults, there's something for mommy, too.

6/03/2018

A family affair: "His Perfect Partner" by Priscilla Oliveras



Book: His Perfect Partner by Priscilla Oliveras (Matched to Perfection #1)

Release date: September 26, 2017

Pages: 330

Publisher: Zebra Shout

Genre/category: Contemporary romance

Rating: ★★★

A workaholic single dad and a professional dancer with family obligations and dreams of returning to New York hit it off in this PG romance.

I had a really hard time with this one, and I wanted to love it. I mean, Latinx heroes? Dancing? Adorable plot moppets? Come through, Priscilla. 



But I didn't connect with this one, mostly because it had elements that really turned me off. For one, this is the second romance that I've read recently where a sexy single dad's ex, who is never seen and never gets to speak for herself, is depicted as a selfish woman who abandoned her child. Lately, I don't have a lot of patience for men speaking for women, or for one-dimensional portrayals. You know what I'd love to read, what I'd find way more realistic and compelling? A romance where the ex is still present and yeah, co-parenting is challenging and awkward, but the new love interest and the ex are able to respect each other like mature adults for the sake of the children and because they both acknowledge that they're pretty cool chicks. I would read the crap out of that.

The other thing that bothered me is that Yaz, the heroine, offers to step in and provide free child care — and home-cooked meals! — when Tomas, the father of one of her dance students, gets really busy with an ad campaign and his nanny is unavailable. I get that we're supposed to see that Yaz is a compassionate person who genuinely cares for adorable plot moppet Maria. I also get that it's a convenient way to force the two main characters together. However, it feels like Yaz was really letting herself be taken advantage of. She was back home to care for her sick dad. Would someone in that position really be able to take on that additional responsibility for a stranger?

Then there was the central conflict, which could have been easily solved by the characters honestly addressing whether their career ambitions really were an obstacle to any relationship. It feels like this book was a lot of one character sacrificing things for another, and it didn't feel like an equitable partnership.

I did enjoy all the Spanish in the book, even though as a Spanish speaker, seeing the dialogue immediately repeated with an English translation got a little tedious.

All in all, this was a cute, fun read, and I love seeing a series that centers on Latinas. I might pick up the next book in the series, Her Perfect Affair, because the premise of that one sounds intriguing.