The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

I cannot say enough good things about The Gentleman. I want to hand out copies to strangers.

The characters are brilliant. Lizzie and Vivien are my new heroes. Lionel is an actual mess. I want to wrap Lancaster in a blanket. The devil is straight out of a Terry Pratchett novel (and the footnotes! I missed footnotes).

I’ve already fan-casted the movie and written a script in my brain. It’s going to be amazing.

Favorite quote:

I try to be indignant, but there is a mischievous voice in the back of my head which suggests I’m having rather a good time. (page 186)

Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

Cabal’s at it again.

Taking place a short time after Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, Cabal finds himself absconding with an assumed identity aboard the maiden voyage of an Aeroship. (So…probably steampunk, then?)

Murder, mayhem, embarrassing dressing gowns. The best thing about The Detective (as it seemed like a standalone story and not part of the arc (as of now)) were little throw away lines that hint at Cabal’s past exploits: “Cabal could not have been more horrified if she’d pulled off her face to reveal a gaping chasm of eternal night from which glistening tentacles coiled and groped. That had already happened to him once in his life, and he wasn’t keen to repeat the experience.” (98) and “Cabal was filled with a presentiment and a strange foreboding that he hadn’t felt since the last time he’d watched the nightmare corpse city of R’lyeh rise, effulgent with the ineffable and fetid with fish, from the depths of the Pacific.” (123). We won’t even discuss the paragraph on 196 when Cabal made my heart hurt again.

I mean. C’mon.

Favorite quote:

“Oh?” said Zoruk. He sounded worn out and depressed. “And who would choose who lives and who dies?”

I would, ideally, thought Cabal. ( page 79)

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor killed me again. I don’t know what I was expecting.

I mean, I knew she would. So.

Worth it.

Favorite quote:

And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can. (page 135)

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal is the Deadpool-esque anti-hero of Victorian times (Victorian? Steampunk?).

He’s pithy, sarcastic, and in Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, he’s neck-deep in a deal with the devil. Agreeing to trade 100 “innocent” souls in return for his own previously looted soul, Cabal finds himself in charge of a traveling carnival. There are madmen (actually), not-particularly-distressed damsels, suspicious officers of the law, and a young child’s essay. Oh, and a swoon-worthy undead brother.

And just when you think he’s got what he wanted (kind of), there’s a whole thing at the end in the basement and even though he was pretty much an ass the entire novel…your heart just hurts for him. Unbelievable.

Favorite quote:

Everybody comes to the fair to have a good time in the full expectation of being ripped off at some point. All that was different here was the scale of the loss. (page 72)

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Raise your hand if you forgot horror novels don’t necessarily have happy endings.

I don’t know why I just assumed it would? It didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the storyline and the characters and how real everything felt. The version of Hex I read is an American translation and apparently the ending in the original Dutch was different (I have to know! But I can’t find anything!) so…maybe…not so awful?

I mean, it was great and horrific and chilling and again, the whole thing felt a little too realistic, but I thought maybe everything would be okay?

It wasn’t.

Favorite quote:

They looked like people who knew they had done something dreadful, something irreversible…and something they could easily live with. (page 254)

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I don’t usually pick out novels without a sci-fi slant but Kiersten White recommended We Are Okay on Twitter and at this point…I will read whatever she says.

We Are Okay is a quick read about loss and running away. Unless you’ve experienced a sudden (or not-so-sudden) loss, it might not resonate. Mostly because your brain kind of goes offline after a shakeup like that. So while most people would think “Hmm…she loses her grandfather and runs away to college with nothing but a debit card and the clothes on her back and doesn’t tell anyone she knows what she’s done” might seem far-fetched.

But, if you get it, you recognize that you find yourself doing a bunch of weird shit you really can’t explain.

Favorite quote:

“How it all started was the first day of English, when Brother John had us analyze some stupid poem, and you raised your hand and said something so smart about it that suddenly the poem didn’t seem stupid anymore. And I knew that you were the kind of person I wanted to know. But what I didn’t know yet was that you can tell a girl you want to hang out with her because she said something smart. So I looked for an excuse to talk to you, and I found one.” (page 49)

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

I’m going to sell All Our Wrong Todays as Tony Stark meets that-kind-of-loser-you-went-to-high-school-with-who-wasn’t-exactly-terrible-but-usually-did-stupid-things-to-be-funny-but-you-kind-of-doubted-he’d-get-anywhere-in-life.

First off, the pacing of the novel is great. I felt physically exhausted after finishing it, like I was making Tom’s stupid decisions right along with him. And maybe it was because I read it all in one day and finished it at 12:30 at night, but that’s beside the point.

Sciency like The Martian but without dragging, All Our Wrong Todays blends time travel with alternate realities. The protagonist Tom is a mess, for sure, but he’s a relatable mess. A familiar mess. A mess we may have all been at one time or another.

At least we didn’t have access to time machines.

Favorite quote:

Every person you meet introduces the accident of that person to you. (page 15)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas should rocket to the top of your Required Reading list. It’s timely, quick-paced, and gut-wrenching but not without hope. It’s not preachy, it’s real. This stuff happens, is happening, and if it seems unbelievable or impossible, you are very, very lucky.

Everyone is going to take away something different from Starr’s story. It’s hard to say “You should read this book because ______” when all I want to say is “You should read this book BECAUSE.”

Favorite quote:

I almost point out that I get a scholarship too, but nah. She’d become the first person in history to hit someone through a phone. (page 118)

 

Hawkeye

Hawkeye doesn’t get nearly enough play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Don’t get me wrong, Jeremy Renner is 100% perfect to play the world’s most begrudging archer but until he gets his own movie (*crosses fingers* pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease) he’s going to fade into the background. Thank goodness for these comics.

We can’t all get selected for Project Rebirth or survive the Red Room or get arc reactors put in our chests, but like most of the lesser-known Marvel heroes, we can all practice and get really, really good at something. Clint Barton isn’t an enhanced individual, he put in the hard work and hours to become a superhero. He earned it.

It’s not like Barton’s origin story isn’t interesting. He survived an abusive home, joined the circus, fell hopelessly in love with Natasha Romanova (who hasn’t) (they’re just bros now, I guess) (whatever), saved a dog, AND he wears hearing aids. There’s your true superhero: average-could-be-anybody-Joe runs around with the Avengers. That’s awesome.

(As far as the MCU goes, I get it. I would have also gotten it if Barney and Pizza Dog were living at the secret farm in the middle of nowhere. But my headcanon is that Linda Cardellini’s character from New Girl (Abby Day) got in trouble and was rescued (or apprehended) by Hawkeye and became Laura Barton.)

The layouts and panels of the comics are so clever, especially when Clint isn’t wearing his hearing aids. And anytime Pizza Dog wanders off on his own. Also, Kate Bishop is the best.

Favorite quote:

Barton: “Guys, better go gessomemore guys.”

[Two hours later, tied up and kidnapped]

Barton: “Great! You got more guys.”

For Abigail, year two

I’ve spent all week thinking about what I want to say this year. Something about loss and love and family and all that good stuff Hugh Grant mentions at the beginning of Love Actually. The problem is…loss is such a fucked up thing to deal with. There’s no right or wrong way to cope, no manual (unfortunately) there’s just a day later and then a week later and, miraculously, a year later and then suddenly, two.

I have twenty-six years of Abigail stories. Some of them I’ll share willingly: days at the farm, nights in college, hospital rooms. Some will end up blended into fiction—anecdotes, quotes, quirks—you can find them already if you know where to look. Some stories I’ll never tell.

But here’s one I will share and it’s important so pay attention:

In November of 2014, Abigail texted me asking if I had Snapchat. I responded I didn’t—memory is such a weird thing because for absolutely no reason I remember that exchange very clearly—I typed out my response and thought to myself, “I should call her.” I didn’t. And I wouldn’t get another chance.

I think about that at least once a week.

I didn’t have anything important to share, not that it mattered. I don’t know if Abigail would have told me how bad things were (I doubt it) but still. I didn’t call.

I hate talking on the phone and I’m even worse at responding to texts and emails. If I don’t answer immediately, it’ll be at least a week…if ever. I’m not the only one. We remind ourselves and it just doesn’t happen and we understand when others do it to us because we’ve all been there. The world, in all its cruelty sometimes, continues spinning and life goes on.

So, here’s the thing: if you’re thinking about calling someone, reaching out, do it.

Call your friends. Your aunts and uncles and cousins. Definitely call your parents. Absolutely call your grandparents. Shit, call your enemies just to confuse them. There will be a last time, a last chance. You’ll look back and think, “Why didn’t I just call?” and you won’t have a good answer. Even if you don’t know what to say, tell them that—“I don’t know why I’m calling”—I guarantee you’ll find something to chat about. Text, if that’s your jam. Swamp their inbox, their snapchat, their Instagram, their Facebook, who cares. Just do it.

I am 400% not the role model for dealing with loss but I’m learning in fits and starts. So take a lesson from me: pick up the phone.