Each month, we look back over the media we loved in the previous month, from books to film to video games and more.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland — Dread Nation is a great sci-fi adventure story with an interesting premise. Since she was young, Jane McKeene has been trained to be an 'Attendant' at Miss Preston's School of Combat. Taken from her home at the Rose Hill plantation, Jane is educated, along with other African American girls, to protect rich, white women from 'shamblers'; the dead who suddenly began to rise, and infect others, during the American civil war.
Justina Ireland sets her SFF novel in an alternate historical timeline heavily influenced by the real American history and politics of the American Civil War and Lincoln's 13th amendment to the constitution; slavery has been outlawed, but racial inequality remains. Systems similar to slavery keep black Americans impoverished, and under supervision from white citizens. African Americans, like Jane, and Native Americans, are given 'freedom' for military purposes, but are very far from being truly independent. This worldbuilding adds multiple layers of interest to Dread Nation. The reader engages with racial inequality in a historical sense, as well as on a speculative plane as Ireland sets out how racial inequality might function even in the middle of a zombie uprising. And the book pushes readers to also engage with racism in a contemporary sense as Ireland shows the reality behind a certain established version of American history, which informs the way many people think about race in present day America.
Jane, the narrator, is snarky, practical, brave, and very aware of how the world works. And I enjoyed seeing the enemies to friends storyline develop between her and Kate. Plus there's a second act switch which keeps the reader on their toes, and an intriguing final twist at the end. A great pick for anyone looking for a new kind of zombie novel.
Friends From College — It's been ages since I binged a comedy but I got through the first series of Friends From College in about three days. The main reason I wanted to watch it is because my fav Cobie Smulders plays Lisa; one half of a couple who are moving back to New York in order to start a family and, as a consequence, start spending way more time with their friend group from college. This is more than slightly awkward as Lisa's husband, Ethan, has been having a long running affair with their other married friend Sam, and she is less than pleased to hear about his return. This, along with the group's strong, perhaps slightly foolish, desire to bond and reconnect, results in a ton of funny, improbable set pieces which made me laugh a lot, and remember that I just really like comedies with jokes way more than comedies full of awkward silences. And along the way, I came to really care about some of the characters, particularly Lisa, Nick, and Fred Savage's agent character Max.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse — I received several strong recommendations for this book, and they were entirely correct. A page-turning fantasy adventure story, set in an uncomfortably plausible near future, grounded in Native American mythology (specifically Navajo), and with a compelling cast of characters. For all this, I can forgive a plot that's a bit by-the-numbers. So I join in the chorus of recommenders. Also, I really want fanart of Maggie and Kit all glammed up for their visit to the bar, yes please.
The Good Place, Season 3 — I watched the season as it aired; the finale was on January 24th, and it broke my heart in all the right ways. As usual with this show, the season took us on a wild ride that changed up the entire premise at least three times, while remaining at its bedrock a story about ethics and what it means to be a good person. Still my favorite show on television. Renewed for Season 4, hooray!
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — Let's face it, you're not surprised to see this on here, nor should you be, because it's SO GOOD. Miles Morales is Spider-Man! So are a bunch of other people from different multiverses, who are accidentally pulled into his dimension and have to get back! And it's all wrapped up in a story about family and growing up! It's a gorgeous film; the different art styles fit together really well, and comic book framing works really well both visually and narratively. And the story itself broke my heart, because Miles is trying to do his best by his family, his friends, and the world, and it's so much. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse balances the humour and the serious parts of the narrative really well (although there were parts that squarely hit my embarrassment squick, which was always going to be a hazard.), but it manages to be a film that tells the origin of Spider-Man multiple times, in multiple ways, and manages to keep it interesting and relevant the entire time! I loved it.
Witchmark by C. L. Polk — Oh no, I loved it. Miles Singer, an army doctor turned psychiatrist is treating returned soldiers with PTSD – until a dying man charges him with solving his murder. It's so satisfying – the mystery is compelling, like full on "I just lost three days of my life and immediately started rereading the book to pick up the clues better" levels of compelling, and I may have raptor screeched about both the romance and the sibling relationships that we get to see here. The world-building is superb, and the way it gets revealed and built up made me so happy! ... Plus, I spent most of the book viscerally angry at the secondary characters, and I was supposed to be! It's been so long since I got to be angry at a book for the reasons that the author wanted me to be angry, and I'm so glad C. L. Polk brought that joy back to me. Basically, I adored it, and I am desperate for the sequel to come out now!
Any Old Diamonds by KJ Charles — When I tell you that KJ Charles' latest has the son of a duke hiring a jewel thief to rob his father, what I mean is that it has EVERYTHING that I love. Jewel heists! Rogues and gentlemen falling in love! Twists that had me yelling at my ereader! Tragic backstory and terrible coping mechanisms! Complicated family relationships! It's bleak as anything for huge swathes of it, but it was exactly my thing.