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Friday, December 22

Recently Read | September + October 2017

Friday, December 22

Continuing with my catch up!

What did I read during the months of September and October?

Top Read

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.

Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.

As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

The Female of the Species is another FYABC pick that I likely wouldn't have read otherwise. It's also not an easy novel—by any stretch—but I'm once again very glad I read it.

People who don't read a lot of YA novels don't often realize how well YA books can tackle timely, sensitive topics. The Female of the Species is a prime example of this, and McGinnis absolutely pulls no punches with the story. The main character, Alex, is a complicated anti-hero; you can't help but root for her even as you find out just how dark she can get. She grows a lot in the novel, too, and it makes her someone

It's also the kind of book that is hard to read, but I absolutely couldn't put it down.

Honorable mentions

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid's voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy's bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

Bardugo certainly knows how to weave a tale, and the ones included in this collection—which are the stories children growing up in the Grishaverse would have heard growing up—feel both fresh and familiar.

I also enjoy the feminist spin on the more familiar tales, and the many strong female characters who prove that ladies can save themselves quite well, thank you. And the illustrations of the stories (done by artist Sarah Kipin; see more of her work here), which get more detailed and change as the plot progresses, are fabulous companions to the tales.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re every girl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.

The Nowhere Girls is a brutal, powerful read that, unfortunately, is all too timely in our current political and social climate. It's not an easy read, but the characters are the kinds of heroes we need in YA these days.

The book is similar to The Female of the Species in theme, but it's easier to connect with The Nowhere Girls' main characters. I particularly appreciate how Reed wrote three main characters who weren't traditional YA MCs; one is chubby and plain, another is on the Autism spectrum, and the third is a lesbian and Latina. Additionally, Reed doesn't shy away from examining the many different sides ofthe situation, even including the viewpoints of the story's men's rights activists. (Which are SUPER gross, but do serve a purpose in progressing the plot. I promise they're not just there for sensationality's sake.)

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Love grows such strange things.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

I love how McLemore mixes magic and culture in her novels, and sincerely appreciate how she includes non-binary, non-straight characters without turning them into tropes. Reading Wild Beauty felt a little like getting lost in a dream, and I hated waking up at the end.

This is the seond year in a row that one of McLemore's novels has been one of my best books of the year, and I hope this trend continues for many years to come.

Other reads


The Dire King (Jackaby #4) by William Ritter | Invictus by Ryan Graudin | P.S. I Like You by Kasie West | Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6) by Sarah. J Maas


All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry | Rosemarked (Rosemarked #1) by Livia Blackburne | Spinning by Tillie Walden | Uncanny by Sarah Fine

Have you read any of these books? If not, what have you read lately that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, December 20

Call for Ideas | The 2018 Man Calendar

Wednesday, December 20

2017 was hard, y'all. (And here we all thought 2016 was the dumpster fire to end all dumpster fires. We were so young and naive.)

But Christmas is almost here, and that means 2018 isn't far behind. Regardless of where we're at right now, the start of a new year brings with it hope and a chance for a fresh start. And what better way to celebrate such an occasion than introduce a new edition of the Man Calendar?

I've been making a list of worthy contenders for the new version, but am always open to suggestions, and you all have impeccable taste.

As a refresher, here's what 2017 looked like:

Is there someone you think I should absolutely include? Leave their name in the comments. Photographic evidence to back up your claim isn't required, but it is appreciated.

Look for the whole shebang in January!

Monday, December 18

Recently Read | July + August 2017

Monday, December 18

In the last edition of this series, I voiced the thought that 2017 has beena year of playing catch-up. That was, apparently, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, as it's December, and I'm just now posting my July–August reads. (September–October to come soon, too.)

What did I read during the months of July and August?

Top Read

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

They tell me that my memory will never be the same, that I'll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I'm writing to remember.

Sammie was always a girl with a plan: graduate at the top of her class and get out of her small town as soon as humanly possible. Nothing will stand in her way—not even a rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly start to steal her memories and then her health. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie's notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. It's where she'll record every perfect detail of her first date with longtime crush, Stuart—a brilliant young writer who is home for the summer. And where she'll admit how much she's missed her childhood best friend, Cooper, and even take some of the blame for the fight that ended their friendship.

Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it's not the life she planned.

I read The Memory Book for the Forever Young Adult Book Club (see if there's one in your area!), and wasn't sure what to expect going in. I mean, I'd read the synposis, and the FYA review, but neither prepared me for the gut punch of the actual novel. Y'all—there were tears.

This is one of those books that I had to sit for a while after reading and let myself take it all in. It's equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, swoony and silly. Avery's characters feel very real, and having Sammie be the main character, even while her situation is deteriorating drastically, is unique; she's an unreliable narrator, but Avery doesn't make it clear just how much Sammie's "changed the story" until the very end.

It's a hard book, and maybe one that I wouldn't have read had I not "had" to for FYABC. But I'm really glad I did!

Honorable mentions

Every Move (Every #3) by Ellie Marney

After the dramatic events of London, a road trip back to her old home in Five Mile sounds good (in theory) to Rachel Watts, with her brother Mike in the driving seat. But when Mike picks up his old buddy—the wildly unreliable Harris Derwent—things start to go south.

Back in Melbourne, Rachel’s ‘partner in crime’, James Mycroft, clashes with Harris, and then a series of murders suggest that the mysterious Mr Wild—Mycroft’s own personal Moriarty—is hot on their tail. When tragedy strikes, Rachel and Mycroft realise they’ll have to recruit Harris and take matters into their own hands …

I've mentioned this series before, I think, but I can't say enough good things about Ellie Marney's Every books. Every Move is the final book in the trilogy, and it bring a close to the high-stakes action mixed with crazy hot chemistry the series is known for.

In addition to some serious swoon and the ability to make you afraid for her main characters, Marney has a great gift for wolrd building. I've never been to Australia, but I feel like I have a good grasp of what to expect when/if I get to visit. But if I don't run into hot, tortured dudes solving mysteries, I will be a little disappointed.

Roar (Stormheart #1) by Cora Carmack

In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.

Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.

To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.

Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.

She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.

Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

I'm a sucker for fantasy novels that star strnge female characters who don't realize what power they truly hold until later in the book. That sort of plot can turn really trope-y, fast, but with Roar Carmack did a great job of creating something fresh that didn't lean too heavily on all the similar stories that have come before but also didn't shy away from what makes those stories great. In this case: magic, action, and a good dose of swoon.

I'm also a fan of the unique form of magic Cormack has created for her world, and the way she created a "found family" out of a group of characters who otherwise might not seem to work well together. I love it when outsiders find their place. I'm definitely looking forward to future books in this series.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

This is the second book I've read by Zappia, and she once again impressed me with her ability to create complex characters with "issues" who feel real, and not like stereotypes or plot devices. I also love her inclusion of fandom themes.

Additionally, the relationship between Eliza and Wallace is a unique one that stands out amongst YA relationships. It's a slow burn, but totally worth sticking around for.

Other reads


The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Katherine Arden | Ready Player One by Ernest Cline | Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo


Blacklight Express (Railhead #2) by Philip Reeve | Shadow Run (Kaitan Chronicles #1) by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller | Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee | What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy


Of Jenny and the Aliens by Ryan Gebhart | Secondborn (Secondborn #1) by Amy A. Bartol

Have you read any of these books? If not, what have you read lately that you'd recommend?

Friday, December 15

Haiku Revieu | Thor: Ragnarok

Friday, December 15
Thor: Ragnarok

The end of Asgard?
Waititi's Thor is stellar
Oh hai, Loki <31

Imprisoned, the almighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

When I first heard that Taika Waititi was going to direct the third Thor movie, my response was: "huh." I didn't love What We Do in the Shadows, and wasn't familiar with much of his other work, but I knew it was quirky—and a quirky Thor film would be very far removed from Kenneth Branagh's Thor. I didn't see how a more comedic Thor would really work with the preceding two, but I understood that the MCU powers-that-be wanted to move it closer to the feel of Guardians of the Galaxy. After seeing the first trailer, however, I was more excited than hesitant. And after seeing the movie, I am utterly and completely sold.

I LOVED Thor: Ragnarok. It's far and away the best of the Thor movies, and it easily took a spot in my top 5 MCU movies. Waititi found a perfect balance between silly humor and serious moments, and the changes he made to familiar characters only made them better. Chris Hemsworth's comedic timing shines; Hulk actually as a personality; Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie is flawed and fabulous; and Tom Hiddleston's mastery of the mischievous is yet again perfect. (Side note: THAT BLACK SUIT THO.) The addition of Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster was delightful, regardless of the fact that the character was pretty much just Goldblum being Goldblum. Cate Blanchett was wonderfully over-the-top dramatic as Hela; it would be really hard not to want to follow her charismatic brand of evil. And Waititi's Korg totally stole the show. The volume of quotable dialogue in the movie—and eventual volume of GIFfable moments—is second-to-none.

Watching Hulk and Thor battle it out while being the Grandmaster's pawns was so much fun. Prior to this movie, I wouldn't have thought they'd work so well together without the rest of the Avengers, but Ragnarok has a surprising buddy comedy vibe that worked well with all the action. Unsurprisingly, I also adored the amount of Loki that Waititi graced us with, as well as the genuine moments of brotherly love/brotherly hate between Thor and Loki. Loki's a complex character, and I an thankful that Waititi took the time to examine his anti-hero (not villain) aspects.

I will say that the Hela/Ragnarok storyline was a little rushed, and her defeat a little too easy. I also worry about Loki backsliding from his "I want to be a good guy but just can't help myself sometimes" new outlook on life thanks to that scene with the [REDACTED] close to the end. But that's just me picking nits.

I can't recommend seeing this movie enough. Give me a shout if you're heading to a theater—I'd happily go with you!

Check it out:

1 This is pronounced "heart," in this usage, not "less than three."

Wednesday, December 13

Haiku Revieu | Blade Runner 2049

Wednesday, December 13
Blade Runner 2049

Pretty and quiet
Hey girl, we made a sequel
Ford is in it, trust

A young blade runner's discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who's been missing for thirty years.

Disclaimer: It's been a while since I saw this movie, so this review might be less articulate and thoughtful than it could be.

Until the night before we were going to see Blade Runner 2049, I'd never seen the original Blade Runner all the way through. I know, GASP. I'd seen parts and pieces, and read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the Phillip K. Dick novel the movie's based on), so I knew the gist. But watching it right before seeing the sequel was a great idea; I wasn't nearly as lost as I might have been, and actually understood some of the hidden nods.

Blade Runner 2049 was a visually stunning movie, and really feels like an extension of the original, even all these years later. It uses similar technology, even though technology has changed drastically; I really appreciated the attempts to make it match, even thought they could have made everything much more "cool." The dated tech fits with the dystopian nature of the film. The sets and costumes also match well. The movie's treatement of women is somewhat problematic, but it too fits with the original. (Not making excuses, mind you. Just stating facts.)

Ryan Gosling makes for a good Deckard ancestor: he's quiet, reserved, and brooding, just like Harrison Ford's character in the original. It was also great to see Ford reprise the role, but Old Deckard kind of just seemed like Old Harrison Ford? Jared Leto was crazy, as expected, and creepy as heck as Niander Wallace. (Side note: I can't even imagine having to work with Leto.)

The plot held some twists and turns, which kept me interested in what is a very long time to sit in a theater for a movie that's not fast-paced. Honestly, my biggest complaint is the length of the film, and that's only because about halfway through, I found myself thinking about how long I'd been sitting there and the fact that Ford had yet to show up. It took me out of the viewing experience.

If you're a fan of the original or quiet science fiction films, I'd recommend giving this a go. If you find yourself thinking about when Ford will show up, please let me reassure you that it does eventually happen.

Check it out:

Monday, December 11

Haiku Revieu | American Assassin

Monday, December 11
American Assassin

Poor acting and plot
This movie is terrible
Don't bother with it

After the death of his girlfriend at the hands of terrorists, Mitch Rapp is drawn into the world of counterterrorism, mentored by tough-as-nails former U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. Stan Hurley.

Disclaimer: It's been a while since I saw this movie, so this review might be less articulate and thoughtful than it could be.

I went to see American Assassin on a whim—a friend bought tickets and invited us. I'd heard some friends rave about the movie, and although it's not the typical kind of film I go see in the theater, I was willing to give it a chance. Plus, we didn't have other plans that evening.

From pretty much the very beginning of the film, I found myself cringing. The movie is overtly "AMERICA, FUCK YEAH" and leans into the "brown people are the enemy" trope in a really lazy way. It tries to circumvent said trope with the actual villains of the film, who are—spoiler alert—white American men, but by the time it gets around to that reveal, the damage is already done. The action sequences are typical and the plot obvious. Had it leaned into the cheese, I might have liked it more, but this movie takes itself very seriously.

It was really hard for me to take Dylan O'Brien seriously in the main character role. He's supposed to be a "super spy," but either he's not a great actor or the character is just a really crappy spy. And then there's Taylor Kitsch, whose appeal I've never understood. (Don't @ me.) Also, poor guy's hairline is flat out running from his eyebrows, and thinking about that had me distracted for most of the movie. (Which, maybe, was actually a good thing?) The other characters are either ridiculously over dramatic—in the case of Michael Keaton's Stan Hurley—or flat stereotypes.

As the credits rolled, our friends and we looked at each other, and the one who'd bought the tickets actually apologized. (In case you're wondering, we're still friends.) If you didn't catch this one in theaters, good on ya.

Check it out:

Friday, December 8

Haiku Revieu | The Hitman's Bodyguard

Friday, December 8
The Hitman's Bodyguard

Deadpool and Windu
They drop the f-bomb a lot
Good "odd couple" laughs

The world's top bodyguard gets a new client, a hit man who must testify at the International Court of Justice. They must put their differences aside and work together to make it to the trial on time.

Disclaimer: It's been a while since I saw this movie, so this review might be less articulate and thoughtful than it could be.

The Hitman's Bodyguard is one of those movies that comes out of nowhere and quietly goes in and out of theaters. It's a bit surprising, considering the caliber of talent in it—Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek—but I don't remember seeing much in the way of promotion before getting an email about attending a pre-release screening.

Reynolds being one of Colt's faves, we couldn't pass up the opportunity. And we both enjoyed the movie, perhaps more than we thought we would. Reynolds and Jackson played delightfully well off of each other, and their quippy dialogue was a lot of fun. Hayek's character was quite far removed from other roles I've seen her play, and hearing her curse up a storm while sporting a lot of (prison?) tattoos was great.

The plot was pretty standard for the sort of thriller/action movie that it was, but it had a few twists that made it enjoyable.

If you see this one airing on TV at some point, I recommend giving it a watch. (Though, if it's on cable, it might lose some of its magic with all the curse words dubbed out ...)

Check it out:

Thursday, December 7

2017 Curtismas Card Exchange

Thursday, December 7

It's December again, which means that it's time for another Curtismas Card Exchange!

For the past six years, I've swapped holiday cards with friends from all over the world. Receiving—and sending—holiday cards is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.

If you'd like to receive a card from The Murtis1 this holiday season, please fill out the form below. Non-US participants welcome!

And if you're willing and able to send a card to us in return, we'd love it! Just add your email address to the bottom of the form and I'll send you our mailing address.

I hope to see your name on the list!

1 The Murtis = Murray (my maiden name) + Curtis. It's a nickname that we were given before we got married, and it stuck.

Friday, December 1

Hey December | 2017 Man Calendar

Friday, December 1

Download this page of the 2016 Man Calendar for personal use by clicking on the image; it will open in a new window. Right/control click to save it. Then print the page on letter-size card stock, and trim it to 6"x9".

Desktop version:

Find the rest of the 2017 Man Calendar here.