March Staff Picks

Nate Ragolia

Poor Things

Released in December in the U.S., Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film, Poor Things, might just be the best film of 2023. It’s a heartfelt, deeply feminist coming-of-age take on the literary classic Frankenstein that shows off Emma Stone’s awe-inspiring acting range, while getting some brilliant performances from Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe (among a stacked cast). It features a globe-hopping, eye-catching journey as protagonist Bella Baxter chases her young curiosity to find out who she really is, and who she really wants to be.

Fair warning, this film features a lot of sex and nudity, but does so while subverting the male gaze and bringing sincere, patriarchy-undermining humanity into every frame. It’s a stylish, strange, bold film that may rub some viewers the wrong way, even as it’s one of Lanthimos’ most accessibly human films. We all, ultimately, want to know who we are, what we’re made of, and why we’re here… and Poor Things hits every note in an undeniably unique and heartfelt way. Plus, there’s a chicken with a pig’s head in here, so if you’re into that kind of weird, this film is EVEN MORE for you.

Sara Santistevan

This is My Body: Poems by a Teen Trans Fem

It’s rare to find a teen poet confident in both their poetic voice and artistic mission. That’s why I was so excited to get my hands on Madeline Aliah’s debut chapbook This Is My Body: Poems by a Teen Trans Fem.

In the book’s forward, Aliah makes her goal clear: “This little book is an offering of 18 poems as candles for a birthday I didn’t expect to reach. I hope it’s a light for those who need it. I hope it helps the non-trans reader understand what it’s like to be someone like me.” Indeed, Aliah’s debut is a stunning example of how vulnerability can not only comfort those who identify with the speaker’s experience, but can also serve as a radical form of advocacy and education.

This book is thoughtfully divided into three sections (“The Body Counterfeit,” “The Body Politic,” and “The Body Manifest,”) which explore Aliah’s coming-of-age and relationship with her body. Some of my favorite lines beautifully capture the narrative arc that unfolds throughout these sections. Consider the shift in the speaker’s autonomy from the couplet in “I Woke Up Twice This Morning” to that of “The Pronoun Game,” respectively:

“My second morning body is an oven / My first morning body is a dove.”

“I/Me/Mine / are dangerous pronouns to choose / because choosing me makes me dangerous.”

The choice Aliah eventually makes, and the power she has to make that choice, is fully realized in one of the collection’s final poems, “Trans Risk.” Despite the title, Aliah sees no risk in her choice to become herself, and instead challenges the reader by asking “Does it bother you / that womanhood is a gift / worth dying for?”

I’m always stunned when I remember that Aliah had these revelations, and captured them so powerfully in her writing, as a teenager. If I were you, I’d be keeping an eye on Aliah’s future career as a poet (and bragging that I knew of her before she was famous)!

Marizel Malan

Prelude to Ecstasy

Though I’m a tad late, I have been absolutely obsessed with the band The Last Dinner Party, and their debut album, Prelude to Ecstasy. They’re currently touring, and I’m incredibly jealous of every single person who gets to experience them live.

The woman and nonbinary-led rock band has taken over every playlist I make. I’ve been listening to their album nonstop. Even though it was released in February, it’s a staple of my March listening habits. In fact, I’ve barely listened to anything else this month! This is one of those rare albums where I don’t want to skip a single song. The lyrics are incredible and they tell exceptional stories in each of their pieces. I am an absolute sucker for indie bands, and The Last Dinner Party is no exception. With the release of singles prior to the album, I was expecting some great music, but they completely surpassed all expectations. While I do have a soft spot for the single “My Lady of Mercy“—which sounds great in-between all the other songs on the album—”Beautiful Boy” has quickly become my favorite. If you enjoy unique rhythms, incredible voices, and gorgeous imagery, definitely check out The Last Dinner Party!

Dominic Loise

Resident Alien

To help get through the winter months and my seasonal depression, I’m rewatching the previous seasons of Resident Alien. The third season started dropping new weekly episodes on Valentine’s Day, and it was a better gift than a box of chocolates could ever be for me.

Resident Alien is a sci-fi action comedy on SyFy (streaming on Peacock and Netflix) about an extraterrestrial’s failed attempt to destroy Earth and become its protector. The show is also explores what it means to be human. Alien Harry struggles as he pretends to be an Earthing and learns to not be an outsider. He also learns that being human involves more than just our outer appearance as the show provides deep, complex layers to the citizens of fictitious Patience, CO.

I was familiar with the Dark Horse comic book series the TV show is based on, but the show has its own tone. That tone is built around the casting of Alan Tudyk as alien Harry. And, even though our interactions with the citizens of Patience, CO are filtered through the arrival of an alien, I find myself fully invested in each character’s presence and personality in this ensemble show and look forward to hanging out with everyone in town on my weekly viewing visits with Resident Alien.

February Staff Picks

Dominic Loise

Mychal Threets

Mychal Threets, who won this year’s I Love My Librarian award, is having a moment, but the patrons of the Solano County Library will hopefully feel Mychal’s influence and impact for years to come. I am thoroughly enjoying the openness and warm, welcoming energy Mychal brings to social media. Mychal has a soft, Blues Clues-host vibe when discussing what’s going on in the library and how it’s a space for appreciation of others.

Around the time of the award, Mychal was talking with Oliver James on social media. Oliver’s account centers around teaching himself to read as an adult living with OCD. I very much appreciated their discussion of literacy and engagement with books. I also grew up with a learning disability and eventually went on to work with a literacy organization and marry a librarian. Mychal is equally open about mental health awareness and announced his last day at Solano County Library would be on March 1st to prioritize mental health and work with his mental health check-in team. I equally appreciate this openness as someone who also left their full-time job to prioritize their mental health, and I am in his corner as he puts his health first.

There’s been a lot of discussion about banning books in libraries lately. Growing up, I had to work around the stereotypical shushing librarians to find space in a room I didn’t feel invited to, especially as someone from an “ethnic city” family living in the suburbs during the seventies. I celebrate great librarians like Mychal and literacy spaces because I know what it was like growing up within a conservative curated collection. A real librarian doesn’t see their patrons to check out books but makes sure they are seen on the shelves. Visit Mychal Threets online then stop by your own local library.

Credit @ I Love Libraries

Ari Iscariot

Hades

For the past few months I have been on a button-mashing, finger-bashing, and skull-smashing rampage through the roguelite dungeon crawler, Hades. This comes as a surprise, because I’m notorious for abandoning games that require dying to advance to higher levels. Hades is no exception to this rule. But what makes Hades brilliant is the way it uses its death mechanic: when you die, you advance the story. 

The protagonist of Hades is the fire-stepping Prince of the Underworld, Zagreus. His mission is to fight his way out of his father’s realm. This realm is rife with ghostly enemies: vexatious witches, club-wielding wretches, and even revered heroes from the surface world. And with such formidable opponents, Zagreus dies. A lot. When you perish, you return to the game’s starting point, the House of Hades, a venerable stone mansion populated by Zagreus’s closest friends and family. With each successive death, these characters reveal to you their deepest desires and their most secret fears. And Zagreus reveals more of himself: his contentious relationship with his father, his outsider status among the denizens of the Underworld, and the secret that drove him to attempt escape—he seeks a long-lost mother he has never met. 

There’s hardly an emotional motivation more compelling than this, a child who longs for love and acceptance. It is a core that keeps you fighting even as the game slaughters you again and again. “I have to get this guy to his mom.” Eventually, you do. And it is glorious. 

Asma Al-Masyabi

Mr. Villain’s Day Off

Mr. Villain’s Day Off poses a relatively simple question as its premise: what does a lead villain trying to take over the world do on his days off? The answer is—he tries to enjoy them to their fullest, and, in turn, slowly grows to appreciate Earth and its strange inventions and inhabitants. 

Called only the General, our main character is the antagonist to Super Ranger-like heroes—until he’s off the clock. He then changes into his comfy turtleneck and trench coat and strives to avoid work at all costs. This new slice-of-life anime has already managed to capture my heart. There’s nothing more relaxing than watching someone attempt to strike that perfect work-life balance while reveling in the small moments and details that make living life worth it. Whether it’s watching pandas at the zoo, ordering latte art of said pandas, or working up the courage to eat a limited-edition panda meat bun, the General does it with unmatched determination that I can’t help but find endearing. 

Another thing about this show, it is unbearably cute. The General’s successes, and failures, have me smiling throughout the whole episode. Cute girls doing cute things is a popular genre in anime, but I think that cute guys doing cute things should be just as standard. Adults, and particularly men, aren’t often shown enjoying their life in media, and I love the way that Mr. Villain’s Day Off pushes back against that.   

Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson

Schitt’s Creek

I’m probably not the first person to recommend you Schitt’s Creek. I’m probably not the second. You’re probably thinking, “Ugh, I know, I know, everyone says I would love Schitt’s Creek, but I watched the first episode/handful of episodes/season and I just wasn’t hooked.”  

Dear reader, listen to me—listen to me, I beg of you. I know you. I see you. I was you. It’s no mistake Schitt’s Creek fans are constantly pushing the show on unsuspecting sitcom enjoyers, wheedling and insisting that you’ll love it with all the brimming sentimentality of a Canadian grandma wearing a pride pin. It really, really is that good. 

Schitt’s Creek follows the wealthy Rose family who loses everything and has no choice but to move to a crusty motel in the middle of nowhere. Over six seasons, Schitt’s Creek demonstrates the power of character-driven storytelling; what begins as a comedy satirizing the idiosyncrasies of the uber-rich unfolds into a beautiful journey of personal growth, love, and family. You’ll see yourself and your own family in the Roses—Alexis and David Rose have the realest sibling dynamic I’ve seen on TV, and Moira and Johnny’s marriage has a verisimilitude that could only be achieved by the decades-long friendship between Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. Real-life father-and-son duo, Eugene and Dan Levy invite the viewer to a more hopeful world—one where queer acceptance is a given, love is precious, and everyone is good at heart. You’ll cry by the end, guaranteed. 

Jazzmin Joya

Wonka

I absolutely love watching movies! It is one of my all-time favorite ways to pass time. After quarantining, I started going to the movie theaters more often, really taking advantage of their discount Tuesday’s.

During this routine, I watched the new film adaptation of Willy Wonka, starring Timothée Chalamet, Keegan Michael-Key, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant, Rowan Atkinson, and other fun actors. Wonka is a whimsical movie establishing more background on Willy Wonka before the adventures seen in the original film and the book written by Roald Dahl. The soundtrack was beautifully done, it really captured the essence of Wonka and the magical spirit of the film. This reimagining separated itself from other movies, staying true to the essence of the story while giving its own playful spin. It also introduced us to new storylines and interesting characters. I know there were mixed feelings over this film, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of my childhood. The whimsicalness, the vibrant coloring, people’s LOVE for chocolate. I definitely recommend watching Wonka, you’re in for a fun time. Just be wary, the songs might get stuck in your head! 

Stevi Sargas

Suikoden

This week, articles flooded my social media feeds announcing the narrative lead of my favourite video game franchise, Suikoden, sadly passed away at 55. Yoshitaka Murayama of Rabbit & Bear Studios was the chief writer for the Suikoden series, which spanned five titles and numerous spin-offs for PlayStation and Nintendo DS from 1995-2012. 

In Murayama’s honour, I’ve decided to replay Suikoden. I played it for the first time at age 6. It’s a whimsical, turn-based fantasy game that has you collect 108 ragtag allies and lead a revolution against the corrupt imperialist government into which you were born. The game features adorable artwork and a disarmingly rich soundtrack. There’re mysterious, magical crystals called runes governing the world’s elemental powers. Oh, and there are flying squirrels. And gambling. You know how it is. 

The older I get, the more it amazes me that Murayama created such a socially and politically nuanced narrative with Suikoden while being fun and accessible across age and literacy brackets. To me, this is masterful storytelling. I like to say Suikoden radicalized me before I could pronounce “radicalized,” or “Suikoden.” For that Murayama will always have my gratitude. Through his writing, I had formative exposure to diversity and representation in storytelling. I learned about the limits of black-and-white morality, and the importance of individual choice. Suikoden is why I love writing, and why I love video games. I’d recommend it to anyone who’ll listen.  

January Staff Picks

Inanna Carter

My Time at Sandrock

Farming sims and RPGs have been around for quite some time. The classics of Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons, the iconic Stardew Valley, the upcoming Fields of Mistria—they’re not going away for a long time. Now, take that and add…building?

My Time at Sandrock is an RPG where rather than moving to a new town to take over your deceased grandfather’s farm, you move to a new town to take over a builder’s workshop. The full release recently came out, and though I only just got around to starting it, I’ve been having a blast. This game is heaps better than its predecessor, My Time at Portia (though Portia has a special place in my heart).

Aside from building for the community, you can mine, fight, farm, and form relationships with the other townsfolk. It’s something you can easily sink your time into, and overall, it’s a great game. The writing is witty and the plot keeps you on your toes. Games like Sandrock and Portia, ones with complete storylines, remind me so much of books. They don’t have to be perfect or extraordinary, but if the story is engaging and the characters evoke emotion, then I’d say they end up being something pretty special.

Dominic Loise

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman

When I talk about the Sandman, I am not like most comic book fans. The character I am talking about isn’t Spider-Man’s granulated, morphing foe or Neil Gaiman’s groundbreaking goth-classic character. My Sandman is the Golden Age character, Wesley Dodds. Dodds, in his WWI gas mask, stood out to me against his WWII counterparts by wearing a three-piece suit, trench coat, and fedora while the rest of the Justice Society of America were flexing their muscles in tights and domino masks.

The new DC Comics miniseries by writer Robert Venditti and artist Riley Rossmo delves into Dodds as a man-of-mystery hero rather than a two-fisted, vigilante crime fighter. Venditti writes to the core of the character by looking at the nonviolent nature of the Sandman’s sleeping gas and PTSD from Dodds’ father in WWI, which led to his path as a hero and experiments with nonlethal weapons.

Rossmo’s art style is perfect for a series that needs to be grounded in the urban alleyways of gangster pulp and other times drift away in the dreams of a tormented hero trying to make the world safer. Besides hired thugs and gang bosses, the main villain is a darker version of Dodds, using toxic gases and tapping into the hero’s horrors and his work against chemical weapons in warfare.

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman shows a character a step between comic book and pulp novel heroes. It also shows the mindset of someone trying to make the world better between two world wars all while dealing with local violence and injustice in his city.

Sara Santistevan

Marry My Husband

*SPOILER ALERT* The following contains plot details about Marry My Husband.

If Marry My Husband is just your run-of-the-mill K-Drama, then I sincerely regret sleeping on K-Dramas until now! Based on a Webtoon by Sung So-jakMarry My Husband follows the story of Kang Ji-won, a woman who gets a second chance at life after she is murdered by her husband and best friend, who were having an affair.

I’ve often wondered what life decisions I would make differently if I got the chance to go back in time with the knowledge I have now. I also love a good revenge story! What makes Marry My Husband special is the plot’s seamless acknowledgement of some of the technical complications of time travel. In early episodes, we learn that in her previous life, Ji-won was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which was implied to result from gastritis due to the stress of her marriage. When Ji-won is thrust back into her life prior to her illness, she learns, through a series of experiments, that although future events can’t completely be avoided, they can be delayed or passed on to someone else. With this knowledge in mind, Ji-won makes it her mission to set up her best friend and future husband to avoid her fate.

Along the way, Ji-won forms genuine friendships, learns to stand up for herself, and grows more confident in her appearance and personality. Oh, and don’t worry—there’s plenty of romance, too, courtesy of the mysterious Yoo Ji-hyuk, Ji-won’s manager who seems to know more than he should about Ji-won.

December Staff Picks

My wife, Jenna, and I are huge fans of the show Monk. Not only is the first of our therapy rabbits named Trudy, after Detective Adrian Monk’s deceased wife, but the original show was a gateway for me to destigmatize the conversation around my OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I felt awkward when I’d spend up to fifteen minutes locking a door, checking the oven or light switches before leaving, or trying to step away from an ATM. Before I went on medication, it would sometimes take up to an hour to lock up before leaving for the day.

The original Monk series mirrored the daily work that went into addressing my mental health, and watching the show was a guide post for us to see a famous detective evolving as he put the work in through therapy and solving cases. Needless to say, we were extremely excited about Mr. Monk’s Last Case dropping on Peacock.

In the original run of the show, Tony Shalhoub brought care and compassion to the lead character of this mystery/dramedy which ran on the USA Network for eight seasons. Over the years, viewers witnessed Monk move towards two goals—getting reinstated into the police force and solving his wife’s murder. The original series had an emotional and satisfying ending to both of these accomplishments along with Monk’s character growth.

The tv movie brought back original characters and also introduced the reality of COVID-19. Specifically, how the pandemic set back Monk’s progress in therapy and how the world became a little more aligned with Monk’s mindset. Mr. Monk’s Last Case also went deeper into mental health than the original series, addressing the importance of having a purpose in life as part of the therapeutic process. Especially since COVID-19 and other events have taken away Monk’s purpose. This tv movie explored Monk finding a way to function in society and choosing to engage with others to achieve this goal. I do wish to put a trigger warning as Monk does face suicidal ideation, but i’m recommending Mr. Monk’s Last Case also because of how it deals with suicide awareness. This tv movie is not so much Adrian Monk’s last case, but the next chapter in his life.

Cecil Janecek

Lonely Castle in the Mirror

Lonely Castle in the Mirror ends in a way that feels perfectly inevitable, and yet the novel still managed to surprise me. Mizsuki Tsujimura masterfully keeps the reader on edge, questioning whether this is a heartwarming coming of age story or a fantastical horror. In the novel, seven teens—who’ve all stopped going to school for one reason or another—are chosen by the Wolf Queen to search for the Wishing Key, which will grant one of them a single miracle. Even if they choose not to search for it, they’ll still have access to the castle for one year as a respite from the “real world.” But if they break the Wolf Queen’s one rule—never enter the castle after 5 p.m.—they’ll be eaten.

As the teens’ lives get more complicated and strange coincidences continue to connect them, they begin to question the Wolf Queen’s motivations and their realities. I, too, began to worry that the book would employ my least favorite trope: at the end of the adventure, everyone would forget and return to their normal lives as if nothing had happened. But no! The Wolf Queen’s secrets gutted me to tears and the found family among these seven traumatized teens connected them in ways I never anticipated, but found completely satisfying by the end.

JP Legarte

Alan Wake II

As writers, I don’t think we would deny the power words hold, but what if the stories we wrote manifested in our environment and altered reality? Enter Alan Wake II, a survival horror game where FBI agent Saga Anderson arrives in a small town called Bright Falls to investigate a ritualistic murder and finds pages of a manuscript titled Return that detail events as they happen—a manuscript written by the titular character, Alan Wake, stuck in an alternate dimension named the Dark Place for the past thirteen years.

Throughout the game, you can alternate between both characters, leading to situations where progressing through one character’s chapter fills in the blanks of the other. As Anderson, you traverse the isolated alcoves of Bright Falls and the vast forest of Cauldron Lake; and as Wake, you navigate a twisted version of New York. These locations were symmetric blends of beauty and eeriness, magnified when monsters—the Taken and Fadeouts—constantly haunt the characters and when, at times, the monsters are the characters’ own fears.

Anderson and Wake are certainly not defenseless against the Taken and Fadeouts. Players can obtain numerous weapons, such as a shotgun, a crossbow, and a flare gun. However, they are ineffective on their own, which brings me to one of my favorite parts of the combat system. Equally important are the batteries for flashlights as well as hand flares, both used to diffuse the shadows and darkness protecting the Taken and Fadeouts. This mechanic emphasizes the importance of resources in the characters’ limited inventories. Heightening the combat is the claustrophobic feeling when multiple monsters attack at locations where there is not much room to maneuver, offering a challenging yet rewarding fight against darkness with light, metaphorically and literally.

Alan Wake II is a horror story that brings you to the edge of your seat as you contend with supernatural scares and shifting realities. There’s even a musical sequence in one of Wake’s chapters that was an absolute masterpiece in mixed visuals, sound, and—yes—combat. If you’re still not convinced, consider the game’s accolades at The Game Awards 2023: Best Art Direction, Best Narrative, and Best Game Direction. Rest assured, I’ll soon be replaying the game through its rendition of New Game Plus titled The Final Draft, falling down the familiar yet changed rabbit hole with Anderson and Wake all over again.

November Staff Picks

Dominic Loise
Doctor Who: The Star Beast

Doctor Who: The Star Beast just landed for the BBC’s sci-fi series sixtieth anniversary.  The Star Beast ties in a lot of the show’s history in the special. For those unfamiliar with Doctor Who, it’s about a runaway alien with two hearts and a screwdriver traveling time and space fixing things that have go wrong.

The sixtieth anniversary special has big connections to past Doctor Who eras like the return of beloved actors and showrunners. It wouldn’t be a recent Doctor Who landmark anniversary without David Tennant returning to the role of The Doctor like he did for the fiftieth anniversary. Also returning this time, we have Catherine Tate as companion Donna Noble and writer Russell T. Davies, who relaunched the show in 2005.

Davies, Tate and Tennant bring a satisfying conclusion to the Doctor/Donna cliffhanger from their original run on the series and Davies writes a show which has an updated queer perspective for 2023 just like he did during 2005. For example, Davies original run on Doctor Who gave us the lgbtqia+ iconic character Captain Jack Harkness, who went on to star in his own series Torchwood. Doctor Who: The Star Beast introduces us to Donna’s daughter Rose Noble and this special is Rose’s human story as much as it is The Doctor & Donna’s adventure tale.

The Star Beast also honors Doctor Who’s history by adapting the story from one of the classic comics book stories, which was illustrated by Dave Gibbons (The Watchmen). The look of this special is comic book bubbly as the creators remember that Doctor Who is first and foremost a kids show for the whole family. To quote The Doctor, “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.” Doctor Who: The Star Beast is just what this longtime Whovian needed for their inner child.

Kaitlin Lounsberry
BOOP! The Musical 

With the saturation of the music theater, it’s rare I find myself gob smacked by a new play.  I’ve seen a LOT of Tony-winning musicals in my life (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Chicago, and Wicked to name a few) so I feel as if I have a good sense when I’ve stumbled upon a stellar play. Enter BOOP! The Musical, which delivered one of the best theater experiences I’ve had in years. Currently on the pre-Broadway track, BOOP! combined everything I, personally, look for in a play. Stunning costumes? Check.  Engaging plot that didn’t leave me restless halfway through? Check. Musically gifted cast? Triple check. What, or rather, who impressed me most, though, was Jasmine Amy Rogers. She literally embodied Betty Boop. From Betty’s mannerisms to her voice to her sassy, but sweet attitude towards life, Rogers captured the character and reminded me why Betty Boop has been a beloved animated character for decades. So, if you happen to find yourself in the Chicagoland area sometime in December and are looking to be dazzled, swing by the CIBC Theater for a Boop-oop-a-doop time. 

Gina Marie Gruss
Scavengers Reign

I love aliens. Give me aliens of all types, but in my mind, the more experimental (and less humanlike), the better. Give me alien landscapes. Alien physics. Alien worlds. Aliens.

Scavengers Reign gives me aliens in all ways—and executes the concept of “alien” flawlessly. It’s set on a strange world with diverse landscapes and amazing creatures. It does centralize the human experience, of course—it sells me on high stakes and drama and humanity, following a crashed spaceship’s passengers as they try to survive and get back home—but it’s also set against one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen. It’s a slowburn; it takes its time with the characters and environment. It’s rewarding. (I mean, I selfishly want more, but its ending is satisfying—it’s a miniseries.) And did I mention that it has one of the coolest aliens and planets I’ve ever seen? I’m so excited that there’s more mature animation being produced! (Though it is ironic that it’s published on Max (formerly known as HBO Max).) I came to Scavengers Reign for the aliens. I stayed for the humanity.

Nate Ragolia
The Glass Cannon Podcast

As a tabletop gamer, I love the collaborative storytelling that emerges in the boundaries of a campaign. Through the rules of a system like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or others, a group of creative people can create, shape, and thrive in a magical, mystical world just by bringing a character to play, embodying them, and reacting as they would to the chance inherent to each roll of the dice.

I’ve been listening to The Glass Cannon Podcast for a few years now. I got invested in their first campaign, Giantslayer, after listening to a few episodes in 2017, and immediately started working my way through the story from start to finish, some 326+ episodes later. Now, with a whole network to their name, the Glass Cannon Podcast family are embarking on a brand new campaign titled Gatewalkers. They are only 12 episodes in now, so this would be as good a time as any to jump on board.

If you love tabletop gaming, or you just enjoy the cozy vibes of friends crafting story together while fighting monsters, cracking wise, and crying out in joy and sadness, this podcast just might be for you. It’s full of laughs and well-constructed tension (both within the story and between the hosts), and they take their stories and characters seriously, imbuing them with meaningful arcs and character growth that can set this podcast apart from other tabletop gaming shows. Plus, they’ll give you thousands of hours of entertainment for free… so what do you have to lose in checking it out?

October Staff Picks

Dominic Loise
The Saint of Second Chances 

This past baseball season has not been the best for fans of either of Chicago’s two major league teams. The new documentary The Saint of Second Chances reminded me of another White Sox season, which did not end well: 1979. That season saw the end of era for both owner and fan’s connection to the team and was the last one played in the classic Comiskey Park before it was torn down. For a while now, the concept of ego death is something that I have been working on in therapy and I feel the topic is portrayed rather well in this baseball documentary. The documentary deals with the legacy of the Veeck family, their relationship to the sport and most importantly their connection to the fans and each other.

The hook for most viewers will be the seventies Chicago White Sox era, when Michael Veeck worked for his father Bill Veeck. Bill was the last of an old breed of owners, who could operate a team without their own financial independence. It also meant that Bill  had to think outside of the box and make every dollar stretch to run the team. He could not compete with free agency salaries for big money players so the White Sox had to fill the stadium with promotions. One promotion which filled the seats but turned out to be a historic blight on baseball was Disco Demolition Night.

Many people have reflected back on the night when Steve Dahl, a local stock jock blew up a crate of disco albums and his young, mainly male fans stormed the field and destroyed both a double header and the stadium. The people who packed the stands this night were not baseball fans but listeners of a rock station. When you hear the announcer Harry Caray say “This is a sad day for baseball”, that statement is underscored by owner Bill Veeck on the field pleading with thousands of young adults and kids running past him in disorderly conduct.

Recently, that night has been looked through the lens of a book burning that had white youths destroying and the words & work of black, latin & queer artists of the time and demanding that this music not be played on radio station airwaves. Dahl is not in the documentary except for archival footage but would go on to talk about the event for decades throughout his long standing radio career and write a book about it. Mike Veeck does reflect back on that night, as he was head of promotions for the team. He also reflects on how it affected his father’s career in baseball, how his father sold the team afterwards and how the stadium was torn down to then be rebuilt.

The remainder of the documentary is about Mike Veeck being lost, facing his demons, finding new opportunities with a newly formed baseball league. The documentary focuses on the clarity he finds by focusing on his family, creating a fan community & the love of the game before his preconceived career goals.

Maribel Leddy
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

I recently read The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, the first of an epic grimdark fantasy series that follows main character Rin. I picked up and finished the book in one day. The world that Kuang created, the characters, and the way its plot draws on real life events from twentieth century China made it an undeniable page-turner for me. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, Chinese-English translator and an award-winning author. Outside of the Poppy War Trilogy, she’s also written Babel and Yellowface, both of which made the New York Times bestseller list.

In The Poppy War, we follow war-orphan Rin who is desperate to escape a fate of being married off by her relatives. To do so, she focuses on acing the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies. She does so, and is expectant for her new life, but finds herself facing many more challenges than she anticipated at Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan. This book explores things like colorism, class, and war in nuanced ways that made me think and learn a lot. Rin herself is an extremely intriguing main character who brings nuance to the idea of a “hero” in literature and whose thirst for power may be her downfall—or the thing that saves everyone she cares about. 

Valerie San Filippo
The Hurricane Book

I’ve waited so long for Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones’ debut, The Hurricane Book! Part history, part lyric memoir, it tells of the history of Puerto Rico and the lives on one family through six hurricanes. It is INTENSE. Acevedo-Quiñones echoes the stark reality of Puerto Rico’s struggles under colonial oppression with the ebb and flow of her own family history. On every page her family seems to grow in scale and importance, their personal stories and small quirks overriding cold facts to form a new kind of living, breathing history.

This book is not for the feint of heart. You’ll probably weep— I certainly did. It’s full of pain, betrayal, and pinprick moments of hope. The language is stunning. It’s a personal and political history seared with a loving anger that stays with you long after you’ve put the book down.

Sara Santistevan
Loteria

I discovered Cynthia Pelayo’s horror collection Lotería just in time for spooky season, but I’ll enjoy re-reading this book year round! 

Each chapter features a short story, poem, or flash fiction piece based on a card from the Mexican game lotería. As someone who plays lotería with my family every year on Christmas Eve, I was so excited to see how Pelayo would connect each iconic card to her retelling of Latine folklore.

The connections between card and myth ranged from clear to subtle, with some taking me completely by surprise. For instance, the flash piece “La Dama” (“The Lady”) is a retelling of the tale of La Llorona, a wailing woman whose spirit wanders the earth at night in search of children to replace her children she drowned. On the other hand, there is no umbrella in the short story “El Paraguas” (“The Umbrella”); the connection between narrative and card may only be evident to Spanish speakers who can pick up on Pelayo’s clever wordplay. As for the wildly creative retellings, consider “La Luna” (“The Moon”), which blends Guaraní creation legends with imagining the President of Argentina as an employer of werewolf bodyguards. 

With a total of fifty-four chapters, Lotería is an impressive feat, showcasing Pelayo’s dedication to crafting a mosaic of unnerving tales that pay homage to the rich tradition of horror retellings within folklore.

September Staff Picks

Montanna Harling

I have been loving the advanced reader copy of Cassandra Clare’s Sword Catcher, a novel that will be released on October 10th, 2023. Clare, author of the bestselling young adult Shadowhunters series, has entered into the adult fantasy genre with a stunning first installment of a forthcoming epic fantasy series.  

Though I’m still in the process of reading Sword Catcher, I have been thoroughly and wonderfully consumed by the story. Sword Catcher draws the reader into the city-state Castellane, a world that is both vividly beautiful and quietly dangerous. In Castellane, readers meet Kel, a boy who serves as the body double for the royal heir, and Lin, a physician who belongs to the small community of people who can still access magic. As Kel and Lin both find themselves entangled with the criminal underworld of Castellane, secrets begin to unravel around them. I love how immersive the world of Sword Catcher feels; one of Clare’s greatest strengths as a writer has always been her vivid yet accessible fantasy worldbuilding. Combining expertly paced plot and Clare’s almost otherworldly ability to make every setting feel as real as your own city, Clare has written a novel that is sure to enchant readers for many years to come. I highly recommend checking out Sword Catcher here.

Inanna Carter 

Astarion with a side of Baldur’s Gate 3, anyone? I’m a romance lover through and through, so any video game with romance options is for me. That being said, when BG3 came out and I saw the buckets full of beautiful options of course I knew I was going to get it. But it was Astarion in particular who caught my eye. His snark and beauty mixed with my I-Can-Fix-Him mentality clearly made us a perfect match. But I fell in love with his character more than I thought I would, in ways I hadn’t ever imagined. 

He may start off as what seems like an emotionless, uncaring, sex-crazed lunatic, but under all of that is a tortured soul who’s just trying to find out how to start living for himself. What does that even mean? He doesn’t know, but with your help he can find out. And it’s that part of him that doesn’t get enough appreciation, because how terrifying is that? Imagine being subjected to living a certain, torturous way for hundreds of years and then suddenly getting a chance to become your own person? I’ll stop there because I think his story is one that should be experienced first-hand. His character soothes the part of me that believes games and stories will always be unforgettable when they give you someone so raw and so real to care about. 

Zara Garcia

Lately, I’ve been deeply immersed in the dystopian wasteland that Ashnikko has built through their new album, Weedkiller. It’s got a genre-blurring sound with songs about queer love, environmental destruction, self-empowerment, and reclaiming autonomy. The inspiration for the album came to Ashnikko in an unreleased short story they wrote about a fairy utopia being destroyed by robots called Weedkillers.  

Ashnikko plays the main protagonist throughout the album, transmitting a story of rage, revenge, battle, and defeat. With official visualizers for each song and five music videos, the album is also aesthetically stunning. It gives off an industrial, apocalyptic vibe that is simultaneously dark and fun. Think of Mad Max but with witchy forest fairies. The climax of the story is beautifully represented in the title track, “Weedkiller,” where Ashnikko engages in an epic final battle with the Weedkiller. They also offer social commentary on more serious topics throughout the album. “Miss Nectarine” touches on homophobia, and “Possession of a Weapon” speaks on reproductive rights. It’s refreshing to see an artist handle these topics in such a boldly unapologetic way. The album finishes on a hopeful note with “Dying Star,” featuring the otherworldly vocals of Ethel Cain. The song is about maintaining hope for peace and softness in a violent world. I have tickets to Ashnikko’s show on October 6th, and I am so excited to see how the energy and message of the album translate into a stage performance. 

Sara Santistevan

In high school, I was obsessed with Toby Fox’s hit indie video game, Undertale. Visiting any corner of the internet without encountering memes, fan art, or famous YouTubers broadcasting their playthroughs seemed impossible. So, imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered my boyfriend had never heard of Undertale, and I got to watch him play it for the first time.  

In Undertale, you play as a child who has fallen into The Underground, where monsters have lived since humanity banished them from the surface. To make your way back to the surface, you must carefully consider your choices: spare and befriend the monsters…or destroy their lives.   

Undertale is a standout game due to its experimental gameplay mechanics, breathtaking plot twists, infectious soundtrack (which Fox composed entirely by himself), unique humor, and memorable characters. It was also refreshingly progressive, especially for its time—the playable character is non-binary, and multiple main characters are explicitly or implicitly LGBTQ+!  

However, the true magic in Undertale is Fox’s talent to subvert all expectations a seasoned gamer has nurtured over a lifetime. For example, the decisions you make in a previous playthrough can haunt you even after you reset the game entirely; don’t be surprised if certain characters respond to you with déjà vu.  

If you’re still unconvinced, consider Undertale is one of the few games to achieve a 10/10 rating on Steam and a 97% rating on Google—and yes, that’s the current rating eight years after its release.  

Aubrey Unemori

With Halloween right on the horizon (it’s September, which is basically Halloween), I’ve been preparing for the spooky Superbowl by playing a lot of Dead by Daylight (DBD).  

If you’re not familiar with the game, DBD is like hide and seek but with murder. There are two ways to play the game: The first way is to play as the killer. DBD has their own killers, but the game also features characters from well-known horror media, such as Michael Myers, Pinhead, and Pyramid Head. Your objective as the killer is to hook survivors and sacrifice them to the Entity, which is a fun guy that has spider arms and whispers in your ear every so often.  

The second way to play is as a survivor, which is my favorite way play—especially if you’re new to the game. In this mode, you can play with up to four friends, and you can play as characters like Leon Kennedy, Ellen Ripley, and…Nicolas Cage?! As survivors your objective is to complete generators, power the escape gates, and, well, survive. This mode is all about teamwork, communication, and cursing out the killer when you are inevitably hooked. 

If you’re looking for a way to scream your lungs out this October (or any month, really), I highly recommend rounding up a few of your friends and giving DBD a try! Like writing, I believe that games are most enjoyable when you can play without the expectation of needing to be good. So remember: Good luck, have fun!  

Dominic Loise

As a treat for the Fall, we re-signed up for MAX at our home. Some favorite shows now have new episodes. I am going to say up front that my Staff Pick of Harley Quinn is raunchy and violent. It is also one of the smarter shows out now for addressing relationships and mental health on streaming.

This animated series is a good companion to the Harley Quinn comic book written by Stephanie Phillips, where Harley was helping people heal from their trauma from The Joker War. In the MAX series, Harley (Kaley Cuoco) grows and learns to be together with Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). The couple of Harley & Ivy develops from villainous cohorts into two people in a healthy and supportive relationship. This streaming series honors, brings representation and builds dimensions to one of the more iconic queer couples in comics. The third season was about two people in a relationship learning to listen to each other’s needs—and how they can still be a “power couple” even if their personal goals differ beyond “partners in crime”—as we see throughout Season 3 into Season 4, which dropped this Summer.

The series also takes a huge step forward in regards to mental health awareness and two other DC characters. The Season 3 episode Batman Begins Forever has Harley helping Bruce Wayne (Diedrich Bader) literally face the trauma of his parent’s death and focusing not on one moment in Crime Alley. Bruce, not BatMan, then starts to do the work to be present in his current life and bring his best self to assist those around him. Another iconic character, The Joker (Alan Tudyk) challenges himself and changes in this series by growing past the narcissist who created a toxic relationship with Harley and imprinted his identity onto her. In the Season 3 episode Joker: The Killing Vote, this change is shown by his run for Mayor of Gotham not as part of a criminal scheme but to improve the public schools. This episode ties into the multiple season storyline where The Joker becomes a supportive partner to a single working mother and a stepfather to two kids. As a stay at home dad, he puts the spotlight on his wife’s career and nurtures his two stepchildren not by molding them in his image but mentoring them as unique individuals. He is putting in the work, with struggles, to put others needs first, by working on homework, quality family time and being involved in their school to break the pattern of being a narcissist.

For fans of the baseball bat bashing version of the main character, the show still has a lot of capers, bawdy humor and explosive action in every episode of Harley Quinn and all changes to DC’s long-standing heroes and villains are organic and character based. Harley Quinn is a show with strong female characters, heart and a perspective shift on some eighty year old characters from in the DC Universe.

July/August Staff Picks

Amber Sullivan

In August 2021, Esther recommended Link Click. Listen to them; watch it. I need people to join me as I slip back into a fan-crazed madness because season two is here!

But I’m not recommending the show. I’m here for the soundtrack that’s releasing alongside season two. I don’t care if you don’t watch the show (that’s a LIE) but don’t skip the full versions of the music.

白鲨JAWS and 饭卡 return for the ED in “The TIDES.” It’s eerie, it’s melodic; the discordic blend of guitar and lofi beats hits so right, and it escalates to a very different place than where it began. Why start with the ending song? Because we’re time travelling!

And because the ending of “The TIDES” blends pretty seamlessly into the beggining of the OP, “VORTEX,” where 白鲨JAWS not only created a desperate and impassioned melody but one that’s just as emotive when it plays in reverse, which it does–because we’re time travelling.

“Flash” by Gorilla Attack continues the trend of mathmatic tracks with strong narrative structures playing with time. I can’t get enough of the way the hectic beat messes with the time signature throughout the song.

Even though we’re time travelling, I don’t know what’s next for this soundtrack. It could be good, it could be amazing, it could only be these three songs, but I’ll still be listening for the rest of the summer.

Dominic Loise

I am excited for Si Spurrier’s upcoming take on The Flash (DC Comics) in September, but before the writing torch is passed, I would like to celebrate Jeremy Adams’ run on the book. Adams reestablished Wally West, former sidekick Kid Flash, as the title character of the book and reminded readers that the classic Mark Waid Flash in the nineties helped draw comics out of the grim and gritty era of the eighties.

There is a difference between a superhero grinning with superiority and smiling with the joy of living their dream and Wally West was the first sidekick to take the mantle of the hero after Barry Allen sacrificed himself to save the universe in Crisis of Infinite Earths (1985). Wally West was The Flash in comics from The Flash #1 (1987) until Barry Allen returned in The Flash: Rebirth (2009-2010). It felt like DC was treating Wally as a duplicate to the original when Barry returned, instead of red ribbon racing around the DC Universe in a blur that tied everything and everyone together.

Adams got Wally West ties to the DC Universe from his Teen Titans family, to the pantheon of the Justice League and how the Speed Force connected a multiverse of multiple characters to Earth Prime. The Adams’ Flash comic also understood that the character of Wally West was his most powerful when he stopped running and talked to other people.

The Flash wasn’t a comic about urban crime fighting but community engagement even to the point of Wally knowing the Rogues and talking with them.The communities of the twin cities of Keystone and Central City, the people Wally knew and his family have always been at the heart of the books. Wally knew his strength was honest dialogue about his limitations, asking others for help when he needed it and learning to be yourself- not just the hero.

Jeremy Adams wrote all this in his Flash comic which had open conversations about mental health awareness, thrilling action stories and hit the core notes of each character Wally West ran into.

Asmaani Kumar

Revenant (2023)

TW: Suicide, Child Abuse, Death.

I’ve been the biggest fangirl of Kim Taeri and Oh Jungse, and have been amazed by Hong Kyung in Weak Hero Class 1 early this year. So when I heard that all of these brilliant actors are going to lead a drama which cuts across horror, folklore and the vices of mankind, I was gripping the edges of my seat. I could not wait!

With only 4 more episodes to go, this series has been a rollercoaster ride. The attention to detail when building characters, the incredible pacing of the story, it’s stunning cinematography and the twists and turns taken so far has been grounded solidly by this one myth of the Juvenile Ghost. It has been fascinating to watch our leading characters slowly discover the origins of this ghost across decades as they work together to not only free Kim Taeri of her possession, stop her vengeful deaths but to also understand her traumatic past. It isn’t our usual story of exorcising a possession, because there are so many layers to it that slowly get unfolded at times in dangerous ways. There is also a very intelligent insertion of class dynamics done along with a sensitive exploration of disturbing emotions.

Deeply painful at times to watch, but also a very real portrayal of the deep and dark desires people tend to carry, this is a riveting story that leaves you shaken to the core and impresses on your mind for days. You cannot stop thinking about Revenant once you start!

Simon Kerr

Outer Wilds from Annapurna Interactive

Micro-planets you can circle in a matter of minutes, each with its own aesthetic, tricks, and gravitational pull. Quiet yet expansive storytelling, told through ancient spirals of alien writing.A story in fragments for you to discover. This is what the video game Outer Wilds can promise—breathtaking views and a singular experience.

Outer Wilds is best explored contextless, so if you need no more convincing to check it out, spare yourself the following details and go launch.

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You live on a planet spotted with geysers, in a solar system so small the surface of other planets is visible to the naked eye. You’re also adorable, and an astronaut. Everywhere are signs of the Nomai, an enigmatic race of visitors that crash-landed in your home system long ago in search of a great mystery. Surrounded by these relics, your people have developed a space program long before the materials to do so. You’re about to launch into space in a wooden rocket.

On your first day, stay in orbit and visit your planet’s moon, with its drifting spiral of campfire smoke. Or investigate the strange image you awaken to by risking the dense cloud cover of your neighboring planet. Or approach the sun to see two planets intertwined in each other’s orbit, trading a column of sand back and forth. Or watch a brittle geode planet collapse in on itself. Or stay well away from that creepy gnarled tree planet, for now.

Then comes your second first day. And your third first day. And your fourth first day. And the supernova that ends them all.

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The complete joy of solving the mysteries of Outer Wilds is second to none. Annapurna Interactive is home to other stunning and atmospheric games, stories that grip you the same way the teleportative novels of your childhood did: Stray (yes, the cat one!), What Remains of Edith Finch, Journey, and the upcoming Cocoon.

If your interests include space, archaeology, and the bittersweet awe of feeling like one small speck in the universe, Outer Wilds is yours. (Specifically, on Nintendo Switch, Playstation, Xbox, or PC.)

Nate Ragolia

Blank Check with Griffin & David

As an avid and ceaseless consumer of podcasts, and a lover of movies, my feed overflows with mic’d cinephiles sharing their takes (of various temperatures) about movies new and old. Somehow, only recently, I took a dip in the warm waters of #theTwoFriends, with Blank Check. The podcast is hosted by actor Griffin Newman (Draft Day, The Tick) and film critic and writer David Sims (The Atlantic). The theme of the show revolves around directors and their oeuvres, and the title refers to how auteurs early successes afford them the rare ‘blank check’ from Hollywood to produce passion projects.

To kick things off, the podcast is all about George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy, and Griffin and David (and producer Ben Hosley) devote multiple episodes to each of those films. The early eps are replete with bits, including our hosts pretending to not know about the existence of the original Star Wars trilogy. Following that series, they pivot toward the aforementioned director-focused course, tackling films by M. Night Shyamalan, The Wachowskis, Cameron Crowe, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, and more.

Griffin and David are clearly passionate filmgoers who provide thoughtfully hilarious breakdowns of each and every film, and deliver wildly interesting facts and figures along the way. I have been binging this show for two weeks straight and loving every minute of it, and if you love movies, goofy hosts, silly bits, and inside stories… this one might be for you.

Dominic Loise

Paul Giamatti’s Chinwag with Stephen Asma

As a child of the seventies, I was exposed to more of the unexplained than I could wrap my head around. Every year for a while, the same house on our block would be up for sale with each owner having the same ghost story. My older brother once pointed out John Wayne Gacey’s house as our family drove past the street during weekend errands. Saturday afternoons were spent watching Rich Koz (then just Son of Svengoolie) and monster movies on local UHF. And the drive-in where my parents took me to see ET was buzzed by the odd lights from the local naval training base.

With this upbringing, it is a rickety dam against a raging river to see things as a skeptic. It is still a daily struggle especially for someone who works on their mental health. One day that metaphorical dam came down and I went inpatient. Since then, it is best to avoid material on the topic of the paranormal, which can be triggering. But through talk therapy, I also have been doing exposures, which is about watching or listening to anxiety inducing media in a safe environment (like during the daytime on a day off) and processing the thoughts and feelings.

Paul Giamatti’s Chinwag with Stephen Asma is a podcast that has been currently helping me. The podcast is hosted by one of the top actors working today, Paul Giamatti and Stephen T. Asma, author of On Monsters: An Unnatural History of our Worst Fears and a Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago. The podcast deals with a wide range of topics and takes many divergences and looks at  different perspectives on the topics like aliens. ghosts and cryptozoology. Guests are either researchers in those fields or writers & actors with an interest in the topic.

I like that people are bringing their own research and reading to The Chinwag. The speakers try to cite materials if listeners wish to check them out for themselves. But mainly, I like that, when possible, that people are telling their own stories and accounts of what happened. The Chinwag has an organic conversation style that unfolds as this podcast continues the talk about the topic. And this style of talking about what comes to mind totally works for me.

The hosts and guests will step off the original path of conversation as a new topic comes up but bring it back with a deeper perspective and appreciation for the main themes of each podcast. They know that if you are walking in the woods, you have to stop to see a deer that comes along instead plowing through on the man made forest pathway. The natural conversation is what makes The Chinwag a deep experience, which I find different and comforting each time I listen.

Check out Paul Giamatti’s Chinwag with Stephen Asma on Apple Podcasts or where you listen to podcasts.

Podcasts, K-pop, and Pilots: Staff Picks, Intern Edition

Delaney Heisterkamp

I have been devouring podcasts in the past couple months, to the relief of my daily planner and the poor, beleaguered part of my brain that handles time management. There’s no better way to fill transit, cooking, and cleaning than spicing it up with The Penumbra Podcast, an audio drama that’s part–sci-fi, part-fantasy, and all-around deliciously queer. From Juno Steel, a private eye on Mars, to the Second Citadel, a city protected by a band of emotionally distraught knights, I always travel to a place that leaves me breathlessly in suspense, laughing with delight, and occasionally in tears.

Madison Cotton

One album that will always be special to me is XX by K-pop girl group Loona. I’d known about Loona for a while, but it wasn’t until I went back home and spent the day with my little brother that I began listening to them. He showed me all the members, all their group and solo work, as well as their lore and backstories. I sat through his info session in the name of being a good sister, but once I listened to their music on my own time, I found that I really loved it. There started my obsession. I know all their names, title tracks, and keep up to date with their Loona TVs (their Youtube series) and upcoming releases. After a year-long hiatus, Loona has finally returned with their latest album, #. I am so excited about their upcoming release and can’t wait to listen with my brother as one of our many bonding activities.

‘Aolani Robinson

One song that I have greatly enjoyed has been Desert Rose by Lolo Zouaï. Ever since I first stumbled upon this song in late 2019, I have been absolutely in love. It has a relaxing beat that allows listeners to focus on Lolo’s voice and the lyrics that are sung in three languages (Arabic, French, and English). However, what really connects me to this song is the relatability of its lyrics. At its core, this song is about generational division and familial acceptance. My generation especially feels completely different from our parents in many ways. We think, act, dress, and share divergent beliefs. This has led to strife and turmoil in many families. In some cases, we are made to feel as though we have disappointed our families by not following in their path. Yet at the end of the day we all seek their approval. No matter how different we are, we still want to be accepted for who we are by those we love. I think this song perfectly encapsulates those feelings.

Meg Walters

I recently watched a really great pilot for a TV series on Freeform called Everything’s Gonna Be Okay. The story centers on a man in his mid-twenties who has to take care of his younger half sisters after his father dies suddenly of cancer. Creator, director, and star Josh Thomas also produced Please Like Me, a different series with a similar tone. I was obsessed with Please Like Me, and it remains one of my favorite shows of all time, so as soon as I knew Thomas was making something new, I marked the premiere date on my calendar. So far, I haven’t been disappointed. The show is darkly comedic—light-hearted one second and depressing the next. Thomas balances serious themes with playful tones and quirky characters who come to life in a way I really admire. Here’s a link to the trailer

Craig Hartz

Recently, I’ve discovered podcasts, and I’ve become really engaged by one called The Deconstructionists, hosted by Adam Narloch and John Williamson. Their purpose is essentially to create a space to explore questions and doubt regarding faith. To that end, they’ve hosted an incredibly diverse range of experts from a plethora of fields—theology, philosophy, science, music, and psychoanalysis, to name only a few. What they’ve cultivated is a beautiful place to engage with various viewpoints from all across the spectrum of belief and encourage introspection. I’m fascinated by the nuances and manifestations of faith, and this podcast has been such a wonderful place to encounter people who think radically differently than I do about it, and to learn about how all these different fields inform it. In episodes brimming with grace, humility, and genuine joy, Narloch and Williamson are creating space for dialogue that I think is healthy, raw, engaging, and just plain fun. I’m constantly learning and being challenged, which I think is crucial to growth. If this is an area of interest for you, or you’re a philosophy nerd like me, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Nuclear Fallout, Strange Science, and Demonic Imagery

Carolyn Janecek

Cherry-syrup blood, homemade flamethrowers, and nuclear fallout. That’s what my favorite franchise, Mad Max, has in common with Netflix’s new original teen drama, Daybreak, where high school cliques form into warring clans when all the adults are killed or mutated by the missiles’ bioagents.

Daybreak’s protagonist is by no means Furiosa (or even a Max Rockatansky). He’s Just Josh––an extra-entitled, straight, white “nice guy” with a skateboard and a katana. I took to calling him “Boring Josh.” When I’m that annoyed with a protagonist, I rarely get past episode two. Daybreak is different though. It’s kitschy and chaotic. Josh speaks directly to the viewer, at first, appearing to be the only “sane” kid left in the world, who isn’t out murdering people for funsies.

But soon enough, even the viewer is questioning reality and most importantly, questioning Josh. The world expands beyond Josh and soon the other protagonists are taking over his narration and presenting this post-apocalyptic setting through their own television tropes––whether it’s a celebrity voiceover or a laugh-track sitcom. Josh sees himself as a knight in shining arming, but the audience gets to see him tarnished.

In comparison, the broken and traumatized minor characters who start out––in Josh’s eyes––as antagonists, have satisfying character arcs. The ten-year-old, genius/pyromaniac Angelica confronts her abandonment issues and finds a her mother figure in a world where all adults are flesh-eating ghoulies. Ex-Jock Wesley Fists seeks his “samurai redemption” and eventually has to face the many personas he’s had to play in his public and private life as a black, gay football player. Even the star quarterback, who is a clear homage to Mad Max: Road Warrior’s Lord Humungus, shows his humanity (just before impaling one of his enemies in a pit of spikes).

In Daybreak, everyone has a story to tell and almost no one is telling the whole truth. The show is tropey, campy, and very extra, but it left me fascinated by the way these high schoolers struggle to create elaborate and flawed ways to cope with loss.

Andrew Jimenez

Lately I’ve been mesmerized by Science is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé. Covering topics ranging from diatoms to sea urchins to pigeons, these surrealist shorts seem too artful and abstract to be real, but with them Painlevé—a scientist and inventor who combined those two skills into a career as a filmmaker—ensures that they are serious science. The earliest of his films, covering various sea life, were made in the 1920s and 30s, and were technological feats for their time. But the work modern viewers will find most satisfying were made in the 60s and 70s. With an experimental score by Pierre Anglès, Diatoms, in particular, is a delight. Anyone with a Criterion Channel subscription (or who knows someone who does) can view the films now

Eileen Silverthorn

The spooky season is still going strong in my house! I’ve been watching CBS’s Evil. This show gives you the foreboding creepiness of The Exorcist mixed with the analytical qualities and moral dilemmas characteristic of a crime drama. We follow Kristen, a clinical psychologist, who is hired by the Catholic church to help priest-in-training, David, assess whether miracles and demonic possessions are real, or are just medical anomalies and mental illnesses with a spiritual guise. A true exploration of the overlaps between science and religion, heavily seasoned with chilling demonic imagery (whether you believe or not)!

Witches, Chainmail, and Banned Books

Thomas Chisholm

I watched the 2015 horror film The VVitch a few days ago and was floored. It’s a perfect pick if you’re like me and watch horror movies all October long. The VVitch is not campy, corny, or gory. It’s very slow and a bit like an old school Hitchcock movie with violence usually taking place off camera. The film is set in the 1630’s and focuses on a puritan family in New England that is being terrorized by a witch. My favorite aspect of the movie is how it puts you in that time and place. The family lives on the edge of a mysterious wood. Their lives are being turned upside down and they have no idea what is causing their turmoil. There could literally be anything in those woods, and I find that mystery especially frightening. The actors speak in accents authentic to the period, so I’d recommend turning subtitles on. The VVitch was the debut film from director Robert Eggers; his second, The Lighthouse, just hit theaters a few weeks ago, and I can’t wait to see it.

Venus Davis

Disenchantment, the most recent offering from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, is a cartoon that premiered on Netflix in August of 2018. The second season was just released this past September. So, naturally, after being devastated by the drama and delighted by the black humor, I decided to binge watch season two this past weekend. At first, I was caught off guard by the fast-paced storyline; everything just felt random to me. However, I am a big fan of when narratives just kind of click at a certain point after throwing the reader or viewer all over the place. Disenchantment did just that! I’m not usually one that goes for stories set in fairytale lands or the middle ages, but this show has me ready to buy chainmail! If you like FuturamaBob’s Burgers, or web toons like Bee and Puppycat, this is the show for you! Check it out so we can scream about the ending of season two together!

Stephanie Molina

This week I want to recommend an oldie but a goodie: The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, by Dinah Bucholz. It made high school me absolutely jump for joy and I still use it to this day. My favorite recipes are the pumpkin pasties (in the section aptly titled “Treats from the Train”) and the dark chocolate truffles (“Treats in the Village”), and I make the cinnamon breakfast rolls every year for Christmas. Bucholz includes everything from intimidatingly European classics like black pudding or steak and kidney pie to more approachable sweets like Harry’s favorite treacle tart or Hagrid’s rock cakes. Every recipe references the lines that inspired it and it’s the perfect way to go down memory lane while making delicious goodies! I highly recommend it to anyone who loves baking and Harry Potter.

Zoe Nepolello

Suggested Reading by Dave Connis came out on September 17, just in time for Banned Books Week (September 22-28), and oh boy. I think I’m going to have to make it a tradition to read this every year during Banned Books Week. This was a novel that really reminded you about the power of storytelling. It delves deeply into what books truly mean to us, how they shape us, and what happens when they’re taken away.

The novel follows bookworm Clara as her school bans 50 books—many of which shaped who she is. She starts an Underground Library (UnLib), taking the books that were banned from the school library, wrapping them in white paper, and checking them out to students from her locker. With the expansion of the UnLib, Clara interacts with and befriends people who she never thought would speak to her. It’s a bonding over the changes each character faces from this assault on their freedom.

While there are so many fantastic looks at books and how much they impact and connect readers, Connis also shows Clara facing some tough questions as the UnLib grows and a reader feels overwhelmed by one of the books Clara recommends. It makes her question if perhaps the people who banned these books were right. While she may have felt one way about the book, she’s disheartened that someone else had completely opposite feelings. It’s a great look at how books speak to each person differently.

With a great cast of characters, a plot that constantly has you turning the pages, and messages that make you think long after setting the book down, I highly recommend Suggested Reading to anyone who needs a little reminder about how much books truly mean to us and to society.

Mass Extinction, Scandalous Magazines, and Canine Detectives

Emily Brill-Holland

I devoured The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal.

The Calculating Stars follows war pilot and math genius Elma York after a massive meteorite hits the Earth, sparking an extinction event: York quickly figures out that temperatures will plummet for a few years, only to dramatically spike and go on to rise past habitable levels.

I’m a sucker for anything that has a mass apocalypse event in it—and the blinding light that startles York and her husband ticked my boxes. When they rapidly calculated a shockwave half an hour later, I was all over it. When the meteorite slammed into the US East Coast, I wasn’t putting the book down.

Add to that an alternate history space race, intelligent characters who are still human, sexism, racism, anxiety, math, science, history (when not alternate), and a supportive relationship that isn’t the main plot? Yes please.

TCS is a prequel to a piece of short fiction that Kowal wrote; I hadn’t read it and had no idea how TCS ended. The tension provided by sexism and humans who don’t think the world is warming kept me breathless until the end.

One of the best parts for me was that Kowal’s characters knew what they knew. If something was simple to them, like kriah (York is Jewish), the characters mentioned it and moved on—which left me curious and googling everything from religion to history and geography. None of it was necessary to understanding the story, but I wanted to know more. I also really appreciated Kowal’s handling of drama. Secrets were kept, yes. Secrets were discovered. But nothing was handled stupidly because plot required it.

TCS  is an effective remark on our time, with Kowal borrowing common twenty-first-century climate change denial arguments to provide a gentle reminder that while we didn’t face an extinction event when getting to the moon in the twentieth century, we could use some of York’s determination and ambition in the twenty-first.

Kaley Kiermayr

Bitch is an independent quarterly magazine published in Portland, Oregon. Its tagline is “a feminist response to pop culture.” From their scandalous name to their bevy of thoughtful content, Bitch doesn’t pull any punches. Whether you’re looking for independent, feminist, radical thinking in a print magazine, or want to read explicitly political and feminist readings of pop culture on the daily, I think you’ll find Bitch to be critical, mandatory reading. I’ve been reading Bitch Magazine since 2014, and they’re on my mind as of late because they’re in the midst of an enormous fundraiser. Today is the last day to reach their $150,000 goal and #KeepBitchInPrint after 23 years!

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Stefanie Molina

I recently read Heart of Barkness which is the latest installment in the long-running Chet and Bernie series. Sometimes, after a marathon of dystopias, violent fantasy worlds, fairy tale retellings, and thrillers…you just need something light and happy. Chet and Bernie always provide that for me while also handing out a healthy dose of drama and intrigue. This dynamic duo’s private investigator adventures are narrated by Chet, whose fresh way of seeing the world makes any tale (tail?!) worth telling.

Oh, I forgot the best part.

Chet’s a dog.

Dog lovers everywhere will completely fall for his innocence, his smarts, the simplicity of his day-to-day in the face of danger and complexity. He loves his Bernie (as he calls him) to the ends of the earth, and Bernie, hapless and endearing yet completely capable and badass, returns the favor in spades. You won’t find a more charming voice anywhere. And you won’t find a more loyal friend than Chet the Jet!