Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams

It feels so good to have enjoyed a novel so fully that I read it in a day and a half. What had me so keen on the premise of Tell the Machine Goodnight is a) the fact that the synopsis “playfully illuminates our national obsession with positive psychology, our reliance on quick fixes and technology” and b) Gabrielle Zevin, one of my favorite authors who excels with her subtle little quips on our daily lives, blurbed it.

Pearl’s job is to make people happy. Every day, she provides customers with personalized recommendations for greater contentment. She’s good at her job, her office manager tells her, successful. But how does one measure an emotion?

Meanwhile, there’s Pearl’s teenage son, Rhett. A sensitive kid who has forged an unconventional path through adolescence, Rhett seems to find greater satisfaction in being unhappy. The very rejection of joy is his own kind of “pursuit of happiness.” As his mother, Pearl wants nothing more than to help Rhett–but is it for his sake or for hers? Certainly it would make Pearl happier. Regardless, her son is one person whose emotional life does not fall under the parameters of her job–not as happiness technician, and not as mother, either.

Told from an alternating cast of endearing characters from within Pearl and Rhett’s world, Tell the Machine Goodnight delivers a smartly moving and entertaining story about relationships and the ways that they can most surprise and define us. Along the way, Katie Williams playfully illuminates our national obsession with positive psychology, our reliance on quick fixes and technology. What happens when these obsessions begin to overlap? With warmth, humor, and a clever touch, Williams taps into our collective unease about the modern world and allows us see it a little more clearly.

Thankfully for my impatient temper, the introducing story starts off compelling enough, in particular, hits the spot for me upon introducing Pearl’s sixteen-year-old son, Rhett, who’s recovering from an eating disorder. His unknowable, remote nature makes for a natural pull in getting to know more about him. Incidentally, he’s also all the things that make me feel fond of a character: distant, moody, hates school, rarely leaves his home, is close to his mother (or getting to it).

Tell the Machine Goodnight 4To counter his anguished withdrawal, Pearl’s powerless state seeps in, when all she craves is to bring her child back from hovering on the brink, so she channels in her overprotective, overbearing, OVEReverything nature, similar to Joyce Byers in Stranger Things.

The following stories move deftly between alternating characters, such as Pearl’s ex-husband, Elliot, Pearl’s shifty coworker, Carter, Pearl’s high-end secret client for Apricity, who gets name-dropped throughout the book so that when we finally meet her it feels like all else has led up to this exact moment. At the heart of it all, though, stands Pearl with her fierce protectiveness (of herself, of her child, of her machine) at her beck and call.

Tell the Machine Goodnight gets so many things right by going outside the box not only on the platitudes of motherhood but through the whip-smart writing and a tremendous cast that lead to having numerous moments and turns of phrase to remind me of how good this book can be. Leading examples include:

  • #1

Tell the Machine Goodnight 15“unique store-bought personality” is one of the more memorable lines I’ve read this year.

  • #2Tell the Machine Goodnight 2

Typically, we’d fill in the brackets on our own, but Katie Williams is here to reminds us not to succumb to gender stereotypes.

  • Another moment where I felt the author truly shine was with Zihao’s introduction (Rhett’s college roommate, an international student from China). It takes a special type of writer to succeed at showcasing a character’s personality through text messages (and with emoji, no less).Tell the Machine Goodnight 1-- bookspoils
  • But he truly caught my attention when he got randomly along with Rhett’s mom.Tell the Machine Goodnight 2-- bookspoils The subtle ingenuity disposed between Rhett and Zi had me smiling like a fool.
  • And I’ll leave my review with one last riveting insight on something that I’m running over and over in my mind:

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I love how, throughout my reading experience, this novel remains utterly self-aware and keeps up with the whip-sharp and INNOVATIVE remarks on our deepest desires. And I know I said the above was the last passage I wanted to share, but I have one more subtle quip for the road: “Being home from college for the summer is like sleeping over at a friend’s house you’ve only ever visited in the afternoon. The furniture is familiar, but the light has gone funny on you.” 

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: June 19th, 2018

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Review: Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga, vol 8 7-- bookspoilsAfter the traumatic events of the War for Phang, Hazel, her parents, and their surviving companions embark on a life-changing adventure at the westernmost edge of the universe.

Trying to gather together my scattered thoughts regarding this newest volume in the Saga series is turning out to be rather hard, so I opted for making this bullet point list below:

(Spoilers from here.)

  • The start of the journey took us to Abortion Town, after the unfortunate events of the last volume, where solid commentary was present in the precarious situation.Saga, vol 8 1-- bookspoils
  • This lullaby tribute to our most iconic babysitter, Izabel:Saga, vol 8 2-- bookspoils
  • The emotional bond between Hazel and “make-believe” Kurti. This is what this volume was truly about: focusing on fleshing out character-based storylines, which is incidentally how I like my stories best. Saga, vol 8 5-- bookspoilsThis moment of impact… She’s maturing at a rapid pace.Saga, vol 8 3-- bookspoilsThis girl has known too much loss in her young life.
  • Which then leads me back to Alana having to suffer through her miscarriage; it was utterly hard-hitting. Ultimately, she’s one the most formidable and fearsome protagonists I’ve encountered in my reading of graphic novels.Saga, vol 8 6-- bookspoilsHazel’s narration throughout was particularly grounding.
  • And last but not least, I have to mention that the completion of this volume was spectacular. I love how everything came together and connected seamlessly. Plus, the gorgeous artwork by Fiona Staples that brings the world and characters within to life.Saga, vol 8 7-- bookspoils

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Saga, Vol 8, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: The Secret Loves of Geeks by Hope Nicholson

Starting out the last month of the year on the right foot with this follow-up to 2016 best-seller The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. It’s no secret by now that I absolutely adored said anthology when I picked it up last year. I even went back to reread my review recently and got to experience all those feelings of fun rush back in, like when I had first read them.

So I was more than ready to dive into this new world, where cartoonists and professional geeks tell their intimate, heartbreaking, and inspiring stories about love, sex and, dating in this comics and prose anthology.

But the one thing I came to notice were how few illustrated stories there were compared to The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. This follow-up paves the way for more essays and short stories to be included. That’s not to say that I enjoyed the written tales less, as my favorites below will testify. Still, I wish we would’ve gotten a couple more comics thrown in the mix.

On a brighter note, The Secret Loves of Geeks had me wrapped in the storyline from page one. Starting with Cecil Castellucci’s piece about finding love while camped out for six weeks (!) in line for The Phantom Menace, reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Kindred Spirits.

“We were creating our own microsociety and it was all centered around this thing that we loved.”The Secret Loves of Geeks 1-- bookspoilsAnd then moving on to the next story by Saadia Muzaffar on online (Tinder) dating and doing things different this time. It had me enthralled from start to finish. I was entirely invested to see if the whole “get to know me in a way only I knew me,” without disclosing any Google-identifiable details, would work.The Secret Loves of Geeks 3-- bookspoils

I also came to notice how “The [isolating] feeling of otherness… of never quite fitting in, and of not knowing how to act, or how to be interacted with…” was ever present in this anthology, and I felt the core of it.

The last written piece I want to highlight was Hope Larson’s story: “I wanted to be seen, and yet remain unknown.” She had me eating out of the palm of her hand while recalling her meeting someone “who lights up the night and slows down time.”

Finally, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite illustrated pieces:

The Secret Loves of Geeks 6-- bookspoilsThe art style and colors are dreamy in the above.

Also, this panel from Bear With by Terry Blas:The Secret Loves of Geeks 4-- bookspoilsI wasn’t expecting to find a piece bringing me back to my days of loving Miranda, but I’m so here for this. Also, I cherish the tiny detailed shout-out to the iconic “What have you done today to make you feel proud.”

And last but not least, to quote from the introduction, Cara Ellison and Maddie Chaffer rage against the hypocrisy of controlling women’s sexual fantasies in “Women Love Jerks.”

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Overall, it was validating and so incredibly affirming to read through all the different stories presented in The Secret Loves of Geeks. I’m rooting for more anthologies like this to come out in the near future.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: February 13th 2018

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Secret Loves of Geeks, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!