Shelf Control #262: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
Author: Karen Abbott
Published: 2014
Length: 513 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & white photos and 3 maps. 

How and when I got it:

I bought a Kindle edition at least 5 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I seem to have a backlog of non-fiction books! I can’t help it — I hear about a book that sounds interesting, and despite knowing my less-than-stellar track record when it comes to reading non-fiction, I just can’t resist adding yet another to my overflowing bookshelves.

I remember reading about Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy when it came out. I’ve read several novels set during the Civil War period, and have loved the ones centering on women taking on unusual roles, whether by dressing as men in order to serve in the army or finding other ways to serve the country, often through avenues that defy the gender norms of the time. So what better than to read about real-life women who risked themselves in order to serve a greater cause?

I did actually start this book via audiobook several years back and ended up not getting past the first few chapters. I found the audiobook really hard to follow, because it was too easy to miss the key names or places and then become completely lost. I have a feeling this will work much better for me in print.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!



__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Places In Books I’d Love to Live

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Places In Books I’d Love to Live. This was a bit of a challenge, but in the end, I have 9 places — some real, some fictional — that I’d love to at least visit, and maybe possibly live… and one place (although I’m sure I could come up with a lot more) that I definitely don’t want to go anywhere near!

1. Lallybroch: The Fraser family home in the Scottish Highlands, from Outlander. Lallybroch is fictional, but the Highlands and all of Scotland are a dream destination for me.

2. The House in the Cerulean Sea (from the book by the same name, by TJ Klune) — I love the description of the house and sea and the forest!

3. Pemberley: I’d be happy to live at Mr. Darcy’s estate forever!

4. Elfhame: From the Folk of the Air books by Holly Black, I think I’d like to at least vacation in Elfhame to see the beauty and the strangeness of the faerie kingdom — but with a great deal of caution, because they really aren’t particularly kind to mortals there.

5. Anywhere in Alaska, particularly the parts described in the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow. Although maybe just in the spring and summer. Winters? Brrrrrrr.

6. Prince Edward Island: An absolute dream of mind is to visit PEI and visit all the beautiful spots described in Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon!

7. Australia: I’ve never been, and I’d love to visit to see the landscapes described in books such as The Thorn Birds and The Exiles.

8. Tuscany: So many books describe this gorgeous region. My most recent read set there, My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith, convinced me that I need to go to see the landscapes and eat the amazing food.

9. Willow Creek, Maryland — a fictional location that hosts the amazing Renaissance Faires portrayed in Jen DeLuca’s Well Met and Well Played.

10. Please do NOT send me anywhere near the Scholomance, the school of magic in Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education. I don’t think I’d survive even my first hour there.

What bookish locations are your dream destinations? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

The Monday Check-In ~ 3/29/2021

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Happy Passover to all who celebrate! We had a lovely (small) seder at my house over the weekend. Looking forward to next year, when hopefully our more far-flung friends and family can be with us as well.

What did I read during the last week?

Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs: The 6th book in the fabulous Alpha & Omega series. I loved it! My review is here.

The Fall of Koli by M. R. Carey: The 3rd and final book in the Ramparts trilogy. Simply outstanding. My review is here.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: My book group finished our group read of Outlander this week — my 5th or 6th time through this book! 

To Love and To Loathe by Martha Waters: Sweet, sexy Regency romance — so much fun! Finished late Sunday — review to follow.

Pop culture & TV:

I finished up What We Do in the Shadows, and now I need something new to binge!

Fresh Catch:

One new book this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman: After finishing a romance, it’s time for some horror! I’m looking forward to getting into this upcoming new release by the author of the terrific The Remaking.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Christmas Surprise by Jenny Colgan: I didn’t get as far I would have liked, because we had weirdly windy weather (okay, say that five times fast) this week and I couldn’t get out for walks most days. But now I’m back on track!

Ongoing reads:
  • My book group’s classic read is part 2 of Don Quixote. Continuing onward, 3 chapters per week. Current status: 81%.
  • Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart: This is a fun little guide to all sorts of deadly and dangerous plants. I’m keeping this on my nightstand and reading it in small bites.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: The Fall of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Fall of Koli (Ramparts trilogy, #3)
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: March 23, 2021
Length: 560 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Fall of Koli is the third and final novel in the breathtakingly original Rampart trilogy – set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.

The world that is lost will come back to haunt us . . .

Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he’d be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.

Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they’ve been following – the mysterious “Sword of Albion” – there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.

Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as immersed in a strange new world as I did reading the Koli trilogy, which wraps up with the newly released The Fall of Koli.

The trilogy follows the journey of Koli, a young man just past boyhood who is exiled from his small village after being accused of stealing tech — which the villagers believe only “wakes” for people who truly deserve it. Cast out from the life he’s always known, Koli eventually forms a small tribe with Ursala, a loner medical woman who wanders from settlement to settlement to offer her healing skills, and Cup, a girl who was originally Koli’s hostage but eventually becomes his devoted friend. Guiding them all is Monono, the self-aware AI who protects the trio and her own freedom.

In The Fall of Koli, our heroes encounter a ship from the before times and discover secrets related to the Unfinished War of over 300 years earlier that basically destroyed civilization and may yet lead to the end of humankind. Meanwhile, back in Koli’s home village, his former love interest Spinner has grown into a woman of political stature and leadership who must find a way for the people of Mythen Rood to battle a much larger invading force.

I can’t say enough about how masterfully built Koli’s world is. The author creates a landscape in which everything wants to kill people — trees can and do kill, as do a vast number of creeping, crawling, and flying creatures. The very world seems to reject people, and as Ursala points out, with human settlements so small and scattered, the human gene pool is on the verge of becoming unsustainable. Dead tech still remains, but the surviving humans mostly look upon it as magical creations that are beyond human comprehension, and therefore, the few people who can use tech must be specially chosen or gifted.

Koli’s language is strange and oddly beautiful, and I couldn’t help but wonder at how much effort it must have taken for the author to not only create these speech patterns, but to sustain them convincingly throughout.

I won’t say much about the plot or the ending — but wow, the plot is terrific and wow, the ending is perfect. I was completely on edge during certain scenes, and practically couldn’t breathe, was occasionally super mad at the author for having certain things happen, but by the end breathed deeply again and felt like things turned out exactly as they should have.

The Koli trilogy is a gorgeous, weird, unsettling ride, start to finish. It’s one of the best science fiction / speculative fiction works I’ve read in years. SO highly recommended. Read these books!

Book Review: Wild Sign (Alpha & Omega, #6) by Patricia Briggs

Title: Wild Sign (Alpha & Omega, #6)
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: March 16, 2021
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Mated werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham must discover what could make an entire community disappear — before it’s too late — in this thrilling entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Alpha and Omega series.

In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It’s as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they’ve consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face.

Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous — and it has met werewolves before. 

March is such a wonderful time of year — because every March, there’s a new Patricia Briggs book! This year’s new release is book #6 in her Alpha & Omega series, while last year gave us a new Mercy Thompson book. Both series are amazing (and are connected), and I love them to pieces. So, three cheers for March and the release of Wild Sign!

In Wild Sign, we start with a moment of domestic joy for Charles and Anna, two fierce werewolves who are mated, married, and madly in love. I will never get tired of seeing them together and enjoying their undeniable chemistry.

Their sweet time together is interrupted by a knock on the door — it’s two FBI agents, unexpectedly showing up on pack territory, presenting them with a mystery that they need help with, as well as proposing an ongoing alliance between them and the werewolves.

The mystery is relevant to the pack because it occurred on land owned by the pack: In an off-the-grid settlement in the wilds of a California wilderness, a small town of people has completely disappeared without a trace. There’s no evidence that the residence have resettled elsewhere — no one has heard from any of them in months, and no sign of them can be found. Something otherworldly may be at play, and since the land is pack-owned, that makes it pack business.

Accompanied by dangerous (but funny) pack member Tag, Charles and Anna set off to investigate what happened to the people of Wild Sign, what lurks in the mountains there, and how to stop the evil forces that seem to be at play.

The adventure is immediate, as is the danger, and there were moments that really and truly set me on edge, particularly as Anna seems to be at risk and the threat to her is huge. The story behind what happened at Wild Sign is creepy, and Patricia Briggs masterfully unfolds the horror in a way that lets it build slowly until a terrifying picture emerges.

There’s a surprise twist in the epilogue that apparently has the fan community all a-buzz, but I actually thought it was a pretty cool development that will certainly have repercussions in both the Alpha & Omega and Mercy books down the line. I won’t say more about it, but it’s definitely a lot to think about!

I love Charles and Anna so much as characters, and love the rest of their pack too. Wild Sign also gives us some long-withheld backstory on key characters Bran and Leah, which I found fascinating, and I can wait to see what happens next for all of them.

The Alpha & Omega series is absolutely wonderful, and I just can’t get enough. The first book in the series is actually a novella, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of urban fantasy writing of all time. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading these books yet, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Alpha and Omega!

For readers who are already fans of the series, of course you’ll want to read Wild Sign. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed! Another fantastic read in a fantastic series. My only complaint is having to wait another year for the next book in this world!

Shelf Control #261: Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Other Kingdoms
Author: Richard Matheson
Published: 2011
Length: 316 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

For over half a century, Richard Matheson has enthralled and terrified readers with such timeless classics as I Am LegendThe Incredible Shrinking ManDuelSomewhere in Time, and What Dreams May Come. Now the Grand Master returns with a bewitching tale of erotic suspense and enchantment.…

1918. A young American soldier, recently wounded in the Great War, Alex White comes to Gatford to escape his troubled past. The pastoral English village seems the perfect spot to heal his wounded body and soul. True, the neighboring woods are said to be haunted by capricious, even malevolent spirits, but surely those are just old wives’ tales.

Aren’t they?

A frightening encounter in the forest leads Alex into the arms of Magda Variel, an alluring red-haired widow rumored to be a witch. She warns him to steer clear of the wood and the perilous faerie kingdom it borders, but Alex cannot help himself. Drawn to its verdant mysteries, he finds love, danger…and wonders that will forever change his view of the world.

Other Kingdoms casts a magical spell, as conjured by a truly legendary storyteller.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy when the book was first released.

Why I want to read it:

Richard Matheson is the author of some incredibly well-known horror stories (I Am Legend, among others), as well as being a prolific screenwriter and writer of a vast number of novels and short stories. While I haven’t read a ton of his work, he is the author of one of my all-time favorite books-turned-movies, Somewhere in Time (for which he wrote the screenplay based on his novel). Other Kingdoms is one of his later works published before his death in 2013.

When I heard about Other Kingdoms, I was drawn to it not only because of the author, but also because of the description. I’m a total sucker for faerie worlds and haunted woods, and the mortals who go where perhaps they shouldn’t. I think it sounds terrific!

What do you think? Would you read this book? Have you read any other books by Richard Matheson, and if so, do you have any to recommend?

Please share your thoughts!



__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Funny Book Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Funny Book Titles — always a fun topic to put together! I know I’ve featured at least some of these before… but here’s a collection of favorites:

  1. Bite Me by Christopher Moore (funny because it’s a vampire book…)
  2. The Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore (and yes, I could probably fill up this list with just this author’s book titles)
  3. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
  4. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
  5. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi
  6. Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby by Allyson Beatrice
  7. Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
  8. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters
  9. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Trusse (because grammar books are funny!)
  10. Have You Eaten Grandma? by Gyles Brandreth (see what I mean about grammar books?)

What books are on your list? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

The Monday Check-In ~ 3/22/2021

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Today is my husband’s birthday! We went out for dinner over the weekend. You read that right — we went OUT for dinner! It was our first restaurant dinner in over a year — we went to a pretty French restaurant with a lovely patio garden, had outdoor seating with a heater nearby, and enjoyed some terrific food and drinks. It felt like such a treat!

Other than that, it’s been a mostly quiet week, with too many rainy days that interfered with my daily walks. And now, we’re gearing up to get ready for Passover!

 

 

What did I read during the last week?

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers: A dual-timeline narrative about a magical circus and family secrets. My review is here.

There There by Tommy Orange: My book group’s pick for March. Very powerful and sad — I think I need a little more time to digest it and get my thoughts together.

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop by Jenny Colgan: A terrific 2nd book in a terrific trilogy. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

It’s been a Disney+ week! After signing up last week, my son and I have been enjoying the Marvel universe, including WandaVision, the first episode of The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, and Iron Man 1 and 2. It looks like we’re going to do some sort of MCU watchathon over the coming weeks. Up next: Thor!

Also, I finally started watching What We Do In The Shadows, and I’m loving it. Almost done with season 1!

Fresh Catch:

One new book this week, and it looks amazing:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs: The release of a new Patricia Briggs is reason to celebrate! I just started her newest, the 6th book in the fantastic Alpha & Omega series.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Christmas Surprise by Jenny Colgan: Well, of course I’m listening to the 3rd book in the Rosie series! How could I not?

Ongoing reads:
  • Outlander Book Club is re-reading Outlander! We’re reading and discussing one chapter per week. This week — the final chapter!! Chapter 41, “From the Womb of the Earth”. 
  • Our group classic read is part 2 of Don Quixote. Continuing onward, 3 chapters per week. Current status: 79%.
  • Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart: This is a fun little guide to all sorts of deadly and dangerous plants. I’m keeping this on my nightstand and reading it in small bites.

So many books, so little time…

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Audiobook Review: Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop by Jenny Colgan

Title: Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator: Lucy Price-Lewis
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: 2013
Print length: 368 pages
Audio length: 8 hours 31 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Rosie Hopkins is looking forward to Christmas in the little Derbyshire village of Lipton, buried under a thick blanket of snow. Her sweetshop is festooned with striped candy canes, large tempting piles of Turkish Delight, crinkling selection boxes and happy, sticky children. She’s going to be spending it with her boyfriend, Stephen, and her family, flying in from Australia. She can’t wait.

But when a tragedy strikes at the heart of their little community, all of Rosie’s plans for the future seem to be blown apart. Can she build a life in Lipton? And is what’s best for the sweetshop also what’s best for Rosie?

A Christmas-themed book is such a non-typical reading choice for me — unless it’s a book by Jenny Colgan, and especially if it includes favorite characters and is a follow-up to a favorite book!

I absolutely adored Sweetshop of Dreams, and just needed to keep main character Rosie in my life a little longer, so naturally, I couldn’t resist starting Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop right away.

This 2nd book in the series (it’s a trilogy) picks up about a year after the events in the first book. Rosie is happily settled in the little town of Lipton, running the town sweetshop, living with her beloved boyfriend Stephen, and feeling happier than she’s ever felt in her her life.

As Christmas approaches, things are looking good. Rosie’s family is about to arrive from Australia (although she hasn’t quite gotten around to telling Stephen yet). Stephen has just started his dream job teaching at the little local primary school. They’re happy in their cozy cottage, and Rosie is relieved to know that her great-aunt Lillian is happy too in her retirement home, where she merrily raises holy hell amongst the old folks and is as feisty as ever.

But tragedy strikes due to a freak accident that injures Stephen and threatens the future of Lipton’s school. As Stephen recovers and Rosie’s family hits town, tensions rise and eventually come to a head. Meanwhile, because of the accident, an elderly man suffering from dementia ends up in Lipton, and appears to have connections to the town that no one could have imagined.

Once again, Jenny Colgan’s book strikes just the right note of joy and love, while blending in dramatic complications and moments of fear. The tensions play out throughout the plot, but we readers can rest easy knowing that the author would never truly leave us in devastation. There are sweet secrets revealed, plenty of feel-good family moments, adorableness from small children, dramatic rescues, and plenty of romantic highlights too.

As the 2nd book in a trilogy, Christmas at Rosie Hopkin’s Sweetshop left me very happy, but also eager to read more about these characters — most of who I’d like to either hang out with or give big hugs to, or both.

This was a quick and cheery listen that also packs in emotional moments and enough worries and sorrow to keep it from going too far over the line into a nonstop sugary utopia. I’ve loved both books about Rosie, and need to start #3 immediately! Highly recommended.

TV Time: Masking up on TV — too much, or not enough?

Here we are, a year into our masked-up lives, and while vaccines provide a glimmer of hope, it’s still way too soon to start stashing away our supplies of snazzy custom masks.

Side question: How many pretty/fun masks do you own? I’ve been pretty restrained, I think, and yet I somehow find myself with a drawer full of colorful fabric masks. They’re cute!

I’ve been having some mixed feelings lately about seeing TV shows featuring mask-wearing in their current season’s episodes. On the one hand, if the show is supposed to be set in our current day and age, they can’t come off as realistic if the characters aren’t quarantining, observing social distancing, and wearing masks.

On the other hand… well, there are two main negatives that have been coming up for me:

1 – I watch TV for escapism and entertainment. I see enough masks and hear enough COVID-COVID-COVID nonstop in my real life. Do I need to see it on my sitcoms too?

2 – For the shows that choose to go there, they’d better be doing it right. And that just doesn’t seem to be the case across the board, especially when it appears that masks might be inconvenient for storylines.

A couple of examples of mask usage, one mostly good but not perfect, and one just baffling:

On This Is Us, the show has mostly been very good about showing the characters in the modern-day storylines following social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. Whether on a movie set or in a hospital giving birth, they’ve been pretty consistent about having masks in place where appropriate — but they still make some iffy choices, such as having a teen daughter’s boyfriend come to dinner without explaining whether he and his family are in their bubble. And if they are, that’s a pretty big bubble, considering that another daughter is planning to go over to a friend’s house too.

I give This Is Us pretty high scores on the realism of their COVID world, showing Zoom interviews and FaceTime hospital visits, but just wish they would get a little tighter. If you’re going to do it, do it all the way.

Then there’s Black-ish, which seems to have lost interest in COVID after a brief couple of episodes where they focused on it. People come and go from the family’s house, without masks. The main character goes to work and interacts with colleagues, without masks. There was an episode with a backyard wedding that had some people wearing masks, but then other people showed up after traveling and were not wearing masks.

If they want to pretend to live in a COVID-free world, that’s fine — but going partway and then ignoring it doesn’t make any sense.

At the other end of the mask-wearing on TV spectrum is the (always phenomenal) Queen Sugar. The currently airing 5th season is set squarely in the real world, moving through the early months of the pandemic (so far — we’re on the 5th episode, set in May 2020) with a very specific focus on what the show’s community would have experienced at that particular time. So far in the season, we’ve seen the characters go from the early days of learning about some distant virus to vague worries to quarantine and isolation, with the first death of a supporting character as well.

The characters on Queen Sugar experience all the shocks of the pandemic, from job loss to economic downturns to the isolation of Zoom school to the grief of losing a loved one, and it all feels hyper-real and powerful, especially knowing that the characters don’t yet know what’s still to come in that awful year. The characters responsibly wear masks, and even for gatherings such as a wedding, they maintain social distancing, stay outdoors, separate by family units, and — again — stay masked up.

Queen Sugar — in a promo pic for an upcoming episode, the main character is wearing her mask, but I’m worried about the guy she’s standing next to. Why can’t guys keep their masks over their noses? For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is the show not doing what it should — it’s (sadly) accurately showing how sloppy some people can be!

Another shot of the Queen Sugar wedding, mostly just because it makes me so happy, but also because this shot again shows how thoughtfully the show is approaching the characters’ lives and their commitment to being safe. I love how they throw a beautiful wedding with only a few people present, all except the bride and groom masked, and keep the people present outdoors and at a safe distance. Well done!

As a viewer, I do get frustrated sometimes watching characters interact and show emotion from behind a mask, especially if the dialogue isn’t super clear — but if the show is asking us to believe that the events they’re showing are contemporary to our time, then they need to do this piece right. Queen Sugar is spot on.

At the same time, I’m fine with shows being only vaguely “now-ish” and not showing masks and social distancing — but I feel like they should either do it or don’t, nothing in the middle. Either go full-on COVID aware and be responsible, or have the show set in a pandemic-free bubble, but don’t give mixed messages about whether the characters are being safe. Frankly, it sends a terrible message to kind-of show appropriate pandemic behavior but then be inconsistent — are they saying this behavior is okay?

What are your thoughts about masks on TV shows? Do you appreciate the realism, wish they did it better, or feel like you’d rather just watch TV and pretend none of this real-world mess exists?