Well look at that, now it’s July.
Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed
I’ve had this one lying around forever, so I finally read it. It’s a collection of short stories, most set in the fantasy realm that his Throne of the Crescent Moon takes place (I think? I still haven’t read that one yet -.-) and I loved them. All of them. I’ll pick a favourite: “Judgement of Swords and Souls” which is about an action-girl and seriously, I’d read a 12 part series about her and her exploits. Fantasy tends to get a little tiring and stale sometimes. I don’t even think I’d be excited if GRRM announced that book 6 comes out tomorrow. I’d just be like, “K.” But these stories felt really fresh while still being typical fantasy stuff that I know and love, so, I’m really glad I actually read it. And I’m very interested to read Ahmed’s full novel.
Indigenous Poetics in Canada by Neal McLeod (sort of)
Neal McLeod is the editor and occasional contributor of this anthology of essays about what the title says. As it’s an academic book, it’s a bit of a slog, and I’m way out of practice over here. It’s been 5 years since I left school, and even when I was in school I didn’t take a First Nations lit course, which would have given me a bit of background for this discussion. Still, even though I felt waaaay out of my depth at times, it was nice to revisit this way of thinking about books and poetry. I liked one essay that reformed words, so that “recreate” becomes “re-CREE-ate” – ahhh. I miss academia. And that’s an example of fiddling around with words that’s actually really meaningful. There’s also the fact that apart from Thomas King, who was only mentioned briefly, I’d never read the poets/authors who contributed essays and/or whose works are discussed, so I was almost entirely lost. But I took it as a list of recommendations for who to read next and went with it, hopefully with some theoretical knowledge to consider as I go.
Luna Station Quarterly, Issue 028
This is a very good idea for a literary journal. Women-based fantasy stories? But of course. I believe my favourite story this issue was “Earth is a Crash Landing,” but “Wedding Feast” stayed with me more vividly. It manages to make the thing that sometimes happens at weddings (I mean where they read the really misogynist passage out of the bible rather than the obvious choice of “Wedding at Cana” and everyone stands around like nothing incredibly bizarre is happening) seem perfectly normal in comparison.
Disney Princess #2 by Amy Mebberson
Of course I loved it.
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
So in this new YA series, Charlotte Holmes is the descendant of Sherlock Holmes with an oxy addiction and a BFF in Jamie Watson (yes, he’s also a descendant) and they solve a big huge mystery. Charlotte is a rape survivor and may be ace or a sociopath or just traumatized. Jamie has rage problems.
I thought I’d be raising my eyebrows a lot, but honestly, Cavallaro actually sells it. The only thing I still have a problem with is that this premise requires Sherlock Holmes to have bred. And I feel like if you’re not actually going to be, like, emotionally available in the slightest to your offspring, you should probably not have any. But that it hugely my bias and it doesn’t effect the story at all, so, I don’t know.
The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
I loved this. I don’t know what else to say, it was just really good.
Out on Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler
Surprising myself, I read another Radleigh University book. This one focuses on Frankie, the pansexual non-monogamous one in the group of friends, having an actual, serious crush on a girl who isn’t out yet to her super Republican political family, and learning to deal. Like Right of First Refusal, it has some obnoxious allusions to and descriptions of sex, but overall I found it much easier to read. Partially that’s because the story this time was a little… nicer? There are also a couple of moments that depict issues surrounding consent really, really well, and I liked that a lot. And the non-sex-related stuff was better – Frankie’s extracurricular activities are art, rather than lacrosse, which I prefer. But there was one part that depicted mirror sex as though it was the hottest thing that could possibly ever happen, and, just, come on. That isn’t just me being asexual, is it? Why would anyone do that OK you know what, I’m moving on.
Poison Kiss by Ana Mardoll
This is another fantasy story that feels pretty fresh (a realm exists of evil fairies who kidnap humans, give them different, often destructive magical abilities, and just generally exploit them but then a bunch of them escape and learn to deal). Part of the freshness for me is that it’s a fantasy romance, and despite the fact that I’ve read all of Twilight, other than that I’m still pretty new to this subgenre. But it also majorly features all types of queer people, so that was cool. I had two problems with it: I felt like there was too much exposition and introspection. A lot of the action was punctuated by these long spells of explaining backgrounds or Rose, the protagonist, would agonize about her problems after every new development on that front. And I need to know a lot of that, sure, but I think there needed to be a little more action overall to balance it all out. My other problem was that a couple of times it alludes to these experiments one of them is doing on rats to try to figure out how these altered people’s magic works. This story is trying (and, I think, largely succeeding) to be safe for people of intersecting identities, but the casual references to lab rats rather ruined it for me. We can argue all day about whether animal experimentation is necessary, but the reality is it will one day be over, if humans are even half as decent as I think we generally are, so if we’re not everyday working towards perfecting alternatives (even in fiction!) instead of normalizing exploitation (even in fiction!) I don’t know what to say.
But it was only twice, I think, and in this book we didn’t see any of it, at least.
Also, this book has the distinction of featuring my favourite male love interest so far: Clarent. He’s so sweet.
Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
I’m still mad at this one. It’s very, very good, but if two lab rat references in Poison Kiss were enough to annoy me, well, this book is brimming with actual depictions of animals suffering and dying. It’s a thought experiment on the relationship between human intelligence and happiness, and while I think it’s really worthwhile, I don’t actually think it ever thoroughly explained what “happiness” is, which would have been kind of crucial.
I was unhappy with the implication that dogs would of course be inherently somewhat sexist with added intelligence (maybe that wasn’t what Alexis was going for but that’s how I read it), and I didn’t like the implication that dogs would be kind of gleefully cruel, with their newfound intelligence. I get that humans aren’t natural predators the way dogs are, though, so maybe that part is just me projecting an idealized version of what dogs are on to dogs.
The dominance/submission stuff was actually annoying, though. Part of the problem is that we don’t have adequate language or understanding yet of how dog “society” works, but dogs being deferential to other dogs and humans is much more complicated than the whole alpha concept can adequately explain. Especially since the alpha concept isn’t a real thing except in captive wolves.
I mean, I was thinking against the book much of the time, but it made me think a lot. A lot a lot. And the depiction of the friendship between Majnoun, a poodle, and Nira, a human who has adopted him, makes everything worthwhile. Lots of it takes place in High Park in Toronto, which is also cool. High Park is cool.
If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
I loved this! At times it’s harrowing, and what I wanted after reading it was just thousands of books featuring trans girls, boys, and enbies not having to worry about something as critical as their gender identity and expression. Also, like Out on Good Behavior it depicts people making sure they’ve gotten consent and I wish every romance ever had this.
Witness, I Am by Gregory Scofield
I miss poetry. This is really good stuff. The first poem, called “Muskrat Woman,” is almost half the length of the collection and reminds me of “The Wasteland,” but contemporary, critical of the forced assimilation of First Nations people into Christianity and silly Christian-style misogyny, and referencing the current and horrifying events related to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. So, much better and more important than “The Waste Land,” is what I’m saying.
George by Alex Gino
I just loved this book. If a genie granted me three wishes related to this book, my first wish would be that 20 copies could be on every library shelf in every school, my second wish would be that everyone could have a friend like Kelly (Kelly is awesome), and my third wish would be to set the Genie free.
Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe
More poetry. I just finished this one yesterday and it’s still sinking in, but let me just say, someone needs to back a dump truck filled with copies of this collection up to Lynn Beyak’s house and just leave them there. Because. Fuck.
Thaw by Elyse Springer
Yeeeeah, a romance between two women and one of them is asexual. As with most romances, it was somewhat predictable when it came to what the major conflict was going to be, but I really liked this one.
That’s 14, if you haven’t been counting. It’s occurring to me now that I probably am going to get to 100 by the end of the year. Go me, I guess.