100 Books: November

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WELP.

This was easily my most productive month, reading-wise. 17! That means I have 16 left. To be read in one month. That’s just grand.

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

awkward

I started the month off right with a graphic novel from Svetlana Chmakova. It’s heart-wrenching and adorable, and tackles bullying and uneasily navigating friendships, but mainly it looks at what happens when you make a mistake. Can you make up for it? How?

It does such a good job. I hope this book is widely available in school libraries everywhere because it’s fantastic.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

my brilliant friend

I’ve been reading this for probably at least a year and a half now. It’s lovely and fascinating but it’s also really dense, and at times a little emotionally draining – nothing extremely horrible happens, but because of how vivid the characters are and how well Ferrante illustrates the relationship between Elena and Lila it’s an intense read.

When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

when the moon was ours

This one requires a long, wistful sigh before going any further.

I *wanted* *so* *badly* to capital “L” Love this book. I almost did. But a lot of McLemore’s prose is floaty and dreamy and beautiful and some of it doesn’t work for me.

This is absolutely a failing on my part, and I’ll cop to it. I love magical realism and I *want* to love dreamy, floaty, beautiful prose, but I often get stuck on it if it isn’t exactly the way I want it to be. At present I can’t even think of an example of an author who pulls off this sort of thing stylistically for my stupid, particular tastes, but I will say that there are certain passages in here that are breathtaking.

When it works, it works. It makes a love scene twenty thousand times more romantic, it makes the setting entirely more beautiful, and there are enough of those moments for me to decide that I’m the problem here, not the prose. But there are some moments, like this one that stuck in my craw: I’m not actually going to quote it but basically Sam has observed that two characters have a bunch of similarities that are probably due to their being blood relations. One of the things in the list is that both women wear out their right shoes before their left shoes, and, come on. Why would he know that? I know him and Miel are close but, who on earth is close enough to know how exactly their friend/lover’s shoes get worn out, and why would he also know it about her guardian?

Anyway, it’s such a little thing, meant to be stylistic and not taken literally the way I, a ridiculous person, took it, and got frustrated. What’s way more important is that this love story between a girl and a trans boy is stunning. It’s so good. It’s written so well. I just wish it had been a tad less dreamy/floaty/beautiful because I suck.

Oh, I also LOVE the way the conflict was resolved. So, so much.

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

indexing

Seanan McGuire is a national treasure. I don’t think I get to say that, actually, because she’s American and I’m not but I’m saying it anyway. And to think I found her because some brocialists decided to mock her for using Harry Potter as a cultural touchstone to form a rally cry about Trump’s election. Her tweet was basically a call for everyone to assemble and she used the Hogwarts houses to talk about how people with different strengths should play to those strengths in the fights to come.

I mean. It was cutesy and harmless and a lot of people, especially young people, enter and familiarize themselves with politics through popular art but the brocialists didn’t like it and she got dog piled. For using Harry Potter in real-life political talk. (Everyone does that guys.) I followed her immediately and I’ve so far loved every book of hers I’ve read.

I actually started out not liking this one very much – the premise is that fairy tales are trying to happen every day and there’s a Bureau that tries to prevent them, staffed by almost-fairy tale leads. So. It’s wacky. But halfway through it grew on me, mainly because the characters were so likable and I felt the need to stick with them, and once the stakes got high I was hooked. I have the sequel downloaded and am really excited to get back to this world, it’s cool and deadly.

Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanna Betasamosake Simpson

islands of decolonial love

This is angry and impossible to turn away from. Because it’s a collection of short stories I’m having trouble remembering specifics, but I do vividly recall one part in one story where the characters do some civil disobedience by picketing the OFAH headquarters purely out of spite with a sign that says “First we’ll kill your animals, then we’ll fuck your women (with their consent, of course)” and though I am not a fan of hunting at all I am a huge fan of consent, and of antagonizing the OFAH (which spends an uncomfortable amount of time whining that First Nations have limited or no regulations on their hunting) and I laughed out loud and heartily.

“it takes an ocean not to break” was my favourite. It was strikingly beautiful and hard to face, dealing with mental health, suicide, therapy, and the systemic racism behind it all.

Sistah Vegan compiled by A. Breeze Harper

sistah vegan

Sistah Vegan gets its own post!

What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat by Louise Richardson

what terrorists want

giphy (1)

If the subject of terrorism interests you, and, it probably does, considering the time in which we’re living, I highly recommend reading this because it puts everything into perspective. The main takeaways are that the post-9/11 “War on Terror” was a gigantic missed opportunity to better understand the “why” and “how” of terrorism, which, you’d think, would be essential for combating it. This was not a surprising conclusion, but it’s still an important one.

It was written when Bin Laden was still alive, and one thing I missed here was a look at unorganized angry white man terrorism which is becoming the norm in the United States, but which has also touched Canada. I’d be really interested in Richardson’s take on how something disorganized fits into the definition of terrorism, and the similarities and differences.

Yikes. Heavy stuff.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl dreaming

This is absolutely beautiful.

A Pussycat’s Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown and Anne Mortimer

a pussycat's christmas

This isn’t cheating what are you talking about.

OK, so it’s an extremely short children’s book that I’ve read many times before, what’s the big deal?

It’s important seasonal reading, though, and, whatever, I’m close and yet far from the goal number so I have to do things like this.

It’s a good book. This is one of my favourite Christmas images ever.

cat

I want my kitchen table to look like that, always.

Also this cat is perpetually horrified and I love it, she’s like my Chili.

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

brave

I read this sequel to Awkward in ONE SITTING and it was incredible.

INCREDIBLE.

It’s mostly about bullying and the bigger problem of isolation, and it tackles these issues gently and realistically and also it ruined my night, here you go:

jensen1

jensen

*cries forever*

Seriously, though. I’m thinking about buying this for my little cousin for Christmas because I think it’s both really well done and important.

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

a song for quiet

FIRST OF ALL: Cassandra Khaw’s author pictures are the absolute best things ever.

I read one of hers last month, and it was chick lit, so this extremely dark novella was a bit of a shock although now that I’ve browsed through her available work, it looks like this sort of thing is her normal.

I only wish I had read this earlier this year, or maybe last November. Its apocalypse stuff and apathy stuff and cynicism and despair are very late 2016 – early 2017 for me – but then it ends fairly optimistically… and I don’t think I’m there yet. So maybe I actually should have waited to read it until late 2018 (fingers crossed).

The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont

the pemmican eaters

Finally, I read some Marilyn Dumont! Her work kept being referenced in that anthology I read earlier this year so it was nice to actually find out what everyone was talking about.

I’m a sucker for Canadian history, and these poems are about the Riel Resistance. I’m also a sucker for rhythmic poetry and whenever her meter kicked in I was reminded specifically of “Puerto Rican Obituary” by Pedro Pietri, one of my favourite ever poems, so, overall, I guess you could say this worked for me.

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

farewell my queen

Just as dense as My Brilliant Friend and also intensely about women’s relationships. I found this pretty strange, overall, and that’s fitting considering it’s an intimate look at a really strange moment in history.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

the weight of feathers

I read this other book from McLemore this month and I liked it better – but I liked the ending a lot less. I liked how it ended – I agreed with the choices the main characters made and all, but as to how the conflict got resolved, I was a strong “meh.” When the Moon was Ours definitely has the better conflict resolution – that was my favourite part of that book. Here, it’s a Romeo and Juliet situation but between two circus families, and basically the two kids get everyone to leave them alone so they can run off together by making out furiously in a tree in front of everyone. And I thought that was stupid. Call me cold-hearted, but, meh.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

we are never meeting in real life

This was everything. Some of it was heartbreaking, some of it was hysterically funny, a lot of it was relatable – I loved it. I’ve never read a collection of personal essays before, and yet I still suspect that if I started doing that regularly this would find a spot and remain on my top five list, at least.

Lumberjanes Volume 4

lumberjanes vol 4

What is there to say about Lumberjanes apart from that this series has been the highlight of my year and no, I don’t think that’s tragic. In fact, I’m delighted. I can’t wait for it to be a TV series (come on, something this fun and lovely HAS to be made into a cartoon dramedy), but I love it as graphic novels in the meantime.

In this volume, it looks like maybe things aren’t as idyllic at Camp Lumberjane (I don’t actually know if that’s what it’s called) as we may first have suspected, but I trust that the girls will fix everything in time.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

smile

Telgemeier’s Ghost was the first graphic novel I read this year, and I loved it so much I decided to give things like Lumberjanes and Awkward and Brave a try and they’ve been some of my favourite things ever. I grabbed this one and read it in a sitting. It brought back many painful memories of braces – though my tooth “problems” were not nearly as severe as Raina’s (all I’ll say about hers is ouuuuuch).

It also reminded me of the time I dumped all of my friends and got an entirely new group of friends, also while wearing braces, also determining that it improved my life tenfold. So this was a nice trip down memory lane to probably the most fraught couple of years of my life so far (which makes me very lucky, that the worst I dealt with was stupid preteen-teen angst in grades seven and eight).

I think if I’d had this book at the time, it would have soothed me a little bit, so bless Telgemeier for it.

November’s lesson is that kids’ graphic novels are amazing. That will be all.

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100 Books: October

(I know Jane is sketching in a sketch book but I needed to use her at least once because anyone with this much enthusiasm for gorillas living in family groups is required to show up in a header image so whatever)

Jan Feb March April May June July August September

Frankly, I’m impressed by how well I’ve staved off the temptation to just reread It. The temptation is HUGE. And yet, all I’ve done is go looking for this section, where Richie takes Ben and Bev to a double horror show:

“Howdy, Haystack!” he said. “Thought you went chicken on me. These movies goan scare ten pounds off your pudgy body. Ah say, ah say they goan turn your hair white, boy. When you come out of the theater, you goan need an usher to help you up the aisle, you goan be shakin so bad.”

Richie started for the box-office and Ben touched his arm. Ben started to speak, glanced at Bev, who was smiling at him, and had to start over again. “I was here,” he said, “but I went up the street and around the corner when those guys came along.”

“What guys?” Richie asked, but he thought he already knew.

“Henry Bowers. Victor Criss. Belch Huggins. Some other guys, too.”

Richie whistled. “They must have already gone inside the theater. I don’t see em buying candy.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“If I was them, I wouldn’t bother paying to see a couple of horror movies,” Richie said. “I’d just stay home and look in a mirror. Save some bread.”

I’m sad that they didn’t go to a movie in the new version. In the 90s one, Richie actually screams that last part at Henry and co. and then dumps his pop on them, which makes it probably the best part of the whole movie. In the book, Richie of course isn’t that stupid but even though they’re cautious, the three get cornered by the goons in an alley and somehow manage to win a little scuffle and escape mostly unharmed, which is also pretty great.

Anyway all this proves is that, a) It 2017 needed to be at least six hours long. Honestly. What were the filmmakers thinking, making it only two and a half? and b) Books are very good, very detailed things. The evolution of how shy Ben and outrageous Richie talk to and relate to each other over the summer of ’58 is one of the many little gems that you can’t do in a movie adaptation because apparently people don’t want to sit for ten hours straight in a very uncomfortable theatre chair – not even to see the part where Richie negotiates lawn mowing with his dad so that he can earn two bucks to go to the show in the first place. That is crucial, I tell you. CRUCIAL. (It was actually really funny.) But seriously, the Ben/Richie dynamic shifts pretty much unremarked on as time passes, but Ben starts out completely overwhelmed by Richie and ends up being perfectly comfortable beeping him like the rest of the losers do. It’s a tiny detail, but one I really liked as someone who takes a long time to open up to others, especially people of the Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier persuasion.

So yeah, leaving It alone now, on to the books I read for the first time this month.

Twelve. So. Three short of the goal. Yeah.

Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge

cuckoo song

I actually finished this one sometime in September but forgot to add it to that post. It’s more of an October book anyway. Just look at that cover. I brought it around with me sometimes and everyone who saw it was like, “What is WRONG with you??”

The book is exactly as creepy as the cover would suggest. It’s also one of the best depictions of little girls, and sisters especially, that I think I’ve ever encountered. Ever. In all of media. Mainly because it focused on all of the venom and the spite that exists in those relationships, alongside actual love, and it doesn’t make any sense and yet that’s how they are. How is it possible to sympathize with multiple characters who loathe each other and occasionally try to sabotage the other’s existence? Look, I don’t know, you’d just have to read it to understand. It’s amazing, and such a good story as well.

Of course, my favourite part was when they kidnapped a rooster because they needed his protection and I was SO SURE that bird was going to die but he didn’t, and it was awesome. But the rest of it is amazing too – I seriously can’t overstate how good this book is. Read it. I know Halloween is over but hey, if the Mayor of Halloween Town is already preparing for next year with Jack then you can read this creepy, amazing book right now.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

the girl from everywhere

YA fantasy where the premise is if you have a good map and an imaginative navigator, you can sail a ship to any place, any time. So pretty cool, in other words. The characters were really likable, there was dad-daughter angst, overarching theme of not being sure of belonging, a love triangle that was only a little bit irritating, so all good stuff. There is a sequel/conclusion to this and I am beyond excited to read it. I hope the dog survives (she’s a beagle).

I’d say more but I think I need to see how it ends before I can gather my thoughts. It’s really good, though.

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

the shadow queen

I’m mixed on this one. It’s a retelling of Snow White but with an action girl protagonist and a hard fantasy backdrop, so it’s both something I should like a lot and also something I’m pretty tired of.

What stands out to me about it is the love story (please guess who the love interest is) (yes, it’s the huntsman, go you) (OK it’s actually a foreign king who has come to beg for help from the evil queen and he’s also a shapeshifter but the only thing he can shape shift into is a dragon and the queen turns him into a hunter by removing his human heart but forcing him not to shift into a dragon so he’s basically a human dragon ACTING like the huntsman) (spoiler alert). We like a story about an evil woman who sends a dude to kill a girl and then he tries to but then because she’s so pretty and scared he just can’t bring himself to do it, don’t we. Why? I won’t attempt to answer, it’ll just get too “Feminism 101” in here.

Anyway, this version of that story is different. Snow White Lorelai is not afraid of the Huntsman Dragon Dude Kol. Pretty much immediately she figures out a way to temporarily help him remember that he doesn’t actually want to kill anyone. While I liked this change, and liked how it added to the romance/conflict/whatever, I do still have to go all “Feminism 101” and point out that it’s kind of weird that we like stories like this where nefarious forces/vampirism are compelling the dude to kill the girl he likes but because he’s such a great dude/through the power of true love/because the protagonist is a magic action girl, he doesn’t kill her. Although in this one he (SPOILER!!!!!! Highlight if you don’t care and you just want to read a complete sentence.) sort of does. And in Twilight he turns her into a vampire which is almost the same as dying. It’s just as gruesome as dying, anyway.

I’m not saying this was a horrible depiction of romance because it was waaaaaay better than Twilight and it was also pretty enjoyable, but, it was something I kept in mind. I’ve done too many feminist readings to ignore stuff like this. It is my curse. Except, no. Critical thought is always better than the alternative.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caraval

Girl goes to magical five-night circus that is also a game and everything is just a little more dangerous than she thought it would be and also she has to find and potentially rescue her sister.

This had a cool, threatening, magical atmosphere with a lot of twists and turns but I have my issues with it. The big twist at the end, I think, makes a lot of the long, drawn out conversations and internal monologues that Scarlet deliberates over that happen throughout the book and especially right near the end seem a little far-fetched. Even still, the twist worked on me. It even made me tear up a little.

Theeeeee romaaaaaaance was the bigger thing that made me frown. Midway to the end of the book it was nice, but my dude starts out being a total dickface. And I mean a TOTAL dickface. He is awful. I think his cockiness is supposed to be thrilling and sexy, like Christian Grey or something, but, spoiler alert, Christian Grey sucks and so does first-half-of-this-book Julian. I hate to be so inflexible on this point, but also I don’t find jerkwad guys who go out of their way to make the women they like uncomfortable attractive, so bite me.

But thankfully he turned around, and also the sister plot took over as the main event near the end, as it should, so all was well. I’ll be looking out for the sequel.

Asexual Perspectives by Sandra Bellamy

asexual perspectives

This is a nonfiction in which a whole whack of asexual people answer the biggest questions pertaining to being asexual, like: what do you think about sex, sexual attraction, relationships, relationships between allos and aces, the sexualized world we live in, your greatest ace-related fears, etc.

I wrote a whole long thing about it and just made it it’s own post, here.

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

the duchess war

CAN COURTNEY MILAN TEACH A CLASS TO YA AND FANTASY WRITERS ABOUT WRITING MALE LOVE INTERESTS. PLEASE.

There’s a part where she’s wearing a pretty dress to an event she’ll see him at and when he finds her he’s like, “I know who you’re wearing that for.”

And she’s like, “…”

And he’s like, “For you. You’re wearing it for you. Do more things for you. You go, Glen Coco.”

rafiki

(LMAO so I was going to use a picture of someone looking lovestruck but as I was scrolling through to find one I came across this and I couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity so)

Anyway. Suffice to say you should probably read Courtney Milan. Start with this one, it is very good.

My minor complaint is the cover. All of her covers are pretty and all, and I understand why they have to be the way they are, but I kind of wish this woman on the cover looked like Minnie is supposed to actually look, and was wearing what Minnie is supposed to actually wear. Because I think these dresses are all the wrong era. Because I think this series is set in the Victorian one. So. Why are all of their necks showing, and why so shiny?

Again, I get it, it’s marketing. Still.

Emily’s Best Christmas Ever by Krista and Amanda

emily's best christmas present ever

oh my goodness

Yeah. This is also getting its own post.

Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee

not your villain

I read Not Your Sidekick (the first in this series) earlier this year and liked it despite its third person present tense, which drove me up the wall. This time around, I also liked it, but seriously, I am not a fan of that tense. It’s such a personal preference, but then, third person present isn’t a particularly popular tense, at least, not in the fiction that I read, and maybe there’s a reason for that.

Anyway. There is a really nice flashback scene near the beginning that is in third person past tense and it was the easiest part of this book to read for me, and I wish the whole thing was in that tense.

Moving on from tense issues now. The featured character is a trans boy and he’s in love with his BFF who, as it turns out, (SPOILERS)is questioning/somewhere on the asexual and/or aromantic spectrums, and the part where she comes out to him is perfect and I love it. But man I wish it was written in third person past.

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

the hollow girl

I LOVED this book. Earlier in the year I read something else of Monahan’s, The Awesome, (she wrote that one as Eve Darrows) and I said I liked it but with caveats, and I detailed the caveats, but really, when I say I liked it, it was more that I liked the idea of it. In execution I thought it was too quirky by half and the sex stuff, which should have been good, was, according to me, the expert, kind of offensive.

But I follow the author on Twitter and she’s great. I’ve been following the build-up for The Hollow Girl‘s October release and it’s clear this book means a lot to her. Finally reading it was amazing, because it’s easily one of my favourites this year, and it’s so nice to see something someone is passionate about having made be really good. It should always be that way.

It’s really dark, quite upsetting at times, but I couldn’t look away and the characters were instantly lovable. It highlights a Romani community, showing customs and cultural attitudes that are different than typical Western things, but doesn’t get expositiony. Instead, it makes the world easier to disappear into, and the characters fascinating. In many ways it reminded me of The Female of the Species, just because of how women taking back power and wielding it in response to male violence is depicted.

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

bearly a lady

This was a fun little novella, kind of like Some Assistance Required in that it was one of those supernatural romances in which there are fairies and vampires and werewolves walking around as if it’s all good. It’s kind of weird, but also kind of hard not to find immediately engaging. Also, werebears are a good idea always.

Lumberjanes Volume 3

lumberjanes vol 3

All right, real talk, Lumberjanes continues to be the light of my life. This series is perfect. PERFECT. Also it doesn’t hurt that they’re quick and so much fun to read and I am definitely in need of more of that as this year comes to an end.

An early November horror story for you, courtesy of Jen:

lumberjanes jen's urban legend

I LOVE JEN SO MUCH.

When there are a gazillion volumes out, I think it requires an animated TV adaptation.

Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers

unforgivable

It isn’t Courtney Milan, but I liked this one a lot. I didn’t like that the conflict that kept the couple apart could have easily been solved as early as the half point of the book, but then it would be short and brooding and hurt feelings and overdramatic declarations of love wouldn’t happen.

Actually, the declarations of love are never dramatic. It’s more that it takes so long to get there, and whereas with Duchess War I was totally fine with how long everything was taking, here I did get a little impatient.

Still, it’s good. It was a nice look at a guy lashing out and being mean and feeling instantly bad about it and working to be a better person throughout, because the main character made a few bad choices here and there and seeing it from his perspective keeps him likable. Honestly, it works, somehow. And again, all non-Romance genres that include hetero romance subplots need to learn some stuff from the Romance genre because. Seriously.

All right November. What’s in store?

(Is it impeachment? Please say it’s impeachment.)

100 Books: September

Well now I guess it’s October.

october sally

Jan Feb March April May June July August

So I am apparently slowing down, due, I think, to the encroachment of old age. I turned 28 this month.

I’ve read all of 54 books which leaves a grand total of 46 books left to reach my very reasonable goal. And that means 15 per month from now on. It’s happening, I tell you. By the power of honey crisp apples and being able to watch holiday and fall/Halloween/cozy type movies again, I will surely pull it off.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

down among the sticks and bones

I can’t believe how much I loved this. It’s a companion to Every Heart a Doorway, which I read later this month because I loved this one so much. I prefer this one, but both are really good. Where are the movies, I ask?

I would highly recommend these to anyone who likes kids falling into magical realms. Read Every Heart a Doorway first though, and then BE ABSOLUTELY SURE to read this one too.

Lumberjanes Volume 2

lumberjanes 2

I’m only on Volume 2 but these are killer. I love them so much. They’re so much fun, so easy to disappear into, and I wish they were longer (except then I’d have a harder time finishing my 100 this year so not really, they’re the perfect length for a kids’ graphic novel anyway).

So I discovered in this volume that camp counselor Jen is me.

jen is me

I’ve legitimately considered what might happen if I had to suddenly leap into danger to help someone and every time I’ve considered it I’ve been pretty cynically sure that this exact thing is what would happen, so this is by far my favourite moment of any of the books I’ve read this year.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

every heart a doorway

What I said earlier.

And also, the main character is asexual and I wasn’t expecting that. Her version of ace isn’t mine (I mean, there was a lot about aesthetic attraction, which, yes, I latched onto that like a lifeline to perform for my friends with Leo DiCaprio and Orlando Bloom, so, it’s a thing for me too, but she didn’t go into the confusing romantic attraction the character seemed – to me – to be feeling at times, and kind of implied that blushing while being around Kade was all down to aesthetic attraction. I’m sure that’s the way it is for some people, but, not me), but still, I could relate to some of it which was nice.

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

of fire and stars

Fantasy and political intrigue and irritating family members. Two princesses, and they slowly (really, really slowly) fall in love. I really liked this romance, because more than any other I’ve read this year (and maybe ever), it took soooooo long. It’s hard to explain but I really liked it. I liked how they have complicated and mixed feelings about each other at first, and they shift slowly, and, eventually, it’s romance. It’s also why I like Courtney Milan’s romance plotlines. It takes FOREVER.

I also love that Mare (Princess 1) is bi and Denna (Princess 2) is… maybe… possibly… homoromantic demisexual? I read her like that because, a) that’s typical of me to assume everyone is some sort of ace before being proven wrong, and b) much is made of how she’s never felt the way she feels about Mare before. She could have just been surrounded with heteronormativity, of course, or, really, she just never had an opportunity to meet lots of women to be attracted to. Either way, I liked how their romantic histories and present-day romantic realities were so different.

Also it’s all about bigotry and scapegoating and terrorism, so that was interesting.

She-Wolf and Cub by Lilith Saintcrow

she-wolf and cub

I’m not usually one for sci-fi but this was pretty cool.

A woman who is mostly robot and also an assassin is assigned to kill a child (who… is a vampire… made by science…), and instead she takes the child and runs. And that’s the story.

I LOVED this protagonist. Abby. Abbymom. Mom. Jess. Whatever her name is. She’s tough as nails but super caring and sometimes shows it and often doesn’t. I also liked the weird, almost-not-there-at-all romance between her and Sam (… another robot person).

OK I didn’t love the graphic animal cruelty – one scene in particular grossed me out a lot. But if animals were dying it was usually quick.

Crash Override by Zoë Quinn

crash override

Are you on the internet? Well, you must be, if you’re reading this. So. Now you need to read this book.

Seriously.

It’s… yeah.

I’d planned on picking this up as soon as I heard it was coming out, but I recently saw a recommendation to buy it as an audiobook because Quinn narrates it herself and does a good job. So, that’s what I did, and that’s what I recommend you do. She had her life torn apart by the internet hate machine, wants desperately to find solutions that don’t ruin everything, and wants to prevent it from happening to anyone else, and hearing her read it aloud herself definitely drives the point all the way home.

Welp, that’s September.

I have a lot of reading to do.

100 Books: July

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Since when is it August already. Not cool, passage of time.

All right. This month I liked pretty much everything I read but with caveats, and I’m not confident that my caveats are even worth mentioning because I don’t know if I’m just being extremely nit picky like when Three complained that the flying key scene in the Philosopher’s Stone movie wasn’t brightly lit like it specifically said it was in the book. If you read through my long and possibly over-critical thoughts and think I’m being ridiculous feel free to copy-paste this: “You are a ridiculous human being.” into the comments or into my twitter DMs because if required I would like to be checked. Thank you for your cooperation.

Trap Lines by Eden Robinson

trap lines

This had way too much animal cruelty and death, thanks. But Eden Robinson is still one of my favourites ever. This is a collection of short stories and it’s disturbing and fascinating and I could. not. look. away. Also one of the stories is an off-shoot of Monkey Beach which is one of the most haunting books I’ve ever read, so it was nice to revisit it in an equally haunting short story centering a different character this time. Just wow.

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

nights of rain and stars

Well. I’ve never read Maeve Binchy before but from what I’d gathered she writes chick lit and is not to be taken seriously, so obviously I had to check her out.

The premise is that a bunch of people whose lives are a mess but who somehow have unlimited means for spending however long on vacation in Greece are on vacation in Greece and they become friends after they witness a tragedy and then their lives get fixed. So, I liked this book, but I did think it was overly saccharine and there’s a depiction of an abusive relationship that could definitely have been worse but I was raising my eyebrows a lot.

Of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists by JK Rowling

of power politics and pesky poltergeists

All right I really liked it, of course. It contained Umbridge and Peeves, who are my favourite villain and hero of the Potterverse, respectively. I just don’t know why I bought it when I could just have read it on Pottermore.

The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green by Nicky Kyle

the faerie godmother's apprentice wore green

This was a super-quick read and I recommend it fully to everyone everywhere, especially if you’ve never encountered an aro-ace character before. But I do have caveats.

So there are two main characters, the mainest of which is an aro-ace woman and she is also the Faerie Godmother’s apprentice of the title. The other is a young lesbian. Dea (the apprentice) is, I think, a really good character, warm and compassionate, but she’s also kind of playing into typical stereotypes of aro-ace people. I think this sort of thing can (and should!) be done, but then, I’m not aromantic and I don’t know how tiring it would be for me to read a story like this if I were. While I think it’s really important to have more characters be aromantic and asexual and for them to be also fully human characters and varied types of characters as well, it’s also really important to remember that we here IRL don’t live in a fantasy world in which being queer in whatever way automatically grants people magical powers and heightened abilities.

See. Like. I think what this story does is important, it’s just also important to note that it doesn’t 100% eschew a-spec stereotypes. And I don’t know if I’m communicating clearly enough that I whole-heartedly believe that it’s OK, and probably good, even, that it plays with those stereotypes the way that it does. But that’s what I think, whether I’ve explained it properly or not. Insert 20,000 crying emojis because I can’t express myself properly.

My only other caveat is that I think it’s a little too long. It’s already just a novella, but I think this would work a lot better as a short story trimmed of a lot of its description. But what do I know, really?

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

tash hearts tolstoy

I loved this. One of two I loved without caveats this month.

The main character is asexual and it’s woven so well into the rest of the story that it just makes me happy. There’s also another male interest that I love and I think he beats out Clarent from Poison Kiss for my favourite male love interest this year. Also her female BFF was really refreshingly exhausting and trying and it was probably one of my favourite depictions of female friendship I’ve ever read, ever.

I just. Man. I wish I’d had this book when I was in high school. Or even in university. But at least I have it now.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

Sigh.

I liked it a lot but. Ugh.

I’ll start with the good: this was a fantasy and a very good one. I was somewhat recently under the impression that fantasy was stagnant and dull now but that was probably because the only fantasy I’d been engaging with at the time was HBO’s hilarious take on A Song of Ice and Fire. Anyway. This is one hell of a fantasy book written by a woman who is apparently a name in fantasy and I didn’t know that. The magic in it is really cool, the threat is really disturbing and gripping, the world it takes place in is different and fresh.

Buuuuuuuut I didn’t like the guy.

Well. I did, actually. It just would have been better if he and the main character hadn’t been a thing.

So he was like Snape but slightly nicer. And I know, Byronic heroes are everyone’s favourite romantic dudes, but not me, anymore, at least. After Deathly Hallows I definitely went through a phase, and it lasted more than a year, of really really liking Snape and thinking he was the most romantic thing ever. But then I thought about it some more and I also reread some of the previous books and remembered all of the times that he was an incredibly irredeemable bully of children.

That’s what makes Snape a great character. At the end, we learn about the best part of him, but it’s so easy to romanticize him after that because we romanticize pretty much every male character who displays trademark Snapeisms.

Snapeisms:

  • tortured
  • spurned
  • lonely, if you tilt your head and squint at him you’ll see it eventually, but it’s not at first apparent that he’s bothered by loneliness
  • not conventionally attractive (but still somehow conventionally attractive anyway) (I mean, have you SEEN the fanfic) (guys. he doesn’t even bathe. Like.)
  • cold
  • cynical
  • mean
  • verbally abusive
  • easy to anger
  • super smart
  • powerful
  • intimidating
  • makes everyone uncomfortable always
  • not fun to be around ever. at all. ever.

But for some reason everyone wants to have sex with these guys. IDK.

I understand the impulse to love a Byronic hero or to enjoy a Byronic romance or to write a Byronic romance, and I want to make it clear that my thing is a personal preference. But I do actually think that it’s important to acknowledge that these types of male characters are, and I shudder to use the word, problematic.

This became a lot clearer to me when I watched Happy-Go-Lucky. As a woman I’ve been conditioned to be patient with a jerk, but through media I’ve also been asked to romanticize them as well. Through a woman’s love and patience the jerk eventually changes. Well. That’s not what happens in Happy-Go-Lucky. I was shaken after watching it, because I realized that how that movie portrays a relationship (platonic, and freaking still) between a nice, compassionate woman and a total jerk is how 99% of these romanticized versions of this same relationship would go, if they were happening in real life.

JK Rowling gets it. That’s why she didn’t have Hermione end up with Snape because that would be FUCKIN’ GROSS, you guys. Snape is horrible, and also, not interested, but mostly, he’s horrible.

But here, Sarkan (their names are always stupid, too), “The Dragon,” (he has a pretentious title, as well), does end up with the girl. She’s a teenager. He’s over 150 years old. He points it out to her before they have sex, and she tells him to be quiet and then mentally is like, “Of all the excuses!”

Girl. GIRL.

The age difference I could look past, actually. Well. No. I’d need it to be more thoroughly addressed, because the fact that it gives him temporary pause doesn’t somehow magically make the serious power-imbalance OK. But the power-imbalance between these characters is beginning to be overcome by the time they have sex, so, fine. I could deal with it.

The verbal abuse not so much. The first half of the book, every time he talks to her he’s calling her an imbecile and/or yelling. There is never a moment where she deals with and overcomes the trauma that living with a verbally abusive teacher figure would cause her, because of course not. It wouldn’t work as a love story if we were being honest about what kind of impact being name-called and shouted at and made to feel inadequate and useless all the time would actually have on a little girl. And even near the end when they’re “dating” he isn’t being overly nice to her. There’s a part where she initiates affection right after the climactic battle by leaning on his shoulder and he “reluctantly” puts an arm around her.

FUCKIN’ GROSS.

Girl if he isn’t stoked to be with you get out of there.

So yeah. I liked Sarkan, The Dragon, as a character but holy god I wish their relationship had been a platonic teacher-student grudging respect blossoming friendship. She could have dabbled with someone else, someone who would actually appreciate her and treat her well and is her own age, romantically. Like Kasia.

The Awesome by Eva Darrows

the awesome

Sigh OK.

I liked it kind of. It was its own interesting version of sex positive, so that was nice to see. I don’t like how it discussed virginity at all, though. I think to be truly sex positive you need to have a better way of approaching the topic of no sex but maybe that’s just me being asexual and wanting everything to be about me.

It’s not, though. A little bit, yes, but still. The concept is that in order to go on vampire hunts with her mom, Maggie needs to have sex for the first time so that vampires won’t fly into a blood-lust frenzy at the scent of virgin blood. So. Upholding that virginity makes you physically a completely different person is kind of weird. In this case, it’s a good thing that you physically change after having sex, so my thing earlier about taking a stereotype and playing with it could be used against me here. But I think it’s a little different. I think ultimately if virginity is a real thing in your universe with real consequences, you’re still upholding all of the centuries-worth of weirdness about female virginity.

Then there’s the other side of it. Being pressured to have sex is not fun either. It’s sometimes life-destroying, and this is both men and women who deal with this shit. This is again me feeling really conflicted because I know this book isn’t telling people that they’re worthless for not having sex but there is still this whole thing to be aware of. I feel like virginity as a concept is just not the greatest thing to base a premise off of, ever, because it is so politicized and weaponized freaking always so without a heavy deconstruction of the concept added in, it’s really distracting. At least it is to me.

Also there are all of these rules about what constitutes loss of virginity. It has to be penile-vaginal sex, but if you’re a lesbian who hasn’t had sex with penis it’s OK but someone has to shove a whole hand in there or something. Or at least that’s what I gathered from the vague and yet still pretty obnoxious dialogue about the topic. And I don’t get that. I’m sorry, I’m one of those people who broods endlessly about the Unsullied having sex and flies off the handle when yet another person thinks that the stupid Podrick thing that happened years ago meant that he’s “well-endowed.” I think about these things a lot, OK, despite not being sexually attracted to people. I obsessed about it the whole time I was reading this book and I came away from it absolutely positive that the virginity thing was a major flaw.

I found the monster hunting stuff a little distracting as well, because they meet and befriend monsters along the way but reveling in the violence of killing their friends’ brethren is still a thing by the end. I like that the main character is morally gray, but I’m also a boring person who likes morality in any given universe to make a little bit of sense. If there had been more honest questioning of the violence I think I’d be less uneasy about it.

Then there were a lot of references to meat and they were all really obnoxious. More obnoxious than the “how a lesbian has to lose her virginity” dialogue. I’m inclined to raise my eyebrows at a meat reference anyway but these references were a rare shade of distracting. I think it was because she was calling the meat by the animal name, so, like, “dead cow” or “pig” rather than “burger” or “ham.” Ordinarily I’d hail that for not normalizing meat but I think it’s there to make it edgier, so, blah.

Finally, of all the YA this month this was the YAest of them, and I mean there was a lot of informal prose and quirky internal monologuing and I did get annoyed a little too often. But I’m not a teenager so again, what do I know? I’d try Monahan’s books for adults, I think, because she knows how to craft a story and keep interest but I think I’d prefer her writing without all the cutesy stuff.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

when dimple met rishi

First of all, I love the cover and I wish I looked that carefree drinking iced coffee.

mostly liked this one. I thought the romance was cute until I realized there was still half the book to go, and then there was a lot of PDA (like to the point where she was lying on top of him in front of his younger brother and I’m sorry but don’t do that, real people and fictional people alike) and then the final conflict, when it came, seemed a little bit forced because they’d already been together for so long that you’d think they’d have worked all of that out by now.

But. I recognize that it might be helpful to portray a relationship past the point where it starts occasionally, so I really wanted to like it more. Maybe it was just me.

Also, Rishi! Another great male love interest. Good. I’m glad. The world needs more of that. And unlike freaking Sarkan he is at least as if not more enthusiastic about their relationship than Dimple is so, yes to that.

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

the governess affair

Sigh. I love Courtney Milan.

It was short (another novella, gotta hit that 100 this year, man). But good. And I think I met the Brothers Sinister at the end so now I’m excited to read the series that this was the prequel to.

To start August right, here’s why I love Courtney Milan:

  • female character with complicated and valued relationships with family members
  • equally intelligent male and female love interests who revel in each other’s intelligence
  • male love interest who respects the fuck out of the woman, thank you
  • dude mansplains consent because it matters to him and he knows his stuff
  • funny courtship without verbal abuse, fancy that
  • economic realities made real and pressing and interesting to read about
  • cuuuuuuuuuuuuute

Happy August. Read some romance.

100 Books: April

January. February. March.

9 in April, which isn’t too bad. I didn’t get around to the anthology, though.

Some Assistance Required by C.L. Ogilvie

some assistance required

I read this so fast my head almost spun 360 degrees around. I need more chick lit in my life; it’s fun and easy. Though I did notice that there’s more than a bit of fatphobia here, which is too bad because that’s never necessary, and I feel like it was there to make the main character more relatable, which generally means “not thin” I guess. The thing is, it never outright says she isn’t thin unless it’s someone mocking her. Which is kind of stupid because with just a bit of tweaking we could be looking at body posi light, at least. Anyway, the premise (a portal between our world and the magical world has opened, so now we’re sharing our space with supernatural and magical creatures like vampires, fairies, unicorns, and werewolves. Yeah. You didn’t get that from the cover, did you?) is good, the characters were fun, and I’d read another (several) (hundred) set in this universe.

a+e 4Ever by I. Merey

a+e 4ever

This is a graphic novel about two teenagers who are friends but probably more than friends. Neither of them fits their rigid gender role, and while there’s never explicit use of the term “non-binary” the realities of not performing your assigned gender “properly” are depicted nicely here. I found it a bit uncomfortable to be reading (and looking at) sexually explicit things about teenagers, and then there’s a rape scene near the beginning, and slurs are used occasionally (I know that’s realistic but stiiiiill). But while both characters sometimes say, do, and think kind of awful things, they usually apologize, and I did find myself swept up in their story pretty early on and right until the end.

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling Erika Johansen

I finally read this one, and may I just say,

Yes. In this scenario I am Flynn and the book is Rapunzel. That’s how this works.

I could gush about it, but just go read three’s review. And then go read Queen of the Tearling.

Right of First Refusal by Dahlia Adler

right of first refusal

OK brace yourself, this is going to be a long (and rather oversharey) one.

I got this one because I know Dahlia Adler from the good stuff she does on twitter. This is the second book in a series about a group of friends at fictional Radleigh University, and I decided to start here mainly because I thought the cover was pretty.

Being the second book in a series that I’m not reading chronologically didn’t really matter; I didn’t get the feeling that I was missing too much. Each book focuses on a different character, which is probably why. Overall, this book features confident young women with sex-positive attitudes which is great, but it’s also about two things, mainly. Sex. And sports. Two things I don’t do.

The sports part of that is self-explanatory. The sex part is because I’m asexual. I’m not sex-repulsed or touch-averse, though, and I’m not aromantic in the slightest. Most sex-centric romances I read are perfectly fine. Perfectly enjoyable, honestly, so maybe I’m one of those sex-neutral ace people, or gray-A, or demi, or not. It may just be that a book is a safe place to work through sexuality, so usually it doesn’t take me by surprise or take me way out of the story the way all of the sex (and – there was a lot of sex) did in this book. It features so many conversations about and depictions of sex in such a surprisingly aggressive way that it actually helped me out a little while still confusing the heck out of me. Sometimes I reflect on things that I think or feel and wonder if I’m not really asexual, and that instead there’s just something deeply wrong with my ability to connect with other people (it doesn’t help that I’m so shy that I honestly can’t say “good morning” to someone unless they say it first but that is a whole other story). But then I read this book and I came up with the best metaphor for my brand of asexuality that helps me understand myself, precisely because of how much sports were involved in and around all the sex.

So let’s say I meet someone who is a sports enthusiast. They like sports. They’ve always liked sports. They always knew that they’d want to share sports with anyone they got to know and like well, because why wouldn’t they? In theory sports were designed to be enjoyable. So let’s say we get to liking each other and they say, “We should definitely go play tennis one of these days.” If I liked this person, I think I’d probably go with them. Maybe I wouldn’t like tennis. Maybe I’d be stuck in my own head the whole time, worried that I’m an incompetent tenniser and that everything is stupid. Maybe I’d be bored and wondering when we could just go get lunch. Maybe I’d like it, even. Whatever may happen in this situation, though, even if I liked playing tennis and made it a regular thing, it would be more about the person I like than the sport. Because I will never be a tennis enthusiast the way this person I like is a tennis enthusiast, even if I were to get used to and properly enjoy it. And this whole stupid thing is OK. Because even tennis enthusiasts don’t need to play tennis all the time with all the people in order to have meaning in their lives, so surely someone who isn’t a tennis enthusiast doesn’t need to play all the tennis games either to be considered fully human or fully capable of relating to other humans. I mean, it’s just tennis.

What was the point of including all of that? Well, because I found all of the sex and relationship stuff off-putting – like, almost as off-putting as that one Cosmo article about Disney characters sexting – I thought I’d share that in how off-putting it was, it was actually still a worthwhile read because I learned invaluable things about myself. So even though the whole time I was making this face:

second gaang hug 3

or these faces:

hamareaction

or this face:

pegasus-is-weird5

I ultimately don’t regret it.

Anyway. There are multiple moments in which Cait and her friends have a page-long conversation and every single sentence contains at least one version of “fuck” or “bang” or “do” or “bone.” Do people really talk like that? I mean, I know they do, but is it really this pervasive? I remember spending time with a girl who’s sexually confident and she talked a bit like this while we were in a group, but when we were alone she became more thoughtful about what she was saying and even conversations about sex were more quiet and cerebral. Which I always like better, no matter what the subject is. But I do wonder if people can tell that something’s up with me and so they modify what they’re saying and how they’re saying it accordingly. And honestly, if that’s true, it’s fine. Because I remember reading these conversations and thinking, “Man, if I were these girls’ roommate I’d move out in ten minutes.” But hey, that’s just me.

If you’re allosexual (or if your aceness impacts your reading tastes differently than mine does) and you like your New Adult stuff to be chock-full of representations of sexually confident women and lots of sports then this is the series, and this is specifically the book in that series, for you. Also! The entire subplot about the wedding she sort of has to go to but the championship game she might miss is great – especially how it gets resolved.

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

red queen

This was fully meh. To me it seemed like The Hunger Games but with less interesting characters, less interesting politics, and a less interesting setting. It definitely didn’t help that the three (THREE!) love interests were basically interchangeable and the least interesting one by far seems to be the end game guy. I can imagine how other people might enjoy it though – if you like The Hunger Games and are looking for more like it but different enough to feel new, then, sure, this will suffice, I guess.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

american street

So first of all, every book this month had beautiful covers, but this one, I think, is the most beautiful.

If you’re one of the many people who read The Hate U Give then I would recommend also picking this one up. It’s a different style than THUG and it’s about similar issues with the added bonuses of immigration and everything that comes with it, as well as magical realism. I hesitate a bit calling it magical realism because what is actually depicted are elements of Haitian Vodou manifesting themselves in Fabiola’s real life, but I decided that if those spiritual elements were Catholic things rather than Vodou I would still call it magical realism. Like if St. Francis is showing up sermonizing at the 19 budgies we just took in at work tomorrow morning, then that’s magical realism, so says I, obviously the authority on these things.

So I loved everything about the relationships between the women in this book – they were complicated but ultimately supportive and I’ll take twenty more just like this please – but, like, hard pass on Kasim, the love interest. The thing is, he’s great when it’s just the two of them, but he’s bffs with the major villain in the story who is an abusive, rapey creepface. There’s one part where he basically single-handedly orchestrates sitting in the backseat of abusive rapey creepface’s car with Fabiola while her friend is stuck sitting in the front with abusive rapey creepface, and while Fabiola spends the ride worrying about her friend Kasim doesn’t notice at all and spends it trying to feel her up, but, like, romantically. And. Just.

I know it’s more realistic to show people being really forgiving and paying attention to only certain things about the toxic people in their lives if those toxic people happen to mean a lot to them, but IIIIIIIII don’t know. I wanted more from the dude. I don’t care if you’re a guy. It’s still (and perhaps especially) your due diligence to notice that your friend sucks. Don’t enable him to touch girls who don’t want him to touch them. How hard is that, fictional character?

Also things later happen that make me feel pretty bad about my fixation on being disappointed by Kasim’s forgiving attitude towards his abusive rapey creepface friend. So ultimately I don’t know. Maybe his friendship is a flaw that makes him a three-dimensional character, or maybe he needed to do better. Either way, this was still a beautiful and important read and thank you world for good and varied depictions of familial female relationships. (What do you know about tweetle beetles?)

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

the female of the species

I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this one because the premise is… dark. And potentially exploitative. But it’s partially set in an animal shelter so I decided to take the plunge.

All right the premise is that one of the main characters is the younger sister of a girl who was raped, tortured, and murdered, and her reaction to this is to become a murderer. The idea is she’s OK hurting and/or killing men who rape and/or kill women, and is fully prepared to exact vengeance if and when the opportunity arises.

So I know we kind of balk at rape-revenge stories because it seems like they relish in the horror of the rape itself, “But it’s OK,” the story seems to suggest, “because the later events of even more violence will make up for it.” I remember the rape scene and the revenge rape scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example. That was… unnecessary. At least in my opinion.

But. This book doesn’t relish in the details of the rape and murder. They’re skimmed over. What it does do is set up a couple of characters to be in “almost-rape scenes” which I really hate usually, and here I still wasn’t a fan. Because the characters are threatened with rape so that Alex can show up and save them. In some ways, I’m OK with it because compared to The Hound showing up and gutting a back-alley rapist, here is a character who actually has intelligent things to say about rape culture, who is the younger sister of a victim, and who is very deliberately doing things in reaction to rape culture rather than just being gross for shock value. It’s also decent that both girls in the almost-rape scenes are girls we know quite well, and we care about them. Unlike Sansa who just stumbles into a back-alley, they “get themselves into the situations” except they obviously don’t. You don’t get yourself raped. Rape by definition has to be something someone else forces on you. In showing nuance without victim-blaming in the slightest, the book is automatically smarter than all of the rape sensitivity and intelligence in Game of Thrones put together and multiplied by twenty million. And I mean, that isn’t hard. But still.

It is still a power fantasy, though. The almost-rape scenes are definitely there in service of the power fantasy of a girl to whom the worst has happened, and who is trying to get justice.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just important to be aware of. I actually liked it for what it is, because having grown up female it was refreshing and even a bit cathartic to read about a girl taking on an active role against rapey men, even – and maybe especially – a violent one. We grew up an hour or so away from the suburb where an infamous sadistic-rapist-murdering couple committed their crimes. My parents didn’t want me to drive alone at night back to my dorm because of this one guy who saw a girl at a gas station at night, messed with her tires, followed her when she had to pull over, and, well, you know the story. They told me this. “We don’t really want you driving alone at night because we’re worried some random predator might rape and murder you.” I know parents can be irrationally afraid for their children but this is the sort of thing that seems normal when you’re a girl – it’s just expected that your parents are actually going to be worried that some predator will grab you one night, that this fear will affect what’s expected of you – you call every night as soon as you’re in. One night I was about five minutes from home and someone who was pulled over flashed their highbeams at me – I assumed it was because they needed help but I just kept driving, because, female, alone, night. When I got home I jokingly told my mom that I had wanted to at least say, “Sorry but I know nothing about cars, I don’t have jump cables, and my phone is at home,” but she interrupted me halfway through with, “You can’t EVER stop and talk to some stranger!” And I was like, “Yes I know, mom, that’s what I’m telling you.” And I know that violence against women is usually perpetrated by the men in your life who you love and trust and not strangers, but the rando stuff does occasionally happen. So while this book maybe is in some ways exploitative or at least self-indulgent, it was also kind of nice to imagine a girl who just isn’t afraid of this stuff anymore, and who, if she’s confronted with it, will exact vengeance.

I think stories play many important roles in our lives, but one of them that we don’t think about often, probably because it’s a bit uncomfortable, is how they allow us to safely live through our greatest fears. Lots of Disney depicts parents who are either dead already or who die during the runtime because the ensuing narrative allows kids to safely live through a fantasy of what would happen if the worst should happen. The Female of the Species does that in a lot of ways, like The Lovely Bones and even, much more lightheartedly, Kimmy Schmidt do. Whether these stories are useful for survivors is something that can only be decided by each individual survivor, I guess, but as someone who grew up being taught that the only choice in life is to be mistrustful or outright afraid of one half of the population, and whose experiences haven’t done much to suggest my parents were wrong to make me cautious, these sorts of narratives allow me to breath for a little bit, and I think that makes them worthwhile.

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

not your sidekick

Sharp turn into mostly light-hearted YA. This is about a future world in which people have begun to evolve – some people are “meta-human” – so, like, X-men. Our protagonist is a middle child of two superheroes who hasn’t developed powers, but she does get an internship working for the town’s villains’ corporation with the girl she has a crush on. This book does a lot more with the hero-villain dichotomy than anything I’ve seen in the movies lately (or… ever…) and like the female love interests before her this year, Abby is pretty awesome. There were two things I didn’t like: one, there was a lot of exposition, and I wish it had been built more smoothly into the story, and two, it was third person present tense, which I’ve only read in weird short stories before and it threw me off. But that one is purely a personal preference.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

dumplin'

So there I was, on the rooftops in the Agrabah marketplace, eating half a stolen melon with my adopted monkey, and then this book showed up, and, well,

I’d heard about this book before but I wasn’t really interested. I’d heard that it did good things for body positivity, but I also knew it featured pageants and was set in Texas so I thought it would be a bit like Toddlers and Tiaras, which I’ve never actually watched, but I gather everyone on it is kind of an exaggerated reality TV caricature and loud and outrageous, and being Canadian and therefore really stupid about the American South I just kind of assumed that it would be the novelization of that.

Well. No. The characters are lovely, developed, instantly relatable. The relationships between them are believable and will make you feel things. I was hooked right from the beginning. This is the first time I’ve read a first person present tense book and I barely noticed (I’m not a fan, and it usually takes me out of the story at least a few times). As in, I had to keep checking to be sure that it was first person present, it was so flawless. At least for my taste.

And this, like American Street and The Female of the Species highlights relationships between women and THANK YOU AGAIN world, or universe, or authors, for this.

So. This is my new favourite this year. I thought Queen of the Tearling and Monkey Beach, being fantasy and magical realism respectively, would be at the very top but it turns out this book is instead. I actually think this is my favourite thing I’ve read in a couple of years.

All right, whatcha got, May?

100 Books: March

January. February.

I diiiiiiiid it.

OK I didn’t read 96 books this month. But I did read 10.

… all right so I cheated a little. Two of them I’d already read half of, one is a novelette, two are essays, and one is a 100-page kids book. But I consulted my sister (you remember hershe used to regularly contribute to this blog but then decided to be a full time student on top of being a full time employee as well as moving to the worst city known to humanity in which the zombie apocalypse, should it ever happen, will definitely be beginning in) and she said that short fiction (and short non fiction, I guess) is broadly defined as something you read in one sitting. So. I didn’t read even the shortest thing on this list in one sitting. Also, I’ve been reading JK Rowling novels in one sitting since the age of 11, so shut up.

Anyway next month I plan on reading an anthology so that has to count for something.

Here are the books I read in the order that I completed them.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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I hadn’t ever read a Toni Morrison book before and after reading this one, I was livid. I mean. I have an English degree. I took postmodernism and American lit and not once did a Morrison book show up on any of my syllabuses, which makes no sense. Did I really have to read The Sound and the Fury twice? Did I really need that terrible one about the sociopath accountant in my life? No, is the answer. Morrison is a titan. This book was extremely disturbing and I need some time before I revisit her.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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I and everyone else read The Hate U Give this month. I thought Thomas handled her difficult and extremely relevant subject matter very well, connecting one horrifying, life-altering encounter to Starr’s smaller experiences of everyday racism. This book has seen major success so far, and there will be a movie adaptation soon, so I hope this means it makes an impression on its young target audience.

The Story of Lamia and Pan by CM Blackwood

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This was like reading an old fairy tale – lots of gore, anger, and bitterness as well as magic and romance. The difference was that the protagonists were two women (well, one was a female elf, but still), and their romance was a supportive unity rather than the sort of thing you see with the girl and the king in Rumpelstiltskin, if you’d like one example of weird relationships we’re supposed to root for in fairy tales.

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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I deliberated over buying this one because early in the month Adichie implied that trans women aren’t real women, but I’m glad I read it ultimately. A lot of it was stuff I’d already read in all the think pieces all over the internet, but I think there was enough of a unique focus in here to make it worthwhile reading. Of course, I couldn’t help but notice all of the times she focused on the male/female binary, which is something I don’t think anyone can speak eloquently about if they misunderstand how that binary impacts the most vulnerable among us. I’ve got to find some trans rights stuff to read for next month.

Unicorns of Balinor: Secrets of the Scepter by Mary Stanton

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I used to love this series until Harry Potter happened and I forgot all about it, so I wanted to revisit to see what I used to enjoy. I wasn’t thrilled with it this time around. The characters were a little one-note and the adventure was lacking a bit. But it’s the story of a young woman on a magic quest to prove that she’s worthy of leadership, and I’m grateful that I and other kids had this story growing up.

Guns by Stephen King

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America.

Real quick:

***So I’m really excited about It, even if it is only part 1 (which is a huuuuge mistake imho. One of the biggest problems of the tv movie is that it split the kids’ and adults’ stories. In the book it all happens together and is WAY better mirrored like that but whatever.) because it is probably my favourite book ever and I’m really trying to temper my excitement because a) it’ll probably just be OK and b) the subject matter of “Guns” is very serious.***

This essay of King’s is sobering and very sad. There’s one part where he makes a false equivalency between Fox News and MSNBC – Fox and MSNBC are not two sides of the same spectrum. One is very significantly off on its own. But I appreciate what his point was in that part anyway. I just came away from this like I come away from anything to do with America’s gun violence problem: feeling completely hopeless.

Who Killed Edie Montgomery by CM Blackwood

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One that I started in 2016 and finally finished! So although I liked the ending that the protagonists got, I was less happy about the actual ending of the book (spoiler: the bad guy, being pretty much a demon, continues to do terrible things). Also, I would have preferred less of the long parties where everyone acts suspicious and shallow, and more Mary and Jessica, or more Mary sleuthing.

Two things about this book: One – Jessica is my favourite love interest this month. Chris in The Hate U Give mildly annoyed me a couple of times and Niko from Vengeance Bound was flipping insufferable. Jessica is just nice, and funny, and supportive. I wish I knew why YA male love interests have to be such jerks, but all I know is that Jessica wasn’t and it was much better that way. And two – Jessica’s murder scene, and everything to do with male violence against women, is somehow depicted here in a way that isn’t… gross? It’s hard to explain but here’s an easy example: Game of Thrones really likes to show rape and murder of women, and the times when they show rape and murder of men don’t, you know, fix that problem. It just makes it worse. Somehow they don’t know this. This book wants us to care about the female victims and it’s as shocking to me now as it was when I started reading what a difference that makes.

Our culture sucks.

Vengeance Bound by Justina Ireland

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This is like if Twilight had been much better, and somewhat less romance-focused. The writing is tighter, the main character is more interesting and more likable, her friends that she’s lying to are more interesting and likable, her love interest is slightly more likable (that’s not saying much, I know, but still), anytime violence against women is brought up it’s always a bad thing and not, you know, the main part of the romance, and the supernatural element is the female protagonist’s burden and it’s way cooler. Harpies > Vampires. It’s just the way it is.

The one thing I didn’t like was Niko, the love interest. He kept smiling wickedly which made me think of this:

wicked smile

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe there’s some stuff I should work through with a therapist. But honestly I think it’s just that generally, my 100 books this year so far are just not pulling their weight in making me care about who their protagonists care about. We’ll see.

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

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The other one I’d already read half of. This book was beautiful and haunting and I loved every minute of it. It’s my favourite this year so far and I wish I could adequately explain it. My review of the first half is a start, I guess.

Luna Station Quarterly, Issue 029

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I don’t think a literary journal is cheating! This was a lot of fun. My favourites are probably “Sex After Fascism,” “Genie’s Retirement,” and “An Astronaut Lights a Candle.” I’m glad I found this journal and I think I’ll be going through their backlog soon.

April is calling. Hopefully I’ll like next month’s love interests a little better.

100 Books: February

I pledged to myself that I would read 100 books this year and in January I read two.

Well, now it’s March. In February, I read two.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

guards-guards

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It had a decent story, great characters, but I don’t know, I was meh about it overall. My favourite Pratchett to date is still The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.

A Short History of Indians in Canada by Thomas King

short-history-of-indians-in-canada

Very good. There was a really long one that made a lot of Star Trek references that went over my head. No one does magical realism like Thomas King.

You know what? Whatever. It was a short month. I’ve got this.

100 Books: January

I decided to make an impossible-to-keep New Year’s resolution: to read 100 books this year.

So.

In January, I read two. I’ll write a few sentences about each of them.

I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Gretchen McNeil

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This was all right. My two major problems were: a) no female friendships and a LOT of female competition for boys instead, and b) the love interest was a bit of a pedantic jerk, so, not into that, thanks. But I’d try out McNeil’s horror stuff. Maybe later this year.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

ghosts

I REALLY liked it.

And that was January. Just 98 books to go.

❤ erm

The Last Five Books I’ve Read

 

Happy September cats and kittens! Can you believe how quickly the summer flew by?

We are “working” on a WIP novel, the details of which we may share at a later date. In the meantime, however: Have a book review. In fact, have five.

XOXO, three

Review copy

Why is it that whenever I (three) review books, I end up just complaining about things that bug me? I am such a bitter reader.

What follows is five “short” (by 0wlmachine standards) book reviews, and a few problems I have with a few things. It’s hard to type when one of your foster cats is licking your hands, but I’ll do my best.

Stay With Me Forever

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So here’s how I ended up with this book:

I was in the mood for a romance, but the last few romances I’d read had been borderline at best when it came to consent. I don’t mind reading explicit content – unless, of course, innuendo is used, in which case I get really upset – but I do mind reading rape. So I went hunting for a historical romance that wouldn’t have rape in it.

First of all, many of the ones I opened up on Kobo actually mentioned rape in the synopsis. What is this.

Many others implied a forceful love interest, an “alpha male” if you will. I got fed up.

So I ditched my historical romance idea and took to Twitter. I follow Farrah Rochon, and she’s always got interesting things to say about women of colour in romance. I thought I’d check her out on Kobo. Lo and behold, when I opened this particular book, it mentioned that the main female character, Paxton, was a “career woman”.

That is how you get me to click “buy”.

So I read the book, and it was quite a palate cleanser. Paxton was a likeable, intelligent, hardworking woman who struggled with her priorities and felt guilty about fitting love into her life, since she had enough going on as it was. Sawyer was a successful guy who wasn’t a rapist. Yay!

I find the idea of women who want to “have it all” endlessly interesting, and I love it when I read a book (or watch a rom com) in which a woman doesn’t get cured of her career ambitions via pregnancy. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that pregnancy makes you less – it just isn’t the only way to be fulfilled in life. And certainly, not all of us with uteruses and ovaries are into that kind of thing. In fact, some of us think the idea of 9 months without coffee or wine is not worth anything. Anything.

Anyway, my point was, Paxton doesn’t get cured. She gets to reconcile her high school crush, a very non-career-woman thing to have, with her successful lifestyle. Both Paxton and Sawyer give up some things for each other, like all of us in relationships do, but she doesn’t change lanes completely – and for that, Rochon deserves full credit.

Also – Rochon creates settings, and communities, that feel real. There are other books of hers in the same setting, and I’ll definitely be reading them in the future.

No One Else Can Have You

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This book was one of the strangest reading experiences of my life.

The writing style is erratic, and raw, and interesting. I had a hard time putting this book down once I got into it.

The book is narrated by Kippy, a girl whose best friend was found murdered, and is trying to solve the crime using clues from Ruth’s diary. It’s your basic teen-investigates-better-than-local-cops story, and I’m on board with that.

The narrator was revealed to have some violent tendencies in the past. She also seemed to be completely detached from everyone else’s version of reality. And eventually, as I read, it dawned on me that the narrative voice was totally unhinged.

Was Kippy the murderer?

I took this theory and ran with it. When the narrative voice said something off-colour, I thought, wow – this is smart writing. Look at this sociopath, misinterpreting life and her surroundings. Everyone else in Goodreads reviews says the reveal was obvious, but I was so caught up in my Kippy Did It theory that I didn’t notice who the murderer was until the reveal, and then I felt kind of… deflated.

Why was Kippy so unhinged if she wasn’t the murderer? Did the author not do this on purpose?

Once I realized that this wasn’t done on purpose, everything else seemed to fall into place (as mysteries do). Those uncomfortable comments about mental health that I’d brushed off, on the assumption that we weren’t supposed to trust our narrator – that was actually just bad writing. Sigh.

Anyway, I was disappointed by this, and then I went to Goodreads and discovered that the author had stalked a reviewer and then wrote an article about it as if this was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

Surreal.

Also, my foster kittens peed on this book so I had to throw it out after.

Best Kept Secrets

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Here’s another romance! Since I was talking about rape-free romance before, I should disclose that this one does have some rape and some consent issues, but it’s not apologetically written, so I didn’t mind (readers sensitive to rape content should probably avoid this one though).

Anyway, that aside, this book was decadent. I enjoyed the ride, between Leila (our likeable female lead), Evan (our likeable male lead), and Paulette (poor Paulette. Everything seemed to happen to her.)

Best Kept Secrets was exactly what it advertised itself to be – a story that wraps you up in scandal and romantic intrigue. While I enjoyed the plot for the entire book, the one thing I have to give Ellis special credit for was the ending. I won’t spoil it, but she seriously outdid herself in ending this book on an intense note. I am always so impressed when authors make big decisions that change everything (like, if Kippy had been a murderer. OK sorry)

Ellis crafted some great characters here, which is of course a necessary step to creating scandal people care about. Their stakes were high and it didn’t seem like the situations they got themselves into were unrealistic – which is a complaint I often make about these types of stories (especially TV dramas).

All in all, here’s another author I’ll revisit in the future!

Wench

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Disclaimer: I am not qualified to talk about slavery and its depiction in fiction, so I’m not going to. This is a book about a slave, and the only complaints I’ve seen have been from tone deaf white people such as myself. I will keep an eye out and update this post if I find anything.

Anyway, one thing I find particularly interesting about this book is that we really have to take what Lizzie says with a grain of salt. Some guy on Goodreads accused Perkins-Valdez,  in his one star review, of “telling, not showing”. Maybe it’s a little mean spirited of me to pick on him, but that critique is laughable to me. Lizzie told the reader what she told herself. She told the reader what she needed to tell herself in order to survive the unthinkable situation she found herself in, simply because she was young and black and female. She comes off as simple and naive sometimes, but shit. Can you blame her? If she acknowledges what her life is, how can she go on? THIS IS SHOWN. Not told. Shown.

Another Goodreads review complains that the book just ended. Lizzie admits to herself, without much to do about it, that she kind of wants to kill her master. Then she just goes with him and the book ends. I mean. I was so excited about this.

I often complain that people  think that the Fault in Our Stars was a good book because it was sad. Maybe I think a book is good just because it has an exciting twist. Whatever. I had fun and I’m glad Perkins-Valdez left it open ended. A bold and unexpected move, and, I suspect, highly calculated.

Down the Halloween River

Down the Halloween River

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Here are my thoughts:

This is another great addition to CM Blackwood’s works!

This is a quick read, but very entertaining. CM’s narrative voice is fun, age-appropriate and witty, and the heroes of this story, Branbury and Todd, are just as charming as their names would suggest. Coupled with an interesting setting, entertaining side characters and a grander-scale plot with high stakes, Down the Halloween River would be a great read for any middle grader this fall, although adult readers will enjoy it as well. Happy Halloween!

Guest Blogger: Fantastic Mr Fox – A Fable for Our Times?

Good morning all, and happy Friday.

Today we bring you a guest post from one of our favourite like-minded wordpress bloggers, Animalista Untamed. Be sure to click on that link for some un-censored yet beautifully-articulated animal rights blogging goodness. We promise you’ll learn something!

Animalista was kind enough to enter our realm of analyzing children’s lit, with a fabulous animal welfare tie-in. We hope you enjoy the result as much as we did.

– erm & three

Subversive is the word for Roald Dahl. That’s what he is. His stories’allure for kids (and for us adults of a more rebellious inclination) lies in his demolition of accepted social norms with a few deft flicks of the pen. His fiction inhabits a realm that the ‘acceptable’, ‘normal’ grownup world frowns upon, but a realm we wish real life resembled and into which we can momentarily escape. That’s why kids love him. He’s the merry Lord of Misrule.

Continue reading “Guest Blogger: Fantastic Mr Fox – A Fable for Our Times?”

Queen of the Tearling, and the Problem with Fantasy

Review copy

I (three) don’t say this lightly, but today I’m saying it: Queen of the Tearling is a near-perfect book. In order for me to explain why, I have to start at the beginning – and by that I mean my early childhood.

We were bookworms growing up. Our parents read – our dad read fantasy and thriller, and our mom read romance and contemporary. In our house, you had a book on the go, at all times. Our parents didn’t often judge what we were reading, aside from whether it was below our level or whether we should maybe read a new book instead of picking up the same one for the seventeenth time in a row.

I remember coming home with a Scholastic order form one particular year. Our mom took erm’s and ordered a few things that were out of our ordinary (we were really into Unicorns of Balinor), one of which was Redwall. erm wasn’t thrilled about it. It was a boy book. You could just tell by looking at it. The colour scheme, the concept, the writing style – this was for boys. Continue reading “Queen of the Tearling, and the Problem with Fantasy”

The Last Four Books I’ve Read, In Order of How Creepy the Love Interests Are

I (three) was recently complaining on Twitter about how I keep finding terrible love interests in adult romance.

Teen lit never gave me this problem. Maybe YA wouldn’t either – I’ll get to that. But for now, all I want to know is, why do adult m/f stories always have such skeevy men in them?

Anyway, I wanted to chat a little bit about the reading I’ve been doing and where they all stand on the skeeviness scale.  Continue reading “The Last Four Books I’ve Read, In Order of How Creepy the Love Interests Are”

The Secret Life of Lionel Richardson (Oops, I mean…)

Review copy

The Secret Life of Violet Grant: A historical romance about 2 simultaneously historical characters, one in 1964 and one in 1914. I found this to be a quick, light read, engaging and fun, but kind of annoying in the end.

Before I explain why this book bugged me a little bit, I’ll start with the positives, because I did finish reading it and I did enjoy it.

Spoilers past this point.
Continue reading “The Secret Life of Lionel Richardson (Oops, I mean…)”

Witches Abroad: Letting the Characters Tell the Story

Review copy

People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.

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The opening of Witches Abroad, maybe the most compelling part of the entire story, goes on to say the following:

Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.

And how fitting, for this particular story. Usually, when we tell the story of Cinderella, for example, the same cast takes part: A virtuous young aristocratic girl, a good, charming prince, a pair of talentless, nasty stepsisters (ugly or otherwise), a wealthy, evil, self-serving stepmother, and a plump little fairy godmother.

I would argue that those are pretty specific static roles. The story seems to very much care who takes part in it – these boring, static, rice-cake characters we see in every Disney movie, cheap Disney ripoff, Disney live action remake, bad attempt at a modern retelling, and so on. [EDIT: erm has reminded me to point out that only some Disney movies have rice-cake characters. More on that at a later time, but for now, let’s assume I’m talking about Cinderella.] But I think Pratchett’s point is not that anyone can be a princess – it’s that princesshood, or princehood, or stepmotherhood, or whatever other fairy tale role you choose, is a thing that sucks the personality, diversity, and humanity straight out of a character.

In Witches Abroad, the people reclaim the story. Continue reading “Witches Abroad: Letting the Characters Tell the Story”