Summer Solstice (Belated) Reading Roundup

(Parent Trap is the ultimate movie of summer, according to me. It’s got everything: Lindsay Lohan, Linsday Lohan doing a British accent, Lindsay Lohan doing an imitation of Lindsay Lohan doing a British accent, also it’s actually the best and I don’t think anyone could convince me otherwise)

(I think it’s in Spanish)

I’m late but whatever, let’s do this. Spoiler alert: I liked everything.

Spring Equinox

su wild beauty

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Well.

I’ve had my complaints about how pretty and poetic McLemore’s prose is when talking about her other two books – because I am boring and have bad taste, maybe. But I really liked this one.

Maybe I was more open to it because of the cover art and the title, but I do think the magical elements in this story are really intriguing, moreso than the magic in the other two.

I liked it.

su the belles

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

I liked this too. People in this world have “teacup” animals as pets – like, people are walking around with teacup crocodiles and lions or whatever they want, and I’m worried that there will be more abuse of them in further installments in what is apparently this series. Other than that I’m looking forward to the sequel because it’s very interesting so far.

Not sure if sci-fi or if everyone is actually telling the truth and it’s fantasy or maybe it’s both! Either way, it’s really cool.

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Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

This was really good. I didn’t expect to like it very much because it’s Lovecraft and I don’t have time for that. The only Lovecraft I’ve tangled with is that DEFINITELY NOT A PARODY BOOK Awoken by Sara Elinsen.

But I liked it.

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Pulchritude by Ana Mardoll

I liked this too. I was expecting it to be a little more (for lack of a better/existing word) gooshy, like the other Ana Mardoll one I’ve read, but it wasn’t.

It was pretty depressing though, and although the cover insert/blurb/whatever warns the reader not to expect what you’d usually get out of a fairy tale, and although I knew it was going to come to a not very nice end, I was still taken aback by it. But it’s what I wanted, so.

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Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen

This was educational. Each woman has a brief little blurb about her, and I did read a few of them with an eyebrow (or two) raised. One specific example I can remember is while I was reading through the inevitable Tudor England portion and the book gushed about Elizabeth (rightfully) but didn’t feature Mary.

And.

OK.

Maybe I’m just Catholic (lapsed) (is there such a thing as a not-lapsed Catholic?), but Mary Tudor has gotten the shaft throughout history.

She’s super problematic but so was Elizabeth, who participated big time in colonialism, if you’d like one example. Mary should have gotten a nod.

Also Jane Grey deserved one too.

And although I got annoyed at that mainly because I’m a Tudor-era nerd, I couldn’t help but wonder what other details were being skipped, and who else maybe should have been included.

Ultimately I still think this is worthwhile, but it’s very Ladies in History 101, which, I think, it’s trying to be.

And I liked it.

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Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Simpson

I liked it, it was beautiful.

I had a favourite passage I tweeted:

And there you go.

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The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

[Insert stock explanation of how much I love Courtney Milan’s romance novels here]

su six of crows

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Yup.

(I do have some concerns about the Nina/Matthias thing but I want to read the sequel, watch the inevitable HBO series/movie/other broadcast series/whatever, force my sister to read it, AND THEN I’ll talk about it.)

All right summer, here we go!

PS: WT ACTUAL F, WORLD POLITICS? W. T. ACTUAL. F.

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Spring Equinox Reading Roundup

(I think every Winnie the Pooh story takes place during spring. Unless it’s the ones during winter. Or if they go to Eeyore’s place, then it’smysteriously fall.)

Instead of doing this monthly like last year, I thought I’d be super pretentious and do them for every change of season. So today, on the day of 2018’s Spring Equinox, here are the books I’ve read so far.

the fate of the tearling

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The way this series ends is BOLD. I’ve never read anything like it. There are a couple of things about the ending that bother me (like if they changed history so drastically I don’t think the same people would all exist hundreds of years later), but I’ll gladly set them aside to have the book end the way it does (because it’s necessary to see everyone we already know living drastically different lives in order for it to have as real an impact as it does, even if it’s silly) because it is so different from and more honest and thoughtful than 100% of the high fantasy I’ve ever read.

Get started on this series if you like fantasy. Here’s three’s review of the first book in the trilogy if you need a push.

 

inexxing reflections

Indexing: Reflections by Seanan McGuire

I loved it. The sequel was much easier to get into than the first one, and Sloane gets a bunch of point-of-view chapters which is pretty much all I want out of the year. Sloane is a living embodiment of a Wicked Stepsister archetype constantly fighting the urge to murder everyone around her, in case you needed to be sold on this series.

 

let's talk about love

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kahn

Asexual romance where the protagonist is adorable and confused and questioning, and her love interest is the best ever. The one little problem I have is with the conflict resolution with Alice’s BFF, because it ends with Alice apologizing and her friend… not. She says, “You need to tell me if something bothers you,” and that’s what serves as her reciprocating Alice’s apology and I’m not really a fan of that. I did like the version of this in Tash Hearts Tolstoy which I read last year. Tash has an in-your-face female BFF and they have a huge fight, and though Tash is certainly at fault for some of it, it’s not entirely on her to smooth things over in their friendship. But it’s a relatively small problem. More like this, thanks.

 

beneath the sugar sky

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

I didn’t like it as much as the two previous books in the series, with Down Among the Sticks and Bones (which was book 2) still being my obvious favourite.

 

Print

Knit One Girl Two by Shira Glassman

Short, sweet, well-done. There was a cat occasionally.

 

the night circus2

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I wrote a whole long thing about this one.

 

the girl who drank the moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

It’s amazing. Know a kid? Get them this book. And read it yourself.

 

suicide sex club

Suicide Sex Club by C.M. Blackwood

I think this is the first straight smut I’ve ever read. It was a little much (and by “a little” I mean “a lot”) but it’s also surprisingly sweet much of the time, or, maybe not really that surprisingly sweet, because I’ve read a murder mystery/lesbian romance by Blackwood before and it was similarly cute. Though with a lot less sex.

I’d be cautious reading this one if you’re sensitive to self-harm and abusive/disassociation-style sex and rape. There’s also one brief mention of pedophilia. I’d also note that it doesn’t portray sex work in the greatest light – Tory is a sex worker and she’s lovely but the titular “Suicide Sex Club” is an exploitative sex trafficking type place. It also doesn’t portray BDSM in the greatest light, but no one who participates in BDSM acts are doing so conscientiously or not as a way to self-harm, so, by not suggesting that this is the way to do that stuff properly, it’s way less misrepresentative of BDSM than 50 Shades is.

 

your favorite superhero sucks

Your Favorite Superhero Sucks by Noah Berlatsky

Admittedly, the latest superhero mega blockbusters are getting to me. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. Obviously I also loved Wonder Woman. Each of these movies has its flaws, or, in Black Panther’s case, maybe “slight limitations” might be a better term, but they’re still important and more interesting than most of what else Marvel and DC have been serving up lately.

Still, superheroes are kind of a weird thing, and considering how they’re dominating the pop culture scene right now, I think it’s really important to critique them at every available opportunity.

This book is a good place to start. I found a couple of the essays ridiculously funny, especially “Our Batman, Ourselves.” I didn’t agree with absolutely everything, but even where I have differing opinions I think Berlatsky makes a lot of really good points. And really important ones. Pop culture needs scrutiny.

 

even this page is white

even this page is white by Vivek Shraya

A collection of poems, mainly dealing with racism. Shraya confronts white privilege head on. She spotlights white peoples’ reluctance to confront our own privilege, racism, and racist assumptions in such a searing way that I really think every white person, especially every white person in Canada, should have to read it. I’m not saying it’s the cure to our own special Canadian-brand antipathy, because no, but finding ourselves listening to people saying things that make us uncomfortable more and more often is the only way forward, and this book does its part.

Aaaaaaaand now it’s spring.

100 Books: November

Jan Feb March April May June July August September October

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

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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.

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

Jan Feb March April May June

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: June

Well look at that, now it’s July.

Jan Feb March April May

Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

engraved on the eye

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)

indigenous poetics in canada

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

luna station quarterly 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

disney princess 2

Of course I loved it.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

a study in charlotte

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

the truth about twinkie pie

loved this. I don’t know what else to say, it was just really good.

Out on Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler

out on good behavior

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

poison kiss

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

Fifteen Dogs

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

if i was your girl

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

witness i am

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

george

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

burning in this midnight dream

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

thaw

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.

The Life of Pi Movie Misinterprets Itself

So Life of Pi. I’m talking about the very end of both the movie and the book today so it is fully a spoiler fest on here.

Hi there, you. Whoever you are. I’d read Life of Pi, if I were you and the me/you person I/you am/are haven’t read it already. The movie will do in a pinch but the book is seriously good.

There’s a scene near the end of Life of Pi in which the movie very helpfully tells you what the meaning is behind the whole thing. I get it, sort of. We live in such times as apparently nobody wants to have to think ever. It’s probably also because the selling point of this book and movie has always been, “This is a story that will make you believe in God.” I think that’s the bigger problem in need of a “explain the meaning during the runtime” solution right there. That’s a pretty bold statement, and in the book, there’s no outright “aha” moment. Never fear, though, it’s in the movie.

Also, it gets the whole thing 100% wrong.

We return, near the end of the movie, to grown-up Pi lamenting to his narrator friend that he never got to say goodbye to Richard Parker (that would be the tiger). By and by narrator friend says, “… that was an amazing story, but, a little hard to believe?” So grown-up Pi tells another story. This time, we don’t flashback to teenage Pi. We just watch grown-up Pi tell the story in the present day.

In this one, there’s Pi, an evil cannibal chef, a Buddhist sailor, and Pi’s mom. The chef amputates the sailor’s leg to be “helpful” but actually so that they can eat some meat (the chef is a big advocate of meat-eating), the sailor dies, Pi’s mom flips out at/physically attacks the chef for being evil, and the chef kills Pi’s mom, right in front of him. Not long afterwards, Pi kills the chef, who doesn’t resist his own murder. Pi survives on the lifeboat alone and gets to Mexico.

Gross.

So then grown-up Pi asks narrator friend, “Which story did you prefer?” And narrator friend says, “The one with the animals.” And grown-up Pi says, “And so it is with God.”

Sigh.

No, movie. No.

Grown-up Pi’s statement is pretty vague, so it’s not exactly entirely wrong, but the easy interpretation of said statement is, “It’s nicer and funner and more interesting and more comforting and less horrific to think that there’s a God/the sacred texts have some/lots of truth to them, so that’s why we believe that stuff.” And that’s pretty nihilistic, if you ask me. Also the book did it much differently and it’s better.

In the book, the story proper completely ends with Pi lamenting never saying goodbye to Richard Parker. He was devastated. RP meant a lot to him and he would like to have believed that he meant something to RP in turn, but RP never looked back at him. That’s sad. The end.

On the next page, we’re informed that the narrator found a transcript of a conversation between Pi and two guys from the insurance company for the ship. They wanted him to tell them the whole story to try to understand why the ship sank and also lifeboats, I guess.

The transcript starts right after Pi has told them the animal story. They, like movie narrator friend, don’t believe it. They want to be nice (somehow that gets conveyed even though there’s seemingly no artistry to this part; it’s a straight transcript), but they prod him to tell them the real story. “There’s no way you survived on that lifeboat with a tiger. And the flesh-eating island full of meerkats? Come on.”

So eventually he tells them the other story. It’s the same as the one in the movie. At the end of it, there’s silence. Then I think teenage transcript Pi asks them which one they prefer (I can’t find my copy of the book to check), and they of course say they like the animal one. This time, his “Which story do you prefer” isn’t a question of friendly interest, many years after his horrific experience. This time, it seems more pointed, as though he’s saying, “See? I told you the better story but you weren’t satisfied with it, well now look how that turned out for you!”

After the transcript ends, there is a news article about Pi that has used the insurance men as sources. The story of how Pi survived the shipwreck those men have told the journalists is the one with the animals. And that is the end of the book.

We end the book with two very strong notions of what just happened: The story with the humans and no animals is what actually happened, and that the story with the animals is better. But give it some thought, and there’s one conclusion that brings everything together.

The stories are the same.

The same things happen in both stories. The same players are there. Richard Parker is Pi. The chef is the hyena – and in the book, the french man does show up as an actual human being as well, so that even that disgusting man is portrayed as fully human and that is a different discussion – the Buddhist sailor is the zebra, and Orange Juice is Pi’s mom. He even says, during the animal story’s telling, that he’d always thought of Orange Juice as a maternal figure. She has lost her baby in the shipwreck, just as Pi’s mom had lost her other son.

There are key differences, obviously. Maternal though she may be, there’s a big difference between watching a hyena kill an orangutan and watching a horrible person kill your mother. There’s a difference also between a boy murdering his mother’s murderer and a tiger killing a hyena out of primal kill-need.

But… not that much of a difference. At least, I would argue that.

I think the fact that I’m inclined to view animals as being more or less identical to humans in most of the ways that matter means that I view both versions of this story as horrific. In the human version, as awful as all of the killing is, at least it makes sense. There are reasons and motivations for it all that I can relate to. The hyena is unnecessarily cruel with the zebra (and although Martel tries to claim that a hyena would indeed act like that in this situation, I’m calling bullshit), and on meerkat island it’s pointed out that RP kills way more meerkats than he can eat. He just kills them to kill them. It’s a thing about cats I will never understand.

Pi’s mother being murdered is awful. But because Orange Juice is an innocent, her death is, I think, just as awful, but in a different way. Orange Juice didn’t need to object to the hyena’s treatment of the zebra. She didn’t need to put herself in danger, but her compassion and righteous fury compelled her to do so and it’s just really sad that she couldn’t save herself. It’s a different kind of sad and I’ll be forever at pains to explain that being just as sad about bad things to happen to animals as I am about bad things that happen to humans is not a moral failing on my part (or, like, everyone else who feels that way). We can be equally sad about both things in different ways or similar ways depending on the situation, so deal with it. Also this is just fiction but OMG I hate fictional depiction of animal cruelty. I can’t separate it from the real things that happen everyday.

Here.

It’s super sad at first but then there’s a bunch of baby orangs in a wheelbarrow so. You know.

Sorry, fellow humans. It seems that the greatest ape is the orangutan.

Anyway. There are clear differences in how the personal trauma will affect Pi depending on whether it’s his mother and humans or his zoo animals, but other than that, it’s the same story.

Life of Pi doesn’t endeavour to make you believe in God. It’s just showing you how sacred texts work.

A religious story may bend the truth or completely fabricate it. We have no way of knowing. Jesus of Nazareth, who was probably one of the most influential people to walk the planet ever, only has one piece of historical evidence to call his own. Something about how James is his brother and they called him “Christ.” That’s it. There’re the gospels but those weren’t written down until hundreds of years post crucifixion. At least some of that stuff isn’t true. Maybe a lot of it isn’t. What Life of Pi is suggesting is that it doesn’t matter what specifically is factually true, because the point of the story is to make meaning which is a different kind of truth.

The animals on the lifeboat, RP moreso than the others, are there to give Pi’s experience meaning. Without them, it’s just another story about people doing awful things in awful circumstances. And with RP especially, Pi’s struggle for survival isn’t just a boy being resourceful and almost starving or dying of thirst and eventually making it. His relationship with RP makes his survival story something more. It’s about having compassion for that part of yourself that you are ashamed of, the more animalistic, enraged, violent side of you. Pi has to keep RP fed and watered for his own sanity, and RP needs Pi to care for him because he’s just a tiger on a lifeboat. He can’t do that himself. They befriend each other, but Pi can never communicate with RP the way he would like to. And RP, excepting those moments when he really is dying, is always a gigantic threat to Pi, if he lets his guard down.

Having the tiger there makes it a really entertaining, easy to understand story about the human condition and human nature and internal darkness and lizard brains and stuff. Everything that happens with RP is truthful, if the human version of the story is the “real” one, even though there is no tiger. Because the tiger just represents an element of Pi that shows up when he needs it to and disappears once he’s back in civilization.

About the God stuff, then. I like to think you can interpret this in both ways. In Life of Pi terms, believing in God is the same as not believing in God, it’s just that believing in God adds metaphorical meaning to the question of why we’re even here. In God’s absence, we should still probably be trying to help each other out but everything is messy and uncertain. In God’s presence that idea of radical love/kindness is made a little clearer (only for people who don’t use their faith to be cowards and bigots, of course, but still), and a little more artfully. On the other hand, because Richard Parker is real whether or not he’s actually a tiger, the book does seem to edge further towards the “believing in God” side of the spectrum, which is fine. Pi would approve; he’s a God fan.

While the ending of the movie annoys me, I do really like this one scene:

Because:

  • Pi looks at RP, who is looking at the stars
  • RP looks at the water, and his reflection
  • Pi looks at RP looking at his reflection
  • Pi looks at his own reflection
  • RP reflecting while looking at his reflection
  • Images of Pi’s and RP’s past and the shipwreck
  • Pi looking at Pi’s reflection
  • RP looking at Pi looking his reflection

AHHH! It’s so cool. And you can’t do that in a book.

Also, the flesh-eating island that looks like a tomb? That was brilliant.

The fact that they used a real tiger for some scenes and at one point he almost drowned? Not brilliant.

100 Books: May

Jan Feb March April

Well it’s June somehow. May kind of sucked for many, many reasons, but a comparatively tiny reason for May sucking for me personally is that I only read five books. That puts me behind again, if I’m reading ten books per month. Oh well.

DISNEY PRINCESS #1 by Amy Mebberson

disneyprincess1

I finally got around to this, and somehow I didn’t read the second one too in order to try and catch up on my 100. Anyway, it’s as delightful as you’d expect, but I still prefer Mebberson’s Pocket Princess series because I like when all the girls hang out. Still, it was worth it. Likely #2 will be in June.

Flush by Virginia Woolf

flush

I bought this book by mistake during my student days and I’ve always meant to get around to reading it. And. Well. It was OK. It’s basically Virginia Woolf being somewhat sincere and mostly hilarious by writing a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog. It’s also got a bit of racism in it, so, exactly what I was expecting, really. Woolf is still my favourite modernist writer but that’s not saying much. Times were tough back then. And they had stupid opinions about dogs, as if they didn’t have enough stupid opinions back then about humans to fill the stupid opinion quota that human society apparently has, for reasons unknown. I do recommend Mrs. Dalloway, though. Highly.

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

beyond magenta

Here’s a work of nonfiction in which young trans people tell their stories about being trans and how it has impacted their lives so far. It’s fascinating and often kind of infuriating. The number of different types of adults in different types of positions of authority over these kids that get in the way by being stubbornly ignorant is unsurprising and awful. But that’s just one small element that I highlight – their stories shine through and it’s really, really good.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

the handmaid's tale

I finally got around to this one, too. It’s good. So far I like it better than the show version. Someone called it The Hunger Games for grownups and I think that’s a good description. It’s quite a bit more political than The Hunger Games as well, although like pretty much every dystopia it doesn’t touch racial politics at all. Not one bit. But maybe that’s sort of OK, since Atwood is white. It’s important to note, though, because if Gilead was real you’d better believe racism would factor in.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

the blue castle

I like L.M. Montgomery’s descriptions of the Canadian wilderness – good in Anne of Green Gables but I really liked it in Emily of New Moon. I thought I’d try out one of her books for adults, and the nature stuff in here is typically my cup of tea. The actual story is that a 29-year-old unmarried woman who gets harassed by her entire family all the time finds out that she’s dying, so she makes some significant life changes, as she has nothing to lose, and scandalizes her entire stupid family. Sometimes it was pretty funny, and other times it got a little tiring, but overall it was nice escapist stuff. The romance was all right. Better than The Handmaid’s Tale, anyway (har har). Also it ends exactly like you think it will but that’s kind of necessary, for the type of book it is, so no big deal.

All right, now to read 15 books at least for June. Doable.

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

the bluest eye

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

the hate u give

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

story of lamia and pan

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

we should all be feminiss

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

secrets of the scepter

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

guns stephen king

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

whokilledediemontgomery

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

vengeance bound

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

monkey-beach

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

luna station quarterly 029

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

manicpixiedreamgirl

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

Since Katniss is mine, lemme clear some things up

revolution

In response to the many male critical voices who just don’t get it.

In which Bob Chipman argues that The Hunger Games codes the feminine as evil and the masculine as good, which is a thing movies have been doing for a long time:

The thing is, he’s completely right. He’s also argued recently on Twitter that The Hunger Games’ coding can be interpreted to suggest that the white, rural working class are the true heroes and the true victims of oppression while urban elites and effeminate fashionistas are actually evil. This would at least partially disqualify it from working as one of the cultural touchstone narratives that should have warned people against letting Trump get elected (others include Harry Potter and Star Wars, which are fine, but I seem to recall that Tatooine and Coruscant are making use of some coding and things as well but that doesn’t count apparently).

The Capitol is evil. The fashion and obsession with fashion demonstrated there are not the reasons why the Capitol is evil, but they are a part of the larger problem. The Capitol is evil because of how normal the Games are considered to be there.

Indulge me for a second; it’s shoehorn-in-some-animal-rights-stuff time.

This controversial post from a local Dog Rescue describes normalizing brutality for meat industry animals at Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair:

“What struck us most about the entire day was the sense of normalcy. Thousands of smiling visitors gazed adoringly at groups of tiny piglets, blind to the caged mother who stood in the corner, friends took group photos in front of chained cows while holding steak sandwiches, and crowds laughed and cheered as announcers joked that perhaps the pigs in the auction ring were squealing in terror because of the auctioneer’s bacon costume. It seemed as though none of these animals were viewed by guests as living creatures, but as products, photo-ops, and, in some cases, a joke. Making a spectacle of the suffering of animals and transforming it into a fun-for-the-whole-family event should not be considered a proud Toronto tradition. It should be considered a primitive black mark that a compassionate and civilized society must work together to remove.”

Imagine someone like Plutarch or Cressida, Capitol citizens, watching the Games year after year, knowing them to be wrong, horrified by how the media and average citizens are so willfully blind to the brutality. This could easily be a paragraph either of them would write on the Capitol’s version of Facebook while they watch the festivities leading up to the 74th Hunger Games, if they had been allowed to express a dissenting opinion without having their tongues cut out.

Fashion and obsession with fashion certainly play a role in the Capitol’s normalizing of spectacle child murder. But these things are more like distractions that would be considered completely benign if it weren’t for the Games, the fascism, the poverty, and the oppression Capitol citizens are ignoring and facilitating while they focus on what loud colour to die their hair (or skin) next.

The movies admittedly let the coding do the work for them, but Katniss’s inner monologue reminds us that the real mechanics the Capitol uses to normalize the Games are the celebrity culture and worship, in which Capitol citizens drool over the tributes while they live and drool over them while they die brutal deaths at the hands of other oppressed children.

Celebrity worship is a thing everyone does. When it’s men worshiping sports stars (heterosexually, of course) we don’t really equate it to women (and effeminate men, because you’d have to be an effeminate man if you care about non-sports celebrities, amirite) following whoever in gossip columns, but it’s all the same. The Hunger Games, I tentatively argue, meshes the two together, as everyone sits back and watches in anticipation as the tributes are graded based on their athletic abilities and survival skills. Capitol citizens don’t just love the tributes because of how their stylists dress them, but also because of their physicality. Remember that the two most prosperous Districts have special academies for kids to train in until they’re 18, at which point they volunteer. Their athleticism and weapons-mastery are required to make it a good show.

Of course, the fact that sports-worship is meshed in to the rest of celebrity worship in these stories still doesn’t change how fashion and celebrity worship are considered by culture to be feminine things and therefore perpetual targets for mockery and hatred. Here’s where The Hunger Games changes things up in this regard.

Katniss makes use of both fashion and celebrity worship to become The Mockingjay, beginning the revolution that will end the Capitol’s tyranny. She doesn’t do these things actively, because she’s Katniss. All Katniss wants to do is live in the forest and shoot things with her bow. Unfortunately she has greatness thrust upon her, literally at times, by Cinna, one of the most celebrated stylists in the Capitol.

Yes, Cinna’s clothes are comparatively muted (just look at Effie). But he does wear gold eyeshadow for special occasions, and his work is adored by the excess-loving Capitol citizens as much, and often more than the louder designs by his peers. This is probably because as a highly fashion-conscious people, they can appreciate the beauty in something more simple than what they are used to, they will love something that is to them novel, and they can certainly appreciate the statement of clothing catching fire (even if they don’t see it as a call to arms as the rest of Panem does). I even remember one moment in Catching Fire (the novel) in which Katniss’s prep team listen very respectfully, and even reverently, as her mother teaches them how she does Katniss’s trademark braid. Katniss is impressed by this, and it’s one of those moments that makes it clear that the problem is not how excited these people are about fashion and celebrities, but rather that it’s all they care about. They never consider, because of their privilege, that basic human rights and human dignity are being denied to the people in the Districts. The resentment Katniss and her peers have about their fashion and celebrity culture grows directly out of that real concern. To me, that’s less about slamming American urban culture for being too wrapped up in, well, urban culture to know what the concerns of “real America” are, and more about illustrating through this one particular allegory how the privilege afforded to those with wealth, and, underneath everything else, the privilege afforded to those who were lucky enough to be born in the Capitol, and not in a District being harshly oppressed by the Capitol, requires that people be given spectacles to keep them from thinking too hard about any of the systems that make them so lucky at the expense of others.

The Hunger Games is not deliberately apolitical. It is making a deliberate statement about how privilege works. I’ve seen it argued that it’s an indictment against American imperialism, and I think that’s probably the “most correct” way of reading the Capitol/District dichotomy. That still leaves the coding in the films especially but it’s certainly there in the books too. And if people are going to take advantage of the lack of spectrum politics to declare that their people and way of life are the real ones being oppressed because they dress like Katniss and coal mining is a thing, well, that’s just life imitating art. People are using The Hunger Games, a story about an upper caste using spectacles to distract them from the human cost of their affluence and power, as a spectacle to distract them from how their actions and inactions will hurt those in worse states of vulnerability than them. This is why we need to teach critical thinking in elementary and high schools. And all the time. Always.

So back to fashion and celebrity culture in The Hunger Games: there’s also the fact that Katniss genuinely loves the outfits and costumes that Cinna makes for her Being from District 12, she appreciates both how the Capitol’s citizens will interpret her outfits and how the people at home and in the other districts will. When her wedding dress burns and transforms into a Mockingjay costume, her role as the revolutionary hero is cemented. Fashion, typically a tool used in the Capitol as a distraction from their brutal government, is co-opted and used against them, encouraging people rigidly separated to unite, and people who would rather ignore the underside of the Capitol to face it honestly.

And real quick: the fire is activated by twirling. TWIRLING. There is nothing girlier than twirling.

Celebrity worship is the other part of this, and Katniss and her various handlers certainly makes use of it as well. Katniss believes that there are better contenders for the Mockingjay role. She thinks Johanna would have been great, as she is loud and impossible to ignore. Peeta, though, is the real contender. He can make anyone believe anything and is highly likable. Still, the role has fallen to her, awkward, sort of prudish, constantly deer-in-headlights Katniss. There are layers to why it has to be her:

  • because it all started when she volunteered for Prim
  • and then the riots all started because she stopped playing the role of survivalist competitor in order to grieve for Rue, breaking the illusion of the Games and calling District 7 to action
  • and then she defiantly threatened to commit suicide with Peeta because it was the one act of true rebellion she was actually capable of as well as the only opportunity she has to save her own life as well as someone else’s
  • Cinna put her in a dress that looked like it was on fire
  • Peeta told the entire country that he was in love with her and thus everyone else fell in love with her
  • Snow decided she was his number one target (villains need to stop doing this. I’m looking at you, Voldemort. And the Peacock from Harry Potter and the Kung Fu Panda 2)
  • Cinna put Katniss in the fairy tale wedding dress everyone in the Districts knew to be a lie, only for the country to watch it burn into a Mockingjay costume
  • The alliance of the victors decided Katniss was their priority
  • Plutarch was like, “Yup, she’ll do.” And then he kept insisting.

Most of these layers have little to do with Katniss herself. Also, those layers that are just Katniss doing things because she must, or because she is self-righteously compelled to, are only as powerful as they are because the Capitol is filming and displaying her every move. Katniss spends most of the trilogy (quadrilogy if we’re talking the movies) deeply traumatized and damaged, sometimes physically as well as mentally. I’ll never forget how the opening of Mockingjay: Part 1 is a traumatized Katniss hiding in the dark, trying to remember what she knows for sure. And Mockingjay: Part 2 begins with the neck brace coming off, and I can’t express how horrifying it was to hear her try to talk for the first time. How many times in Part 2 does the movie pause to zoom in on Katniss’s injuries? Katniss faces the consequences of being made into a myth, which has been a joint effort but mainly the work of other people, more talented, strategic, and charismatic than her.

And thus, by Katniss herself and by other players who are better at the game, celebrity culture and fashion obsession are both co-opted to wreck the Capitol.

To be clear: the coding is still there, and Katniss’s outfits are not quite comparable to the things Effie and the like wear, but The Hunger Games can’t be easily dismissed as having just lazily used the most typical and problematic shortcut to designate good and evil in the book since black hats and white hats.

So the urban versus rural thing.

PSA: I am not an expert in any way, shape, or form. I’m still going to talk about it though because lol

District 12 are coal miners. This fact and the very muted fashion choices 12’s inhabitants have to make really do seem to invoke the city elite versus working class rust belt type disaster that apparently helps to elect Donald Trump.

This is because, yes, that’s what Suzanne Collins is doing.

I can’t really back up that claim because I haven’t asked her personally, but I’m going to assume that because she’s an American, the huge divide between urban and rural is a thing that she is hyper-conscious of. Creating a distopia where people are divided into classes geographically is certainly going to make the rural/urban divide the prudent choice for which obvious real-life class divide your fictional universe will resemble.

On the other hand, the District system is not the only vision of class divides and class warfare that we see in the books (and films, briefly). The Avoxes live among the Capitol citizens, waiting on them silently because their tongues have been cut out. The Capitol has found a way to dehumanize a group of people so as to justify using them as slaves. Some of the most horrific stuff that we see in the books has to do with the Avoxes (I’m recalling Peeta talking about listening to Capitol soldiers torture an Avox for information even though he couldn’t talk), and Katniss herself ponders more than once how horrible it would be to be made into one, empathizing with the Avox waiting on her.

So while poverty more like what we see in urban environments is not the focus of this story, disenfranchisement happens in plain sight in the Capitol. People are not automatically safe in the Capitol just because they’re in the Capitol. In fact, there’s a certain freedom in living in the Districts. Katniss feeds her family by hunting illegally beyond the electric fence. She sells to Peacekeepers who should be turning her in, but they don’t, because otherwise they wouldn’t get their occasional squirrel meat. This kind of liberty couldn’t possibly work in the Capitol.

I’ve read the argument that because these stories are “deliberately apolitical” anyone can decide to identify with the oppressed Districts – for example, a reasonably well-off white person could identify with Katniss’s struggle against those liberal elites in their cities. I actually like the lack of politics here (I am pretty political, but I feel like if you had the chance to defeat your tyrannical President who hosts an annual child murder fest, arguments about whether to set up a capitalist society or a social democracy or something more like communism would be sort of a secondary concern). I would argue that although there isn’t any invoking of the economic spectrum of left vs right, the Capitol is very clearly a fascist regime, and as fascism is about more than money (read: identity), we don’t need the Districts to be clearly identified as poor, oppressed progressives in search of a socialist democracy. We know they’re poor and starving, and we know that every year they face the prospect of their children being taken away for slaughter. We don’t need more than that.

Identity politics do happen in these stories, but it’s a tad subtle and race politics don’t really happen at all. I fully acknowledge that Collins could have been a little more careful with her handling of race and diversity. All of the main players are white in the movies for sure, which does make the larger oppression narrative a little less relevant to the real world it’s supposedly speaking to. In the books, District 12, which is racially homogeneous, could be any number of things: Katniss has dark hair, olive skin, and green eyes. To me, that suggests that 12 is a mix of all sorts of ethnicities. Because all of the Districts are racially homogeneous, racism isn’t really at play. It probably will be after the revolution, when all of these people forced together out of necessity have to start living with each other peacefully, but during the timeline we have it isn’t a thing. Misogyny, too, isn’t really at play. The Capitol is not a nightmare vision of the patriarchy. But identity politics happen nonetheless. And I will show you.

So the thing about woman heroes…

Think about The Lord of the Rings. There aren’t many women. One of the women is actually a spider. There is one woman who gets to do cool, violent things, but she’s also hopelessly in love with some guy who couldn’t care less and then she randomly falls in love with a different version of that guy and declares out loud that she’s giving up shield-maidening to be the wife of a steward. Fun times. (To be clear, I love Faramir, but gah.)

Think about Star Wars (the original three and the prequels. I don’t know what’ll happen in these new ones). Leia is amazing but a huge huge huge part of her story is being in an antagonistic love story with Han. I’d go so far as to say that the part of Han’s story that is being in an antagonistic love story with Leia is comparatively much smaller, because Han has Chewy to be friends with, Luke to disappoint or impress, and his own motivations in life to reconsider. Leia nes pas.

Amidala is my favourite. She deserved better than Padmé and stupid-face’s stupid-faced “love” story. But that’s what she got.

Think about Harry Potter. Hermione is one of the best things in the known universe and the most important female character in the Potterverse, but she’s also one half of the major romance of that series. And I love it. But. Romance.

There is nothing wrong with romance.

But there’s a reason Merida from Brave is so special, and a reason that the ending of Frozen, which, while it does include romance, emphasizes female familial love above all else, is so special. And that is because female characters usually have to do romance things.

Male characters, not so much. Luke kisses his sister and that’s it. Frodo is ace for life, or maybe he’s just hopelessly in love with his straight BFF but we never have to watch him brood about it. Harry and Ginny sure, but that’s barely a thing in the books and even less of a thing in the movies. And when female characters find themselves as protagonists, usually they’re the protagonists in what is, above all else, a love story.

Katniss, who very well may be asexual, is definitely starring in a love story, but the romance takes a back seat. In the first book, Katniss is positive that everything Peeta says to her is for the cameras. That’s why when Seneca Crane announces, “Whoops, you know how we said you could both be the winners if you made it to the end together? Well, never mind,” Katniss immediately whips out her bow. In the movie, I notice, she pulls out her bow at the beginning of the announcement, but in the book she very clearly intends to fight Peeta to the death, because she is naively sure that he intends to do the very same thing.

On the train home she discovers that Peeta actually did love her this whole time. Oops. Double oops, because the next book finds them barely speaking but having to pretend the fairy tale romance is a very real thing because unrest in the Districts. Triple oops, because it turns out Katniss’s BFF Gale actually loves her too. Quadruple oops, because it turns out that Katniss could really use Peeta’s presence and support the whole time so they have to sleep in the same bed for months but she isn’t sure how she feels about any of this because she does like Gale, but she does like Peeta, but she doesn’t like either of them like that (maybe) and she definitely doesn’t want kids because they might end up reaped. Quintuple oops, because the Capitol will basically force a Katniss/Peeta wedding whether they want to or not and can apparently HIJACK HER REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS to ensure that she has a baby and you’d better believe that baby will end up as tribute because the Capitol would just LOVE that. Sextuple oops because while we were worrying about all of that stuff a lot of other things happened and they’re both back in the arena again fighting against each other because they are both bound and determined that the other one is the sole survivor, but this is just platonic, maybe, but now there’s a kiss and it actually makes Katniss feel things she hasn’t felt before. Septule oops, Gale will be sad because Katniss kissed him once out of pity. Octuple oops, the Capitol got Peeta and psychologically tortured him into hating Katniss and now he feels an uncontrollable urge to kill her when all he’s been doing this whole time up until now is trying to protect her. Novuple oops, turns out even that madness can’t stop Peeta being primarily motivated by making out with protecting Katniss. Dicuple oops, they end up together with kids because the war is over. And Gale sucks.

So. Look, I don’t know what to do with that summary of the romance in these books that I just made apart from reiterating that while romance is definitely there, and it is definitely a much bigger thing in the books than in the movies, it is not the defining thing. Katniss’s love triangle choice is not like Bella Swan’s between a freezing cold statuesque douche canoe and a boiling hot statuesque used-to-be-nice-but-is-now-a douche canoe, which is to say that it isn’t the centerpiece of the story, and the choice is a lot more intertwined with the themes. I used to know what Peeta and Gale represented, respectively. I seem to recall that Peeta represented a safe and secure future, and Gale represented an unsafe, unstable present, but those divides are clearer in the books and I haven’t reread them lately. In the films it’s less obvious because the romance was less featured.

What I do know for sure is that Katniss’s inner monologue allows for The Hunger Games to use romance tropes, and it allows us to enjoy them, but it also critiques them. The Capitol is enraptured with the romance between Katniss and Peeta but it’s a complete lie. They don’t actually get together until well after the war is ended. The Districts watch the romance play out and they don’t believe it for a second. It’s only those close to Peeta and Katniss who suspect that there might be a modicum of truth to the romance. Everyone else knows that Katniss didn’t offer Peeta the berries because she would rather die than live without him (cooooooooough New Moon).

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Apart from enduring a love triangle she did not want, pursue, or enjoy, Katniss gets to play out female power fantasies that are really intriguing. Because Peeta makes Katniss desirable by confessing that he’s always loved her on compulsory TV, Katniss becomes something of a sex symbol. Her flaming dresses don’t hurt either in this regard. But she paradoxically reads to others as being “pure.” Johanna apparently strips in the elevator in front of Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch because Johanna knows what kind of a reaction it will get out of pure, incorruptible Katniss. The twirling conveys innocence, the fire conveys lust and power, the offering forbidden fruit to a male love interest conveys original sin but it is revolutionary in exactly how NOT motivated by sex or romance the act is.

Peeta tells everyone Katniss is pregnant in book two as an attempt to get the 75th Games called off, but it doesn’t work. In book three, Katniss and Peeta are pitted against each other in a propaganda war. Charismatic Peeta tells everyone to calm down and stop revolting. Katniss, who has, supposedly, suffered a miscarriage, stands resolute and calls for open rebellion.

In the background, Katniss is described as being moving only when she’s being genuine and empathetic. She’s also described as being psychologically broken and emotionally volatile. She describes herself as being bad at making friends, and not a nice person. But look at her with Prim, and even her mother as she begins to forgive her. She is a gentle and loving nurturer, but she also thinks with her heart (dangerous and impractical in the efficient District 13) and can’t be trusted to follow orders.

She kills animals for food and when it comes down to it, she kills other tributes in the Games. But she is squeamish about wounds, admiring her “delicate” sister and mother because they aren’t bothered by a bit of pus.

In the midst of being offered up as a sacrifice to the bloodthirsty appetites of an oppressive ruling class, she gets a genuine kick out of wearing pretty clothes.

She gets to play a lot of different roles as a woman with power, but it is the innocent, sexless version of herself that wields the most power in the end. What is nice is that even though eventually she always has to return to the inhuman Mockingjay symbol, along the way, she gets to play with fire. Reading the book, it’s almost always clear that the real Katniss is there under the outfit and the makeup. This dichotomy is not new for female characters (the one that immediately springs to mind is Hannah Montana) but The Hunger Games does a lot of interesting things with it, and I rarely see it get credit for that.

It’s been argued that a character like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider is just like any male protagonist, but female. It’s a difficult argument to chew on and I definitely think it has some merit, but the reason I briefly bring it up here is to point out that Katniss Everdeen cannot be honestly read like that. She isn’t a male action hero in female skin. She is very, very clearly a young woman. It is the character’s very rich, complicated performance of her gender that proves that.

Having the female protagonist live through multiple and contradictory female-specific power fantasies and romances that both are and aren’t romantic is huge. Trust me, girls didn’t just love The Hunger Games because Team Gale or Team Peeta and JLaw. Though we did of course enjoy those things.

The ending of The Hunger Games is a lie and pointless and blah blah blah

If you’ve decided that coding the feminine and the urban as evil is disqualifying, and that the setup for class warfare is woefully lacking economic progressive politics, and for reasons relating to identity politics you are less inclined to notice when a female character gets to do new and exciting things beyond romance and also gets to quietly discuss the multiple and contradictory realities of the female existence, you will probably have misread the ending of this series.

Let me help you.

So District 13 shows up in a surprise move at the end of book 2. They’ve been fighting a rebellion for decades – indeed, they’ve never stopped fighting ever since the Capitol nuked them underground. But now, as their reproductive abilities are visibly slowing down and the Mockingjay has stirred up rioting in the Districts, 13 has a chance to unite the other Districts and end the war.

To end the war, President Coin bombs a bunch of Capitol children, swiftly followed by the second, deadlier blast killing the medics and everyone else who rushed in to aid the children, using a Capitol plane. You see, war crimes are OK if your politics are basically utilitarianism gone extreme.

Coin then proposes a democratic vote on one final Hunger Games, this time with Capitol children, because if they do this, then the oppressed Districts will be less inclined to yell and scream for vengeance against every Capitol official ever. 23 Capitol children will die, many more will be spared. She has completely missed the irony of her suggestion, even though Beetee and/or Peeta points it out to her.

So Katniss pretends to go along with it so Coin will let her execute Snow. But Snow is dying and he has lost the war and Katniss knows this. Her real goal is to assassinate Coin.

The misreading of this states that The Hunger Games goes for lazy nuance by suggesting that both sides are equally evil, like any given episode of South Park. The mechanism of the misreading is that you are comparing Coin to Snow.

Snow is a fascist who lost the war, lost power, and is succumbing to a fatal illness. Coin is the utilitarian version of a fascist (… whatever that is). The reason she doesn’t make a lot of sense (besides the fact that the whole apolitical aspect makes her arc rather clunky, admittedly) is that she isn’t really meant as an alternative to Snow. She is instead a foil to the entire revolution.

Recall that Katniss started the revolution simply by volunteering as tribute in Prim’s place. Reinforcing the revolution was Rue’s death. There are plenty of images of older women sacrificing themselves for younger women. Mags volunteers for Annie and then sacrifices herself for Peeta, for Katniss. Johanna puts herself in danger multiple times to save or protect Katniss. Cressida places herself between Jackson’s gun and Katniss. In the movie, the Leeg sister who doesn’t get injured chooses to stay with her injured sister and they die together.

Coin deliberately sends Prim to the front lines, knowing that once the children are bombed, Prim will rush in and be killed in the second blast. Coin kills the younger sister to end all younger sisters, and she does this specifically to psychologically destroy Katniss, another younger woman, so that Katniss will fall in line and support her in the first democratic elections.

We are not supposed to compare Coin and Snow. We are supposed to compare Coin and Katniss.

What Coin will do to secure her own power is exactly the opposite of what Katniss does at the beginning of the uprisings. Katniss sacrifices herself, even though she is the breadwinner of the family, because her little sister is worth doing the impractical and right thing for. The spirit of the rebellion is that little girls are worth sacrificing ourselves to protect, because they are the future we have to safeguard. Practicality and pragmatism are for nothing if we can’t save them. That is bold and naive and beautiful. Coin is a traitor to her little sisters, to her gender, and to the rebellion, and she must die.

The bitter end

And that is where we are. I, an older sister, feminist, and awkward lady, will take my perfect awesome hero girl, thank you. I don’t have that many to choose from, but Katniss is more than enough.

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?”

Guest Blogger: The Importance of Representation in Media

Good morning followers!

We enjoy reblogging as much as the next guy, but there’s something extra fun about collaborating with people we like and having them write a blog post for us to feature. To kick things off, my good friend Erin agreed to let us feature her story about how positive representation in media changed her life. Enjoy!

– three

“My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me” – Cosima Niehaus, Orphan Black

It isn’t, not by a long shot. It is, however, one of the parts of my identity that I have been navigating through a lot recently. One of the biggest influences of this journey has been the basic portray of sexualities other than straight in books, television, and movies.

Up until a year ago I struggled with coming up with a synonym to describe my heterosexuality and the fact that, while I had always been attracted to men, whenever one started to show a bit of interest, I panicked and shut down all forms of communication.

I remember telling Three one exam season, when we were both procrastinating at completing those super fun accounting practice exams, that I thought I had finally nailed it down. I was demi-heterosexual. I felt like I had to build up a strong emotional connection with someone before I felt I could be attracted to and want to date them. It fit, I felt content with it and I ran with it. I will add that another part of my identity includes severe social anxiety (an illness I am now after many years of suffering being treated for) which makes building strong relationships with new people extremely difficult. I accepted the fact that I would probably be single forever.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015. My sister recommended the book Black Iris by Elliot Wake (written under the name Leah Raeder) which is about a mentally ill, but also bisexual girl named Laney. It features the scene that kicked off my serious questioning phase where Laney was involved in a threesome with her two best friends Blythe and Armin. The entire time I read that scene I could not shake the fact that I was way more interested in the interaction between L and B and that I would be happy if A was not there at all.

Weeks later while attending the wedding of a friend’s aunt, I drunkenly voiced those questioning thoughts to that friend’s sister. Could I be straight and also think that some girls were pretty? Was the fact that I related so much to this character proof that I might also be bisexual?

Those questions went unanswered until I started watching Orange is the New Black (I know I was super behind on Netflix) in September. Episode 9, Fucksgiving, was my Gay AwakeningTM. I felt so much pain for Piper when she was brutally thrown in the SHU after dancing slightly provocatively with Alex. The entire episode I was rooting for her to not stash those feelings away. My reward was witnessing Piper walk confidently down the hallway to the song Walking Backwards by Leagues (which I immediately downloaded after) and started making out with Alex in the chapel. There was no going back after that realization.

For the next week I felt nothing but euphoria. I went to work like normal, sat down beside my Trump supporting, now quit-before-he-got-fired seat mate, and went about my day. To everyone around me I looked as I always had, but I felt like a weight had been lifted inside of me, I could finally breathe easier. I felt like I was so much closer to understanding who I was.

Three was the first person I came out to, and it was the next day. I came out as bisexual and while I cannot remember her exact words, she was super supportive and said everything right (not the typical responses you normally hear). I waited a week before telling anyone else to make sure that I was still comfortable with the label.

I identified as bisexual for the rest of that year. After a little soul searching, I thought that pansexual fit better and switched over to that. It still did not feel like I was finished navigating through all of the feelings I was having. So I started to consume wlw (women who love women) media like there was no tomorrow.

My collection of fem slash books grew astronomically, I joined fandoms for television shows on tumblr, and for the first time in a long time, I felt a strong connection with a large group of people I shared similar interests with. It was during this stage of my so called coming-out that I stuck on a new label, homo-romantic. While I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was attracted to men, trans people, and those who didn’t identify themselves with the gender binary, I only felt romantic attraction, I.E. to date women or people who identified more feminine.

Since then I have felt a lot of heartbreak over the treatment of queer women characters in television (a blogpost on its own), felt so much love from the online community of wlw, and have been inspired to write my own fem slash books. It has been such an emotionally hard, but rewarding journey. I’ve met some pretty great (and some not so great) queer women using the dating app Her, and feel very excited about starting my dating life.

While there were many real life moment where I could have explored my sexuality, having a gay best friend for grade 11 and 12, having an out bisexual girl hit on me in chemistry class, or even living with a pansexual girl and a trans guy for two years in university, I never felt safe in the so called real world doing so. Media representation allowed me to imagine myself in different scenarios. It gave me the safe place I needed as a sufferer of anxiety to explore within myself. I cannot thank those who included queer characters in their stories enough. And I hope to help create even more media for all of the queer girls who deserve to see proper representation in mainstream media so they can explore their sexuality as well.

About the Author:

Hats I wear: INFJ, vegetarian, feminist, pansexual/homoromantic, Slytherpuff, animal lover, nerdfighter, reader, writer, clexa lexark trash, proud fangirl … the list goes on and is constantly evolving

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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”