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.

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100 Books: October

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

Jan Feb March April May June July August September

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I guess so.”

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

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

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

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

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

Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge

cuckoo song

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

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

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

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

the girl from everywhere

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

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

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

the shadow queen

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

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

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

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

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caraval

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

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

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

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

Asexual Perspectives by Sandra Bellamy

asexual perspectives

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

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

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

the duchess war

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

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

And she’s like, “…”

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

rafiki

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

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

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

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

Emily’s Best Christmas Ever by Krista and Amanda

emily's best christmas present ever

oh my goodness

Yeah. This is also getting its own post.

Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee

not your villain

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

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

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

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

the hollow girl

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

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

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

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

bearly a lady

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

Lumberjanes Volume 3

lumberjanes vol 3

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

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

lumberjanes jen's urban legend

I LOVE JEN SO MUCH.

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

Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers

unforgivable

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

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

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

All right November. What’s in store?

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

100 Books: 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.

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?