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.

su winter tide

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.

The Night Circus and Amatonormativity

Whaaaat Are You Talking About

Amatonormativity: the prevailing belief that romantic relationships are universally desired by all people and that they are preferable to other, nonromantic relationships

Sucky for a lot of reasons, but mainly because there are aromantic people in the world. That’s people who don’t feel romantic attraction, or who feel romantic attraction rarely or only in certain contexts.

For a nice, concise, fairly topical, real-life example of amatonormativity in action: did you watch the ice dancing? Did you see Virtue and Moir? Did you see all the ravenous speculation about how even though they’ve always said that they’re not a couple, they must be dating, they must be having sex, how could they not, it’s not like acting is a major component of ice dancing or anything…

I roll my eyes, but I also understand, sort of. I get it, you got swept up in the dances. They’re very good. They make us all feel things. Great. But hey, if it really does turn out that they’ve been telling the truth this whole time and they’re just a man and a woman with a super close, supportive, platonic friendship that can remain a platonic friendship even during occasional three minute stints in which they stare at/touch each other like they really wanna so that they can up their artistic score, well, that’s good. Because When Harry Met Sally was wrong and men and women can and should be friends, close friends, even. Not everything needs to be a romance.

In Fiction

So, there’s this article talking about how Voldemort, with his infamous lack of interest or perhaps even lack of ability to love, is pretty much the aromantic character in Harry Potter and he’s also the guy who wants to murder a baby so that he can adequately chop up his own soul.

I don’t really agree with the thesis here, because I’ve always read Harry Potter as centering, first and foremost, friendship. Harry’s survival is thanks to his mother’s love for him, and after his parents are gone it is Ron and Hermione, neither of whom he is attracted to, who are most important to him. He has a special bond with Molly Weasley as well, who treats him like he’s her own son.

When Harry finally reveals himself to Voldemort in their final battle, it’s to stand in front of Molly when Voldemort turns to kill her. He’s saving Molly, not Ginny. After the battle, Harry sees Ginny but lets her be for the moment, choosing to seek Ron and Hermione out instead. Friendship and the love between a parent and child. That’s they key thing Voldemort doesn’t have time for – or, actually, that’s the stuff he devalues so completely that he thinks it’s a good idea to spend much of his time killing peoples’ friends, children, and parents – and why, according to Dumbledore, he is ultimately defeated.

People asked JK Rowling throughout the years whether Voldemort ever dated, and her answer was always, “Um, no. He totes wouldn’t even ever have been interested.” The thing is, people who do evil things in real life often do form romantic and sexual attachments and relationships, but in literature it always seems strange to have the evilest of the evil date someone. And that is probably absolutely entirely because of amatonormativity. If romantic relationships are the best thing ever, even, maybe, the only thing that really matters, why would evil people take part in them? Surely they would be too evil to understand how great they are, and, if evil people did get into a romantic relationship how could they remain evil?

So. Even though I think every time Dumbledore said, “Harry it’s cool, you’ll beat him because you can love and he can’t,” he wasn’t talking about romantic love, yes, Voldemort being so very clearly aromantic is kind of a buzzkill.

Buuuuut I love Harry Potter for its depiction of friendship. It’s top notch on the topic of friendship, and bless JKR for that. Harry PotterIt, and AvatarThe Last Airbender/Legend of Korra are stellar for friendship. Sure, there’s romance and sometime sex, sometimes even eleven-year-olds having sex, but it’s mostly about how great and important and life-saving and world-saving friendship is and I’m giving them all props for that.

(also I think Charles Weasleton and Sirius Black are aroace and awesome, but only Charlie’s ID was *sort of* confirmed, in an interview, post the Deathly Hallows release, so I guess they don’t count)

(but they’re totally aroace and awesome I don’t care)

the night circus 3

The Night Circus: Sales Pitch

Hi.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of the best fantasy/magical realism books I’ve read in a long time. It’s stylish, in it’s chic third person present tense, with the occasional chapter in second person present tense. When I read third person present in other books, and so far the only other books I’ve read in third person present are the Sidekick Squad books by C.B. Lee, it drives me up the wall. But not here.

It has beautiful, mystical, magical, romantic prose. When I read super stylish, super romantic prose, and mainly I’m thinking of anything by Anna-Marie McLemore, it drives me up the wall. But not here.

(C.B. Lee and Anna-Marie McLemore are still very good though, I’m just a little picky. I like Rowling prose, OK? Sweet and super simple. Leave me alone.)

The prose is… it’s… it’s just flawless. Reading this book is like eating a giant piece of this cake. Or this cake. Or – oh. Oh wow. OK so it’s like all of those, I can’t decide. Just all of them. It’s very decadent, and very good, is the point I’m trying to make.

I want to go to the Night Circus. I want to live there. It feels real, it feels beautiful and magical and just a little bit dangerous, and it’s been a very, very long time since I’ve fallen so hard for a fictional, magical world.

the night circus2

The Night Circus: Alas.

Here’s the thing, though.

The entire circus itself is created in order for the two protagonists, Marco and Celia, to have an arena in which to compete. The competition is deliberately vague: they basically just have to create magic things, different tents, different showcases, and they have to keep all of the people they’ve roped into the endeavour relatively safe and happy while they battle it out. Both are set on this journey by overpowerful completely cold-hearted ancient father figures when they are powerless children. They grow up, learn their different styles of magic from their different mentors, and then they start battling it out.

But, wouldn’t you know it, they’re both super hot young adults and they fall for each other. He falls first, she’s sort of resistant until she just can’t ignore how intensely he burns for her, you know, typical stuff. And because of this, the fairly vague competition turns into basically just them writing love letters to each other in the form of circus exhibitions and being completely impressed by each other’s magical prowess. Mostly he’s impressed. Typical stuff.

I’m not aromantic, and, more importantly, I’m usually a sucker for this sort of thing. I’m pretty sure, even not being aromantic myself, that you can be a huge fan of cutesy but still extremely intense romance stuff even if you don’t feel romantic attraction or if you only feel it sometimes. Anyway, what I wanted to get at is this: this is fine. It’s fine. It’s great. I’d normally love it. I did quite like it, I guess, as it is.

But, I’d read the “Voldemort as aromantic is super problematic” article first.

And.

So.

Here’s the thing.

There isn’t… really… like… any friendship in this.

There are two sets of twins, I’ll grant.

Here’s the thing about that: in the older twins’ case, they’re two fabulous ladies, two members of the really awesome group of people who found the Night Circus. One of the other members, some guy, is trying to determine which one of them he’s more in love with. Happily for all three of them, one of them dies. She goes to that some guy and asks why none of them have aged in the ten years since the circus began, and he sends her to Marco’s mentor, who compels her to accidentally walk in front of a train. And then the second twin and some guy start dating.

I make it sound sort of suspicious, like some guy wanted one of them to die to make his choice simple. I’m pretty sure he didn’t. But it’s just rather weird to me that, well, this is what happens to one set of twins. Like. Some guy is in love with both of them, trying to choose. And then. One of them dies. Like. What?

The younger twins are a boy and a girl. Widget, the boy, says and does normal, overly precocious literary child things that no real child would say or do. Poppet, the girl, says and does normal, overly precocious literary child things that no real child would say or do, and she also falls in love with some other boy who shows up to save the day at the end.

I’ll be honest: I’d be a little less annoyed if it had been Widget falling in love and Poppet just got to do her own thing in the end. But I’d still be slightly annoyed. There are a handful of scenes with the brother and sister being together, but their relationship isn’t as real as I’d like, and most of their scenes include Bailey, the boy Poppet falls in love with. And there isn’t a reason for her to fall in love with him. From Bailey’s perspective, she’s an exotic circus girl who is super nice to him, so of course he falls in love with her. I’m not saying he needs to be the most interesting manboy in the world for her to fall in love with him but there’s no exploration of how she feels about him at all. It’s just supposed to be a given, I guess, that she’d like him.

The only other relationship that has any sort of significance and that isn’t a romance is the one between the enigmatic contortionist Tsukiko and Isobel, the woman who is in love with Marco and who Marco is not in love with but he doesn’t tell her that until near the end (of course). But we only see glimpses.

And then the villains. Mr. A H- and Prospero the Enchanter, who both enjoy teaching children how to do magic so that they can compete with the rival’s student until one of them eventually dies. Prospero is Celia’s father. After she and Marco have sex, Prospero follows her around and calls her a whore a bunch of times, telling her she’s weak, she’s better than all of that, he’s extremely disappointed in her, he’s probably manipulating her girlish heart and of course doesn’t feel anything real for her, those feelings are for lesser people to indulge in, etc.

Tsukiko is a former winner and student of Mr. A H-‘s. Her opponent was another woman, and the competition between the two of them was also basically just a giant magical romance sexytimes fest. She says something along the lines of, “It’s been great being here, it’s the only thing that comes close to reminding me of the bliss I felt when I was magically intertwined with my long lost love, etc.”

Eventually Tsukiko’s magical girlfriend killed herself to end the game because she couldn’t bear to go on living if she’d have to live without Tsukiko. And Celia and Marco do the same thing sort of. It ends with Bailey saving them somehow. I’m still very confused about how that works, because to me, Bailey seems like a competely boring blank slate moderately enthusiastic fan of the circus, so why he’s ultimately the key to saving the circus and preserving Celia and Marco in eternal ghostly love is sort of beyond my capacity to understand. But boring rando saviours are not my topic today. And if they were, I’d much rather talk about the complete and utter bullshit that was Bard the Bowman being the guy to take down Smaug randomly near the end of The Hobbit. WTF forever, Tolkein, that sucked. But the Luke Evans version of events is fine.

MORE IMPORTANTLY is that even though reading this book was freaking delightful, by the end of it I was more than a little bit tired of how central and all-encompassing all of the sickening romance of it all was. I’d have liked there to have been just a little tweaking; just give Celia maybe one friend (one that doesn’t want to bone her because she does in fact have a friend and we never see her side of that friendship, which was platonic, we only see his, and he mostly wants to bone her) (sigh); give Marco a friend instead of a poor hopelessly devoted woman he continues to lead on despite being thoroughly uninterested in her; highlight Poppet and Widget and their sibling fights and mischief, things that would be more realistic than just having two precocious literary children being sagely and dull. There’s a super old glamorous lady who is (of course) entirely desexualized along for the ride too; give her something to do other than making knowing comments to Celia about how much Marco wants to bone her.

There is one conversation between Celia and the surviving fabulous lady twin in which surviving twin has figured it out and knows that Celia is somewhat responsible for her sister’s death, and she calls her out on it magnificently. That conversation was one of the highlights of the book and left me in awe. That’s the sort of thing that’s sorely missing from the rest of it: evidence of love that exists beyond and outside of romance and sex.

Regarding the Tsukiko revelation, also, at first, I thought, “Oh good, finally, a queer romance on top of all of these straight ones,” but then I thought, “Naaaah, we don’t see it at all, and one of them is tragically dead and the other one is tragically stuck living forever without the love of her life. Typical.”

I think it’s unfortunate that the book centers the romance in such a way as to basically overshadow even the possibility of other kinds of love being worthy of mention. I’m not trying to say that romance shouldn’t be the focus; rather, if the characters had been allowed to have other relationships that made them happy, other relationships that fulfilled them in other ways, the exploration of their romance would have been enhanced.

My evidence for this is the two and a half Courtney Milan books I’ve read. And Harry Potter. Courtney Milan writes straight-up romance, and there are always friendships and family relationships while the super sexy romance stuff is the main focus, and the other relationships always complement the romance nicely.

In Harry Potter, it’s much easier to feel the pain of loss when characters die even if they aren’t, like, Harry’s lovers. It’s easier because it has been established, thoroughly established, that friendships and family bonds matter and losing people you love, even if you don’t love them romantically, is excruciating.

Adding friendships and family relationships enhances everything. It makes everything deeper, and ultimately it makes it more real, because our lives are enriched by all of the people who matter the most to us, and many of those people aren’t romantic partners.

The book is good though.

100 Books: December

Jan Feb March April May June July August September October November

Phew.

I was reading up until midnight. And past midnight. But I count anything I finished by 1:15 a.m. on January 1st as something I read in December because, come on.

I’ve also been counting anything I finished in early hours of first days of any month as being from the previous month, so at the very least I’m consistent.

I read 17 books this month. Really it’s 16, which makes this an even 100 (I’m almost sure and I’m afraid to go back and do the math and find out I’m short). But there was one horrible extra book that counts on a technicality and so I’m including it to complain about its existence.

Here are some notes from the end of this journey:

  1. As December wound down someone on our Twitter timeline was talking about having finished *365* books this year. *365* BOOKS. And she finished before the month was over, so that’s MORE THAN ONE BOOK PER DAY. HOW. But despite a little bit of jealousy, mostly I feel very proud of that person. I hope one day if we happen to be in the same vicinity I’ll just spontaneously be struck with the desire to shake her hand and congratulate her and then we’ll both be really confused. But anyway.
  2. Reading 100 books in a year was a little much. I think now that I’ve proven to myself that it can be done, I’ll read more books than I so far have been reading per year, but the deadlines make it hard to enjoy things. I have a bad habit of skimming that I picked up while studying English Lit in university, and also from being a Harry Potter fan and needing to know everything that was going to happen as quickly as possible but still understanding what was going on in the story, and that habit reared its very practical and useful head here. I want to slow down and enjoy things that I read from now on, though.
  3. Kids’ graphic novels are good.
  4. I have some favourites. And I’ll probably blog about them at a later date.

For now, here are the last 17 books of my 101 books read in 2017, a not good year, but an OK year. With books.

Lumberjanes: Volume 5

lumberjanes 5

CTRL C CTRL V: It’s good it’s Lumberjanes so it’s very Lumberjanes and good.

Lumberjanes #21 & Lumberjanes #33

lumberjanes 29  lumberjanes 33

Same as above, but here I read two chapters that will eventually be added to their own volumes. I prefer reading it as a whole thing, and also I missed a chunk between the end of Volume 5 (I think) and the beginning of #21, and obviously there are several chapters missing in between the two I picked to read. But anyway. When they’re added into their own volumes I’m sure I’ll reread them and be just as happy with them as I was reading them separately.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

a christmas carol

It’s basically the Jim Carrey mocap movie adaptation, but obviously it’s just a book and it doesn’t have the overdramatized chase scenes and screaming, so, I loved it, but I also missed the overdramatized chase scenes and the screaming. I know why this is a classic but of course I already knew why it was a classic. Despite the fact that there are thousands of movie adaptations out there to choose, even if you don’t like the mocap one, I still recommend it because it’s nice, short, seasonal reading and all it asks is that you be a generous person if you’re totally capable of being a generous person, both in money and in simple kindness to the people around you.

You Can’t Punch Every Nazi by Mike Isaacson

you can't punch every nazi

This is a 30-some odd page zine that contains information on modern fascists and some strategies on how to talk to them. I personally don’t know any people who have been completely seduced by fascism but we’ve all seen the slow slide into rather harsh far-rightism, and most otherwise good, decent people do harbour slivers of white nationalist opinions. I decided a while ago that I would try to speak up when someone I know espouses harmful opinions, and I figured this would help.

It’s the beginning of 2018 and somehow, I think it’s pretty useful, and also, it’s available here for free.

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erica Johansen

invasion of the tearling

My Christmas gift to me was waiting until December to read this. It mixed it’s high fantasy main story with a modern(ish) day dystopia kind of like early-stage Handmaid’s Tale, which was very surprising and also very surprisingly well done. Kelsea is a teenager on her way to very young adulthood and she acts like one, and so far, I love everything about it.

It was especially good to read this book now that I’m completely disenchanted with Game of Thrones and even A Song of Ice and Fire. My sister said in her review of the first book in this series that it’s like if A Song of Ice and Fire was only about Danaerys. That was how she sold me on the book, too. And I agree, that’s pretty much what the Tear universe is so far. After watching the seventh season of the show, I’m going to go so far as to say that the Tearling series is like if Game of Thrones had any reason for existing whatsoever. (I’m sorry but I’m so done. I wish I wasn’t.)

Because Tearling is grappling with how to be a good leader, how to be idealistic, how to create a just society in ways that Game of Thrones is certainly not. Not at all. Maybe the books. Not the show. The show is a pile of rancid cynicism with good acting, music, and CGI.

OK, so, positivity: this series so far is gold. It’s not without it’s uncomfortable faults, but it’s good stuff.

Reasons to Vote for Democrats by Michael J. Knowles

reasons to vote for democrats

I realized as I was writing this post about some really good books that I could technically include this incredible waste of paper because the joke is that it’s blank.

Like.

There are chapter headers and then just blank pages.

It’s.

Look I think all books need to be printed on recycled paper but I think this book especially is an incredible waste of forest.

In some ways I understand that it’s kind of funny but the joke is actually on you if you pay your hard-earned money for a blank book that took a bunch of jerks pretty much no effort to create.

Anyway. My sister and I were shopping for a book for our frighteningly conservative-minded (which means racist) (maybe it doesn’t always mean racist but in this instance it really does) cousin and that’s why we even saw this waste of space.

I’m one of those people who thinks there’s no halfway understandable reason to vote Conservative apart from racism and hatred of air but I’m going to say this too: a book called “Reasons to vote for Republicans” or “Conservatives” or “Donald Trump” that’s completely blank would ALSO be bad. Just as bad, actually, because surely at least our side can come up with some arguments and counter-arguments like reasonable people who don’t want to cheat people out of money and trees in exchange for negligible artistry.

Anyway. We bought Humans of New York for our cousin and maybe he’ll glance at it twice. Whatever. That one actually took effort to create.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphant

I don’t think there’s praise enough for this book.

This book is all over the place here – and I don’t mean huge eye-catching displays at Chapters, because no, but it’s everywhere else. It’s in big box grocery stores. Usually, to me, because I’m still a bit of a snob (but I’m working on it), if there’re two solid shelves of a book at Walmart or a substantial stack of them at Costco it’s maybe not the best book, or it’s a blockbuster book like Harry Potter or Twilight or A Thousand Splendid Suns.

I’m not sure if Eleanor is a blockbuster but I hope it is. It was exactly what I needed, in any case, and I’m sure lots of other people could get something they might need out of it. I picked it up because I liked the cover and the summary sounded OK, but it exceeded all of my expectations enormously. Eleanor is instantly likably unlikable. I love her, and I love that she’s sometimes a little bit difficult to love. Pretty early on there are hints that all is not well and the more you learn on that front the more lovable she becomes. It doesn’t hurt that as we learn more about her she learns more about sensitivity, which is excellent.

It’s worth pointing out, mainly because of how much I loved this book, that it deals quite a lot with child abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, and domestic violence. I think it handled these various topics really well, but obviously your mileage may vary.

There are two big reasons that caused me to decide that this is probably my favourite book this year.

  1. The climax/”conflict is now at peak levels of intensity” moment. I was waiting from the first few pages for the conflict to blow up and be ridiculously dramatic. But, no. It’s handled with a lot of maturity. Eleanor figures out what she needs to figure out without making a huge scene the way she would have in a different book, or maybe in a quirky rom-com version of this same story. It’s not that she faces her problems squarely and with heretofore unseen inner strength, because she doesn’t. But neither does she act like many of the lovely teenagers in all of the lovely YA I’ve read this year would have, bless them. I was torn because while I felt bad for Eleanor, I was also thrilled at how calm everything was. The fallout is also handled really well, I think. There’s just enough drama, it’s nicely paced and rather cathartic and it’s everything.
  2. I like how the one potential maybe romance thing ended – small. And potentially… not romantic. Although it’s clearly implied that it’s romantic and I’m all for it being romantic but I think it’s exactly the right way for that subplot to have ended. Again, maybe it’s just that I’ve read loads of YA but I’m comparing this really quite beautiful slow progression into romance (that maybe is going to stay friendship, who knows) to a climax in which two characters make out furiously in a tree in front of all of their family members, and, yeah, this is more my speed. Also, it’s so important that “romance” is not a thing that fixes everything. I know there’s a place for that, but I prefer when it doesn’t happen.

I didn’t want it to end. And when I did finish it I wanted to just reread it, since that was my only realistic option. But I had more to do before the year’s end so I COULDN’T.

Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel

dog

I learned that labs are terrifying and that dogs are ridiculous.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

binti

This short novel/novelette is really cool. It’s science fiction, which is not close to being my favourite thing in the world, but it does what science fiction is supposed to do, as far as I’m concerned, anyway: it challenges things. This is a challenging story that has pretty much all of the characters reevaluate their initial feelings and biases and work together. I kind of think this shouldn’t work (I can’t give away why). But it does.

There are a few sequels to this and I’m definitely interested in reading them. Sci-fi so rarely captures my attention but this one was really really cool.

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

spirit hunters

We bought this for our youngest cousin. It’s a ghost/possession/haunting story for children and it’s super creepy.

I read it quickly before wrapping it (I usually try to, because sometimes a book will seem like a good idea on the shelf and then you bring it home and it’s full of unfunny rape and animal cruelty jokes for literally no reason and then you have to go back out shopping again because this trash is not worthy of our baby cousin) and I’m a little worried that it’s going to give him nightmares.

On the other hand, I kind of hope it gives him nightmares. When I was a kid I loved scary stories and getting spooked. Well. It was a love-hate relationship, maybe, because I never loved the part where falling asleep at night was impossible. But in the end it’s always worth it. I recommend it for the kid in your life who wants to get scared but because horror movies usually have unnecessary sex/gore/etc. they aren’t allowed to watch most of them yet and they therefore need to resort to scary books. This one will do.

Insane Clown President by Matt Tiabbi

insane clown presidency

We bought this one for another cousin! Mostly we think he’ll like the cover art. There are also illustrations along those lines for each and every chapter, which, unfortunately, is the best part of the book.

That’s not to say it’s not good, because it is pretty good. It’s just that the subject matter is so bleak and ultimately not funny.

Notably, Tiabbi’s discussion of Bernie Sanders/the young progressive vote/Hilary Clinton was by far the most palatable pro-Bernie thing I’ve read. Usually pro-Bernie stuff is condescending because it kind of has to sneer at the Democratic base for choosing “an establishment candidate who isn’t really that progressive personally” while ignoring that the Dem base probably went for Clinton because she was the more realistic choice, and they wanted the more realistic choice. For reasons. That need to not ever be dismissed.

HOWEVER. My reading, and other pro-Hilary readings, can often be condescending the other way, towards the young progressives who rejected Clinton. I’m still sure some of them are ridiculous and would never have voted anyway, even if Bernie had won the nomination, but the reality is, it really really is a good sign that a candidate like Bernie Sanders, no matter how tiresome hearing his name has kind of become, did so well, especially with young people. Their reasons for picking him were good ones. Tiabbi’s stuff made that clear without being awful and unnuanced and broish.

Anyway. Let that be the last I hear about the 2016 primaries and the 2016 election. It’s 2018 now and all I want to hear about is the impeachment.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

sisters

This was kind of wrenching. I really liked it, except for the part that involved dead/dying pets. One more time: the 2017 lesson is that graphic novels for kids are awesome.

Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook by Mark Bray

antifa

giphy (1)

HHHHHHHOMG. So.

I have a lot of thoughts, but they don’t really matter. Basically, if you’re interested in antifa at all, and, I said this earlier when I talked about reading the book about terrorism but I’m saying it again now, if you’re living in today’s reality then you probably are at least somewhat interested in the topic, I highly recommend this one. It places current antifa tactics and groups in their historical contexts, which is really unnerving when this book demonstrates all of the similarities between what’s going on now and what went on right before WWII. I don’t think the book is scaremongering – in fact I just think it’s being honest. I took away some fairly hard-hitting points from it, the most important of which is, if we’re serious about “never again,” we need to understand all of the different facets of how we actually make “never again” the reality… and this book suggests that antifascist action, some of which is violent, is a crucial part of it.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

radio silence

We intended this book for our little cousin but thankfully I read it first. It’s just a touch too old, but we’re lending it to her in a year or so because it’s so good.

First of all, I think it’s the most accurate and realistic depiction of being a high school student I’ve ever read or watched or encountered anywhere. And while that means it was delightful to read – the feeling of “so someone else felt like that once too!” is always so beautiful to stumble upon – that also means it goes to some very dark places.

This and Tash Hearts Tolstoy are high on my list of books I wish I’d been able to read when I was a teenager, but no matter. I’ve read them now.

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley

poems on various subjects

It’s available online to read freely, like, right now. I suggest you check it out, even just one or two poems, because the backstory on this one is intense.

I can’t really say anything about it except “how did I take two American lit courses and we never were assigned even one of these poems,” but here’s a thing you should definitely read about it.

Assholes: a Theory by Aaron James

assholes a theory

I don’t really know what the theory is, but this was a fun read. It will actually make you feel a little bit better about having to put up with a certain type of person you might often have to put up with.

Also there’s reference to Donald Trump, but he wasn’t even running for president when this was published (do you remember those glorious days), so it was kind of sad.

Arrival (but really, Stories of Your Life and Others) by Ted Chiang

arrival

Science fiction! Not my favourite.

I hadn’t realized that this is a collection of short stories, only one of which is the basis for the movie Arrival which I really like. The story is good – it’s probably my favourite in the collection – but I prefer the way the movie handled the alien aspect of things.

However. Amy Adams’ storyline in that movie kind of bugged me. In this version the character makes a similar personal life choice, but you get to see her thoughts and nightmares about it, and everything makes more sense. There’s a significant change in the adaptation as well that makes me frown a bit. SPOILERS FOR BOTH VERSIONS: In the movie, her daughter is fairly young, maybe a teenager, when she dies of an illness she was always going to contract and suffer through. In the story, she’s 25 – still young but an adult at least – and she dies rock climbing. Maybe the movie makers thought the rock climbing thing would make audiences go “Wait why couldn’t she go with her to the cliff or tell her not to go on that particular day” and sure, those would be fair questions. The illness makes it clear that there really isn’t anything she can do to prevent it.

Buuuuut the point is she can’t? The way we perceive time, when someone dies suddenly, we don’t see it coming and couldn’t have prevented it. The way Amy Adams’ character sees time, she can see a thing coming and yet she still can’t change it. She just knows it’s going to happen.

This bugs us because we can’t understand how a person could be able to see bad things coming and not be able to prevent them, what’s the point etc. etc. but the point here is that aliens will have vastly different ways of existing in this universe than we will, so. Shut up.

Ultimately I like this story, I like what it says about us and our one way of living in the world, but I think it’s fundamentally flawed because we can’t just magically escape our narrow understanding of the world to write or to read a story, not fully.

Also I wrote a bit about the heptapods and how I think they look like squid, but I forgot to talk about how they also look unnervingly and I think purposefully like human hands, but with one extra digit.

Anyway. The other stories were all a lot like this too, where I liked them but they were challenging and, I think, sometimes kind of too bold for their own good. But I definitely think this collection is a worthwhile read. Again, as with Binti, I think any sci-fi that properly challenges me is worth my time.

AND THAT’S IT! Time to… read. More. Again. Yey!

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: August

Jan Feb March April May June July

I don’t want summer to be over because I find it inconvenient to wear sweaters.

This month has a content warning because the first book I finished this month is a non-fiction about domestic violence.

Less upsetting is that I took it as a chance to talk endlessly about Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid again, but, I did in fact do that also, so be warned.

Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft

why does he do that

I started the month off right with some light reading about how abusive men think and the ways they get rewarded for being abusive and the ways that culture enables them in being abusive and/or not suffering any consequences. This is a very good book that very clearly explains the mentality of all types of abusive men written by a guy who has counselled abusers for a long time and has lots of expertise on the subject. It’s written mainly for the partners of such men, past or present.

I didn’t read it because I know an abuser or a victim (thankfully), but instead because I wanted a more thorough understanding of this topic that is still unfortunately very misunderstood. Early on in the book he makes a list of common misconceptions about abusive men (like how people think they tend to be alcohol and drug abusers, mentally ill, victims of abuse in the past, or that abuse mostly happens within certain races or religions, etc) and apparently while sometimes abusers are those things, usually not, and abuse happens in every culture, race, religion, etc, and really all you need to create an abuser is for a person to decide to be an abuser.

This is good for any intersectional work I might try to do in day-to-day conversations in destigmatizing substance abuse, mental illness, past trauma, and, like, race, but it also means that “fixing” an abuser requires the abuser to actually decide to stop abusing, which, according to Lundy, even with good counselling, is very rare.

There was one part that made me raise my eyebrows though. It was really, really short, and it was ultimately fine, but, OK, here goes, because I’ll take any and every opportunity to go on and on about Disney. Lundy’s talking about how the media contributes in the normalizing of abusive relationships between men and women and the devaluing of women’s agency and autonomy in our culture, and mentions two Disney movies.

Beauty and the Beast, because it is entirely a narrative about how a woman’s kindness and being in love with her transforms a dude from angry and violent (Lundy is adamant, refreshingly, I found, that “violence” doesn’t necessarily have to be physical violence, so even threats of violence or slamming things or throwing things around to cause fear is violence all on their own… oh, Beast) to kind and gentle.

beauty-and-the-beast-disneyscreencaps.com-5242

Well, but, uh –

Fine. I personally maintain that whole thing is how it is because no one listened to Howard Ashman, who wanted the Beast to be a little boy at the beginning which would have lent him a little more sympathy and his arc maybe would have been less problematic with the whole “cursed as a child” thing being the beginning of it – just because I think it turned into a self-flagellation thing about how monstrous masculinity is or something, at least, from my perspective, that’s what it looks like. They made the whole thing about controlling his temper when that was probably a really stupid thing to do in retrospect because the “you can change him” thing is pretty insidious, and it’s probably why his “temper” is barely even a thing in the new version. He’s just a huge, rude, grumpy cynic. Although he does still scream at her when she goes near the rose. (I used the word “thing” 7 times in this paragraph, 8 if you count it as a suffix. I decided to just bold them all rather than edit because I’m awesome like that.)

So, whatever, I still think Beauty and the Beast was going for something lofty about masculinity with the characterization of the Beast but because Belle doesn’t have anything to learn and because the Beast learns basically nothing himself, it is kind of as Lundy says it is. There just isn’t enough in the movie to confidently state that Belle and magical, perfect, pedestal-perched femininity isn’t being portrayed as the thing to “tame” angry men and save them from themselves. Sigh.

But then Lundy makes a flippant comment about The Little Mermaid! You know the flippant comment I mean, the one everyone makes: how dare Ariel trade her voice for a man, obviously she has no sense of self worth and Disney is evil. I’m paraphrasing but that’s the gist of the comment we all know and love.

Sooooooooo OK Ariel does that because she’s a kid, Ursula tricks her into doing it because if she’d just let her go up there with her voice then everything would have been fine and Ursula is trying to take over the ocean, and it’s all King Triton’s fault, you know, the guy who at the end learns that he has to let his daughter make her own choices and turns her into a human with her voice and everything.

And I love Eric! He’s so friendly and dog-rescue-y and is really nice to Ariel even though she’s a mess. Imagine not remembering that Triton is the one who fucks up and thinking that the major problem in the entire movie is that Ariel likes Eric too much for her own good. I mean if anyone’s abusive…

BTW how does the movie feel about this?

Well Triton regrets it 2 seconds afterwards, so.

And doesn’t the fact that Eric falls in love with Ariel because of her voice and consequently doesn’t want to start up a thing with her when he thinks she can’t talk count for anything? Like, yes, she should have self-worth apart from Eric, how she feels about Eric, and how he feels about her, but it was 1989 and the movie is only 90 minutes long and is entirely about how Triton needs to get over himself.

Anyway it’s fine, because Lundy’s point isn’t that these stories cause abuse, just that they indicate deeper problems inherent in the culture and that they need to be consumed with a healthy dose of critical thought, which of course I agree with a tonne. Even in the case of The Little Mermaid, which I think is fantastic and endlessly defensible, I think it’s important to note just how important the romance aspect is to everything that Ariel does because this is typical of female characters and while romance is not inherently bad, and while many of us want even more romance in every story ever, I’m gonna go ahead and say that it is inherently bad that the most prominent character arc female characters in general have is falling in love. Often she’s falling in love with a man. Often, in fact, the arc is her falling in love with a man against her will. Female characters need variety, because if every girl hero a girl has while she’s growing up is mostly concerned with falling in love with men that is going to contribute to the stupid idea that women and girls have to have their self-worth given to them by men who are romantically interested in them. PS: hello, Mulan, Nani, Merida, Anna, Elsa, and Moana! Some of you even have romance subplots on the side but you get to do other things too, yay!

OK back to the extremely important and heavy subject at hand. There were many references to specific cases of physical assault, but the part that stood out most vividly for me was the section about abusive men harming their partners through their children. The two examples that ruined my month were a guy who fed his newborn spoiled milk (which made him sick) to punish his wife for something stupid, like coming home late. Not that there’s… ever a good reason to do that. The other was less life-threatening but wow: a man was having a verbal argument with his wife, told her to stop or she’d be sorry, she didn’t stop, so he went to their daughter’s room and shredded her prom dress.

I can’t even imagine that. I didn’t even go to prom. I never even ever felt the slightest desire to go to prom, but still. Imagine your dad ruining something that important to you to get at your mom through your pain. How do you even begin to deal with that?

And that’s why I went on and on about the Disney references, because with everything else this book discusses, I’m just kind of left speechless. What do you say, other than, “Can we… start over? Scrap the world and start again and make sure this isn’t as prominent, or even a thing at all?”

So. Yeah. This is a good book and I think it has probably helped a lot of people in abusive situations or who have left abusive situations, and also I hate the world.

Wolves and Witches by Amanda C. Davis and Megan Engelhardt

wolves and witches

This is a collection of short stories and poetry – retellings of fairy tales or just new fairy tales. So in other words, this is my favourite type of collection.

I liked all of the poetry, I liked both reimaginings of Rumpelstiltskin, and my favourite was the last story, called “Questing for Princesses” which features a guy who is a prince and is too busy to go rescue women from dragons and death-sleep and enchanted towers and all that stuff (I’m pretty sure every princess fairy tale is referenced in this one). An enchantress tries to entrap him into reinacting the Beauty and the Beast plot but he foils her by just letting her stay and take shelter. Other people try to entrap him into basically every princess plot but he’s too busy being practical. It’s very clever and cute the whole way through and is a must, IMO.

Monstress: Volume 1 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

monstress

Welp. It’s pretty. And dark. It made me feel icky, though. There’s far too much… child-eating. And child-enslavement. I like the prominence and variety of female characters and I like that except for Kippa, they’re all morally ambiguous to varying degrees, and I also like all of the talking cats, but I don’t know if I have the stomach to read Volume 2.

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

the mark of the dragonfly

I enjoyed it. I didn’t love it, but I did love specific things about it:

  • the main character is an engineer girl (whether the twist related to engineer girling takes away from Piper engineer girling I haven’t decided. I think it kind of does, and kind of doesn’t. But regardless of what happens she’s still an engineer girl)
  • much of it takes place on a cool train
  • importance of female friendship highlighted, super cool

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

the sun is also a star

While I really liked it, the cynical part of me wishes this wasn’t another romance narrative about a guy talking a girl into participating in the romance narrative.

The guy (Daniel) is a romantic and a dreamer and believes he and the girl (Natasha) were meant for each other, having just met. Natasha is a realist and a science-enthusiast and is being deported the next day so spends a good chunk being coerced into “love.” Not just love, though, but, like, “soul mates” kind of love. And I’m meh on that.

Natasha has a lot of good reasons to not be interested currently, which I know is what creates the tension, but it also left me occasionally annoyed. Daniel is a decent fictional guy but the number of times he outright states, to her, like, to her face, that they are meant to be was too high and quickly became grating. I’d have liked it better if he had toned it down a little. Internally he could believe what he wants, and he might even hint at it to her, but maybe if he’d said things like “we won’t know if we don’t try” or, like, anything except “we’re meant to be” after a couple of hours together, it would have been less annoying.

Ah but maybe I’m ice-hearted. It’s probably a bit of both.

Anyway it has a really intriguing style. I see Yoon being compared to John Green and, having only read this one of Yoon’s and having read none of Green’s, I’m going to hesitantly say that’s a good comparison.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

an extraordinary union

This is a romance set in the Civil War era south, and I can’t remember exactly where they were but it’s not important. It reminded me a lot of a Courtney Milan book which, of course, means I liked it a lot. The protagonist is posing as a mute slave and she has a photographic memory, the love interest is one of those cocky, confident Scottish guys you’re always reading about posing as a rebel soldier, and they have a lot of discussions about race and racism and power dynamics in and around all of the sex.

So, I mean, it was educational. I’m starting to think I prefer my romance historical, because everything just seems to work much more easily and, in this book’s case especially, the setting and subplots get to be really interesting too.

Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy

lumberjanes volume 1

Can I just say that I loved it and leave it at that because I loved it. And I’m going to read the next one. Now I’m literally going to go google when the next one is coming out, or if it’s already out, and I’m excited.

**There are like 5 more volumes out already of this and I am SO HAPPY**

(Yeeeeeeah I only read 7 this month what of it)

Magic is Might

I remember watching Deathly Hallows: Part 1 in theatres for the first time. I thought it was a step up, quality-wise, from the other movies in the series (I’ll always love Prisoner of Azkaban, though; that one is interesting to look at). I liked the animation sequence for the fairy tale.

I liked how quiet and thoughtful it often was, and I found everything at the Ministry of Magic really impressive.

I do remember thinking, “But why Nazis?”

The Nazi imagery is pretty unmistakable in this movie. I thought it was well done, but I also thought comparing the tyranny of Voldie and like-minded wizards to Nazis was a little bit reductive since, oh, I don’t know, it had been decades since the Nazis were defeated. Comparing everything to Nazis, I thought, was a pretty unchallenging thing to do. Everyone knows Nazis are bad, I thought, and it’s been so long since they’ve had any real power and influence that it would probably be better to make some other, fresher connection with a prejudice story like Harry Potter.

So. I’ve changed my mind.

Let’s not dwell on the empowerment of idiot Nazis all over the globe because of the idiot president, though. I just wanted to take a look at the statues at the Ministry to see how Rowling makes her fantasy society all flawed and oppressive and stuff by degrees and it’s awesome.

The Fountain of Magical Brethren

ministry statue 1

I spent happy hours staring at this illustration on the back of Order of the Phoenix. Yeah, I was that guy.

belle with a book

(That guy, but actually reading the book and not staring at the cover ^^^)

This statue simply shows magical people/creatures being happy and getting along in a fountain of magic. When Harry sees it, he’s a stressed out fifteen-year-old and promises to put 10 galleons in the fountain (it’s for St. Mungo’s) if he doesn’t get expelled.

He doesn’t get expelled and dumps all his money in it, but he also makes this observation:

He looked up into the handsome wizard’s face, but up close, Harry thought he looked rather weak and foolish. The witch was wearing a vapid smile like a beauty contestant, and from what Harry knew of goblins and centaurs, they were most unlikely to be caught staring so soppily at humans of any description. Only the house-elf’s attitude of creeping servility looked convincing. With a grin at the thought of what Hermione would say if she could see the statue of the elf, Harry turned his moneybag upside-down and emptied not just ten Galleons, but the whole contents into the pool at the statues’ feet.

Lookit Harry making wry socio-political observations. I love him.

The fountain gets destroyed because Dumbledore and Voldemort have a huge fight (I am also a big fan of the movie-fight), and then Dumbledore states things a lot more plainly:

The fountain we destroyed tonight told a lie. We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward.

Before the full and open return of Voldemort, the magical community is still prejudiced and awful. The Fountain of Magical Brethren is kind of like the magical community’s version of a microaggression, in that it presents a version of reality through art that, intentional or not, doesn’t challenge anyone to rethink the status quo and probably contributes in its own way to the misguided thinking that human magical folk should be the only ones allowed wands, and that the whole house-elf thing is still a good idea, and so on.

It gets replaced with the Magic is Might statue.

magic is might 1magic is might 2

“Muggles, in their rightful place,” Hermione explains.

It’s just slightly different in the book.

Now a gigantic statue of black stone dominated the scene. It was rather frightening, this vast sculpture of a witch and wizard sitting on ornately carved thrones, looking down at the Ministry workers toppling out of fireplaces below them. Engraved in foot-high letters at the base of the statue were the words: MAGIC IS MIGHT….

Harry looked more closely and realised that what he had thought were decoratively carved thrones were actually mounds of carved humans: hundreds and hundreds of naked bodies, men, women and children, all with rather stupid, ugly faces, twisted and pressed together to support the weight of the handsomely robed wizards.

Still awful, still Nazi.

Now that a Death Eater is Minister for Magic, they can come right out and display this crap. Such a statue would not have been tolerated previously, but because of how problematic the Fountain of Magical Brethren was, it’s clear that in the wizarding world the prejudice against everyone who isn’t a witch or wizard has already been brewing for a long time. Voldemort is a product of it, he exploits it, he empowers it; it was already there before his birth and it remains after he dies.

It’s nice to take a minute and not hate the Harry Potter movies. They’re pretty decent, actually, even if they despise my favourite character. Poor Ron, no one appreciates him.

❤ erm

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: 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.

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”

My 9-year-old Self Defends the Hobbit Movies

The Hobbit was supposed to be my (erm’s) introduction to high fantasy, which is my father’s realm. My mother isn’t a big fan, or even a fan of high fantasy at all, but even she insisted that I read The Hobbit, as she too had read it as a kid and had liked it.

I was reluctant because my favourite books were The Unicorns of Balinor series, which I had read over and over, and some of the Bailey School Kids books as well. My teachers insisted that I could read levels above that stuff, so I should get cracking or my reading comprehension skills wouldn’t be further developed. My parents took this to heart and thrust The Hobbit at me.

I started out annoyed. I wanted to read about supernatural creatures staffing the entirety of Bailey School or unicorns ruling Balinor over again, because I liked them and they were familiar. But I was compelled to read The Hobbit, and this I did.

I hated it. I think I went in planning to hate it, but JRR didn’t help himself any. His narrator in this book is patronizing as hell, sort of like what you’d find in a Jane Yolen book. Occasionally he (and it has to be a he, there are no women in this book) interjects to scold the reader for doubting Bilbo. When I was in university and had to reread it for a class, I found the narrator charming and whimsical, but I was told by my prof that Tolkien later regretted the tone and intrusiveness of the narrator. I think for me at age nine, forced to read a book I didn’t want to read by every adult authority figure in my life, having another narrative authority tell me what to think about the story I was reading was the death knell in my ability to enjoy any of it.

So the movies: there are three of them, and we all know that this is excessive. After all, each book from The Lord of the Rings trilogy only got one movie, and they are all longer than little old The Hobbit. But stretching the book into three movies means that the filmmakers could add some things, and some of these additions and other changes, when taken together, actually fix every criticism of The Hobbit my nine-year-old self had made.

  1. The narrator: as I mentioned, I wanted to punch the narrator for telling me what to think. Happily the movies have no narrator, and problem solved.
  2. Gandalf: buddy was pretty useless in the book. He kept leaving at convenient moments so that Bilbo and the dwarves would have to face serious danger without the easy solution of having a wizard in their company. The movies give Gandalf a subplot, so that in each example of this (apart from when they meet the trolls) we know why Gandalf isn’t with them.
  3. The Dwarves: this was a treasure hunt, and I hate treasure hunts. The dwarves wanted to march off to the dragon Smaug’s keep to take all of his gold and they needed a burglar. I wasn’t invested at all in their quest. I thought they ought to leave the dragon alone with his fortune.
  4. Bilbo: as a direct consequence of his being the burglar on this quest, I wasn’t happy about Bilbo being a thief. The worst part was Gollum – I was already rooting for Bilbo to get eaten, but instead Bilbo bested Gollum rather unfairly and took his one possession in the world, leaving him despairing. I continued to hate Bilbo until the movie version, mostly out of spite, but the movies changed all of that because Martin Freeman.
  5. The ponies: the fact that the ponies all got eaten by the goblins but the greedy dwarves and Bilbo got to escape with their lives made me VERY mad. There’s a reason animal sidekicks (usually) never die in Disney movies, Tolkien. I am being serious, though, it upset me. All it did was emphasize that their quest was dangerous and unimportant, and the only victims of it at this point were the innocent ponies. The moment the smarmy narrator informed me they were to be eaten, I began hoping the dragon would kill them all, knowing that he wouldn’t, suspecting that instead the group, or maybe Gandalf, would kill the dragon instead and it would be incorrectly labelled a victory by that same insufferable narrator.
  6. So the dragon: I loved the part where Smaug makes fun of Bilbo. I didn’t expect him to talk and was happily surprised by that. I awaited, resigned, that moment where Gandalf (it would probably be Gandalf, right?) would slay Smaug and the dwarves could swim around in gold and jewels. And then what happened? Well, Random, son of Random, from Random’s Ville who graced like three pages of this book grabbed some random arrow and shot it so that it pierced Smaug in some random weak spot in his jewelry armor. I can’t even describe how cheated I felt about that.
  7. Um how about that there are no women in this mess.

The movies changed all of this. Bilbo I admit was mostly just me getting over myself, but giving Gandalf somewhere to be, giving the dwarves a good reason to want to get rid of Smaug and get the treasure, making the ponies run away instead of getting eaten, giving Bard a family and a backstory and lots of screentime, and the addition of several women, but Tauriel especially, fixed all of my problems.

I know people have complained about Tauriel being a Mary Sue and look, I could have done without the romance plot too. But if this character, love triangle or no love triangle, had been in the book, I may have been able to look past all of my other problems, because she would have been a lovely self-image fantasy for all of us girl types. Bilbo doesn’t cut it, though he was either supposed to cut it or Tolkien and his publishers weren’t interested in girls reading it. When I began reading about how people of colour and LGBT people were asking for more representation the biggest reason I empathized immediately was my memories of how tiresome it was reading this particular book. Even though I had my Disney movies and my Balinor books, being told I had to move on, and that this was the sort of stuff I would be expected to read from now on was maddening.

My parents asked me how I liked it once I reported to them that I was done, even though every time they checked in with me previously I had said, “It’s boring. I don’t like it.” They just replied with, “You just have to keep reading and wait for the good parts.”

I said, “I read and read and read, and I was waiting for the good parts, and then it ended.”

They didn’t force other books on me again, but I’m sure they would have eventually.

If it hadn’t been for Harry Potter.

Witches Abroad: Letting the Characters Tell the Story

Review copy

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

witches-abroad-terry-pratchett-new

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

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

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

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

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