100 Books: October

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

Jan Feb March April May June July August September

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I guess so.”

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

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

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

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

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

Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge

cuckoo song

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

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

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

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

the girl from everywhere

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

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

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

the shadow queen

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

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

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

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

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caraval

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

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

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

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

Asexual Perspectives by Sandra Bellamy

asexual perspectives

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

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

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

the duchess war

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

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

And she’s like, “…”

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

rafiki

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

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

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

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

Emily’s Best Christmas Ever by Krista and Amanda

emily's best christmas present ever

oh my goodness

Yeah. This is also getting its own post.

Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee

not your villain

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

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

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

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

the hollow girl

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

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

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

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

bearly a lady

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

Lumberjanes Volume 3

lumberjanes vol 3

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

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

lumberjanes jen's urban legend

I LOVE JEN SO MUCH.

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

Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers

unforgivable

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

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

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

All right November. What’s in store?

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

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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)

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Review copy

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

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

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