Spring Equinox Reading Roundup

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

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

the fate of the tearling

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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

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

 

inexxing reflections

Indexing: Reflections by Seanan McGuire

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

 

let's talk about love

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kahn

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

 

beneath the sugar sky

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

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

 

Print

Knit One Girl Two by Shira Glassman

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

 

the night circus2

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I wrote a whole long thing about this one.

 

the girl who drank the moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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

 

suicide sex club

Suicide Sex Club by C.M. Blackwood

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

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

 

your favorite superhero sucks

Your Favorite Superhero Sucks by Noah Berlatsky

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

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

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

 

even this page is white

even this page is white by Vivek Shraya

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

Aaaaaaaand now it’s spring.

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100 Books: 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: November

Jan Feb March April May June July August September October

WELP.

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

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

awkward

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

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

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

my brilliant friend

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

When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

when the moon was ours

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

indexing

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

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

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

Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanna Betasamosake Simpson

islands of decolonial love

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

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

Sistah Vegan compiled by A. Breeze Harper

sistah vegan

Sistah Vegan gets its own post!

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

what terrorists want

giphy (1)

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

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

Yikes. Heavy stuff.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl dreaming

This is absolutely beautiful.

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

a pussycat's christmas

This isn’t cheating what are you talking about.

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

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

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

cat

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

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

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

brave

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

INCREDIBLE.

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

jensen1

jensen

*cries forever*

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

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

a song for quiet

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

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

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

The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont

the pemmican eaters

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

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

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

farewell my queen

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

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

the weight of feathers

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

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

we are never meeting in real life

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

Lumberjanes Volume 4

lumberjanes vol 4

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

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

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

smile

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

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

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

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

100 Books: October

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

Jan Feb March April May June July August September

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I guess so.”

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

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

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

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

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

Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge

cuckoo song

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

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

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

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

the girl from everywhere

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

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

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

the shadow queen

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

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

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

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

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caraval

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

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

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

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

Asexual Perspectives by Sandra Bellamy

asexual perspectives

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

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

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

the duchess war

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

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

And she’s like, “…”

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

rafiki

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

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

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

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

Emily’s Best Christmas Ever by Krista and Amanda

emily's best christmas present ever

oh my goodness

Yeah. This is also getting its own post.

Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee

not your villain

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

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

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

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

the hollow girl

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

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

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

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

bearly a lady

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

Lumberjanes Volume 3

lumberjanes vol 3

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

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

lumberjanes jen's urban legend

I LOVE JEN SO MUCH.

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

Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers

unforgivable

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

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

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

All right November. What’s in store?

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

100 Books: September

Well now I guess it’s October.

october sally

Jan Feb March April May June July August

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

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

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

down among the sticks and bones

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

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

Lumberjanes Volume 2

lumberjanes 2

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

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

jen is me

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

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

every heart a doorway

What I said earlier.

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

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

of fire and stars

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

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

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

She-Wolf and Cub by Lilith Saintcrow

she-wolf and cub

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

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

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

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

Crash Override by Zoë Quinn

crash override

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

Seriously.

It’s… yeah.

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

Welp, that’s September.

I have a lot of reading to do.

100 Books: July

Jan Feb March April May June

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

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

Trap Lines by Eden Robinson

trap lines

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

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

nights of rain and stars

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

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

Of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists by JK Rowling

of power politics and pesky poltergeists

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

The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green by Nicky Kyle

the faerie godmother's apprentice wore green

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

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

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

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

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

tash hearts tolstoy

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

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

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

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

Sigh.

I liked it a lot but. Ugh.

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

Buuuuuuuut I didn’t like the guy.

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

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

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

Snapeisms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl. GIRL.

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

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

FUCKIN’ GROSS.

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

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

The Awesome by Eva Darrows

the awesome

Sigh OK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

when dimple met rishi

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

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

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

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

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

the governess affair

Sigh. I love Courtney Milan.

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

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

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

Happy August. Read some romance.

100 Books: June

Well look at that, now it’s July.

Jan Feb March April May

Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

engraved on the eye

I’ve had this one lying around forever, so I finally read it. It’s a collection of short stories, most set in the fantasy realm that his Throne of the Crescent Moon takes place (I think? I still haven’t read that one yet -.-) and I loved them. All of them. I’ll pick a favourite: “Judgement of Swords and Souls” which is about an action-girl and seriously, I’d read a 12 part series about her and her exploits. Fantasy tends to get a little tiring and stale sometimes. I don’t even think I’d be excited if GRRM announced that book 6 comes out tomorrow. I’d just be like, “K.” But these stories felt really fresh while still being typical fantasy stuff that I know and love, so, I’m really glad I actually read it. And I’m very interested to read Ahmed’s full novel.

Indigenous Poetics in Canada by Neal McLeod (sort of)

indigenous poetics in canada

Neal McLeod is the editor and occasional contributor of this anthology of essays about what the title says. As it’s an academic book, it’s a bit of a slog, and I’m way out of practice over here. It’s been 5 years since I left school, and even when I was in school I didn’t take a First Nations lit course, which would have given me a bit of background for this discussion. Still, even though I felt waaaay out of my depth at times, it was nice to revisit this way of thinking about books and poetry. I liked one essay that reformed words, so that “recreate” becomes “re-CREE-ate” – ahhh. I miss academia. And that’s an example of fiddling around with words that’s actually really meaningful. There’s also the fact that apart from Thomas King, who was only mentioned briefly, I’d never read the poets/authors who contributed essays and/or whose works are discussed, so I was almost entirely lost. But I took it as a list of recommendations for who to read next and went with it, hopefully with some theoretical knowledge to consider as I go.

Luna Station Quarterly, Issue 028

luna station quarterly 028

This is a very good idea for a literary journal. Women-based fantasy stories? But of course. I believe my favourite story this issue was “Earth is a Crash Landing,” but “Wedding Feast” stayed with me more vividly. It manages to make the thing that sometimes happens at weddings (I mean where they read the really misogynist passage out of the bible rather than the obvious choice of “Wedding at Cana” and everyone stands around like nothing incredibly bizarre is happening) seem perfectly normal in comparison.

Disney Princess #2 by Amy Mebberson

disney princess 2

Of course I loved it.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

a study in charlotte

So in this new YA series, Charlotte Holmes is the descendant of Sherlock Holmes with an oxy addiction and a BFF in Jamie Watson (yes, he’s also a descendant) and they solve a big huge mystery. Charlotte is a rape survivor and may be ace or a sociopath or just traumatized. Jamie has rage problems.

I thought I’d be raising my eyebrows a lot, but honestly, Cavallaro actually sells it. The only thing I still have a problem with is that this premise requires Sherlock Holmes to have bred. And I feel like if you’re not actually going to be, like, emotionally available in the slightest to your offspring, you should probably not have any. But that it hugely my bias and it doesn’t effect the story at all, so, I don’t know.

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh

the truth about twinkie pie

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

Out on Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler

out on good behavior

Surprising myself, I read another Radleigh University book. This one focuses on Frankie, the pansexual non-monogamous one in the group of friends, having an actual, serious crush on a girl who isn’t out yet to her super Republican political family, and learning to deal. Like Right of First Refusal, it has some obnoxious allusions to and descriptions of sex, but overall I found it much easier to read. Partially that’s because the story this time was a little… nicer? There are also a couple of moments that depict issues surrounding consent really, really well, and I liked that a lot. And the non-sex-related stuff was better – Frankie’s extracurricular activities are art, rather than lacrosse, which I prefer. But there was one part that depicted mirror sex as though it was the hottest thing that could possibly ever happen, and, just, come on. That isn’t just me being asexual, is it? Why would anyone do that OK you know what, I’m moving on.

Poison Kiss by Ana Mardoll

poison kiss

This is another fantasy story that feels pretty fresh (a realm exists of evil fairies who kidnap humans, give them different, often destructive magical abilities, and just generally exploit them but then a bunch of them escape and learn to deal). Part of the freshness for me is that it’s a fantasy romance, and despite the fact that I’ve read all of Twilight, other than that I’m still pretty new to this subgenre. But it also majorly features all types of queer people, so that was cool. I had two problems with it: I felt like there was too much exposition and introspection. A lot of the action was punctuated by these long spells of explaining backgrounds or Rose, the protagonist, would agonize about her problems after every new development on that front. And I need to know a lot of that, sure, but I think there needed to be a little more action overall to balance it all out. My other problem was that a couple of times it alludes to these experiments one of them is doing on rats to try to figure out how these altered people’s magic works. This story is trying (and, I think, largely succeeding) to be safe for people of intersecting identities, but the casual references to lab rats rather ruined it for me. We can argue all day about whether animal experimentation is necessary, but the reality is it will one day be over, if humans are even half as decent as I think we generally are, so if we’re not everyday working towards perfecting alternatives (even in fiction!) instead of normalizing exploitation (even in fiction!) I don’t know what to say.

But it was only twice, I think, and in this book we didn’t see any of it, at least.

Also, this book has the distinction of featuring my favourite male love interest so far: Clarent. He’s so sweet.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Fifteen Dogs

I’m still mad at this one. It’s very, very good, but if two lab rat references in Poison Kiss were enough to annoy me, well, this book is brimming with actual depictions of animals suffering and dying. It’s a thought experiment on the relationship between human intelligence and happiness, and while I think it’s really worthwhile, I don’t actually think it ever thoroughly explained what “happiness” is, which would have been kind of crucial.

I was unhappy with the implication that dogs would of course be inherently somewhat sexist with added intelligence (maybe that wasn’t what Alexis was going for but that’s how I read it), and I didn’t like the implication that dogs would be kind of gleefully cruel, with their newfound intelligence. I get that humans aren’t natural predators the way dogs are, though, so maybe that part is just me projecting an idealized version of what dogs are on to dogs.

The dominance/submission stuff was actually annoying, though. Part of the problem is that we don’t have adequate language or understanding yet of how dog “society” works, but dogs being deferential to other dogs and humans is much more complicated than the whole alpha concept can adequately explain. Especially since the alpha concept isn’t a real thing except in captive wolves.

I mean, I was thinking against the book much of the time, but it made me think a lot. A lot a lot. And the depiction of the friendship between Majnoun, a poodle, and Nira, a human who has adopted him, makes everything worthwhile. Lots of it takes place in High Park in Toronto, which is also cool. High Park is cool.

If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

if i was your girl

I loved this! At times it’s harrowing, and what I wanted after reading it was just thousands of books featuring trans girls, boys, and enbies not having to worry about something as critical as their gender identity and expression. Also, like Out on Good Behavior it depicts people making sure they’ve gotten consent and I wish every romance ever had this.

Witness, I Am by Gregory Scofield

witness i am

I miss poetry. This is really good stuff. The first poem, called “Muskrat Woman,” is almost half the length of the collection and reminds me of “The Wasteland,” but contemporary, critical of the forced assimilation of First Nations people into Christianity and silly Christian-style misogyny, and referencing the current and horrifying events related to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. So, much better and more important than “The Waste Land,” is what I’m saying.

George by Alex Gino

george

I just loved this book. If a genie granted me three wishes related to this book, my first wish would be that 20 copies could be on every library shelf in every school, my second wish would be that everyone could have a friend like Kelly (Kelly is awesome), and my third wish would be to set the Genie free.

Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe

burning in this midnight dream

More poetry. I just finished this one yesterday and it’s still sinking in, but let me just say, someone needs to back a dump truck filled with copies of this collection up to Lynn Beyak’s house and just leave them there. Because. Fuck.

Thaw by Elyse Springer

thaw

Yeeeeah, a romance between two women and one of them is asexual. As with most romances, it was somewhat predictable when it came to what the major conflict was going to be, but I really liked this one.

That’s 14, if you haven’t been counting. It’s occurring to me now that I probably am going to get to 100 by the end of the year. Go me, I guess.

100 Books: May

Jan Feb March April

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

DISNEY PRINCESS #1 by Amy Mebberson

disneyprincess1

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

Flush by Virginia Woolf

flush

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

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

beyond magenta

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

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

the handmaid's tale

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

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

the blue castle

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

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