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.

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100 Books: July

Jan Feb March April May June

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

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

Trap Lines by Eden Robinson

trap lines

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

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

nights of rain and stars

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

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

Of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists by JK Rowling

of power politics and pesky poltergeists

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

The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green by Nicky Kyle

the faerie godmother's apprentice wore green

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

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

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

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

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

tash hearts tolstoy

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

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

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

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

Sigh.

I liked it a lot but. Ugh.

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

Buuuuuuuut I didn’t like the guy.

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

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

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

Snapeisms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl. GIRL.

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

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

FUCKIN’ GROSS.

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

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

The Awesome by Eva Darrows

the awesome

Sigh OK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

when dimple met rishi

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

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

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

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

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

the governess affair

Sigh. I love Courtney Milan.

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

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

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

Happy August. Read some romance.

100 Books: June

Well look at that, now it’s July.

Jan Feb March April May

Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

engraved on the eye

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

Indigenous Poetics in Canada by Neal McLeod (sort of)

indigenous poetics in canada

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

Luna Station Quarterly, Issue 028

luna station quarterly 028

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

Disney Princess #2 by Amy Mebberson

disney princess 2

Of course I loved it.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

a study in charlotte

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

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

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh

the truth about twinkie pie

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

Out on Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler

out on good behavior

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

Poison Kiss by Ana Mardoll

poison kiss

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

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

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

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Fifteen Dogs

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

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

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

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

If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

if i was your girl

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

Witness, I Am by Gregory Scofield

witness i am

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

George by Alex Gino

george

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

Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe

burning in this midnight dream

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

Thaw by Elyse Springer

thaw

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

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

The Life of Pi Movie Misinterprets Itself

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

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

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

Also, it gets the whole thing 100% wrong.

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

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

Gross.

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

Sigh.

No, movie. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stories are the same.

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

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

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

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

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

Here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because:

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

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

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

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

100 Books: April

January. February. March.

9 in April, which isn’t too bad. I didn’t get around to the anthology, though.

Some Assistance Required by C.L. Ogilvie

some assistance required

I read this so fast my head almost spun 360 degrees around. I need more chick lit in my life; it’s fun and easy. Though I did notice that there’s more than a bit of fatphobia here, which is too bad because that’s never necessary, and I feel like it was there to make the main character more relatable, which generally means “not thin” I guess. The thing is, it never outright says she isn’t thin unless it’s someone mocking her. Which is kind of stupid because with just a bit of tweaking we could be looking at body posi light, at least. Anyway, the premise (a portal between our world and the magical world has opened, so now we’re sharing our space with supernatural and magical creatures like vampires, fairies, unicorns, and werewolves. Yeah. You didn’t get that from the cover, did you?) is good, the characters were fun, and I’d read another (several) (hundred) set in this universe.

a+e 4Ever by I. Merey

a+e 4ever

This is a graphic novel about two teenagers who are friends but probably more than friends. Neither of them fits their rigid gender role, and while there’s never explicit use of the term “non-binary” the realities of not performing your assigned gender “properly” are depicted nicely here. I found it a bit uncomfortable to be reading (and looking at) sexually explicit things about teenagers, and then there’s a rape scene near the beginning, and slurs are used occasionally (I know that’s realistic but stiiiiill). But while both characters sometimes say, do, and think kind of awful things, they usually apologize, and I did find myself swept up in their story pretty early on and right until the end.

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling Erika Johansen

I finally read this one, and may I just say,

Yes. In this scenario I am Flynn and the book is Rapunzel. That’s how this works.

I could gush about it, but just go read three’s review. And then go read Queen of the Tearling.

Right of First Refusal by Dahlia Adler

right of first refusal

OK brace yourself, this is going to be a long (and rather oversharey) one.

I got this one because I know Dahlia Adler from the good stuff she does on twitter. This is the second book in a series about a group of friends at fictional Radleigh University, and I decided to start here mainly because I thought the cover was pretty.

Being the second book in a series that I’m not reading chronologically didn’t really matter; I didn’t get the feeling that I was missing too much. Each book focuses on a different character, which is probably why. Overall, this book features confident young women with sex-positive attitudes which is great, but it’s also about two things, mainly. Sex. And sports. Two things I don’t do.

The sports part of that is self-explanatory. The sex part is because I’m asexual. I’m not sex-repulsed or touch-averse, though, and I’m not aromantic in the slightest. Most sex-centric romances I read are perfectly fine. Perfectly enjoyable, honestly, so maybe I’m one of those sex-neutral ace people, or gray-A, or demi, or not. It may just be that a book is a safe place to work through sexuality, so usually it doesn’t take me by surprise or take me way out of the story the way all of the sex (and – there was a lot of sex) did in this book. It features so many conversations about and depictions of sex in such a surprisingly aggressive way that it actually helped me out a little while still confusing the heck out of me. Sometimes I reflect on things that I think or feel and wonder if I’m not really asexual, and that instead there’s just something deeply wrong with my ability to connect with other people (it doesn’t help that I’m so shy that I honestly can’t say “good morning” to someone unless they say it first but that is a whole other story). But then I read this book and I came up with the best metaphor for my brand of asexuality that helps me understand myself, precisely because of how much sports were involved in and around all the sex.

So let’s say I meet someone who is a sports enthusiast. They like sports. They’ve always liked sports. They always knew that they’d want to share sports with anyone they got to know and like well, because why wouldn’t they? In theory sports were designed to be enjoyable. So let’s say we get to liking each other and they say, “We should definitely go play tennis one of these days.” If I liked this person, I think I’d probably go with them. Maybe I wouldn’t like tennis. Maybe I’d be stuck in my own head the whole time, worried that I’m an incompetent tenniser and that everything is stupid. Maybe I’d be bored and wondering when we could just go get lunch. Maybe I’d like it, even. Whatever may happen in this situation, though, even if I liked playing tennis and made it a regular thing, it would be more about the person I like than the sport. Because I will never be a tennis enthusiast the way this person I like is a tennis enthusiast, even if I were to get used to and properly enjoy it. And this whole stupid thing is OK. Because even tennis enthusiasts don’t need to play tennis all the time with all the people in order to have meaning in their lives, so surely someone who isn’t a tennis enthusiast doesn’t need to play all the tennis games either to be considered fully human or fully capable of relating to other humans. I mean, it’s just tennis.

What was the point of including all of that? Well, because I found all of the sex and relationship stuff off-putting – like, almost as off-putting as that one Cosmo article about Disney characters sexting – I thought I’d share that in how off-putting it was, it was actually still a worthwhile read because I learned invaluable things about myself. So even though the whole time I was making this face:

second gaang hug 3

or these faces:

hamareaction

or this face:

pegasus-is-weird5

I ultimately don’t regret it.

Anyway. There are multiple moments in which Cait and her friends have a page-long conversation and every single sentence contains at least one version of “fuck” or “bang” or “do” or “bone.” Do people really talk like that? I mean, I know they do, but is it really this pervasive? I remember spending time with a girl who’s sexually confident and she talked a bit like this while we were in a group, but when we were alone she became more thoughtful about what she was saying and even conversations about sex were more quiet and cerebral. Which I always like better, no matter what the subject is. But I do wonder if people can tell that something’s up with me and so they modify what they’re saying and how they’re saying it accordingly. And honestly, if that’s true, it’s fine. Because I remember reading these conversations and thinking, “Man, if I were these girls’ roommate I’d move out in ten minutes.” But hey, that’s just me.

If you’re allosexual (or if your aceness impacts your reading tastes differently than mine does) and you like your New Adult stuff to be chock-full of representations of sexually confident women and lots of sports then this is the series, and this is specifically the book in that series, for you. Also! The entire subplot about the wedding she sort of has to go to but the championship game she might miss is great – especially how it gets resolved.

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

red queen

This was fully meh. To me it seemed like The Hunger Games but with less interesting characters, less interesting politics, and a less interesting setting. It definitely didn’t help that the three (THREE!) love interests were basically interchangeable and the least interesting one by far seems to be the end game guy. I can imagine how other people might enjoy it though – if you like The Hunger Games and are looking for more like it but different enough to feel new, then, sure, this will suffice, I guess.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

american street

So first of all, every book this month had beautiful covers, but this one, I think, is the most beautiful.

If you’re one of the many people who read The Hate U Give then I would recommend also picking this one up. It’s a different style than THUG and it’s about similar issues with the added bonuses of immigration and everything that comes with it, as well as magical realism. I hesitate a bit calling it magical realism because what is actually depicted are elements of Haitian Vodou manifesting themselves in Fabiola’s real life, but I decided that if those spiritual elements were Catholic things rather than Vodou I would still call it magical realism. Like if St. Francis is showing up sermonizing at the 19 budgies we just took in at work tomorrow morning, then that’s magical realism, so says I, obviously the authority on these things.

So I loved everything about the relationships between the women in this book – they were complicated but ultimately supportive and I’ll take twenty more just like this please – but, like, hard pass on Kasim, the love interest. The thing is, he’s great when it’s just the two of them, but he’s bffs with the major villain in the story who is an abusive, rapey creepface. There’s one part where he basically single-handedly orchestrates sitting in the backseat of abusive rapey creepface’s car with Fabiola while her friend is stuck sitting in the front with abusive rapey creepface, and while Fabiola spends the ride worrying about her friend Kasim doesn’t notice at all and spends it trying to feel her up, but, like, romantically. And. Just.

I know it’s more realistic to show people being really forgiving and paying attention to only certain things about the toxic people in their lives if those toxic people happen to mean a lot to them, but IIIIIIIII don’t know. I wanted more from the dude. I don’t care if you’re a guy. It’s still (and perhaps especially) your due diligence to notice that your friend sucks. Don’t enable him to touch girls who don’t want him to touch them. How hard is that, fictional character?

Also things later happen that make me feel pretty bad about my fixation on being disappointed by Kasim’s forgiving attitude towards his abusive rapey creepface friend. So ultimately I don’t know. Maybe his friendship is a flaw that makes him a three-dimensional character, or maybe he needed to do better. Either way, this was still a beautiful and important read and thank you world for good and varied depictions of familial female relationships. (What do you know about tweetle beetles?)

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

the female of the species

I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this one because the premise is… dark. And potentially exploitative. But it’s partially set in an animal shelter so I decided to take the plunge.

All right the premise is that one of the main characters is the younger sister of a girl who was raped, tortured, and murdered, and her reaction to this is to become a murderer. The idea is she’s OK hurting and/or killing men who rape and/or kill women, and is fully prepared to exact vengeance if and when the opportunity arises.

So I know we kind of balk at rape-revenge stories because it seems like they relish in the horror of the rape itself, “But it’s OK,” the story seems to suggest, “because the later events of even more violence will make up for it.” I remember the rape scene and the revenge rape scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example. That was… unnecessary. At least in my opinion.

But. This book doesn’t relish in the details of the rape and murder. They’re skimmed over. What it does do is set up a couple of characters to be in “almost-rape scenes” which I really hate usually, and here I still wasn’t a fan. Because the characters are threatened with rape so that Alex can show up and save them. In some ways, I’m OK with it because compared to The Hound showing up and gutting a back-alley rapist, here is a character who actually has intelligent things to say about rape culture, who is the younger sister of a victim, and who is very deliberately doing things in reaction to rape culture rather than just being gross for shock value. It’s also decent that both girls in the almost-rape scenes are girls we know quite well, and we care about them. Unlike Sansa who just stumbles into a back-alley, they “get themselves into the situations” except they obviously don’t. You don’t get yourself raped. Rape by definition has to be something someone else forces on you. In showing nuance without victim-blaming in the slightest, the book is automatically smarter than all of the rape sensitivity and intelligence in Game of Thrones put together and multiplied by twenty million. And I mean, that isn’t hard. But still.

It is still a power fantasy, though. The almost-rape scenes are definitely there in service of the power fantasy of a girl to whom the worst has happened, and who is trying to get justice.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just important to be aware of. I actually liked it for what it is, because having grown up female it was refreshing and even a bit cathartic to read about a girl taking on an active role against rapey men, even – and maybe especially – a violent one. We grew up an hour or so away from the suburb where an infamous sadistic-rapist-murdering couple committed their crimes. My parents didn’t want me to drive alone at night back to my dorm because of this one guy who saw a girl at a gas station at night, messed with her tires, followed her when she had to pull over, and, well, you know the story. They told me this. “We don’t really want you driving alone at night because we’re worried some random predator might rape and murder you.” I know parents can be irrationally afraid for their children but this is the sort of thing that seems normal when you’re a girl – it’s just expected that your parents are actually going to be worried that some predator will grab you one night, that this fear will affect what’s expected of you – you call every night as soon as you’re in. One night I was about five minutes from home and someone who was pulled over flashed their highbeams at me – I assumed it was because they needed help but I just kept driving, because, female, alone, night. When I got home I jokingly told my mom that I had wanted to at least say, “Sorry but I know nothing about cars, I don’t have jump cables, and my phone is at home,” but she interrupted me halfway through with, “You can’t EVER stop and talk to some stranger!” And I was like, “Yes I know, mom, that’s what I’m telling you.” And I know that violence against women is usually perpetrated by the men in your life who you love and trust and not strangers, but the rando stuff does occasionally happen. So while this book maybe is in some ways exploitative or at least self-indulgent, it was also kind of nice to imagine a girl who just isn’t afraid of this stuff anymore, and who, if she’s confronted with it, will exact vengeance.

I think stories play many important roles in our lives, but one of them that we don’t think about often, probably because it’s a bit uncomfortable, is how they allow us to safely live through our greatest fears. Lots of Disney depicts parents who are either dead already or who die during the runtime because the ensuing narrative allows kids to safely live through a fantasy of what would happen if the worst should happen. The Female of the Species does that in a lot of ways, like The Lovely Bones and even, much more lightheartedly, Kimmy Schmidt do. Whether these stories are useful for survivors is something that can only be decided by each individual survivor, I guess, but as someone who grew up being taught that the only choice in life is to be mistrustful or outright afraid of one half of the population, and whose experiences haven’t done much to suggest my parents were wrong to make me cautious, these sorts of narratives allow me to breath for a little bit, and I think that makes them worthwhile.

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

not your sidekick

Sharp turn into mostly light-hearted YA. This is about a future world in which people have begun to evolve – some people are “meta-human” – so, like, X-men. Our protagonist is a middle child of two superheroes who hasn’t developed powers, but she does get an internship working for the town’s villains’ corporation with the girl she has a crush on. This book does a lot more with the hero-villain dichotomy than anything I’ve seen in the movies lately (or… ever…) and like the female love interests before her this year, Abby is pretty awesome. There were two things I didn’t like: one, there was a lot of exposition, and I wish it had been built more smoothly into the story, and two, it was third person present tense, which I’ve only read in weird short stories before and it threw me off. But that one is purely a personal preference.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

dumplin'

So there I was, on the rooftops in the Agrabah marketplace, eating half a stolen melon with my adopted monkey, and then this book showed up, and, well,

I’d heard about this book before but I wasn’t really interested. I’d heard that it did good things for body positivity, but I also knew it featured pageants and was set in Texas so I thought it would be a bit like Toddlers and Tiaras, which I’ve never actually watched, but I gather everyone on it is kind of an exaggerated reality TV caricature and loud and outrageous, and being Canadian and therefore really stupid about the American South I just kind of assumed that it would be the novelization of that.

Well. No. The characters are lovely, developed, instantly relatable. The relationships between them are believable and will make you feel things. I was hooked right from the beginning. This is the first time I’ve read a first person present tense book and I barely noticed (I’m not a fan, and it usually takes me out of the story at least a few times). As in, I had to keep checking to be sure that it was first person present, it was so flawless. At least for my taste.

And this, like American Street and The Female of the Species highlights relationships between women and THANK YOU AGAIN world, or universe, or authors, for this.

So. This is my new favourite this year. I thought Queen of the Tearling and Monkey Beach, being fantasy and magical realism respectively, would be at the very top but it turns out this book is instead. I actually think this is my favourite thing I’ve read in a couple of years.

All right, whatcha got, May?

100 Books: March

January. February.

I diiiiiiiid it.

OK I didn’t read 96 books this month. But I did read 10.

… all right so I cheated a little. Two of them I’d already read half of, one is a novelette, two are essays, and one is a 100-page kids book. But I consulted my sister (you remember hershe used to regularly contribute to this blog but then decided to be a full time student on top of being a full time employee as well as moving to the worst city known to humanity in which the zombie apocalypse, should it ever happen, will definitely be beginning in) and she said that short fiction (and short non fiction, I guess) is broadly defined as something you read in one sitting. So. I didn’t read even the shortest thing on this list in one sitting. Also, I’ve been reading JK Rowling novels in one sitting since the age of 11, so shut up.

Anyway next month I plan on reading an anthology so that has to count for something.

Here are the books I read in the order that I completed them.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

the bluest eye

I hadn’t ever read a Toni Morrison book before and after reading this one, I was livid. I mean. I have an English degree. I took postmodernism and American lit and not once did a Morrison book show up on any of my syllabuses, which makes no sense. Did I really have to read The Sound and the Fury twice? Did I really need that terrible one about the sociopath accountant in my life? No, is the answer. Morrison is a titan. This book was extremely disturbing and I need some time before I revisit her.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

the hate u give

I and everyone else read The Hate U Give this month. I thought Thomas handled her difficult and extremely relevant subject matter very well, connecting one horrifying, life-altering encounter to Starr’s smaller experiences of everyday racism. This book has seen major success so far, and there will be a movie adaptation soon, so I hope this means it makes an impression on its young target audience.

The Story of Lamia and Pan by CM Blackwood

story of lamia and pan

This was like reading an old fairy tale – lots of gore, anger, and bitterness as well as magic and romance. The difference was that the protagonists were two women (well, one was a female elf, but still), and their romance was a supportive unity rather than the sort of thing you see with the girl and the king in Rumpelstiltskin, if you’d like one example of weird relationships we’re supposed to root for in fairy tales.

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

we should all be feminiss

I deliberated over buying this one because early in the month Adichie implied that trans women aren’t real women, but I’m glad I read it ultimately. A lot of it was stuff I’d already read in all the think pieces all over the internet, but I think there was enough of a unique focus in here to make it worthwhile reading. Of course, I couldn’t help but notice all of the times she focused on the male/female binary, which is something I don’t think anyone can speak eloquently about if they misunderstand how that binary impacts the most vulnerable among us. I’ve got to find some trans rights stuff to read for next month.

Unicorns of Balinor: Secrets of the Scepter by Mary Stanton

secrets of the scepter

I used to love this series until Harry Potter happened and I forgot all about it, so I wanted to revisit to see what I used to enjoy. I wasn’t thrilled with it this time around. The characters were a little one-note and the adventure was lacking a bit. But it’s the story of a young woman on a magic quest to prove that she’s worthy of leadership, and I’m grateful that I and other kids had this story growing up.

Guns by Stephen King

guns stephen king

America.

Real quick:

***So I’m really excited about It, even if it is only part 1 (which is a huuuuge mistake imho. One of the biggest problems of the tv movie is that it split the kids’ and adults’ stories. In the book it all happens together and is WAY better mirrored like that but whatever.) because it is probably my favourite book ever and I’m really trying to temper my excitement because a) it’ll probably just be OK and b) the subject matter of “Guns” is very serious.***

This essay of King’s is sobering and very sad. There’s one part where he makes a false equivalency between Fox News and MSNBC – Fox and MSNBC are not two sides of the same spectrum. One is very significantly off on its own. But I appreciate what his point was in that part anyway. I just came away from this like I come away from anything to do with America’s gun violence problem: feeling completely hopeless.

Who Killed Edie Montgomery by CM Blackwood

whokilledediemontgomery

One that I started in 2016 and finally finished! So although I liked the ending that the protagonists got, I was less happy about the actual ending of the book (spoiler: the bad guy, being pretty much a demon, continues to do terrible things). Also, I would have preferred less of the long parties where everyone acts suspicious and shallow, and more Mary and Jessica, or more Mary sleuthing.

Two things about this book: One – Jessica is my favourite love interest this month. Chris in The Hate U Give mildly annoyed me a couple of times and Niko from Vengeance Bound was flipping insufferable. Jessica is just nice, and funny, and supportive. I wish I knew why YA male love interests have to be such jerks, but all I know is that Jessica wasn’t and it was much better that way. And two – Jessica’s murder scene, and everything to do with male violence against women, is somehow depicted here in a way that isn’t… gross? It’s hard to explain but here’s an easy example: Game of Thrones really likes to show rape and murder of women, and the times when they show rape and murder of men don’t, you know, fix that problem. It just makes it worse. Somehow they don’t know this. This book wants us to care about the female victims and it’s as shocking to me now as it was when I started reading what a difference that makes.

Our culture sucks.

Vengeance Bound by Justina Ireland

vengeance bound

This is like if Twilight had been much better, and somewhat less romance-focused. The writing is tighter, the main character is more interesting and more likable, her friends that she’s lying to are more interesting and likable, her love interest is slightly more likable (that’s not saying much, I know, but still), anytime violence against women is brought up it’s always a bad thing and not, you know, the main part of the romance, and the supernatural element is the female protagonist’s burden and it’s way cooler. Harpies > Vampires. It’s just the way it is.

The one thing I didn’t like was Niko, the love interest. He kept smiling wickedly which made me think of this:

wicked smile

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe there’s some stuff I should work through with a therapist. But honestly I think it’s just that generally, my 100 books this year so far are just not pulling their weight in making me care about who their protagonists care about. We’ll see.

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

monkey-beach

The other one I’d already read half of. This book was beautiful and haunting and I loved every minute of it. It’s my favourite this year so far and I wish I could adequately explain it. My review of the first half is a start, I guess.

Luna Station Quarterly, Issue 029

luna station quarterly 029

I don’t think a literary journal is cheating! This was a lot of fun. My favourites are probably “Sex After Fascism,” “Genie’s Retirement,” and “An Astronaut Lights a Candle.” I’m glad I found this journal and I think I’ll be going through their backlog soon.

April is calling. Hopefully I’ll like next month’s love interests a little better.

100 Books: February

I pledged to myself that I would read 100 books this year and in January I read two.

Well, now it’s March. In February, I read two.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

guards-guards

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It had a decent story, great characters, but I don’t know, I was meh about it overall. My favourite Pratchett to date is still The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.

A Short History of Indians in Canada by Thomas King

short-history-of-indians-in-canada

Very good. There was a really long one that made a lot of Star Trek references that went over my head. No one does magical realism like Thomas King.

You know what? Whatever. It was a short month. I’ve got this.