January 2021 Books

Books Reread

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Tiffany Aching book 1 of 5; Discworld Series book 30 of 41
This series is another of my favorites. I love Terry Pratchett in general, but Tiffany is one of my favorite heroines of all time. She is practical and clever and even at age 9 is ready to take on the queen of the faeries to get her little brother back. It’s hilarious, it’s full of memorable characters, and it should not be missed.
5/5 tiny blue men

New Books Read

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron***
CW: misogyny
My first new book of the year! You know by now that I love fairytale retellings. If you read very many of them, you may think you’ve read every original take on Cinderella, and there can’t possibly be anything new in that story. But boy, have I got news for you. This is another Book Tok recommendation (it’s gay and it slaps), and it’s great for several reasons. One is the dystopian take on Cinderella; the story is set in a world where the Cinderella story is used as a religion to oppress women. The other reason is the gay characters who are secure and unashamed of their identities. There’s nothing wrong with a good coming out story where gay characters are trying to come to terms with their identities, but it’s refreshing to read a story where the characters are already out and secure and ready to go on an adventure.
4.5/5 glass slippers

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon***
Book Hangover Alert**
CW: racism
I don’t read a ton of YA romance but this book was fabulous. Nicola Yoon is such a good writer, I literally sat on the couch all day and read this book until I was done. I loved that this book, while being a YA romance, also engaged with difficult topics like identity, immigration, racism and microaggressions. I loved the way it was like a constellation, the lives of the main characters radiating out to touch other lives. Its ending was great, not too sappy, just the right amount of bittersweet.
4.5/5 Korean karaoke bars

Flatiron Books

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
I was really excited to read this book, because as I mentioned in my December post, I love Charles Dickens. This story is a fictional retelling of how Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol (my favorite Dickens book). But honestly I was kinda disappointed. If you’ve seen the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, the book was like a not-as-good version of that. So I’d just watch that movie instead. I found Dickens as a character a bit unlikeable (I don’t have any idea if the character is like the real Dickens, but at any rate I didn’t like him). I felt like the Eleanor Lovejoy character was almost not necessary and kind of just annoyed me because Dickens already has a great wife, and why is she not worthy of being a muse? The beginning was a bit slow and I wanted more about exactly what inspired Dickens to write the book other than this mysterious woman and running into people that had cool names like Jacob Marley. Now that being said, I did really enjoy the language Silva used; she describes things in a way that is unique, but also calls to mind Dickens’s own writing and other writing of that era. And the ending was great. Very Christmassy, full of good spirit and cheer, happy, and satisfying.
3/5 Christmas wreaths (the ending really saved this rating)

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston***
Book Hangover Alert!
I just said above that I don’t read a ton of YA romance, but apparently I do this month. Fabulous. Adorable. Couldn’t put it down. I was walking around my house with my phone in front of my face trying to do everything one-handed while I read the ebook. As Book Tok would say, “it’s gay and it slaps.” This book is about the First Son of the United States falling in love with the Prince of Wales and it’s just as wonderful as it sounds. It was also nice to read about the politics of the US in a world where Trump has never existed. It was so hopeful and lovely and I adored it.
5/5 dogs named David

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar***
CW: body dysmorphia
So beautiful. Joukhadar’s prose is just so gorgeous. Also I love birds. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about Syrian immigrants before so that was really cool and I felt like I learned a lot. There are also trans and nonbinary characters which we always want to see more of. I liked thinking about how those identities are navigated in the cultural context of being a Syrian immigrant. I also loved the way all the threads of the story were woven together from the past to the present; it was super satisfying to read.
4.5/5 mysterious birds

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon***
CW: assault, attempted and reference to sexual assault, racism , misogyny, public executions, oppression, body dysmorphia
Nonbinary authors in science fiction! We love it! The world constructed by Solomon was so interesting. The characters were memorable and the voice of the whole novel was really strong. We had some trans characters and some nonbinary characters, and I read Aster as autistic. I appreciated that while Aster had autistic-coded traits, she wasn’t a one dimensional or stereotypical representation of an autistic. I do have some questions though. I feel like maybe I didn’t quite understand all the science about the ship and their navigation, so if anyone has read it, I’d love to chat about it. I also wondered about the patriarchy. The ship is split into Decks and its a caste system: people born on the lower decks are lower in social status. The Decks also have their own language dialect and culture. Aster says the children on T Deck are called they/them until they are older, while children on Q Deck are all referred to as she/her. But the ship itself is so highly patriarchal and traditional as far as gender roles (like the game of house that Aster and Giselle play). It just seems odd to me that gender roles for adults would be so strict when they weren’t as children. Unless that’s just a T and Q Deck thing and the patriarchy is reaffirmed by the upperdeckers who are in power? Let me know if you want to discuss.
4/5 frozen severed feet

Books read for the Community Cats Podcast blog

Let’s Talk About Cats by Anita Kelsey
By a behaviorist and groomer, this book is a combination of interviews, tips, and stories from Kelsey’s work. Though I read it straight through, it is broken down in such a way that you could just read the chapters that are relevant to you or that particularly interest you. Kelsey interviews big names such as Jackson Galaxy, Kate Benjamin, Jennifer Conrad, and the Cat Man of Aleppo. She covers topics like cat behavior, cat vocalizations, what to feed your cat, whether cats grieve or enjoy music, and more. I thought the interviews were really interesting and Kelsey shared good tips and lots of food for thought about how we can make our cats lives the best they can be.
3/5 happy cats

The Cat That Changed America by Tony Lee Moral
I feel bad because the author of the book sent it to me to review for the Community Cats Podcast blog and I didn’t really like it. It is geared for children, but good writing is good writing, and I don’t think it was great writing. I do think the cause of the book is great; it was written to raise awareness about building a wildlife corridor in the Santa Monica Mountains to link different habitats to keep wildlife from being killed on the highways. The book is written from the perspective of P22 a real mountain lion who made his way through LA and now lives alone in Griffith Park. I just felt the anthropomorphization was a little off-putting and inconsistent. Like P22’s name for example, I know that since he’s a real mountain lion, that’s how they identify them, but it’s a terrible name and it’s a bit hard to connect with a character named P22. It’s like how stormtroopers all have letter-number combination names. And it’s unclear what P22 knows about humans. At first he talks about these metal monsters, but then he seems to know what cars are and what highways are later. P22 is also upset when he learns this other mean mountain lion is his father, and it seemed really odd to give human notions of fatherhood to animals who grow up with no contact with their sire. I sent the book to a friend to see if her kids liked it, as that’s the intended audience. But anyway, I hope they build the wildlife corridor.
2/5 mountain lions

**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read Cinderella is Dead for an original take on an old classic starring LGBTQ+ people of color. Read The Sun is Also a Star to learn more about the immigrant experience and the politics of biracial love. Read Red, White & Royal Blue for a hopeful look at what the future of inclusion of LGBTQ+ people looks like. Read The Thirty Names of Night for a look at LGBTQ+ experience as well as Syrian immigrant experience. Read An Unkindness of Ghosts for original sci-fi featuring disabled, neurodivergent, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC characters, and to add another nonbinary author to your library.
Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.

December 2020 Books and End of Year Round-up

End of Year round-up

Number of new books read this year: 81

Number of books reread this year: 9 (from June -December)

Number of books by women and nonbinary people read this year (only including new books read): 49

Number of books by BIPOC read this year (only including new books read): 22

Breakdown by genre:
Fiction: 63
(Fantasy: 21; literary fiction: 16; science and speculative fiction: 11; historical fiction: 8; fairytales: 2; mythology: 2; children’s literature: 1; mystery: 1; supernatural: 1)
Nonfiction: 12
(Science: 3; biography: 2; memoir: 2; anthropology: 1; history: 1; how-to: 1; essays: 1; travel and humor: 1)
Graphic novel: 3
(fantasy: 2; memoir: 1)
Short story collection: 2
(literary fiction; 1; science fiction: 1)
Poetry: 1

First book of the year: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Last book of the year: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Best books of the year (because I can’t chose one):
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Worst books of the year
The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian

December Books reread

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
I really cannot convey how much I love this book. Sometimes classics are classics for a reason. I never get tired of the story and delight in forcing my family to watch every movie adaption, including a filmed stage musical that I was in (I played the first spirit). This year I made everyone listen to Tim Curry’s audio book of it. Delightful. Dickens is definitely at his best in this book.
10/10 bad lobsters in a dark cellar

New Books Read

Bloomsbury Publishing USA

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
Book Hangover Alert**
Throne of Glass series book 5 of 7
I’ve been making my way through this series extremely slowly, not because it isn’t good, but because when I finish it, it will be over. Unfortunately, I did wait a little too long between reading book four and reading this one. It took me a minute to remember where we’d left off. But this installment did not disappoint. I don’t think it was my favorite of the series, but we got lots of quality Aelin and Rowan time, which I appreciated.
3.5/5 extremely attractive Fae males

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin***
Book Hangover Alert**
CW: racism, xenophobia
SO GOOD. It’s an urban fantasy/sci-fi that reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, except about New York instead of London. This book was about the personification of New York City and multi-dimensional alien threats. Even though I don’t live in New York, I do love the city and I felt the way Jemisin represented each of the boroughs of New York was (*chef’s kiss*) spot on. Her characters were so real and so vibrant and even though there was a lot of the characters standing around and talking, trying to decide what to do, I didn’t mind because I loved the characters. I would have read more of them just chatting to each other honestly. I don’t know if there will be another book, but I really hope so.
5/5 city avatars

Pan MacMillan

Wilder Girls by Rory Power***
Book Hangover Alert**
CW (provided by Rory Power’s website): graphic violence and body horror, gore, on the page character death, parental death, and animal death (the animals are not pets), behavior and descriptive language akin to self harm, and references to such, food scarcity and starvation, emesis, a scene depicting chemical gassing, suicide and suicidal ideation, non-consensual medical treatment.
This isn’t in the content warning, but I also want to acknowledge that this book is about a mysterious and deadly disease and a lockdown, so if that’s not something you want to think about when you’re reading during COVID times, I totally get it. That being said, this book was great. I read it because I saw it on Book Tok and the Tik Tok reviewer said “it’s gay and it slaps.” Reader, she was correct. I loved the style; the characterization was really strong. The prose was spare and still very expressive. I’m definitely ready for book two, so hopefully that’s a thing that’s coming. I also liked the themes of environmentalism and disability that threaded through the novel.
4/5 mutant deer

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
CW: anti-semitism, n-word
I always feel like reading Dickens in the winter, but I usually just read one of his Christmas books. This year I thought I’d give Oliver Twist a try. I really liked it. I love the way Dickens critiques the classism and social welfare of his day, and how he does it such an amusing way. The characters are vibrant and I love how neatly all the characters and threads of the story get tied up at the end. Now, that being said, holy anti-semitism, Batman. The character of Fagin is super problematic. I recently watched a Tik Tok video about how anti-semitism is a different kind of oppression because it assumes that Jews are both superior and inferior to white people. There are stereotypes that Jews are misers that control everything, the banks, etc. (superior), and that they’re rat-like parasites who feed off white people (inferior). Fagin perfectly embodies this caricature of the Jew; his hands are described as rat-like claws, his large nose is referenced many times, he is a robber who steals (from white people) to live, but he also controls this whole network of petty thieves that reports to him and he keeps all the best things to sell himself. Dickens, like many writers of this time, also equates physical beauty to goodness and virtue, which I also don’t love; but he does subvert society in other ways, critiquing the church and institutions like workhouses, both of which were supposed to help the poor and didn’t really, and critiquing the classism that kept people from marrying for love, instead choosing status or worrying what other people would think if they didn’t.
3/5 virtuous orphans

Custer Died for Your Sins by Vine Deloria Jr. ***
It’s important to note that this book is a little old, published in 1969. It discusses the state of Indian Affairs, so it’s important to remember its context is the 1960s, however, I’m sure many of the issues covered in the book are not as solved as we would hope 50 years later. This books is a good one to read to learn more about how the government has treated Native Americans from first contact to contemporary times. Though policy is very important, it’s not always the most exciting thing to read about. My favorite chapter was the one on Indian Humor; since Native Americans are usually portrayed as stoic and serious, it’s nice to read about how humor is actually integral to the Native experience.
3/5 anthropologists

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
My aunt lent this to me in like March, but I’ve finally finished it. What I liked most about Harari’s book was that it was accessible. I’m not someone who knows a lot about science, but the way he writes and explains things made it easy to understand what he was talking about. The premise of the book is kind of a projection of the future and the goals of humans might be after we’ve solved the problems of war, famine, and plague. (LOL the book was written in 2016 and published in 2017; it’s pretty clear we haven’t solved problems like plague yet!) It was really interesting and also a bit scary (thinking about the future often is). Harari makes a strong argument and as someone who doesn’t read a ton of contemporary science and philosophy, most of his points seem sound to me. So I’d recommend also reading this New York Times review, which adds a few grains of salt with which to take Harari’s work.
3/5 micro robots

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
Dresden Files book 4 of 17
Still trucking slowly through these. No spoilers, because this is book four, but Harry Dresden is still alive. I appreciated that in this book we got to meet some more wizards. I also appreciated that, for a book written in 2002, the White Council is pretty diverse. Now, that being said a lot of the representations are pretty stereotypical, but I’d like to think Butcher got better at it as he went along. Most straight, cis, white men aren’t going to get it right on the first try. So hopefully he’s doing better now, or we have a problem.
3.5/5 malicious faerie queens

**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read The City We Became to learn more about the diversity that makes up New York and America as a whole. Read Wilder Girls to see more queer people represented in YA and to consider environmental and disability issues. Read Custer Died for Your Sins to learn more about Indian Affairs, and Native issues and history.
Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.

October 2020 Books

Books Reread

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
His Dark Materials book 1 of 3
I love this book so much. The whole series is brilliant, of course, but the first book is definitely my favorite. I even named one of my former cats Pantalaimon. I recently watched the first season of the HBO His Dark Materials and it was fabulous and I’m ready for more. While I wait for season 2, I thought I’d reread at least the first book. It was just as good as I remembered. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by a full cast–one of my favorite things, as I’ve mentioned before. I love the world which is like looking at our world through a broken mirror, and I adore the character of Lyra; she was always one of the plucky heroines I aspired to be like.
5/5 armored bears

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles book 1 of 4
Speaking of plucky heroines I aspired to be like, here’s another: Princess Cimorene. Bored of being a ‘proper’ princess, Cimorene runs away from her kingdom and volunteers to be a dragon’s captive princess. The story is hilarious, full of bright characters, from Kazul the dragon to Morwen the witch, and surprising circumstances. The whole series is great, but this one is definitely my favorite. This audiobook is also read a full and brilliant cast (apparently a theme this month), and I highly recommend it.
5/5 melted wizards

Books Read

Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune book 1 of 6
Everybody and their mother appears to be reading Dune these days in preparation for the movie that’s coming out next year. The library had like 300 holds on their copies and the local used bookstore was begging people to sell them their copies of Dune. Luckily I already had a copy. I’ve heard that people are pretty split about Dune, either loving or really hating it. I can see how people might not like it, or be frustrated by it; especially at the beginning, you get sort of thrown into it and there’s all this jargon and made-up words and you’re like “WHAT is going on?” But if you persevere, I think the story is definitely worth reading. My dad doesn’t want to read it because he thinks it’s just a fantasy set in space, not a real science fiction, but this is something I couldn’t care less about. I definitely liked the world created in Dune, but I think my favorite part was the number of strong female characters. In a lot of older science fiction there are zero to few women and none in any positions of power (we’ll come back to this later), but in Dune all the women from the Lady Jessica and Chani, to the Reverend Mother and Paul’s sister Alia are interesting, powerful, and skilled. Jessica is not only skilled at delicate diplomacy and manipulation, but she’s also a badass fighter. It also seemed like there was more diversity than other sci fi stories and there are a variety of characters described as not white, so I hope they don’t whitewash the movie (or make only the indigenous people on Dune people of color). I didn’t love that Baron Harkonnen (the bad guy) was portrayed as super fat and into young boys. I feel like it reinforced negative stereotypes that fat people are disgusting and gay people are pedophiles. I guess it was written in 1965 but that doesn’t mean I have to be okay with it. I did think the ending was a little abrupt. It sort of just cuts off like Herbert gave his publisher one long document that was the whole story and the publisher was like “We have to chop this up and publish it as a series.”
3.5/5 sand worms

The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis ***
Book Hangover Alert**
The future of science fiction is diverse! I impulse bought this for a friend’s birthday without reading it first. I got it out of the library a little while later and I really enjoyed it, so I hope they did too. This is the first book I’ve read that included a nonbinary character using they/them pronouns. It was refreshing, especially because this character wasn’t on a journey of self-discovery and none of the other characters had any difficulties using their correct pronouns. Not that there’s any problem with stories about self-discovery, but it is nice to read about characters who already know who they are and are secure in that. I also loved the world and the societies created by Lewis. I was really invested in all the characters and basically binged the whole book. Lewis kept me on the edge of my seat with twists and turns and gave me a satisfying ending. Will there be more books? I don’t know that. I feel like it could go either way. I feel satisfied with where it ended and where we left all the characters, but would I hungrily devour more of their adventures? Absolutely.
4.5/5 antique recording devises

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao***
The Rise of the Empress book 1 of 2
I always love a good fairytale retelling and this one was refreshing, unique, and delightfully dark. I also don’t think we see nearly enough fairytale retellings that star people of color. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns tells the origin story of the Evil Queen from Snow White with influences from Asian folklore and mythology. Xifeng was such an interesting anti-heroine, and I was somehow cheering for her even as I watched her slide into her own destruction.
4/5 human hearts

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark
I mentioned above (and in other posts) that my biggest critique for older science fiction is the complete lack of diversity. So here again is a book about white men in space. Not to say I didn’t like it, I did, but really, the only women were stewardesses on the moon shuttle flights? Now that that’s out of the way, I liked how we were conducted through the book with each of the sections (first Moonwatcher on earth, then Floyd on the moon, then the astronauts on their mission) not at first seeming that they went together, but actually building upon one another. I also love the deliciously sinister HAL character. I know this movie is a classic in cinema and sci fi history, but I think I preferred the book, which Clark wrote sort of simultaneously with the screenplay, though the novel was released after the movie.
3/5 large, improbably placed monoliths

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
CW: outdated language referring to disabilities and trans people
About once a year I think, “It’s time to read another John Irving book.” So this year it was Avenue of Mysteries. This one had all the hallmarks of an Irving novel: a protagonist who is a writer; a small, odd child who dies tragically; a woman or women who are wild and perhaps crazy, but sexually attractive; a dog that dies; and of course, all manner of improbable, irreverent, and hilarious circumstances. I wouldn’t say it was as good as A Prayer for Owen Meany or The World According to Garp, but it definitely satisfied my Irving fix.
3.5/5 Virgin Mary noses

The Tower of Nero by Rick Riordan
Book Hangover Alert**
The Trials of Apollo book 5 of 5
CW: psychological abuse and manipulation

The last book in the Percy Jackson universe? I think that remains to be seen. Uncle Rick wraps up his Trials of Apollo series neatly and satisfyingly. I loved how this whole series let us spend time with our favorite characters from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the Heroes of Olympus series, and introduced us to plenty of new favorites. It also managed to strike that sweet balance between hilarity, action, and emotion.
4/5 hat-wearing troglodytes

Self Care by Leigh Stein
CW: eating disorders, discussion of sexual assault
I heard about this book from a New York Times newsletter I get and I was super intrigued. The novel is about two women who started a social media platform for “self care,” where women can post about the rituals they use for self care and vitamin and face wash brands can sell their products. The really interesting thing is how the novel points out the “self care” industry is really just a rebranding of the beauty industry. The message used to be “You’re a woman and there’s something wrong with your body. If you don’t use our product, no man will ever want you.” Now the message is “You’re a woman and you’ll never be able to love yourself unless you use our product, and no one will love you if you don’t love yourself.” There’s also the interesting aspect of social media; is meditating really self care if you post a video of yourself doing it to try to get a lot of likes and comments? The two main characters, Devin and Maren, sort of fall on opposite ends of the self care spectrum with Devin as the perfect yoga influencer always drinking a green energy smoothie, while Maren is the body-positive feminist. The professed goal of their company is to create a safe place for women to put themselves first on social media but toxicity of social media and the push and pull between Devin and Maren creates a really delicious tension. The book is addicting and as hard to put down as it is to stop scrolling on social media. There’s a sense of impending doom throughout the novel that makes you feel it will all end in tears, but, like watching a train wreck, you can’t look away.
3.5/5 protein shakes

I Wish I Were a Superhero by Sarah E. Paul
Awhile back, I supported my friend’s Indigogo campaign to get her children’s book published. My copy of the book arrived this month and I was so excited to read it! It’s a delightful little book with lovely illustrations. I’m excited to share it with my little nephew.
You can support my friend Sarah by purchasing a copy of the book here.

**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read First Sister to experience nonbinary perspectives and learn more about the implications of technological advancement on disability and class. Read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns to see new perspectives in fairytale fantasy.

Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.

September 2020 Books

Books Reread

The Sandman Radio Drama by Neil Gaiman
CW: for mature audiences
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors (another features later in the post). I’ve read the Sandman comics, but Audible has just put out this radio drama that covers #1-20, or the first 3 collected volumes, Preludes and Nocturnes, A Doll’s House, and Dream Country. Though I love the art from the comics, and that aspect of the Sandman story should not be missed, I really loved the radio play as well. James McAvoy played a wonderful Dream, and Kat Dennings was superb as Death. Gaiman himself plays the narrator.
3.5/5 dreaming cats (cats are something of a theme this month)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is one of my absolute favorites. Whenever someone asks me that question “What literary character do you most relate to?” I always say Jo March, like practically every other young, independent feminist. “Timeless classic” is a cliche but this book really is one. I love the feminine-centric story, the love between the sisters, the sweet, funny, and moving trials each sister faces. I also love basically every adaptation of the story. The 1994 movie? Fabulous. The 2018 miniseries? Delightful. The Broadway musical? Perfection. The 2020 movie? Masterpiece. This time I listened to the Audible original version read by Laura Dern and a full cast. It’s not verbatim the original text, but it’s still wonderful.
5/5 sensational stories by Jo March for the Weekly Volcano Press

New Books Read

In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
Wayward Children book 4 of 5
This may have been my favorite book yet from McGuire’s Wayward Children series. The Goblin Market is my favorite of the worlds we’ve been able to explore through McGuire’s infinite doors. In this installment we learn the backstory of Lundy, a character from Every Heart a Doorway, the first book in the series. The story is at once beautifully imaginative, heartbreakingly sad, and absolutely fair.
4/5 fruit pies

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Book Hangover Alert**
I absolutely adore David Mitchell’s work. I’ve read all his books and have been eagerly awaiting this one since 2015. My favorite thing about his books is that they all exist in the same universe and the characters of one story may waltz through another if you’re paying attention. All across time his stories intersect and interlock. Though you don’t have to have read any of his previous works to understand and enjoy this book, I would recommend reading The Bone Clocks and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as companions for maximum mind-bogglingness. Mitchell’s stories all have an element of the fantastical but the writing, characterization, and world-building is such that you could comfortably live in the house he has created with his words and not realize the walls were made of paper. Utopia Avenue tells the story of a folk-rock band born in London’s fertile 1960s music scene. Not only do characters from Mitchell’s other works make cameos, but real classic rock and folk icons from the 60s jam their way through the novel. The book was so good I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it and I now feel like I have to go back and reread all his books again. Best of all, the book comes with a Spotify playlist for maximum reading and listening pleasure.
6/5 chart-topping singles

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson***
CW: anti-Black racism, murder
A gritty historical-fiction/supernatural tale of mobsters and crooked cops set in New York City in the 1940s, Johnson’s novel examines race and thorny issues of morality. The novel follows Pea, an assassin with blessed hands. Some people of color are blessed with special abilities by saint-blessed hands. Naturally, white people want anything that people of color have that they don’t, so what follows is a twisted, dark tale that, like a throwing knife thrown high into the air, you won’t be able to look away from.
4/5 tarot cards

Books read for the Community Cats Podcast

I read the following* books for a book review post on the Community Cats Podcast blog. You’ll be able to read it here when it’s posted.

The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker
Honestly, I was pretty disappointed by this book. I did not enjoy it. Tucker tries to tease out the mystery of how cats have found a place in our hearts and taken over our homes and lives, even though we didn’t domesticate them like dogs or other animals, and they supposedly don’t contribute anything to our lives. Unfortunately, the book reads like a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn’t like cats–including but not limited to their status as an invasive species, their possible link to schizophrenia through an invasive parasite they can give their owners, and studies that show no real health benefits to owning a cat as well as some health risks. Apart from all the science and history she piles up that make cats seem like the worst human-animal alliance in history, she also makes cat lovers sound insane, from breeding and cat fanciers to Jackson Galaxy and the pet product industry, from TNR advocates to Instagram-famous cat owners. Though much of the science and history was interesting, I felt Tucker failed to discover the true nuance of the human-cat bond. Perhaps the benefits I receive from having my cat in my life are not quantifiable by science, or studies, or terms that can be qualified as “useful to humanity,” but I certainly believe my life is better for having my cat in it.
2/5 toxoplasma gondii parasites

How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats by Andrew Marttila
I’ve read the book, but I’m obviously still working on this one (see above photos). Marttila’s book was a great and very accessible guide to getting better photos of your cat. The book covered basic photography skills, tips for working with feline subjects, specific guides for using smart phones for photography as well as dedicated cameras, basic editing suggestions, and how to use the great photos you’ve taken. Marttila’s tone is casual and easygoing and not at all overwhelming, as some other photography guides can be–full of technical jargon that you feel dumb for not knowing. I’m excited to give his suggestions a try, especially those about editing as I’ve never really known much about that.
3.5/5 cats on catnip

My Life in a Cat House by Gwen Cooper
Author of Homer’s Odyssey, Gwen Cooper writes this time about all the cats she has shared her home with over the years. The memoir is structured into short stories focusing on each of the unique feline’s she has known. I hadn’t read Homer’s Odyssey but I was drawn in to Cooper’s world by her writing style and her keen observation of her feline family. The memoir was a joy for any cat lover, who will recognize the idiosyncrasies and the charm of sharing your home with a cat. At times funny and touching, Cooper fully characterizes each of the five cats she has shared her life with.
3.5/5 unique felines

Our Symphony with Animals by Aysha Akhtar M. D.***
CW: sexual abuse of children, animal abuse, trauma, PTSD, violent crime, drug abuse, discussion of serial murder and abuse of women 
I thought this book, based on its title and cover, was going to be hokey and eye-rollingly sentimental. Boy, was I wrong. This book provided me with everything I felt I was missing from The Lion in the Living Room. Dr. Akhtar’s book explores the deep bond of empathy humans share with all animals and how that bond can be incredibly healing. This, I felt, was what Tucker failed to talk about in her quest to understand why people love cats.  Dr. Akhtar also discusses the idea that a lack of empathy toward animals could translate to a lack of empathy toward humans. She visits prisons, animal rescues, poultry farms, the New York Police Department, among others, and speaks with veterans living with PTSD, a serial killer, detectives investigating animal cruelty cases, a former mobster, an ex-rancher, and more. She also cites a wealth of studies and scientific evidence that support the anecdotes and interviews that fill her book. She succeeded in convincing me that a strong empathetic bond between humans and animals is both natural and necessary to a healthy way of living. It’s even convinced me it’s time to be a vegetarian (something I’ve been thinking about a long time).
4.5/5 vegetarians

*Included in my Community Cats Podcast blog post but not here is New Choices in Natural Healing for Cats and Dogs: Herbs, Acupressure, Massage, Homeopathy, Flower Essences, Natural Diets, Healing Energy, 2017 by Amy Shojai, because I didn’t read the whole thing, which is generally a requirement for this blog (it’s a medical handbook, you aren’t supposed to read it cover to cover). I did read the introduction and methodology, which I summarize in the CCP blog.

**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read Trouble the Saints to learn more about anti-Black racism, passing, and corruption in the police and how, although set in the 1940s, those issues are still relevant today. Read Our Symphony with Animals to learn more about empathy for animals, how cruelty to animals can lead to cruelty to humans, and the paradox of protecting some animals (companion animals, endangered animals) and hurting others (animal agriculture farms, scientific testing).

Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.

August 2020 Books

A stack of books

Books Reread

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling*
Harry Potter book 1 of 7
I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd and I’ve read all the books so many times–well mostly I’ve listened to them a lot of times. We have all the audiobooks read by Jim Dale (my absolute favorite narrator). When each book came out my family would buy the book and the book on tape (back when there were tapes) and then by about book 5 we were buying the book on CD when it came out. This was because my older sister got to read the book first and I, not wanting to wait to read it until she was finished, would listen to the book. We’ve lately been listening to the Harry Potter at Home recordings, where actors associated with the franchise read chapters or portions of chapters. None of them were quite as good as Jim Dale, I think, but I still loved hearing the story again, and I was able to follow along in the gorgeous illustrated edition. A side note: I love illustrated books, especially when they’re not children’s books.
And yes, I’m a Slytherin.
5/5 post-carrying owls

New Books Read

The cover of Children of Virtue and Vengeance shows a black woman with white hair and gold tattoos

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adyemi ***
Legacy of Orisha book 2 of 3
I love the rich fantasy Adyemi creates in these books. The world is based in West African mythology and Yoruba language and culture. The basic conflict is between those with the ability to use magic, marked by their white hair, and those without magic. The non-magic people have been oppressing the magic-users for many years and managed to block their access to magic. Without giving away what happens in the first book, I’ll just say that the second book was also good, and I’ll definitely be reading the final installment when it comes out. This book did have a lot of conflict and a lot of the characters were annoying in that they didn’t seem to be able to listen to each other or work together, which was a bit frustrating as a reader. However, the conflict was believable and understandable. I’m definitely interested to see how Adyemi wraps everything up. I hope there’s a happy ending for both Zelie and Amari.
3/5 magical glowing auras

The cover of the Kingdom of Back shows an upside down blue tree with spindly branches below and roots above with 2 moons in the sky

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu
This book was delightful. A mix of fantasy and historical fiction, it took readers back to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s childhood through the eyes of his older sister Maria Anna, or Nannerl. From history we know that Nannerl was also an accomplished pianist and prodigy in her own right. It is suspected that she wrote her own compositions but none now survive under her own name. Lu explores Nannerl’s talent for composition and weaves in the fantastical world of the Kingdom of Back. The prince of this faerie kingdom offers Nannerl her dearest wish to be remembered, but Nannerl soon finds that the price of this dream may be higher than she is willing to pay.
4.5/5 piano concertos

Cover of The Beautiful shows a silver goblet pouring out rose petals

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh
Book 1 of 2
CW: murder of women, attempted rape, racism
Everyone loves a good fantasy romance set in New Orleans in the 1800s full of vampires, seedy characters, and a plucky heroine with a secret, right? Well, I do. Ahdieh’s books are so hard to put down and I just devoured this one. I’m excited to read the next one (I do love a duology). One thing I loved about the book was that it wasn’t whitewashed. Many historical fiction books ignore the people of color who lived at that time (unless it’s a slave narrative, or a book specifically about racism), so it was really refreshing to see a variety of people in Ahdieh’s book. We got the chance to examine the tensions of race and identity and what it means to be able to pass, without that being the main focus of the novel. I also loved the characters. Celine is smart and has a healthy (or perhaps not so healthy?) thrill-seeking streak. Odette is delightful and I’m definitely ready to see more of her in the next book. And of course, Bastien. Who doesn’t love a bad boy (at least in fiction, anyway–in real life they’re so disappointing)?
4.5/5 embroidered handkerchiefs

Cover of The Witches of NY shows a sepia photograph of a Victorian woman with a black box over her face, only revealing her left eye

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay
CW: murder of women, religious fanaticism, torture
Another supernatural/historical fiction mash-up! I guess that was the theme this month. Set in New York in 1880, two witches run a tea shop, catering to the ladies of New York City. When they hire a new shopgirl who can see ghosts, their world is turned upside-down. I loved this feminist tale full of intrigue, science and the supernatural, and a priest convinced he’s doing the work of God by trying to eliminate witches–but instead he is helping demons. I really enjoyed it and still hoping there will be a sequel? It came out in 2014 but as far as I can tell there isn’t yet a sequel. Anyone know if there will be more Witches of New York?
4/5 ghosts

Cover of Ilustrado shows a design in white and orange on black

Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco***
Set in the Philippines, Syjuco takes readers on a wild post-modern literary ride, weaving together the story of a young writer who shares his name and an older, established Filipino writer named Crispin Salvador. After Salvador’s reported death at the beginning of the novel, Syjuco sets out to write the definitive biography of his former mentor and literary idol. Through this work we learn both about Salvador’s life, and about Syjuco’s life, as well as seeing clips from Salvador’s published works. I thought this was really interesting. The inclusion of these short pieces supposedly parts of Salvador’s novels functioned as flash fiction pieces that were able to stand on their own, but also evoked a longer work. With all the skipping around and fragmentation of the novel, I expected to be confused, but I wasn’t. I’ve only read one other book by a Filipino author (Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn) and I’d definitely be interested to read more; I like the way both novels weave together the stories of many different characters as well as exploring the socio-political happenings in the Philippines.
The New York Times wrote a much better review of Ilustrado, so feel free to read it here.
3.5/5 hits of cocaine

Cover of Grave Peril shows the silhouette of a man in a hat with a staff in a misty room

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
The Dresden Files book 3 of 17
Yet another solid installment in the life and times of Harry Dresden, wizard. It’s called Grave Peril because there are ghosts and vampires. Get it? Grave? Anyway, as ever Butcher’s books are full of action, humor, lore, and interesting characters. I especially enjoyed Micheal and Charity in this one. I also like a super gross, ugly, vile vampire (as opposed to the sparkly kind) and boy, does Butcher deliver. I’m a fan of how Dresden is developing over the course of the series. He has already grown emotionally more mature, and I hope we get to see that keep developing in the next 14 books.
3.5/5 vampires

Cover of The Illustrated Man shows a tattooed arm with lions bounding out of the tattoo

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
I’ve always enjoyed Bradbury’s work and this book was no different. The collection of short stories is structured like a nested narrative, with all the stories playing out in the tattoos on the skin of the Illustrated Man. Each story offers a glimpse of the future, full of space travel, Martians, advanced technology, and most of all the human condition. Each story had that surprise punch that is so coveted in a good short story. My favorite stories were “The Veldt,” in which a virtual reality room isn’t virtual enough, “The Other Foot,” which Bradbury had trouble getting published because it was about Black people going off to colonize Mars, “The Fox and the Forest,” which involves time travel and a chase, “The City,” which features a sinister city, and “Zero Hour” which features sinister children. My only complaint is the female characters. They aren’t many, and they’re all pretty boring (except for Mink, the child from “Zero Hour”). All the other women are wives and/or mothers who fall in to one of the following categories. 1. Frightened of something: of the technology of their house (“The Veldt”), of what will happen when the white man arrives in the rocket (“The Other Foot,” though Hettie is arguably the best of the wives), of their husband on a rocket dying (“The Rocket Man”), of being caught and sent back to the future (“The Fox in the Forest”), of Martians (“Zero Hour”), of their husband killing them (“The Illustrated Man,” though that one is warranted). 2. Nagging their husband (“The Marionettes, Inc.,” “The Rocket,” “The Illustrated Man,” and a few other instances). And I think all the rest of the stories didn’t have women in them at all, or just a passing reference to a wife or lover. I mean honestly, in the future when space travel is common, you think women aren’t going to be on the rockets?
3/5 tattoos

Cover of Night Sky with Exit Wounds shows a photo of a grandmother, mother and son

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong***
Everything Ocean Vuong writes is gorgeous. I loved his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous because of its poetic prose. This book was his first book of poetry and it was also gorgeous, enduringly so. My favorite poems were “Aubade with Burning City,” “Notebook Fragments,” “Prayer for the Newly Damned,” and “Immigrant Haibun,” though choosing favorites of his poems is something like choosing a favorite star in the heavens. Each poem is meticulously crafted with a wonderful ear for rhythm, metaphor, imagery, and sound. He has a way of describing things we are all familiar with in a way that makes them something new to discover.
4/5 exit wounds

Cover of Gingerbread shows a crow holding a branch with an orange growing on it

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi***
This book is unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and, not to brag, but I’ve read a lot of books. Part fairytale, part dream, part mother-daughter story, the novel is filled with magical realism and is utterly unique. I love fairytale retellings, but this isn’t really one. Crumbs of Hansel and Gretel are sprinkled throughout, but I wouldn’t call it a retelling; it’s something far more original. I don’t even know how to tell you about it. NPR said it best in their review: “Trying to summarize the plot of Gingerbread is like trying to describe a strange dream you had — it’s nearly impossible to put something so odd and compelling into words that will actually convey the experience.”
4/5 gingerbread shivs

*Though I love, and will always love, the Harry Potter stories and universe, I can no longer support J. K. Rowling as a person. Trans women are women.

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read Children of Virtue and Vengeance to learn more about Yoruba and West African mythology, to see Black characters in fantasy, and to see discrimination reframed based on magic use instead of race. Read Ilustrado to learn more about the socio-political state of the Philippines and how Spanish and American colonialism and post-colonialism impacted and continues to impact the Philippines. Read Night Sky with Exit Wounds to delve into poetry by a LGBTQ+ author of color and to learn more about the immigrant experience. Read Gingerbread to experience an original fairytale full of Black characters (something we so rarely see in fairytales), and to expose yourself to one of the finest emerging Black writers.
Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.