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
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.