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.

July 2020 Books

Books Reread

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
CW: some outdated language related to disability, and weak female characters
I reread Cary Elwes’s memoir about the making of The Princess Bride movie last month so I thought I’d reread the book this month. It’s still pretty weird (in a good way). If you haven’t read it, a large part of the story is the framing narrative where Goldman tells you about his father reading this story to him as a boy and editing out all the boring parts as he read aloud, which causes Goldman to want to publish an abridged version of The Princess Bride, which he claims is a historical novel by S. Morgenstern from Florin. Goldman is constantly popping up in italics throughout the book to tell you what he cut out of the ‘original,’ or about what he or his son thought about the book at a particular point. The first time I read it I simply skipped all the italics and read only the parts about Westley and Buttercup. I still love the book in all its quirkiness, oddness, and hilarity, but the character of Buttercup really does leave something to be desired. In the movie she’s dignified and helps to balance the humor playing against the ridiculousness of the other characters (even though she does absolutely nothing to help Westley with that R. O. U. S.), but in the book she’s just kind of dumb. For a guy that claims to have written the book for his two daughters, Goldman could certainly have written a stronger female lead. The book came out in 1973, which was a while before the ADA, but reading the book today, now that I know something about ableism makes me a little uncomfortable in some places. I don’t love how Fezzik is treated, even by Inigo, often called an idiot and berated for not remembering things or not doing something right. As far as Vizzini (who has a physical deformity in the book) and the Albino, it seems like they’re only evil because they are not physically ‘normal.’ All that being said, I firmly believe you can love something and still be critical of it.
3.5/5 King Bats

New Books Read

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
The Dresden Files book 2 of 17
I read the first Dresden Files book absolutely ages ago and while I enjoyed it, reading the rest of the series got put off and this poor book languished on my To Read Shelf for years. I finally read it and Harry Dresden is as fun as ever. The quote on the cover of the book from SF Site says “Butcher keeps the thrills coming,” which is absolutely the right way of describing the book. Every chapter Dresden gets in more trouble as he tries to identify the lupine killer that runs wild every full moon. I also really appreciate his talking skull, Bob, and the strong female characters that help Harry get the job done.
3.5/5 Hexenwulfen

Haben: The Deafblind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma***
CW: ableism, racism, discrimination against individuals with disabilities
If you don’t know who Haben Girma is, you need to get on that. She’s so cool. I learned so much from this memoir. Haben is a Deafblind, Eritrean-American who is a disability rights advocate. Her memoir follows her journey navigating the world with her disability from a young age through college and eventually at Harvard Law and beyond.
3.5/5 braille keyboards

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
CW: institutionalization and torture of an individual with disabilities
This was a delightful little fantasy full of charming characters. The novel is a new take on the fable of the witch who abducts children in the forest. I enjoyed the way the story lines of various characters all wound together and tied off neatly. I listened to the audiobook and I really enjoyed narrator Christina Moore’s performance, especially her voice for Fyrian the Perfectly Tiny Dragon. I feel like because of the content warning and the fact that this is a children’s book, I have to tell you that it has a happy ending.
3/5 tiny dragons

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami***
CW: mention of sexual abuse of a child
This is Japanese author Mieko Kawakami’s first work to be translated into English and let me say I’m excited for more of her writing to make its way over here. Breasts and Eggs explores femininity, sexuality, feminism, and asexuality, many of which are somewhat taboo subjects in Japan. The novel is beautifully written and full of that wonderful dreamlike quality that seems to permeate Japanese literature. It focuses on female characters who are brightly depicted. I found the book because of this lovely New York Times article. A synopsis and other recent translations of female Japanese writers can be found here.
4.5/5 sperm donors

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo ***
Book Hangover Alert**
I adored this book. I’ve been picking it up every time I’ve gone into a book store for like the last year because the cover is gorgeous. I finally checked it out of the library. Do yourself a favor and just buy yourself a copy. The novel follows a young Philadelphia native with African American and Puerto Rican roots named Emoni. Emoni is a teen mom with a love of culinary arts. I tend to avoid books about teen moms because they’re usually very depressing and read like a cautionary tale, but Acevedo captures the nuance of Emoni’s life, the good and the bad, and characterizes her with such depth. I loved the strong and memorable voice and how the story was full of hope. I definitely cried and had a Book Hangover when it was over.
5/5 cinnamon sticks

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Book 3 of 5 of the Wayward Children Series
The Wayward Children series continues with some old friends from the first book, Every Heart a Doorway, and leads us into several more of the plethora of magical worlds tethered to this one. As someone who has always longed to go to Narnia, the Wizarding World, Middle Earth, and Neverland, these books feed my hunger go home through a door picked just for me.
3/5 cupcakes

1st ed. cover art by Larry Schwinger;
Doubleday Publishers

Kindred by Octavia Butler ***
CW: slavery, rape, abuse, manipulation, violence in the form of slave beatings, suicide, n-word
This book is considered to be the first science fiction by a Black woman. It is so good. Dana, a Black woman living in the 1970s, is unceremoniously sent back in time to save a white child. Whenever he is in danger, Dana is pulled through time to the early 1800s to help him. Dana discovers that the little boy will grow up to be one of her ancestors, so to make sure she is still born, she has to protect him. Modeled on slave narratives, this book is gritty and painful and deals with the complexity of slavery and its legacy. Full of well developed characters, this book helps those of us who have studied slavery to understand more fully why slaves didn’t all “just run away,” or “rise-up,” or “just kill themselves.” Certainly many did those things, but the novel helps to show what kind of power structures were at work that supported the institution of slavery. I urge anyone who thinks Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings were in love to read this book.
4.5/5 near death experiences

Books I didn’t finish

Allen & Unwin, Australia

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
CW: incest, rape, abuse, gang rape, forced abortion, ableism
It’s rare for me to not finish reading a book. Usually if I start I force myself to suffer through it. I was really excited to read this book. It has won a bunch of awards and I’d heard good things about it. I love both dark fantasies and fairytale retellings. Also I love bears. I thought it sounded right up my ally. But I really hated it. The writing style when following the character of Dought was awful. It was choppy and hard to follow. I think it was meant to sound old fashioned but it just left me confused. I also hated the character of Dought. I did not care about him and couldn’t figure out why we weren’t following Liga and her children anymore (maybe I would have found out if kept reading, but I was tired of suffering). I cared about Liga and her children. That said, the first two chapters just absolutely torture Liga. I’m not against making your characters suffer, but Liga never finds empowerment in her survival.
I made it five chapters before I gave up. I read a few reviews of the book, trying to figure out why anyone would read it. The vast majority were positive. I read one that talked about how many layers are in the novel, how they were sure that this book would be taught in literature classes. Now, I was an English major. I love books with layers. I’m disappointed I didn’t have the same reading experience as this reviewer.
Have you read Tender Morsels? What did you think?
0/5 bears (also because I didn’t manage to read to the part where there were bears.)

**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 Haben to learn about the DeafBlind community and ableism. Read Breasts and Eggs to learn more about women’s experience in Japan as they navigate sexuality with and without men. Read With the Fire on High to learn about identity, hierarchies within Blackness, and classism. Read Kindred to learn more about slavery and unpack what it means to be descended from both slaves and their masters.
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.

June 2020 Books

Keep up with what I’m reading! Let me know if you’ve read any of these books or if you have recommendations for what I should read next!

Books Reread

As You Wish by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden
This memoir is delightful. It describes behind the scenes stories from the filming of my favorite movie The Princess Bride. It was just as delightful the second time reading it. I highly recommend the audiobook because it is read by Cary (Westley) himself and includes little sound bites from most of the major cast members as well as director Rob Reiner and producer Andy Scheinman. But, I also highly recommend reading the physical book because it includes behind the scenes photos, so you really can’t go wrong.
Rating: 5/5 Rodents of Unusual Size

New Books Read

2am at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
Bertino’s sweet and hilarious book tells the story of 9-year-old aspiring jazz singer Madeleine trying to get her big break, while still inwardly grieving the death of her mother. The story takes place on Christmas Eve, leading up to 2am on Christmas morning. I loved the lyrical writing style and spare prose. It was unique and refreshing and funny.
Rating: 4/5 caramel apples

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Discworld book 6 of 40; the Witches book 2 of 6
I always adore Terry Pratchett’s work and this time was no different. You don’t really have to read the Discworld books in any particular order, but I am planning to read the Witches series (within the Discworld series) in order. This book features the unflappable Granny Weatherwax, the hilarious Nanny Ogg, and brand new witch Magrat. It features witches’ covens, ghosts, a conniving duke and his murderous wife, a troupe of traveling actors, and one prolific tomcat.
Rating: 3.5/5 pointy black witches’ hats

The Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein
Heinlein is a classic of sci-fi, particularly championing hard science fiction (or accurate science). This is a tale of time travel, suspended animation, and shady business dealings. While an enjoyable read, older sci-fi is usually pretty disappointingly white and male. My main problem with the story (SPOILERS AHEAD) is that the main character Danny ends up married to his former best friend’s daughter after some tricky time traveling and ‘cold sleep’ to make them the same age. I don’t know I just thought it was a little creepy. Also none of the female characters had much personality at all except these: Belle was evil, conniving but ultimately doomed; Ricky was sweet, pure and took very little convincing to marry a dude who basically acted as her uncle during her childhood; and Jenny was almost a non-character, only important for her relationship to her lawyer husband who helps out Danny.
Rating: 3/5 cats

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ***
CW: gang rape, war, violence
Honestly I can’t recommend Adichie enough. If you’re trying to decolonize your bookshelf and bring in some new voices and authors of color, Adichie is a great choice. Half of a Yellow Sun takes place in Nigeria in the 1960s, during the civil war for Biafran independence. With themes of post-colonialism, race, and gender, the story is thoughtful, engaging, and heartbreaking. It helped me to understand the consequences of British Imperialism in Nigeria and reminded me that “Africa” and even individual countries within Africa are never monolithic but filled with individual cultures, religions, and traditions. Adichie is a gifted story teller, her writing is beautiful, and her characters are rich and complex.
Rating: 4.5/5 platters of jollof rice

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Wayward Children series book 2 of 5
I’ve been really enjoying dark fantasy lately and McGuire’s Wayward Children books are wonderfully dark and bloody. They’re bite sized, short and easy to read with a unique voice. Book 2 follows the story of Jack and Jill, twins whom we met in book 1, Every Heart a Doorway, and the magical world they stumble into in a trunk in their grandmother’s old bedroom. If you’ve ever dreamed of finding a secret doorway to a magical world, these books are for you.
Rating: 3.5/5 mysterious doors

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read this if you’re looking to expand your knowledge of colonialism in Africa, race, and Nigerian 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.