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.

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.