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.

November 2020 Books

Honestly, I didn’t read much this month, so this will be a short post. I participated in NaNoWriMo, so I was frantically trying to write a novel instead. Reading is definitely a way I procrastinate writing.

Books Reread

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling*
Harry Potter book 2 of 7
We went on a socially distanced road trip and there’s nothing like listening to the soothing tones of Jim Dale reading one of your favorite stories as you drive through the desert. Chamber of Secrets is probably one of my favorite of the Harry Potter books (though I’m not sure I can choose a favorite). I love the mystery and how all the loose ends tie up so neatly. It’s also fun rereading after you’ve read the whole series, because you can see how all the groundwork is laid for the later books. I think it’s super neat the way the books sort of work in parenthetical pairs, with this book connecting to the sixth book (this is where we first visit Bourgin and Burkes and see all the items that will be important in The Half Blood Prince; our first introduction to visiting another’s memories and to the horcruxes which are both super important in HBP; meeting Aragog who dies in HBP).
5/5 basilisks

New Books Read

Sourcebooks Landmark

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Not good. Super disappointed. This book was set during the Great Depression in the boonies of Tennessee. It’s about this odd woman with blue skin who works as a packhorse librarian for the WPA. To me it read like a poorly constructed race narrative. This woman is the last of the blue people and she and her family are discriminated against because of their skin color. The way the story was told seemed like it was meant to emphasize discrimination against people of color, but by centering on a blue-skinned protagonist, it minimized the struggles of real people of color in favor of this mystical other race who had it even worse than Black people. It served to distance the reader from the characters. Though it may have depicted accurate racial discrimination, the reader could dismiss it because blue people don’t exist. The main character was problematic because she was so pure, unselfish, and kind, that it sends the message that she didn’t deserve to be discriminated against because look what a good person she was. No one deserves to be discriminated against. You don’t have to be a saint to not deserve that. Then there was also this white savior-y doctor who wanted to do experiments on the protagonist to figure out why she was blue and if she could be cured. She doesn’t have any agency to agree to or decline to participate in the tests and they are traumatic for her. And yet she still acts super grateful to this creepy doctor who has the “best interest” of the blues at heart. Then the doctor actually does find a cure that turns her blue skin white temporarily, though with side effects. She thinks people will treat her better because she’s white now but they don’t, so she has to learn to come to terms with her blueness. It was also unfeminist because the protagonist talks the whole book about how she doesn’t want to get married and she wants to keep her job as a librarian because of the independence it gives her, and then the minute the only not-awful man shows interest in marrying her, she throws away all her principles. The only thing I liked about the book was the packhorse librarian stuff (which is why I thought it sounded interesting enough to read in the first place). I liked learning more about that program which I have heard of before and think should still be a thing. I would love to ride a horse around delivering books to people.
Now, those were my thoughts after I finished the book. Then I read the author’s note which shed a little light on the author’s intentions for the book. Generally I don’t think authors’ intentions matter much; what matters is the reaction of the reader. But I learned from the author’s note that there was a real congenital disease called methemoglobinemia that affected a family in Tennessee and caused some of them to have blue skin. Apparently this is what the author was basing her fictional story on. So instead of a race narrative, we’re actually dealing with a disability narrative, and it’s still bad. There are a lot of tropes in disability literature and media about disabled people who are selfless and kind and bear their disability with grace so that the abled community can pity them and be ‘inspired’ by them, while still discriminating against them. Then we have the cure. Though the cure is historically factual, it’s problematic in disabled circles to try to find a cure to a disability that isn’t actually causing harm. For example for things like Autism, Down Syndrome, and others. Instead of trying to cure these disabilities, we should be trying to change our society to offer more accommodations, and be more understanding and accepting of diversity of thought and experience.
(Also I just saw that 86% of the people on Goodreads liked this book. Neat.)
2/5 ornery mules

Llewellyn Worldwide

The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian
The Accidental Alchemist Mysteries book 1 of 4
Also disappointing. Do not recommend. This was not a great month for reading. The language was repetitive, the story dragged, the characters were boring. And the main character was an alchemist who’d been alive for like 400 years, so it seems like it would be hard to make that kind of person boring. But she was not actually that good of an alchemist and very slow on the uptake, which was frustrating as a reader. Having a female character who has lived 400 years, I think, is a really interesting opportunity to analyze how the world has changed and how it has stayed the same for women and other minorities, but this is just something mentioned in passing in relation to women, not explored. There were too many characters and even when we learned their backstory it was like, “Wow, I still don’t care about them.” The mystery wasn’t a neat and satisfying story where all the clues come together in the end and you get that lovely Eureka! moment. Even when we found out what was going on, I was like, “Oh, that’s it?” And the protagonist falls in love with this detective (who doesn’t seem like he’s that good of a detective either), and the romance is just so eye-roll inducing. She talks to him like not that many times and the book would have been far more interesting if the love interest had been the bad guy (Spoiler alert, he’s not). Every time something exciting and sinister-seeming happened, it turned out to be just these teenagers getting up to mischief. Also way too many details about the protagonists energizing smoothies she drinks every morning. I. Do. Not. Care. The best part about the whole thing was Dorian, a gargoyle come to life who also happens to be a great French chef. He was definitely the most interesting character. We listened to this one on our road trip too and no one in my family was a fan.
2.5/5 talking gargoyles

Both of these not-very-good books came from Audible titles that are included with the subscription (meaning you don’t have to spend a credit on them). Is this because they couldn’t get people to actually spend money on them? Does this mean that all included titles are either Classics, bad, or both?

Now my Audible account is suggesting more books by these authors. Please. No.

*Trans women are women. Trans people are people.

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.

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.