The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
Book Hangover Alert**
His Dark Materials book 3 of 3
CW: death, child abuse, kidnapping, violence, war
The thrilling conclusion to the series! I reread this book in preparation for the third season of the HBO show. I’ve read the whole series before but I didn’t remember very much of this book. I mentioned in my review last month of the second book, that I didn’t get the anti-Christian allegory when I read the books as a child. Looking back now, it’s pretty obvious… I mean God literally dies. Maybe it was that I didn’t go to church as a child? Anyway, I still love these books and I love the final message that heaven isn’t a place we’re going after we die, it’s something we’re building ever day of our lives in the world we live in.
New Books Read
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doer
CW: ableism, war, gore, homophobia, terrorism, radicalization
I really liked All The Light We Cannot See, so I was excited to hear another book by Anthony Doer was coming out. It wasn’t quite as good, I don’t think, but I did enjoy it. A friend told me they dislike his “flowery language,” but I have to say I actually really like his writing style. I like the rich descriptions even if there is a lot of description. I also liked the way this book wove together stories set in the 1450s, in present day, and in the future. I liked how everything tied together in the end, and I liked the emphasis on climate change. I also really enjoyed the snippets we get from Diogenes’ Cloud Cuckoo Land story, and the segments about Konstance. Some things I didn’t like as much: I couldn’t help but notice that the story of Omeir and Anna was pretty similar to Werner and Marie-Laure. One is an unwilling participant in a conquering army, the other is a girl alone in a city besieged by a foreign army, and of course they end up meeting. I’d also like to talk about Seymour. Although I think Doer does a good job of making him a complex character that we empathize with, I think he relies heavily on standard and sometimes harmful stereotypes about autistic people. For example, Seymour is your classic white, male, traditionally-presenting autistic who fixates on something (owls and climate change), has trouble making friends, and has violent outbursts. There is so much diversity in autism and these stereotypes mean people who don’t present this way don’t get the diagnoses they need. There is also no evidence that autistic people are more prone to violence than neurotypicals (people with any disability are in fact more likely to be victims of gun violence and police brutality), and there is no empirical evidence that autistic people are more susceptible to radicalization by terrorists. Doer buys in to both of these stereotypes. Even though Seymour gets a redemption arc, I was disappointed with Doer for choosing to strengthen these stereotypes.
3.5/5 secret owls
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divinia by Zoraida Córdova***
Book Hangover Alert**
CW (from Book Trigger Warnings): alcohol, body horror, child death [not graphic], death, drowning [off-page, not graphic], infidelity, parental neglect, sexually explicit scenes, smoking
I’ve been neglecting my Book of the Month choices; this one was from August and I’m just getting around to it. It was fabulous and I adored it. I loved the themes of immigration and family and the way they are explored. I was also struck by the unique magic of the house and the family; often I think we get stuck with witch and/or magic family stereotypes, but I found the magic in Córdova’s novel really refreshing and different from what I’ve read before.
5/5 flowers growing out of humans
An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo***
Happy Native American Heritage Month! I loved listening to Harjo read more of her poetry. I like the way she’s really connected to the sound and phonetics of the poetry. If you’re following the blog, you’ll know I read another of her poetry books in September. I liked this one but I think I liked the other collection more. My favorite poem was “Washing my Mother’s Body,” which was a sweet and intimate portrayal of grief. As with the other collection, I felt I learned a lot about Indigenous culture, practices, and history through Harjo’s art.
If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy***
Book Hangover Alert**
Amazing. Everything I hoped it would be. Even though this is a retelling of Cinderella and it is set on a Bachelor-type reality show, two ostensibly un-feminist things, it still manages to be a feminist story. I really appreciate that this version of Cinderella doesn’t include an abusive stepmother and step sisters. And while there is some drama and little cattiness on the reality show, there’s also some great female friendships, which we love to see. It was just overall lovely to read. I have one more thing to say but it’s a spoiler so read on at your own risk.
I really loved that at the end Cindy didn’t have to choose between falling in love and getting her dream job/dream career. So often in movies and books women are portrayed realizing that love is more important than their career and giving it up, and men never have to choose between the two. There’s no reason Cindy shouldn’t have both.
5/5 amazing shoes
Princess In the Spotlight by Meg Cabot
The Princess Diaries book 2 of 11
This series is so fun and it’s a really easy read. My sister and I call these Junk Food Reads. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading Junk Food Reads, on the contrary, you should not only read highly literary novels that you need to think hard about. Sometimes you just need an easy read about teenaged problems. I love the conversational tone and strong voice of these books. I also love how through Mia, Cabot explores universal teenaged problems, even though Mia is not a normal teenager. I do hope throughout the series we get to explore Mia and Lilly’s friendship more, because overall at the moment, I don’t feel like Lilly is really that good of a friend to Mia.
3/5 secret admirers
Quicksand by Nella Larsen***
CW: n-word, anti-Black racism
This book, and Passing (see next entry) is a classic from the Harlem Renaissance. Both books were well-received critically when they were published, but Larsen sort of faded into obscurity after writing them. She only published the two novels and a few short stories, but she’s definitely an important figure in African American literary canon. Both books deal with being a biracial upper-class African American in the 1920s, which is not a perspective I’ve read before. Reading it sort of feels like sinking into quicksand, which I’m sure was the intention. Throughout the book, the protagonist tries to find somewhere she feels she belongs and is happy, but though changes provide her respite and a little happiness, she always slips back into discontentment and an unnamed satisfaction. I think Larsen was probably speaking to a pretty common feeling at the time (and perhaps even now), for biracial women, even privileged ones, to feel
Passing by Nella Larsen***
CW: n-word, anti-Black racism, colorism
This book focuses on those who are able to ‘pass,’ or someone of mixed race who is able to be mistaken for white and may choose to live as a white person. I thought Larsen did a really good job navigating the complex relationships within white, Black, and multi-racial communities. There is a lot of privilege associated with being lighter skinned an able to pass, but that also alienates people who never feel they fully belong to white society or Black society. Individuals living as white also live in constant fear of being found out. Another book on this subject I would recommend is The House Behind the Cedars by Charles Chesnutt, who may have been one of the first writers to address passing.
Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
CW: sexual manipulation, rape, threatened rape, gore, incest, sexual abuse, misogyny
The Dresden Files book 6 of 17
Chugging right along with this series. Still enjoying it. I enjoyed the themes of family in this book and I was happy that we got to know a little more about Murphy who is probably one of my favorite characters. I like the way Butcher puts a new spin on vampires with his Black Court, Red Court, and White Court vampires and how they’re all a little different, and none of them are the cliched, misunderstood, love interest. That being said, the White Court vampires are pretty repulsive and rape-y, and I just feel gross reading about them.
3/5 frozen turkeys falling from the sky
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie***
CW: anti-Native racism, death of family members and friends, alcoholism and drug abuse, child abuse, bullying
This is a classic of YA literature and of Native American literature. It’s similar to the Princess Diaries books in conversational tone, though the themes are much heavier. I do really enjoy the comics that Junior draws and there is lightness and Indian humor to counter the sad parts. I would definitely recommend this book, but I also think you should make sure it’s not the only Native American book you read. Alexie does debunk some stereotypes but he reinforces others. Of course, many stereotypes are rooted in some truth, and Alexie speaks to his own experiences, but it’s important that we don’t just have one story about any group of people, because there is so much diversity across Native peoples.
**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 Post 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 Inheritance of Orquídea Divinia to rep Ecuadorian immigrants. Read An American Sunrise to learn more about Native American life and to appreciate the current Poet Laureate of the United States. Read If the Shoe Fits for feminism, female friendship, and body positivity. Read Quicksand and Passing to learn about navigating biracial identities and to appreciate one of the great Harlem Renaissance writers. Read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to learn about Native culture and issues.
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.