Yellowface by R. F. Kuang***
**Book Hangover Alert
Lots of rereading this month. I reread Kuang’s Yellowface, even though I just read it in May, because Kuang came to speak to my MFA cohort. She was fabulous. So smart and so kind. This book was also just as good the second time. I really admire how Kuang created the character of June–someone who we don’t like, who is not a good person, but is still compelling and complicated, and I have to keep reading about. (About the photo, Kuang told us in one of her chats with my MFA cohort that one of the early design drafts of the book had a maneki neko on the back cover, which is not relevant at all to the story. They’re Japanese, not Chinese, but I guess maybe the designers were like ‘they’re stereotypically Asian? And the book is about Asian stereotypes as perceived by white people?’)
5/5 angry tweets
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson and the Olympians book 4 of 5
This is the Percy Jackson book that I remembered the least about. It was nice to reread it and get to see more of Rachel Elizabeth Dare and Tyson.
3.5/5 hundred handed ones
Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston***
**Book Hangover Alert
Still gay. Still slaps. You can read my original review in the January 2021 blog. I wanted to reread this after seeing the movie, which I think Amazon Prime did a great job with. Of course a lot of the details are missing–there’s only so much of a 400 page book you can put in a 2 hour movie. I was sad Alex’s sister June disappeared, but she was kind of combined with Nora. I was also a little sad the movie cut the Rafael Luna subplot and much of Henry’s family drama. But my biggest beef with the movie, I think, is that the president wasn’t divorced. I really appreciated the family dynamics in the book.
5/5 historical love letters
*A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
The project I’m writing for NaNoWriMo this year is a retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a high school a la She’s the Man and 10 Things I Hate About You. So I reread the play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream involves many couples and a lot of confusion as Oberon, king of the faeries and his sidekick Puck do a little matchmaking that doesn’t go quite as planned. I don’t think this is Shakespeare’s best comedy, but it is still great and it’s the first Shakespeare story I remember reading. I also saw it performed at the Globe in London and it was most excellent. So I had fun reading it and underlining good lines and being inspired for my NaNo project.
New Books Read
Teach the Torches to Burn by Caleb Roehrig
Part of the Remixed Classics series
In the realm of Shakespeare retellings is this Romeo and Juliet retelling. It’s unfortunately not set in a high school, but is set in the original time and place. The story follows Romeo, who is gay in this version, and explores the question of controlling one’s own destiny. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t how I would have done an R&J retelling, but that is okay. I did really like that Juliet was ace. One thing I struggle with in Shakespeare adaptations is the language. In my opinion the best options are: 1) keep Shakespeare’s language no matter what else you change (this is why Baz Luhrman’s R&J works and the 2013 movie with Hailee Steinfeld does not) or 2) stick to contemporary language (see She’s the Man, 10 things I Hate About You, and Rosaline). Where the Hailee Steinfeld movie goes wrong is by not using Shakespeare’s words, but still trying to use some kind of old fashioned language. It’s just bad. This novel I felt did try a to sound a little old fashioned in its prose which really bothered me during the first half. I eventually got used to it, but I thought Roehrig should have just stuck with a more contemporary voice.
*Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
CW: murder, gore, body horror
I love an Erik Larson history book. Thunderstruck follows the development of Guglielmo Marconi’s wireless communication technology, interwoven with the story of Hawley Crippen, a mild-mannered doctor who becomes an unlikely murderer. Larson seamlessly weaves these two seemingly disparate stories together. I wasn’t as interested in all the technical discussion of Marconi’s invention, but Larson does do a pretty good job of making it understandable for those of us who don’t know much about science or technology.
3.5/5 wireless messages
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
Legends and Lattes book 1
This book has been described as a warm hug of a book, and that is 100% correct. Leaving a life of adventuring, Viv opens a coffee shop in a city that’s never heard of coffee before. With her newfound friends, she has to learn to solve problems without her sword. I just adored it. I love a good found family trope. I love a low stakes reading experience. I love two strong independent women falling in love.
5/5 cups of coffee
*The Stranger Upstairs by Lisa M. Matlin
CW: alcoholism, murder, depression, anxiety
This was my Book of the Month for September and I must say I was disappointed. I’m in general not much of a thriller reader but I thought I’d try it. It sounded spooky and fun for autumn. It was not really that spooky and not really fun. I also wouldn’t say I found myself ‘thrilled.’ Sarah Slade and her husband move into a spooky murder house with the intention of fixing it up and selling it. But Sarah’s Instagram perfect life isn’t perfect IRL. Her marriage is failing and it seems like the house doesn’t want to be fixed. The main character is really unlikable, and while I don’t think that’s a problem in and of itself (see June from Yellowface above), I didn’t find the main character compelling in any way. I didn’t care if she lived or died. I didn’t care if anyone in the story lived or died (except for the cat! I was concerned when the cat almost died). One more complaint which is a spoiler: Read More: SPOILERS AHEAD
I also didn’t feel like Matlin actually decided what the deal with the house was. Was the house actually alive and driving people crazy? Or was it just carbon monoxide poisoning? Instead of the ending feeling ambiguous and open for the reader, it just felt like Matlin didn’t make a decision.
2.5/5 poisoned cats
In Mercy, Rain by Seanan McGuire
Wayward Children companion
This isn’t a novel, it’s a short story companion to the Wayward Children books, but I’m including it on the blog anyway. I usually grab one of the Wayward Children books from the library every time I don’t have anything to read on Libby because my holds won’t be in for a few weeks. But this time I discovered I’ve read all the Wayward Children books that are currently published. So I checked out this short story and the next one. This one is a story about Jack, one of our enduring favorite characters from the series, and it explores her training with Dr. Bleak and her meeting Alexis.
3/5 lightning strikes
Skeleton Song by Seanan McGuire
Wayward Children companion
I’m so glad McGuire wrote this because I’ve been wondering about Mariposa ever since we met Christopher in the first book. I always love exploring new worlds with McGuire’s characters, and this little tidbit was so fun.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green***
**Book Hangover Alert
The Carls book 2 of 2
I had to stop in the middle of this one because it returned itself to the library, but I finally finished it! I really enjoyed this book, possibly even more than the first one, though to be fair, I didn’t remember the first one amazingly well (I read the wikipedia page on the first one before I read this one). I liked the examination of power and technology. I liked the found family trope and all the characters (except Andy was a little annoying sometimes).
4/5 alien presences
**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! First a caveat: I have decided that simply having queer people and/or people of color in a book is not enough to qualify it for the Books for a Social Conscience distinction. That sets the bar too low. So while in the past I would have marked Teach the Torches to Burn, Legends & Lattes, and the Wayward Children stories, I am not counting them under the new system. We love representation! Don’t get me wrong, but honestly at this point if you don’t have queer people and/or people of color in your book, like what are you doing? I will now be including a new designation: *This book only includes straight, white, cis people.
Anyway, read Yellowface for a nuanced look at anti-Asian racism and racism in general in the publishing industry. Read Red, White, & Royal Blue not only for LGBTQIA+ representation, but also for how those identities interact with life in the public sphere. Read A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor to explore technology, power, and privilege.
Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQIA+ 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.
*This book only includes straight, white, cis people.