October Reading Wrap Up!

Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Cordova – 3 stars

I was into this book the moment I heard the premise – I mean, Latina witches in Brooklyn? I am down. Alejandra is a bruja with remarkable powers, but she wants nothing to do with her magic. She knows that all magic has brought to her family is pain and suffering, so she decides to be rid of it once and for all by rejecting her magical birthright at her Deathday ceremony. But instead of banishing her powers, her entire family disappears instead. Alex has to journey through the mystical land of Los Lagos to rescue her family and confront the evil that is haunting her. Although this book was fun and the world had some really interesting elements, unfortunately it felt a bit ‘flat’ to me. I enjoyed it to a certain degree, but sadly it felt just a little too typical of its genre to be a truly engrossing read.

The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter – 5 stars

I don’t read a lot of short story collections, but this was amazing! (With the necessary caveat that in short story collections, some stories are always better than others.) Angela Carter is a masterful storyteller with gorgeous writing, and ‘dark creepy feminist fairy tale retellings’ is the definition of my wheelhouse. My favourite story was The Erl King, but I also loved The Bloody Chamber, The Courtship of Mr Lyon, The Tiger’s Bride, and The Lady of the House of Love. (In summary, lots of bad ass ladies either dealing with violent men or falling in love.) I also really enjoyed that she was also open with sharing a couple of different variations with how she would play with the same fairy tale – it showed her creativity and breadth, and each story was so imaginatively told that it never felt stale. I don’t know how, but I need more of this in my life.


Monstress: Volume One, written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda – 5 stars

Sitting to write this review, I legitimately just want to say “I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK.” (Complete with clapping emojis, if I could be bothered to figure out how to get them in WordPress.) This is an epic fantasy graphic novel, set in a matriarchal world where humans and Arcanics (half-human, half-‘Ancients’) are trying to maintain an uneasy peace after the devastation of war. But Arcanics are captured and enslaved by humans, and their bodies used by a human order of sorceresses known as the Cumaea to fuel their powers. In the midst of this, Maika Halfwolf is trying to come to terms with her difficult past and control her volatile abilities. The story addresses themes of persecution, slavery, and institutional corruption as well as intimately portraying the struggles Maika faces in her relationships with others and within herself.

In addition to having incredibly gorgeous art, the plot was gripping and the world is fascinating. Although it could be brutal and gory at times, which isn’t usually my thing, it never felt sensationalised. There were a couple of plot twists that were really well used to develop our understanding of the world. (I’m still not over our introduction to the Cumaean Inquisitorixes.) There’s also an effect I love in stories like this where, although I may be totally confused about parts of the worldbuilding or the plot, I can also sense that I am in very safe storytelling hands – that the author knows exactly what they are doing, and that the story will come together in a satisfying way. (If I am confused and think the author has no idea what they are doing, it stresses me out.) It’s funny that when I bought this, I didn’t realise it had only been out for a few months. I thought it had been out for ages, so now I am sorely disappointed that I’m going to have to wait almost a year for the next collected edition. That last plot twist… man, I need answers. (I know that issue #7 is out, but I am trying to exercise self-control. It’s damn hard right now.)

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman – 4 stars

Bird Box is an apocalyptic novel where something has broken into our world. And these creatures, whatever they may be, drive the people who have seen them to attack others and fatally harm themselves. What started as a few isolated incidents in Russia quickly snowballs until finally the few remaining humans alive have learned how to live without looking outside. And because humans can’t investigate without succumbing to the madness, they have no choice but to focus solely on survival. The book, predominantly from the perspective of a young woman named Malorie, alternates between her memories of the first year of life with this calamity, and her decision four years later to take her children and attempt to escape the home they have been trapped in all that time. The suspense steadily builds throughout the novel as you wait to see how the past will become the present. The climax of the book was brilliantly done, terrifying and brutal to the extent that I may have cried on the bus – not from sadness (although, frankly, that would not be out of character for me or out of place for those chapters) but from the sheer feeling of being so overwhelmed by the intensity of what was happening. This book definitely earned all its hype.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente – 3 stars

I don’t really know how to describe this book. A twelve year old girl is plucked out of her kitchen by the Green Wind and goes on adventures in fairyland? This book has received a lot of attention, and given that I had (for months!) taken to randomly stalking the children’s section of bookstores in an effort to find it, I’m disappointed I didn’t love it more. That said, I think this was very much a ‘me’ problem – I’ve been noticing that I’m very particular when it comes to the ‘whimsy:solid plot’ ratio of a story. This was just too much whimsy for me and, given that it’s for middle grade readers, I think that’s fair enough. That said, it had a strong and interesting ending that set up the rest of the series nicely. Although I don’t think I’ll be continuing with these books, I’m still a little curious about Valente’s adult fiction so if I ever get the chance I might pick those up.


September Reading Wrap Up!

World War Z, by Max Brooks – 3 stars

This is a book that I listened to on audio to complete the ‘audiobook that had won an Audie Award’ for Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge – although I’m not an audiobook person at all, I really enjoyed the format. The story itself was fascinating. It’s essentially one long, incredibly intense and detailed, thought exercise – how would our world fare if the zombie apocalypse struck tomorrow? The main character gathers survivors’ accounts of the Zombie War – everybody from the Vice President of the United States, to some random student in Japan. It extensively explores political, social, and cultural dynamics, and imaginatively considers everything from international relations, geopolitics, history, and military strategy to governance, emergency management, and social policy. I will note that I did feel a certain kind of way about the all-white narration cast, given that the characters themselves were so diverse in race and nationality. I was also a bit annoyed at the relative lack of female characters – while there may be a bit of an excuse for the more male-dominated fields of expertise, the majority of the generic interviews were with men (some of whom, let’s be honest, weren’t even that interesting). On the whole though, it was a really interesting story and a great listening experience.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, by Warsan Shire – 5 stars

I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I have been looking to get into it a little bit more so I was excited to pick this up – both as part of the #diverseathon and for the ‘Read a book aloud to someone’ portion of the Read Harder Challenge. (My cat is a someone, and I’m sure he enjoyed it very much.) Honestly I hardly know how to talk about poetry, but I will say that this collection was a gorgeous, though often painful, reflection of the life of a young immigrant woman. She mostly explores women and girls’ most intimate moments and their resilience in the face of a cruel world and unforgiving social expectations – everything from sexual awakenings and eating disorders to domestic violence and coping with a partner’s infidelity. There is also a remarkable poem addressing the devastation of the refugee crisis in a profoundly personal voice. (This is the same poem that includes the famous line “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”) Although it’s a very short volume, it was well worth it and I look forward to returning to it again.

Jesus and the Disinherited, by Howard Thurman – 5 stars

I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but this book surprised me. Thurman’s central question is ‘what is the message of Jesus to the poor and the marginalised?’ From that point, he goes through a few key emotional responses to oppression – fear, deception, hate, and love. The explores the psychological underpinnings of these responses of the marginalised to their oppression, and then uses the gospels and Jesus’ teachings to highlight a path beyond these responses to more liberating and empowering possibilities. In its emphasis on the mindset of the marginalised as a key element for transformation and liberation, this book is certainly out of step with a lot of modern day social justice thinking. But I think it offers a lot of valuable insight to those who are willing to engage with and be challenged by Thurman’s ideas.

Mr Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi – 4 stars

Going into this book, I knew it was going to be an interesting read – regardless of whether they love it or they hate it, most people will admit that this book is kind of bonkers. The premise is that renown author Mr Fox is inspired by a muse who he is madly in love with, Mary Foxe. Out of the blue, she shows up one day – and she is sick and tired of the brutal way he kills off his female characters, claiming that they all represent her. From there, the book is a whirlwind of unreliable narration, magical realism, and all out absurdity. It alternates between the main story arc, and a range of short stories which Mr Fox and Mary Foxe are supposedly telling (read: using to manipulate) each other. Some are almost indistinguishable from the main arc until you hit a wild plot twist. Others are clearly separate stories – until a subtle reference emerges again several chapters later. Personally, my favourite parts were the short stories, especially towards the end – ‘hide, seek’, ‘my daughter the racist’, and ‘some foxes’ – they weren’t directly tied back to the main narrative arc, but they were so beautiful and often devastating. Although the conceit of the book was obviously interesting, I think the most profound and memorable moments lay in the emotional climaxes of the short stories. People’s reactions to Oyeyemi’s books are often mixed, but I’m glad I picked this up and I’m curious to check out more of her work.

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove – 4.5 stars

I picked up this book because it was recommended by my beloved Megan Whalen Turner, and she didn’t lead me astray. (Which is a good thing, because waiting for new books from her for soon-to-be seven years now has been difficult enough as is. But I digress.)

Set in a world that has been torn apart at the hinges of time by a mysterious natural disaster, Sophia Timms is the niece of renown cartographer Shadrack who studies this new, strange world with an incredible collection of maps. After he is abducted by a dangerous shadowy sect, Sophia and her new friend Theo have to travel across this unpredictable world to rescue Shadrack and save the world. I went into this ready and raring to go on an exciting adventure, and I wasn’t disappointed. The plot and worldbuilding were remarkably imaginative. Although nothing could really hit the Harry Potter mark, the way Grove populated her world with such a fascinating history and with so many interesting characters and creatures reminded me a lot of J.K. Rowling’s boundless creativity. There were so many bits and pieces which weren’t quite necessary to the plot, but they weren’t overwrought and served to make the universe richer and more captivating. It was also interesting, given the current political climate in many developed countries, how S.E. Grove chose to foreground the story with political strife due to peoples’ anxieties about immigration and a changing world. I’m always curious about how children’s books choose to engage with political issues, and I’ll be interested to see if she takes these ideas further in the rest of the trilogy.

Kindred, by Octavia Butler – 5 stars

My first Octavia Butler! It was about time, I’ve had this one waiting on my shelves for ages, and flitting in and out of ‘I’m going to get to these SO SOON’ book piles since May. Kindred is the most famous novel of acclaimed black science fiction writer Octavia Butler. It tells the story of Dana, a black woman living in the 1970’s who is sent back in time to the era of slavery to save the life of a white boy. This book was harrowing, painful, and often overwhelming – its representation of slavery is unflinching. The characterization, especially of Rufus and his father, was confronting and remarkably nuanced. And for the record, for these slaveholders, nuance here does not mean sympathetic. Butler shows with disturbing insight how corrupting privilege is when accompanied with such absolute social power. These men are undoubtedly men, not monsters, with all the fears and insecurities that come with being human – but with this context, these fears and insecurities inevitably manifest in terrifyingly dangerous and monstrous ways. It is particularly upsetting watching Rufus grow from an ignorant but well-meaning boy into a young man who could not more vividly embody racist entitlement and violence. (And honestly, I don’t know if I have ever genuinely hated a character like I do Rufus Weylin.) Despite how challenging parts of this book are to read, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

August Reading Wrap Up!

The Cursed Child, by Jack Thorne – 3.5 stars

Oh, The Cursed Child. I’m a little heartbroken that I didn’t get to spend the release day like I used to for a new Harry Potter release (buying the book at the crack of dawn, and then spending the rest of the day ploughing through it) due to silly adult responsibilities. But when I finally got to read it, I really enjoyed it. It certainly had its issues, especially in the beginning. Just after the fifty page mark I was convinced it was going to be a huge mess but, even if it wasn’t anywhere near perfect, I do think it redeemed itself. It gave us a bit more time with the characters we love and a delightful introduction to the next generation of Hogwarts. I’ll admit, I do think JKR probably needs to stop here. But I can’t get over how adorable Scorpius is, and how sweet the relationship between him and Albus is. I also need so much more Rose Granger-Weasley in my life. So, against my better judgement, my heart is very open to seeing more of these precious kids.

Following Jesus in Invaded Space, by Chris Budden – 4 stars

In this book, Chris Budden (a white Australian author) attempts to establish a ‘second people’s theology’ for the non-Indigenous church, exploring our responsibility to the Aboriginal community given our complicity in the invasion, dispossession, and oppression of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. I really appreciate the introductory feeling of this book – it retraced some familiar ground for me, in terms of discussing the social construction of our racial narratives and how racial inequality operates, but also served gave a more detailed understanding of Indigenous history and how these issues operate in an Australian church context. I thought that this could be remarkable tool for introducing a critical perspective to how people go about their lives and approach their faith – and there’s no place more appropriate to start than interrogating colonisation, which is fundamental to how many of us came to be here and defines our relationship with this country’s First Peoples. The book explained complex topics in accessible language, and laid out the foundation for further critical thought in a way that could be useful to many people and communities of faith.

Heat and Light, by Ellen Van Neerven – 3 stars

I was hoping to like this a lot more than I did, but judging by all the positive Goodreads reviews, I think that this book and I just weren’t the best match. It was mostly contemporary literary fiction with some magical realism and speculative elements. Literary fiction can be a bit of a hard sell for me so I try to be discerning with my picks, but sadly this one didn’t come through. Of the three novellas in this collection, my favourite was ‘Water’. (Which is unsurprising – I was convinced to buy this book because someone described the story as ‘Orphan Black femslash’, something that we all need more of in our lives.) A really fascinating dystopian vision of an Australian future, exploring colonisation, environmental degradation, institutional corruption, the failures of paternalistic politicians, and Indigenous resistance. I would be curious to see more from this world, or this story told in a more fleshed out way. ‘Water’ was also the most consistent story in the book, staying with the same characters the whole way through. The stories in ‘Heat’ and ‘Light’ followed a range of different characters, and it felt really fragmented to me. In ‘Heat’, I found the first character and Pearl the most compelling, and while Pearl did return in a couple of the later chapters, we also spent a lot of time with other far less interesting members of the Kresinger family. The stories in ‘Light’ were even more disconnected from each other so I found most of the stories dissatisfying, although I really enjoyed the final story. I will keep a curious eye out for more of Ellen Van Neervan’s work.

Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis – 4 stars

Nolan and Amara share a psychic connection – whenever Nolan, who lives in our world, blinks his eyes, he is inside Amara’s head. He sees what she sees, hears all of her thoughts, and feels everything she experiences. Amara comes from a universe with magic, feuding mages and ministers, and a dethroned princess on the run. When Nolan is suddenly able to exercise greater power over Amara than ever before and his presence becomes known, the two have to work together to save each other and confront the conspiracy engulfing Amara’s world.

Before discussing this book, I have to quote my favourite review because it always makes me smile:

I think we’ve all seen those posts where some douchebro is like “not every thing needs a bisexual low-income mute woman of color who use sign language or a one-legged epileptic Latino guy”. Those examples are done in the spirit of spiteful condescension, like it would be TOTALLY RIDICULOUS to have a story like that. Which is why it gives me exceptional pleasure to say:

Go home boys, Corinne Duyvis has just pwned you all.

I think the best thing about the diversity of the main characters in this book is that it makes perfect sense in the context of their lives, and their identities are fully formed on the page. Their disabilities and racial backgrounds are not the point of the story, but it is impossible to imagine Amara and Nolan without them. And I think it’s doubly special given how ‘difference’ is often represented allegorically in speculative fiction (especially for a younger audience) – instead of having diverse characters, it is not unusual for fantasy novels to use magical creatures to explore issues of discrimination and oppression. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the potential that speculative fiction has to challenge us through such imaginative storytelling is one of my absolute favourite things about it – it also disappointingly often means that diverse social groups are not given actual representation. Other than this, Otherbound felt like a fairly conventional young adult fantasy novel. Although it didn’t quite hit the mark for me, I also couldn’t put it down. The plot was compelling, the world-building was interesting, and I really enjoyed the time I spent with Amara, Nolan, and Cilla. (But also, I need more Amara/Cilla pls & ty.)

Educating for Action: Strategies to Ignite Social Justice, edited by Jason Del Gandio and Anthony J. Nocella II – 4 stars

A primer on social justice activism and community organising. Some of the content was quite introductory – addressing the basics of things like writing, public speaking, and using social media – but I appreciated how comprehensive a guide this was for beginners. As someone with a little more experience, I don’t believe I’ve seen anything which pulls information on activism together like this before, so I think this is a really valuable and accessible resource.

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith – 5 stars

I fell in love with this book almost instantly. Flygirl is the incredible and moving story of a girl in Louisiana who desperately dreams of becoming a pilot. When the Women Airforce Service Pilots are established during World War 2, she sees her chance. There’s just one problem – Ida Mae Jones is black. Because she is light enough to pass as white, she makes the difficult decision to hide her racial identity while contributing to the U.S. war effort for the sake of her older brother, who is deployed in the Philippines.

The book provides a powerful and nuanced portrait of the racial issues facing young black women in U.S. society, from a range of everyday microaggressions to the significant danger Ida would face if her racial identity was discovered. It also beautifully represents her relationships with other women – her mother, and her friends at home and at the WASP. They are complex and challenging, but ultimately, these relationships are sources of comfort, strength and courage. (And speaking of Ida’s friends, I am about this close to making a shrine to Patsy, I loved her so much.)

As someone who is passionate about the empowerment of girls and young women, reading this book made my heart so full of joy and pride in Ida. She faces incredibly difficult choices and circumstances but she is hardworking and always tries to honour her commitments to both her family and her dreams, even as they pull her in different directions. Honestly, I absolutely loved this book.

June Reading Wrap Up!

I thought it would be nice to include little reviews of all the books I’ve read each month on this blog. Between this and Instagram, I’m hoping to peer pressure myself into reading more consistently. It was pretty successful this month!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz – 5 stars

While I enjoy a lot of young adult fiction, contemporary fiction is very hit and miss for me. But I adored this book. Aristotle and Dante become friends as teenagers, and the story follows their relationship over time. The portrayal of all the characters, but especially Aristotle’s inner world, was so vividly explored and revealed so much of the pain and beauty of growing up. If you’re anything like me, prepare for waterworks in the final stretch, but this book is definitely worth it.

By sad coincidence, I finished reading this book just as the news of the Orlando shooting was breaking. Benjamin Alire Sáenz wrote a beautiful post in light of the shooting titled ‘A Safe and Sacred Space’.

Sisters In The Wilderness, Delores S. Williams – 4 stars

For the most part this book was incredible. It is one of the first books written about womanist theology, published in 1993. Delores Williams draws on the story of Hagar to explore African American women’s experiences with regard to exploitation and oppression under and after slavery, and discuss the implications of this for black women’s experiences of faith and the development of womanist theology. The most interesting part of it for me is what Williams calls a ‘survival or quality-of-life’ hermeneutic, which she contrasts to the belief of liberation theology that God is committed to, and actively bringing about, the liberation of the oppressed. It is very difficult to see God’s actions in Hagar’s story as ‘liberating’ Hagar from the oppression she faces, so Williams provides another interpretative framework which claims that God is equally concerned with ensuring the survival and quality of life of those living under oppression. She claims that God is intimately involved with black women’s struggle for survival and quality of life, especially in circumstances where securing full liberation isn’t possible at the time. I had to dock a half star because the last chapter goes in the strangest direction (I skimmed it so you don’t have to – you can and should skip the last half of the final chapter entirely), but other than that I would highly recommend it.

The Queen of Attolia (Book 2 of the Queen’s Thief Series), Megan Whalen Turner – 5 stars

This was a reread for me. I adore this series, and this book is probably my favourite of the four. I could never do it justice, but these two reviews of the series are brilliant. (I should also note that ‘Made Herself Queen’ is a reference to one of my favourite passages of this book.)

Authority (Book 2 of the Southern Reach Trilogy), Jeff Vander Meer – 3 stars

This book, like the first in the series, was pretty bonkers. I thought the thing that was fascinating was that, in the first book, you’re frustrated because you can tell that there is some logic, some underlying principle of (super)natural science governing Area X, but it’s impossible to make sense of. It’s so beyond what we can imagine that you’re left with no real key to interpret the events unfolding in front of you. In this book, while that element remains, most of the intrigue and mystery is related to Southern Reach, the agency responsible for figuring out what the hell is going in Area X, and it’s governing body, Central. Which means a good portion of the frustration you have is at fellow humans who are keeping you in the dark for goodness knows what reasons. Personally, I find stubborn humans more agitating than weirdly creepy and disturbing, so I didn’t love it quite as much as the first book. But I think my favourite elements were the unreliable and strange narration, the haphazard way the writing style went back and forth to disorientate you and create an increasing sense of unease, and the satisfying string of revelations at the end (even if we don’t get ‘answers’ as such). I enjoyed this look behind the curtain of what is going on at Southern Reach. I can’t wait get into Acceptance, the final book in the series.

Redefining Realness, Janet Mock – 4 stars

I was struck by how deeply personal and relatable this book was. Janet Mock masterfully explores how intersections of gender identity, race, and socioeconomic status come together and shape the lives of trans people, particularly young people, low income people, and women of colour. But her openness with her life, with her most painful experiences, with her flaws and mistakes, with her deepest thoughts, is what makes this book so remarkable. This book will break your heart, and then fill it to the brim with its wisdom and courage.

I also posted last week about what this book taught me about reading across difference, if you want to check it out.

Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans – 4 stars

It’s funny now that I was so uncertain about reading this book this month. When I started it I was still reading Redefining Realness, and I was ambivalent about reading it because I have read very few memoirs and wasn’t sure if I liked them enough to read two at a time. But, like Redefining Realness, I was blown away by how open and deeply honest Rachel Held Evans was in this book as she takes us through her journey with the church throughout her life and reflects on her experiences. While she challenges the church and the traditions she was brought up with, she also challenges herself and doesn’t hesitate to share her doubts, her fears, her mistakes, and her pain. She also shows a deep love for the church, its traditions and community, despite recognising its flaws. Rachel also begins a chapter with a quote from one of my (many) favourite Taylor Swift songs, which is always a reliable way to endear yourself to me.

So I might be learning to love memoir. Which is a wonderful thing because I’ve got a couple more eagerly waiting their turn on my shelves.