Parable of the Talents

by Octavia Butler
First sentence: “They’ll make a god of her.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Parable of the Sower
Content: It’s rough, violence-wise and emotionally. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

This book picks up five years after Parable of the Sower: Acorn is a settled community, not large but flourishing and prosperous. Earthseed is growing as a movement and Oamina and Bankole are expecting a baby. But, in the wider world, the United States has elected a Christian American minister and facist as a president — someone who believes that all vagrants, homeless, and heathens should be “reeducated” and their children taken away and raised by Good Christian families. Once he’s elected, he backs off, but there is a movement –Jarrett’s Crusaders — that takes it upon itself (without consequences) to follow Jarrett’s philosophies. They attack Acorn, take away the children (including Olamina’s 2 month old baby) and enslave the rest of the adults. It’s a pretty horrific section, reminiscent of the Nazi Concentration camps (and made me ashamed to identify as a Christian though I understand these people were Not Really Christian.) Eventually, Olamina escapes and then spends the rest of the book looking for her child and restarting her Earthseed movement.

The most interesting thing about this book was that Olamina’s daughter, Asha Vere (which was the name her – admittedly not great — Christian adoptive parents gave her), narrated it as well. Every chapter began with an Earthseed verse and then some narrative by Asha. At first, this bothered me — Asha blamed her mother for starting Earthseed, not finding her soon enough, and for decisions she made, none of which really sat well with me; her mother did the best she could given the circumstances — but eventually, I came to understand Asha’s resentment, and her bitterness toward her mother. Butler had to create conflict — because novels are not life — and she did that brilliantly by creating a division between mother and daughter (as well as between Olamina and her brother, who embraced Jarrett’s Christian American movement). Butler is an excellent writer and a consummate storyteller, and, much like Handmaid’s Tale, is quite prophetic. She pulled from history and put together a tale that is a warning as much as it is an engrossing story. I did find myself skimming toward the end, when things settle down and Earthseed becomes moderately successfull, eventually sending ships into outer space, but really: this duology deserves the accolades it has gotten.

Firefly Legacy Volume 2

by  Joss Whedon, Zach Whedon, Chris Roberson, George Jeanty, Karl Story, and Stephen Byrne
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Firefly Legacy Volume 1
Content: There is some nudity and sex (but not graphic) and lots of violence. It’s in the graphic novels section of the bookstore.

While Volume 1 covered backstory and the time in between the series and Serenity, this volume of two longer stories and a short story picks up after the movie. Which means it’s more grim, Wash and Booke are dead (sorry: spoilers) and the world that Mal and his crew inhabit is an increasingly grim one. But they have their own little family on the ship. Inara has left being a companion and is with Mal, Kaylee and Simon are together. Jayne has left but comes back. And Zoe and River have formed a bond over Zoe’s baby. It’s sweet. Except the ‘verse and the Alliance won’t leave them alone. There’s a warrant out for Mal’s arrest because of the New Resistance, and the Alliance is still after River.

It’s a grim couple of tales, with a very sweet short story intermission, but ones that I felt were super compelling. I liked the first volume, but I really liked this second one. The multi-chapter format gave the stories room to grow and find depth, and (as always) the characters were compelling. I don’t think Kaylee and Simon had enough to do, but I did like Jayne’s crisis of conscience. And? The story isn’t over. It ended, sure, but there are lots more stories that could be told about the crew (and I am interested to see where this one goes next. If there is a next.)

Probably not a great place to pick up if you’re not familiar with the world-building, but a delight for fans.

Firefly Legacy Volume 1

by Joss Whedon, Zach Whedon, Brett Matthews, Patton Oswalt, Will Conrad, and Chris Samnee
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is graphic violence and some mild swearing. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

First off: I had one of those experiences when I first picked this up where you get a bit into the book an think you’ve read it before. Turns out: I had (at least the first two stories in this collection). Oh, well. Such is the memory these days.

There has been an uptick in Firefly books that have been coming into the bookstore lately, a few graphic novels and some novelizations. (People have been buying them, too!) Which got me thinking: it’s been a while since I delved into Firefly wold. I stumbled across these legacy volumes (there’s a volume 2 as well, which I need to read) and picked them up: I figured it was as good a way to visit this universe as angry.

It a collection of seven graphic novels that picks up when the series left off (a couple are set after the movie) detailing what happens next. And there are few that give a backstory: The Shepherd’s Tale, which details Book’s backstory,was probably my favorite of the bunch, not only because it was interesting to learn what Whedon imagined for Book, but because it was cleverly told and drawn.

There’s nothing super significant to say about the rest of them, though: if you like Firefly, and you wish there was more of it, then this collection is probably for you. (That said, I really liked it, overall.)

State of the TBR Pile: June 2021

I’ll be honest here: my TBR pile is uninspiring. Sure there are books I want to read on it, but nothing is screaming READ ME. It may be time to clear it off completely and restart. I do have a book group book that I need to pick up and get on there, especially since I only have 2 weeks to read it…

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson
Ascendance of a Bookworm Part 1, Volume 1 by Miya Kazuki and Suzuka
Heartstopper volume 1
by AliceOseman
The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Unsettled by Reem Faruqi
Stormbreak by Natalie C. Parker

What’s good on your TBR pile?

Audio book: God Save the Queens

by Kathy Iandoli
Read by the author and Bahni Turpin
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including many f-bombs, and the use of the n-word. It’s in the Music section of the bookstore.

This is what book clubs are good for: I would have never picked this one up without it. I know very little about hip hop (as evidenced by the fact that they kept saying names and I knew very few of them) and I don’t know that I ever really cared enough about hip hop to read a musical history of the women in the business.

That said, this comprehensive history covering women and their role and place in hip hop, was interesting. Even if I couldn’t keep names straight.

Things I took away: the business (still) is not friendly to women.It just isn’t. It’s full of misogyny and promoters who feel like there’s only room for one woman hip hop artist at a time. The business started women super young — like teenager young — in the 80s and early 90s, which couldn’t have been good for their mental health. There’s this unspoken competition in hip hop that I don’t understand — why was everyone “fighting” all the time? I don’t get it. But, I do get that these women had a lot of obstacles to overcome, and that that decks are stacked against them. (For example: being someone who doesn’t really delve deeply into music, I didn’t recognize any of the women’s names until about the late 90s. I can’t say that about the men. That says something, I think.)

I enjoyed Turpins narration (Ianodli only narrated the prologue and epilogue, where she got a bit overly sentimental about the Strength of Black Women. It felt unnecessary, I think.) though it really didn’t give Turpin’s talent for doing voices and accents much to do. That said, I will listen to anything she narrates. Period.

I may have enjoyed this one more in print rather than audio, though: I kept wanting pictures and I would lose track of who was who in the audio version. That said, I didn’t dislike it, even if I probably wasn’t the target audience.

How the Word is Passed

by Clint Smith
First sentence: “The sky above the Mississippi River stretched out like a song.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It talks about violence toward enslaved people, uses the n-word (in context) and some mild swearing. It is in the Biography section of the bookstore.

Clint Smith has written an absolutely beautiful book. It’s not an easy book to read, though the premise is simple: he visits several historical sites that are connected with the slavery in the United States, and recounts his experiences and analyzes the information presented at the sites. He talks to all sorts of people — visitors, tour guides, the people in charge of the sites — in order to get as wide a snapshot as possible.

He recounts his visits to seven sites: Monticello, Whitney Plantation, Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, Galveston Island, New York City, and Gorée Island. Some are delving into their history of enslaving people, others not so much. Smith works to understand and critique an inform the reader not just about the history around the sites, but how their interaction and presentation of the past is affecting and informing us today. In short: in order to reckon with the present, we need to reckon with teh past.

It sounds like a difficult read, and it is at times, but Smith’s writing is so beautiful, it doesn’t feel like a chore to read this. He is a poet, and it shows: his descriptions of the places and people, his journalistic interactions, his presentation all draw the reader in and made me, at least, want to read more.

Possibly one of the more important books I’ll read, but also one of the more beautiful ones.

The Anthropocene Reviewed

by John Green
First sentence: “My novel Turtles All the Way Down was published in October of 2017, and after spending that month on tour for the book, I came home to Indianapolis and blazed a trail between my children’s tree house and the little room where my wife and I often work, a room that depending on your worldview is either an office or a shed.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some mild swearing, and one f-bomb (in the notes). It’s in the Creative Non-Fiction section of the bookstore.

Sometime when Fault in Our Stars came out (I think?), I remember having a conversation with someone where I mentioned that I adore John on the vlogbrother’s YouTube channel, but I find his books, more or less, to be a bit overly pretentious. That’s not to say they’re not good; they are. But, I just preferred his short, 4-minute, thoughtful, smart video essays.

This book (it grows out of a podcast, which I haven’t listened to), is John in my favorite iteration of his writing. It’s a book of “reviews”, that’s loosely organized from his childhood through adulthood, of various facets of human life — from sunsets to Indianapolis to Viral meningitis to the Notes App. But, it’s more than that: it’s thoughtful, funny, full of history and trivia and literature, and I loved every minute of it. I don’t know if I had a favorite essay, but The Sycamore Tree made me decide to buy the book, and Sunsets made me cry. It was a delightful way to spend a few days. Green’s an honest, open, wonderful writer, and this format suits him perfectly.

Highly, highly recommended.

Monthly Round-Up: May 2021

May happened. It felt like a very long month, from the girls dragging on with the end of school (we made it!) to the weather being dreary, and work being, well, work. I have not been this happy that a month is over for a while.

My favorite this month:

Are you surprised? No, you are not. A quick story: we have taken to printing off lists and calling people when new books come out (just some, not all), and a call list for Mister Impossible came up. Who, on that list, has bought the most Maggie Stiefvater books? That would be me.

And for the rest:

YA:

Sky in the Deep
Namesake
Instructions for Dancing

Non-Fiction:

Seed to Dust
Hola Papi

Middle Grade:

Otto P. Nudd

Adult Fiction:

The Bad Muslim Discount (audio)

What was your favorite this month?

Instructions for Dancing

by Nicola Yoon
First sentence: “Books don’t work their magic on me anymore.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: June 1, 2021
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some mention of teen drinking and mentions of sex. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore when it comes out.

Evie is done with love. Ever since she caught her dad cheating on her mom (and then the subsequent divorce and his pending remarriage), she has determined that love — especially as seen in romance books — is a sham. No one stays happily ever after forever.

And then Evie is gifted with the ability to see couples past, present, and future. This just solidifies her belief: every couple ends in heartbreak. Then she is drawn to a dance studio, gets roped into competing in an amateur ballroom competition, and meets X. It’s got her rethinking love, but in the end: is loving someone worth the inevitable heartbreak?

I have loved Yoon’s books in the past, and this is no exception. She perfectly blends fluff romance (and y’all: X is hot!) with deeper questions about life and relationships. And it’s not just romantic relationships: Evie’s ups and downs with her friends and her family — including her father — are just as important as the budding relationship with X. I loved the deeper end of the book, as Evie struggles with forgiveness and acceptance. But I also loved the fluff: Yoon is very good at writing chemistry, and Evie and X getting to know each other was absolutely delightful.

Very much another excellent book by Yoon.

Hola Papi

by John Paul Brammer
First sentence:: “I was warned not to download Grindr.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There’s lots of talk about sex, and lots of swearing including multiple f-bombs and a couple of gay slurs.

This is a book that’s, as the subtitle mentions, Brammer’s memoir loosely framed around the advice columns he’s become somewhat known for. He didn’t have a happy childhood: growing up in a small, rural town in Oklahoma, he was bullied in middle school for his “other”-ness (he wasn’t willing to identify as gay until college).This affected much of the rest of his life, his opinion of himself, the way he approached dating, and even his professional life (which had its fits and starts).

It was an interesting book, learning about Brammer’s childhood, his heritage (which is Mexican, but his family didn’t identify as such, which is an interesting thing to unpack), his experiences being a gay man in America. It’s more introspective and less funny than I expected (I don’t know why I expected it to be funny?), and I didn’t love it at much as I thought I would. That said, it’s always good to read about experiences other than one’s own, and it reinforced the idea that being gay in America still isn’t (or at least wasn’t in the early- to mid-2000s) easy.

I’m not sorry I read it, but it’s also not for everyone.