Parable of the Sower

by Octavia E. Butler
First sentence: “I had my recurring dream last night.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence, some frank talk about sex and rape, and some mild swearing (with one or two f-bombs). It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

It’s 2024 and the world has gone to hell. Climate change, drugs gone rampant, violence due to poverty and desperation, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives with her father, step-mother and three-half brothers in a walled and gated community that isn’t rich, but is surviving pretty well. Lauren’s biggest obstacle is her hyperempathy — a condition that allows her to feel and experience another’s pain if she sees it — which makes her extremely vulnerable. And then, as the years and book goes one, things get worse. Lauren finds herself in the open, trying to survive the growing chaos, and finds, among other things, a birth a of a new faith.

I remember reading an Octavia Butler ages and ages ago, or at least trying it. I wasn’t successful. I’m not sure which one it was, but it just didn’t connect with it. But this one? Maybe it was the time — it begins basically in our present — and my awareness of our current political situation, but this felt not just like fiction, but, well, prophecy. It’s less about the characters, though I did care about them and what happened to them, and more about the way the characters interact with the world. It’s a survivalist tale, it’s a dystopian — though it’s in the early stages of being a dystopian — it’s a book about trusting each other and yet not making oneself vulnerable. It was disturbing, thought-provoking, harsh, brutal, and very very hard to put down. I went out and picked up the sequel because I need to now how this story ends.

I’m so very glad I read it.

Cemetery Boys

by Aiden Thomas
First sentence: “Yadriel wasn’t technically trespassing because he’d lived in the cemetery his whole life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some swearing, including a few f-bombs, and some violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Yadriel is a trans Latinx boy and a member of a family of brujx. It took him a while to come out as trans, and make the transition, and as a result, some of his extended family have resisted him becoming a brujo like he was meant to be. So he decides to go through the ceremony in secret… and inadvertently raises the ghost of Julian Diaz, a kid from Yadriel’s school. Except that Julian really shouldn’t be dead. And Yadriel’s cousin Miguel has gone missing as well.

So Yadriel and Julian team up to figure out what’s going on. And in the process, Yadriel hopes that her family will accept him as a full-fledged brujo.

I liked thine one a lot. I liked it for the representation; Thomas is a transgender Latinx and I thought the traditions and language came through seamlessly. I loved the push-and-pull between Yadriel and Julian and I adored Yadriel’s cousin Maritza. I liked the mystery, even if I guessed it a bit before Thomas revealed it. And I liked that it was centered around Dia de los Muertos.

I didn’t love the chemistry between Yadrial and Julian, and the ending kind of threw me off. It was fine and all, but kind of felt like fan service rather than true to the story, but that’s just the way I reacted. It’s a really good book, and not justs for the representation.

State of the TBR Pile: April 2021

It’s spring! I’m fully vaccinated! Life is looking up!

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Unsettled by Reem Faruqi
Stormbreak by Natalie C. Parker
The Girl King by Mimi Yu
Firefly Legacy Edition, Volume 1 by Joss Whedon (and a lot of others)
Firefly Legacy Edition, Volume 2 by Joss Whedon (and a lot of others)

What’s on your TBR pile that you’re looking forward to?

Dying of Whiteness

by Jonathan M. Metzl
First sentence: “Before Donald Trump could implement his agenda — in some cases, before he even took the oath of office — reporters and pundits were already tallying the negative implications of his proposals for many Americans.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some racist language (the n-word is edited) and it’s in the sociology section of the bookstore.

The basic premise of this book is this: why do white voters vote for politicians that enact policies that, in the end, detrimentally effect white people (as well as people of color)? He specifically looks at three areas: gun laws (by studying Missouri), opposition to the ACA and Medicare expansion (in Tennessee), and in cutting funding to education (here in Kansas). He talked with ordinary people on all sides of the aisle to see how policies were effecting them personally, and their health specifically.

It was a fascinating book, looking at data (suicides by gun for white males are much higher in states with lax gun laws, so in that instance, these laws are literally killing people) as much as it exists (there’s not much data on health-related gun issues because of the ban on gun research passed by Congress, and it’s difficult to extrapolate health costs based on education). I’m not sure there was anything I didn’t already know (like the overall heath of people in states that expanded Medicare through the ACA is better than the ones who didn’t). What I found interesting was the reasoning people gave. They need to feel protected, against the “bad guys” so they buy guns. When someone dies, it’s because they didn’t see the signs, and not because they had access to a gun. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it does to them. Metzl wants white people to realize the cost of maintaining this hierarchy, one where people refuse to use the ACA because of the “Mexicans and welfare queens” who are abusing it. Or, in Kansas’s experience, defund education because “some” districts are “mishandling” their money. (As an aside: he quantified what I’ve been feeling for a while: the Brownback years of defunding education has given my youngest daughter a much worse education here than the one my oldest daughter got. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I felt that, but the data speaks: Kansas education, in fact, is much worse now than it was when we moved here.)

It’s not a light read, but it is an accessible one (I admit when he got into the data, I did some skimming). And I’m glad I took the time to read it.


People We Meet on Vacation

by Emily Henry
First sentence: “On vacation, you can be anyone you want.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: May 11, 2021
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There are a dozen or so f-bombs and some tasteful on-screen sex. It will be in the Romance section of the bookstore.

When Poppy met Alex their freshman year of college they immediately decided they were not for each other. She was loud, dressing in vintage clothing, and loved to travel and experience things. He was quiet and studious, preferring khakis and to stay at home in their Midwest hometown. So, it was incredibly unlikely that they would become friends.

But become friends they did. And one of the things they looked forward to? Their annual Summer Trip: Poppy picked the destination and made the plans, usually cheap and haphazard, and they went and had a great time.

Fast forward ten years, and Poppy and Alex have had a falling out. They haven’t talked or texted or gone on their vacation for two years, and when Poppy’s friend asks her when the last time she was truly happy, she immediately knows: the last time she was with Alex. So, she takes a risk and asks him to go on one of their old vacations again. Miraculously, he agrees.

The thing is, they’ve got a week to figure out what went wrong in their relationship. And how to get it back again.

I plowed through this book, not wanting to put it down. Not only does Henry give us a sweet friendship-turned-romance (and the payoff is SO worth it!), she gives us a bunch of little travel vignettes. I adored reading about the places that Alex and Poppy went and loved their experiences there. It’s not wholly a travel book: Poppy and Alex have an arc, and Henry deftly fills us in on not just their history but their pasts apart from each other as well. It was all deftly packaged within the framework of their trips.

No, it’s not earth-shattering, or life-changing. But it was fun. A LOT of fun. And right now, I’ll take that.

Audiobook: Broken (in the best possible way)

by Jenny Lawson
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including many, many f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

In this series of short, sometimes thoughtful, often very funny, essays, Lawson reflects on life, mental illness, writing, and well, just about everything.

Honestly, this isn’t the first book of hers I’ve listened to, an I have to say that it’s really the best way to experience them. (Granted, I’ve not read them, so I can’t definitively say.) I love listening to Lawson — who is really a great narrator — spin her stories, making me laugh. She is a personable writer and a narrator, and does much to just bring you in as a listener into her little world.

I definitely recommend the audio book for this one, if only for the last little bit when she talks about recording the book during quarantining for COVID (since her immune system is shot, she took the quarantine seriously) and it was a nice way to wrap the book up.

She’s crazy, yes. But in the best possible way. I loved this.

Monthly Round-Up: March 2021

I know I’m reading less. I feel it. I tell myself times and seasons, but it does frustrate me. I shouldn’t let it, though. I really ought to change my mindset and just let books come as they do. I used to be that way or at least I feel like I was. I did read a little bit of everything, however, so there’s that.

At any rate, this was, hands-down, my favorite this month:

It was perfect. I saw someone in a reading forum call this YA; it’s not, mostly because the protagonist is a 40-something guy. But it was a good cross-over, and I loved every minute of it.

As for the rest:

YA:

Firekeeper’s Daughter (audio book)
Down Comes the Night

Nonfiction:

Why Fish Don’t Exist

Middle Grade:

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Adult Fiction:

Shipped
Black Buck (did not finish)

Graphic Novel:

Superman Smashes the Klan

Why Fish Don’t Exist

by Lulu Miller
First sentence: “Picture the person you love the most.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing and discussion of suicide. It’s in the creative nonfiction section of the bookstore.

When this showed up on my TBR pile a year ago, I remember thinking “Ah, that’s the woman from Invisibalia. I love that podcast. I should read this.” But the pandemic started, and I didn’t, and I have a vague memory of M reading the ARC I had and kind of liking it (maybe she took that ARC because I can’t find it?) but I had forgotten about it. Until I was reminded about it by another NPR podcast — Pop Culture Happy Hour this time — and I stumbled across another copy of it at work.

I needed a break from the fantasy I’ve been reading (nothing wrong with fantasy, I was just kind of fantasy-ed out) and so I picked this one up.

I’m glad I did.

Nominally a biography of an early 20th-century scientist and taxonomist, David Starr Jones, this book is also s much more: it’s an exploration of why we do the things we do, how we face the Chaos of the world, and how one woman — Miller — attempts to make sense of it all. Miller is an excellent writer and storyteller (something I knew from the podcasts I’ve listened to) and she kept me involved and interested through all of Jordan’s ups and downs, twists and turns. It was a fascinating story, and one I didn’t know (you’ll have to read it yourself to figure out the title). Let me say this: so much of this fascinating, beautiful, crazy world does not make sense. And to try and force it to may just be missing the point.

I very much needed this little book right now, and I’m glad I picked it up.

Down Comes the Night

by Allison Saft
First sentence: “Wren had never seen a worse radial fracture.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some medical gore, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The neighboring countries of Danu and Vesria have been at war for centuries. So much so, that it has decimated the population, and wrecked the economies of both countries. The current queen of Danu was forced by the parliament to accept an uneasy truce, and so when soldiers on the border between the countries go missing, the uneasy truce seems ready to collapse.

Wren is the bastard niece of the queen, and all she has wanted to was to be useful. Thankfully, she has healing magic, and, because she also takes a scientific approach to medicine, she is one of the best in Danu. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really made the queen like her anymore. So after a quick series of events that leaves Wren even more on the outs with the queen, she ends up in another neighboring country (that doesn’t have magic, but has technology) commissioned to heal a patient. Except, that patient is the Reaper of Vesria, Hal Cavendish, and someone that Wren’s queen would love to capture. Which side of Wren is going to win out: the one that needs the queen’s approval, or the compassionate healer?

This one was recommended to me by a customer who shares the same taste in books as I do. And, I really enjoyed it for the most part. When I was about halfway through I described it as a cross between Leigh Bardugo and Mexican Gothic, and it was. There was good creepy plus magic, and I thought it would dissolve into full-on Gothic weird horror. But, Saft didn’t go there. There was a lot of good in the second half of the book, especially between Wren and Hal, but it pulled back and became a (admittedly good) treatise on the futility of war. Which isn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I wanted from where the first half of the book was taking me.

Even so: it’s a good book and a standalone (though I suppose we could have more adventures of Wren and Hal), which is always refreshing. A solid debut.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

by Janae Marks
First sentence: “The day I turned twelve, I was certain it’d be my favorite birthday yet, but then I got the letter.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It talks about wrongful imprisonment, but in a very age-sensitive way. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, but would probably be good up through 6th or 7th grade.

Zoe is just a normal twelve-year-old: she likes hanging out with her friends, she lvoes baking, and she just wants to enjoy the summer (even though she’s currently fighting with her former best friend and neighbor, Trevor). Then, on her birthday, she finds a letter from her biological dad, Marcus, whom she’s never met, because he was arrested and convicted of murder before she was born.

Curious, she opens the letter, and then decides — against her mom’s will — to write him back. They start a relationship of sorts and when Zoe asks why he’s in prison, Marcus says he is innocent and was convicted wrongly. That sets Zoe off on a hunt to prove to herself — and her mother, and possibly the world — that Marcus is who he says he is. Along the way, she gets an internship at a bakery and learns a bit about that world, and makes up with Trevor.

It’s a very sweet little book, this (no pun meant with the baking, though I do wish there was a recipe for the Fruit Loop cereal cupcakes in the back) story of a girl getting to know her biological dad. Marks finds a balance with the parents — Zoe isn’t trying to replace her stepdad, whom she calls “dad” — but she does want to know this person who, up until this point, was just a sperm donor. I liked that Marks brought out that the prison system is not always about justice: Marcus had a bad lawyer, yes, but Zoe’s mother was also convinced that because the system found Marcus guilty that must have meant he was. We’re all so conditioned to believe that, and I appreciate that Marks explained that it’s not true in a way a younger kid could understand. I liked that Zoe had a good support system of adults around her, but that she also gets in trouble when she does things that, well, a kid would get in trouble for.

It was a very charming book, and one that is dealing with heavy subjects — like wrongful imprisonment — but not in a heavy-handed way. I truly enjoyed it!