Monthly Round-Up: June 2021

This month was graphic novels and non-fiction, which is an interesting mix for me. It was a good mix, because I read some really good books this month My favorite, though, was this one:

Important, yes, but also very, very good.

As for the rest:

Young Adult:

Stormbreak

Graphic Novel:

Firefly Legacy, volume 1
Firefly Legacy, volume 2
The Girl from the Sea

Adult Fiction:

Parable of the Talents

Non-Fiction:

Anthropocene Reviewed
God Save the Queens (audio book)

What was your favorite this month?

The Girl from the Sea

by Molly Knox Ostertag
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some kissing. It’s in the teen/adult graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I think younger kids who don’t mind a romance would like this one.

Morgan lives on a small island, where she has a good group of friends. However, this summer things are changing: her parents just got divorced, and Morgan has come to realize that she’s hiding a huge part of who she is: she’s gay. She figures just make it through high school, and get away from the small island town, and then she can live her Real Life.

Except the universe has different plans: Morgan meets Keltie, a strange girl with some secrets of her own. As the two girls get to know each other, things change a lot faster and a lot more than Morgan is ready for.

I have really enjoyed Ostertag’s other graphic novel series (there’s a third one I haven’t read yet) and this one is just as delightful. She captures the feelings of feeling isolated and different and wanting to feel like they fit in. She captures first love and trying to make it work with someone who is very different from you are. I adore her art and I think it works really well with the story she’s crafted.

Definitnely a real winner.

Stormbreak

by Natalie C. Parker
First sentence: “The fire crawling through Lir’s veins had started hours ago and was only getting worse.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Seafire, Steel Tide
Content: There is a lot of violence, some graphic, and some off-screen implied sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Steel Tide, obviously.

Caldonia has defeated the evil overlord Alric, though her arch nemesis, Lir, has gotten away. She has opened her city to Bullets if they want to detox from their drug, Silt. She is doing well, all things considered. But, Lir is not letting it go, and attacks Caldonia’s city setting her on the run, again. She needs to end this once and for all, reclaim the Bullet Seas, stop the reign of terror. But will her plan work?

There really isn’t much to say about this book that hasn’t been said about the series as a whole. It’s got a ton of action, and Caldonia is making tough choices for her crew and fleet. It’s amazing seeing a woman command the role of commander so fully and so easily; she has a crisis of conscience now and again, but she never doubts that she is the one in charge. And her crew and followers support her. It’s incredible to read.

Parker is great a writing action, as well. The battle scenes are packed and the whole book kept interesting in continuing reading. I enjoyed that it wasn’t just Caldonia who got character arcs, but rather that her whole crew felt real.

It’s really a good series.

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.