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.

Mister Impossible

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “When they came to kill the Zed, it was a nice day.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Call Down the Hawk
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs.It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I saw a virtual event last fall for Swamp Thing in which Maggie said that writing a graphic novel helped her writing overall, made it tighter and more streamlined. And that it affected the way Mister Impossible was written. And you know what? She’s right. Mister Impossible is a tight, streamlined ride. There is action and tension and mystery and reveals, and maybe she’s not all up in the feels with Ronan and Adam, but it all works. In fact, I would say that this one, while it’s the middle in a series, is one of her best books, overall. (Not my favorite, but definitely one of the best.)

I’m not going to go into the plot because spoilers, but know this: it’s a great book. It’s full of Stiefvater-ness (chapter 13! So many little turns of phrases here and there!) and I love the magical world she’s built. And there’s really no “bad” guy — just competing good intentions. What does one do when your good intention is in conflict with someone else’s?

And the end? Let’s just say that waiting for the last book in this trilogy is going to be agonizing.

I love Maggie’s work, yes, but this one? This one is truly excellent.

Otto P. Nudd

by Emily Butler
First sentence: “‘Otto, you’re splendid,’ mumbled Bartleby Doyle.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Full disclosure: the author is a friend of a friend, and I am friends wtih her on social media.
Content: The font is pretty large and there are illustrations on every chapter header. There is some talk about parent deaths. it’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Otto considers himself a Very Intelligent Bird. He was raised in captivity by Bartleby Doyle, but the Old Man (as Otto calls him) has let Otto go free, to make a nest nearby. Otto still comes and helps Bartleby with his inventions, but he really just wants to make sure the neighborhood is in order. This means he’s not very nice to the other birds and animals. However, when Bartleby has an accident, and Otto can’t get in the house to push the emergency button, Otto is forced to turn to the “lesser” birds and animals in the neighborhood to help him out.

I am sure there is some animal-loving second- or third-grader out there who is just perfect for this book. Butler has a very chatty style and is often very humorous in spots. Otto — and Marla the squirrel and Pippa the girl – is an interesting character to hang with for a while, and there is a very delightful birds vs. raccoons skirmish at the end. The book has a nice lesson about making amnends and resitution for wrongs (even if it is just hurt feelings).

But this just didn’t rise above the level of “just fine” for me. And I get it: I am definitely not the target audience. (And, to be honest, I wasn’t when I was in third grade, either.) That doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. It’s just not one for me.

Namesake

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “My first dive was followed by my first drink of rye.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Fable
Content: There are a couple of mild swear words and some insinuations to off-screen sex. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Fable, obviously.

Fable has been kidnapped by Zola, a merchant/mercenary and rival to both her father, Saint, and her lover, West. It turns out she’s been kidnapped for one reason: as a ransom for Zola to gain favor with Holland, the most powerful trader in the Unnamed Sea. But, as in Fable, everyone is playing a long game, and nothing is as it seemed. And so Fable and West find themselves as pawns in a game they don’t quite understand but have to read.

Much like Fable, this is a lot of fun. I liked the world that Young has built, with its ships and traders and gems and dredgers and a very very slight bit of magic. I liked that Fable was able to hold her own against people more powerful than she (except the end, in which people come in and save her, which was slightly disappointing). I didn’t get much in the way of the romance that was so central to the story — and I kept getting annoyed that West would go out of his way to “protect” Fable, when she really didn’t need it. IN the end, though, they worked better as a team. I do like Young’s world building though, and I wouldn’t mind following other stories set here.

In the end, it was fun, which is really all I wanted out of this one.

Seed to Dust

by Marc Hamer
First sentence: “The swifts have left the bell tower and are on their way to Africa.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are three f-bombs scattered throughout, and some mention of abuse. It’s in the gardening section of the bookstore.

For lack of a better description: this book is a lovely homage to gardening and being a part of the earth. Following the months of the year, Hamer talks about his work as a gardener for a country estate in the west of Wales, for a “Miss Cashmere”, an elderly lady he has been tending the gardens for many years. Each small essay is a thought about plants, life, the connection we have to the earth, the weather, literature and poetry… Hamer’s writing is a gift. Both practical — I learned things about gardening! I will probably change a few things I do, like pruning back and cleaning up in the fall, instead leaving it until spring– and lyrical — I loved the way he talked about watching the sun rise, and the changing of the seasons, and how autumn is a season of sadness. He also reflects on his life — it wasn’t easy, with an abusive father and being unhoused for several years — and marriage — I loved his descriptions of his wife.

It’s one of those books you can dip in and out of; it doesn’t really have a narrative the pulls you through, but I think that’s okay. It’s a a meditation of sorts on the joys and sorrows of being alive, and it left me a bit teary in the end. I’m so very glad I read this one.

State of the TBR Pile: May 2021

Here we are, the monthly check-in on what’s on my beside table. I don’t always read everything there, and sometimes I do a complete overhaul (I’m thinking it might need one soon). But, I do like putting things on there, that were interesting to me at one point or another. And maybe I will actually read them! (Also thinking there’s a lack of AAPI books right now. And another recent inventory of my shelves showed a lack of Latinx books. Hit me up with some good suggestions for either one of those!)

My pile:

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon
Otto P. Nudd by Emily Butler
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson
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 are you looking forward to reading this month?

Audio book: The Bad Muslim Discount

by Syed M. Masood
Read by: Pej Vahdat & Hend Ayoub
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There was some swearing and references to sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Anvar Faris was a child in Karachi, Pakistan, but when unrest started to affect his city, his parents decided to immigrate to the US. They landed in the San Francisco area, where Anvar met the love of his life (Zuha, at least I’m hoping I spelled that right), and realized that no matter how much his mother tried, he was not going to be the kind of Muslim that she wanted him to be.

Safwa grew up in war-torn Baghdad, with a conservative father who was taken and tortured by the US soldiers. She fled, leaving her ailing brother to die alone, something her father could not forgive. They ended up in Afghanistan, where they meet a opportunistic young man who gets Safwa and her father passports to Mexico, and from there they come to the US, ending up in San Francsico.

This book is less about the plot — though there is some tension between Safwa and her father and the young man (whose name I don’t think I could spell, having only heard the audio) and Anvar and Zuha help, in the end. It’s much more an exploration of how people live their religion (or don’t) and the reasons behind what they do and why the do it. Safwa’s father is strict and abusive, but how much of that is his beliefs and how much of that is the abuse he suffered at the hands of the US? The young man is angry and manipulative, and how much of that is his religion, or is it the circumstances of growing up in war-torn Afghanistan? Anvar is lax in his religion, but how much of that is laziness and how much of that is a serious questioning of religion His other brother is strictly faithful, but how much of that is because he believes and how much of that is putting on appearances? It’s an interesting exploration.

It’s also a good look at the variety that Islam has. I think too often, especially here in the US, we tend to paint Muslims as all one thing, when in reality (um, much like every other religion) there is a spectrum.

At any rate, the writing is good, and the narration was thoroughly enjoyable. I liked this one a lot.

Sky in the Deep

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “”They’re coming.'”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s violence, off-screen sex (a brief mention), and a couple of mild swear words. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

Eelyn was raised to be a warrior: her people, the Aska, have had a generations-long feud with a neighboring clan, the Riki, where they meet in battle to honor this feud (which, to be honest, didn’t make much sense?). Eeyln lost her brother in the last battle, five years ago, and has mourned him ever since. Except in this battle, she sees something she didn’t think she would: her brother, alive, fighting alongside the Riki. It shakes Eelyn to her core, and is part of the reason why she ends up captured by the Riki and taken prisoner/hostage/slave. However, there is a larger threat — a bigger, more vicious tribe to the north — and it’s up to Eelyn to put aside her pride and help join the Aska and the Riki for their own survival.

I liked this well enough. I enjoyed the Norse-ish elements, and the world that Young has created. She’s not great at the romance, though: this is a problem with all the books I’ve read by her (which is almost all of them, now). She tries to do a slow build up, enemies to lovers here, but it really just comes out of nowhere. All of a sudden characters are kissing and professing undying love, and I’m like: where did this come from? But that’s just me.

And that’s really my only complaint. I liked the book as a whole. It was a fun, quick read, and Young is a talented world-builder. It’s worth checking out.

Monthly Round-Up: April 2021

It must be spring: I read more this month! At least that’s what it felt like. Maybe it’s because I got my second vaccine (yay!) and I’m feeling hope (even though cases are rising here, again). Maybe it’s just because the weather warmed up. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I’m finding joy in books again.

My favorite this month:

I love Jenny Lawson’s writing: it’s hilarous and honest and just a lot of fun. Highly recommend this one on audio, especially.

And the rest:

Non-fiction

Dying of Whiteness
Why Peacocks?
On Juneteenth

YA

Cemetery Boys
Elatose

Adult Fiction

People We Meet on Vacation
Parable of the Sower
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

What were your favorites this month?

On Juneteenth

by Annette Gordon-Reed
First sentence: “Texas, perhaps more than any other state in the Union, lives in the public imagination as a place of extremes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s short, and there’s nothing objectionable. It does lean toward the history/memoir. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

This one ended up in my box at work (which meant someone there saw it and thought “Ah, Melissa will like this”) so I decided to give it a shot. But, before I could, Russell stole it off my TBR shelf because (I guess?) he knows Gordon-Reed’s work and was interested. His verdict? It’s a great little book of essays, though it’s really less about Juneteenth and more about how Texas is a microcosm for the US as a whole.

And he was right. In these five short essays, Gordon-Reed looks at growing up in Texas as segregation was ending, its history with slavery and the Confederacy, and, yes, what Juneteenth meant to her family growing up. It’s a quick read, but a fascinating one. It’s part memoir, part history, and interesting.

Definitely one to add to your piles.