wild_irises: (Default)

The Summer Prince

[personal profile] yatima has been carrying all the water around here, and shouldn't have to.

Earlier this week, I finished Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince. I have had this book by my bed for months and months and months. I would pick it up, read some, like it, and then get distracted. Finally, I decided it was too good for that kind of treatment and got serious about moving through it.

It is an excellent and fascinating book, even though it never really grabbed me. The worldbuilding is awesome and the depiction of the inner lives of teenagers, affected by the different world they live in and nonetheless completely recognizable as the teenagers of our times, is especially well done. The The prose is beautiful and the evocation of the city is outstanding. The setting is a post-apocalyptic Brazil and effectively everyone is (from our perspective) PoC; Johnson explores class divisions and to some extent national divisions, but the key cultural rift she explores is age.

I can't quite figure out why it didn't have momentum for me, and I expect that will be different for other people. I found it well worth the comparatively slow going, and will probably re-read it at some point. 

yatima: (Default)
[personal profile] yatima2017-08-12 04:07 pm

F. C. Yee, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, 2017

Australians of my generation have a particular reason to be fond of Journey to the West and it is the gloriously daft Japanese adaptation that was replayed endlessly on after-school TV. (For many queer Australians of my generation, myself included, Masako Natsume, the woman who played Tripitaka, is a pivotal figure in our secret lives.) The Monkey King resurfaces in Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel American Born Chinese, one of the books that taught my younger kid to read. (I was especially touched when in Yang's book, the three wise men who attended the birth of Jesus turned out to be Monkey and his friends Sandy and Pigsy. I'm a sucker for good crossover fanfic.)

All this to say that The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is yet another delightful take on Journey to the West, this time set in the hyper-competitive high schools of the Bay Area. Monkey is now Quentin, a handsome, short, brilliant and very annoying teenager who kept reminding me of Miles Vorkosigan, in a good way. Genie herself has a surprising connection with him, but is a three-dimensional character in her own right, with a sense of honor and complicated relationships with her parents and friends. Her efforts to balance college applications with supernatural obligations had a Buffy-ish resonance, and the various Gods and demons showing up in modern America will please Neil Gaiman fans. I found this a quick and enjoyable read.
yatima: (Default)
[personal profile] yatima2017-08-12 03:41 pm

Sherman Alexie, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, 2017

"Welcome to the Middle-Aged Orphans Club," writes Sherman Alexie, and as a middle-aged orphan myself, I did feel welcome, and seen, and understood. In July, Alexie cancelled part of his book tour because of complicated grief and being haunted by his late mother: "I don’t believe in ghosts," he writes. "But I see them all the time." Me too, brother.

Like Bad Indians, this is an intricate quilt of a book, part memoir, part poem, part dream. It's hard to imagine how it could be otherwise. The loss of a parent is a loss of meaning. For indigenous people, this is doubly true. Lillian Alexie was one of the last fluent speakers of Salish. Her death robs her son, and the world, of an entire universe.

This book, like Hawking radiation, is an almost-undetectable glow of meaning escaping from a black hole. If you haven't lost a parent yet it might be too much to bear, but if you have, it might feel like joining a group of survivors around a campfire after a catastrophe.

IN AUGUST 2015, as a huge forest fire burned on my reservation, as it burned within feet of the abandoned uranium mine, the United States government sent a representative to conduct a town hall to address the growing concerns and fears. My sister texted me the play-by-play of the meeting. “OMG!” she texted. “The government guy just said the USA doesn’t believe the forest fire presents a serious danger to the Spokane Indian community, even if the fire burns right through the uranium mine.”

...“Is the air okay?” I texted. “It hurts a little to breathe,” my sister texted back. “But we’re okay.” Jesus, I thought, is there a better and more succinct definition of grief than It hurts a little to breathe, but we’re okay?
yatima: (Default)
[personal profile] yatima2017-08-01 11:47 am

Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting In Real Life, 2017

(Content warning for child sexual abuse)

Samantha Irby is seriously funny in a way that, ironically, makes me frown and try to analyze exactly how she's pulling it off in such a sustained way. Part of it is that she is hashtag relatable as heck:

What I really wanted to do was pull a blanket over my head and listen to Pearl Jam’s No Code on repeat while eating snacks and pretending to be searching for myself all day (fuck, that’s all I want to fucking do now), but I couldn’t find anyone willing to pay for that shit.

Fifty out of the 168 hours of my week are spent mad because work is interfering with all the Internet articles I’m trying to read

Part of it is sheer discipline: tight writing with a point so sharp you almost won't feel it slide in.

You could tell how much the bride’s parents loved her by the quality of the food.

My parents, as I can’t stop reminding people, ARE DEAD.

So yeah, dizzying technical prowess and ferocious wit, but that's not even the thing. It's the writing on the deaths of her parents - unsparing, un-self-pitying - that will stay with you long after the last page. Get into Samantha Irby now, so that when she blows up into the megastar she's destined to be, you can say you knew her when.
yatima: (Default)
[personal profile] yatima2017-07-26 11:56 am

Hilton Als, White Girls, 2017

I loved the first essay in White Girls so much that I fully became that obnoxious person monologue-ing about the book I was reading while my poor friends were just trying to drink their pinot grigio in peace. Hilton Als is a staff writer and theatre critic at the New Yorker, and I think I was expecting an ironic, distanced New-Yorker-contributor voice like Peter Hessler's in River Town or Katherine Boo's in Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, both of which I enjoyed very much. But Als writes like a man in love, about being a man in love, and that first essay especially just destroyed me.

By the time I met him and longed to be his wife, SL sometimes described himself as a lesbian separatist. No man could have him.... His gifts were road maps to our love, the valley of the unconditional.

The conceit of the title is that queer Black men are like white girls in all our fucked-up-ness and yearning for the full citizenship we are never granted. Ever since my first 50books challenge in 2009, it's been an article of faith for me that Black men and white women and people of color generally and queers of all stripes and all the others have no chance unless we make common cause, in the deep sense of seeking to understand one another's inner lives. To have that conviction reflected back to me is a true gift. I am inexpressibly grateful to this book and I press it into your hands.
yatima: (Default)
[personal profile] yatima2017-07-23 10:54 pm

Deborah A. Miranda, Bad Indians, 2012

Bad Indians opens with a line so good I'm angry I didn't write it myself: "CALIFORNIA IS A STORY. California is many stories." Deborah Miranda is a member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation, and this angry, loving book takes a knife to all the lazy and superficial versions of the California story. Of the history unit all Californian fourth graders (including my own two daughters) are required to take, Miranda writes: "[T]he Mission Unit is all too often a lesson in imperialism, racism, and Manifest Destiny."

A nonlinear collage of prose, poetry, pictures, transcriptions of interviews and more, Bad Indians can be hard to follow, but the effort pays off when the events of Miranda's life take their place in a precisely drawn and nuanced historical context. "The original acts of colonization and violence broke the world, broke our hearts, broke the connection between soul and flesh. For many of us, this trauma happens again in each generation," she writes. And: "I love my father. I hate my father. He died alone, in a hospice facility."

This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about the indigenous peoples of California, their present and their possible futures. Strong content warning for descriptions physical and sexual abuse of children, among many other horrors.
yatima: (Default)
[personal profile] yatima2017-07-22 03:01 pm

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History, 2016

Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is one of the best things I have ever read. His latest book, The Gene, shares the former's wealth of capsule life histories that draw out the deep humanity of his subject. Ironically, though, given its subtitle, The Gene feels less personal and immediate than its predecessor.

Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher, and where his description of cancer is a front line soldier's portrait of a respected nemesis, The Gene is more of a flyover survey of an emerging science. I learned a great deal about the origins of Genentech and Celera and the genetic underpinnings of sex and orientation. That said, the passages about his family - his paternal uncles and their mental illnesses, played out against the backdrop of Partition; the relationship between his mother and her identical twin - are as wise and lyrical as anything Mukherjee has written.

It's a long book. As is my habit with formidable non-fiction, I listened to it on Audible. Shoutout to narrator Dennis Boutsikaris for bringing this complex material to life.
yatima: (Default)
[personal profile] yatima2017-07-21 05:40 pm

Yoon Ha Lee, Machineries of Empire, 2016

(Hi! I'm new here. Let's jump in.)

Kel Cheris is a gifted mathematician underemployed as an infantry officer. Shuos Jedao is the technological ghost of a genocidal general. Together, they fight crime, where "crime" is defined as heresy against the calendar. In Yoon Ha Lee's brilliant device, a calendar is a social contract from which physics - and hence, weaponry - flow. Calendrical heresy disables these weapons and thus undermines the power of the state.

If you love bold, original world-building, reflections on colonialism, and complicated relationships between clever protagonists who have every reason to distrust one another, you'll eat up the Machineries of Empire series as avidly as I did. If military SF and n-dimensional chess sound like a bit of a slog, see if you can stick with it anyway. The language and imagery are utterly gorgeous, and these very timely stories have a great deal to say about complicity, responsibility, and the mechanisms of societal control.
brainwane: My smiling face in front of a brick wall, May 2015. (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane2017-04-14 12:25 pm

Colson Whitehead, "The Underground Railroad", 2016

I read The Underground Railroad in 2016. I thought it was engaging, moving, and accessible,* and I nominated it for a Hugo Award (Best Novel).

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun reviewed Underground Airlines as well as The Underground Railroad in Strange Horizons and discussed several aspects of both books. That review mentions speculative elements in Whitehead's book beyond the railroad mentioned in the title, in case you are wary of spoilers.

I have read John Henry Days, The Intuitionist, and I think at least one other Whitehead book, and am trying to reflect on how Whitehead approaches and uses the railroad, because I think it's different than the way a lot of speculative fiction authors do, and has more in common with how other mimetic fiction authors tend to use speculative premises. I want to compare The Underground Railroad to Never Let Me Go, where the story doesn't concentrate on (or, sometimes, even mention) the origin story of the big plot premise, and instead the story is entirely about the lives of people living or resisting -- just for themselves, to survive or thrive -- within that system.

* I think Whitehead deliberately works to make the book accessible to people who have not previously read slave narratives, fictional or nonfiction -- I think he spells out subtext more often than he would if he assumed the reader had more of a grounding in antebellum history or the history of anti-black racism in the US.

3.06 Bronwyn Bancroft, W is for Wombat, My First Australian Word Book, 2008

Bronwyn Bancroft, W is for Wombat, My First Australian Word Book, 2008

This books is 26 bright pictures of individual Australian animals. It’s really for babies, rather than kids and my children ho-hummed it.

3.05 Sally Morgan, Bronwyn Bancroft, The Amazing A to Z Thing, 2014

Sally Morgan, Bronwyn Bancroft, The Amazing A to Z Thing, 2014

This picture book is illustrated with Bronwyn Bancroft’s trademark bright colours and contemporary Aboriginal art. The kids liked it a lot more than the muddy art in the previous picture book I mentioned (Annaliese Porter's The Outback),

It is basically an ABC as anteater tries to find another Australian animal to be interested in her surprise. None of them will look at it. My children guessed that it might be a game but it was really a book.

They liked the final page, where all the animals admire the book. My three year old also liked the ‘H’ page where the Huntsman spider was counting its legs. She had a go as well, and got to six.

3.04 Annaliese Porter, The Outback, 2005, illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft

3.04 Annaliese Porter, The Outback, 2005, illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft

This book was written by an eleven year old girl from the Gamilaraay group, which is really neat. I praise her for her accomplishment. I expect she is the youngest published author in Australia.

However, I must say that I could not get my kids to read this book. The prose was too complicated for them and the illustrations were rejected as ‘yucky’ and ‘brown’. It’s rare for them to totally refuse a book but this one I could not read to my target audience (aged five and three).
kaberett: A drawing of a black woman holding her right hand, minus a ring finger, in front of her face. "Oh, that. I cut it  off." (molly - cut it off)
[personal profile] kaberett2014-04-17 02:28 pm

Dia Reeves' Bleeding Violet

This came into my possession via the latest Humble Ebook Bundle, and I am so glad it did. This is how glad I am: I am about two-thirds of the way through it and I can't wait to finish before I tell you all how good it is.

The protagonist, Hanna, is sixteen, manic depressive (and explicitly, canonically prefers that descriptor to "bipolar", Because Reasons), and Finnish-"island girl" (Hawaiian?), raised (for most of her life) in Dallas. She describes herself as biracial and bicultural, and she's bilingual in English and Finnish - and the codeswitching is genuinely plausibly represented.

The dude she ends up hanging around with a lot is the same age, Latino, and bilingual in Spanish and English - again, really nicely represented.

The story takes place in creepy smalltown Texas. It's sub/urban fantasy and abusive parents and a critique of the medical-industrial complex and teenagers having (complicated, not always happy) sex lives all tied up in tight, funny monster-killing brilliance. It's lovely.

Content notes. )
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean2013-12-10 12:45 pm

Marjorie M. Liu's Hunter Kiss series, with giveaway

I've just finished reading Marjorie M. Liu's four "Hunter Kiss" urban fantasy novels. They are very fun, but I am short on shelf space so I'd like to give them to someone else who'd like to read them. Any takers? Just leave a comment saying you'd like them, and I will pick someone by random selection, and contact the winner by comment and private message. I'll do this after noon next Sunday, December 15, Eastern Standard Time. It doesn't matter where in the world you live, but I would like to dispose of all four at once -- if you've already got one of the novels, let me know which and I'll put that one up on Bookmooch, but I'd like to send at least three together.

What's it about? -- Maxine Kiss is the latest in a matrilineal line of demon slayers, the Hunters. Her job is to fight demons who possess humans in order to create and feed on pain and anger. The demons she meets have slipped free from the Prison Veil, behind which they were trapped after an epic battle thousands of years ago. The only exceptions (cue ominous music) seem to be the five demons allied to the Hunter, who hunt with her at night and during the day are trapped on her body as protective living tattoos. (Yes, this is really awesome.)

Hunters are supposed to wander the earth as strangers, without establishing relationships that could make them vulnerable, but Maxine broke with this tradition when she met Grant, a really sweet (but muscular, of course) former priest who runs a homeless shelter in Seattle. Grant has strange magical powers; with his voice or flute music, he can heal physical and psychic wounds and even persuade demons to lead a more ethical life. Maxine was not brought up to be anything other than tough and merciless, so Grant does pretty much all of the emotional nurturing in their relationship, a reversal I quite enjoy.

There's also a large cast of entertaining secondary characters -- morally ambiguous demons, really nasty demons, Maxine's mysterious-but-charming grandpa, etc.

As the series goes on we learn more about how the demons became imprisoned and what happens if they get out; I'm not super keen on this part because I'm really in it for the violent fluff (Liu is great at describing demons eating things), but there's definitely ongoing plot.

If you're curious, book #4 answers a lot of questions and tentatively wraps up some situations, but Liu is writing another Hunter Kiss novel now. There are also, I think, two novellas and a short story about Maxine. I've read one, "Hunter Kiss," which was published in an anthology (but is also available separately as an ebook) before the novels. It is more of a romance than the novels and explains how Maxine and Grant met, but I don't think it's as good as the novels.

My reviews on Goodreads:
0.5. Hunter Kiss
1. The Iron Hunt
2. Darkness Calls
3. A Wild Light
4. The Mortal Bone
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean2013-09-21 04:06 pm

Anuja Chauhan, Battle for Bittora

[personal profile] deepad has organized a reading club for novels by Anuja Chauhan, with copies of The Zoya Factor, Battle for Bittora, and Those Pricey Thakur Girls circulating by mail. (Other reactions to these books collected by [personal profile] deepad.) I've just read Battle for Bittora, wherein Jinni, a young woman who's been working in advertising and keeping her distance from her famous political family, winds up in a MP race against her childhood best friend. Here's my review (originally posted on Goodreads):

Battle for Bittora is very more-ish -- I barely put it down since I took it out of the mailbox yesterday afternoon. It also made me laugh out loud a lot. I'm not sure I've ever read a book about politics before that was so much fun.

I love stories that go into gory details about some kind of work or play that the author is clearly familiar with. Here it's political campaigning (and, in the beginning, a little bit of commercial animation). I found that my limited knowledge of Indian political history and electoral issues wasn't really a problem, and as to election mechanics, well, the well-justified cynicism I grew right here at home was perfectly sufficient.

The political campaign is the first mover of everything in this novel, with a romance and a grandmother, mother, and daughter's story following closely to the same quick music.

As to the romance, I was a little dubious at first because of Zain's rather aggressive treatment of Jinni, but quickly won over. Your mileage may vary but I thought there was a nice balance between "they are destined for each other for so many reasons!" and the sense that Jinni is defined by much more than whom and how she loves. (skip spoiler)
I think Chauhan resolved it very nicely -- post-election resentments dissolved; accusations of betrayal determined to be not unfounded, but equally applicable to both; prospects of excellent complementary political teamwork established. And she left them plenty of things to argue about, which I'm sure they will need.

The three generations of Pande women are wonderful. I loved reading Jinni's interactions with Pushpa Pande, which even more than the romance are the beating heart of the story: loyalty, exasperation, experience, defiance, the limits of sympathetic understanding, the secret limitlessness of love. All with plenty of humor.

The Ladies Finger perfectly describes how Anuja Chauhan is funny: "The woman has many levels of humour. Situation, one-liners, gags, man-hits-tomato-cart and just beautiful knee-deep absurdity." It is really impressive how much humor she could fit into this novel, which after all has a lot of serious stuff: Jinni witnesses all kinds of suffering, injust situations, and even violence which will sit heavily on her shoulders should she win the election -- and then there's the ongoing portrayal of political life which deals with this responsibility mainly by empty campaign promises -- plus lots of Issues like sexism in campaigning and Hindu-Muslim tensions -- and then (skip spoiler)
the death of a major character
But it is funny, and mostly tastefully and inoffensively so (at least from the perspective of this non-Indian, can't-read-the-bits-that-aren't-in-English reader*).

All this, and Chauhan also manages to include plenty of great minor characters, some of whom have real depth. My favorites are campaign funds manager Gudia aunty (so much more than the rather insensitive comic relief I first pegged her as) and crack team member Munni (her cynical competence! her anger!).

In short -- the funniest, most thoughtful, sweetest, and overall best chick-lit novel I have ever read.

* The humor I had the most complicated reaction to was the very first scene, in which Jinni's gay coworker is horrifying her with his theory that all her favorite superheroes are gay. On one hand, adorable, comics fandom on page 1! On the other hand, eek, being grossed-out is not a good reaction, Jinni! On the foot, I shouldn't be a hypocrite, my own first reaction to slash fanfic was much like Jinni's.

But this turned out not to count for much because then Pushpa Pande swept into the building and I was hooked.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean2013-09-11 02:02 pm

Yangsze Choo, The Ghost Bride (2013)

[I'm so sorry for not posting on here more! I haven't been reading as much this year, but I have read other books that qualify, and I hope I can manage to catch up.]

Seventeen-year-old Li Lan has barely begun to think about her future when her father unthinkingly passes along a rather insulting request he's received from the powerful Lim family: will Li Lan marry their recently-deceased son?

Of course not. Li Lan doesn't want to be an instant widow; her father says it's superstition. Nevertheless, she soon finds herself caught up in the old and new entanglements between her family and the Lims, which exist not only in waking life, but in her dreams, and in death. And though she's uncertain of her own strengths and ignorant of the workings of all of these worlds, the actions she takes to protect herself thrust her deeper into a complex supernatural conspiracy.

The rest of my review -- one spoiler hidden with spoiler code )

01. The Attack ~ Yasmina Khadra

Copied from my book review blog.

The Attack by Yasmina Khadra is a book I stumbled across by chance in the local library when I trotted down with a list of recommended books by people of colour from my friends as part of my reading challenge. My library is frankly woeful and I didn't find anything on my list but while looking I noticed this author. I figured the name sounded like it might be that of someone of colour so plucked it out and found I was correct. I then bothered to actually read the blurb on the back and it sounded exactly my sort of thing. I then noticed there was another Khadra book on the shelf and picked that up as well. I'm yet to finish that but it is turning out to be just as wonderful as this.

Read more... )
originally posted here

Natsuo Kirino, The Goddess Chronicle (trans. Rebecca Copeland, 2013)

X-posted from my journal. Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

When they decided to marry, the siblings and gods Izanami and Izanaki built a huge pillar and then circled it in opposite directions. Izanami, the woman, spoke first, and because of this their first two children were monsters. They circled the pillar again and this time Izanagi spoke first, and their next children were the eight islands of Japan. Izanami ultimately died of burns from giving birth to Kago-Tsuki, Fire. The grief-stricken Izanagi sought her in the land of the dead, but he was too late: Izanami had already the food of the underworld. Against Izanami's pleas, Izanagi lit a fire and saw that his dead wife was now a rotting corpse. Izanagi fled the underworld in horror, blocking the entrance to the underworld with a huge boulder. Izanami vowed to take a thousand lives a day in revenge, and Izanagi replied that he would then create fifteen hundred to make up for it.

After this, Izanagi gave birth to Ameratsu (the sun goddess) from his left eye, Tsukuyomi (the moon god) from his right eye, and Susano-o (the storm god) from his nose.

Natsuo Kirino's retelling, the latest book in the Canongate Myths series, preserves the gendered cruelty of the original story: women continue to pay prices men do not. Izanami dies in childbirth; for Izanagi, childbirth is painless. The unequal dualities of Izanagi and Izanami, male and female, life and death, sacred and profane, repeat in the story of two sisters, hereditary priestesses on a remote island. The elder, Kamikuu, is trained to be priestess of the day, the side of the island where the villagers live; Namima is the impure one, the priestess of the night, meant to watch over the bodies of the dead.

Namima narrates the book from the underworld. Death is the price she pays for violating ritual laws at the behest of her lover, who prospers after her death; their daughter is condemned to Namima's own role. Namima manages to free her daughter of this fate, posthumously; it is her only victory. Satisfied with this prize, she accepts her fate:

And I, who was once the priestess of the darkness, feel that serving here at Izanami’s side I am able to accomplish what I was unable to finish on earth. For, as I said earlier, Izanami is without doubt a woman among women. The trials that she has borne are the trials all women must face.

This is a bleak book, where the only hope for women is what they can do for each other, and even that seldom serves them. It is not any bleaker than Kirino's mystery novels, which also feature doubles, opposites, rivalries between sisters or friends, and women who are associated with the hidden, the unacknowledged, the unwanted aspects of the body. Prostitutes, factory laborers, caretakers for the elderly: Kirino's characters are defined by society as impure; they are sin eaters and scapegoats.

The Goddess Chronicle lacks the depth and complexity of those mysteries, possibly because it has a single narrator, whereas the mysteries have four viewpoint characters at minimum. Their stories contradict and support each other. Namima is unusually reliable for a Kirino narrator, and it can't be attributed to her afterlife; in this underworld, the dead see no more clearly than the living do. Men abandon their responsibilities with their memories; women, even goddesses, simply endure.

3.02 Nadia Jamal and Taghred Chandab, The Glory Garage: Growing Up Lebanese Muslim in Australia (200

This collection of journalistic essays about life as second generation Lebanese Australians is really interesting. It would be great for a school library as the collection is accessibly written and eclectically covers a variety of topics.

My only quibble is that some of the essays are about the experiences of the authors while others are the result of interviews but the essays are not marked to show this distinction. It would be helpful if there was a header on each essay giving a very general overview of who was interviewed.