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] kaberett
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. )
coffeeandink: (Default)
[personal profile] coffeeandink
X-posted from my journal.

Although this novella makes an interesting attempt to engage with the social constraints of the time in a more realistic manner than many Victorian-set romances, it founders on inconsistent characterization and on a gender subtext greatly at odds with its surface. Despite some genuinely moving aspects -- particularly the heroine's delayed emotional reaction to traumatic events in her past and the hero's painful relationship with his frail and increasingly senile father -- the story fails for me due to disquieting elements in the central romance.

Cut for length and spoilers; trigger warning for statutory rape )
[identity profile] muse-books.livejournal.com

UK Cover
"She's not real, honey, she's only an idea. I made her up." - St John Fox to Daphne Fox.

It is 1938 and the celebrated American novelist St John Fox is hard at work in his study until his long absent muse wanders in. Mary Foxe is beautiful, British and 100% imaginary. She is in a playfully combative mood, accusing him of being a villain, a serial killer. For St John Fox has a predilection for murdering the heroines of his tales and Mary has returned determined to change his ways. She challenges him to join her in a series of stories of their own devising. However, it isn't long before St John's wife, Daphne Fox, becomes suspicious of Miss Mary Foxe and a most unusual love triangle ensures.

Framed by this interplay between Mr & Mrs Fox and Miss Foxe are a nine short stories that flit through time and place. Foxes naturally feature prominently in this exquisite novel and the cover art for the USA edition makes this clearer with its anthropomorphic foxes while the UK cover, with its elegant 1930s motif, is more ambivalent. I actually liked both for different reasons.

US Cover
Oyeyemi draws on myth, fairytale and fable from various lands with special emphasis upon Bluebeard and his English equivalent, the were-fox Reynardine. Oyeyemi weaves these into the fabric of her central story and tales with the skill of a true storyteller. There are also themes linked to creativity and the relationship between artist and muse.

This was a book that I fell in love with from its first page and remained enchanted throughout. So much so that I was quite happy to revisit it immediately via its audio edition. The beautiful writing of the novel was further enhanced by Carole Boyd's rich voice and range of character voices. This is one I cannot recommend highly enough to those drawn to works of magical realism and this kind of tale of animal transformations and re-told faerie tales. This is the third of Oyeyemi's four novels I have read and each has been memorable though overall I found this the most accessible to date.

Endicott Studio Article on Bluebeard - Page 2 on Mr. Fox/Reynardine.

Helen Oyeyemi's 'Mr. Fox' page at Picador - includes links to her 'fox thoughts' and the opening chapter.
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
11) Monster by A. Lee Martinez

At this point, I could probably copy/paste the review I've written of the past three Martinez novels I've read here. Martinez's fantasies are lightweight, fun, irreverent, and formulaic. I enjoy his formula a good deal, and I enjoy the way I can just have that pleasure without thinking too hard. I'll keep reading his stories.

This one specifically is about a monster-hunter working for the equivalent of animal control in a city with frequent infestations of fantasy monsters. If you think that concept sounds like fun, you'll enjoy the story.

12)Black, White, and Jewish by Rebecca Walker

Walker is the daughter of (black) author Alice Walker and (white and Jewish) civil rights lawyer Mel Leventhal. She was born in Mississippi at the height of her parents' civil rights struggle. She describes herself as a "Movement Child", whose interracial makeup was a deliberate and direct challenge to the racism that surrounded her parents. In many ways this memoir tells the coming of age of a girl who was born as a social experiment. I feel queasy making this comparison, but it reminded me of Ishiguro's dystopic novel Never Let Me Go. At the minimum, it's being narrated by a woman who always seems unsure and a little afraid that the reason she's writing this story is because it was the story she was born (and maybe designed) to write.

Her parents divorced when she was still a child. Her father moved to New York and her mother to San Francisco and she split her childhood between coasts, between parents, between lives. It's reasonably stress inducing, but again, her parents were intellectuals affiliated with the Civil Rights movement and they knew they were fating their daughter to this kind of split existence (though they thought they would be together to give her more stable guidance). The thing I found most fascinating about Walker's narrative is the way she seems to be pushing up against the 'expected' narrative of an interracial childhood, seeing if she can fit into it or if she needs to invent new narratives.

Walker's prose is gaudy and overwritten and not helped by artsy section headers that grab random lines from the chapters that follow and turn them into incomprehensible pull quotes. I think this added to my sense that the novel compared to Ishiguro. It felt like a novel more than a memoir, and Walker's life is interesting enough that a straight recitation of the facts and her impressions of them would have held my attention. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with her schmaltzy, vaguely spiritual musings on memory as an abstract concept. Those parts of the story held no value for me and were generally skipped or skimmed.

But as I said, the story and her impressions of it are enough of a story to hold my interest. Walker writes of experiencing an incredible range of growing up experiences and how much context shaped her experience. When she was among black people, the specific ways she felt part of their community and the specific ways she felt isolated are sharply detailed, and the same thing comes in her vivid descriptions of her experiences in white communities. And many of her stories are interesting and compelling even without the frame of reference of race, stories of growing up, learning about sex and sexuality, learning about family history, learning how to learn.

tags: mexican-american, biracial, african-american, jewish, fantasy, memoir, a: martinez a lee, a: walker rebecca
ext_939: Sheep wearing an eyepatch (skywardprodigal Cog Flowers)
[identity profile] spiralsheep.livejournal.com
13. The Young Inferno by John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura is a verse retelling of Dante's Inferno embedded in a picture book. I liked Kitamura's stark, black and white, art style but in the art-as-storytelling stakes it seemed to me to lack variety. It also clashed with one of the text's spelled out messages: "My teacher said, 'You've got a point. Quite right. / It just shows that neither beast nor man / can be divided into black and white.' " Except this is a black and white book in several senses. Agard's verse text didn't work for me as either narrative or poetry. (Note to self: don't read retellings of Christian morality stories unless they're specifically subversive in some way.) However, I'm probably about as far from the target audience of hoodie-clad schoolboys as it's possible to be so who cares about my opinion anyway? I just hope this isn't picked up from the teen, graphic novel, section of the library by a reluctant reader who is consequently discouraged further. Agard writes good poetry but this isn't it. Kitamura's first and second illustrations are both interesting as art, especially the way Our Hero is represented as a negative (in the photographic sense) of himself, but the only illustration which wholly won me over is the fossil landscape in illo 4.

14. Too Black, Too Strong by Benjamin Zephaniah is an extremely powerful collection of individually skillful and soulful poems. Ben is one of the most humane people I've met and it shows through in every word of his work. Most people know him as a Rastafarian lyricist who wrote that "funny" poem about turkeys and Christmas, and maybe as that political poet who refused to accept the Order of the British Empire he was awarded, or that black British man who was bereaved of a family member by police violence (although that describes too many people), but his work is so much more: witty, political, memorial, deeply spiritual, widely literary, and linguistically sophisticated. There are several example poems at my dw journal.

15. Fiere* by Jackie Kay is her latest, 2011, poetry collection. I've loved Kay's writing since the first time I encountered it, years ago. Amongst other forms, she's an extremely accomplished poet in both Scots** and English. Kay's poems aren't generally confessional (in the strictest literary sense of that word) but they do contain enough autobiography that I feel some minimum background aids understanding, and that's provided in the brief blurb on the back. Kay is multiracial, her mother was a Scottish Highlander and her father was a Nigerian Igbo. She was born in Edinburgh and raised by white Scottish adoptive parents. There are two example poems, the ecstasy and the agony of human relationships, at my dw journal.

* "fiere", Scots, meaning "companion/friend/equal"
** Scots, which is primarily related to English, not Scottish Gaelic which is a different language.

Tags: women writers, african-caribbean, black british, britain, british, british-african-caribbean, caribbean, black scottish, scottish, guyanese, poetry, japanese, biracial, multiracial, children's books, sf/fantasy, fiction, guyanese-british, igbo, young adult
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
I swore I wouldn't get behind this year, and look at this. I'm already lagging. I suck at New Years resolutions.

#2: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (translated by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander)

The Devotion of Suspect X )

#3: Villain by Shuichi Yoshida (translated by Philip Gabriel)

Villain )

#4: The Other Side of Paradise: a Memoir by Staceyann Chin

The Other Side of Paradise )
[identity profile] jinian.livejournal.com
Despite the usual YA book-cover problem, I just bought a book with a young black woman on the cover, and she really is a character of color! The book is The Agency: A Spy in the House, by Y.S. Lee, and my further comments about the character's race are minor spoilers.

Read more... )

Overall, I liked the book. As the author says, having an academy for disadvantaged girls and a secret organization of women spies are good wish-fulfillment to combat the knowledge of the actual crummy roles available to women in the Victorian era, and if the romance wasn't all that believable the preponderance of female characters, their variety of relationships, and their story-driving agency outweighed that for me quite thoroughly.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
Sarwat Chadda, Devil's Kiss

The Knights Templar are still present in modern-day London (though there's not many of them left), and they have a secret mission to fight the forces of evil: vampires, ghouls, ghosts, and so forth. Billi's dad, Arthur (a white British Christian), is the head of the Knights Templar, and ever since her mom (a Pakistani Muslim) died as a result of the Templar's work, he's been cold and closed off to her, focused only on the mission. Billi feels pressured to follow in his footsteps and join the Templars, but she wants her own life, her own friends, and for her dad to pay attention to her.

I really liked this book; it's fast-paced, with an exciting plot (involving the Ten Plagues of Exodus), and interesting characters (including appearances by the Angel of Death and Lucifer), and some genuinely scary moments. I was a bit confused by the fact that everyone in the Templar has a name from the Arthurian legends, some of which are names you would expect to see in modern London (Arthur, Kay) and some which you wouldn't (Gawain, Percival). But this patten is never mentioned in the book, and Arthurian legends have nothing to do with the plot, so I didn't understand what was up with that. There's a sequel that's just come out that I haven't read yet, so maybe it plays a part in the next book.

My favorite parts were moments when the characters dealt with issues regarding Knights Templar in the modern world. For instance, there a long-running argument between Arthur and Gwaine on emphasizing the "demon fighting" aspect of their mission over the "killing people of other religions" part of it. It's mentioned that Billi was raised as a Muslim, but had to convert to Christianity to join the Templars. This isn't a major part of the book, but for me, it made the whole thing feel much more real. I would have liked more exploration of how the Templars have changed and adjusted to the present, actually. Again: maybe in the sequel!

A fun read, and one I recommend.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
45. Tonya Cherie Hegamin, M+O4EVA

A very short YA novel, but one that really packs a punch. O (Opal, a young black woman) and M (Marianne, a mixed race woman) have been best friends (and sometimes more than that) since they were babies, the only two who understood each other in their rural Pennsylvania town. But now it's their senior year of high school, and they've been growing apart. Their story is interwoven with a old tale they heard from their parents, about a ghost who haunts a nearby ravine, the spirit of an escaped slave woman.

This book is hard to describe because I don't want to give away a major event that happens near the beginning. But it's excellent, a story about growing up and growing apart, grief, love, family, and the choices that people make. The writing is beautiful and powerful. I highly, highly recommend seeking this one out.
ext_150: (Default)
[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Number of Pages: 167 pages
My Rating: 3/5

When a pipe bursts during Ana Shen's middle school graduation, flooding the field and cutting the ceremony short, it doesn't seem like things could get any worse. Then comes the announcement that the gym is flooded, too, and the graduation dance is cancelled. The dance was going to be Ana's big chance to tell Jamie Tabata she likes him before they go their separate ways for high school, but when her best friend Chelsea ends up inviting Jamie and his family over to Ana's for a graduation dinner, it looks like there might be hope after all. Assuming Ana can keep her grandmothers' rivalry from ruining everything.

I'd seen several reviews for this on [livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc and wasn't really that interested, but after reading and loving Flygirl, I decided to give some of Smith's other books a try. This...is definitely no Flygirl. It's cute enough, and it's nice to see a biracial main character (or any character!) who isn't half white, but I wasn't wowed or anything.

I really think the book could have used a lot more editing. Most of it is fine, but it starts to fall apart at the ending, which seems really rushed, plus has a couple of chapters that don't really fit. At one point her grandfather starts telling a story and instead of just making it quick or summarising, we actually get a random flashback chapter in his POV about the event he's relating. We also get a few paragraphs in one of the grandmothers' POV towards the end, in a story that has otherwise been very tight third person with only one POV. It just seemed sloppy.

Also I was really excited about the story being set in LA at first, but it ended up being more frustrating than anything because the author gave all sorts of conflicting details. The kids have gone to school together since kindergarten, yet for some reason they all go to an elementary school in a totally different zone than where they live. (One person going to a far away public school might have some excuse, but not a whole class.) Then the high school mentioned is not the high school that middle school feeds into. Neither is it the high school she would actually be going to for where she's supposed to live. Which being less than a mile from the beach would be Santa Monica and she'd go to SaMoHi, not Uni (also everyone keeps saying University High and I'm sorry but I have never heard anyone call it that; it's Uni). Plus the author gives a freeway exit that they're supposed to live near, which is not less than a mile from the beach, either.

I really don't know what she was thinking. The jacket flap says she lives in LA, so it's not just that she didn't know what she was talking about. It's like she wanted to use real names of stuff, but didn't want to be specific, so she ended up taking bits from all over. If you don't want to be specific, then either be vague or make up names of school and stuff. But if you're going to be specific then you have to get your facts right!

Of course most of the people reading aren't going to know or care, but it really took a lot of fun out of it for me.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
26. Faith Adiele, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun

Faith is the daughter of a Swedish mother and a Nigerian father; she grew up in a small town in the Midwest. She is smart, motivated, and involved, and her drive to succeed gets her a scholarship to Harvard, where she is involved in social work in addition to her classes.

And the pressure quickly causes her to fail and drop out.

This book is a memoir, mainly focusing on the time Faith spent in Thailand, where after leaving Harvard she went to work on an Anthropological research project about the status of women, particularly Buddhist nuns. Faith eventually decides to live as a nun herself for a season. The book jumps around in time a great deal, following a chapter about daily life as a nun with one about Faith's childhood, and then with another about prostitutes in Thailand's big cities. This style sometimes made things a little hard to follow, but it also was great for focusing on thematic issues instead of narrative. Another thing I disliked was that the book is published in a style that has quotes from scholars, Buddhist practitioners, and Faith's journal along the edges of the pages, making it look more like a textbook than a memoir.

However, I did like this book a lot. It's written in a style that accommodates both people who know nothing about Thailand or Buddhism with those who have more knowledge. Faith's comparison of the pressure and the succeed/fail mentality of Western culture against the more internal processes of Thai Buddhism are also pretty insightful, although they can be a bit simplistic at times. I really enjoyed her descriptions of meditation and mindfulness. She is a very vivid writer, and very readable. I really enjoyed this book.

Also recommended: If anyone is looking for more recommendations of books by POC, I really liked this podcast/blog post. Three African-American women talk about books they like. Not all the books mentioned have POC authors, but many do. Plus, though I'd never listened to this podcast before I stumbled on it today, these guys are really funny.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
23. Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, Skim

This is a graphic novel about Skim, a Japanese-Canadian teenage girl dealing with her parents' divorce, her rough relationship with her best friend, the suicide of another student, learning about Wicca, and oh, yeah, falling in love with her female teacher.

A lot of other people have reviewed this book, and I don't really have much to add. The art was gorgeous, plain black and white lines that went from sparse to lush. The story-telling is excellent, particularly in its use of silence, or understatement, to capture emotion. And personally, I really identified with Skim's interest in Wicca; I was totally that teenage girl.

Overall, a really lovely, quiet book, though one that didn't involve me too emotionally.

24. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

I read this back in January and forgot to review it, so I will try to remember what I can. This is a nonfiction pop book about first impressions- why we get them, how they form, how they affect our thinking, if they're right, etc. It's an interesting topic. Gladwell's careful to look at both sides of the argument: when subconscious reactions are good, because there's not enough time to think a question through; and when they can be very, very bad- he examines the case of Amadou Diallo, a black unarmed man who was fatally shot by police officers.

Overall, this was a fun, informative book. I gulped it down in one sitting over an afternoon, so it's not a deep thought book, but one I enjoyed reading.
[identity profile] vegablack62.livejournal.com
The Color of Water: A black man's tribute to his white mother.
James McBride.

James McBride's mother, a white Jewish girl who grew up in the Segregated South, went over to the black side, as she put it.  She had a romance with a young black man at a time and in a place where that could mean death and ultimately moved to Harlem, married a black man in 1942, embraced his faith, married another after the first died and raised twelve black children.  A strong personality who described herself as light skinned, she was a woman of faith and practicality and driving belief in education who raised her children to see themselves as black Christians in a largely hostile white world and pushed them to succeed in that world. 

McBride places his own memories of growing up next to his mother's monologue about her own life.  This is very effective.  Both stories are interesting and engaging and illuminate each other, encouraging thoughtful reflection on race, class, religion, identity, family, and the effects of abuse.  I loved the depiction of both McBride's father and stepfather.  The nuances in McBride's picture of his mother's family that he gained by his research was also quite interesting.  The book is full of powerful personalities that I wanted to know more about, especially his older brothers and sisters and their activities for the civil rights movement.

There's a lot I could quote from the book, but I found one paragraph that shines a quick light on the way white and black relate in this country and on the life and personality of McBride's mother herself.  She had been hurt by the new minister of the church that she and her husband had founded forty years before.  He had "treated her like an outsider, a foreigner, a white person, greeting her after the service with the obsequious smile and false sincerity that blacks reserve for white folks when they don't know them well or don't trust them, or both.... Ma was so hurt she resolved never to go back there again, a promise she broke again and again, braving the two-hour subway and train commute from her home in Ewing,  New Jersey, to sit in church, the only white person in the room, a stranger in the very church that she started in her living room." 

 I thought this was a great read.

ETA: I found this quote on Wikipedia which amused me: "I thought it would be received well in the black community but it's sold much better in the white Jewish community," he said. "Most of my readers are middle-age, white, Jewish women...."

[identity profile] chipmunk-planet.livejournal.com
Someone recommended this book here (couldn't find the rec by searching the tags and today is a busy one), so I got it, and I'm really glad I did.

This is a memoir of a biracial (Finnish/Igbo) American woman, the daughter of immigrants, who, depressed and failing at Harvard, decides to go to Thailand, where she had gone as an exchange student in high school. While studying women's issues in Thailand, she decides (on the urging of her Thai advisor) to become a maichi, a Buddhist nun.

The thing about Thailand is that you can become a monk or a nun for a time, then leave whenever you like. Faith spends one Lenten season with the maichis, and although she went more as an anthropologist than anything else, you get the impression that she left the temple profoundly changed.

This is a fantastic book, one that I'm going to be rereading a lot. Highly recommended.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
15. Alice Randall, The Wind Done Gone

This book is, in a way, fanfiction of Gone with the Wind. I remember the huge controversy when it first came out (long story short: the copyright holders of Gone with the Wind sued to prevent publication of this book), but I hadn't read it until now.

It's an absolutely gorgeous book. The language is really lovely, poetic and often dream-like. The story is about Cynara, the mixed-race daughter of Mammy and the half-sister of Scarlett O'Hara. There's a great deal of intersection with and reinterpreting of the events and characters of Gone with the Wind (I haven't read that book, though I've seen the movie a few times, and didn't have a problem following along). The narration skips around in time a great deal, mainly following Cynara's life in Atlanta and Washington D.C. after Rhett Butler leaves Scarlett at the end of Gone with the Wind, but with large portions dealing with memories of events from her childhood or young adult life. It can be depressing and bitter, but the book ultimately ends on an optimistic note, due to the politics and changes of the Reconstruction Period that Cynara participates in.

I thought the best part of the book was its depiction of the emotional and psychology effects of slavery. Cynara, as the daughter of a plantation owner, is relatively sheltered from many of the physical effects of slavery (she is not whipped, she does not work in the fields, her father makes a bit of an attempt to protect her from sexual abuse), but it is still absolutely clear what devastating consequences it has had on her life. In particular, the four-way relationship between Cynara, Mammy, Scarlett, and Scarlett's mother is complicated, heart-breaking, and (I thought) insightful.
[identity profile] icecreamempress.livejournal.com
Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting! by Sandra Tsing Loh
(New York: Random House, 2008; ISBN-13: 9780609608135)

Orange County: A Personal History by Gustavo Arellano
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008; ISBN-13: 9781416540045)

I happened to read these books right next to each other, and it was an interesting juxtaposition. Both writers use wit to underscore their social observations and critiques; both have wide-ranging media presences, from public radio to the Huffington Post to the Los Angeles Times. And both were writing about a particular California experience.

California here we come )
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
Somehow - I don't remember how - The Miracle at Santa Ana caught my eye, and was on my mental list, at least, for this challenge. And then, browsing the biography shelves at one of the public libraries to which I belong, The Color of Water caught my eye. Santa Ana is now most definitely on my list.

Every so often you see an interview question - or an internet meme - that asks what books have stayed with a person throughout their life.

I hope that this is one of mine.

I hope that what I think I've learned from reading this book stays with me: that God is the color of water; that there's always more to someone else than you think. I hope that the lyricism, the simple beauty of McBride's writing stays with me. I hope that the image of Ruth McBride, riding her bike through Brooklyn, tall and proud and indomitable, stays with me.

Read more... )


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