Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan

New York Times  bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS. 

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: homophobia, AIDS, suicide attempt

This book. Oh, I have all the feelings for this book. Let’s start with the fact that I read this entire book in one sitting. In about two and a half hours. And I cried almost the entire time. Seriously, I started crying within the first five pages, and although I cry a lot when I read, it’s usually at the end of the book, not at the beginning.

The book starts out with the “Greek Chorus” of men who were lost to AIDS, written in a poetic and immediately-evocative style. Because I’m me and once I’m interested in a book, I don’t go back and read the blurb when I actually start to read the book, I didn’t realize that this was a sort of framing narrative for the novel. Although I’d assumed the entire book would be written in that fashion, I wasn’t disappointed when it shifted focus onto specific, living characters. All in all, I thought the writing struck that balance between plot-driven and poetic, catching the attention of both readers who appreciated every individual word and readers who focus on the bigger picture.

There were times that I found myself frustrated by the overwhelming focus on gay men, an already-dominant demographic in LGBTQ literature. However, I felt like this book was very clearly the story of gay men, and so the lack of bisexual and lesbian characters did not feel as harmful as it could have been. Two Boys Kissing doesn’t market itself as queer YA but as gay YA. Others may disagree with me, but even though the lack of other queer identities was frustrating, I was ultimately ok with it.

*SPOILER* I think part of why I loved this book so much is because it kept seeming like it would be a sad book, but everything ended on a positive, hopeful note. It’s so important to have books with gay characters who face a lot of the same problems other gay teens face without those problems being sugar-coated. By ending the book on a hopeful note instead of a “happily-ever-after” note, it felt both realistic and positive. *END SPOILER*

All in all, this was an excellent book. The writing is good, the characters are sympathetic, and it is gripping enough to make me read it in one sitting.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner

Bi: Notes for a Bisexual RevolutionBi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner

Depicted as duplicitous, traitorous, and promiscuous, bisexuality has long been suspected, marginalized, and rejected by both straight and gay communities alike.

Bi takes a long overdue, comprehensive look at bisexual politics—from the issues surrounding biphobia/monosexism, feminism, and transgenderism to the practice of labeling those who identify as bi as either "too bisexual” (promiscuous and incapable of fidelity) or "not bisexual enough” (not actively engaging romantically or sexually with people of at least two different genders). In this forward-thinking and eye-opening book, feminist bisexual and genderqueer activist Shiri Eisner takes readers on a journey through the many aspects of the meanings and politics of bisexuality, specifically highlighting how bisexuality can open up new and exciting ways of challenging social convention.

Informed by feminist, transgender, and queer theory, as well as politics and activism, Bi is a radical manifesto for a group that has been too frequently silenced, erased, and denied—and a starting point from which to launch a bisexual revolution. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG-13, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: see review

This book took me a long time to get through, but not because I didn’t like it. I found it absolutely fascinating. The problem was, with school and all, I often found it hard to focus while I was reading it. In those moments, I would call it fascinating, but dense. From the perspective I have now, from having finished it over Thanksgiving break, I recognize that it wasn’t so much that it was dense, but more that it was more similar to the books I was reading for classes than the books I read for fun. So it took me awhile, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

In a way, I’m glad it took me so long to finish this book, because that gave me plenty of time to process. When it comes to ideological stances, I find that I often either accept or reject the whole of the ideology almost immediately. Not so with this book. I found there were things I definitely agreed with, but there were also things that I definitely disagreed with, and there were even things that I was (and am) on the fence about. It wasn’t comfortable, but I’m glad about that. This isn’t supposed to be a comfortable book. It asks tough questions about what it means to be bisexual, and the answers are no more comfortable than the questions.

This book was incredibly user-friendly. Like many textbooks from my primary school days, it highlighted “vocabulary words” right in the text and defined them in a separate box on the same page. This is very handy for people who might not be familiar with feminist and queer jargon. Trigger warnings were placed before the sections of the book that were relevant, even down to the paragraph, and there were additional “warnings” placed at the end of the triggering sections. I absolutely loved this idea, and I wish more writers (or editors?) took this approach. The availability of trigger warnings within the text is why I didn’t include them above (mostly because I’m slightly lazy and didn’t want to look up specific trigger warnings, because many of them were very specific). All I can say is that Eisner covered her bases when it comes to potentially triggering passages.

One aspect of the book that I definitely have mixed feelings about is the type of parallels she draws between bisexuality and other social issues/oppressed groups. While Eisner always makes clear that true parallels really don’t exist, and that one oppressed group isn’t better/worse off than any other (because you can’t compare them like that), she does often compare the bisexual movement to other movements, and she often chooses movements that she has connections to or experience with, such as trans* movements and movements specific to Israel/Occupied Palestine. This is where the mixed feelings come in. It was often hard for me to make the connections, because she used movements that I really have no familiarity with. This frustrated me, but I also recognize that Eisner isn’t an American author, so it wouldn’t even make sense for her to solely use American social movements, not to mention the fact that movements besides mainstream American social movements deserve attention. I recognize that my frustration comes from a place of privilege, and part of me enjoyed learning about social movements that I really had no prior knowledge of. But I was also frustrated quite a bit. Hence my mixed feelings.

Overall, this book is an excellent, both for bisexuals and those who identify on the queer spectrum, but also for feminists and anyone who is open to learning about bisexual issues. Be prepared to be uncomfortable while reading, maybe even angry--but hopefully you’ll take that discomfort the way I did by appreciating how relevant it is to the discussion this book is starting.

Note: I received a free ebook copy for review, but I also purchased a copy when I was financially able to. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

If You Could be Mine by Sara Farizan

In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG-13, 4 1/2 stars
Trigger warnings: homophobia, transphobia, body dysmorphia, child prostitution

This book actually frustrated me quite a bit, but only in the sense that I wanted to reach through the book and shake Sahar several times.  It was very difficult for me to understand how she could be so in love with Nasrin that she would “fake” being trans*, even to the point of undergoing surgery. This frustration wasn’t a bad thing, though. It was fascinating to follow Sahar’s journey, despite how uncomfortable it made me. I also appreciated the fact that the book told the story of a queer teen who isn’t living in White America, which is something that I think a lot of LGBTQ YA does.

This was a really different book for me to read compared with other LGBTQ YA because the culture is so different. It is a contemporary setting non-Western setting, which I think places it in a really unique position. If my memory serves me, this is the first book I’ve read that clearly checks both those boxes. The non-Western-set books I can think of are speculative, and while there is value in building a speculative world around queer culture, I think there’s a different sort of value to taking a contemporary non-Western (and more specifically, a non-American) culture and really delving into what that means for queer-identified characters.

I liked that the setting and overall concept allowed this book to escape so many tropes, not just of queer YA, but of YA fiction in general. This wasn’t a coming out story. From the very beginning, Sahar and the reader know that she is gay. So she isn’t coming to terms with her own sexuality, and the cultural restrictions mean that she can’t safely broach the topic with most of the people in her life. *SPOILER ALERT* I also enjoyed how the book sidestepped the overused YA trope of “protagonist ends up dating forever their first true love.” There are times when I enjoy the trope, but even then I recognize that it’s overused, and it’s so refreshing to see something different. *END SPOILER*

Overall, I just really enjoyed the book. It made me cry (big surprise), and I definitely can’t wait to read the author’s next book.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Open Letter to Quiet Light by Francesca Lia Block

Open Letter to Quiet Light by Francesca Lia Block

Open Letter to Quiet Light will make readers feel as if they are peering at secret writings meant for the eyes of a lover alone, but these carefully crafted lines somehow transcend the personal to touch everyone who has experienced this kind of consuming, wrenching love.

In these fiercely passionate, devastatingly revealing, sometimes spiritual, and often painful poems, Francesca Lia Block describes in fiery detail the rise and demise of a year-long love affair. Her rich use of language infused with the power of sex and spirit finally paint a transcendent, almost mythic portrait of the way two wounded people—both searching for connection—find each other, collide, and eventually separate. The words seem to bleed onto the page and even the most graphic moments have a devotional quality filled with nuanced expression and unbridled intimacy. (Blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: R, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: Sexual content, miscarriage, cancer

So, as part of my honors thesis, my advisor and I have agreed that I’m to read one book of poetry per week. “Book” is to be defined at my discretion, since obviously I can’t read an entire anthology in a week. Most of these books I likely won’t review, because for whatever reason, I find it really difficult to review poetry. However, Francesca Lia Block is definitely an exception, because I love her work.

I didn’t really take a look at what this collection was about before I selected it. I already owned it, and had been meaning to read it, so it struck me as an obvious choice. I’m glad I picked it, for a variety of reasons. First, the book has a loose (very loose) narrative arc, and my thesis poems are (ideally) going to be based around a narrative. It was really interested to look at a collection of poems that was bound by a cohesive structure while not being as confining as a novel in verse. Something I’m struggling with in my own writing is the idea of balancing between poetry and narrative arc, and Open Letter to Quiet Light made me think about possibly loosening the arc of my collection until it is more implied than told, which is something that I think Block really excelled at in this collection. At all times, I was able to follow the developing relationship without feeling like I was bogged down by the connections between each poem.

At first the book surprised me with it’s sexual content, but I’m really not sure why--it’s not new to me that Block’s writing can be sexually charged, even her poetry (see my reviews of Nymph and Fairy Tales in Electri-City). If you’re already familiar with much of Block’s work (though admittedly more than Weetzie Bat), the sexual content won’t be much of a surprise. For those who are new to Francesca Lia Block, there’s sex, quite a bit of it, in fact.

My one complaint with the collection is that when writing about sex, some words just aren’t poetic, and in certain contexts, they even took me out of the poem a little bit. I’m not exactly sure what she could have done to prevent that besides being less direct, and I did like the directness--so often erotic poetry is wrapped up in innuendo and subtext, and sometimes it’s nice to have everything out in the open. Still, those moments did pull me out of the poetry a little bit.

Un-poetic wording aside, however, I did enjoy this collection. I found myself underlining a lot of particularly enchanting lines or phrases, which is always a sign of love with me and poetry. For fans of Francesca Lia Block, this collection is a must-read.

PS--Sorry for the lack of an update on Wednesday. I’m considering cutting back to one post a week, but hopefully I’ll get a backlog of reviews ready to go soon.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Update

I have no review to post today. The school year has started back up in full swing, and I just don't have time to read like I would like to. Or should I say, I have plenty of time to read poetry for my thesis, but I have a really hard time reviewing poetry, so that doesn't really help me. Maybe near the end of the semester I will do a long post about all the poetry I read for my thesis. Maybe.

For now, I thought I'd do a post about writer's block. Specifically, the kind of writer's block where you have so many ideas that you don't know where to start. My honors thesis is a collection of poetry, and I'm working with historical documents. This means that I have an unending supply of inspiration, and that nearly every time I sit down to write, I'm starting fresh. What I'm finding that means is that I have so many general ideas with no ideas of how to start or, for some, how to articulate them. Example: I know I want to do a poem or poems on the idea of taking on a persona and what that means personally and culturally. But that's all I know, and that's a very intellectual way to start a poem. And so I haven't (yet).

This is a situation that I've never really been in before, and I'm interested in seeing how my thesis develops around this problem of having too many ideas and no starting points. I suppose I'll post updates whenever I don't have a review ready to go. :)

Until next time!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

Two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Havaa, eight years old, hides in the woods and watches the blaze until her neighbor, Akhmed, discovers her sitting in the snow. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, and there is no safe place to hide a child in a village where informers will do anything for a loaf of bread, but for reasons of his own, he sneaks her through the forest to the one place he thinks she might be safe: an abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. Though Sonja protests that her hospital is not an orphanage, Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: R, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: violence, torture, sexual assault, sex slavery

I’ve tried mentally writing this review several times, but I keep getting caught up in, “AAAAAH, it’s so beautiful.” Seriously, this novel captivated me with it’s writing, and with the way it wove everything together. I love novels that leave me actively wondering how everything is connected until, one by one, pieces start falling into place, and I am able to draw conclusions, not because the author is sloppy, but because it’s completely intentional. I love this book so very much.

I will admit, though, that for as much as I loved this book, there were moments I was confused. I’m not sure if this a weakness of the book or merely a moment where my education is lacking: I really felt like I was missing so much context for the situation in Chechnya. For the first few chapters, I kept double-checking the year the book was set, because I was so surprised that things in Chechnya were that bad in 2004 and I had never heard about it. Again, that could easily just be a problem with my education, but it was disconcerting to feel like I had no contextual background.

I really admire the way that Marra wove together so many threads from the lives of different characters into a whole tapestry. Throughout the first half of the novel, there were many times when I wondered where everything could possibly be going, and then miraculously it came together to paint a lovely and sad whole picture. Where I writing an analytical paper on this book, I might write paragraphs about how his well-rounded characters capture the human condition and reveal the ties between all of us. But since this is just a review, I’ll leave it at that.

I wish there was more I could form into cohesive thoughts, but I’m still too emotionally close to this book. If you can handle violence, including sexual violence, and have even the remotest interest in literary fiction, I urge you to read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. It truly is a beautiful book.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Back to School Time!

Sorry for the lack of updates this week. I'm back at school now, and the settling into a new routine + schoolwork and actual work really kicked my butt this past week. Have no fear, updates will resume as normal on Wednesday. :) Until then, I hope everyone is able to find something lovely to read!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG-13, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: death, war, mentions of miscarriage and abortion

Oh this book, where to begin? I suppose I could start with the fact that about 20 or so pages from the end, I started crying and didn’t stop until well after I had finished. I didn’t anticipate this being a crying book (and I cry a lot when I read. Actually, I just cry a lot in general), and I’m still not completely sure why it emotionally impacted me so strongly, but I’m glad it did. I always consider it a form of praise if a book elicits a visible emotional reaction from the reader. Letters from Skye succeeded in that many times over.

As you might be able to guess from the title, Letters from Skye is a novel told entirely in letters. It certainly isn’t the first novel to do so, but it’s definitely the most well-done of the ones I’ve seen. This works so well in part because the voice is so genuine. Brockmole did an excellent job of writing characters with distinct and different voices. As an American, Davey uses different vocabulary from Elspeth, and since Margaret spent most of her life in Edinburgh, her letters have less of the Scottish highlands language than Elspeth’s do. The writing style took me straight into the time period, and the different letters took me from Chicago to Skye to London.

The period details worked especially well at not making the story overly sentimental. As a hopeless romantic, this book checked all the right boxes for me, and with its World War era atmosphere (the commonness of writing letters, the sense of urgency in relationships), I didn’t feel like any of it was over the top. This is a love story, so if romances aren’t your thing, this might not be a good choice for you. However, it isn’t sappy or overdone.

I think my biggest disappointment with Letters from Skye is that it isn’t a true story. The language was so real, and the characters felt so alive, that there were times when I almost convinced myself it was true, that Brockmole merely found a trunk of letters somewhere and compiled them into a book. In addition, there was one letter that I thought was borderline unrealistic. By the end of the letter, I though the details included were justified, but it still seemed a little like maid-and-butler talk. That’s only one letter out of a whole book, though--hardly worth noting.

Fans of historical fiction and romance novels are likely to enjoy Letters from Skye, and do to the skillful writing, I also recommend it to those who favor literary fiction. Or everyone. That works, too.

PS--A big heck yeah to all the reviewers who wrote their reviews as a letter. I wanted to, but I’m very particular about keeping my format. :P

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wild, Weird, and Wonderful by F.W. Glasier

Wild, Weird, and Wonderful by F.W. Glasier

In both glory and grit, these remarkable photographs give us the American circus during the most vibrant period in its history, capturing both the intensity of the routines and the spirit of camaraderie of the performers. Glasier's work was unique in many ways, not the least of which was the offhand elegance he allowed his subjects, even the wonderful animals. His striking portraits make us recall the sober and revealing work of August Sander. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG, 4 stars
Trigger Warnings: racist/ableist language

There’s probably going to be an influx of circus-related books on the blog, as I’m writing an honors thesis about the circus this coming school year and have to do lots of research. I was really excited when I found this book, because it covers the time period I’m working with (turn-of-the-century) in photographs. It’s surprisingly hard to find old photos of the circus, particularly the kind of photos I want from the time period I want.

These photographs were all really cool, and the captions, when possible, gave a lot of details about the who, what, where, when, and why of each photograph. It was not at all a text-heavy book, but it’s a good companion to reference books and books like Queen of the Air, which I hope to read and review in the near future.

In the captions there is some language that could be considered racist or ableist. I appreciate the efforts to keep early 1900s circus jargon intact, but I did wonder sometimes about the manner in which that was done.

If you have any interest in circuses, or even turn-of-the-century Americana, this book is worth a look through. It won’t take too long, and the photographs really are a fascinating look at daily life for circus employees of that era.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. (Blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: death, nightmares, animal death

This book was amazing, and I hope I’m actually able to get my thoughts down in a coherent manner, because really my reaction is: dskdkdsfsldsfjkfdjfgjdsfjldskfddsfjksogood.

For starters, I loved the fact that we didn’t know the narrator’s name. This is a narrative technique that doesn’t always work, but here it did, partially because it just made me picture Neil Gaiman as the narrator, and he really worked as the narrator.

I loved the way the story unfolded, from the set up at the beginning, to the unfolding of past memories, to the surprising conclusion (a conclusion which I definitely will not be spoiling). The story’s structure left me surprised but not confused or left behind, which can be challenging to do.

I think the unnamed narrator is someone that many readers can relate to--he is an avid reader himself, and that influences so many of his decisions. Because most of the book takes place when he is a child, this characteristic felt realistic and not like a cop-out, which I think would have happened if the narrator, as an adult, was still referencing books all the time.

I loved Lettie and her family. I loved their toughness and their timelessness. I loved that we never really get clear answers about the Hempstocks and what they do, what they’re there for. I loved their farmhouse.

I even loved the shortness of the book (bear with me here). It’s not that I wanted the story to end, because I certainly didn’t, but there’s something romantic about short, powerful novels. And from my own experience, brevity is challenging. It’s easy to fill 400 pages, much harder to cut that down. Kudos to Gaiman for writing such a brilliant little book.

Ugh, this review feels so...lacking after my initial emotional reaction to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Just read it. You won’t regret it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Quiverfull by Kathryn Joyce

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

Kathryn Joyce's fascinating introduction to the world of the patriarchy movement and Quiverfull families examines the twenty-first-century women and men who proclaim self-sacrifice and submission as model virtues of womanhood—and as modes of warfare on behalf of Christ. Here, women live within stringently enforced doctrines of wifely submission and male headship, and live by the Quiverfull philosophy of letting God give them as many children as possible so as to win the religion and culture wars through demographic means. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG-13, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: misogyny, domestic abuse, religious abuse

After being fascinated by the culture of the Westboro Baptist Church in Banished, I thought I’d give Quiverfull a try to look into the Christian patriarchy movement. This is a movement that gets surprisingly little attention, despite its increasing numbers and downright subversive potential. Quiverfull did an excellent job of satisfying my curiosity about this movement.

One thing that I loved about the book was the sheer number of interviews that Joyce managed to get. By using direct quotes from those within or formerly within the Christian patriarchy movement, Joyce not only gave herself more credibility, but I felt that the book was more balanced. Clearly, the author did not agree with the movement, but I also didn’t feel like she was just ranting against it the whole time. By providing quotes from people on both sides of the movement, I felt like the author left some room for the reader to come to their own conclusions.

I was also intrigued to see detailed reasons for why the Christian patriarchy movement believes what it believes. Through the interviews and Joyce’s own research, I was exposed to the biblical passages that these families most often follow to the letter, along with interpretations of what those passages mean in today’s society. It was nice to get all that background information laid out in such a detailed manner.

I do think the title of the book was a bit misleading, since not all Christian patriarchy families also follow the quiverfull philosophy, and there are only a few chapters that discuss the quiverfull lifestyle. I would have been interested to hear more about that, but the lack of information and interviews there may have been outside the author’s control.

I think this book could be triggering for anyone who has had particularly nasty experiences with organized religion, particularly with Christianity. There are several women interviewed in the book who discuss being advised to “fix” a marriage by being a proper wife even when their husbands were abusive. The book is also chock-full of misogyny from those in the movement--the evils of feminism are brought up several times in both interviews and quotes from pamphlets and books from within the movement. Joyce herself is clearly feminist, and these sexist notions come from the movement and not the author.

I recommend Quiverfull to anyone who is concerned about extremist Christianity or who is merely curious about American Christian culture and the different forms it can take. Quiverfull is a fascinating glimpse into a culture that is all the more interesting because I disagree with its tenants so much. It is a well-researched and gripping read.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea

Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachusetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they're somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic.

Could Sophie Swankowski be that girl? With her tangled hair and grubby clothes, her weird habits and her visions of a filthy, swearing mermaid who comes to her when she’s unconscious, Sophie could be the one to uncover the power flowing beneath Chelsea’s potholed streets and sludge-filled rivers, and the one to fight the evil that flows there, too. Sophie might discover her destiny, and maybe even in time to save them all. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG, 4 1/2 stars
Trigger Warnings: OCD/Compulsions, alcoholism, animal death, neglectful parents, bullying

I’m not going to lie: this was a fairly dark book. It was gritty; it was dirty (and I don’t mean smutty; I mean there was a lot of dirt in the book). But for all of that, I found it surprisingly hopeful, and not just in the sense that it ended on a hopeful note. What I mean is that this book gave me hope for the future of humankind.

Despite the magical realism present in Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, I felt that Sophie’s destiny really resonated with a lot of things that are actually happening in the world today.  Sophie’s job is to, in a manner of speaking, rid the humanity of its darkness, of the sorrow and hatred and violence. Reading that, I thought of the bees that are dying from the use of pesticides and fungicides, America’s problem with gun violence, the violent revolutions currently taking place in South America and the Middle East. For some reason, the idea of an almost-high schooler taking the plunge to save us all despite her doubts and fears and the fact that she’s fighting her grandmother gives me hope for the future. Maybe it’s the fact that the solutions to these problems will likely come from today’s youth. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I should move on to a different point before I get super-political.

The first couple chapters of Mermaid in Chelsea Creek were a little slow, and I almost didn’t finish the book because of it. However, I’m definitely glad that I did, and the pacing does pick up a few chapters in.

I loved the references to the Polish language and culture. I come from a very Eastern-European family, and you really don’t see a lot of that heritage showing up in contemporary (or even historical) YA novels. It seems to me that whenever “heritage” is important to a character, it’s English, French, Irish, Italian, etc. (Taking a moment here to check my white privilege. Eastern Europeans may not show up as much in books as Western Europeans, but I know it’s more than those of non-European descent). I loved seeing phrases in Polish. I loved the shout-out to immigrant culture and the pain of losing language and culture.

While reading, I encountered phrases and passages that reminded me of Francesca Lia Block’s writing, which for me was great, because I love that writing style. It isn’t for everyone, but I can imagine that fans of Block or magical realism in general will have no problems with the writing style.

I’ll admit I was slightly disappointed to realize that this wasn’t a self-contained book. It’s not that I don’t want to read more, because I really do. I just get a little tired of so many YA series/trilogies/etc. Speaking as a writer, self-contained works are a greater challenge, at least for me, and I’m dying to see more in the market. can bet your ass that I’m going to read the sequel when it comes out.

I put quite a few trigger warnings at the top of this review. Quick breakdown: Sophie’s best friend is a germaphobe who scrubs her skin raw when she feels dirty (this happens a lot due to the places in Chelsea that she and Sophie frequent). There is a character who is an alcoholic, although his page-time in the story is minimal. Several animals die towards the end of the book. Sophie’s mom, while she certainly isn’t abusive, is not particularly affectionate towards her daughter. In many instances this is noted by a lack of compassion and understanding coupled with neglect. There is a scene where Sophie confronts some boys who bully her. I can’t recall if there were any insinuations of a sexual nature, but I think there might have been (I already returned to the book to the library, so I can’t look it up. :/). Despite the numerous trigger warnings, I really do consider this book to be quite hopeful. I whole-heartedly recommend it, and I can’t wait for the next book.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Banished by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer

Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer

NOW A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER You've likely heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. Perhaps you've seen their pickets on the news, the members holding signs with messages that are too offensive to copy here, protesting at events such as the funerals of soldiers, the 9-year old victim of the recent Tucson shooting, and Elizabeth Edwards, all in front of their grieving families. The WBC is fervently anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti- practically everything and everyone. And they aren't going anywhere: in March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the WBC's right to picket funerals. 

Since no organized religion will claim affiliation with the WBC, it's perhaps more accurate to think of them as a cult. Lauren Drain was thrust into that cult at the age of 15, and then spat back out again seven years later. BANISHED is the first look inside the organization, as well as a fascinating story of adaptation and perseverance. 

Lauren spent her early years enjoying a normal life with her family in Florida. But when her formerly liberal and secular father set out to produce a documentary about the WBC, his detached interest gradually evolved into fascination, and he moved the entire family to Kansas to join the church and live on their compound. Over the next seven years, Lauren fully assimilated their extreme beliefs, and became a member of the church and an active and vocal picketer. But as she matured and began to challenge some of the church's tenets, she was unceremoniously cast out from the church and permanently cut off from her family and from everyone else she knew and loved. BANISHED is the story of Lauren's fight to find herself amidst dramatic changes in a world of extremists and a life in exile. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG-13, 3 stars
Trigger Warnings: emotional abuse, familial abuse, religious abuse, homophobia

The Westboro Baptist Church is pretty well-known today as an organization that pickets funerals and spews hate and negativity, particularly targeted at gay people. When I heard that a former member of the "church" had written a memoir of her time with the organization, I was really interested in seeing what she had to say.

I have to say, I love how balanced the book was. Of course, Lauren Drain left the WBC for a reason, so the book wasn't completely unbiased, but I thought that she painted a compelling picture of her state of mind while she was still in the WBC and how that deteriorated over time. I appreciated recognizing the abuse of her father even while she was explaining how she justified his words at the time.

I also liked being able to the members of the Westboro Baptist Church as people and not just picketeers. I vehemently disagree with everything they stand for, but I appreciated seeing their good sides as well as the bad. Humans are complex creatures, and it is easy to forget sometimes that even people we disagree with are good and bad.

I was particularly intrigued by Drain's portrait of the leaders of WBC. For example, before reading this book, I had no idea that any of the Phelps had jobs outside of the WBC. It didn't surprise me to find out that most of them were lawyers, however.

Due to the nature of the Westboro Baptist Church, the book may be upsetting or even triggering to those on the LGBTQ spectrum, survivors of emotional abuse, those who have had bad experiences with organized religion, and those who are or know people impacted by Westboro Baptist Church's pickets, especially those with ties to 9/11. Even so, the book is a fascinating read for anyone who is curious about the Westboro Baptist Church and would like a rare inside perspective.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Copper Girl by Jennifer Allis Provost

Copper Girl by Jennifer Allis Provost

 Sara had always been careful.
She never spoke of magic, never associated with those suspected of handling magic, never thought of magic, and never, ever, let anyone see her mark. After all, the last thing she wanted was to end up missing, like her father and brother.
Then, a silver elf pushed his way into Sara's dream, and her life became anything but ordinary. (blurb from Goodreads)

 Rating: PG-13, Did not finish
Trigger Warnings: stalking

 I tried to make it through this book for the sake of my review, but I just couldn't. I feel like there's a lot of potential in the story, but the writing just didn't live up.

 First of all, I don't know why, but I was under the impression that it was a YA novel. It most certainly isn't--for starters, the protagonist is definitely not a teenager, and a few pages into the book, she takes her underwear off while eating lunch in her office's courtyard. Definitely not YA (also, don't get me started on my hatred for the word "panties").

 In the first chapter, I felt jerked around by not knowing what time or place we were in. Sara starts off at a normal job, then there's a mention of robots, and then the magic comes into play. I don't necessarily want everything on the table when I start a book, but I like having some details to understand the world, and I simply didn't get that. By the time I did get some answers, they came in the form of Sara, as the narrator, interrupting the flow of action to explain things, in italics, to the reader. That sort of telling is forgiveable once, in my opinion, but it happened in the second chapter, too, and this time it carried on for over a page on my e-reader (it could be different in a printed book).

 Starting in the second chapter, I ran into an annoying amount of typos and random capitalizations. Most of the time I could still follow along with what was meant, but there were a few times when I couldn't. I also found myself rolling my eyes when Sara explained that she was a member of one of the most powerful magical families and was strong physically and smart...had the writing before this reveal been better, I might not have, but on top of everything else, it seemed like Sara was quickly becoming a Mary Sue.

 The last straw and main reason I stopped reading the book was because twice the first two chapters Micah, the hot elf guy that I bet you anything Sara falls in love with, stole Sara's panties underwear. I think the author was trying to be sexy, but all I felt was creeped out. This wasn't some game Sara and Micah were playing where both parties were consenting, it was a guy stealing a girl's underwear. Underwear that she had previously been wearing. Creepy.

 Again, I think there's potential here. I like the idea of magic being outlawed as a reaction to an equal rights movement. I think that's fresh and interesting. However, with the writing the way it is now, plus the creep factor, I just couldn't finish it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh

Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh

 Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free.
—from Fear

 Most of us live in a constant state of fear—of our past, of illness and aging and death, and of losing the things we treasure most. But it doesn't have to be this way, promises Zen master and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

 Drawing on a lifetime of mindfulness in action, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how to use the practice of living in the present to acknowledge and embrace our fears, recognize their origins, and render them powerless. The world-renowned Zen teacher guides us through practical exercises for transforming fear into clarity. The worries of the past and the anxiety of the future disappear as we discover the power of the present moment. Not only are we are able to handle challenging emotions as they arise, but we can summon feelings of well-being and contentment, no matter what the unknown may bring.

 Rooted in the moment, we have the capacity to restore balance and happiness and be present with what is beautiful and affirming inside us and around us, every day. (blurb from Goodreads)

 Rating: G, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: none

 This has been a summer of reading several Thich Nhat Hanh books. What can I say: I love the guy. I love his peaceful demeanor that is clear even in his writing. I love the strides he’s made to make the mindfulness practice more accessible to non-Buddhists. After living in his monastic community for a week, I’ve gotta say that I love that, too.

 One of the things that I love about Thich Nhat Hanh’s books is how similar they all sound...they all have the same calm tone that makes it feel like you’re reading a section of an incredibly long work. Others may dislike the quality, but I like it.

 Fear, as you may have guessed deals almost entirely with fear and anxiety in life. I loved Thay’s focus on acknowledging the child within us, a practice which I believe should be employed more often, whether that is calming the child or embracing the child and doing something fun and silly.

 I find myself continually frustrated with the way that books like this seem to ignore the realities of emotional states caused by mental illness--sadness caused by depression, fear caused by an anxiety disorder, that sort of thing. I think it’s too easy for a book like this to insinuate that if your anxiety isn’t being helped by the advice in the book, then you aren’t trying hard enough. I will say that the book kept me engaged enough that I didn’t feel that anxiety while I was reading. Once I had finished, I still felt frustrated that the fact that it’s ok to be anxious was never brought up. There is still a lot of stigma to mental illness, and books dealing with a topic like anxiety that don’t even bring up diagnosable illness aren’t helping to erase that stigma.

 That being said, I give mad props to Thay for not making me frustrated while reading. And really, that’s my only criticism with the book. I loved the tone and the gentle nature of the writing. I never felt attacked or blamed for feeling the way I feel. It was a short, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read. I recommend Fear to anyone who likes Thich Nhat Hanh, his writing, or Buddhism in general. I issue a note of caution (though not *quite* a trigger warning) to those suffering from an anxiety’s likely you’ll still enjoy the book, but you may find yourself frustrated once you’ve finished.

 Again, Fear is an excellent book, and its short length makes it a quick read, although it’s message will definitely last a long time.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hyrule Historia by Shigeru Miyamoto

The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia by Shigeru Miyamoto

Dark Horse Books and Nintendo team up to bring you The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, containing an unparalleled collection of historical information on The Legend of Zelda franchise. This handsome hardcover contains never-before-seen concept art, the full history of Hyrule, the official chronology of the games, and much more! Starting with an insightful introduction by the legendary producer and video-game designer of Donkey Kong, Mario, and The Legend of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto, this book is crammed full of information about the storied history of Link's adventures from the creators themselves! As a bonus, The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia includes an exclusive comic by the foremost creator of The Legend of Zelda manga - Akira Himekawa! (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG, 3 stars
Trigger warnings: violence

Anyone who knows me knows that for as much as I love videogames, my love of Zelda trumps that by like 10 times. Or something like that. I love Zelda. About once a month I spend an afternoon or evening on Youtube searching for Zelda top tens and theories and stuff like that. This isn’t something just sort of happens...on a regular basis (I might be a little obsessed, ok?). So when I heard that Hyrule Historia was coming out, and that it had an official Zelda timeline, I knew I had to read it. I was even more excited when I found out that my local library had a copy (libraries are awesome, btw.)

I knew going into this book that the timeline alone was a good reason to get the book. I was absolutely not disappointed with that section of the book. I loved seeing how all the games fit together. As you might expect, that section does contain a lot of spoilers for all the games in the franchise, so skip it if you don’t want to be spoiled. It does only cover main events, though, so if you have yet to play a certain game, the timeline won’t reveal all the details. The timeline itself is incredibly detailed, with names of eras, which games take place in those eras, and little facts in the margins. Some details I really appreciated were about the Hylian text that shows up in several of the games.

The entire first section of the book dedicated to Skyward Sword. Which is...ok, I guess. I haven’t played Skyward Sword yet, and I understand that they put in so much information about it because it’s the newest games, but that’s the sort of information that I wanted on all the games. To me, Hyrule Historia is a lot like Harry Potter: Page to Screen, and so it would be like if that book had had an entire third of the book on just the 7th and 8th movies. Great information...but at a cost. Still, it was all really interesting and made me even more eager to get my hands on a copy of Skyward Sword.

The final section of the book is full of concept art. Again, I love it. I love the glimpse into the process. I love seeing the various Links and Zeldas in one place, to see how they changed over time. But, again, I wanted more equal coverage. I understand that for the earliest games there is probably less concept art because of the technological limitations, but there was a good ten pages of Twilight Princess art and half that for Ocarina of Time.

Overall, I loved the information presented in Hyrule Historia, and I loved the art and all of the little trivia tidbits. I wish there had been less of a focus on the most recent games in favor of something a little more equal. Ocarina of Time is my favorite Zelda game, and while the timeline covered it quite well, I really wanted more concept art and other information. I am interested in seeing if there is a new edition released after A Link Between Worlds comes out later this year.

This book is a must-read for any fans of Zelda, as well as for family and close friends who want to be able to talk Zelda with a gamer (hint hint, family)...Despite some disappointments, it really is worth the read.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn't shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people's survival hangs in the balance.
To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls' destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.
The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo's highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG-13, 4 1/2 stars
Trigger Warnings: battle/fight scenes, violence, animal attacks, violence directed at children and babies, death

I actually enjoyed Huntress much more than Ash. Lo worked with a larger cast of characters in Huntress than Ash, and consequently there were a lot more characters that I sympathised with. Maybe it was because of the omniscient narration, but I cared about more than just Kaede and Taisin. I enjoyed the moments that focused more on Prince Con and the other members of their traveling party.

Those who have read Ash may recognize the bare bones of the story as one of fairy tales from Ash’s time. Since this is a prequel, Huntress is set in the same world as Ash, just much earlier in history. I really enjoyed the connections, particularly the transformation of the events in Huntress to the folklore in Ash. However, the two novels are not directly connected in terms of characters and immediate setting; you can definitely read one without the other.

I was surprised at the extent of the romance in the story. It is definitely more of an adventure novel than Ash, but the romance was still a main focus. I’d say for at least 90% of the novel there was a good balance between the romance and the action. There were a few moments when I felt the focus shifted too much to one side, but they were very rare.

I thought the the world-building was done very well, and I particularly like Lo’s take on traditional faerie lore. I liked the fact that not all of her fey were explicitly antagonistic. I liked the combination of traditional Celtic Sidhe with the Chinese-influenced spelling “Xi.” And I have to say, I really appreciate it when authors work the whole iron thing into their faerie stories.

*SPOILER* My biggest complaint with Huntress was the unicorn sub-plot at the end. It makes sense in context with Ash, because that part did play a part in Ash. However, I felt like it’s placement in the story made the ending a little anti-climactic for the amount of time given to the unicorn scene. I knew that I was like ten pages from the end of the book, and all of a sudden Kaede is sent on another mission. That just bothered me a little. However, I will say that I appreciate what that scene did for Kaede’s character. *END SPOILER*

There was quite a bit of violence in the book, including a scene where the characters were attacked by wolves, and two scenes that featured violence against infant-like creatures. In addition, some characters do die. So generally speaking, if violence bothers you, you might want to hold off on Huntress, or at least take it slowly. The violence was in no way out of place, given the story, but it was very much there.

All in all, I really enjoyed Huntress. I look forward to reading more of Lo’s work, and I hope she returns to the setting of Ash and Huntress in the future.