The books of March

Last month, I was pleased to have read 30 books, which turned into 35 by the time the post went up. Oh, I so don’t know how to format that from a mobile phone, sorry. As we approach the end of March, I’ve tipped over fifty, and will finish up a few more over the weekend. This is surprising as the subway has been better; instead of reading, I played games and the like. But. Here’s some of what I read.

Love, Z by Jesse Sima: A picture book about a robot that goes out into the world to answer this question: What is love? There are little robot jammies and I might have overidentified just a bit.

The Bloodprint, Ausma Zehanat Khan: A warrior woman gets embroiled in an epic quest that angers ruling religious leaders (among other things). Adult fantasy. This is for you if you’re seeking sweeping vistas and intricate puzzles, plus some found family.

The Afterward, EK Johnston: A lady knight and a lady thief went on an adventure (in the past) and are dealing with the aftermath and a new adventure (in the present), which is explained non-linearly. This is one of those books that seems wistfully chaste and then you turn the page and go huh, that seems like they’re euphemistically–actually holy crap, they are.

[Redacted unless I’m 100% sure we’re reading the same romances, and I’m never sure]: I did not expect this to be chaste at all and it delivered. It actually delivered really well because it was chock-full of tropes, including some I don’t love, but they all seemed to work, except for one that got dropped midway through after one protag briefly went to jail for a mistaken case of embezzlement. This had rock star, rich/poor, forbidden love, interfering friends, and found family, and I never once turned the page and was surprised someone was having a grand old time.

[Redacted, adult romance novella]: Part of a set of several by the same author, where someone from a previous installment gets a story later. I didn’t find this one the most enticing (everybody wears glasses, installment 1, I think, got me on the relationship’s longing), but thought that a plotline where a protag was experiencing agoraphobia and the other assists but love doesn’t cure it was good; the protag has to undergo a holistic change. Well done there.

[Redacted nonfiction, advice]: Not my usual category, but it was 99 cents and surprisingly instructive.

Inkling, Kenneth Oppel: Maybe you loved Airborn and sequels back in the day? This middle grade is about a family where the mom has died and they’re still struggling with it, and graphic novelist/comics guy dad is having author block. And then a bit of his ink gains sentience–and the warm-hearted but poignant adventures begin. I like 95% of this very much–I have some quibbles, but I’d love to see this adapted for animated film.

[Redacted, adult romance]: ohmigod I grew up on pirate romances and I’m not into stopping after every kiss and touch to explicitly verify next steps but the lack on consent in this about did me in. It was basically drugging people with a love drug for some kind of spy thing, and the spy thing was only in like two paragraphs, and later when this is found out it’s pout-worthy but easily solved. I think the only question, mid-nibble on an earlobe, was “Okay if I keep doing this?” And in “it sucked and the portion sizes were small” complaints, it wasn’t even hot and I’ve read fanfic by fourth graders that had better ideas about how people, parts, and relationships work.

Okay. Here is the weirdest reading of the month: audiobooks. I’ve only ever finished one, and that was Code Name Verity. It didn’t matter if I’d read the story before; I just couldn’t stand listening. I…seem to be having trouble in recent years with aural processing skills, partly in absorbing and responding without so much delay that I can kill conversations (though this is also kinda that I taught myself not to talk too much and not to be nosy, but there’s a fine line), and partly in fearing I’ve forgotten a detail or gotten it wrong in the hearing (especially if I don’t get your card or your name or the third thing on the list of things you told me to do), and the doubt is as screwy as a real mistake.

Anyway, I’m finally at the point where I can multitask enough to listen to music while commuting, or even while powering through something that doesn’t need word-based analysis. I’d tried audiobooks–I have a work app that theoretically lets me check out e- and audio, but I’d fallen off hard. Still, maybe I’ve controlled whatever has been plaguing me, because I listened to four audiobooks out of the recent company releases/award-winners/the search function isn’t that great.

Here are the rules, it seems. Not too long; I’m really out of steam at 12 hours, and shorter is better. Prefer/easier to follow an American accent, for some reason, though I made it through one without (and did notice significantly longer space outs, even getting through it). Has to be nonfiction, and the more like something that would be on NPR, the better. That’s all I’ve been able to figure out, and I’ve left an abandoned pile of things I tried for twenty minutes and discarded.

Real Queer America, Samantha Allen: A trans woman road-trips cross country and visits places considered conservative and reports on community there. Interesting, uplifting in many ways, and yet I can’t help thinking about every other book about community that I’ve ever read, where it’s really just the slice visible and important to the reporter.

Maid, Stephanie Land. A memoir about living in poverty and working as a maid, like if Barbara Ehrenreich hadn’t had a safety net. My first job with a pay stub was maid, so this was especially harrowing.

Well, That Escalated Quickly, Francesca Ramsey: She spoke at my workplace a while back and I was entertained; still, I’m not the best audience for caring about seeking fame, especially YouTube fame, or for basic social justice concepts that I’ve known since Twitter dark ages. I think some people could stand to listen, but then again, they might be bots.

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism, Kristen R. Ghodsee: This is every article you’ve ever read about inequality and such, but synthesized, following an author’s note that she’s generally talking about cis women because that’s where the research has been and what recent governments have been willing or able to recognize. Includes shoutouts to The Left Hand of Darkness and the 588th Night Witches.

Aaaaand I’m still finishing Dead Girls by Alice Bolin, an analysis of portrayals of women and often their fridging in media between manuscripts and such.

Looking forward to April’s reading…

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January and February: Books

So far this year, I’ve read thirty books! This is partly because I read a chunk of picture books all at once, and partly because the MTA is a disaster. I feel like I can say this as a part-time disaster myself–and because this week, I haven’t yet had a commute take less than an hour and twenty minutes…for what is supposed to be about a twenty-minute train ride. I don’t have service in the subway system, generally, so I can’t while away the time with social media, and I don’t read on the train because I can get that too-hot carsick feeling (plus I tend to prefer paying more attention my surroundings when I’m actually on the train). But I have done a lot of platform reading, which–despite no longer really being in the business of discussing and dissecting books in public–I will share with you here. The novels and not-picture-books, at least. And this is for me, because as I discovered at the beginning of the year, there’s nothing like being asked what you’ve been reading, or loved (especially in kidlit!), to turn your mind completely blank except for the plot of every smutty book you read in the last quarter. And Q4 was smutty, because that was easy and undemanding in the free time I had.

So, some longer books, but I’m going to be coy about some of them.

»The Prince and the Dressmaker, Jen Wang: A prince likes wearing dresses and feels he has to hide it; a dressmaker wants to be recognized for her work. This leads to Problems. Graphic novel. I know there are some interesting and valid reasons why people love or don’t so much love this one, but I’m fascinated that people who are really into labels have a lot of issues and people who don’t seem to be into labels like it more. I wonder why that is.

»Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse: An urban fantasy that’s not urban at all, really–it takes place on a post-apocalyptic reservation where a Dine woman has become the killer of monsters and sometimes monstrous herself. I keep thinking this is something I’d recommend to someone who likes Paolo Bacigalupi’s books, but I haven’t talked to a person yet who has read one and not the other. A book for every reader I haven’t met.

»The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg: A sort-of Scheherezade tale, with a hugely feminist bent and a Scheherezade who isn’t the wife, so that’s nicely subverted. It’s an oversize graphic novel, which probably has a fancy name I don’t know about, and that makes it an interesting gift.

»[redacted] A multi-authored essay collection that a) went on for too many essays and b) didn’t apply to me as much as I…thought, or had hoped? It was fine, just a chore by the end.

»[redacted] Adult romance novella. Trope was workplace setting, but not exactly boss-subordinate. While I liked this well enough, the trope isn’t my favorite, and romance with colleagues is a total turnoff in real life, so… I liked the other novella I’ve read by the author, though, and the author’s longer fiction, so I’d read other romances by them.

»[redacted] Also adult romance novella. Sort of a second-chance romance. I’ve tried a couple of things by this author, who comes widely and often highly recommended, but their work hasn’t clicked for me, so I’m moving on. Alas.

»The Tiger’s Daughter, K Arsenault Rivera: Epic fantasy with an unusual perspective / approach. Has swords and girls kissing in a fantasy East Asia. I had a hard time getting into the first half, but the second half held me. Included a sensual metaphor that made me want to stab my own eye out* like no other in the same scene with one that was also the nicest I’ve ever read in lo these many years of turgid members and honeyed caves.

*I’ve seen an eyeball come out before and I do not need to think about it ever again, but here we are, because a similar thing happens (not super graphically) in the book.

»Willa & Hesper, Amy Feltman: I picked this up at work because it had a lemon on the cover. Has postgraduate writing programs and girls kissing in Brooklyn. Mostly it’s a portrait of post-breakups and of the two girls finding their separate family heritages (Jewish/holocaust history and country of Georgia, they think) painfully. I never underline, but I underlined whole paragraphs in this book because the prose is that wonderfully good.

»Borderline, Mishell Baker: Much-updated-from-its-ancestors urban fantasy, with fae, set in Los Angeles. I know it’s common to have, well, common visceral sensory memories, but for me, remembering college in LA is about remembering temperature and relative humidity and heat radiating off pavement in entirely new and specific combinations, and I felt that while reading. The protagonist is diagnosed with borderline personality, and that informs her character, vividly. One note: she previously jumped from a building.*

*This is another thing I’d like to not think of, and I don’t know how I got two of my three please-nos in such a short span! (Not a reason for me to have avoided, necessarily, but.) If I’d hit hoarding I’d have collected my personal triforce.

»[redacted] Adult romance. We’re practically opposites and we have to save the business by Valentine’s Day! It was entertaining enough, but not memorable.

»Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip to Love, Mira Ong Chua: I can’t remember who got me to (unusually) get in on their friend’s (-friend’s?) Kickstarter, but thank you, this showed up and was hilarious. It was all my favorite manga facial expressions and plotlines. Not that I have many, but I have enough to see what’s going on here.

»Dread Nation, Justina Ireland: I’d read most of the book a half-dozen times, but had had bad luck in finishing it, and kept re-reading. Yes, it’s zombies in an alternate reconstruction-era setting, and I can see why that might sound unusual and even not someone’s thing, but holy crap, Jaaaaaaaaane is amazing and so is this whole book. Just read it already so we can commiserate. I read a lot of fantasy and I know what I’m talking about, you peasants.

Reading now: Dead Girls by Alice Bolin, nonfiction about people killing off women and girls in media; Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan, for book club; The Afterward by EK Johnston because it looked good and also handily for an entirely separate book club; Inkling by Kenneth Oppel; Codename Villanelle because of course; finishing Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie; a nonfiction how-to I picked up for $.99 and am not telling you about; and all the romances I can’t help buying at attractive prices but that we’re not discussing unless I’m sure our romance tastes align. The bad thing about writing this out is that it might make the MTA work right and ruin my reading plans…

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