Books by Trans Folks; A Quickie Booklist for Trans Awareness Week 2020

Today, November 20th, is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to memorialize the individuals who have lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence — a shockingly normal occurrence. There’s not much I can say about the stats that would be adequate, but I will say this: take a moment and show some love to a transgender person you know today, beautiful people, even if it’s yourself.

The week before today is Transgender Awareness Week. 80% of Americans apparently have never (knowingly) met a transgender person, according to GLAAD. I think I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been around a lot of different sorts of people–part of the birthright of being a cis Black woman in the Western US. However, it was around this time last year that it occurred to me that I’d read few, if any books by transgender authors. About trans people, sure. But trans-ness was thin on the ground in my book collection–this is what I came up with, when all was said and done.

Pitiful. The only transgender author I’d read was Eddie Izzard’s (disappointingly dry) memoir. The rest were books about trans people from decidedly cis-straight perspectives, either as projects, side characters, or nebulous speculative concepts.

Like I said, pitiful.

So, I decided that between last Transgender Awareness Week and this one, I’d make an effort to read more books by trans people.

I’ve read two. And started one other.

Well, that’s something to keep working on in 2021. In lieu of my usual list of “books I’ve read around a theme” this is going to be more of a “books I want to read around a theme, eventually” list. See the whole shebang here, including a few books I didn’t have room for in this post. Let’s get started with…

Books by transgender authors I’ve actually read…

Becoming Him, by Landa Mabenge

This book has made its way onto several of my 2020 lists, and for good reason. It’s an intimate memoir about a South African transgender man’s life escaping from abuse, discovering success, and embarking on a gender confirmation journey. Landa reached out to me personally about the review and was super nice about it, as well, even sharing it to his Instagram story(!). Still, even if he hadn’t contacted me, I’d still have pretty high praise for this personal, affecting work.


Fairest, by Meredith Talusan

I didn’t like Filipina Harvard grad Meredith Talusan’s memoir of life as an albino immigrant trans woman in the Ivy League nearly as much as Mabenge’s story. To be fair, Talusan is pretty open about how little she cares about being likable in text, but still, months after reading this, something about the way she portrays herself irritates me. Still, there’s something to be said by how intentionally she steers the narrative away from trauma and dysphoria, acknowledging that not all transgender people have the same experience and being very authentic to her own.


Books I started…

Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is personally non-binary, not transgender, so I debated on whether or not to include them on this list. They’re here because Pet’s teenage protagonist, Jam, is a transgender girl. I can’t tell you much more than that–I didn’t get very far into this novel yet. There’s nothing wrong with it–I just never seem to be in the mood for YA when I pick it up. I would recommend it though–what I’ve read so far is intriguing. Also, the author has stated in interviews that this book is about a Black transgender girl living a supported, happy life going on adventures–I’m sold just because it promises joy and isn’t trauma-focused.


Books I Want to Try To Read in 2021…

Okay, so first of all, best laid plans of mice and men, okay? Like most heavy readers, the list of books I want to read is far longer than the books I have time for, and listing these here doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll get to them. A girl can dream, though…

Dreadnought, by April Davis – I’m pretty sure I’ll actually get to this one before the end of the year–the premise is just too good to pass up. Teenage Danny Tozer hasn’t even come out as transgender yet when she discovers dying superhero Dreadnought, who passes her his mantle as his last act. The cape holds the power to make the wearer resemble their ideal self and suddenly shy Danny Tozer is a hot super(cis)woman, much to the chagrin of her friends and her transphobic father. Sounds great, and I can’t wait to read it, personally.

Little Fish, by Casey Plett – This book won the Lambda award, and sounds like the kind of intergenerational family drama that Netflix movies are made of. A young transgender woman finds out that her stern, hyper-masculine, religious grandfather might have been (closeted) trans which results in a journey to discover if the revelation is true. There’s something remarkably affirming about seeing yourself in your family history(and seeing your family history in you) and this seems like both an unfamiliar(to me) and heartwarming take on the theme.

Sorted, by Jackson Bird – Someday I’ll tell you all the story of the first time I (knowingly) met a trans man, and how badly I mucked up the encounter. For now, it’s enough to tell you that the endearingly awkward tone of the first few pages of Jackson Bird’s memoir of coming out as trans at 25 and kind of muddling his way through it reminds me a lot of that long ago guy I embarrassed by not understanding that transgender men actually existed(it was the late 90s, not that that’s an excuse) and asking a very uncomfortable question(no, not THAT one…it was about name changes). Bird’s memoir seems to have a lot of grace for those of us trying to understand trans experiences from the outside as he navigates it from the inside, and something about the tone is very appealing to me.

Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender – Everyone else I know seems to have read this book, but again, it’s one that I never seem to pick up when I’m in a YA mood. It’s a teen romance featuring a young trans man, and seems to have the sort of sweetness you’d expect from any other book in the genre. I’m saving this one for a light beach read, come the day I can safely travel to a good reading beach again.

The Black Tides of Heaven, by Neon Yang – I happened upon this as I was clicking through my Goodreads recommendations and my eyes popped a bit at the description. It’s the first novel in a science fantasy trilogy (in the vein of N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth ) featuring everything from dinosaurs and robots to psychic powers and mad scientists. There are apparently trans and non-binary characters galore, and the author is non-binary as well, a former scientist who calls their intensely creative writing style, with its foundations in the author’s academic training and Singaporean heritage, “silkpunk”. Never heard of it before ten minutes ago, but it’s going on my to-be-read list right away!

That’s it for now, fellow readers. What books by transgender authors have you read? Any suggestions for my list so that next year I can be a little less pitiful?

(Thanks for reading, fellow readers. Check out these books and more at my online Bookshop here, and be aware that this blog has affiliate relationships, so any clicks and purchases made at links you reach from here do result in a commission being paid. Peace!)

Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger


(Buy it HERE.)

Seventeen-year old Elatsoe Bride has inherited the secrets of calling up the dead from her Six-Great-Grandmother, who bore the same name and protected the Apache people from invaders with a pack of trained ghost dogs and peerless bravery. Young Elatsoe has the same fearless streak and unnerving talents as her ancestor but not much call to use them, until a family tragedy pushes her to her limits. In an alternate modern America where magic is real, the supernatural is science, and bloodlines often carry small supernatural benefits, Elatsoe must solve a crime with the help of her family, heritage, and a best friend who just happens to be descended from Oberon. ⠀

I loved this. It’s rare that I get entirely lost in a book but I barely came up for air while reading. There’s something cinematic about it–I could almost see the people and places coming to life in front of my eyes as I read. Somehow this is a ghost story, a whodunit, a fairy tale and a high school summer feel-good caper all at once but it works. The writing isn’t complicated and the prose isn’t particularly descriptive–it’s just really, really good storytelling. ⠀

The fairy tale parts of the story are heavily based on things from Little Badger’s own Lipan Apache background. Out of all the different types of stories there are, ones that feature cultural redemption are my favorites. The magic in this fantasy world didn’t stop colonization, genocide or oppression of Indigenous Americans, so the themes underlying this book have a lot to say about those things–never in a heavy-handed way, but openly, honestly and with a sense of power, not defeat. There’s a scene where a character outwits a European vampire by reminding him that he is a settler on colonized land and revoking his welcome that actually made me put down the book and cheer out loud. The story is grounded in real cultural issues and is all the better for it. The heroine, Elatsoe, is also asexual but that doesn’t figure into the story much.

2020 is almost over but this is definitely going on my best-of-year list. Great storytelling, affirming cultural foundations, and a badass main character–what’s not to love? ⠀

5 stars and the howls of a pack of ghost dogs to Elatsoe.

(The year is almost over, beautiful people! Soon I’ll be doing a best reads of 2020 post, and this book will definitely be on it. If you want to read it before I gush about it again, buy it at my Bookshop, and be aware that this blog has affiliate relationships and any clicks and purchases will result in a commission being earned. Peace!)

PostColonial Love Poem, Natalie Diaz

(Buy it HERE.)

You know the face that jazz and blues musicians make when someone’s playing real good? That stank face, that disbelieving, how is this real, umph-umphUMPH this is so good it almost hurts face folks get when the art is hitting every bit of your spirit right? You know that face? ⠀⠀

That is the face I make when reading Natalie Diaz’ poetry.⠀⠀

In light of recent events, the title of Diaz’ most recent poetry collection seems like an obvious social commentary. However, a lot of the poems here are in fact odes to a lady love, or maybe more than one. There are also thoughts on culture, family, basketball (Diaz played professionally), and my favorite–water rights.(No, really!🌊) The poet uses a variety of formats to pour out her thoughts, and there are a few powerful repeating motifs running through the collection.⠀⠀

This didn’t quite grab me by the head and heart and rattle me around the way Diaz’ previous poetry collection When My Brother Was An Aztec did but that’s not really a criticism. There are a lot of things I didn’t quite get in this collection but I saw them as an invitation to fall back and think, not a failing. Unlike Diaz, I’m not Mojave, not Latina, not queer, not a former athlete, not (much of) a poet. This book doesn’t seem intended to teach me about any of those things. Instead it’s written from within those experiences, expressing a normal reality that I don’t personally intersect with in every way–and that’s a good thing. A lot of what’s in these pages is not really for me, primarily, and it would unfair to judge the work based on my own unfamiliarity. I will say this, though–I didn’t always get When My Brother Was An Aztec either, but the themes and ideas in it felt stronger and more thoroughly illustrated. I felt that collection more, even when I was blinking in confusion at the bits of Mojave language included in some of the verses. At times this new collection meanders off into riffs on the whiteness of a lover or Greek mythological references or city life in a way that seems a little unfocused, even when accounting for my own ignorance. That’s rare, though. The rest of the time., though…*makes stank face*.⠀

A few additional thoughts that are not really related to the book but are still relevant…

1) Y’all have no idea how hard it was to find an American flag pattern in my lil corner of Korea. I wound up having to take a trip to the obnoxious consumer enclave near a US military base and whew. Talk about postcolonial…

2) I learned a lot from reading this but the most sobering lesson wasn’t in the book at all. When searching for information to augment my reading–music, pictures, cultural information, etc. from Mojave/Aha Macav people, I had a very difficult time. It’s not that nobody is sharing or producing these things. It’s that to get to them you have to wade through a shocking amount of consumer products–incense, technology, packaged foods, all sorts–none of which seem to be owned by Mojave people. Then you have to trek through material on the famous desert–also largely not owned or managed by the people with the same name. After a targeted search and wading through tons of unrelated information with the same name as the nation that Natalie Diaz is from, I finally found some resources–but the fact that it took so much effort surprised me and got me thinking about postcolonial erasure and the trauma of occupied land more than the actual poems in the book did. This is not a comment on poverty, social problems or anything like that–there are over 500 indigenous nations in the US and all of them operate under different circumstances. Not all tribes are poor, embattled, or high risk, although many are. My point is that while I still don’t know a lot about the Mojave nation’s economic or social conditions, the fact that I had to search so hard for real information written by an expert from within the community is…not a shock exactly, but certainly upsetting food for thought for those of us who are not Mojave and not indigenous. Black American history, in contrast, is not widely known, but it is easy to find if you look for it. ⠀⠀

4 stars and a jump shot from a riverbed to Postcolonial Love Poem.

(Fellow readers, here’s your regular reminder that this blog has affiliate relationships and any clicks/purchases will result in a commission being earned. Thank you for reading! )

A Bastard’s Degree In English, November St. Michael

(Buy it HERE.)

🍁⠀

3 things: ⠀

1) I haven’t been adulting particularly well lately. Spare a good thought in the direction of this reader when you can. ⠀

2) November is Native American Heritage Month and for the rest of the month I’ll be reading and reviewing indigenous writers and their work.⠀

3) But before that–what better thing to start November with than a poetry collection penned by someone named November? (Yes, I am ignoring the US election, at least on #bookstagram, because it’s taken over my RL and UGH). Thanks to Support Black Authors I won a copy of the Virginia-based, Jersey-bred poet’s third collection of “semi-autobiographical” observations on his community and life, particularly those having to do with his parentage. I’ve been following St. Michael on Instagram for a while and was thrilled to get my hands on some of his work in the real world. ⠀

There’s something raw about these poems, something that reminds me of brothas sitting on stoops in the hood, street corner cyphers, and the fragility-resistance dichotomy found in every child in every “urban” school. Without sharing too many real details, St. Michael manages to be startlingly vulnerable–he dug a few chunks of his heart out and spread it on the pages with these words. I’m not going to lie and say I understand everything that is being laid down here–I’m a blogger, not a haruspex–but you can really feel the soul in these, whether or not the style is to your taste. ⠀

That said, the collection is divided into three chapters, and the first is my favorite. The poems seem the most complete, the stories are clearer. Chapter two is largely love poems, and while they’re not weak at all, I lost the thread of emotion a bit personally. Chapter three is conceptually very strong and seems very experimental in style–at times I was reminded of some of Maya Angelou’s work in the 70s. But the shift in tone is a lot to digest–I see myself revisiting just that section, later, and thinking about it more clearly. ⠀

This was a nice late-fall-in-the-city read. Not gonna star rate it, but a handful of the brightest autumn leaves to A Bastard’s Degree In English.

Thanks again to Support Black Authors and November St. Michael for my copy of this book.

(Fellow readers! Happy November and thank you for visiting. If you want to purchase this or any other book mentioned on this site why not visit my Bookshop and take a gander at the wares? All purchases will result in a commission being paid to this site, but hey, you like it here, right?)

Black In Asia, A Spill Stories Anthology

(Check out this anthology HERE.)

So this is a little different than the usual fare around here–if only because I’m in the book in the photo above. Yes, that’s me staring at you from the photo above, and the book I’m holding has a little story to it that I’d like to elaborate on here.

Back in March, at the height of COVID-19 gloom in Asia, I was kicking around my apartment in a mood and decided to attend an online writing workshop being promoted by the writer Boipelo Seswane. The resulting pieces on being Black in Asia were published on the IG story sharing platform Spill Stories later that month, and got a good response. Overall, it was a nice experience but I didn’t think much more would come of it.⠀
😲⠀
Then…things happened in the US and the world. The brains behind Spill decided to turn those stories into a published book, a written record of real Black global experiences in the face of difficulty and erasure. Black writers living in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Thailand and Mongolia were gathered and wrote short vignettes on our experiences living on the world’s largest continent. On July 25th, it was released, to a level of acclaim I personally wasn’t expecting. It’s spent 14 days as #1 on Amazon’s New Releases in Ethnic and Demographic Studies chart. Copies had been bought in 11 different countries last time I checked, and probably far more now. Most recently, the The News Lens published a very thoughtful review of it, and our books are available for sale in stateside indie shops like Printed Matter. Many things are in the pipeline for this bright little book of experiences…and OMG, my story is in it!⠀

It’s an understatement to say how surprised and grateful I am for the opportunity to share a little bit of my journey in Asia in the company of dedicated writers living all over the continent I’ve called home for the past 7 years. The piece I wrote is about the need to define Blackness as it’s own normal, rather than constantly defining it (and yourself, if you are Black) in counterpoint to other things–whiteness, Asian-ness, media projections of Blackness, stinging stereotypes–basically, Black people are normal to ourselves, no matter who we are or where we are, and we need to stand on that foundation in order to truly create the spaces of equity that we are fighting so hard to have rights to. The piece is pretty general–it’s been pointed out to me that there’s nothing in it that points directly to Asia or even South Korea, which is where I currently live–but if you’ve been to SK, you know the appropriation/stereotype/”I like Black music” struggle can be real, and that was what was in my mind when I wrote this piece. If you read it, let me know what you think.

If you’re interested in the book, it’s available as an e-book or paperback on Amazon* and via the publisher’s website.

* I know, I know…Amazon AGAIN!? But what did I say about opportunities for small, indie, and international publishers? That said, this post and all others do contain affiliate links so any clicks and purchases will result in a commission being paid. Peace!

The Meaning of Mariah Carey, by Mariah Carey

(Buy it HERE.)

🎶⠀
This isn’t the best book I’ve read all year, but it’s certainly the most surprising. I was expecting Mariah Carey(the glamorous award-winning diva) to fill a few frivolous pages with brand names, romantic liaisons and shady entertainment gossip with a few childhood anecdotes sprinkled in. What I was not expecting was Mariah Carey(the wife, mother, neglected child and ferociously smart and talented musical prodigy) to delve deep into her painful childhood, abusive first marriage, complex feelings about being biracial, life parallels to Marilyn Monroe, and so many other things. Mariah is stunningly vulnerable and thoughtful about her messy, unloving family and her poor relationship choices, but also isn’t shy about her drive, talent, business savvy and massive dreams. I’ve always loved her music but found her public persona a bit flighty and shallow. This book makes a fool of me for judging — this woman is amazing, relatable and remarkably intelligent in her introspections. I’m sure she owes some of this to co-writer Michaela Angela Davis, but the partnership is perfect–the text comes across very authentically Mariah, and you can hear her voice in the pages.⠀
🎵⠀
There is some celebrity dish here, of course–dalliances with Luis Miguel and Derek Jeter, a surprising friendship with Da Brat, tales of carousing in Harlem with Dipset, and a lot of behind-the-music moments–but the bulk of the book is musings on the diva’s lonely, dangerous childhood, early career and strained marriage to mogul Tommy Mottola. Mariah is much more connected to hip-hop and the Black American glitterati than I thought, and a lot of the people she’s close to and behind the scenes partnerships kind of surprised me. Until Carey gets closure on her first divorce, the book is really compelling– but after that it loses steam and becomes a bit less personal, reading more like the silly celeb memoir that it looks like. It’s still fun, but you get the sense that there are parts of her life Mariah hasn’t emotionally metabolized yet, and as expected, they’re not as openly discussed or as deep. The parts that are more than make up for it, IMO. ⠀
🎼⠀
Oh, and she only mentions Nick Cannon in one chapter, near the end. 😜⠀


5 stars and a whistle tone trill to The Meaning Of Mariah Carey.

(Thanks for reading, beautiful people! Whether you’re a Lamb or not(I’m not) you’ll probably get something out of this book. Just know that if you purchase the book through any links on this page, a commission will be earned because we have affiliate partnerships with sites like Bookshop. Peace!)

Como Una Gota En El Mar: My Woefully Inadequate Latinx Heritage Month Reading Re-cap

patiently awaits someone to come along and correct my horrid Spanish

In the US, February is Black History Month, May is Asian-Pacific Islander-American Heritage Month, November is Native American Heritage Month and…September 15th – October 15th is Hispanic History Month, also known as Latinx History Month. If you’re wondering about the comparatively awkward timing(why straddle two months?), it’s because Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico AND Honduras all celebrate their independence on September 15th, making it a great date to start a month commemorating the heritages and cultures of Latinx people in the US.

I’m far from an expert, but I do think it bears mentioning that there is some controversy about the name. It’s legally titled Hispanic Heritage Month, but that law was signed back in 1988 and as all fellow readers know, things change. I spend a lot of time Bookstagramming and after reading quite a few very thoughtful posts about hispanidad, latinidad, and the ongoing conversation about the boggling diversity of the community the month is ostensibly for (under the hashtags #latinxhistorymonth and #latinehistorymonth) as well as asking a few friends their thoughts, I’ve settled on using Latinx History Month for now. It seems the most neutral and the most accurate–Hispanic includes people from Spain, but eliminates people with origins in Brazil, Haiti, and other non-Spanish speaking nations in Latin America. Latine has a strong argument for making more sense linguistically in Spanish, but basically–90% of the people I read or asked used Latinx and as someone who is not in a community myself, I think it makes sense for me to use the term most preferred by people in that community. Latine hasn’t reached its day in the sun yet, and Hispanic seems a bit fuddy-duddy and carries with it accusations of whitewashing, which I certainly want to avoid. I will say though, that looking into this issue made me very happy that African diasporic folks seem to have finally settled on Black. That is, unless they are also Latinx. Never mind.

Anyway, as I’ve done for all other major culturally coded commemorations this year, I made a point to read and review Latinx authors writing about Latinx people this month. After 30 days, I can honestly say I felt–overwhelmed. The Latinx world is huge, diverse and in some cases remarkably under-represented in English. (Which, in a certain sense, I get. Spanish has the second most native speakers in the world–why translate everything? On the other hand…not every Latinx person speaks Spanish. Or English, for that matter. And so it goes…). I like to read stories from people in places very unfamiliar to me and so, I searched for titles about the Latinx experience from people with origins across South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. I also wanted to read a good mix of Black, Indigenous, European and if possible even Asian Latinx authors. I had hopes of looking into works translated from indigenous languages as well, because the intersections between indigenous and Latinx communities run deep. Unfortunately, my Spanish is crap these days, I don’t speak any indigenous languages and I quickly realized that a lot of the books that looked interesting weren’t available in English translation and would not be easy or even accessible reads. I also realized that the Latinx world is HUGE–have I said that already?–and trying to curate a diverse list, even when you narrow it down to the Latinx-American experience, was like jumping in the deep end of an Olympic-sized pool–and I can’t swim. There’s just so much variety and so many diverse cultures under the banner of Latinx that I really didn’t know where to start. As a result, I quickly floundered back to the shallow end and kind of stuck to what I already know a little about–Cuban, Mexican, Dominican and Puerto Rican literature.

Despite the general feeling of being out of my depth and unfamiliar with the cultural landscapes that Latinx Heritage Month celebrates, I did find some good books that I enjoyed, and a few more that broadened my horizons even if they weren’t perfect. As always, I’m sharing the list with you with the caveat that I am a)not an expert and all mistakes or poor phrasing are the mistakes of an eager novice with too much internet time and b)I read for the joy and the love of people’s stories, not for performative wokeness or internet social justice points, so please chill on any critiques that do not include joy, people, or being very very smart, thanks. So, without further ado…

(Find a full list of my favorite Latinx books and writers HERE.)

Pride, by Ibi Zoboi

Starting with this Pride and Prejudice retelling may have been cheating, since it’s a familiar story, and there is some debate about whether or not Haitians, like author Ibi Zoboi, are Latinx The book itself is about the Dominican Benitez family (who stand in for Austen’s Bennet clan )but also branches out to examine lot of different types of Black communities, not just the Caribbean/Latin ones. If anything, the book seems to be making a point about Black culture, whether Latinx or no. That and the strong sense of community in the story made me feel a bit homesick and happy. I didn’t like the central romance much, though–so I gave this 4 stars.


The Dirty Girls Social Club, by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

I really love Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s blog and was tickled to find out she had whole novels ready for me to dive into. This one, which is perhaps best described as a Latina Waiting To Exhale, follows a very diverse group of professional friends who united in college over their developing identities as young Latinas in Boston. The storylines don’t all complete, but the diversity is eye-opening–I learned a lot about Cuban Jews and Black Colombians from this, for example. Another 4 star read, simply for the fun factor this book has.


Half-Resurrection Blues, by Daniel José Older

I hate to say it, but this was my biggest disappointment of the month. I really wanted to love it–urban fantasy featuring an undead Puerto Rican detective, a host of ghosts and a Black femme fatale? Yes, please! But unfortunately this book meanders into no, thank you territory quite a bit–it’s just not very focused and the hero is a big boring dude, despite the great concept and worldbuilding potential. I’ll pick up the next book if I see it, to see if it resurrects the concept(ha!), but overall..3 stars to this one.


Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

I’ve been wanting to read something by Acevedo for a long time, and I’m glad this was my first. It’s a complex work–a whole YA novel in verse, told from multiple perspectives, by two separated sisters in NYC and Santo Domingo in the aftermath of their father’s tragic death. The story it tells is compelling and common, but not often told as unjudgmentally as it is here. Still, I didn’t love the poetry, as much as I appreciated the craft that went into this book, although I did love the characters and look forward to slurping up everything else Acevedo serves to her fans. 4 stars, although in retrospect I think I was a bit too harsh on this book.


Godhead Sentiment, by Juan Ibarbol

The last Latinx Heritage Month themed read I had time to squeeze in was a bit of a surprise, as the author is a high school friend of mine and I had no idea he’d become a writer. Godhead Sentiment is on the one hand an old-fashioned sci-fi pulp novella but on the other hand has some very clever tricks and observations about some of the conventions of science-fiction AI tropes. No rating for this one, because it’s weird to rate people I know personally, but this was an interesting read and I can’t wait to see more from this author.


Honorable Mentions…

These are the books I wanted to read but didn’t have time for because books cost money, which forces me to leave the house occasionally for work…

  • Before We Were Free, Julia Alvarez – I skipped this in favor of Elizabeth Acevedo because I didn’t want to read multiple Dominican authors this month, but I’m looking forward to reading this middle-grade book about a 12 year old girl fleeing the Trujillo dictatorship with her family eventually.
  • With the Fire On High, Elizabeth Acevedo – Not only did I not want to read multiple authors of the same background, I also naturally didn’t want to read multiple works by the same author. Still, I’ve heard great things about this YA story of a Dominican single mom working hard to make her dreams of becoming a chef come true.
  • Halsey Street, Naima Coster – Another Dominicana. Yo, is anyone else writing books? Honestly, this looks good and I’m sure I’ll read it soon, but it’s about parental relationships and community. I was feeling too tender on the subject to get into it this month, so it’ll have to wait until I’m a little less sensitive.
  • The Price of Paradise, Susana Lopez Rubio – Finally, a non-Dominican writer! Lopez Rubio is Cuban, and this lavish looking Batista-era romance looks good, but the first few pages didn’t grab much and I wound up reading The Dirty Girls Social Club instead because I wanted something a little less fraught with tortured emotion. I have a pile of books the size of El Fosca to read at this point, but this is going in near the top.
  • Loosing My Espanish, H.G. Carillo – Not gonna lie, I wanted to read this one purely for the controversy. However, in light of the news of Jessica Krug’s impersonation of a Latina for academic cred, I decided it would be in poor taste to highlight yet another race-bending Dolezal in a month meant to celebrate Latinx Heritage. So, HG’s book about a Cuban teacher in Chicago got the chop.

There were a few other titles that didn’t make the cut that don’t really need to be mentioned here, but that’s it, fellow readers! What did you read (if anything) for Latinx Heritage Month?

(Here’s our usual caveat, fellow readers–this blog has affiliate relationships with Bookshop and other sites, and any clicks and purchases made will result in a commission being paid. Peace!)

Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

(Buy it HERE.)⠀
🎃⠀
Deja and Josiah are college-bound high school seniors working their last shift ever at a seasonal pumpkin patch job somewhere in Nebraska. From September 1st to Halloween every year the two are best friends, but the good times are coming to a bittersweet end. They decide to turn their last shift into a snack-filled quest to get Josiah to finally talk to the mysterious fudge shop girl he’s been crushing on for three years–but of course, things don’t go exactly as planned. ⠀
🎃⠀
This YA graphic novel is just…so sweet. Everything about it is light and adorable and gentle and wholesome–and I loved it! Most YA reminds me of all the things I hated about being a teenager. Pumpkinheads reminds me of all the things I loved –the purity of friendships, the constant sense of adventure right around the corner, and the lingering wonder of childhood mixing with the new adult privileges of roaming free with a little spending cash. Deja and Josiah are a perfectly matched set of buddies. They have fun, relatable personalities, and so do all their pumpkin patch coworkers (half of whom seem to be Deja’s exes). Even though all of the major story twists are telegraphed pretty early on, the people involved are so cute that you want to see your predictions play through anyway.⠀
🎃⠀
The art is also adorable–a great cross-section of different body types, sizes, and races. I love that Deja is tall and plus sized with Afro puffs. I love that Josiah is gangly, awkward, and looks like he hasn’t quite grown into his bones yet. I love how much character and diversity is drawn into each body that appears on the page. There’s something really authentic about the way this is put together that makes it special in a lowkey, surprising way. ⠀
🎃⠀
I read this whole book over one lunch break and it refreshed my mood for the whole week. 5 stars and a handful of full-size Halloween candy bars to Pumpkinheads.

(If you have a sweet teenager in your life, fellow readers, get them this book. Use a link in this post–but be aware that this blog has affiliate relationships with Bookshop and other sites, and any purchases made from link on this site result in a commission being paid. Peace! )

Freedom Is A Constant Struggle:Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement, Angela Y Davis

(Find it HERE.)

Back in March, my favorite radical independent publisher Haymarket Books made several titles available for free as a contribution to keeping the world mentally occupied and socially engaged during the initial COVID-19 lockdowns. I downloaded them all and immediately started reading this collection of speeches and interviews from Angela Y. Davis, famously known for her affiliation with the Black Panther Party, her work in feminist studies, and her activism regarding prison abolition, anti-racism, and Palestinian liberation among other things.⠀

I started reading this in March. I finished it last Tuesday. To say that the content is dense is an understatement. Davis’ work is often challenged, but always targeted. She draws some alarming connections between industrial arms dealers and local police, and revisits points she’s made in previous books about the US carceral system, the need to avoid celebrity individualism in group activism, and the need for unified optimism, feminist relational connections, and nuanced racial thought in any justice movement. ⠀

I’m not going to get into a deep discussion of Davis’ politics here–there simply isn’t enough room, and the internet is already too full of lousy amateur political takes from people who do very little work in reality. If I I have one major criticism, it’s that this is really a collection of transcribed speeches and interviews, not essays, and thus has a tendency to be a bit repetitive and meandering. Davis is 76, so she’s earned a few birdwalks, but I did notice that a lot of these speeches are just the same points repeated with a few local references based on the audience. ⠀

The statue in the background of this photo is called “Not Afraid Of the Big Bad Wolf” and features an angry pig, standing firm, blowing back at a threat. It reminds me a bit of a quote from French activist Frank Barat, who edited these speeches for print and says, in the introduction: ⠀

“But there’s a message there for everyone and it is that people can unite, that democracy from below can challenge oligarchy, that imprisoned migrants can be freed, that fascism can be overcome, and that equality is emancipatory.”⠀

4 stars and an afro pick with the power fist to Freedom is A Constant Struggle.

(Viva la revolution, fellow readers. Just a quick notice–this blog has affiliate relationships with entities like Bookshop and any clicks and purchases made from this site will result in a commission being paid. Peace! )

Battle Ground, Jim Butcher

(Buy it HERE.)

transcript of actual footage of me reading this book
sips wine
“Oh…this is a *fighting* book.”⠀
longer sip
“Wait…is that gonna…are they gonna…OH SHIT!!”⠀
gulps wine
“Is that (character we haven’t seen for several books)? That’s (character)! And they have big powers now? Go off, (character)! Get it! Hit the…OMG WHAT? Did that just happen?”⠀
downs wine, pours new glass

So here we are, 17 books deep into the best-selling urban fantasy series about Chicagoland wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden. An entire universe of magical characters has been set up at this point, and a new villain–the titan Ethniu, backed by the weird Lovecraftian Fomor– has come to tear it all apart, and the mortal world along with it. The previous book, Peace Talks, was a bit disappointing but it turns out it did a very good job of setting up this book, which is essentially one long scary battle for the fate of Chicago’s human population. Everyone and everything that Harry’s ever met in his magical adventures shows up to do their part to save the city–regardless of what side they’ve been on in the past.⠀

Butcher could write a scuffle between two third-graders in a playground and make it compelling, so once the battle get underway about 5 chapters in, the book is riveting. There’s something supremely satisfying about seeing the heavy-hitters of the supernatural world (and a few badass normals) really let loose fighting an evil that makes all their previous battles look like playground tussles. Despite Harry’s wisecracking facade, you suddenly realize he’s slowly leveled up to pal-ling around with demigods–and the time has come for a reckoning. With the increase in power comes an increase in stakes. This book is filled with surprise deaths and reveals, one of which surprised me so much I couldn’t even cry at how sad it was. Much like in the 12th book, Changes, you get the sense that everything in the Dresdenverse has irreversibly shifted and Harry will never be the same…but this time the entire world is changing with him. ⠀

Battle Ground is a sad, funny, entertaining and enormously enjoyable popcorn movie of a book. 5 stars and I’m looking forward to the next one already.

(This book is the most fun I’ve had reading in a while. If you want to give it a try, be aware that if you click and purchase it from a link here on this website a commission will be earned. I can’t do magic like Harry, but I worry just as much about bills. 😀 Peace!)