[REVIEW] Spare, by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex

(Buy this book from my shop.)

I’m not much of a royal watcher, despite having lived in Britain for some years in my late twenties and early thirties. The only members of the family I’ve ever paid any attention to are the late Princess Diana and her youngest son, and I really only started paying attention to the latter when he married Meghan Markle. I found their relationship fascinating, made all the more so by their departure from the royal family and the interviews they gave later airing out all of the palace’s dirty racist laundry.

Harry gets into all of that, but first, he gives us a startlingly vulnerable look at his life before becoming a family man. The way he found out about his mother’s death and the long delay in processing it emotionally, his difficulties in school, and his spiky relationship with his older brother are all laid out. He talks about finding himself as a young man through travels in Australia, Lesotho, and Botswana. He recounts his time in the military and how he rose to the challenge of becoming a helicopter pilot. (I was genuinely surprised to find that he really served in combat.)

Through it all, Harry seems like…well, not a regular guy, but a normal one, if that makes sense. Ultimately there’s no amount of power and privilege that can shield a person from the pain of being the odd one out, of being rejected, or of having to find your own way in a world that doesn’t want to see you succeed in a way they haven’t already decided for you. In some ways, power and privilege can make all of those things harder. They certainly make it harder for other people to sympathize. But for some reason, I really felt for Harry for most of this book. Sure, he’s a prince, but he’s also a guy who’s dealt with loneliness, anxiety, grief, and shame. He’s made big mistakes and great choices, and despite the whole prince thing, he’s very relatable through it all, even the really egregious bits that there really should be no excuse for. There are things in this book that really shouldn’t read as smoothly as they do–for instance, Harry’s explanation of his infamous N*zi uniform gaffe is a little too blithe and pleads a little too much ignorance for me to be entirely comfortable with it. But there’s a sense that Harry is growing and has grown so much as a person that I could accept it as part of the overall narrative of what he’s learned from life and where his younger years brought him.

The last third of the book is where he introduces us to Meghan Markle through his eyes, and wow. May we all be adored the way that Harry adores this woman. May we all adore someone the way she clearly adores him. Their love story is surprisingly simple(albeit assisted with lots of rich people opportunity), and even when surrounded by press and family drama there’s a fated sweetness in the way he talks about her that is wonderful.

I expected to like this a little, but I’m surprised that I relate to it so strongly. A round of drinks at the pub on me for Spare.

(Fellow readers, I’m a little surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did, but it’s probably worth the audiobook credits! If you want to read a memoir but aren’t sure if Prince Harry is quite your cup of tea check out this booklist on my shop. Don’t forget, we have an affliate relationship with Bookshop and if you buy any books from an Equal Opportunity link, we’ll be paid a commission. Thanks for visiting, peace, and go read something good!)

[Last Year In Books] What I Read in 2022, and How I’m Reading in 2023

Finally, I’m getting around to making a post about my last year in reading, and what I hope to read in 2023.

2022 was a bear of a year for me, fellow readers. It was also a banner year, in many ways. I’ve alluded to my personal struggles on Instagram and also in this reading challenge post, but I’ve said nearly nothing about the good things. This time last year, I was at Under The Volcano Guided Writer’s Residency, where I met legendary writer and editor Sheree Renee Thomas and workshopped alongside Alex Jennings and Tracy Cross, both of whom released their debut novels last year. Thanks to a generous grant from Con or Bust, I attended World Fantasy Con for the first time in New Orleans and met lots of cool new people, including Nisi Shawl who is like…whoa. Imagine Yoda sidling up to a Storm Trooper at the bar with a compliment, a drink, and a friendly laugh. That’s about how it felt to meet them(they are Yoda, obviously.)

I am not at all cool enough to be in this photo, yet there I am, fellow readers, on the far left. Everyone else, from left to right; comic book and story writer Alex Smith, speculative novelist and genuinely kind person Alex Jennings, speculative and culture writer Danian Darell Jerry, and Sheree Renee Thomas herself. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? WHAT AM I DOING THERE?!

I also co-wrote a Korean children’s book with the illustrator Juha Chung, which was released simultaneously in Korean and English. It’s called Adventures of Mago The Cat: Where The Clouds Drift To Rest. (Because this is my book, I’m revoking my usual Amazon clause.)

In between and around the process for that, I wrote, edited, and revised a LOT of stuff that will be released across various platforms this year. Some of it’s already out: my sci-fi short Mothership Connection is out in khoreo magazine, and my essay A Repat’s Guide to Boston was published in The Statesider. There are at least three more things in the offing between now and September, and while I am really trying hard not to make this into a writer blog as I slowly move more and more into that world, I will be updating you all here as things come out.

What I think I’m trying to say is that 2022 was the second year in which I spent most of my time working hard at becoming a writer(albeit, not very successfully yet). While I did some cool things and met some clearly awesome people, this year my reading weirdly suffered for it.

In 2020, I read 122 books. In 2021, I read 96.

In 2022, I read 46, and about 20 of them were children’s books I read when I was having a Very Bad Time last March and that was the only thing my brain could hold for a couple of weeks.

I’m not saying trying to write is making me a worse reader. I’m just saying that while trying to reach the great and stressful goals I’ve set for myself, I also read fewer books, far less pleasurably than I think I have in any other year of my life since I learned how to read. Believe it or not, I’m not a reader who uses books as a coping mechanism (anymore), and one of the things I learned last year was that if I’m not in a good frame of mind, books have lost their ability to soothe me.

Last year was my first full year back in America after 15 years elsewhere, and…yeah. It wasn’t a great time, mostly. Bright spots included the aforementioned WFC, meeting lots of new writer friends and acquaintances, trips to Mexico(for Under The Volcano) and Colorado(to see family), but not a lot else, and nowhere near as much reading as I usually do.

I still managed to get in some good ones, though, so here’s a quick recap of my 2022 reading;

The Ones I Didn’t Review…

I read a lot of books that I didn’t review last year, fellow readers, especially at the tail end of 2022. Some of them were great, like Helen Hoang’s romance novel The Kiss Quotient and Tayannah Lee McQuillar’s manual of Black American ancestral spiritual practices, appropriately titled Rootwork: Using the Folk Magick of Black America for Love, Money and Success. Some were okay, like the quirky graphic novel Catboy or I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, a tale of two girls–one white, one black–trying to get home on foot through a city burning up in race riots. The latter was written by two YA authors, Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones, who switch off chapters, each one writing from a different girl’s perspective. That was one of the more interestingly constructed books I read last year, and I’d recommend it to young readers for sure.

A few of the books I read last year I avoided reviewing because they just didn’t speak to me and I wasn’t sure how to talk about that constructively. The Pacific Northwest thriller The Wives and Jeff VanderMeer’s Amazon short Wildlife fall into that category.

Out of all the books I read but didn’t review, the only one I regret not giving some page time to is Stephen Graham Jones’ Amazon exclusive The Backbone of the World. In it, a Blackfoot woman in Montana is facing the loneliness and social ostracization that comes with being a prison widow (her husband is in jail) when strange goings-on in the field behind her trailer begin to distract her. The story is funny, otherworldly, and extremely creepy. It manages to work with the tropes established by horror writers past in an entirely new context. The ending made me cheer but also made my skin crawl, which is quite a feat. I wish I’d reviewed it more fully, but I did get around to a full review of the author’s biggest hit The Only Good Indians, which is also worth a read if you like horror.

The Ones I Loved…

I didn’t read a lot of books that I outright, unreservedly loved last year, if I’m being honest. The only three books that I read that gave me that meditational book hangover after I turned the last page were The Only Good Indians, Lola Akinmade Akerstrom’s Black woman migrant novel In Every Mirror She’s Black and actress Constance Wu’s memoir Making a Scene. I think I loved both of these for the same reason; they feature women of color being whole, flawed, normal creatures who don’t have to proclaim that things like racism and sexism suck out loud for that to be obviously so. Instead, they live their lives fully in pursuit of happiness and love, and I am entirely here for that kind of narrative. Come to think of it, I also loved the Brown Sisters series of romance novels for exactly the same reason.

There were other books that I really, really enjoyed, mostly because they surprised me. The Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky’s collection Deaf Republic shocked me in a good way and opened up an empathy void that I needed to examine. I was convinced that Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn would be really, really stupid but instead, it knocked my socks off. And while I didn’t need any extra help to remain a TJ Young and the Orishas fangirl, the ending of the second installment of the African wizard school series really stunned me in a good way and upped my anticipation for the rest of the series greatly.

The Ones I Appreciated…

There were plenty of books that I read and liked, even if they didn’t flood me with serotonin and literary brilliance the entire time. David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood, which formed the basis of the Sylvester Stallone franchise Rambo, surprised me with its deeply sensory descriptions of nature and genuine empathy for PTSD-stricken veterans. Rebecca Roanhorse’s hotly anticipated Fevered Star, the sequel to her pre-Columbian fantasy started Black Sun, had some exciting moments and set us up perfectly for the inevitable third installment of the trilogy. The Argentinian cannibal dystopia story Tender is the Flesh was…well, really gross, but I got what the author was trying to tell us and while I’ll never read that again and did not like it one bit, I definitely appreciated it.

The “no thank you, but I respect what you did” club was pretty crowded for me last year, come to think of it. Child star Jenette McCurdy’s abuse memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jasmine Mans’ poetry collection Black Girl, Call Home, and CM Nascosta’s orc romance novel Girl’s Weekend also fall into that category.

My 2023 Reading Plans…

2023 is already shaping up to be a better year than 2022 in many ways. I feel hope and excitement for what’s to come, and while we’ll see if my optimism is truly warranted, I’m enjoying the feeling that my hard work is getting me somewhere, and therefore have time and emotional energy to read again.

First, let’s address the elephant in the room; reading challenges. Last year I did a monthly reading challenge and while they were fun to do and a lot of you had positive things to say about them, I am actually not great at planning and implementing things that are even remotely related to book clubs.

Which is why I’m going to do it again this year. *sigh* If anyone tells you reading makes you smart, point them to this paragraph and laugh, okay? I’m still thinking through all the logistics to ensure that it will sustainable and interesting, but reading challenges will be back in February, this time connected to the book club app Fable. At least, that’s the plan. Watch this space.

As far as my own reading, there are two things I really want to do this year. One is to read more deeply in the backlist. The bookish internet clamors very loudly over new releases and that’s great. However, I’ve found so many gems from the backlist–not just from this decade, but literary eras past–that I want to start reading older books a little more conscientiously. I’ll still read new releases too, but I’ll be highlighting a few forgotten backlist classics–or should-be classics–in reviews this year.

I also want to read more African writers. I say this every year, and I read one or two. Africa is in a bookish boom right now and I want to see what it’s all about. So, more African authors from across the continent will be on my shelves and on my Kindle this year, and you should expect to see some reviews.

All that said, there are some things that won’t change. For example–I have no intention of reducing my romance novel consumption. The spicier, the better, although I’m still not sure how much I’m into the monster trend. (No kink-shaming intended if tentacles and fangs are your thing, of course.) I also have no intentions of straying from the initial purpose of this blog, which is to read, review, and discuss books by most of us–meaning Black, Brown, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, Arab, Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, disabled, neurodivergent, gender-diverse, poor and otherwise normal but under-recognized writers. This is still a space that centers us and y’all and me, and that won’t change.

Beautiful people–I just realized that this May we’ll celebrate this blog’s third year of existence. There are over 200 posts on this site, and countless more on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram. (Don’t even get me started on Pinterest…yes, I’m over there too.) We’ve been interviewed on NPR, shouted out by Stephen Graham Jones, Blerd.com and in countless lovely supportive posts by other bloggers and bookstagrammers. I think my little pandemic project has far exceeded my initial goals, and I’m glad you’re all still here reading along with me.

Onward and upward into 2023, fellow readers. I’m excited.

(I hate when I have a great inspirational ending line and have to ruin it with the obligatory legal disclaimer saying that this blog has an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any links you click here that result in you purchasing something over there will result in a commission being earned by this blog, which we(meaning I, this is a one-woman nerd show) will use to buy more books and gratefully read weekends away in a big comfy chair. There. Disclaimer done. Thank you for reading, and go read something good. Peace!)

[REVIEW] Shubeik Lubeik, by Deena Mohamed

(Buy this brilliant book here.)

In Arabic folktales, Shubeik Lubeik is the first part of the rhyme a genie speaks once released from a lamp. It means “Your wish is my command.

It’s been a very long time since I read something so captivating. This graphic novel, recently translated from Arabic into English, drew me out of a cold, rainy Boston weekend into a very detailed alternative Egypt, where wishes are real and an inevitable source of much politicking and policymaking. It’s a fascinating world, but even though it’s clear that wishes have a massive impact on the sociopolitical aspects of the Shubeik Lubeik world, that’s not entirely what the story is about.

Instead, we get three intertwined tales of three very different people with very different lives and very different reasons for wanting to have their deepest wish come true. In beautifully rendered panels we follow each story through to an unexpected conclusion. I won’t spoil them for you because they’re worth reading cold. I will say that they all examine desire, agency, and regret in very poignant ways, and the inevitable, seemingly small connections between each story strengthen their impacts. In between, there are a few amusing pages of brochures explaining the history and policy of wishmaking in this world which tips into interesting political commentary at times.

Listen. I sat down with this on Saturday morning and didn’t come back up for air until the sun had gone down. The only reason I stopped reading then is because I was enjoying it so much that I wasn’t ready for it to be over yet and wanted to prolong the experience. When I returned to it the next day, the last story took me to that transcendent place that only a good story told well can. I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I cheered, and when I got to the last page, I sat with the book closed on my lap for a minute, wistfully thinking of what I’d just read.

This is thoroughly magical, deeply Egyptian, funny, moving, beautifully illustrated, and VERY worth reading.

All of the stars and the deepest heart’s desire to Shubeik Lubeik. Go read this book, everyone.

(Beautiful people! This was an absolutely wonderful read, and my first five star read of the new year. Go grab it from your local library, indie bookstore, or the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Keep in mind that if you buy from that link, we will earn a commission. Thanks for reading, and peace! Now go and enjoy a good book! )

[REVIEW] The Weight of Blood, by Tiffany D Jackson

(Buy this book.)

The blurbs call this a Black version of Stephen King’s Carrie, and they’re mostly right. The author set out to write this as an homage, only shifting the tone of the main character’s terror, not the source. Instead of sheltered, abused, religiously traumatized Carrie White, this book focuses on Madison Washington. Maddy has all the same problems as Carrie, but she’s also been forced to pass as white for her entire life by her racist white father, who ritualistically straightens her hair every week with an old school stovetop straightening comb, complete with deliberate ear and neck burns.

One day Maddy’s hair gets wet during P.E. class and the resulting afro reveals her secret to her classmates and the rest of her tiny Georgia town. Cue trauma-induced psychic powers, a brief redemption in the form of the cute (Black) boy next door, and total embarrassment at the hands of (white) mean girl bullies leading to chaos, destruction and lots of very heavy blood.

It’s a good story and a very clever take on the novel that made Stephen King a household name. But it’s not all that scary.

This is partly because it’s set in 2014, not 1974. Something about the time period never really settled for me. Some parts of the book feel much older, others feel very recent, but I think the whole thing would have fit better in the 80s or earlier. (2014 is an oddly specific time to set this, and I never really figured out why that was the year of choice here. If it’s a nod to Ferguson and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, it’s poorly placed.)

There’s also the fact that a lot of the horror of the book is caused by racism–Maddy’s racist father, racist cops, racist classmates, benevolent racists who think they’re crusading for justice. Jackson does a good job of putting a face to all of them and weirdly enough, it backfires. Even though racism is carried out by individuals, racism isn’t scary because it’s personal. It’s scary because it’s impersonal, systematic, and dehumanizing. Just like Carrie, you feel sorry for Maddy. But unlike Carrie, who got terrible revenge, Maddy lashes out violently and destructively but still can’t touch the system, which is frustrating and sad. Even in her vindication, Maddy is still a victim.

A flat iron and a bottle of good heat protectant to The Weight of Blood.

(Fellow readers! This was an interesting read but not my favorite of the year, so far. If you’re interested in reading it, click the links above or head over to the Equal Opportunity Bookshop for more booklists featuring diverse books for diverse readers. Don’t forget we have an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any purchases you make here from links you find here result in a commission being paid. Peace, and go read something good! )

[REVIEW] Bloodmarked, by Tracy Deonn

(Buy this book)

What I expected from the hotly anticipated sequel to Legendborn: Our heroine Bree, having discovered she’s the bearer of a magical legacy from her slave-owning white ancestors that supercharge the gifts inherited from her mother’s ancestral line, raises up a network of fierce Black women rootcrafters, takes on the Round Table, and brings it all crashing down, speaking magical truth to magical power.

What I got: Bree, accompanied by far too many angry white dudes both dead and alive, gets captured, escapes, runs between safe houses, and somehow manages to find time for an annoying YA love triangle before tripping into a vortex of dumb decisions that ends on an unexpected cliffhanger.

Look. I get it. The premise of these books has always been a magical reckoning with what it’s like to be Black and exceptional in hostile white spaces and that’s very much what this is. I don’t love it, but I appreciate it. I’m always begging for Black women with not only enormous power but emotional range and relationships of reciprocal care in fantasy and Bree is all of that. There’s a lot of emotional and social truth strewn through the dumb decisions and moments of abject villainry that hits hard and spoke to my current America-wounded spiritual state of mind.

But I’m iffy about Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, even when they’re cleverly rebooted into good ol’ Southern boys and girls. Something about the inclusion of Arthurian legend makes this book move incredibly slowly. It doesn’t burst into life until the last third when Bree finally starts hanging around other magical Black folk. Their safe haven is one of the most beautifully woven concepts reckoning with ancestral magic and Black American history that I’ve seen in a book, and while I won’t spoil it for you, I really loved it.

But then the dumb decision parade begins and while it makes sense in the story and is true to the characters, ARGH. Briana, girl! What are you DOING?!?

I’ll definitely read the next installment but this one didn’t wow me like the first and I need FAR more Black people and their magics next go-round, even if the end of this one seems to be moving us away from that realm.

A week’s punishment with no phone calls from magical boys for Bloodmarked.

(Happy New Year, fellow readers! Welcome to another year of diverse books for diverse readers! If you want to read more books about Black girls and women in magical fantasy worlds inspired by legend and folklore, I highly recommend the works of Nalo Hopkinson. If you’re looking for something to get you started on your bookish journey through 2023, take a look at the whole Equal Opportunity Bookshop and have a peruse. For legal reasons, I have to tell you that we have an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any purchases you make there from a link you find here will result in a commission being paid. Go read something good!)

[REVIEW] I’m Glad My Mom Died, by Jennette McCurdy

Buy this book here.

(Content warning: child abuse)

I feel like the best thing I can say about this book is that the title is a lie.

While child star Jennette McCurdy describes the emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse her overbearing stage mother perpetrated in painstakingly gory detail here, you never really get a sense that she’s glad that her mother is dead of the cancer she blamed for her behavior. But I also never really got the sense that any of the trauma in this book had been healed at all, only examined and trotted out for public display. All of the disturbing situations discussed — how adult Jennette weighed 89 pounds and rode in a booster seat at 14, how she was anorexic and bulimic at her mother’s urging, how she was in a terrible relationship with a man twice her age in her late teens, how her mother insisted on bathing her well into adulthood–these are all disturbing, but they also carry a distinct tinge of “what for?!”.

I don’t want to sound as though I’m criticizing her experiences–I’m not. I feel absolutely terrible about everything McCurdy says she goes through, and as a Child of the Secret myself, I know that healing is a journey, and the trauma of abuse isn’t something that can be wrapped up and explained neatly in a three-act plot with a tidy denouement.

But I’d also never heard of McCurdy before this book. I was an adult when iCarly and Sam and Cat were big on Nickelodeon. I don’t have the same parasocial empathy for her that fans have. In a way, that makes all of the suffering on display here even sadder. Not only was McCurdy abused, but she developed lifelong eating disorders and substance abuse issues that she still struggles with as a result. Her relationships are trainwrecks, her acting career discarded (it turns out, she never really wanted one), and at the end of her memoir, it’s pretty clear her money is beginning to dry up. At the end of a memoir like this, you want to walk away with a sense that something has changed in the life of the victim. The end of this just left me feeling empty–McCurdy is persevering through the pain, but her mother died and left mostly bitterness and nasty secrets behind.

That’s very real, but this was tiring to read and shockingly mean at times. It’s supposed to be funny and I didn’t laugh once. I was just horrified, disgusted, and disturbed. I like dark humor, but this ain’t that. While I’m sure McCurdy will continue to heal, I finished the book feeling bad for her. The one bright spot is that she’s a good writer and this book is put together well, despite her mother’s mean discouragement of her writing aspirations.

All these words and I still have no idea what to say or how to feel about this. Many years of therapy and a source of unconditional love to I’m Glad My Mom Died. Yikes.

(This wasn’t my favorite read of 2022, beautiful people. Fans feel differently, so if you liked iCarly, go ahead and check this one out in the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Don’t forget, we have an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any purchases you make through links on this site will result in us earning a commission which we will use to purchase more books! Thanks, and go read something good. )

[READING CHALLENGE] Holiday Chill Time

(There’s no booklist this time, but if you want to check out the Bookshop click here!)

I don’t know about you, fellow readers, but this year has been a BEAST.

I’ll probably do a retrospective of everything later but you know what I, and probably a lot of you, need right now?

REST.

When December rolls around, I often find that my brain needs a break. So I read for comfort. In my case, that means reading lots of schmoopy romance novels and maybe getting through the last chapters of all the not-quite-finished books that have been laying around since May. Of course, I’ll be doing my annual re-read of A Christmas Carol, too.

For you, that might mean reading thrillers, a by-the-numbers murder mystery, or a really dishy celebrity memoir. (Do people still say “dishy”? Did I, ever?) Whatever you read for comfort–read some of that this month. And if you have any time in between holiday this and holiday that, finish up that book you almost got through back in June until you were distracted by something else.

What’s your comfort genre, fellow readers? What do you think you’ll read this month?

(Obligatory information: if you buy anything from a Bookshop link on this site, a commission will be paid. Thanks! )

[REVIEW] Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien

(Buy this book.)

The author of this speculative poetry collection is from Trinidad and Tobago. I’ve never been there, but I imagine that being islands, there are beaches there, with waves that flow across the sand and lap against the rocks in the same way that these poems flow across your eyes and lap against your thoughts.

It’s a very peaceful image and tone for a book of poems that are, in the words of the poet himself, based around the concept of the Elder Gods harassing American rappers for autographs. The concept is hilarious, and some of the poems elicit grins and smirks, but they’re also thoughtful, political, and in a few instances, beautiful and touching. These poems reckon with race, with sexuality, with culture, with utopia. They shine a light upward through the marginalizing shadows a certain famous creator of Mythos left lurking over horror fiction and if that light bounces back occasionally and points a beam or two back at the culture — why does J Cole say bitch so much, anyway?– it’s all part of the fun and food for thought.

It feels odd to review this, knowing that in order to really absorb and understand, I’ll need to read it again and again and again. It feels good to review this, knowing that I get to read these poems again and again and again.

You know the drill – I don’t star writers I’ve met. Instead, a drop of utopia and a special sharpie that writes on eldritch scales without bleeding to Can You Sign My Tentacle?

[REVIEW] The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones

(Buy this book.)

Listen. This horror novel has been out for two years now, so I’m just going to go ahead and start with a spoiler.

The monster is an elk.

If you’re like me and your initial response to that is to lean back and say “pfffft, LAME!”, then you should also read this book and enjoy a near-sleepless night speed running the last 50 pages because you’re hoping to get the horror out of your head with the inevitable happy ending.

Whether or not that happy ending ever comes is up for debate, as is if that happy ending is even possible. When four young Blackfoot men go hunting in a restricted area, they’re not expecting the supernatural consequences of their actions to hunt them through adulthood. Still, it does, and they stumble through life poorly, never realizing that their selfishness and reactivity keep them from being the good guys they think they are. Their community–coworkers, girlfriends, local rez officials, an estranged daughter who’s had to have her dad banned from her basketball games–all clearly know and are disappointed in them, but they keep trying to maintain relationships and getting hurt. When vengeance comes, as horrible as it is, it’s hard not to feel as though our main characters don’t all deserve it to some extent. But the people around them suffer too, and that’s where the truest horror in this book lies.

Stephen Graham Jones pulls off a tricky thing in this book. He writes about some of the worst and scariest bits of a community without demonizing it or dehumanizing the perpetrators. The fallout from the bloody revenge delivered to the hunters hurts the women in their lives most. In the real world, indigenous women experience violence at horrifyingly high rates. Knowing that made parts of this book hard to read. But the violence never feels gratuitous or gleeful.

Instead, it feels like a reckoning, not only within the story but with what makes violence against Native women so distressingly likely in reality. This book is about revenge, it’s about grief, and it’s about grimly holding men accountable even while acknowledging that systems can marginalize them as well.

It also manages to have a whole chapter that’s nothing but a basketball game but isn’t boring at all.

Five stars and proper hunting permissions to The Only Good Indians

(Fellow readers, this book is scary scary. If you want to read it or other diverse horror books, check out this booklist in the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Don’t forget–this blog has an affiliate relationship with Bookshop so anything you buy from a link on this site will earn us a commission. Hope you’ve had a great holiday, if you celebrate, beautiful people. Now–go read something good! Peace!)

[REVIEW] Black Vans, by Alex Smith and James Dillenbeck

(Buy this directly from the artist’s NSFW website here.)

I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what I should tell you first about this cool, colorful indie comic.

Maybe it’s that these are INDIE-indie books. I literally bought them out of a backpack in a nightclub. It was the writer’s backpack, but still…

Maybe I should start by describing the main character Bo, a chubby gay Afro-Mexican hacker who spends his days providing intel for superheroes out of the back of an (oddly never pictured) black van. Bo isn’t the sidekick–he’s the main character. He’s sexy and vulnerable and flawed and bad-ass just like any other comic hero, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen anybody like him driving a series. In these first two issues, he’s mostly trying to figure out what’s happening, and I wouldn’t mind following his story further once he does.

Maybe I should talk about the setting of the comics and how wonderfully weird it is. The Black Vans world draws from cyberpunk, solarpunk, tech noir, progressive politics and queer club kid culture(is it still called that?), mixing them all into a delightful American champloo.

Or maybe I should tell you that I live in a carefully constructed nurturing bubble of my own design, where everyone is welcome as long as they are boldly, emphatically themselves and allow others the grace to be so. In that bubble, I sometimes forget what the world outside is really like, and reminders can be harsh. The latest was this weekend’s shooting at a gay club in my home state. When things like this happen, we grieve, we console, we rage, and we build and rebuild.

It’s books like this that can inspire us to do all of that, reminding me, at least, that others are out there building their own bubbles of hope, vision and inclusion, and that if we all build them big enough, eventually they’ll merge and true evils will have no space to breathe.

It’s a good comic: original, action-packed, and filled with folk who are unusual in books but totally normal in many of our real lives.

An order of bao to go and a superhero battle-cry to Black Vans.

(Beautiful people! Remember, these are extremely indie comics, so you can’t purchase them anywhere but the artist’s shop right now. However, if you want to support this blog–i.e., me and my reading habit–consider taking a look at the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Anything you purchase there will earn a commission. Peace!)

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