Last Week In Books: Yo Mama’s So Nice Nobody Can Write A Dramatic Best-Selling Novel About Her

Happy Mother’s Day to all my fellow readers who’ve added extra pages to their family books! I’ve been trying to think of my favorite literary mothers all day…and failing. Healthy parental relationships are not often the stuff of literature, are they? Still, here’s hoping you and yours had a fabulous day.

Also, for those of us who do have more, um, literary relationships with our moms–I know I do–I just want to say, I see you too. I understand how hard it is, and I see you, judgment-free.

Anyway, on to the books.

  • Jhumpa Lahiri was born to Bengali-speaking Indian immigrant parents in London, moved to Rhode Island when she was two, and after getting her Ph.D. at Boston University and becoming a globally-recognized author moved to Italy to learn the language, culminating in writing her most recent novel Whereabouts in Italian and translating it into English herself. Lesser folk could never. Also, I just realized that the character of Pushpa Sondhi in Sakesh Ratyal’s novel No One Can Pronounce My Name is totally based on Lahiri, and things make so much more sense now. [via The Guardian]
  • In the world of comics, there’s a new Captain America, and he’s indigenous. I want to like this because Darcie Little Badger wrote him and Elatsoe is one of my favorite books but also–I don’t like this. Indigenous Captain America? I mean, I guess. (For the record, I’m not crazy about Falcon/Black Captain America either. I just think the concept is not useful outside of subtle propaganda. But that’s another story for another day.) [Via Marvel]
  • On a more positive note, Black comic creators are having very insightful conversations on the current wave of diversity in comics and what it means going forward. Will it stay or will it just be another trend? [via LA Times]
  • Also, I’m sure this comes as no surprise, but Stacey Abrams recently revealed that publishers passed on her new legal thriller While Justice Sleeps not once, but twice. Of course, it’s now a best seller. [via Wall Street Journal]
  • Somewhere on my personal Facebook page, I wrote a long post about the surprising diversity of the television adaptation of The Wheel of Time series and laid an imaginary bet that manly tough hero dude al’Lan Mandragoran would be cast as an Asian guy. I WAS RIGHT! I can’t find that post now, but I called it. Even though this six-second clip gives us almost nothing to work with, I hope Daniel Henney does it justice, and seeing him here makes me a little more excited about the upcoming show. [via Amazon Prime Video]
  • Since it is after all Mother’s Day, I’ll leave you with a booklist of murderous mothers in YA fantasy fiction. Included is the fantasy novel Raybearer, which will be reviewed here soon and is fantastic, and An Ember In The Ashes, in which–well, there was SO much going on in that book it took me a moment to remember who the murderous mother was. Both highly recommended reads, though. [via Tor]

That’s it for this week, fellow readers. Remember–this blog has affiliate relationships and if you click/purchase anything from here a commission may be paid. Read something good, and peace!

[REVIEW] Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams

(Buy it from Bookshop here.)

I want to fight Queenie.

Okay, maybe not fight. Not physically, anyway. I just want to take her out for coffee and a very stern junior auntie-in-training chat about her life and her choices, ending with one question–“Girl, why don’t you love yourself at all?”

She’s twenty-five, works at a London newspaper, has great friends–English rose Darcy, Peckham gyal Kyazike, and posh Cassandra–and a loving, if troubled Jamaican immigrant family. Yet, when her long-term boyfriend–an annoyingly basic white guy who lets his uncle make racist jokes–breaks up with her and throws her out of the apartment, Queenie goes into a spiral that is frankly hard to watch. She starts messing up at work, drinking too much and sleeping with a string of the most hopeless losers I’ve ever seen on a page–married men, objectifying fetishists, weirdos, creeps, geeks and a few alarmingly open racists. These men are all white or Asian, and it almost goes without saying that misogynoir and internalized self-disgust play a large part in Queenie’s struggle to heal.

I’ve been talking about Queenie and Company as though they were real people, and they really do feel alive, which is a testament to Carty-Williams talent for character. This book has been called a Black British Bridget Jones, and there’s something to that. Culturally I appreciated reading something real and feminine and modern about an British Jamaican woman, but at least Bridget was having fun. Queenie is in real pain, and it hurts to live life with her for a few months worth of miserable plot twists after plot twist. There’s something true in Queenie’s pain that goes beyond entertainment and hits Black women in a very real and tender place–especially those of us who, like her, are too soft and squishy for the hard roles a white supremacist world often tries to foist on us. But she and her family and friends feel so real, and are so determined to reach a loving, joyful place in life despite being dealt some really crappy cards that it all feels worth it in the end. I was genuinely surprised at how caught up in Queenie’s life I was and how deep the empathy ran, even when I wanted to snatch her up or was squirming from secondhand embarrassment. I wasn’t expecting to be so touched by the ending, either. It’s happy, but not perfect, and while it’s a very, very small victory, it feels so hard-earned that you can’t help but cheer Queenie on.

5 stars and a smiley emoji in the group text to Queenie.

(Fellow readers! I wasn’t expecting this to be a 5-star read but it was! If you want to give it a try for yourself, check out your local library or find it in the Equal Opportunity Bookshop here. As always, this blog has affiliate relationships and any links you click or purchases you make may result in a commission being paid. Peace!)

Ten For The Times: A Social Justice Booklist To Keep Us Moving Forward

Where do I even begin with today, fellow readers? I woke up suddenly at 5 am Korean time on April 20th, only to find that the Derek Chauvin verdict would be read in an hour. I fixed myself a cup of tea and sat, thinking, waiting. I wasn’t expecting much–the USA has done a remarkable job of suppressing and subverting Black people’s belief in legal justice. Still, against all anticipated odds, Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts leveled against him. At 6:15 am with a rapidly cooling cup of tea in my hands, I burst into tears of pure relief. I didn’t realize how exhausting the anticipation of renewed grief, pain, and anger as well as worry for my friends and family still in the US had been, really. Knowing that Chauvin would face consequences–unlike the killers of Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, and countless more–didn’t lift the weight of injustice, but it did give me a few crumbs of hope to go with my morning tea. I finished my cup of tea and went into the work day with a renewed sense of…something. Not justice, not vindication, and certainly not peace about the current state of things in the USA. But there was a certain sense of hope that Chauvin’s conviction might be an axis upon which the state of overpolicing and race-based brutality in the US might finally turn, and change.

Then, two hours into the work day, I learned that a 15 year old girl named Ma’Khia Bryant had been shot to death by police in Columbus, Ohio, in an arguably botched response to a 911 call.


I avoid writing explicitly about my own personal politics and experiences in political and social justice work here, for quite a few reasons. I prefer to let my offline actions speak for me in that regard–the internet is already too full of political and social clout chasers, and I am allergic to performative activism. But I do strongly advocate for justice and social change in the small ways that I can, in the US and in the world. To be clear, the Chauvin verdict is not justice–it is the bare minimum. Had there not been a global outcry and the very real threat of destruction of property and the system that owns much of it, there would probably have been no conviction, and that is not justice. It is, however, an impetus to continue working, continue campaigning, continue thinking and dreaming and building the better world that we are all capable of to honor the memories of those whose lives were unjustly stolen, and grudgingly acknowledged, by the world we have now.

Active community starts with strong interpersonal foundations, and the words of community activists are a critical building material. We need not only to look at the present systems, but also to the past, to the joists and slabs laid down by activists before us. We need to include the viewpoints of every part of our communities–every race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality and class, giving those who have been marginalized and oppressed at multiple intersections the largest voice. (If the people who have been treated the smallest are doing well–we all will be.) We need to give a place of honor to the voices of Black women, who have a history of using our words, our labor and our time to improve the world for everyone, not just ourselves. We need to include perspectives of disabled and neuro-atypical people, who bring insights about access and equity that many never think of. We need to learn from each other, but unfortunately, it’s a whole Panera bread out there and face to face meetings of folks who are like you and unlike you and form the best intersections of experience and ability and character are virtually impossible. Or rather, they’re virtually possible, but we’re all sick of Zoom meetings, right?

That’s where the books come in. I’ve put together a list of ten books that I feel have a forward-looking, progressive view of how to build the future of America. It includes memoirs, speeches, political treatises, a few classics and some very new and vital work. As always, I am not an expert. I’m just a person who reads a lot and thinks a lot with a blog. No shade or smoke in the comments, although snark is acceptable if it’s very, very smart and funny.

Without further ado and in no particular order…here’s ten for the times, a list of social justice books to keep us moving forward.

A blue book cover depicting a stylized moon against a dark blue sky and patterned, dark land.

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us, by Mariame Kaba(Haymarket Books, 2021)

This is one of the newest books on this list, having been released in February 2021. Written by Guinean-Congolese-American prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba, the book collects essays, interviews and reflections from the author’s lifelong work examining and decrying the US prison system, its inequities, and its gluttonous society-to-cell pipelines. Highlights of the book include a deconstruction of the Cyntoia Brown case (generally, Black women in the prison system are given primary support and attention in this book) and a remarkably soulful discussion of Darren Wilson, written just before the court decision to not convict him for the murder of Michael Brown. This is a simply written, emotionally challenging read. Find it here.

Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom To Heal Divides and Restore Balance, by Edgar Villanueva (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018)

Many of the inequities that the US prison system capitalizes on involve the uneven distribution of wealth, which is only one facet of what racial justice activist Edgar Villanueva gets into in this book. Utilizing methodologies from Indigenous models of community, he suggest alternative ways to view, use, and encourage philanthropy and social finance. Ultimately he encourages more equal distribution of wealth and the use of money as a tool for healing, not the accumulation of power. The best part is that the author puts his money where his mouth is, helming the Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital, both of which I highly recommend taking a look at. Find it here.

Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown (AK Press, 2017)

I’m not shy about my deep, abiding love for the Grande Dame of science fiction, Octavia E. Butler. It’s precisely because I’m so loud about that love that I was gifted a copy of this book by a musically gifted homegirl and…whoa. Brown uses the principles of the Earthseed communities created for Butler’s Parables series to imagine truly transformative communities and ways of belonging to society. The results do the Grande Dame proud. This book is perhaps a bit lighter on theory than some of the others on this list, but it’s grander in inspiration. There’s a concept from it that I quote to students and friends constantly–that of the need for positive imagination to combat negative projections. Find it here.

See No Stranger, by Valarie Kaur(One World, 2020)

This was one of the most profoundly affecting books I read in 2020–part memoir, part manifesto, and part manual for living out community in interfaith, intercultural, interconnected ways as inspired by divine love. I don’t trust people who say that their activism/politics/belief/community are powered purely by logic and eschew emotion. I trust Valarie Kaur, however, and I’ve never met her. She taps into the emotional, loving roots that bring many of us to social justice and activism in a warm, welcoming way that I both enjoyed and took inspiration from. As a bonus, through the author’s devotionals this book offers an introduction to the Sikh faith, which many Americans are not over-familiar with but has quite a lot of presence in our country. Find it here.

Crip Kinship, by Shayda Kafai(Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021)

I haven’t actually read this book yet because it won’t be released until November, but I’ve seen the cover floating around on Bookstagram a bit lately. I instantly remembered watching the author’s Ted Talk years ago and being surprised at how deeply it made me examine my own neglect and tokenization of the disabled and mentally ill people in my life and community. I’ve ordered a copy of this book because it promises to explore the liberation and full joy of disabled people from the perspective of the Sins Invalid performance project in California, which operates under the proclamation “An Unashamed Claim To Beauty In The Face of Invisibility”. In keeping with that line, the other reason I want this book is because it has a genuinely beautiful cover that makes me smile every time I see it. Find it here.

Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons From Marine Mammals, by Alexis Pauline Gumbs(AK Press, 2020)

This is the other book on this list I have yet to read, and also probably the most visionary and creative. Part of a series inspired by Emergent Strategy (the 3rd book on this list), it meditates on social movements using the framework of marine mammal behavior seen through a Black feminist lens. My noodle is a bit baked just trying to put all of that together, but its an undeniably intriguing premise that I really must see and absorb for myself. I have no idea what the conclusions or community foundations in this book are, but I’m all for innovation, creative thinking, and reclaiming aspects of the natural world and its lessons and metaphors in the activism of BIPOC. I’ll let y’all know what I think when my copy arrives, fellow readers. If you want to beat me to it, find it here.

Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay, by the Debt Collective(Haymarket, 2020)

The average American is nearly $100,000 in debt, with little to show for it. Unfettered capitalism is destroying vital human and natural resources, and the repaying of the debts it incurs is exhausting the population too much to build new systems. That’s where this very practical economical disobedience manual by Debt Collective (with chapter titles like “You Are Not A Loan: Recognizing Our Power in the Age of Debt”) comes in. While I can’t say I fully agree with or endorse everything in this book, I do think its an excellent tool for reframing our thinking and conversations about debt, corporate power, and the constructive application of funds rescued from debt structures. Find it here.

Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of A Movement, by Angela Y Davis (Haymarket, 2016)

Angela Y Davis has been in the public eye since 1969, teaching, speaking and demonstrating about and on behalf of Black liberation, feminism, prison abolition, Palestinian liberation and socialism. This dense collection of transcribed speeches and interviews only scratches the surface of her immense body of work, but it functions as a great primer for understanding the applications of that work in present times. Sadly, things haven’t changed that much and some of Davis’ points have been repeated for years, which is also evident in this collection. Find it here.

The End of Policing, by Alex S Vitale (Verso Books, 2018)

I just finished reading this and a review is forthcoming. For now, suffice it to say that this is a very timely read in the present situation, well-written, well-researched, and equal parts hopeful and critical. It’s not enough for Vitale to indict the police with statistics and theory–he also suggests alternatives, and manages to do so in a way that comes across as reverent to the loss of life and community grief that necessitated a book like this. I think he even manages to assuage some of the natural defensiveness felt by people who work in law enforcement(assuming any manage to get past the matter of fact title). This is a good book for the current work that needs doing. Find it here.

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Haymarket Books, 2017)

This is the book with perhaps the oldest roots on the list; it’s also the nearest and dearest to my heart. As a collection of essays and interviews about the members of a Black feminist lesbian socialist collective that sprung up in 1960s Boston, it illustrates several things; 1) effective activist doesn’t need a celebrity spokesperson, or a single spokesperson at all, 2) the people who come up with academic language and concepts(identity politics, interlocking oppressions, strategic essentialism) don’t always get the credit for it and 3)Black women are such a vital part of social justice and progressive politics in America, have always been, and I am proud of us, and of being us. The story of the Collective and the work that they did is complex and Taylor does a good job laying it all out, making this an essential read. Find it here.

There are blind spots and (unintentional) omissions on this list, I know. I won’t apologize for them, though, because this list is meant to be inspiring, not definitive. Read these books, or others that appeal to your sense of justice, that are relevant to community, or that help you make sense of the times. Then go act. Go find the people in community who are doing what you want to do, or who want to, and do something with them. (Be safe, though. If you can’t be safe, be wise. If you can’t be wise, be impactful. I’m sure someone wiser than me has said that better than me, but my point is–do something effective and sustainable that you can write your own book about later. Don’t go doing stupid unhelpful reactionary shit and then come crying in my inboxes, because that is not what this blog is about.)

The world is unfair, beautiful people. It doesn’t have to stay that way. Do what you can, and love while you do it. Peace!

(I hate to ruin my own preaching, but for legal reasons(this is not a joke) I have to tell you that this blog contains affiliate links and if you click and purchase using any link you find here, a commission may be earned. It helps keep the lights on in this part of the internet, so if you feel so moved, I’d appreciate the support. Now, for real this time–peace!)

[REVIEW] The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw

(Buy it from Bookshop)

*sigh* I don’t think this collection of short stories was meant for me, y’all. I wanted it to be. Nine stories about Black women and their connections to themselves and the church seemed right up my alley, and I was genuinely excited to get into this and see myself and my folks on the page. But this didn’t quite hit the mark for me and I’m a little sad about it.

Before I say anything else, I do want to note that parts of this are brilliant. “How To Make Love To A Physicist” is beautiful, redemptive, romantic and joyful. “Jael” uses an unexpected biblical namesake to deliver a truly surprising, slightly creepy story that also made me throw back my head and laugh hard at one point. “Instructions For Married Christian Husbands” is snarky and clever and fun.

The other six stories, though, left me with a pervasive sense of “that’s it?” Reviews and the author herself promised a collection of joy and self-identification. I found a lot of it trite and trope-ish instead. Aggrieved light-skinned country mothers having affairs with married church men who neglect their dark-skinned, insecure daughters seem to be a running theme in over half the stories and c’mon now–are we still doing that? What year is it? Men are worshipped as gods, despite being remarkably unlikable and unpleasant in nearly all their appearances. Queer women are well-represented, but in perpetually dysfunctional, emotionally stunted ways. Also there’s a surprising lack of breadth of perspective too–none of the stories are from the perspective of a female pastor, a first lady, or someone who is at all grounded, progressive or agencied in their faith or even their life. Church functions as a bland stand-in for misogynoir in these stories and while that’s valid, it wasn’t presented with enough depth or scope outside of the worst of church for me. I didn’t really see myself or any of the other Black women I know–churched or unchurched–reflected in most of these stories, only sad, mulish caricatures. I expected more inner life, more surprises, and more types of women.

I’m not saying I only want to read happy stories of Black women, or that I want all of my story protagonists to be emotionally well-adjusted and forward thinking. The world is a complex place full of complex people, most of whom are bound by society and addicted to struggle. These are meant to be real stories of real(ish) people, and I recognize that. However–they aren’t real enough, for me. I can’t connect with these lumpish, stereotypical women. They’re blandly, one-dimensionally oppressed even without the overt presence of whiteness in the book and it bores me. The overarching influence of the church and the experience of Blackness is presented in a uniform shade of sexually repressed, socially-stultifying. self-limiting gray rather than being presented as the complex, colorful institution that it is in reality.

The three stories I mentioned are great. The rest–sorry, but meh.

Three stars and a vial of anointing oil to these Church Ladies and their sad, unsatisfying lives.

(I know this book is beloved and award-winning, fellow readers but it just didn’t do it for me. If you want to give it a try or take a look at other books about Black women, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Friendly reminder–this site has affiliate relationships with Bookshop and other partners, and any click-throughs and purchases may result in a commission being earned. Peace!)

Last Week In Books: All My Ruff Ryders, Meet Me Outside

It’s rare that I use this space to highlight anyone outside of the world of literature, but I think I have to make an exception this week for Earl Simmons, aka DMX. While he did pen an autobiography, he wasn’t known for his book. Still, he lived a dichotomous, tortured, nakedly expressive life on par with many other literary greats and he had a way with words, rhymes, story and culture, as evinced by this quatrain:

You wack, you’re twisted, your girl’s a hoe
You’re broke, the kid ain’t yours, and e’rybody know
Your old man say you stupid, you be like, “So?
I love my baby mother, I never let her go”

~ DMX, “Party Up”

I know I do a lot of jokey-jokes and snarky-snark on these internets, but this time I’m (mostly) serious. Rest well, Dark Man X.

I missed out on last week’s usual blog because I lost the time war, so there’s quite a few links ahead. Buckle up!

  • Apparently they’re building a housing development on the famed moors featured in Wuthering Heights and other British literary classics. Cultural significance and tourism revenue aside, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to live there. [LitHub]
  • Charles Yu is rapidly becoming one of my favorite contemporary writers. In this op-ed for the LA Times, he rejects the overarching story of American racism–leading to its recent conclusion in the terrorism in Atlanta–while spinning the foundations of the one he hopes replaces it. The best part is where he rejects the Asian assimilation myth. More of this positive imagination in print, please! [Los Angeles Times]
  • I just started following literary prizes and what they mean a few years ago and still am not entirely sure what I am talking about or why I should care when they’re brought up in bookish conversations. Still, I’ve been watching the International Booker Prizes–given to novel in translation, published in the UK or Ireland–with particular interest this year. This is because the nominees include writers from China(Can Xue and Chen Zeping), Senegal(David Diop) and 83-year old Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who looks absolutely fantastic for his age and translated his novel The Perfect Nine into English from his native Gikuyu. Thiong’o is the first nominee for this prize writing in a native African language, to which I say again–more of this! [via International Bookers, The Guardian]
  • Okay, a couple of deeply dystopic publishing and distribution news quickies; Canadian libraries are facing a funding cut for accessible books for disabled readers. Also, a company called Epic is mining children’s online data under the guise of content customization.Yikes. [via BookRiot, LitHub]
  • I feel like every week I should just include a feature entitled “Indigenous Writers Are Killin’ The Game” because they are and my bookshelves are loving the expansion. Blackfoot writer Sterling HolyWhiteMountain‘s recently published piece “Featherweight” is a wonderfully complex examination of the culture shock that young Indigenous people encounter when going to “mainstream” higher education institutions, and how it frames and shapes their identities internally and externally. As a Black woman who went to PWIs for undergrad and grad school, I felt this story in my own bones but enjoyed the new exposure to Indigenous culture as well. Yo, Mr HolyWhiteMountain…not that you’ll read this, but if you ever do…write a novel, sir. We need it. [via The New Yorker]
  • Last link, and with no hyperbole the most thought-provoking thing I’ve read in the past two weeks: Can Black Pain In Books Bring About Black Joy? What a good question. [via Tor]

There we have it, fellow readers–a quick list of diverse book news and info. As always if you like what you see here, like the Facebook, follow the Instagram and check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. This blog has affiliate relationships so if you click and purchase anything from a link you find here, a commission may be paid. Now, go read something good. Peace!

[REVIEW] This Is How You Lose The Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

(Buy it from Bookshop)

This may be the unlikeliest romance novel I have ever read.

Red and Blue are super soldiers in the time war, traveling across the 4th dimension bending history with violence and other influences. Somehow, they begin a mocking correspondence, taunting each other while busy sinking Atlantis and riding with Genghis Khan to manipulate various timestreams. The taunts turn to banter; the banter to confessions; then, like all good romances, after girl-meets-girl there’s contrived misunderstandings, heartfelt declarations and sacrifice of near-Shakespearean scope. However, when all is said and done they are dimension-traveling human bioweapons, so the shape that these time-honored tropes form around Red and Blue are often unfamiliar, surprising and very entertaining.

It took a while for this to gel for me, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Time War is creative, well-crafted and–dare I say it?–kind of cute. Red and Blue’s sappy hyperbolic letters to each other drew quite a few unexpected smiles from me. Also, I can’t remember the last time I read something in English that made me look words up while reading–but this book stretched my vocabulary delightfully. This is clearly a book by, for and about the nerdiest sort of bookworm and I dig it.

I liked this a lot but I didn’t love it entirely. I want to, but the start is so slow I almost quit reading. Also, after working hard to keep readers on our toes through the intertwining plots, the ending is rather predictable. I can’t give this book my whole heart, but I might write it a letter or two, see where things go.

4.5 stars and a drawerful of paper and ink to This Is How You Lose The Time War.

(Happy Spring, fellow readers! This is the usual reminder that this blog has affiliate relationships with sites like Bookshop, and if you click and purchase anything from a link you find here, a commission may be paid. So go on. Click. You know you want to. Peace!)

[REVIEW] Survivor, by Octavia Butler

(This novel is out of print. Find other works by Octavia E Butler HERE.)

This novel was originally published in 1978. It’s been out of print since 1979–unlike all of Butler’s other novels, it’s never been reprinted, at her request. Don’t ask me how I got a copy or I’ll send you the bill.

It’s really hard to know what to say about this book, to be honest. Butler herself hated it. I’m a huge fan who had heard about the book for years and was positively giddy at the thought of reading the legendary “lost” Patternist novel.But now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on it– I can see why she didn’t like it. It doesn’t add anything of significance to the overarching Patternist story, so if you’re a fan of the epic sci-fi series and were worried about missing something, don’t be. In Survivor, a group of Missionaries leave Earth to escape the ravaging Clayark virus and settle on another planet, only to find that there is already a society of intelligent alien beings there. However, fanaticism keeps the Earthlings from seeing humanity in the furry humanoid residents of their new planet, even after the very human adopted Missionary Alanna (who is Blasian, a rarity for sci-fi heroines) finds out how accepting the alien community can be. Naturally, space colonization shenanigans ensue.

Usually I only give a bare bones summary of the books I review, because I want you to go read them for yourselves and I don’t personally enjoy spoilers or spoiling. I thought of giving a more detailed analysis of Survivor’s plot and themes because it’s out of print and you can’t read it, but to be honest there’s nothing here that wasn’t done better, later. Both the Parables and Lilith’s Brood have similar characters, themes and conflicts, only much more fully realized and–it pains me to say it–better written. Butler called Survivor a “Star Trek novel” and said the book revolves around offensive clichés. Frankly, it does. Whatever narratives we’ve been trained to accept about addiction, colonization, foster children and adoptees, fundamentalism and first contact with ‘others’ are all in this book with no subversion. I knew exactly what would happen from the first chapter, which is very disappointing for a Butler novel. Her genius was in showing us the grim reality that the standard sci-fi clichés and tropes were built to idealistically hide, but this book is rather ham-handed and obvious. While Alanna is a great protagonist–a clear prototype for Olamina and Lilith in later works — the central relationships in the book are presented in a straightforward way even though they would be considered horrifying and abusive on any planet. Also, the conclusion and its implied commentary on indigeneity and colonization could be interpreted in pretty gross ways.

I’m excited that I got to read this but I see why it’s not in print. 2 stars and a trip back to the vault for Survivor.

(Now go read the Parables and Lilith’s Brood, if you haven’t already. You can find all of Butler’s works listed here but please be aware that this site has affiliate relationships with entities like Bookshop and if you click and purchase, a commission may be earned. Peace!)

[REVIEW] Homey Don’t Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution, by David Peisner

(Buy it HERE.)

I’m often grateful that I came of age during the 90s. While I didn’t have the easiest of childhoods (who did?) there was something magical about the Black cultural renaissance happening in that decade. Hip-hop, neo-soul, comedy, tv shows, literature, films–there was something special happening then and I’m glad it was the decade that shaped my tastes. ⠀
In Living Color is definitely one of the top 10 sketch comedy shows of that era and all time. This book does a great job of explaining why and how it had the impact that it did. It begins with the Wayans family, principally older brother Keenan, and shows how their childhood games slowly turned into hard work and networks, then standup gigs, critically acclaimed cult films, and eventually, a long running sketch show that kickstarted the careers of several members of the family and also luminaries like Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx and of course–Jim Carrey. It’s interesting to follow everyone from bombing 5 minute standup sets to high ratings and global syndication. Peisner really shows the process that eventually led to a hit show, and the backstage drama that eventually led to its end. He also connects the dots on how broad its influence has been–we owe Chapelle’s show and Key and Peele largely to the success of In Living Color (Fun fact: Chapelle used to hang around backstage begging for a spot on the show, but it was cancelled before he could convince anyone to give him a shot.) ⠀
If I have one criticism of this book, it’s that the cast of contributors to In Living Color was very large and not everyone gets equal page time. It would be impossible to give everybody the same spotlight, but the book is mostly about Keenan, Carrey, and a host of (mostly white) writers and execs who are hard to keep track of. I wanted to know more about the other cast members, but our glimpses of them are brief. Still, as a huge fan of the show, I liked this. It provides a clear over-arching narrative that contextualizes the show’s importance in American culture. ⠀⠀
Four stars and two snaps up in Z formation to Homey Don’t Play That.

[Review] M.C. Higgins, The Great, by Virginia Hamilton

(Buy it HERE.)

I read this book because I felt like I was missing out on something. I’d heard nothing but glowing reviews of this from folks who read it in school and loved it. That, plus its inclusion on a lot of #blackboyjoylit lists made me expect this to be a very different middle grade coming-of-age tale than it is. As it is, the book takes us into the mountains somewhere in the Eastern USA to follow 13 year old M.C.’s 3-day journey from…kid to slightly older kid? Weird characters pop up and do weird things, poverty abounds, nobody goes to school, M.C. does most of the parenting for his gaggle of siblings despite having a whole live-in mom and dad, and a pile of mining trash looms over it all.

I always say that I read to experience lives thoroughly unlike my own and in that, this book satisfies. M.C. and his family are essentially Black hillbillies being slowly pushed out of their mountain home by a mining company’s destructive acts. I can’t necessarily relate, but the premise is fascinating. Hamilton is a good storyteller and you really are drawn into the Higgins’s daily lives, and I did start to see a bit of myself in M.C. when he’s left to care for his younger siblings while mom and dad work long hours. But then the story hiccups and there’s something about a traveling ethnomusicologist, “witchy folk”, a crush on a mysterious older girl, a 40-foot metal pole with a bicycle seat on top that nobody seems to think is dangerous and ok, you know what? I just didn’t like this at all. It was weird, the characters were unlikable, and the story took forever to go nowhere. I can see why people like it and I’m a big fan of reading for difference, so I stuck it through and I’m not mad that I read this. For me, though, there were still too many ham-handed attempts at deep symbolism and not enough resolution. Had I read this as a kid, I’d have hated it–elementary-aged me would have demanded to know who wants to read about a mean half-grown boy wandering around staring at people and acting superior for no real reason, in the end? Because it sure wasn’t me.

Also, I was an elementary school educator for a whirlwind two years and I have to confess- I spent much of the book wanting to snatch M.C up just a little bit. He’s prickly, arrogant, under-parented, and makes a lot of strange choices that mean he doesn’t really learn much by the book’s end.

Three stars and a container of Old Spice (you know he needs it) to M.C. Higgins the Great.

(I always get a little nervous when roasting a book I know is someone else’s favorite, but hey, all reviews on this site are my own opinions, never paid, never bought. What can be bought are the books you find at links throughout this site, which lead to our affiliates like Bookshop. If you click and purchase anything, a commission may be earned. Peace!)

[Review] Signs of Attraction, by Laura Brown

(Find it HERE.)

There’s a lot of things I expect from romance novels, and intersectionality is not one of them. However, that’s exactly what this book offers and it’s an interesting surprise. Main girl Carli is a Hard Of Hearing undergrad from a troubled background. Main guy Reed, a handsome grad student, is not only Deaf, but a transracial adoptee (mixed Latino adopted by a Black/White interracial couple). This isn’t presented in a gimmicky way at all–Brown (who is also Hard Of Hearing) does a really good job of immersing readers into the Deaf community through Carli, who is learning sign language and a host of other things after a a lifetime of trying to fit into a very unsympathetic hearing family. Reed is asked questions about his background, but it comes across as natural within the story (although the moment Carli discovers his mother is Black is very awkwardly described.)

The diversity isn’t gimmicky, but I can’t say the same for the romance itself. Romance novels by nature are a little trite and this is no exception–grumpy hot guy and snarky hot(yet insecure) girl find each other irresistible, do cute things, do sexy things, have a contrived misunderstanding, get over it and live happily ever after. But this one also relies pretty heavily on Carli being a broken bird with a horrific background of abuse, flirting with self-loathing and danger–which Reed suffers through because he’s hopelessly devoted (and horny). In my teens and twenties I ate this trope up but as I’ve gotten older it’s a lot less appealing. It doesn’t make the book unreadable, but I tend to like romances more when the main conflicts are based on compatibility conflicts, not abuse or prejudice.

One more thing–this has a pretty high steam level, which I actually appreciated. Everyone deserves to love and be loved in the body that they have, if they so desire. Disabled people get down just like anybody else and I’m glad that was included explicitly here.

This isn’t my favorite romance, but it was a good one, and it’d make a good beach read for the summer. 4 stars and a fresh set of hearing aid batteries to Signs of Attraction.

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