Book review · Fantasy · Nonfiction

Mini Reviews: Recently-Read Queer Books

Today, I’m posting the reviews of three queer books I’ve read between the end of May and now, mostly very short or in genres I’m not familiar with; these reviews are shorter than my usual, which may be a good thing.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson is a memoir aimed at a young adult audience that talks about growing up as Black and queer in America. It’s a powerful book and accessible for those who need it most, including teens who aren’t used to reading nonfiction, while dealing with difficult topics. It’s the kind of book that makes me glad I finally decided to start reading nonfiction in my free time this year.

It’s a necessary reminder that we can’t sort people into boxes and we should push back against the societal tendency to do so; a reminder that we can’t talk about different kinds of marginalization without considering the way they influence each other.

What more can I say? I flew through this while highlighting every chapter in multiple places. I know I was wary of nonfiction as a teen, but there are certain things that fiction doesn’t get, at least not right now, like how coming out can be like outside of the two extremes fictional coming out stories keep pushing at queer people, and so many other things.
Highly recommended to pretty much everyone.

[I’m not really comfortable with rating memoirs but I did give it 5 stars on goodreads.]

Queer portal fantasy, but make it Ikea AU!

As many others, I was first drawn to Finna because of its premise; after all, why not use the liminal space potential of retail stores to literally blur the boundaries between worlds? In that, Finna did deliver, and not without driving home certain points (love how the horror aspect comes from a world in which employees are all basically clones that exist to support the corporation aka “the Mother” because the workplace is your family!, and “shoppers” pay in blood.) After all, there are stories suited to subtlety, and this one never was.

Still, I don’t think this will stay with me for long. While I really liked the beginning, I just didn’t find the time the two main characters spent in the parallel worlds to be that interesting to read. For obvious reasons, every world is very underdeveloped, and we never get a setting that feels… real in any way after we leave the real world? I don’t mean “realistic”, I don’t particularly care about realism in a weird portal fantasy, I mean that everything felt very cheesy.

As far as the main characters go, I really liked reading about them, and wish I could have seen more of their relationship before the break-up instead of being told about it. I liked the way Finna talked about how mental illnesses can impact relationships, and I liked seeing the now-exes go on an adventure together and grow closer again, but it wasn’t enough for me to truly get attached to them.

Something I’m more likely to remember about Finna is the answer it gives to the miserable and wearing conditions (especially for who is visibly marginalized like the LI, Jules, who is Black and non-binary) retail workers are in. It’s a hopeful story in the end.

My rating: ★★★¼

Murder husbands and Dragon Kingdom politics!
Of Dragon, Feasts and Murder is a novella set in the Dominion of the Fallen universe that can be read as a standalone, but I especially recommend it to fans of the series who want to have a more detailed understanding of the Dragon Kingdom. It was my favorite setting in the series, and as all places in this universe, it’s far from free of its own brand of rot (literally and not).

One of the things I appreciated the most about this novella was how it refused to fall into a simplistic portrayal of any side. There are people who are firmly in the wrong, but the core reason beneath the murderous political machinations is the fact that necessary change isn’t happening.

At the same time, I’m surprised by how long it took me to read this? Maybe because most of this is made up of talking, and while I did really like said talking – I live for Thuan and Asmodeus’ thorny relationship dynamic – I didn’t feel much tension or urgency, which is unusual for a murder mystery.

Anyway this would have been worth reading even only for how it referred to Asmodeus as “sweet, murderous delight”. (No seriously the Empress Dowager’s scenes!!)

My rating: ★★★½

Have you read or want to read any of these?

Book review · Nonfiction

Unexpected Nonfiction & Poetry Time

This month, Scribd is free without needing payment info, so I created an account I’ll probably not renew after these 30 days are over (for personal reasons unrelated to the actual platform, my experience with it so far is great!). The unexpected result? Having access to so many books for free gave me a reason to:

  • listen to adult fantasy audiobooks, which are usually far too expensive (25 € for a book? Especially for a reread? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen)
  • read completely outside of my comfort zone – and especially reach for books that were on my radar for a while but that I had heard so little about I didn’t feel comfortable buying them.

The result? A nonfiction & poetry binge. 2016!me, no, who am I kidding, even 2019!me would be incredibly confused.

I must be getting old!

Poetry Collections

This is a format that is definitely out of my comfort zone, as I don’t think I had ever read any before now! I have read and loved poetry novels, though (The Poet X, The Black Flamingo), so I thought exploring was a good idea.

41745412Soft Science is a poetry collection that had been on my “maybe TBR” for more than two months now, mostly because of the cover.  Reading it felt like trying to grasp onto something as it disintegrates in your hands and falls through your fingers, which I guess is what the author was going for.

I didn’t get a lot of this. It’s probably not the right collection to start with if you – like me – aren’t used to reading poetry at all, but it was still a really interesting experience. Taken literally, there’s often not a lot to get, because everything in this collection is an exercise in breaking apart, shattering and mixing words, playing with format and the many ways English can be broken and still carry so much meaning if only you look at it sideways.

A lot of this is also talking about perspective and its consequence, othering. No wonder a lot of its imagery relies on cyborgs and AIs. It’s about living as a woman in our world, in which being hammered into a shape made to please others is just a day like another and sex is a no-win situation; it’s about living as a queer Asian-American woman in America, in which racism and xenophobia are everyday occurrences and the internet highlights the worst of it.

It made me think about language barriers, and how there was yet another, unexpected one because of my first language, and try as I might holding onto English will always be more difficult to me.
So, no, I didn’t understand a lot of this. It might have been the point. I might be missing the point entirely. That still doesn’t mean this has no value, even when so much of our ways to measure worth and consciousness rely on something as self-centered as understanding and “relatability”. It made me think about many things in a more indirect way, so I guess it worked.

My rating: ★★★★

27207807._sy475_Another collection I tried was soft magic. by Upile Chisala (I noticed it by chance, and after reading Soft Science, it only felt right? And it was really short), which unfortunately I didn’t like as much. It was sweet, heartwarming, and very straightforward, which apparently aren’t things I look for in poetry. At least now I know?

I decided not to rate this, as my reasons for not liking this had also to do with personal disconnect, and when I’m not the target audience for this – it’s a collection with strong religious themes specifically aimed at Black women and I’m neither religious nor Black – it just didn’t feel right to.


46391051._sy475_I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom is a collection of essays and poetry that mostly ended up on my reading list because of something I read on autostraddle – I don’t remember where exactly, but this was one of the recommendations.

I don’t really know how to review nonfiction made up of essays and poetry, but this was definitely a worthwhile read. It’s an attempt to reframe how we think about justice and the meaning itself of healing in marginalized communities – where so many of us are traumatized, and it talks both about the concept of safety in the context of trauma and about the commodification of trauma in the Discourse™.

As there is a lot in here about how queer communities fail their members that uncannily (or maybe not, all things considered) mirrors queer book twitter’s most dysfunctional behavior patterns, I think many of my friends and followers could get something out of it as well.

My rating: ★★★★★

51778952._sx318_sy475_Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a collection of essays, interviews and toolkits on transformative justice that also ended up on my radar because of autostraddle (this time, because of a review. Sometimes I do remember things.)

It explores how justice can look like outside of a system as ineffective at actually reducing violence and supporting survivors as it is the prison system in America, with a focus on trans, queer, and disabled communities of color.

It was a really interesting read: it focuses on the how of something that so far I had only seen mentioned as theory before – when there are people doing this.

My thoughts varied from “I strongly agree and wish that was already a more widespread reality” and “this is a life-changing perspective” to “that sounds like a terrible idea” depending on the essay, so, just as fiction collections, nonfiction collections are bound to be mixed bags! It’s still really honest about the many ways these kinds of process can fail, which I really appreciated – after all, it’s still barely-charted territory. Overall, I also think our  world would greatly benefit if the focus of justice were on the future, on healing and moving on and taking the steps to make sure that something doesn’t happen again, instead of handing out punishments that often make things worse for everyone anyway.

My rating: ★★★★

17465709Since I just read a nonfiction book about healing between humans, it only seemed right to read something specifically about healing human’s relationship with what is not human, so I read Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, in which the author brings her perspective both as a professor of environmental biology and as a Potawatomi woman to talk about humans’ relationship with the environment.

In a time in which ecofascism (the belief that humans are somehow inherently separated from “nature”, which must be preserved “pure” and “untouched”, as if we weren’t all an interdependent net) is on the rise, I think this is an incredibly important read and was really valuable to me both as someone who is definitely feeling the weight of climate anxiety and as a natural sciences student.

I think it’s going to be even more valuable for someone who actually lives in Turtle Island/North America, because something inherent to environmental knowledge is that while some things are universal, you can’t talk about everywhere by using a specific place as a model; every place has its own species and communities and interactions and… different things to say, in a way. And different people, of course. (It would be such a huge mistake to not include the humans; we are a part of the communities and ecosystems just as much as everyone else, and while we have a lot in common with each other, we are never the same.)

I think that in this age of global warming it’s easy to despair and think that humans are inherently bad and can do nothing but damage. This book is an answer to that, and it talks about how science, indigenous wisdom, and our ability to actually understand what the environment says (so, learning to read the signals that are its language) can show us a different way to exist.

Also, sometimes it’s really nice to read from someone who is also involved in botanical science and has very strong “unscientific” feelings and opinions on plants. It can also be a strength – I don’t know if I would have grown up learning to distinguish trees the way I do had I not been like that.

My rating: ★★★★ (a little repetitive at times)

Have you read or want to read any of these? Do you read poetry collections and nonfiction often?


Adult · Book review · Nonfiction

Review: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

42188604._sy475_If there’s one book I’d recommend all sapphic women to at least consider, it’s this one. Especially if one’s interaction with the rest of the queer community mostly happen online and one doesn’t have the chance to hear about these stories in real life. In the Dream House is a memoir about domestic abuse in a same-sex relationship, and it talks about how homophobia, sexism and the all-around toxic ideas we have about romantic relationships make it difficult for us to even talk about it.

We see domestic abuse as something gendered. And it’s not that it isn’t – it’s not a case that most dynamics do include an abusive man and an abused woman, and that it’s easier for heterosexual men, especially if wealthy and white, to abuse; as this book says, it takes less effort. But in an online culture where this discussion mostly stops to the concept that men are trash (at the same time an accusation and an excuse, we always make excuses for men – they’re trash! it’s their nature! they can’t help but abuse!), it’s difficult for us to conceptualize that no, relationships in absence of men won’t mean there won’t be abuse. If anything, the way queer people are statistically more estranged from traditional support networks (like their own family) makes them vulnerable.

There’s a part of this that hit me more than the others – which is saying a lot, because after the first fifty pages, I was more or less annotating every other page – the author chose to relegate to a footnote. She says that, if in many cases heterosexual abuse is basically misogyny and enabled by misogyny (a concept I was already familiar from Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That, which while dated and very gender essentialist, was a worthwhile read), queer abuse is homophobia and enabled by homophobia. It’s about control, and it uses the same means society tries to use to control queer people.

Another part I highlighted almost entirely was the one about queer villainy. This is a topic that is really important to me: like this book, I strongly believe that one of the most vital parts of being recognized as human is being recognized as someone who is capable of evil like everyone else. Queer villains written by queer authors are some of the most important characters to me, and yet I get why so many of us are afraid of those portrayals. But it’s not like trying to paint ourselves in the image of saints will do anything to stop the people who hate us.

And yet, In the Dream House is all but a traditional memoir: Carmen Maria Machado looks at her own experiences through archetypes. We’re used to see abuse as gendered, if we ever talk about it; we’re not used to talk about queer people and society isn’t invested in us understanding ourselves (erasure is a form of violence); we’re used to see the house as safety and women as hysterical and lesbians as Schrödinger’s women, only true women when it’s convenient to the person speaking. Archetypes can blind us, and the author uses them to start these conversations; she uses fairytale tropes to explore what happened to her, she uses a choose-your-own-adventure structure to talk about the helpless cycle the domestic abuse victim is caught in (featuring pages in which she tells you you’re cheating and couldn’t possibly have gotten to that page). Every chapter is short, between one and five pages, and plays with different genre tropes and expectations. It’s one of the most ingenious things I’ve ever read.

There would be so much more to say, but if I tried to dissect everything and mention every part I felt the need to highlight and annotate, this review would be as long as the book and completely incoherent, so I’m just going to end this. Read it.

My rating: ★★★★★