May/June Reading

[Images show clipped covers of books listed below]

It’s been a good two months for reading!

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child (Picture Book, library hardcopy)
I read this after reading Native American Children’s Book scholar Debbie Reese’s blog post on it, which includes some lovely shots of the illustrations and talks about the importance of this book. Please read that (see following link) for more insights, if you are interested! https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2018/03/recommended-with-joy-bowwow-powwow.html

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Picture Book, library hardcopy)
I read this mostly because someone was raving about the art, which is, indeed, delightful. But it’s a sweet and lovely book in terms of story as well, especially if you are looking for a picture book touching on issues of gender identity in a gentle way.

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall (MG Contemporary, library hardcopy)
I’ve loved all the Penderwicks books and was eager to see how the series came to a close. It was slightly bittersweet to be leaving the characters behind, but I was very satisfied.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (MG Contemporary, library hardcopy)
The ghost of a twelve-year-old African-American boy killed by a police officer who mistakes a toy gun for a real weapon watches his family and friends in the aftermath of his death; interspersed with scenes from before the incident. If you have MG readers who are ready to learn more about social justice and institutional racism this seems like a good place to start, though it is a challenging read. Obviously there can’t be a true happy ending, but there is hope here.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (MG/YA Graphic Novel, library hardcopy)
A beautiful book, both in the actual art and the story itself, about a prince who wants to wear dresses and the young dressmaker who secretly helps him. One warning: there is a somewhat traumatic outing scene, so be aware if you want to avoid that. The ultimate message is hopeful and accepting, though.

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag (MG/YA Graphic Novel, library hardcopy)
This made a nice complement to The Prince and the Dressmaker, as it’s also a graphic novel exploring gender roles/expectations in a sort of fairy-tale setting. In this case, it’s the story of a boy who wants to be a witch, but his family tradition holds that males must become shapeshifters and only females can be witches.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (YA Fantasy, purchased ebook)
The compelling premise of this book is what first drew me in (along with that amazing cover): the Civil War ended because the dead began to rise as “shamblers” (aka zombies). Now human beings live in fortified settlements and young black folk are trained as warriors to fight the undead. My favorite part was the main character Jane, and her frenemy Kate, who are both strong, amazing, distinctive characters. There’s a second book on the way and I cannot wait.

Windwitch by Susan Dennard (YA Fantasy, library ebook)
Second in an ongoing secondary-world fantasy series. I really admire the complexity of this world, the powerful female friendship at the core, and pretty much every scene with Iseult and/or Aeduan.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (YA Fantasy, library ebook)
Second in a duology. I continue to be so impressed by how every one of the six main characters can be compelling and intriguing and distinctive, and how the world only gets richer and deeper and more interesting.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (YA Fantasy, purchased ebook)
This is quite possibly my favorite read of the year so far! Beautiful, shimmering, glorious prose but ALSO a compelling and well-paced plot that had me reading desperately to find out what would happen. I haven’t clicked with some of Taylor’s other work but this one just snagged me right from the first chapter. First in a duology, but book two is coming this fall, thank goodness!

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst (Adult Fantasy , purchased ebook)
I was in the mood for something that felt like my favorite fantasy novels from when I was a teenage reader and this delivered. Adventure, a magic school, fantastic creatures, a bit of romance. Even though some very terrible, devastating things happen in the narrative, it felt like a comfort read because it was exactly what I was looking for at that moment.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Adult SF Novella , purchased ebook)
Second in a series of novellas about Murderbot, a self-aware android trying to understand its own past, and constantly getting mixed up with the messy affairs of humans it cares too much about. If you enjoyed the first, I think it is safe to say you will enjoy this one.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (Adult Nonfiction/Memoir, library audiobook)
The story of a nature writer and her relationship with a series of octopuses (not octopi, according to the book!) as she learns about their biology and dispositions. I enjoyed this most when it was focused on the biology and behavior of the octopuses, less so when the author was waxing poetic about what they meant to her. Mostly reading this just left me wishing for a more scientific book that would focus on all the neat aspects of octopus biology without extra fluff about the humans!


March/April Media

Collage of covers of books described in blog post

[Image shows clipped covers of books listed below]

I neglected to post at the end of March (I was a little distracted by my NEW BOOK DEAL) but here is some of the media I consumed in the past two months.

The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso (Adult Fantasy, trade paperback)
I actually read an earlier draft of this last year, but it just came out at the end of April and I know the final version is even better than what I read (which was, already full of adventure and magic and cool outfits and witchlords and friendship and my favorite new character) so I am including it here. I loved it so much I gave myself a TDH inspired manicure, pictured in the image above. Sadly my skills with freehand nail art as not as good as Melissa’s writing! But if you read the first in this series, do check out book 2. And if you haven’t read book 1, give that a go if you like fantasy adventure with a dollop of political intrigue,

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Adult SFF Novella, ebook)
Last (that I know of) in a series of novellas full of wild and imaginative speculative elements, like space ships that are giant fish with lungs full of plants to create oxygen, and deadly jellyfish aliens, and a super cool protagonist whose journey has finally come full circle. Also math!

Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (Adult Mystery, ebook)
I really like Harriet Vane and I was intrigued by the mystery (about a body that she finds along a deserted English shore, only to have it be washed out to see before anyone can properly investigate), but I was disappointed in the pervasive use of ethnic slurs. It is, perhaps, a product of its times (published in 1932) but that doesn’t make it more tolerable. I still may read the next in the series (Gaudy Nights) because I bought it already and I know it is a favorite of fans of the series, but right now I am not in a rush.

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Adult Romance, ebook)
An adorable and wonderful romance featuring a scientist main character who is romanced by an incognito African prince. I read this when I was in the mood for something fast and warm and sweet and funny and it was all those things and more.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (YA Fantasy, ebook)
Secondary world fantasy inspired by West African history/legend. I loved this and read it super-fast because I JUST HAD TO KNOW what would happen. I love the intense emotion, the visuals, the complicated character interactions, and the fascinating magic system. But augh, what a cliffhanger of an ending! Still, I highly recommend. This one definitely lives up to the hype for me. It’s also especially fun to read it knowing the author is an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan and see some of the echoes of that here.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (YA Fantasy, ebook)
Luscious and grotesque all at once, and rich with atmosphere. I found this a little challenging to get into but once I was in I sank deep. There is so much going on here, so many interesting questions here, and an interrogation of our society’s relationship with beauty and identity. I think this book may be both the most beautiful and the ugliest (in terms of what people do to each other and the twisted nature of the world portrayed) that I’ve read lately.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman (YAish Graphic Novel)
A religious girl who also happens to be black and not straight (but also not out) goes to a Christian outdoors camp and grapples with her place there, her faith, and her identity. I was drawn to this mostly due to the sweet, engaging artwork, but the story inside kept me reading. I am still not entirely sure I understand the ending of this volume (there are more on the way, I think?) though!

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta (MG Fantasy, ebook)
A wonderfully funny and delightful middle grade fantasy featuring a contemporary girl from New Jersey discovering her connection to a fantastical realm inspired by Hindu mythology. I loved the main character Kiranmala! Such a great voice, and she felt really honest and true. I can imagine fans of Percy Jackson would love this.

I also read the drafts of two different fantasy novels for writer-friends that won’t be out until next year so I am not going to comment on them here, except to say I am lucky lucky lucky and have incredibly talented friends!

Pacific Rim Uprising
I enjoyed the spectacle and getting to see John Boyega do this thing as a Jaeger pilot, and the crop of new younger teen pilots in training, but I was sorely disappointed by how they handled Mako’s plotline. I am so curious whether it was because of limitations on the actresses’ time, or whether they seriously thought it was a good idea.

A Quiet Place
I loved this movie about a family surviving in the aftermath of what appears to be an alien invasion by monsters that are blind and hunt by sound. Amazing acting, incredible tension, gripping story. I did have to look away/cover my eyes a couple times because I couldn’t bear the suspense but it was worth it.

Avengers Infinity War
No spoilers: I enjoyed it quite a lot, particularly seeing the interactions between characters who had never met before. I was impressed by how they kept the story flowing even with that many different elements. Because of (spoilery) things that happened, though, I feel like until I see next years conclusion, I really can’t tell if I will ultimately love, hate, or something-in-between it. I suspect a certain thing will happen in next year’s movie, and if it does, I will be happy, but if it doesn’t (or is done in the wrong way) I may be very unhappy. That said, I am really excited to see Captain Marvel finally make her appearance in the universe!

No full games completed, lately! My brother and I are thisclose to finishing Borderlands in coop mode, but not quite… Otherwise I’m still just wallowing in my love of Dragon Age Inquisition by continuing my replay. I did do the Descent DLC for the first time. I loved some of the imagery and a few of the side quests (Nug King!!!!) and the lore you learn and questions that are raised regarding the titans. But otherwise it was mostly just running around in tunnels and fighting a lot, which isn’t my favorite. I’ve moved on to the Jaws of Hakkon DLC and trying to trigger the Adoribull romance, before I finish the final encounter of the main campaign and Trespasser. After that I will start something new! (Unless I start a Mass Effect 1-3 replay, oops).


New Book!!!

I am thrilled to share that I have a new MG fantasy novel on the way! I am so happy to be working with the brilliant Reka Simonsen and Julia McCarthy as my editors, and so grateful to my amazing agent Hannah Fergesen for making this happen. I can’t wait for the world to meet my two wizard girls, Antonia and Moppe, and join them on their adventures.

Here’s the official announcement:

[Image text reads: Reka Simonsen and Jula McCarthy at Atheneum have bought Circus Galacticus author Deva Fagan's new middle grade fantasy, A Rival Magic. The story features book-smart Antonia and her rival Moppe, two apprentice magicians who must learn to embrace their strengths and forge a powerful friendship while facing enchanted creatures, voice-stealing forests, and sea monsters in order to save their imprisoned teacher and help the rightful queen retake her throne. Publication is scheduled for spring 2020; Hannah Fergesen at KT Literary negotiated the deal for world rights.]


February Media

[Image showing covers for the books/games/tv shows listed below]

I didn’t read or play as much in February as I would have liked, mostly because I got distracted planning our big 2018 vacation. We’re going to the UK at the end of July/beginning of August, spending time in Bath and the Cotswolds and finishing with a day in London dedicated primarily to seeing Hamilton (eee!).

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (MG contemporary, ebook)
First in a series of novels about kids who are on a competitive middle school track team. Really amazing voice, and I was impressed by how so much stuff was woven so seamlessly into a relatively short (but powerful) novel.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Adult SF, ebook)
Third and final book in the intricate and nuanced Imperial Radch series. This story has more of the amazing world building and characterization, along with a surprising amount of humor and an unsurprising (given the previous books) amount of thoughtful discussion of humanity.

The Runaways (TV, Hulu)
I really loved this series about a band of teens with various skills and abilities who discover their parents are supervillains. There are some significant changes from the original comic (which I also read and enjoyed) but for the most part I think the changes strengthened this version (in particular, the deeper focus on the parents, and the addition of Nico’s sister). There were a couple of times I wanted to shake certain characters, and I’m not entirely happy with some of the portrayals, but overall I really enjoyed this and am excited to see where they will go in Season 2.

The Good Place Season 2 (TV, Hulu)
Weird, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, ridiculous (in a good way), I don’t think there’s any way I can do this show justice in a short blurb. Also, spoilers! But if you enjoyed the first season I think it is likely you will love the second as much or more.

Queer Eye (TV, Netflix)
Heartwarming, emotional and fun. It follows a similar premise to the original show: five gay men who specialize in different areas (grooming, food, etc) who provide a sort of lifestyle makeover to someone else nominated by friends and family to be on the show. I love how how the five seem to really, truly care about their clients and want the best for them.

Dragon Age: Awakening (Videogame, PS3)
I am not entirely sure why I skipped playing this DLC when I first played Dragon Age Origins. I actually had no idea how substantial it was– a full game in its own, practically! I’m so glad my friend Chris encouraged me to try it because I did truly enjoy returning to this world, even though it took me a couple hours to remember how to use the controls. I did find it a bit buggy and the slowness (compared to more recent games) got to me, but overall I had fun and am glad to have filled in this gap in my Dragon Age experience. Though it did make me even more sad about what they did with Anders in DA2!


January Media

[Image showing covers for several of the books/games/tv shows listed below]

I’m trying to stay more on top of tracking and sharing what I read/play/watch each month, so here’s a quick summary of what I finished in January.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson (Comic)
The continued adventures of Ms. Marvel, the teenaged Muslim Pakistani-American superhero. I absolutely adore Kamala Khan, and I especially love how this volume delves into what exactly that heroism means when not everyone likes what you are doing. I highly recommend this series.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (YA Historical, ebook)
Detailed and riveting historical fiction about a Chinese-American girl in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. I loved Mercy’s guts, compassion and gumption, and I had a really hard time putting this one down once the quake started.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (Adult Fantasy, audiobook)
I found this very compelling, particularly the world-building, with a set of four different linked worlds and the handful of people who can pass between them. And I particularly loved Lila, the thief who wants to be a pirate and yearns to be free. Also, even though this is the first in a trilogy, it was entirely satisfying as a single volume.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (Adult Speculative, ebook)
Octavia Butler is a luminary in speculative fiction and I’ve long wanted to read more of her work. Kindred is one of her most famous, though the only speculative element here is time-travel: a black woman from the 70s slips back in time to the pre-Civil War South. It’s brutal and very challenging to read in places, but really thought-provoking.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (Memoir, ebook)
The memoir of a year or so in the life of the author, as she’s dealing with debilitating illness, and takes solace in observing the small snail that is living in a pot of violets given to her by a friend. I really enjoyed learning more about snails, and also appreciated the meditations on chronic illness.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (YA Nonfiction, audiobook)
I found this absolutely riveting and impossible to put down in places. I had forgotten (or never learned) so much about the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers and Watergate: this book truly made history come alive and felt sadly topical to the current political situation. I’m especially glad I read it just before watching the movie The Post which covers some of the same events.

Old Man’s Journey (Android Game)
A lovely and wistful game with a fairly simple mechanic (you have to move elements of the environment around to allow the titular Old Man to complete his journey) and a bittersweet story. I think what made me buy this in the first place was the gorgeous art. The game didn’t hold my attention quite as strongly as I’d have hoped, but I’m glad I played it.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4 Game)
This was one of the most visceral (figuratively and literally, ew) games I’ve played. Harrowing and brutal, but also beautiful and expansive (especially the finale). The premise is that you are Senua, a young Celtic warrior woman with depression/psychosis who is seeking to save the soul of her lover from the Norse Hell after he was slaughtered by Norsemen. I have never played a game that made me so tense, and even on easy mode I found the fighting grueling. I actually almost gave up on the game after about the first third because it was so relentlessly dark and the fights were so frustrating, but I’m very glad I kept going. I felt very strongly for the character of Senua by the end, and the puzzle elements of the game were clever and the atmosphere was incredible.

Travelers Season 2 (TV series)
I’m continuing to enjoy this series about time-travelers who get their minds sent back to inhabit the bodies of contemporary people who were about to die. While some elements don’t work for me (the plot this season was kind of… odd and I am still not convinced it made sense) I love the characters and their relationships.

Killjoys Season 2 (TV series)
As above, I’m watching this series more for the characters and world-building than the plot. This blog post pretty much sums up everything I would say about it so I will point you there for more: http://www.thebooksmugglers.com/2017/12/reasons-love-killjoys-arent-spoilers.html


2017 Gaming Report

The more I play, the more I love videogames. I was worried when I got back into gaming a few years ago (after a 20+ year hiatus) that it would consume my life and keep me from writing/reading. But for the most part, it hasn’t. I still read and write about the same amount, and in fact there are things I’m learning from videogames that I believe are making me a better storyteller. If anything, I am watching less television and movies, but honestly I think the storytelling in some of these games is more compelling than a lot of tv, so I’m okay with that! Here’s what I played (and didn’t play) in 2017, and what I’m looking forward to.

Games completed (PlayStation):
Horizon Zero Dawn + Frozen Wilds DLC: LOVELOVELOVE everything about this: the amazing world, the mystery of the premise, the ROBOT DINOSAURS, Aloy in all her wounded snarky glory, the sidequests that all felt organic and meaningful, and the ending made me cry

Mass Effect Andromeda: I enjoyed this, but ?don’t feel a desire to replay. It was a fine game, but just not what I was hoping for based on the first trilogy. I did love many of the characters though! Especially Peebee and Jaal)

?What Remains of Edith Finch: Whoa. That Cannery scene is going to haunt me for a looong time. Really innovative and heart-wrenching overall.

Firewatch: So immersive! I loved the walkie-talkie mechanic, in particular, and the sense of isolation when I was out in the woods on my own. I was disappointed by the ending but loved everything else about it.

Uncharted: Like an action adventure movie in game form! I played this with Bob, trading off the controller. Ugh, that jetski section though! Most frustrated I’ve ever been in a game!

Uncharted 2: Ditto, but without the jetskis, yay!

Trine: Played this with my brother, and really enjoyed it! Fun, gorgeous magical setting, cool puzzles! There’s a plot too but I will admit I didn’t pay much attention to that element! I was too distracted by the giant glowing flowers and goblins…

?Games completed (Phone)?:
Oxenfree: I wish I’d played this on a larger screen– it’s available on console too– but it was still amazingly atmospheric and evocative and downright spooky. The soundtrack is amazing, and the sense of choices impacting the game is very satisfying.

Monument Valley 2: I love all the Escher-like puzzles, and the visuals are as gorgeous as in the first game. I especially love the color palettes.

A Normal Lost Phone: Intriguing storytelling, more like a novella than a game in some ways)

Another Lost Phone: Ditto, but I preferred the first one.

Games in progress:
Trine 2: Playing this with my brother; we are stuck at the final boss fight! But it’s just as cool and gorgeous as the first one.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: I love so much about this one but it is so dark thematically, and makes me super-tense to play so I can only do it in small bits.

Dragon Age Inquisition: Third play, and I have no shame!

Dragon Age Origins: Second play, and I have no shame!

Divinity Original Sin: Occasionally playing with Bob; the tactics are fun and the world is vivid and intriguing. I’m very interested to see what the second game is like once it comes to PS4.

Uncharted 3: Playing with Bob, similar experience to the first two!

Old Man’s Journey: Another one that feels more like a visual story than a game. I am intrigued to see where it goes.

Games on hold:
Borderlands: Playing this with my brother, but we got sick of hunting skags.

Star Wars: KOTOR: I was enjoying it, but find it really hard to motivate myself to play on the PC upstairs at a desk when there’s a much more comfortable couch and console in the living room.

Games abandoned:
Life is Strange: It seemed like a perfect game for me but I just didn’t click with the characters and the gameplay was too slow for my taste.

Fallout 3: Too much busywork for me and the world doesn’t appeal.

Games on my to-play list for 2018:
Shadow of the Colossus: I never played the original version but the world looks like my sort of aesthetic.

Detroit Become Human: I’m a sucker for android rights stories.

Witcher 3: Based on reviews from folks I trust I think I will like this!

Wolfenstein 2: Bob is playing this now; I’ve heard such good things I’d like to try it myself.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins: I’ve never played AC but this one looks amazing– ancient Egypt!!!– and I’ve heard good things about the characters.

Tacoma: I loved Gone Home and this is by the same folks. But in space!

Final Fantasy XV: I’ve never played FF but would like to give it a try, and I’ve heard it rips your heart out, which I enjoy in a game…

I am ambivalent about Anthem. Much as I love Bioware in general, this new game hasn’t grabbed me yet based on the (admittedly few) glimpses I’ve had, and it feels like they are going in a direction that’s less interesting with the mechanics and story. But maybe as more information comes out it will appeal more!


2017 Reading and Writing Report

A lot of terrible things happened in the greater world during the year 2017 but for me personally and creatively it was actually a much, much better year than 2016. I am standing (or rather, sitting, drinking a cup of hot chocolate because it is 3 degrees out) here on the first day of 2018 feeling hopeful and determined.

My stats, because it helps me evaluate where I’ve been and where I’m going:

In 2017 I read 65 books. Not quite as much as some years, but much better than the 44 books in 2016! And I really, really enjoyed what I read for the most part. Over a third of those were five-star reads for me! Of those 65:
9 were graphic novels or comic collections
31 were written or co-written by non-white authors (I track this to try to ensure I am reading diversely)
9 were Nonfiction
4 were Poetry
5 were MG novels (split between historical, mystery, fantasy, contemporary)
16 were YA novels (almost all contemporary! Only three fantasy, one sf and one historical)
17 were Adult novels (mostly fantasy, sf and romance)
4 were Adult novellas (all fantasy or sf)
13 were ebooks from the library
24 were ebooks I own
9 were library hardcopies
13 were hardcopies I own
3 were audiobooks from the library

I am definitely aware that I favor ebooks these days. I just find it so much easier to read on my ereader or phone, and find it a challenge to handle large trade editions let alone giant hardbacks. I still enjoy audiobooks but have been listening to more podcasts this year which means I have less time for them.

In 2017 I wrote 137,000 words. Most of them were on a new MG fantasy novel that I revised substantially several times (and am currently revising yet again). The rest were on several different new projects that I hope to get back to eventually. I also did some hard and occasionally painful work figuring out where I want to go with my writing career given my long and unintended hiatus from publishing. I have more thoughts on that but will save them for a later post as some are still in progress. The short version is: I found a reserve of new energy and determination, and a resolve to push hard to both work on new MG fiction, and to focus on writing what brings me joy. I began querying to find a literary agent in August, and ended up signing with my brilliant new agent Hannah at the end of October. Things are moving in a positive direction and I really hope that 2018 will bring even more good news.

Some of my favorite entertainments from the year:

And my favorite memories:


May Reading

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste [MG Fantasy]
This was lovely and magical and so strongly grounded with a vivid voice and sense of place. The story of Corinne, a fearless girl who loves her home, inspired by Caribbean fairy tales from the author’s own childhood.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens [MG Mystery]
Just as charming, cozy and perilous as the previous books in the series. I love how Stevens has been exploring friendship over the course of this series. In this, the girl detectives Wells and Wong confront a murder on the sporting field of their 1930s British boarding school.

Allegedly by Tiffany D.Jackson [YA Contemporary]
Addictive and disturbing. This is one of those books I could not stop reading and that I’m very glad to have read, but which was not necessarily a pleasant experience to read, because of the horrible truths it contains about systemic racism. Mary killed a baby when she was only a child herself– allegedly. Now she’s pregnant herself and is ready to fight to clear her name. I am honestly not sure what I think about the ending, but I can’t say anything without spoilers. If you’ve read it I would love to hear your thoughts!

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han [YA Contemporary]
More baking, more romance, more heartache, more lovely, complicated, adorable family relationships. I love Lara Jean and am so sad that this was my last chance to hang out with her, but it ended in a completely satisfying fashion so that’s really all I can ask! This entire series is like the book equivalent of my favorite teen movies.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J.Maas [New Adult Fantasy]
I was in the mood for magical fantasy romance with faeries and danger and banter, and this delivered. I really loved Feyre as a character as well– seeing her pushing down her impulses to pursue and appreciate beauty in favor of survival, then slowly allowing herself to open up was lovely. More mature content than Maas’s YA books though!

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild [Adult NF]
An account by a sociologist who is trying to understand the “empathy wall” that she sees as splitting conservatives and liberals in the US. I read this with my book club and it was really compelling and very readable. The author focused mostly on the issue of the environment and in particular the effect of the oil/gas/chemical industries on a number of communities in Louisiana. It was sickening to read about what people have endured due to unregulated pollution and similar. But it was also also incredibly frustrating to me that those same people voted again and again for candidates who opposed regulations and were unwilling to hold companies accountable, because I really just could not understand the reasons (I could intellectually comprehend them, I just could not emotionally understand or excuse them).

It became very clear reading this that what matters more than anything to many of us are the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, and the emotional reactions we have to things. I have to admit I was hoping this book would give me hope, but in many ways it only made it more clear just how deep the divide is between my worldview and that of “the other side,” and how little facts and logic can do to change it. I felt sad for those interviewed who had suffered, but at the same time I cannot condone or understand some of the other viewpoints they hold. Reading this book only made it more clear to me how very, very differently I feel (compared to the folks interviewed) on environmental regulations, civil rights, social services, and more.

That said, it was a really thought-provoking book and I would recommend it to folks who feel like it would be useful to try to understand the nature of the divide. If you’ve read it and have thoughts I would love to hear them! I would be especially curious what my conservative friends feel about this account, if any of you have read it.


Recent Reading

2017 continues to be an excellent year for reading, even if the rest of my life got so busy I neglected to update in a timely manner, oops. Here’s what I’ve been reading in the last few months, with links to Goodreads for actual synopsis.

George by Alex Gino [MG Contemporary]
A young trans girl wants to play Charlotte in her school production of Charlotte’s Web. A sweet, bittersweet, triumphant book that I would highly recommend to any young reader, especially anyone who might be curious about gender identity. Which makes it sound like this is an “issues” book, but it’s not just that. It’s funny and warm and absolutely wonderful.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake [YA Fantasy]
Three sisters must battle each other for the crown of their kingdom. I am generally not a fan of third person present POV but this one sucked me in right away with beautiful prose and an intriguing promise. It was slightly slower-paced than my ideal but I loved the characterizations and just sort of dwelling in the world. I will be keeping my eye out for the next in the series.

Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis [YA Contemporary]
A girl and her foster sister have to learn to live together. It was the prickly relationship between the two foster sisters that really won me over here. I loved them both so much! Also some meaty and thoughtful explorations of family, race, and class.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson [YA Contemporary]
A black girl from a poor neighborhood negotiates the possibilities and the indignities of her scholarship to a rich, mostly white prep school. Such a great and powerful voice! There’s a lot packed into this book but it all works. An interesting companion to the below, which covers similar material but has a very different feel. Both are excellent and thought-provoking and compelling in their own ways.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas [YA Contemporary]
A black girl attending a mostly-white, mostly rich high school finds her two lives clashing when she’s the eyewitness to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black boy by a police officer. This was just as amazing as everyone has been saying. I am so happy this book is getting attention. Voice and characterization are both fantastic, and in spite of all the many different elements included the story is always there, always organic. Yes, this is a book inspired by the #blacklivesmatter movement, but it’s also a book about a girl who feels completely real, whose life and choices matter.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi [Adult Historical]
The story of two African half-sisters– one who marries a British slaver, one who is sold into slavery– and their descendants, tracing both family histories to the present day. Fascinating and heart-wrenching. I am so impressed by the immersive detail of the settings, and how quickly Gyasi could pull me in each time the narrator changed.

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker [Adult Romance]
A fun and fluffy (in a good way!) romance set against the backdrop of the London west end theater community.

The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde [Poetry]
Rich and mythic and intense.

Binti and Home by Nnedi Okorafor [Adult SF Novellas]
I am having trouble coming up with a short description of these novellas, because they’re so wild and rich and unexpected. But they’ve got an awesome, smart mathematician protagonist, deadly tentacled aliens, and a galactic university. I loved both these stories, even though the second one ends in a massive cliffhanger (hopefully that means there is a third novella coming!)

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson [Nonfiction]
The real-life story of Bryan Stevenson’s experiences as a young, black lawyer working to defend those trapped by the legal system– including the poor, the wrongly condemned, and children sentenced to life in prison. To be honest, this may be the most challenging book I’ve ever read in terms of the raw and brutal depiction of the horrendous racism in our legal system, but it was definitely a book I was glad to read. I wish everyone would read this and reconsider what we define as “justice.”

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly [Adult Nonfiction]
The book that inspired the (excellent!) movie! I’m glad to have read the book, because there’s so much more detail that didn’t make it into the movie. These woman were amazing, and I’m so glad that they are no longer quite so “hidden.”


January Reading

After escaping a reading slump near the end of last year I’ve been trying to follow my whims a bit more and be aware of what sort of reading material I need most at a given moment. This month that seems to have been mostly nonfiction and poetry!

Salt to the Sea Ruta Sepetys [YA Historical]
Compelling and wrenching account of a bit of history I had never, ever heard about: the sinking of a German ship near the end of WWII that killed over 9000 people, including 5000 children. This story is fiction, but with highly immersive and well-researched historical detail. It was hard to read in places but I’m glad I did.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker [Adult Romance]
Two actors who dislike each other have to fake a romance for publicity reasons, and fall in love. A bit of lightness and levity amid the rest of my reading this month! I needed a fun page-turner that would be the equivalent of a romantic comedy movie and this was exactly what I was looking for.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald [Adult Nonfiction]
A meandering, lyrical exploration of grief and falconry and T. H. White. This was another book that was hard to read in places, but rewarding. My absolute favorite bits were the details of hawk-training, which were illuminating and compelling.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi [Adult Nonfiction]
I seem to have read a lot of books about grief and death this month, though not by any particular plan! In this case, the writer was a surgeon struck by terminal cancer, offering a meditation on choice and what makes a fulfilling life. Sadly the book felt unfinished to me– I believe Kalanithi died before he had completed it– and thus while I found it compelling it hasn’t stuck with me as I might have expected.

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1
by Mary Oliver [Poetry]
Luminous and beautiful as always. The next best thing to actually taking a long walk in the quiet woods.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire [Poetry]
A slim little volume of powerful poetry by the Somali-British poet who I first heard of via her compelling “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon.” I love how much emotional weight she can pack into just a few words.

Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose by Naomi Shihab Nye [Poetry]
I picked this up because I’d enjoyed Nye’s “Gate A-4″ so very much and wanted to re-read it as a sort of balm for the fear and uncertainty I was feeling (and seeing in so many others around me) with the advent of the inauguration. It’s still probably my favorite of all the pieces in this volume, but I appreciated the humor and whimsy and philosophy throughout.