Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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This book was a victim of its own hype. I wanted to LOVE this book. I was SO EXCITED about it. But, in the end I only liked it, which feels like a huge disappointment.

Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes have to participate in the Metagalatic Grand Prix. If they come in anyplace but dead last, they can prove humanity’s sentience and we as a species can continue existing. We will be welcomed into a wide galaxy full of interesting and wonderful happenings.

If they lose, it is game over for humanity. Maybe the next species that comes to dominate the planet will do better.

The main storyline wasn’t terrible. The side stories of all the species that have recently won or hosted the Metagalatic Grand Prix were interesting. Overall, it was somehow too much? The side stories were distracting. They were interesting and the kind of world building I’m usually into but…I just wanted to get back to the main story. I could imagine this wouldn’t be bad serialized. But, it wasn’t my favorite novel. I will say though, that I listened to this book and maybe if I had read it, I would have had a different experience focusing on it. That being said, I thought Heath Miller did a lovely job reading it. The characters were all distinct and I was never bored with his performance. So, while reading over listening may have helped, I’m not sure it would have helped all that much.

Quick Review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

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Girl in Translation is the story of Kimberly Chang, an immigrant to the US from Hong Kong. It follows her from when she arrives in the States until after her high school graduation. In the novel, we follow her story as she works to balance school and her life helping her Mother with factory work after school. We see her struggle to fit in with the American students while also maintaining her home culture. We see her survive, push through, and thrive.

 

It is really great novel. I enjoyed listening to it. The audio book is read by Grayce Wey and I really liked how Wey used accent to change from inner to outer monologue. (And, I may have been imagining this, but I also liked that her accent got mellower as the novel went on.)

 

I read this as part of the #AsianLitBingo Challenge. Lit Celebrasian did a character interview with Kimberly Chang over on their blog and it is a lot of fun! You can check it out here!

Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

So, Beth already reviewed this book and I wasn’t paying attention at all when I started reading it that we already had a review of it. To be honest, I was just thinking to myself, “crap, I’m going to fail my own challenge! I have to step up my game!” (And, then I did go and fail my own challenge.) This book was totally worth the read. It is a number of stories that are intertwined. The first is the main narrative about Sefia, a young girl who has lived as a nomad with her Aunt Nin since her father was murdered and after her Aunt’s kidnapping has to go it alone in order to find her Aunt and take her revenge against the rescuers. Along the way she meets Archer and is hunted by the kidnappers. The second narrative is the story of Lon, a fast learner and apprentice to the Master Librarian of a Secret Society. And, then there is the story of Captain Reed and his ship and crew that are bound for the edge of the world.

 

I listened to this book on audio and it absolutely sucked me in. The book was read by Kim Mai Guest and she did an amazing job of bringing all of the characters to life. Like Beth, I cannot wait to for the next one to come out!

 

I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries.

Review: Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

I have become one of those people who decides to read a book, checks the library for it, and then if A. the library doesn’t have it or B. the waitlist is longer than my patience, then I buy it. This isn’t something I do to be virtuous. This is something I do to curb the rate at which I acquire books. Because I own an obscene number of books. And, I pick them up at library sales and bookshops like they’re going out of style. I can’t seem to help it. As an audible subscriber, this means I often have more than one credit in my bank. If the library has it, I check it out. I listen to a lot of audio books, so this is a good system for me. But, having a surplus of credits is often a problem (is it, though?) I have. Audible has a solution for that. They have 3-for-2 sales pretty frequently and I end up picking three things that seem interesting but I don’t always pay really close attention to what they are about. This is how I ended up with Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. I had read other Sarah Vowell books before and enjoyed them and I needed a third book.

 

 

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I had no idea what it was about (or, at least, I didn’t remember what it was about) when I started listening. It is the story of how Hawaii came to be a state. It is an interesting look starting with traditional Hawaiian culture, looking at the influence of colonial powers, business interests, and religion, and ending with the coup staged by the “Committee of Safety” in 1893 and the subsequent dancing around that eventually ended up with the US taking over Hawaii.

 

It was a really interesting story and one I probably wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. When I think about the American history that I was taught growing up, they really didn’t cover the colonial expansion that netted us Guam, American Samoa, and the Philippines for awhile. Thinking about this expansion and who has rights to what territory seems particularly important now as we currently live in a world where the Standing Rock Sioux are peacefully agitating for their water rights and getting nothing but hell for it. Vowell’s book is thoughtul, well laid out and tells a believable tale about how a people can change based on the influence of those they come in contact with and how other people can use those changes as an excuse to be more involved (and then eventually take over). I’m pretty happy I listened to it. Additionally, the audio format allowed for a really fun presentation. Vowell reads the main body of the text and has other readers in to play historical figures. Why read a quote from Teddy Roosevelt when you can John Hodgman do it? In addition to hearing Vowell, you also get to hear Maya Rudolf, Catherine Keene, John Hodgman, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Keanu Reeves, Paul Rudd, and John Slattery.  At one point while I was listening, I actually said out loud, “Oh, no! Paul Rudd, you sound like a racist d-bag!”

 

This book is for you if you are interested in American history and you are ready to hear about America’s colonial expansion through Sarah Vowell’s dry humor. If you’re not American history, dry humor, or feeling a little uncomfortable (if you’re an American) then this book is maybe not for you.

This Month in Reality: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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When I posted my “What I’m Listening to” for this book I said that, just in the first chapters, I kept getting a lot of Tupac lyrics stuck in my head. In particular the line, “Instead of a war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so police can bother me.” This book made me in turns fucking furious, and heartbroken and uncomfortable, and increasingly aware that the U.S. is doing a big thing badly and that big thing is incarcerating citizens.

In this book, Michelle Alexander examines America’s prison systems and makes the argument that mass incarceration is a system of racial control that has taken the place of Jim Crow. And, her argument is pretty convincing. She looks at how, not all at once, but little by little changes have been made that have largely affected poor people and people of color. She looks at changes in the welfare system, changes in policing, the militarization of policing, and changes in drug policy.

Last year, I heard Piper Kerman speak at a local library function and this revisited some of the things that she touched on in her talk (and that at friend of mine touched on in a chat after the talk). We send a lot of people to prison. We send people to prison for murder. We send people to prison for rape (although, not often and not for very long but that’s a topic of discussion for another day). And, we send lots and lots of people to prison for non-violent drug offenses. How are we serving these people by putting them away for non-violent crime? How are we serving their communities by taking them out of the community? How are we serving them and their communities by disenfranchising them after they have served their time? How are we serving them and their communities by making access to welfare and public housing impossible after being convicted of a felony? I get it, if people do “bad” things, you don’t want to feel like you’re rewarding them. But, if you have nothing because you’ve just spent many years in prison and you want to do right and get back into the world, how can you do that with so many avenues closed off to you?

I don’t know.

This book raised way more questions than it answered for me but I am glad that I read it even if it means I now have to spend time thinking about these issues and how I can help set them right.

The Past Couple of Months in Reality: I listened to a Feminist Classic

So, I had a moment earlier this year where someone referenced the feminist classic the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and I realized that I hadn’t read it. It seems like something I should have read. So, I used one of my audible credits and I picked it up. And, then I spent hours cooking, cleaning and walking on the tread mill while Parker Posey read it to me.

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Isn’t that the creeepiest image?

Anyway, this classic was originally published in 1963 and it addressed a problem that women who bought (and a society that sold) the fantasy that the most fulfilling thing a woman could do with her life was get married and have children and how that not only affected those women but also had ripple effects within society. I can see, looking back, how this was a revolutionary book. It is important to know and remember that women are people and that women, all women, have capacities and interests and being stuck in and reduced to one or two roles for any person is potentially trapping.

But, this book was definitely written in a different time and was focused on different issues than the feminism is now. For one, every time Friedan wrote “women”, I found it was almost always easier to take if I added “Middle Class White” before “women”. While Friedan was probably trying to write about an ideal (and, a societal image of what a “woman” should be is certainly something everyone woman-identifying person has to contend with much like the idea of what a “man” should be is something all men-identifying people have to contend with.) most of the data she presented was about a very particular kind of woman. As already mentioned, middle class white women. And, that’s fine, but the problems that middle class white women face are not always the same as the problems that working class white women face. Or, Middle class African American women. Or, working class African American women. Or, Trans women. Or, Asian American women. Or, Native American women. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I am glad that I read it, though. It is nice to be able to look back and think about how much we have accomplished and to note how much work we still have to do.

Review: Dark Guardian by Christine Feehan

The Carpathians are an immortal race that live off blood, like vampires.  Except, they’re not the undead.  They have souls.  The males lose all emotion and the ability to see color until they find their life mates who restore these to them.  They’re bonded forever.  
I should have stopped reading this book at the prologue and when I heard this explanation and thought, “NOPE!”  
I get that I might not be the audience for mainstream romance.  And, I get that media lets us explore situations and relationships that my interest us, intrigue us, turn us on, or whatever but that we don’t and shouldn’t do in real life.  I get that novels, not just romance novels, are an escape.  I get all of that.  
But, I can’t even think of an appropriate list of swear words to describe how terrible this novel was.  Seriously.  It was so bad that I can’t even swear at it.  
But, I can tell you what I didn’t like about it and why.

Massive Spoilers Ahead!

First, of course, was this idea that men (well, Carpathian men) are emotionless monsters that women have to save.  Nope.  Feelings are a human thing.  We all have amygdalas and emotional centers in our brains and anything that continues to perpetuate the stereotype that women are the ones that feel and men aren’t harms women, harms men, harms us all.  Second, after introducing our immortal badass vampire hunting Carpathian dudebro we’re introduced to Jaxon the heroine by looking into her life at ages 5, 10, 15, adulthood.  Jax was raised on a military base by her Mother (who wasn’t super maternal) and her father, a Navy Seal, and his Seal buddies were very involved in her life.  Until her Dad died and her Mom married his Seal buddy who then turned into an abusive pyscho and the descriptions were awful.  Psycho Step Dad then stalks our fair Jax and torments her by hurting people she loves.  Oh, but before we get there we are treated to these flashbacks where young Jax tells adults that her Step Dad is abusive and no one believes her.  I thought there was mandatory reporting of these sorts of things?  Like, if a kid tells her teacher that her Dad hits her Mom that the teacher had to tell the school and get Child Welfare involved?  Anyway, Jax grows up into an emotionally stunted police officer who has to keep everyone at arms length because Psycho Step Dad might be watching.  (At least that was a fun twist:  for once the psycho step parent wasn’t the mother.)  Then, her Carpathian dudebro inserts himself into her life, removes her from her friends and chosen family, disregards her concerns, commands her to stay in the house in the name of her safety (and gets violently upset when she disregards his commands and asserts her own autonomy), and initiates the life mate binding process without her consent and then completes it without ever explaining anything to her.  Being stalked by a Navy Seal is terrible.  Being swept up by an immortal who needs you to maintain his emotional life for him is also terrible.  
And, folks, I didn’t even get to the end.  I got the completion of the binding ritual and she started freaking out and Carpathian dudebro started mansplaining how they were meant for each other and she just needs to roll with the (irreversible) changes and I was like:
  

So, the only good choice with this book is to just not pick it up.  0/10.  Do not recommend.

I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries.