book reviews, crafts, cheap things…


Express Book Review: ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan


If you want to talk about an epic 2015 children’s book that is simply SCREAMING to be taught at school so it can wedge its way into our culture just like The Giver did 20 years ago, start talking about Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. You may as well read it now, because you’re going to be hearing a whole lot more about it (if your daily life involves children’s/YA lit).

My only complaint is that the end isn’t super believable if you’re an adult– but that’s only like 30 pages of around 500. Ignore my complaint for now if you want to be surprisingly impressed with how far you will be taken the story of a sort of magical transcontinental harmonica (for real) that affected some kids’ lives at pivotal times in history. I was particularly impressed with the amount of historical research that seemed to go into this book.

Check it out!

Book Review: A Year Without Made in China by Sara Bongiorni

A year without

So as my financial state has shifted from being broke as a joke (full-time student with a no-benefits “perma-temp” job that barely covered rent, food, and utilities) to having things like stable income, health insurance, and enough excess money to contribute to both a savings account and my student loan debt– I think a lot more about buying things. I do, in fact, buy a lot more things. I also read fashion industry blogs, and contribute to clothes-related Kickstarter campaigns. A higher influx of cash has even increased my time in thrift stores: reading all those fashion industry blogs helps me learn which clothes at the Goodwill are fancy, and that makes me want them (it’s a strange thing! I didn’t plan on getting materialistic in this way!).  So as a result, I sometimes wear $300 jeans (that I got for $8.49 thank you very much), I have a $7 organic cotton coat made by some small designer (that apparently retails for a price even higher than the jeans), and I have a few $2.49 t-shirts from the local company that sells them for $40 apiece. As a person who generally thinks that capitalism and materialism are kind of evil, I definitely have some mixed feelings about this new interest. However, there has been a positive development from all of this. I’ve started reading clothes labels.

As a vegan, I’ve been reading food labels for 15 years– but it hadn’t occurred to me to look at clothes labels until more recently. There’s the care instructions (which I don’t really care about), the fabric content (which can tell you a lot about a garment’s quality), and, of course, the “Made In _________” section. Since having more money, I’ve started reading clothes labels, and have become increasingly interested in where items are made. Sure, this can often predict quality. But in addition, now that I have more resources (a.k.a. $$$$), I can afford to try to acquire “stuff” that was maybe more ethically and locally made. I don’t have to go for the cheapest or easiest garments right now in my life.

This brought me to “A year without “made in China” : one family’s true life adventure in the global economy” by Sara Bongiorni. I ordered this book from the library because I’m so curious about other peoples’ paths in similar pursuits/interests. In the same vein of so many other socially-slanted memoirs, the author does an experiment that takes place over the span of a year in effort to draw some big conclusions about the society we live in. In the case of Bongiorni, she noticed that it seemed like everything in her house was made in China these days– and so much of it was bad quality and/or taking up space.
We’ll start with the good: The book is very readable. I’m always impressed when nonfiction has a fiction-esque narrative. I also want to give major props for writing a book on the topic– I’m sure it’s scary to attack mainstream consumerist habits in a public forum. Also, she did it. With a spouse, kids, and a lifestyle in suburbia. That’s big. I read it in about a day, which was nice because I had a bunch of books in my “to read” stack.

There were some parts that I wasn’t super thrilled about. I didn’t really like the author’s voice that came through– the way she regarded her spouse, how she seemed to interact with others. We probably wouldn’t be pals IRL. Also, sourcing. There was a serious lack of internet in this book (even though it’s from 2007, when e-commerce definitely existed), which meant there were lots of paragraphs devoted to driving around and looking for non-China products in stores. For example, at one point her kid needs new shoes, and it turns out that lots of kid shoes are made in China. So she goes to all the shoe stores, like ever, and reads tons of labels until she finally finds one pair that were made elsewhere. She spends weeks doing this. I would just go online and either search for “made in usa shoes” (they do exist, barely), or browse a shoe store website for non-China countries of origin (in this book, the author was OK with Taiwan and other countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, etc). Same with the coffee maker. It seems that they bitterly abstained from coffee for the year when their coffee maker broke and everything at the store was made in China. They could have bought an Aeropress or gotten theirs repaired…

I could nitpick a little more, but I don’t want to spent forever whining about what was an interesting project. I think other authors could probably expand on this project (e.g. only buy “made in USA for 1 year), and I would be thrilled to read their books.

Find a copy here

Express Book Review: Corona by Bushra Rehman


This rad little (approx. 150 pages) book lured me in with its attractive cover. But it is so much more! Our protagonist, Razia, is Pakistani American and grows up in Corona, Queens. The reader is offered poignant little snapshots of life from childhood to adulthood. They range from tragic to hilarious, from childhood crushes to the complexity of adult relationships… OMG, read it.

Get it here or at the library.

Book Review: Wetlands by Charlotte Roche


This novel is pretty obscene! The general plot is that an ass-related shaving accident lands our 18 year-old female protagonist in the hospital and follows both her memories leading up to the present– and intermingles them with her present behavior in the hospital.

My initial reaction is that the book was written wholly to shock– there’s something shocking, super-sexual, cringe-worthy or “dirty” (both the literal and figurative meanings) on pretty much every page (literally). You know that feeling you get from watching the “Two Girls, One Cup” or “Tub Girl” videos online, right? (e.g. one thing that our protagonist allegedly likes to do is pull out a tampon, wipe it on the ground, and then pop it back into her vagina). Every page is like that. It felt a little tiresome– almost as if the author was trying too hard.

But then I thought back to the description that I originally read that lead me to acquire this book (where is it, I don’t know). It was all about chucking traditional notions of feminine behavior and unreasonable expectations of feminine chastity and cleanliness and reclaiming sexuality and bodies– and that helped me think of it more as an artistic or political statement. So now I’m thinking that the book might be a little genius even if it was totally intense to read?

Get a copy here.

Express Book Review: Yo, Miss A graphic Look at High School

Yo, Miss : a graphic look at high school


Lisa Wilde taught for a bunch of years at a NYC high school for students who the mainstream system wasn’t working for. This zine series-turned-book is all about her time teaching and interacting with her students. Like any interaction with teens, there are moments that are hilarious or uplifting– and moments that are fucking tragic.

It’s nicely drawn and compellingly put together, and I found myself bummed when I reached the last page in less than an hour or two. Thematically, it reminds me a little bit of Truckface (which is a really great zine), but we don’t hear as much about the protagonist. Get it and read it!!

Express Book Review: When The Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright

When the black girl sings

Lahni’s black but has white parents and is the only black girl at a mostly-white school. As her parents’ relationship crumbles,the bullies at school are bitchy, and a creepy guy starts following her around, she simultaneously starts going to church and hears gospel music for the first time. It turns out that Lahni has an amazing voice and the music and church inclusion (with other black people) starts to fill in something that was missing and changes everything…

This is a well-written book that was clearly created with an agenda (teen problem novel) and lots of love. As a reader I found myself rooting for Lahni the entire time– even if there wasn’t as much description to Lahni’s personality or background behind her singing that I would have hoped for. Still quite good though! Check it out!

Express Book Review: Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn

Rebels by accident

Epic YA fiction! American Teenage Mariam is sent against her will to live for a while with her grandmother in Egypt. She is initially pretty bummed to leave the only life she knows (her peers at school have given her lots of crap about being Egyptian-American, so she carries a heavy dose of self- and cultural distaste). It turns out her grandmother isn’t bad and there’s lots of stuff to do (as well as some time for self-discovery, first love, first adultish independence, etc). But shit kind of hits of the fan due to the revolution going on (as well as some other stuff), and lots of growing has to be done. Amidst a great story, the book also subtly does lots of good work to dispel stereotypes about the Middle East and Arabs and Islam.

I haven’t seen one quite like this before; you should Check it out!

Express Book Review: Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis by Ali Smith

Girl meets boy : the myth of Iphis

There’s a lot going on in this short novel– and if I were Ovid-obsessed (it’s based on the myth of Iphis), I would probably even understand so much more! So there’s these 2 modern sisters, they work for a creative agency that’s promoting all kinds of capitalist corporate stuff, including bottled water (one sister’s serious, the other didn’t even want the job). There’s a protester, there’s a relationship, there’s slips of reality, all kinds of political commentary, and plot that is not quite linear. There’s the most beautifully written non-sex passages in one of the sex scenes, omg.

It’s weird but kinda genius and you should check it out.

Express Book Review: The Most Beautiful Rot by Ocean Capewell

This book deserves more than an “express entry.” But time. You know.

This is a totally awesome independently published book. A punk house is its framework, and the residents are its substance. As a reader you spend some time in the shoes of each resident, each similar enough to live together– but still quite different from one another. You will like this book if you like things like: zines, art, DIY, poetry, dirt, sex, and more… It’s really kind of epic.

You should buy a copy.

Express Book Review: The Potential Hazards of Hester Day by Mercedes Helnwein

Welcome to a new mini series: the Express Book Review!

This mini series may also be known as: I read a bunch of books but also got really busy and didn’t have time to give them proper reviews, but also though people should know about them…

The potential hazards of Hester Day

The Potential Hazards of Hester Day was nuts. I chose-a-book-by-its-cover on a mad dash on my way to catch a train, and it turned out totally awesome. Our protagonist is bizarre, quirky, and smart– in a  relatable, but not always entirely admirable way. The plot and characters are kind of absurd– yet at the same time, they’re not. There is a marriage, public libraries, marriage, accidental-on-purpose child abduction, a first crush/love. All kinds of good stuff.

Check it out!


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