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.
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 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.
Omg, omg, omg Keith Knight is totally awesome.
I got into his comics a few years back (let’s be honest, it was more than a few. It was the Bush (#2) era), bought a couple of his books at the Anarchist Book Fair and a library reading, read them and reveled in their awesomeness, and then, naturally, got distracted.
The Complete K Chronicles is a compilation of a few books and weighs in at 510 pages and contains strips from 1993 – 2004. Knight Takes Queen is a single book and was published in 2014. They’re both so good!
Knight has a really exciting and unusual ability to mix politics, potty humor, and pure heart– for example, he’ll be writing about violent racist cops in one panel, and the joy of yummy food in the next. Oh, and you’re laughing for both (even though sometimes it’s an LOL!, and other times it’s a resigned, head-shaking omg he’s so right, ain’t that tragic kind of laugh.
We should totally support rad cartoonists; of course check your library (and check the items out! Shelf-sitters (i.e. books that don’t get checked out) often get weeded when library shelf space is limited! Do your part to keep good stuff in the libraries)– but also buy his books and art! You can most easily do this on his website (which also has more comics!).
There are reviews all over the place for this book. Some are great, some are terrible, some are floundering in the mish-mash in-between. I think that the bad reviewers are making the mistake of believing that Cheryl, our protagonist, is supposed to be as flawless. Really what we need is a review that says: IF YOU’VE APPRECIATED MIRANDA JULY’S WEIRDER WORK BEFORE– AND/OR IF YOU ARE OK WITH (or intrigued by) BEING MADE UNCOMFORTABLE FOR ART’S SAKE– CHECK THIS ONE OUT.
I’m into it. But I also meet both of the conditions above.
Yay! Another queer indie! Leap is pretty good. The year is 1979 and our protagonist Rowan has just finished high school in her small town and is spending her last summer before college working at the local burger joint. There’s lots of stuff going on (as there always is when you’re 18 and on the cusp of life), but the main thing is that there’s a new girl in town and Rowan’s about to get in her first relationship…
The writing is quite good– the 223 pages give you LOTS of information. There are lots of parallel side plots, the character development is good, and certain things are left unexplained in just the right way. I’ll be looking for more from this writer.
I’d never heard of Anne Beattie when I picked this one up off of the bargain rack for $3. To be honest, I thought the picture on the front cover was kind of hot, and I was attracted to the pretension in the description on the back cover. I still really haven’t googled Beattie– though I did look up the Amazon reviews for this title. I only read the bad and mediocre reviews, but it seems like most of them are from readers who are otherwise big fans of her work. How happy I am to have started fresh!
This was a slick little snapshot (112 pages)– a detached but romantic (to a person who had yet to be born in the era she’s writing about) series of events in one of those relationships that takes over everything. The last third gets a little weird, but it’s ok because you’re not really attached to Jane, the protagonist. I got the feeling that I was reading a disguised memoir piece, but didn’t really get around to looking into it. on another hand, I also got the feeling that I was missing something big– like something symbolic or something that I really had to be there (NY in 1980) for.
Find copy at the library
This is the book that everyone was talking about at the beginning of the Summer. It was love-love-loved by lots of mainstream book reviewers, and everyone at the library was rushing to put it on hold because they’d heard it was the ultimate beach read.
It’s perfectly good, but I think I loved it less because it wasn’t as life-changing as all the hype made me think it would be. Plot-wise, it’s a classic slightly humorous, kinda gossipy NYT best seller about a wealthy white family from the east coast that goes on vacation and discovers things about each other and comes of age both as a unit and as individuals. I mean, it’s a solid book, an easy thing to recommend to someone who just wants to chill out and not think too much for a stretch of a few hours. You know how when you read a tabloid the nuances aren’t new but some of the people/places are? Kind of like that.
It’s not gonna change your life, but it will fill a few hours with well-written and nicely paced pleasantness.
I’ve been working with teen boys, and to my immense librarian pleasure, they actually read!
They’re super into urban fiction/ street lit, and general stories about people in intense situations with tough lives who either figure it out or succumb. One of the most commercially successful authors in the street lit genre is Zane, so I decided to check out one of her most popular titles, Addicted.
It’s easy to see why this book is popular. The African American female protagonist is attractive and financially successful from her own company, the writing is often compelling, the subject matter is a little edgy, and there’s lots of hot sex (and aside from 50 Shades, there’s more detail than your average mainstream novel). I read the book voraciously and have no regrets about the time spent. I guess I could have been watching My Drunk Kitchen (which I am presently a little bit obsessed with), but what I’m saying is that this was a fine way to pass the time.
I do, however, take issue with a major part of the book: the causes of the character’s addiction (we’re talking about a sex addiction, btw). I’ll skip over the problematic fact that the protagonist’s set of sexual feelings and actions was labeled an addiction by her therapist, and talk about how this so-called addiction (which seemed more like a sex-negative excuse for some bad behaviors) was allegedly caused by some bad events from her childhood, and how her husband’s sex problem was also caused by his birth mother’s instability and profession. Oh, and then how the end of the book basically degrades into a crude bloodbath in attempt to simultaneously tie up loose ends, solidify the protagonist’s love for her husband, and bring justice to some bad guys.
But I can see why the teens like it. I just wish that each copy of the book could be distributed with a fact sheet. Or that the protagonist’s sexy romp didn’t have to be blunted by the author’s morals.
Fangirl was so worth the 3 month wait at the library. This book is a lovely package: there’s romance and family and relationships and new things and life changes and personal development. You’ll love this book in the park or on the train, on the couch, or in a waiting room (or at least I did)…
Plus, it’s about a twin. The wonderful World of Sweet Valley predisposes me to love anything about twins. Especially twins with different personalities.
Cath’s a twin who writes online fan fiction about a popular Harry Potter-ish book character. She followed her sister to a college a few hours from home, and instead of continuing to be twinny BFF’s, her sister becomes a popular partygirl, and Cath becomes a lonely dorm room fan fic writer who has thousands of fans online but no friends in real life. On top of her sister’s new habit of binge drinking, her dad’s fluctuating mental health, and her MIA mom’s reappearance in the periphery, Cath might sorta be finding her voice, finding herself, and falling in love.
Fangirl is super well-written, and you’ll be sad its world is over when you get to the last page.
Small press gem! It’s the 1980’s. 18 y/o gay goth Matt lives in the ‘burbs near LA with his mom and step dad. Works at May Company. Spends his free time with his gothy girl bff’s getting fucked up, listening to music, buying stuff, going to clubs.
Interesting, upbeat writing, and if you were around in the 80’s– or know a lot about 80’s music (specifically the band Love and Rockets), you’re gonna be pretty jazzed. The writing in general is pretty good– you can tell that it might secretly be a just little bit autobiographical, and that the author might’ve been smirking a little (at himself) as he wrote it. Some of the plot devices kind of bugged me– but now that it’s been a couple weeks I’ve forgiven them. I saw Demcak read at a Radar reading and he’s a delight irl.
Check it out!
I totally would have loved this book as a 15 year-old. At my library it’s cataloged as an adult title, and I don’t think that fits. It’s about Kara– our protagonist– and her coming-of-agey teenage times dealing with sex, drugs, music, divorce, independence, and more. Ultimately things go bad at home, she meets some new kids, gets into some bad relationships, falls into using heroin, and OD’s. The bulk of the book is her looking back on these happenings as a now-sober youngish adult. The story itself is pretty captivating, and those of us who grew up in the 1990’s will appreciate the alternative pop culture nostalgia.
For me, it got a little too Go Ask Alice-y near the end, which was kind of a drag. But hey, it’s only one story.
I think it would do really well as a series of interconnected artistic short films.
Find a copy here.
A popular choice! The book review world and the internet world were generally pretty excited about this one.
I wasn’t as obsessed with it as I was with some of Lahiri’s other writing, but it was still a pretty sweet book. The beginning was pretty slow for me, but as I got used to unfamiliar names and places and dug further into her characters’ lives, I kept reading (fairly raptly). There are tons of details in this book that don’t all necessarily peak– the text is more about the story than the solution (this would have been obnoxious for me at other parts of my life, but right now I’m ok with the mellowness). But with that said, Lahiri tries to bring some solution into maybe the last 15 or 20% of the book, and it felt a little unnecessary.
But still, it’s a pretty epic book that takes place across oceans and generations. Check it out.
So I read Eleanor and Park by Rowell a bit back, and liked it pretty well. After a long wait on the reserves list at my library, Attachments finally came in. I liked it even better.
The pace is really good and the wit is super clever. The premise is very modern: Lincoln and Beth work in the same office, but never see each other, as Lincoln’s job is as a graveyard shift “internet security officer” (a.k.a. a person employed to read staff emails). But they find a way to fall for each other anyway…
Generally speaking, it’s a love story. But it’s also about coming of age (even if it’s happening a little late). I’m not sure what to write without giving away too much, but it’s really enjoyable, so taking the time to read it won’t ruin your life or anything.
Find a copy here
So I had this giant stack of well-respected adult literature that I was intending to read– and instead I gravitated toward teen stuff (and returned the adult stuff to the library). So much for faking like I’m fancy and grown up. Here goes:
45 Pounds (more or less) by KA Barson
So teenage Anne has been told that she is 45 pounds overweight, her (super skinny) mom is a total jerk about it, and as a result, she has a pretty big complex. Her lesbian (!) aunt’s wedding is in a few months and she wants to lost the weight so she can look thin in the ceremony, so she goes through some extreme measures to start– and ends up having to get a job to support these new measures, and meanwhile there’s a boy she likes and her little sister is starting to get emotionally distressed about something, and there’s a mean girl out to sabotage her…
Ultimately lots of the right lessons are taught, but I really wish the “happy ending” could have been made happy without the stereotypical things that it ended with. I kind of also wish that we’d gotten to know Anne a little better. BUT this teenage “problem novel” is still solidly multi-dimensional, entertaining, and interesting.
Find a copy here
Hot Girl by Dream Jordan
14 year old Kate’s had a tough life. She’s been bounced around group homes and foster families, is a former gang member and former pot smoker and all-around tough girl– but she finally had a good social worker, good grades, and an ok (but strict) family she lives with. But when her BFF goes away for the summer, she befriends Naleejah, a super-fancy girl who has tons of money and designer clothes– and sleeps with guys to get them. Naleejah gives Kate a makeover, and the kind of attention that she gets starts to change… Will she fall in too deep with her new friend and risk losing everything that she’s worked so hard to make stable in her life?
This is a decent YA novel. It features multiple characters’ complications and complexities, and is realistic in the sense that it doesn’t try too hard to clean up supporting characters’ messes. Kate is weird enough that we can actually believe that she’s a real person, and while some of the other characters might be jerky, they still elicit some empathy.
Find a copy here
Amazon’s recommendation robots were pretty sure that I’d like this one. I had to order it all the way from Washington via InterLibraryLoan, and it wasn’t a loss (of time). The book itself is a combination of fictiony memoir and screen shoots of texts and/or instant messages. The author/narrator is 21-ish at the time of publication, and like many people, is sexual, complicated, flawed, and curious.
I guess Calloway is popular online, and I’m not really going to try to hunt down her blogs or whatever, but I really appreciate the book’s frankness. There are a buttload of sex scenes, and they are equally hot and awkward, but told in what feels like a really level voice. The moments of sadness/uncertainty/embarrassment are inserted so seamlessly that at first you’re not sure if she’s aware of them or not. The writing nicely captures how fucked up we humans are.
Find a copy here
This graphic novel recently got famous, as (an apparently really great film that I haven’t seen yet) is based upon it. I waited for ages for it to come in at the library– and I want to turn it in quick because there are tons of people in line behind me who have been waiting for it for ages as well.
This is one of those tragically sad/beautiful love stories that people like so much. Based on Clementine’s diaries, the story centers around her coming of age as a lesbian, and her (tumultuous) relationship with Emma. But the whole story begins with Emma reading those diaries at Clementine’s (horribly homophobic) parents’ house after she has died. Sigh, I know.
The writing and art is solid enough that a few minutes of reading past this tragic premise (in the first few pages), I’d forgotten the sad part (until the end, of course). The art is totally gorgeous, and the (often really drawn out) sex scenes come as close to being to being hot as cartoon sex scenes are going to get for me. Certain parts of the story seem a little trite (like the conclusion to the beach scene near the end), but over all there’s a whole lot of solid romantic story compressed into a mere 156 beautifully painted pages.
I’m really glad that I found Dana Johnson! I forget how I found out about her as an author– Maybe Library Journal reviews, maybe Amazon recommendations, maybe an old photocopied book list. I wrote a bit about her short story collection, Break Any Woman Down, about a week ago. My write-up was really disjointed because I got all distracted in between reading and writing– but I was interested enough to read more by her.
Break Any Woman Down has two stories about a character named Avery– one as a child, and one when she’s older. Elsewhere, California is a more fleshed out meditation on Avery’s life, flip-flopping between the present and the past to illustrate that your personal history never entirely leaves you. Avery did most of her growing up as an African American female in the suburbs of LA, often in a sea of white kids. As a grownup she’s an artist and a stay-at-home girlfriend to a wealthy Italian immigrant who’s white. The publisher and cataloging descriptions of the book that I’ve found aren’t really the greatest– they tend to be kind of essentialist, I think in hopes to “package” the book nicely for specific “sets” of readers. Basically a lot of stuff that is often rather poignant happens. These happenings involve gender, class, art, and most prominently the state of race and racism in America. These details aren’t really spelled out– it’s more like they’re positioned in a ways that the reader will hopefully notice.
The book is well-written, engaging, and doesn’t take too long to read. The structure of flipping between the past and the present is not problematic, and I found that I was disappointed when it was over.
Find a copy here.
Looking for short stories that read easy but actually make you think? Dana Johnson’s collection, Break Any Woman Down will do the job. I read this a couple weeks ago and a lot of stuff happened since then, so I don’t remember the details perfectly. BUT the stories in the collection are super diverse, with lots of different types of characters, and take place in multiple eras. They all showcase the Black female experience in the US, and touch on stuff like family, relationships, racism, school, work, abuse, AIDS, dating, love, etc. It won a Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and according to the internet, seems to have been pretty popular when it was published a bit over a decade ago. Check it out!
Don’t be turned off by the weird 1990’s graphic on the front cover. This book will blow your brains straight out of your head, and in a variety of directions (figuratively, of course). I finished this book the other day and I don’t think I’ll be done processing the intricacies of it for a while, still. However, I’m not waiting to post this because I want people to acquire this book and read it soon.
The book begins with a kind of racist white girl who one day turns black after ignorantly saying some racist stuff to her boss. The plot just goes all kinds of places from there; relationships materialize and fall apart, magical things literally or maybe figuratively happen, family histories are explored, there’s a wedding, a death, some transmogrification… All in 212 pages. I don’t know how to describe this writing… but I know that I like it.
If you’re in the USA you can one of the few copies left starting at One Cent on Amazon, or do what I did and borrow a copy from Inter Library Loan. Canadians, Mayr is one of you– so you can get it even easier. No excuses!
Starting From Here is a nice, earnest YA book about a teenage lesbian named Colby who just got dumped by her first girlfriend for a boy. Though I’m an adult and enjoyed it, I feel like it really is for teenagers– reading it brought to mind the sweet teenage lesbian classics Annie On My Mind and Rubyfruit Jungle.
The structure of the story is comfortable (read: a little bit formulaic), but the surrounding details are quite good: there are unusual elements like a GSA, a trucker dad, a stray (three-legged) dog and a problematic aunt. I would have been thrilled to read this coming of age book as a teenager ( I was starved for coming out narratives, info about supportive adults, and comradery in how it feels to get dumped, etc). I feel like it fills a previously un-filled niche in queer YA lit. Also, the author’s a youth services librarian (yeah!).
Find a copy at your nearest library here
I like memoirs. This is a porno memoir by Oriana Small aka super famous porn star Ashley Blue.
I’d never heard of her before going to a sex work literary performance/panel at YBCA, where she read an excerpt of this book. This book is addictive, raunchy, well-paced, interesting, and pretty good to read, all together. She describes lots of her work pretty thoroughly, so I didn’t feel lost, having not seen her movies (though I googled her pics afterwards, and her eyebrows are freaking perfect).
My one critique is that things seem to wrap up a little too quickly at the end (but maybe that’s just how life is sometimes?)
Find a library copy here!
So I got in that bike accident a couple of weeks ago, and found myself medicated, in an arm sling, and unable to do much at all! Thank goodness for library e-books, an open mind, and morbid curiosity! Well, we don’t have TV, so it was something to do… As a librarian, I also have the excuse that it’s important for me to know what the public is reading (or what they were reading months ago when it was still popular). As a further justification, Library Journal somewhat recently thinks it’s really important, so there’s a strong chance that public libraries will catch up one day– and I’ve gotta be ready for that day!
The e-book platform that I use doesn’t keep the original page numbers, so I have only just learned that these three volumes together add up to a whopping one thousand, six hundred and seventy pages. It took about a week to read them. Sheesh.
So here’s the thing. I was laughing as I downloaded the first one. I was giggling between sentences as I read the first couple of pages aloud. There was no way that I was going to read more than a chapter or two– I just wanted to see for myself how bad it was! A couple of chapters later, I wasn’t laughing any more (the writing got better and the story developed). Nor was I reading aloud. Because the thing is, 50 Shades of Grey is not a bad book. The writing is fine, the pacing is decent, and the storyline isn’t too predictable. So I finished the first one. And then downloaded and finished the second one. And then I (put on hold and then) downloaded and finished the third one.
If you’ve somehow never heard of this series, take a second and give it a google (probably not at your job, ok?). So the books have heaps and heaps of erotica in them (and it’s not poorly written), nestled amongst a rather fantastical storyline about a sweet young thing whose world gets really big really fast. There’s sex and car chases and money and tons of firsts and relationship dynamics and more…
But before you let yourself think that I had a serious unconditional love affair with this series, know that I’ve got some issues with it. Lots of them are with the logic/realistic-ness of certain elements:
1. Ana, our heroine, begins the book as an attractive 21 year-old (non-religious) virgin who has never been drunk. for reals.
2. Christian Grey is a sadistic dom because his childhood was monumentally fucked up
3. Grey’s many talents and achievements by the supposed age of 27
4. Ana’s ability to somehow get a (decent and academically relevant) job (in Seattle) straight out of college
5. All the “inner goddess” business (though this would translate nicely into a tv series– like in the same way that Lizzie McGuire often had those little cartoon asides to show how Lizzie was feeling)
6. I don’t know a ton about BDSM, but I have a feeling that some people who are into it are gonna take issue with certain scenes
There are some more, but I’ve momentarily forgotten them. The books get my major props for their straight-talk about sex:
1. This might be the first time that “butt plug” has found its way into a bestseller. I bet they’re selling better than ever before in the sex toy stores.
2. Though their relationship is kind of fucked up, there are some good examples of sexual limit-setting, communication, and negotiation that I’d never previously seen in mainstream media. Maybe it will influence more people (women, specifically) to speak up for themselves in bed.
So there we go. My semi-review, in a somewhat anonymous setting. By the way, I found myself thankful for having access to the e-book versions of these. Sharing a paper version just seems, well, kind of icky (unless you’re into that).
So pretty much every LGBT book list ever was recommending that I read Chulito.
So I did, and it was a sound choice.
The amount of information that gets packed into the novel’s 317 pages is amazing. It’s a lush story that has a beginning, a large middle body, and a tidy ending. I found myself yearning to read it when I was doing other things. Chulito, the main character, is around 16 years old and lives in the Bronx. He’s a sweet boy at heart, but has fallen into a bit of a dangerous path of dropping out of school and becoming the neighborhood drug dealer’s right-hand man. He’s a bit of a teen thug and spends his days on the street corner clad in designer clothing (bought with drug money), drinking, and shooting the shit with the neighborhood guys.
The book is packed with information, and any attempt to further summarize it would take hours. What I will say, however, is that Chulito is a coming of age novel. So it turns out that Chulito’s not as heterosexual as he’d always assumed. In his process of coming to terms with this, issues such as sexism, heterosexism, responsibility, transphobia, and more are also addressed in the book. Read it.
There’s some “thoroughly described” sex in it, which (oddly) made me a little uncomfortable. I’m thinking that might be because the character is a teenager and I’m moments away from 30, and starting to feel like there’s more of a divide between me and young people. Even though at that age I was doing similar (girl versions of that) stuff and would have found those sections totally awesome. At first I just figured the author was being a letchy old man, but then I read more about him and changed my mind.
(My ONE big critique: the “clean-up” of the story is a bit too tidy to be completely believable. Granted, I stated earlier that the ending was satisfying- and it was. But it was also kind of soft.)
Find a copy at the LIBRARY! YAY!
Book Review: Seasons Change by Jennifer A Lightburn
I found this book on an LGBT reading list, and I was pleased to find that my library had it! It is the story of what happens to Annette after she leaves a really messed up abusive relationship with her ex, Montel, and starts to get on with her life. The narrative itself has multiple layers: there’s a court custody battle, a back story about the local homophobic police department, a new same-sex relationship with an old friend, friendship, family drama, deceit, private investigators, and more.
This book is addictive reading– Lightburn really knows how to immerse a reader into a character’s entire world. It’s self-published and you can tell that it was really an effort of love. There are a couple of minor misspelling/editing issues– but they are not big enough to disrupt the story or crack the author’s credibility. The book came to a slightly abrupt end and left me wanting a part 2!
Find a copy here. If you’re a Kindle person, it’s only $2 on amazon!