I feel like a dink because I read some awesome books I’ve been wanting to gush about, but I let myself get backlogged on reviews. The longer I let my thoughts sit, the harder it’s been to write about them. It’s been hard to do pretty much anything creative lately (ya know…pandemic, and all that), but I have a feeling most of us are feeling that way. So please excuse my brevity and lack of usual cleverness and wit 😉 and strap in because I’ve got 6 reviews for you!
Let’s start with some non-fiction:
Slave and Citizen by Frank Tannenbaum
My Edition: Paperback – 128 pages – 1992 – Beacon Press Books – ISBN: 080700913X
Since non-fiction isn’t something I read often, I needed to think about my approach when reviewing it. I’ve decided I should be asking myself two questions: Did I learn something, and did I understand what I was learning/reading (how accessible was the content, basically)?
In the case of Slave and Citizen, the answer to both questions was yes. The writing was a number-heavy at times, but I think it’s incredibly important to see then numbers when looking at the history of slavery. For example, the number of slaves taken who died in transport (either on land to the ships or on the ships themselves) compared to how many survived to actually become slaves.
I feel like I learned a lot more about the beginning of slave trade, as well as how slaves were treated in the U.S. (and our absolutely horrible legislation), versus in South America where there were many routes to freedom and where freed slaves were overall seen as citizens afterwards. This is great jumping-off point for anyone looking to educate themselves on how this country was built on systemic racism and at just under130 pages, easily worth your time.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
My Edition: ebook – 266 pages – 2019 – Seal Press – ISBN: N/A
Oluo reflects on her experiences as a Black woman in the U.S. and discusses a wide variety of topics from police brutality and mass incarceration to affirmative action, cultural appropriation, and microaggressions. This is an excellent read for those of us looking to examine our privilege. What I found most helpful is that Oluo provides talking points to help everyone with these difficult conversations.
While none of the topics she covered were new to me, I did have several lightbulb moments – her viewpoint and the statistics/examples/talking points she gave clarified a lot for me. For example, microaggressions – that’s a relatively new term to me and I’ve definitely been microaggressed (lol yes, making that up) upon thanks to being a lady. But with clarification on the subject, I also learned that I’ve definitely committed microaggressions upon others, albeit unknowingly (which doesn’t excuse them at all). Having more information on what microaggressions are, and clear examples of them, is something that will help me become more self-aware so I can cut that shit out!
Definitely pick this one up if you’re looking to learn more about current social and racial issues from the perspective of a Black woman, how you can speak about these issues with others, and for potential insight into some of your own actions. I’ll leave you with some quotes because Oluo’s words are way more helpful than my own:
“Disadvantaged white people are not erased by discussions of disadvantages facing people of color, just as brain cancer is not erased by talking about breast cancer. They are two different issues with two different treatments, and they require two different conversations.”
“In fact, it’s our desire to ignore race that increases the necessity of its discussion. Because our desire to not talk about race also causes us to ignore race in areas where lack of racial consideration ca have real detrimental effects on the lives of others – say, in school boards, community programs, and local government. And while it may seem that people of color always need to ‘put race in everything,’ it’s the neglect of the specific needs of people of color, which exist whether you acknowledge them or not, that necessitate it in the first place.”
“We should not have a society where the value of marginalized people is determined by how well they can scale often impossible obstacles that others will never know. […] But we live in a society where if you are a person of color, a disabled person, a single mother, or an LGBT person you have to be exceptional. And if you are exceptional by the standards put forth by white supremacist patriarchy, and you are lucky, you will most likely just barely get by. There’s nothing inspirational about that.”
“And this is important to remember, for all of us. No matter what our intentions, everything we say and do in the pursuit of justice will one day be outdated, ineffective, and yes, probably wrong. That is the way progress works.”
“At times it may seem like no matter what you do, you are doing something wrong. But you have to try to adjust to the feelings of shame and pain that come from being confronted with your own racism. You have to get over the fear of facing the worst in yourself You should instead fear unexamined racism. Fear the thought that right now, you could be contributing to the oppression of others and you don’t know it. But do not fear those who bring that oppression to light. Do not fear the opportunity to do better.”
Now on to the fiction:
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
My Edition: ebook – 288 pages – 2020 – Tor Teen – ISBN: N/A
If you’ve been around my blog, you know I have a rough relationship with YA fantasy (and YA in general). Time and time again it frustrates and disappoints me, but I still come back for more. I keep getting lured in by enticing, magic-filled book blurbs, only to be trampled on by simpering heroines with milk-pale skin and icy-blonde hair and a dueling pair of beefy himbos with gemstone-colored eyes competing for the love of those totally-average-yet-amazingly-exceptional girls!
This book is the complete opposite of all that and exactly what I need in my YA fantasy! I friggen’ loved it! It’s a modern, magical, own-voices adventure about sisterhood, family, and awesome magical creatures! It’s bittersweet and hopeful, with a dash of humor.
Can I call a YA fantasy powerful? Honestly, I’m so rarely blown away by any YA I read that I don’t have a good frame of reference for this. The characters are strong and realistic. There’s a big emphasis on found family, but also heritage. In this book, magical creatures are widely accepted as part of society. Except, that is, for sirens. And at this point, basically only Black women are sirens, so the book tackles not only racism, but speciesism. It’s also incredibly relevant to today’s current social climate and the scenes where our main characters attend protests are eerily similar to the videos I’ve seen of today’s protests, police brutality included.
My notes also say: YA that doesn’t feel YA. It doesn’t pander to readers. There was no love triangle! The physical descriptions are mostly limited to culturally relevant hairstyles and descriptions of magical creatures.
My notes ended with, “HOLY FUCK SO GOOD!” and really, what more do I need to say?
Kindred by Octavia Butler
My Edition: Paperback – 264 pages – 2003 – Beacon Press – ISBN: 9780807083697
This was the first book by Butler that I read and I’m sorry it took me so damn long! It’s about a Black woman from the 1970s who gets repeatedly pulled back in time to the antebellum south on a planation. I don’t want to say more than that about the plot, because it deals with some pretty heavy and complex emotions and is best left to be discovered while reading.
As you might guess, this is not an easy book to read. It deals with physical violence and emotional abuse. Once the time travel gets going and I learned what the heck was going on, I was filled with such anxiety. But I couldn’t put it down! Even as I was reading difficult scenes, biting my nails, and worrying about what was going to happen to our main character, I needed to keep reading. This is one of those books I talked out loud to (I also do this to the TV/movies haha) and I love when books give me intense reactions like this. The characters are complex and compelling, making the story even more impactful.
I absolutely recommend this book and I want to get my hands on Butler’s Patterner series next. If you’ve been wanting to read Butler’s work, you can’t go wrong by picking up Kindred.
Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev
My Edition: Paperback – 433 pages – 2020 – William Morrow – ISBN: 9780062839077
You may recall that I loved Dev’s first Raje book: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors. I was super excited to find out I’d won a copy of the next installment from LibraryThing – only…it never showed up…so I bought it from an indie bookstore instead. 😀
If you’re looking for modern Austen adaptations, these books are it. As you can surmise from the title, this is Dev’s take on Persuasion, which I enjoyed more than the original, honestly. Dev gave me the development between Anne (Ashna) and Wentworth (Rico) that I was craving from the original. Yes, family relationships and social standing are still a big part of this book, but the focus is on Ashna and Rico, their past, and their feelings for each other when they’re reunited.
This book is also a lot darker than the first and deals with themes like marital rape, alcoholism, depression, and suicide – so if you’re looking for a fluffy Austen adaptation, look elsewhere. In fact, there’s so much going on in this story, and a lot of it comes at Ashna at once, that I think she’d benefit from some therapy!
My only issues with this book were the idea of fated lovers who don’t feel like a whole person without being in a relationship with the other (just not a trope I’m into) and how expressive the characters’ eyes were. This seems silly (it is, really), but I’ve never read a book where it felt like entire conversations were happening with just peoples’ eyes. I don’t find eyes to be that expressive in real life and I’m not into it when writers focus a lot on what people are “saying” with their eyes.
Those are minor complaints, however, and I’m happy to know Dev plans to write her own versions of Sense & Sensibility and Emma. Can’t wait to read them!
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying by Grady Hendrix
My Edition: Hardcover – 408 pages – 2020 – Quirk Books – ISBN: 9781683691433
If you want to read about a bunch of Southern housewives in the 1980s overcoming some of the struggles imposed on them by the patriarchy and taking down a vampire while they do it, then this is the book for you.
I loved Horrorstor and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and Southern Book Club didn’t disappoint. Like Hendrix’s other books I’ve read, it’s gross (like, really, ew), compelling, scary, and exciting. It was a wild ride and I loved it. Grady also includes a forward to give some context about how this story came about and I found that helpful.
Patricia (our main housewife) was frustrating as hell to read about, but that’s what made her so real. She has an incredibly hard time speaking up for herself (I can relate) and constantly goes against her instincts (also, relatable). She’s a character that really falls before she gets back up, in a way that sadly imitates life sometimes. This book reads a bit like a horror movie (but with way more depth than most I’ve seen), in that I was practically shouting at the characters to do the smart thing when instead they’re running headfirst into danger.
But Hendrix also shows how powerless people can be when their loved ones and communities don’t support them. The vampire in this book is more manipulative than any I’ve read about, and much like people in real life, gets away with a lot thanks to his money and social influence. The story also shows how family members can manipulate someone out of love, believing their doing “what’s best” for their loved one.
Here’s a fitting quote: “We want the people we know to be who we think they are, and to say how we know them.”
Overall, it had more emotional depth than I expected. I also think the women were very well-written, considering they were written by a man. This is another book that had me groaning, yelling at characters, saying “ew”, cringing, and rolling my eyes. If this is how you want a book to make you feel, then you might want to pick this up.
*cover images for Race and Song from Goodreads