A Year of Themed Reviews – June: Pride Month: Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only FruitOranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oranges are not the Only Fruit brings us through Jeanette’s childhood in a fundamentalist Christian home, preaching hellfire and brimstone to her distressed classmates and writing pulpit-filling speeches for her family parish. She was adopted as an infant and pledged to the Lord as a missionary, and it’s a missionary she will be. Until the discovery that she is a lesbian. Something the church cannot abide. Winterson relates the ensuing battle for the integrity of Jeanette’s soul through equal parts fairy tale, Arthurian legend, and memory. She’s only a child, and all the forces of her church are arrayed against her. And happy endings are for fairy tales.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

A Year of Themed Reviews – June: Pride Month: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis

How to Repair a Mechanical HeartHow to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cute YA romance that reads like fanfic. Brandon has finally worked up the courage to come out to his very religious family. They do not take it well. They are hoping a summer road trip with his childhood friend Rebecca will remind him where his priorities are supposed to lie. But Bec isn’t the only one coming. Brandon is also travelling across the states with his friend and co-vlogger host Abel, hitting a series of cons for their favourite tv show Castaway Planet. Abel is determined to set Brandon up with some nice young man to help him get over the broken heart he doesn’t really have. Brandon is trying to decide if he wants to be an android, rather than deal with his guilt and complicated emotions. An excellent light summer read, especially if you’re going on a road trip.

View all my reviews

A Year of Themed Reviews – June: Pride Month: Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent MillaySavage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…anyone who believes in democracy and freedom and love and culture and peace ought to be busy now. He cannot wait for the tomorrows.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay is a force of nature and Nancy Milford writes like one. Seldom do I finish a book and find that not a word of praise said about it has been exaggerated. Milford reveals so wholly the life and person of Millay in this compelling, insightful biography it is as if we were childhood friends of Millay’s looking over our own memories. Starting with Millay’s poverty-stricken childhood caring for her two sisters while their single mother worked as a travelling nurse, to her bisexual, sexually free adulthood decades before the free-love sixties, the stratospheric heights of renown she and her writing achieved, her later addiction to alcohol, morphine, and other drugs and the havoc wrecked on her life by those addictions, Milford shies from no dark corner. But it’s not all sex and addiction. Millay demonstrated in support of Sacco and Vanzetti, men accused of taking part in the robbery and murder of a shoe factory paymaster and sentenced to death for a crime they almost certainly did not commit. She refused awards proffered her by prestigious Literary groups, if they refused on the grounds of “moral failings” to honor her accomplished female friends. (For of course, male poets weren’t held to this standard; a male poet could abandon his wife and run off with another woman and provided his poetry was good enough no one would flicker an eyelash.) She spoke out exhaustingly against American isolationism as Hitler’s thugs vomited atrocities in Europe, sacrificing her health and personal standards to write what she believed was desperately needed propaganda in favour of America entering the war:

“If I can write just one poem that will turn the minds of a few to a more decent outlook…what does it matter if I compose a bad line or lose my reputation as a craftsman?…I used to think it very important to write only good poetry. Over and over I worked to make it as flawless as I could. What does it matter now, when men are dying for their hopes and their ideals? If I live or die as a poet it won’t matter, but anyone who believes in democracy and freedom and love and culture and peace ought to be busy now. He cannot wait for the tomorrows.” (452)

She stood up for what she believed in. She was passionate about everything she loved. She loved wildly and widely. Savage Beauty is an incredible book about an incredible woman. An inestimable pleasure.

View all my reviews

A Year of Themed Reviews – June: Pride Month: I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister ed. by Helena Whitbread

I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries, 1791-1840I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries, 1791-1840 by Anne Lister
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

*This is not the exact edition I read. My edition was 360 pages and only included 6 years of Anne’s diary.

Actually, let’s start off with that. Including the years of Anne’s birth and death suggested (to me) that this book was going to include the entirety of her diaries. I heard about Anne Lister from an episode of the wonderful Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, which referenced I Know My Own Heart and made me determined to include it in June’s reviews honoring Pride month. Anne lived in early 1800’s England, helping her aunt and uncle run Shibden Hall and assuming its management entirely after their deaths in the 1820s. She was well-educated, flirtatious, and sassy. Anne wrote frankly about being attracted exclusively to women – she doesn’t use the word lesbian and I believe her diaries predate the inclusion of that word in the lexicon – and had many romantic and sexual relationships. In her later years she, and the lifelong companion she finally found, travelled extensively until Anne’s death from fever at the foot of the Caucasian Mountains. The travel portion of her life especially piqued my interest. I was decidedly non-plussed to discover the edition I had borrowed ended before she was able to indulge her wanderlust. There’s even a note saying the diaries from that part of her life “are beyond the scope of this book.” WHY? ARE YOU PUBLISHING A SEQUEL?? (Apparently not?) Furthermore, language has evolved somewhat since the 1800’s. Anne’s word choices and sentence structure are often baffling. There aren’t really enough footnotes to make her writing completely accessible to a modern reader. Though Anne’s handwriting is often unintelligible when she’s not writing in code so I can only imagine what the editors went through to make even a small portion of her diaries readable. For which they have my gratitude. This was an interesting snap shot into the minutiae of an interesting woman’s life, but if you are going to pick it up see if you can find a copy that includes a larger portion of her life and has more foot notes.

View all my reviews

A Year of Themed Reviews – March: Women’s History: Dreaming the Eagle: Boudica #1 by Manda Scott

Dreaming the Eagle (Boudica, #1)Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A triumph of imagination and dedication, Dreaming the Eagle is the first novel in a historical fiction quadrilogy on Boudica, warrior-leader of the Eceni tribe. Beginning at age twelve, we watch the young Breaca transform into Boudica, the warrior-queen, as she and her tribe weather the storms of the world they have known being reshaped under their very feet by Roman invaders. While keeping rituals, searching dreams for guidance, and honoring their gods of land and fauna these pre-British tribes struggle against challenges none of them could have predicted. Violent battles. Gruesome wounds. Treachery. Deaths. Torture for Roman captives. Bloodshed is regular and I would class it as mild to moderately graphic. Infrequently the violence is directed at children. If you are not troubled by that, then the writing is lyrical and descriptive, the characters richly complex and the whole story will have you flipping pages as fast as you can. The peoples of pre-Roman Britain live again in Scott’s words.

View all my reviews

A Year of Themed Book Reviews – February: Black History Month: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An incredible book. Walker has crafted a heart-breaking, heart-filling story that captivates you from first page to last. Despite assaults and abuse from parents and husband, Celie stands “bloody, but unbowed” throughout her childhood, unwanted marriage, and finally sees the slow growth of her own heart from a forgotten seed into a magnificent tree. Despite this being a story built around child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and the millions of everyday griefs that filled a black woman’s life in the early 1900’s, Walker has presented us with a work is not just uplifting, but redemptive. If you are in a place where you are able to read books that deal with the content warnings I’ve listed, then I can not recommend The Color Purple strongly enough.

View all my reviews

Rise by Mira Grant

Rise: A Newsflesh Collection: The Complete Newsflesh CollectionRise: A Newsflesh Collection: The Complete Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joy of joys, Mira Grant has published another installment to her Newsflesh collection! This goose-pimply sci-fi post-zombie-apocalypse series follows teams of bloggers chronicaling the presidential race in the first four books, but in Rise Grant takes us back to the beginning of the zom-pocalypse and fills in some of the blanks. It’s a collection of short stories and novellas with new faces and old favourites, and it’s every bit as good as the others. Even though some of the stories pre-date the first books in the series, I would recommend finishing the series proper before reading Rise. Major spoilers otherwise. Furthermore I must furnish content warnings for a sizeable quantity of gore and violence, suicide, suggestions of sexual assault, and violence involving children. Despite all of that, Newsflesh remains my all time favourite zompocalypse series and possibly one of my favourite science fiction books. I also can’t finish a review without commenting about Grant’s emphasis on inclusivity. She has multiple characters from diverse racial backgrounds and from along the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. And it’s never a “thing,” it just is. She mentions it the way she mentions this person writes fiction, or is a whiz with electronics. A normal part of someone’s personality. I’m really looking forwards to when that attitude is the mainstream one. I’m also impatiently awaiting the movie adaptations of all of these books, so, Hollywood, get on it. No whitewashing or straightwashing, K?

View all my reviews

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

SteppenwolfSteppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I will say one thing about this book; there aren’t many authors who would combine a philosophical treatise on the soul of man and the nature of depression with a rave, then plunge it all into a drug-addled murder. (Spoiler alert. Sorry about that.) Steppenwolf was decades ahead of its time. Published in the 1920’s, it reads like something more suited to the 60’s or 70’s. That impressed me. Hesse delves deeply into the make up of a human soul, the needs that drive us; the urge to live lives bigger than ourselves, battle against impossible odds and either surge to glorious triumphs or be crushed beneath a merciless foe. Unfortunately all that gets really boring after the first couple chapters of it. And because Harry Haller’s life is devoid of the challenges he longs for, he struggles with depression and suicide throughout the text. At least, until he meets a beautiful young woman. Honestly, if Hesse hadn’t drilled into the narrative that Harry had been suffering from these feelings for the entirety of his adulthood, I would have dismissed this as a mid-life crisis, resolving when Harry finally starts making new friends and has a relationship with a woman the age his daughter would be, if he had had any children. Harry spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself. A lot. Then he kills someone. But it’s not a big deal! It was just a misunderstanding. His newfound friends forgive him. Honestly, unless you’re really in the mood to read pages of someone dancing around the edges of self-annihilation, coupled with pages on the multiplicity of souls inhabiting a person, and then cap it all off with a grim drug-induced psychotic break and a murder, I’d skip this one. Maybe see if there are Cliff’s notes? I bet Wikipedia has a great article that will tell you all about what Hesse was trying to say without you having to read him saying it.

View all my reviews

What the Mouth Wants by Monica Meneghetti

What the Mouth WantsWhat the Mouth Wants by Monica Meneghetti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A luscious, succulent memoir filled with sex and food that will have you craving fresh pasta, grieving lost loves, and probably wishing you were Italian. Meneghetti shares her memories, her family history, and some of her favourite recipes in this complex and layered piece. The layout reminded me of Like Water for Chocolate; most chapters were molded around a specific recipe or ingredient. Both books have abusive parents. In Like Water for Chocolate it is the matriarch, but in What the Mouth Wants the father is the toxic one. Meneghetti struggles against his restrictions. His hostility and judgement whenever she bypasses conventional social norms. She also touches on learning to accept her identity as a queer woman. Growing up in a small town in the era before gay marriage was legalized adds another layer of difficulty to the process of self-discovery we all do as we age, and Meneghetti traces her revelations bravely here. Her writing drifts gently between straightforward recounting and more poetic, almost dream-like sequences. She muses on the nature of memory and recollection the same way she muses on the qualities of the perfect risotto. It’s all very delicate. Almost baroque. If you’re in the mood for something rich and complex, this could be the book for you.

View all my reviews

The Day the Sky Fell: The Yellow Hoods, Book #5 by Adam Dreece

The Day the Sky Fell (The Yellow Hoods, #5)The Day the Sky Fell by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is it. The last of the series. Do Tee and her brave friends triumph against the Lady in Red, the Piemans, the Fare, and all the other foes arrayed against them? Can a group of teenagers best experts in intrigue?
Of course I’m not going to tell you. Read the book and find out. The Day the Sky Fell had the fastest plot of the whole pentalogy, I really couldn’t put it down. I still wanted a flowchart for all the character relationships, but at least there weren’t any new ones added. Again, some violence and bloodshed, but little else. Dreece has even revealed one of the characters is gay, in the sort of offhand scene that makes me dream of one day having a society where homosexuality isn’t a big deal. It just is. I’m happy to see that Dreece agrees with me, and put his beliefs where his mouth is. Or rather, where his writing utensil is.
Despite Dreece closing The Yellow Hoods with this book, not all the loose ends are tied up. A few of the antagonists could certainly stage a comeback some years down the road, and Dreece mentions possibly starting a second series around a more mature Tee and her friends. I wouldn’t say no to that. It’s been a good run.

View all my reviews