Book reviews: dystopia, Lovecraftian stories, and a few academic books

The Other F Word by Angie Manfredi. 5/5
A stellar collection of essays, poems, prose poems, cartoons, memoirs, and other work on being fat and learning to love your body. I wish I’d had this book around when I was 12 and at the beginning of being continually fat-shamed by my family. The diversity of viewpoints, including men’s, women’s, and enby voices, queer, IPOC, ace, ace, aro, and others is fantastic and much-needed. In addition r the writings in the book, it offers links to shops, blogs, Twitter accounts, and more that are helpful for and supportive of fat people. Give this to fat kids and their parents. Give it to your fat friends and your not-fat friends. Let it help you teach folx that fat is not something to be ashamed of, that fat people deserve the same expect as thinner folx, and that being fat doesn’t mean you have to be unhappy or limited in what you do.

Divine Intervention by Spencer Stoner. 1/5
A badly drawn, poorly lettered, mediocre, and boring fantasy adventure. I want my graphic novels to have originality, decent plot, and interesting characters who develop. This isn’t it.

The Disappeared by Amy Lord. 5/5
This is an outstanding book about fascism and authoritarianism and sacrifice and resistance and resilience and hope. In a Britain under authoritarian rule, Clara Winter’s father, a literature professor, is arrested and “disappeared” when Clara is eleven. Her mother marries the major who oversaw the arrest in order to protect Clara, paying a heavy personal price. When Clara herself becomes a literature professor and falls in love with a colleague in the history department, she becomes involved in a project to spread dissent; when her partner is similarly arrested, she becomes even further involved ins plot to overthrow the government. Deftly written and full of the pain of making choices in impossible situations, coming to terms with self-sacrifice and the costs of war, this book is an excellent and all-too-real meditation on political silencing and the ways individuals react to and cope with brutal regimes.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant. 5/5
Revisiting H. P. Lovecraft’s work from previously unexplored points of view has become popular again recently, thanks to books by Ruthanna Emrys, Edgar Cantero, and others. Mira Grant—who also writes as Seanan McGuire—offers yet another take on Lovecraft’s Deep Ones in this intense and intensely atmospheric novella. Starting out with a trio of teenage mystery-solvers seeking one last case, this work quickly turns to a tale of the desire to belong, biological imperatives, and epigenetic haunting. I loved it all and wished it had been even longer, although its length also feels perfect and well-planned. Ideal for those enjoying the reclamation of Lovecraft from his racism, sexism, and other biased -isms and anyone who likes a good ghost story.

Rehearsing Revolutions by Mary McAvoy. 5/5
McAvoy offers a compelling and fascinating study of some of the most important theatrical experiments of the twentieth century: the drama and theater of labor colleges and organizations. Long-ignored, here projects involved playwrights, actors, and others interested in the state of labor and labor movements i.n the US. Using thousands of primary source documents and paying close attention to the work already done on labor and the arts, McAvoy crafts a detailed and important assessment of these projects and their effects in theater, the labor movement, and individual careers. This is a must-read for anyone interested or working in American theater, the history of labor movements and work, and the arts in early twentieth century America.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy by Edwin Wong. 2/5
The idea the author promotes in this book is that dramatic tragedy always involves bets: Macbeth bets that killing Duncan will lead to Macbeths’s political ascension, for example. But while the theory is an interesting and potentially valuable one, the author never engages with the enormous body of existing scholarship on the tragedy or dramatic form. His lack of desire or ability to propose his theory in dialogue with theory is a serious failing of the book, and as such I can’t recommend it. This is a shame, because if the author ha chandler the topic using a more scholarly approach, his ideas could be taken far more seriously and as part of the ongoing conversation in theater studies about form, motivation, and other things.

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. 4/5
This is a solid entry into Atkinson’s series featuring Jackson Brodie. The main story lines are compelling and interesting, although the framing device–the wedding of Brodie’s daughter–seems completely tacked on and unessential. There’s also quite a bit of fatphobia, which depresses me, because Atkinson is so often a more sensitive writer. But all in all, the book will appeal to her regular readers as well as mystery/thriller readers.

Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston. 2/5
I read The Hot Zone when it came out and enjoyed it a lot, and so I assumed I’d like this by the same author. Unfortunately, it’s slow and pedantic, and reads like it’s written for 8-year-olds to understand. The information is fascinating, but the delivery is unsophisticated. It needs a developmental edit for audience, repetition, and flow.

The Woman in the Veil by Laura Joh Rowland. 3/5
An okay mystery set in Victorian London featuring a group of investigators–a photographer, an aristocrat, a foundling, and their retinue–working for a paper. While the mystery is the sort in which people find lots of clues but in the end are unable to make use of them because the villain reveals themself, it was a fairly well-plotted and -paced read. The subplot of the protagonist’s father was mostly just annoying, though, so in future books I hope there will be less of that; and despite the protagonist’s constant comments about worrying she’d lose her job, that particular concern never seemed very plausible.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 5/5
Beautiful, eloquent, moving. In an alternate universe where certain people can “conduct” or move themselves or others through space and time, the Underground seeks to assist enslaved people escape from plantations. This will get enormous press and well-deserved praise.

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