Reviews: gorgeous poetry, Asian-inspired fantasy, and more

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker. 2/5
This did not do much for me. There were excellent passages but as a whole it felt frenetic and often jumbled, a very free stream-of-consciousness output but one that is unfocused and that collapses under the author’s very large assumptions of reader understanding. To me this feels like a book for the writer rather than a book meant to be read by others; work that is cathartic but not resonant with external thought.

everyman by M Shelly Conner. 2/5
I liked a lot about this novel, which is a story about family history and violence and gaining a deeper worldview, and about what social change and movements meant during the 1960s and 70s. It’s interesting to me to try to understand how someone like protagonist Eve, a not very complex person or particularly deep thinker, views the enormously complex things going on around her at both micro and macro levels. I understand Nelle’s frustration with Eve, and Brother LeeRoi’s desire to draw her into a greater understanding with the world.

I was upset, though, to see quotes from Alice Walker as chapter headers. I know a lot of people have been influenced by Walker’s work, but her antisemitism makes celebrating her work impossible for me and many others, and I hope the author and publisher will change these quotes.

Home of the Floating Lily by Silmy Abdullah. 5/5
This is a collection of beautifully-written stories about not just Bangladeshi families, women, and life, but also about selfishness, the desire for independence, the results of poor communication, cultural expectations, and religion and its pressures. I found myself truly hating some characters and feeling sympathy for others; I wanted to tell characters to go talk things out and I wanted others to take action. This would be ab excellent book for city-wide reads and book clubs of all kinds.

The Manningtree Witches by A. K. Blakemore. 4/5
Novels revisiting the murders of women and men as witches in the 17th century have been popular for a long time now, but few offer up the highly detailed and very real world that A. K. Blakemore creates in this book. By telling the story of a woman who is accused and tortured but finally reaches a deal with the men in charge of the witch hunt and must carry the burden of her deeds thereafter, we get a different, interesting perspective. The gritty realism of the protagonist’s narration, the intricacy of village relationships, and the infinite number of disruptions that all bring things together in a frenzy of misogyny are all on point here.

The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath. 5/5
This is a visceral, intelligent, outstanding work full of forward momentum and the grabbing of ideas and the body and wrestling with conventions and finally kicking them out the door. It’s a collection of poetry inspired by parts and places of the body, and about body, and being a woman, and loving women and their bodies, and rejecting the status quo and the male gaze and grappling with self-image. I want to give copies to every woman I know, and I want to teach it in high schools, and I want everyone talking about it, and I want to read more by this author right now.

Divine Heretic by Jaime Lee Moyer. 2/5
I had high hopes for this book, and was eagerly anticipating reading it, but it was a big disappointment. In this retelling of the story of Jeanne d’Arc, Jeanne is forced by otherworldly beings–definitely not angels–to pretend to be the mythical Maid of Lorraine and help the dauphin take the French throne. Jeanne does so, survives being interrogated as a witch, and lives happily ever after with her husband. Alas, my primary reaction was “so what?” Jeanne’s basic trajectory is the same, except this Jeanne *doesn’t* feel a calling to her god or her national leader, and she doesn’t die. This plot-line feels more like pedestrian wish fulfillment for Jeanne rather than an imaginative re-rendering of the story; in fact, very little here is imaginative at all.

Requeening by Amanda Moore. 5/5
A stunningly beautiful collection of poems on the body, parenthood, and bees. I loved these poems–they are carefully created, not a word out of place, and full of emotion and grace. The order of the poems, their forms, and the images and ideas they capture within those boundaries results in a collection I’d recommend to any reader.

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig. 3/5
This horror novel wants to contain it all: the sensitive teen, bullies, insecure parents in a shaky marriage, parental abuse, travel between possible worlds, human sacrifice, claustrophobic mines, horrific mining accidents, alcoholism, possession, magic, a Smart Black Sidekick, a serial killer, haunted rocks, so much more. I liked a lot of this book and the themes Wendig is working with, but as the novel progressed, it became messier and messier, as if he couldn’t really figure out how to end it. And there are errors; where Nate meets Jed for the first time, Jed becomes Ned for a page or two; Jake says he left high school and got his GRE, but the GRE is the test you take to get into grad school; the GED is the high-school equivalency exam. I feel like the book could have gone though one more revision to tighten up things and would have been significantly better for it.

The Hollywood Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal. 3/5
This is a fine murder mystery involving closeted actors in 1940s Hollywood, the rise of fascism in the US during that period, white supremacist violence, and a handful of spies and former spies. The plot is solid and the detecting done by the protagonists is good. Some readers will be surprised to learn about the America First movement and the Klan in California during this period, but this serves as a good introduction to them. The characters clearly have extensive backstories from the pervious books in the series–which I haven’t read–but this can easily be read on its own. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’d seek out the other books in the series, as the characters were all pretty flat and not terribly interesting in themselves.

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim. 5/5
I really enjoyed this retelling of the Six Swans fairytale set in a rich and deep Asian-inspired world. Author Lim creates a complex and fascinating set of characters and lore including the protagonist and her brothers, her stepmother, and those who help and protect her along her journey. The villains are dangerous without being cartoonish, and the pacing is quick. Lim makes a few sly references to the stereotyped Asians of previous children’s and young adult books like Tikki Tikki Tembo, which only enhanced my joy in reading a book about fantasy Asian characters written by an Asian author.

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