Lilith, memoir, annoying children

You or Someone You Love by Hannah Matthews. 5/5
A beautifully written and compassionate chronicle of abortion care in America–who gets abortions, who doesn’t or isn’t allowed to, who the caregivers are, what their own abortion stories are. As an abortion doula, author Matthews helps women navigate the process of getting an abortion, choosing what kind of abortion is best for them, getting funding if they need it, and giving them in care they need during and after their abortions. Woven throughout the narrative is the story of Matthews’s own abortion. The writing is honest and full of care and love. I wish everyone would read this book, and understand why abortion care is medical care, and why keeping it safe and legal is so crucial.

Unpapered Edited by Diane Glancy and Linda Rodriguez. 5/5
This is an excellent collections of essays on what it means to be indigenous, who gets to decide if someone is Native American, the complicated legacy of popular culture “Indians,” the claims of “pretendians,” and other issues in identity. Not all of the authors agree–some argue heatedly against one another–but all of the essays are thought-provoking and important.

Sleeping with the Ancestors by Joseph McGill Jr.; Herb Frazier. 1/5
The premise of this book is promising: a man grappling with slavery in the US decides to sleep in surviving “slave cabins”–the shelters where enslaved people were forced to live–and document his experiences. But in addition to one sleepover being much like another, the author’s wandering focus and long asides without clear connections to the premise or anything else is terribly distracting. If the author dictated this as an oral history account, it would make more sense that there are these issues. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, in which case this needs a lot of editing. It was a real disappointment.

Momenticon by Andrew Caldecott. 2/5
I liked the author’s earlier work, but this seems to be convoluted for the sake of being convoluted, There are megacorporations running and ruining the world, improbable holdouts and survivors, loads of reality-altering drugs, several murders, a romance, and some good characters, but there was just too much horse-trading instead of actual plot.

Owner of a Lonely Heart by Beth Nguyen. 5/5
This is a thoughtful, searching, and moving memoir. Nguyen and her family fled Vietnam for the US at the end of the war there, leaving her mother behind. In this book, she teases out this complex event and how it has affected her. When she finally reconnects with her mother, she is a young adult–to whom she is very generous in her writing from a later point in life–and the relationship is elusive. But the memoir also focuses on Nguyen’s life and her own role as a mother, and how motherhood influences her thinking about her own mother and her step-mother. This is an open, honest book, and should be on every book club’s list.

Loot by Tania James. 5/5
I’ve seen “Tippoo’s Tiger” several times at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and I was fascinated by the way author James uses it as a touchstone for the life of one of its creators, Creating a fictional woodcarver, Abbas, James uses his life to mirror the upheavals of the British Empire and its dealings with India, the colonial forces fighting one another at the same time as the ancestral peoples for control over wealth and land, the daily lives of people affected by these conflicts, and how individuals sought to make unique lives for themselves. The book is a wild ride, and adventure pursuing a tiger; it’s beautifully written, the characters feel enormously real, and the destructions brought by Empire are deftly chronicled.

The History of a Difficult Child by Mihret Sibhat. 2/5
Welp, the title says it all. This could have been a really interesting novel about Ethiopia in the 1980s, but the “difficult child,” who narrates most of the novel, is both preternaturally wise and utterly lacking in knowledge and understanding, and was so annoying that it was a pain to finish the book. I came to loathe her completely. The issues the book addresses, though–poverty, war, class conflict, developing technology, lack of medical care, poor education, corrupt governmental and other institutions, identity, family structures and social customs–are fascinating. I just wish I could have read about them from a better perspective.

Wonder Drug by Jennifer Vanderbes. 5/5
Wonder Drug is a solid account of the history of thalidomide, including who knew what when and what they did or didn’t do about it. Like–I think, many people–I knew about thalidomide’s use in German, the UK, and the US, but never knew that in the US, it was never approved by the government and was handed out widely without prescriptions or tracking. Vanderbes’s writing is clear and compelling, and this book can serve as an excellent model for investigative reporting in medicine.

Built from the Fire by Victor Luckerson. 2/5
Built From the Fire promises to be an “epic story,” but aside from length, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Telling the story of Greenwood, the Tulsa Race Massacre and its aftermath, and what came next as Greenwood was rebuilt–as told using historical accounts of families and individuals who survived it–author Luckerson focuses mostly on the Goodwin family, and mostly its men. It starts off well, with an excellent account of Greenwood’s early years and the horrific Massacre in which hundreds of Black citizens were murdered by Whites. But as the narrative goes on, Luckerson makes more and more assumptions without substantiation, and becomes more subjective about what happened as Greenwood tried to rebuild. At the end of the book, the story becomes mired in legislative details and minutia and that was completely numbing. I can’t help but think that there’s a better book out there chronicling Greenwood’s recovery.

The Resurrectionist by Paul T. Scheuring. 2/5
A poor man is hired by a rich man to dig up the body of a different rich man’s wife. Set amid the body-snatching days of Victorian England, when doctors needed more bodies than they could get for the study of anatomy, the details here are great but the characters are dull; the class-warfare angle is intriguing but not fully followed on; and overall the writing was nothing special. You can give this one a miss.

We Are Light by Gerda Blees. 5/5
Content warning: this book contains depictions of disordered eating.
This novel is an apt reflection of our times: if we believe things that have no basis in scientific reality, we can, and in many circumstances, will die, as did those who came before us and didn’t know what we know today about medicine and the body and the natural world. A woman who believes she can live on light and air starves to death, and her two housemates–one of whom directly encouraged her to believe this–are taken into police custody. Told using a brilliant conceit–each chapter is from the point of view of a different object or person–an orange, a piece of furniture, the neighbors–we learn the details of the story, one of manipulation and jealousy and depression. In the end, who is culpable, and for what?

Lilith by Nikki Marmery. 5/5
I loved this take on the story of Lilith, the woman who in Jewish myth is Adam’s first wife. I’ve been wanting a good Lilith novel for ages, and this is a great one. Author Marmery has clearly done a lot of research into the various aspects of ancient female goddesses, and it pays off–Lilith is a smart tale that blends archaeological history, the myths of the Bible, non-Biblical myths, Judaism and non-Jewish religions and more into Lilith’s autobiography, full of compassion and sass. I get the feeling that Marmery wasn’t quite sure where this story would go when she began it, but that it unfolded itself as she went, giving it a feeling of anticipation and openness and true grappling with ideas of how gods work and live and die. A treat to read, and a treat to ponder.

The Devil’s Playground by Craig Russell. 1/5
Doubleday, are you fucking kidding me? Why are you publishing this? One villain is a woman of color, described in the most despicable stereotypical language; the other is disfigured . Women are “broken,” and “icy” and “glacial,” particularly queer ones. The author apparently also has a thing for penis length, as readers are exposed to a number of references about it. This book is racist, misogynist, and appalling. Oh, and it gets a ton of info on early film history wrong, too.

Readers, want a book about silent film and the occult that doesn’t include all of thus utter garbage? I recommend Silvia Moreno’Garcia’s Silver Nitrate, which is brilliant.

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