Tag Archives: LGBTQIA+

Book Review: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: Modern Little Women

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Spoilers.

After 150 years, it was perhaps time for an updated version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This isn’t the first attempt to update the classic, but I think it might be the first to do so as a graphic novel, and it is the first that I have read. In this, the sisters are from a blended family. Jo is Mrs. March’s daughter by her first marriage, Meg is Mr. March’s by his first marriage, and Beth and Amy are Mr. and Mrs. March’s. Meg and Mr. March, who is a soldier stationed in the Middle East, are African American. Mrs. March and Jo are white. Amy and Beth are mixed race, but as Jo explains to Mr. Marquez (who has replaced Mr. Laurence) and Laurie, even without the ties of blood to Meg, they are all four of them sisters.

Terciero and Indigo have moved the story from small town Concord to the more vibrant New York City with the Marches living in Brooklyn.

Chapters are frequently ended by emails sent by one of the girls to their father abroad.

On the whole this novel sticks well to the original’s plot, but there are some significant changes that Terciero and Indigo make to the original.

In this Jo has a secret she is keeping from her family, hinted at in diary entries and in her dialogue, which I don’t remember her having in Alcott’s original (it’s admittedly been a while…). And it isn’t the secret that I thought that it might be. I thought it likely that Jo would come out as transgender by the novel’s end but instead she comes out as lesbian. Her bravery in coming out to her family encourages Aunt Cath to wrestle with her own prejudices and come to the revelation that she herself is lesbian.

Meg does not marry the rich and well-connected Brooks when he laughs at her notion to become a lawyer for the less fortunate instead of taking the Vogue internship that he with his connections has secured for her. She is the catalyst in her family attending the Women’s March in DC. I was disappointed not to see Aunt Cath with them there, knowing that Meg had wanted her to come.

The novel still has the symmetry of the original, opening and closing on Christmas, covering only Little Women and not Good Wives, which is often nowadays released as the second half of Little Women, the two together in a single volume.

This was a longer graphic novel with a lot of text on each page compared to others that I have read, but still a much more accessible adaptation of the original work for both its length, its color, and its modern vernacular.

This story remains a celebration of familial love and a wholesome read in a time of darkness. It’s only that what was revolutionary in 1860s is less so now.

I think it a great introduction to the story, characters, and themes of Little Women, though those who are looking for the classic story on a one-to-one level, the text only modernized and simplified for a younger, more modern audience, would find other abridged versions more to their taste—and there are many.  I would consider this an excellent companion and comparison piece more than a abridgement.

But I personally really enjoyed what Terciero and Indigo have done with the story and celebrate this more diverse adaption.

****

Terciero, Rey and Bre Indigo. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Rey Terciero, Bre Indigo, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Healing and Unlearning with a Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and samples.

Having read and loved the second book in this series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, I knew I would go back to read the first. I expected this to leave off nearer to the beginning of the second, but it did not. I stand by my assertion that you can begin this series with the second. The two are really individual stories.

Little is said in this novel about Felicity’s childhood or what brings her to the Scottish bakery on which the second book opens.

This novel focuses on the elder Montague, the heir apparent, Henry “Monty” Montague. The book opens on the morning of Monty’s departure with his best friend Percy Newton on their Grand Tour, on which Monty’s younger sister, Felicity, is to accompany them a small part of the way on her way to finishing school in Marseilles.

But Monty’s father is determined that this should not be the dissolute last hooray that Monty hopes it to be. He assigns them a chaperone. He warns Monty that he will not embarrass the family and especially not be caught in any compromising situation with another man or he will not be allowed to return home to his position.

But Monty knows already that he has developed romantic feelings for Percy.

The three are not long on the Continent before the trouble begins.

Spoilers ahead!

Monty is caught sans trousers with a woman in the apartments of the duke of Bourbon, and the Montagues and Percy leave Versailles in a cloud of whispers.

That might have been smoothed over, but Monty’s idle fingers filch a valuable object that looks like a useless trinket from the duke’s desk.

Their carriage is waylaid by a violent group disguised as highwaymen on the road to Marseilles.

Separated from their carriage, their chaperone, and their possessions, the three teenagers stumble to Marseilles.

But the revelation of the fate that awaits Percy at the end of this tour—not law school as he has told the Montagues but an asylum where he is being committed because of his incurable epilepsy—makes Monty especially question the direction of their tour.

With much cajoling from Monty, the three are pulled off course, abandoning their chaperone and carriage and leaving with only the money that Monty is able to wheedle from a young bank teller on the strength of a silver tongue. Their sojourn in Barcelona introduces an element of magic into the story.

The tour becomes a quest—a race against the duke of Bourbon—to retrieve a possible panacea (making this a particularly poignant read just now; who doesn’t want access to a panacea?) that Monty hopes will cure Percy, free him from the institution, and make it easier for the two of them to somehow be together—even if Monty isn’t at all sure what a happy ending with Percy could possibly look like in a world that expects him to step into the role of an earl and produce heirs of his own to continue the aristocratic line.

This book had everything that I wanted. It was an exciting adventure novel with pirates and swordplay and magic and music and mystery. And it dealt with contemporary issues well. Monty struggles with the world’s reaction and his own reaction to his bisexuality and is deeply effected by the parental abuse that he has suffered. Poor Percy struggles not only with the world’s reaction to his epilepsy but also to his mixed race heritage, the racism of white Europeans towards his darker complexion. Felicity fights against sexism and the future that society has planned for her—a loveless marriage and a life of minding house (her struggles especially are further explored in the second book).

The book is weighted by angst that helps to balance the swashbuckling and dissolution of the external journey that the characters take.

As the world went sideways and everything here in the US began to shut down, I handed this book to a number of customers (enough that we sold through our stock in paper- and hardback) as just a fun, action/adventure, and a way to visit faraway places without leaving the safety of the house.

Right now I am unable to return the library’s copy. I may just have to read it again.  I have already re-read parts of it, particularly the ending.

I hope that the third book comes out on schedule this summer so that I can spend some more time with this writer, Monty, and the Goblin.

****

Lee, Mackenzi. The Montague Siblings, Book 1: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2017.

Intended audience: Ages 13+

This review is not endorsed by Mackenzi Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Studying Portal Fantasies and Asexuality and Solving Murders in Every Heart a Doorway

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, awards list, reviews, and author's bio.

Being asexual can feel like being one of the Whos of Whoville during the trial of Horton the Elephant, shouting desperately “We are here! We are here! We are here!” but feeling like no one can hear. This is only the second book that I have read with a character that identifies as asexual. The protagonist in this actually uses the word asexual to refer to herself and her orientation, which the other, Felicity Montague from Mackenzi Lee’s Montague Siblings does not. And it’s such a relief. It feels like someone hears. Even if it is only one kind-hearted elephant with ginormous ears and the rest of the jungle still can’t hear and refuses to believe.

I was a little disappointed that Nancy, the asexual character in question here, is marked as an outsider and considered a suspect by her peers for her association with the dead.  I would have enjoyed more I think a story about an asexual character who is liked and accepted by her peers—as much as Nancy’s social exile is here not related to her asexuality.  And I did enjoy Nancy’s story apart from her asexuality.  I just wish in a way that the two stories—that of her asexuality orientation and what that means to her and that of her disassociation from the land of the living—hadn’t been found in a single character.

It was the knowledge that the protagonist describes herself as ace that got me to pick up this book, though it had been recommended to me on the basis of its concept before.

It recommends itself well. The eponymous wayward children are those who have visited other worlds and have returned and are struggling now with how to live in our world. That is a unique concept. And I enjoy the idea of exploring what happens after most plots end, after the world has been saved, after the villain has been slain.

But this is a weird book.

It will not be for everyone.

Beyond increasing asexual visibility, I’m still trying to decide if it is for me.

I enjoyed it.

But I didn’t love it like I expected to do.

I didn’t fall in love with McGuire’s prose the way that I expected to do.

This is a book that seems partially a murder mystery, partially a bildungsroman, a school story specifically, partially a study of portal fantasies as a genre—all while refusing to settle into a genre itself. There’s only a little magic in this world. We visit none of the portal worlds for more than a glimpse.

I did enjoy the murder mystery, but I didn’t get wrapped up in the whodunit the way that I expected to do or the way that I wanted to do. I didn’t feel drawn to guess or invested in guessing I think because I felt like I lacked information as characters were slowly added to the novel even after the murders had already begun.

I liked the characters, but I didn’t really feel as though I got to know any of them as much as I would like to do. This is a series, and it seems like later books might more fully explore some of the characters to which we are introduced, but not Nancy and not Christopher as far as I can tell who were some of the more intriguing to me, Nancy because I want to savor time getting to know other aces and Christopher because I found his world and his magic intriguing, which seem to be closely tied to the Land of the Dead found in Mexican mythology.

I did like and enjoy getting to know Kade whose coming out as transgender got him expelled from his world and his childhood home in this world, though not before becoming a hero and the goblin prince.

Jack grew on me. I look forward to getting to know her better, but I’m not sure that I want to explore with her her High Reason, High Wickedness world, which is where the next book heads.

I am glad that I read this. I am debating still whether or not I will continue the series.

****

McGuire, Seanan. Wayward Children, Book 1: Every Heart a Doorway.  Tor/Forge-Tor.com, 2018.

This review is not endorsed by Seanan McGuire, Tor, or Forge. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: An Original Fairy Tale Reimagining and a Timely War Story by Ru Xu

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.This review contains spoilers for both books. They are too many in this review to be hidden.

This first book ends on something of a cliffhanger! I was unprepared. I went out and bought the second in the series—new not used—when I could not get it from the library, something that is becoming for me quite rare for me unless I can get the book at half its list price. The first book’s cover has intrigued me for a long time with its buoyant protagonist in turn of the 20th century garb, surrounded by crows and being trailed by one bright canary.

Xu did something neat by having the cover art of the first book run neatly into the action of the book, the cover serving as—if not the first page then—the prologue to the novel.  (In the second book the cover does not serve as an opening for the story, but the title page and edition notice do.)

I was not expecting when I opened this novel to find a steampunk-y science-fiction/fantasy about warring countries and conscious war machines.

I was not displeased.

Where are my Legend of Korra fans? I was getting some serious Republic City vibes from Nautilene.

Blue masquerades as a boy to remain a part of the found family of newsboys that she has found at The Bugle, a family managed by the paper’s owner (who is also the city’s mayor) and his wife, who uses a wheelchair. Blue shares her secret only with Mrs. Nancy and an older boy who has left the Nancys’ home and is now a reporter in the capitol city—and he knows her secret because he was the one who found an orphaned girl on the street and invited her to the Nancys’ found family.

This first is a story about finding family, about truth and propaganda, about embracing truth, about morality, about personal autonomy.

Both books discuss the effect of war on civilians.

The second book gets into more of the grit of the war. I love how much of the politics of war Xu includes in this book supposedly written for children; she gives her intended audience ample credit.  This book expands on the way war changes the civilians’ mindsets on both sides as well as the cost of war and empire-building on colonies.

Blue chases after the friend that she made in the first book who turns out to be an automaton that controls a fleet of weaponized airships for the country of Goswing. She is abducted by a spy who has been working as Jack Jingle’s assistant. The spy, a girl about Blue’s age, reveals herself on the sea crossing to be a mixed-race child like Blue. Rejoining the Grimmaean air fleet, the pair are immediately shot down—by the Grimmaeans who distrust the spy, Snow, and her transgender brother, Red, who is Snow’s getaway pilot.

The three mixed-race children and Crow help to stop the war by making the adults in the room see reason—with the help of a natural disaster caused by the fighting that destroys a vital fuel source for the emerging world. But this is a book that gives me hope that a new generation can undo an old world’s prejudices, violence, and imperialism.

This second book deals with the prejudices that are ignited and are inflamed by governments to justify and sustain war and the prejudice.

We are introduced to another differently abled person in Goswish’s young, newly crowned queen who is blind but has learned to use a form of modified echolocation to help her navigate. She fears that her people will think her weak for being blind, but she proves an able and wise ruler.

In reading the second book particularly I noticed the fairy tale inspiration for the characters and their names. The Goswish take their inspiration from Mother Goose’s rhymes while the Grimmaeans take inspiration from Grimm’s. Blue herself echoes Little Boy Blue, and the queen is advised by a team of Jacks (Jack being a name that a person takes as part of the team): Jingle, Horner, Nimble, and Anory. There are Grimmaean twins named Snow-White and Rose-Red, and there’s brave little Leonhart Tailor and the kings Jacob and Wilhelm. It’s exciting to see someone doing something so different with fairy tales and clashing fairy tale characters when their worlds collide. This series is at once a fairy tale reimagining and a timely, original story of war and prejudice.

It is strongly hinted I think though never confirmed that Leo and Hector become a romantic pair.

This series feels complete to me.  I don’t think that there will be a book 3.

*****

Xu, Ru. NewsPrints, Book 1. New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2017.

Xu, Ru. NewsPrints, Book 2: EndGames. New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7.

This review is not endorsed by Ru Xu, Graphix, or Scholastic Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Adventure, Asexuality, and Fighting the Patriarchy with A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, excerpts, and reviews.

Spoiler in white.  Highlight the text to reveal it.

I skipped over the first book in this series, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, (I will almost certainly return to it, especially as this series has just been announced to be continuing with a new book in August 2020) because I discovered that the second in the series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, features a protagonist who is asexual like me. And that excited me. This is the first book that I have ever read about an asexual character. This is the first book that I have read that includes any asexual person. Though no such term existed in British English in the 1700s, and it is never used in the text, Mackenzi Lee confirmed it in answering a question on Goodreads, and it is made clear in the text.

Seeing myself in text—and without the whole story being about asexuality—was so important, so fulfilling to me. Reading a teen novel in which the protagonist isn’t at any point seeking a relationship—is in fact seeking not to be in a relationship—is so refreshing.  Felicity does have to consider whether or not to settle with a man that she doesn’t love in the way that he loves her, and that undercurrent runs throughout the book, but that actually rings fairly true to my experience with asexuality too unfortunately, despite the 300 or so year difference filled with advances in women’s rights and autonomy between Felicity’s story and mine.  (Lee never specifies the year in which her book occurs, but I have determined it to be later than 1726 as that is the year of the founding of the Edinburgh School of Medicine.)

Felicity Montague is living with a Scottish baker when the book opens, and he fumbles a proposal that she flees, going to her brother and his lover in London. She has been turned out of meetings with every hospital board in Edinburgh. She is turned away by another in London, though one of the doctors afterwards suggests that she query her idol, Dr. Alexander Platt, who is currently in Stuttgart about to marry a childhood friend of Felicity’s with whom she had a falling out over their diverging interests. A Muslim sailor offers to fund Felicity’s travels to Stuttgart if Felicity will ask her no questions and will get her inside the Hoffmans’ home. Despite misgivings and her brother’s warnings, Felicity accepts Sim’s help, and the two embark across Europe.

Neither Felicity, Sim, nor Johanna Hoffman are happy with their lot, with the lot of women in the 18th century. Felicity wants to study and practice medicine. SPOILERS Sim wants to inherit the rule of her father’s pirate fleet. Johanna wants to become a biologist. All three seek to enter fields dominated and controlled and policed by men. Felicity writes a note to herself­—“You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men.”—words that still bear repeating by women today, taught to keep compliant, subservient, and quiet.  That these thoughts echo Tumblr and seem equally comfortable there as in a book set in the 18th century reflect on the slow pace of progress of women’s power.

The women’s attempts to overcome the obstacles of a patriarchal society were as much fun for me as was the chase across Europe and Africa and the possible fantastical turn that the book takes.

I finished this book in August, and I have put copies in the hands of several customers looking for something different, something fun, something to inspire hope since.  I have not bought myself a copy yet, but I intend to do so, as I am already wanting to read this book again—and I don’t intend to wait until the book is available in paperback.  I’ll look forward to catching up with these characters in August.

*****

Lee, Mackenzi. The Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2018.

Intended audience: Ages 13+.

This review is not endorsed by Mackenzi Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Utopia of Lucille in Pet

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, reviews, excerpt, audio excerpt, and author's bio.

This is a drawing I did for 2019’s Inktober challenge.

One brief, very vague spoiler in the review, one in the content warning at the bottom of the page, both marked with a SPOILER warning.

I fell pretty deeply in love with the world created by Akwaeke Emezi and with the town of Lucille within the first few pages. “It was the angels who took apart the prisons and the police; who held councils prosecuting the former officers who’d shot children and murdered people, sentencing them to restitution and rehabilitation. […] the angels banned firearms, not just because of the school shootings but also because of the kids who shot themselves and their families at home; the civilians who thought they could shoot people who didn’t look like them, just because they got mad or scared or whatever, and nothing would happen to them because the old law liked them better than the dead. The angels took the laws and changed them, tore down those horrible statues of rich men who’d owned people and fought to keep owning people. […] Instead they put up monuments. Some were statues of the dead, mostly the children whose hashtags had been turned into battle cries during the revolution. Others were [lists of names] of people who died when the hurricanes hit and the monsters wouldn’t evacuate the prisons or send aid, people who’d died when the monsters sent drones and bombs to their countries (because, as the angels pointed out, you shouldn’t use a nation as a basis to choose which deaths you mourn; nations aren’t even real), people who died because the monsters took away their health care […]” (1-3). Are you hooked yet? I was. Really, I didn’t even need to get to pages 3! This is the world remade as I have longed to see it. And Emezi was going to show me whether or not they believe it will work. They were going to let me live there for a little while.

It only got better and more inclusive from here on out.  This is a book that might make many feel seen.

We learn that the protagonist, Jam, is a transgender girl. Her only tantrum was when she let her parents know that she was a girl, and her wonderfully supportive parents helped her transition. Sometimes she finds it easier not to voice, so her parents taught her sign language, which they and her best friend Redemption, and her best friend’s uncle Hibiscus all learned to support her.

Redemption seems to live with his extended family, aunts and uncles and cousins along with his own immediate family of three parents, one of whom uses gender-neutral they/them pronouns, and a little brother. Redemption’s whole family is a rejection of the heteronormative family structure of one male and one female parent with their offspring living in a single-family house.

Jam’s father peppers his speech with Igbo, and the Igbo isn’t distinguished in any way from the English text, not italicized, not marked out as different.  The dishes that he cooks are inspired by recipes from Africa.

The local librarian uses a wheelchair and turns out to be a pretty amazing human, wonderfully fighting the good fight against censorship.

I love too that Jam and Redemption are oppositely gendered but never is there any mention of even niggling romantic feelings. Their relationship is wonderfully, beautifully platonic.

And that’s all just the human characters, the reality on this plane of existence! I haven’t even mentioned Pet, but I think maybe you should discover Pet for yourself. Pet is difficult to imagine, difficult to succinctly describe without spoilers. I have given you my attempt at a few character sketches of Pet though.

I think I might have loved Emezi’s world for itself, but Emezi’s writing is dazzling too. I have not so fallen in love with an author’s way of casting words so fast since I first discovered Maggie Stiefvater in April 2016 (and Patrick Rothfuss in May 2014 before that. Here are my new Big Three, though I probably ought to go read something else of Emezi’s before I include them in this lofty company).

This is a short little novel, only 208 pages. That was a welcome change from the 400+-page novels that I have lately been struggling to complete. It was a good feeling to finish something that was not a graphic novel or an audiobook, and something that I wasn’t reading at work’s suggestion. This is too I think a standalone novel, so there’s no commitment past those 208 pages.

I did foresee the twist—or one of the story’s twists. I did not like the story much less for having foreseen that twist though. Any other twist, I think, would have felt like a betrayal of the story’s inclusive cast or a betrayal of the rules of good fiction writing, so this was the best outcome available.

The town of Lucille is a beacon to me. It isn’t perfect. Its characters aren’t perfect; they are flawed as humans are. But it revolted against the oppressive and cruel world. It became better, and SPOILER it improves again. The cycle of systematic violence is broken in Lucille.

I want to shove this book into the hands of so many because I so enjoyed this writing and this world, but I have yet to find the right way to market it to others; I hope this longer review does better than my minute long pitches in the store. I have been describing this as an Afrofuturist fantasy that shares a great bit with magical realism. Have you read it? How would you classify it?

I read an ARC of Pet, but the book is available now in stores.

****

Emezi, Akwaeke. Pet.  New York: Make Me a World-Penguin Random, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Akwaeke Emezi, Make Me a World, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Content warning also a SPOILER: off-screen child abuse

LGBTQIA+ Representation in the Books That I Read in 2018

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I’m realizing now in October that I never posted about the books with LGBTQIA+ representation that I read in 2018. I posted about the books that I read in 2017 during 2018’s Pride Month, but during 2019’s Pride Month I was laid up with a sprained ankle, sad that I was missing the month’s events, and I suppose in that pain-induced haze I missed my opportunity to participate by posting a celebration of LGBTQIA+ representation in literature.

But, surprise! It turns out that there is an Ace Awareness Week (October 20-26, 2019), and I am beginning writing this post on Ace Awareness Week’s first day! (Unfortunately there are no openly ace characters in this list from 2018. Ace characters are particularly difficult to find, though I have now found several and read about one: Felicity Montague from Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy; you will hear more about her in future posts.)

I read far fewer books with LGBTQIA+ characters in 2018 than I would have guessed: 8 books out of a total of 163. I don’t even know if I want to do the math to find out that dismal percentage (.05% if I round up to the nearest hundredth decimal place… which actually is higher than the percentage from 2017). I have no excuses but can report having read 15 such books as of October 20 in 2019. Here’s to hoping again that next year’s percentage is higher.

We need more LGBTQIA+ representation in books for all ages, and we are getting it, but sometimes the turning of the tide feels awfully slow.

But without further dismal ado, let’s see what books I discovered in 2018:

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis.  Little Bee-Simon & Schuster, 2018.

A prince does not connect on a romantic level with any of the princesses that he meets, but when he and a knight join together to battle a dragon, there is an immediate spark. The two marry and the kingdom and the royal family rejoice. This is a beautifully illustrated picture book.

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

The Heroes of Olympus, Book 5: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2014.

In the previous book in the series, one character is forced to out himself as gay before another and before Cupid. In this book he becomes a hero to both demigod camps, outs himself to his former crush, and develops another crush on a boy who likes him back. He accepts his homosexual identity in ways that he had not in the previous books.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2018.

Riordan doesn’t shy away from Apollo’s bisexuality in this novel, bringing up again that one of the loves of Apollo’s many centuries was Hyacinthus. Apollo is both the protagonist and the POV character for this series.

Teen (Ages 13-19) 

Timekeeper, Book 1 by Tara Sim.  Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2016.

Danny’s love for Colton is forbidden not just because the two of them are boys. These two are the series’ OTP, but there is at least one other gay or bisexual character who kisses Danny.

The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.  Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

The Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.  Scholastic, 2016.

In these books, two of the protagonists fall for one another, two protagonists who happen to both be boys. One of the boys is bisexual, earlier dating a third protagonist in the series.

Adult (Ages 20+)

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach.  Harper Design-HarperCollins, 2017.

This was shelved in the adult humor section of Barnes & Noble, the writer having credits in late night comedy show script writing. Santa is helped by his loving husband in his stressful business. The gooey eyes that these two make at one another are adorable.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss and illustrated by EG Keller.  Chronicle, 2018.

This was published by the crew of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in response to the first of a series of picture books released by Charlotte Pence and her mother Karen Pence, the family of Vice President Mike Pence, who has pushed anti-LGBTQ laws in his home state of Indiana. The first book of the Pences’ uses the Pences’ rabbit, Marlon Bundo, to explore the White House and the president’s role. In this parody, Marlon Bundo meets the bunny of his dreams, a boy rabbit. Their love is cheered by their friends, but a Stink Bug that looks a bit like Mike Pence himself shouts that they can’t be married. Their friends suggest that differences should be celebrated. The friends vote the Stink Bug not in charge, and the bunnies are married by a cat who brings her wife to the ceremony. This too is shelved in the adult humor section of Barnes & Noble, but I know it ended up in several middle school classrooms. “Stink Bugs are temporary, but love is forever.”

And I’m realizing too that I never actually wrote a review for this book.  So, we’ll count this as a review space for it too.  This was a good book for what it was, a pointed jab at the Vice President and his anti-LGBTQ policies and a reminder of the power of democracy.  Was it a great book when compared to other picture books?  Not really.  The story is a bit too heavy-handed to be enjoyable apart from its political message.  But I like that this book exists.  It’s a flare of hope in a dark world and its publication was a petty, successful attempt to overtake the sales of Charlotte and Karen Pence’s book with profits benefiting The Trevor Project and AIDS United, though it was well-received by the two Pences, which was almost a flare of hope in itself.  Almost.  The publication of this book probably boosted sales of the Pences’ book too, and the proceeds for their book went too to charities, Tracy’s Kids and The A21 Campaign, so really, everyone won when this book was published.  The two bunnies and their friends are wonderfully cute, Marlon in his bow tie and Wesley in his glasses, the badger with his shirt cuffs.

***

Do you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Review: Individual Trials and One Light Jog in These 9 from the Nine Worlds

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Click to visit the author's page for links to order and summary.

Spoilers are written in white.  Highlight the text to view the spoilers.

I’ve just reread this short story collection in one sick day. The first time I read it through I was disappointed by the fluffiness of these stories. Reading it a second time, I found them not as excessively airy, still treated with the lighthearted tone with which Rick Riordan writes most things, but on a second reading, I was more into it, less annoyed by it.

Full disclosure: Rick Riordan is currently, easily one of my favorite authors, perhaps even topping that list.

This book hasn’t the tightness, intricacy, urgency, or gravitas of any of the series or even of the Demigods and Magicians, another short story collection, but rather than a plot to instigate war, overturn the cosmic order, or become a god, these stories are connected by a jogging route. Specifically Thor jogs implacably, unswervingly through the Nine Worlds in too tight, leather, running shorts, listening to the sounds of rocks and farting “like a sputtering engine” (99).

These nine stories take place over the course of maybe 24 eventful hours, the time that it takes Thor to loop through the Nine Worlds. Thor’s run through the Worlds affects each of the stories in a unique way, sometimes the cause of the story’s trouble and sometimes the answer to a hero’s quandary.

The individual dangers that the heroes overcome are more serious than Thor’s jog. [SPOILERS] Odin needs to find a leader for the Valkyries. Amir escapes a sorcerer. Blitz saves Thor.  Hearthstone saves Inge.  Sam does some intelligence gathering in Jotunheim.  TJ helps Hel. Mallory escapes Nidhogg. Halfborn fights dragons. Alex faces off against Surt.

Starting with a food fight in the Great Hall in Hotel Valhalla (a story narrated by Odin) and ending with a foiled meeting in the palace of Surt in Muspellheim (narrated by Alex Fierro), [END SPOILERS] each story is written in first person from the POV of one of the side characters of Riordan’s Magnus Chase series. The narrative style of each story is fairly similar to every other, though Riordan does do a good job peppering each story with perspectives unique to the character’s backstory, which help to distinguish the voices, though I did often have to look back at the title halfway through the first page to remind myself who was narrating.

Most of these are solo trials. There’s not a great deal of interaction between all the characters of Magnus, and there’s no Magnus (he’s away visiting Annabeth during this jog). The characters are great individually. There’s a sort of intimacy in interacting with these characters away from their friends. But it is different, and I don’t think that I prefer it, especially when I feel like these characters all have fairly similar voices if they do have diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and especially when Magnus was so much about ultimately the power (dare I say, the magic) of friendship (I see a great bit of parallel actually between Magnus Chase and the modern incarnation of My Little Pony).  The final line of this anthology is that same “friendship is magic” chord that I so enjoyed, but it seems an odd last note almost in a book where so few of the characters sought help.

All in all, it was enjoyable to spend some time with these characters again, to learn a little more about them and about the Norse cosmos. I just kind of wish that there had been higher stakes and more that connected the stories to one another; I expect both of these from Rick Riordan, and Demigods and Magicians taught me it was possible even in a short story collection.

Minor complaints that these are, they bear mentioning: I don’t like ragged pages, and the glossy pages of illustrations are oddly placed, intersecting two stories, the first time even interrupting a sentence. That was distracting and a) interrupted the flow of the stories and b) had me hurrying past the illustrations to find the end of the stories, but then because of the ragged pages, struggling to find the illustrations easily again to peruse them at my leisure.

****

Riordan, Rick.  9 From the Nine Worlds.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2018.

Intended audience: Ages 8-12.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion, or Disney Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: April 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Empowered Children and Specialized Vocabulary

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Woke Baby by Mahogany L. Browne and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

This young black baby is ready to raise a fist like a little panther. Using activist phrases and historical references, this little one wakes ready to take on a world without a glass ceiling to shatter, with no one to tell this baby no. The text is poetic, beautiful even, and clever, empowering, loving, describing the child’s fists, toes, eyes, voice, dance all as acts of self-expression and tools to change the world for the better.  The text addresses the child in second person:  “Here are your hands.”   The illustrations are of the child waking, wailing for a parent, being heard, and being lifted from the crib, playing, and resting. The intended audience is certainly young children, toddlers, but I would love to wake up to this myself.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach. Scholastic, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I didn’t love this story as much as I had hoped to do, and I’m struggling a little to determine why. The premise is simple enough: an impatient caterpillar who doesn’t realize at the beginning of the book that becoming a butterfly is even possible for it is impatient to be a butterfly now. It doesn’t like having to wait in its chrysalis to become a butterfly. I know the caterpillar’s impatience and its ignorance, its constant questioning are supposed to mimic a child’s behavior, and certainly it gives Burach the time to include some facts about the caterpillar’s/butterfly’s transformation process (terminology and the length of time that the transformation takes), but I found it irritating, and more so I found the other caterpillars’ (or whatever one calls a caterpillar halfway through a transformation) responses to it irritating too. They are irritated, sometimes yelling, so I felt irritated reading their responses aloud, reading in tone. Told in dialogue and soliloquy, I feel like this is the type of book better acted out and probably better with two actors. The impatient caterpillar finally overcomes its impatience through meditation and deep breathing exercises and emerges as a “changed” butterfly, ready to be patient, though the final page hints that its transformation may not have been so complete as that.

***

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100 First Words for Little Artists by Kyle Kershner. Familius, 2019.

Familius has been publishing this series in which each book in the series offers 100 words of a particular specialized vocabulary. I read 100 First Words for Little Geeks in 2018, which took its words from various sci-fi and fantasy fandoms of literature and film. This 100 First Words is all about the world of art, the tools (including coffee) that an artist uses to create in a wealth of mediums. Some of these are words that I, a 30-year-old woman who took art classes through high school, never learned. As a series, this is a neat concept. There are words and phrases in these primers that you will never find elsewhere. But I think that the market for these may be narrow. It’s definitely a fun book for young artists that are becoming parents.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and letters from from the author and Julia Bascom.

Family Forever: A Julia Storybook by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by MaryBeth Nelson. Sesame Workshop, 2019.

This book, exclusively printed for Barnes & Noble but otherwise available digitally, is a gem of an education tool! Julia, one of the newer Muppets to join the Sesame Street cast, has autism. Never is autism or Julia seen by any of the characters in this book as an inconvenience. She and her family (mother, father, and brother) go for a picnic. While at the park, she and her brother leave the picnic blanket to play with Elmo and Abby. Julia’s big brother Samuel is excellent at making sure that Julia is included and her strengths acknowledged. He suggests a game. He asks Julia to be the leader first. Julia is upset when she realizes that sometime during the play, she has lost her stuffed friend, Fluffster. Her family and friends help to locate the toy. Sometimes Julia expresses herself in different ways, but her ways are not seen as lesser. She uses a talker sometimes to help her communicate when she can’t find the right words.  Elmo at one point even uses Julia’s talker when Julia doesn’t need it to express herself.  She flaps her hands when she is excited sometimes, and she rocks when she is upset.  The story itself—of a missing toy lost and recovered—has a good, full arc and is relatable I think to most children (and adults), but it means all the more when it offers a too rare example of a child with autism in a picture book, handled with compassion and love and empathy.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, awards list, reviews, sample page, and author's bio.

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. Candlewick, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Julián and his abuela see a few women on the subway dressed for (research tells me) the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Julián loves mermaids, the idea of swimming in sea with the fish. On the subway, Julián is reading a book, probably about mermaids. Julián tells his grandmother that he is a mermaid too. His abuela goes to take a bath, and while she does, Julián dresses himself as a mermaid with fern fronds and flowers in his hair and curtains as a tail. When upon seeing what he has done, his abuela walks away without a word, Julián becomes momentarily uncertain of himself and of his outfit, until she gives him beads to complete his outfit, and takes him to the parade. Julián is awed by the mermaids, which his abuela comments are “like you.”  Together they join the parade. This won the Stonewall Award in 2018, an award given to books that best represent the GLBT experience. I use the he/him pronouns for Julián because even in her loving acceptance of Julián, his abuela continues to use “mijo” when referring to Julián, which I have most often heard translated to son, but Love carefully uses no pronouns in the book, so I am not 100% which pronouns Julián prefers. Julián uses the term “mermaid” for himself, but I take mermaid as more gender neutral than necessarily feminine, though at no time does anyone “correct” Julián and tell him that he is a merman. Men are not discouraged from participating in Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade as far as I can tell. Without the Stonewall Award sticker though, I’m not sure that I would have read this as a representation of the GLBT experience; its messaging to me was that subtle. I love the casual usage of Spanish in this book. The Spanish words are not italicized or marked any differently than the English. I love the body diversity and positivity in this book. There are curvy, older women in bathing suits. There are young girls in bathing suits. There are older men wearing shorts with thin legs and knobby knees. Most of the women are bare-armed, wearing spaghetti straps or strapless tops or dresses or towels. Almost all of the characters are people of color. I just love Julián’s abuela. She is so wonderfully accepting and supportive. If the A stood for Ally, I would give her an A+. She gets an A+ anyway, just not that A. The text does not describe many of the actions of the book, allowing the illustrations to speak for themselves. The text is primarily dialogue. Only reading this through a third time am I noticing the echoed pattern of the scales of the fish and his abuela’s dress as each offers Julián a necklace.

*****

Click to view the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, activity guide, and author's and illustrator's bio.

Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight by Rachael MacFarlane and illustrated by Spencer Laudiero. Imprint-Macmillan, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

I read an advanced reader’s copy of this picture book about feeling and expressing what you feel without thought to convention or societal expectation. Even the adults do not conform to expectations, Harrison’s mother taking him to football games while he and his father pick wildflowers together. Harrison dances when he wants to because it makes him feel strong. He cries when he is sad or when he is moved or hurt. He implores others to explore and express themselves with confidence as he does. The text is admittedly maybe a little heavy-handed in its message, but until we start living these truths, maybe we need a little heavy-handedness.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.