Spies and Cons and Really Frank Conversations about Sex

It’s time for another romance novels round-up! I have read some pretty m.f. great ones in the last month, and I bring them all to you for your delectation and delight.

I frequently recommend Alyssa Cole’s Off the Grid series to romance newbies, particularly ones who are coming to romance from SFF. Her latest book, An Extraordinary Union, maintains everything I love about her earlier work, but this time with spies!

An Extraordinary Union

Elle Burns is a former slave, former staple of the abolitionist circuit, and current spy for the Union. Her eidetic memory makes her a unique asset, and she’s posing as a mute slave in Richmond as she tries to gain intelligence about the Confederacy’s plans. When she finds herself having a legit nice conversation with a visiting Confederate soldier, she starts to question herself but GUESS WHAT Y’ALL. He is not a real Confederate soldier after all, he is ANOTHER SPY.

Cole doesn’t shy away from the fear that dogs Elle’s every step when she’s living as a slave, and she doesn’t elide the horrors of slavery. At the same time, because the reader knows that Elle and Malcolm are going to win and live happily ever after, it doesn’t feel upsetting in the way that most fiction set in this time period (rightfully) does feel. If you (like me) are fed up with the master/slave Nazi/concentration camp victim romances that keep getting published somehow, An Extraordinary Union is a wonderful, and surprisingly fun, antidote.

When I first started reading Ruthie Knox, I feared that her heroines might be too manic pixie dream girly for me. But my fears have always been allayed, and her latest book, Madly, pulls off an array of emotional tricks with casual aplomb.

Madly

Allie and Winston meet by chance, at a bar, and because they both have a lot to get off their chests, they embark on a program of radical honesty with each other. “When you’re ready to mess everything up,” Allie says, “you can practice [being you] on the mailman.” So they become each other’s mailman (plus banging).

Knox sensibly populates her world with relationships other than the central one, so we get to see Allie struggling with being a sister and daughter, and Winston with being a father. They also have sex setbacks, which is vanishingly rare in romance novels: Sometimes the thing they both wanted to try doesn’t work exactly like they were imagining, and they have to put a pin in the sexytimes to talk about feelings or come up with a new plan of (sex) action. It’s refreshing and great, and Knox seamlessly puts the sex scenes in service of their burgeoning relationship. She’s one of my favorite contemporary romance novelists, and this may be her best book yet.

OMG and they talk about how non-penetrative sex is still sex. Allie says, “I want to say fuck you to the whole idea that getting penetrated is the point of the deal, like it’s not sex if there’s not something inside me. I’m inside me. I am.

Next up, I read Cathy Pegau’s Rulebreaker, the story of a woman called Liv who gets involved in a massive con that will get her fifty million credits and a new life. All she has to do is cozy up to the sexy head of a major company….but guess what. Guess what happens.

Rulebreaker

Ding ding ding! That’s right! Liv finds herself falling for Zia, the sexy, competent executive whose secrets she’s supposed to be learning. Rulebreaker is tremendous fun, with an array of shifting loyalties for Liv to sort through as she’s trying to decide where her heart lies. I have a spoilerish gripe, which I will discuss in the next paragraph. Jump down to the next book cover if you want to miss the spoiler!

Okay, are you gone?

Okay. So it turns out that Zia’s company is testing a new air filter? or something? on a bunch of prisoners who’ve volunteered to test this air filter while working in The Mines. Liv discovers that the death rates on these tests are higher than Zia has realized, and that many of the inmates are unwilling participants in the tests. And Zia’s really sorry that she didn’t put a stop to the unethical tests in the first place, before they reached this peak of unethicalness that she didn’t know about. Uh, but, I am not actually fine with love interests who are part of a corporation that’s doing tests on prisoners where one in five of them die? That’s morally disqualifying! And it dimmed my delight in this particular HEA. Like maybe Liv should find someone with equally nice boobs but who didn’t preside over a convict leasing program.

The thing that I am the trash of: Stories where one person has always been told that a quality they possess is Wrong and Bad and they are all messed up about it but then here comes their love interest like “Hey, I think that quality is very nifty; in fact it makes me want to bang you like a screen door in a hurricane.” If you also are the trash of that thing, please allow me to direct your attention to The Lawrence Browne Affair.

So Lawrence Browne is the scion of a terrible family who wants to not be terrible (yay), and he’s got an anxiety disorder (yay), and he’s all cooped up in his drafty miserable stately home trying to do Science (yay), all the while believing that he is Mad. Along comes Georgie Turner, his new secretary, who is secretly on the run from like a London gangster, and who is also the perpetual fuck-up of his family in that he has a penchant for doing things like getting in bad with London gangsters. The book not only features the thing I am the trash of (see above) but also some home renovation, which I always find immensely satisfying in fiction.1

What romance novels have y’all been reading lately?

  1. Not in real life. In real life home renovation seems hideously stressful.

Boys Don’t Like Girls in Promotional Hats: A Links Round-Up

Okay, this is super late and I apologize to everyone. I was on vacation. Some of these links are old! Old but STILL SO GOOD. I love you all, and I hope you have an excellent weekend, though unless yours contains a crawfish boil it won’t be as good as mine.

I’m glad to see We Rate Dogs receiving the credit it deserves for linguistic innovation.

Here’s what happened when one person ate three eggs for breakfast every day of the week.

There are in fact several reasons I’m not watching The Handmaid’s Tale, some personal and some ideological, but I still absolutely loved this piece on whiteness in Gilead. Soraya McDonald is one of my favorite critics now working.

“Boys don’t like girls in promotional hats” is one of my favorite lines I have ever encountered. Scaachi Koul on hating shopping, but wanting nice clothes. I must warn you that this essay is an emotional rollercoaster, and I wish I had known in advance that she doesn’t, in the end, buy the skirt.

A surprisingly touching article about book-banning, in which I OH MY GOD sympathize about not wanting to discuss Brave New World with a bunch of middle-school boys.

Here’s a summer book preview from Buzzfeed, an outlet that reliably brings me exciting, diverse book previews. Thanks, Buzzfeed!

Some excellent advice from Ijeoma Iluo re: interrogating your own beliefs. I’m going to do my very best to bring this into my own life.

If you missed the Appropriation Prize debacle, I am happy for you. If you didn’t Jezebel can catch you up on this idiotic mess. Author Silvia Moreno-Garcia has begun collecting funds for an Emerging Indigenous Voices Award, about which more here.

Vox asked indie booksellers what books they’re excited to read this summer. I am painfully excited for Yuri Herrera’s new book, which I did not know was happening.

My favorite thing about this Atlantic article on the dangers of reading in bed is that an equivalent number of fires were started by cats in the mid-1800s as by people reading in bed. Just, like, this was not a time period well suited to Book Twitter’s favorite pursuits, is all I’m saying.

Such a good article about why Marvel is struggling (spoiler: it’s their own stupid fault).

Have a great weekend! Tip your servers! Nick Spencer is a poophead!

Review: Among the Ruins, Ausma Zehanat Khan

As I think I have said in my reviews of Ausma Zehanat Khan’s previous books, I don’t read a lot of mysteries. When I do get hooked on a mystery series, I don’t tend to review each one, but I’m making an exception (as you can see!) for Among the Ruins, the third in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s Esa Khattak / Rachel Getty series.

Among the Ruins

I was initially drawn into Khan’s work because of my general desire to support POC authors working in genre fiction. But I’ve stayed with the series because each book has done such a beautiful job of incorporating world events into the mystery: The murder victim in The Unquiet Dead appears to have ties with the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995; in The Language of Secrets, Khattak must investigate the death of a police informant at a potential terrorist cell. And in Among the Ruins, Khattak delves into the probably-political death of an Iranian woman whose documentary on the Green Revolution rendered her vulnerable to imprisonment and torture by the regime. In every case, Khan does a beautiful job of putting the history in service of the mystery without shortchanging the complexities of the horrors her characters are investigating.

It’s also lovely to watch Esa and Rachel’s worlds expand in this book. Though the cast perpetually changes jobs, ability to help with the mystery, and personal connections with Rachel and Esa, Khan never forgets which pieces are on the board. In Among the Ruins, she adds a fun new Plucky Girl Reporter sort of character about whom I hope to hear much more later — the Plucky Reporters in the Amelia Peabody series ended up being two of my favorite people, and not to spoil anything but at least one of them banged a Master Criminal one time.

On a more personal level, Khan captures my exact feelings about Iran in this book, the way I have felt about Iran ever since the Green Revolution happened and I started reading up on Iranian things. Though neither she nor Esa is Iranian, they share a deep admiration for the country’s history and culture, and an equally deep fury at the Iranian ayatollahs’ oppression of one of the most vibrant cultures the world has ever known. At one point, Rachel visits the following mosque:

That is not a CGI image from some new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-type movie. It is a non-pretend real actual mosque called Nasir al-Mulk Mosque. I encourage you to google it: I actually picked one of the most muted pictures I could find, because if you google this place your instinct is that it cannot be real.1 Here’s what Rachel thinks about it:

There was something to be learned from the cosmic radiance of her surroundings. Her mind was seized by a painful imagining: What must it be like to know your civilization possessed of such celestial beauty, and to find yourself the object of diminishment?

Among the Ruins gave me feelings, y’all. One of these days this oppressive regime of the ayatollahs will be done, and when that happens I am going to go there and see these damn mosques.

  1. It is real. It is also not the most astonishing mosque in the city of Shiraz, where it’s located.

All the Bookstores I Went to in London

Did you hear that I went to London? My beautiful London! I haven’t been to London since 2009, in spite of my very intense love for it, so it was great to be reunited. I went with my lovely mum and my lovely friend Alice, which was an absolute treat all around. We had Ethiopian food and Persian food and delicious gnocchi and Pieminister pies, and I bought, um, a certain quantity of books.

nothing to see here ha ha everything’s fine

The thing is, London has kind of a lot of excellent bookshops, and I had left a lot of spare room in my suitcase, so. I mean. It’s not really my fault, is what I’m saying. It cannot really be construed as being my fault.

Foyles

FOYLES
FOYLES

Let me tell you the problem with Foyles. The problem with Foyles is that the sections that in most bookshops are like, one single shelf out of a great big bookshelf? Those sections, in Foyles, are MASSIVE. Here is proof:

FOYLES THO

They have more than one storey dedicated to nonfiction. They have so many shelves of books in French that I had to whine for a while to drag Alice away from all her possible French book choices. Alice and I settled down in front of the English history section and made yearning-cat noises for like an hour. I got a copy of Paul Gallico’s Jennie, a book about a boy who turns into a cat and befriends another cat called Jennie and the volume of Christopher Fry’s plays that I don’t already have.

I nearly bought a big volume of Brian Friel’s plays, to get Translations, but I was like “Oh, Translations is famous, you’ll be able to buy it just on its own somewhere.” We also hunted for My Cousin Rachel, which Alice wanted, but Foyles did not have it.

The Other Bookshops on Charing Cross Road

Actually they seemed to be having a bit of a dry spell! Or else my interests have changed in the eight years since I last did this. I only got one book in like four Charing Cross Road bookshops, but it was a very good one: A Folio Society edition of the most adorable joint biography of the Brownings you can imagine. There’s a quote in it where Samuel Coleridge’s daughter gets sniffy about how into his wife Robert Browning was.

In all of them, Alice and I quested for a cheap copy of Return of the King for my mum, a used copy of My Cousin Rachel for Alice, and literally any copy of Brian Friel’s Translations for me. No joy.

The Really Huge Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Ave

In addition to being an unimaginably massive comic book shop in its own right, our trip to Forbidden Planet also led us on a small detour to Seven Dials, of which Alice approved mightily. (I had never heard of it before, I ADMIT IT.) And then the theatre where Matilda was playing was right there, so we popped in to inquire about day tickets, and Alice, who is lovely, ended up taking us both to see Matilda that evening. Day tickets!

I wish I’d taken pictures. They had so many comics. They had more comics than I’ve ever seen in one place before. “Megastore” in this case was no idle threat. I didn’t buy any comics, though. I figured I could get them for cheaper in America and they’d be too heavy for my suitcase.

However, I did — and I confess this freely — buy what I told Alice would be my third copy of Neverwhere, but it was actually my fourth. (I fessed up later.) I’m going to get rid of one of them though! And only have three, total! It’s just that this one had these excellent Chris Riddell illustrations interspersed throughout, and Alice had never read Neverwhere before so I wanted her to get to read it while in London. MY MOTIVES WERE NOBLE is what I’m saying.

They did have Return of the King, but only new copies, and none for cheaper than eight pounds. My mum had stipulated a ceiling price of five.

Amnesty International Charity Bookshop in Cambridge

Try not to be jealous, y’all, but I met Ana. It was very, very, very exciting. We have been blog friends for nearly a decade. I hugged her so vigorously that she was probs like “this is too much hug,” and then she took us on a tour of Cambridge, which was absolutely beautiful and which included a stop at this Amnesty International Charity Bookshop.

No shots at America, but Britain has really outdone us as regards charity bookshops. They have regular charity shops, which have book sections, but then they also have special charity shops that are just books. It’s nuts! It’s brilliant! I love it! I got a copy of a gender book Ana recommended, an old Noel Streatfeild book I hadn’t heard of, and a totally nice hardback copy of The Essex Serpent for like four pounds.

No cheap copies of Return of the King or My Cousin Rachel. Nor Translations, although I wasn’t particularly expecting it.

Heffers

Ana described this as the Cambridge bookshop, and I cannot disagree having been in it. I wanted to roll around in it. They had these lovely matching editions of all Dorothy Sayers’s books, which I resisted only by reminding myself that if I bought one I’d have to buy them all, and they’d never all fit in my suitcase.

I did buy The Good Immigrant (at lasssssssssssssssssstttttttttt!), Patrick Ness’s latest, and Hilary McKay’s latest. My lovely mum also bought me one of these notebooks, which I treasure. I wish we’d bought ten. I love them. If you are in Oxford or Cambridge or Amsterdam, buy these notebooks! They are so beautiful and great!

Insanely, they did not have any Brian Friel (he is a famous playwright! what gives!) or any copies of My Cousin Rachel, the latter of which I put down to everyone having bought up all their stock in anticipation of the forthcoming movie.

Notting Hill Book and Comic Exchange

In the days of my wild and wanton youth, when I lived in London for a month, I haunted the Notting Hill Book and Comic Exchange, like, daily. I bought a ton of old Sandman single issues, which are the only floppies I own. I was delighted to see, on this trip, that not only is the Book and Comic Exchange still open, but it has now expanded into two separate storefronts: Books are in one shop. Comics (plus SF) are in another. BRILLIANT RIGHT?

Guess what they had: Brian Friel’s Translations. At last my faith in London bookstores was justified! (NB it was justified already because Foyles totally had a bunch of Brian Friel omnibuses.) I also bought a copy of Tom Stoppard’s latest play, which I thought was just okay but like, I have all his other plays? So it feels weird not to have this one too? Then I went next door to the comics section and bought three volumes of Joss Whedon’s run on X-Men, which is mostly about Kitty Pryde.

No My Cousin Rachel. No Return of the King, if you can believe that.

This One Book Stall on Antiques Day on Portobello Road

I was all set to walk past this one! “I don’t need any antique books,” I said to myself with great certainty. But my mum stopped, so I stopped with her, and then the guy turned out to have an entire set of 1946 editions of the Nuremberg trial transcripts. I became so emotional over them that he gave me one for free when I bought three. I wanted to buy the whole set (this is becoming a refrain) but they wouldn’t have fitted in my suitcase. In retrospect, honestly, I wish I’d just bought the whole set and figured it out later.

The Oxfam Books on Portobello Road

On our way back from a preposterously delicious meal at the Portobello Garden Caffe, my mum again voiced a wish for a cheap copy of Return of the King. I was like “Let’s stop at that Oxfam! I have a good feeling about it!”

I was….not completely correct, insofar as they did not have any copies whatsoever of Return of the King. But you know what they did have? MY COUSIN RACHEL HUZZAH AT LAST CALLOO CALLAY.

Walden Books

On Saturday I met up with Book Snob Rachel and Stuck in a Book Simon and we did book-shopping and pizza-eating and chatted about books in a setting about which more anon. Walden Books is a dear little shop shop in North London which none of us had been to or heard of but which had a very nice used copy of Saplings as well as two (!) volumes of Mollie Panter-Downes.

Walden Books

The Oxfam Books in Hampstead

Then Rachel hauled us off to Hampstead to inspect the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and I finally finally finally found a cheap copy of Return of the King. The Oxfam bookshop, moreover, yielded a copy of Liza Picard’s Victorian London, which someone sometime told me was really good. They had her Elizabethan London as well, but I was trying to exercise restraint by this point in the trip. Dear oh dear how bad at it I am where books are concerned.

I had actually meant to be done with buying books on the Thursday, as I already had assembled quite a stack of things. I was concerned that my stacks of books was too vast and too heavy to take back in my suitcase. “No more books,” I said to myself sternly on the Thursday. “Maybe one on Simon and Rachel day. MAYBE.” And then I went and bought five. So by Sunday morning, I was extremely confident that I would buy no more books whatsoever.

But then I packed. I packed my suitcase on Sunday morning, just to make sure that I’d have enough space for everything. And actually I had…kind of a lot of space left over? I mean, not a lot, but like, some space. You know how suitcases have that extra zip where you unzip it and it gives the suitcase a bit of extra width? I hadn’t even unzipped that zipper, that’s how much space I still had left.

It’s also important to understand that Alice and I had been seeing Daunt Books bags all over London. Everywhere we went, we saw people with these Daunt Books tote bags. I asked Rachel about it, and she said, “Well, they give them away if you buy a hardcover. So everybody’s got one.” Alice asked one of her British friends, and her friend said, “Oh, you can’t really call yourself a book person if you don’t have a bag from Daunt Books.”

I meeeeeeeeean.

Daunt Books

“Daunt Books is point-oh-seven miles from here,” said Alice to me on Sunday morning.

“Oh we had better go check it out then,” said I to Alice.

It wasn’t the main Daunt Books. It was just the little one, the satellite one in Holland Park, so that was how I justified it to myself. I also had a plan that I could buy as few as zero but as many as five books there, if I ended up wanting to. Because of all the space in my suitcase. And because I wanted a Daunt Books tote bag.

Daunt Books (Holland Park)

I am happy to report that Daunt Books is not just coasting on its reputation. They are foremost a travel bookshop, but what that means in practice is that their shelves (I mean, they also have Fiction and Nonfiction general shelves, and Children’s) are organized by country/region. Within that, they have travel books and nonfiction books about that country and fiction by authors from that country. Great, right?

So anyway I bought a book about the brutal boarding schools upper-class British children have to attend (BRUTAL) and a book about color that won me over with its exceptionally beautiful design and Sarah Bakewell’s Montaigne book that Ana liked so much and had mentioned to me when I was in Cambridge so it was fresh in my mind.

And that is all the bookshops I went to in London. And in the event, my suitcase was under the maximum allowed weight by nearly two pounds.

Review: I, Iago, Nicole Galland

Some years, my pal Jeanne from Necromancy Never Pays makes it down to Louisiana and stops by for a visit with my family. Last year, she so so kindly brought me a book as a gift: I, Iago, by Nicole Galland, which she said I would enjoy.

I Iago

(Spoiler: I did, indeed, enjoy it.)

Nearly an entire year later, when I recalled that Jeanne would possibly be visiting again soon (yay!), I gave myself a stern talking-to about putting off reading books that were gifts, and I pulled I, Iago down off my TBR shelf and read it. And the thing is, the thing is, the book was completely delightful. Why would I not have read it before? Why do I own books and not read them?

internal monologue

I, Iago was predictably delightful. It’s a retelling of the Othello story from Iago’s perspective, and it doesn’t so much try to rehabilitate Iago as it tries to explain how he got to a place where he was willing to do all the evil deeds that he does in the play. The first half of the book is dedicated to his life as a Venetian, a man of battles, and a husband. Galland fleshes out a wonderful backstory for Iago, and his relationship with Emilia is particularly enjoyable. (I can’t speak to her historical research as I know 0 things about old-time Venice. They had doges? I dunno. I, Iago makes it seem like they had hella parties.)

The second half, in my opinion, was less successful, falling prey to the same problem that many Shakespeare retellings faces, i.e., that it is very, very difficult to produce a faithful retelling of a Shakespeare play that doesn’t just annoy you for not actually being the Shakespeare play. In many places, Galland is reproducing dialogue from the play, but in a more casual idiom in line with the rest of her book. Since Shakespeare’s dialogue is a byword of genius, this is — maybe not the choice I’d have made. The fun of fanfiction (at least a major part of the fun of fanfiction) is its ability to flesh out stories that occur in the margins of the source text, and I, Iago is at its best when it does exactly that.

Tell me, friends, now that I’m in the mood for it: What’s the best Shakespeare retelling you’ve ever read?

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep. 82 – Summer Book Preview, Paper Girls, and The Vision

It’s Wednesday and I am back from England and I absolutely promise I will not buy any more books this year. I bought a nutso number of books in London. Sorry London. Sorry suitcase. Meanwhile, we’ve got an awesome new episode for you, with plenty of talk of comics and suggested reading for the summer of 2017. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Here’s the time signatures for each segment, if you want to skip around!

1:30 – What we’re reading
4:09 – A LITERARY HAPPENING (link)
7:04 – Serial Box Book Club
17:42 – Follow-up on our spring book preview
20:53 – Summer book preview
29:08– Paper Girls, Brian Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
35:25 – The Vision, Tom King and Gabriel Walta
42:37 – What We’re Reading Next Time

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads, as well as Ashley. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

Review: The Liminal People, Ayize Jama-Everett

The marvelous Bina reviewed The Liminal People some time ago and mentioned that it’s frequently compared to X-Men, which naturally was all the inducement I needed to buy it and its two sequels a few AWPs ago. “X-Men meets [literally anything]” = a sales pitch that will win me over 10/10 times.

The Liminal People

Taggert, our hero (ish), is a healer with the power to magically repair any ailments of the body, from wounds to asthma to cancer. He has wandered the world for most of his life, desperate to meet more people with powers like him, and his wanderings have washed him up on the metaphorical shores of a warlord in Morocco, who has helped1 him develop his powers, in exchange for Taggert’s help pursuing the warlord’s own ends. But when Taggert gets a desperate call from Yasmine, the only woman he’s ever loved, he rushes to London to help find her missing daughter — who may have powers of her own.

In so many ways, The Liminal People is the type of fantasy I’m excited to be reading. Jama-Everett takes a familiar trope — the minority population of superheroes — and puts it in global perspective, so that we see how differently Taggert’s powers have been received in the many places he’s lived. Whereas many iterations of this trope have used it as a stand-in for race, The Liminal People looks at how powers like Taggert’s interact with race (and other marginalizations).

It’s also just a good story. I’m never not going to be there for “tough loner teams up with angry youth,” even if we weren’t living through a calendar year that gave us the apparently-very-gruesome-so-I-haven’t-seen-it-yet-please-don’t-@-me Logan. There’s a plot element towards the middle that wasn’t a great look for Feminism, but since it was in clear service of the tough loner / angry youth team-up, I am prepared to overlook it. Jama-Everett is quite fantastic at fight scenes, even if you don’t think you care about fight scenes. His are excellent, weird, and inventive, and they make full use of Taggert’s powers and the powers of the people he’s fighting.

Okay. That’s the good stuff. Now for some things that are not so good in re: the portrayal of villains. One of the big villains of the piece is a hired thug called Rajesh whose powers run to blowing things up. Here’s how Tamara (a protagonist and fundamentally sympathetic character) describes him:

He’s Asian, Paki, I think. . . . He’s a bully. A big stupid Paki bastard bully. He pushes his parents around. I’ve heard he’s raped girls. . . . He’s a savage fucking brute.

I get that troubled youths say gross things and don’t appreciate the impact of their words, but the text doesn’t frame this description as problematic. There is no push-back against the use of the term Paki (which unless I’ve misunderstood England completely is a really racist thing to say), and we don’t see any acknowledgement that Tamara has been ugly here: Her rage and the expression of it appear justified by the text, because Rajesh is a rapist and a murderer.

Moreover, because there are no other significant South Asian characters in the book, the depiction of Rajesh and his family takes on an outsize importance. Unlike the other villains, whom Jama-Everett portrays with more nuance, Rajesh is exclusively, simplistically evil, and the reader is meant to feel viciously satisfied when Taggert tortures and kills him (in the Indian restaurant his parents own). I suspect Jama-Everett didn’t intend to link Rajesh’s nationality with his villainy, but it’s noticeable and really disappointing in a book that gives us a terrific array of superheroes of color.

MOREOVER. The Big Bad of this book is a club promoter called Alia, who uses her powers to conceal her true face. When Taggert and Tamara face off with her in the final battle, they force her to drop her illusions, and she is described in the following super-ableist way:

And she’s ugly. Not everyday ugly — she had major genetic problems: oversized cranium, malformed palette, cleft lip — mother-was-probably-her-sister type ugly. Her teeth are gray and look like they belong to an infant. Her arms are deformed, almost flippers.

It goes on from there but I got depressed typing it and decided to tap out. Like. Number one, can we retire the flippant tone when we’re talking about incest? Number two, the Evil Cripple trope is harmful to disabled people. Number three, the aligning of disability with ugliness is yuck, and both Taggert and Alia explicitly refer to her as ugly (repeatedly). In a book that I generally really loved and found inventive and brilliant, it was disappointing to see it lean on tedious cliches about disability at the end.

If you’ve got other feelings about the portrayal of Rajesh and Alia, and particularly if you want to let me know if there’s stuff I should watch out for in the subsequent two books, I’d love love love you to get at me in the comments.

  1. for some values of the word “helped”

Review: All the Real Indians Died Off, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker

After reading An Indigenous People’s History of the United States a few years back, I was in the tank for p. much anything from Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz. All the Real Indians Died Off (and 20 Other MYths about Native Americans) is her latest book, cowritten with Colville author Dina Gilio-Whitaker, and it serves as an excellent 101 text for understanding Indian history in the US and ongoing legal, social, and economic issues.

All the Real Indians Died Off

Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker (my stars they have a lot of name between them) tackle issues ranging from terminology (Indian? Native American? Indigenous?) to broken treaties (too many to count) to casino earnings to indigenous tax breaks. Each section (well, nearly each, but I’ll get into that) lays out the origins of the myth, cites some examples of its function in historical or contemporary discourse, and then explores the reality behind it.

While the structure of the book — each “myth” receives five to ten pages — precludes the authors from going into depth about any one issue, they pack a lot of information into this slim book. The notes section also provides plenty of avenues for further reading, both foundational works by scholars like Vine Deloria Jr. (who even I have heard of) and recent peer-reviewed research. For instance, in the chapter about tribes getting rich from casinos (they mostly don’t), the authors lay out the hard numbers of casino earnings and their impact on average tribe members (on and off reservations).

Occasionally there’s a disconnect between the “myth” as described in the the chapter heading, and the actual content of the chapter. The chapter “Indians Are Anti-Science” touches on indigenous knowledge and scientific racism but devotes the bulk of its time to technological advances made by Indian groups in history. Which is awesome! Yay for agricultural innovation and such! But like — doesn’t really address the question, particularly? I closed out the chapter not sure who was saying Indians were anti-science or on what basis or why it was wrong.

However, even in chapters where that’s the case, All the Real Indians Died Off has tons of good information for readers who are seeking a basic grounding in Indian history, discourse, and activism. Recommended!

Review: Dreadnought, April Daniels

tfw basically all you have to say to convince anyone to read a book is the premise (cf: time-traveling pirates): TRANS GIRL SUPERHERO. Danny is struggling with how to tell her parents that she’s a girl when the superhero Dreadnought falls from the sky, bestows all his powers upon Danny, and magically transforms her body into a girl’s body. All at once, she has girl parts and superhero powers, and neither of those is exactly easy to explain to the people in her life.

Dreadnought

TRANS. GIRL. SUPERHERO.

So in the first place, it’s terrific to read more #ownvoices books about trans folks, and I hope as the years go on we’ll get more and more of these. I was particularly excited about Dreadnought because it’s as much about Danny learning how to be a superhero as it is about her transition — maybe more? dunno — and I love that. She never struggles with her own gender identity, only with other people’s expectations of her, which leaves a lot of room for anxieties and fears relating to the awesome godlike powers that have fallen upon her with no warning and no instruction manual.

Dreadnought is a first novel with some first novel problems. At times Daniel can be heavy-handed with her exposition, and there are plot threads and character arcs that receive inconsistent amounts of attention at different points in the book. By the end of the book, though, Daniels has set Danny up with a little team of her own, some impending doom to grapple with in future books, and an array of complicated relationships to continue navigating. The book isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely fun and engaging, and I’ll absolutely be picking up the sequel(s).

Content note! The superhero stuff in this book is mostly your typical fun superhero fare, but Danny faces a lot of ugliness around being trans. She gets called a bunch of slurs by people who should be on her side, including her father and best friend, and this doesn’t really let up as the book goes on. So be prepared for some characters to be awful and not to come around as time goes on. (Maybe in future books.)

TRANS GIRL SUPERHERO THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGHT.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep. 81: Music Reviews Game and Hari Kunzru’s White Tears

Happy Wednesday! It’s May! And we’re joined this week by special guest Ashley for Serial Box Book Club, a game about music reviews, and a discussion of Hari Kunzru’s ghost thriller White Tears.

White Tears

You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Here’s the time signatures for each segment, if you want to skip around!

1:10 – What we’re reading
6:33 – Did Whiskey Jenny like Fast 8?
7:31 – Did we all see the new Star Wars trailer?
9:03 – Serial Box Book Club
19:56 – GAME (real or fake Pitchfork reviews)
31:06 – White Tears, Hari Kunzru
46:48 – What We’re Reading Next Time

In case you are wondering what tf we are talking about squid away, you may witness the terrible squid away move in this short video. But don’t do it to Whiskey Jenny.

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads, as well as Ashley. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour