Note: I did have this video filmed, edited, and uploaded in around mid-August. I had just the captions left, but then got busy in the latter half of August, so wasn’t able to finish this video/post until today. Hopefully, my schedule will be slightly more stable for a while from now on.
Hello and welcome to my July books wrap up! This month, I read more than I was expecting to, at nine books. And surprisingly, two of them were short story collections. They’re not necessarily my thing, but I am trying to read more of them.
When We Rise. Written by Cleve Jones, one of the prominent figures in the LGBTQ+ movement just after the Stonewall riots. Jones talks about his experience growing up as a young gay man, being drawn to San Francisco like so many others like him, finding community in places like hotels, gay bars, the Castro. He found his calling in the movement with Harvey Milk’s encouragement, having his life changed when Milk was killed, changed again when AIDS showed up. Jones writes about heartbreak, losing countless friends to AIDS, nearly dying from it himself, creating the AIDS Memorial Quilt, San Francisco in the 1970s, stories of his friends and lovers. I was expecting this to be more of a factual account of the period after the riots, but it read much more like a memoir, which it is, of Cleve’s adventures and political activity. This is certainly much more focused on Cleve’s personal experience than the overall events/period of time. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t cover a lot of what happened, because he was more often than not directly involved in the events, and if he wasn’t, he knew people who were. I enjoyed reading this, but it is the perspective of only one person, and there are a lot of personal stories of his friends and lovers. By the way, I don’t know why I didn’t connect this until after reading it, but the ABC miniseries of the same name is partially inspired by this memoir. I’ve seen the series, and while it did have its issues, it was a fairly good watch.
The Wedding Date. Alexa and Drew are complete strangers, and they get stuck in an elevator together. They banter and once power is back, Drew spontaneously asks Alexa to be his fake date to his ex’s wedding. Alexa normally wouldn’t have said yes, but something about Drew made her say yes, and so ensues shenanigans. Drew lives in Los Angeles, and Alexa lives in Berkeley, so they think it won’t last, but they can’t stop thinking about each other. I’m not going to say anything more because this was a really fun, enjoyable read and I’m definitely going to read the other books by Jasmine Guillory. This touches on interracial dating, and Drew learns a bit about his own white privilege, which I don’t often see (but that might just be because I don’t read this type of book that often). It gets a bit steamy at times, and just be warned this is absolutely cheesy but I love it. It does get a little repetitive and predictable, but again, this is a romance novel so I wasn’t really expecting much else.
Love Is Love. This is a comic book anthology created to honor those killed in the Pulse shooting, and all proceeds went to benefit those affected by it. Most of the comics are only one page, and on my first read, I really liked it but did think some of the pages were a little gratuitous on the violence. I expected this anthology to be a much more upbeat, positive book with joyful stories, maybe with a reference to the shooting, but they’re mostly about the shooting in some way. Yes, there are some positive ones, but I was expecting a joyful read and ended up having to pause several times because I wasn’t mentally prepared for a lot of dark stories. The art for all of the stories is gorgeous though. After reading some reviews on Goodreads, I gave a big drop in my rating because I didn’t realize that a lot of the authors were cishet men. I was really disappointed to learn that, since there are so many queer comic artists out there that could’ve been asked to contribute to this. Also, it wasn’t really mentioned in much of the comics that the shooting happened on Latin Night, it was mostly POC that died, and there was barely any representation apart from the L and G. Any trans representation was very poorly done, it would almost be better if it wasn’t there at all. Nearly all of this was focused on romantic and monogamous love, very little of other types so polyamorous and ace/aro people were completely left out. There were a few stories of cishet people making it about them, and this anthology could have done without them. That said, there were some stories that I wish were longer than one page because they could be a really good story. So would I recommend this? I really don’t know, but I would definitely tell you to prepare yourself for a lot of death imagery and talk about death.
Short Cuts: Selected Stories. This is a short story collection of stories written by Raymond Carver, but this collection was created by Robert Altman because these stories are what he based his film, “Short Cuts,” on. This one creates a portrait of American life, one of innocence and loss. These stories are all about utterly ordinary people living ordinary lives, but these lives are made extraordinary because of the choices they make. I’ve mentioned this before, short story collections aren’t necessarily my thing, but I am trying to read more of them because there are some incredibly good short stories out there, and often short story collections are the best way to find them, apart from online. Maybe two thirds of the stories, I enjoyed. The third that I didn’t, it wasn’t really because I didn’t like them, the writing was just a little too strange for me. Some of the stories had some quite good twists that I didn’t expect, especially in such a short span. One in particular, A Small, Good Thing, had a punch to it and was really good. A few of the stories talk about death, so be aware of that. I do kind of wish it had been a collection put together by the author himself, but in the introduction by Altman, he says that he tried his best to keep it close to how Carver would have wanted it.
Looking for Alaska. Miles Halter is sent off to Culver Creek Boarding School, because he decides he’s done with his safe and boring life, Culver Creek is where his parents went, and he’s heard a lot of stories about how wild life can be there. He meets Alaska Young, who lives down the hall from him. She’s a force of nature – funny, clever, beautiful, self-destructive, and very fascinating to Miles. Alaska pulls him into her world, sets him on a journey, stealing his heart along the way, and then. After, nothing is the same. Looking for Alaska is John Green’s first book, and the second book of his I’ve read. The first was Turtles All the Way Down. Obviously, a big difference in his writing style, which might be one of the reasons why I wasn’t that impressed with this. It’s kind of split into two parts, “Before” and “After,” and there’s a countdown and up. I didn’t think that part was really necessary. If anything, it just annoyed me that we were going to know when the “big event” happens. I won’t say what it is, but honestly, at this point you probably already know what it is. I mean, it was published in 2006! There was a lot of teen angst in this. A lot. It wasn’t all horrible, but it was just okay to me. I certainly prefer Turtles over this one. Oh, there’s going to be a Hulu Original series of this, releasing in October this year. Who knows if that’ll be any good.
The Thirteenth Tale. Vida Winter is a reclusive author who has written many, many stories, but there’s one that people are obsessed over. Winter wrote a collection of stories called “Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation” but there was never a thirteenth tale. People want to know the mystery of the missing tale, but they also want to know more about Winter’s mysterious past. She’s always been enigmatic about it, and has invented multiple outlandish life histories to keep her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and sick, she decides to at last tell the truth and chooses biographer Margaret Lea to tell her story. This part reminds me a little bit of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Winter goes deep into her past, revealing a story that’s full of strangeness about the Angelfield family. Beautiful and willful Isabelle, feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, silent Charlie, a ghost, a governess, and a devastating fire all come together to make an enchanting tale full of intrigue and twists. I took quite a while to read this one, since I had the free ebook version of this on my phone, and read it mostly when I didn’t have a book with me and wanted to kill time. Despite that, I enjoyed reading this, even though it was a little rambling at times and there was a lot that I feel the book could’ve done without. Overall, it’s alright but not something I’d immediately recommend.
With the Fire on High. AMAZING. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Emoni Santiago, half Black half Puerto Rican, is a teen mother and a high school senior. Her abuela helps out with taking care of her young daughter, and Emoni has a lot of tough decisions to make with her life. Her dream is to become a chef, and she knows she’s got the skills, since she adds a little magical something to everything she cooks for people, gets constant support from her abuela, friends, and her teachers. One day, Emoni finds out that her school will be offering a culinary arts class that includes a trip to Spain to train under professional chefs. She’d love to do this trip, but she knows she won’t have the time or money to do it. Though she can’t not cook, and even with all of the rules in her life – both her own and everyone else’s – she has to let her talent out. This is the second book by Elizabeth Acevedo, and her first was The Poet X. This book is just as gorgeous as the first, and her talent for poetry really shows through in this novel. I admit, I got hungry a few times reading this, and how could I not? It all revolves around food and cooking, and it’s so beautifully written. I loved how this really focused on what it’s like being a teen mother, and not once shaming Emoni for having a child so young. It explored her relationships with her family, her few friends, and co-parenting with the father of her girl. There’s a love interest that’s Black and Muslim, positive relationships with teachers, and gah, this is just so good. Just like for The Poet X, I definitely recommend you go check out Adriana’s 5 Reasons to Read video for this book, they say it all. I absolutely recommend this book, and you must read it. Like, now.
Love From A to Z. Adam and Zayneb randomly meet in an airport. Zayneb is on the way to her aunt’s house in Doha, after getting in trouble for confronting her teacher about his Islamophobia and constant harping on about how Muslims are “bad.” As the only Muslim in class that also wears a hijab, of course Zayneb is angry, but after that and getting her friends in trouble, she decides to try out a newer and nicer version of herself where no one knows her. Adam is returning home from university, which he’s stopped attending altogether after getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. No one knows though, and he intends to keep it that way as long as he can. They happen to keep meeting, and they both keep journals that they happen to call the same thing – Marvels and Oddities. They’re both struggling with their own secrets, and that threatens their relationship. I absolutely loved this. I was pissed several times reading this, because this book is completely in your face about the feelings around Islamophobia, hijabi, and explores the painful relationships that can come with family, especially when it’s around illness, romantic love and all the different ways people approach it and perform it. Even though this touches on a lot of heavy stuff, it’s a fluffy romance story at its heart. This book is written as if it’s journal entries from the two of them, so we get to see both of their perspectives. I do think that the “introduction” by the author explaining that was really unnecessary, the book could’ve just gone straight into it and been a bit better for that. I’ve also read the other book by this author, Saints and Misfits, and liked it as well. I would definitely recommend this read! I’ll also link a review by Saajid, also known as Books are my Social Life, a Muslim Booktuber. Be aware that there are no captions on that video, but the auto captions aren’t too bad, so there’s that.
Exhalation: Stories. A collection of short fiction, all written by Ted Chiang. All of these stories were science fiction or fantasy with a science touch. Many of these have been published in magazines, other anthologies, and online but this was the first time for me. It’s kind of hard to sum up short story collections because all of them are so different, but I was very surprised to actually enjoy all of the stories in this collection which is very rare for me. Then again, I love sci-fi, so that may have played a part. Chiang is a fantastic author, and he did a great job of adjusting his writing style to match what the story required. For example, the first story in this collection, The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, is set in ancient Baghdad and has a portal where people can either go forward or back in time. The language was much more flowery if you will, befitting ancient times. In Exhalation, the language was much more cold and clinical, since it was set in another world, with a robot race and a scientist analyzing himself to understand how the robot race functioned. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is more of a novella, in more layman’s terms, and it’s a scary look at what could realistically happen in our future with virtual reality and artificial life/intelligence. Omphalos is one of the previously unpublished works, it’s a mix of layman’s terms and scientific terminology, and it’s a very fascinating alternate reality where there’s proof everywhere that our universe started only 8,000 years ago, thus proving the Church right and that God really did create us. I really did enjoy all of the stories in this collection and would recommend it if you like sci-fi!
That’s all for the books I read in July, let me know if you’ve read or want to read any of these books.
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