I know I’m behind on my monthly wrap ups!
Hello and welcome to my big wrap up of books I read in October, November, and December! It’s not as bad as it seems, since I read only one book in October, three in November, and a chunk of the books I read during December are already covered in my Queer Lit Readathon wrap up, which is linked here. Let’s get right into October!
Bi: Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, and Genderqueer Youth by Ritch C. Savin-Williams. Bisexuality and the many similar sexualities are still very unknown about, heavily stigmatized, and frequently erased by data. The author interviews many Millennials and Gen Zers across racial groups, ethnicities, and social classes that identify as bisexual to find out how the younger generations define bisexuality, rejecting the traditional definition, or otherwise choosing to not identify as straight or gay/lesbian. — I really, really wanted to like this book, but for me, it’s simply… Fine. Not fantastic, but not awful either. I wouldn’t recommend this for people who want to learn about bisexuality and the multitudes of similar identities, especially people who are completely clueless. I’ll be referring to these sexualities as m-spec from now on. For those who don’t know, m-spec is short for multisexual spectrum. This is intended as an umbrella term to include anybody who is attracted to more than one gender. The entire time I was reading this, I was bothered by the rigid definitions and language use in this. While Savin-Williams did briefly touch on trans and nonbinary people, he constantly wrote in binaries, reinforcing the idea that bisexual people are attracted to only men and women, which isn’t accurate. This was despite the author saying at several points that m-spec people aren’t strictly limited to one gender, and I felt like many times he wasn’t considering the identities outside of bisexual. He did say that he was using it as an umbrella term, but the way he used language tells me that’s not the case. Also, if you noticed, the title also has genderqueer in it. This is confusing, because genderqueer is a gender identity, not a sexuality. Reading through this, I felt like the author was often conflating gender with sexuality or just being very reductive, making it more confusing for people who aren’t familiar with these identities. I did like the case studies, the individual interviews with people and about their personal experience of attraction. However, the author kept putting his own interpretations on it, and sometimes he was kind of invalidating the person’s own definition. He was also very focused on *sex* rather than gender, which is a whole other thing. I haven’t mentioned it yet, because I wanted my review to stand on its own first. Savin-Williams, as far as I can tell, is an older white man. I don’t know how he identifies, but he has done a lot of work with the queer community, which I do appreciate. Despite that, based on his previous work, I can see that Savin-Williams approaches a lot of this from a very scientific and psychological perspective, and not a socio-cultural one. I think that’s where he’s gone wrong writing this book, because a lot of this is not easily defined by science and psychology. So unfortunately, I can’t recommend this book at all.
That was the only book I read in October, since I was busy and traveling quite a bit and didn’t have much time to read. Let’s move onto November.
I read the entirety of the Tensorate series by Neon Yang. Here are the titles in order of release: The Black Tides of Heaven, The Red Threads of Fortune, The Descent of Monsters, and The Ascent to Godhood. Each of these novellas focus on a different period of time, are told from different perspectives, and can individually stand on their own. I did find it much more enjoyable by reading them in the order they published though, because together they tell about a world with an epic story spanning generations. Black Tides follows twin siblings that were sold to the Grand Monastery when they were very young. One of them gets visions of the future, and the other can see what makes people tick. As they grow up, there’s rebellion happening all over, against their mother’s regime. The prophet stayed with her mother, and the other joins the rebellion after he’s seen the sickness at the heart of this regime. Red Threads jumps forward to where the twins are adults now. The prophet can no longer see and shape the future, is broken by the loss of her young daughter. She loses herself in hunting deadly nagas that rule the sky alongside her loyal pack of raptors. As she’s chasing a particularly large one, she meets a very mysterious person. As they dance around each other, they discover that the naga has a secret that could incite war and tear up the whole region. Descent takes us to the Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods, where something horrifying has happened. One of the experiments got loose and in its rage and pain, it left no survivors. The Tensorate investigators arrived after it happened, and return to the city with many questions, few clues, and two prisoners: the rebel and the mysterious person. The investigator assigned this case has quite the puzzle to work at. What happened, why were the rebels there, what’s being covered up? Ascent tells us about Lady Han, who started out as a desperate dancing girl who dared to fall in love with the young Protector. The iron fist of the Protector, how she ruled for fifty years, driving her enemies far and wide, the world turning around her. And now she is dead. Lady Han raised the movement that ended her, but now she only mourns the loss. — I absolutely enjoyed this. I do have a few issues, but overall, I really liked this. This is an Asian inspired fantasy series with sprinklings of steampunk, and I thought this was a very interesting way of telling a larger story in four chunks. This series is very focused on characters and their relationships rather than plot. The worldbuilding is great, I would absolutely love to see more of it! Slackcraft is this world’s form of magic. It’s an intangible force called the Slack, and people are able to manipulate it in different ways. The skills and abilities vary person to person, and I really enjoyed this magic system. I’d read Black Tides before, but reread it to refresh my memory. This is definitely a strong start to this great series, and it dives right into this world’s idea of gender identity. Gender isn’t assumed or assigned at birth, rather children are raised neutral and when they decided they want to affirm their gender however they want, doctors will make it happen via Slackcraft. The twin siblings who are the protagonists in this book are going through their life and figuring out their gender at the same time as discovering that one of them might be much more powerful than they ever thought. Red Threads sounds very exciting, being a story about a badass monster hunter that happens to be queer. While it is good, it’s not so much about the hunting. It’s more about her grief over her daughter, quiet connections with strangers, and mother-daughter relationships. Descent was written as reports from the investigator on the case of the Rewar Teng Institute. It was fascinating seeing their descent into darkness as they discover that their job isn’t what they expected, having to decide whether to break their own moral codes, and how they were going to stop even worse things from happening. Ascent was the shortest of all, and I felt the weakest about this one. It gave interesting background to the Protector, and some characters we meet in the other novellas, but it didn’t really leave an impression on me. Out of these four, I would say I enjoyed Black Tides and Descent the most, but they’re all good as a whole. I just wish we had novels of these, rather than short versions. I would LOVE to read more of this gorgeous world!
A Charm of Finches by Suanne Laqueur. This book follows three people – Javier, Stef, and Geronimo or Geno for short. Javier is an ex-hustler who used to sell his body, and made good money doing it. He’s also a writer who has published several things, including a book about his exploits. He’s done with hustling, and just wants a chance at love. He meets Steffen Finch, an art therapist who works with tough cases. They both need deep, passionate connection, and they might find that in each other. Stef is a very talented therapist, and he mostly works with men who have been assaulted. He gets a very challenging case with Geno, who went through something pretty brutal. Geno has created an alter-ego called Mos, and Mos makes all the decisions to protect them from anything hurting them. This has created a double life, thick with lies. He’s brought to where Stef works, and Stef helps Geno work through his trauma, using art. Geno also meets Jav at the same place, but doesn’t realize that Jav and Stef have a relationship. The boundaries between professional and personal start to become blurry as the three men get to know each other over a year. — This is the sequel to An Exaltation of Larks, which I loved. I also really enjoyed this, and while there are characters that cross over, they’re fairly separate stories. Javier was one of the main characters in Larks, but we learn a little more about Javier’s background in this. What happens in Larks is also touched on in this, but not in detail, much like it would happen in real life when you meet someone after certain things happen. All the trigger warnings for this book. Like I said earlier, Stef works with male survivors. Some of the assault is talked about on page, pedophilia is on and off page, child abuse is off page. This was a very painful story to read, but it was incredibly well-done in my opinion. The author showed care for her characters, giving them space to feel their feelings without being exploitative. I enjoyed the romance in this, it was steamy sure, but it was also fragile and very passionate. Jav and Stef both wanted love, but they also wanted to make sure they did it right, didn’t rush into it and ruin it for either of them. I just really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it. You don’t even have to read Larks to understand what happens in this.
Secret Seattle (Seattle Walk Report): An Illustrated Guide to the City’s Offbeat and Overlooked History by Susanna Ryan. It’s what it says in the title, Ryan takes us on a trip through various areas of Seattle, pointing out forgotten parts of history. We learn about hidden treasures in parks, architecture, infrastructure, and different green spaces that are gems studding the city of Seattle. — I really enjoyed this, because there were several things that I already knew because I’ve lived in Washington for a long time. However, I’m not all that knowledgeable about Seattle and its history, so this was a great way of learning about that aspect of Seattle. I certainly added some things to my list of things to do and see here! I think this would be a great read if you’re a local or planning to visit the city and explore, or have a love for this city.
That’s all for November, and now we’re on the biggest month, December. I read thirteen things this month – four were graphic novels, five books were for the Queer Lit Readathon. That has its own wrap up, so I won’t be talking about them here, but the video is linked. Let’s get right into it!
Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound by David B. Williams. This is the story of the Puget Sound stretching back for millennia, waters dense with food, many cultures becoming intertwined across the various waterways, and vibrant Coast Salish communities living there for a long time. It explores the transformation brought on by white settlers coming for new homes and resources from the forests, rivers, and creatures. Williams dives into the history of people, but also the natural histories of flora and fauna in, on, and around the Sound. Generations of indigenous relationships with the native species, all of that being impacted by settlers, warfare sparking development and rapid change, the evolution of the water highway form canoes to today’s ferry system. Williams also clearly shows how the ecosystems of the Sound have been affected by human behavior, specifically pollution, destruction and major changes to habitat, climate change. — I really appreciated this book, I learned a lot more about the Puget Sound as a whole that I didn’t know before. This book is kind of a collection of essays, each focusing on an aspect of the Puget Sound ecosystem. Williams takes the time to explain the indigenous way of life, well before settlers showed up. By doing this, it pays respect to the people who have been here the longest, and sets them at the center of this story. The others who arrive later are put in sharp contrast with them, with how they extract resources without thought for the long-term effects and the people currently living there. There’s a lot of dives into specific groups of species like orcas, geoduck, salmon and herring, plants, and so on. I think this is a good book that took a hard look at what we as humans have done to the environment, and what must be done to protect it for the future. Yes, it’s specifically about the Puget Sound, but it can also help you think of how to look at your home environment in a different way. If you enjoy learning history about anything, this is definitely a great read.
Critical Role – Vox Machina: Origins Vol 1 & 2, comic series written by Matthew Colville, interior art by Olivia Samson, and coloring/lettering by Chris Northrop. This is a comic series based on the D&D actual play show, Critical Role, and their first campaign. This is the origin story of six would-be heroes, and the first volume happens primarily in a small coastal town where there’s a plot to destroy the town. The second volume leads them out of the town on a new adventure, uncovering some secrets of one party member’s past. — These were very quick reads, so I’m not going into too much detail. I personally have never watched Critical Role’s first two campaigns, because those are SO many hours of content. This was a nice way to get an introduction to these characters and learn some of the story without having to watch hours and hours of actual play. I’ve also been watching the animated show, The Legend of Vox Machina, on Prime, and am enjoying it so far! If you like D&D, this is a fun read.
Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaption by Tim Hamilton, based on the book by Ray Bradbury. Guy Montag is a firefighter who burns books, because they are highly illegal to have in this dystopian future. People are kept busy with constant TV shows, they don’t really have free time to think and question things. Montag however, brings a book home one day and reads it. He starts to question everything he’s been taught, and his life. — Fahrenheit 451 was one of my favorites in high school, and still is. This is the graphic novel adaption of it, and I liked the visuals used in this. It’s not exactly my favorite art style, but I still enjoyed it! This is a great way to read a classic book without reading the original and having to work through language from the 1950s, which is when the original novel was first written.
Immune: a Journey into the Mysterious System that Keeps You Alive by Philipp Dettmer. In a nutshell, this goes in-depth on your immune system, how it works, when it decides to become active and defend the body, how it checks your body for disease and unwanted guests. Each chapter focuses on an aspect of the immune system: antibodies, inflammation, threats like bacteria, cancer, allergies, how parasites and viruses work. There is a story linking all the chapters that illustrate how the whole system works in sync to keep us healthy and well when we get a wound, when we come down with a disease. — I really enjoyed reading this because the immune system is a very complex topic, even for people in the field, but this does a good job of breaking it down into more digestible chunks. This was written by the creator of Kurzgesagt, one of my favorite science YouTube channels. If you haven’t watched any of their videos, go check them out! The illustrations in Immune are done in the same style as Kurzgesagt’s videos, so I really enjoyed that! There are plenty of illustrations to go with all of the things they’re describing, to make it easier for you to visualize how things work. This is definitely heavy on the science, but in layman’s terms and enjoyable. I also want to add that the author has been learning about immunology for years, and started writing this book a while ago. They happened to be working on it when the pandemic started, so they were able to add some new immunology information that came up as a result of the pandemic. They also added a section all about COVID-19, and how it works in immune system terms, which I appreciated. I absolutely recommend this book!
Nat Turner by Kyle [Baker]. This is the story of Nat Turner and his slave rebellion that he led in 1831. Some view him as a hero, a precursor to the civil rights movement, a symbol of Black resistance. Others view him as a murderer and a monster, his name to never be said. Turner was born into slavery, and when he got a little older, he taught himself how to read. The other slaves viewed him as their messiah and listened to what he had to say. One day, he decided that he was done and started the rebellion. Many white slave owners and their families were killed by the angry slaves, but many slaves were also killed when the other white slave owners crushed the rebellion. — This is a very heavy and violent story, told with almost no words. There are excerpts of an interview with Turner, but other than that, words are rarely used throughout this. The illustrations are very bold and striking, all monochromatic. However, this is NOT for children, because there is a lot of violence shown, and it can be quite graphic. This was a powerful read about a figure who is polarizing for many people, but an important part of history to know about.
Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert. A story about the history and legacy of one of the most destructive and deadly events in American history regarding racial violence, the Tulsa Race Massacre. The predominantly Black Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a thriving, affluent neighborhood known as the Black Wall Street. On the morning of June 1, 1921, a white mob marched into the Greenwood District, bringing firearms, gasoline, and explosives. In just a few hours, there were hundreds dead and 35 square blocks razed to the ground, still burning. This is one of the worst acts of racial violence in US history, and this book looks at what led up to this event, what exactly provided the spark, and why it’s so unknown to so many today. — This was heartbreaking to read, so many amazing things gone in just a few hours because white people just couldn’t handle Black excellence, political and economic advancement, and took any excuse to push down and hold back Black people. I really appreciated that this book took the time to go further back in history than just the massacre, to look at all the various factors that led up to this and converged to cause this horrible event in US history. It talked about Oklahoma in the time period before it became a state, while it was still in the early settler days and was Indian Territory. The land runs started, and many women and Black people came there to start a new life, oil boomed, the resurgence of white supremacist groups, lynchings happening more, the police doing nothing to help Black people, white resentment toward Black people who were moving upward in life, and so much more. I learned A LOT that I didn’t know before reading this book. I knew about the Tulsa Race Massacre thanks to the explosion of Black history being shared in the summer of 2020, but I didn’t know many details around it or what happened after it, the mark that it’s left on US history and the legacy of Black Tulsans. This is absolutely a must read.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. Willis Wu is just a Generic Asian Man on Black and White, a procedural cop show that happens in the Golden Palace restaurant, and feels the same about his own life. He’s just a bit player in everyone else’s life, but he dreams of climbing the ladder and eventually becoming Kung Fu Guy, the highest aspiration for Chinatown residents. One day, he accidentally falls into the spotlight, and discovers the legacy of his own family and secrets of Chinatown. — I really enjoyed reading this satire but also social commentary about assimilation, identity, individuality, colonization, and how that all affects us, from not being able to imagine greater things beyond what’s expected of us, keeping our heads down and following the roles given to us. I knew this was going to be using Hollywood tropes, Asian stereotypes, but I wasn’t expecting this to be written like a movie script. It has scene set ups, dialogue headings, asides, everything you would see in an actual script. That made it a very interesting read, and there were times I felt like the line between reality and Black and White were blurring, it was a trip! Willis and his character that he plays in Black and White were similar in their circumstances so that makes sense, and added to the story of having to assimilate and blend into the larger culture. I’m white and was born in the US, so I can’t relate to the immigrant or child of immigrants experience, so I would encourage you to go read reviews by other people that share identities with the author. I could tell Yu put a lot of himself in this book, and I think that really added to the strength of this story.
At last, that’s all of the books I read in the last three months of 2021! If you made it this far, you’re the best. I will try to get January out soon, but no promises on that! Let me know in the comments what you’ve read or are interested in reading, or what your current read is. Thanks for reading!
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