Shadowless People and a Four Mile Meditation – A June Reading Wrap-up

My reading month was packed with some pretty solidly rated books across a diverse range of genres. From graphic novels to science fiction novellas to audiobooks, I enjoyed most of what I picked up this month. That is, until my reading mojo was interrupted but an incredibly heartbreaking but compelling story set in Burundi which led to the biggest book hangover ever. Which conveniently kicks off my list from highest to lowest rated:

 

Small CountrySmall Country by Gaël Faye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a limited understanding of Rwanda and the horrors during the 1990s genocide but, I was aware of the scope of violence during the time period. So, even though it’s right there – printed on the jacket of the book – I was still completely gutted when the events make an appearance in this book.

“Small Country” is set in Burundi, a small country neighboring Rwanda and tells the story of Gabriel and his boyhood antics just before war and violence break out. He’s a mischievous yet kind-hearted kid who’s coming-of-age process gets brutally interrupted in an irreversible way. I was a blubbering mess at the end of this book.

Heathen, Vol. 1Heathen, Vol. 1 by Natasha Alterici

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, so I’m really bad at remembering how I find out about books and who recommended them. Because I know I didn’t stumble upon this little gem by accident. I’m sorry for that but I’m not sorry for picking this up from my local library. This tells the story of a lesbian Viking who eschews the oppressive traditions of her tribe, is banished after kissing another woman and goes on a quest to free the Valkyrie Brynhild from a curse. She’s like a one-woman army against the patriarchy.

The art is fantastic and each panel is filled with so much movement and meaning. It looks like Volume 2 will be printed this year so go get Volume 1. Like, right now.

The Ballad of Black TomThe Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’re not familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft or author Victor LaValle then this book requires a bit of Googling to get. Research I had to do before, during and after I read this slim little book. “The Ballad of Black Tom” is often described as being a response to or a kind of retelling of Lovecraft’s short story “The Horror at Red Hook.” Even without that background, “The Ballad of Black Tom” is a dark and unsettling standalone horror novella worth reading. In LaValle’s book, Tommy, a middling street musician, gets caught up in some kind of bizarre plot involving the occult. He meets an eccentric millionaire, a strange woman who refuses to step outside her front door and is relentlessly pursued by a pair of racist cops.

Near the end, the book sprints from 0 to 100 mph in the span of a few paragraphs and left me closing any and all open doors throughout my house but also rooting for Black Tom to summon any and all deities to do his bidding – no matter how nefarious. I immediately added Lavalle’s other book, “The Changeling” to my TBR list.

Moonstruck #1Moonstruck #1 by Grace Ellis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moonstruck comes to us from the same creator who blessed us with Lumberjanes. I purchased the #1 issue of Moonstruck at my local comic shop for $1.00. This is a cute, slice-of-life comic set in a magical world of centaurs, witches, werewolves and other mythical humanoid creatures. Julie, a werewolf, is just tryin’ to hold down her job as a barista while striking up a new romance. Ellis has this knack of creating adorable, likeable characters that you’re rooting for the whole way. I was totally charmed. Once my niece is through with Lumberjanes, I think this could be a great followup for her!

Slave Old ManSlave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not even gonna pretend: there’s a ton in this book that I just did not understand despite my best efforts. “Slave Old Man” is incredibly dense despite being only 176 pages. It’s categorized as Literary Fiction but I’d argue this counts as Poetry. The prose is beautiful but can feel hectic and inaccessible. Translated from the French Creole, “Slave Old Man” is about a slave who “maroons” from the sugar plantation and escapes into the thick of the jungle, doggedly tracked and pursued by the master’s dog. It took me nearly a month to get through this book and it’s one I expect to revisit again and again.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, after “Small Country” put my heart into a pistil and mortar and made fine organ dust out of it, I decided I needed something a little lighter. How about a book about an octogenarian taking a 4 mile stroll through midtown Manhattan while ruminating on all the events in her life? Perfect. I had an eye-opening experience reading “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk”. It’s kind of like a female version of Forrest Gump – a story that spanned across key periods of time in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Lillian is headstrong, progressive and a feminist and I fell immediately in love with her. And, reading this book made me think about my efforts to read diverse literature. I realized I tend to neglect age as a category. Specifically, this book inspired me to read more books by senior authors especially if they’re debut authors late in life. I’ll let you know how the experiment goes. If you follow me on Instagram, you can keep up with my stories and updates there.

The Avengers Versus ThanosThe Avengers Versus Thanos by Jim Englehart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an easy one. I’m a Marvel fangirl so I was delighted to find this issue available for free reading on Amazon Prime. The panel view on my Kindle made this extremely entertaining to read, panel by panel, and helps build suspense. This volume includes issues throughout the 90s of the Avengers (including some surprise member’s like Beast and Mar Vell) fighting Thanos. These are the kinds of comics and artwork that I grew up with – kinda kitschy, kinda silly, kinda problematic but always fun.

So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even KnowSo Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love listening to audiobook memoirs and essays that are narrated by the author. So I had this at the top of my library loans list.

Aside from recognizing Retta as part of the Parks and Recreation cast (a show I’ve never watched), I knew next to nothing about her. She’s a comedian, actress and now author of a collection of essays that are about shopping, social media and her early career as a comedian. I’ll admit, I wasn’t crazy about this collection. Retta is a great performer and she’s funny – you can’t help but chuckle at some of her observations. But overall, the collection lacked any real insight or substance.

In one chapter, Retta mentions how her comedy is different from “black” comedy and how it affects where she’s booked to preform – a topic I wanted to hear more of her perspective on but she didn’t spend a lot of time elaborating.

In another chapter, Retta goes to great lengths to explain her gift-giving style and spends somewhere around 7 minutes pleading with the reader to not feel obligated to buy her a gift since she’s notoriously picky. And since I can’t imagine a circumstance where that would be a problem for me, I was really curious who the hell she wrote this book for.

Retta also goes into great detail about her love of Hamilton (boring), her Twitter feuds (super boring), and her unlikely love for a hockey team (yawn). “So Close to Being the Sh*t Ya’ll Don’t Even Know” isn’t necessarily a bad book, I just don’t think there was a general thesis or purpose to it.

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental ActivistWell, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Franchesca Ramsey is a stellar narrator. Listening to her memoir feels like listening to a Ted Talk-style presentation. She presents her real-world experiences growing up with the internet and the unique experience of going viral in an approachable way. She can be a controversial figure but I think she brings up a lot of interesting questions to consider and as a fellow millennial who grew up with the internet, I could relate to a lot of her observations.

There is a holier-than-thou slant pervasive throughout the book which can be eye-roll inducing. For example, Ramsey attempts to make a case for avoiding the word “lame” as a way to describe disappointing things – since it’s considered offensive to those with disabilities who are lame in a physical sense. I mean, c’mon. According to Merriam-Webster, lame is perfectly acceptable adjective to describe anything “lacking in need or substance”. So what should we do, kill slang altogether?

The Book of MThe Book of M by Peng Shepherd

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok, wow. Ok. This book? This book is weirddddddd. The first half of this book had me in a headlock. I couldn’t put it down and I was dying to know what would happen next. The book posits a world in the near future where people begin to loose their shadows in an unexplained world-wide phenomenon. Then, these shadowless people begin to suffer from severe memory loss which result in surreal consequences.

Weird, right? The books follows a collection of characters, some are looking for lost loved ones, some are leading factions of resistance against zombie-like armies of shadowless people, some are just trying to hold on to what they know.

There’s a lot I liked about this book – the characters are well-rounded and incredibly diverse without being pandering. But, it quickly falls apart after about 60% of the way through. The plot loses direction culminating in a bombshell ending that feels hollow and pointless.

The Italian PartyThe Italian Party by Christina Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a fun little spy romp in Italy post-WWII. It’s quirky and comedic. Like a Roman Holiday-esque plot. And, the lush descriptions of the Italian countryside are to die for. The book follows a young couple as they relocate to Italy – one is a secret CIA agent, the other ends up being the better spy.

It’s cute and mysterious but I had higher hopes for Scottie – the lonely wife who goes off on her own adventure to find her missing Italian-language tutor. Her conclusion didn’t do her any justice.

Attack on Titan, Vol. 1Attack on Titan, Vol. 1 by Hajime Isayama

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first volume of the “Attack on Titans” series is available for free on Amazon Prime. The premise for this manga is an unusual one: giant cannibals called Titans terrorize people for hundreds of years until finally a fortified city is built to protect the rest of civilization. When the largest Titan ever recorded appears to destroy the city wall, a young group of soldiers spring to action to keep their family, friends and citizens safe – let’s just say with mixed success.

I like this manga, but I like the anime more because it’s easier to see action sequences and understand what’s happening. Both the manga and the comic take some interesting risks with main characters you’d assume are “safe” from harm. I probably won’t continue the series but I appreciate it’s originality – oh, and the nightmares. Plenty of nightmares.

Tiffany BluesTiffany Blues by M.J. Rose

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Pub Date: August 7, 2018) This Netgalley request is a historical fiction hodgepodge of romance, mystery and character study. The book is inspired by Laurleton Hall, the real-life home of artist Louis Comfort Tiffany who constructed it in the early 1900s. “Tiffany Blues” follows Jenny Bell, a simpering wallflower who changed her identity after taking the fall for a murder she didn’t commit. After serving time in a women’s prison, Jenny remakes herself into an artist, hoping for a clean slate.

“Tiffany Bell” has fantastic descriptions of art and color. It feels lush and decadent just like you’d imagine the 1920s to be. But, nothing actually happens. Jenny is just a passenger in her own life, crippled by sorrow and badgered by the soap opera-y bombshells that are constantly being dropped on her. I was quickly fatigued with feeling sorry for her. The cast of characters around her only exist to drive the plot forward in an insistent way. They’re constantly pleading and prodding Jenny to pursue her artistic endeavors, break out of her shell, or try something new.

I really wanted to like this more than I did (and that cover tho!) but aside from the lush setting, I found this to be painfully contrived with an obvious ending I saw coming a mile away.

And finally, my only DNF for the month…

Black Panther: Long Live the KingBlack Panther: Long Live the King by Nnedi Okorafor
I liked Binti just fine – it wasn’t great, but it was fine. So, I was curious what Okorafor would do in “Black Panther: Long Live the King.” And the answer is: I’m not really sure. This volume of Black Panther appears to be vignettes of one-off problems T’Challah has to battle on the daily to keep Wakanda safe.

Overall, it felt a little juvenile and silly. In the first story, T’Challah encounters an enormous tentacled creature that only he can see. Weirdly, his own subjects and guards don’t believe him and openly scoff (their own monarch, no less) when he explains what he saw. Really? After all the other crazy shit and weird aliens and monsters T’Challah has had to fight – this is where you draw the line? An invisible monster is just too incredulous?

The tone and the lackluster story just didn’t feel like the pensive, introspective T’Challah that I’m used to.


 

Whew! That’s it for June. Tell me, have you read any of these or are you inspired to pick one of these titles up? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below or follow me on Instagram.

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