Bookish Brains Issue 12

Letter from the Editor:

Greetings! October has been a month of abundant beauty and life, despite the dying nature of our region’s foliage. As the semester has proceeded, most of my attention has been on school work, though I have carved out more and more time to read because this time of year compels me to cozy up with a book. Moreover, I proposed to Bryant at the beginning of this week, and he said yes! We have been together nearly five years and I am so excited he is my fiancé now–cheers to a long and glorious engagement!

This edition’s Bookish Brain features mini book reviews of Princess Princess Ever After by Kay O’Neill, Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes, The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes, The Heartbeat of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, How to be Ace by Rebecca Burgess, and Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid by Yao Xiao. Plus, a very long list of upcoming November book releases you will definitely want to check out! Hope you enjoy-

Cheers!
-B.C.

Currently Reading

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Like many others, I first knew the story of Howl’s Moving Castle because of the Studio Ghibli film adaptation. Recently, I’ve been listening to orchestral interpretations of the movie soundtrack–many of which are absolutely amazing–and as the weather has slipped into a cooler, cozier climate, I’ve wanted to visit the universe from which the movie originated. Prior to beginning the book, I read the movie’s Wikipedia page, which describes some of the major thematic differences between versions; notably, director Hayao Miyazaki depicted strong anti-war sentiments which was influenced by his anger at the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, in addition to other changes such as the reduction of characters cast. Jones has commented that the movie is “fantastic” and respects the changes made to fit the new medium.

So far, I am not very far along in this novel. Published first in 1986, it’s marketed as a young adult book and reads very easily, though I haven’t had the time to sink into it yet. The story centers around a girl named Sophie Hatter who is cursed by a witch to be old; resigned to her new life, she finds employment as a cleaner for the gentleman Wizard Howl. Here, she makes a deal with Howl’s fire demon Calcifer that she can break the contract that binds Calcifer and Howl. And of course, the castle moves.

I can’t wait to read more of this, and I’m especially excited to re-watch the movie!

Love in Color: Mythic Stories from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola

Love in Color: Mythic Stories from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola

This book came into my radar at the library. Having seen it several times on the ‘New’ shelf, I finally decided to check it out because I was planning on proposing to my significant other and was feeling in the mood to read about looOooOOOve. Collections of short love stories, Love in Color reimagines traditional mythic tales of love from around the world. Nefertiti is the discreet crime boss and owner of a club. Scherezade is a powerful career woman recounting stories to her comatose lover. And others, too–some of whom I’ve not heard of, and others who I’m somewhat familiar with.

Babalola’s writing is elegant and passionate, and her love of love pulsates with each tale. I’m enjoying the stories so far, some more than others, but they have been pleasant and romantic. Currently I’m on page 86 of the 300+ page book. I like reading this before bed because the stories are adventurous and full of spirit, providing a great mental atmosphere to enter into the dream realm.

Recently Read Mini Book Reviews

Princess Princess Ever After by Kay O’Neill

Princess Princess Ever After by Kay O'Neill
  • Children’s graphic novel, fantasy
  • Published 2016
  • 56 pages

Colorful and fun-loving, this middle grade fantasy graphic novel follows two princesses as they traverse the lands and encounter adventures, discovering more about the world and themselves. Kay O’Neill, author of many beloved graphic novels including The Tea Dragon Society, has created another lovely, magical, and sapphic chronicle.

I obtained a virtual copy of this from Hoopla and finished it in about 30 minutes; it’s a quick read and very fast-paced, perhaps a bit too fast-paced–I would have enjoyed a bit more story, but I also acknowledge I am not the target audience for this piece so it caters more to a younger reader or readers who prefer more brevity.

Overall, super sweet and cute! I don’t have much to write about this book because it was so short and to the point, but the illustrations are very vibrant and eye-catching, and it was an adorable book.

  • Science fiction
  • Published 2021
  • 336 pages
Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes

Burning Girls and Other Stories is a collection of short stories that predominantly speak from a Jewish and feminist perspective interspersed with layers of queer identity, socialist ideals, and revolt. Earlier this month while perusing the new science fiction section of my library, this book caught my eye and I took it out on a whim; after reading the introduction, written by Jane Yolen, I became very excited with the prospect of this collection. Yolen praises Schanoes as a “seeress,” “an academic who writes fiction like the best of the modern fantasy writers,” “A Witch for Our Times.” I hadn’t realized these tales drew inspiration from fairy tales, and as the autumn season cozies up to us, I felt thematically this read would be quite fitting….

Read the full review of Burning Girls from Slanted Spines here!

The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes

The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes
  • Graphic memoir
  • Published 2020
  • 320 pages

Inspired by her previous briefer zines of the same name, The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes is her memoir of coming out again and again as she worked towards accepting her identity after a childhood of feeling somehow imperceptibly different. In black and white pencil-like drawings, Crewes narrates her experiences from childhood obsession with Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to forcing herself to date boys in university. The memoir’s form is not bound by comic panels and exists as free standing sequential illustrations, enabling the pages to fly by with ease.

I enjoyed the narrator’s account of her experiences and found them to be quite relatable. However, I felt that the author’s depiction of herself was often difficult to discern from the other characters. Crewes even states herself that her hair style was often changing, but because of this and the way her character’s features mimicked the others’, it was difficult to distinguish her from the others. It might have been nice if her character was demarked by being the only one with colored hair or if her character had a crown or some discerning feature to set her apart as the narrator. Additionally, sometimes the pacing felt a bit awkward or uneven. Despite these minor criticisms, I really enjoyed the memoir and I enjoy her art style.

The Heartbeat of Trees by Pete Wohlleben

The Heartbeat of Trees by Pete Wohlleben
  • Nonfiction
  • Published 2021
  • ~ 7 hours, 256 pages

I discussed this book briefly in my last edition of Bookish Brains, as I had started listening to it midway through September. Although it is a fairly short audiobook, it took me quite a while to get through it, likely because it often made me feel rather depressed. Despite Wohlleben’s insistence that what we need now more than despair is hope, I couldn’t help but feel forlorn at the statistics that described just how destructive human behavior has been to forests worldwide. Of course, it wasn’t all grim–in fact, many of the insights Wohlleben shares are quite uplifting and fascinating. For example, did you know that it’s actually better not to be quiet when embarking on a hike, because animals are less afraid of normal people who are louder and less discreet, as opposed to hunters who stalk quietly and pose more threat? Additionally, did you know that the “brain” of a tree would most likely be situated in its root system as opposed to its branches or trunks? Many of nature’s components have healing properties, and even the presence of a dozen trees in one’s neighborhood can offer health benefits to all residents. I learned quite a lot from this book!

Though this book contains valuable information, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a beginner’s guide to trees. More so, this book does a better job of building upon existing knowledge of trees and explores various topics, some seemingly random or off-tangent. The translation does a remarkable job of painting the intricate beauty of forests in a lovely yet comprehensible manner not too overloaded with scientific jargon, although there are a few sections that lean into such language more than others.

My main takeaway from this book is that humans need to leave forests alone. Nature knows what it’s doing, and rarely does human intervention have positive effects. Many of nature’s processes are intelligent and well-orchestrated beyond our understanding, and it’s not good enough to clear cut forests and re-plant rows of new trees. Rather, we need to preserve old forests full of diverse and intricate life forms, not only for the well-being of the forest ecosystems themselves, but for the sake of the planet as a whole.

How to be Ace: A Memoir of Growing up Asexual by Rebecca Burgess

How to be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual by Rebecca Burgess
  • Graphic memoir
  • Published 2020
  • 208 pages

When I searched “asexual memoirs,” How to be Ace was the only result I found. Immediately, I requested a copy through my library, who had to borrow it from our statewide consortium. I was very excited to read this, because the only other literature I’ve read solely devoted to this identity is Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Society, Desire, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen, which I reported on here. The dearth of memoirs on asexuality is a bit disappointing but not altogether incomprehensible; while I would love to read more from others who feel like I do on this topic, those who identify as ace are not always the most inclined to boldly share their intimate life story with the general public.

Reading How to be Ace was an incredible experience. I loved the colorful and playful illustrations, and Burgess did an incredible job with the narration. Vulnerable, well-composed, and even enlightening, this graphic memoir accomplishes a lot. The author describes not only their baffling disinterest in sex–which was all the more confusing when they were unaware that asexuality is an existent and valid experience–but their coming-to-terms with OCD.

I absolutely loved this graphic memoir and I highly recommend it to everyone. Asexuality does not often receive as much “press” and I think in addition to Angela Chen’s incredible non-fiction (with nodes of personal anecdotes) piece, How to be Ace is a necessary read. In the future, I hope to see more memoirs exploring identities of those on the asexuality spectrum, including demisexuality and grey asexuality!

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid by Yao Xiao

Everything Is Beautiful, and I'm Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection by Yao Xiao
  • Graphic novel/memoir
  • Published 2020
  • 128 pages

Truthfully, I’m not sure if this is technically a “memoir.” It contains very autobiographical elements I believe, but whereas Goodreads labels it “nonfiction,” Hoopla labels it “fiction.” I think it exists on the cusp, as a sort of auto-fiction.

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid is comprised of poem-like comic pages, which read as though a collection of smaller creations. This made a lot of sense when I learned that these were originally posted as a part of a web comic series and compiled into this larger work. I found the illustrations colorful and engaging, and I enjoyed the lyrical and poetic nature of the narration. Not deeply personal while still deeply personal, this graphic novel explores bisexuality and gender but also deeper themes of immigration. Though the narrator is not technically a resident of the U.S., she spends eleven months out of the year here and struggles to understand herself between her Chinese and American identities.

Moreover, I really enjoyed how the author connoted her character with a black triangular hat. It’s a bit whimsical, but this is precisely the sort of marker I was referring to in my above review of The Times I Knew I Was Gay. In Yao Xiao’s work, I always knew which figure was supposed to be the narrator, and it endeared me to the narrator.

Though a brief read, I found this book charming and enjoyable. And beautiful.

Watch me discuss these books on YouTube!

My TBR

In November, two of my three classes end and I am highly looking forward to the added “free time.” I’ve been reading exclusively from the library the past several months, which isn’t a bad thing, but I’d like to read more from my personal collection as well. Here are a few titles on my shelf I’d like to read this autumn:

  • Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi (I started this in August; I need to finish!)
  • The Last Man by Mary Shelley
  • Now is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (I’ve never read this!)
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

In addition to these titles, I’m also expecting review copies of:

  • People From My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami
  • Gentrifier by Anne Elizabeth Moore

Hoping to make a dent in a few of these and take full advantage of my brief recess from school work!

New Book Releases

New York, My Village by Uwem Akpan

New York, My Village by Uwem Akpan

Summary from Bookshop:

From a suspiciously cheap Hell’s Kitchen walk-up, Nigerian editor and winner of a Toni Morrison Publishing Fellowship Ekong Udousoro is about to begin the opportunity of a lifetime: to learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry from its incandescent epicenter. While his sophisticated colleagues meet him with kindness and hospitality, he is soon exposed to a colder, ruthlessly commercial underbelly–callous agents, greedy landlords, boorish and hostile neighbors, and, beneath a superficial cosmopolitanism, a bedrock of white cultural superiority and racist assumptions about Africa, its peoples, and worst of all, its food.

Reckoning, at the same time, with the recent history of the devastating and brutal Biafran War, in which Ekong’s people were a minority of a minority caught up in the mutual slaughter of majority tribes, Ekong’s life in New York becomes a saga of unanticipated strife. The great apartment deal wrangled by his editor turns out to be an illegal sublet crawling with bedbugs. The lights of Times Square slide off the hardened veneer of New Yorkers plowing past the tourists. A collective antagonism toward the “other” consumes Ekong’s daily life. Yet in overcoming misunderstandings with his neighbors, Chinese and Latino and African American, and in bonding with his true allies at work and advocating for healing back home, Ekong proves that there is still hope in sharing our stories.

Akpan’s prose melds humor, tenderness, and pain to explore the myriad ways that tribalisms define life everywhere, from the villages of Nigeria to the villages within New York City. New York, My Village is a triumph of storytelling and a testament to the life-sustaining power of community across borders and across boroughs.

  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Release date: November 2, 2021

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

Summary from Bookshop:

In an unnamed British city, the virus is spreading, and like everyone else, the celebrated sculptor Edith Harkness retreats inside. She isolates herself in her immense studio, Burntcoat, with Halit, the lover she barely knows. As life outside changes irreparably, inside Burntcoat, Edith and Halit find themselves changed as well: by the histories and responsibilities each carries and bears, by the fears and dangers of the world outside, and by the progressions of their new relationship. And Burntcoat will be transformed, too, into a new and feverish world, a place in which Edith comes to an understanding of how we survive the impossible–and what is left after we have.

A sharp and stunning novel of art and ambition, mortality and connection, Burntcoat is a major work from “one of our most influential short story writers” (The Guardian). It is an intimate and vital examination of how and why we create–make art, form relationships, build a life–and an urgent exploration of an unprecedented crisis, the repercussions of which are still years in the learning.

  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Release date: November 2, 2021

Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King

Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King

Summary from Bookshop:

With Writers & Lovers and Euphoria, Lily King’s books catapulted onto bestseller and best-of-the-year lists across the country and established her as one of our most “brilliant” (New York Times Book Review), “wildly talented” (Chicago Tribune), and beloved authors in contemporary fiction. Now, for the first time ever, King collects ten of her finest short stories–half published in leading literary magazines and half brand new–opening fresh realms of discovery for avid and new readers alike.

Told in the intimate voices of unique and endearing characters of all ages, these tales explore desire and heartache, loss and discovery, moments of jolting violence and the inexorable tug toward love at all costs. A bookseller’s unspoken love for his employee rises to the surface, a neglected teenage boy finds much-needed nurturing from an unlikely pair of college students hired to housesit, a girl’s loss of innocence at the hands of her employer’s son becomes a catalyst for strength and confidence, and a proud nonagenarian rages helplessly in his granddaughter’s hospital room. Romantic, hopeful, brutally raw, and unsparingly honest, some even slipping into the surreal, these stories are, above all, about King’s enduring subject of love.

Lily King’s literary mastery, her spare and stunning prose, and her gift for creating lasting and treasured characters are on full display in this curated selection of short fiction. Five Tuesdays in Winter showcases an exhilarating new form for this extraordinarily gifted author writing at the height of her career.

  • Genre: Short stories, literary fiction
  • Release date: November 2, 2021

When We Were Them by Laura Taylor Namey

When We Were Them by Laura Taylor Namey

Summary from Bookshop:

When they were fifteen, Willa, Luz, and Britton’s friendship was everything.

When they were sixteen, they stood by each other no matter what.

When they were seventeen, they went through the worst.

And when they were eighteen, Willa ruined it all.Now, it’s the week of graduation, and Willa is left with only a memory box filled with symbols of the friendship she destroyed: A book of pranks. Corsages from a nightmarish homecoming. A greasy pizza menu. Greeting cards with words that mean the world… It’s enough to make Willa wonder how anything could tear her, Luz, and Britton apart. But as Willa revisits the moments when she and her friends leaned on each other, she can’t avoid the moments they leaned so hard their friendship began to crack.As Willa tries to find a way back to Luz and Britton, she must confront the why of her betrayal, and answer a question she never saw coming: Who is she without them?

  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Release date: November 2, 2021

God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka

God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka

Summary from Bookshop:

God of Mercy is set in Ichulu, an Igbo village where the people’s worship of their gods is absolute. Their adherence to tradition has allowed them to evade the influences of colonialism and globalization. But the village is reckoning with changes, including a war between gods signaled by Ijeoma, a girl who can fly.

As tensions grow between Ichulu and its neighboring colonized villages, Ijeoma is forced into exile. Reckoning with her powers and exposed to the world beyond Ichulu, she is imprisoned by a Christian church under the accusation of being a witch. Suffering through isolation, she comes to understand the truth of merciful love.

Reimagining the nature of tradition and cultural heritage and establishing a folklore of the uncolonized, God of Mercy is a novel about wrestling with gods, confronting demons, and understanding one’s true purpose.

  • Genre: Magical realism, folk tales
  • Release date: November 2, 2021

The Perishing by Natashia Deón

The Perishing by Natashia Deón

Summary from Bookshop:

Lou, a young Black woman, wakes up in an alley in 1930s Los Angeles, nearly naked and with no memory of how she got there or where she’s from. Taken in by a caring foster family, Lou dedicates herself to her education while trying to put her mysterious origins behind her. She’ll go on to become the first Black female journalist at the Los Angeles Times, but Lou’s extraordinary life is about to become even more remarkable. When she befriends a firefighter at a downtown boxing gym, Lou is shocked to realize that though she has no memory of meeting him, she’s been drawing his face for years.

Increasingly certain that their paths previously crossed–and beset by unexplainable flashes from different times that have been haunting her dreams–Lou begins to believe she may be an immortal sent for a very important reason, one that only others like her will be able to explain. With the help of her friends, Lou sets out to investigate the mystery of her existence and make sense of the jumble of lifetimes calling to her, just as new forces rise to threaten the existence of those around her.

Set against the rich historical landscape of Los Angeles–Prohibition, the creation of Route 66, and the collapse of the St. Francis Dam–The Perishing is a stunning examination of love and justice through the eyes of one miraculous woman whose fate seems linked to the city she comes to call home.

  • Genre: Historical, science fiction
  • Release date: November 9, 2021

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

Summary from Bookshop:

Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading with murderous attention, must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.

The Sentence begins on All Souls’ Day 2019 and ends on All Souls’ Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional, and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Release date: November 9, 2021

The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon

The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon

Summary from Bookshop:

Young Esi Agyekum is the unofficial “secret keeper” of her family, as tight-lipped about her father’s adultery as she is about her half-sisters’ sex lives. But after she is humiliated and punished for her own sexual exploration, Esi begins to question why women’s secrets and men’s secrets bear different consequences. It is the beginning of a journey of discovery that will lead her to unexpected places.

As she navigates her burgeoning womanhood, Esi tries to reconcile her own ideals and dreams with her family’s complicated past and troubled present, as well as society’s many double standards that limit her and other women. Against a fraught political climate, Esi fights to carve out her own identity, and learns to manifest her power in surprising and inspiring ways.

Funny, fresh, and fiercely original, The Teller of Secrets marks the American debut of one of West Africa’s most exciting literary talents.

  • Genre: Coming of age
  • Release date: November 16, 2021

You Feel it Just Below the Ribs by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson

Feel it Just Below the Ribs by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson

Summary from Bookshop:

Born at the end of the old world, Miriam grows up during The Great Reckoning, a sprawling, decades-long war that nearly decimates humanity and strips her of friends and family. Devastated by grief and loneliness, she emotionally exiles herself, avoiding relationships or allegiances, and throws herself into her work–disengagement that serves her when the war finally ends, and The New Society arises.

To ensure a lasting peace, The New Society forbids anything that may cause tribal loyalties, including traditional families. Suddenly, everyone must live as Miriam has chosen to–disconnected and unattached. A researcher at heart, Miriam becomes involved in implementing this detachment process. She does not know it is the beginning of a darkly sinister program that will transform this new world and the lives of everyone in it. Eventually, the harmful effects of her research become too much for Miriam, and she devises a secret plan to destroy the system from within, endangering her own life.

But is her “confession” honest–or is it a fabrication riddled with lies meant to conceal the truth?

A jarring and uncanny tale of loss, trauma, and the power of human connection and deception, You Feel It Just Below the Ribs is a portrait of a disturbing alternate world eerily within reach, and an examination of the difficult choices we must make to survive in it.

  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Release date: November 16, 2021

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Summary from Bookshop:

Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. “You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” she warns him. “This baby is an owl-baby.”

When Chouette is born small and broken-winged, Tiny works around the clock to meet her daughter’s needs. Left on her own to care for a child who seems more predatory bird than baby, Tiny vows to raise Chouette to be her authentic self. Even in those times when Chouette’s behaviors grow violent and strange, Tiny’s loving commitment to her daughter is unwavering. When she discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and increasingly dangerous quest to find a “cure” for their daughter, Tiny must decide whether Chouette should be raised to fit in or to be herself–and learn what it truly means to be a mother.

Arresting, darkly funny, and unsettling, Chouette is a brilliant exploration of ambition, sacrifice, perceptions of ability, and the ferocity of motherly love.

  • Genre: Literary fiction, magical realism
  • Release date: November 16, 2021

For more issues of Bookish Brains, check out this page.

For book reviews from Slanted Spines, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s