Monthly Archives: July 2018

Coyote Stories, by Mourning Dove

Coyote Stories

What It’s About

Trickster creation tales, carefully preserved from the oral tradition by an Okanogan woman.

Why I Think You’d Like It

This was a really cool find for me. Nowadays, while indigenous voices is still underrepresented, it’s still not weird to find Native American and other indigenous people’s foklore spread throughout the local library. When this book was published, back in 1933, that wasn’t the case. Book written by Native Americans barely existed, and books written by Native American women didn’t exist at all. Mourning Dove’s native folklore was slowly dying out, and the only narratives that existed about Native Americans were grossly inaccurate caricatures.

Her book sparked a whole new interest. It’s success proved that there was a market for indigenous voices and an interest in accurate representations of indigenous folklore. All the cool stories about Kokopelli, Raven, Sedna and Wisakedjak that we can find and enjoy? They might not have existed without this book.

Coyote is a fascinatingly flawed character, and he provokes some interesting questions. While often designated a trickster, he relies on luck and his magic as much as anything else. He is not admirable; in fact his actions and motivations are often despicable, but the effects of his actions are often paradoxically good. Despite his repulsiveness, he has a purpose in the world. He is there to pave the way for humans. He defeats monsters, he creates food, he shapes the landscape and sets useful precedents, all without actually meaning to serve anybody but himself.

This book is also full of historical, geographical and linguistic notes that are, to be technical about it, really fucking cool.

Content Warnings

As I said, Coyote is an asshole, and is frankly pretty manipulative and abusive to everyone around him. The animal folk are also fairly cavalier about killing each other. The gory details are left out and the dead characters resurrect with the frequency of a Supernatural cast member, so your mileage may vary as to how much that affects you.

The notes at the end also include some of the sexual content and bawdy humor that Mourning Dove left out.

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Dragon Springs Road, by Janie Chang

Dragon Springs Road

What It’s About

The life story of an abandoned girl, protected by a fox spirit during the fall of the Qing dynasty.

Why I Think You’d Like It

It’s a beautiful book that hits all the marks. The characters are interesting and even the ones with dark sides are, for the most part, deeply sympathetic. While the magical elements are imaginative, the history is also detailed and accurate. It’s simultaneously one of the best fantasy and one of the best historical fiction books that I’ve ever read.

I admire the way it handles female agency in the setting. Most of the important characters are women, and most of them live lives where someone else makes all their decisions for them. These kinds of disempowered characters can make for momentum that drags, but Janie Chang creates tension by focusing on the small moments. She has her characters put all their efforts behind the minute influences they do have on events, and the few decisions they can make. This keeps the tension high, the failures painful, and the successes jubilant.

For all the pain these characters go through, there are more than enough moments of joy, love, and beauty to balance it out. Every piece of hope feels all the more powerful for how intensely it was earned. This book feels like a healed soul, and I highly recommend it.

Content Warnings

Sexual content, including survival sex work, a few deaths and many instances of abuse. Mostly these scenes are not graphic, but they are heartwrenching nonetheless.

Shadowhouse Fall, by Daniel Jose Older

Shadowhouse Fall

What It’s About

Sierra Santiago restores her shadowshaper legacy, only to find it threatened by newly rising magic factions.

Why I Think You’d Like It

If Shadowshaper was like the very first Star Wars film (a blending of classic archetypes and modern SF that reawakens your hunger for quality genre fiction) then Shadowhouse Fall is The Empire Strikes Back; the story that goes beyond the tropes and shows what this world is truly capable of. It is nuanced, meaningful, and exciting as hell.

I loved how shadowshaping, a power that uses art to connect the living to the dead, meshed with Black Lives Matter protests and student activism. Integrating real world issues into fantasy worlds is a tricky feat. The impact can be powerful, but there is a high risk of either trivializing the issue, or going gratuitously grimdark in a panicky overcorrection. A lot of what makes this book work so well is the raw, passionate, life affirming emphasis on art and community. It can go deep into the honesty of the pain, simply by having enough hope and joy and love to balance the scales.

I could write a full dissection of all the nuances and details that this book does just right, but I need to leave it to you to discover and enjoy it’s brilliance for yourself. This is a fantastic series, and I cannot wait for the next installment. Go get on this epic shit!

Content Warnings

Some intense action scenes. Also the threat of police brutality on several main characters.

When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi

What It’s About

Dimple Shah is a fierce tech geek who hates being pestered about finding a man. Rishi Patel is a quiet, dutiful young man with a secret passion for art. And to Dimple’s great frustration, their parents think a summer tech camp would be the perfect spot to set them up.

Why I Think You’d Like It

It’s so goddamn cute! Sorry, let me say that more professionally.

Dimple and Rishi have one of my favorite dynamics; one where two seeming opposites turn out to be each other turned inside out. Both are distinctive, colorful characters, but neither is a simple trope. Dimple has her shy moments and insecurities. Rishi can be surprisingly confident around some people. They move very naturally from tension to friendship to love, as they both discover more and more to appreciate about each other.

This book also handles ideas about love, career, passions and responsibility in a more complex way than most romance, YA or adult. It isn’t pro love match or arranged marriage, family or career, tradition or modernism. Instead it’s about self exploration and the difficulty of choosing between two different good things. It’s also about discovering that what you want can change, and that it is important to be open to life’s surprises even as you pursue your dreams. At the same time, it affirms the fact that, just because everybody says something is right for you, that doesn’t mean you need to follow their plans for your life. The ideas in this story are warm and affirming without ever being simplistic.

And it tackles all those issues while still being fun and cute. I mean, so. Goddamn. Cute. So cute!

Content Warnings

You’re good.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Astrophysics

What It’s About

Exactly what it says on the tin.

Why I Think You’d Like It

Let’s face it. The universe is astoundingly beautiful and the physics that explain it no less so, but too many of us got force fed dry formulas in math and science class; the kind that gave massive headaches and no lasting understanding, and make us avoid revisiting the subject on our own time for fear of feeling stupid. I think most of us hunger for something that will give us adult information in ways that inspire, rather than kill, a childlike sense of wonder.

If you’ve ever heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak, you know he’s the master of that. He transitions smoothly between playful humor and glorious philosophy, all without sounding like he thinks he’s brighter than you, or resulting to big words to beat you over the head with his intelligence. He avoids jargon if he can, and when he can’t he explains it well. At no point does he dumb it down. He respects his audience too much for that. He knows we don’t need simplifications, just words we understand.

Even as a homeschooler, (or perhaps especially because of it) I too got the shitty pass-the-test focused education. Great science educators like Tyson reawakened my fascination and got me to a place of finally understanding concepts that had been poorly explained all my life. If you’re like me, and have already been obsessed with Tyson and others like him, this book will still be worth it. There will still be things you don’t know, and the things you do will be put so well you won’t mind hearing them again. If you’re more someone who has wanted to dip into this topic for a while, this book is the perfect place to start.

Content Warnings

You’re good