30 July 2008

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

But you can only lie about who you are for so long without going crazy.

My “P” title for the A~Z reading challenge was Ellen Wittlinger's Parrotfish. Like Girl Walking Backwards, Parrotfish is on the San Francisco Public Library's recommended reading list for lgbtq teens. It's also on the 2008 ALA Rainbow List and 2008 NYPL Books for the Teen Age list (pdf). In all honesty, while that's all great stuff, it was Colleen Mondor's July 2007 Bookslut review that made me really want to read Parrotfish.

Unfortunately, Mondor's review was so well written that I don't know what I can write here that won't be overly repetitive or trite.

Parrotfish tells the story of teenager Grady McNair, born Angela, who is brave enough to come out as transgendered in the middle of the school year. Life doesn't go perfectly smoothly for Grady once he outs himself to family and school. He loses his best friend, is subject to harassment, and is dismissed out of hand by adults in positions to support and protect him.

That said, Parrotfish is far from being a doom and gloom coming of age story. Instead, it's actually rather sweet and funny with lots of interesting side characters. While Grady does suffer a bit, in the end he finds true friendship and is accepted by the people who matter most.

And now I've made the novel sound terribly smaltzy ...

Just go read it, okay?

Previously, the only other young adult novel I had read on identity and transgenderism was Julie Anne Peter's Luna, in which a girl was born in the body of a boy. I have to say that both novels are wonderful and come highly recommended.

If you're interested in knowing more about transgenderism, Wittlinger has also included interesting lists of references and resources at the back of Parrotfish.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2007)

29 July 2008

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith

My first night in a strange country and there was a dead man in my bedroom.

My "B" title for the A~Z reading challenge was Nicola Griffith’s The Blue Place. I’ve been meaning to read Griffith’s award-winning novel Ammonite (Del Rey, 2002) for ages now, but it’s pretty hard to find in this part of library land. However, Griffith’s other award-winning novel, The Blue Place (joint winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery), is everywhere.

And that isn’t a bad thing. The Blue Place is a pretty fine novel. In this novel Aud Torvingen (a hard-as-nails half-American, half-Norwegian lesbian ex-cop) is hired by Julia (a beautiful art dealer) to investigate the murder of her friend, James Lusk, which may be connected with a possible art forgery (it’s hard to prove forgery when the possibly fraudulent piece goes up in smoke). I found the novel quite gripping and was, for once, completely surprised by the ending.

This wasn’t a "nice" book. Bad things happened -- sometimes to people who deserved them, but sometimes to total innocents. This was, after all, Aud's world and she made it explicitly clear that the world she moved through was different from the world most of us move in -- one which is always ringed round with the possibility of danger and harm. As the plot thickens, Aud sucked me further and further in until her world (and worldview) became the normal one. So when Aud let John Turkel die and later set Denneny on fire … well, that just seemed inevitable and right.

I really loved that the violence was all so matter-of-fact and in-character with everything I’d come to understand about Aud. Another author might have tried to justify Aud’s behavior with the use of some kind-of emotional breakdown or the insertion of heart-rending monologue. Instead, Griffith writes Aud as she is. A woman who sees what must be done and does it. No hand-wringing or emotional ambivalence. If Aud were male, she’d be just another hard-edged James Bond or Jason Bourne type. As a female, she’s ground breaking (and pretty darned hot):

When everything slows down and my muscles are hot and strong and the blood beats in my veins like champagne I feel this vast delight. Everything is beautiful and precious, and so clear. Light gets this bluish tinge and I feel like a hummingbird among elephants, untouchable.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed The Blue Place and I look forward to reading its follow-up novels, Stay (Doubleday, 2002) and Always (Riverhead, 2007).

(I finally nabbed a copy of Ammonite and, whoo boy, is it ever awesome).

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith (Harper Perennial, 1999)

24 July 2008

More Ascot Valances

I promise you that someday soon I will find something new to obsess over and stop bothering you about curtains. Right now, however, I have many naked windows and much fabric. You will just have to bear with me a little while longer.

(By "little while" I mean the next few months, of course).

22 July 2008

Girl Walking Backwards by Bett Williams

No one is just one thing.

My “G” title for the A~Z reading challenge was Bett Williams's Girl Walking Backwards. I found this novel on the San Francisco Public Library's recommended reading list for lgbtq teens along with Julia Ann Peters's Luna (Little, Brown and Co., 2004) and Lucy Jane Bledsoe's Working Parts (Seal Press, 1997) -- two of my favorite YA novels.

What can I say? I am a sucker for recommended reading lists.

Girl Walking Backwards deals with issues like sexuality, New Age cultism, drugs, self-mutilation, friendship, sex, and all the usual stuff that comes with being a teenager. Sounds deadly drear, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. Truly, this is a fun and heart-warming novel. Skye moves from disaster to disaster, but she learns from her experiences, finding humor in even the bleakest things, discovering real friendship and love.

If you liked Michelle Tea's Rose of No Man's Land, I think you'll like Girl Walking Backwards (and vice versa).

Girl Walking Backwards by Bett Williams (Macmillan, 1998)

20 July 2008

Cheep Housing Ascot Valances of Adorableness

Bought a Sony 17 in 1 multi-card reader/writer thingamabob to plug my camera's memory card into so that I may upload pictures to my computer without waiting for that thrice damned F-Spot Photo Importer to resume its former functionality. Or be less broke. Whichever.

Anyway, you may now see two of my lovely ascot valances and know why I've been whittering away about bird fabric for weeks now.

18 July 2008

Crossing the Line (Wess'har Wars, Book Two) by Karen Traviss

My “T” author for the A~Z reading challenge was Karen Traviss. I discovered her quite accidentally -- I had just finished reading Justina Robson’s Natural History and was looking for something similar when I stumbled on City of Pearl, the first in her Wess'Har series. An Eco-Vegan-Feminist-Pagan-Police procedural and Philip K. Dick Award finalist? What more could this girl want? Only Lin's pregnancy and Mesevy's conversion kept me from completely enjoying City of Pearl as I couldn't understand what those plot lines had to do with anything, but I held out hope that all would be explained at a later date.

Last week, I picked up the second book, Crossing the Line, and must have devoured it in four or five hours. It was, I dare to say, unputdownable.

In Crossing the Line the growing tension between the wess'har and the gethes (the Wess’har word for humans – it means “carrion eaters”) comes to a head. While the strengthening relationship between the gethes and the isenj (an alien race with lots of interesting technology and a terrible overpopulation problem) certainly does the gethes no favors in wess'har eyes, it also doesn’t help that the gethes are desperate to get hold of renegade copper Shan Frankland for the c’naatat she carries. The problem, of course, is that the gethes, rather than trying to come to a true understanding of the wess'har and isenj, base their actions on presumptions about the two races. The gethes also never even seem to consider the ussissi or bezeri -- two other alien races which apparently have nothing valuable to offer the gethes and are thus, I guess, ignorable. This is, of course, utterly stupid and dangerous behavior as it ignores the most basic wess'har standard -- all living things are people. Not to mention that just because something looks like a giant octopus or adorable meerkat doesn't mean that it is or will behave accordingly. Aliens are alien.

I know that Traviss is a British author and it’s not surprising her books would be peppered with British-isms, but I love a science fiction novel which doesn’t presuppose an Americentric future or one which depends on one big happy global government. The “real” future will probably much messier and more fragmented. I doubt we're going to go Star Trekkin' across the universe.

If you like the science fiction of C.J. Cherryh and Ursula K. Le Guin, I think you might enjoy this series. The world building and Alien cultures are very reminiscent of some of Cherryh’s novels while the eco-sociological philosophy is very Le Guin. That said, Traviss is no-one’s clone. Her worlds and their stories are definitely unique. I look forward to seeing where she will take me in the next book, The World Before.

HarperCollins’ imprint, Eos, is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and giving away free downloads of City of Pearl. It is available here until the end of August.

And, of course, library copies are always free.

Crossing the Line (Wess'har Wars, Book Two) by Karen Traviss (Eos, 2004)

15 July 2008

The River Knows

The Paid Companion by Amanada Quick (Putnam, 2004)

My “Q” author for the A~Z reading challenge was Amanda Quick (aka Jane Ann Krentz). I’ve been reading Quick’s novels on and off over the past few years and my experience has been mixed. While I have enjoyed many of Quick’s novels (especially the smokin’ Lavinia Lake books), the Vanza books were so packed with pseudo-mystical-Oriental-mumbo-jumbo that I could not stomach them.

The Paid Companion is probably one of my favorite stand-alone Quick novels (and one of the most recent I’ve read). The plot’s fairly delicious -- ruined by her stepfather's failed investments, Elenora Lodge sets out to experience the world on her own terms. Along the way, she meets an Earl looking for a paid companion to act as his fiancée while he hunts down his great-uncle's murderer (a mad scientist complete with Regency-era laser death beam). It’s a solid story with lots of derring-do, humor, and steamy romance. How could I not have liked it? Death rays and masked balls? Yummy.

(Yes, I will tolerate Regency-era laser death rays, but not pseudo-Oriental-occult-mumbo-jumbo. Go figure).

Having enjoyed The Paid Companion so much, I was pleased to pick up the audio edition of The River Knows (read by Katherine Kellgren for Brilliance Audio, 2007).

Oh, and it was scrumptious. A delicious confection of murder, romance, and derring-do:

Joanna Barclay, forced from the polite world by her father's financial disaster and resulting suicide, finds she quite likes the new freedoms available to her as a woman of business. Alas, Joannna’s freedom and new found financial security come to an end one dreadful night when she kills a gentleman of quality (who needed killing, by the way) and is forced to stage her suicide and flee into the night ...

A year later, the polite world is rife with gossip concerning the supposed liaison between frumpy country widow and paid companion Louisa Bryce and wealthy, handsome Anthony Stalbridge. In reality, their relationship is a cover-up for their investigation into the affairs of a certain Mr. Hastings. Louisa, an undercover reporter for a sensational news rag, is investigating Hastings's financial dealings with the Phoenix House brothel, while Anthony seeks the truth about his fiancée, one of three society women who supposedly committed suicide a year ago (Hastings wife and Joanna Barclay being the other two). Of course, their relationship quickly strays from one of mere business ... but Louisa's true employment wasn't her only secret. How before Anthony discovers her terrible truth?

Truly, I tell you, a delicious summer read.

13 July 2008

herd those cats: free book!

Renay is running a contest for tl;dr participants:
1. Make a post talking about books that are coming out that you're looking forward to.
2. Why those books. Include love for previous works in a series, love for an author, love for a random review that caught your eye and now you have to have those books or you'll DIE.

... Winners will be decided randomly, in the form of numbers assigned to the entries as they come in, written on pieces of paper and taped to my cat. The last number remaining on my cat after she spazzes out is the winner!
There are manymany forthcoming titles I want to read, but (as no-one wants me to regurgitate the entire last issue of Forecast) here is my shortlist of Books I Await Most Longingly:

Mistress of the Vatican: The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope by Eleanor Herman (12 August)

I don’t know about you, but I love a nice historical scandal and what’s more scandalous than the Papacy being controlled by some dashed uppity woman? Apparently, Pope Innocent X was a rather indecisive fellow and was easily manipulated by his sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini (who might also have been his lover). During most of Innocent X’s reign, Maidalchini ran Vatican business -- appointing cardinals, negotiating with foreign governments, and helping herself to the Papal State's great wealth. Delicious! How, in such a time, did a woman get to such power? And how did she manage to hold on to it? Can’t wait to read this history as it sounds, to my scandal-mongering little heart, as thrilling as any novel.

The Bell at Sealey HeadThe Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip (2 September)

When I was just a little girl (and probably too young for it), I read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. It was a strange and surprising book which I did not, at the time, fully appreciate. Again, I was probably too young to “get” some of what happened in the book, but I enjoyed McKillip’s descriptions and language so much I went and checked out The Riddle-Master of Hed and, whoa boy, was I smitten. I didn’t know who I wanted to be more – Morgan or Deth – and in the end it didn’t matter, because I simply re-gendered the story to my own satisfaction, making all of the principle male characters female.

Did other girls do this, too? Surely, I couldn’t have been the only child who did this? Jim Hawkins of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island? Danny of Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World? Will Stanton from Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series?


Anyway, from the Riddle-Master Trilogy, I progressed through Fool's Run, The Changeling Sea (still one of my favorites), The Book of Atrix Wolfe, and on and on until I ran out of McKillip. Happily, here’s The Bell at Sealey Head to save me from my doldrums.
Sealey Head is a small town on the edge of the ocean, a sleepy place where everyone hears the ringing of a bell no one can see. On the outskirts of town is an impressive estate, Aislinn House, where the aged Lady Eglantyne lies dying, and where the doors sometimes open not to its own dusty rooms, but to the wild majesty of a castle full of knights and princesses…

[blurb from penguin group (usa)]
The story sounds promising and Kinuko Y. Craft’s cover-art is stunning as always.

The ChaliceChalice by Robin McKinley (18 September)

I’ve already blogged about my almost unwholesome fangirl adoration of all things Robin McKinley and don’t want to make you sick with my obsession, but …

Squee! Another McKinley novel! Squee! Squee! Squee!

And this one has magic, beekeeping, and romance -- how could I not want to read it?
As the newly appointed Chalice, Mirasol is the most important member of the Master’s Circle. It is her duty to bind the Circle, the land and its people together with their new Master. But the new Master of Willowlands is a Priest of Fire, only drawn back into the human world by the sudden death of his brother. No one knows if it is even possible for him to live amongst his people. Mirasol wants the Master to have his chance, but her only training is as a beekeeper. How can she help settle their demesne during these troubled times and bind it to a Priest of Fire, the touch of whose hand can burn human flesh to the bone?

Robin McKinley weaves a captivating tale that reveals the healing power of duty and honor, love and honey.

[blurb from penguin group (usa)]

Essential Dykes to Watch Out ForThe Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel (4 November)

Finally (just in time for its twenty-fifth anniversary and my birthday), a new DTWOF collection! Well, new-ish. This collection is a selection of many strips from the eleven previous DTWOF volumes, plus sixty of the newest strips. I've been an avid fan of DTWOF since I was a nineteen and the characters have come to have significant import in my life. I know that sounds pompous, but it is true. Just as The Blue Sword help shape my adolescence, so DTWOF help shape my early adulthood.

06 July 2008

Random Reading Round Up

I tend to read rather omnivorously. I will become fascinated by an author or a subject and consume as much by the author or on the subject as I can before I become bored or indifferent -- and I never know when I might become bored or indifferent. Sometimes, I can be fascinated for months. Other times, a mere matter of weeks. I might eventually go back and pick up where I left off, but I might just as easily never go back.

Over the past few weeks, since we settled in and I started commuting less, I have had more time to catch up on my reading and get back to some of the reading lists I had drafted at different points over the last six months.

What I have been catching up on:

In June, I listened to Susan Vreeland's The Forest Lover (read by Karen White for Penguin Audio, 2004) and became a little obsessed with Emily Carr. I interlibrary loaned a copy of Growing Pains: The Autobiography of Emily Carr to find out more about her life and the world she moved in. Several of our art encyclopedias had told me that Carr had traveled to New York late in her life and had even known my favorite artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, so I was dying to know what she thought of O'Keeffe and her American contemporaries. I greatly enjoyed reading Growing Pains -- Carr has an interesting voice which can be quite brusque while also humorous and warm. However, I was a little frustrated that Carr barely mentions totems in Growing Pains. Certainly, she never comes across as being as obsessed with them as she does in The Forest Lover. Perhaps, as she had already covered the Native people of Canada's west coast in Klee Wyck, Carr did not feel she needed to go into it again. Obviously, I shall have to read Klee Wyck ...

I love how Douglas & McIntyre have packaged Carr's books -- they are works of art in their own right (also, I am a sucker for French flaps).

After the 2008 the Lambda Awards winners were announced, I trolled the internets and made a little list of recent lgbtq works I would like to get my hands on. Two weeks ago, I finished Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperCollins, 2003) and was all set to read The Order of the Poison Oak ... except it was already checked out! The horror! While I waited, I read Aoibheann Sweeney's debut novel Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking (Penguin, 2007) -- a stunning story of loss, loneliness, and the driving human need for intimacy. Sweeney's use of language and imagery was simply beautiful. Lyric, even:

He took a sip of his coffee and for a minute -- only a minute -- I saw how astonishingly handsome he was. It was just long enough to take in his wide, dark eyes, the stone smoothness of his cheeks, his gently curved mouth -- the man he had been all his life: the superior kind of beauty that never belongs. And then he was my father again, sitting across from me, holding on to his coffee mug as if it might slip off the table.

Sweeney was compelling, but after I finished Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking I felt a bit washed out and in need of lighter fare. Happily, The Order of the Poison Oak had arrived and I admit I threw myself straight into it, devouring it in a matter of hours. I'm not sure it is necessarily lighter than Geography Club, but it ends on a happier note than the Geography Club and has a lot smooching going on. Indeed, I really loved the way Russel and Otto's relationship played out -- so romantic and soppy!

At some point during my little speech, he had started to cry. If the scars on his face made his skin extra thick, it didn't seem that way now. Now it was like there was no skin at all, like I could see right into his very soul. I saw that he was looking at me the way Peppermint Patty had looked at the Little Red-Haired Girl -- and the way I had looked at Web that night in the cove. In his eyes, I was perfect.

Sure enough, he said, "Russel! I love you so much!"

Now I was crying, because Otto looked perfect to me too. There are tears of sorrow and tears of joy, but these were some weird new kind of tear -- tears of sorrow and joy. I felt like I was feeling every emotion I'd ever experienced, all at once. If I had been a fuse box, I so would have blown myself out.

Happily, Russel and Otto's story continues in Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies / Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (HarperTempest, 2007). Russel comes out to his parents, sexy Kevin comes back into the picture, and Min gets a cheerleader girlfriend. It is pretty awesome, really. My only complaint is that while each half of the flip book is the same length, Min's story feels much shorter and less fleshed out. I didn't experience the emotional connect between Min and Leah that I did with Russel and Otto. Perhaps, I was expecting too much? After all, I'd gotten to know inner-Russel through the course of three books and this was the first time I'd encountered inner-Min.

Mostly recently, I read a young adult story collection edited by Jane Summer. Now, having labeled Not the Only One: Lesbian & Gay Fiction for Teens (Alyson Publications, originally published in 1995 but revised for 2004) as a young adult collection, I want to say that this book is not just for teens. The stories are diverse and (oh, that word again!) compelling enough that they should appeal to most readers. Contributors include some pretty big names like Gregory Maguire, Brent Hartinger, Leslea Newman, and Bonnie Shimko. I've been a fan of Shimko ever since I read Letters in the Attic (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2002) and her story, "Guarding the Punch -- And Alice," was one of my favorites from this collection.

And that is pretty much everything I've been reading. Well, there were a bunch of graphic novels and some cookbooks, but they'll have to wait for another day.