Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North (text) and Erica Henderson (art)

On to the next Read Harder challenge! It will probably not shock you to learn that I was a big fan of comic books and related media as a teenager. Suffice it to say that my brother and I collected Marvel Comics trading cards.* But I hadn’t read an actual comic book in a long time when I decided to tackle task #6: read an all-ages comic.

Squirrel Girl was originally introduced as a joke in a one-off Iron Man comic. She’s young mutant with ridiculous powers–the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel, plus the ability to talk to squirrels–who nonetheless managed to help take down Dr. Doom. She’s appeared as comic relief in some other Marvel adventures. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is her solo debut. Since I wasn’t particularly in the mood for angsty superheroes this seemed right up my alley. I was not disappointed.

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Review: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Since I started Read Harder 2017 with an obvious (for me) pick, I wanted my second book of the year to come from one of the categories that took me further out of my comfort zone. I picked #4: “Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.” Mexican author Laura Esquivel’s debut novel Like Water for Chocolate quickly caught my eye.

Mama Elena is a widowed rancher who runs her large household with an iron fist. It has long been tradition in her family that the youngest daughter remains unmarried in order to care for her mother in her old age. That duty now falls to Elena’s daughter Tita, a sensitive teenager who is also a gifted cook. When a young man named Pedro falls in love with Tita, Mama Elena informs the couple that Tita will never be allowed to marry. Pedro then proposes to Tita’s older sister Rosaura in order to stay near the woman he loves–with both joyous and painful consequences for all involved.

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Review: Hold Me by Courtney Milan

24348034I was on the fence about trying the Read Harder challenge until I got to #20 on the list: “Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel.” That tipped me firmly into the “yes” column because I had the perfect book on my wish list: Hold Me by Courtney Milan, one of the smartest and funniest writers I’ve encountered during my long blog hiatus. Hold Me is set in the same world as my favorite Milan book, Trade Me, and I couldn’t wait to pick it up.

I liked Hold Me and recommend it, but with a caveat: you kind of have to ignore some early missteps if you want to root for this romance.

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Read Harder 2017

::dusts off blog, again::

::coughs as dust fills the air::

It’s been a while, Interwebs! Long story short, my partner and I expanded our family last year (baby, not dog). Six months later, we moved to a new city and I switched jobs–really, switched careers. Reading for pleasure sort of dropped to the bottom of my to-do list. I managed to finish the latest Kate Daniels* novel, but there is a very sad pile of abandoned, expired library loans in my Kindle account.

So I am doing two things to rekindle my love of reading. The first is coming back here. The second is tackling the Read Harder 2017 challenge.

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Review: Frontier Magic Trilogy by Patricia Wrede

Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles is one of my favorite comfort reads. I discovered this YA quartet in middle school and read and re-read it obsessively. I loved the fractured fairy tale humor, the engaging protagonists, and especially the physicality of its system of magic–I could imagine how it would feel to use magic in Wrede’s world. I’ve enjoyed other Wrede books tremendously, especially the Mairelon the Magician books and Sorcery and Cecelia (co-written with Caroline Stevermer), but none quite lived up to the Enchanted Forest Chronicles for me. I think it’s always hard to replicate the experience of encountering just the right book at just the right time.

All of that brings me to Wrede’s Frontier Magic trilogy: Thirteenth Child, Beyond the Great Barrier, and The Far West. These YA charmers are quick reads and contain some truly marvelous worldbuilding in an alternate-universe version of the nineteenth-century United States. But I finished the trilogy a bit disappointed by the pacing and characterization, two things that Wrede usually excels at.

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Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

So this year’s Hugo award nominations are out, and apparently they’re a wee bit controversial. (Long story short: there was a concerted effort to nominate works on a particular list. The list was compiled by folks who think last year’s Hugos nominated too many women and people of color ignored “real” sci-fi and fantasy in favor of weird literary stuff that no one really likes.)

I’m bummed that the Hugos are so immersed in drama this year, largely because it makes me sad when certain groups interpret the celebration of diverse, challenging, and imaginative works of SFF as a direct attack on them personally. But I’m also sad because the Best Novel nominations happen to include one of the best books I’ve read in the past several years: Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor.

Maia is the fourth son of the Emperor of the Elflands, arguably the most powerful man in his world. However, Maia has never been a pampered royal child. Maia’s mother Chenelo was a goblin princess whom the Emperor was forced to marry for political reasons, and Maia and Chenelo were exiled from the Utheileneise Court long ago. After Chenelo’s death Maia’s care was signed over to a disgraced courtier named Setheris, who despised his half-goblin charge and made sure Maia knew it.

Then one night news comes from the Emperor’s court. Maia’s father and three elder brothers have died in an airship crash, and Maia is now the Emperor.

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What’s so good about bad books?

Last week I found myself contemplating the world of Kindle publishing via two very different sources. The first was the astonishing Tumblr Kindle Cover Disasters, which you should all visit as soon as you get home from work, since I guarantee you will laugh out loud at a pitch and volume that makes it clear you’re not getting any work done. (Hats off, Max Wood. Hats off.)

The second was a Slate article by Katy Waldeman titled “Which Bad Novel is Perfect for You?”  Waldeman’s piece focused on the Kindle Scout program, which allows Amazon buyers to vote for their favorite 5,000 word excerpts of unpublished novels. Amazon then considers the top vote-getters for publication.

Waldeman argues that the Kindle Scout program is practically designed to select and publish a specific type of books: namely, bad books. Books that

sail across that fine line between being pleasurable despite their badness and being pleasurable because of their badness. … If a guilty pleasure is an occasional, delicious bag of potato chips, these books are a nacho tower fluorescent with cheap cheese, unappetizing, weirdly compelling, “so bad it’s good.” You don’t feel guilty enjoying it in spite of its flaws. Rather, you feel some mix of superior and delighted as you devour it on account of its flaws.

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