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Aja Monet's My Mother was a Freedom Fighter

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being policed for being
too poor
too much a shade
a color
a shade of color
too close to the root
too close to the color
               the shade
too close
to the color of a beating
being beaten
                    beating         heart

-- from "the first time"

Poetry doesn't have to be complicated or obscure. Poetry can pull out the sharp thorn of truth and hold it up in a way that would be pedantic or amateurish in fiction or essay. Poetry distills down what is so very individual into a sip that offers a brief flash of universal understanding.

Monet's volume of poetry grabbed me with the title; it had been on my radar as one of the 2017 releases to look out for. It ticked a box, too, for the 2019 Read Harder challenge. I read it in one night, gulping, then spent another two weeks moving back through the pieces slowly.

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet
Haymarket Books, 2017
Copy from library
Read Harder challenge

Many pieces hit you like the headline of a news story, …

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Signal to Noise

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"I hate this city," she told the pillow, because she wouldn't tell him.

Music as magic. 1988 and 2009. A story split between two fixed points, a friendship then and what it might be now.

Set in Mexico City, this novel follows a young teen named Meche, a loner who adores music and is friends with two other loners, Sebastian and Daniela. When Meche discovers she can cast spells using records, her life is changed.


Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Solaris, 2015
Copy from library
Read Harder challenge

Initially, it seems this magical skill can only improve Meche's life, even though Sebastian and Daniela are less convinced. Angry teenagers wielding magic leads right where you can imagine, and I loved every minute of it. Moreno-Garcia beautifully articulates that awful, oppressive, unshakeable frustration one suffers as a teen, and the ugly wishes Meche manifests resonated with me so strongly. At times, Meche is so unlikable, but realistically so: you want to shake her…

Dominique Christina's Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems

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me? a bruised ghost
i concentrate on
my teeth/ the roof of my mouth/
i'm tryna rub it smooth/ concentrate on not blinkin

see how long I can go til my eyes need to shut.

Anarcha was one of eleven slaves who were purchased by "father" of modern gynecology Dr Marion Sims for his research. Essentially torturing these women, Sims did his research (including surgeries) without offering pain relief or sedation. Our lauded study and history of medicine has for so long been polished of its shameful bits, but in this slender, intense volume of poetry, a name and voice is given to the very real, the very human sacrifice to our knowledge.

Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems by Dominique Christina
Beacon Press, 2018
Personal copy

It's impossible to call this an "enjoyable" read, but it is gutting, gripping, and necessary. Giving voice to the ignored, Christina makes it imperative we know and understand the humans behind any learning we've gained. This volume can be read w…

Kaoru Mori's Emma, #1

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 ...for this world allows you no more than a cupful of dreams. So be stingy with your time. And run.

Or something like that.

I think if I had known manga was similar to graphic novels, I might not have waited so long to make my first attempt. As it were, thanks to Read Harder 2019, I begged the internet to recommend some historical romance manga, and across the board, folks recommended this series.

Holy crap, it was so charming.

Emma, Vol. 01 by Kaoru Mori (森 薫)
CMX, 2006
Copy from public library
Historical Fiction and Read Harder challenges

Set in 1885 London, our heroine, Emma, is a maid for a retired governess. The governess' former ward, William Jones, is now a young man tasked with managing his family's business and fortune. He's immediately smitten by the quiet Emma but social constraints prevent him from openly pursuing her.

There's not much more to the story than that, and the delight is in William and Emma and their circles. William's classmate Hakim visits …

Wordless Wednesday, Jan 23

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My Wordless Wednesday offering for this week: my newest read, Alyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union, which I've wanted to read for forever and it ticks one of the boxes for this year's Read Harder challenge. Woot!

Survived my first super snowy weekend in our new place, and I'm enjoying rural-y snowy views rather than my usual quickly-muddy urban slushy ones.

What are you reading right now?

Nancy Bilyeau's The Blue

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If it were not for his love for me, none of this would have taken place.

Porcelain. Not what I thought would make for exciting reading, but in this fabulous book, it's a commodity that drives politics, espionage, and obsession.

The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau
Endeavor Quill, 2018
Review copy from publisher

I'm a longtime fan of Nancy Bilyeau's books: rich with drama and unforgettable characters, they are the kind of books that just sweep you up. Here, Bilyeau makes an industrial endeavor -- the 18th century passion for blue porcelain -- a captivating, dramatic story, centered on a winning heroine.

Genevieve Planché is a descendant of French Huguenot refugees. A talented artist, she hopes to be mentored by William Hogarth, but her grandfather wishes her to work as a artisan at the Derby porcelainworks. Her rebellious childhood sweetheart leads her, instead, into a mystifying, increasingly deadly world of industrial espionage -- and us readers into a fascinating world where the sci…

Weekend reads, or finally a quiet weekend!

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Finally a weekend that's almost entirely free of obligations! After almost eight weeks of busy weekends -- moving, holidays, family and friends, appointments, work -- I'm finally facing two days that are relatively open!

As part of Book Riot's Read Harder 2019 challenge, I'm starting my first manga this weekend, Kaoru Mori's Emma. I never thought manga would interest me, so it was a delight to learn there's a number of historical romance-y ones out there. I've got my coffee, a plush blanket, and this book. Bring on the weekend!

What are you reading this weekend?

Oyinkan Braithwaite's My Sister, the Serial Killer

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Ayoola summons me with these words—Korede, I killed him.

Between the book's title and its opening lines, you know what you're going into with this read.

Happily, there's no gore. No horror. So if you're squeamish, no need to worry. It's just a darkly delicious read that verges, knife's edge, on being funny but is also just realistic enough, razor blade thin, to be chilling.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Doubleday, 2018
Copy from public library

Our heroine, Korede, is serious, responsible, deliberate. Her sister Ayoola is gorgeous, irresponsible, and unrepentant.

Recently, Ayoola's developed a habit of killing her boyfriends.

The deaths all seem accidental enough, but Korede is worried. Her family weathered trouble and all Korede wants is to protect her sister and mother, do her job, and find love -- hopefully with the dreamy doctor at the hospital where she works. So when Ayoola notices that dreamy doctor, well...

I inhaled this read …

Sarah Perry's Melmoth

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Oh my friend, my darling—won't you take my hand? I've been so lonely!

I told my wife this book reminded me, in a way, of the tv show, Hannibal. Not because of any actual plot similarity (Perry's novel is devoid of serial killers) but more in the opulent, baroque, and ominous style in both.

Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Custom House, 2018
Copy from public library

It's extravagant. Melodramatic. Wuthering Heights and mezzo-sopranos dying on stage. Tea-and-rainy-day moody. A bit like Byatt's Possession, only far more brief. It has all the atmosphere and setting of a book I love, so I'm especially crushed that I didn't love it!

Inspired by a Victorian novel about a man named Melmoth, Perry instead imagines that Melmoth is a haunted woman who sees people's sins and invites them to spend eternity with her. Helen, ex-pat in Prague and suffering self-imposed punishment, learns about Melmoth from a friend, who learns about Melmoth from a friend. An urban legend of sorts…

Weekend reads, or it's that time of year...

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This weekend I won't be reading since my family will be attending the New Bedford Whaling Museum's annual Moby Dick Marathon, a weekend event where passionate fans read Moby Dick aloud.

Moby Dick is my wife's all time favorite book so when we discovered this event, it immediately became an annual affair for us. This is our fifth year going, and my wife is an official reader for her second year in a row. She's very excited.

I'm not a Moby Dick fan but I do love geeks, and it's impossible not to enjoy this when surrounded by passionate fans. The read happens at the museum, which only enhances the story, and there are all kinds of fun nods to the story -- there's a celebrity Ishmael to open the reading every year, the mayor reads the section of Ishmael walking thru Bedford, and the worship scene happens at the Seaman's Bethel, etc.

So, it's not my preferred read, but it'll do. What are you reading this weekend?

Top 10 Reads of 2018

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It looks like I've read 33 books this year, which is five less than last year. But given the crazy amounts of stress and drama that hit me in 2018, I'm frankly delighted with this count.

Ten of my 33 reads were by authors of color. Six of my 33 reads were penned by male-identified authors. Nine reads were not novels: one play, three volumes of poetry, two memoirs, two collections of essays, and a graphic novel.

Three of my reads were for my book club (Things Fall Apart, Borderline, and The Changeling), which is embarrassing since we've done 9 books for the year and I run the club!

I achieved a wopping zero on reading challenges, which I aim to change in 2019. Mostly by committing myself to two (Read Harder and Historical Fiction) and really diversifying my reading. And reading more, you know, than I had this year. (Re-frame: This year I knit 8 items, which is a 2000% improvement over other years. So, small perk of reading less!)

And for this top ten...I'm actually rea…

2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge is my favorite challenge of the year! (Although it's really not a challenge for me to read historical fiction, so I mostly use this "challenge" to make myself feel great.)

Since I've been diversifying my reading the last year or two, I'm not reading as much historical fiction as I have, so I'm not going to aim for the 50+ designation this year. I'm going to go for 'Ancient History - 25' books.

Some historical novels I'm hoping to read in 2019 include Nisi Shawl's Everfair, anything by Cat Sebastian that I haven't read yet (so maybe any 2019 releases, I think...!), Stephanie Thornton's upcoming release, American Princess, and Madeline Miller's Circe, which I didn't get to this year.

What historical novels are you looking forward to reading?

Read in 2019

Kaoru Mori, Emma, Vol 1

Books Read in 2018

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January

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House
Jeff VanderMeer, Acceptance

February

Susanna Kearsley, The Firebird

March

Therese Bohman, Eventide
Cat Sebastian, The Soldier's Scoundrel

April

Jazz Jennings, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen
Taisia Kitaiskaia, Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers
Cat Sebastian, The Lawrence Browne Affair
Mary Sharratt, Ecstasy
A.J. Thomas, Pins and Needles

May

Justina Ireland, Dread Nation
Alma Katsu, The Hunger
Nella Larsen, Passing
Sylvain Neuvel, Only Human
Laura Purcell, The Silent Companions
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

June

Kitty Curran, My Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel
Angelle Petta, The Artist and the Soldier
Donia Maher, The Apartment in Bab el-Louk

July

Mishell Baker, Borderline
James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War
Mitra Rahnema, Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry
Cat Sebastian, Unmasked by t…

Reading Challenge: Read Harder 2019

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I've basically quit doing reading challenges since I wasn't actually challenging myself in my reading, just trying to tick off boxes for what I was picking up. But I want to change things up in 2019 since I did what I wanted in 2018 and I didn't blow myself away with my reading. (Although I read far more authors of color than in other years, which was an intentional choice I intend to continue.)

Book Riot's Read Harder challenge intrigues me -- but also daunts me.

The categories always include options I've zero interest in, but I'm going to attempt to hit each one this year!

To help me out, I might populate this with ideas as I hit them -- so if you've any recommendations for me, please share!


Read Harder 2019

An epistolary novel or collection of lettersA Tale for the Time BeingAn alternate history novelEverfair A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018Home FireA humor bookFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Th…

Wordless Wednesday (isn't wordless, as usual)

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As usual, I can't make my Wordless Wednesday post truly wordless. Somehow, whenever I feel an itch to update my blog, it's on a Wednesday -- so ... apologies for co-opting this meme for my purposes!

Life has just been bananas hectic for us the last three months or so. My wife broke her ankle. We decided to move to the country. (!) Unabridged Kid turned four. We move next week, so it's been cardboard box city at our house the last few weeks, and I'm just not someone with grit or resilience. When faced with stress, I kind of just turn to mush. So it's been lots of games on my phone and zoning out to Netflix. (Although I did manage about 13K words for NaNoWriMo, so I am pleased about that.)

I hope I get back into reading once we're moved and settled. I'll have a new, longer commute once we move, which will allow a good stretch of reading time twice a day -- I'm really looking forward to that.

I've got something like nine books I'm in the middle o…