- It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian [Jump]
- Flying Witch Volume 2 and Volume 3 by Chihiro Ishizuka [Jump]
- Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones [Jump]
- Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge [Jump]
- Angel City: Town Without Pity by [Jump]
- The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill [Jump]
- Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill [Jump]
1. It Takes Two To Tumble by Cat Sebastian [Top]
This was described – I believe by the author – as a gay Regency Sound of Music. I can definitely see the similarities; Captain Dacre, a widower whose time in the navy has led him to expect order and obedience, comes home from the sea to find that the local vicar is looking after his three hellion children, and naturally they fall in love! But I don't think it's quite what I expected.
For example, for a story where the children are billed as awful terrors to the country and made quite a mention of in the blurb, I kinda expected them to be integral? And instead it feels like they're brought in for when the adults need to bond over them and then just... Vanished away till they're next needed? Which I appreciate is how things were done in certain classes and at certain times, but it's really strange to see them be so blatantly plot devices rather than characters? (On the flip side, they're supposed to be horrific pranksters and I am so very glad most of that happened off screen, because oh my embarrassment squick would not have got on with that. I AM FICKLE.)
Apart from that... I don't know. Maybe I'd gotten my expectations too high, because the emotional resonance of events seemed very muted to me. Not even in a "I was expecting melodrama and got regular drama" sort of way, just that a lot of very dramatic stuff happened and I cared so little and everything wrapped up so neatly. As an example: one of the side-character's backstory contains either child abuse or child prostitution depending on how you read it (I definitely read it as abuse, but renay read it as prostitution, so there is definitely room to argue about it), and it simultaneously manages to be the inciting incident for maybe half of the plot (there is a plotline about a neighbouring landowner being terrible that never really seems to make it to relevance right until the very end) and the cause of development for Ben Sedgwick, without ever feeling like it has a major emotional role in the story? I know this is partly because the character in question is probably getting his own book later, but it seemed like it was sort of tossed in and left there. It was VERY strange.
Maybe part of the problem was that I alternated so much between liking Ben Sedgewick (he's funny and charming and good with kids and has no qualms about his sexuality!) and hating him a lot (he wants to pity marry his best friend, because he doesn't think anyone else will marry her after a long illness!). Dacre, on the other hand, was consistently emotionally withdrawn, and a lot of things that I was expecting to be big reveals for him were very much quiet revelations, which wasn't bad as much as it was surprising.
It was... Fine, I guess? It wasn't quite what I expected and the execution fell flat for me, but it was... Fine. I might reread it later in the year when it doesn't have the pressure of being "!!! The new Cat Sebastian book!" and see if that improves my reaction to it.
[Caution warning: mentions of child abuse, neglectful parenting]
2 and 3. Flying Witch Volumes 2 and 3 by Chihiro Ishizuka [Top]
In a shocking turn of events: the manga that started out as a cute story about a young witch learning about the world and introducing her family to the world of magic continues to be cute! (... I'm being glib, but I have been burned by manga like this before.) In these two volumes, we get to see Makoto teaching her family more about the magic world, learn about local witches, have fun with both Japanese culture and witch culture, and have a couple more run ins with her sister's magical experiments.
I really enjoy how much nature is part of this series – growing things are integral to witchcraft throughout, and seeing the kids set up their own garden or go looking for wild plants was really nice, and I'll be honest the scenes with the whales (you heard) was breathtaking and full of wonder. I was less fond of Makoto's sister, Akane's, habit of doing magical experiments and letting people find out the results the hard way, but I guess that's kind of the plot? But it was made up for by the way that she does actually manage to teach people, and Makoto actually does learn more as the series goes. Plus: hints of world building! (I was not kidding about the whales.) Learning more and more about the world of the witches and how other witches do things! There's a bit of embarrassment humour in this that made me twitch, but it's not too bad?
So far, it's a sweet series about magic and culture and nature, and I hope it stays that way going forward. I'm waiting for my library to get more of it so I can find out.
4. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones [Top]
I know I've talked about this one before, but I read it again! Totally just for fangirlpodcast, not because I just want to read this book every year until I've memorised it!
As always, I loved it. Sophie and Howl are still my ur-pairing, the pairing by which all others are measured, and what I liked on this read-through (because it's been recent enough that I remembered that plot, rather than going full "I have no memory of this place" like I did last time.) was that I got to just sit and see how Diana Wynne Jones threaded the feelings throughout the story without having the characters acknowledge them at all. That is my favourite thing in fiction; if you give me that I will follow wherever you lead. And seeing the way that she wove everything in from the beginning – the magic and Sophie's personality and how the curse is working – brings me so much joy. Plus, the weird little family Sophie builds, and the way she interacts with her relatives... It's very much my thing. Howl's Moving Castle is so much fun, I love it, and apart from the bit where Sophie has to go and blacken Howl's name (augh, my embarrassment squick), it is everything that I want in fiction.
5. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge [Top]
And now for something completely different! I know a lot more about American racial politics and racism than I do about British, so I thought this would be a good place to start! ... You know that thing, where you suddenly realise how little you know? Yeah, that happened, accompanied by the "I need to put this book down for a little bit so I can process that I not only didn't know this, but had the option to go through life never knowing."
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race is an expansion of Reni Eddo-Lodge's blog post of the same name. It's a fascinating book that takes on the history of racism in the UK, white feminism as opposed to intersectional feminism, white privilege, class and gentrification, structural racism, police misconduct... It covers a lot in a very short space, in a really clear and accessible way. (It is VERY quotable; I do kinda want a button on my twitter account that can just send "When feminists can see the problem with all-male panels, but can’t see the problem with all-white television programmes, it’s worth questioning who they’re really fighting for" to certain people, and her description of white privilege is beautifully concise.) Some of it was harrowing, all of it was educational, and I found it excellent.
[Caution warnings: discussion of racism up to and including murder, police brutality and misconduct, online harrassment]
6. Angel City: Town Without Pity by Janet Harvey, Nick Filardi, and Megan Levans [Top]
I've been meaning to read this one for AGES. A murder mystery graphic novel with a female sleuth, set in 1930s Hollywood? Sign me up.
Dolores Dare came to Hollywood with her best friend, her circus skills, and a dream. Fast forward a few years; her best friend left town, their showbiz dream is dust, and she's living the high-life as a mob enforcer and the boss' best girl... Right until that best friend gets murdered. Cue her intrepid crime photographer friend bringing her the case, Dolores running up against everyone from the cops to the mob to the movie studios, and everything spiraling rapidly out of control.
As a fair warning: the art is fine, especially for how stylish the characters can be, but I could not tell half of the male characters apart. Don't know whether that's a problem with me or with the art, but I genuinely struggled. The writing made up for it though; it felt very pulpy, and went hard into the noir tropes, even if it wasn't always clear what the purposes of a particular narrative detour was. It was a lot of fun, even when it was covering hard topics. I'm kinda leery of media with a historical setting that puts actual historical figures in it, as Angel City does, and making the historical figures the bad guys and sell-outs doesn't necessarily make it better? Your mileage may vary. (That said, I am 100% interested in books about the crusading journalist, she was great.) I did appreciate that Angel City's focus is mostly on people who aren't white dudes, though, which feels impressive for a noir story.
The best part for me was the true crime section in the back of the floppies (I don't know if it's part of the trade), because they're morbidly interesting, make a point of centring the victims at the heart of these cases instead of the perpetrators, and give you solid hints about where Angel City is going. Plus, it provides information about sources if you want to know more!
The long and the short of it is that is that Angel City was a fun run, and the fact that it centred people who weren't the traditional white-dude-down-on-his-luck in a noir story was pretty cool, but the art made it a little difficult to follow what was going on.
[Caution warning: murder, off-screen rape, drugging, mentions of torture, historical racism, police misconduct and corruption, assault]
7. The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill [Top]
The Tea Dragon Society is an incredibly cute all-ages comic about preserving traditions. Greta is a blacksmith apprentice who rescues a missing tea dragon, and becomes fascinated by the traditions and effort people go to to raise tea dragons.
At the time I read it, the story felt a little muddled to me because of all of the stories going on within it; there is the story of raising tea dragons as a dying art, Greta working out how she feels about being an apprentice, an amnesiac oracle, and the two men who run the tea dragon society. But I think what it's about is memory – preserving, losing, building, sharing – told through a story about fussy cat-sized dragons who let you see the tea-brewer's memories if you drink tea made from their leaves. And old traditions and traditional skills are a way of keeping memory alive too! (I was very excited when I figured this out.) It's a very sweet story as well, as the four of them rebuild the society.
(Retired adventurers running a tea shop is lovely, by the way, and I am absolutely here for stories about adventurers hanging up their swords and working peaceful jobs if anyone has any suggestions.)
And the art is so cute! It's a very different style to Princess Princess Ever After, the other Katie O'Neill book I've read, but I absolutely adore it. Flat colours! Coloured lines! Everything looking so soft and sweet and natural! My weaknesses! And there are little profiles of the different breeds of tea dragons at the back of the book, which really shows off the art. It reads like a beginners guide to pets, as it's supposed to, and it's delightful.
If you want a sweet story about memory and adorable dragons, I recommend this one. It's lovely.
8. Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill [Top]
I reviewed Princess Princess Ever After for the Lesbrary, and the long and short of it is that this is a really cute queer all-ages comics about two princesses rescuing people (including themselves!) and building a kingdom. It's a bit light, but feels like a fairy tale, and that's all I wanted!
- Robots vs Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe — fangirlpodcast are reading this as kinda a readalong? So I am FINALLY getting round to reading it so I can get up to date!
- The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla — I've been meaning to read this collection since I read Riz Ahmed's essay Typecast As A Terrorist, and work finally god it in!
- Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk — I know, I know, rereading trashy queer fantasy romances when I could be working through any of the million new things on my TBR. But June is a cursed trashfire, so this is being my RELAXING read.
- Overcoming Anxiety by Helen Kennerley — I don't know if I've mentioned it #onhere specifically, but I have been properly diagnosed with anxiety now, and I'm looking at stuff to see how I can manage it! This book feels like it was written a long time ago and I don't think it likes people taking medicine, but as a primer for CBT it seems to be doing pretty well? Some of the strategies are familiar from years of a) hanging out with people who generously share coping strategies, and b) being a dedicated reading of Captain Awkward, so it feels... Kinda validating? Like I'm doing stuff right instead of being as much of a disaster as I feel.
Reading goal: 58/180 (8 new this post) Prose: 30/90 (3 new this post) Nonfiction: 1/12 (FINALLY!)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 20/50 (4 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 18/50 (3 new this post; It Takes Two to Tumble, The Tea Dragon Society, Princess Princess Ever After)