Completed Read Women Challenge 2021

Another reading challenge in under the wire. Reading Women is not continuing with their challenge in 2021 and I’ll miss it, if only for the various categories it made me think about, and awards it brought to my attention.

Read Women Challenge 2021

  1. A Book Longlisted for the JCB Prize
    • Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup
    • The JCB Prize for Literature is an award presented each year to a distinguished work of fiction by an Indian author.
  2. An Author from Eastern Europe
  3. A Book About Incarceration
  4. A Cookbook by a Woman of Color
  5. A Book with a Protagonist Older than 50
  6. A Book by a South American Author in Translation
    • Eva Luna by Isabel Allende, Margaret Sayers Peden (translator)
  7. Reread a Favorite Book
  8. A Memoir by an Indigenous, First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal Woman
  9. A Book by a Neurodivergent Author
  10. A Crime Novel or Thriller in Translation
    • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
    • As with all of our translation prompts, you can read in any language you like as long as the book has been translated from one language to another.
  11. A Book About the Natural World
  12. A Young Adult Novel by a Latinx Author
  13. A Poetry Collection by a Black Woman
  14. A Book with a Biracial Protagonist
  15. A Muslim Middle Grade Novel
  16. A Book Featuring a Queer Love Story
  17. About a Woman in Politics
  18. A Book with a Rural Setting
  19. A Book with a Cover Designed by a Woman
  20. A Book by an Arab Author in Translation
    • Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World edited by Zahra Hankir
      • 3 essays translated by Mariam Antar
    • The Arab World consists of twenty-two countries in the Middle East and North Africa: Algeria, Bahrain, the Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
  21. A Book by a Trans Author
  22. A Fantasy Novel by an Asian Author
  23. A Nonfiction Book Focused on Social Justice
  24. A Short Story Collection by a Caribbean Author
    • Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon (Jamaican)

Completed Read Harder 2021

After a few touch and go weeks where I wasn’t sure if I was going to complete this Challenge for the second year running, I managed to pull it out at the end. 2021 turned out to be a year I read more than I have in several, and as usual this challenge helped round it.

Read Harder Challenge 2021

  1. Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read
  2. Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism
  3. Read a non-European novel in translation
    • Eva Luna by Isabel Allende, Margaret Sayers Peden (translator)
  4. Read an LGBTQ+ history book
  5. Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author
  6. Read a fanfic
  7. Read a fat-positive romance
  8. Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author
  9. Read a middle grade mystery
  10. Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color
  11. Read a food memoir by an author of color
  12. Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color
  13. Read a book with a cover you don’t like
  14. Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada
  15. Read a memoir by a Latinx author
  16. Read an own voices book about disability
  17. Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain
    • Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon
  18. Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader
  19. Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist
  20. Read a book of nature poems 
  21. Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability 
  22. Read a book set in the Midwest 
  23. Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness 
  24. Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die 

Eva Luna (CBR13 #77)

Eva Luna

It has been a few years since I last tackled an Allende work, but with tasks in both the Read Harder and Reading Women challenges about translated works (the former asking for non-European novel in translation, the latter asking specifically for a book by a South American author in translation) I had the perfect excuse to move Eva Luna up my to read list.

The amount of emotion, detail, and characterization that Allende weaves into her writing is simply astounding. It always takes me a long time to work through her novels, but that is not a bad thing. There is so much history, allegory, and personal stakes woven into the story that you want to spend the time, you want to give the book its due. Like The House of the Spirits each paragraph, each page, and each chapter in Eva Luna need time to be digested and understood.

The book follows Eva from her earliest years, moving from Eva’s description of her mother’s life, and her own conception. Eva’s mother dies when Eva is still young, and she is forced to fend for herself. From there we follow Eva as she faces the death of her mother’s employer the Professor and is forced to move on and eventually stumbles her way into the care of La Señora, the owner of a brothel, and then eventually on to Agua Santa, and then back to the city where she reunites with Melecio, now known as Mimí and takes back up with Huberto Naranjo a leader of a guerrilla unit fighting a revolution. In typical Allende style the country remains unnamed, and it doesn’t matter.  As time goes on, Eva realizes that Huberto is not the man for her. Throughout the novel a parallel narrative is told: the life of Rolf Carlé. As Rolf grows up, he becomes interested in reporting news and becomes a leading journalist, shooting film footage from the front line. Rolf films the guerrillas, meeting Huberto, and later Eva.

Eva Luna easily finds its place in Allende’s works which all involve young women and misfits of society who search for truth and love all while combating class conflicts and oppressive governments. The picaresque is combined with magical realism in Eva Luna, in which the title character survives one crisis after another with the aid of unseen powers and the force of her own imagination. Eva’s ability to induce others with her stories is her gift to the world, helping her deal with the difficulties that many women, like herself, faced in a tyrannical and explosive political environment.

Tequila Sunrise & Gone with the Gin (CBR13 #75-76)

I’m a fan of a pun, and back when having a small New Years Eve gathering with friends was still a possibility, I requested Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist and Gone with the Gin: Cocktails with a Hollywood Twist by Tim Federle from my library. My idea was to find a couple of options for fun literary and movie inspired beverages for a group that was intended to include no less than 5 current and former Cannonballers (if you’re my friend long enough I will try to recruit you for Cannonball Read, it’s just what happens).

If that had been able to happen, these books would have absolutely hit the mark, and been fun to pass around and read from. I may yet do that part, as we’re intending to do a virtual hangout again this year and each of the cocktails or recipes included in the books is directly tied to a book or movie and Federle provides a snappy one paragraph description with some fun humor, puns, and history packed in.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist

I think Tequila Mockingbird might be my favorite of the two (there’s at least two more in the series, Hickory Daquiri Dock: Cocktails with a Nursery Rhyme Twist and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita: More Cocktails with a Literary Twist, although my library system only has the latter) if only because it contains the widest variety of beverage and snack options, including non-alcoholic options for those amongst us who are not interested in imbibing.  Tequila Mockingbird includes sixty-five drinks recipes including The Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose, The Last of the Mojitos, Love in the Time of Kahlua, Romeo and Julep, and A Rum of One’s Own (c’mon, how can you resist these names?). Best of all, and the option I likely would have employed in a New Years situation is the Book Clubs section which gives instructions for things that can go in your punch bowl for group service including the above-mentioned Pitcher of Dorian Grey, and my personal favorite The Portrait of a Pink Lady, which includes gin, pink lemonade, grenadine, and club soda.

Gone with the Gin: Cocktails with a Hollywood Twist

Gone with the Gin includes a further fifty movie-based drinks and snacks, no alcohol-free options in this one though. The great illustrations are back and truly Lauren Mortimer does an exquisite job with what look to my untrained eye to be pencil drawings at catching the drinks, the puns, and the recognizable visuals from the movies in her work. I prefer how this book breaks down the recipes into groups – we’re in genres here unlike Tequila Sunrise which was oddly gendered. I still have a few weeks left on my library checkouts for these so I’m planning to keep them and possibly try some of the options once I’m able to get more supplies. Which should be easy to do, as the indexes in each book are set up both by title and ingredient.

So You Want to Talk About Race (CBR13 #74)

So You Want to Talk About Race

I wish I felt better so I could really give So You Want to Talk About Race what it deserves, review-wise. The short review is if you haven’t already read this, you need to. Maybe you are like me and put it on your TBR right after its publication in 2018 and then it fell slowly down the list. Maybe you saw it on all of the recommended reading lists that proliferated in summer 2020 (A Reading List on Race for Allies, Antiracist Reading, Understanding and Dismantling Racism, 20 Books For 2020: A Reading List On Race In America) but it was just too heavy then, your brain could not do it as it battled the realities of pandemic and what it did to your reading (just me?) so you pushed if off again, promising yourself next year was the year.

Whatever the reasons to have not read it, or not re-read it recently, you need to make space for this one post haste. Ijeoma Oluo has an incredibly easy to read style, which is important when breaking down enormous topics like intersectionalism, privilege, and microaggressions and how to talk about them with others. Her messages are passionate, finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that could otherwise be vague but with compassion and the ability to turn her lived experience into universal moments of understanding. There are many reasons why Oluo’s work on race has been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, among many other publications and they are easy to see when you spend time with her words.

In a Holidaze (CBR13 #73)

In a Holidaze

One of the prevailing bits of wisdom running around if you happen to find yourself with COVID (which I probably do – not to worry, I’m not feeling too poorly, have plenty of supplies, and have a test scheduled) is to avoid screens. With that in mind, and cognizant that my brain does not want to focus on anything weighty (which is seriously impinging on my ability to finish So You Want to Talk About Race and Eva Luna) I settled in on the couch this afternoon with Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze.

According to the handy info keepers over at Goodreads I added this to my TBR in November, but apparently had not managed to put the book blurb into my memory banks. I was caught off guard initially with the plot in front of me, but once I got my head on straight, I enjoyed it much more than the terrible holiday movies I watched yesterday in a fever dream (mistakes were made, naps were taken).

In a Holidaze is the story of Maelyn Jones. She’s 26, in a bit of a rut, and just experienced a truly horrendous end to her family’s holiday with their chosen extended family. It looks to her as though all that she enjoys most in this world is ending and she’s headed back to a life that just is, and knows that she is not happy, so she asks the universe to show her what will make her happy. One car crash later and Maelyn finds herself waking up a week earlier on her flight to Utah. In a nod to time loop stories everywhere Maelyn proceeds to restart her holiday week a couple times trying to figure out why the universe sent her back and what is in fact (and who) going to make her happiest.

The things I enjoyed in this one are many – the extended friends group who function in a familial way, the lead having to get to a place of “fuck it” in order to finally be herself, and having that be the thing that starts to make the pieces fall into place, the cozy charm of the cabin the families spend each Christmas at together and learning to let go of the lockstep of tradition. But there are also things which didn’t work for me, particularly in the early stages of figuring out who was meant to be Maelyn’s partner (I flipped to the back after about page 20 which is something I never do), and how the various motivations of Maelyn, Theo, and Andrew are portrayed. I also got seriously confused a few times as the characters (and this is a cast of about 12) routinely use nicknames for each other that are not consistent, and I had to stop and think about who was on page and that’s not helpful.

This is my third outing with the writing duo Christina Lauren (Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) and I can see in this one positive and negatives from my previous rounds with Dating You, Hating You and Sweet Filthy Boy. I felt at a bit of a distance from the story, even though I understood the characters very well, and I wished that we got any of the story from Theo or Andrew’s point of view. We also get some sloppy plotting, specifically that there’s a a-ha moment late in the book for Maelyn that comes down to a misunderstanding happening because she didn’t take into account how the other person has historically processed emotions, but we the reader weren’t let in on that either, which made that character’s behavior a tough sit occasionally.

Do I suggest this? Yes, but with the caveats that there might be some things in it that have you give the book some side-eye, but no more than in any other holiday rom com you might choose to spend time with, and probably a lot less.

Hawkeye Volumes 3 & 4 (CBR13 #71-72)

Hawkeye, Volume 3: L.A. Woman

Hawkeye Volume 3: L.A. Woman (Collecting: Hawkeye #14, 16, 18, 20, Annual 1)

Chronicles Kate Bishop’s time after she leaves New York (and her partnership with Clint Barton) following the funeral of Grills and an argument with Clint, which we see in bits and pieces across several individual issues. This volume was unfortunately my least favorite, not because I don’t like Kate, I do, but more so because the narrative doesn’t balance Kate out with an equally strong character. Also, I really felt the absence of David Aja on the artistic side of the scale.

Narratively Kate hits wall after wall as nothing goes an anticipated, for her or the reader. When Kate arrives in L.A. and tries to check in to her hotel her card is declined, and her car repossessed. Enter Kate’s nemesis, Madame Masque who has it out for Kate following the events of Volume 1. Kate has been cut off by her father and must find her own way in L.A., deciding to open her own superhero detective agency, which goes terribly. Kate is great, but not cut out for the work she undertakes, particularly as she keeps running up against Madame Masque who seems to be pulling all the strings. My problem with the narrative hinges on this, from page to page and issue to issue I constantly felt I was on the backfoot, that I was simply missing important information and there were plot holes. Which, there may have been, but at the end of the day I was left dissatisfied. While I was reading Volume 4 I went back and re-read the individual volumes as they would have fit in to the chronological order and that helped some. I understand splitting the issues the way they did, but I didn’t enjoy it much.  

Hawkeye, Volume 4: Rio Bravo

Hawkeye Volume 4: Rio Bravo (Collecting: Hawkeye #12-13, 15, 17, 19, 21-22)

This volume was my favorite of the two, but still uneven. The volume finds us back in New York with Clint. The issues contained in this volume are back onto the creative experimentations we saw in the earlier volumes. Issue 17 goes on an adventure in Clint’s dreaming mind as he envisions an Avenger adventure where he and his compatriots are the Winter Friends. It does a good job of encapsulating the tenor of the previous volumes and highlighting Clint’s instinct to go it alone. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a good Christmas read, if you’re on the hunt for something holiday adjacent.

We are introduced to Barney Barton, Clint’s brother, as he arrives in New York worse for wear. From there we get a Fraction and Aja led homage to westerns (the volume is titled Rio Bravo after all) as Clint must protect the building from the Tracksuit Bros and the assassin out to get him, whom killed Grills. It could all have gone so much better, and midway through Clint and Barney are grievously injured and Clint is deafened, which leads to one of the most visually creative issues where the world is presented as Clint would experience it – silent – and having ASL incorporated into the story telling, as well as eventually his hearing aids. Thankfully Kate had gotten word that Clint was in trouble and rushed back to New York, and the Volume leaves off with the pair reunited.

I’m glad to have spent the time with these two Hawkeyes, the two understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and provide a support system as they both understand better than anyone what their specific line of work requires and costs, and the importance on focusing on the everyday needs of people surrounding them.

Lakota Woman (CBR13 #70)

Lakota Woman

Like many, my formal education didn’t contain much indigenous history, and certainly almost none about modern indigenous history. Reading Women task 8 was read a memoir by an Indigenous, First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal Woman which helped move Lakota Woman up my TBR (I had added it in 2015 for a similar Read Harder task but I read Rabbit-Proof Fence instead). It certainly didn’t hurt that it was also the Indigenous Reading Circle’s choice for November (the group that inspired the Reading Women task).

Lakota Woman was published in 1990 and discusses Mary Crow Dog’s experiences in the 1970s as a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM). It is a searing autobiography that is at various times audacious, heartfelt, and expressive. It is also a tough read for a variety of reasons. The book opens with Crow Dog’s description of the difficulty of her life as a young Sioux girl, growing up in poverty, suffering at Catholic boarding school, and quitting school to drink, shoplift and rebel. Its at this point that her path crosses AIM’s and she would eventually give birth to a son in 1973 at Wounded Knee while it was under siege by the federal government.

The narrative reminds me of an oral history. The book is written in one person’s lived experiences told in a stream-of-consciousness style and Mary Crow Dog was present at many of the significant events of this civil rights movement in the early 1970s. She writes of AIM’s infiltration by FBI agents and of helping her husband endure prison following his unjust arrest. The book ends with a brief synopsis of events after Leonard was freed and his work on reclaiming the sacred rites and practices of their people.

“I read somewhere in an anthropology book that we Sioux ‘thrive on a culture of excitement.’ During the years from 1973 to 1975 we had more than enough excitement for even the most macho warrior, more than we could handle.” p. 192

Purple Hibiscus (CBR13 #69)

Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus is a coming-of-age story and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s debut novel. It is the story of fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja who lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. In some ways they are completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, it is revealed rather quickly that things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating. As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority.

The mechanics of Purple Hibiscus are very strong. The atmosphere of living with an abusive parent was captured well and the book is full of expressive prose that captures the emotional turmoil of adolescence. While the writing itself was excellent, I had a hard time with everything that those mechanics were meant to be delivering. It can be easy to be swept up in beautiful language but there was lurking here a hollowness that I couldn’t see past. The character of Kambili is the easiest place to explain the problem. I was made to feel sympathetic towards her (and her mother and brother), but it wasn’t because of a connection to them, but instead because of an understanding of the monster lurking in Kambili’s father that was never very far below the surface.

CW: miscarriages due to physical abuse (mostly off-page), spousal abuse, child abuse.

Reviewer’s note: it should be noted that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a history of anti-trans and pro TERF statements, including a defense of J.K. Rowling in late 2020. I have attempted to review this work without taking that knowledge into account, but it is likely that this is my last Adichie novel. While it is possible to separate the art from the artist, I find it difficult to do so in cases where the author is promoting views which are actively harmful to our trans and non-binary siblings.

Questionable Communications Skills series (CBR13 #68)

I have kept up with the fanfic habit I gained in 2020, although I have slowed down a bit, partly because my ability to focus on traditionally published books has increased, and partly because I have not been keeping up with one of the television shows that fed most of my 2020 consumption. But one of the wonderful things about fanfic is there is so bloody much of it that whatever small thought might be scratching at the back of your mind, or story thread you would love to see explored a bit further, it exists for you to find.

One of those story threads that jumped out to me earlier this year is the Sam and Bucky of it all at the end of Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+. Of the shows, it is my least favorite live action (I have major problems with What If that drop it right down to the very bottom of my personal rankings), but Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie have such good chemistry and at the end of the series I wanted more of that pairing being soft and fluffy together. So off to AO3 I went. I found what I was looking for by the truckload, and one of those is the ongoing series Questionable Communication Skills which takes a slightly skewed version of the characters we have seen on the show and movies (and one can only assume comics) and shows the ways these two characters can screw up basic communication, because feelings are hard.

Uploaded image

It’s grown over time, first arriving in late April 2021 as a place for the author to play around with some of the events we see in the show and all the side characters we see (and a few of their own creations) being nosy, gossipy shippers (like the rest of us). In the months that followed we have been treated to a full rundown of the pair working on their communication (119 posts worth so far as of this review), dealing with the public, getting together, Bucky getting a bestie who is also a newspaper reporter (she is great), the spider kids get involved… there is a lot happening. It is told in quick bursts, often posts are just a couple hundred characters long and are formatted to look like text messages or Instagram posts. Abhorsenbranwen also weaves in tons of easter eggs, New York, and Brooklyn specific history, and has been highly active in taking suggestions from the readership in how they progress the story, but also doing a commendable job not letting themselves be derailed, just sent down fun side paths. They’ve been playing around with established characters and spaces and giving us their own view, their own original characters, and at the end of the day a bit of fun.

Bucky and Sam in episode 6 of Falcon and the Winter Soldier

I started early on, within the first few posts, and it could be confusing at times since the individual works were not posted in chronological order. If you read now the posts have month and year headers to let you know where you are in the timeline, but it does still bounce around quite a bit. I’ve enjoyed this series a lot, and for many months waiting for the regular subscription alerts provided a much-needed endorphin hit – it turns out I do enjoy a bit of serialized fiction. I can’t say when or if more of this series is coming, odds are yes since abhorsenbranwen has indicated where their story is headed next in the notes of the latest post, but its from over a month ago.

As of December 18, 2021, Questionable Communication Skills has 119 works and is 125,621 words.