2016 year-end review

It’s that time again!  Peppermint mochas and gingerbread lattes, last-minute shopping and family reunions, and lists of this year’s highlights.

As a general reading trend this year, I’ve been reading a lot more LGBTQIA literature, and I think it’s an awesome sign that more and more of these stories are being published now.  If you’re interested in adding to your own TBR pile, I highly recommend following the GayYA blog.

Without further ado, the following are my favorite reads of 2016.  As in my 2015 review, I’ve also added a section for some of my favorite short stories of the year.

Reviewed here @ Postcards:

George  What We Left Behind  Symptoms of Being Human  Rumplestiltskin Problem
Neptune Rising  Seven Tears at high tide  lumberjanes_cover  vassa

More favorites:

when-the-moonAnna-Marie McLemore.  When the Moon Was Ours.  New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016.

A lovely work of magical realism set in a small town where the river turns girls into water, lovesickness is a creature that can be pulled from the body, and roses grow out of your best friend’s wrist.

It’s a story about family secrets and personal truths, fighting blackmail and standing up for the people you care about.

It’s full of beautiful, dreamy language, and I love that the chapters are named after the moon’s seas, lakes, and bays (because Sam paints and hangs realistic moon lanterns all over town).  If you like magical realism and LGBTQIA stories, I highly recommend this book.

being-jazzJazz Jennings.  Being Jazz.  New York: Crown, 2016.

I remember watching the Barbara Walters special that introduced Jazz and her family back in 2007, when she was six.  Assigned male at birth, Jazz knew from a very young age that she was a girl.  Her parents allowed her to start presenting as female in public on her fifth birthday, and since then have been super supportive through all the difficulties Jazz faced – fighting for permission to use the girls’ bathroom in school and to play on a girls’ soccer team, and dealing with ignorant classmates and adults.

In addition to fighting for her rights and promoting trans awareness, Jazz has tried to live an ordinary life, making friends, getting top grades in school, and figuring out what she wants to do after high school.  In her spare time, she’s even started a business making and selling swimmable mermaid tails.  How cool is that??

Jazz has a very funny, engaging voice and a very confident attitude toward life.  This is definitely a valuable book for anyone who wants to learn more about transgender experiences.

dreaming-in-indian  urban-tribes

Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds.  Dreaming in Indian.  Toronto: Annick Press, 2014.

Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds.  Urban Tribes.  Toronto: Annick Press, 2015.

“There is no one Indigenous perspective … no one Indigenous story.  We are tremendously diverse peoples with tremendously diverse life experiences.  We are not frozen in the past, nor are we automatically just like everybody else.  That is why it is so important for everyone to share their own story.  In revealing their personal truths, they help us all gain a better appreciation for the messy, awesome, fun reality of the world we live in.”
– Wab Kinew (Anishinaabe), Dreaming in Indian pg. 11.

These are two collections of stories, poetry and art by, and interviews of Indigenous youth across Canada and the U.S., reflecting on their experiences with racism and stereotypes, and showing how they blend their cultural traditions with 21st century Western life and pop culture.  Like Christian Allaire, whose love of “spray-painted Dries Van Noten pants” and punk band tees, spiked bracelets and “weird formal suit vests” led him to become a freelance fashion journalist in Toronto.  But his connection to his Indigenous cultures made him aware of the problem of cultural appropriation in the fashion industry, something he has made it his mission to fight against.

Or like Cree/Dene musician iskwé, who uses her music to raise awareness of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.  Or Arigon Starr, who created the Super Indian comics – about a 13-year-old boy who gets super powers from eating chemically enhanced processed cheese – as an alternative to the way Native Americans have been portrayed by non-native artists in comics like X-Men, Daredevil and Turok.

The articles are complemented by vibrant artwork and photographs that make these a really neat read.

people-of-the-sea  tales-of-the-seal-people

David Thomson.  The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend.  Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.

Duncan Williamson.  Tales of the Seal People: Scottish Folk Tales.  New York: Interlink, 2005.

Since they were young, Thomson and Williamson have traveled in search of seal stories, Williamson while working for crofters and fishermen on the west coast of Scotland, and Thomson while traveling through Ireland and the Scottish islands.  Many of these stories were considered family history, passed down by grandparents and great grandparents, or something that happened to the teller or to a friend or neighbor.

…even at the age of thirteen, I knew that these crofters and fishermen in their sixties, and older, were giving me something private and something special.  Stories from tradition are magic – because they are given to you as a present – you are let into the personal lives of your friends. (Williamson, pg. 3)

Thomson’s book reads like a travelogue with the stories and anecdotes woven in, while Williamson’s is a more typical collection of stories with introductory notes on the people who told them to him.  Some of my favorites were the story of Brita and the Seal-man, the story of the Clan MacCodrum, “The Lighthouse Keeper,” and “The Wounded Seal.”  I also really liked the section on selkie songs at the end of Thomson’s book, where he discusses the history and variations of songs like “The Grey Selchie of Sule Skerrie.”

These are two must-haves for anyone who loves selkie stories.

Short stories:

  • “Granny Rumple,” by Jane Yolen (from Black Thorn, White Rose, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling).  In the town of Ykaterinislav, Ukraine, a moneylender named Shmuel tries to help an unfortunate neighbor whose boasting father risks the wrath of the mayor over stories of flax spun into gold-trimmed clothing. But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished… Like Robin McKinley’s “Marsh-Magic,” this is a very clever re-invention of “Rumplestiltskin,” and I like how Yolen sets it up as a legend from her own family.
  • “Rapunzel,” by Anne Bishop (from Black Swan, White Raven, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling). Told from three perspectives – the mother, the witch, and Rapunzel herself – it starts out as the familiar story of desperate lettuce cravings and secret princely visits, but then veers off in a lovely new direction of female empowerment.
  • “Straw Into Gold,” “The Domovoi,” and “As Good as Gold” (from The Rumplestiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde), three stories that twist the Rumpelstiltskin story to answer questions like why the miller would make such a weird boast to the king, or why Rumpelstiltskin would sing such a convenient song about his name.  “Straw Into Gold” is about a kind elf who falls in love with the miller’s daughter, “The Domovoi” is a protective household being from Slavic folklore, and “As Good as Gold” is about a kind king who isn’t in the habit of threatening to decapitate girls or burn them at the stake.
  • Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture” and Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Rags and Riches” (from Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling).  Troll’s Eye View is a collection of stories that offers a more sympathetic view of fairy tale villains like the Molly Whuppie’s giants or Rapunzel’s Mother Gothel.  “A Delicate Architecture” is about an Austrian confectioner’s daughter who was raised to be obsessed with all things sugary, until she becomes a master at creating anything – even a house – out of sweets.  “Rags and Riches” fleshes out the role of the servant who forces the princess to work as a goose girl.  Both stories offer a new perspective into why these women did such wicked things in their respective fairy tales.
  • “The Twelfth Girl,” by Malinda Lo (from Grim, ed. Christine Johnson).  A modern retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”  As soon as she transfers to the Virginia Sloane School for Girls, Liv is drawn to the mysterious Harley and her friends.  They seem to get away with anything, even sneaking off campus every night to party.  And then, unbelievably, Liv is invited to join the club.  At first she’s excited, but soon she realizes the mythical world they enter has a terrible price.
  • “Service Call,” by Philip K. Dick (from The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories).

Since I’ve been following blogs like Insatiable Booksluts and booksnobbery, I’ve been hearing on and off how much sj loves Philip K. Dick, and after a while I decided I wanted in.  At least to dabble.  So I followed her handy flowchart and checked my local library for the collection containing “The Minority Report.”  While not all the stories clicked with me, “Service Call” was delightfully dystopian.  A man receives a visitor from the future (who doesn’t realize he’s gone back in time), a repairman answering what he thinks is a fix-it request for something called a swibble.  As they converse, the man is horrified to find out what a swibble is, and what it means for the world of the future.

. . . . .

So!  What were your favorite reads of 2016?  What are you looking forward to in 2017?  Have a safe and happy holiday season, and I’ll see you next year!



Posted in family, fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, humor, LGBTQIA, magical realism, romantic, selkies, year-end review | Leave a comment

“A living flood of night”

vassaSarah Porter.  Vassa in the Night.  New York: Tor Books, 2016.

Rating:  4 out of 5 lilac-nailed disembodied hands who would love to chop your head off.

This was a good choice for Halloween, what with much of the story taking place at night and the constant danger of decapitation by a maniacal witch and her pet disembodied hands.  And of course I was going to read anything new by Sarah Porter, who previously ruined me for other mermaid tales with her Lost Voices trilogy.

The story takes place in a Brooklyn where witches own dancing convenience stores and lizard men practice law, where human men can pay to transform themselves into dogs via magical skins, and where the nights last much longer than they should.  Vassa Lisa Lowenstein lives with her step-family in a washed-out neighborhood terrorized by the local convenience store whose proprietor says she only beheads shoplifters.  Except some are beginning to suspect she targets innocent people too.

As the Lost Voices trilogy was a modern twist on mermaid lore, Vassa is a modern twist on Russian Baba Yaga tales.  It’s particularly tied to the story “Vasilissa the Beautiful,” in which a girl is sent to the house of a witch to ask for fire, and must perform several impossible tasks before she can leave alive.

The most important element from the original Russian tale, which carries over into Vassa, is the magic doll given to the protagonist by her dying mother.  In Porter’s version, she’s a wise-cracking wooden humanoid named Erg, who is truly one of the most memorable characters in the story.

“They ran off with their feeble delusions, more like,” Erg chirps.  “With a big pile of coupons for stupid, they ran off. I hope they try to buy a shiny new car with that! And designer snailskin handbags! And a diamond-crusted pony!”

Other things I liked:

  • The five Interludes that interrupt the main plot to offer backstory for several of the side characters like Vassa’s father and the BY’s parking lot swans.
  • Vassa has some of the same beautiful language and imagery as Lost Voices did, with moments like this:

…my territory is an island of blood and snow shimmered by the sunset-colored light misting out of BY’s.  My country is the stump where I unwrap the candy bar for Erg and set it on my thigh.  She eats in a living, shifting cathedral of arched white necks.
Maybe it’s small, my territory, but inside it I can still love what’s in front of me with all the heart I have left.

  • As the movie Ever After did with one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, Vassa deviates from the original story by making one of Vassa’s step-sisters kinder and more sympathetic.  Chelsea cares for Vassa and at one point even tries to save her from BY’s.

What I didn’t like:

  • The problem with Chelsea is that she gives up too easily, and it feels more like sloppy writing than an actual character flaw.  She barely tries to stop Vassa from going to BY’s in the first place, and when she does try to get her out, she gives up too easily.  We’re told she’s probably a little scared to approach BY’s, but it still seems out of character for her to give up on Vassa so quickly.
  • Vassa is supposed to keep Erg a secret from everyone, and this is especially important at BY’s, but there’s a moment when the two of them are talking out in the open, in easy view of Babs’ pet hands, and yet somehow neither of the hands notices Erg.


It wasn’t as amazing as Lost Voices, but it’s a good addition to the list of fairy tale retellings, and like I said, it was a fun read for Halloween.  Have you read anything particularly Halloween-flavored this month?

Posted in fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, spooky | 3 Comments

Selkie Girl

2752371Laurie Brooks.  Selkie Girl.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

Rating:  3 out of 5 Chosen One stories

Of course I thought this would be right up my alley.  I first encountered this story as a one-act play years ago, and it was cool seeing it fleshed out into novel form.  The story is about Ellen/Elin Jean, the thirteen/sixteen-year-old daughter of a selkie and a human crofter who lives in the Orkney Islands (in the novel it’s narrowed down to Shapinsay Island), who doesn’t know why she was born with webbed hands that the other island youth make fun of constantly.  In the book, her father is much crueler and angrier about this condition, and barely lets Elin Jean leave the house, whereas in the play he’s the one who wants her to dance at the Midsummer festival with him in front of their whole town.  But that night she finds something that changes everything, and takes off on a journey to discover her heritage and her destiny (the novel turns this into a Chosen One story, similar to Isabel of the Whales).

Things I liked:

  • The details of Elin Jean’s life on Shapinsay, like the rock she calls Odin’s Throne, where she sits and watches the sea; the way she says “Giddy God!” and prays to St. Magnus; and the way her mother calls her “Peedie Buddo.”
  • The selkies’ folktale about Britta and Dane, which explains the origin of selkies.
  • The way the story explains the origin of the legendary Clan McCodrun.


Things I didn’t:

This section contains SPOILERS.  The non-spoilery gist is that there’s an unnecessary scene and several major character inconsistencies in the second half of the book.


  • The short appearance of the sea trows, small goblin-like creatures that almost eat Elin Jean soon after she turns into a seal.  This scene felt unnecessary.  The story didn’t need the introduction of another magical species.  They’re not like the Tylwyth Teg in Home From the Sea, who are part of the larger community of magical beings in the UK, and who contribute to important moments in the story; the sea trows just pop in for that one scene and are never mentioned again.
  • The scene in which Elin Jean (I’m going to call her EJ from now on) meets Tam again, months after having ditched him for the sea, is important because it’s the moment she learns about her father’s vengeance on the seals via more frequent culls, which leads EJ to realize what her Chosen One destiny is.

That’s all well and good.  The problem is, this scene comes after EJ’s disastrous escapade with a popular clique of young selkies.  Her protector Arnfin is furious that he failed to keep tabs on her, so you’d think he’d be way more careful of protecting the Chosen One after that – especially from humans, whom he’s explicitly warned her to stay away from and who were the source of the major danger during her escapade.  Yet he hangs back and allows EJ to get up close to a human she explicitly admits she isn’t sure of re: his attitude toward seals.  This should’ve raised a big red flag for Arnfin, but it doesn’t.

  • After EJ and her mother disappear into the sea, EJ’s father loses it.  He’s especially devastated to lose EJ, which leads him to take revenge on the seals for calling her away.  And yet, when EJ comes back to him, he doesn’t try to hold onto her like he did before she disappeared; as I said, he used to barely let her out of the house, let alone to the beach, but now he doesn’t care if she goes for long walks by the sea.  He also doesn’t care if she hangs out with Tam every day, despite having bad-mouthed him before as an unsuitable match.  It turns out he doesn’t care about having her back after all, and instead keeps moaning for her to call her mother back to him.
  • But then, when he does see his wife again on the next Midsummer’s Eve, and she leaves her sealskin lying in a pile on the sand, where he can easily steal it again (seriously, Margaret? Seriously?), he doesn’t bother, for some reason.  It seems, like with EJ, he doesn’t really care about getting his wife back after all.


This was an ok story.  I liked its portrayal of selkie culture, and the way it explains the origin of selkies, but the issues in the second half of the book really threw off my groove.


Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, selkies | Leave a comment

Friendship to the Max!

lumberjanes_coverNoelle Stevenson, et al.  Lumberjanes.  Los Angeles: Boom! Studios, 2014-present.

Rating:  4.75 out of 5 punk rock mermaids

Lately, I’ve been hooked on the Lumberjanes comics by Noelle Stevenson (of Nimona fame) et al.  Boom! Studios calls it “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls,” a series focused on five adventure-attracting teens attending a summer camp “for hardcore lady-types” in the middle of a supernatural-entity-filled forest.

There’s April – the one with super strength who cares most about earning all the badges, and is obsessed with mermaids;

Jo – the science genius who can invent anything on a dime, and April’s best friend since childhood;

Mal – the punk one who was almost part of a band back home, is afraid of water but will deal with it for her friends, and is totes in love with Molly;

Molly – the raccoon-hat-wearing archery master who is totes in love with Mal;

Ripley – the adorably out of control one who leaps first and asks questions later, and loves unicorns and glitter;

and Jen – their practical, put-upon cabin counselor who just wants to lead a normal, well-behaved bunch of ladies who follow the rules and don’t constantly get into dangerous supernatural hijinks.Lumberjanes 4

The camp is led by Rosie the riveter, who knows perfectly well what goes on in these woods and trusts the campers to handle it without her interference (most of the time).  There’s also the mysterious Bear Woman who occasionally jumps in to save the girls or lead them through a dinosaur-filled parallel dimension or grumble about how Rosie runs the camp.

My favorite things:

  • Last year, BookRiot had a post on creative swears in speculative fiction, a stylistic technique that can add to a story’s world-building.  Well, Lumberjanes definitely has one of the best examples of creative exclamations that fit with the story’s themes.  At this camp that builds strong female leaders, the characters use the names of strong, influential women in their exclamations.  Like:

Lumberjanes 7



  • The badges – at this camp, you earn badges like Jail Break, Pungeon Master (for the well-timed and witty use of word-play), Knot On Your Life, and Space Jamborie.  It’s another addition to the word-building, fitting into the humor of the Lumberjanes experience.
  • Mal and Molly – they are the stinking cutest couple ever.
  • The selkies – Issues 21-24 contain a story arc about our five protagonists’ run-in with a group of selkies who steal a counselor’s ship and accuse her of stealing a sealskin.  I especially liked the character Monday, who has the same punk look as Mal, rather than the traditional look of a selkie.
  • The mermaids – again with the punk theme, this is a modern, rock-music-loving pod of lake merpeople who know how to throw an awesome party.

To nitpick a little, there are a few moments that don’t make sense, like when a Greek goddess somehow doesn’t know anything about the astrology associated with her, or (slight spoiler alert) when the story seems to go surprisingly dark as a side character gets blood-splatteringly smashed into a wall by a mythical monster, only to show up a little later with nothing more than a broken arm.  If you’re going to go dark, you might as well be consistent about it; otherwise, stick with the lighthearted tone of the rest of the story.

Anyhoo, if you’re a fan of Gravity Falls like me, and are looking for an awesome, funny, butt-kicking-female-centered comic series, I highly recommend Lumberjanes.


Posted in comics, fantasy, favorites, humor, LGBTQIA, mermaids, selkies | 2 Comments

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

911xmhn92brlJ.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  New York: Arther A. Levine Books, 2016.

Rating:  2 out of 5 illegal Time Turners

Sooo…yeah.  There’s going to be a lot of nitpicking in this post.  Consider yourself warned.

I wanted to like this story so much more.  Like everyone else, I was looking forward to a new Harry Potter book, even though I was disappointed it wouldn’t be in the typical novel form.  It’s still officially the eighth Harry Potter book, and that’s worth celebrating.  If I lived in the Chicago area, I totally would’ve wanted to partake in one of these amazing cauldron cakes at Lezbrarian’s HP release party!

But I didn’t like the story.  The plot was full of issues, and overall it felt like someone’s fanfiction rather than a canon Harry Potter story.  And there was barely a “cursed child” in it!  [Edit: See below spoiler warning.]

But before I get to the grumbling and nitpicking, here are some things I did like:

  • This bit with Ron in the modified recap of the Deathly Hallows Epilogue, in which he does a got-your-nose trick for young Lily Potter:  “His hand is empty.  It’s a lame trick.  Everyone enjoys its lameness.
  • The Trolley Witch.  She’s slightly fleshed out this story, with a bit of backstory and personality beyond just calling out “Anything from the trolley, dears?”  She’s actually kind of badass.
  • That Hermione kept her maiden name, so Rose and Hugo are Granger-Weasleys.
  • Even though Rowling has said that she kind of regrets pairing Hermione with Ron in the Epilogue, she didn’t let that affect their chemistry throughout this story.  I totally said an internal “Aww” when Ron said he wanted to renew their marriage.
  • This description of the time travel:  “And time stops.  And then it turns over, thinks a bit, and begins spooling backwards, slow at first . . .

And now…

. . .


. . .

. . .

Of course Albus Potter gets sorted into Slytherin, and of course he becomes best friends with Scorpius Malfoy, and of course Harry isn’t thrilled about this, and of course it becomes a forbidden friendship, and of course Voldemort and Belatrix got it on behind the scenes in Deathly Hallows and had a secret child together.  This all feels like fanfic material to me.

You know what didn’t make total sense?

  • I can see Harry not being thrilled that his son is best friends with a Malfoy, even though it seems like he and Draco have come to an understanding by the end of Deathly Hallows.  But he made that big speech about it being totally cool if Albus gets into Slytherin, and yet it’s implied later that he is kind of bothered by it.  Though, maybe that develops from Albus’ negative attitude and insistence that he must be a disappointing son for ending up in Slytherin.
  • And then Harry turns the rest of the 180 and decides to believe the rumors about Scorpius being Voldemort’s son, despite his earlier assurances to Draco that the Ministry doesn’t believe that ridiculousness.  Because clearly that’s what Bane’s vague prediction meant, right?  It must be Scorpius who’s the “dark cloud” around Albus.  I mean, I guess it fits with Harry’s tendency, when he was a teen, to latch onto a belief/”evidence” and not question it.  Like when he believed Sirius Black was actually being tortured and dragged his friends into a raid on the Ministry, or when he believed Draco was a Death Eater and took it upon himself to spy on him throughout Half-Blood Prince (and, ok, he was right about that one).  But you’d think he would have grown more careful about these sorts of things as an adult.
  • Once he’s latched onto the Voldemort’s son rumor, Harry is a total jerk to Professor McGonagall, threatening to bring the Ministry down on Hogwarts if she doesn’t help him keep Albus and Scorpius apart.  I guess it does remind me of teen Harry being a jerk to Lupin, also supposedly for a good cause, but again, I’d have thought Harry would have grown beyond that kind of behavior.  And his apology after he realizes he’s been an awful prat is pretty rushed.  Hi Professor I need to find Albus now oh by the way I’m sorry about earlier but help me find Albus now!
  • The whole “cursed child” thing is just a few lines about the authorities checking Albus for hexes after his first time travel experiment, and another few lines in which Draco says one of his ancestors was cursed, which showed up as an illness in his wife…I guess that’s supposed to make Scorpius sort of cursed?  Maybe?  [Edit:  Or maybe Delphi’s the “cursed child.”  Being Voldemort’s kid has to be a kind of curse, amirite?]

Speaking of Albus and Scorpius…

Issues with the time travel plot (prepare yourselves; there are many points here):

  • How exactly do Albus and Scorpius climb out the window and up the side of the Hogwarts Express without a ladder or handholds or something?  And once they’re up there, and the Trolley Witch tells them the Express doesn’t want students to leave before they get to Hogwarts, how are they still able to jump off?  And somehow nobody else notices them jumping and stops the train.  Was no one looking out the window?  Did the Trolley Witch wait until the end of the trip to mention that two students are missing?
  • How did Delphi get the bits of Ron, Harry and Hermione to make the Polyjuice Potion?  And somehow, no one in the Ministry hears the big commotion in Hermione’s office when Albus, Scorpius, and Delphi are being attacked by the bookcases while trying to find the Time Turner.  And somehow the three of them get out of the Ministry without being noticed, even though the Polyjuice had worn off and they look like themselves again.  I guess we’re supposed to assume Delphi Apparated them out?  And amazingly, Hermione never notices that the books have been messed around, thus signaling that someone’s stolen the Time Turner.


  • And how exactly does this Time Turner work?  Apparently, all you have to do is press it once (or sometimes just hold it) and it spins back to the exact time you want.  Convenient.
  • Once Albus and Scorpius go back to the first trial of the Triwizard Tournament, Albus is able to do the disarming spell in front of a whole crowd of students (after only a few minutes of practice), and yet 14-year-old Hermione is the only one who (maybe) sees him do it (and doesn’t even realize he looks just like one of her best friends).  They’re all like, OMG where did Cedric’s wand go?  Oh well, guess it’s just a freak accident.
  • Once they get back to the present and are surrounded by the adults, no one notices Scorpius put the Time Turner back in his pocket.  Convenient.
  • When their first try doesn’t save Cedric after all, Albus and Scorpius go back to the second trial to try fixing that.  And apparently, if Cedric Diggory had lost the second trial, he would have been so upset he’d have become a Death Eater, and killed Neville Longbottom, making Harry and friends lose the Battle of Hogwarts, and helping Voldemort take over the world.  Um…


Cedric’s stronger than that.  He’s known for being a really decent guy, so he wouldn’t turn to the dark side just because he lost a competition.

  • In the Dark Timeline, Snape is still alive and teaching Potions (guess he lost the Defense Against the Dark Arts position again).  And he’s apparently really easy to convince that Scorpius is from another reality in which Voldemort didn’t win.  Seriously, even if Scorpius mentioned Lily, it seems too far-fetched for Snape to automatically believe the rest of Scorpius’ story.
  • Delphi, who’s actually a villain now, is able to use the Time Turner while they’re already in the past, even though there’s supposed to be a five minute time limit (which I’m pretty sure they’ve run through by the time Delphi comes up with her final plan).  And as for that plan, I don’t get why she doesn’t just try to kill Harry herself instead of waiting for Voldemort to try to convince him that she’s from the future and knows he’s going to be cursed if he tries to kill Harry.  [Edit: Ok, never mind.  If she tried to kill Harry herself, Lily’s love charm would have kicked her butt and she wouldn’t get to enjoy the Dark Timeline.]
  • Finally, once they figure out Delphi’s evil plan, Albus and Scorpius get to Godric’s Hollow to stop her.  They figure out they need to use tincture of Demiguise to write an invisible message onto Harry’s baby blanket so adult Harry will see it at the right time.  How convenient that Bathilda Bagshot happens to have some Demiguises lying around, amirite?  But then, how did they get the blanket away from Lily and Harry without anyone noticing?


. . .

Again, I realize a lot of these points are nitpicking, but they really got in the way of my enjoyment of the story.  I guess it was still fun to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione in action again, but it wasn’t the way I’d hoped.  What did you think?  Did you like the story?  Was it the return to the wizarding world you’d hoped for?


Posted in family, fantasy | 2 Comments

Seven Tears at High Tide

Seven Tears at high tideC. B. Lee. Seven Tears at High Tide. Duet Books, 2015.

Rating:  4 out of 5 servings of fried fish

I learned about this one through Gay YA’s list of Asian Characters in LGBTQIA+ YA. It’s a gorgeous story about two guys, one selkie and one human, who fall in love one summer. Kevin starts the summer with a broken heart, suddenly and humiliatingly rejected by the guy he’d been with for months, who it turns out was just using Kevin. So he goes to the beach and, remembering a legend his mother once told him, lets seven tears fall into the water before making a wish. Almost immediately, he meets Morgan, a strange boy who declares his love for Kevin, and although Kevin isn’t sure about his own feelings, he does find Morgan compelling.

Things I loved:

This is not only a beautiful love story; it’s also a wonderful selkie story, adding something new to the mythos. In Lee’s world, selkies learn much about human culture from the Sea, which is like a living encyclopedia they can communicate with.

Morgan believes, though, like his mother and most of his herd, that the Sea is alive, and not just a magical network of information, not just a collection of memories and stories from which selkies can pull knowledge. He’s felt the Sea’s life, knows that the Sea, after centuries of emotions and dreams and desires poured into it, is a force to be reckoned with.

It was fun watching Morgan learn more about human culture from Kevin – things like malls and movies and fried foods. And it was neat to see the way selkies blend their human and seal natures – the way they choose multiple mates throughout their lives, the way they gather to sing and tell stories.

You know what’s also amazing? How ultra supportive Kevin’s parents are when he comes out to them as bisexual, and how supportive most of his school is. There are the few jerks, but they’re in the minority. All the other characters we meet treat Kevin and Morgan like any other couple.

Things I didn’t love:

The bigger stuff:

I wasn’t sure I liked the present-tense p.o.v. I get the appeal, the way it slows the world down and makes you feel like you’re really in the moment. But the only place I’ve really felt like that worked was in The Hunger Games, which is full of action that feels even more intense when you experience it in the present tense.

But the thing that really threw off my reading groove was the climax. It was another case, like in Tides and Akata Witch, in which the adults (or one adult, in this case) let the kids (or one kid, in this case) go into a too-dangerous situation all by themselves. How convenient, then, that the villains are incredibly sloppy and too easily overcome. Their involvement in the story was built up nicely throughout the story, but the pay-off was really disappointing. In fact, I think they could’ve been left out of the story altogether, because the real focus, the part that I was most drawn to, was Kevin and Morgan’s romance and the obstacles related to selkie culture that they have to overcome.

And regarding that, the Sea’s rules seem contradictory at times.  I give more details about this behind the spoiler tag in my Goodreads review.

The smaller stuff:

Morgan somehow already knows how to read, despite this summer being the first time he’s ever shifted into human form. Even if he learned it from the Sea, that would be a little too far-fetched.

He can also swim amazingly in his human form, again despite the fact that he’s so unused to that form.

Selkies can “talk” to each other, with quotation marks and everything, while in seal form. It would have made more sense for their seal-form communication to be written in italics, like thoughts.


 Despite the issues with plot and point of view, the characters and the main focus were compelling enough to make this a Must Own book. I really cared about Kevin and Morgan, both individually and as a couple, and would have loved to read more about their adventures, and more about Morgan’s selkie herd. This is definitely a book I highly recommend, especially to anyone who loves selkie stories.

Posted in fantasy, favorites, LGBTQIA, romantic, selkies | Leave a comment

Drown: a Twisted Take on the Classic Fairy Tale

DrownEsther Dalseno.  Drown: a Twisted Take on the Classic Fairy Tale.  Berlin: 3 Little Birds Books, 2015.

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 oranges

This book gave me such mixed feelings. I first learned of it from Tess of Tesscatiful, and it seemed right up my alley – a dark twist on “The Little Mermaid” with a whole “fictional mythology” surrounding the existence of merpeople:

         It came about, of course, because of the wrath of a woman.
The rumour was to blame. A commonplace, folklore rumour typical to a fishing village settled on the coast of one of the world’s most unpredictable seas. That rumour still exists and hardly in this town alone. It is written on the face of every person you have ever met, in the subtext of every book you’ve ever read. It is the hope of every unhappy person. Right now, it is on the tip of your tongue.

It really was a creative, beautiful fleshing out of the original story that retained the fairy tale feel, as Tess noted, by leaving all of the characters nameless. They are simply “the mermaid,” “the Prince,” “the Sea King,” etc. And I loved the moments of magical realism (or can I call it that if the story is already a fantasy?) – heartbeats that were loud enough for everyone to hear, hearts that exploded from too many new ideas, the smell of flowers found wherever merpeople felt love, the things the mermaid could see in the Uncle’s eyes –

         “My Uncle,” said the Prince by way of an excuse, “his behavior…that is to say, his conduct…he hasn’t been the same since the war.”
The little mermaid nodded, for she had detected the shadows in his Uncle’s eyes, and sometimes she saw figures there, black figures with their hair on fire.

Oh, and there’s this gorgeous description of the sun and stars:

The God was going to sleep now, for half of it was buried in the ocean, but the little mermaid was not sad because she knew that she would see it again. Time ticked by, and she did not move, and when the God was fast asleep, she saw its angels emerge in the sky and wink down at her, thousands of them.

I did find it interesting that Tess and I interpreted very differently the mermaid’s main desire.  In Tess’ view, the mermaid’s first priority was to gain an Immortal Soul, and the Prince was the cherry on top, but I saw it the other way around.  I think the story focuses much more on the mermaid’s obsession with the Prince than on her occasional thoughts about the Immortal Soul.  The idea of love is a huge theme in the story; it’s what throws the entire mer-kingdom into chaos after the mermaid admits to one of her sisters her feelings for the Prince.  Overall, there’s much more focus on the merpeople’s hearts than on their lack of souls.

Now, as lovely as the story was, there were a number of elements that substantially bothered me. Like the constant proofreading errors.  And the implication that it would be terrible if the prince were more interested in men than women. And the many negative comments about gypsies (or, rather, “sea gypsies”):

…the gypsy folk, who travelled in groups all over the ocean, causing strife and chaos.

It was her very good fortune that she was not attacked by gypsies on her way…

She felt sorry for the hideous sea-gypsies…

…as everyone knew that disease and all manner of foul things came from close fraternization with sea-gypsies.

Then there are the logic issues:

  • The mermaid is supposed to feel unbearable pain with every step she takes, yet no one seems to notice her pain until weeks later, when the Prince wonders if her shoes are pinching her feet. Apparently she has extremely good control of her facial expressions (except she usually doesn’t, as her sisters always notice), and manages never to limp except for that one time the Prince notices.
  • Why does the nanny say there’s no way to gain an Immortal Soul when the mermaid first asks about it, but when she confronts the mermaid for constantly going to the surface to see the Prince, the nanny suddenly remembers that one can gain a soul by marrying a human?
  • As Tess points out, the mermaid has an odd ability to taste things despite not having a tongue anymore.
  • If the merpeople are supposed to lack the ability to feel, why are they terrified whenever they hear someone’s heartbeat? And why is the Sea King nervous and fearful after he mates with the sea witch (and how exactly do merpeople mate? That’s a bit of world-building I wish Desano had established)? Is it because of the spell she gave him earlier? That should’ve been explained more clearly.

And why do the merpeople have this saying –

 “Those who small-talk for a year
won’t then leave those who they hold dear”

– if they don’t have the ability to hold anyone dear?

I wanted to like this story so much more. It’s a creative fairy tale re-telling and it’s about mermaids, but the proofreading and logical errors really detracted from my enjoyment. I’m glad for the experience, but it could have been so much better.

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, mermaids, romantic | 2 Comments

Poisoned apples, twisted tales, and mer-lore


Yep, it’s time for more re-worked fairy tale collections, including another Windling/Datlow book!  Hey, I’ll keep reviewing them as long as I keep finding ’em 🙂

Poisoned ApplesChristine Heppermann. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2014.

This is a collection of poems about fairy tales and modern beauty standards, and the sinister messages within. For instance:

From “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”

It used to be just the one,
but now all mirrors chatter.

In fact, every reflective surface has opinions
on the shape of my nose, the size

of my chest, the hair I wash and brush
until it’s so shiny I can see myself

scribbling notes as each strand
recommends improvements. (pg. 5)

Other poems focus on dressing rooms and mannequins and push-up bras; spring formals and health classes and spa treatments; a woman who transforms from brick house to stick house to straw,

as light as the needle swimming in her bathroom scale.
The smaller the number, the closer to gold,
the tighter the face, afire with the zeal of a wolf
who has one house left to destroy. (from “Blow Your House In,” pg. 28)

Complementing the poems are eerie black and white photomanipulations – a blindfolded girl eating apples hanging from a tree, a girl being pulled apart by hands coming out of branches, a man who opens his shirt to reveal the wall behind him… all matching the themes of food anxiety, inner emptiness, and society’s manipulation of our self-image.


Maura McHugh. Twisted Fairy Tales. London: Quantum, 2012.Twisted-Fairy-Tales

McHugh gives twenty fairy tales a more macabre bent, sometimes twisting the stories in her own way, sometimes staying true to the original sources (like the Brothers Grimm), and Jane Laurie adds creepy, often blood-spattered illustrations. My favorite story is “Vasilisa’s Fire,” in which a girl is sent to the witch Baba Yaga to ask for candlelight. To stay alive, she follows advice from a magic doll her mother left her. What I like best about the story are the multiple ways McHugh describes the doll’s eyes each time she comes to life:

“…in the darkness its eyes were tiny moons”

“Its eyes gleamed like stars.”

“…its eyes became like twin candle flames.”

“The doll’s eyes shone like the sun.”

Along with “Snow White” and “The Bone Whistle,” “Vasilisa’s Fire” is one of the more gruesome stories in the collection. Other stories, like “The Master and His Apprentice,” aren’t all that creepy; their “twisted” nature seems to just mean “not Disney.” Which is fine, but I would have liked a more consistent tone throughout the collection.


Cloaked in RedVivian Vande Velde. Cloaked in Red. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2010.

Vivian Vande Velde has always wondered about the story of a girl too daft to recognize the wolf wearing her grandmother’s clothes (a wolf who apparently likes to toy with his food instead of just eating her right away).

I don’t like to criticize anyone’s family, but I’m guessing these people are not what you’d call close. Little Red doesn’t realize a wolf has substituted himself for her grandmother. I only met my grandmother three times in my entire life, but I like to think I would have noticed if someone claiming to be my grandmother had fur, fangs, and a tail. (pg. 11)

So Vande Velde has written her own versions of Little Red Riding Hood – one in which a girl named Meg outsmarts a dishonest woodcutter, one in which an old woman takes an injured wolf into her home, one in which the wolf is only following Red to give her back the basket she dropped in fright, one in which the red cloak is a conscious being and keeps trying to protect the careless girl from danger… Yeah, these stories do make more sense than the original 🙂


Vivian Vande Velde. The Rumpelstiltskin Problem. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.Rumplestiltskin Problem

About “Rumpelstiltskin,” Vande Velde has a number of questions. Why would the miller randomly tell the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold? Why would the miller’s daughter agree to marry a man who three times threatens her with death (well, ok, he’s the king, so maybe saying no isn’t an option)? Why would Rumpelstiltskin sing such a conveniently obvious song about his name? So, as she did for Cloaked in Red, Vande Velde tells her own versions of the story.

My favorites were “Straw Into Gold” and “The Domovoi,” in both of which Rumpelstiltskin really just wants to help the young woman (though he does take offerings in return). The latter was especially interesting, as the domovoi is a figure from Slavic folklore, a protective household being. Unfortunately, even though it’s a really lovely story, there was a big plot hole in “Straw Into Gold” – wouldn’t someone notice all the straw dumped outside the tower? Vande Velde must have realized this problem, because she finds ways to hide the straw in two other stories, but why not in the former?

I also really liked “As Good as Gold,” the only story to feature a nice king who isn’t in the habit of threatening to chop people’s heads off or burn them at the stake, and would really rather the miller and his daughter stop throwing themselves at him with their wild claims. The king is, annoyingly, a real pushover about accommodating the miller’s daughter until the end of the story, when he finally grows a backbone.


Troll's Eye ViewEllen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. Troll’s Eye View: A Book Of Villainous Tales. New York: Viking, 2009.

What do we know about the villains of fairy tales? What if the stories were told from their point of view? This was the prompt Datlow and Windling gave to the authors in this collection. So Garth Nix focuses on the witch who grudgingly accepts the bratty housebreaker Rapunzel into her castle, Midori Snyder focuses on the giant plagued by the thieving Molly Whuppie, Peter S. Beagle focuses on the giant’s wife who welcomes Jack into her home in the clouds, and so on. My favorites were Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture,” about an Austrian confectioner’s daughter who can create anything – even a house – out of sweets, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Rags and Riches,” about the servant who switches places with the princess and forces her to work as a goose girl.

About her story, Valente says,

I wanted to know what kind of person would end up in such a house. Why would she build it that way? Where did she come from? Why is she so obsessed with food and eating? The academic answers never satisfied me. I know intellectually that women are associated with food in folklore, and bad women with cannibalism, and that children are drawn to candy, so that the house is a perfect lure, but that didn’t satisfy me at a gut level.

Hoffman’s story fleshes out the motivations of the princess/goose girl’s servant, Willa, and attempts to answer the question of why she would choose such a barbaric punishment for herself, as though she couldn’t tell that the king was discussing her own crimes. The story does explain where Willa got the idea for the punishment, but doesn’t really explain why she chose it for herself, especially since she did recognize the king’s story. It would have made more sense for her to name a lighter, more merciful punishment, unless she thought the king wouldn’t accept that.

Still, overall, it was an interesting new angle on one of my favorite fairy tales, and the ending was a surprise.


Jane Yolen. Neptune Rising: Songs and Tales of the Undersea Folk. New York: Philomel Neptune RisingBooks, 1982.

Yolen gathers together her previously published stories and poems about merfolk, including four about selkies. There’s “Greyling,” which I first read years ago as a picture book, in which a fisherman finds a seal pup and takes him home to his wife, only to find a human baby in its place. For fifteen years, the couple tries to keep the child from returning to the sea, but of course we know that won’t work forever. There’s “The Fisherman’s Wife,” who swims to the sea floor to save her husband from a mermaid who keeps the skeletons of all the other men she’s seduced. There’s “The Corridors of the Sea,” about a man with an implanted gill system whose body starts adapting better to the sea than to air.

I definitely recommend this collection to fans of mer-lore. Did you know that in many old stories, merpeople, like fish, have no tongues? Yolen tells of Neptune and Old King Lir, Proteus and Davy Jones.   A woman threatened by the famous Malaysian Mer calls upon Poseidon, Neptune, Njord, Ran, and Dagon to save her. An undine, like in the fairy tale by Friedrich de La Motte Fouque, is seduced by a human who then drops her for another woman.  No wonder Jane Yolen is one of my favorite tellers of fairy tales!

Posted in fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, mermaids, poetry, selkies, short stories, spooky | 4 Comments

Symptoms Of Being Human

Symptoms of Being Human

Jeff Garvin. Symptoms Of Being Human. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2016.

Rating:  4.75 out of 5 lightsaber-blue eyes

If only this book had come out earlier, or if I’d waited a bit longer, I could’ve added it to my previous post. Oh well. This is another fantastic book about gender identity. As the child of a congressman in a very conservative county, Riley Cavanaugh is feeling more and more pressure as the election approaches, especially about whether or not to come out as gender fluid. Some days Riley feels like a girl, and some days like a boy. Riley describes it as having an inner compass or dial that constantly shifts between male and female, sometimes pausing at one or the other end, and sometimes somewhere in between.

Following a therapist’s recommendation, Riley deals with the stress by keeping an anonymous blog (using the name “Alix” and a David Bowie avatar 🙂 ) about being gender fluid, and is shocked when it gains thousands of followers. On the one hand, this is extremely validating. On the other hand, all the attention terrifies Riley, and then an anonymous troll starts leaving comments that suggest he or she knows who “Alix” really is.

Reading Symptoms, I realized I’d forgotten to mention what an amazing high school experience Gretchen and Toni had in What We Left Behind. They didn’t have to deal with any bullying – the story even starts with everyone at Homecoming congratulating Toni for winning the right to wear pants at T’s all-girl school – whereas Riley has gotten constant grief because although Riley hasn’t come out yet, people can tell there’s something different about Riley.

The most interesting choice Jeff Garvin makes is to never explicitly reveal Riley’s biological sex (there is one accidental hint when Riley fixes Riley’s hair in a gender-specific way that pleases Mr. and Mrs. Cavanaugh). As Riley says in Alix’s first blog post, it’s none of anyone’s business. And as a writing technique, for the most part, this works just fine. There’s only one moment when the strategy becomes awkward:

I step out from behind my dad, and the superintendent looks from him to me with a bright smile. “And this must be your…” She pauses for a split second—but in that time, I see her smile falter just slightly.
Dad, being the consummate politician, jumps in a millisecond later, defusing the awkward moment with his usual charm. “Riley,” he says, “this is Superintendent Clemente. She’s here to hold me accountable for all my campaign promises.”
She recovers her smile immediately, but I know my dad noticed.  (pg. 207)

The fact that Riley’s parents don’t know about Riley’s gender identity is a major plot point, and yet somehow, Congressman Cavanaugh knows not to clarify whether Riley is his son or daughter. That just doesn’t seem realistic, considering he expects Riley to wear a very gender-specific outfit to every campaign function. It would’ve been better to leave that scene out.

But enough of that. Like George and What We Left Behind, Symptoms Of Being Human is an excellent exploration of gender identity. And Riley is just an awesome character. Riley loves punk rock, periodically making up new names for an imaginary band (like Soul Sneeze and Gender Fluid Rage); has a vintage record player; did I mention the David Bowie avatar? Riley even suggests Mr. Cavanaugh use “Changes” as the walk-in music for a fund-raiser dinner.

I also loved Bec, with her black peacoat and “lightsaber blue” eyes, and Solo, nicknamed for his love of Star Wars (some still call him Chewie, for the furry Chewbacca backpack he never wears in public anymore). And Mike/Michelle, and Kanada, and Bennie, and Chris, and Morgan, and Herman – the members of Queer Alliance.

Hopefully, as more books like this enter the Juv/YA sphere, more children and teens will grow up with open minds and there will be more supportive schools like Toni and Gretchen’s.


Posted in favorites, LGBTQIA | Tagged | Leave a comment

Two recent books with transgender characters

GeorgeAlex Gino.  George.  New York: Scholastic, 2015.

Rating:  5 out of 5 secret collections of girls’ magazines

This is a fantastic book.  George knows she’s really a girl, even though everyone else sees a boy, and she really wants to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web.  Unfortunately, her teacher says only girls can play that role.  But George’s best friend Kelly comes up with an awesome plan to show everyone who George really is.

I love that Gino creates characters like Kelly, who so readily support George, reflecting the kind of society we should be, especially in a book targeted at middle grade readers.  At the same time, Gino also portrays the initially resistant characters as relatable human beings rather than just stock antagonists, showing how people can change their initial perspectives.  We need more stories like this.

The one thing I wish the book had done is make clear that not all girls naturally like or dislike certain things — that some girls like shooter games, that girls can be just as strong and fast as boys in gym.  But that’s my only complaint.

See Alex Gino’s post at Gay YA, about the need for more LGBTQIA in middle grade and younger literature:

There is no age at which it is inappropriate to appreciate people for who they are.  And there is no age before we know ourselves.  We may not have fully formed those notions, but each of us is the only person we know inside and out, and each of our challenges includes finding, respecting, and celebrating that self.


Robin Talley. What We Left Behind. Harlequin Teen, 2015.What We Left Behind

Rating:  5 out of 5 uniform pants you’re finally allowed to wear at the all-girls’ high school

Gretchen and Toni fall for each other at first sight, at their junior year Homecoming dance, and quickly become the perfect couple. They never fight, and Gretchen is completely supportive of Toni’s exploration of T’s gender identity. Then, the night before they head off to college, Gretchen drops the bomb that she’s not actually planning to go to Boston with Toni; she’s going to New York instead. Toni tries to pretend everything is ok, but this starts a rift in the relationship that grows as they make friends with different groups of people. Toni’s new friends challenge T’s beliefs about gender pronouns, labels, and where T is on the transgender spectrum, and T doesn’t share all of this with Gretchen the way T used to, and Gretchen is too scared to ask questions in case she says something wrong.

Lezbrarian reviewed this book here, and like her, I liked how Talley portrays various people on the “queer/gender identity spectrum … in a way that feels real and immediate and relatable.” There are characters like Derek and Andy and Eli, who know exactly who and what they are, and there is Toni, who is figuring that out from day to day.  And the book is non-judgmental as it portrays both Toni and Gretchen’s thoughts on these issues.  They’re both figuring out how to be individuals as well as a couple, how to define themselves in relation to other people, how to ask for what they really want out of life instead of just following everyone else’s expectations.


Posted in favorites, LGBTQIA | 4 Comments