Bountiful Garden by Ivy Noelle Weir with art by Kelly Williams

[Image ID: The five issues of Bountiful Garden splayed out on a bed. The first issue is on top and the only one fully visible and is notable for being a Free Comic Book Day copy. The Snapchat captions reads "Spooky space time." End ID]

“Bountiful Garden” is a horror story about space and terraforming other planets, but not quite in a way you might expect. 

Our cast is a crew of children, most of whom appear to be teenagers at maximum. Jane appears to be the youngest, probably no more than preteen in age. They are woken from cryostasis 10 years early because something has gone wrong with the ship. 

Their mission is make a new planet habitable, they have two engineers, a botanist, an architect, a biologist and a military personnel member. Their ship has been stopped above a planet with no notable human inhabitants but traces of an old civilization, and lots and lots of plants. 

From issue one of the five issues mini-series, you get the impression that something wasn’t quite right with the mission from the outset. They aren’t the first terraforming mission that’s been sent out, and none of the others have ever been heard from again. “The signal’s too weak,” according to the government. Our military boy has complete faith, which makes a lot of sense, but the others aren’t so sure. It’s one of several things that sparks conflict between our crew.

Throughout the story we are teased about the planet, the strange plants growing on it, and the remnants of a religion, as well as about the backstory of the program on Earth that led to these six children being on this expedition. Something I really love was how seamless the backstory about the government program that was woven into the story through the characters. We learn so much about it through short moments of the characters ruminating and discussing why they’re even there. There’s a big pay out involved, but it goes to their parents instead of them, because they aren’t on Earth to collect it. For one person, this will help their parents escape poverty, for another, it inspires bitterness that their parents will be reaping the benefits of their work on an expedition that they were well aware had a high chance of them dying. 

The planet’s backstory is given in a different, but no less skillfully done, way, by the characters picking up clues within the text, glyphs found at ruins, strange dreams, and by clues presented directly to the readers that the characters don’t see. The most notable of these is an extra-textual fragment titled “Recording Found at Site 11A,” which appears at the end of issue four and tells the story of how the strange plants came and essentially terraformed the planet. 

The art really helps the haunting feelings come through too, the characters are so expressive and distinct, and the inkwash style allows it to be dark, yet vibrant at the same time.

Another thing of note that I enjoyed was how diverse the cast was. There was an even split of female and male characters as well as a diverse array of characters of different ethnicities, a breakdown that allowed for deaths without falling into racist and sexist tropes surrounding character death.

All in all, if you like horror, sci-fi and stories of how interpersonal relationships can fracture when people are isolated and trapped, “Bountiful Garden” is the mini series to check out. It’s newly available in trade paperback as of April 6th!  

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Winter 2021/2022 Behind the Scenes Reading

Hello, hello! I have returned with another recommended reading list, this time covering what I read behind the scenes from December 2021 through February 2022. 

Finished: 

SM 101: A Realistic Introduction by Jay Wiseman – In progress last time, now finished! This is a really, really excellent introduction to the basics of BDSM. It goes into thorough detail without being overwhelmingly technical and discusses a wide range of practices while also acknowledging that it is only the tip of the iceberg. If this book interests you, there is plenty more reading out there. The back of the book has several lists of organizations, books and other publications where a person could get more information. 

That said, this second, revised edition was published in 1998, so contact information has likely changed in the 20+ years since. My general recommendation is, if something in the resources looks interesting, google it, because chances are it may still exist in some form, even the old urls. Other areas of the book impacted are the chapter on meeting people, discussions of internet resources, and HIV/AIDS safety. This revised edition came out right at the advent of online dating and chat rooms, so they aren’t covered in depth, and long before the advent of PrEP and PEP pills for pre- and post-exposure to HIV. 

Eat Prey Love/“Bambi” is Even Bleaker Than You Thought by Kathryn Schulz – This article is a really interesting look at the original “Bambi” story before Disney butchered it, now rediscovered as it entered the public domain this year. It caught my attention because, as I was skimming the article, it mentioned that there was a reading of it that saw the book as an allegory for the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe prior to World War 2 and that was more than enough to get me to read the whole thing. It wasn’t quite enough to get me to pick up an English translation of the book, but it was a fascinating read nonetheless. 

Marauders, issues 26-27, by Gerry Duggan and Marauders: Annual by Steve Orlando – We reach the end of an era with a major team swap. Bobby and Christian are going off for a romantic vacation, Pyro’s got a book tour and a horrible mullet (I still can’t get over Pyro as a romance novelist), and there’s a corporate shake up at Hellfire Trading. That’s said, while I’m sad to see my faves leave the team, I am excited to see that the new team isn’t going to be any less gay, as we’ve got Daken and some dude named Somnus who I’m not familiar with, but is in love with Daken, so I will be continuing to subscribe to the series. 

Harley Quinn The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour issues 4-6 by Tee Franklin – There’s so many wlw y’all, just oodles. On top of Harley and Ivy, these three issues give us Livewire and Nightfall, who are admittedly broken up atm, but still were a thing; Vixen and her girlfriend Elle, who is disabled and has a prosthetic leg; and Peaches, the stripper with vitiligo who gives Harley a lap dance and would really like to give both Harley and Ivy a private show. Anyway, from the queerness to the general diversity of background and side characters, I’m utterly thrilled and sad to see the series end, as I will not be watching the animated series anytime soon. 

Tut-Tut/Why King Tut is Still Fascinating by Casey Cep – An interesting article about the history of King Tut and the field of Egyptology, why King Tut still captures the imagination of people around the world, and how to grapple with the colonialist origins of Egyptology and decolonizing the field today. I would love to read something, article or book, that goes more in depth, because the colonialism inherent in the discovery of Tut’s tomb always horrified me, even as I was interested in learning more about the history. What Carter did to Tut’s mummy always makes my stomach turn.

Close Encounters/A Holocaust Survivor’s Hardboiled Science Fiction by Caleb Crain – I was fascinated by the conceit of Stanislaw Lem’s “Solaris” when I saw it used as an au setting for a fanfiction and further fascinated when I started reading it properly. It was dark and haunting, which is how I like my science fiction, frankly, and discovering that Lem was a Holocaust survivor made an awful lot of sense in terms of the book’s themes and musing on humanity and this article digs even more into that. This is a really great biographical sketch of Lem and his works and if you have even a passing interest in Lem’s books I’d recommend it. 

In Progress: 

The Wilds Beyond the Witchlight – My players have made it through the first chapter! We have left the Witchlight Carnival and moved into the Feywild, specifically the first splinter realm within Prismeer, Hither. This chapter is more complicated than the first, but is also a bit more guided, which is good for me the DM, because it means that I can actually make proper session plans now. The first chapter was very much a free for all exploration time at a carnival, so there was minimal prep I could do, which drove me a bit bonkers.

Sealed with Honey by the Magpie Artists’ Ensemble – This should have been included with the last list too, but it completely slipped my mind, due, in part, to it’s nontraditional story telling method. “Sealed with Honey” is a completely epistolary queer romance set in the 19th century. Simon Ward and Gabriel Shaw, two young men, one in England and the other in France, strike up a correspondence after an introduction from Simon’s sister. The story is entirely told though letters that get mailed out on a twice monthly basis. The first letters went out late last year and it’s been a delight getting the letters in the mail and seeing new and tantalizing details revealed. 

There’s no way to pick up the story at the moment, but I believe there was talk about offering the story as a bundle once the initial run was completed. Information about the ongoing story can be found on the “Sealed with Honey” Kickstarter page.  

Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance & Submission edited by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame and Jon Jacobs – This book is an interview collection about, as the title implies, more BDSM stuff. It’s another older one, so, as with “SM 101,” certain aspects have changed. I’ve only just made it through the introduction though, and it does look promising, but I have had to put the book on hold while I do some other research reading for a short story I’m working on. 

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – A classic detective novel that I have long wanted to read. I love the movie and I love the old Sam Spade radio drama. I wasn’t prepared to be punched in the face on page four by the line “Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow.” I was expecting some sexism because it’s typical of the genre and of 1929, but this really just sent me.

Not a lot of Reasons to Sing, but Enough by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre

[Image ID: A Snapchat of the cover of "Not a lot of Reasons to Sing, but Enough" by Kyle Tran Myhre with art by Casper Pham. The caption reads: Stories about stories, my favorite kind. End ID]

What can artists do in difficult times? That is the question this book grapples with. 

Dealing with challenging topics through allegory is a very hit or miss thing, with misses more likely than hits in my experience as a long time X-Men fan. Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre, on the other hand, hits and hits hard.

[Image ID: Snapchat of text, "How can I write about social justice issues via characters who do not move through the systems and structures that I move through, or that the people on my planet move through? How can that be done responsibly, in a way that doesn't sand the edges off of the issues that I normally write about?" The caption reads: Fuck, yes. what a mood! End ID.]

I actually don’t think I would want to read this book if the discussions within of authoritarianism, people who refuse to acknowledge trouble if it doesn’t impact them, or who willfully twist meaning, were just straight discussions of the world between 2018 and now. I, like so many, have lived through and been impacted by those things all too closely, but the distance created by the found fiction/quasi-epistolary sci-fi setting opens a door to exploring those topics in a way that feels cathartic rather than painful. 

[Image ID: Snapchat of the text: "Memo: What follows is a collection of poems, conversation transcripts, notebook entries, and sketches compiled by our team regarding the robot Gyre. Frustratingly, they are filtered through a secondary source, Gyre's traveling companion, a human Nar'ryzar "Nary" Crumbeaux. Whether Crumbeaux took extremely detailed notes during their travels across the moon, or Gyre's advanced memory capabilities are responsible for the existence of these writing, we do not know." The captain reads: Reconstructing history through fragmentary evidence my beloved. End ID]

The book opens with what is possibly my favorite framing device in existence: a faux-academic preface explaining what you are about to see: A collection of poems and transcripts that the robot Gyre and his human apprentice Nary, collected over their travels on the moon, which is home to a society that grew from a prison colony of political dissidents from a World that they can no longer remember. Now, generations later, they are struggling despite their founders’ best efforts to subvert what they could recall of their old world’s failings. 

So what are poets Gyre and Nary to do? They look for stories, they tell stories, they share and encourage others to share. Throughout the book I was reminded repeatedly of a line from “The Truth About Stories” by Thomas King, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.”

[Image ID: Snapchat of text: "1. Everyone has a story. No matter who you are or where you come from, everyone has a story, and every story matters. If we're going to survive, it will be because we listen to each other's stories." The caption reads: The truth about stories is that's all we are. End ID]

Stories are important. They are important to connection, they are important to memory, they are important to making sense of the world. At one point, in a conversation between Gyre and Nary, Nary grapples with doubt about the impact that what they’re doing has, because things seem to keep getting worse. That piece, “Do You Think We Have Been Talking About PoetryThis Whole Time?” reads to me an awful lot like grappling with activism burnout. There’s so much that needs to be done, you can’t do all of it yourself, but at the same time, sometimes it feels like you’re never doing enough. 

[Image ID: Snapchat of text:
Nary: I'm tired.
Gyre: Drink more tea.
Nary: You know what I mean. It feels like everything is on fire, and we're still just writing poems, walking from one village to the next, going on and on about the importance of telling our stories and building community through art. And nothing changes. If anything, things are getting worse." The caption reads: That burn out feel, pensive emoji. End ID]

There is so much more to be said about this book, there is more than one theme, though stories are central. A few poems that stood out to me were “Blessing (Circles),” which deals in how stories are not always neat and tidy things and spoke to my experience dealing with purity culture surrounding media, and “Like We Live in a Bad Poem,” which digs into the world building and the repercussions of the original Exiles having had their memories wiped, eg. idioms remain, but their context is lost. It is a book worth taking your time with and revisiting. I am certain it will hit me differently six months from now. 

[Image ID: Snapchat of text: "Don't be angry at a story because it isn't a map." The caption reads: I wish more people understood this. End ID]

Additionally, there is some truly incredible art throughout the book, done by artist Casper Pham. My favorite piece is the one that has also been used for the cover art. 

[Image ID: Artwork of a robot leaning back against a pile of cable, it has a hand raised which appears to be damaged, some of the fingers are sparking and smoking. Below the image is the quote: "Just because you don't have the power to run outside and magically 'fix' everything, it doesn't mean that you don't have power." The Snapchat caption reads: The art in this book is stunning. End ID]

If you’re lucky, you might also still be able to get the limited edition postcard prints when you order the book. (The site says they’re for the pre-order, but I got them and didn’t pre-order, so I’m assuming it’s a “while supplies last” thing now.)

Anyway, go get yourselves a copy and I’ll leave you with one of my favorite lines from the very beginning of the book. “Please remember: This doesn’t end in a meaningful way. There’s no tidy conclusion waiting for you on the other side. Think of it more like a circle.”

If you enjoy my content and would like to see more, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon

Let’s read books by Black authors!

I made the spur of the moment decision to compile a list of the books I have reviewed by Black authors in a handy masterpost for Black History Month. I have a vague recollection of doing something similar for Pride month years ago when I was still operating primarily on Tumblr, and this seems like as good a time as any to pick that idea up again. The reviews will be (mostly) in order from oldest to newest, with that “mostly” being that I will be lumping reviews together if they’re books by the same author.

1. An Anthology of Fiction by Trans Woman of Color edited by Ellyn Peña and Jamie Berrout

I first reviewed this book back in April 2016 and fell head over heels in love with it. At the time it was only published as an ebook on Gumroad by the Trans Women Writers Collective. Sadly, the collective is no long active. It was forced to shutter in the middle of publishing an expanded edition of the anthology under the new name “Nameless Women: An Anthology of Fiction by Trans Woman of Color.” Despite the shuttering of the collective you can still find “Nameless Women” in hardcopy through Amazon’s self publishing service. As of November 2018, editor Jamie Berrout reported than any remaining royalties and sales would be donated to organizations supporting trans women of color.

2. Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian writer. I acquired this book as part of a Humble Bundle of LGBTQ fiction, again, back in 2016 and it is honestly one of my favorite books from that collection. A short story anthology, “Falling in Love with Hominids” is a beautiful blend of urban fantasy, queer identity and more. I found it to be an incredibly refreshing read and it definitely revitalized my interest in the fantasy genre. While the aforementioned book bundle has long since ended, you can get a copy of the “Falling in Love with Hominids” here.

3 + 4. StreetSlam: Wishes of a Broken Time and StarLion: Thieves of the Red Night by Leon Langford

“StreetSlam” was the debut novel of author Leon Langford. It is an action packed sci-fi/superhero story with fight scenes right out of a Final Fantasy game. Another review from 2016, it was self published as an ebook, but I’m not sure that it’s available anymore.

We aren’t at too much of a loss however, because “StarLion” came out just last year and it is absolutely riveting. A superhero academy novel, it is the first novel of a series and I, for one, will be watching excitedly for the next book. If you’re looking for a YA novel with a complex and passionate Black protagonist, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. You can find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Bookshop.org.

5. The Opal Charm series by Miri Castor

There are four books in this series so far. I first began reviewing these books with “Path to Dawn” in 2016, followed by “Hope in Nautical Dusk” in 2017; then came the prequel novel, “The Path to Dusk,” in 2019; and, most recently, “Melody of Astronomical Dusk” in 2021. The “Opal Charm” series is a unique take on the “inherited powers emerge at puberty” trope that deals heavily in family legacy and the very real consequences of child heroes through the protagonist’s (our titular Opal) journey to save both her world and the world of her ancestor. The books can be found on Amazon.

6. The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Another review from 2016, this book was brought to my attention during a college course I took on early slave narratives. “The Known World” is a novel set in antebellum Virginia that explores the story of a Black slave owner and the slaves he owns. A beautifully written book, it shows a part of history that isn’t often seen when it comes to popular modern media about the history of slavery. Jones noted, in the Q&A he gave to our class, that he had been inspired by a single footnote about Black slave owners in an old textbook. Definitely worthwhile if this is a time period you are interested in reading about.

7. Bingo Love by Tee Franklin

Now writing for DC, my first introduction to Tee Franklin was through her graphic novel “Bingo Love,” which tells the story of two women of color who fell in love as teenagers, were separated and then reconnected and fell back in love as older women. It’s a wonderful, heartfelt story and, I think, much needed representation for queer individuals who came into their own at an older age. I first reviewed this in 2018 and there are now three editions, with various levels of bonus content. All three editions can be found here.

8. Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton

“Black on Both Sides” is an excellent and much needed exploration of how race and transgender identity has overlapped in history. Providing a solid theoretical frame work, the book takes us from mid-nineteenth century slave narratives to present day narratives of race and gender. I said it before and I’ll say it again, the discussions of the Brenden Teena archive and the Christine Jorgensen narrative are some of my absolute favorite. I would highly recommend it to anyone studying the history of gender and queerness. Pick up a copy here.

A few honorable mentions:

The following books are all short story/comic anthologies, which I was able to confirm contain stories by Black creators, though not every story is, for which reason I did not want to put them in the same list as the above books.

  1. The Dates anthologies, edited by Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra
    • Of Arms and the Man I Sing written by Paige S. Allen
    • Lulu and Diana by Joamette Gil
  2. Wayward Sisters: An Anthology of Monstrous Women, edited by Allison O’Toole
    • Solid Shadows written by Rachel Simon with art by K. Guillory
    • Cold Call written and illustrated by Xia Gordon
  3. 99% Chance of Magic: Stories of Hope and Strength for Transgender Kids from Heartspark Press
    • The Sisters from the Stars and Melody Song & the Hymns of the Infinate Sadness written by Amy Heart and illustrated by Wriply M. Bennet

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu

Telling me something is gay historical fantasy is like, the fastest way to get my attention when it comes to getting me to read a book. I am gay, I love historical fiction, I love fantasy and the supernatural. Which is to say, when the English translation of “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation”—“Mo Dao Zu Shi” in the original Chinese—was announced last year, I could not slam the preorder button fast enough. Volume 1 arrived in December and I fell in love instantly. Well, not quite instantly, I didn’t have time to properly read it until January, but my point still stands. The book is fantastic.

From the plot structure to the characters themselves, there is nothing that didn’t draw me in and this is only volume one of five. There are two interconnected plots that you follow through the book: 1. main character Wei Wuxian’s death in the first chapter and the backstory of how that came to be and 2. his resurrection some years later on the cusp of some sinister supernatural happenings. Both plots are really cleverly woven together in that you learn what you need to know of the past when it becomes relevant to the present day, this is done variously through internal monologue, spoken dialogue or actual flashback sequences. It’s great! 

To the characters, it’s very difficult to dislike a single character in the book, even when they’re antagonists, because they’re just so well done. I am particularly in love with how character development is established so quickly between past and present. I think my favorite example of this development is Lan Wangji, who we see predominantly from Wei Wuxian’s point of view in this first volume. Wei Wuxian knew how Lan Wangji acted when they were younger and in the present seeks to get similar reactions from him, but this backfires because, in the intervening years, Lan Wangji has grown and changed. We don’t see Lan Wangji’s internal development (at least not in this volume), but it is  so clear that growth has happened regardless of whether or not we’ve seen it and it’s just presented in a really excellent and effective way. 

The book is also just, really fun. There’s a great balance of what is, in truth, a rather heavy plot and humor. The writing is very good at playing to your emotions and it just feels incredibly human. It’s messy and complicated and it makes for an incredible story. 

If you’re wondering “where is the discussion of the gay shit?” It’s interwoven throughout the plot is where it is. “Grandmaster of Demon Cultivation” is very much slow burn when it comes to romance. There were other things going on in the past and there are other things going on in the present. The romance is by no means secondary, but it takes its time, volume one deals very much in obliviousness and pining/yearning. While the most explicit discussion of queerness is the in world homophobia and Wei Wuxian’s attempts use of that to his favor, there is, in my professional experience as a homosexual, a very clear queer yearning as well, it just doesn’t beat you over the head with it, which is fitting given the character it comes from. 

One final thing of note is the excellent glossary and character guide at the end of the book. The character guide breaks down Chinese naming conventions and why the same character might be referred to in different ways by different people, and the glossary explains everything from pronunciations to genre terms (danmei, xianxia, wuxia) to various terms that are staples of those genres and might be unfamiliar to a Western audience. I found a decent amount to be discernible through context, but those appendices were still massively helpful. If you were worried about being confused by the names or cultural context, don’t be, the book has got you covered. 

Volume 1 of “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation” is available for purchase now and volumes 2 and 3 are currently available for preorder from a variety of sellers.

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The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski

[Image ID: The cover of The Last Wish. A dragon is breathing fire in the background while Geralt of Rivia, a white haired man in leather armor, in the foreground, prepares to swing his sword at the dragon. Below in a red bar is the title The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher and the author's name Andrzej Sapkowski. The snapchat caption reads: Witcher time. End ID]

So, you’ve watched “The Witcher” on Netflix and are wondering if it’s worth getting into the books. In my humble opinion, yes, yes it is. Now, you shouldn’t go in expecting to read exactly what you watched. That sort of thinking makes no one happy. My recommendation, having only read “The Last Wish” thus far, would be to treat them as two separate, yet complimentary canons. 

“The Last Wish” is a short story collection that bounces between Geralt resting and healing at Melitele’s temple with Nenneke and a series of adventures that took place in the past. A framing you will recognize in how the first season of the Netflix show bounced back and forth in time. This first book also covers many of the stories used for the first season: Renfri’s story, Pavetta’s betrothal, meeting Filavandrel, the djinn. Each story is expanded considerably from what we see in the show, which makes sense give the constraints of a TV production, but I think they were very nicely adapted. The djinn storyline in particular I thought was condensed for the Netflix show particularly well without losing too much of the feeling of the original story. 

I am also glad that the show added Jaskier/Dandelion to the Pavetta betrothal/child surprise storyline, where he wasn’t in the original story. This change makes sense both in a “giving Jaskier more screen time because he’s an important character” sense, but also because of how they brought together the storyline of the show. In the book, Jaskier/Dandelion appears in several of the stories where Geralt is at the temple of Melitele with Nenneke, stories that aren’t reflected in the show, adding him somewhere else was a good call. All in all, a good change made for a good reason. 

[Image ID: A snapchat of text, the highlighted section reads, "'You've got a guest.' 'Again? Who's it this time? Duke Hereward himself?' 'No it's Dandelion this time, your fellow...'" The snapchat caption reads "My boy" drawn out and in all caps. End ID]

On the flip side, I think one of the most interesting things that got lost in translation from book to show was the consistent riffing on classic fairy tales. Renfri is Snow White, her stepmother conspires to get rid of her and then she spends time living with seven gnomes; the Law of Surprise is the miller’s daughter’s promise to Rumplestiltskin made a formal pact with Destiny; Stregobor notes that when he locked girls up in towers, princes would try to rescue them, a la Rapunzel; etc. etc. They’re just wonderful little details that didn’t quite make it into the show, though you can certainly see hints of them, and I greatly enjoyed them every time I came across one. 

[Image ID: Snapchat of a section of the text, which reads: "...who began the Queen of Metinna with the help of the gnome Rumplestelt, and in return promised her firstborn? Zivelenna didn't keep her promise when Rumplestelt came for his reward and, by using spells, she forced him to run away. Not long after that, both she and the child died of the plague. You do not dice with Destiny with impunity!" The caption reads: "Fuck how did I miss this connection to the Law of Surprise" "Fuck" is in all caps. End ID]

Not everyone is going to be happy with every change, but to me, “The Last Wish” feels like a particularly excellent example of how a TV/film adaptation of a book/series can make major deviations from the text, while remaining faithful to the story as a whole. Additionally, even without the show, the books are just good. If you’re looking for more of the world of the Witcher, because you liked what the show presented good news! The books are jam packed with all the great world building in the shows and more. They’re serious, they’re funny, Geralt says “What the heck” at one point and I lost it. I cannot emphasize how much you will like the books if you already enjoyed the show. 

[Image ID: A Snapchat of the text, the highlighted section reads: "Very well, Caldemeyn. What the heck, we'll risk a meeting with Master Irion. Shall we go?" The caption reads: "Coming from the show, the idea of Henry Cavill's Geralt saying 'what the heck' is obscenely funny." End ID]

Some notes:
Since the books are a combination of short story collections and novels, there has been some wondering about what order to read them in. This article, was my go to for sorting out my reading order.

The books are also selling rather fast at the moment due to the show’s popularity and are backordered in a number of places. I got mine used through independent sellers on Amazon, but I would recommend checking your preferred bookseller first, since these are widely available books. 

Fall 2021 Behind the Scenes Reading

Welcome to the first post of what I am calling “Behind the Scenes Reading,” where I discuss my bookshelves and what I’m reading when I’m not working on reviews for this blog. As a reminder, if you didn’t read the end-of-the-year wrap up post, this post will feature books/comics/articles I read from September through November 2021 and patrons will get a spicy little extra section of anti-recommendations. Let’s dive in:

Finished:

Franklin’s Passage by David Solway – This is a poetry collection thematically concerned with Franklin’s lost expedition. The poems are stunning and haunting and deeply impactful. I think poetry is honestly one of the best mediums to try and capture the legacy of the Franklin expedition, as there are so few concrete answers about what happened. Poetry doesn’t need answers, and can be open ended in a way that narrative fiction can’t always be. This book was very hard to get ahold of, but if you’re interested in poetry and the Franklin expedition and willing to take a gamble on a book that appears to only exist in a nebulous state of “perpetually on backorder,” you can order it directly from the publisher.

Harley Quinn The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour issues 1-3 – Tee Franklin of “Bingo Love” fame, has been writing a limited Harley/Ivy series for DC that picks up where the animated series left off, which I’ll admit I haven’t seen, but issue one of the series gives you a brief recap, so no worries there. I adore Tee Franklin’s writing and how she approaches queer relationships and when I found the first two issues at my local comic shop I was thrilled. It is ongoing, with the next issue coming out on December 14, so there’s still time to add it to your pull list.

Marauders, issues 23-25, by Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto – I’ve never really kept up with current X-Men comics cause it can just get so confusing, but I have a local comic shop now and I saw from the issue 23 preview that Banshee (my beloved dad/son) was in it, and I like the Marauders team (Kitty Pryde, Bobby Drake, St. John Allerdyce etc etc)… and issue 23 turned out to be a really good place to pick up the series actually. It gave a good summary what had been going on for mutants, and was a good quick one-shot feeling story, before it switched tune for the next two issues, which also had their own self contained arc. The last issue came out on December 1st and will certainly be appearing in the Winter 2021/2022 list.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel – A Hanukkah classic, featuring the Jewish folk character Hershel of Ostropol. This has been my favorite Hanukkah book since I was a child who didn’t even celebrate Hanukkah. Despite not being from a Jewish family my mother got me holiday books from a wide variety of cultures and “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” was always my favorite. I cannot recommend this book enough, between the wonderful story and the stunning illustrations courtesy of Trina Schart Hyman it’s just a gorgeous look at what the holiday of Hanukkah means. 

Love in the Time of Scurvy: A Terror Fanzine and Brave New Worlds: A Terror AU Fanzine – You might be asking why I’m including fanzines here, well that’s because the first is 152 pages, proper book size in my opinion; the second has four discrete volumes; and it’s not like I haven’t discussed fan works before. I have a whole post about fan content for “The Terror” already, a post about fusion fanfiction, and I’ve even reviewed published fanfiction of works in the public domain. Fanfiction isn’t a lesser form of fiction and fanart isn’t a lesser form of art, and there are a ton of incredible writers and artists in the Terror fandom and they deserve appreciation.

Extras of Love in the Time of Scurvy are still for sale (as of December 3rd). Sadly the sales for Brave New Worlds, ended on December 1st. However, there is an Ao3 collection for Brave News Worlds that has some of the fanfiction in the zine and there’s a collection for Love in the Time of Scurvy too that I’ve linked here in case sales have ended by the time this goes live. All the profits from Love in the Time of Scurvy went to the Arctic Eider Society and Brave New Worlds supported Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

In Progress: 

SM 101 by Jay Weisman – I have spent a lot of time delving into queer theory and queer history and there has always been kink and BDSM present in the background during those studies and I figured it was about time that I delved into that area properly. “SM 101” came to me as a highly recommended introductory book, and so far it has lived up to the hype.

The Wilds Beyond the Witchlight – This is the D&D campaign book for the game that I am running for a handful of local friends + my brother. This is my first time running a D&D campaign, though I have run/moderated games for other systems before, so I’m reading through the book slowly, carefully and repetitively, with “The Dungeon Master’s Guide,” “Player’s Handbook,” and “Monster Manual” at my elbow to cross check things. It’s a really exciting campaign though and takes place in the Witchlight Carnival and the Feywild, and supernatural carnival + ethereal fairy world are like… two of my favorite fantasy tropes. 

Thank you for an incredible year!

Thank you everyone for a truly wonderful year and thank you for bearing with me when my posting schedule became erratic and sometimes subject to change at the drop of a hat. If you are a patron, you will have heard about my grad school application woes, my move from New York back to Ohio, and various other bits of chaos that have kept me from getting reviews out on time. Despite the chaos it’s been a pretty great year in other ways. I completed my conversion to Judaism shortly before I moved back to Ohio and since I’ve moved back I’ve rekindled old friendships and my life feels the least stressful it’s been in the past two years of the pandemic. 

This year has also been a really amazing one for this blog too. I got to work with Miri Castor and Leon Langford again, whose work I love, reviewing the new installment of Miri Castor’s “Opal Charm” series, “Melody of Astronomical Dusk,” and Leon Langford’s new novel “StarLion: Thieves of the Red Night”; classicist and historian Kathryn Stutz shared her expertise as a guest reviewer of “Lady Franklin of Russel Square”; and I just found an incredible amount of new authors and books that I adore, most notable among these being Craig Hurd-McKenney and his series “Some Strange Disturbances” (my beloved) and “The Unfinished Corner” by Dani Colman. 

Looking toward the coming year, there are a number of new things on the horizon. The largest of which being: I am applying to grad school (again) and that will put new constraints on my time should I get in. Therefore, changes are coming to the blog and to my Patreon.

1. Early access is getting earlier! Which means that all patrons will now see reviews and monthly extras a full 48 hours before they are released to the public. This is to give patrons of all tiers something extra, because there is a high likelihood that grad school will force me to change the day of the week the review comes out based on what my schedule is like for any given week/month, which is itself based on what my schedule was like during my time as an undergrad. I want to make sure that early access is, well, properly early. 

2. New, consistent extra content in the shape of quarterly behind the scenes book rec lists. I’m not only just trying to read more in general, but since grad school will be having me read a lot too, and the extra essays have somewhat fallen to the wayside, this felt like a nice way to bring something extra back to the blog. The list will include sections for finished books, books in progress, and, for patrons, books I read, but didn’t like enough to recommend/had major problems with/couldn’t finish. 

These rec lists will be coming out every third month (March, June, September and December) and will release for patrons a full month before they go live for the public. Ex. The first post will go up on Patreon on Friday, December 3rd and release on the blog proper on December 31st. It will compile the books I read, and would recommend to others, from September to November. Any additional books read in December will be included in the March 2021 post. 

3. Reshuffled reward tiers, now featuring physical rewards!

The $1 “Change Jar” tier has not changed. You still get:
1. My eternal thanks.
2. Behind the scenes looks at upcoming reviews, changes to scheduling and glimpses into my chaotic life.
3. Early access to all reviews and essays before they go live on the main blog.
4. Extra Snapchat images that don’t make it into the reviews.

The $3 “Please sir, I want some more” tier has become the $4 “I have opinions” tier. This is the previous $5 tier, but cheaper, that’s it. You get: 
1. Everything from tier 1.
2. Polls to help me decide content for the upcoming months. 

The old $5 “I have opinions” tier has been replaced with a new and exciting $7 tier called “Talk to me.” This tier gives you access to everything from the previous two tiers in addition to a quarterly letter from me with a personalized book recommendation. 

When you back at this level, you will receive a link to a survey about your taste in books. Then, I will use your response to select a book/comic/graphic novel from my collection every three months that I think you might enjoy and write you a letter telling you a little bit about the book. The letters will go out on the same schedule as the book rec posts, with the first letter coming immediately after you back.

The letters will be written on a selection of fun/interesting stationary and will be sealed with wax seals. The increased cost of the tier is to account for the cost of new stationary, sealing wax and postage. I can send letters internationally, as long as your country doesn’t have shipping restrictions due to *gestures vaguely at the state of the world.* 

As always, if you enjoy my reviews, essays and everything else, I would greatly appreciate your support, be that on Patreon or Ko-Fi, so that I can continue to do this. I run this blog because I love reading and I love sharing what I read and learn with others and the more support I receive the more energy I can put toward doing that. To that end, I want to thank recent Ko-Fi donor, Capt Megsy, for the support! Seeing that notification in my email made my day.

Of course, if you aren’t able to donate to my Ko-Fi or back me on Patreon, you aren’t able to. It’s not always feasible, I know that. I certainly don’t want anyone feeling guilty because they can’t support me monetarily. If you regularly interact with my posts, chances are I remember your icon and username and think of you fondly every time you pop up in my notifications. Steady support by way of being a regular reader also means more than I can say.

Knowing that people find enjoyment in what I do makes it worth it, even if I’m making a pittance doing it. And I’m realizing the irony of that statement, knowing that I’m gunning for a career in academia, where I will also make a pittance for sharing my knowledge with others. My theoretical future grad school stipend will literally be half of what I’m making right now, possibly less than half. Ah, well. 

Thank you, once again, for coming with me through 2021. Here’s to an even better 2022!

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, written by E. Lockhart

[Image ID. The cover of Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero. A young girl with curly brown hair stands next to a white great dane in front of the Gotham skyline in blue and orange. Up the left side of the book in large lettering is the title "Whistle" and above that sits the subtitle "A New Gotham City Hero" To the right of the subtitle the author's name is listed as "New York Times Bestselling Author, E. Lockhart." Below the title is "Illustrated by Manuel Preitano." The snapchat caption reads "The first explicitly Jewish superhero in 44 years LET'S GO." End ID]

“Whistle” is a fantastic introduction for a fantastic new superhero. It is at once a classic origin story and a breath of fresh air. Willow Zimmerman and her mother have struggled to makes ends meet as her mother’s (presumably adjunct) job as a professor doesn’t give them health insurance and she hasn’t been able to work as much because she is battling cancer. At the very beginning the mother mentions stopping treatments because of medical debt and I almost had a heart attack that she was going to hold the same narrative place as Uncle Ben. She doesn’t, but that is ultimately the catalyst for what eventually lands Willow in the annals of superherodom. 

In my personal opinion, Willow was activist minded enough that I think she would have found her way into the superhero conversation eventually. I think there’s a lot to be said for those superheroes who really do stand for community, activism and change even before they get their powers, and that’s Willow in a nutshell. She’s fighting for her community from page one. 

[Image ID: In the first panel, Willow, a teenage girl with long curly brown hair, approaches a deli counter with a friend, Garfield, a Black teenage boy. Willow says to the man behind the counter "This is my new friend Garfield. We desperately need Reubens." Transition to the second panel, Willow and Garfield are sitting at a table biting into their sandwiches. Mouths full Willow intones "Grhmmm?" and Garfield replies "Umm hmmm!" The caption reads "Show interest in a girl's activism and you've got a friend for life."

What takes her from activist to superhero, however, is one Edward Nigma, former friend of her mother’s, who offers Willow financial help when he hears that her mother is ill. Whether this was truly altruistic or if there was an ulterior motive there from the beginning isn’t entirely clear, but, regardless, Willow winds up working for Nigma as a runner for his less than legal poker games, which leads to a whole lot of guilt when she finds out who Nigma is and when Willow realizes that he and Poison Ivy are targeting her community with intent to buy up all the local property to gentrify the area. 

[Image ID: A comic panel of Willow's hands working open a puzzle box with the onomatopoeia "Twist!" The narration box reads "My mom's best childhood friend, Eddie Nachtberger, renamed himself E. Nigma in high school." The snapchat caption at the bottom of the image reads, in all caps, "Welp." End ID]

However, it was none of this that first drew me to “Whistle.” I picked it up because Willow Zimmerman is the first explicitly Jewish superhero to be created by DC in 44 years and her Judaism is important in a way that clearly impacts her worldview, something we don’t always see even with the existing Jewish heroes—I’m thinking specifically of Kitty Pryde of the X-Men whose Jewishness only recently started to play a larger role in her character again. 

The only thing that gave me a very brief moment of pause was when it was stated that Willow wasn’t particularly observant, which is a trope that is frequently used as a cop out to not have to deal with any actual aspect of Judaism, but that isn’t the case here, quite the opposite actually. Willow may not be as ritually observant as her mother, but she is still undeniably Jewish and her story deals in Jewish guilt, history and community. When she is conflicted about her work for Nigma, who gave her the money to save her mother, but is also the Riddler and involved directly with the destruction of her community, she seeks solace at her local synagogue, and it is the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, repairing the world, that influences why and how she operates as a superhero once she gains her powers. 

[Image ID: In the foreground Willow is rummaging through her dresser drawer for something to wear. Behind her, in the doorway to her room, is her mother, who looks gaunt and is wearing a headscarf indicative of chemotherapy induced hair loss. Her mother says, "I think you can lie and be a good person. You know the phrase tikkum olam?"  Willow replies, "Hebrew for world repair. Kinda like social activism." Her mother continues, "So, the key thing isn't truth or lies. It's that a person feels some responsibility for fixing what's wrong in the world." The snapchat caption is a drawn out "Yes." End ID]

This is a young adult graphic novel, but it’s very enjoyable for adult adults too and I would say probably also a decent read for kids as young as middle school. I would definitely recommend it if you need more Jewish heroes in your life. You can get it directly from DC here. 

If you enjoy my content and would like to see more, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon!

The Unfinished Corner written by Dani Colman

[Image ID: The cover of The Unfinished Corner, three children ages 12-13 sit atop the head of a giant lion. On the left there is boy with blond hair and glasses in a blue pullover, dress shirt and kippah, next to him is a girl with curly brown hair and pale skin in a overalls and a green shirt. She is holding a paint brush, from which Stars of David are trailing. To her right is a Black boy in a red shirt and red (possibly Spiderman themed) kippah and a girl with brown hair with blonde highlights in a black blazer. Above the image in an artsy yellow font is the title, The Unfinished Corner and the last names of the author, illustrator, colorist and letterer: Colman, Patrovicz, Cogar and Campbell. The snapchat caption reads: Everyone should go read this, it's amazing. End ID]

All of Creation had been completed except for the northern corner of the world. – Howard Schwartz, “Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism”

This bit of Jewish mythology is the foundation for Dani Colman’s fantastic, heart-warming tale, “The Unfinished Corner.” On the eve of becoming a bat mizvah, Miriam, a budding artist, finds herself, her two best friends, and one frenemy, spirited away into the world of Jewish myth, where they meet angels, demons and more; grapple with history both joyous and painful; and finish the titular unfinished corner. 

There’s a lot to love about the story from the wonderful art of Rachel Petrovicz to the depth of care given each and every relationship. Something I particularly appreciated was the balance between humor and intense or heavily factual information. Avi, one of Miriam’s friends, is very well read and familiar with the Torah and its commentaries, and he acts as the encyclopedia of the group, giving necessary information to the reader while doing so, but it never stalls the story, and the footnotes (and I use that term loosely here) are brief and only give you what is needed to understand. 

It’s made clear, however, that knowledge alone isn’t enough to get them to their end destination. Miriam’s other friend, David, is a pillar of support throughout and is the only one with the ability to produce a proper shofar blast when they need it because of his years of playing the trumpet. Judith, the above mentioned frenemy, who’s only there because she was part of a group project that sorted them by last name, stands up to Azazel as they make their way toward the unfinished corner. 

These four also have very different internal feelings of what it means to be Jewish. Avi is incredibly studious and follows halakha closely; David is knowledgable about Jewish history from his travels; Judith is very comfortable in her Jewish identity, even though she doesn’t keep kosher, observe Shabbat or pray. Miriam, on the other hand, is feeling very conflicted her identity because she’s unsure of what defines her identity as hers in a way that is more than just, “I’m Jewish because my parents are.”

Their differences, however, are what enable them to overcome the challenges before them. Throughout the story their angel guide focuses on Miriam as the person of import, the artist, the only one who can finish the unfinished corner, but as Miriam goes on point out at the end, she never would have made it without her friends (and, spoiler, they are all friends by the end).

The relationships that are navigated between these four are far from the only relationships in the story, and even though they aren’t as front and center, they’re still rich and feel well rounded in an instant. You know exactly the sort of happy, teasing family dynamic that exists in Miriam’s household just from her parents’ introduction, and Asmodeus calling himself Lilith’s “house husband” is an entertaining and vivid descriptor of a whole relationship in a single statement. 

The book is labeled as juvenile fiction, but honestly, I think it would be highly enjoyable for children and adults alike. Anyone who enjoys Jewish mythology, has a complicated relationship with identity or faith, or is at a coming of age/turning point in their life, can find something in this story. Get it on Bookshop here.  

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