review · three stars

Review: Notes from My Captivity by Kathy Parks

Title: Notes from My Captivity
Author: Kathy Parks
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Adrienne cares about three things: getting into a great college, becoming a revered journalist, and making her late father proud. So when she’s offered the chance to write an article that will get her into her dream school and debunk her stepfather’s belief in a legendary family of hermits, there’s no question that she’s going to fly across the world to investigate. But the Russian terrain is unforgiving and, when disaster strikes, none of the extensive preparations seem to matter. Now Adrienne’s being held captive by the family she was convinced didn’t exist, and her best hope for escape is to act like she cares about them, even if it means wooing the youngest son.


Notes from My Captivity is a strange novel, and flew way, way under the radar when it was published this past summer. (TBH, the only reason I read it was because a patron donated her ARC and I was like why not.) Kathy Parks divides her book into three-ish parts, but each one kind of blends together that the story moves forward before you stop to question whether any of it even makes sense. There’s a river-rafting adventure, then some conspiracy-theory fueled mystery, and then straight-up magical realism. (I mean, Parks includes these so-subtle-you-miss-them hints that not everything is as it seems, but they’re basically no less magical than a teenager stranded in Siberia so, you know, whatever.)

I didn’t not like the book, but rather felt like the supernatural elements weren’t introduced in such a way to satisfyingly get me to the ending that Parks wrote. (Like, does she classify this book as magical realism or just simply magical or as an allegory for faith?) I liked the mystery aspects (and their debunking) way more than the literal trek it took to get to that point in the story, and a part of me wishes Park could have written a little less literal action to more quickly focus on the emotional action.

With that said, however, Adrienne felt like an authentic teen completely thrown out of her element, written with pathos and an emotional arc that I could follow and root for. Her motivations were clear, her behavior genuine, and her grief palpable. And the book itself is filled with such great sarcasm and a swoon-worthy first-love that the good parts successfully tuck the bad ones out of sight.

review · three stars

Review: Call Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit

Title: Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Rating: ★★★½
Summary: In this powerful and wide-ranging collection of essays, Solnit turns her attention to battles over meaning, place, language, and belonging at the heart of the defining crises of our time. She explores the way emotions shape political life, electoral politics, police shootings and gentrification, the life of an extraordinary man on death row, the pipeline protest at Standing Rock, and the existential threat posed by climate change. To get to the root of these American crises, she counters the despair of our age with a dose of solidarity, creativity, and hope.


I always go into Rebecca Solnit essays expecting so much, mostly because it takes all of my brain power to focus on both the subject of her words and the particular way she writes them. In the foreword to her newest collection, Solnit writes that “calling things by their true names cuts through the lies that excuse, buffer, muddle, disguise, avoid, or encourage inaction, indifference, [and] obliviousness.” Naming something means acknowledgment, and acknowledgment inspires action. This theme runs through each essay, and Solnit encourages us to explore with her. How do our reactions to events help define both them and ourselves? In what ways can we make connections between experiences and history?

Although Solnit included essays written years ago, they still feel pertinent, book-ended by injustices that happened only months prior. And I think that’s why I enjoy her writing so much: she’s able to react to something in the moment as well as from a historical perspective. She’s published collections consistently every few years, and her commentary always brings a breath of fresh air to what otherwise is a shitty situation.

(Solnit is a regular contributor to Lit Hub should you desire more of her writing.)

review · three stars

Review: The Dazzling Heights by Katharine McGee

Title: The Dazzling Heights (The Thousandth Floor #2)
Author: Katharine McGee
Rating: ★★★
Summary: New York City, 2118. Leda is haunted by memories of what happened on the worst night of her life. Watt just wants to put everything behind him…until Leda forces him to start hacking again. Rylin wins a scholarship to an upper-floor school, but being there also means seeing the boy whose heart she broke – and who broke hers in return. Avery is tormented by her love for the one person in the world she can never have. And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who arrives in New York determined to cause a stir. And she knows exactly where to begin.


After feeling kind of so-so about The Thousandth Floor, I still put this book immediately on my TBR list once I realized it was being published. (Because apparently I have a weakness for rich teens getting in trouble? Idk.) The Dazzling Heights is a solid expansion of McGee’s series and just as engrossing as its predecessor – we get to follow the same set of characters but there’s even more drama and heartbreak in a gorgeous, lush setting. (And, let me tell you, I am here. for. it. I didn’t so much as read this book as inhale it.) While not everything gets wrapped up from the first book, enough does to leave readers satisfied – while also leaving room for new plots and characters to have you biting your nails in anticipation.

Can The Towering Sky come out now please??

review · three stars

Review: The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

RegionalOfficeIsUnderAttackTitle: The Regional Office Is Under Attack!
Author: Manuel Gonzales
Rating: ★★★½
Summary: In a world beset by amassing forces of darkness, one organization—the Regional Office—and its coterie of super-powered female assassins protects the globe from annihilation. At its helm, the mysterious Oyemi and her oracles seek out new recruits and root out evil plots. Then a prophecy suggests that someone from inside might bring about its downfall. And now, the Regional Office is under attack. Recruited by a defector from within, Rose is a young assassin leading the attack, eager to stretch into her powers and prove herself on her first mission. Defending the Regional Office is Sarah—who may or may not have a mechanical arm—fiercely devoted to the organization that took her in as a young woman in the wake of her mother’s sudden disappearance. On the day that the Regional Office is attacked, Rose’s and Sarah’s stories will overlap, their lives will collide, and the world as they know it just might end.


The Regional Office Is Under Attack! is a weird little book that isn’t really like anything else and takes a bit of time to get into but is otherwise laugh-out-loud funny and wholly original. (A.k.a., I very much enjoyed it.) Manuel Gonzales throws you into the plot and expects you to keep up – which would be a turn-off in any other book – but after a couple of chapters, you’re, like, “okay, I got this.” The three stories, which interweave and overlap until you can finally parse out how everything fits, start to feel normal as head-scratching confusion turns into heart-racing anticipation.

Story one is the titular attack on the Regional Office, which is “an army of superwomen” who have been recruited and trained by the Office’s founding members, Mr. Niles and Oyemi, “to fight the evil forces of darkness” and who have already, in the book’s diegetic past, “saved the world from destruction, from self-annihilation, from the evil forces of darkness, from inter-dimensional war strikes, [and] from alien forces… like the retrieval of the Tremont Hotel from inter-dimensional, time-traveling assassins who intended to murder a future madame president by kidnapping and murdering her great-grandmother.” There are a lot of players in the first few chapters, and maybe a little too much going on, but someone named Rose is, like, doing parkour in a magic ventilation shaft and some woman named Sarah has a mechanical arm that looks like any other arm and you’re kind of okay with all of it. (Like I said, it’s a weird little book.)

Story two follows Rose and Sarah as they are recruited into and then eventually join Assassin Training Camp and the Regional Office, respectively. Except that Gonzales introduces them to you in the heat of the moment and then backtracks in such an apologetic and explanatory way that you don’t really mind knowing point D before points C and E before you’re also led to realize points B and A.

Then, interspersed with all of that, is story three, an in-universe biography of the attack on the Regional Office, appropriately titled The Regional Office Is Under Attack: Tracking the Rise and Fall of an American Institution. We are never told who is writing this book, or how they got all this informational on a super secret spy ring operating out of a travel agency, but it’s another one of those ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ moments that you just kind of roll with.

My main question throughout the whole novel – which I will say gets answered by the book’s close – was, What is the difference between Assassin Training Camp and the Regional Office? Gonzales keeps you guessing, all the way up to the final, final twist, but you kind of don’t mind – because, well, you’re reading about coteries of super-powered female assassins who know martial arts and have literal super powers. I mean, I can’t even really describe this book. Is it a revenge story? A heist? Die Hard meets Mission Impossible? I don’t know!!! I was just genuinely invested – in how Rose’s story fit in with Sarah’s, and how both women were going to survive the Regional Office being under attack, and maybe what the heck was going on – that learning the identity of the “defector from within” almost (kind of) felt like an after-thought.

buy borrow bypass · four stars · three stars

Buy Borrow Bypass: Kickass Ladies Edition

Book Riot does this great feature called “Buy, Borrow, Bypass” and I like it, so I’m going to do that here.

YoureNeverWeirdOnTheInternetYou’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Don’t recognize the name Felicia Day? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. You might be familiar with her face from such Joss Whedon-helmed projects like Buffy, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, or Dollhouse, though. Or maybe you remember her red hair in seasons seven, eight, and nine of Supernatural? Or somehow you’re really into MMORPG and watched The Guild??? (Didn’t think so.) If Day’s name or face doesn’t ring any bells, it’s safe to assume you probably won’t be into her debut, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), either. The book functions as a timeline of Day’s life, but feels less autobiographical and more like a play-by-play of her spectacularly odd adolescence, amounting to the origin story for the mythos that’s sprouted up around her. Is this because pop culture looks at Day as some kind of online creation and not as an actress who just happened to make it big by becoming Internet Famous™? Or maybe because it’s easy to get confused between real-life Day as Codex playing World of Warcraft and The Guild Day as… Codex… playing a fictional World of Warcraft??? I didn’t go into the book expecting much, but it was still kind of disappointing.

Verdict: BYPASS

IsEveryoneHangingOutWhyNotMeIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) / Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

I’m smooshing Mindy Kaling’s two biographies – 2011’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and 2015’s Why Not Me? – into one review because I have the same feelings about both of them, i.e., they’re awesome. Kaling is someone about whom I’ve learned great things via GIFs on Tumblr, and her memoirs (basically Parts I and II) really only exaggerate her cool factor. (Is that still a thing? Let’s make it a thing.) Instead of writing about her life linearly from point A to B, she structures both books as a collection of essays and anecdotes about making a living as a female comedian in Hollywood, first as a writer on The Office and then as showrunner for The Mindy Project. Through her writing, Kaling comes off as a person who knows how to 1) successfully navigate the male-dominated film industry, 2) do so with both grace and humility, and 3) be funny as hell in the process. She’s definitely worth a read if, like me, you haven’t had the chance to officially meet via a television screen.

Verdict: BORROW unless you’re already a fan and then BUY

WeShouldAllBeFeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you aren’t already feminist-leaning, Adichie’s print adaptation of her 2013 TEDx Talk might not convince you why you should be – but you should read it anyway. In 52 pages, Adichie succinctly explains what the word feminist means to her and why she considers herself one. Although her speech’s title definitely comes off as click-bait (if you’re feeling brave, just scroll through the video’s comments), the words themselves don’t. Adichie makes it easy to nod along and feel empowered to create change, just by acknowledging one’s own privilege in gender, race, or economic class. At its core, feminism isn’t a complex theory that one needs an advanced degree to understand; hopefully, if enough people read We Should All Be Feminists, maybe it won’t feel like one.

Verdict: BUY

review · three stars

Review: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor

HowStarWarsConqueredTheUniverseTitle: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise
Author: Chris Taylor
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Veteran journalist Chris Taylor traces the Star Wars series from the difficult birth of the original film through its sequels, the franchise’s death and rebirth, the prequels, and the preparations for a new trilogy. Taylor provides portraits of the friends, writers, artists, producers, and marketers who labored behind the scenes to turn Lucas’s idea into a legend. An energetic, fast-moving account of this creative and commercial phenomenon, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe explains how a filmmaker’s fragile dream beat out a surprising number of rivals and gained a diehard, multigenerational fan base – and why it will be galvanizing our imaginations and minting money for generations to come.


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember me talking up How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise back in April – after I’d given up trying to slog through The Secret History of Wonder Woman and wanted to find another microhistory for my participation in the #ReadHarder challenge. If you’re not a huge fan of either pop culture or history, microhistories can be a tough sell on their own; reading at length about the historical, political, economic, and cultural factors that both contributed to – and also occurred because of – a huge film series like Star Wars is really only for mega-nerds who both like Star Wars and want to read 300+ pages on Star Wars. (Like I said, it’s a tough sell.)

Unfortunately, Chris Taylor doesn’t really deliver the “how” of his title, instead focusing more on the “what” – what happened to get Star Wars going and then what happened once it broached mainstream culture. I think that anyone trying to answer the ambiguous “why” is facing an uphill battle, but I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t more theoretical discussion on exactly how Star Wars conquered the hearts and minds of billions of people. Taylor gives a few pages connecting the dots between the original trilogies and the Vietnam War, but it stays in one chapter, buried among hundreds of pages of anecdotes and biography. I understand that Taylor wasn’t writing a George Lucas biography – because, clearly, Star Wars has been wrested from its creator and now breathes on its own – but a lot of the time, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe felt more like The Life and Times of George Lucas (and also thoughts on his creation, the mega-successful Star Wars) than what it was purported to be. (Taylor almost singularly refers to Lucas as “The Creator,” imbuing him with the mythical properties he was supposed to bestow on the mythos of the films themselves.)

While the information contained within How Star Wars Conquered the Universe was interesting – I mean, it’s Star Wars you guys – I think Taylor should have either tweaked his thesis (or perhaps even thought of one in the first place???) or else shortened his work substantially. This could have been a fantastic one-, two-, or even three-part think-piece focusing on why – or dare I say how? – Star Wars jumped from space fantasy to global phenomenon. What was going on in the mid-1970s that created the perfect absence into which Star Wars fit? In what ways did the film, characters, or plot answer lingering wants that other films of that genre or period didn’t? Why did those specific characters on that specific journey in that specific universe create the perfect vortex? How is just so vague of a question – and produces so literal of an answer – that it’s really not suited to the type of analysis Taylor is trying to provide. (Unfortunately.)

However, because there is really nothing that tries to comprehensively document the journey Star Wars took from far-fetched Flash Gordon homage to pop culture commodity, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Industry is worth a perusal – but know what you’re getting into before you start reading.