Month in Review: March 2019

Favorite Media

I was never the biggest Hozier fan, but loving “Take Me to Church” was enough to get me to check out Wasteland Baby from the library. But this album, y’all! I basically like every song (which is so rare) and already really love a few (especially “Movement“). If you’re even a passing Hozier fan, you really need to check out this album.

I don’t think I realized how much I missed the JoBros until “Sucker” dropped in early March. This is a bop, y’all, and my 20-year-old self is screaming.

Stuff I Added to My Queue

I’m pretty sure that I’d add The Friend Zone to my TBR without the infertility plotline, but I have yet to see another contemporary romance address this, and so now I’m super intrigued!

Do I desperately wait for a new Millennium novel? No. Did I automatically add The Girl Who Lived Twice to my TBR the first moment I knew it was being published? Yes. 🤷‍♀️

Destiny featured both Let’s Get Textual and Level Up in one of her ‘TBR Lows & Highs’ posts, and it’s a good example of how a good rec can overcome both a cheesy plot or a bad cover.

New Orleans Rush was another Destiny find! The meet-cute and forced-into-one-another’s-company plot sounds like an ideal pick-me-up the next time I finish something heavy.

ICYMI

What were YOU up to in March? Let me know!

Review: Internment by Samira Ahmed

Title: Internment
Author: Samira Ahmed
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. With the help of newly made friends, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance within, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the camp’s Director and his guards. Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.


When fascism comes to America, it will come draped in the flag. You don’t need to be a student of history to see how nationalism, disguised as patriotism, can take hold of a country, justifying terrible and cruel acts. You only need to turn on the news.

I don’t know that I really enjoyed Internment—more that I experienced it. On one hand, the plot feels like true dystopic fiction, a horrendous what if? spiraling out of a real-world event. But on the other, it reads like an inevitability, the disastrous result of one too many bad choices, the culmination of a timeline from which we can no longer turn back.

We’re introduced to main character Layla after a Muslim registry and Exclusion Laws have already taken effect, but the action quickly accelerates as her family is forcibly removed from their home, tattooed with an ID number, and transported to a “rehabilitation” camp across the desert. The allusions to Japanese internment are frank and unsettling, Samira Ahmed forcing her readers to truly look at all the horrible shit America has done to its citizens in the name of nationalism. It should come as no surprise, then, that Internment was very hard to read, but it is important that I did, and that you do, too. “What’s that thing people always say about history?” Layla asks. “Unless we know our history, we’re doomed to repeat it? Never forget? Isn’t that the lesson? But we always forget,” she reminds us. “Forgetting is in the American grain.”

One of the first things that Layla mentions is how her life is broken up into “Then and Now,” but most of the Thens—the election, the Nazi march on DC, and the Muslim ban—mirror real-world events, so what’s to say that my reaction to those wouldn’t also mirror my reactions to the other Thens—the registry, book burnings, and Exclusion Laws— that ultimately led to Layla’s internment? One of the reasons why this book was so difficult to read was because Ahmed held up a mirror and made me look at myself, forced me to question how I would react to similar circumstances. I kept asking, would I be able to endure like Layla? Protest like her? Resist?

The short answer? No, I don’t think so.

Layla shows extreme fortitude in Internment, and I don’t know that I could do it as well as her, or even at all. About halfway through the book, Layla’s dad tells her, “don’t attract attention. Fade into the crowd. Stay as anonymous as possible. That’s how we’ll survive.” But Layla doesn’t want survival—she wants life. In acknowledging that “there’s no limit to the horrible things we do to one another,” she still understands that “human beings are capable of so many wondrous things.” It’s that hope, that ability to see beauty in the most brutal circumstances, that I admire most of all.

In her author’s note, Ahmed mentions, “I feel a lot of anger. But I believe in hope. I believe that the things that are wrong with America can be fixed by Americans. I believe that being good is what can make us great.” Reading Internment made me feel a lot of anger, but it also gave me hope. What more could I ask of a novel?

Top Ten: Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was things that make me pick up a book.

Let me just say that I am in LOVE with this topic! I chose to list reasons why I might physically pick up a book or why I might then add a book to my TBR, with real-world examples because why the heck not.

It comes personally recommended: an acquaintance texted me out of the blue with “Umm have you read Big Little Lies? I’m watching the HBO miniseries and holy shit I’m hooked” and her thinking of me made me wonder if the book might be my kind of thing after all.
It has cute illustrations: A story may sound interesting, but if I can’t stand the illustration style, there is no way it’s going on my TBR. I am so in enamored with Cannonball‘s illustrations, though, as well as its coloring.
It comes highly recommended across my corner of the bookternet: I have literally seen nothing but good reviews for The Kiss Quotient and having it consistently get four- and five-star reviews made me want to read it.
It includes time travel: I will almost always pick up a book that includes a reference to time travel, but not all of them get added to my TBR. An Ocean on Minutes made the cut.
It’s a retelling of an old favorite: I went through a good half-year when I basically only read books that were either Pride and Prejudice re-tellings or included the book as a plot point. I fell out of the habit, but then Pride came out and it just sounded so freaking good.

I love the cover: whenever people say “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” I think well why the hell not? I do this constantly, and Queenie catches my eye literally every time I come across it.
It flips a trope: I love a good Chosen One Story, but I also love when our Chosen One is off… over there… doing their own thing, and I get to read about everyone else, like in The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
It covers one of my interests: I’m a big fan of 1960s-era NASA, and so I will at least peak at anything that covers it. After watching First Man recently, the topic was on the brain when I saw Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 come into my library.
I loved the movie: Arrival hit me real hard when I saw it, so much so that I want to read its source material, a short story in Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others.
It tackles a trope I love: I have a serious ~thing for fake dating and the fact that The Unhoneymooners includes fake fating on a fake honeymoon (stranded in a hotel! sharing one bed! pretending to be newlyweds!) made my alarm bells BLARE.

Review: Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal

Title: Woman World
Author: Aminder Dhaliwal
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: When a birth defect wipes out the planet’s entire population of men, Woman World rises out of society’s ashes. This infectiously funny comic follows the rebuilding process, tracking a group of women who have rallied together under the flag of “Beyonce’s Thighs.” Only Grandma remembers the distant past, a civilization of segway-riding mall cops, Blockbuster movie rental shops, and “That’s What She Said” jokes. Incorporating feminist philosophical concerns into a series of perfectly-paced strips, Woman World skewers perceived notions of femininity and contemporary cultural icons into a meditation on unrequited love, anxiety, and that whole “survival of humanity” thing.


Woman World is a highly original tale of what happens after global catastrophe, wherein biological men don’t survive (for…reasons) and women band together and create the most utopic, inclusive post-apocalyptic vision I have ever read. (Aminder Dhaliwal makes it very clear that all genders, sizes, races, and abilities are welcome, both in Woman World the society and Woman World the book. One of the main characters has a leg prosthetic! Another has double-mastectomy scarring! There are trans individuals! A monochromatic rainbow of skin colors! Fat ladies! Thin ladies! Pubic hair!)

Although I sped through the book—and laughed out loud at jokes that only a critique on gender norms can bring to the surface—I still wanted more. I went into Woman World thinking it was going to be a narrative graphic novel, but it’s more of a vaguely linear collection of panels that very slowly move the story forward. (If I had known Dhaliwal originally posted this on Instagram, would that notion have changed?) Some of the panels more fully flesh out the broader world while others are individual character studies, but most of the book consists of humorous asides that serve to poke fun at the patriarchy with which readers (and Grandma) will most identify. (Like how bad-ass women are with respect to their own pain or a book-spanning joke on Paul Blart Mall Cop.)

Woman World is a very short read and, although almost every installment can stand on its own, the collection as a whole is just so darn cute and wonderfully refreshing that you’d be remiss to pass it over. 

Top Ten: Favorite Podcasts

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was an audio-themed freebie.

I listen to a lot of podcasts. (Like, it’s basically the only thing I listen to.) I’ve featured both book-related and narrative nonfiction podcasts already, but here are ten more that I absolutely love!

Backtalk: A snappy conversation between two Bitch editors about the week’s pop culture.
Hysteria: Political commentator and comedy writer Erin Ryan is joined by a bicoastal squad of opinionated, mouthy women to discuss news, politics, and cultural stories that affect women’s lives, from the serious to the absurd.
Keep It: Ira Madison III leads a conversation at the intersection of pop culture and politics at a time when we’re all obsessing over both. Movies! Music! Terrible tweets by celebrities trying to seem engaged while bragging about their latest project! This show has it all.
Last Podcast on the Left: Hosts Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski cover all the horrors our world has to offer, from demons and slashers to cults and serial killers. Guaranteed to satisfy your blood lust.
The Librarian Is In: New York Public Library’s podcast about books, culture, and what to read next. Hosts Gwen Glazer and Frank Collerius discuss the books they’re reading, pop culture and the literary zeitgeist, and the world of libraries—and welcome special guests.

Lovett or Leave It: Former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett is joined by comedians, actors, journalists, and many, many renowned Friends of the Pod for a roundup of the week’s top news. Rants! Games! Bad impressions! Nuanced discussion!
My Favorite Murder: Lifelong fans of true crime Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark tell each other their favorite tales of murder and hear hometown crime stories from friends and fans.
Pod Save America: Four former aides to President Obama—Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor—are joined by journalists, politicians, comedians, and activists for a freewheeling conversation about politics, the press, and the challenges posed by the Trump presidency.
Unladylike: Hosts Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin investigate how sisters are doin’ it for themselves in spite of all those unwritten, but all-too-real, bullshit expectations of how we should live our lives.
You Made It Weird: Everybody has secret weirdness. Pete Holmes gets comedians to share theirs.

Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Title: Night Film
Author: Marisha Pessl
Rating: ★★★
Summary: When Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse, her death is ruled a suicide, but investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath and two strangers are drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.


I’m not sure if I would have picked up Night Film had I not first read other Marisha Pessl novels—but I loved Special Topics in Calamity Physics and Neverworld Wake, and so perhaps went into Night Film expecting to love it just as much because Pessl wrote it. Her narrative tone is there, as well as her penchant for a plucky adolescent female protagonist, but in this one, Ashley doesn’t get to tell her own story. She dies at the beginning of the novel and so does her voice, her character only coming through via her relationships to other people. There’s the book’s narrator, Scott, who is investigating her death; Hopper, who knew Ashley as a teenager; and Stanislas Cordova, her father, who becomes almost more of an obsession to Scott than Ashley’s death. And on top of everything is the perception of Ashley, which morphs and twists depending on who’s talking and what they believe, but never really Ashley herself.

It’s not that I didn’t like Night Film, but perhaps that I was expecting one thing while it was another entirely. By the end of the novel, Pessl effectively wraps up the overarching mystery, but after finishing the book amidst a three-hour reading session, it didn’t sit right. I wanted her to continue making me feel physically uncomfortable, the way I felt while Scott was trapped in a seemingly endless maze of Cordova’s immaculate film sets, having to reconcile the vibrant movie scenes with their static physical counterparts. It’s the dissonance that I liked, the feeling like something is there, just out of reach, your eyes straining to make sense of shadow. Pessl wove this otherness so perfectly through Neverworld Wake, but it doesn’t quite work in Night Film because she doesn’t let us decide for ourselves what’s real. Instead of a definitive yes or no, I craved a maybe, that last lingering shot which reveals a sudden, subtle shift to everything that’s come before.

Would I recommend Night Film? Maybe. It’s just as lush and pleasantly overwhelming as her other work, the story sucking you in until you drop all other activities in favor of finishing, but I felt almost cheated by the end, all the hours I’d spent reading amounting to a that’s it? On one hand, Night Film works as a mystery novel; on the other, a meditation on obsession and celebrity and what an artistic creator owes to their fans. But Pessl’s attempts to imbue the novel with an eerie subtext, that hush of otherness, never quite took. Whenever she pulled back the curtain, I wanted to preserve the illusion.

Top Ten: Books on My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was books on my spring TBR.

Whittling down my TBR is so hard. Like, on one hand, it helps me keep organized and know (roughly) which reviews I’ll be posting… but on the other, new books inevitably come out that aren’t on my list but which I really want to read!

† = ARC
* = Year of Asian Reading

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir* by Nicole Chung
Bloom by Kevin Panetta
The Clockwork Ghost by Laura Ruby
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
The Graybar Hotel: Stories by Curtis Dawkins

Internment* by Samira Ahmed
The Library of Ever† by Zeno Alexander
Origin by Dan Brown
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Star-Crossed † by Minnie Drake

Technically, You Started It † by Lana Wood Johnson
This Is Not a Love Scene † by S.C. Megale
The Unhoneymooners † by Christina Lauren
Woman World * by Aminder Dhaliwal