On Writing: The Drink Tank

The Drink Tank 406

So … this happened.  Former co-worker Christopher J. Garcia has won Hugo awards for his fanzines.  The most recent issue of The Drink Tank is devoted to my reviews.  It makes me excited and humbled, because … well, when one of you friends has won Hugos and wants to work with you …  There are other pieces in the works.  As they say somewhere, “Watch this space.”

New to the Stacks: Lit Crit

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms by Ross Murfin & Supryia M. Ray

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray
How Fiction Works by James Wood
Literary Theory: A complete introduction by Sara Upstone
Genrenauts by Michael R. Underwood
How Literature Works by John Sutherland

How Fiction Works by James Wood
Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction by Sara Upstone
Genrenauts by Michael R. Undersood
How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts by John Sutherland

Review: Book Uncle and Me

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami

Title: Book Uncle and Me
Author: Uma Krishnaswami
Published: 2016
ISBN-13: 9781554988082
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Publisher’s Blurb: Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has set up a free lending library on the street corner. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something.

Read-Read-Read.

A book whose protagonist is a little girl who reads all the time?  Found on the shelves in a gift shop at the Asian Art Museum, how could I pass this up?

Book Uncle and Me is a delightful kids’ book about Yasmin who borrows a book from Book Uncle every day on her way to school.  But then, the mayor wants to close the free library because Book Uncle doesn’t have a permit.

Through Yasmin we meet her community.  Parents, friends, neighbors, classmates and teachers.  All of them are concerned about Book Uncle’s street library getting closed down.  As Yasmin talks to them, she hatches a plan to keep the library open.

It’s election time in the city and, as it turns out, the owner of the hotel on the corner where Book Uncle hands out books is hosting a wedding and wants to clean up the corner before the new in-laws arrive from out of town.  Who owns the hotel?  Hah!  That would be telling, and spoiling.

Yasmin starts a letter writing campaign which gets the attention of the media and the mayoral candidates.  The entire city is in a tizzy over Book Uncle and his books.  Why would anyone want to take books from children?

Uma Krishnaswami and illustrator Julianna Swaney, give readers a great lesson in civics and activism, as Yasmin and her friends learn how to make change in their community.

Krishnaswami has a delightful way with words, and Swaney’s illustrations make Yasmin and her friends, especially Book Uncle, come to life.  Even better than that, they share their love of books, encouraging kids to read and get involved with things they’re passionate about.

Book Uncle gets to keep his free library on the corner, and the owner of the hotel gets a lesson in transparency.

I really loved this book!

Review: The Queen of Crows

The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

Title: The Queen of Crows
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 9780765395979
Publisher: Tor
Twitter: @MykeCole
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb:   In this epic fantasy sequel, Heloise stands tall against overwhelming odds—crippling injuries, religious tyrants—and continues her journey from obscurity to greatness with the help of alchemically-empowered armor and an unbreakable spirit.
No longer just a shell-shocked girl, she is now a figure of revolution whose cause grows ever stronger. But the time for hiding underground is over. Heloise must face the tyrannical Order and win freedom for her people.

I’m just a woman who has been hard done, who has lost those who she loved.  I am angry, and I am tired, and I am through making deals.  (p. 245)

Let’s first acknowledge author Myke Cole’s feminism.  Heloise is a hero for all times, but it also important to note that Heloise is a young woman leading the battle against the totalitarian religious government.  In The Armored Saint, she literally had greatness thrust upon her.  In The Queen of Crows she begins to accept the leadership role she finds herself in and works to be the leader her people need her to be.

Cole does not make a big deal out of making his protagonist a young woman, and I’d like to say neither should his readers.  But it is a big deal because so much genre writing is overwhelming men fighting to save the day.  Cole shows us a woman who is up to the task of leadership and fighting against the dangers of the oppressive regime called the Order.

Brother Tone, on the other hand, not only wants to put the village in its place as devoted to the Order, he wants to put Heloise in her place as woman.  At every turn, he sneers and belittles her, and those who she has sworn to protect.

Heloise is imperfect.  Stubborn, insecure, paranoid, with a narrow world view.  At one point, she has gone through so much she refuses to leave her alchemy powered suit of armor for any reason.  The armor has become talisman, protecting her emotionally from all the horrors she’s survived in service to both her village and the bands of Kipti they  encounter.

The Kipti are led by the wisdom of women who have a few magical tricks in their toolbox to be used against the Order.  And while the Kipti are nomadic, and suspicious of people who want to settle into a village, they recognize the mutual enemy and combine resources.

Reluctantly recognizing Heloise as leader, the two bands of Kipti come to realize that she in her armor, who killed a devil in The Armored Saint, is the best hope for a victory against the Order.

Victory doesn’t come in The Queen of Crows.  It is an agonizing, brutal story which deals both with the realities of war and of going against a regime whose demand of loyalty to the Emperor grates against everything Heloise has come to question.

It is also a story of hope against tyranny as word spreads across the land that a Palantine, an Armored Saint has gone to war against the Order.  That a young woman is delivering all from the hell that is totalitarianism.

“You are Heloise the Armored Saint, who turns back the tide, who delivers the wretched from misfortune, who will save us all.”  (p. 250)

Heloise is no Joan d’Arc who believed in her God given leadership to support Charles VII, reclaiming France from England.  Heloise doubts herself, and her role in her war.  She is a reluctant leader, herself questioning her wisdom, her ability, even her gender to lead.  But as people gather to follow her, she knows she must and follows her instincts.

Heloise has her detractors.  They don’t much question a female leader as much as they question how this young, inexperienced villager could possibly lead them against the Order.  Further, these few wonder why they should be following her at all since it was at her hands the Order is now intent on putting down the unrest.

Both The Armored Saint and The Queen of Crows can be read through a feminist lens celebrating the young woman who questions the status quo and leads her followers against tyranny.  They can also be enjoyed as ripping good tales, which happen to have a leader who is a woman.

I am of the opinion that Myke Cole, and Heloise, should be recognized for deliberately making choices which demand more of genre, both readers and writers.