Been a while since I’ve done some reviews, but I have been reading if not consistently these past few months. Right now, I’m about a third of the way through Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories and once again chastising myself for not being having that gift of language, storytelling and homage to both. Quite honestly right now I’m having a hard time concentrating on anything with the death of Prince still giving me pause as I try to process it (and fail at it spectacularly). But I did want to take some time and review a couple of books I completed recently.
Disclaimer: I have the pleasure of knowing Brissett personally from WisCon and finally managed to pick up Elysium last month. I’d heard nothing but glowing reviews of it and settled into it. From what I heard, I expected it to be confusing or go over my head. However, I realized that many found it a challenge because of the way it uses gender as a plot device and eventually reveals its full racial implications in this cyberpunk world. While you definitely have to pay attention to who is who and keep up with the story, it’s actually well worth it. Once you get the rhythm, it becomes much easier to process and also much more compelling than you would think. I don’t want to say much about the characters or the plot because I want to avoid spoilers, but this is definitely for anyone who wants to expand their horizons in speculative fiction. However, I must say as much as I enjoyed the book, I was unexpectedly blown away with the last two pages when we learn the inspiration behind the book. I mean wow!
Another Disclaimer: I also know Mel personally as she is one of the six women behind the Nerdgasm Noire Network podcast. However, I had no idea she was such a talented poet. Dispatches of a Fake Geek Girl captured so much of what I experienced growing up a Black geek girl pretty much isolated from anyone else who had the same interests and passions I had (because of ignorance of each other or just not sharing interests I don’t know.) But this is the type of poetry I like to have in book form and experience it holding in my hand. This is definitely one of those works to make even those who don’t give poetry half a chance pay it some mind and respect the art form.
A few months ago I found a haul of manga books in one of the little free libraries around town. Dear Myself is the only one not part of a series among the stash, so I decided to read it before starting Samatar’s work. I’ll just say I’m a bit disappointed but not because of any lack of skill on the part of the author. Rather it was one of those types of romances that reinforces harmful notions of “love” and consent. It focuses on Hirofumi who wakes up one morning with no memory of the past two years. As he tries to put the pieces together, he finds that Daigo is part of the two years he’s forgotten and that the two had a relationship – but Hirofumi constantly declares he isn’t gay (but in less respectful terms). This actually isn’t the problem. I was a bit more disturbed by the force it until they resist trope that persists throughout this one. It’s always a bit of a disappointment when finding elements such as these in romance, especially one targeted at teens.
First appeared on Goodreads but wanted to include it here after realizing I’d love to see this adapted.
I had only read, well listened, to one other thing by Burke before this one. It was a short story called “I Make People Do Bad Things.” I loved the setting during the Harlem Renaissance with a paranormal feel.
She revisits this scenario with her novel here. Jaz is the type of heroine I like: she makes her mistakes, takes her lumps and finds a way to prevail. As the title suggests, the book is set during Harlem’s heyday and that atmosphere of a thriving Black community surrounded by outside forces that still dictate its goings on.
In this case, Jaz becomes involved in a case that escalates right before her eyes and implicates her own family members. Initially hired by the dean of her school to investigate who is blackmailing him, she finds herself investigating a murder that occurred when she was still a child. She almost immediately recognizes the victim as her uncle who disappeared. Unfortunately, she implicates her cousin and he is arrested as a suspect. That’s when Jaz vows to find out who is really behind the murder.
There is also a paranormal element to the story as Jaz occasionally sees the spirit of her dead mother who sometimes guides Jaz but often irritates her. Fortunately, Burke incorporates this element naturally and easily without forcing it to make it fit into a paranormal category. In other words, the supernatural element fits.
Burke’s style reminds me of the days when Walter Mosley was my favorite writer with his first Easy Rawlins stories. She develops a solid whodunit with all the cultural nuances and flavor of Harlem when it was the country’s Black Mecca.
However, I think one of the things I enjoyed most about this one is how Burke incorporates real life figures, particularly Zora Neale Hurston and Bumpy Johnson. She brings Hurston’s spirit to the story while maintaining her own unique voice and style. This was a beautiful way to pay homage to Hurston, especially in a time when more Black women and girls continue to discover Hurston’s own writing. Perhaps this is also why the paranormal aspect of Burke’s story works so well.
Overall, this was a great read with a satisfactory ending.