Book Reviews, books

Checking out the Book: Done with You, Reality

As a librarian and bibliophile, I fully endorse supporting authors by purchasing their work. However, as an overly cautious and quite stingy person, I also wholly believe in checking out the book from the library first. Otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you will unconsciously put a LOT of pressure on a $20 or $30 book to be the next great novel rather than simply enjoying it (unless it was on the $2 bargain shelves). And you may or may not just let that book sit on the shelf anywhere from a year until the rest of your life.

As such, most of my recent reads are library books. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately–mostly because they offer an escape from our reality in some way.



The Downstairs Girl


Stacey Lee




I would have absolutely devoured this as a teen since it’s the stuff of which my dreams were made. Set in 1890s Atlanta, Lee tells the story of Jo Kuan, a Chinese-American teen with a talent for styling the hair and hats of many a Southern belle. When she loses her job without cause (aka racism), Jo is forced to work as a lady’s maid once again for , a particularly ill-tempered belle. However, Jo pursues her passions by secretly writing an advice column for a local paper, while seeking the truth about the identity of her parents, who left her in the care of the elderly (and aptly named) Old Gin.

I love Jo’s snarky humor in her advice column, as well as the many characters and stories intersecting here. There are certainly unlikeable characters aplenty, but Lee is reluctant to dismiss them or their concerns, peeling back their identities to reveal barriers created by race, nationality, poverty, gender, and sexual orientation (yes, even you, white Southern dudes of the 1800s).  I especially enjoy the relationships Jo shares with friends Robby and Noemi, whose experiences depict the lives of African-American workers in the Reconstruction South.

Recommended for…

My period drama lovers who enjoy social critique (so, like, all period drama lovers).



The Memoirs of Lady Trent


Marie Brennan




What’s your vision of the year 5658? Robots? Flying cars? A landscape devastated by climate change? Marie Brennan’s version of the future looks a lot more like the past than present, as reflected by the Victorian-inspired memoirs of naturalist and adventurer Isabella Camhurst. Fascinated by dragons at an early age, Isabella is off exploring the species in distant lands as soon as she can ditch the high society of a thinly veiled England (aka Scirland).

If this sounds cringey and insensitive re: colonialism, Brennan is very aware of England’s sordid past, and the misdeeds (i.e. genocide) of its explorers. She vividly brings to life the cultures represented here–West Africa, Polynesia, Eastern Europe–while her self-aware heroine recognizes her limits as a cultural observer.

Recommended for…

My period drama lovers who appreciate an escapist fantasy. And for my fellow readers reluctant to commit to a five book series, the lack of major cliffhangers makes this one easy to pick up for a book or two (or complete the series, as I’m planning to do).





Edouard Cour


Graphic novel


Just in case your only experience with the legend of Herakles is the Disney film, prepare to be disillusioned. Rather than a lesson in perseverance, the life of Herakles is yet another tale underscoring the degree to which mortals are merely the playthings of the gods. Through trial after trial, Herakles works to prove himself worthy of god status, but all he seems capable of is embroiling himself more deeply into trouble and invoking the wrath of the gods. I guess he gets a nice lion pelt out of all this, at least.

Herakles is often blindly vengeful and stupid, but it’s nevertheless difficult not to feel for him.  He seems to be so little in control of his life that you can’t really blame him for pursuing an endless series of trials in vain. That’s life, eh? No wonder the Abrahamic faiths took over from here…the legend of Herakles is too bleak even to come from the mind of Nietzsche.

Recommended for…

People sick to death of toxic masculinity. Also kids who have to take a course in the Classics and want to skip to the interesting bits.

What are you reading, library book or no?

Header photo by Devon Divine on Unsplash

Film Reviews

Snow White, the Dragons, and the Seven Elves

The Film:

Grimm’s Snow White

Where to Watch:


The Premise:

Snow White teams up with a group of elves to prevent her wicked stepmother from absorbing the power of a magical flame (no joke). Also, for no apparent reason, DRAGONS. EVERYWHERE.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

Basically, a star fell to earth and became a magical flame from which two types of creatures sprang: dragons and elves. Being an elf really blows because, even though they have special magical amulets, many have been enslaved by humans. Since this movie is basically Snow White directed by Peter Jackson, there is a prophecy that tells of a hero who will rise in times of turmoil. That hero is…[dramatic camera pan out] Snow White. I think? Even though (spoiler alert) she doesn’t really do anything.

So, exposition/prophecy is out of the way, and we move on to the action of the film. The king of, I don’t know, wherever the fuck we are, is out hunting when a REALLY high quality CGI effect dragon attacks his party. The king calls out to one of his men for help, but the dude takes off running, leaving the king to a nasty end.

a man with a sword faces a CGI dragon

Cut to the queen, who has to practice acting super upset about the death of her husband, which she in fact orchestrated with the help of the huntsman, aka that guy who ran away when the dragon showed up. Not only does the queen have access to elven magic for reasons I don’t totally get, but she also has her magic mirror (of course). I guess this is just not an acceptable amount of magic because what she really wants is to find the mythical flame.

Meanwhile, one of the queen’s men has trespassed onto the lands of a neighboring kingdom, conveniently ruled by a handsome prince who wants to avoid another war. He decides to go visit the queen and propose marriage, so they will form an alliance/not kill each other. Insert obstacle: Snow White, who looks a lot like Alice in Wonderland since she’s blonde and wears a blue dress for almost 100% of this movie. When the prince sees Snow White, he’s super turned on. Or falls in love. For my (non-existent) less cynical readers. Snow White has come home after years of living in the convent where the queen sent her.

So anyway, the prince proposes to the queen anyway because he’s too noble, and acts all offended but invites him to stay to discuss later. This kind of looks like it was shot in someone’s living room, which I suppose is probably luxury compared to a lot of medieval lifestyles, and in general a risk you have to take when watching bad movies, but still. I kept expecting someone’s cat to run across the screen.

That evening, the prince wanders around the gardens, which is a useful plot point since Snow White’s only hobby is literally just walking around and humming to herself in the garden. The prince basically asks her out even though he’s kind of pre-engaged to her stepmother (which, I’ve learned from Facebook, is a real thing).

a blonde woman in a blue dress holds the hand of a man in a long jacket
Seriously, the Alice in Wonderland vibe is so distracting.

So the queen gets upset at this point because (a) the magic mirror gives her sass about Snow White being prettier, and (b) Snow White is stealing her pre-affianced. This is the point where the queen tells the huntsman to kill Snow White. As he’s about to commit murder it becomes apparent there are elves watching. Additional obstacle: a dragon shows up and kills one of the men. For some reason, the huntsman cuts out this guy’s heart and gives it to the queen, while the elves save Snow White. The elves take her in and heal her, even though one of the elves objects (who is, coincidentally, named Orlando and is a really bad actor).

The queen then realizes Snow White is still alive thanks to her mirror, and feeds the huntsman to her were-dogs that kind of have mohawks. She turns her attention to Snow White and tells her guards to unleash the dogs because she is probably not legally allowed to say “Smithers, release the hounds.”

The dogs are about to get Snow White, but the prince saves her by distracting them. Then a dragon shows up, nooooooooooooooo, but everyone makes it out alive. When the prince tracks down the elves’ cottage, they deny the existence of Snow White. This is either going to end totally fine, or the prince is going to slowly lose his mind like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo.

Just for the hell of it, Snow White and one of the elves go to the palace and sneak around; they see the queen convincing the prince that he was just hallucinating out of grief and they should get married ASAP. The elf is captured, but Snow White manages to escape. Now they need a castle insider, so they plan to recruit Isabella, an elf who works for the queen, when they see her at the market. This is a really shitty plan, as Isabella has no interest in helping, and the whole thing is pretty much a setup anyway. The queen, disguised as an old crone, gives Snow White a poisoned ring. Since they think she’s dead, the elves prepare to give her a Viking funeral, but the Prince shows up and realizes she’s still alive. He kisses her hand and wakes her up, which is at least less creepy than the traditional making out with a dead girl part of this fairy tale. The prince proposes to Snow White, and she accepts.

a woman stands in a castle courtyard, wearing a burgundy beret with a large feather attached to it
Evil Queen’s hat game: strong.

At this point, Snow White is reluctant to seize the throne from the queen, which sucks. However, she changes her mind after the prince is captured trying to free that elf from earlier. The queen can kind of bend minds to her will; when she does this to the prince he plays along and says he’ll marry her again. I should point out he’s chained up in a dungeon at this point, so we’re getting way closer to 50 Shades territory than I would’ve expected from this movie. The queen marches out with her army to destroy Snow White and the elves for good.

When he sees the army approaching, Orlando tries to give the elves a motivational speech…“We’re going to die with honor, etc, etc.”

a man with elf ears stands in a forest, looking into the distance
One of many ambiguous facial expressions.

This is the prelude to some reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally bad battle scenes. The hitherto unmentioned Dark Elves show up out of nowhere and attack; they’re basically ninjas, which is pretty cool.

Unfortunately, the battle ends in defeat—the prince has been stabbed, and Snow White/elves have been captured. For whatever reason, the queen decides she’s going to marry the prince instead of kill him, which is just stupid. One of the elves, presumably dead, is actually still alive and frees Snow White, who fights the queen and decapitates her.

The elves heal the prince…and they all live happily ever after.

The Critique:

Snow White, already one of my least favorite fairy tale characters (except maybe in Fables), is just a total pushover in this adaptation. This is possibly (probably) more reflective of my own twisted psyche than the film, but the evil queen was awesome and should have won. All she wanted to do was to be all-powerful and hook up with a young, attractive dude; would you not do the same thing if you were the ruler of a kingdom? No? You’d be a constitutional monarch? Yeah, don’t bullshit me. The queen is basically Queen Elizabeth I in terms of badassery, and Snow White is…I don’t know, Catherine Howard or basically any of Henry VIII’s wives. Obviously way more fun to be QEI than dead/exiled.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Largely because it combined Snow White and dragons.

P.S. Sorry to my former self who tried to keep blog posts under 1,000 words, but you know what? In the immortal words of OneRepublic, it’s too late to ’pologize.