Book Review: That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story by Huda Fahmy (2020)

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

An inspired follow up to Yes, I’m Hot in This.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

I adored cartoonist Huda Fahmy’s debut book, 2018’s Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab. In it, she challenges and straight up slays the bald-faced bigotry and racist, sexist, and Islamophobic microaggressions hurled her way. (As a Muslim WOC living in Amurica, sadly there is little shortage of such.)

In many ways, That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story feels like a natural progression: her husband and BFF Gehad is a frequent character in her comics (as is his ubiquitous red shirt), and of course her readers are dying to know how those two crazy (read: delightfully nerdy!) kids got together.

Huda and Gehad’s was an arranged marriage – but, as you’ll see, arranged marriages (not to be confused with forced marriages) take many forms. In her parents’ case, this meant marrying after just a single meeting – and divorcing many years later.

Huda, by contrast, spent several years trying to get matched with a suitable man. After turning down her only suitor (who turned out to be a stalkery sociopath), she spotted her dream dude by chance at an Islamic studies conference and promptly fell head over heels (all at the ripe old age of twenty-four – the horror!). She appealed to Sheik Z (aka Doctor Love), also in attendance, for relationship advice; it was Qadar (destiny) when he set Huda and Gehad up.

What came next was a chaperoned courtship (involving some of the funniest panels in the book; to wit: Huda’s mom eavesdropping on their Pokemon debate), meeting the ‘rents, setting a date, the kitab (signing of the marriage contract) and, finally, the walima.

Like Yes, I’m Hot in This, That Can Be Arranged dispels a lot of misconceptions that non-Muslims might have about arranged marriages. For example, while their courtship was governed my myriad rules, Huda and Gehad had he final say in whether to do the thing (again: arranged, not forced). I especially loved how she compared her own experiences to Jane Austen, giving many Western readers a reference point to relate.

I can’t wait to see what Huda does next. (Me, I’m rooting for the cat hotel!)

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Long Story Short: 100 Classic Books in Three Panels by Lisa Brown (2020)

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

A cheeky idea with mixed results.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Long Story Short: 100 Classic Books in Three Panels is pretty much what it sounds like, with two (admittedly nitpicky) differences: 1) the comics are anywhere from one to six panels; and 2) some of these are not what you (if you are of the snobby literary persuasion) would call “classics.”

Yes, there are the usual suspects: Shakespeare and Poe; Don Quixote and Madame Bovary; To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice. But you’ll also find some more contemporary works (The Hunger Games, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), as well as books not uncommonly derided as “lowbrow” or “pedestrian” (Carrie, Twilight).*

This is a really clever concept that’s rather hit-or-miss in execution. The collection’s success really hinges on its reader’s familiarity with the books being parodied and, c’mon, who – outside of an English lit major – has read so many of these old and stuffy books? (Moby Dick, ugh.) Or, if you haven’t yet read some of these titles but plan to, the spoilers are all but guaranteed to ruin your life.

Still, there are some pretty fun comics here. In no particular order, I loved the Bible, by a bunch of anonymous, long-dead dudes; “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson (“Let’s all get together and kill Mrs. Hutchinson.”); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (“You can love someone and still be racist.”); Charlotte’s Web by EB White (“WRITERS make the best of friends. And then they DIE.”); and, of course, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (“DON’T. EAT. MEAT.”). And Carrie = words to live by.

I really think Brown could’ve done better with both The Handmaid’s Tale and Lolita, though. Reducing Atwood’s message to “IT IS HARD TO BE A WOMAN” seems pretty simplistic, even for this project; any distillation that doesn’t contain the word “patriarchy” or “theocracy” is way off the mark. And the Lolita strip just feels icky. Like, it’s a story about a pedophile rapist; no need to romanticize it with phrases like “fire of my loins” and “sin of my soul.” This makes child rape seem, like, complicated and existential when it’s just more of the same misogyny we all know and hate. KISS.

* fwiw, I hope the scare quotes adequately telegraph my disgust. Stephen King is one of my auto-reads!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: War and Peas: Funny Comics for Dirty Lovers by Jonathan Kunz and Elizabeth Pich (2020)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

“That was when I knew I had a problem.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

— 3.5 stars —

Like nearly every collection of comics I discover on NetGalley, War and Peas began as a webcomic that I’d never heard of, but will now follow religiously.

A little bit morbid and a whole lot weird, War and Peas features four-panel comics that are loosely related, with a recurring cast of characters. There’s no-nonsense scientist and her sentient robot, who’s not-so-secretly in love with her; a rad feminist dog who keeps finding himself back at the pound, for myriad reasons; a gay couple, both named Bob; a straight couple that meets when the dude bends over to pick up a lucky penny, only to split his pants down the backside; an old timey couple who lost their son, sold into indentured servitude, in an industrial accident and comes back as a ghost; and a slutty witch and her vampire paramour. Most at least merit a grin, while a few actually had me guffawing.

Naturally, I am partial to those strips with dogs, robots, and patriarchy smashing (not mutually exclusive).

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Bird Brain: Comics About Mental Health, Starring Pigeons by Chuck Mullin (2019)

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

OMG Sharon, can you not?

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Bird Brain is yet another collection of comics dealing with the unholy trifecta – anxiety, depression, and general social awkwardness – in a decade that seems to have seen an explosion of them. And I’m totally here for it! (Anxiety and depression, my companions since childhood. If only my dog friends could live as long as you!) A millennial Londoner, Chuck Mullin explores her seemingly never-ending battle with anxiety and depression with humor, self-awareness, and a shit ton of ice cream.

The comics in these here pages tackle a range of mental health issues, from the ups and downs of medication, to self-care, to finding moments of victory wherever you can.

Why pigeons? She loves them, even though most people don’t. They’re an unfairly maligned species, and I am down with embracing that vibe. Pigeons are survivors, yo!

The strips are divided into three categories – “Bad Times,” “Relationships,” and “Positivity” – with a personal essay introducing each. The essays are engaging and relatable AF (as much as I don’t want them to be, damn you to hell anxiety!), though I didn’t love them so much when they pop out at you from between random comics as well. Like, the artwork pretty much speaks for itself, no additional explanations necessary; and sticking more essays in between the comics really interrupts the flow. But I guess you don’t have to read them, or can skip theb and come back later. The pigeons won’t judge (unless your name is Sharon).

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Little Weirds by Jenny Slate (2019)

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

This book is emotional murder.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

I was born in the stacks in the Columbia University Library. I was born in shin-guards on a soccer field on a chilly little Saturday morning in the 1980s and I was too scared to even feel the sting of the ball on the inside of my shoe. I was born during tennis. I was born as a backyard swimming pool and my twin sister is an orange Popsicle and my mother is a bowl of pickles and my father is a hamburger.

(“I Was Born: The List”)

I think, Well, I am so sensitive and I am very fragile but so is everything else, and living with a dangerous amount of sensitivity is sort of what I have to do sometimes, and it is so very much better than living with no gusto at all. And I’d rather live with a tender heart, because that is the key to feeling the beat of all of the other hearts.

(“Kinship”)

There was a time before Patriarchy.

We have a better origin story and it is not widely spoken about but it is the truth.

(“The Code of Hammurabi”)

Y’all. I can’t even tell you how much I wanted to review Little Weirds using nothing but Mona-Lisa Saperstein gifs. Alas, Jenny Slate is nothing like Jean Ralphio’s sister from the same mister, and most of said gifs are totes wrong for this review. But I have to get them out of my system, so. Let’s just dive right in, shall we?

(Note to self: It’s about time for your annual Parks & Rec rewatch. Your emotions are in serious need of fortification.)

Prior to discovering Little Weirds on Edelweiss (at which point I legit let out a little squeal and did a happy happy butt dance on my office chair), my knowledge about actor/comedian Jenny Slate could be summed up thusly: 1) she portrayed Mona-Lisa Saperstein with brilliance and aplomb on one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, Parks & Recreation (for reals, I even dedicated a whole VeganMoFo to it!); 2) she dated everyone’s favorite Chris (Evans, duh!); she’s Jewish; and 4) she’s been at the receiving end of some really gross antisemitism, on account of nos 1-3, i.e., being a Jewish lady who played a Jewish lady and also dated literal Captain America while Jewish, and also because our country is a dumpster fire of white nationalism and toxic masculinity.

I started to type “But I digress…,” and then it hit me that this isn’t a digression at all; Slate does touch upon some of these issues, however tangentially, in Little Weirds. But mostly the subject matter is so very much stranger, ethereal, and curious than this. In a word, weird.

As the synopsis promises, inside this book you will find: The smell of honeysuckle; heartbreak; a French-kissing rabbit; a haunted house; Death; a vagina singing sad old songs; young geraniums in an ancient castle; Birth; a dog who appears in dreams as a spiritual guide; divorce; electromagnetic energy fields; emotional horniness; and the ghost of a sea captain.

You can also look forward to: gossip; an old dog who flits in and out of each essay like a specter, or a faithful friend; a tragic accident involving a deer and a tennis court; emotional emptiness; metaphors galore; whimsy and sorrow; a cage match between optimism and cynicism; aliens; alienation; letters; prophecies, or maybe wishes; being mansplained to death; terminology from the 1920s (“peepers”! I love it!); and a pit (oh, how I want for this to be a throwback to Parks & Rec!).

Basically, I cannot think of a book with a more perfectly fitting title than Little Weirds. This quirky collection of essays is simply enchanting. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and – before you even know what’s happening – you’ll find yourself delving into some deep and scary, long-hidden and even liberating places. Some of these essays are prescient AF, and sneakily so. Like, ending this collection with “I Died: Bronze Tree,” followed by “Dog Paw,” is emotional murder.

I died and I have to move on soon, but I will always be so glad for the life I had with you. The fact is that it is incredibly hard to RIP and I’m just not sure I can get it done. Because what will I be now? I know that we will have new life with new forms and that we won’t be able to love each other like we did the last time. Maybe I am going to be a banana and you will be a car. It just won’t work. I know that. And I’m not one to beg for the impossible, especially as a banana, but I can’t seem to stop reacting to the enormity of the final end of us, sweetheart.

I feel personally attacked.

Little Weirds is the kind of book best devoured in small bites. You’ll find yourself offering the book a permanent, cozy home by your bedside; lovingly bookmarking certain chapters, so that you can return to them after an especially excruciating day, or perhaps those nights when you foresee a challenging week ahead. Kind of like the literary equivalent of keeping Parks & Rec (and The Office, Schitt’s Creek, and The Good Place) on your Netflix list even though you’ve watched them a dozen times by now.

In short, you should give Jenny Slate all your money please.

I did it! I worked a Mona-Lisa gif in organically!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Escape Manual for Introverts by Katie Vaz (2019)

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

When in doubt, blame your doggo.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through edelweiss.)

So maybe you’re an introvert or maybe you have social anxiety, or maybe you struggle with both, like me (yay! not.). Either way, Katie Vaz has got your back. The Escape Manual for Introverts is a tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really compendium of excuses you can use to wiggle out of all manner of social situations. Vaz’s guide runs the gamut, from the mundane (“I have plans/something on the stove/mono!”) to the creative (suggesting unpopular activities) to the truly absurd (arrange your own kidnapping; invest in a jet pack).

As a card-carrying Animal Person, I can attest that I’ve tried all of the pet-related excuses, with increasing levels of success as my furkids age and require more intensive levels of care. It may seem crass to fall back on my dog’s dementia and seizures this way, but hey, I figure that both Finnick and I have earned it.

The Escape Manual for Introverts is humorous but also not: if you can’t laugh at yourself [insert punchline here]; and yet sometimes you just want to collapse into the bottom of a dog pile and be smothered to death by fur and slobber. It’s a cute enough gimmick that only goes so far.

I noticed on the about the author page that Vaz (aka Twyla from Schitt’s Creek) also writes greeting cards, and I bet some of these comics might work better in that shorter, one-two punch format.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Autocomplete: The Book by Justin Hook (2019)

Friday, June 28th, 2019

A perfect mix of humor and pathos.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.)

So you know the deal: every time you type a search term into your browser, be it Google or Yahoo or Jeeves or whatever (who are we kidding, Google), the algorithm makes a valiant attempt to predict what you’re going to type before you type it. You know, autocomplete. This guess is based, in part, on what its millions of other users are searching for, providing a window into the soul of humanity – for better, worse, and everything in between.

Honestly, flip the book open to any random page and it’s likely to be relevant to your life in some way, shape, or form. “should i tell my dad … he has dementia”? Check. I’ve asked myself that question probably three times so far this week, and it’s only Monday. (The most disturbing suggestion? “should i tell my dad … i’m sexually attracted to him?”) “can you sell your … eggs?” Yup, thought about that one too. (And my brother actually sold his soul, to a second-grade classmate. We still laugh about that one. I think he got five cents.) “is america … a free country?” If you’re googling that one, I think you already know the answer.

Autocomplete: The Book is a rather disconcerting mix of humor and pathos, absurdity and earnestness, light-hearted fun and life-or-death seriousness. It’s hard to look away, like a car accident or an oompa loompa presidency. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wish you’d had the foresight to pitch this idea to a publisher.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Safely Endangered Comics by Chris McCoy (2019)

Friday, April 19th, 2019

Poor Pluto

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

UK-based cartoonist Chris McCoy has a weird, absurdist sense of humor, and I am so into it. Whether it’s talking spiders with delusions of grandeur, average Joe narwhals, or planets posting Facebook updates, the strips in Safely Endangered Comics tend toward the bizarre, in the best way possible.

Most of the comics earned at least a chuckle, peppered with a legit guffaw every ten pages are so. I hadn’t heard of McCoy’s webcomic, Safely Endangered, before today, but now it’s on my must-read list.

Naturally, my favorites are any and every panel that features a dog, but there’s plenty of socially awkward, geeky, and downright creepy goodness to choose from.

If enjoy the work of Reza Farazmand, Alex Norris, Jake Thompson, or Jomny Sun, this one’s a sure thing. Fans of Sarah Andersen and Allie Brosh will probably love it too.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: oh no by Alex Norris (2019)

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

oh yes

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Being human – self-aware, cognizant of your own mortality, sentient, capable of feeling pain, sorrow, and embarrassment (etc.) – can really suck sometimes. (Most times.) Luckily there are little moments of joy, like Alex Norris’s webcomic Webcomic Name, featuring the delightfully non-gendered little pink blob of oh nos. Pinky wields the catchphrase “oh no” (and self-referential panels about the running gag) like a … sword? Baseball bat? Pillow over the face? Blanket fort with which to deflect the outside world? I’m not exactly sure, but the result is at once comically entertaining and morbidly depressing.

Norris tackles disappointments both small (stepping on a friend’s shoe; making accidental eye contact on the bus; cooking fails) and large (poor self-esteem; environmental degradation; the powerlessness on the individual in the face of megacorporations; death), all met with the same refrain: oh no. It’s absurd, it’s portentous, it’s relevant and relatable AF – for better or worse. Mostly worse.

Bonus points for the anti-zoo strip. Truer panels have never been scribbled.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman (2019)

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

Probably should have held out for the audiobook…

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for xenophobia, Islamophobia, and violence against women.)

Ayser Salman spent the first three years of her life in Baghdad, Iraq – until her parents, both pharmacists, fled the “dictatorial regime of what was about to become Saddam Hussein’s Iraq” for the frigid climes of Columbus, Ohio. This would be the first of many moves: Along with her younger brother Zaid and a new sister, Lameace, Ayser and her family moved again when she was eight (Lexington, Kentucky), and again a year and a half later – this time to Saudi Arabia, where Ayser would attend an all-girls’ school. The Salmans found their way back to Lexington in time for Ayser’s junior year of high school: “a time of proms, underage drinking, and lots of teenage hormones.” Upon graduation, Ayser attended the University of Kentucky and, after a brief stint as a local news producer, the graduate film program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Now in her 40s, Ayser is a comedy writer, editor, and producer.

All this moving around – not to mention rotating schools even when the family stayed put – could be enough to make anyone feel alienated. An outsider. A fish out of water. Or, in Ayser’s words, at wrong end of the table. Add to this the fact that Ayser was a brown Muslim girl in predominantly white Christian spaces. (Or, during her time in Saudi Arabia – the one period in her childhood when Ayser felt like she belonged – a somewhat liberal Westerner in a conservative Arab country.) After years of trying to blend in, disappear even, it wasn’t until her 30s and 40s that Ayser embraced her differences.

The Wrong End of the Table is a series of short essays and vignettes about Ayser’s experiences: being an immigrant (usually the only immigrant) trying to navigate the treacherous waters of elementary and high school; maintaining a social life (especially with boys) under the watchful eyes of her parents; grappling with depression and anxiety in adulthood; embracing her Muslim identity and becoming more politically active in the wake of 9/11 (and, later, during a Drumpf presidency); and dating in her 40s.

I think I most enjoyed Ayser’s stories about her childhood in Columbus and Lexington, particularly as her Western sensibilities collided with her parents’ old school ways. For example, there’s the time a well-meaning boy at school gave Ayser a quarter:

My father walks in and Mom shoves the quarter in his face.
MOM: Talk to your daughter. A boy gave her this!
Dad takes a moment to put on his bifocals and studies the offending item.
DAD: Does he think you’re cheap?
My mother looks at me, satisfied.
DAD: He should have given you a silver dollar!
Now, Mom is disgusted with me, the quarter, and Dad.

The accounts of the Salmans’ time in Saudi Arabia are a little more harrowing; for instance, Ayser recounts the story of a classmate who tried for three years to escape her father’s custody and return to her mother in the States. That’s not to say that Ayser doesn’t mine these reservoirs for humor, either; to wit: Ayser’s very first time setting foot on Saudi Arabian soil:

We put our bags through the x-ray machine, and they were transported to a separate table where airport officials opened and searched them. This was before the age of prohibited liquids, so I couldn’t imagine what they would find that the x-ray hadn’t detected. A man wearing the traditional thawb and an official airport worker jacket eached into my bag, grabbed my Teen Beat magazine, and began combing through. Then, with a flick of his wrist, he tossed it in the trash behind him.

“Wait!” I protested as my mother nudged me to be quiet. The man shook his head and said, “Haram.”

Next, he found the loose magazine photos I had saved of Valerie Bertinelli lounging by a pool—I liked her hair in that picture and wanted to get mine styled in the same way. Nope. “Haram,” he said as he crumpled it up and tossed it aside.

Finally, he got to my prized diary, a small pink book with a lock secured on it to hide all my nine-year-old secrets. On the cover was a picture of a cartoon boy and girl smooching, similar to what you’d find on a Hallmark card. Mr. Haram studied it for a few minutes as if he were debating asking me to unlock it.

In Arabic, my mother said, “For children. She’s just a child.” That seemed to appease him. He put my diary back into my bag, but not before taking a sharpie and scribbling out the image of the boy and girl kissing on the cover.

I can only imagine my ten-year-old horror at having my diary manhandled and then defaced by a strange man.

As someone who’s found herself newly single in her (early) 40s, I also enjoyed Ayser’s many (many) anecdotes about disastrous dates and failed relationships. (Can you even with that Charlie!?)

In the forward, Reza Aslan discusses the importance of memoirs written by Muslim Americans to help shape the narrative about what it means to be “Americans who happen to come from Muslim backgrounds”; to combat the stereotypes and misinformation that have blossomed after 9/11 and the red hats’ hate-fueled Islamophobia. With increased visibility comes the potential to get it so very, tragically wrong; books like The Wrong End of the Table help push back. The value in this cannot be understated.

Yet, like so many humorous memories (Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn; Jenn Kirkman’s I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself; Tina Fey’s Bossypants; Amy Poehler’s Yes Please), The Wrong End of the Table seems like it’s better suited for the audiobook format. Like, I only chuckled a handful of times while reading TWEOTB, but I’m pretty certain I would have been guffawing had I been listening to Ayser tell these stories out loud. And that’s usually the case: the narrator-slash-comedian’s inflections, embellishments, emphases, verbal quirks – all add a certain something to the retelling that you just can’t get from the written word. I would’ve loved to have heard Ayser’s impressions of her parents, as just one for instance.

So if you have the opportunity to read the audiobook, take it! Trust me, they make commutes/dog walks/house cleaning/yard work go so much faster.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Book Love by Debbie Tung (2019)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

A love letter to books.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

— 3.5 stars —

A bad movie adaptation that taints your memory of a cherished book. That new book smell. Finding a few coins to buy a new book even though the pantry is painfully bare. Turning down social invitations in favor of night spent cuddled up with your favorite book. All-night binge-read marathons that leave you a zombie shell of yourself the next day.

Book lovers will see themselves reflected – and celebrated – in Debbie Tung’s latest collection of comics, Book Love. Drawn in the same style (and with the same quiet sense of humor) as her previous book, Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story, this is an endearing and relatable read that’s sure to win the hearts of book lovers. I saw myself in so many of her strips, from fantasizing about nesting in a library, to refusing to clean out my book stash. (Actually, I had to get rid of about 70% of my physical books for a cross-country move, and it damn near broke my heart. I still shipped 40 boxes of my babies fwiw.)

My only complaint is that the book starts to feel repetitive about halfway in, almost as thought there isn’t that much to say about bibliophilia, which certainly cannot be so!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy (2018)

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Brilliant.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for Islamophobia, racism, and sexism.)

Cartoonist, educator, and former law student Huda Fahmy was born and raised in Michigan – but this doesn’t stop strangers from asking her where she’s really from, or commenting on the exoticism of her (midwestern) accent. Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab is a collection of her webcomics – originally seen on Instagram* – which deal with the racist, sexist, and xenophobic microaggressions she struggles with on the daily, as a Muslim WOC living in Drumpf’s America. (Spoiler alert: things were pretty shitty pre-2016 too.)

The result is usually cutting, often depressing, and yet (amazingly) always hilarious. Fahmy possesses a sense of humor that’s equally wicked and witty. She’ll have you lol-ing even as you die a little inside. People can be assholes, but Fahmy has discovered the secret recipe for making assholaid. (Erm, chocolate milkshakes? Idk.)

Don’t be a Small-Minded Susan, read this book! Pay special attention to Chapter 6: It Never Hurts to Hope, for some examples of allyship (and just plain human kindness) in action.

* Maybe this will be the straw that finally makes me create an account?

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Claw the System: Poems from the Cat Uprising by Francesco Marciuliano (2018)

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Welcome to the Catnip Cabal

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

THE PRESS

There is nothing more important
Than the press
There is nothing more indispensable
Than the press
There is nothing we need more right now
Than the press
Of my paw
Against the lips
Of anyone spewing hatred
Right after that paw has been in the litter box

MENTAL HEALTH DAY

When you can’t lift your head up
When you can’t raise your hopes up
When you can’t get yourself up
To face another day
Remember
You can still bring your leg up
And lick yourself down there
For like hours if you want
Because you have to take care of yourself
Before you can take on this world

The cats are fed up with our bullshit – and, in addition to silly Halloween costumes, tasteless kibble, and sleeping past 3AM, I’ve got to believe that the 2016 election has a little something to do with it. Normally felines would not deign to involve themselves in something as crass as human politics, but come on! The death of democracy and all that jazz. Plus where are they going to get their cat dancers and laser pointers if Drumpf starts a trade war with China, hmmm?

The clues are sometimes subtle, but look closely and you’ll see ’em. With chapter headings like Recognize, Resist, Revolt, and Rebuild, and poems celebrating the “press” and advocating for mental health days, these cats are obviously #withher. They dislike voter disenfranchisement almost as much they hate your best friend’s handsy toddler.

So this is a cute idea that gets stale about halfway through the book. Unsurprisingly, my favorites were the more radical poems in the bunch. Some are straight-up meme-worthy; the rest are good for a chuckle or two, hence the middling rating. The cat photos range from adorable to downright fierce.

Should you find yourself guffawing at the very idea of feline resistance, you owe it to yourself to read Jason Hribal’s Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide by Julia Young & Matt Harkins (2018)

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Would be funny if it wasn’t so damn depressing.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

This is a list of things you can grab
And yes, I’m gonna sound pushy
For once in your life, listen up
DON’T EVER FUCKING GRAB MY PUSSY

In this picture book-for-adults, NYC-based comedians Julia Young and Matt Harkins combine irreverent poetry with powerful illustrations by Laura Collins to call out Drumpf for his long and shameless history of sexual assault, rape, and general harassment of women.

Their cheeky and sometimes weird sense of humor disarms the reader, all while imparting an important message about consent: namely, DON’T EVER FUCKING GRAB MY PUSSY!. Instead, they provide a handy list of things Drumpf can grab instead: his golf putter, the remote control, his favorite shade of crayon – Caucasian, natch. Tragically, none of these suggestions involve a live wire or the testicles of a very angry and untethered grizzly bear.

To be perfectly honest, some of the euphemisms the authors employ for vagina threw me off; certainly these sound made up, I thought. But I googled a few and, sure enough, they are all slang variations of pussy. (*shaking head*) Although I must admit a certain affection for “dildo hotel.”

Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide is good for a chuckle or two, tempered by the odd dry heave and stifled sob; it would be so much funnier if our current reality wasn’t so damn depressing. (The painting of Hillary being sworn in cut like a katana to the heart.) Still, it’s a necessary and dynamic piece of activism.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes: Owlturd Comix by Andrew Tsyaston (2018)

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

If you loved Sarah’s Scribbles

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley.)

I hate to compare this to Sarah’s Scribbles, mostly because I compare everything to Sarah’s Scribbles. (What can I say? It’s my benchmark for socially awkward, relatable AF irreverent humor!) But Andrew Tsyaston feels like Sarah Andersen’s equally weird and self-conscious west coast guy cousin. Same unfortunate wavelength (thanks God’s broken salt shaker!), different genders. But in color!

So as you can probably gather, Tsyaston tackles a number of mental health issues through his cartoons (most prominently social anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem) as well as topics especially though not exclusively relevant to millennials (technology, student debt, the death of facts). The titular BUFF DUDES are a) totes nude but b) actually the antagonists of Tsyaston’s stories; see, e.g. Life. The result is both hilarious and crushing, and will leave you feeling marginally better about this effed up plane of existence we call the human experience. Shen might be a white dude (I mean, I think?), but you’ll see bits of yourself reflected back in the funhouse mirror that is his soul.

In summary, Owlturd Comix is great, and I look forward to devouring many more of them. And now I shall leave you with just a few of my favorites.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Lil’ Donnie Volume 1: Executive Privilege by Mike Norton (2018)

Friday, October 19th, 2018

449 Days in The Bad Place

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

I will say about Lil’ Donnie Volume 1: Executive Privilege what I say of all humorous/satirical books about 45: it’d be funny if it wasn’t so damned depressing. A collection of the first 125 strips of Mike Norton’s webcomic of the same name, Volume 1 spans the time of Drumpf’s inauguration through April 13, 2018.

Norton’s art is spot-on; somehow he manages to make a revolving door of white men all immediately recognizable and distinct (something not always easily accomplished in comics). My favorites are Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, depicted here as a cursed apple-doll puppet. John Bolton’s ‘stache merging with Drumpf’s comb-over in nuclear ecstasy is a solid runner-up.

Norton’s wit is similarly biting, although I must admit that some of the earliest strips had me scratching my head and consulting ye ole google. With catastrophes breaking on the daily, it’s hard to remember what fresh hell transpired last month, let alone last year.

I look forward to reading the inevitable Toad-inspired strip.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Book of Onions: Comics to Make You Cry Laughing and Cry Crying by Jake Thompson (2018)

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Embrace It, Jack

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

This is not a cookbook, although a book of onion-based delicacies does sound amazing. Rather, The Book of Onions is a collection of strips from the webcomic Jake Likes Onions by by Jake Thompson. Drawn in black and white with a four-panel convention, Thompson’s comics often veer toward the absurd and bizarre, with a wickedly dark sense of humor. They’re a little reminiscent of The Far Side, but more obscene (mostly in a good way). The never did get me crying quite like a fat, juicy onion, but they were good for a chuckle or two, and some of the especially bleak ones just may haunt my nightmares. (Jack, I’m looking at you.)

If you don’t follow Jake on twitter, what are you waiting for?

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye (2018)

Friday, May 4th, 2018

Lovely and heartfelt.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC through NetGalley. Trigger warning for transphobia.)

Growing up, artist Julia Kaye didn’t know she was trans. While she felt a certain, low-level sense of discomfort with her own body, it wasn’t until she was twenty-four – when she stumbled upon a website where users documented their transitions – that she identified the source of her gender dysphoria. And it would take another two years before she was comfortable enough to come out to her friends and family and begin her transition. A near-daily diary in graphic novel format, Super Late Bloomer documents the first six months of her transition, from May through October of 2016.

Super Late Bloomer very much feels like the fabulously queer cousin of a Sarah’s Scribbles collection. The visual style is similar (princess eyes and puddle of flesh = pure joy!), yet still its own; and Kaye’s social awkwardness and anxiety feels familiar to me, even if the source is something that I can only try to understand. Kaye documents the tiny triumphs and devastations that marked her path along the way.

The bad: misgendering; being outed by well-meaning but clueless family members; post-laser stubble; friends who suddenly make themselves scarce.

The good: being complimented by other women; finding a dress that fits; accepting parents; looking in the mirror and seeing your true self stare back.

At turns funny, sarcastic, and bittersweet, Super Late Bloomer is essential reading for humans in this word.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: My Boyfriend Is a Bear by Pamela Ribon & Cat Farris (2018)

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

MRRRHHNH. (That’s Bear for “Coming in for a hug.”)

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

I honestly didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did.

I mean, I don’t know what I expected, other than it seemed like a cute idea that could very well fail spectacularly. At the end of the day, I picked it up because I really, really wanted to use this video in a review.

Nora stumbles into a 500-pound American black bear while camping with one of her many d-bag boyfriends. When Bear is later driven from his forest home by wildfires, he finds Nora thanks to a discarded issue of Bust. (Nice touch! Eff off, Ben!) Against all odds, these crazy kids fall in love and make a go of it. But will Bear’s looming hibernation rip them apart, if society doesn’t break their spirits first?

My Boyfriend Is a Bear is weird and adorable and just straight-up delightful. I know I’m supposed to read it as an allegory about overcoming differences both large and small in relationships, but you know what? It’s also a cuddly AF romance story about a lady and a bear. Says the girl who claims as her soulmate a snaggle-toothed, marshmallow-bellied rat terrier (now nearly five years dead, and whom she thinks of on the daily) and once referred to her first-adopted dog as “her other boyfriend ™.” Dogs > people. Probably bears > people, too. All nonhuman animals > people, who are we kidding.

As much as My Boyfriend Is a Bear had me laughing – and it was like whoah – it also has its fair share of sad moments, especially as Bear’s hibernation approaches. That last act was filled with snot-flinging ugly crying. But the end? Pure magic.

This is one that’s earned a permanent place on my nightstand, right on top of Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles collections. Along with Nicole Georges’s Fetch, it’s a book I’ll turn to every now and then, when I need a good, hysterical cry.

Basically My Boyfriend Is a Bear is the best thing ever. Or at least since the proud tradition of bears wearing tees without pants.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Herding Cats (Sarah’s Scribbles #3) by Sarah Andersen (2018)

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Amazing, as always.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Sarah Andersen is my favorite, and Herding Cats – the third in her Sarah’s Scribbles series – does not disappoint. Her trademark adorable line drawings, self-deprecating humor, and wry wit are all present and accounted for. While Sarah’s observations run the gamut, from popular trends to personal apocalypses, Herding Cats is all about the three As: anxiety, animals, and art. Err, make that four: can’t forget about adulting, filed under “things that are impossible and threaten to break me on the daily.” (I feel you, girl. I’ve cried three times and counting, just today.)

The last section includes advice to aspiring artists, punctuated by pithy comic strips for the rest of us. I was not bored.

Some of the comics I remembered from her twitter feed, but many were new, or at least new-to-me. Nearly are all instant classics. But since I can’t very well post the entire book, here are the top five.

In sum: Buy this book. Buy it meow.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)