Category Archives: Short Story Collections

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson


Image Description: book cover of You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson. The cover mostly consists of robin’s egg blue background, with title text and author text up the top of the book, in the foreground is a close-up head-shot of Phoebe Robinson with a serious expression on her face. Her hair is styled in a short-bob style two-toned afro that curls around her face.

Title: You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain
Author: Phoebe Robinson
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads
Publisher and Format: eBook from Plume
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

About the Author:
PHOEBE ROBINSON is a stand-up comedian, writer, and actress whom Vulture.com, Essence, and Esquire have named one of the top comedians to watch. She has appeared on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers and Last Call with Carson Daly; TBS’s Conan, Comedy Central’s Broad City, and @midnight with Chris Hardwick; as well recently landing a recurring role on the new Jill Soloway show for Amazon I Love Dick.
Robinson’s writing has been featured in The Village Voice, NY Mag, and on Glamour.com, TheDailyBeast.com, VanityFair.com, Vulture.com, and NYTimes.com. She was also a staff writer on MTV’s hit talking head show, Girl Code, as well as a consultant on season three of Broad City.
Most recently, she created and starred in Refinery29’s web series Woke Bae and, alongside Jessica Williams, formerly of The Daily Show, she is the creator and costar of the hit WNYC podcast 2 Dope Queens as well as the host of the critically-acclaimed WNYC podcast Sooo Many White Guys. Robinson is the author of the New York Times best-selling book, You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain, a collection of essays about race, gender, and pop culture. Robinson lives and performs stand-up in Brooklyn, NY, and is busy planning her upcoming nuptials to Michael Fassbender.

About the Book:
Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day. Comedian Phoebe Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she’s been unceremoniously relegated to the role of “the black friend,” as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she’s been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel (“isn’t that . . . white people music?”); she’s been called “uppity” for having an opinion in the workplace; she’s been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she’s ready to take these topics to the page—and she’s going to make you laugh as she’s doing it.
Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is “Queen. Bae. Jesus,” to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls, to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president, and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, You Can’t Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humour and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.

General Observation:
~Diverse Books Reading Challenge: While this novel does address a specific category of racism and microaggressions, the experiences of woman of colour who lives in New York and works as an actress/comedian, it is important that non-white people get the opportunity to share their experiences.
It’s also important for white people to recognise that racism and microaggressions can occur in multiple ways. It not always racial slurs, sometimes it’s white people pretending not to notice that you’ve been standing at the register for fifteen minutes or following you around the store to make sure you’re not shop-lifting.

~Exactly What It Says On The Tin: Phoebe Robinson explains thoroughly why you can’t touch her hair and other racial things people should know by now. Phoebe Robinson goes into detail the complicated relationship people of colour, and especially women of colour, have with their hair. That the choice to have natural hair could be a difficult decision with far reaching consequences.
While I was aware of the racial double-standards that can occur regarding people of colour and their hair, I hadn’t realised just how much time, money, and effort went into maintaining a “passable” or “acceptable” Level of hair presentation. I especially enjoyed the “The History of Hair” chapter.

~Let Me Entertain You: While the novel does dedicate a lot of space to racism in America, it’s not the only thing Phoebe Robinson talks about. My favourite chapters are the series of letters that Phoebe Robinson writes to her niece Olivia, which is kind of a funny coincidence as I also have a niece named Olivia, and I found some of the pearls of wisdom Phoebe Robinson wished to bestow upon her niece amusing and relatable.

In conclusion, due to the racial tensions currently occurring in the United States of America, I can’t help but feel that while this book is funny and engaging, it is also depressingly relevant. To be honest, a lot of the topics covered in the novel seemed obvious to me, but the fact that Phoebe Robinson felt the need to write an entire novel dedicated to these topics prove that it’s not obvious to everyone.

Available For Purchase: Amazon | Audible | Book Depository | Kobo Books

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Crooked Words by K. A. Cook

crooked-words
Title: Crooked Words: A Collection of Queer, Transgender and Womanist Writings
Author: K. A. Cook
Social Media: Goodreads, Patreon and Tumblr
Publisher: K. A. Cook via Smashwords
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Format and Price: E-Book for free

About The Author:
K. A. Cook is a masculine-presenting genderless pansexual feminist queer driven to write about non-binary and unconventional souls, mental illness, chronic pain and strong women. Currently a Professional Writing and Editing student, K. A. dreams of starting an e-press publishing queer non-romance genre fiction. In the meantime, K. A. spends their time collecting swap cards and fashion dolls, writing long and reflective blog posts, and coming up with ever more inventive ways to turn their life experiences into fiction.

About The Book:
A young transgender magician travels the world on a quest for a mystical talking sword. A witch wonders why her would-be lovers can’t date her the old-fashioned way. A cross-dressing man meets a suit-clad soul whose gender defies definition. A non-binary zombie wishes ze were the hero in science-fiction stories. A genderqueer manservant tries to save her mentally-ill lover with a deck of tarot cards. A boy looks at himself in the mirror and ponders the fear of telling his family that his name isn’t Susan.

Crooked Words is an eclectic collection of short fiction in pursuit of the many different shades of what it means to live queer.

General Observations:

~Misaimed Audience: I will put in a cisclaimer here, I’m a cis-woman reading and reviewing a book meant for a Transgender and/or Queer audience, so there might be things I haven’t picked up on or maybe I’ve missed something (please let me know in the comments). I’m also far from an expert on this topic, but I enjoyed the book and I figured, if I could enjoy it despite not being the target audience, than perhaps other cis-people could enjoy it too.

~Book Structure: As I’m a primarily plot-orientated writer and/or reader and Kim is primarily a character-orientated writer, I would have preferred to read “Everything in a Name” before I read “Blue Paint, Chocolate and Other Similes” (I’m assuming these stories are connected, this might not be the case). The character state of mind in “Everything in a Name” (awkward, nervous and walking-on-eggshell social interactions with straight cis-gendered people) versus “Blue Paint, Chocolate and Other Similes” (confident, happy and safe social interactions with other MOGAI people) would have had a bigger impact in my mind. As a plot-reader, a character-orientated writer has to prove to me “why should I care about this character?” and “What is this character’s journey?”. With those two stories, I can see the direction of Chris’s future character development, but I also need those interconnecting story points to be a little more obvious, but perhaps that’s just me.

~The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Now, the first story of the anthology is “Certain Eldritch Artefacts”, which has recently been revised, here’s the link (I recommend readers who enjoy fantasy to go check it out). Some readers might think Darius’ chapter is a small slice of a larger narrative, and they would be right! In fact, the reason I read Crooked Words in the first place was to read the prequel “Certain Eldritch Artefacts”. Although there are many enjoyable short stories, “Certain Eldritch Artefacts” would have to be my favourite.

~Adventures in Port Carmila: I’m assuming that “The Differently Animated and Queer Society” takes place in the Port Camila universe along Death Is Only A Theoretical Concept (my apologies if this isn’t the case), like with “Certain Eldritch Artefacts”, I get the feeling that “The Differently Animated and Queer Society” is a smaller chapter that is apart of a much bigger narrative (and not a self-contained short-story), but I don’t think this is a negative thing. Especially since it does contain amusing references to Centrelink and discussions on sci-fi representation (the more Farscape mentions the better, as far as I’m concerned).

In conclusion, Crooked Words claims to be “an eclectic collection of short fiction in pursuit of the many different shades of what it means to live queer” and I think the novel fulfills that expectation with the added Australian sub-text and references thrown in for good measure. The characters are engaging and authentic and Kim shines when it comes to understanding emotions and empathy for their characters. I enjoyed reading Crooked Words and I’m happy to recommend.

Links:
~Top 10 books by transgender authors featuring trans characters by John Hansen

~I Found Myself Reading: How to Review a Trans Book as a Cis Person

~The 21 Best Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Books for Kids by Em & Lo

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

American Housewife
Title: American Housewife: Stories
Author: Helen Ellis
Social Media: Instagram, Goodreads and Twitter
Publisher: Scribner UK, imprint of Simon & Schuster Ltd
Format and Price: E-Book at $12.99
Rating: 4 out of 5

About The Author:
Helen Ellis is an American novelist. She is the author of two published novels, as well as several works of short fiction.

Her first novel, Eating the Cheshire Cat, is a dark comedy written in Southern Gothic fiction style. It tells the story of three girls raised in the South, and the odd, sometimes macabre tribulations they endure.

Her second novel, The Turning: What Curiosity Kills, is a “teen vampire” story about a 16-year-old girl from the South who is adopted into a wealthy New York City family. The book’s plot include shape-shifting, teen romance, and the supernatural.

About The Book:
A sharp, funny, delightfully unhinged collection of stories set in the dark world of domesticity, American Housewife features murderous ladies who lunch, celebrity treasure hunters, and the best bra fitter south of the Mason Dixon line.

Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it’s a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop. Vicious, fresh, and nutty as a poisoned Goo Goo Cluster, American Housewife is an uproarious, pointed commentary on womanhood.

General Observations:

~Not My Usual Thing: Normally, I’m not a big fan of of short stories, but I loved this and I very much enjoyed reading these book. I actually heard about this author through Radio National program Books and Art (Top Shelf with Helen Ellis) and the reason I was perusing this radio program was for a University assignment, however I’m glad I looked into it.

~Pick of The Lot: Though I want to point out I enjoyed all the stories, even the one about the haunted apartment (which I had reservations on at first), however if I had to pic one, my favourite short story is the first that appears in the novel “What I Do All Day”, which is hilarious (particularly the moments such as “I’m glad you like it” is Southern Lady code for “I hate it.”) I could never master that level of politeness judo, but also a really great insight into the gems of domestic life. However a surprising close second was “The Fitter”, a part of think I shouldn’t enjoy the petty drama as much as I do (we have our vices), but it was more the desperation of both women, how you got to see both sides of what I had initially thought was a one sided issue (Helen Ellis does sympathy for the devil very well), especially since one of the characters has cancer (which took me a while to figure out I’m afraid).

~Short and Sweet: A few of these short stories have been published elsewhere, so it did feel like an anthology (which isn’t a problem). I really admire Helen Ellis for being able to write and publish so many short stories (a format that still eludes me), but the novel is rather short, which I suppose is good for some readers but I would have preferred a little more.

Overall, a great small collection of short stories by a fascinating author, I highly recommend it.
RMFAO Genre Challenge 2016

M is for Autism by The Students of Limpsfield Grange School, Vicky Martin and Robert Pritchett

M is for Autism
Title: M is for Autism
Author: The Students of Limpsfield Grange School, Vicky Martin and Robert Pritchett
Social Media: Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Format and Price: E-Book at $15.39
Rating: 3 out of 5

About The Book:
M. That’s what I’d like you to call me please. I’ll tell you why later.

Welcome to M’s world. It’s tipsy-turvy, sweet and sour, and the beast of anxiety lurks outside classrooms ready to pounce. M just wants to be like other teenagers her age who always know what to say and what to do. So why does it feel like she lives on a different plane of existence to everyone else?

Written by the students of Limpsfield Grange, a school for girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder with communication and interaction difficulties, M is for Autism draws on real life experiences to create a heartfelt and humorous novel that captures the highs and lows of being different in a world of normal.

General Observations:

~Size Does Matter: The book is really short, too short, and it only covers one type of narrative. Even though I know that multiple girls collaborated on this book with writing and drawings, it only felt like one girl’s experience. Especially since the Limpsfield Grange School teaches girls within the 11-16 age bracket. That is not to say the book isn’t enjoyable to read, I did enjoy reading this and I feel it addresses a very important topic, however it felt like more of an introduction or a short essay than a novel. However, I would also like to point out that Limpsfield Grange School has also organised to continue publishing more books written by the students.

~Representation Matters: The Limpsfield Grange School is a special needs school that primarily focuses on girls with Autism, it’s the only school like this in the UK (there are no specialized schools like this for girls in Australia). A big problem within the Medical community is the dismissal and refusal of diagnosing of girls, women, femmes and female-perceived people. This book directly tackles this issue and just how stressful and needlessly unhelpful the whole diagnostic process is for the person with Autism and the family as a whole, and this is for people under the age of 18, it’s incredibly hard to receive an adult diagnosis for Autism (there’s apparently only five doctors in the state of Victoria who are even qualified to diagnose Autism in adults). This is a conversation that needs to be happening and happening more often.

~Format and Book Layout: I read the book quickly, suspiciously quick in fact, I couldn’t help but notice the large number of “blank” pages in the book, it turns out that there are hidden pages. I needed to read the book on my desktop and invert the colour scheme (change the background black and the text white) of the book to read the hidden chapters. If this has been done on purpose, that’s brilliant use of symbolism and metaphor (that neurotypical people are only getting half the story), but if it’s not done on purpose, it makes me a little confused (I’m going to assume it was done on purpose).

In conclusion, quick short read on Autism from the perspective of students from The Limpsfield Grange School, so a book about Autism by Autistic people for Autistic people, and I’m looking forward to reading M in the Middle

Links:
~Limpsfield Grange School for Girls – Part 1

~‘Autism is seen as a male thing – but girls just implode emotionally’ by Angela Neustatter

~6 Realities Of Life As The Parent Of An Autistic Child

~6 Things People With Autism Would Like You To Know

~The National Autistic Society: Gender and Autism

~Autism Women’s Network

~Not just a boy thing: how doctors are letting down girls with autism by Amelia Hill

~The Autism Project: Mothers with ASD ask why scientists are missing girls

~I have autism and the lack of authentic autistic voices in books angers me by Sara Barrett

~Diverse characters: Corinne Duyvis on the decline of “issue” books by Corinne Duyvis

~Autism helped me become an internationally published author – here’s how by Corinne Duyvis

Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren

Coming of Age
Title: Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia
Editors: Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Format and Price: E-Book at $12.36

About The Editors:
Amra Pajalic: Amra Pajalic is an author and teacher, she was born and raised in Melbourne’s Western Suburbs and where she works as a high school teacher. She shares her home with her husband, daughter and three cats. Her debut novel The Good Daughter won the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Civic Choice Award, and was a finalist in the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature Best Writing Award. Prior to publication it was shortlisted in the 2007 Victorian Premier’s Awards for Best Unpublished Manuscript. She is also author of a novel for children Amir: Friend on Loan.

She is co-editor of the anthology Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Eve Pownall Award for Information Books and was selected by the Grattan Institute for the 2015 Summer Reading List for Prime Minister. Amra also wrote the teaching notes published by Allen and Unwin. She has had short stories and non fiction pieces place in competitions, get published in magazines (Big Issue, Woman’s Day), journals (Etchings, The Emerging Writer) and anthologies (2004 and 2005 Best Australian Stories, Wordlines, Through The Clock’s Workings).

She is a co-author and Project Manager of What a Muslim Woman Looks Like, a government funded resource profiling Muslim women which has been used as an educational resource for cross cultural training in schools and by organisations. It is also being used by high schools to support VCE students writing on themes of Identity and Belonging. WAMWLL received wide media attention and was featured in the Herald Sun, Today Tonight, and Triple RRR.

Demet Divaroren: Demet Divaroren was born in Adana, Turkey and migrated to Australia with her family when she was six months old. She writes fiction and non-fiction and is the co-editor of Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia anthology. Demet’s writing has appeared in Griffith REVIEW, Island magazine, Scribe’s New Australian Stories, The Age Epicure, The Big Issue, and was commended in the Ada Cambridge Biographical Prose Prize 2013. Her first novel, Orayt?, was shortlisted for the Australian Vogel Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.

Demet is the recipient of an Australia Council Artstart Grant, a Jump Mentoring Grant, a Rosebank Residential Writing Fellowship, a Varuna Fellowship for a Writing Retreat and a Glenfern Grace Marion Wilson Fellowship. She is the Artist in Residence at Deer Park Art Spaces and appears as a panellist, guest speaker and workshop leader at literary festivals, universities, and schools across Melbourne. Demet is currently writing a young adult novel titled The Lost Boys.

About The Book:
Muslim people in Australia come from over seventy countries and represent a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences. Yet we are constantly bombarded by media stories feeding one negative stereotype. What is it really like to grow up Muslim in Australia? In this book, famous and not-so-famous Muslim-Australians tell their stories in their own voices.

The beard, the hijab, the migrant – these are all familiar images associated with Muslim people. But delve deeper and there are many other stories: the young female boxer entering the ring for her first professional bout; a ten-year-old boy who renounces religion; a young woman struggling to reconcile her sexual identity with her faith. These honest and heartfelt stories will resonate with all readers, providing different snapshots of Muslim life in Australia, dispelling myths and stereotypes, and above all celebrating diversity, achievement, courage and determination.

‘Coming of Age is the kind of book that will change how readers look at the world… Coloured with many shades of humour, warmth, sadness, anger, determination and honesty, it will resonate with readers from all backgrounds and beliefs.’ Bookseller+Publisher

General Observations:
~Technicality: Now, I understand that this book is a short story anthology with multiple authors (some of whom are men) and that Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren are the editors of this book. however as I’ve before stated, about 50% of the short stories are written by women who may have multiple heritage and personal identity labels, but the majority of them do identify with the Australian way of life (though being Australian is not the only identifier they have and that’s perfectly fine). So I’m including it in the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

~Basic Overview: My favourite parts were the introduction chapters, as the authors gave brief description of what their specific Islamic culture and practices, what their ethnic background, how those two identity labels worked together was and how it could separate from other people who identify with Islam and Australian. For those who are worried that is book has heavy theological discussions, don’t worry it doesn’t and while it some stories do contain references to particular verses in the Quran, it’s mostly short and explained with footnotes. So even for someone like myself, who has no knowledge of Islamic culture, the references were easy to understand.

~Narrative Elements: I’m not usually into short story anthologies but Coming of Age worked for me. All the writers had interesting but different stories to tell,they all had different cultural influences and were all in different stages of their life (you know, just like regular people). The stories were well written and engaging. This book should most certain be mandatory reading for VCE. however, there were consistent cultural differences with Australian culture and similar reactions from the authors even though they all had different experiences (though a lot of them did originate from the surrounding suburbs of Sydney in New South Wales). I have noticed that immigrants who show a talent or interest in Sports do tend to have more positive experiences with Australian culture or blend in with Australian culture easier (though it’s not always a guarantee). It did highlight things I was already aware of like how the Australian Education System does very little to help accommodate students who speak a language other than English at home and how Australians should place a higher value on academical discipline over sporting achievement. I also loved reading about the inter-generational households, the majority of my cousins and extended family lived either in New South Wales or Queensland, so I never had that inter-generational contact growing up.

~Time Marches On: With current events happening, books like these need to be written, published and read. However, with books like these, there is a risk of events like the Cronulla riots (it’s difficult to believe that it’s been over ten years since that happened) and the 2002 Bali Bombings from becoming dated. Although I know most Australians would like to think that Racial Tensions with Islamic communities are a thing of the past, however recent conflict surrounding The Bendigo Mosque and The Daily Show’s coverage of the 2013 Australian Election campaign prove otherwise.
AWWC 2016
RMFAO Genre Challenge 2016

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