Connect with us


‘Harley Quinn: Ravenous’ a dark Gotham novel with a feminist warrior

New book awash in crazy action, humor, and superheroes



(Book cover image courtesy Random House)

‘Harley Quinn: Ravenous’ 
By Rachael Allen
c.2023, Random House 
$19.99/349 pages

Forget about it.

Put it out of your mind; don’t worry about it. It’s likely nothing, so let it rest. Let it go and don’t be afraid because, as in the new book “Harley Quinn: Ravenous” by Rachael Allen, fear is how they make you scream.

Being a first-year intern at Gotham University was going to be the best.

Having completed the university’s gap-year program last year, Harleen Quinzel was practically bouncing. She’d decided on research, possibly psychology, as a career and first year program included mentorship and a chance to study some of Gotham’s worst, most notorious criminal minds. The Joker, Two-Face, King Shark, Mr. Freeze, she could be assigned to any one of them at Arkham Asylum.

First year was also going to be a bit of a relief.

Sure, she’d still have to put up with classmates like the jerk who kept asking if she was “straight now” (nope, still bi, today, tomorrow, last week) and she’d have to try to fit in, which was hard to do after what happened at the end of last year. Then, some of Harleen’s friends were attacked with a fear spray that made them scream and scream, and her best friend died from it. There was gossip but Harleen had her research to enjoy, she loved her mentor, and she was fascinated by Talia al Ghul, who’d tried to assassinate Gotham’s mayor. Talia was a great study-subject – even though Harleen wasn’t technically supposed to ever speak to her.

Until Talia said that she knew who made the fear spray. She needed information for information, tit for tat, and she hinted that she knew the truth about Straw Man, who was rumored to haunt Arkham and who had a hand in the fear spray, so…

So then Harleen woke up in the hospital, the victim of a bad accident and amnesia. But was it an accident? Were this guy, Win, and the adorable Ivy trustworthy? And the escape of Gotham City’s worst, most violent criminals — was Harleen at fault?

Let’s say a movie theater mushed its film to a pulp and made a novel from the leftover cells. Or they used the mush to paint a Ben-Dot artwork panel, but in words. That’s kinda how you could think of this book. As a part of the “DC Icons” franchise, “Harley Quinn: Ravenous” almost screams graphic novel or comic book.

So what’s the problem?

Nothing, as long as you know that before you pick it up because that’s the sort of feel you’ll get in what only looks like a regular novel. Nothing, if you relish a story that starts with action and peppers it with chaos before dropping readers into a land of dark monsters and crime. Nothing at all, if you’ve read author Rachael Allen’s novel-before-this-one – otherwise, you’ll be awash in humor, feminism, superheroes, and scrambling to find your footing. Be warned.

Overall, if you love a funny, crazy-paced dark-Gotham novel with a feminist warrior, you’ll devour “Harley Quinn: Ravenous.” As for a bookmark…? Nah, forget about it.



When artists we love behave badly

New book ‘Monsters’ explores this common fan dilemma



('Monsters' book cover image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf)

‘Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma’
By Claire Dederer
c.2023, Alfred A. Knopf
$28/288 pages

Recently, I listened to an audio version of “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. I cheered when Rowling said Dumbledore is gay.

Yet, I wondered, should I read the Potter books (no matter how much I love them) when Rowling has made hurtful remarks about trans people? 

That is the question many fans ask today: What do we do when artists make art we love, but behave badly? 

“Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma,” by memoirist and critic Claire Dederer delves into this  vexing question.

This perplexing query has no “right” answer that works for everyone. Yet, if you enjoy art, you’re likely to keep wrestling with it. 

A book delving into this conundrum could be as outdated as the last news cycle. The  cancel culture debate has engulfed social media for eons.

Yet, Dederer’s meditation on the relationship between art and its fans is provocative and entertaining. Reading “Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma” is like downing two, three, maybe four espressos after a couple of cups of strong coffee.

One minute, you may feel that Dederer has it exactly right. The next moment, you might wonder what planet she’s on.

I applauded Dederer when she wrote, “There is not some correct answer…The way you consume art doesn’t make you a bad person, or a good one.” 

But I wanted to throw the book across the room as I read that Dederer preferred Monty Python over queer comedian, writer, and actor Hannah Gadsby. “Listen, I’d rather watch the Pythons than Gadsby any day of the week,” Dederer writes.

To be fair, Dederer opines about Monty Python to make a point about the “monster” of exclusion. “None of these guys has the bandwidth,” she writes about Monty Python, “to even entertain the idea that a woman’s or person of color’s point of view might be just as ‘normal’ as theirs, just as central.”

Dederer, the author of two critically acclaimed memoirs “Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning” and “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses,” struggles, as a fan and critic, with many types of monsters.

Dederer, who started out as a movie critic, began grappling with monsters in 2014. Then, “I found myself locked in a lonely–okay, imaginary–battle with an appalling genius,” she writes.

The “appalling genius” was filmmaker Roman Polanski, who, Dederer reports, raped a 13-year-old. Despite her knowledge of Polanski’s crime, “I was still able to consume his work,” Dederer writes, “[though] he was the object of boycotts and lawsuits and outrage.”

Her gallery of monsters contains the usual hetero male suspects from Bill Cosby to Woody Allen. Dederer deplores Allen’s behavior, but considers “Annie Hall” to be the greatest 20th century film comedy. She finds “Manhattan” unwatchable because Allen’s character dates a high school girl, but considers “Annie Hall” to be better than “Bringing Up Baby.” (Mea culpa: I love “Annie Hall.” But, better than “Baby?)

For Dederer, monsters aren’t only male or hetero. She wonders, for instance, if the brilliant poet Sylvia Plath, was a monster because she abandoned her children for her art.

Dederer muses about the actor Kevin Spacey (who will be on trial in June for alleged sexual assault in the United Kingdom), Michael Jackson, and J. K. Rowling.

“One of the great problems faced by audiences is named the Past,” Dederer writes, “The past is a vast terrible place where they didn’t know better.”

‘But, Dederer reminds us: sometimes they did.Queer writer Virginia Woolf (author of the luminous “Mrs. Dalloway” and the gender-bending “Orlando”) is a god to many queers. Yet, Dederer reports, Woolf, though married to Leonard Woolf, who was Jewish, made flippant anti-Semitic remarks in her diaries. You could say Woolf was just “joking” as people in her time did. Yet, Dederer reminds us, gay author E.M. Forster wrote in a 1939 essay, “…antisemitism is now the most shocking of all things.”

I wish Dederer, who writes of racism and sexism in art, had written about the homophobia in art (in the past and present). I’d have loved it if she’d mused on the brilliant queer, anti-Semitic, racist writer Patricia Highsmith who gave us the “Talented Mr. Ripley.”

I’d liked to have seen some mention of Islamophobia, ableism and racism against Asian-Americans and indigenous people in art in “Monsters.”

Despite these quibbles, “Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma” is a fascinating book. There’s no calculator (as Dederer wishes there was) to tell us whether we should go with the art we love or renounce the work of the artist whose behavior we deplore. But, Dederer turns this dilemma into an exhilarating adventure.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading


Chasten Buttigieg’s new book a comforting read for teens

Coming out tale told with an upbeat, fatherly calm tone



(Book cover image courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

‘I Have Something to Tell You’
By Chasten Buttigieg
c.2023, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
$18.99/209 pages

Experience, they say, is the best teacher.

Once you’ve done something, you can say you like it and you’ll do it again or not. The subject comes with a different viewpoint, once you’ve gotten a little experience with it. You’re wiser, more confident. As in the new book “I Have Something to Tell You” by Chasten Buttigieg, you’ll have the chops to offer valid advice.

If you’d have asked 8-year-old Chasten Buttigieg what life was like, he probably would’ve told you about his big brothers and how wild and daring they were. He would’ve said he didn’t have many friends and that he loved his parents. He wouldn’t have told you about being gay, though, because he had no frame of reference, no experience, or role models. He just knew then that he was “different.”

A year later, he watched “Will & Grace” on TV for the first time, and it was hilarious but he had to be careful. Already, he understood that being “someone ‘like that” had to be hidden. He watched Ellen and he was sure that “gay people weren’t found in places” like his Northern Michigan home town.

For much of his childhood, Buttigieg says he was bullied, but being lonely was worse. He was awkward, but he found his happy place in theater. “In school,” he says, “I felt a constant tug-of-war between where I was and where I wanted to be,” between authenticity and pretending. A year as a high school senior exchange student in gay-friendly Germany, then a “safe space” in college in Wisconsin clarified many things and helped him gain confidence and “broaden [his] perspective.”

By the time he met the man he calls Peter, “I felt at ease to present myself in ways I hadn’t felt comfortable doing.”

Still, he says, things may be better or they may be worse, “We’ve got a long way to go, but you, the reader, get to be a part of that promising future.”

Filled with an abundance of dad jokes and a casual, chatty tone that never once feels pushy or overbearing, “I Have Something to Tell You” may seem like deja vu for good reason. This gently altered version of a 2020 memoir, meant for kids ages 12 and up, says all the right things in a surprisingly paternal way.

And yet, none of it’s preachy, or even stern.

Though there are brief peeks at his adult life on the campaign trail with his husband, now-Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the heart of author Chasten Buttigieg’s book is all memoir, set in a loving household in a small town. It’s lightly humorous but not trite; to this, Buttigieg adds a layer of subtle advice, and genuineness to a tale that’s familiar to adults and will appeal to young, still-figuring-it-out teens.

You can expect a “you are not alone” message in a book like this, but it comes with an upbeat, fatherly calm. For a teen who needs that, reading “I Have Something to Tell You” will be a good experience.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading


Nonbinary poet unmasks society’s gender expectations in new collection

Karen Poppy’s ‘Diving At The Lip Of The Water’ debuts next week



'Diving At The Lip Of The Water' by Karen Poppy will be out from Beltway Editions on May 1.

“I started to compose poetry around the age of three – before I could even write,” poet Karen Poppy, 47, told the Blade in a telephone interview. “My Mom would write my poems down.”

“I had the good fortune,” added Poppy, whose first, full-length poetry collection “Diving At The Lip Of The Water” will be out from Beltway Editions, a Washington, D.C. area press, on May 1, “My Mom read poetry to me. The first poem was about a nightingale. Maybe she read Keats to me.” (John Keats was the 19th century Romantic poet who wrote “Ode to a Nightingale.”)

Poppy has written a book “that will rough a reader up and then wrap their scraps in silk,” poet Francesca Bell has said of “Diving At The Lip of The Water.” For Poppy, who identifies as queer, nonbinary, lesbian and an artist, coming out has been a lifelong process. “I’ve come out many times in many ways,” Poppy, who grew up in Foster City, Calif., and now lives in the San Francisco Bay area, said.

April is National Poetry Month. In every month, Poppy thinks often of Walt Whitman, one of the United States’ greatest poets. Thought by many to be queer, Whitman, a nurse in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War, is best known for his groundbreaking work “Leaves of Grass.”

Whitman comes to mind to Poppy when she talks about her identity. “As an artist,” Poppy said in reference to how she identifies, “I’m everyone and everything.”

When Whitman talks about the self containing “multitudes,” “He’s not just speaking of individuals,” Poppy said, “he’s saying that poets-artists enter into everything.”

“As an artist – a poet,” Poppy said, “I don’t like to be put into boxes.”

Poppy celebrates Whitman’s creative spirit, refusal to have limitations placed on him and, what she called, “his joyous experience of limitlessness and connectivity with everything.”

As a young child, Poppy sensed that she was different. “I knew very early on,” she said, “I wanted to be like my mother and my father.”

She wanted to be glam like her mom. “My Mom’s family’s nickname for Mom was Miss America,” Poppy said.

She wore her Dad’s leather jacket, cowboy hat and cowboy boots. “Early on, I got in trouble for trying to smoke a cigarette,” Poppy said, “I put it in the wrong way. I was lucky I didn’t burn my mouth!”

“I cut my mouth, trying to shave as a toddler,” she added, “I was already creating my own gender identity.”

At a time, when people were far less out and proud than now, Poppy crushed on her girl babysitters. “In kindergarten, I got in trouble with my best friend at the time,” she said, “because I told her that I was interested in her physically.”

“I think she was very kind about it,” Poppy added.

That same year, Poppy was reprimanded by her teacher for kissing a boy. “The boy and I were in line waiting to go back to the classroom,” she said, “he kissed me back.”

During that era, Poppy didn’t have the words to name or describe her feelings. “I have a gay cousin who’s older than me,” she said, “and a lesbian aunt. But because they weren’t exactly the way I am, I didn’t realize I was queer, too.”

In Foster City, when she was growing up, people didn’t talk openly about being queer. “We talked about it in euphemisms and negatively,” Poppy said.

A poem is never just the story of what happened or the recitation of fact, poet Sheila Black, a 2012 Witter Bynner Fellow, said in an email to the Blade.

Poppy’s poetry, like that of many poets, at times, channels her life. Though, it’s not autobiographical in a literal or linear way. Like Whitman’s work, it contains multitudes from individual and collective experience.

Her searing, moving collection “Diving At The Lip Of The Water,” unmasks society’s gender expectations and family systems. Poppy’s poem, “No One was Gay Back Then,” draws us into what it’s like to have to hide your sexuality. “We used to make fun of you/You, making out with Michael/in the grass. 5th grade recess,” the poem begins.

“Michael liked Matt. So in 5th grade,” Poppy writes in the poem, “already seeking cover-ups/Trying to convince everyone and ourselves./Our small town. No one was gay back then.”

As a tween, Poppy not only realized she was queer (though she didn’t have the word for it); she knew where she wanted to go to college. Poppy was determined to go to Smith College because Sylvia Plath went there.

 “When I was 12, I started to read Sylvia Plath,” Poppy said. “Plath has been a profound influence on me throughout my life.”

“Because of her fearlessness in speaking her truth,” Poppy added, “and her high level of poetic virtuosity.”

Poppy’s dream came true. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Comparative Literature and Spanish in 1998.

At Smith, Poppy began to come out about her identity. But, there were pressures. “I was pressured into cutting my hair short,” she said, “the feeling was if I kept my hair long, I wasn’t a dyke.”

Poppy cut her hair. “I did cry,” she said, “there was a pressure to conform to a certain aesthetic. You had to be super femme or butch.”

It was another box that she had a hard time escaping from. “I realized boxes are not for me,” Poppy said.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after she graduated from Smith. After a short stint as a chef apprentice, Poppy could tell that being a chef for the long term wasn’t for her.

Like most poets, Poppy knew being a bard rarely brings financial stability. “I wanted to have security and I wanted to help people,” Poppy said.

“I went to law school and studied international law,” she said, “A lot of my early focus was on immigration and helping refugees.”

Poppy graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law (now known as UC College of the Law, San Francisco) in 2003 with a J.D. degree in international law.

Today, Poppy works for The Hartford in the area of workers’ compensation.

Poppy kept writing from her childhood into her 20s. “But then, somebody said something really cruel about my writing,” she said. “The ridicule chilled my creativity.”

For 17 years, because of this cruelty, she didn’t write. “I was in a creative silence,” Poppy said.

A traumatic event compelled her to go back to writing. 

Since 2017, when her creativity was restarted, Poppy’s poetry has been published in literary journals, anthologies as well as the chapbooks “Crack Open/Emergency,” “Our Own Beautiful Brutality” and “Every Possible Thing.” She’s written three unpublished novels and short stories. 

One of her writing projects is Whitmanesque in its intersections of identities.

Poppy is working on an opera libretto. “It takes place when Handel [the German-British Baroque composer] was alive,” she said.

It’s about a merboy who’s washed to shore. He’s young, Black and queer.

“A family takes him in,” Poppy said, “they want to make him a form of income.”

The family forces the merboy to become a castrato, Poppy said, “they make him wear a mask to hide his dark skin. When he’s older and has a relationship with a man, he has to be closeted.”

Poppy is looking for a composer to work with her on her libretto. If you’re interested, contact her through her website

Poppy’s interest in immigrants is personal as well as professional. Poppy is Jewish. Some of her family were murdered in the Holocaust. “Others in my family left Europe before the Holocaust because of pogroms and poverty,” she said.

When her family came to the United States in the early 1900s, they were “very poor,” Poppy said.

Her paternal grandmother, Poppy said, told her to make sure her son always had food, “because hunger would make his stomach hurt.”

We’ve come to see that the American dream is in many ways an illusion, Poppy said. It’s not accessible to all, and it’s slipping away.

“Elizabeth/The fifth of ten children/Who crossed the border, then/Still a child/,” Poppy writes in her poem “Elizabeth,” “Only sixteen and wanting to stay alive/To be the breath that survived.”

Poppy worries about the rise of anti-Semitism. “It comes in waves,” she said. “We have to remind each other to make sure it never happens again.”

It’s important for artists to take care of themselves, Poppy said. To get enough rest between creative projects. To be an athlete. So their minds and spirits can be in top form.

Poppy does yoga and loves to run. “A poem is a short lap,” she said, “writing a novel is like long distance open water swimming.”

“We write out of our humanity,” Poppy added.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade