Archive: June 2016

tweets for 2016-06-16

Friday, June 17th, 2016

tweets for 2016-06-15

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Book Review: We Were Feminists Once, Andi Zeisler (2016)

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

A smart, funny look at the commodification of feminism.

five out of five stars

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

Within a very short span of time, feminism has come to occupy perhaps its most complex role ever in American, if not global, culture. It’s a place where most of the problems that have necessitated feminist movements to begin with are still very much in place, but at the same time there’s a mainstream, celebrity, consumer embrace of feminism that positions it as a cool, fun, accessible identity that anyone can adopt. I’ve seen this called “pop feminism,” “feel-good feminism,” and “white feminism.” I call it marketplace feminism. It’s decontextualized. It’s depoliticized. And it’s probably feminism’s most popular iteration ever.

“The vote. The stay-at-home-dad. The push-up bra. The Lean Cuisine pizza.”

— 4.5 stars —

When We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement first crossed my radar, I was intrigued but also worried; the book’s description sounded like it could easily devolve into a chiding of Millennials by their older, second-wave sisters for not doing feminism right. (Think: Gloria Steinem’s recent statement that young women’s support of Bernie Sanders is merely a ploy to meet boys and get laid.) Then I saw that Andi Zeisler is the author, which mostly put my worries to bed: I’m a longtime subscriber of Bitch Magazine, which Zeisler co-founded, and it’s pretty trenchant, on-point, and welcoming of diverse voices. As is We Were Feminists Once which, as it turns out, is a smart and funny look at the the commodification of feminism, both in recent times and historically.

Bolstered by capitalism and neoliberalist policies, “marketplace feminism” is the repackaging of feminism as something that’s solely personal vs. political. This “feminism” is decontextualized and depoliticized, made soft and nonthreatening for mass consumption. It is a feminism “in service of capitalism.” With an emphasis on personal choice as opposed to equality and liberation for all, this feminism asserts that all choices are equally valid; a choice is feminist as long as a self-proclaimed feminist (or any woman) is the one making it, as though the choice to wax one’s body or take your husband’s surname or even to marry at all is made in a vacuum. (Enter one of my favorite references: Charlotte York’s desperate declaration, “I choose my choice!,” upon quitting her beloved gallery job after marriage.) Values and ideology become so much products to pick and choose from, as if they were different brands of conditioner. Worst still, feminism itself is presented as a product in need of branding.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-06-14

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

tweets for 2016-06-13

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Book Review: The Girls, Emma Cline (2016)

Monday, June 13th, 2016

A book so shrewd and insightful, it’s sometimes painful to read.

five out of five stars

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

When I’d first tried to tell Dan, on the night of a brownout in Venice that summoned a candlelit, apocalyptic intimacy, he had burst out laughing. Mistaking the hush in my voice for the drop of hilarity. Even after I convinced Dan I was telling the truth, he talked about the ranch with that same parodic goof. Like a horror movie with bad special effects, the boom microphone dipping into the frame and tinting the butchery into comedy. And it was a relief to exaggerate my distance, neatening my involvement into the orderly package of anecdote.

It helped that I wasn’t mentioned in most of the books. Not the paperbacks with the title bloody and oozing, the glossed pages of crime scene photographs. Not the less popular but more accurate tome written by the lead prosecutor, gross with specifics, down to the undigested spaghetti they found in the little boy’s stomach. The couple of lines that did mention me were buried in an out-of-print book by a former poet, and he’d gotten my name wrong and hadn’t made any connection to my grandmother. The same poet also claimed that the CIA was producing porn films starring a drugged Marilyn Monroe, films sold to politicians and foreign heads of state.

In my teens and early twenties, I was what you’d call a true crime buff. I downed scintillating mass market paperbacks by the dozen: Deep Cover, Serpico, Wiseguy, The Stranger Beside Me, Chasing the Devil, The Devil in the White City, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Under the Banner of Heaven – you name it. For a time I fantasized about studying forensic psychology. My favorite stories were those that centered on cults: the indoctrination into bizarre religious beliefs, the charismatic (yet obviously slimy and possibly sociopathic) leader, the epically tragic ending. Naturally, my copy of Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter was well-loved; and, in college, I was lucky enough to write a paper on Jonestown for a sociology course.

My point being: Emma Cline’s The Girls was an instant must-read for me. A novel based on the Manson Family? Give it to me now!

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-06-12

Monday, June 13th, 2016

tweets for 2016-06-11

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

tweets for 2016-06-10

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

Book Review: With Malice, Eileen Cook (2016)

Friday, June 10th, 2016

With Malice will keep you guessing – even after the end!

four out of five stars

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

“Right now your brain knows there is missing information, and it’s desperately trying to fill in those blanks.” She opened a desk drawer and fished out a paper. “Ever see something like this?”

I looked down. At first the words looked like gibberish, and then they clicked into place.

I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm.

I passed the sheet back to her. “I’ve seen something like it online.”

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Dr. Weeks knocked on top of the model of the brain she kept on her credenza. “The darn things still fascinate me as much as they did when I started in this field. How they can fill in what’s missing — find patterns and create meaning where there was nothing. One of the most primal survival instincts the brain has is finding pattern and assigning meaning. When there is a breakdown, it will scramble to find those patterns again as quickly as possible.”

“I didn’t do this,” I said.

“Of course you didn’t,” Mom said. She patted my hand. “The police aren’t going to be able to prove a thing.”

That’s when I knew beyond any doubt she believed I’d done it.

Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital bed with a broken leg, several broken ribs, an assortment of cuts and bruises – and no idea how she got there. Through bits and pieces – angry blog posts and reluctant drips of info from the ‘rents – she comes to learn that she was on a class trip to Italy when the car she was driving barreled through a stone wall and off a cliff. Jill survived, but the passenger – her best friend of eight years, Simone McIvory – did not.

After the was-it-or-wasn’t-it-an-accident, Jill’s hoighty-toighty father whisked her out of the country on a private flight, ostensibly so she could receive top-notch medical care in the states. Then he hired her a lawyer and (wait for it!) a PR team. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect that Keith used his wealth to shield his daughter – and, by extension, his family – from the fallout of an investigation and possible murder charge.

While Jill is convinced that there’s no way she’d ever murder Simone, she has no memory of the event – or even the six or so weeks leading up to it. And her brain isn’t exactly cooperating; in addition to retrograde amnesia, Jill’s also dealing with aphasia, which makes it all the more difficult to defend herself. Yet as new facts and evidence come to light – in the form of police interviews, witness statements, cell phone videos, news articles, and Facebook and blog posts – Jill begins to doubt herself: what really happened that fateful day in Montepulciano?

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-06-09

Friday, June 10th, 2016

tweets for 2016-06-08

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Book Review: Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood (2016)

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

An Entertaining Coney Island Mystery With a Side of Social Commentary

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for racist/sexist/ableist language and sexual harassment.)

May 1904. Coney Island’s newest amusement park, Dreamland, has just opened. Its many spectacles are expected to attract crowds by the thousands, paying back investors many times over.

Kitty Hayward and her mother arrive by steamer from South Africa. When Kitty’s mother takes ill, the hotel doctor sends Kitty to Manhattan to fetch some special medicine. But when she returns, Kitty’s mother has vanished. The desk clerk tells Kitty she is at the wrong hotel. The doctor says he’s never seen her although, she notices, he is unable to look her in the eye.

Alone in a strange country, Kitty meets the denizens of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. A relic of a darker, dirtier era, Magruder’s is home to a forlorn flea circus, a handful of disgruntled Unusuals, and a mad Uzbek scientist. Magruder’s Unusuals take Kitty under their wing and resolve to find out what happened to her mother.

But as a plague spreads, Coney Island is placed under quarantine. The gang at Magruder’s finds that a missing mother is the least of their problems, as the once-glamorous resort town is abandoned to the freaks, anarchists, and madmen.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Everything about the Cabinet is grimy and fusty and strange. Nazan smiles. It’s everything she’d hoped it would be. It’s perfect.

Along the street comes the clip-clop of distraction. Spencer recognizes the tinkling bells of Children’s Delight—a portable fourseater carousel pulled along by a fine white horse. The Children’s Delight was such a part of his childhood; he and Charlie used to search for it on every family visit to Coney. What a relief that some things never change. And yet. A young girl with pigtails, no more than ten years old, sits atop the cart. It is packed with corpses.

2015 saw the publication of so many wonderful carnival- and circus-themed novels that part of (me the bookish part) was sad to see the year end. There was Kristy Logan’s The Gracekeepers, in which North and her bear cub traverse the sea (which now covers most of the planet) with their circus troupe on the Excalibur. Leslie Parry’s Church of Marvels follows Coney Island sideshow performer Odile Church as she travels to Manhattan in search of her sister, who fled The Church of Marvels when it burned to the ground, taking the sisters’ mother – and their livelihood – with them. In The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler weaves an imaginative tale about a librarian named Simon who comes into possession of an old book – a circus ledger dating back to the 1700s. Only by unraveling its secrets can he lift the curse that’s plagued his family for generations. And then there’s Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers, a retelling of Romeo & Juliet featuring two rival families of performers, the Palomas (mermaids) and Corbeaus (tightrope walkers/tree climbers). Last but not least is Rachel Vincent’s Menagerie, an “accidentally vegan” tale that features cryptids, hybrids, and shapeshifters, which quickly became an all-time favorite.

While this year doesn’t seem quite as rife with carnies and “freaks,” I was overjoyed to see early copies of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Woods and Juliette Fay’s The Tumbling Turner Sisters on NetGalley. I’m also eagerly anticipating the release of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval in early 2017.

Anyway, the point is that I have a soft spot for stories starring circus performers, and H.P. Wood’s Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is a welcome addition to the genre. Of all the books I mentioned, it shares the most in common with Church of Marvels: set in a similar time period (1895), it too features a distraught young woman scouring New York City for a missing loved one in the wake of a personal tragedy.

Set in 1904, Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet involves an outbreak of the pneumonic plague, a pack of wayward leopards, a mysteriously vanished Englishwoman, and a corporate and political conspiracy. At the center of it all is Theophilus P. Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a dime museum located on the “wrong end” of Coney Island. While the dusty old museum doesn’t see much traffic, the basement bar known as Magruder’s Unusual Tavern serves as a gathering place for Coney Island’s extended family of “freaks” – or Unusuals, as they like to call themselves. (By the same taken, “normal” people are “Dozens” – as in “a dime a.”) When Unusuals and Dozens alike start dropping like flies, Magruder’s becomes the base of operations – and, when the quarantine threatens to rip Coney Island apart, Magruder’s is their last stand.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-06-07

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

tweets for 2016-06-06

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Book Review: The Cresswell Plot, Eliza Wass (2016)

Monday, June 6th, 2016

What did I just read?

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for child abuse and domestic violence.)

‘You will hide your true self. You will bury what you fear, in a locked chest in the cave of your heart, where you will keep the bones of the person you could have been.’

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” he said, chest contracting as he caught his breath. “How beautiful the world becomes when you think you might have to leave it?”

So here’s the thing: I had high hopes for The Cresswell Plot. I love a deranged cult story as much as the next looky loo; and between its suggestive title, eloquent synopsis, and oh-so-creepy cover art, The Cresswell Plot looked quite promising. And while Father’s “religion” is indeed the stuff of nightmares, the rest of the story fell short of my expectations.

My biggest issue was with the characters. With the exception of Father – who is reliably cruel and demented – I had trouble pinning the characters down. Cas, Caspar, Morty – they’re all over the place. Their beliefs, allegiances, reasoning, thought processes – I never felt like I got a good handle on them at all. One minute they’d be rebelling, testing the rules by joining the school play, dressing in “normal” clothing, or lusting after classmates; the next, they’re snitching on their siblings and setting fire to their potential allies’ houses. Each move was a complete surprise to me, and not in a good way; there just didn’t seem to be any consistency to their behavior.

To be fair, this could be the whole point: e.g., this is what growing up in such a dysfunctional home does to a person. But if this is the case, it could have been handled with more nuance and clarity.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-06-05

Monday, June 6th, 2016

tweets for 2016-06-04

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

tweets for 2016-06-03

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

Mini-Review: Life Without Nico, Andrea Maturana & Francisco Javier Olea (2016)

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

For anyone who’s ever had to say goodbye.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Goodreads Giveaways.)

Nico and Maia are best friends: inseparable, even when they aren’t together. Then one day Nico’s father announces that they’re moving to Australia – temporarily – so that he can continue his studies. The days pass quickly – too quickly – and, before they know it, Nico is gone. After a period of mourning, Maia begins to open up to the world again: she adopts a kitten, makes a new friend, and learns the piano. With the blossoming of spring, Nico and his family are set to return. As excited as she is at the prospect, Maia worries, too: is there room in her new life for her old friend?

With charming and whimsical illustrations by Francisco Javier Olea and a simple yet sweet narrative by Andrea Maturana that will threaten to unravel your heartstrings, Life Without Nico is a picture book for children of all ages; for anyone who’s ever had to say an unwanted “goodbye.” It’s a lovely and lyrical rumination on love, loss, and the enduring power of friendship.

Ages 4-7 years.

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