Book Review: The Geek Feminist Revolution, Kameron Hurley (2016)

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Tell Them Stories

four out of five stars

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

As a writer, it’s my job to construct new normals for people. It’s my job to show folks what’s possible. It’s my job to rewrite narratives. Because we can change these narratives. We can choose better ones. We can tear it all down, and build it up again. It makes us the most poorly paid but most powerful people in the world. And I take that power seriously.

The only time I’ve ever been praised for my weight repeatedly was when I was dying.

— 3.5 stars —

Award-winning science fiction writer Kameron Hurley has been blogging about feminism and pop culture for more than a decade. The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of 35 of her essays on feminism, writing, and geek culture, with 9 all-new pieces written specifically for this anthology. (See the TOC below for a full list.) The pieces are grouped into four sections: Level Up, which explores the craft (and challenges) of writing; Geek, which interrogates a variety of media, from the specific (Die Hard, Mad Max, True Detective) to the more general (toxic masculinity, Strong Female Protagonists, the gendered reception of unlikable protagonists); Let’s Get Personal, in which Hurley’s life serves as a sort of microcosm for the issues she explores here; and Revolution, which calls on authors and readers alike to create a more equal and just world.

The essays are enjoyable, engaging – and highly entertaining. Hurley has a brash, no-bullshit writing style that’s perfectly suited to the subject matter. While the overall collection doesn’t seem to have a unifying theme (“geek culture” is quite broad), the power of stories to shape our world is a thread that she picks up time and again.

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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.

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Book Review: Ask Me How I Got Here, Christine Heppermann (2016)

Friday, May 6th, 2016

Nine Kinds of Awesome

five out of five stars

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

Public School Kids Always Ask

How do you meet guys
if you go to an all-girls school?

Immaculate Heart Academy
is named for the pure love of God
that flows through Mary’s heart.
But here’s the real reason why
our logo is a hunk of dripping muscle:
five hundred girls in red plaid skirts.

Even if we brushed with garlic toothpaste
we couldn’t keep the vampires away.

Mary’s Parents

Sure, they tried their best
not to treat her any different.

What choice did they have?

After all, she was still their daughter,
and they had promised
God to love her no matter what
crazy shit her body could do.

The summer before her junior year of high school, Addie becomes pregnant and decides to have an abortion. In a refreshing twist, her parents and boyfriend are wholly supportive of Addie, and her decision: Nick accompanies her to the appointment, and mom and dad sign off on it without argument (Addie lives in Minnesota, a state that requires parental consent).

She isn’t conflicted about her choice, but Addie does slip into a bit of a depression or malaise after the fact. Worried about disappointing everyone yet again, she mostly keeps “Hurricane Addie” to herself. She withdraws from Nick and loses interest in classwork. She quits the cross-country team – which was supposed to fund her college education – and starts spending her afternoons at Java Joes, so her parents are none the wiser. There she runs into Juliana, another former track star from Immaculate Heart Academy, who is dealing with her own capital-s Shit. And then, slowly, Addie finds her way back to normal: her new normal.

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Book Review: Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates (2016)

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Three Cheers for the Clinton Cackle!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for sexual harassment and assault, rape, and violence against women.)

Our experiences of all forms of gender prejudice—from daily sexism to distressing harassment to sexual violence—are part of a continuum that impacts all of us, all the time, shaping ourselves and our ideas about the world. To include stories of assault and rape within a project documenting everyday experiences of gender imbalance is simply to extend its boundaries to the most extreme manifestations of that prejudice. To see how great the damage can be when the minor, “unimportant” issues are allowed to pass without comment. To prove how the steady drip-drip-drip of sexism and sexualization and objectification is connected to the assumption of ownership and control over women’s bodies, and how the background noise of harassment and disrespect connects to the assertion of power that is violence and rape.

And so we accepted all these stories, and more, until in April 2015—exactly three years after the project was launched—one hundred thousand entries had poured in. This is their story. This is the sound of a hundred thousand women’s voices. This is what they’re telling us.

I don’t mean to alarm you, but we are in the middle of an international epidemic. One in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, 38 percent of all women murdered are killed by their partners. Around the world, women are subjected to forced marriage, stoning, trafficking, female genital mutilation, childhood pregnancy, acid attacks, “honor” killings, “corrective” rape, lives of slavery and servitude because of their second-class citizenship. In some countries they are pushed toward enlarging their breasts to satisfy male demand. In others their breasts are painfully flattened with hot stones to deter male lust. In some places their vaginas are painfully stuffed with dry cotton to make them swell with discomfort so they will tighten for men’s pleasure. In others their sexual organs are decimated to control women’s sexuality.

Actually, I do think you should be alarmed. I think we should all be alarmed.

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Audiobook Review: Devoted, Jennifer Mathieu (2015)

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Feminism: The radical notion that women are people too.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free audiobook for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for misogyny and child abuse.)

Some of my friends tell me my life before I met them sounds like I made it up. Like it’s something from a bad fairy tale where a princess is held kidnapped in a tower until she’s rescued. Like Rapunzel.

Only, no knight in shining armor saved me. I saved myself.

From birth I was part of an extreme religious community—some might call it a cult … when I’m having a bad day, I call it a cult—where women were marginalized, shamed, humiliated, and not given one ounce of autonomy. And why? Because the Lord dictates this is how it should be.

I never went to regular school until I was old enough to go to vet tech school as a legal adult. I didn’t cut my hair or wear pants until I was 18 and I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 19 and for a long time I didn’t even think it was possible to exist outside of this weird, tightly-controlled world with my dad in charge of everything I did. When I say my dad was in charge of everything, I don’t mean everything like where I went and who I hung out with, although he was in charge of that for sure. I mean he was in charge of what I wore, what I read, what I said, and even what I thought.

I hate my dad for so much, but do you know what I hate him for the most? I can’t even pray to God anymore without hearing my father’s voice in my head.

– Lauren Sullivan, The Great Escape

Though it’s technically true to say that Rachel Walker lives in Calvary, Texas, in reality her world is so much smaller than this already-small town. A member of a fundamentalist Christian community, Rachel spends most of her time at home, or attending services at Calvary Christian Church. Like her nine siblings, Rachel is home schooled, and can only leave the house in the company of a chaperon – to keep her honest and help her avoid the temptations of the sinful, secular world. The family is too poor to afford modern conveniences like cell phones or television sets, but they’d shun them even if money wasn’t an issue: anything that provides a window into the Godless world outside is strictly forbidden. The Walkers do own an ancient computer, but Rachel’s only allowed online to manage her family’s finances. Even then, it’s usually only when Dad’s in the room to supervise.

Whereas her older brothers work in their father’s small landscaping business, Rachel and her sisters are confined to the domestic sphere, cooking, cleaning, caring for their younger siblings, and assuming responsibility for their Bible-based education. Though she’d normally be a junior or senior in high school, Rachel’s own education ended years ago, when her knowledge surpassed that of her mother. Now she spends the school day teaching her brothers and sisters, and learning what she can from the family’s outdated set of encyclopedias – some of the only non-religious books to grace the bookshelves.

Not that it matters, anyway: like all girls and young women, Rachel is training for one thing and one thing only: to be a sweet and responsible helpmeet for her future husband.

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Mini-Review: Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller et al. (2015)

Monday, December 14th, 2015

two out of five stars

“Nux and Immortan Joe” – 3.5/5 stars

“Furiosa” – 1/5 stars

“Max Part I” – 3.5/5 stars

“Max Part II” – 4/5 stars

“War Rig” – 3/5 stars

Unsurprisingly, Furiosa’s storyline mostly soured my view of this collection of Max Mad: Fury Road prequel comic books. (The rest are readable enough, though largely underwhelming.) Feminist critics have already picked “Furiosa” apart, panel by panel, so instead of rehashing what’s already been said, I’ll just redirect you here, here, and here. For starters.

I especially loathed the artists’ portrayal of Furiosa, who they transform into a) a pro-lifer who compares Angharad’s attempt to abort her rape baby to Immortan Joe’s reign of terror and b) a rape apologist who berates the “wives” for not showing the proper amount of respect and gratitude toward their abuser. Granted, Furiosa’s behavior might be due in part to past trauma; for instance, her tirade against the wives could be Furiosa’s way of minimizing her own abuse. (It’s revealed that she too was once one of Joe’s breeders; because no woman can be a hero without first being victimized in the most brutal and inhumane ways.)

If this is the case, the whole storyline could have been handled better, with more nuance and compassion. That’s a pretty big if, though, especially given the creators’ odious responses to criticism and their general lack of awareness overall.

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Mini-Review: Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit (2014)

Monday, October 26th, 2015

#YesAllWomen

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for violence, including rape and domestic violence.)

When I first heard of Men Explain Things to Me, I giddily mistook it for an extended essay on mansplaining. Alas, it’s actually a collection of nine previously published essays, kicked off by the book’s namesake, “Men Explain Things to Me” (which inspired the term “mansplaining,” though Solnit didn’t herself coin it; mainsplaining, of course, eventually led to whitesplaining and Damonsplaining). Any disappointment I might have initially felt was quickly assuaged by the general awesomeness of Solnit’s other pieces.

Nearly all of the essays are loosely organized around women’s rights and feminism; deconstructing and dismantling the patriarchy, if you will. Solnit masterfully examines and connects myriad topics: rape culture; the epidemic of violence against women; the very real threat that “gay marriage” poses to the unequal power dynamics inherent in traditional marriage; how Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s (“alleged”) assault of Nafissatou Diallo could be read as a microcosm of the IMF’s predatory abuse of power; the disappearing of women from history, from genealogy, from public conversations and places; the voluntary policing of women that so many men (and not a few women) eagerly engage in; and the power of language to name, shame, and effect change. Especially timely (sadly, as always) is her discussion of toxic masculinity and mass shootings, in reference to the 2014 Isla Vista killings.

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Mini-Review: Because I am a Girl: I can change the world, Rosemary McCarney & Jen Albaugh (2015)

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

An Excellent Addition to Middle School Libraries

four out of five stars

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

Because I am a Girl Manifesto

Because I am a girl…
I watch my brothers go to school while I stay home.

Because I am a girl…
I eat if there’s food left over when everyone is done.

Because I am a girl…
I am the poorest of the poor.

AND YET

Because I am a girl…
I will share what I know.

Because I am a girl…
I am the heart of my community.

Because I am a girl…
I will pull my family out of poverty if you gave me the chance.

Because I am a girl…
I will take what you invest in my and uplift everyone around me.

Because I am a girl…
I can change the world.

An initiative of Plan International, Because I am a Girl organizes and funds projects “that create better lives for girls, young women, and their communities around the world. Girls in different environments have different needs, so these projects cover everything from clean water and nutrition to education and microfinance.” Some of the current projects include improving accessibility to primary and secondary education in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia; combating child labor in India; and improving prenatal health care in Indonesia.

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Book Review: A Madness So Discreet, Mindy McGinnis (2015)

Monday, October 5th, 2015

asylum [uh-sahy-luh m] – an inviolable refuge; sanctuary

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence, ableism and misogyny, and suicide.)

“These are your friends now, Grace Mae. A madman who eats cancer in the dark and another who searches for a different kind of killer, the kind who smiles at you in the light of day. This is your new life. I hope you can stand it.”

Like so many women before and after her, Grace Mae was institutionalized not because she was “crazy,” but inconvenient: Women who possess opinions, as well as the voices to express them; women who have little interest fulfilling their prescribed gender roles; women who don’t want (or can’t have) children – or become pregnant out of wedlock; women whose possessions – money, land, even their very bodies – are coveted by the men in their lives; women who, simply put, stand between men and what they want. Women like Grace, who’s pregnant with her rapist’s child. Her father’s child.

With nothing more than a judge’s decree and a single male relative’s testimony, such women could be forcible imprisoned in “asylums,” many of them never to be heard from again.

Grace’s sentence is lighter than most; after she gives birth, she’s to rejoin the Mae family in Boston. Her friends and extended family think she’s on a protracted European tour. Yet as miserable are the conditions in the Wayburne Lunatic Asylum, she’d rather spend the rest of her years there than be thrown back into the viper’s nest. A man of privilege, and a senator to boot, Nathaniel Mae is used to getting his way. Grace is just the latest in a long line of victims. (Picture New York Magazine’s infamous Cosby cover.)

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Book Review: The Well, Catherine Chanter (2015)

Monday, May 25th, 2015

One person’s paradise is another person’s perdition.

three out of five stars

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

There is one last emotion, though, which I have not anticipated. I am feeling smug. There, you thought you were just guarding a middle-aged crank who had delusions of grandeur, but now you’ll have to think twice, smart-arse.

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. I dance like a witch doctor around the sitting room.

Determined to salvage her marriage – not to mention what’s left of her husband’s sanity – Ruth Ardingly agrees to trade in her London home for a small farm in the country. Hailing from a long line of farmers, it was always Mark’s dream to work the land, reveling in nature and solitude and self-sufficiency. Yet he forfeited these plans when, as a college student, he met and fell in love with Ruth – already pregnant from a one-night stand. Instead, he pursued a law degree, committed himself to Ruth and their daughter Angie, and settled for an ordinary, middle-class existence.

And then came the child pornography, discovered on his work laptop. Though Mark was investigated and eventually exonerated, that didn’t stop the harassment and social ostracization. So Ruth acquiesced, hoping that the change of scenery and fresh air would do them both a world of good. Perhaps it might have, had the move not come smack dab in the middle of a drought – a drought to which their new, thirty-acre paradise seems immune.

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Book Review: 5 to 1, Holly Bodger (2015)

Friday, May 15th, 2015

“…bone, once broken, never heals the same.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review though NetGalley. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

Although his words put me on a pedestal,
his eyes make me
the stool he’d use
to ascend there himself.

They’d already lived in Hell. How could this new country possibly be worse?

The year is 2054, and the walled city of Koyanagar is all of twelve years old. Its birth is steeped in the blood of children – the millions of girls killed prior to its inception, and the thousands of boys sacrificed to its ideals since.

In order to halt its population growth, India instituted a one-child policy at the turn of the century, ushering in an era of sex-selective abortion and gender-based infanticide. In less than fifty years, the devaluation of girls led to a sex ratio of 5 to 1 – five boys for every one girl. Girls became a precious commodity to be bought, sold – and stolen. Tired of the war on women, and in a bid to make marriage more equitable, the women of Koyanager appealed to the Prime Minister, demanding that he reverse India’s destructive policies. When he laughed in their faces, they returned to Koyanagar, separated it from the outside world with a wall (and plenty of boys and men to guard it), and instituted their own form of government: a matriarchy every bit as oppressive and tyrannical as the patriarchy which inspired it.

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Book Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sam Maggs (2015)

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

One of Us!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

A fangirl has no shame: she loves what she loves and she doesn’t apologize for it, she doesn’t restrain herself, she’s not meek. Girls are often told to be quiet little ladies. A fangirl doesn’t care about being quiet. She does exactly what she wants, courageously, to celebrate the things she loves. – Beth Revis

You are a real geek if you feel it in your feels.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is a love letter to all the geek girls out there: the cosplayers, the book nerds, the binge-watchers, the slash fic aficionados. Whether you’re a Hunter or a Browncoat, a Ravenclaw or a Victor, Sam Maggs wants you to know that you’re awesome, and you matter.

So. The The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy isn’t quite what I was expecting, but in the best way possible. Whereas I thought it would be encyclopedic in nature, it’s really more of a cunning pocket guide to the wide world of fandoms. Divided into four chapters (plus an intro and list of resources), Maggs offers tips and tricks for fangirling out in the real world; online; at conventions; and in yer feminism (best).

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Book Review: Church of Marvels: A Novel, Leslie Parry (2015)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

“I have witnessed the sublime in the mundane…”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review from the publisher.)

But this story, in truth, is not about me. I am only a small part of it. I could try to forget it, perhaps. I could try to put it behind me. But sometimes I dream that I’ll still return to the pageantry of the sideshow, hide myself beneath costumes and powder and paint, grow willingly deaf among the opiating roar of the audience and the bellow of the old brass band. It will be like the old days – when Mother was ferocious and alive, before the Church of Marvels burned to the sand. But how can I return now, having seen what I have seen? For I’ve found that here in this city, the lights burn ever brighter, but they cast the darkest shadows I know.

Why, he wondered, did he have to peddle his difference for their amusement, and yet at the same time temper it, suppress it, make it suitably benign?

How would it feel to know there were people who’d chosen to live as they felt, not as they appeared, and never looked back? Could she bear their happiness, as shunned as they were? Was she brave enough?

She had seen it done. Wherever they glittered in the afterlife – flying among the high rafters of heaven, swimming with her mother in an undersea cave – she hoped the tigers had known it, and roared.

For the first time in her seventeen years, Odile Church is alone. Her mother’s sideshow carnival, the Church of Marvels, burned to ash in the spring, the casualty of a freak fire. With it went her mother, many of her friends, and the only life she knew. Her twin sister, Isabelle Church, was spared – only to run off to Manhattan not long after. That was three months ago; three months without a word.

And then Odile receives a cryptic, ominous letter from Belle: “If for some reason this is the last letter I should write to you, please know that I love you.” Armed with little more than an old map of her mother’s and Belle’s letter, Odile hops the next ferry to Manhattan in search of her sister.

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Book Review: The Blondes: A Novel, Emily Schultz (2015)

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

“Wow!” is right!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, forced pregnancy, and allusions to rape. This review contains minor spoilers, which are clearly marked.)

If you survive, the world you grow up in will be one that has experienced intense panic and distrust, violence and hysteria – though that’s a loaded word. I don’t think I would have used it before this past year. But now? All of us living with a disease that affects only girls and women? Hysteria is so bang on.

Authorities are now able to track the progression of symptoms, which are indeed similar to rabies. The public is advised to be wary – and here the prompter went into a list of symptoms – of women with raised voices, acting violently…

Lumbering, limping, exhibiting imbalance…

Flailing or throwing any object…

Grimacing, displaying a downturned expression…

“We’re not allowed to have downturned expressions?” the girl beside me muttered. “I mean,” she said a bit louder but still to me, “what if we’re just worried? In a bad mood? PMS?”

Several heads turned to look at her. It must have made her nervous because she ran her hand back through her hair. She was pale as an elephant’s tusk. […]

As I finished my sandwich, it occurred to me that the news captions on TV had all been directed at men. There was nothing about the symptoms women should look for in themselves.

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Book Review: The Glass Arrow, Kristen Simmons (2015)

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Meet The Handmaid’s Tale’s Younger YA Cousin

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher. Trigger warning for rape – including allusions to rape, at least one rape attempt, medical rape, and general rape culture – human trafficking, slavery, and violence.)

My ma taught me one thing from the beginning: My body is mine. My own. No one else’s. Just because someone thinks they have rights to it, doesn’t make it true. I thought I understood that before, but here, in this place, it’s become more clear than ever how right she was. My flesh and blood – it’s the only thing I own, and I’ll defend it until I can’t fight anymore.

Behind us are two or three dozen country people from the outlying towns. With them are cages of chicken and goats, sheep, even cattle. That’s where we fit on market day. Between the executions and the livestock sales.

Fifteen-year-old Aiyana (Aya to her family; Clover to her captors) is a rarity – a free woman living in the forests of Isor. Along with her mostly-adopted family – her cousin Salma; fellow refugee Metea; and Metea’s children, Bian, Tam, and Nina – Aya hunts and gathers the food she needs, prays to Mother Hawk for guidance, and just generally goes about her business, all while evading detection by the feared Trackers.

In the nearby city of Glasscaster, women are items to be bought and sold. Property. Slaves. Young women may be purchased for sex (read: rape) or for breeding, only to be foisted off on pimps in the Black Lanes after they’re all “used up.” Along with “First Rounders” (read: virgins), “wild girls” are among the most valuable of them all – not only do Magnates take especial pleasure in breaking these formerly free women down, but their time outside of the city and its attendant pollution has blessed them with superior fertility. Lucky them.

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Book Review: A Bollywood Affair, Sonali Dev (2014)

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

A Fun, Sometimes Over-the-Top Madcap Bollywood Romance

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program. Also, there are clearly marked spoilers towards the end of this review. Trigger warning for rape and child abuse.)

Like tens of millions of her peers, Malvika “Mili” Rathod is a child bride.* In a bargain struck by her grandmother and the groom’s grandfather, Mili was married off at the age of four; she has spent the past twenty years waiting for her husband to return to Balpur and claim her.

Unfortunately, hers was not a meeting of the minds, in even the loosest sense of the term: a year after the marriage, her betrothed’s mother packed up Virat and his younger brother Samir and moved the family to Nagpur, away from the clutches of their abusive and controlling grandfather. Not long after, Lata sent notice to the Balpur village council to have the marriage annulled; unbeknownst to the Rathods, grandfather retracted the paperwork. For the next two decades, he led Mili and her naani on, milking them for her dowry in exchange for empty promises that this would be the year that Virat – now a Squad Leader in the Indian Air Force – would send for her. Grandfather passed away several years ago, and naani is starting to panic: when she’s gone, who will care for her granddaughter?

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Audiobook Review: Stitching Snow, R.C. Lewis (2014)

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

A Futuristic, Sometimes-Sinister Retelling of Snow White

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free audiobook for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. This review contains spoilers. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

It took me seventeen seconds to decide Jarom Thacker’s reputation as the sharpest fighter on Thanda had been exaggerated. At twice my size — and age — he was quick, forcing me to move or risk getting pinned against the cage, but he made a rookie mistake. Like everyone else who came through Mining Settlement Forty-Two, he aimed for my gut. So predictable.

Wouldn’t want to botch the pretty girl’s face, right? Idiot.

I blocked him on the left, but sweat stinging my eyes blinded me to his fist slamming into my right side. Pain flared through my ribs. The fire spurred me on, and I slipped Thacker’s grip when he grabbed at my arm.

Unlike him, I had no qualms about uglifying him further.

Princess Snow is missing. Or at least that’s what her father, the cruel and manipulative King Matthias, believes.

After a botched assassination attempt by her stepmother, Queen Olivia, “Snowflake” fled her home planet of Windsong, settling on the remote and icy Thanda. Here, Essie – as she’s now known – makes herself useful by “stitching” code to improve the mine’s conditions; she can often be found in the cage, beating miners twice her size to a bloody pulp for extra cash monies to fund her tinkering. It’s not much of a living, but at least she’s alive. Nearly ten years pass before her relative isolation is shattered by the crash-landing of a rogue, treasure-hunting Garamite boy in her backyard.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Truth About Alice, Jennifer Mathieu (2014)

Friday, November 7th, 2014

A Study in Slut-Shaming / The Anatomy of a Rumor

four out of five stars

“I’m so glad you want to be my friend,” she laughed. “Even though I’ve had seven abortions and slept with the principal and plotted to have Brandon Fitzsimmons murdered by Mafia hit men before killing him with my dirty texting, right?”

The end-of-the-summer party at Elaine O’dea’s house didn’t promise to be anything special. After all, it was thrown together at the last minute, after Elaine’s parents announced that they’d be spending the night at a friend’s house a few towns over. And for the most part, it was pretty unremarkable: Healy High students sitting around, getting drunk and watching tv. That is, until star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons texted Josh Waverly to brag that he and Tommy Cray had both “done” Alice Franklin in the upstairs guest bedroom: Brandon, then Tommy, then Brandon again.

Almost overnight, Alice is branded the school slut. Slowly but surely, her friends distance themselves from her; she becomes the subject of much salacious gossip, even among the parents; and hateful graffiti starts to pop up in the girls’ bathroom. But an ugly rumor that might have otherwise run its course spirals out of control when a drunk Brandon dies in a car accident – and his drunk passenger and best friend Josh claims that he was sexting with Alice when it happened. Now, Alice isn’t just a slut, but a murderer too.

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Book Review: My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki (1998)

Monday, October 27th, 2014

“Meat is the Message”

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for violence against women and animals, including sexual assault and rape.)

When Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job–producing a Japanese television show sponsored by BEEF-EX, an organization promoting the export of U.S. meats–she takes her crew on the road in search of all-American wives cooking all-American meat. Over the course of filming, though, Jane makes a few troubling discoveries about both. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, in Japan, Akiko Ueno watches My American Wife! and diligently prepares Coca-Cola Roast and Panfried Prairie Oysters for her husband, John, (the ad-agency rep for the show’s sponsor). As Akiko fills out his questionnaires, rating each show on Authenticity, Wholesomeness, and Deliciousness of Meat, certain ominous questions about her own life–and the fact that after each meal she has to go to the bathroom and throw up–begin to surface. A tale of love, global media, and the extraordinary events in the lives of two ordinary women, counterpointed by Sei Shonagon’s vibrant commentary, this first novel by filmmaker Ruth L. Ozeki–as insightful and moving as the novels of Amy Tan, as original as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. or John Irving–is a sparkling and original debut from a major new talent.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. On impulse, I picked up a copy of the original hardcover edition at the dollar store. That was nearly a decade ago; in the intervening years I hemmed and hawed and wondered whether I really wanted to read a fictionalized account of a documentarian hired to promote meat – feed lots, kill floors, and all – after all. (I’m a vegan, and have devoured my fair share of nonfiction books about the animal agriculture industry already. Enough is enough.)

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Mini-Review: Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (2012)

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Couldn’t put it down!

five out of five stars

(Caution: minor spoilers in the second paragraph.)

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

This is a story about two shitty people, trapped in a shitty marriage, and their mostly shitty parents and occasionally shitty friends. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the dearth of likable characters and the absence of a clear hero to root for, Gone Girl is a remarkably enjoyable read: witty, darkly humorous, wickedly fun. Even though I knew that there would be a major plot twist – and had a good guess as to its nature – Flynn still managed to surprise me, with multiple smaller twists beyond the first biggie. The overall structure of the book (Boy Loses Girl; Boy Meets Girl; Boy Gets Girl Back) serves the story well, and Flynn’s writing style is both entertaining and trenchant, and keeps the plot moving forward at a steady pace. GONE GIRL is a longish novel that feels lengthy – but in the best way possible. There’s so much action and observation crammed into these 400+ pages that I never got bored with it.

Gone Girl is ripe for deeper analysis: of the dynamics of interpersonal violence; rape culture; media sensationalism; the recession and erosion of the American middle class; sexism and misogyny; and gender roles and shifting expectations (Amy’s infamous “Cool Girl” rant comes to mind). For example, Amy’s false rape accusations are deeply troubling and play into rape apologist talking points (women lie about rape for their own benefit). Then again, she’s a sociopath! She hides jars of her own vomit inside frozen Brussels sprouts bags, and steals her pregnant neighbor’s urine. None of her actions really translate to an IRL setting. Which is why I (mostly) powered my thinking cap down for this one, and enjoyed it for what it was: crazy, crazy fun.

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

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Not much. Betsy Bolt – defense attorney Tanner Bolt’s wife – is a 6′ tall, stunningly beautiful (and highly intelligent) black woman, which catches Nick off guard – he expected a WASP like her husband.