Book Review: Betty Bites Back: Stories to Scare the Patriarchy edited by Mindy McGinnis, Demitria Lunetta, and Kate Karyus Quinn (2019)

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for misogyny and violence against women, including rape.)

I found out that there was much knowledge that Chira had kept from me. The women of the village knew that a man was necessary for procreation; they just did not see his value for anything else.

(“Shadows” by Demitria Lunetta)

Most women didn’t smile. Those that would usually kept walking, a little faster than before. But this one stood directly in front of them, a tremendous grin on her face as though nothing pleased her more. The men felt triumphant.

Except several moments passed and she was still standing there, smiling wider and wider. One of the men coughed. The other smiled back, weakly.

“You need something else, hon?”

She said nothing. Her smile kept growing. Grotesque now, her lips stretched as far as they could go, teeth shining in the morning sun.

(“Smile” by Emilee Martell)

It may look like we are scared. Like we are running. But we are not. I am not. Not anymore.

(“The Change” by Kate Karyus Quinn)

The second I saw Mindy McGinnis’s name on this book, I hit “request” without knowing anything else about it. As it turns out, I got extra lucky, because feminist horror stories? Are my peanut butter, jam, and jelly. Incidentally, Betty Bites Back: Stories to Scare the Patriarchy (that title! gives me goosebumps!) started its life as a Kickstarter campaign – the funding of which made the world just a wee bit richer.

This anthology is every bit as awesome as it sounds. Inspired by, uh, let’s just say “events” (current, past, and future), the women who populate these stories have had enough: of the cat-calling, non-consensual sharing of nude pics, and bullying. Of sexual harassment and assault. Of being gaslighted, dismissed, silenced, and ignored. Of being told to smile, or not; to laugh, or not. Of being mistreated because of their gender in a supposedly equal world. And they’re fixing for revenge. Let’s do some vicarious living, shall we? Bonus points if some of this badassery spills out into the “real” world.

So, listen. Did I love some stories more than others? Sure, but that’s an anthology for you. There was really only one story I didn’t much care for; the rest are entertaining at worst, downright life changing at best. If you do nothing else, read it for editor Kate Karyus Quinn’s “The Change,” which needs to be a summer blockbuster like yesterday.

“Vagina Dentata” by Mindy McGinnis – ?/5

A woman walks into a plastic surgeon’s office (one of maaaany) and requests dental implants in her vag. It’s an exciting concept, but at barely a page long, the story ends before it even begins. This made me extra-sad seeing as McGinnis is one of my favorites, an insta-read, and I would have wanted more even if the story was 1000 pages long.

“You Wake With Him Beside You” by Cori McCarthy – 4/5

An unexpected and cutting poem about escaping one unhealthy relationship only to become trapped in another: “you wonder about the Titanic, was it so bad? / you’re drunk on melancholy, and it’s not even eight AM.” I think we’ve all been there, yeah?

“The Weight of Iron” by Amanda Sun – 3.5/5

Accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death as a sacrifice for “seducing” the innkeeper (read: being sexually assaulted by the innkeeper), Galen finds redemption, understanding, and revenge in the most unlikely of places – her would-be executioner. This story gets a little weird, but the ending is lovely and delicious.

“What She Left Behind” by E.R. Griffin – 4/5

In 1976, a young woman named Erin Wilcox vanishes from her bedroom; the only clue, a faux diamond earring discarded in the dirt below her window. Forty-two years later, her ghost reaches out to the home’s newest resident, a girl named Mel who understands Erin’s trauma all too well. I think my favorite part of this story is the multitude of baddies – or rather, how Griffin guts the Nice Guy ™ trope.

“After the Foxes Have Their Say” by Tracie Martin – ?/5 WTF happened

There’s a prison in the desert. A Warden who takes a wife who takes off with a caravan of orphans, on account of they’re girls and she doesn’t like how the men folk are eyeing them. And then there’s a daughter. Honestly, I have no idea what this story is about, though the imagery of your heart waltzing around in someone else’s rib cage will strike a chord with anyone who’s loved and lost.

“Shadows” by Demitria Lunetta – 5/5

When Dr. Janet Sayre’s colleague, Dr. Peter Harvey, disappears while studying an isolated South American tribe, she travels into the Amazon rainforest in search of him. Here, she encounters the Ayhua, a community made up exclusively of women:

The women of this small village have developed a society completely devoid of male influence. Women provide everything for themselves and take the responsibilities that other native tribes have delegated to men, including hunting, protection, and all leadership roles. They have remained undiscovered and untouched from modern ideas and ideals. They live their entire lives within a twenty-mile radius of their birthplace, and they seem to exhibit no curiosity about the outside world. They are exceptional among all other cultures and present us with a unique opportunity to study what has in the past only been a hypothetical: What path would a society take if it were women, and not men, who ruled the world?

Though there are many children present – children who are mothered communally – Sayre and her companion, a linguist named Cassie, cannot figure out how the women are becoming pregnant. Nor do they know what becomes of the male babies. As she becomes closer to the women who have so generously welcomed them into their home – chieftess/medicine woman Chira in particular – Sayre must decide to what lengths she’ll go in order to protect her adopted family.

This story a) is bonkers; b) has the potential to become a racist, imperialist mess; c) is handled with care; and d) would make an amazing horror film, but only in the hands of screenwriters and directors and producers who would nurture it with an equal amount of care. This is easily one of my favorite stories in the book, and the length makes me feel like Golilocks discovering that perfectly sized bed.

“@Theguardians1792” by Jenna Lehne – 4/5

Kind of like The Chain, but swap out the land lines for twitter and kidnapped children for humiliated/injured/murdered misogynists.

“Gravity” by Kyrie McCauley – 5/5

All of the girls in the narrator’s family are cursed:

We bear the curse of levity. Laughter. Humor and mirth. But we cannot stop it, so even when things go wrong, a feeling of joy surges over us, like a wave obliterating a sand castle. One crest of foaming water, and our pain is erased from the world forever. That is how our sadness feels. Temporary. Gone before it ever reaches the surface. Also, we float.

She has to wear weights to keep her tethered to the earth, and the only time she can connect with her negative emotions is when she’s submerged in a large body of water. Her sweet, unassuming demeanor is a curse, but also a defense mechanism, meant to camouflage her from predators (nothing to see here), i.e. men. But her best friend Odette is the only one she cares about.

“Gravity” is a beautiful, surreal F/F romance story that “feels like braids coming undone.” I’m counting down the days until the release of McCauley’s upcoming debut novel, If These Wings Could Fly.

“The Guardrail Disappears” by Melody Simpson – 3.5/5

This is your standard Law & Order: SVU episode wherein a young woman realizes that she’s been kidnapped and raised by a stranger – but in a not-so-distant future, complete with autonomous vehicles.

“Good Sister, Bad Sister” by Azzurra Nox – 3/5

“Good Sister, Bad Sister” is a like your classic YA werewolf story, only the protagonist is a young Muslim woman whose mother is pressuring her to wear a hijab, and instead of using her newfound powers to dominate the basketball court and woo her crush, Dilay gets revenge on the dude who assaulted her older sister Sanem. I really dig the idea, but the writing feels a bit clumsy in places.

“Vigilante Lane” by S. E. Green – 4/5

The protagonist of this story is a close cousin of Alex Craft, she of Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species. But with a little more gore.

“We Have But Lingered Here” by Liz Coley – 4/5

In which a nonbinary fight choreographer named Jules drafts the recently summoned spirits of Shakespeare’s plays to help her slay a demon – namely, her abusive father. This is a great story on its own, but I REALLY wanted to see the fallout.

“The Whispers” by Lindsey Klingele – 5/5

Inspired by the Suffragettes, the young women of Little Falls have run amok: refusing perfectly good marriage proposals; announcing their intentions to remain single; laughing and cavorting in public; and just generally flouting decency and societal norms. And so the men of the town devise a modest solution: cut out their voice boxes so that they need not be heard. It’s no wonder that, before long, the Falls will run red with blood. This is another gem that needs to grace the big screen, shut up and take my money please!

“Smile” by Emilee Martell – 4/5

This story is best summed up by that one Broad City “smile” gif + the movie Teeth. File alongside “Vagina Dentata” as a story that’s freaking amazing, but entirely too short for civility.

Also, while we’re talking gifs, I went searching in my blogging folder for “betty,” to find the cover image for this book. A Betty White gif also popped up and now I cannot think of Betty Bites Back without also thinking of this.

You’re welcome.

“Potluck” by Kamerhe Lane – 4.5/5

A story of a wake, told by the foods prepared for it. Or, perhaps more accurately, by the female hands that made the food.

“To Mary,” someone says. Or maybe they all say. Hard to tell. “She’s free.”

Very weird and experimental but, ultimately, fierce AF.

“The Change” by Kate Karyus Quinn – 5/5 holy shit

This story, y’all. WOW. What a note to end on.

A little bit Children of Men, a little bit Wilder Girls, “The Change” takes place in a near-future dystopia in which the next generation of young women, upon reaching puberty, sprout spikes and scales and quills and wings and fangs. Like the levity in “Gravity,” these biological weapons are defense mechanisms that women can use against their most dangerous predators: men. Only Mother Nature’s attempt to level the playing field backfires, and women become regulated, restricted, hunted.

Except. When our unnamed narrator gets her period, nothing happens: “I changed, but nothing changed.” As news of her existence spreads and she and Mother are beset by men who want her to bear their children, to make more of her – sweet, docile, unarmed women – they go into hiding. But they cannot outrun Adam’s Soldiers (“To be a member / they removed the same rib given to Eve.”) … but maybe that’s not a bad thing? Only by confronting the patriarchy does Eve’s daughter discover her true power.

Side note: I would love for Betty White to play Daughter’s ill-fated driver in the movie adaptation of this, for reasons.

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

Book Review: Down With the Shine, Kate Karyus Quinn (2016)

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“May all your wishes come true, or at least just this one!”

five out of five stars

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

“Lennie, you do know what your uncles and I do for a living, right?”

I laugh more out of nervousness than anything else. “You sell moonshine and it’s illegal. And I know it was bad to take it to the party.”

Uncle Jet looks angry now, but thankfully his stare isn’t directed at me. He’s pointing a finger at Uncle Dune. “I thought you talked to her. What was it . . . three or four years ago? You drew the short straw and then a few days later said you and Lennie had a good talk.”

“I was gonna!” Uncle Dune roars. “But then you had to stick your nose in and tell her first!”

“I sure as shit didn’t!” Uncle Jet shoots back. “Who told ya I did?”

“Well, Lennie …” Uncle Dune’s voice trails off and once again the focus is on me. Worse, Uncle Dune is looking at me with a look reminiscent of Bambi after his mother got shot. “Lennie … you lied to me?”

I gulp. “A little lie. I thought you were trying to give me the sex talk.”

Michaela leaps, like her insane love for Todd is some kind of superpower, and lands with her body spread over Todd. Protecting him. Absorbing Zinkowski’s fall. Making sure that Zinkowski’s fingertips do not connect with Todd. That they find her instead.

Michaela shimmers and glows orange. That lasts only for an instant, and then all three of them disappear in a sudden and explosive burst of orange cheese.

Smith and I instinctively fall back, pulling our shirts up to cover our mouths and noses from the noxious smell.

I wish I was making that up. I wish I was making all of this up.

Tired of always playing it safe, Lennie Cash is determined to kick off her senior year with a bang. Armed with a case of her uncle’s infamous moonshine (“Hinkton Family Moonshine: Brewing It in Bathtubs and Selling It Out of the Living Room Since 1923”), Lennie plans to bribe her way into Michaela Gordon’s annual Labor Day party – and not only avoid an unceremonious bounce, but own that bad girl.

It’s what her best friend Dylan would have wanted. Dyl, who loved her no matter what everyone else said about her criminal father, her sketchy uncles, or her low social standing. Dyl, who seized life by the balls and refused to let go. Dyl, who – just like Lennie – yearned for escape. Dyl, whose dismembered remains were found stuffed in a suitcase last April. Dylan with the hot twin, who now blames Lennie for his sister’s death.

What Lennie doesn’t realize is that the Hinkton family moonshine isn’t just special – it’s downright magical. Her uncles Jet, Rod, and Dune have the power to grant wishes, and that’s what they’re really selling to the people who crowd their living room couch. As Lennie plays bartender for her classmates, making a show of repeating her uncles’ ritual, she unwittingly grants a whole slew of ill-conceived wishes, all of which will come true by sunup the next morning: Class predator W2 gets balls of steel. Little Seanie O’Hara is a little bit taller (and a baller), while emo Devon Stringer wakes up with a shiny new pair of bat wings. And (my personal favorite) stoner Zinkowski wishes for the Midas touch – but with Cheetos instead of gold. (CHEETOS ARE PEOPLE!)

Worst of all, someone wishes for the party to never end, so all these newborn freaks are trapped together in the chaos of Michaela’s mansion until Lennie can find a way to undo the chaos she caused. All while being pursued by her sociopath of a father – and stuck, hand-in-hand, with Dylan’s grieving brother Smith.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Another Little Piece, Kate Karyus Quinn (2013)

Monday, November 16th, 2015

 

On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese’s fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

four out of five stars

The synopsis for Another Little Piece sounds a lot like a typical woman in peril story, featuring a misogynistic kidnapper/rapist/murderer, or perhaps a sinister cult. And when we first meet Annaliese, wandering through a field, dazed, disoriented, and with no memory of the past year (or the sixteen before it), clad in a garbage bag, it sure looks as though the plot will bend this way. But things get really weird, really fast, as Quinn injects an unexpected supernatural element into Annaliese’s story. The result is an odd, sometimes disjointed, very creepy tale that kept me glued to my Kindle.

Quinn’s prose is both lovely and eerie, and she does a masterful job of depicting and then deconstructing adolescence and the high school experience: slut shaming, unrequited love, alienation and ostracization, you name it. Quinn avoids stereotypes; all of her characters are filled with depth and nuance. I especially love Annaliese – the original as well as the reboot – or rather, how Quinn twists and transforms our perception of her as the story unfolds. (The real Annaliese? Kind of a tool.)

Annaliese and Dex are adorable; Franky is creepy as fuck; and I loved the “spitball poems” used to introduce each chapter. There’s also a great sub-plot with Annaliese’s best friend, Gwen.

(More below the fold…)