Bad Feminist

By Roxane Gay

5/5 stars

I believe feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves.

 

I read Bad Feminist primarily while serving as a substitute teacher at my old high school. Throughout I was vaguely tempted to interrupt students doing their work with a “listen up guys this is important.” I also wished I had copies to just hand out to students in the hallway. Additionally, that town in the middle of nowhere that she talks about, especially in the first handful of essays, is close to me. I really got the angst of the middle of nowhere parts. My biggest fear with this book is that the people who could benefit from it the most will never touch it. I can only hope that some teachers and professors across the country will use some of her essays as a jumping off point for discussion.

I feel like I should have something profound and borderline academic to say about this essay collection. I did not take a feminist theatre class for nothing. I did give a little yip of joy when Gay mentioned “The Laugh of the Medusa.” That’s about as academic as I’m going to get here, because I mostly just felt like a fangirl the entire time. I love these essays, partially because I agree with Gay. And her voice coupled with her views being presented through a pop culture lens is just so appealing. It’s nice to be reminded that you’re not alone in your views, even if the internet is better at connecting than ever. It was great to be able to couple pain and rage with some laughs. This is a woman that acknowledges and explores the appeal of something like 50 Shades of Grey, while also talking about how the series is problematic.

From the Help to Sweet Valley High, Gay covers a lot of ground. And she does it in a way that at the beginning of an essay I often can’t foresee where it will go. I’m not going to point out any of these instances, because I don’t want to spoil their power. We might start light, but these essays usually punched me in the gut (in a good way!) when I least expected it.

I too have had to come to terms with the label of feminist, even if I’m sure it pushes some people away. I’m relatively protected in that most of my good friends hold the same views. At this point in my life, I haven’t encountered a lot of the horrors many women face every day. But whether talking about abuse, rape, reproductive freedom, racial representations, and any number of other topics, Gay reminds me what its like to have a conversation in which you stick behind your convictions, without the unproductive screaming that often occurs in national discourse over such issues. I’m not perfect. No one is. But I happily adopt the title of “Bad Feminist.” On twitter recently Gay indicated she’s not opposed to releasing another essay collection, although it will be years in the future based on her other projects. I’ll be over hear happily waiting.

Tagged ,

Marina

By Carlos Ruiz Zafón (translated by Lucia Graves)

5/5 stars

Marina once told me that we only remember what never really happened.

Marina, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Spanish YA novel has finally been translated and released for English readers by Little, Brown and Company. I say finally because the novel was originally published in 1999. Many cite it, with its Gothic themes as a predecessor to Zafón’s beloved the Shadow of the Wind, which sounds about right. Also, if you have not read the Shadow of the Wind, do that. Even better, the beautiful Penguin Drop Caps edition comes out next week. Like the Shadow of the Wind, with Marina, we have a gothic coming-of-age tale set in Barcelona. Also, this is the first YA novel I’ve purchased in physical form in a long time. Do that what you will, but for sake of full disclosure I did have a Barnes and Noble member coupon to use.

Oscar, a lonely boy at a boarding school in Barcelona, meets reclusive Marina and her father, and his world turns on its head. When Marina drags him to a cemetery where she watches a woman in black place a flower on an unknown grave, they are pulled into something much bigger.Throughout their adventures, Marina and Oscar’s friendship grows, even as they are faced with dark and complex world.

Yes, the gothic tale part of the novel can feel overblown and unbelievable at times. But, it’s a gothic novel. They can be overblown. There’s a reason Northanger Abbey makes fun of them. They heighten the passions and grotesqueness of life. What makes Marina even more beautiful is how it juxtaposes this heightened, surreal world of shadows with all too real, everyday horrors.

Also, Zafón’s prose is stellar. It’s got a lyric quality to it that works its own magic, pulling me in as a reader. With Marina, Zafón accomplishes this amidst a fast-moving plot that encompasses all of 326 pages. This also surely speaks to Graves accomplishments as a translator.

This is the kind of story I was all about as a teenager (Liz Berry’s the China Garden comes to mind in terms in terms of tone), which makes sense because a 1999 publish date would have only put it at 3-4 years old when I started diving into such works. The China Garden was also first published in 1999, although I had the pretty reissued paperback. Regardless, I obviously still enjoy these stories today, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón is one of my favorite voices I’ve discovered this year. I can’t wait to read his other 3 YA novels, as well as the rest of the Shadow of the Wind series.

Tagged , , , ,

Tell Me a Story: Alice I Have Been

By Melanie Benjamin

2/5 stars

“But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful? It is. Only I do get tired.”

 

This has been on my list for a while, but over the past year I’ve encountered some very notable theatrical pondering on the life of Alice Little. My favorite is John Logan’s Peter and Alice, which centers around the meeting of Alice and Peter Lleewelyn Davies, a meeting that Alice I Have Been touches on briefly at the end of the book. I have also recently attended a reading of a musical on this theme, and have heard tell of another play devoted entirely to Alice Little and Charles Dodson. So, it seemed like as good a time as any to finally check Alice I Have Been off the list.

At the end of the day with this book though, I just don’t care. I have no reason to be invested in Alice other than any history I may bring connected to Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland. This is particularly true of Alice herself. Nothing she does in the novel is particularly compelling. She spends most of the early part of the novel as a precocious, bratty child. She then grows up to be thoroughly uninteresting. Neither is there really any forward momentum. The pacing jumps across seemingly important periods of her life, but gives us meandering looks at these periods rather than a dire reason we are stopping in these periods in particular.

The novel hinges around the unknown regarding the Little family’s break with Charles Dodson. I didn’t need, or want, an answer, but I expected to be compelled to figure out the truth. Benjamin seems to want to create mystery, but leaves things so hazy as to create no real interest. Even with this attempt, there was not much nuance here. Much of the speculation seems to take the form of whether there was any inappropriate incident. Rather I found myself more repelled by a relationship with another gentleman Alice had in young adulthood, long after her family’s break with Dodson.

Overall with this novel I just could not bring myself to care. I wasn’t expecting Wonderland, but I did want to be enchanted by these characters. I wanted to care for Alice. I wanted to be heartbroken, and slightly uneasy at her family’s break with Dodson. I’ll stick with Peter and Alice.

Tagged , , ,

The Martian

By Andy Weir

5/5 stars

It’s true you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.

 

The Martian has been everywhere this summer. But, while I marveled at its cover, I wasn’t sure it was going to be my thing. Dude stranded by himself in space? But I like society and human interaction and stuff. Then I remembered two things:

1) For a long time Hatchet was counted among my favorite, if not was my favorite, books. Surely, this was like Hatchet in space, presumably with more tools and less natural resources.

2) My senior year of high school I took Chemistry 3, which was basically a way for our teacher to keep some of us around an extra year. This woman had done some work regarding plant growth in relation to a mission to Mars project. So, we spent a good part of the year growing plants in chambers. Note that I did not succeed in this and am very well aware that I would not survive on Mars.

Armed with these facts, and all the hype, I picked up The Martian, and loved it. Sure, Mark Watney is stranded by himself, but he’s just so amusing. In light of his awful situation, he maintains a sense of humor. Additionally, with all the odds seemingly against him he strives to survive. And he’s smart. I spent a lot of the novel marveling at Weir’s brain.

Watney is left behind when a giant storm threatens his mission and they are forced to abort early. His crew mates did not abandon him. Rather, they watched him get impaled, watched his vitals die, and were forced to make a difficult split-second decision. Not that I suspect anyone to accuse astronauts of willy-nilly leaving crew members behind. Watney is left behind with the supplies for all his crewmates, including all the real potatoes NASA sent up for some Thanksgiving bonding. He is also supplied with lots of classic television and disco.

While the novel starts of, and is primarily told, through Watney’s logs, we are also allowed to visit NASA and watch all of the craziness homeside (society!). This was fun, but toward the end of the novel there was some information given in the NASA areas that I think we as readers could have discovered along with Watney in his logs. These convention blips seemed to be for the purpose of dramatic irony, but this book had enough going on that I didn’t need this slight road bump pulling me out of the narrative.

I was highly invested in this story, often wandering around my house saying things like, “If he doesn’t make it off Mars…..” Just, read this book. With its crazy, deserved, popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it made into a movie in the very near future. This assumption is not hurt by a blurb that compares The Martian to Apollo 13 meets Cast Away. We love a good survival story.

Tagged , , , ,

Music Monday: “Kill Your Heroes”

Often when listening to music I start to compose fanvids for books they make me think of. Sometimes these books have movie counterparts that mean I could potentially make these imaginings a reality. Often they don’t. With that in mind, I’m staring “Music Mondays” to share some of my pairings.

“Kill your Heroes” by AWOLNATION

Well, I met an old man
Dying on a train.
No more destination,
No more pain.
Well, he said
“One thing before I graduate
Never let your fear decide your fate.”

I say ya kill your heroes and
Fly, fly, baby don’t cry.
No need to worry cause
Everybody will die.
Every day we just
Go, go, baby don’t go.
Don’t you worry we
Love you more than you know.

Well, the sun one day will
Leave us all behind.
Unexplainable sightings
In the sky.
Well, I hate to be
The one to ruin the night.
Right before your, right before your eyes.

I say ya kill your heroes and
Fly, fly, baby don’t cry.
No need to worry cause
Everybody will die.
Every day we just
Go, go, baby don’t go.
Don’t you worry we
Love you more than you know.

Well, I met an old man
Dying on a train.
No more destination,
No more pain.
Well he said
“One thing, before I graduate
Never let your fear decide your fate.”

I say ya kill your heroes and
Fly, fly, baby don’t cry.
No need to worry cause
Everybody will die.
Every day we just
Go, go, baby don’t go.
Don’t you worry we
Love you more than you know.

I say ya kill your heroes and
Fly, fly, baby don’t cry.
Don’t you worry cause
Everybody will die.
Every day we just
Go, go, baby don’t go.
Don’t you worry we
Love you more than you know.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

From the beginning of this song I’m in. “Well I met an old man dying on a train.” Are we all at Platform 9 3/4? Of course this song makes me think of the battles Harry is forced to fight in the last book. But it also makes me think of how he is forced to reconsider the legacies of his elders, especially Dumbledore and Snape. I flip between Platform 9 3/4, Harry’s encounter in the forest with his lost loved ones, and all the battles. But this is the kind of song that can encompass the fight, and coming of age, of all the students of Hogwarts.

 

An Italian Wife

by Ann Hood

2/5 stars

No. It is the things we did not have, the love that broke our hearts, the child we lost, that come to us finally.

 

This reads as a bunch of connected short stories, following an Italian family in America from the turn of the century to the mid-70s. Hood’s prose is beautiful, even as she exposes the darkness. If anything, this book seems to be about dreams that die, the disappointments of life. Where the American dream fails.

There is a sad beauty there, but as I don’t get to spend much time with most of the characters, I have trouble really investing myself in their journeys. Especially as it quickly becomes clear that there will be no happy endings here. There is no even glimmer of hope. I know how it will end. Additionally, most of the disappointments revolve around relationships, especially romantic and sexual relationships. With most of the stories revolving around women, it packs the punch of discontent and unrest at the heart of the second wave women’s movement.

This book wasn’t my cup of tea at the moment. But there is something haunting here, and as a quick read it may be worth it. Just don’t expect happily-ever-after.

Tagged , , ,

The Queen of the Tearling

by Erika Johansen

4/5 stars

Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book.

The big buzz around this book was that it was a women-led fantasy that did not feature romance as a major plot point. When I first heard this I was very excited, and it obviously got me to read the novel. But the more I think about this, the more it raises a lot of the familiar conversations about “women’s fiction.” As if this novel might somehow carry more weight without a central romance plot (romance fans don’t despair totally–there are some moon eyes and the possibility of romance developing over the series). What I do like is that this novel does not discredit the possibility of romance, but in this novel we get to watch all the intricate political turns of new Queen of Tearling, Kelsea claim her kingdom.

Now, the world of this kingdom can be somewhat jarring. It’s a future that feels like a medieval past. Illusions are made to the great crossing, and all the information, especially medical knowledge, lost therein. Also there’s another kingdom. It’s ruled by an evil witch lady. She may have deals with dark creatures. Also, try to hear avid bibliophile Kelsea make mention of the “7 volumes of Rowling” without a little bit of a head snap.

Most of the plot of this book hinges around breaking of a contract with to feed the Red Queen (she’s the evil one because she doesn’t have a name) slaves in order for peace. A slave trade provides a visceral emotional reaction for readers, and allows Kelsea to slip in and be the good guy for readers unquestionably while still having to deal with a difficult political situation in that she’s just made someone very powerful very angry. Most of my questions in this book and world revolve around this slave business. Tearling is shipping hundreds of slaves every month; Mortmesme (Red Queen) seems very concerned when one shipment does not arrive, as if their entire economy may be hinging on this shipment of slaves. What are they doing with these slaves? What the novel tells me does not necessarily jive with this. Right now I am unsure if this is a weakness or a something that will be explored more as we go along.

I’m not going to lie, these things jarred me. But they did so because they lay outside of my experience with fantasy. I am not as well read in fantasy as I would like to be, so this may well not be abnormal within the genre. And that’s not really the point, just the reason for my reaction. I’m still settling into the world.

I like the characters in this novel, even the ones I don’t like. They are interesting, and I want to spend time with them. Yes, I sometimes have trouble with Kelsea. She seems to slip into her role almost too easily. Yes, she’s been training her whole life out in the country, but her guardians have kept some very important things from her. And she’s totally unfamiliar with society. Arguably, some of it is her having to call the bluff of the men around her who don’t feel she’s fit to rule. There is a particular scene in which Kelsea is meeting with the head of her armed forces that is both infuriating and cathartic. Also Johnson keeps teasing us with who her father is. How long of a series are we planning here Johnson? When will I find out who this woman’s father is?

Is this a perfect novel? No. In addition to the world, sometimes the exposition could feel a little heavy-handed. Did I enjoy it anyway? Yuppers.  Am I going to turn in to the next installment. You bet. How else am I going to work out who Kelsea’s dang father is (I have suspicions, but I don’t trust Johansen hasn’t built it that way on purpose)? I have seen some punishing this book because they are offended it was billed as the next Game of Thrones. To this I say, “come on.” We’ve been in the game long enough to know that is a PR line, and it automatically indicated which audience may be interested in this book. Johnson has not said it’s the next Game of Thrones (correct me on this if I’m wrong). It doesn’t seem to be trying to be anything it’s not.

Have any of you read The Queen of the Tearling? What were your thoughts?

Tagged , , ,

Red Rising

By Pierce Brown

3.5/5 stars

Pierce Brown can write. One need only check out his charming author’s bio to determine that. Before starting Red Rising I feel like I had seen it everywhere, and still really knew nothing about it. None of the book blogs I follow regularly had featured the title. Yet it slunk in to my subconcious. As far as I can tell, it’s been billed as the next big dystopia franchise, and not for no reason.

I liked this book. As I said, Pierce Brown can write, and the overall world he has built was intriguing. This is a dystopia on Mars. Citizens are broken up into colors, with golds being the elite. Darrow, our hero is a red. He works his days as a mining. The existence for him and his family is hard, but they are told it is to make Mars habitable for humans. He accepts this, until his wife is killed and his world is turned upside down. Darrow joins a revolution (it’s a dystopia, I’d be surprised if he didn’t). It’s a great set-up, and a rich world that takes some of your favorite dystopia tropes and mixes them with Greek allusions.

But, most of the time I felt somewhat cold when it came to Darrow. He talked about his emotions, but it rung hollow to me. This was mostly the case in relation to his wife, Eo. Some of this may be that he’s such a young character, he wasn’t married to his wife very long, and we don’t get to see them together all that much at the beginning of the book. Although, Brown has left some enticing questions open about this relationship, so all is not lost. It’s just that this relationship is supposed to be what spurs Darrow to action, causing him to go against his nature in many ways. He keeps coming back to Eo throughout the book, but it can be hard to feel like he shouldn’t be over her by now, which is awful. It just came across more as a passing crush. From the onset you know she was the catalyst.

On top of this, the pacing feels slow, even in the midst of exciting action. Most of the book plays out as an elaborate strategy game. While the alliances and characters in the game that lasts months of time in the world of the story. It was sometimes hard to feel like this time was passing, beyond Darrow’s exposition informing us. Brown manages to make me feel genuine emotion about a couple of characters in that time, but most come across as expendable. At certain points it was hard to feel if the stakes were real.

Admittedly, while I’ve been reading a lot of dystopia’s lately, especially with their popularity right now, they’re not my primary genre of choice. I’m interested to see where this goes because I think Brown has an interesting voice, and there are some intriguing seeds that were planted here. I’m anxious to see how it plays out against the backdrop of the larger society.

Tagged , , , ,

The Here and Now

by Ann Brashares

1/5 stars

I love Ann Brashares. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants offered up a lot of a joy in my adolescence, and my own friendships modeled themselves after the love the girls in that series showed one another. I know Ann Brashares is capable of drawing dynamic characters than inhabit fleshed out worlds. She can make even the most mundane things carry the weight of heightened stakes. I don’t know what happened with The Here and Now, because this book seemed to lack all of it.

I was extremely excited for this world because, time travel. While I prefer time travel from our present to the past I was willing to go with it. Dystopias are hot. I’m still getting time travel. What could go wrong? Just about everything. The future is vague and scary. There’s a plague. But that’s all we’ll find out. People had to come to our present to escape, but they’re basically in a cult. They’re being drugged and watched, and someone may have been killed. All of that sounds very exciting right now actually. I wish it had been in the book. It wasn’t. And there were no rules to this society (yes, I realize their were twelve rules they were given that’s not what I’m talking about), it was a little bit of this, little bit of that, throw it in the pot and you’ve got a dystopia. Wrong.

The characters were blah. I had no vested interest in them achieving their wants, or even their survival. Also, this book seems to hinge on a romance that builds not at all. One moment they’re playing hangman, the next their in l-o-v-e. Also there was a moment where Preena (because people from the future have futuristic names, duh) tells Ethan she’s not comfortable with intimacy while they’re staying in a hotel bed together, and he proceeds to try to feel her up. Preena kicks him out of bed in maybe the only moment in the book where I was like, “Yeah!” But this has no impact on their relationship.

Basically, there seemed to be no reason for anything in this book to happen. Sure, “she had to save the future of her society.” But with that being a hot thing right now, you can find much more interesting societies to save.

Tagged , , , ,

Queen of Someday

by Sherry D. Ficklin

2/5 stars

I love historical fiction in YA, and I was very excited to see a Queen of Someday dealt with Russian history (and based on Catherine the Great!). It didn’t hurt the book had an intriguing cover and a wonderful blurb. Seriously, whoever wrote that blurb: kudos to you. To some extent, the prose in the blurb may have been more compelling than the prose of the narrative.

The story moved along at a nice pace and was entertaining enough, but I’m not sure how much will actually stay with me. Some of this may be do to the fact the novel told instead of showing. This lead to characters such as Sophie’s mother appearing almost as caricatures, made only starker by the familiar tropes employed (poor girl needs to marry rich to save her family). Now, this is history, albeit history I am unfamiliar with which was part of my excitement, so some of these tropes might simply be historical fact. Ficklin’s job is to make me feel like I’ve never encountered these circumstances. I should be rooting for Sophie against it all, which begs the question.

Why am I rooting for Sophia? Characters enact their parts valiantly enough, but they feel like one-dimensional actors. I get no sense there is anything going on behind their actions. They do what the author tells them to, but what is their motivation? They aren’t so much characters as paper dolls. Much of this can be blamed on the lack of nuance in the novel. Sophie is not an unlikable character by any means. I like her. I want to root for her, badly. And I’m not rooting against her. I just didn’t feel the stakes.

I’m not going to touch the romance too much. Needless to say, I need to care about people to have a reason to root for them romantically. Also, the rich, engaging historical and political possibilities of this novel are ignored as mere set dressing for the romantic possibilities. Yes, these courts were full of romance and intrigue that’s part of their fun. This doesn’t quite make the jump.

As mentioned, the world feels small due to limited world building. At one point Sophie is told that her heart is Russian, but I don’t know what that means in this world. How is this court different, or all too similar, of the courts of Europe at the time. What timeframe are we even in? Ficklin does I get a great sense of walking around a castle with a lot of staircases, but no real sense of the dynamic Russian culture here.

I want to get caught up in the hype. I want to root for Sophie as she tries to save her family and make herself loved by a kingdom, but I never feel truly a part of the events taking place. This book lacks finesse and depth, even the as a quick pleasure read. Even so, it does start to come into it’s own during the last third- fourth of the book. I may be curious to see how the series progresses. If you’re at all interested in the subject matter, there are much worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Thank you to NetGalley and Clean Teen Publishing for this advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in Queen of Someday, it will be released on October 7, 2014.

Tagged , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers