April Book Review: The Improbability of Love

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

This book. This is an ‘I can’t even’ book. As in, I can’t even understand how it was nominated for several awards. I can’t fathom the high amount of positive reviews on Amazon. It boggles my mind, because in short, it was terrible.

Firstly, I’m not sure how this book made it past an editor to print. It needs a LOT of work. I would cut out large swathes, and fill it with red revisions and basic corrections.

There are tons of characters who all get featured with their own p.o.v. for absolutely no reason. They are absolutely superfluous. I used absolutely as an adjective twice to stress how bad it was. What was even the point?? Jacking up the page count?? What makes it even worse, is that the characters are all one-dimensional caricatures playing to common sterotypes. The main character Annie, has the most dimensions, yet somehow still manages to be super shallow. As Sugar mentioned, she also falls into the annoying trope of ‘secretly amazing/beautiful but doesn’t know it’. This is paired with her love interest, friend-zoned nice guy who wins the uninterested girl in the end through persistence and heroically saving her from a damsel in distress situation. *eye roll*

There is a right way, and a wrong way to write multiple perspectives/ narrators. This book shows the wrong way. Not only are there too many characters, the transitions often don’t make sense – some chapters even switch between first and third person of a single character!

And the painting. Oh, the painting. It was so annoying. I could rage about it endlessly. There were so many lines that made me stop and check that the author was a woman. For instance, consider the following quotes: “As we all know, a fierce female mind is a passion-killer. Men prefer the breast to the brain.” & later in the book, “[…] his orgasm of desire.” What.

Finally, the mess of an ending. It was an attempt of adding a thriller element (?), but so poorly executed, and then magically resolved with little effort. The happy endings for all were laughably Disney – I have nothing against a happy ending, but SERIOUSLY. This book was so unrealistic from start to finish, I guess I should have expected it.

I did enjoy some parts of this book; Annie’s cooking ability, and food descriptions were very nice. I liked the food/ art parallels and combinations. The actual art history and theory, as well as auction concepts/mechanics were interesting and well-written. There could have been a very good book here. I feel like the underlying elements of art & food were solid, but then got buried under a mountain of bad additions. The multiple plot points and genres, which miiiight have worked well together, just didn’t in this case. Remember, sometimes less is more.

If I could imagine this book as a food, I would see it as a towering cake; a small, tasty piece of cake dough, hidden underneath layers upon layers of clashing icing & cream, fake green cherries and neon sprinkles, oozing and melting together into a mess.

All I wanted was the cake bit, alright?

 

February Book Review: Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
Small disclaimer before we begin: I agree with the others’ opinions and my review will likely echo theirs.
It took me a while to get around to this review, but I very much enjoyed this book, although at first I wasn’t sure what to expect: non-fiction can vary widely. I felt the stand alone essays were written in an easy to digest manner, were grouped logically and flowed together quite well. Some essays struck more of a chord with me than others, but all were interesting, even the previously unknown world of competitive scrabble. The chapters that dealt with her experiences as a person  of colour were especially important in my mind, as they are lacking in so much best selling/ mainstream feminist lit. It’s important to listen to voices with different perspectives. Her visit to Haiti, and acknowledgment of her our privileges was great, and made me reflect on my own privileges. Her critique of a different book about advice to women in the workplace called back to mind these early chapters. It’s easy for lots of feminist literature to forget or to gloss over issues of class & wealth; this goes for online articles & pieces as well.
Unexpected bonus round: her reflections of school and being a professor were super personally relevant, moreso now that I’m ‘on the inside’ of the academic world.
I especially loved the articles about problematic media and violence against women. As Sugar put it, Roxanne Gay is able to put to words things hard to say. She eloquently gives shape to thoughts & subconcious understanding of societal problems. I too wanted to highlight and copy down her explanations, save quotes to use as future comebacks. Since I’d borrowed the book from the library I couldn’t, but I loved this book so much I’ll be buying a copy when the new paperback edition comes out in October 2017. While reading it, there were many points where I wished it were mandatory reading for everyone; I think it would make an excellent addition to high school or college reading lists.
Finally, her chapters about body image issues felt like skimming the top of an iceberg; you can sense there is a LOT more there, tied up with other issues. I wished she’d gone more into depth there, as it’s something that I think about a lot as well. I can consider my wish granted however, as I found out recently that the author wrote an entire book on this topic, due to come out June 2017, entitled “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body”. When it does, I’ll be giving it a read too, as this is an author that’s won a new fan.

Monstress: March Book Review

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I really enjoyed this comic, like most of the Image titles that I’ve read. Monstress doesn’t hold back any punches and drops you straight into a complex and multi layered world. I’ve read similar books/ comics before which don’t have much explanation, and myself see it as an artistic/ stylistic choice. As elements are slowly explained, I love having little ah-ha! moments as I connect the dots, filled with sudden comprehension. It’s almost like mind mapping, with radial connections spinning outward.

I read the hard copy TP that collects issues 1-6, which had especially revealing revelations in extra pages at the end of each issue/chapter, and the very last one had me gasp (in my head of course :P). (It’s all connecteddddd ahhhh!! I need the next volume immediately!!).

The things I liked included a number of things. The world itself, which in the synopsis is said to be an alternate 1900s Asia, I found to be a wholly separate fantasy world, although leaning heavily on a mix of Chinese, Japanese, and European influences, as well as ancient Egypt. No mummies here, but curses still unleashed from ancient ruins… The ancient Egyptian echoes really tickled my imagination, as did what is shown so far of the mythology. I enjoyed the art overall, although every now and then I found some characters looked a bit “manga-cheesy”. The landscapes and images of floating ‘dead’ gods spanning the sky were beautiful & haunting.

I loved that basically 90% of the characters are women; villains, heroes and even passing characters, like the helpful merchant woman on the road. A huge variety of female relationships can be seen, and its fantastic to see in a comic. And so many POC! A++ on these issues for sure.

Another point that stuck out to me: the main character is not necessarily fully ‘likable’ – which I actually liked a lot. You see it a lot in male anti-heroes; surly, violent, full of conflict. Female characters are not often given the same freedom, at least when they’re protagonists. Not to say that she’s unlikable – just that she has more ragged edges than what I’m used to seeing (in a good way!).

Finally, there are explorations of many heavy topics, some of which I don’t think are really covered properly (such as the child slavery, as mentioned in the review by Sugar) but perhaps they’ll be more fleshed out in the next TP. Bits of the war reminded me vaguely of Fullmetal Alchemist, which handled similar issues brilliantly. Overall Monstress, at its core, is an adventure story with elements of mystery and fantasy, and fun to read.

I’ll be following this story & look forward to seeing how this story unfolds.

March Choices

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1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself ― but first she has to make it there, alive.

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2. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

In Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Fangirl’, the protagonist Cath struggled with going away to college, being separated from her twin, and the role that Simon Snow fanfiction played in her new reality. From those featured snippets comes the full length, ‘cannon’, Simon Snow novel.

Simon Snow is similar to another series with a famous boy wizard, but it is wholly original. Carry On takes place during Simon’s final year at Watford, a school for magical children. Simon plays a unique role in the World of Mages; he is seen as the Chosen One, who will deliver them from evil. Namely, the Insidious Humdrum, who takes on the form of an eleven-year-old Simon.

Simon has a best friend- Penelope, and a girlfriend- Agatha. Simon also has an archnemesis/roommate- Baz. When Baz doesn’t return at the beginning of term, Simon is suspicious. Is he planning something? Tensions are running high at Watford, and there is a divide between the Old Families and people who want social and political reforms.

When Baz finally returns at Watford, things are different, and a different kind of tension becomes apparent between Simon and Baz. As the World of Mages begins to crumble, Simon and Baz realize that they must work together as allies rather than fight as enemies.

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3. Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace by Jessica Bennett

Part manual, part manifesto, Feminist Fight Club is a hilarious yet incisive guide to navigating subtle sexism at work, providing real-life career advice and humorous reinforcement for a new generation of professional women.

It was a fight club—but without the fighting and without the men. Every month, the women would huddle in a friend’s apartment to share sexist job frustrations and trade tips for how best to tackle them. Once upon a time, you might have called them a consciousness-raising group. But the problems of today’s working world are more subtle, less pronounced, harder to identify—and harder to prove—than those of their foremothers. These women weren’t just there to vent. They needed battle tactics. And so the fight club was born.

Hard-hitting and entertaining, Feminist Fight Club blends personal stories with research, statistics, and no-bullsh*t expert advice. Bennett offers a new vocabulary for the sexist workplace archetypes women encounter everyday—such as the Manterrupter who talks over female colleagues in meetings or the Himitator who appropriates their ideas—and provides practical hacks for navigating other gender landmines in today’s working world. With original illustrations, Feminist Mad Libs, a Negotiation Cheat Sheet, and fascinating historical research, Feminist Fight Club tackles both the external (sexist) and internal (self-sabotaging) behaviors that plague women in the workplace—as well as the system that perpetuates them.

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4. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

A fantasy comic about race, feminism and the monster within. Set in an alternate matriarchal 1920’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war. She shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power – a connection that will transform them both. In a world populated by humans, magical half-breeds and evil sorceresses alike, this first arc follows Maika, a humanoid Arcanic with a dark past and a tortured present. At odds with The Cumaea, a coven of witches who use the Arcanic’s own life force to feed their wicked ways, Maika’s journey is at once investing. Slavery, racism, the horrors of war – Maika’s world is a bleak one, and the book doesn’t shy away from presenting its harsh realities. Of course, there’s more to Maika than simply meets the eye, and with a war between the Arcanics and The Cumaea brewing, Maika’s secret puts her squarely in the crosshairs.


March
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Vassa in the night: January Book Review

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Another retelling of a fairytale that I did not know prior to reading this book, Vassa In the Night is a vastly different approach when compared to East. *here there be spoilers*

The feeling is this novel is very surreal, dark and almost grotesque, but in way that draws the reader in. The feeling is similar to that of the podcast ‘Alice Isn’t Dead’; sinister unhuman enemies, an uncaring police force, a strange and bizarre reality. I was also heavily reminded of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, with the witch who forces the protagonist into working for her, house on legs, etc. (although of course the aforementioned movies’ influences came from fairy tales to begin with).

Certain fairy tale elements were familiar to me, such as the accomplishment of impossible tasks and once-human swans, but others were very unexpected. For instance, Vassa’s father turning himself into a dog felt kind of random and unnecessary to the story, though I expect it’s a reference to some other Russian fairy tale. The big ‘reveal’ that Erg was part of Vassa’s soul also felt odd; she had her own completely different personality for the entirety of the book, and knew lots of magical secrets that Vassa had no idea about. Wouldn’t this mean Erg is a separate person to Vassa? Is Vassa’s soul just a battery for Erg? This plot point felt confused and messy. Erg as her own entity worked perfectly for the majority of the book and I feel would have been better staying that way until the end. Also, reminding us every so often that Vassa is ‘so beautiful’ was unnecessary (even if this was a reference to the original fairy tale title of ‘Vasilissa the Beautiful’).

Like Sugar mentioned, there were many loose ends, some of which bothered me more than others. The swan storyline wasn’t wrapped up, although I assume they simply remained swans (as did Vassa’s foot). There was a magical man who was murdered – by whom? Did they stop? Is there an anti-magic movement? How many other kinds of magic people exist in this universe, and how ‘open’ in the world are they? Why does it seem only BY’s interact with ordinary people? I know the point of the story was to focus on the Baba Yaga, and the book may have become too long to answer all these questions, but in that case, these questions shouldn’t have been brought up in the first place.

I will concede that Tomin’s revival was ever so slightly foreshadowed when Pangolin was drinking shadow soda and dribbled a little on a dead fly that was laying in a patch of sunlight. This was, in my mind, the third night’s ‘impossible’ task that Vassa accomplished, and freeing Night the final act of her adventure .

Critique aside, I enjoyed this book overall. The atmosphere was superb and Vassa was a great protagonist. She was brave and smart, with attitude and human flaws to boot. Her motivation to go to BY’s just out of spite was well written, as was Vassa’s roller-coaster of complex emotions. You just have to root for her. Erg was a lot of fun too, despite my quibble with the ending. The story was well paced, and even with the old man’s execution, Tomin’s (very gory!) murder still surprised and shocked me when it happened. Vassa’s older sister was awesome; she didn’t fall into the shitty step-sister stereotype, and I actually wish I knew more about her (she seems like she’d do great as a star in her own story).

Finally, I appreciate how most of the major players in the story were women; the hero, the villain, the sidekicks, her closest family, even the swans. Come to think of it, all of the male characters were essentially saved by our heroine Vassa, aside from her father. Tomin, Picnic, Pangolin, Night, even Dexter and Sinister in a way (although these last three are only kind of male?).

I think the problems in the book came from trying to force the story into an urban fantasy mold, and its strengths came from the fairy tale soul; the dreamlike feeling, the magic and surreal atmosphere, the depth of emotion, and the hero you cheer for to win.

Recommended 3.75/5

December Choices

Hello ladies! I’ve chosen 4 books that are on my to-read list.

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The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: or, On the Segregation of the Queen
by Laurie R. King 

In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in Sussex when a young woman literally stumbles onto him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern, twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. They are soon called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator, a case of international significance with clues that dip deep into Holmes’s past.

From Kevin M. Derby’s Amazon Review: In “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice,” Laurie R. King did the seemingly impossible: she made an unique contribution to the Sherlock Holmes legacy. […] This book should have been a disaster. Instead, it ranks as one of the most charming mysteries written in the 1990s. King is a fine writer and Russell truly comes alive. While taking some liberties with Holmes’ age, King is wise enough to keep the focus on Russell. Dr. Watson is mostly kept offstage and Mycroft Holmes remains in a supporting role. To her credit, King does a superb job with Mrs. Hudson.

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His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire in the UK) by Naomi Novik 

Imagine if the Napoleonic wars had been fought using an air force… of dragons. In this delightful first novel, the opening salvo of a trilogy, Novik seamlessly blends fantasy into the history of the Napoleonic wars. Here be dragons, beasts that can speak and reason, bred for strength and speed and used for aerial support in battle. Each nation has its own breeds, but none are so jealously guarded as the mysterious dragons of China. Veteran Capt. Will Laurence of the British Navy is therefore taken aback after his crew captures an egg from a French ship and it hatches a Chinese dragon, which Laurence names Temeraire. When Temeraire bonds with the captain, the two leave the navy to sign on with His Majesty’s sadly understaffed Aerial Corps, which takes on the French in sprawling, detailed battles that Novik renders with admirable attention to 19th-century military tactics. Though the dragons they encounter are often more fully fleshed-out than the stereotypical human characters, the author’s palpable love for her subject and a story rich with international, interpersonal and internal struggles more than compensate.

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The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers

Non-fiction book about one girl’s triumphant path to becoming a chess champion. One day in 2005 while searching for food, nine-year-old Ugandan Phiona Mutesi followed her brother to a dusty veranda where she met Robert Katende. Katende, a war refugee turned missionary, had an improbable dream: to empower kids in the Katwe slum through chess—a game so foreign there is no word for it in their native language. Laying a chess­board in the dirt, Robert began to teach. At first children came for a free bowl of porridge, but many grew to love the game that—like their daily lives—requires persevering against great obstacles. Of these kids, one girl stood out as an immense talent: Phiona. By the age of eleven Phiona was her country’s junior champion, and at fifteen, the national champion. Now a Woman Candidate Master—the first female titled player in her country’s history—Phiona dreams of becoming a Grandmaster, the most elite level in chess. But to reach that goal, she must grapple with everyday life in one of the world’s most unstable countries.

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The Table of Less Valued Knights Hardcover by Marie Phillips

The Princess Bride meets Monty Python and the Holy Grail in this funny, charming, and delightful tale about lesser-known heroes in Arthurian England.

Sir Humphrey du Val has had enough. Relegated to the Table of Less Valued Knights-Camelot’s least prestigious spot, boringly rectangular in shape and with one leg shorter than the other so that it has to be propped up with a folded napkin to stop it from rocking–he has been banned by King Arthur from going on quests, and hasn’t left the castle in 15 years. After a chance meeting with Elaine, a young maiden in search of her kidnapped fiancé, Sir Humphrey, along with his squire Conrad (an undersized giant) and Jemima (Conrad’s elephant), sets off on a journey to find the distressed damsel’s betrothed, hoping to restore himself to a place of honour at the Round Table. Meanwhile, Martha, an errant queen on the run from her new power-hungry husband, is in disguise and on a quest of her own to find her long-lost brother, the true ruler of her realm. Martha soon runs–literally–into Humphrey’s eccentric group, who take the incognito queen captive, believing her to be a boy. As they journey through countryside, castles and villages, they gather unlikely friends and enemies along the way. While each member of the party secretly harbours their own ambitions for the quest, their collective success, and the fate of the realm, rests on their grudging cooperation and unexpectedly interconnected lives.

East: Nov Book Review

“East” by Edith Pattou was simply enchanting. I did not know it was a retelling of a specific fairy tale, East of the Sun/West of the Moon. Instead, for the beginning portion, I thought the story was Beauty & the Beast. Then, when the Bear would come in at night, I thought it must be Eros & Psyche. The final portion I thought, ah-ha! it’s the Snow Queen! Although it was none of these, I could see how they may have evolved and influenced one another at some point historically or culturally. The constant changing of what I expected to happen next (based on which tale I thought it was) kept it surprising and unpredictable to me, all the while keeping that folk/fairy tale feeling.

I liked the personalities given to all the characters, which made their motivations and actions more realistic. Not only were they well-developed, they also changed and grew over time to reflect their experiences. This is true of Rose, Ned, her mother and the Troll Queen especially.

I do have to say I agree with -yellowblueeye- about Rose feeling guilty for looking at the Bear. She’s an outgoing, curious woman, exploring and questioning everything. On top of that, no actual rule about looking was ever actually told to her. And she was supposed to somehow know and follow this unspoken rule? It didn’t make much sense to me, but then again fairy tales often have bits like that. (That’s not even considering how Bear definitely got the short end of the stick for what was supposed to be the Troll Queen’s punishment).

The ending was very well-done, with time for the main characters to recover from their ordeals and to resolve loose ends, without rushing to the ‘happily-ever-after’. I do have a small nit-pick though: the book begins with an unknown person opening a box and reading about this story – but they are not brought up again at the end. I feel it would have been better to either omit them from the book altogether, OR at least close off with them again, perhaps even tying them into the story itself (a historian researching Ned’s old books, or France’s royal family trees, or perhaps even making it a future ancestor of Rose).

I loved how Rose’s hero quest spanned several adventures and countries. The way the language barrier was overcome was a great detail (and often ignored in other stories). The people she met along her journey, both good and bad, and the changing landscapes (Norway, France, the sea, Greenland, the Arctic Circle) made it all the more epic.
I have to say one of my favourite parts had to be the time Rose spent with the Inuit, and the shaman woman’s travels with her. She was kick-ass! All the cultural details of the old Inuit way of life was the icing on the delicious cake. And a delicious read it was. 5/5