May-June Book Review: Hild

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Like Sugar, I had a similarly hard time reading Hild, until finally I decided to power through by ignoring the names I didn’t recognize, & political intricacies I didn’t understand. Regardless, it still took me so long to finish this book… my average is about 2 weeks – Hild took over 2 months.

First, the bad. For me, this book was just waaaaay too dense, too long, with too many characters. I couldn’t keep track of who was who, and there was no good index apart from the family tree at the beginning. Also, being such a long book, you forget many characters just because it’s been such a long time since they first appeared. It’s hard to follow the implications of such-and-such marrying his daughter to that-guy, and that-guy’s brother winning the battle at whatsitcalled. As a result, most of the politics went over my head, and the significance of events just didn’t register. All of which to say, I couldn’t really follow what was happening for over 50% of the book.

A final nitpick, using the old languages was cool, but often only added to my confusion of the plot. It could have been used more sparingly, and/or reserved for untranslatable words and concepts only.

Next, the good. It was a historical fiction book, and though I didn’t follow the political aspects, I absolutely loved the historical details from the daily living point of view. Culture and society at that time period was vividly brought to life in my eyes, with a huge range of experiences. These included: working in the dairy, the medical knowledge of women, metal- & jewelry-smithing, the clash of the old & new religions, large trading centers, female friendships, geisths battles, power of reading, dangers of childbearing, peasant foods & feasts, and more that I can’t remember just now. Her descriptions sparkle, and were the highlight for me. I especially loved the bits about nature, wilderness, animals of forest & farm.

“The great pattern” Hild kept seeing snatches of was evocative & haunting; the weft and fold weaving a great pattern underlying everything. It both echoed the mysticism & religiousness of her seer role, but also of her highly observant and, I would say, scientific mind. It made me think of the ideas tied to a famous quote by Gallileo; that “the Book of Nature is written in the language of mathematics”, and as such, nature is built of overlapping patterns.

Also, very cool how the author had historically accurate people of colour peppered throughout the novel, as well as woman/woman love & fluid ideas of sexuality. Many historical fiction, and even historical non-fiction, books tend to ignore or gloss over that these things (and more!) existed in medieval Europe.

Finally, the ugly/weird. SPOILERS BELOW
If you haven’t finished the book, and want to, then quit reading now, because I’m about to spoil the last 15 pages or so. So, I can’t help but be glad that Hild gets a happy ending, because at times it seemed like she would meet a tragic end. However, I can’t get over the fact that she ends up with Cian, who is in fact her half-brother. Maybe incest wasn’t quite as bad in that time period, but… kind of spoiled it for me. He didn’t have to be revealed as her half-brother at all. Since Cian was a completely fictional character, he could have been written as a distant cousin, or unrelated altogether.

My final thought: I found this book was very enjoyable and interesting when NOT focusing on politics. Unfortunately, the political parts overwhelmed and bogged down the narrative. I feel if it had been re-written as more of an ‘everyday life’ kind of novel, with heavily simplified politics (& a full, detailed character index!), it would have made for a much stronger & better read.

July Choices

01

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living Paperback by Jes Baker

This is a manifesto and call to arms for people of all sizes and ages. With her trademark wit, veteran blogger and advocate Jes Baker calls people everywhere to embrace a body-positive worldview, changing perceptions about weight, and making mental health a priority.

Alongside notable guest essayists, Jes shares personal experiences paired with in-depth research in a way that is approachable, digestible, and empowering. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is an invitation to reject fat prejudice, fight body-shaming at the hands of the media, and join this life-changing movement with one step: change the world by loving your body.

Among the many Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls that you don’t want to miss:
1. It’s Possible to Love Your Body (Today. Now.)
2. You Can Train Your Brain to Play Nice
3. Your Weight Is Not a Reflection Of Your Worth
4. Changing Your Tumblr Feed Will Change Your Life
5. Salad Will Not Get You to Heaven
6. Cheesecake Will Not Send You to Hell

If you’re a person with a body, this book is for you.

02

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

(titled ‘What Sunny Saw in the Flames’ in Nigeria and the UK)

Akata Witch transports the reader to a magical place where nothing is quite as it seems. Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Once she befriends Orlu and Chichi, Sunny is plunged in to the world of the Leopard People, where your worst defect becomes your greatest asset. Together, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha form the youngest ever Oha Coven. Their mission is to track down Black Hat Otokoto, the man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. Will Sunny be able to overcome the killer with powers stronger than her own, or will the future she saw in the flames become reality?

03

The Devourers by Indra Das

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel.

04

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

 

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