Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’

Hey guys! Normally I write book reviews, but sometimes I’ll have such strong feelings about a book that the review ends up being all CAP LOCKS and lols and 🙂 🙃 😱 😬 🙄🤔😍 🤓😄 😂 🤣; in cases like that (which is what happened with my review of Shadow’s Edge ((Night Angel #2)) by Brent Weeks), it’s just easier to talk about it instead of translate my feelings to typeface. I would love to know what you think- about the video, about the book, about how messy my book shelves look, anything! 😀 I hope you enjoy!

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Humanity was a plague. Locustlike, we ripped holes in the world’s fabric.

About :

Wow. What to say about this book. Well, it’s all about Arslan, a young Asian general from the European-created state of Turkistan, who takes over the world’s military powers without firing a single shot. His methods and reasons remain a mystery from most of the world, but he gradually reveals his vision to two men in small town Illinois, where the modern conqueror makes his capital.

Arslan was just republished by Open Road Integrated Media last month, and that’s how I heard of it, but it was originally published in 1976 to much critical acclaim. Being a fan of Dystopias and occasionally tempted by SF classics of the 70s-80s, I couldn’t resist a classic of the subgenre coming in at only 288 pages. I’m glad I got the chance to read it.

Thoughts :

Two very different, unreliable and extremely well-realized characters narrate the story, telling us details of humanity’s deterioration and of Arslan, the man causing said deterioration. Franklin Bond is a Christian conservative and school principle in the small, rural town where Arslan appears, and he cares very much for all under his responsibility. Therefore, he risks the wrath of the town by enforcing the hated general’s every rule, having quickly determined that a resistance would only survive its initial stages if he kept it a secret from Arslan; he’s all action and no talk. He gets most of the page time, since he helps run everything from food distribution, to the resistance, to the town government itself.

The other narrator, Hunt, is one of Franklin Bond’s sixth graders and only twelve years old when Arslan takes him as a sex slave. Over the course of the book, Hunt grows in and out of physical captivity and learns to play both sides of the conflict over Arslan, whichever offers him the best chance of survival. Though clearly a victim, Hunt’s pretentiousness and love of literature—his ability, as he grows, to express his anguish through poetry, and his pride, which prevents him from addressing it in any other way—make him a strong, complex narrator of indeterminate sexuality whose reactions defy prediction. His quotes from Milton express his situation particularly well:

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Hunt’s perspective is just…I had to take breaks from reading it. Anguished is probably the best word for it. Cynical, yes, but also constantly flirting with death of all kinds. It’s awful and beautiful. Hunt’s perspective gets all the psychological depth of Franklin’s perspective plus the benefit of literary allusion and a poetic lens. I don’t normally swear, but literally the only word that can properly express Hunt’s perspective is “mind-effery” lol But it is through Hunt’s perspective that we get the clearest and most in-depth ruminations about Arslan—since Hunt is unable to form a coherent picture of himself, he puts all his energy into defining Arslan to himself and to readers in observations such as the one below:

Confronted unignorably with a phrase he was unsure of, [Arslan] would turn it back, with a straight face, in question, threat, or provocation, to elicit more data. I thought, too, that one reason for his inscrutable looks, his reluctance to show surprise or annoyance or enthusiasm, was a simple fear of betraying misunderstanding by an inappropriate reaction.”

I can’t share anything about Arslan without spoiling the plot, since it relies very much on revelations about his purpose and actions. Although the details of his conquest ultimately feel inadequate and somewhat disappointing, even those aren’t really the focus of this novel—Arslan himself is. And his plan for the world is what makes the novel so interesting. [Highlight to view SPOILERS: Arslan’s concerns seem largely environmental. “To save the world from mankind.” “But man, man is too strong. He fouls and exhausts too rapidly, and nothing checks him for long. There is only one end for such a species: extinction.” ].

But since we can’t get into those details, let’s talk instead about the fascinating and disturbing silence of the women portrayed in Arslan. In the beginning, women are dolls.

I made Luella stay inside, but I stood out on the front steps to watch…I wasn’t about to crawl into a hole.”

I don’t think Franklin Bond meant to make this sound like Luella was crawling into a hole—rather, he was trying to show defiance against the army invading his town. Still, why “make” her stay inside? The general treatment of women is degrading in Arslan, even before the “Dystopian” part happens. Halfway through the book, women become a tool of the enemy (through no fault of their own) or they have simply died of housework.

I constantly wondered about the lack of female presence and agency in Arslan, as I read. Thus it shocked me to find out that M. J. Engh is a woman. BECAUSE ONLY MEN CAN BE SEXIST, RIGHT?! lol. Apparently I’m just sexist like that 😂 Anyway, after further consideration, I found more than meets the eye in the “silence of the women.” It has been argued—successfully, I think—that Engh may have been commenting on the male view of gender roles during the 1970s. It’s hard to say for sure, since this was actually published in the 70s, and not in retrospect, but my personal opinion is that the female silence itself tells of “her” experience. Perhaps their conspicuous silence suggests, “it’s obviously all drudgery and degradation, so much so that nobody was listening to us.” Or perhaps Engh was just trying to appeal to the male reader of the 1970s-80s. That’s also a possibility. At the very least, complete immersion in the unreliable male perspectives undeniably provides food for thought.

Overall :

Full of stunning insights into humanity—or at least into the male half of it, lol. Although the plot falls short in terms of feasibility, the unreliable and fascinating character narratives by far make up for that. I think I would need to read Arslan several more times before I came away with a clear, full picture of Engh’s intent. And Engh’s riveting prose, full to the brim with poetic and historical allusions, gives Arslan a depth that a lesser writer could never have accomplished.

Characters: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Worldbuilding: 3/5
Plot: 2/5

3.75/5 Stars

Arslan is adult Dystopian fiction authored by M.J. Engh and originally published in 1976. Digitally republished on 18 Apr 18, 2017 by Open Road Integrated Media.

Huge thanks to M. J. Engh, Open Road Integrated Media and Netgalley for this free eARC. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

The Immortals

“I protect you, just like I protect all the women who come to me. And all I ask in return is two promises: You won’t tell the cops about me, and you won’t hook up with ***holes again.”

About :

The pantheon of Greek gods is alive, though not exactly well, in the city of Manhattan. Artemis—or Selene the Huntress, as she calls herself these days—wearily goes about her age-old task of saving women from male predators, but in truth her powers waned long ago as mortals began to worship other things.

But a brutal murder puts Selene back in touch with her ancient calling, and suddenly her powers begin to return…In her search to find the murderer, she finds herself disarmed and, alarmingly, charmed by a handsome classics professor, Theodore Schultz, who doggedly pursues the same answers. The Immortals is adult urban fantasy authored by Jordanna Max Brodsky and published February 16th 2016 by Orbit. Hardcover, 447 pages.

Thoughts :

Let’s start with the good things. The publisher marketed this as Percy Jackson for adults, and I’d say that’s about right. How could I not at least try “Percy Jack for adults”? So much potential in this premise! Brodsky clearly researched the pantheon, too, and developed an interesting faith system for modern life, as gods try to stay relevant to today’s worshippers. (Selene’s brother Apollo tours with his rock band, catering to adoring crowds and groupies.) Brodsky combines a murder mystery with this brilliant idea, and it held my attention, although I’ve read enough murder mysteries to have pinpointed the culprit immediately.

My other favorite thing? Nerdy and hilarious academic references abound. I love Theo’s pseudo swear, “Holy Roman Empire!” which had me literally laughing out loud as I listened to the audiobook. Brodsky represents the world of academia with great color and life. This goes beyond just the killer premise of bringing the Greek pantheon to life in modern Manhattan; Theo’s university scenes left me feeling totally nostalgic for college.

So it kills me to write this, but…

DNF at 33%

I could not get into the characters. I couldn’t help getting the impression that both protagonists are condescending snobs. Selene condescends to everyone except her dog, but especially to men and specifically to Theo, who practically prostrates himself before her. In one scene, he proves his credentials by helping her with a lead, then pleads to be allowed to help her investigate the murder. This response characterizes Selene’s attitude during the entire conversation:

She put on her baseball cap and pulled it low, so he could barely see her eyes glaring at him from beneath the brim. ‘But don’t think we’re partners, because we’re not.’”

Uhhh okay. Why does he find her attractive again? And she’s just like that all the time. It’s sort of inhuman, which I guess might be the point: Selene is a vengeance goddess. She doesn’t want or need to be liked.

At least Theo’s a nice enough guy, but both he and Selene spend the first 150 pages condescending to the police in ways that just irritate me. Just one example: Theo physically grabs a cop and then gets all amped up when the cop supposedly “trumps up” assault charges on him; but the fact is, grabbing anyone will legitimately earn you an “assault” charge. These kinds of misunderstandings always bother me because my husband is in law enforcement and depends on these laws for protection in the field.

I almost can’t blame Theo and Selene for their attitudes, though, because the cops in The Immortals are all bumbling idiots. They fail to investigate leads and, as poor Theo observes, can’t even remember to Mirandize their suspects (or perhaps don’t want to?). Brodsky’s narrative about law enforcement feels more angry and targeted than the humorously inept “Lestraudes” of normal mystery stories, going beyond humor and straight into using police corruption, brutality and neglect as the main antagonists of the investigators. I don’t know if this is just a clumsy mishandling of the mystery trope or if Brodsky is trying to set up a narrative, here, but unfortunately it made the book difficult for me to enjoy.

Overall & Recommendation :

If the things I mentioned above don’t personally barb you, and if you like the sound of the synopsis, I would definitely recommend trying The Immortals. I think most urban-fantasy lovers and mythology geeks will enjoy it; and luckily for you who do enjoy it, book II just came out in February!

thevaliant

“I punched my fists skyward in victory before sweeping my arms out to either side, stretched wide as wings. I felt for that fleeting instant as if I really were the goddess Morrigan in flight, swooping low over a battlefield to collect the souls of the glorious dead.”

About :

Fallon is a Celtic Princess with an ax to grind: Julius Caesar killed her warrior-sister in his battle to conquer Britain (or Prydain, as the Celts call it) and Fallon trains to one day get revenge on the Roman conqueror. But when her father betroths her to her boyfriend’s brother, instead of asking her to join his royal war band, she’s sure she’ll never get the chance after all.

While tracking down her betrothed to confront him, Fallon’s life takes another sharp left turn: slavers capture her and bring her to Rome, where her greatest enemy, Caesar, buys her for his gladiatrix training academy. While Fallon’s Cantii spirit still cries for freedom, she trusts the will of her goddess and trains hard to become the best gladiatrix in Rome. The Valiant is YA Alternate History authored by Lesley Livingston and published February 14th 2017 by Razorbill.

Thoughts :

The Valiant opens with Fallon successfully completing the fabled chariot stunt known as the Morrigan’s Flight, wherein a warrior steps from the chariot’s carriage to the shaft between the running horses and hurls a spear at her target. This lushly detailed and action-filled opening sets the tone for the rest of the book. The first third sucks readers into Fallon’s journey from Roman Britain to Rome itself with the thrum of chariot wheels, the stench of corpse-fouled wells and the chill of the metal torcs that mark you as royalty—or slave.

Then we reach the promise of the premise: Caesar buys Fallon for his gladiatrix training school. The “school” trope is one of my favorites in YA, and this very trope is the “twist” that makes The Valiant an alternate history: though rare, individual female gladiators did exist; but Livingston imagines elite training schools to prepare the female warriors for the Colosseum battles. As in the first third of The Valiant, Livingston brings this premise alive with great details.

One of my favorite examples: when Fallon is training for the Colosseum, she analyzes the different styles and strategies of gladiatorial combat, such as what classes of gladiator the women belong to, depending on their weapons—and what Hunger-Games-like strategies they use to please the crowd of spectators:

Gratia fought in the style of the murmillo gladiators, with sword and heavy shield. It suited her physique—and her penchant for thoughtless brutality—and made her something of a force to be reckoned with in the arena. It also compensated for her utter lack of personality.

And that was something that the masters of the ludi, the gladiatorial games, coveted above all else.

Flair.”

The rest of the plot feels a little stringy and predictable to me, but Fallon’s journey to the school and her struggles there draw the real focus anyway.

And although the character psychology doesn’t always ring true, the politics of identity, race and culture give strong flavor to character interactions and agendas. For example, Fallon chafes against her bondage, disgusted by the idea of battling to satisfy this foreign Roman bloodlust; she can’t understand how the Romans can stomach forcing their slaves to fight like animals. But she also realizes that her tribe and family kept, worked and sold slaves just like the Romans:

We bought them and sold them the same way as we did out cattle. Slaves had meant swept floors and lit fires and clean water carried in heavy clay pots. I was ashamed to admit I had never given them much thought. They just…were. I had been so very blind. And stupid. And now I was learning what it was like to have someone else decide my fate.”

While I expected some action and hoped for some good historical detail, I didn’t at all expect this kind of historical depth. It was such a great surprise!

Overall :

This is exactly what I’m looking for, when I pick up a YA with a historical bent. I want the entertainment and the detail. Balanced pacing, slam-bang action and an engaging level of historical awareness raises this YA Alternate History above the market average. It’s very well edited with invisible prose, active description and almost none of the “telling” that can drone on and on and kill the forward motion in historical fiction.

Recommended To :

Readers who wish Rosemary Sutcliff had written more YA. Or, you know, anyone who likes the idea of reading about female gladiators 😀

****4/5 STARS

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midnightcurse

“Whoever had forced Molly to kill her friends wanted her to get caught, go on trial and be executed before she had a chance to prove her innocence.”

About :

Scarlett Bernard is a “null,” a human who cancels out any magic around her. Her abilities come in handy on the job—she works to keep the magical world a secret from normal humans in the city of LA. She’s actually starting to enjoy her job, although she’s also enjoying the good life with her werewolf boyfriend, Eli, outside of work.

But duty calls when someone magically forces a vampire friend of hers into murdering 12 USC roommates. Scarlett’s job becomes twofold: hide the magical involvement from the humans and find out who wants to hurt her friend.

Nobody believes in the vampire’s innocence, but Scarlett is determined to find the real murderer with a little help from an old LAPD buddy. Midnight Curse is adult UF authored by Melissa F. Olson and published February 7th 2017 by 47North.

I was browsing Netgalley for a promising new series when I ran across Midnight Curse, first in the new “Disrupted Magic” trilogy. It wasn’t until after I requested the book that I learned about a previous trilogy starring Scarlett Bernard, but I jumped in anyway.

And Olson had me from the first line.

Thoughts :

Scarlett is at an art show with her boyfriend when she gets a creepy, blood-spattered SOS note delivered from her old vampire friend, Molly. The note asks Scarlett to come meet her secretly, so Scarlett blows off her boyfriend, hoping he’ll understand and let her handle it. After all, if she tells him, he has to tell his werewolf pack leader, and then the secret’s not so secret anymore.

But things careen out of control and soon, Scarlett finds herself running damage control on all fronts while still trying to uncover the real mass murderer—and their veiled purpose. The story unfolds in the perspectives of both Scarlett and her LAPD friend Jesse, and a fantastic first 50% ensues. Scarlett and Jesse keep the twisty mystery plot moving, interspersing their investigation with humorous one-liners, psychologically layered character dynamics and precise, interesting backstory and worldbuilding.

Because I jumped in without reading the earlier books, I worried that missing information would muddy the experience for me. But Olson integrates explanations smoothly without info-dumping. The worldbuilding becomes clearer with every page. A lot of the mystery developments do rely on past history and knowledge of Scarlett’s manifold abilities, but I still enjoyed the plot very much.

So with all this going for Midnight Curse, why did I rate the book at 4 stars instead of 5?

It’s largely due to a subjective reaction to one relationship arc that left me feeling bitter during the second half. Throughout the novel, we see the themes of relational control and abuse taken to different extremes, and I didn’t enjoy how it played out in Scarlett’s case. I’m not a huge fan of these dysfunctional relationships from hell, haha. [Highlight to view SPOILER: I struggled with Scarlett’s breakup because she kept running away from communication and playing petty games with Eli. Maybe if she had invited him along on one of her jaunts, instead of taking off with Jesse (whom she’s already developing feelings for), Eli could have understood her strengths or been part of her team or something like that. I don’t buy the irreconcilable differences crap because my husband and I are about as different as two personalities can get and we somehow manage to talk things out like adults. Going on six years of blissfully wedded life, I value faithfulness very highly in relationships, so Scarlett’s behavior irked me beyond what another reader might have felt.]

But I get the feeling that Olson wanted/needed to shake things up for the new trilogy, and my impression of Scarlett suffered without an understanding of the love triangle and character histories of the original series. She came across as very immature to me in this one isolated relationship. She’s a great protagonist in every other way, and in fact, a lot of readers enjoyed everything about the book (the overall Goodreads rating is super high—currently 4.27, wow!), including this arc. Your experience of this relationship arc seems to really depend on your emotional connection to the characters.

Overall :

So while Midnight Curse is a great UF, it left me severely cranky, haha. I probably won’t read any more about Scarlett because I try to avoid getting my heart ripped out; but I’d be down to read more by this author—I loved everything else about the book. I could see a lot of readers giving it five stars.

Recommended To :

I recommend this to readers looking for adult UF with a strong mystery, a fast pace and characters that don’t leave room for ambivalence. I think teens would love it, too, although there’s some language that parents might want to be aware of.

Thank you so much to Melissa F. Olson, 47North and Netgally for this great ARC. I really enjoyed it!

4/5 STARS

crossroads-of-canopuAbout :

The opening novel of Thoraiya Dyer’s “Titan’s Forest” series takes place in the world of a giant forest. Three realms live at different levels of this forest: “Canopy” claims the privileged position at the treetops, Understorey clings the boughs, and “Floor” settles in the shadows at the foot of the trees.

Crossroads of Canopy opens in Canopy, the most privileged of the three realms. Here, thirteen theocracies rule the Canopian citizens and interact through the usual ways of war, trade and peace. When a god or goddess dies, they are reincarnated into the body of a human babe. Unar lives in the Garden, a theocracy ruled by the goddess, Audblayin. Having run from poverty and barely escaped slavery, Unar plans to find glory by winning the position of Audblayin’s next bodyguard. But she becomes sympathetic to the slaves from the lower realm of Understorey, a complication that gets her into trouble with the Gardeners.

Then, suddenly, Audblayin dies. With her death, the magic that bound Unar to service and mandatory abstinence disappears, and new, overwhelming distractions get in the way of her plans…Crossroads of Canopy is fantasy published by Thoraiya Dyer. Published January 31st 2017 by Tor Books.

I requested this one immediately, when it popped up on Netgalley. Look at that cover. And the description?! Sounds amazing, right?

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it and ended up DNFing it at 47%

Why DNF?

When I started Crossroads of Canopy, I expected political divisions among the theocracies, adventure among the trees and a sense of wonder about the gorgeous forest realms. I hoped for some interesting philosophy about the religions, perhaps debated among friends.

But this book focused on other things, and unfortunately I struggled to connect with the characters, who often provoked each other with hostile attitudes; also, most of the action felt uninteresting and incidental to the plot. The purpose of each scene got lost in Unar’s focus on other things, mainly her sexual awakening.

Following the death of the goddess’s abstinence magics, most of the cast seems fixated on sex and sexual organs—and we’re not just talking about during a few sex scenes. One minute, we’re discussing religions/climbing gigantic trees/social inequality, and out of the nowhere, we’re talking about male “organs” and lady “flaps” and unrequited crushes.

Some of this makes perfect sense and would have been fine, had it remained a minor distraction from Unar’s plans; but it goes overboard and we end up spending lots time oogling Unar’s love interest or exploring Unar’s theories about masturbation when meanwhile, we only know the names of three of Canopy’s thirteen theocracies.

Since Crossroads of Canopy is book 1 in a series, the author seems to be taking her time in exploring the world (and adding in sexual tensions and drama-rama to keep us interested) instead pushing forward with the plot. Unfortunately, while the descriptions did a great job portraying the social stratification, I felt like they neglected other areas of worldbuilding—although some of the imagery of the garden flowers blew me away. Clearly Dyer spent a lot of time developing the flora of her three realms. Check this out:

The exotic plot was filled with rare blue and bronze-colored grasses from the places where Floor met the edge of the forest. A messy hedge of maroon guavas, interspersed with purple sugarcane thickets, formed a semicircle around the western boundary.”

Overall :

The worldbuilding has lots of potential, if you find the style appealing, but the book just moved too slowly for my tastes.

Recommended To :

Reads who might enjoy slow worldbuilding through the eyes of a single narrator. Also, readers who really appreciate gender and racial politics might enjoy the book’s diversity enough to keep reading. A couple of Goodreads reviewers really enjoyed the book for that reason.

Thanks so much to Thoraiya Dyer, Tor and Netgalley for this e-arc!

the-witch-of-portbello

What happened to Athena? 

About :

Athena was a lot of things, but nobody’s labels seemed to stick. Everyone who knew her had an opinion…but did any of them really know her? Told in “transcripts” taped by Athena’s “biographer,” The Witch of Portobello is an unusual mystery tale. Not only does the reader discover Athena, Athena discovers herself—through the eyes of others. The Witch of Portobello is adult fiction by Brazillian author Paulo Coelho and published in 2006. Coelho also wrote The Alchemist.

Thoughts :

What happened to Athena? This question drove my interest in The Witch of Portobello. Early on in the transcripts, we learn from several of the narrators that Athena was murdered. But how? And by whom? Details, details!

This is the second Paulo Coelho novel I’ve listened to, and I enjoyed it as much as the first (The Alchemist). When I realized this was an epistolary novel told through the alternating “transcripts,” I worried that I might confuse the narrators over audio; but it worked out just fine, although I occasionally had to rewind to figure out who was speaking.

We hear the story of Athena’s journey through the eyes of her parents, her teacher, a besotted journalist and his ex-girlfriend…and they all share really strong opinions about her! Conflicting opinions! It was so entertaining to go from the love-struck journalist to his poisonously jealous girlfriend, etc. Athena evoked strong reactions wherever she went.

The central question of the novel relates, of course, to self-discovery. (If you’ve read anything by Paulo Coelho, you probably know how important this theme in his fiction.) Here’s the pitch:

How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are?

While Athena discovers her own identity, we hear a lot about the New Age beliefs she comes to devote herself to—seriously, a lot. And they’re weird. As a foster-child adopted from a Transylvanian gypsy woman, and as a young mother, divorced and cast from the Catholic church, Athena struggles to recover from loads of internal wounds. She searches for her identity in a goddess who may or may not speak through her (depending on who is narrating at the time) and trances and dances and other, er, strange places. I admit that sitting in on these meetings is a little awkward, but the rotating narrators make it more fun than preachy. I love when authors use a multitude of narrative perspectives to share different versions of the same story, ultimately leaving the interpretation up to the reader.

And anyway, the central mystery—“What happened to Athena?”—has such a strong pull that I would have listened through ten more of her bewildering New Age sermons just to find out.

And then that surprise ending! Good stuff.

Overall :

A short, refreshing contemporary mystery by the bestselling author of The Alchemist.

Recommended To :

If you don’t mind wading through the weird stuff, I think you’ll be hooked by this posthumous tale of Athena’s self-discovery. Some have complained that it’s too preachy—most of Coelho’s books could probably find warm spots on those lists of “most controversial books”—although I didn’t mind at all. It’s a relatively short book and, I think, really brilliant.

****4/5 STARS