That's What She Read
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- Depressing and yet hopeful view of climate change
No Queen for me
2020-05-22 15:00 UTC by Michelle
I thoroughly enjoyed The Women’s War by Jenna Glass, but the same cannot be said about its sequel, Queen of the Unwanted. In fact, I did not enjoy the reading of the sequel so much that I did contemplate marking it as a DNF. The only reason I did not do so was the fact that I wanted to give the author a chance to redeem herself and the story. Plus, I skimmed the last seventy-five percent of the novel to minimize the pain. When all else fails, skimming is your friend.
Unlike that first novel, there is so much to dislike in Queen of the Unwanted. First off, Ms. Glass provides no recap or reminder of what happened in the first book. There is nothing to refresh your memory on the numerous characters, the complex politics, and the magic that exists. You have to use context clues for most of it, but clues for how the magic works are few. While I appreciate the fact that the author tried to eliminate what can be a tedious part of any sequel, with the number of characters that narrate and the relative complexity of the world and its magic, to do nothing is a frustrating experience.
Secondly, there is no action throughout the entirety of its 592 pages. The story is literally one political maneuver after another. There is more worry about trade agreements and alliances than anything else in the novel. If I wanted a story about economics and government negotiations, there are plenty of other books that exist that tackle that topic. I do not expect a feminist saga about magic and power to include such mundane topics for so long.
Thirdly, there is absolutely no character development among any of its numerous characters. When I say numerous, I mean it too. If I remember correctly, there are at least seven different narrators around whom the story revolves. Yet, none of them show growth or maturity. All of them are jockeying for power in some fashion, but no one seems to be learning anything.
Lastly, as the narrators are solely in the upper echelons of their respective cultures, we never see how their decisions impact their citizens. We get hints that some of their policy decisions are not popular or have devastating effects for the lower classes, but we only see this world through its leaders. I am not a fan.
While the first novel was a fantastic example of feminist literature, there again is another area in which Queen of the Unwanted leaves me wanting. The only truly feminist idea in the novel is that it shows that women can lead a country as well as, or better, than men. Unfortunately, we don’t really see these female leaders do much of anything except negotiating political marriages for themselves or for others. Plus, we see the two other female leaders fight amongst themselves for power, showing the very same dangerous female relationships that any working woman will understand. The use of marriage as a political gambit does not feel very feminist to me, and no one wants to see yet another example of toxic female coworker relationships. So, the very thing which made The Women’s War so impressive is practically nonexistent in the sequel.
Sequels tend to get a bad reputation for not being as strong or good as its predecessor, but rarely have I come across a sequel that is almost its predecessor’s opposite, as is the case with Queen of the Unwanted. I remain shocked that a sequel could turn its back on everything which made the original story so good. The lack of action, the absence of character development, the missing recaps to tie the two stories together – they call combine to create a reading experience best avoided. After all, there are plenty of good books out there more worthy of your attention.
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It would be easy to dismiss Goldilocks by Laura Lam as a space drama. To do so, however, would mean ignoring the most interesting aspects of the novel, at your detriment. For, the power of the novels lies not in the fact that a majority of it occurs in space but rather all of the factors that brought the women together and keeps them on their mission.
At its heart, Goldilocks is a depressing and yet hopeful extrapolation of climate change projections and political policy harbingers. In other words, Ms. Lam simply looked at current data and political trends and made some guesses on what the future would look like should we, as a globe, continue on our same course. What she shows is not pretty. In fact, most of what she shows is downright depressing.
Thankfully, Ms. Lam does not dwell on what is but on what can be. Goldilocks becomes a call for widespread action to save the planet and save ourselves because, unlike in the novel, there is no backup planet. Even if there was, we still have no way to get there within one person’s lifetime. Ms. Lam shows that we all must make tough decisions and that those decisions must not mean abandoning our moral compass.
In addition to the climate issues, Ms. Lam presents a hypothetical scenario should current nationalistic tendencies in global governments continue. Anyone living in the United States for the past three years will understand the growing misogynistic tendencies occurring in healthcare and education and will recognize Ms. Lam’s future as a possibility, however distant. Readers immediately understand the frustration of all five women and the actions they take. Still, we must take heed of the warning and take steps to ensure the future of our daughters does not mimic Ms. Lam’s hypothetical one.
Goldilocks is a book club’s dream novel. It provides ample opportunities to discuss fact versus fiction and reality from imagination as it pertains to our current situation versus that posed by Ms. Lam. For those readers not in a book club, the novel still presents scenarios worthy of reflection and may even induce you to action. You can’t ask for more from a novel than that.
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I was reading through the reviews of a book about which I was contemplating marking it as a rare DNF for me, and one caught my eye. The reviewer gave it two out of five stars, and the only reason this person did so was that the book has almost no diversity outside of some skin color differences. This reviewer took offense that the author did not include any sex and gender diversity and therefore gave the entire story a negative review without really saying anything about the story itself.
A week later, I am still thinking about this review if only because it raises more questions than answers them. How should we approach a book review? Is it fair to judge a novel based on what is between its pages versus what is not? As the book community strives to become more diverse, should we critique authors on how successful they are to show atypical relationships and avoid gender norms?
I confess that the thought never crossed my mind to criticize an author for not adding some diversity to a story. I know some of that is because I identify as a white, heterosexual cis-female. I am only just beginning to grasp the idea of different genders and sexes. Plus, I tend to focus on the writing itself and not what is missing. I always try to include what does or does not work for me, knowing that reading is subjective.
Granted, there is no one way to write a book review and certainly no correct criteria upon which to base your critique. However, should there be? Should diversity in all forms be a requirement for a good book? I have no good answer, but seeing that review certainly got me thinking.
What about you – what do you think? How do you decide whether a story is good or not? What are your personal criteria when writing a book review or talking about a book to others? Also, what are your thoughts on judging a book based on diversity alone?
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- I’ve never been so thankful I don’t have a sister
In an author’s note at the beginning of my review copy of The Betrothed, Kiera Cass mentions that the 1500s era is one of her inspirations for her latest book. I mention this because it is an important note. The Betrothed is not a rewrite of The Selection series. It is a clean and somewhat idealized version of what it was like to be of noble/titled birth and have to live near the king. There are strict rules and etiquette one must follow at all times. There is no privacy, and there is almost always fear that one wrong word could have disastrous consequences for your family depending on the type of ruler.
That being said, I think Ms. Cass did a fantastic job of showing how stifling life at court can be, how limited you are in your ability to make independent decisions. Through other families, we see firsthand the terror an erratic or despotic ruler can create among his or her gentry. With Hollis, we get to see that being a princess or queen is not all presents and fancy gowns. There is a level of scrutiny that occurs with such high ranking that most people would struggle to accept.
I am giving the impression that The Betrothed is dark and dreary, and that is far from the truth. In actuality, the story is light-hearted, fun, and decadent, but it has a bite to it. Reading it is akin to wearing that perfect prom/wedding dress with shoes that slightly pinch your toes. Ms. Cass might like and write about all the pretty things, but she does not hesitate to go dark when the story requires her to do so.
To me, this ability to flit between the inconsequential and the serious is what I enjoyed most about The Betrothed. The romantic tension hides a more serious underlying story that I am anxious to see unfold. Hollis proves herself to be more than a pretty face and shows substantial grit at the story’s end. In all, The Betrothed is another strong addition to the book world by Kiera Cass.
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I have long been a fan of Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season series (and not because she has a fabulous last name ). I loved the first book so much that I recently wanted to start the series over again. Then, Ms. Shannon announced that her prequel novella, The Pale Dreamer, was available for free as an ebook, and it gave me the perfect excuse to immerse myself in the series once again.
The Pale Dreamer occurs two years before The Bone Season, and it gives readers the chance to learn a little more about Syndicate life within Scion. We also learn in detail how Paige Mahoney comes to be in Jaxon Hall’s employ and how she comes by her clairvoyance power.
At just over two hours in audiobook form and 100 pages in print, The Pale Dreamer will give you a good taste for Ms. Shannon’s writing style to help you decide if you want to learn more about Paige and the Seven Seals. For me, the audiobook reminded me how much I love Alana Kerr Collins’ voice. Her Irish brogue is strong enough to make her words sound like music but not so strong that she is unintelligible. Plus, it has the barest hint of someone who has lived in London for most of her life, just as Paige has. It is a beautiful voice, and I cannot wait to listen to more of it as I continue with the rest of the series.
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Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin is another one of those books I could not stop discussing with my family. Every time I stopped reading the book, I had to make a comment to whichever family member was nearest to me, if only to help dispel that creepy-crawly feeling that traveled over my body while reading. Every scene made me flashback to that time I owned a Furby and made me shudder with regret about ever bringing it into my home.
Not that Ms. Schweblin’s kentukis are Furbies, but it does not take any stretch of the imagination to imagine that they could be. The difference should be that Furbies were toys, programmed to act and move based on certain interactions by the owners, but Ms. Schweblin has me rethinking that. What if an unknown someone was operating that damn thing remotely and we never knew it? At least in Ms. Schweblin’s world, the people who brought kentukis into their homes knew that there was someone behind the camera eyes controlling the thing.
Then again, would Furbies have been as popular if we knew someone was remotely operating them? Ms. Schweblin seems to think so. Her idea of Keepers versus Dwellers and the popularity of her imaginary toy is downright disturbing. It quickly becomes a very pointed commentary on the social-media obsessed society we inhabit today. After all, we allow strangers into our lives with every selfie we take and post online. Is it such a stretch of the imagination to imagine how popular a toy that allows a perfect stranger from somewhere in the world to control a toy that sees and hears everything you do in the privacy of your own home?
The toy’s popularity also brings up more fodder for debate about the idea of relationships. For almost all of the Keepers, those who keep the actual toy in their homes, the kentuki becomes a pet, a friend with whom to share your life. But can they ever truly know the person behind the camera? Can you truly interpret the meaning of the growls and purrs this an inanimate object projects based on directions from the remote dweller? Is it a pet? Is it a toy? No one seems to know, and the differences in how each Keeper we meet interacts with his or her kentuki makes for one-half of a fascinating story.
We also see those who make up the Dwellers, those people who buy a connection and control a kentuki somewhere around the world. Sadly, the idea of dwelling – of remotely spying on someone else and seeing into a life completely unlike your own – is not foreign. After all, it is one of the reasons why social media is so popular. Voyeurism is innate to human nature, and dwelling is nothing but voyeurism in its purest form. Here again, though, we immediately hit snags. Some dwellers find the world they view through the camera so compelling as to forget about their real life. Others see horrible scenarios about which they can do nothing. Or so they think. Again, can we really truly understand what we see without a greater context? Does dwelling provide a bit of freedom with its glimpses into another life or does it merely trap us into false understandings?
Every connection in Little Eyes does nothing but prompt more questions about the definition of relationships and of allowing a stranger more visibility into your life. The story itself reads like separate stories collected under one title, allowing readers the opportunity to get an understanding of the infinite scenarios that might happen with these toys. The nontraditional format of the novel drives home the strange connection between Keeper and Dweller while also creating an excellent story in and of itself.
I would love to see Little Eyes become a popular book club selection. The discussion topics are endless, as no reader is going to have the same thoughts about kentukis and the experiences we see occur throughout the book. It would be even better if members of the book club also had Furbies back in the day because I think having had one impacts your reaction to the story. After all, I think the whole thing creepy AF because I remember that damn toy talking in the middle of the night and moving at random, scaring the shit out of Jim and me. Someone who did not have that glorious experience might feel differently.
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I have had Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld on my shelves for a very long time. In fact, it was the oldest audiobook I had in my Audible library. With the safer-at-home mandates, I figured there was no time like the present to pull some of these oldies out and finally get around to them.
Unfortunately, Sisterland is not good. I want to be nice and say I did not like it because I could not connect with the main protagonist, Kate/Daisy. I found her to be selfish, controlling, and interfering all while she spends the entire book justifying her behavior. I want to say that Ms. Sittenfeld’s story would be exceptional if you like Kate/Daisy. But I cannot do so because she IS the story. Hers is the only story we see, and she is the only narrator. If you don’t like her, well, you are going to be like me and not like the book.
Since all my problems hinge around my reaction to Kate/Daisy, here is why I found her to be a horrible person. And yes, I am going to spoil the hell out of this story. She is self-absorbed to the point where she thinks of herself and only thinks of others in relation to herself. All of her junior high angst occurs because she wants to hang out with the cool kids and never thinks how her going off with a different group of friends might affect her identical twin sister. The same occurs in high school and in college. We see Vi only as how Vi’s behavior affects Daisy’s life. I mean, she changes her name in college to her middle name because she is so embarrassed by being associated with her old life. The worst thing to happen to her is that the middle school girls called her a witch because she made her ESP known to others in an effort to appear cool and likable. For that, she maintains an eternal loathing of certain girls, well into adulthood, and lives in fear of being recognized as Daisy rather than Kate.
This selfish behavior escalates when Vi predicts the earthquake. From that moment, Kate spends all of her energy trying to manipulate Vi’s behavior so that it doesn’t embarrass her. She thinks nothing of Vi’s feelings. Hell, she spends $15,000, which she and her husband don’t have, in order to hire a publicist for Vi to control her behavior. Who does that? She does this without any discussion with her husband and just assumes he forgives her, which he sadly does. If that isn’t bad enough, she tries to prevent her husband, who has the patience of a saint, from going to a professional conference, at which he is presenting a paper, because this conference occurs on the day the earthquake is supposed to happen. She gets so bad at trying to guilt him into staying that she pulls out every stereotypical action in the book. Then, when he goes to the conference and nothing happens, she ends up having an affair with one of their best friends and justifies it because she was angry that her husband left. WHAT. THE. FUCK.
Kate/Daisy is one of those characters for whom I cannot muster one ounce of sympathy, nor can I empathize with her because her behavior is so far from logical and normal that I cannot put myself into her shoes. The fact that she ends up getting what amounts to a happily ever after ending – the husband forgives her betrayal and agrees to raise the illicit baby spawned by this one affair as his own – makes me sick to my stomach. Sure, Vi gets her happy ending too, but it is not because of anything Kate does for her. I wanted to see both Vi and the husband drop her like a hot potato and refuse to go near her ever again. That would have been the best ending, the only one that makes sense given Kate’s behavior throughout the course of the book.
So, yeah. I can’t like the book because I pretty much loathe the main character/narrator. I don’t have a sister, and most times I read about sister relationships, I feel like I am missing something. Not in this case though. I am so glad I don’t have a sister. There are enough things in our lives that control our actions every day. The last thing I need is an overbearing sister who is more worried about how I might embarrass her than care for who I am and whether I am happy. Two thumbs WAY down for Sisterland.
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- The one where I discover that family dramas are not my thing no matter how well-written the book is
Y’all. I love Emma Straub as a person and author. She is adorable in her online presence, and visiting her bookstore is on my bucket list. Plus, her writing style is perfection. She truly gets people and captures the most intricate nuances in her characters and settings. All Adults Here is another great example of her ability to create stories that are as real as anything you will come across in your everyday life.
The thing is, while I can appreciate just how well Ms. Straub writes and how amazing her stories are, including her newest book, I realized once and for all that I don’t like to read family dramas. They do nothing for me. In fact, they make me feel uncomfortable as if I am a total creeper voyeur spying on someone else’s life. Plus, they don’t help me escape my own life when I read. Parental drama makes me think about my own parents. Sibling drama makes me think about my brother. It is the exact opposite of why I read.
I am someone who reads to escape, so I want worlds that are unfamiliar, lives so not like mine as to be foreign. Ms. Straub in All Adults Here does not provide me with that. Her setting of a fictional town in New York feels universal and could be any small town in America. Similarly, the Strick family is normal, filled with the same doubts, bad choices, trauma, secrets, and flaws that make up any family. It isn’t escapism so much as it is a confirmation and potential comfort that you are not alone in your family’s weirdness or issues.
I get why such novels are popular, and I truly believe that All Adults Here is a gorgeous story. Unfortunately, it did nothing for me, and I was really happy when I finished it so that I could move onto something weird and fantastical. But this is me. Fans of such dramas are going to go ga-ga over this novel, and rightly so.
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If you have not noticed by the flurry of reviews I posted over the past month, I am still alive. Those reviews were my way of getting caught up with long-neglected items. I wrote the last outstanding review on Friday, which means I am feeling pretty good about myself. I think it has been at least three years since I had no outstanding reviews and am all caught up on review copies as well.
We are all handling this quarantine/safer-at-home edict fairly well. Jim works, exercises, and then works some more. He spends 95 percent of his workday on Zoom calls, which seems weird to me. I don’t know how he gets anything done, but he tells me that is the makeup of his job. Out of the three of us, he struggles the most with staying home and away from others. This is why I made him the family runner of errands. He is not always diligent about wearing his mask in public, and he does tend to socialize with the neighbors from less than six feet away. But I knew that this was going to be a difficult time for him. He craves interaction, and Zoom doesn’t quite cut it for him. It can be frustrating to see him at the neighbors or to see his mask hanging up at home when he is out, but we all have to manage the best we can, right?
Holly is doing surprisingly well. We might be struggling with appropriate bedtimes and then getting her out of bed each day, but I never have to tell her to do her school work. She might get up around noon, but she is online working within the hour and stops when she finishes for the day. While her dance competition season looks like it is shifting to this summer, her dance classes are now in Zoom format, so she gets at least an hour of dance each day to keep her relatively fresh. Between that and Snapping her friends, she is riding out the storm better than I expected. In fact, twice now she scolded school acquaintances for gathering in large groups outside without masks. Moreso than her father, she understands exactly what flattening the curve entails and accepts it. I am so proud of her and the maturity level she is displaying through all of this.
I am doing well too. After struggling with feelings of inadequacy and worry following my abrupt departure from work, I am now in a place where I am enjoying my time at home. I still have all these flashes of inspiration each night of all that I want to do around the house – wash windows, wash my cabinets, deep clean the baseboards, etc. – none of which gets done the next day. I learned to not feel guilty about it though and just pass each day doing what I want while trying to stay somewhat on top of basic house chores. I have no IRL friends, so I am not missing any sort of interaction with others. My job search stalled a few weeks ago, for obvious reasons. I keep looking and have alerts with four or five different websites, but at this point in time, I don’t relish the thought of going back to work to a physical location. I would still love to work from home as a freelance bookkeeper, but even that seems like a pipe dream these days. We should be okay financially for another month or two, and then my options start dwindling, but I am trying not to dwell on that and am enjoying the opportunity to do whatever with no deadlines, no conference calls, no company politics, no gossip, and no shitty bosses.
I have been trying to be more active on social media and have thoroughly enjoyed talking to you all through various mediums. Your support, especially on IG, has been amazing and very welcome. I hope you are all weathering this crazy period as well as possible and if you ever need a friendly ear, you know where to find me!
Have a wonderful Sunday and week, everyone!
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- Did you know there were different types of Puritans?
This is going to be a rambling review because I learned so much and had an absolute blast listening to this behemoth that I cannot put my thoughts into anything resembling cohesiveness.
I know you won’t be surprised when I say this but history books are wrong, y’all. The founding fathers were not this noble group of leaders. Based on Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, they were among some of the most egotistical, power-hungry people that I have ever read about. In fact, you have to wonder if a certain orange president models his own behavior after them because they were THAT. BAD.
For one thing, Thomas Jefferson was an asshat who ignored the truth for his entire life because to tell lies made him appear nobler than Hamilton. I mean, Hamilton sat through two different congressional reviews of his policies and actions while Secretary of the Treasury and was proved innocent of any wrongdoing both times, but Jefferson STILL told his followers that Hamilton misappropriated funds and continued to do so for the rest of his life! And that was only one example. Mr. Chernow includes so many other examples of Jefferson ignoring the truth to better his image for his followers.
One of the most egregious examples of this is the fact that Thomas Jefferson passed himself off as an everyman and accused Hamilton of being an elitist when Jefferson is the one with slaves and money and only hobnobbed with the crème de la crème of society while Hamilton frequently had money issues and was self-made. In fact, this is the image passed down to us by history because winners write the history books, and Jefferson had an additional twenty plus years to distort the truth about Hamilton after his death.
Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and their Republican party, led to the Civil War. Mr. Chernow doesn’t tell us so in so many words, but there are a lot of steps Jefferson and Madison take that have a direct effect on the North versus the South fissure. It makes you rethink everything you learned about the founding of the country and the causes of the Civil War.
Other things I learned – Mr. Chernow loves Alexander Hamilton. There is no removal of bias in this biography. To be fair, he does present Hamilton with all his flaws, like freaking admitting to an affair in the newspaper. But there is no doubt he adores Hamilton with his use of words like remarkable, talented, extraordinary, genius, gifted, brilliant, and any other positive adjective one can use to describe a person. I say this with the belief that I do not feel Mr. Chernow vilified any one person in Hamilton’s favor. He corroborates his more defamatory descriptions of certain individuals with letters from peers or personal writings to show how others thought the same. He is so careful to prove his point that it serves to drive home the point that pretty much anything you learned about Hamilton in school was incorrect.
In addition, if you think Lin-Manual Miranda told the entire story and that reading or listening to Alexander Hamilton is redundant, you are wrong. Mr. Miranda, among other things, played with the timeline of certain events. He ignored Angelica’s husband. He barely touched the feud with John Adams, who was a whiny little cretin. He misled his audience into Aaron Burr’s reasons for challenging Hamilton to the duel. He downplayed Hamilton’s and Washington’s relationship over the years. Plus, there were plenty of other scandals and details that Mr. Miranda could not include in his musical, if only because it would have made it ten hours long. Still, it was a lot of fun to come across a line in the book that ended up becoming a song in the musical, as much fun as it was to find out where Mr. Miranda played with history to tell his version of the story.
I cannot remember when I last enjoyed such a lengthy audiobook. At thirty-six hours, it is a commitment, and some of the details of Hamilton’s life requires careful attention to details. Still, I enjoyed every minute of this experience, including the huge swath of fiscal policy Hamilton created. Scott Brick is a fantastic narrator in his own right, and you can tell he had a lot of fun narrating this one. In fact, I think Mr. Brick has a man-crush on Hamilton himself. It makes the whole thing even more fun to hear an unabashed admirer of Hamilton narrate his story.
The musical made me a fan, but Alexander Hamilton made me a true believer in the man’s genius as well as the unfair treatment he received at the hands of his foes during his life and after it. Mr. Chernow spares no detail in examining the life of this remarkable man. I only wish he had written it after the orange president took office because I would love to hear some of his comparisons between past and present now.
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