Category Archives: Books & Reading

Review: Blackbirds / Mockingbird

#ReadingIsResistance

Blackbird
Chuck Wendig

Mockingbird
Chuck Wendig
Title: Blackbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-85766-230-9 (This ISBN is for a paperback no longer available from the original publisher)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Title: Mockingbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-4814-4867-3
Publisher: Saga Press

I like my protagonists dark and flawed, and Miriam Black is as flawed as they come.  I wouldn’t want to be me if my super power was being able to know how the person whose skin I’m touching is going to die and when.  That’s agony.

In Blackbird Miriam earns her living by hitching rides and ripping off the drivers.  Until she gets saved by Louis, a truck driver who rescues her from four college boys bent on having the good time they think Miriam is offering.

She’s convinced there’s no way to change what she sees, and that makes her even more bitter.  What’s the point of knowing if you can’t do anything about it?  She’s tried before.  But now that she’s met Louis and knows he’s going to die in 30 days saying her name, she has to try again.

And wow, get ready for a tough ride.  Blackbirds is rough, coarse and thrilling.  Wendig pulls no punches in setting this world up.  Miriam isn’t likeable, but she is understandable.  And the questions brought up by having a power like hers is fascinating..  Then there’s the question of who is worth trying to save, and who gets to make that decision.  There’s some true existential stuff going on in this book.

If Blackbird is about changing the destiny of one man, Mockingbird is about changing the destiny of many.  It’s about catching the serial killer preying on the girls who go to school in what is essentially a private, upscale juvenile detention center.  And the truly dark secret of this school is shocking, yet unsurprising.

Just as dark as Blackbirds, and possibly even more terrifying, Mockingbird has Miriam confronting her power, her past and the lives of others more deeply than before.  How does one come to grips with all the destruction she’s had wreaked upon her and has caused?

Chuck Wendig has joined Richard Kadry in my list of favorite urban fantasy writers.  They’re as terrific as their characters are bleak.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Review: Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia

#ReadingIsResistance

Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia
by Jean Sasson

Title: Princess – A True Story Of Life Behind The Veil In Saudi Arabia
Author: Jean Sasson
Published: 2001
ISBN-13: 9780967673745
Publisher:Windsor-Brooke Books
Twitter: @JeanSasson

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

No matter what we do, our future is linked to one prerequisite:  the degree of kindness in the man who rules us. (p. 138)

In some ways, Jean Sasson’s Princess reads like a breathless, salacious tell-all.  A behind the scenes story of life as a princess in the Saudi royal family.  But beneath the glamorous veneer are stories of torture, rape, and misogyny.  It confirms every horrible thing we Westerners have ever heard about the treatment of women in the Middle East.

The princess in this book is called Sultana Al Sa’ud who met Sasson in 1983 while Sasson was living in Saudi Arabia.  They became friends, and Sultana began to tell her story, which then became the book.

Behind the veil, Sultana is said to be smart and funny, and beautiful.  She wants the freedom to choose her destiny, the right to decide how to live her life.  But in front of the veil, Sultana is confronted with the reality that a woman’s life is never her own.  Especially a woman of the royal family.

The men are controlling.  Marriages are arranged.  Women and children are treated as nothing more than pets and toys.  Sultana’s brother gets all the attention and is allowed to do heinous things with no regard or reprimand.  He is after all, male.  And males of the royal family are given free rein to do as they like with the riches made available to them.

Females, on the other hand, are only allowed to do what the males allow.  And females are monitored closely.  There’s little that comes as a surprise in Sultana’s story.

Given this rich background, Sasson’s gossipy writing style  gives Sultana’s story a more fictional flavor than Sultana deserves.  There are many other reviews available which call into question the veracity of Sultana’s story.  I don’t quite know what to make of this so-called controversy.

My take away from the book is what one is supposed to take away.  Women are treated horribly in the Middle East and the world has much work to do in ensuring the civil rights of women.  I’m not sure Princess does much to advance that cause.  It reads more Jackie Collins than anything.  I’d suggest giving Princess a pass and read Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant science fiction series, Binti  or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, which are both more entertaining than Princess.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Review: Cut Both Ways

#ReadingIsResistance

Cut Both Ways
by Carrie Mesrobian

Title: Cut Both Ways
Author: Carrie Mesrobian
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-234988-0
Publisher: Harper

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Home feels like Angus, and it feels like her [Brandy] and I wish I could tell him that – tell both of them that.  (p. 116)

Will Caynes is torn.  Between his upscale mom, and his down and out dad.  Between Brandy and Angus, his best friends and lovers.  Most of all, Will is torn about his sexuality.

I read Cut Both Ways in one overnight sitting.  My tumultuous emotional life keeping me from rest, Will’s struggle kept me engaged.  As I’ve said in other reviews, I identify with the confused.  The not quite one thing, but not quite the other either.  These stories fascinate me not only because I want to see how the characters navigate this in-betweeness but because I identify so closely with their struggles.  Being turned against by people who don’t want to understand, being afraid to be our own in-between selves, that’s my entire life.  The fear is ever-present.  We just want to be accepted by those we love.

As I write this, I keep thinking of the other books I read with bisexual protagonists. Etta in Not Otherwise Specified is the only one who comes to terms with her sexuality.  She finds her strength in owning who she is, a performer who also happens to be bi.  Austin in Grasshopper Jungle and Will in Cut Both Ways, both struggle mightily.

In her Author’s Note, Carrie Mesrobian writes:

Bisexual erasure is the willful disbelief that people can be attracted to both genders, as well as the tendency to emphasize sexual identities in people that fit the observer’s own narrative, e.g. a man who is bisexual is really a gay man in denial; a woman who is bisexual is just doing it for male attention.  Bisexual erasure can be perpetrated by gay or straight people.  (p. 342)

Life is complicated enough without having to battle other people’s prejudices.  Will’s life is certainly complicated by the many lives he has to navigate, and while nothing in the end is resolved for him, he learns life does go on, and the complications will work themselves out.  Eventually.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Review: Grasshopper Jungle

#ReadingIsResistance

Grasshopper Jungle
by Andrew Smith

Title: Grasshopper Jungle
Author: Andrew Smith
Published: 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0-525-42603-5
Publisher: Dutton
Twitter: @marburyjack

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

This one has mutant praying mantises which eat the world, horny teenaged boys, and a protagonist who is confused beyond what he considers normal for an adolescent.

History chews up sexually uncertain boys, and spits us out as recycled, generic greeting cards for lonely old men.  (p. 30)

If history were written the way Austin Szerba told it, more people would be interested in history. On the other hand, Austin’s honesty about life in his dying small town in Iowa, his love for his girlfriend Shann, and his confusing love for his best friend Robby might be more than people might want to know.

Grasshopper Jungle is such a funny story, even while dealing with the grim realities of being a teenager in any time and place.  What happens is so fantastical that the science fiction/ fantasy nerd in me giggled even while hurting for Austin and his confusion about being attracted to both Shann and Robby.

A thing I learned about in my reading for February is called bisexual erasure.  Basically, it’s the ridiculous premise that there’s no such thing.  It turns into another way to marginalize people who identify as bi.  Being bi means someone’s not gay enough to be gay, and is thus unwelcome in the gay community.  It also means that they’re not straight and have no place in the straight community.   Bi people can buy into this as they try to make sense of their feelings.

Everything makes Austin horny.  He is, after all, an adolescent boy.  But when he thinks about how much he liked kissing Robby on the roof of a building in the minimall they hang out it, some form of “but I’m not gay” enters his thought processes.  It gets even more confusing when he fantasizes about a three-way with Robby and Shann.  Horniness is its own character in Grasshopper Jungle.  Every action, every thought is laden with horniness. Austin isn’t equipped to deal with this.  All he can do is write his history and try to sort things out.

As if Austin’s life weren’t complex enough, enter the giant, horny praying mantises accidentally unleashed by the boys while hiding from the bullies from a rival high school.

To dwell on the sexual aspects of this book is to give short shrift to the apocalyptic story line.  The mutant praying mantises may be horny, but they are also hungry and set about eating their way through the humans of the world.  Leaving the world a lonely, shiny toy box for the survivors, most especially Austin and Robby.

The deluxe underground compound the three kids stumble upon is its own special kind of character.  Straight out of the 1970s when smoking was in and shag carpet was the height of fashion, the compound has its own history stretching back generations to Austin’s grandfather crossing the Atlantic from Poland, winding up in Iowa and building a successful urinal company.

The survivors amount to Shann, Robby, and Austin with assorted parental units.  And the baby Shann has from the mid-apocolyptic sex she has with Austin in the compound’s bowling alley.

It’s a new world when they emerge back into the world.  Ending in the pristine snow of a sharp winter day as Robby and Austin get set to ransack the world for supplies and nifty cars it feels as though, despite the dismal prospects, life is normal and goes on, even in the face of the stark new reality they face.

Histories are actually full of conjectures.  Those conjectures become so accepted by descendants and readers that time itself is forced to rearrange its own furniture.  This is a new history and I cannot do such a thing.  (p. 367)

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

What’s Auntie Reading Now? Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper
by Kurt Beyer

Did Not Finish (DNF)

This isn’t about Grace Hopper, it’s about the evolution of software. It’s dry and gets technical. The clue to it not being about Grace came about a hundred pages from the end, when the author drops the bombshell that Grace was an alcoholic and wound up in the hospital because she tried to commit suicide. Nothing in the pages before gave even a clue what was happening to Grace that might lead to such an event. No more slogging for me! I’ll find another book on Grace to read. One that’s more biographical in nature.

Save

Review: Not Otherwise Specified

#ReadingIsResistance

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Not Otherwise Specified
by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: Not Otherwise Specified
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9781481405959
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Twitter: @hannahmosk

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

“Not gay enough, not straight enough, not sick enough, not healthy enough.  I am Etta Not Otherwise Specified.”  (p. 77)

When I was a SFF con-goer I used to describe myself as, “too mundane for the freaks, and too freaky for the mundanes.”  (Substitute muggles for mundanes and you get the picture.)

Reading Not Otherwise Specified took me back to those days, and all the others when I didn’t know where I fit.  That, in a nutshell, is the story of Etta, a black, bisexual, food disordered, high school student who wants to dance and get out of Nebraska.

Etta doesn’t fit in with her clique, the Disco Divas who shunned her when she had sex with a boy.  She doesn’t fit in with the others in her support group because she’s not sick enough to be given a specific diagnosis for eating disorders but not well enough to be considered healthy.  This, by the way is where the title comes from,  EDNOS – Eating Disordered, Not Otherwise Specified.

Throw into the mix an 14-year-old anorexic girl from a fundamental Christian family with a closeted gay brother who falls in love with a boy from another town, a new boy for Etta, and there’s conflict for all kinds of stories.

Sounds like the story of me.  Only, I’m white, straight, well above high school age, and I kick my food addiction’s ass every day.  But not fitting in, anywhere, that I know like it was braille.

The thing I like most about Moskowitz’s writing is how relatable  she makes everything.  Etta is snarky, fearful and fearless, broken and healer.  Any one of her issues could belong to anybody else.  Every human has fought with their sexuality, not fitting in, not knowing where they wanted to go, afraid of doing something true to themselves because it might alienate someone.

Having changed my relationship with food not quite a year ago, this really resonated with me.  Read what Etta has to say about food disorders and recovery.

“Recovery was my choice, and sometimes it sucks like I can’t believe.  But the truth is I am really damn positive about it …”  (p. 7)

That might as well be me.  Recovery was my choice, and, in the beginning, it sucked so hard I would sit in my car in the parking lot and cry because I was afraid leaving the parking lot meant I would head straight for food.  And even while I was going through that, I knew I had made the right choice.  So crying in the parking lot it was.

Which leads into another issue I identify with so deeply, body image.  Etta wants to be a ballet dancer, has since she was a little girl.  But, her body is not what anyone would call ballerina friendly.  She’s too big and she lets a friend convince her that her body will never allow her to dance the way she wants.  So they give Etta’s toe-shoes a proper burial in the backyard.  Only, Etta keeps hearing their siren song, and with the help of her new friends, she decides  to exhume them and audition for musical theatre school.

“I’m the girl who’s too loud and too much and too big for a lot of people.  I’m the girl who got through two rounds of cutthroat auditions on her damn personality.”  (p. 246)

Etta learns at 16 what it took me decades longer to figure out.  I’m the woman who changed the way she relates to food, and gained a lot of confidence in the process.  I’m also the woman who can be too loud, and too much for some.  And, bonus points, I was too big for a lot of the world.  So yeah, relating to Etta is easy.

In the end, I found myself rooting for them all.  For recovery, living out of the closet, and dancing.  Etta inspired me.  Not Otherwise Specified also made me wish that I had known in high school what Etta learns.

Hannah Moskowitz deserves your readerly attention.  Etta deserves an afternoon with you explaining how screwy life is for those who don’t fit into a nice, neat, little box.  And follow Moskowitz on Twitter (@hannahmosk), because she’s a hoot.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save