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review 2018-03-18 11:25
The Power
The Power - Naomi Alderman

The world is the way it is now because of five thousand years of ingrained structures of power based on darker times when things were much more violent and the only important thing was - could you and your kin jolt harder? But we don't act that way now. We can think and imagine ourselves differently once we understand what we've based our ideas on.

Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn't. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it's hollow. Look under the shells: it's not there.

One of the most written-about books of 2017, and hailed as a modernised version of The Handmaid's Tale, I had very low expectations of The Power. I'm not a fan of dystopian fiction and I tend to avoid hyped-up books like the plague.

However, I am a sucker for a great cover and so this ended up on my shelves.


The biggest surprise was that I found quite a lot about this book that held great promise:


I loved the epistolary exchange between the two authors, Naomi and Neil, at the beginning and end of this book. 


I loved the idea that the rise of the women was not due to a freak accident or a mutation, but was based on a power that had been there all along but had been, for want of a better word, forgotten. 


I loved that Alderman based so much of her novel on current events. 


I loved that there were male characters that were not horrible human beings. Well, okay, there was just one. But ... that is still one more than in many of Atwood's books.


I loved the snarky tone of Alderman's writing. Some of the dialogues and inner monologues was funny enough to make me smirk. Dripping with sarcasm, but it did make me smirk. 


Where the book fell flat, however, was that once the premise had been established, the story didn't seem to go anywhere. Or not anywhere new. It just seemed to follow the same old path of mayhem and carnage that had already been established by both the MaddAddam trilogy and Butler's Parable of the Sower. In fact, the insertion of Biblical tone and phrases reminded me a lot of Parable of the Sower, and the fight scenes reminded so much of MaddAddam that I spent the second half of the book wishing it would end. This had already been done, and done better. 


I really hoped that maybe, just maybe, this novel would have had the guts to dare to imagine the rebuilding of society after an apocalyptic event - the cataclysm in this book.

There are hints of this at the end of this book, but the story ends before it gets to develop this aspect. All we get is another iteration of Lord Acton's adage that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." 


So, while I really enjoyed the political side of this book that seeks to hold up a mirror to society with respect to the differential treatment of men and women, the execution of the actual story as a whole was disappointing.  

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review 2018-03-12 00:26
To be a Woman in The World
Men Explain Things to Me - Rebecca Solnit

So very good. I suggest that you read this if you have time. It's fantastic and there are so many stats that will make your head swim. To be a woman in the world means you are intrinsically in danger. Most of that danger comes from men and even from well-meaning men who just can't help "explaining" things to women.


It's hard to be at work in the position that I'm in it having to report to men who don't know as much as me about a subject, but often feel the need to tell me that something that I told them was totally not working in the way that it should be. And all cases it has been shown I was still right, they were still wrong, they just took very shity directions. I swear 90% of my job is now just responding to complaints about things that would be resolved if people would slow down and actually listen to me the first time when I spoke to them.


Solnit does a great job of breaking this up and focusing on key things surrounding violence against women, rape, rape culture, sexual harassment, and even why conservatives seem to have it out for women issues. 


"Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence."
"About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It’s one of the main causes of death for pregnant women in the United States. At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible."
"Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being."
Rape culture is now the topic of the day due to the me too movement, Women's March initiatives, and Hollywood's Time's Up cause. One hopes that these are not just flash in the pan social media blitzes and that there are going to be more thought and discussion on how to include all women as well as women in every industry. 


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review 2018-03-06 15:17
The Buddha in the Attic - Tight & Smart, until it's not
The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka

This is one of those novels you know the critics will adore. It's written in a different way, there is no main character, it's almost a book of linked sentences (though all books are that. I have no idea how to describe the writing.) Everything is a statement. Every sentence is structured the same way *for most of the book.* And that's where I dropped a star.


The group of Japanese women who narrate in a third-person "god's eye" sort of way for most of the book are the main characters of this book. They are young and naive when the book opens, all on the lower decks of a ship bringing them to America - these "picture brides." Idealistic, if conflicted, they believe their lives will be better in the US, despite their fears and concerns about loud, giant, hairy, smelly Americans. They're on the way to live with the Japanese men who have built the American dream in San Francisco early in the 20th century. When they get here, those men aren't all they represented themselves to be.


The women go from young brides to farm laborers to house maids to mothers, and then the tone shifts and we no longer hear the story from the group of Japanese women. Instead a nameless white woman (or women?) takes up their tale. She explains that they've disappeared, and for a while they think about these Japanese workers who were just here, until they don't anymore.


When the women become mothers, the structure starts to change. Sentences get longer and there are no more statement followed by statement lists. By the time the white women start to tell the story, it's no longer that tight, rigid and entrancing structure. Instead it becomes more like regular prose. I didn't like that change. And with our main "character" gone, I felt like a door had been slammed.


Now, all of that could mean that the author did exactly what she meant to do. These people were lost when they were imprisoned during the war. They couldn't speak for themselves, and apparently nobody cared to speak for them, plus white women don't speak like Japanese women in this book, this place or this era. Perhaps the nameless white women taking up the story or lack thereof represented exactly what it was supposed to. I don't know. I just know that it felt abrupt (like the move into the camps itself) and cold (again, like the actual history.) Then it ended, which isn't like history.


I am incredibly impressed with this sad tale. I just wish it had stayed in that format or given me more to hang onto through what was, in many ways, the most crucial point in the book: the end. Why could we no longer hear from the Japanese women? I know they disappeared, but we heard their private thoughts before that. Anyway, it's interesting and very short. Worth a read, if only so you can tell me why I'm wrong.


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review 2018-03-05 00:07
Victorian girl competes to get into forensic pathology academy in Dracula's castle. What could go wrong?
Hunting Prince Dracula - Kerri Maniscalco

This was an engaging historical romance read with mystery/thriller/horror elements depending on how jumpy you are when it comes to murder, vampire bats & huge spiders. (Man, that one scene took it to 110% horror mode for me!!)


It's not the book's fault, but I was super sad it didn't go into training montage/Harry Potter mode and double down on the competition to get into the bizarro forensic pathologist teens training academy in Dracula's creepy castle. Especially with the super-feminist Victorian girl trying to play on the same field as the boys, I wanted more of her competing for equal footing and to be recognized. Instead, the murder mystery element stepped up into centrefield. Which, it was cool the way they went in a different direction with the ending, I guess, and there were some truly unexpected twists, so props for that.


I think I prefer a little closer adherence to period-accurate perspectives in my historical fiction, to be honest. This leans more into an exciting, acceptable-to-2018-standards adventure territory. And the author had notes at the end pointing out which elements were research-based, and which were liberties taken for story purposes. But the feminist MC, although feminism did exist at the time, felt like she took things too far and in an inauthentic direction. To me, it felt preachy and performative, like if it were a film, she'd turn to the camera and make her argument, and then go back to playing her part. (Laurie R. King & Cat Winters do a spectacular job of integrating thoughtful feminist narratives in a period-specific narrative, if you want to read that btw.) But then again, it's not rare for teens to lack subtlety . . .


So in summary, so far this series isn't a personal favourite, but it is perfectly well done YA historical romance and makes for an entertaining read. Love the girl-forensic-pathologist angle, it's fun how historical characters who've become nearly fictional get woven in, and there's some very clever plotting going on. Props for accurate historical details and research at many points too. The love interest has an interestingly Holmesian character, and supporting cast are well defined and distinctive. 3.5 stars for a generally good read.

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review 2018-03-02 05:12
A feminist forensic pathology trainee takes on Jack the Ripper
Stalking Jack the Ripper - Kerri Maniscalco

Enjoyable historical fiction read with elements of mystery/thriller/horror depending on how you feel about all the dead bodies, and a strong teen romance bent. Good attention paid to historical detail in the world-building, but a very modern teen voice and attitude, so if you're a stickler for period-appropriate tone, that might bug you. I wouldn't have minded a touch more paranormal/fantasy, and, having just started in on the sequel, I'm enjoying the character dynamics noticeably more as they become more established, so if this first one doesn't grab you, you might want to hang in there for book 2. Pretty good unexpected twists in the wrap up too - fun when the book marketing itself sets you up for it.

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