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review 2017-11-21 19:18
Harm
Harm - Hugh Fraser

(Edit: I keep thinking about the book, so will probably end up editing the below later this week.)

 

A knock wakes me. It could be hours later. I arrived in the early afternoon and now there is no light edging the curtains as I switch on the bedside lamp and move to the door. I look through the spy hole. It is Randall, suitably distorted by the lens, unless some effect of altitude or cabin pressure during the flight has caused his face to bulge hideously. I contemplate with some pleasure the catastrophic effect this would have on this narcissist, with whom it is my misfortune to share responsibilities, for the immediate future.

This was such a weird book - let me explain:

 

Rina, our MC, is a hired assassin. The book starts with Rina on a mission in Acapulco in 1974. Things do not go as planned and escalate quickly. We learn that Rina is one kick-ass character.

 

In the next chapter we get travel back to a slum in London in 1954. The estate is run by gangs who extort rent money from the tenants. We again meet Rina as a teenager, living in squalor with an alcoholic mother and two younger siblings. Living conditions are dire. People are horrible. The scale of neglect and abuse is off the scale.

 

From there on we get alternating chapters about the main plot - Rina's misadventure in Mexico - and the sub-plot - Rina's background story.

 

Structurally, the book worked well for me. I liked the switching back and forth between locations and stories, I liked the fast pace, I even didn't mind the constant first person present tense narration (I know that some people will hate this). 

 

The book is gripping throughout and very, very graphic. This also worked for me as a reader. 

 

What absolutely did not work for me was the amount of sexual violence in this book, mostly in repetitive descriptions, and the fact that rape was used as a plot device. That just never works for me.  

 

What made the book really weird was the fact that this was not written by Octavia Butler or Margaret Atwood. I mean I had serious flashbacks to reading Parable of the Sower and literally all Atwood novels I have ever read bar two - but especially the MaddAdam books.

There was not a single decent male character in sight. None. At all. So weird.

 

Not that the female characters were all that great, but they were more fleshed out at least, but then there was a bit more focus on the female characters as the story also featured a couple of lesbian romance plots. 

Ok, with everything else going on this book, that actually made me laugh as I did not see that coming. Still, so weird. 

 

Still, with all its problems, I found it hard to put the book down. Partly because I was stumped by the book. I mean, it reminded me so much of Butler and Atwood but it obviously seemed to lack the feminist/political message. Or did I just miss it because I obviously could not see beyond who the author of the book was?

On the other hand, it reminded me of The Bourne Identity. It was fast-paced and action-packed and it worked as just that - a quick read that was kind of entertaining, really weird, and did not require me to engage critical thinking too much. 

 

But at the end of it all, the overwhelming thought I am left with is: WTF did I just read??!!

 

Harm was Hugh Fraser's first book. According to his bio, Fraser had the plot of the book mapped out before he embarked on a short creative writing course to finish the book. I think it shows somewhat as the choice of narration may not have been the most advantageous (first person present tense does not work all that well for most readers), but it did add to the immediacy of the narration. He's written two sequels to Harm and I am still really curious about them. But I can't tell whether I am curious about them because of the oddness of Harm or because I really dig Hugh Fraser as an actor (not just as Hastings, btw.).

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text 2017-11-18 16:43
16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square #14: December 12th - 24th - Las Posadas
Harm - Hugh Fraser

Question: For the book task for Las Posadas, does the entire book need to be set in Mexico?

 

I have just started Hugh Fraser's (yup, THE Hugh Fraser - as in "Hastings") first novel, and it is set in Mexico and the UK from what I can tell.

 

It's a kinda gritty crime noir type of thing ... which has already had me chuckle a couple of times, as the MC, a woman assassin, seems pretty kick-ass.

 

I had no idea Fraser wrote books (there are three in this series so far apparently) until I checked his Twitter profile a couple of days ago. Has anyone read any of them?

 

Book themes for Las Posadas:  Read a book dealing with visits by family or friends, or set in Mexico, –OR– with a poinsettia on the cover. –OR– a story where the main character is stranded without a place to stay, or find themselves in a 'no room at the Inn’ situation.

 

 

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review 2017-09-27 00:40
Damage - Eve Ainsworth Damage - Eve Ainsworth

Trigger warning: Self-harm. Uh, a lot of self-harm. Almost every chapter has some explicit scene about self-harm, I'm not even kidding here.

 

This book was terrible. I've read Eve Ainworth's Seven Days, and that was bad too, but this one manages to be worse. I mean, when I saw that the book would be talking about self-harm and stuff, I was really excited to see how it would handle it. I thought it might actually turn out to be interesting to read.

 

Which it was, yes - the self-harm itself is dealt with appropriately and I can appreciate that. The author certainly did her research in that regards. However, most of the book is unreadable due to one fatal oversight, and it is this.

 

The main character has an atrocious personality, bitches at everyone, is judgmental, a complete hypocrite, treats her entire family like shit, is selfish to no end, and is overall a really shitty person and I really didn't care about her life.

 

I mean come on. To start off with, the book was just depressing. Really depressing, even before any mention of self-harm came into it. I could not STAND Gabi and started skim-reading parts where she started doing her internal monologuing (which she did a LOT) because she was just moping about and whining about her grandpa.

 

Everytime her mum turned up, I would tense up, because Gabi spends most of the book screaming at her mum or fighting with her, even though it's obvious that her mum is actually trying to help or repair the rift between them. Does Gabi notice this? Oh, no. She just continues to be this really shitty daughter and I cannot believe that the author would expect us to root for her.

 

The blurb on the back of the book says something like "Confident, popular Gabi has a a secret, a secret so terrible she can't her family, or her best friend" - okay let me just stop you there. I never got the feeling that Gabi confident or popular. She's constantly depressed all the time and I never got the impression that she was a "popular girl" or anything...but whatever.

 

The actual self-harm scenes were done well and conveyed a lot of emotion. Gabi started cutting herself every other chapter and going on similar self-harm websites, and then she remembers that there was this other girl she used to know who was always cutting herself. What does she do? Oh, she goes up to her and calls her "a stupid bitch"...yeah, thanks Gabi, you're really increasing my respect for you here.

 

At the end of every chapter, you get a flashback of Gabi's memories with her grandfather. Actually, I started to warm to him. I enjoyed reading about him. He was a character that seemed well-thought out and didn't make me want to throw up everytime he spoke. Unfortunately, he starts to become pretty shitty towards the end of the book, so that's that part gone and wasted.

 

I really didn't like any of the characters. Gabi's friends didn't appeal to me. There's a guy who she ends up with and he made no impact on me whatsoever. Oh, and there's a fucking love triangle between two guys, neither of whom I care about. I cared a little about her best friend, with whom she almost never opens up at all.

 

Oh, and near the end, one of Gabi's friends mentions to her that yes, we knows you've been self-harming, we can SEE the marks on your skin whilst you're skating. So she's completely failed in covering it up, too.

 

If I was a bit younger, I might have said that Gabi acts like a total shithead because she's a "typical teenager" - well, that's not quite true. She's a bit TOO stereotypical. I know that not all teenagers act like this, but she just whines and bitches at her mum and is just so negative all the time! It was intolerable.

 

Now, the book actually improves in the last couple of chapters or so. We learn that the real reason why Gabi is like this is because she feels responsible for the death of a loved one. Okay, thanks for clearing that up, because before then it literally felt like she was just really really sad about her grandpa.

 

It was actually readable in that last chapter because her mother opens up to her, and for once Gabi isn't screaming her head off at her and they're actually having a proper conversation. No idea if that will last. It almost felt out of character because she'd spent the entire book hating her mother. Her mum would notice her scars and be concerned about her but no, our protag just throws it back in her face and even does her physical arm in one chapter.

 

Although it did improve at the last second, it's really not enough to save this book. Yes, it told us quite a bit about self-harm, but our protag was such an awful person that I honestly felt dissuaded from reading this at all. There are better ways to do this. Focus on the tragedy as well as the mentality of the individual. The love triangle was half-assed too.

 

All in all, I can't give this more than a 2/5. God, this was a trainwreck.

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review 2017-05-13 18:21
Made me think, don't agree with all of it.
Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair - Sarah Schulman

"Snowflakes." Liberal college campuses are denying speakers freedom of speech. Oh, don't like what I said? Do you need a safe space? Are you triggered? Are you upset over the election?

 

While this book is not specifically about any of the above, I definitely thought of some of the ongoing discussions/arguments (depending on how you put it) and the conflicts that arise. Author Schulman takes the reader on why and how things like texting and emails are harmful for communication, the difference between conflict and abuse (and how to resolve them), how this dynamic can manifest on both the personal level and within the public sphere, and so forth. 

 

I was not familiar with her background prior to reading this book but despite some of the mixed reviews I thought this would be an interesting book that would be good reading. And it was, but I'm not sure how helpful this can be since I couldn't help but feel the author is writing very much from her own personal experiences (which in itself is not terrible but not always applicable to other people) and may not fully realize some of the complex issues that go on in many of the situations she writes about.

 

For example, I honestly wondered if she's had bad experiences with the silent treatment or ghosting. She blames the person who refuses to talk for "withholding" and that it's detrimental to everyone involved. Or she talks about an example of receiving an email cancellation for a lunch date and says "Email creates repression and anxiety" (pg 45). She honestly reminded me of anecdotes that I've heard where the romantic relationship ended yet one partner insists on "hashing it out" or "working through our issues" or whatever but it becomes a long, dragged out process where's clear that partner just doesn't want to let go and often doesn't accept it until the other party deliberately puts up barriers (cutting off all contact, blocking on social media, sending a third party to communicate to leave them alone, etc.).

 

Or, in another example in the introduction, she talks about how her high school guidance counselor warned her not to tell her parents about her sexual orientation due to their homophobia. She writes that by doing so "he upheld the distorted thinking, unjustified punishment, and exclusion." Schulman continues to write that if she is in a similar situation now with her students, she offers to speak to the parents, to provide alternatives, "to intervene and stand up to brutality in order to protect its recipient and transform their context" (pg 27). 

 

I honestly found that quite misguided. She made it about her and what she would do but what about the students? What is their background, could they be in danger if they were outed to their parents/peers/community, do they have resources, do they WANT to come out? I do not share her experiences but this made me incredibly uncomfortable. Certainly there are many situations where having someone like a professor speak on your behalf can be quite helpful but I was puzzled by the lack discussion on the possible dangers too. 

 

That said, I think there is merit to the book. I can agree that sometimes there is a reaction for too quick of a judgment in situations that really could be resolved by an honest conversation where both parties do want to resolve the situation before it escalates. Email and texting are handy as forms of communication but sometimes there is an essence lost when communicating that way. 

 

But in the end, I feel the author thinks there should be a greater level of engagement and assumes too much: that both parties want to resolve the situation amiably, that there is an equal dynamic (the want for communication *can* become abusive by demanding someone's time, emotional labor, maybe even money if it requires travel or phone minutes, etc.). On a personal level I can respect that and have encountered people who feel the same way that Schulman does: more communication, that people should be willing to educate, etc. But I do thinks she projects a little too much of her own personal preferences and feels entitled to something that not everyone wants to give.

 

People also liked her chapter on HIV and the chapter on Israel and Palestine but honestly I can't help but be a bit jaded as to how much of her own personal biases may have played a part after the initial chapters. They were also not topics that interested me (and quite frankly felt out of place--sometimes the author really didn't do a great job in switching/transitional between the personal and the not so much). At times it also felt like the author put down a lot of words but didn't actually SAY anything substantive.

 

Again, it made me think and I would be interested in reading more but at the same time it felt like the author is in a bit of a bubble. I'd borrow it from the library or get it as a bargain book.

 

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review 2017-01-22 21:16
So Simple With Such A Big Return
Power of Breath: The art of breathing well for harmony, happiness, and health - Swami Saradananda

4.5
Breathing is the basic function we can control. Breathing well can change your thinking, physical abilities and more. I loved the connection taught, between breath, body and mind. The yoga addition was a bonus I did not expect. I practiced several of the techniques daily and found and immediate change in my perception to the world around me. I didn't feel so on edge, so negative, I had a sense of calm acceptance that was good. I felt really good. I can't wait to see where I can go from here.
Easy simple techniques
Uncomplicated yoga
Small time investment

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC

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