Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Review: "We Should All Be Feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I think I first saw this in a bookstore not long after it was published.  I was curious about it, but was quite frankly too cheap to pay so much for such a skinny book.  Fast forward to this year, where I'm reading all that I can, and I came across this title and realized that I never did go back and read this.

So I corrected that oversight on my part.

And I think everyone should read this.  It should be required reading in schools.

Adichie reworked her 2012 TEDx talk of the same name into this print version.  It is just shy of 50 pages and succinctly breaks down why being a feminist is not an insult, tears apart common counterarguments people use against feminists, and does so in such a simple way that anyone can understand.  She does this using her perspective as a woman from Nigeria, and proves to me that gender inequality can look the same anywhere.

So, in all sincerity, go out and read this.  This is important.

*****
We Should All be Feminists
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Anchor Books, 2014
49 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review: "The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison

Jodi and Todd have been together for twenty years.  Jodi is a part time psychotherapist who takes great pleasure in caring for Todd, cooking elegant meals for him, and keeping their condo in pristine condition.  Todd has built up his property development company from nothing, and he takes great pride in what he has built.  He knows that he lives as comfortably as he does in large part to having Jodi by his side.  But he has a bawdy side too, with a list of regular bars he frequents as well as a mistress and a list of prostitutes he can call.  However, when his mistress (his best friend's daughter) becomes pregnant and wants to be married, Todd spins out of control and Jodi becomes something she never dreamed she could be:  a killer.

We are told straight away that Jodi is or will become a killer by the end of the book, so much of my reading became a game of "is it now?"  which is odd.  I'm not used to cheering on a killer.  And she is so unlikely!  She is basically a doormat, and a stuffy, uptight one at that.  She reeks of pretentiousness and is not anyone I could ever like or feel bad for.  At best, I pitied her for being so naive.  But I didn't think she would really become a killer.

Todd, on the other hand, is an asshole.  He treats Jodi like crap, actually he treats every woman like crap.  He is a sexist pig who drinks too much and would scream "mid-life crisis" if this wasn't how he acted his entire life.  He has no idea what he really wants in life and becomes a door mat himself when anyone (the mistress in particular) asserts dominance over him.  (Imagine what it could have been like if Jodi asserted herself in any way whatsoever?)

ANYWAY, this is billed as a psychological thriller.  It is psychological alright, but I'm not so sure on the thriller part.  I was interested, engaged - especially toward the end - but everything was all laid out in the implausible ending.  At least, I didn't buy it as anything that could ever really happen.  It will make for an interesting book group discussion, I hope, but in the end I'm pretty much meh about the book.

*****
The Silent Wife
by A.S.A. Harrison
Penguin, 2013
326 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Review: "Everyday Sexism" by Laura Bates

Wow.  This book is exactly what I was looking for.  Laura Bates began the 'Everyday Sexism' project a few years ago, as a way to compile people's stories in an effort to show how deep and wide spread sexism really is.  It also is a way to show victims of sexism, sexual assault, etc that they are not alone.  The project began online, and continues there at EverydaySexism.com.  You may add your story and/or read the stories that others have shared.

So why was this what I was looking for?  It has helped me feel like I am not alone.  It has helped me to realize that what has happened to me in the past does not define me or my future.  My heart broke over some of the stories, and felt uplifted for others.  I felt a weird sense of shock and vindication with all of the cited statistics included at the front of each section.  I loved that she included stories from many different ethnic groups, sexualities, gender identities (even hetero-cis-male) and nationalities to really drive home that sexism is everywhere (just in case you were somehow having trouble locating any instances of it in your daily life).  It really is a terrible thing to realize that nearly every woman you have ever known has experienced this in their lives.  It could be that they were told in some way that they were valued less than a boy (don't make a fuss), that they weren't capable of pursuing their dreams (girls aren't engineers; are you going to give up all that training when you get married and have a baby?), that they are just objects on this earth for the pleasure of men (cat calls, groping)...  and that is before we talk about sexual assault and rape - and how that is under reported, under penalized in the justice system, and often blames the victim (what was she wearing? how much did she drink? it isn't rape if you're dating/married).   And what about men?  Why do we call it babysitting when the father is caring for his children?  Why can't we just assume he'll be doing some housecleaning - and it isn't some sort of "favor" to his partner?  AND THEN if you include LGBTQ* or Persons of Color --- it just gets so much worse, because somehow their intersectionality gives more power to the perpetrators (which is total utter bullshit).

It makes me angry.  I'm sure it makes many of you angry as well.  The book finishes with a section on Women Fighting Back.  This was incredibly hopeful for me.  I was glad to hear of campaigns that are making a difference - including the Everyday Sexism campaign to get Facebook to remove photos of abused/assaulted women from the site.  I liked reading the powerful come-backs women had when cat called or harassed.  We still have a long long way to go...  and this government administration aside, I think we're making some movement toward equality.  Who knows?  Maybe this government administration is the common enemy we need to gather more support for closing the gender gap?  (Though I'd really not credit them with ANYTHING).

*****
Everyday Sexism
by Laura Bates
Thomas Dunne, 2016
406 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: "Carry On" by Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is The Chosen One, The Mage's Heir, and always a little bit out of place.  The prophesies seem to imply that he will be the one to bring down the Insidious Humdrum - the monster that is somehow tied to the dark holes of lost magic - and who always seems to be attacking Simon and his friends.  But Simon can barely control his magic... it always seems to blow up in his face.  Then there's Baz, Simon's roommate and suspected vampire who is always plotting against him.  Humdrum aside, Simon and Baz both seem to know that one day they will have to really fight, and one of them will lose.  But is that really how the story will go?

I have no idea why I waited so long to read this!  I think I may have even preordered it... and let it sit on my shelf for well over a year.  But I loved it!  I'll admit, the beginning takes a bit to get going.  There is a lot of world building and backstory to solidify, but once it takes off... it flies.  I almost want to reread Fangirl again, even though most of Simon, Baz, Penelope and Agatha are the fan fiction stories by Cath... I just want to see where this all started again.

Spoilers here -  I nearly squealed out loud when Baz first talks about how he feels about Simon.  And then when they get together.... "I'll be a terrible boyfriend, but I want to be your terrible boyfriend."  So perfect.  I loved that Penelope was not a love interest for either of the boys, and that she and Agatha had actual conversations and even talked feminism!  When does that ever happen in YA?  I loved it!

*****
Carry On
by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Griffin, 2015
522 pages
Source:  Purchased
****

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Book Review: "All Broke Down" by Cora Carmack

And with this, I am now caught up with the Rusk University series.  And I think I really like Carmack's stories and may have to dig up a few more.

This book focuses on the fallout from last season, and how it has affected star running back Silas Moore.  His best friend was arrested in the last book, and combine that with other reminders of his past that he's worked to get away from... he is losing it.  Arrested himself for fighting, he seems to be headed down a path of self-destruction. However, he meets Dylan Brenner in the holding cell - She has just been arrested during a protest. It wasn't her plan, but it felt right at the time.  She is done with trying to live by everyone else's standards and is ready to figure out what she likes.  Fireworks naturally explode between these two from the start, and they see if they can't help each other out - with a big side of flirtations and sexy times.

I read this in two sittings.  I didn't mean to, but I was so caught up in their story that I wasn't paying attention and it just happened.  Silas is such a lost puppy...  he's had a terrible childhood and knows that football has been his ticket to a better life.  So when football is threatened, he scrambles.  He doesn't know what to do.  His anger issues spiral out of control.  He recognizes Dylan as someone who has it all together, and someone that helps him feel calm.  She sees something in him too - this isn't a one way street.  But Dylan knows that she'd be a hypocrite if she forced Silas into dealing with his past if she didn't do the same.

There is one scene that really stands out for me:  Dylan is nervous hanging out with Silas's friends for the first time.  She unknowingly eats a pot brownie and it goes right to her head.  Silas, as he realizes what has happened, gets angry with the guy who brought the brownie and let Dylan eat it without telling her what it was and then focuses on taking care of Dylan.  He makes sure that she is safe throughout her experience and it was perfect.  (Also, Dylan high was kind of hilarious).

And now that I've seen what happened to one of my favorite side characters, I am eager to get to know her better in her own book  (which should be next - just not sure when it's coming yet).  I'll keep on the lookout though!

*****
All Broke Down
by Cora Carmack
William Morrow, 2014
357 pages
Series:  Rusk University #2
Source:  Purchased
*****

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Book Review: "Hey Harry, Hey Matilda" by Rachel Hulin

Every once in a while, a book will catch my personal attention when I'm ordering books for the library.  This was one of them... I had put a hold on it just as I placed the order for it.  Don't worry, it had received decent reviews... I don't order for the library based on my personal interests.

Harry and Matilda are fraternal twins in their early thirties and trying to work through their biggest disappointments in life.  She is a photography artists, making ends meet as a working wedding photographer.  It isn't what she wants to do, but it pays the bills.  She lives with a boyfriend she says she loves, but is also very aware that their entire relationship is built on a lie.  He is a writing professor trying desperately to get published and attain tenure.  He compounds his secrets as well, until their is a huge and public one that could jeopardize everything.

This takes the form of a fairly lighthearted tone, told completely in emails between the twins complete with a few photos and illustrations.  It reads fast, until it all becomes a bit disturbing.  It isn't just the present day secrets these twins are dealing with - secrets from their past are discovered as well and change their entire dynamic.   The disturbing bit starts with the level of codependency shared by Harry and Matilda.  It borders on creepy really fast, but it becomes normalized by their banter.  But then there is a quick turn out out of normal and you just don't go back.

*****
Hey Harry, Hey Matilda
by Rachel Hulin
Doubleday, 2017
276 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Book Review: "We Were Feminists Once" by Andi Zeisler

Ever since the election, I have made a commitment to myself to read more on the topics that mean something to me such as gender equality.  I have always considered myself a feminist, though I have doubts before - usually along the "am I feminist enough" train of thought.  I have never studied feminism or explored feminist theory or activism; I have just always wanted equality no matter the person's gender identification.

This book caught my eye on Litsy, so I ordered it up from the library.  I'm not going to lie, I'm leaving this book conflicted though generally better than when I started it.  In some ways I'm not sure this should have been my book to read...  but in other ways I think it was perfect.  This book goes through the history of the feminist movement, which taught me quite a bit.  That was a definite positive.

The author then breaks down how each "wave" of feminism has been co-opted by pop culture and capitalism which is important to realize and identify, but started to confuse me.  I felt like I was being given examples of how great it was that pop culture was talking about the positive notion of female choice and breaking down beauty standards and creating pathways for young girls to excel in athletics and STEM only to have that taken away and diminished by the ugly head of corporate marketing strategy and capitalist financial goals.  I get (and have always understood) that ad campaigns, even those that promote feminism, are still ad campaigns.  I did, however, especially enjoy the section on how ridiculously overused the word "empower" and "empowerment" is there days.  No, I don't think that wearing a t-shirt that says "I'm empowered" or choosing a particular band of yogurt is "empowering".  Give me a break.

This book does set out to explore exactly what the title describes - "The buying and selling of a political movement".   The writing is a little dense, and it felt like it took a very long time to read even though it really isn't that long. There is some humor sprinkled in here and there.. but not so much as to discredit the seriousness of the topic.  I'm glad I read it, but I felt like I was forcing myself to finish.

*****
We Were Feminists Once:  From Riot Grrrl to Covergirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement
by Andi Zeisler
Public Affairs, 2016
285 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Review: "All Lined Up" by Cora Carmack

Dallas Cole is finally in college, and while she had certain expectations (finally moving away from home, finally getting away from being the football coach's daughter, finally getting over her ex) it seems like none of that is happening.  She does get to move into the dorm with her best friend Stella, but she's still in her hometown.  Her father is now the football coach at her college, so no getting away from him.  She swears off football players, and by chance meets this fantastic guy named Carson.  But then they realize that he's the backup quarterback and she's the coach's daughter.  Carson doesn't want to do anything that could risk his place on the team...  but he can't stay away from Dallas.  And Dallas feels the same way.

I read All Played Out back in December, which is the third book in this series.  So this is me remembering why I never read series books out of order, and am starting over at the beginning.  Even though this has a ridiculous looking cover.  I mean, those people on the cover don't look natural at all, and are weirdly out of proportion.  ANYWAY...

I enjoyed how Dallas and Carson's relationship progressed.  I really appreciated the fact that they realized things were going too fast and they stepped back.  I loved that neither of them gave up on their dreams or goals for the other, instead they made room for each other and supported each other.

The one thing that I didn't really understand or that just didn't seem to fit in with the rest was their big conflict scene.  They are at a party, Dallas hears a rumor that upsets her and then she more or less throws herself at Carson "to feel better".  I just couldn't follow her motives at all.  It felt strange and forced.  But the scenes where they are together in a good way are hot and steamy and exactly what you're looking for in a new adult book like this.

*****
All Lined Up
by Cora Carmack
William Morrow, 2014
305 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Review: "Love & Gelato" by Jenna Evans Welch

Lina's life has changed dramatically in the past few months.  After losing her mother to cancer, she finishes the school year living with her best friend's family.  Now that summer has come around, it is time for her to honor her mother's wishes, and spend time with Howard - the father she has never met, has only started hearing about, and lives in a cemetery in Italy.  Once Lina arrives in Tuscany, she is given a journal that was written by her mother when she lived in Florence and details the love affair that led to Lina's existence and gives Lina hope that she will figure out why her mom wanted her to be here.  Lina also meets Ren (Lorenzo) another half American/half Italian who not only helps her deal with the journal, but also makes it way easier (and fun) to be living in Italy for the summer.

So obviously the cover drew me to this book.  Um, gelato?  Yes please!  I read this while on vacation, and I worried at the beginning that it was going to be this super sad cancer book that I would in no way want to be reading while vacationing at Disney World.  But it isn't like that at all.  Instead, it is a beautiful love story all around:  Lina getting to know and understand Howard and his role in how her life is now, Lina getting to know her mother and the love of her life, albeit posthumously, and Lina falling in love for herself.  The setting is beautiful... it helps that the author lived in Italy during her high school years, so it really feels authentic.  I've been to Florence myself, and I could bring back to mind some of the landmarks discussed perfectly.   And, yes, gelato.  In the book, Lina falls in love with a flavor of gelato called stracciatella, which is like chocolate chip but so much more than that.  I actually found a gelato place a couple days after I finished the book, and ordered myself a little stracciatella and it was AMAZING.

So there you go, a lovely contemporary romance in a beautiful setting.  And, gelato.

*****
Love & Gelato
by Jenna Evans Welch
Simon Pulse, 2016
389 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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