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Book Review: Desire Untamed

March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted in July 2009 and written on my friend’s couch after we had both read the book and had spent a good amount of time giggling over it.

Here’s the problem: We have a band of sexy shapeshifters who need to find the one woman who can replenish their energy so they can continue to battle against those who would wish to eliminate them. They finally find her, but she has no idea that she’s important and that she’s not really human.

What to do, what to do.

Thankfully, the language of sex translates into every language, so really what we need to do is get her all hot and bothered so she’ll be more apt to understand the gravity of the situation.

No, really. The logic is infallable.

What really gets me about the book is that it all seems perfectly logical when you’re reading it. Did I just say an erotic novel involving men named Lyon and Paenther was logical? I know. I can’t fathom it, either, but once you’ve suspended your disbelief for the duration of the novel, it actually works.

I’m as shocked as you are. A well-written erotic fantasy novel; do go on. What’s next, a Danielle Steele book that doesn’t involve a young woman having an affair with an older man?

Palmer, Pamela. Desire Untamed. Avon, 2009. Print. ISBN: 006166751X

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Book Review (kinda): The Help

March 20, 2013 2 comments

Editor’s Note: This post was initially posted on August 15, 2011.

This post may be a case of what-the-fuck-do-I-know fueled by this cold I have appeared to have contracted at some point (probably on an airplane) this past weekend, so I apologize if what I say offends you in any way, shape or form.

I went to see The Help over the weekend because I had enjoyed the book (by Kathryn Stockett) quite a bit. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it’s…well…to me, it’s really two different stories. On one hand, it’s the Bildungsroman of Skeeter Phelan, a white girl who feels pressured by the mores of her class to be something she’s not–a ditzy society woman whose sole purpose is to get married and pop out babies. On the other hand, it’s the story of black maids in Jackson, MS in the 1960s, just at the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. The stories intersect at a point where Skeeter enlists the help of two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, to write a book (also titled The Help) about what it’s like to be a black maid in Jackson, raising white children and still being treated as less than human even a hundred years after the Civil War.

But this isn’t a review of the book or the movie. This is my reaction to other people’s reactions because I wonder if, as a white, middle-class woman, I just don’t get it or if other people are completely missing the point.

I read this post on Feministe about it and the first thing Jill says is

Haven’t read/seen it, won’t read/see it* and was generally squicked out by the whole premise of the book to begin with — let’s tell a story that is kinda-sorta about race but more about how these nice black ladies helped white women Find Their Voice, from the perspective of white women of course — but this statement from the Association of Black Women Historians is worth a read.

So…let me get this straight. She hasn’t read the book, but she feels like she’s qualified to judge the content anyway. That irks me on principle. How can people expect to be taken seriously about a topic if they haven’t done the prime research? I mean, I dislike the whole Twilight opus, but at least I read the first two books…but I digress. I could write a whole post on my annoyance with people who hate on certain pieces of literature without actually reading them.

Back to my point: if you notice, there’s a link up there to the statement from the Association of Black Women Historians up there, and that’s really what’s got me wondering if I’m being insensitive or if, perhaps, they’re the ones who just don’t get it.

They do have a few good points such as

Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated “black” dialect. In the film, for example, the primary character, Aibileen, reassures a young white child that, “You is smat, you is kind, you is important.” In the book, black women refer to the Lord as the “Law,” an irreverent depiction of black vernacular.

And…uh…I guess that’s really the only statement that I 100% agree with. The white women in the book aren’t given accents in the book even though the chances that they had them, living in Mississippi in the 1960s, is pretty high, and I was definitely uncomfortable with the way Aibileen talked to Mae Mobley (the “young white child” referenced), but the rest of the statement makes me feel like I read a completely different book and saw a completely different movie than the ABWH read and saw.

For example, this quote from the statement:

We do not recognize the black community described in The Help where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive, or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood.

The story was about women and their relationships to each other. To call out that black men were specifically portrayed poorly feels like looking for a reason to be angry for the sake of being angry.

Even the white men played a very small role in the movie (though slightly larger in the book). The slight subplot about Skeeter’s boyfriend was underdeveloped and almost could have been done away with completely without affecting the movie in the slightest, though I imagine some purist somewhere would have cried out in horror at the thought.

But the thing that bothered me the most was the statement that

Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.

I don’t think that Stockett is suggesting to anyone that “the most dangerous racists” were the young society women in Jackson. She was, however, pointing out that racism can be hidden where you least expect it–even the women raised by the black maids hired by their families, whose major Junior League fundraiser is for the “Poor Starving Children of Africa” can draft a “Home Help Sanitation Initiaive” encouraging people to build separate bathrooms for “the help” (because they carry different diseases than us, of course).

That kind of racism is subtle, almost casual. It’s the kind of racism that causes the same person who wrote the above Initiative to tell Skeeter, when she finds a copy of the Jim Crow laws in Skeeter’s bag, to be careful because there are “real racists out there.” It’s the kind of racism that people don’t think about–whether that’s “the most dangerous racism” or not, I do not pretend know.

But maybe I am missing the ABWH’s point, but I’m not sure I am. What it feels like instead is that the ABWH wanted a different book and a different movie. They wanted one that took into account all the facets of racism in Mississippi in the 1960s and wrote a completely historically accurate novel, but instead they got a slice–just a piece of a certain subset of people and the racism that existed (exists?) there, but instead of seeing an opportunity to get people interested in an unexplored part of what was going on during the Civil Rights Movement, they want to focus on the story that’s less palatable to them: the “coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own.”

Which, I think, is a little short-sighted.

Book Review: A Suitable Boy

March 13, 2013 1 comment

Editor’s Note: I am trying to move all my book reviews that I’ve put on various blogs into one place, so the next few entries (at least the ones on Wednesdays) will be repeats while I clean house. This was originally posted on April 20, 2010.

When I was in college, my Victorian literature professor said that she felt that everyone should have to go through what she called “the long read,” and because the Victoria era was known for its novels, she felt that class was the perfect opportunity. She assigned us David Copperfield (which I’ll admit I didn’t finish, but only because I lost the book when I was about two chapters from the end; I think I wrote a paper on it anyway–sorry, Dr. Cronin).

At that point in my life, I had looked at the book, considered what I normally read and shrugged. It wasn’t a particularly long book as far as I was concerned. By middle school, I had gotten to the point where I was actually choosing books by how thick they were over what the books were actually about. This netted me a glut of Stephen King novels and the first half of the third book in a Tad Williams series that I still haven’t read.

For the tl;dr people: Thick books don’t scare me.

Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is 1,488 pages long.

As seen here with iSoldmysoul.

As seen here with iSoldmysoul.

When I saw it on the shelf, I licked my lips in anticipation; I just knew it would be delicious, but I didn’t buy it.

The next time I saw it, I picked it up and read the back, but I still didn’t buy it.

Months passed, maybe even years. My father bought me a Kindle for Christmas. I immediately looked up the book to see if I could get it on my new eBook reader. No dice. Another year passed. I was at a Borders with my mom. She said I could have a book. I looked through all the new releases and popular books, but wasn’t interested in any of them enough to actually buy one. Then I passed the Ss and there it was, large and in charge, waiting for me to pick it up.

I suppose it’s a testament to my reading reputation that my mother even bought the book for me without mentioning how thick it was.

It took me a little less than two months to read which hasn’t happened in a while, and it was–in point of fact–delicious. I would say, however, that it’s not for everyone.

Quick Synopsis: The book opens with the wedding of Savita Mehra to Pran Kapoor. Savita’s mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, decides that it is now time for her to find a husband for her younger daughter, Lata, to marry. She seemingly enlists almost the whole of India to finding a suitable boy, though the book focuses on three–Haresh, a shoemaker; Amit, a poet; and Kabir, a student at Lata’s university, who Lata falls in love with, but (as far as her mother is concerned) is the least suitable because he is Muslim while the Mehras are Hindu.

Mixed in are the politics of the time–Pran’s father is a high standing member of India’s Congress party–as well as the activities of Pran’s brother, Maan, who is only slightly older than Lata. I had initially thought he’d be Suitor Number Four, but that didn’t really come to fruition the way I thought it might.

If you’re wondering how all that stretched to 1,488 pages, you’re not alone, yet somehow Seth managed to do it without it seeming like the book is dragging. There’s a lot of Indian poetry and a lot of political speeches (which I’ll admit I skimmed through at points). To be honest, I think the book could have been easily split into two books–one dealing with the actual quest for a suitable boy and one dealing with all the politics. Seth does unite all the different stories successfully, but they could have stood alone.

I’d say this book is an acquired taste. Like Brussels sprouts…no, wait, I don’t like Brussels sprouts. It’s like a fine wine…no, wait, that’s a cliché…ugh. Point being not everyone will like this book despite it being very good. For some people, it will be too long. Some people won’t like the poetry parts. Some people won’t be able to get past the politics.

For me, I was right there with him up until the end when Lata ended up choosing who I thought wasn’t the best choice. I’ve read a few other reviews that helped me understand why, and I suppose her reasoning made sense, but it might take me another read through of the book for me to come to the same conclusion.

I also read that A Suitable Girl is supposed to be coming out in 2013. I’m hoping that it has to do with Maan, but I’m guessing it’ll be finding a wife for Vran, Lata’s unmarried brother.

But before I wade into a second reading, I have this pile of books that’s begging, pleading, whimpering quietly, waiting to be fed…

Book Review: Old Man’s War

March 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you combined Ender’s Game with Starship Troopers, then tried to add in a little bit of romance? No? Well, if you read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, that’s pretty much what you’re going to get whether you wondered about it or not.

Not that this is a bad thing, exactly.

In Ender’s Game, kids are taking at a remarkably young age to go off and fight space battles. Old Man’s War is the opposite: At age seventy-five, citizens of Earth (well, the part of Earth that didn’t lose a war that’s never named, but that I imagine was akin to World War III) are given the option to sign up with the Colonial Defense Forces. The CDF’s job is to protect the colonists (from the parts of the word where the Earth is so messed up that it can’t sustain the population it produces [see: India]) from various alien threats.

As a part of enlisting, citizens give up a few things:

  1. They can never go back to Earth
  2. They can’t communicate with anyone on Earth (though they’re technically allowed, it’s functionally impossible).
  3. They are no longer citizens of Earth and for all intents and purposes are legally dead on Earth.

You might be asking yourself, “But why would anyone choose to give up their life on Earth?” Quite simply, the answer lies in two points: you cannot enlist until you are seventy-five-years-old and the CDF will make you young again. No one really knows how the CDF will make them young again, but enough seventy-five years old are tempted by the offer that the CDF is never lacking for new recruits.

Old Man’s War follows the military career of John Perry, a writer who decides to join the ranks of the CDF because his wife and he had made that decision years ago, even though she died six years earlier. After going through the sign up routine, he’s sent into space, made young again (no, I’m not going to tell you how), trained, then we move into the Starship Troopers portion of the novel.

When I say the book turns into Starship Troopers, I don’t mean the gritty moralistic novel, but that ridiculous movie from 1997 that I am still convinced was made by someone who had never actually read the Heinlein book. Perry and his friends fight the ritualistic Consu, the singing Whaid, the one-inch-tall Gindalians, and the somewhat less technologically advanced Rraey. Oh, and there’s some sort of sentient slime thrown in there, too. The humans kill all of these alien species with the same gusto that Rico spent killing the Bugs–diplomacy isn’t an option, only splatter.

Interspersed throughout basic training and basic killing is the fact that Perry misses his wife. A lot. Probably more than any man has ever missed a woman. So when he sees her on the planet Coral after a pretty decisive defeat by the Rraey, he at first thinks he might be hallucinating, but then finds out that while it’s not technically his wife, it is mostly her DNA. It’s at this point in the novel where I threw my hands in the air and thought, “I knew that was coming, and here it is. If they don’t go skipping off into the sunset, I’ll eat my hat.”

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple because, as I found out shortly thereafter, this is the first book in a series which I did not know going into the whole mess, so now if I want to find out what happens to Perry and his wife-who-isn’t-his wife, I’m going to have to wait until both their terms of service are up.

Scalzi, John. Old Man’s War. New York, NY: Tor, 2005. eBook. ISBN: 0765309408