I don't generally make a habit of posting my political beliefs in public forums, but that is a difficult subject to escape when reviewing a book about politics. I mean, it's possible. I could write something dull and impartial like, "GAME CHANGE is a great look into the 2008 election. Eye-opening. I enjoyed it" - but let's be honest, okay? Where is the fun in that? Plus, as it turns out, I actually have seem sincere thoughts on the subject. I know, what a surprise. A blogger having an opinion. Imagine that.
Since there's a fairly good chance Clinton might become president #45, I bought a few nonfiction books about her because I wanted to see what she's about. One is adoring, tinted by the rosy lenses of nostalgia - it's called REBELS IN WHITE GLOVES, and it's about Hillary Clinton, and the women in her graduating class at Wellesley, and how their ideals helped mold the world. This book, GAME CHANGE, is a bit more unforgiving. Everybody's friends in politics, except when there's an election. Then it's Mean Girls on steroids with million dollar smear campaigns - oh, and on Wednesdays, we wear flag pins.
The first two-thirds of this book are exclusively about Clinton and Obama, and their rivalry to secure the position of the democratic candidate. I remember these events pretty well, because this was the first election I ever voted in, so everything was new to me, and I was completely wide-eyed as I tried to take everything in. It was a pretty historic election period for the democrats, because no matter which way it went down, they were going to get a first - the first black president or the first female president. Regardless of who I voted for in that election, I'm surprised to say that I like Hillary Clinton a lot more this go-round. Like many others, her 2008 run left a bad taste in my mouth. She was ruthless back then, and not in a good way. Many of her tactics were low-blows, and she came across as unnecessarily militant with her policies for the Middle East. Some of that is explained in this book - she was put in a difficult position, forced to stand by decisions she made when the war was still popular, and afraid to go back on her decision and being a flip-flopper like Kerry. Part of the reason for her tenacity is because of who she was running against. Obama was unflappable, calm, cool, and collected, and it's hard to run against someone like that as a woman and still get your two cents in - too quiet and they call you meek and subservient, too loud and they call you a nasty woman. You really can't win. She's mellowed out now, and she's not making the same mistakes that she made before, which is very reassuring. She seems prepared and doesn't allow herself to be baited.
Some people criticizing this book have pointed out that Hillary doesn't come out looking like a good person, shrieking and screaming when things don't go her way. But Obama doesn't escape criticism, either, which I appreciated because some of his missteps actually explained a lot of the antagonism in the race. He slighted John McCain, turning down a position he'd been offered in 2007, and Hillary Clinton essentially took him under her wing when he was still a young senator, so according to the book, she felt like he'd betrayed her, and cut ahead of her in the presidential line. One of the reasons the race might have felt so personal was because it was; both of his opponents may have had cause to feel betrayed by him. And don't even get me started on John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth. I had no idea how messed up that situation was. A real sh*t show.
The Republicans and vice-presidential nominees don't make an appearance until the last third, where they're all lumped together with a quick conclusion and afterword. I actually felt a little sorry for Palin at the end of this - although the image of her surrounded by mountains of index cards as she studied policy with her increasingly frantic aides made me laugh a bit. It's interesting to think about how the election might have played out if McCain had ignored the advice of Rove and gone with one of his earlier choices of running mate, Joe Lieberman.The book ends on a happy note, with Clinton a little worse for wear but still as proud and indomitable as ever, being handed the olive branch in the form of Secretary of State by Barrack Obama. A decent consolation prize, as far as things go.
I couldn't do politics. I hate superficiality, and in politics it's all about that glittery facade that posturing politicos put on for the public, when really, the two parties are made of mostly the same stuff with different labels. Or at least, that's how things used to be. There didn't use to be that much difference between the two parties, except for a few key issues. Now, it seems like a number of things are partisan issues that shouldn't be partisan issues, like consent and civil rights, for example, and that rallies of some parties (one in particular) are becoming overrun with people looking for a platform to spew hate. That's one of the things that has me so upset about this election.
It's something that I think many of us have reason to be upset about with this election.
I love historical romance, specifically historical romance that takes place in Regency and Victorian times. I enjoy the language, the costume porn, the odd customs, the strange romance of it. But I would never, ever want to live there. We have a tendency to romanticize the past, and focus on the feel-goodsy aspects of it that make for good films and A+ school dioramas when the truth is, it's the past for a reason.
In UNMENTIONABLE, Oneill discusses all manner of R-rated factoids about the Victorian era that you most likely didn't learn in school. For example, did you know that those beautiful corsets crushed women's rib cages and moved their organs around (and also stank to high heaven)? Did you know that foundation was a heavy "enamel" made of lead? That soap contained arsenic? That strychnine and tapeworms were handy diet tools? That doctors had electric masturbation machines to treat women with hysteria? That underwear was crotchless?
I knew some of these facts because I read a lot of historical fiction, but others were new to me. And the tone they're delivered in is also very enjoyable. Oneill's writing style kind of reminds me of Gail Carriger's - affected, airy, light, and fun. It comes and goes at times, though, which can make the narrative seem off-balance. One moment, you're listening to the Mrs. Bennett from hell telling you gleefully why the heavy frippery of Victorian accoutrements made crotchless underwear a necessity for 19th century bathroom breaks, the next you're faced with a rather dry examination of food handling and hysteria. I can understand why the author might want to treat more serious subjects with more gravity, but it does leave the overall "mood" of the book feeling slightly off balance.
UNMENTIONABLE is a great book if you're interested at all in feminism, history, or Victoriana. I'm interested in all three, so it was a delight to receive this book from Netgalley for review. I enjoyed every chapter and learned a lot of interesting and disturbing facts that will make me look at my favorite romances differently (or perhaps not so differently in the case of my bodice rippers). I sincerely look forward to this author's future projects! Maybe 18th century France?
One of the chief complaints about the YA genre - especially the books being targeted and marketed toward young women - is that they are becoming increasingly derivative, and seem to focus only on the romance. BLACK CITY is a perfect example of that: it's a book that can be neatly summed up by asking "what happens when you smush together DIVERGENT and TWILIGHT?"
I haven't given a one-star rating in a while, and to be honest - it feels weird. It's been so long since I read a book that I thought was bad, that I forgot what the actual experience was like. The incredulity. The frustration. The boredom. What really annoyed me was how much I wanted to like BLACK CITY in the first place, because vampires are awesome, and a dystopian society involving vampires should also be awesome, because vampires and oppression. Plus, that cover. That's a cover to take home to mama.
The problem starts with the world-building. The author employs a lot of really clunky terminology, like "Darklings" for vampires, "twin-bloods" for half-breeds, "Sight" for vampiric thralls, and "the v-gene" for...a special gene that lets you 'sense' vampires, I guess. There's also different classes of vampires, with different colored hair and eyes, and some have wings, and then there's this degenerative necrosis-inducing disease that only affects vampires that's called Wrath, which makes their skin rot away. Got all that? But wait, there's more -
They call the trance-like state humans go into "Haze", which is confusing because Haze can also be sold in a bottle in drug form, and sometimes it is especially potent, which is called Golden Haze. And then there's these creatures called "Bastets" which appear to be shape-shifter leopards who have venom in their teeth. Trackers hunt the Darklings after curfew, protecting the Sentry, or the ruling government class, from Workboots (the poor) and the Legion (vampire revolutionaries). Violating the various laws that are in place to fraternize with a Darkling makes you a "race traitor."
The world all of this terms are used in isn't much clearer. I think it's supposed to be an alternate version of our world, except for some reason all of the states in the U.S. have been split into nine megastates with lame names like "Emerald State", but it's never really explained. Also, why are we a fascist, cultish dictatorship with a fascist, cultish leader? What happened? I never voted for this guy!
By the end of the book, I mostly had a handle on all the terminology, although I was still eying the world skeptically (what happened to the rest of the world? This is exactly what happened in DIVERGENT - Future Chicago went to heck in a hand basket, but was that an isolated incident? A reality TV show that the rest of the world just watched in amusement while shaking their head and going, "Oh, Chicago, you silly little cinnamon rolls, what will you think of next?") Also, why are the vampires allowing this to happen in the first place? They have literal "opium dens" for the Haze users. If their strength and their wings failed them, it wouldn't take much effort to just get all the humans hooked on Haze for a hostile takeover. But I might still have been able to enjoy the book in spite of all these plot holes and vocabulary words if it weren't for the two main characters - Ash and Natalie. Ash is a twin-blood (half-breed) and Natalie is a Sentry (ruling class). Twin-bloods don't have beating hearts for some reason (they're vestigial, I guess), but when Natalie touches him on accident - his heart actually starts beating because, and I kid you not, she's his soul mate, and your heart only beats as a twin-blood once you find the One.
They talk about how special and unique their love is before they've even really exchanged much more than a few paragraphs of conversation and by the time that they agree to go out with each other, before they've even gone on a single date, they're already ready to sacrifice all of their friendships and family ties and even their lives for each other. Even Romeo and Juliet would be side-eying these two. They're also just not very nice characters. Natalie is especially helpless, biting her lip, blushing, and staring in horror whenever something unpleasant happens. She tries to brush all of the bad things under the carpet, including the horrible acts that her mother and father have done to the vampires. Ash isn't much better. He helps get his "best friend" hooked on drugs and does some pretty sketchy things to women who aren't Natalie. It's hard to root for characters you don't like - particularly when you know that you are supposed to like those characters, and relate to them, and see yourself in them.
I do own the sequel to this book, BLACK PHOENIX, which I will be reading soon. I'd like to see if the author improves over time, and is capable of doing that lovely, lovely cover justice. There were some things in this book I didn't expect, but they were minor plot twists and overshadowed by the epically unconvincing love story. I can understand why so many reviewers were disappointed by BLACK CITY. I was, too.
I went through this period where if a book looked even remotely interesting, I'd buy it/request it from Netgalley/borrow it from the library. As you can imagine, this was problematic for several reasons - book clutter, for one. It also resulted in some very serious buyer's remorse. Take JACK KNIFE.Two government agents go into Victorian England to collect a rogue scientist who is hell-bent on reenacting the plot of Tomorrow Never Dies? Please.
I brought this book along with me to read while on a very long bus ride, so maybe it's the fact that I was essentially a captive audience, but I didn't dislike this book merely enough as I felt I ought to have. The writing quality was on the poor side - pulpy - and the characters of Sara and David, the government agents, were two-dimensional. David is your typical tough army guy with the heart of gold and Sara is the ball-busting feminist who everyone is attracted to, in spite of (because of?) the fact that she can kick their butts.
Sara and David find out that Jack the Ripper is running rampant, but for whatever reason, he's killing way more and far more bloodily than he ever did in their time. On the case is detective Jonas Robb, who is the son of a duke when he's not a cop, and who is also very attracted to Sara. He's suspicious of them, though, and he knows enough to know that something about their alibis doesn't match up.
I found JACK KNIFE entertaining, but it's a throwaway read. Not something I'd ever pick up again, unless I were marooned on a long bus ride and had no other reading materials present. There were a lot of plot holes and things left unexplained at the end, and I didn't really care for the characterization of any of the people in here. Or the use of science. Honestly, it seems like the more the characters stress how essential it is to preserve the timeline, the more they do their best to f*ck it up.
I'm a die-hard Labyrinth fan-girl, okay? I grew up with that movie, and fell in love with the cheap, glitter-spackled set, with David Bowie with his hair metal mullet and Seinfeld-esque puffy shirt - creepy puppets and ambiguous target audience, and all. So you can imagine the double-take I did, then, when I was perusing the titles across Netgalley and saw the title & cover of this book.
"That looks like...no way, it can't be...what is that?"
Ladies and gentle-goblins, I give you...Labyrinth - in sonnet form. You know, in case you're a die-hard fan-girl like me, and have been dying to hear your favorite movie summarized in iambic-pentameter. No, wait, come back - it's actually...decent.
I admit, I sneered a little at the idea of hearing a movie recounted to me in poetry format. It sounds like something out of a gong show or a high school curriculum. Look, I can come up with something right now. See - "And then, poor Frodo into the lava / did cast the One Ring back from whence it came / but found its power over him was great/ and to resist the Ring might be in vain."
But the writing was actually really great. I loved the words the author chose, and I swear she borrowed a few phrases from Shakespeare to sound extra authentic. The Star Wars sonnets that Quirk did a while ago didn't really work for me, but LABYRINTH actually left me smiling and feeling fondly nostalgic.
Here's one of my favorite bits:
His pallor was reflected in his clothes.
His cloak of night had changed to feathers pale,
and shades of grey were now his shirt, gloves hose -