I actually finished reading ANNABEL yesterday, but I wanted to think about the book. At the end of a long workday, I don't really have the brain power to ponder weighty topics before bed, and this book deals with an intersex (i.e. hermaphrodite) character.
Wayne was born with an ovary, a testicle, a penis, and a uterus. He is a true hermaphrodite, and his state at birth shocks everyone. Because of the length of his penis, he qualifies as being able to be raised as a boy, which is what his father, Treadway, wants. His mother, Jacinta, wants Wayne to grow up intact, but Treadway insists on his way, so Wayne's vagina is sewed up, his penis is lengthened, he is given pills to take, and is labeled as a boy.
But Wayne is not gender typical. He likes to build things and fish, but he also likes to sing and dance, and isn't put off by the idea of wearing makeup or girl clothes. His father doesn't approve and pushes him to be masculine, as though overcompensating for his son's perceived shortcomings. Some reviewers said he was made out to be a villain, but considering that this takes place in rural Canada with trappers and men who participate in the machismo culture that comes with it, I found his father to be surprisingly liberal. Except for one moment of cruelty, which he regretted immediately (and did not involve abuse), Treadway tried really hard to be understanding -- even though it was so clearly obvious that he didn't understand, and never would be able to understand, because Wayne's unique situation was so out of his universe. Which is why, I think, he started trying to run away from his problems: to escape.
There are a lot of triggers in this book. There is a very unpleasant scene during Wayne's entrance to puberty where his abdomen bloats, and we learn that his abdomen is filled with blood that couldn't escape because his vagina was sewed up. Apparently, he got himself pregnant, because he has both parts and they are in such close proximity to one another, and when the doctors removed the blood, they found a fetus lodged in his Fallopian tubes (ew). I kind of wish this scene hadn't been included because not only is it gross, it also has the feel of an urban legend ... and not in a good way.
Another thing that bothered me about ANNABEL is its reliance on stereotypes. For example, in elementary school, Wayne runs into a gay pedophile who likes pretty boys and comes onto him. Wayne is also raped by a group of boys who think he's too pretty, and who have heard about his various sex change operations and want to test the merchandise. These scenes were cringeworthy and even though I understand why the author included them -- because intersex and trans men and women receive far more discrimination than LGB members, and are more likely to be sexually abused (at least according to this thing I read that I can't remember) -- it was still very upsetting and detracted, rather than added, to the storyline for me.
Overall, I liked ANNABEL. I liked the idea of Wayne's shadow self. It reminded me of this nonfiction book I read, which was called THE BOY WHO WAS RAISED AS A GIRL. It features a boy with the opposite problem: a botched circumcision left him with a nub of a penis, and the doctors figured, "Oh, hey, obviously the penis makes the man (which happened in ANNABEL), so let's just raise him as a girl. He'll be fine." But the boy -- he was a boy -- wasn't fine. He didn't like dresses, and he wanted to play with boy toys and do sports. During puberty, he was attracted to girls, not boys, and the conflict between what he felt inside and what his parents and society and his doctors were telling him about his outsides, really fucked him up. He actually ended up committing suicide.
It just goes to show that we can't help how we're born. Whether we're male, female, or somewhere in between, the only one who ought to decide what label, if any, we're provided with is us. Because who knows us better than we know ourselves? I also think that in vague cases, like in this book and the one in TBWWRAAG, parents and doctors ought to wait until puberty, to see what happens when the natural hormones kick in and also to see what the child wants when they are in a position to decide for themselves.
When I fifteen, it was 2005, and people were posting serialized stories on Quizilla. Terrible, unoriginal stories about beautiful emo girls who cut their wrists and wore Converse sneakers with their prom dresses and dirty gray hoodies, and ended up sucked into some paranormal brouhaha where they immediately became the object of lust for every straight male creature for miles.
Francesa Lia Block clearly revels in that type of girl, and has never graduated from writing this kind of protagonist.
Charlotte is an especially annoying character because she's like a female Edward Cullen. She doesn't want to be a vampire. She has a house that looks like a palace, and an entire closet crammed full of designer clothes (which, considering how little she claims to appreciate them, she sure as hell spends a ton of time describing), and a perfect figure (skinny as hell with huge boobs and a great badonkadonk), and spends all her time listening to Goldfrapp, Ladytron, and Portishead.
--but she's not happy.
And why? Because she's not human. She wants to sweat, she wants to have zits, she wants to gush menses and get pregnant. She wants to be a real girl. She wants to have feelings and be in love.
And I'm just like, WUT THE FUCK IS THIS.
Charlotte (not suprisingly) has only one friend, a girl named Emily. Charlotte is friends with Emily because other girls tend to hate her when they find out how much awesome stuff she has, and how much boys enjoy ogling her perfect figure, but Emily doesn't seem to devote all that much thought to Team Envy, for which Charlotte is grateful enough to bestow the gift of friendship.
Emily was raped by one of her mom's boyfriends, and this is supposed to be the explanation for why she randomly commits suicide partway through the book. But while she's alive, Charlotte is jealous of Emily because she has a boyfriend who worships the ground she walks on, and this is what being human is about, too. Also, Emily's boyfriend, Jared, reminds Charlotte of the brother she had incestuous feelings for, and how they used to dance together and swim naked together.
You know, fun, wholesome, sibling activities.
Unfortunately, he died of the fever.
Anyway, after Emily dies, Charlotte immediately tries to put the moves on Jared, who initially tells her to fuck off. She stalks him, and catches him spraying perfume on his dead girlfriend's bra and cuddling up to it while naked. Then he tells her that he knows she was following him, and that he wanted to have sex with her the moment he saw her, and fuck Emily.
And I'm just like, WUT THE FUCK IS THIS.
Charlotte then tells him her story, about how she and the vampire who turned her, William, traveled the world--Hiroshima during the bombing (right afterwards, they have BDSM sex, very sympathetic); New York during 9/11; Woodstock during the Summer of Love; the AIDS scare during the 1980s (she talks about how beautiful the young dying men look, fuck you, Charlotte); Hollywood during the golden age, etc. etc. And is Charlotte careful to describe all her outfits in each of these passages?
OF COURSE SHE IS.
Anyway, William returns and Charlotte starts to turn human again, and oh, whoops, apparently Emily isn't dead, she's a vampire. Because Charlotte wanted to be human again and so William was all like, "Okay, let's trade," and now Emily is like, "Muahahaha I'm taking Jared back now, and oh by the way, I hated you all along bitch!" And Charlotte is like, "NO I LOVE HIM EVEN THOUGH I'VE ONLY KNOWN HIM FOR LIKE TWO WEEKS," and sics the police on them by saying, "OMG! THEY'VE GOT A BOMB!" And then Jared and Charlotte end up tentatively ever after.
And I'm just like, WUT THE FUCK IS THIS.
I have to admit that the idea of a vampire becoming human again is an intriguing idea, but the execution of this book was terrible. Charlotte had no character development. I wasn't convinced that she was anything special--she's like countless other Mary Sues, and we're supposed to identify with her less as a person than as the embodiment of our fantasized "ideal self"--because who doesn't want a closet full of designer clothes they can actually fit and everyone being jealous of you and hot guys throwing themselves at you? And then the fact that Charlotte doesn't want these things is supposed to make her a complicated, better person who transcends materialism in favor of humanity?
I CALL BULLSHIT.
A) Because materialism obviously did matter to her and
B) I hardly consider falling in love with a human selfless, especially since
C) He was her friend's boyfriend and she was barely cold in the grave before she moved in
When my friend found out I was starting a new job she sent me a cute little care package, of which this book was part. I also got some Monster High pens and a pair of crazy cat lady leggings that I absolutely canNOT wait to wear...I just have to figure out which of my dresses will go with them. :)
Anyway, this book. karen, a GR buddy of mine, as the perfect shelf for this book: creepy dolls. A lot of the dolls in this book are very creepy, which begs the question: why give an inspirational book such creepy pictures? Were the editors trying to be ironic? (Because they do give the context a morbid--even sinister--undertone.) Or just creepy-funny?
Before I got my new phone, you would have had to just take my word for it, or buy a copy of your own. But now I have a cell phone with internet(!) so I can exhibit all the evidence you need!
And when love finds you, it will come in the form of a creepy, two-headed doll.
Also, because we fuck birds.
By hollowing out your head and letting birds shit inside you.
I don't even know.
But it was an interesting book, with interesting pictures, and I'm happy to share it with you.
This is the second Jude Deveraux book I read. The first was THE TAMING, a.k.a. "the book with the lice." As I read, I noticed many similarities: dumb as dirt heroines, emotionally disturbed heroes who self-medicate by liberally raping any woman stupid enough to "love" (read: lust after) him; jealous bitches who want to destroy teh world (read: break up the Hero and heroine), and so on.
We start out with Disney Reject, who finds out that her parents have a visitor coming to the castle. This visitor is Beast Man, one of the king's earls, rich as sin, and apparently dangerous as all get out. Everyone calls him The Black Lyon because he is as fearsome as a lion. Did you see what Ms. Deveraux did there? DO U C?
Disney Reject meets Beast Man and it is lust--I mean, love--at first sight. Because as it turns out, Beast Man was ill-used by his first wife, Dis Bitch, who was several years older than him and ran circles around him with her adultery. Also she killed her daughter and was like "trololo now nobody loves you, that's what you get for not letting me marry my farm boy, Money Bags!" So Beast Man hates women, and has sworn that he won't get married, except to the woman who can make him laugh and/or smile, which Disney Reject does--so marriage tiem!!!!1
They are engaged then and Beast Man undergoes a total personality transplant. Before he was flirtatious and charming (except for this creepy moment when he sneaks into DR's bedroom and watches her sleep and touches her threateningly and says, "I FEEL FEELINGS FOR YOU. IF YOU LOOK AT ANOTHER MAN I KEEL YOU. K?"); now he is just rapey and rapier. He rapes her on their wedding night and then a few days later, because how dare she make him feel feels.
It doesn't help matters when Disney Reject's childhood friend, Whiny Bitchboy, comes along and starts saying, "You only married him for his money! WE were supposed to get married!" He comes up with this brilliant (read: idiotic) scheme where he fudges some love letters the heroine had written to an imaginary husband-to-be and conveniently left lying around (read: deus ex machina) and says, "I WILL SHOW YOUR HUSBAND THESE LOVE LETTERS YOU WROTE TO 'ME' IF YOU DON'T GIVE ME MONEY. OR MAYBE I WILL JUST KILL HIM. SO GIVE ME MONEY."
And despite knowing that her husband is super insecure about women marrying him for his wealth and title (read: paranoid and psychotically violent), she steals one of the gemstones he happens to conveniently keep lying around (read: deus ex machina) and pays off Whiny Bitchboy under the cloak of night. Now, to be fair, Disney actually tries to talk to her husband about this, but he goes psycho and says, "DON'T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT OTHER MEN TO ME. EVER." So I can understand her helplessness and frustration. It's not easy being a Disney Reject without any helpful Deus Ex Machina Bluebirds and Mice to help you out in a pinch. (She has a horse later on in the book, but he's mostly just good at showing them bitches what's what--more on this later.)
Obviously, Beast Man is pissed off when he discovers what's happened. He kills Whiny Bitchboy with his sword and informs her that the marriage is off, and that he's going off to fight some shit (read: Welshmen). He also manages to work in the fact that this is all her own fault because she probably committed some adultery along the lines, conveniently forgetting that she was a virgin when he bedded her, and that he was so rough with the way he used her that he actually felt guilty (read: Jackson Pollock painting on the marital sheets). Disney Reject defends her honor, and Beast Man punches her in the face, splitting her lip, and is like, "We're through, bitch!"
Disney Reject decides that this unfortunate series of events means that she hasn't tried hard enough to love him, and that she must up her game in order to be number one bitch in her man's life. She dresses up as a surf and follows her husband. She ends up striking up a frenemy relationship with one of Beast Man's old lovers, a half-Arab woman named Maude. Maude knows Disney wants to impress Beast Man, so she opens up a trunk to reveal an XXX-rated Jasmine costume, which she then allows Disney to wear while teaching her how to dance sexily. The Jasmine Costume originally belonged to Maude's mother, who then passed it on down to Maude, and she makes this grody comment about how the costume has seen all kinds of passionate nights, & I'm like, "I really hope you washed those."
So Disney dances for Beast Man and he gets aroused, and Disney is like, "How can he enjoy watching another woman dance? Even though it's me, he doesn't know, and that's cheating, boo hoo hoo," and she flees, and Maude must placate the cockblocked and angry Beast Man. Eventually he realizes that Sexy Jasmine Costume is actually Disney Reject, when his men (including his brother) are molestering her and her hood comes off. He's still angry (and jelus!) but secretly pleased that she would follow him all this like a lost puppy. Then the Welshmen come and Beast Man comes close to taking an arrow to the knee, but Disney Reject jumps in front of him, somehow managing to out-run the arrow, and they end up pinned together by the arrow like a human shishkebab.
Disney Reject almost dies, and Beast Man is like, "Wait, I've decided I love you!"
Then Disney Reject suffers another scare when her husband goes on a boat and jumps overboard to save a drowning person. His crew are about to leave him, because this is the medieval times and nobody swims except witches (and also bits of wood). But Disney is like, "MOTHERFUCKERS, MY HUSBAND IS DOWN IN THAT SHIT AND IF YOU LEAVE HIM BEHIND I'MMA FUCK ALL OF YOU UP." Beast Man is safe and sound, and laughs at her for being so scared, which results in Disney's feelings getting hurt. Again. Also, it turns out that the "sailor" he saved was actually a Frankish woman named Amica, who has decided that she has a major lady hard-on for Beast Man.
All of Disney's joy at finding out she's pregnant vanishes because This Other Bitch is like, "Ooh, your husband sent me a love letter the other day." Or, "Ooh, your husband fucks so good, but you already know that, right?" She follows Disney around being all like, "And then I showed him my O face. O! O! O!" Until Disney is like, "SHUT UP OR I'LL PUT YOU UP IN THE GARRISON." And then This Other Bitch be like, "ENIGMATIC THREATS." So Disney settles for having her horse throw her and laughing about it. But then, oh noez!, This Other Bitch claims that she got knocked up by Beast Man and that she's pregnant too, and since he loves her more, Disney Reject's child will be declared a bastard. And if Disney contests the inevitable marriage between This Other Bitch and Beast Man, the Frankish King will declare war on the English King and the apocalypse will happen.
But that's okay, because she has a plan. Disney will go to Ireland with relatives of her father and give birth to the child there and then This Other Bitch will take the child back to live with her and Beast Man and This Other Bitchbaby. Everyone will live happily ever after, except for Disney Reject.
Now, why Disney Reject is so quick to believe that this other woman who so clearly has it out for her would do anything to help her is beyond me, but believe her she does, and she doesn't realize anything is wrong until the "man" of Lord Beast Man's--let's call him Rapey McPriss--starts making some very suggestive comments about how he's the only thing standing between her and a gang rape.
Disney Reject ends up seasick and by faking how sick she actually is (read: the villains are morons), she learns that Disney Reject propositioned Beast Man and was summarily told to fuck off. So she decided to get revenge on him by holding his wife and unborn baby for ransom. Also, Rapey McPriss plans to rape the shit out of Disney Reject just as soon as she's not sick (or pregnant--although he contradicts himself a lot here; he doesn't want to bang a pregnant chick, but then he does...make up your mind, bro!). Apparently, he has a major germ phobia, so Disney makes a point to throw up lots and lots just to really squick out Rapey McPriss. They end up at the cottage of Filthy Cougar, who likes taking advantage of young men and making people suffer. Perfect arrangement for all!
Except...Beast Man has snuck into their fold in disguise by chopping firewood. He has given his men orders to distract Prissy McRape, who has gone to see why the ransom is taking so long to arrive. Disney Reject gives birth, and they take a breather from running for their lives to admire how perfect the baby is because OMG BABIEZ!!!! Then they escape to freedom, and end up at Disney Reject's parents'. We don't ever find out what happened to This Other Bitch, Filthy Cougar, or Rapey McPriss; Disney Reject makes it a point to assure us that she didn't bother asking. Why? Why not? I know if I were kidnapped by a bunch of perverted creepholes, I'd want to see them all suffer. But there you go.
I seem to be on a medieval bent lately. I just read a 13th century romance novel by Catherine Coulter called WARRIOR'S SONG. VEIL OF SECRETS is late 12th century, taking place during Eleanor of Aquitaine's reign as Regent while Richard is fighting in the Crusades. Conan, the Baron of Wyndham, has been commissioned by the queen to look into the murder of a monk in Bumfuck, England, a.k.a. Glastonbury, a mist-sheathed place where a woman named Alianor lives in a small house in the middle of the lake.
Alianor is a healer, and subscribes to the methods of pre-Christian worship. It never explicitly says she's Celtic, but I suspect that her beliefs probably are at heart, even though she is of faith. Lately, Alianor has been in constant conflict with the monks at the local abbey. They have always considered her "witchy" because when her foster mother died, the abbey was struck by lightning; but now with these murders, Abbot Du Sully is convinced that she is a witch.
(And I will have more to say about witches in just a mo'.)
Conan feels instant attraction to Alianor and since this is a romance novel, you can pretty much assume that they end up doing the dirty multiple times. Alianor is a virgin--and one of the scenes actually ended up confusing me because they'd had sex before he took her virginity, and since the fade-to-black sex scenes with their flowery prose weren't super descriptive or helpful, it was only when the descriptions of "discomfort" started up that I realized he must've just done oral/fingered her.
Initially, I quite liked the story, but it bogs down in the middle. And to be fair, the middle is one of the hardest portions of a book to write (I mean, okay, they're all hard); you've set the stage and now you have to fiddle around until the book's end and pray that the audience stays interested. It doesn't help that Alianor reveals herself as a Sue. She's related to Queen Eleanor; in fact, she's her granddaughter. Also, she experiences no discomfort during sex whatsoever, she risks death to preserve her honor, she is wonderful with animals, the whole town loves her, and bluebirds do her laundry (not really).
(Although bluebirds do seem inordinately fond of princesses, don't they? FORESHADOWING!)
Also, this is kind of weird, but the hero randomly turns rapey about 50 pages from the end. He's angry at her for risking her life, and what better way to show he cares than TO PUNISH HER WITH RAPE? He doesn't actually rape her, but still. It was a total 180 from his personality.
Right--so, witches. VEIL OF SECRETS seemed to be full of glaring historical inaccuracies. For example, the way the characters talked was very modern--it seemed more like Renaissance English than early medieval English, very proper and formal and well articulated...it was a bit off-putting. If the book hadn't explicitly stated that Eleanor was queen I would have had no idea.
And I get that manipulating language to suit the times can be difficult, but that wasn't the only problem. Abbot Du Sully is obsessed with witches, and is pretty much self-proclaimed captain of the witch hunt brigade. Witch hunting was not at all popular during early medieval times. In fact, Charlemagne condemned the process outright, and the consequence of burning witches or wizards at the stake meant the death penalty (that was four hundred years before the time period in this book, but it gives you an idea of what the attitudes were). The general consensus seemed to be that participating in witch hunts meant witches existed which was tantamount to heresy.
So it's weird that Abbot Du Sully, proud, card-carrying member of Team God, would be so outspoken about witches and how much he loves to burn them, since that really puts his faith into question.
But then, he's one of the bad guys, and bad guys in this book don't have much development beyond periodically popping up and going:
Towards the end of the book, Alianor ends up being tried for these murders, where she really lets her Sue flag fly. She knows that if she doesn't make her case, Abbot Du Sully will make sure that her case transfers to the ecclesiastical court as a matter of heresy. Now, I don't know much about the church, but from what I've read in my (very brief) search, it seems like an ecclesiastical trial would be ruled by someone much higher up in the authority chain than an abbot.
Witch hunts didn't really pick up until King James took the throne (so around the mid- to late-sixteenth century). He's a big reason as to why so many witches were killed in Scotland. (And this is also around the same time that witches were hunted with such fervor in America, as well.) Home boy was obsessed. In fact, when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, he included the three witches in the play for King James's benefit (it's striking, actually, how different the plays were that he wrote for James versus Elizabeth--he knew how to pan to his audience).
VEIL OF SECRETS was pretty disappointing. If it hadn't been for the murder subplot, I probably wouldn't have cared to finish. But this was just the light, quick read I needed today, so I'm not too put out. Now I can scratch it off my to-read list and chuck it in the Goodwill box.
This is the "extensively rewritten" edition circa 2001, which makes me wonder what the original 1985 edition was like...
The first book by Catherine Coulter that I ever read was DEVIL'S EMBRACE, which I actually liked. It was trashy as all get out, and featured many cringe-worthy scenes (including a rapist hero, and a gang-bang scene engineered by one of the villains), but that's part of the risk--and the charm--of these old bodice rippers. They are unapologetically politically incorrect.
WARRIOR'S SONG was published a year after DEVIL'S EMBRACE and is the start of a new series, which makes me wonder if Coulter perhaps faced a lot of criticism for the sheer passivity of the heroine in DEVIL'S, because Chandra, the female lead in WARRIOR'S, is like a bizarre hybrid of Mulan/Merida as manufactured by Mattel for their Barbie line-up.
In other words, not particularly convincing.
She wants to ride, hunt, and fight like a man. When we first meet her, she's covered in blood after hunting down a boar with her father's men (her father is away, and since her little brother--her father's only heir--is eight, she often takes charge in her father's absence).
In the woods, her hunting party encounters another band of men, led by a fierce fighter named Graelam. He has asked for her hand and been refused by her father, so has decided to take advantage of his absence by taking matters into his own hands. He lays siege to the castle and informs Chandra that she is going to be his wife. To ensure her compliance, he has his men look for her mother and brother, who he assures her he will kill if she does not participate in the shotgun (swordpoint?) wedding he has planned for that night.
The charmer taunts her endlessly from their very first encounter, accusing her of both incest and lesbianism, by turns. Then he rapes her friend and servant, Mary, while Chandra watches, held in place by his men. Chandra punches him in the naked groin for this, which is somewhat satisfying, but it doesn't take away from the horror of the scene.
Chandra and Mary risk life and virtue to keep Chandra's mother and brother out of danger, but Chandra's mother has an angry hard-on for her daughter and resents being told to hide by Chandra--even though it's for her own safety--and so she comes out of hiding with her son willingly, just to show Chandra that she's not teh boss. She is so eager to get rid of Chandra that she is perfectly happy to saddle Chandra to this rapist, even though she knows her husband wouldn't approve.
By this point, I was pretty sure that Graelam was going to be the love interest, and braced myself for what was sure to be an unpleasant series of rape-filled chapters. But no, he isn't actually the H. He's the hero of the next book in this series, FIRE SONG, which makes me wonder how Coulter could possibly turn a rapist villain into a hero. I still hadn't forgiven him for his actions by the end of this book and was shocked--and appalled--that Chandra had.
Anyway, the real love interest is a man named Jerval who was handpicked by Chandra's pops, Richard. There's a weird homoerotic vibe between Jerval and Richard, as Richard spends a lot of time eyeballing Jerval's body, thinking about how much Jerval reminds him of him--a much younger, better him--when he was Jerval's own age. There's a weird incestuous undertone, too, because Richard is actually jealous of Jerval fucking his daughter and taking her virginity...
Quick aside here: I just want to discuss, briefly, my beef with Chandra's character. As a strong female protagonist she is hopelessly inconsistent. There is a difference between bravery and stupidity; bravery is doing things that you know you must, even if you don't like them, even if you are afraid. Stupidity is rushing into things headlong with a kitchen knife, claiming you can beat men twice your size, with much better armor and weapons. Guess which one Chandra is?
She has lines like this:
Very little in life, Chandra thought, was fair, particularly when it came to women, particularly when it was the men making the decisions, which they always did (32).
Which make me want to like her. But then she has lines like this:
"I don't need a champion. I told you, I am amazing with the bow and arrow. I have the eye of an eagle" (61).
Which make me want to punch her in the face.
There's also a problem with the text itself. Coulter introduces random POV swaps without paragraph breaks. It can be a little disorienting to have one set of characters talking, and then suddenly, have the narrative switch to another set without any warning.
So anyway, Jerval and Chandra are going to get married but Chandra is so thick she doesn't realize that's why he has come to the castle. She thinks of him as a "playmate" (and yes, it is described like that in the narrative) and is constantly challenging him to battle. When he proposes she throws a huge fit and rats him out to daddy, who informs her that if she doesn't marry Jerval, he is going to put her into a convent. She marries him reluctantly and has a traitorous body.
Shortly after their marriage, Jerval goes to fight the Scots. Chandra wants to come too--she can fight as well as any man!--but Jerval tells her no. He locks her in her room and tells his mother and father to make sure she stays there. Chandra breaks a window (and remember this is 13C, so glass was incredibly expensive back then) and climbs out on her shredded sheets in drag, stealing a horse to go after him. Of course, she gets kidnapped by the Scotsmen, who cut off her hair and ride off with her to rape her--but then Jerval and his men rush in to save her, spooking the Scotsman's horse, and Chandra punches him in the groin (I'm sensing a theme here) and rolls to freedom.
Obviously, this puts a huge strain on the marriage.
There's more traitorous body stuff, and Jerval's cock is apparently constantly hard as he tries to reconcile his annoyance for his wife with his utter lust for her flawless body. At one point they end up in Acre, with this rich Arab guy named Ali ad-Din (I wonder if he's any relation to the Khar el-Din from DEVIL'S EMBRACE). They're joined by Prince Edward and Princess Eleanor, and also encounter Lord Graelam again--except now all is forgiven! YAY!
In these far reaches of the christian empire, Chandra encounters all kinds of "savages" who want to rape her, including a Sultan who wants to incorporate her into his harem, and an evil traitor who wants to sample the wares before he disposes of her for a neat fortune.
Coulter employs a tactic that really bothers me here, which is essentially "re-virginizing" a heroine who is no longer is a virgin: there are many ways of doing this, either by saying that a heroine is still shy and naive in spite of her experience, or by having a heroine who is inexperienced in other ways. In this case, Chandra's proud countenance is equated to something that, like virginity, must be stripped away from a woman to make her captive to a man.
She wore her pride like a maidenhead, and he wanted that prize for himself when he took her, when he made her realize that life was different now, that she had to please him to live (348).
Graelam saves her (although not in time to prevent her from being raped) and Jerval jumps in to save the day. The book ends with Chandra pregnant again, and now she is tired of fighting and trying to act like a man. She resigns herself to marriage and motherhood like a good little girl, and this is the last line of the book:
It was possibly one of the last times in her life that Chandra de Vernon had the last word (374).
There were a lot of plotlines in this book that just didn't go anywhere. For example, Jerval has a cousin named Lady Julianna and I kept expecting something to happen with that--because Julianna hates Chandra for stealing Jerval away from her, which is evident from numerous accounts of slut-shaming. In DEVIL'S EMBRACE, for example, the female rival engineered a brilliant scheme to get rid of the heroine--which almost succeeded. Nothing happened with this.
I also really didn't like Jerval after a certain little point in the novel. He claimed to love Chandra in spite of her predilections for manly things, and yet tries to quash her spirit at every turn. He honestly didn't get why, after their wedding night, Chandra wasn't in total awe of his man-pieces, and didn't bring him a sandwich and beer in bed in testament to his awesome love making skills. Seriously. He seriously wonders why she didn't bring him a beer and food, and watched him eat it lovingly.
I kept hoping for some sort of character development or redemption arc, but there wasn't. Chandra is raped and beaten into submission; Jerval gets what he wants without having to sacrifice anything; Graelam rapes Mary and she is completely forgotten the moment she weds one of Jerval's men; we never find out what happened to Chandra's awful family; the whole thing is, basically, a mess.
I blame my book club. No—actually, I AM grateful for my book club; because of them, I am forced to pick up books that I would never in a million years read on my own (so I guess they are technically to blame). And sometimes I enjoy them, which is an unexpected delight. I did not, however, enjoy THE CIRCLE. I didn't hate it—although I hated parts of it—but it was inherently readable (albeit pretentious). My feelings towards THE CIRCLE are more complex than that, and as of this paragraph, I really have no idea what I'm going to rate the book. (You'll find out when I do—at the end of this review.)
THE CIRCLE is a cross between STEPFORD WIVES, THE FIRM, and 1984. It plops a naive twenty-four-year-old post-college grad into this UBER corporation that's a monstrous blend of Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Facebook, and it seems like the answer to all of life's unpleasant foibles. The only cost is your privacy. But you know what they say about things that are too good to be true...
Recently, I just got a new phone with INTERNET! I've never had a phone with 4G before. Until my junior year of college, I had one of those flip-phones that's built like a little tank, and then I had a sliding phone that was also built like a tank (it survived a 2 1/2 story fall—don't ask). Anyway, new phone. I really needed a phone with internet because I am constantly getting messages and comments from readers, so it's nice to be able to field business-related questions when I'm out (and I'm often out). When I started adding apps, I was really surprised by how invasive some were: demanding access to my location, my camera and microphone, my full name, etc. It's like, okay, really? You need to know where I am AT ALL TIMES in order to let me post status updates? CREEPY EX-BOYFRIEND, MUCH? THE CIRCLE takes that a step further, creating a system that promises efficiency and connectivity—at the cost of NO PRIVACY WHATSOEVER. Nothing gets deleted, everything is seen.
I like the concept a lot and I think that if this book had been written by a different author, or if Eggers had fallen out of love with his own writing long enough to actually flesh out the characters he'd created, this could have been a very good book. As it stands now, THE CIRCLE has a lot of problems, the chief one being Mae. It is obvious from the way that she is written that we are supposed to find her likable (except maybe in the last third of the book—at least, I hope not); but I found her to be anything but: she was stupid and selfish, and didn't have much in the way of personality. I'll go into more detail on this later, but for now I am just going to touch briefly on some of her actions that really upset me. The way she treats her sick father is pretty repulsive: he asks her to leave when he soils himself during a stroke because he doesn't want her to see him in his sorry state and Mae promptly throws a major bitch fit about how unappreciated she is—yeah, no. She gets into this weird love triangle with two highly unsavory men (at least, I found them unsavory): one of them sneaks around and sleeps in a cave and may or may not be a corporate spy. The other is a needy, slimy scumbag who videos her giving him a handjob (without her permission, obvs); he then proceeds to upload the video to their work place's cloud storage for posterity—because information is valuable! And must be shared! Mae complains to her friend-slash-boss, Annie, who tells Mae that the Circle has a no delete policy when it comes to information because it is valuable! And must be shared! And Mae just accepts this, shrugs it off, and continues her carousing with the schmuck. Mae's behavior in the last third of the book were a total dealbreaker. By this time, I not only DIDN'T identify her as a woman, I couldn't identify with her as a human BEING, either. It was as if Eggers had reduced her to a sociopathic stereotype, a vessel with which he would carry out his shocking (i.e. Fizzled-out) ending. It was like a bad episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
And speaking of bad, check out some of these sex scenes:
She backed away, looking at him, at his shirt hiked up, his crotch exposed. She could think only of a campfire, one small log, all of it doused in milk (204).
"We consummated" (227).
He lay beneath her for a minute or two, letting Mae rise and fall, looking up at her with the wonderment of a boy at the zoo. Then his eyes closed, and he went into paroxysms, emitting a brief squeal before grunting his arrival (383)
Another thing that bothered me about THE CIRCLE is that it reads like a thinly-veiled grievance being aired at length, soapbox-style. Various characters (Kalder, Mercer) pop in to condemn various facets of social media and those who use it, through the use of tired arguments:
-if people were forced to use their real names on message boards, there would be no arguments or negativity
Overnight, all comment boards became civil, all posters held accountable. The trolls, who had more or less overtaken the internet, were driven back into the darkness (22).
-reviewers and social media bloggers aren't contributing any information of value; also they're dorks (yes, they are actually referred to as dorks)
"It's people talking about each other behind their backs. That's the vast majority of this social media, all these reviews, all these comments. Your tools have elevated gossip, hearsay, and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication. And besides that, it's fucking dorky" (133)
Even more annoying is the fact that Mae never has any real argument for this. Whenever Mercer gets up on his soap box, she usually responds by calling him "fat" or "the Sasquatch," or bandying about that helpful catch-all term, "Fuck you." The weight- and appearance-shaming bend really upset me, because (a) it didn't raise any good debate in this book--to make THE CIRCLE really convincing, I feel like the main character should have experienced some conflict, way more than she actually did, because change is scary, and (b) it underscored my suspicions that this book was actually Eggers speaking out to his critics, against his critics, reducing them to straw men.
-people only post reviews/commentary to stir shit up; they are not valid opinions
"No once's forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic" (262)
-social media users are needy and neurotic, and quick to take offense; all they do is nag and try to ingratiate themselves and then get hurt feelings; they are pathetic and deserve to be mocked
"You comment on things, and that substitutes for doing them" (262).
Here, I couldn't help but be reminded of one of the fallback responses of authors when they criticize their reviewers: if you didn't like the book, why don't you try writing one?
-and so on
I couldn't help but feel that Eggers was condemning his own critics through this book. THE CIRCLE had a very condescending, sanctimonious, embittered feel to it that made it very abrasive and unpleasant to read.
Eggers also takes great pains to show us how great Mae is...at everything. She shoots to the top of the company instantly; she's great at lying passively while the men have sex with her; she has a perfect figure. In short, Mae falls into what I call “the female character fallacy”: you can't have a female character without somehow rationalizing her presence; she can't be an ordinary human being, no, she has to be extraordinary to be of note. Mae never seemed like an ordinary human being, like someone I could relate with. She seemed utterly devoid of personality, and so did the other characters in the book. They were just puppets that danced to Eggers's strings, cavorting about in this purple-prosed mess that read like an intellectual circle jerk (sorry—but obvious pun). In fact, that's what this book SHOULD be called: THE CIRCLE JERK.
Because there is nothing really to make this book stand out among others of its genre, apart from the novelty of its premise. It is poorly executed, poorly written, and has a vague ending that doesn't really give a conclusion or a concrete message. So what, is Eggers saying that our technology is driving us into a downward spiral from which there is no escape? How depressing is that? But that would assume that he CARED enough to actually have this book contain a message, and it didn't: “part three” was a mere four pages or so, rushed and vague, that raises more questions than it answered. It was like a big 'fuck you' to the reader—assuming you made it through all 508 pages. All that build up and no conclusion? Are you for cereal? Part of what made THE FIRM and STEPFORD WIVES so scary was because the possibilities they offered seemed so great on the surface. The Circle starts out interesting and maybe a little intriguing, but quickly devolves into a portrait of unrealistic evil that was so hilariously take-over-the-world-y that it was hard to take the book seriously. The totalitarian grip of information technology on our society is so ingrained that you don't need to tweak much to make our reliance on it terrifying.
The idea of THE TIGER'S WIFE was really compelling; beauty and the beast, and its many incarnations, is one of my favorite fairy tales. I liked the idea of a work of magic realism, set in the Balkans during one of their (many) civil wars, about an escaped tiger and his "wife" (but is she really, though? That's the question).
The Tiger's Wife is not actually the main character of the story. That goes to Natalia Stefanovic, who is a doctor undergoing an existential crisis. Her dying grandfather went off on his own, as though he had a specific thought in mind to die. Now, while trying to give medical care to suspicious villagers, armed only with her childhood friend Zora and her grandfather's stories, she tries to figure out what was going through her grandfather's mind.
And the truth is--we really don't know.
There are two magic realism subplots woven into this storyline, which may or may not have happened. First, the deathless man: a man who cannot die, who her grandfather encounters several time during the course of his life, with whom he made a bet where his treasured copy of The Jungle Book was the stakes. Then there's the Tiger's Wife, a deaf-mute woman married to an abusive butcher named Luka: one of his attempts to kill her puts her into contact with a half-wild tiger prowling the hills, which, of course, stirs up all kinds of superstitious rumors.
My biggest problem with THE TIGER'S WIFE is that nothing of consequence really happens. The subplots are interesting, yes, but Natalia is a very boring character with little to no personality, and reading from her POV was very tedious. She is such a bland character, and passive in her own narrative: it's always sad to me when a character doesn't even take center stage in his or her (usually her) own narrative.
Obreht's writing is lovely, even luminous, as some have said, but her story-telling ability falls flat. THE TIGER'S WIFE is an acclaimed work, and a hyped one at that: I definitely think that this had more than a little to do with her age; I believe she was twenty-six at the time that this work was published. Which is impressive, considering that it was a debut, but it certainly does not warrant the rationalization of a sub-par work. An author does not deserve accolades just because they are precocious. To do so, I think, is damaging, because it can create a false sense of one's own worth, and stunt the development of the creative process when producing more mature bodies of work. A lot of people make apologies for young authors, most notably the author of Eragon, but I have never bought into that mode of thought. A work should be able to stand on its own, regardless of the age, sex, or ethnicity of the person who produced it. Saying otherwise is offensive and, well, harmful.
Michael Shermer has been the guest skeptic on numerous TV shows dealing with fringe and occult phenomena. Typically, the role of the skeptic is to act as "the voice of reason" and provide "balance", even if it's six believers and one stalwart naysayer.
There are some things about this book that I really liked. Shermer covers a lot of topics--denial of the holocaust, creationism, alien abduction, witch hunts--and he is not as cruel to the other side as he could be. One of the reasons I was never a fan of Dawkins is because his arguments tend to turn into a circle jerk of "I'm so great, I'm so smart, look at these dummies who don't believe what I believe."
That actually brings me to the second part of why I didn't like this book: I was hoping that it would be more anecdotal. Shermer does have some space devoted to the opposing view, but I was hoping for interviews and quotes...a more journalistic approach. Human. WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS, despite the quirky title and cheesy cover, is not a fluffy work of pop-science that any average-intelligence-or-higher Joe could pick up and read. The language is dense, the material is dense and relies heavily on science to back up his points. It reads, in other words, like a textbook--and considering the fact that this book showed up in the used bookstore around the time that classes in this area let out with several other books of a similar genre, I strongly suspect that this was the book's purpose, and having been served, it was summarily dumped.
I don't actually feel that I walked away with any new knowledge after reading this book. I've read skeptic books before: DENIALISM, SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST, IRRELIGION, and they all share many similar features. They all tend to be caustic, if not angry, which is probably because it's never fun to be a minority, especially from a moralistic standpoint. The Judeo-Christian view is the most prevalent in the U.S., and people who are atheistic, agnostic, or even merely skeptic, receive all sorts of crap from those who are not. But I don't think abusive tirades are the way to get any converters, which makes me think the main point of this exercise is just to blow off steam and appeal to that niche audience who agrees with them wholeheartedly. Well, okay. Shermer is more laid-back than most, and I think that if this book had been written in a slightly different, more accessible way, it could be a very good book.
The most difficult chapter to read in this book for many is probably going to be the chapter on holocaust deniers--actually, I wonder if this book is even sold in Germany at all, because from what I understand, any pro-German-WII stuff is heavily censored over there. I was discussing Axis Powers Hetalia with a German friend a few years ago, which is an anime that takes a flip look at WII, and she didn't think that would be permitted, so I can only imagine what the German gov't might make of this. A lot of the deniers claim that they aren't anti-Semites, just that they think that Jewish people exaggerated the holocaust, and that while they were labor camps, they were not used for mass executions. A lot of them bitched about how people beat the up, or tried to attack them; one man's wife left him; another man was banned from going to, like, seven different countries.
Here's the thing--freedom of speech guarantees you the right to say what you want, within reason, obviously. It doesn't guarantee you the right to have people like it. While the government might not censor you, other people might very well decide that they've had enough and exercise their right to not have to listen to you--by kicking you out of their venue. And the guy who said that he liked to bring black people to places where he knew there were going to be white supremacists "just to see them squirm" is nothing more than a shit-stirrer (and possibly a bit of a sociopath).
One recurring theme of this book is how far people will go to rationalize their beliefs. It doesn't matter how much logic you throw at them, they will find a way to refute it, usually with an ad hoc argument, or some other type of logical fallacy. I'm sure there are converts--Shermer is one himself--but it's rare; pushing your views onto other people will usually accomplish nothing but annoying the other person. If you are a skeptic and interested in reading relevant literature, this will probably be a nice book for you (and so will the books I referenced above). If you are heavily religious, or annoyed by people who set out with the goal of stirring the pot, I'd avoid this book--especially if you have holocaust/racism-triggers.
MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH is on Dear Author's list of 100 must-read romances. (I actually put together a list of their recs on Goodreads. If you want to check it out, you can find it here.) I was really excited when I finally managed to obtain a copy. I'd heard nothing but good things, and I wanted to like it.
Let me start with a caveat: I consider myself a feminist. That doesn't mean that I only read books with strong female protagonists, however. Far too often, the so-called strong female protagonists end up irking the hell out of me. And why? Because they are these paragons of virtue in every sense of the world. Women should not have to be perfect to be considered strong. Real women, even strong women, make mistakes. They can be selfish, stupid, and even -- gasp! -- promiscuous.
My problem with MISTRESS is that Adelia is a Mary Sue in the extreme. She is a woman doctor in an age where most women don't even know how to read (England, circa the 12th century). King Henry II is ruling, post Thomas Becket's death, and children are turning up dead in Cambridge. Adelia has come to investigate, because she doesn't feel like those silly old constables are doing a good enough job! Silly men! But don't worry, Medieval Miss Marpole is on the case! Also, DID I MENTION SHE'S A WOMAN!?!!
Don't worry, in case you somehow missed the fact that she's a woman, it will only be drilled into you a couple hundred more times. Oh, and she doesn't know she's beautiful. Also, at least two people have tried to rape her in the first fifty pages alone, and her bodyguard is a Saracen eunuch. And she falls into insta-lust with this hot crusader right away. HAHA! NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE.
It's a shame, because I love the concept. Forensic mysteries are a huge favorite of mine. For example, Kathy Reich's series, and Jefferson Bass's Body farm series. But I just can't jump on board with a series that has a plucky, in-your-face, I'M WOMYN HEAR ME ROAR type heroine in medieval times. It just isn't realistic. Regency--maybe, although that would be pushing it. Victorian--okay. Maybe even Renaissance England. I mean, Elizabeth Tudor, hello. But Early Medieval? Nope.
I received a free copy of this book from the Goodreads giveaway.
To be honest, I applied for this on a whim since it was an NYT notable book & because even though I'd heard of Charles Manson I didn't actually know what he did. People often speak of him in the same breath as Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, so I'd always assumed he was a serial killer. But the truth is a bit more complicated and strange than that.
The book starts out with a portrait of the Manson family, starting with his hard-working very christian maternal grandmother, and then his mother, who was often portrayed as a prostitute guilty of neglect. Because women must always be blamed for the crimes their men commit, right? Again, the truth is more complex. Yes, she did do some prostitution but she got screwed over by men, and she dug herself into a hole when she attempted to rebel against her mother. Charles was not the easiest kid to raise. For a while she was separated from him and he was shunted from home to home, where he got mixed up in things like drugs and was sent to various reform schools and then put in prison and also probation.
Charles decided he wanted to go into music and met Phil Kaufman in jail, who ended up being a valuable contact later on. He went to Berkeley and got involved in the hippie scene, strumming his guitar and proselytizing on the street corner. At first he wanted to be a pimp but then he decided that cult leader/religious guru would do just as fine as well. He recruited women with daddy issues and low self-esteem. Their initiation was being asked to give him a blowjob on the spot. After that, he trained them to have any kind of sex with any man he demanded. The women were often used to recruit men for his "Family" and also obtain favors from valuable connections.
He was obsessed with the Beatles and wanted to be just as famous as they were. When he preached to his Family it was a bizarre mishmash of the biblical "end of days" and the Beatles' White Album, with Helter Skelter being equivalent to the apocalypse -- except in Charles' mind it was an exacerbated version of the Watts riot: a race war that would end up destroying most of humanity, throwing the world into chaos. The Family, who would be hiding during this time, would then come out and be the blacks' new masters and rule the world.
Kaufman's connections put Manson into contact with Dennis Wilson, from the Beach Boys, and Terry Melcher, the son of Doris Day and a record producer. He was a clinger-on to their coattails, and pushed his music on them in the hopes of achieving stardom. Both men slept with the women in Charles' cult multiple times, and for a while Charles actually lived with Wilson. He was such a leech that at one point, to thumb his nose at Charles, Dennis Wilson took the lyrics Charles wrote and turned it into one of the Beach Boys' own songs: "Never Learn Not To Love." That's right -- one of the Beach Boys' songs was actually written by Manson. At one point Kaufman produced a CD for Charles Manson of his songs. The album was called "LIE." As I read that, I thought to myself, "I bet that album is worth a lot of money now." He murdered Sharon Tate partly because she was living in Terry Melcher's old house and he was familiar with the area, and partly to cover up some murders done by his friend Beausoleil to fuck with the cops and make them think they hadn't caught the real murderer, and partly out of pique that Wilson and Melcher had "betrayed" him.
MANSON moves pretty slowly. The beginning is very slow and boring. It took me a week to work my way through this book because I wasn't really feeling it. The way that Charles Manson treated his female followers was awful. He was a manipulative, unwashed, smelly creep and it's amazing that so many women took him as their be-all & end-all. The last 100 pages pretty much consists entirely of the trial for the Tate murders and I think this is the most interesting portion of the book. It took a while for the conviction to form and then, later, to stick, because the officers handing the Tate and LaBianca murders, respectively, were so shitty at communicating with one another. Once they had the evidence, everything sort of just fell into place.
I was reminded of another true crime story I read recently, actually, called THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE. It was about the Central Park Jogger rape, and also featured police officers who were pretty bad about communicating with another and keeping track of evidence. Both MANSON and THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE are examples of why police officers should approach criminal cases unbiased, and not discard evidence on a whim.
Overall, I think MANSON is a good book. He was freaky and psychotic enough that he's still in the public consciousness even now, fifty years later, and it's really interesting to see how he manipulated everyone around him into doing what he wanted. I find mind control and brainwashing fascinating. I do think that Guinn did bite off more than he could chew with this one. In addition to painting a picture of Manson, he also endeavors to portray the sixties as a whole, the tumultuous beginnings of the civil rights movement, the burgeoning hippie scene, and the psychedelic claiming of eastern religions to find spirit and solace and sexual awakening in the wake of the stoic and industrial 1950s. It sort of works, but at points it also bogged down the narrative to the point of being boring. But then, I was never all that interested in the 1960s. The 1920s are far more my cup of tea. :)
This is a great book for people who want to learn more about Charles Manson, the 1960s, the Sharon Tate murders, brainwashing, or who just enjoy reading well-written true crime stories.
After an extraterrestrial incident that can best be described as murder-by-fart, humanity finds itself on the brink of war against a proud, racist, and highly olfactory nation: the Nidu.
Obviously, Earth does not want this to happen since the Nidu are pretty much the closest thing we have to allies. They demand a sheep sacrifice—a rare breed called “The Android's Dream” that is only used in Nidu coronations and was given to the Nidu by humans many decades ago. Unfortunately, this breed no longer seems to exist; all available specimens seem to be either dead or dying. What the fuck?!
Enter Harry Creek. Harry Creek is a survivor. He survived one of the worst wars in history, with something like 26 of his batallion survivng out of 1,000. Now he spends his career giving bad news to aliens. Things like, “Oh, your visa was denied and your wife is cheating on you.” His newest task is to find the sheep for the Nidu and save Earth from war. But there are a shit-ton of people determined to stop him—
And the sheep...well, that would be telling.
The only other book I've read by John Scalzi is REDSHIRTS, which is an amazing Star Trek parody (specifically the first generation). It was exellent: darkly comic, brilliant satire, just odd enough to make it stand out from the rest. THE ANDROID'S DREAM was another good read. Scalzi has such a zany sense of humor. The best way to describe this book is to say that it was what Douglas Adams aspired to be: weird and wild with a plot. Adams was too silly and often let the plot escape him. Scalzi does not. There was never a dull moment with this book—not one!
I am so grateful to my book club for choosing this as their book-of-the-month, and also to my friend, who oh-so-kindly lent her copy to me to read.
Clearly, I will have to check out more of Scalzi's work. He's becoming a fast favorite.