A while ago, I reviewed a fairly popular fantasy novel. I gave it a mostly negative review, saying that while I liked the idea behind the story, the execution left me wanting - particularly since the only female character in the story serves as an object of desire for all the male characters, and even though she rebuffs them multiple times, ultimately, the male hero triumphs and claims his prize: the woman. I received a very rude comment in response for this review that contained a backhanded compliment amounting to "you sound smart, but I'm still going to treat you like an idiot because you're a feminist and a woman" and was then informed that fantasy novels weren't written with women as the audience in mind, therefore we didn't need to be catered to.
Geek culture is on a lot of people's minds right now, because Ready Player One just made it to theaters, and it's basically a celebration of all things geek: but from a primarily white, heterosexual male perspective.I loved the book, but I recently came across a really great article by Beth Elderkin called The Trophy Woman of Ready Player One. It's a criticism of geek misogyny, and the treatment of women in portrayals of geek culture. Pop Culture Detective's The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theorydoes the same thing. Basically, the argument goes, the male geek is the polar opposite of the hyper-masculine alpha male, "the underdog," and is seen as "harmless" or "amusing." Therefore, when this character stalks a female character, repeatedly ignores her "no's," and goes to outlandish and often grossly inappropriate lengths to get her attention - and a date - it's acceptable, because we are supposed to infer that the female character just hasn't figured out what a sensitive, nice guy he is, because she's too stuck up.
GAMING MASCULINITY explores geek misogyny in the gaming community. Megan Condis taps into a wide variety of concepts, from lack of LGBT+ storylines in mainstream games and censorship of gay terms in game forums, to the online bullying of feminist and female gamers like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, to the implicit assumption that people online are white, straight, and male by default unless they choose to "out" themselves, and the equally implicit assumption that any hate or harassment an individual who has "outed" receives as a result of said "outing" brought it upon themselves by violating the status quo and trying to politicize or polarize their identity. She also writes extensively on internet trolling, and the psychology behind provoking reactions in people with extreme and offensive (and not necessarily heartfelt) statement. The toxic environments of gaming culture sometimes aren't addressed because it's considered an inherent attribute of said culture; and that to take away this crudeness, this "locker room talk," would be to destroy gamer culture.
This is such a fantastic book. As a gamer and a feminist, I found so much to relate to. I used to play an MMORPG and let me tell you, men can be so creepy online. I was seventeen when I first started playing, and I'd have men soliciting online sex, or "cybering," stalking me from world to world, calling me names (especially if I kicked their butts), and just in general being total trash people. People are so quick to condemn women as casual gamers or attention seekers, and even with women who play with their boyfriends, there's an expectation that the woman isn't supposed to play more or better than the guy she's playing with: she's just a cool add-on, no more, no less. And yet, there's also an expectation that this woman is also supposed to be totally in the know about everything canon, lest she be called on her knowledge, trivia-style, in order to prove her "cred." It's a totally unrealistic expectation, and male geeks and gamers are not subjected to this treatment - or at least, not to the same extent as their female counterparts. But lest you ask, "Wait, what about other disenfranchised groups in the gaming community?" - Condis goes into that too. Intersectionality? Condis has you covered. She discusses how LGBT+ and people of color are affected by this Boys' Club mindset of certain geeks, and not just women. From the exclusion of LGBT+ storylines in RPG games and dating sims to the incredibly racist hate speech that can surface as "trash talk," it's incredibly effective in getting the point across that there is a problem.
The takeaway message here is that women are autonomous agents and we enjoy consuming geeky pop-culture paraphernalia, even if it doesn't reflect who we are, even if we get a lot of garbage for it - and we shouldn't have to get garbage for indulging in what we love. We shouldn't get garbage for speaking critically about what we love. I love READY PLAYER ONE, Big Bang Theory, and Revenge of the Nerds, even if they have problematic content. I love a lot of games, even though they don't have a lot of great female characters. The first time I got my hands on Pokemon Crystal, I was so excited - because finally, I could play as a character that I identified with: a female character with blue pigtails, instead of a boy with a little red cap. Am I going to talk about the problematic content and the lack of representation? Yes. Does this make me less of a geek enthusiast for doing so? No (or at least, I don't think so). Going back to my original point in the beginning, about women not being the target audiences of such franchises, I'm going to posit that that's a symptom and not the cause. Maybe the reason that women aren't as interested in games and geek ephemera isn't due to a lack of interest; maybe it's because they were excluded from the target audience from the get-go, with warped representations (or no representations at all), and storylines written entirely from a male lens, about an entirely masculine construct of the geeky Übermensch. Stop making us the girlfriend or the escort mission or the prize; make us the valued partner or the hero, and we'll come running.
P.S. Her essay on Bioshock: Infinite had me watching 2 hours of Bioshock cut scenes. #amazing
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Wow, this was like one of those made-for-TV Christmas specials. One of the bad ones. I've read a number of Campbell's work at this point, and while she made her name writing controversial "nouveau bodice rippers" in the mid-2000s, now she just writes slightly-smuttier-than-the-norm costume regency novels and...this. Whatever this is.
A PIRATE FOR CHRISTMAS is a love story between a vicar's daughter and an Earl, set during the holiday season. There's a donkey, a ton of terrible pirate jokes, and a bunch of kisses that are about as lukewarm as day-old soup.
I skimmed most of this book, but I read enough to get the general idea of the storyline and I just could not get into it at all. It's pure fluff, but without sweetness because there's no real emotional connection. This is the color-by-the-numbers version of fluff.
Plus, I got icky "nice guy" vibes from Rory. Rory, who I was perfectly willing to like because red-haired hero + Navy captain. But no, he decides that he wants in the heroine's knickers at first sight and talks about her like she's prey and he is the mightiest of hunters. Which is permissible if you're writing about creepy men, who you aren't supposed to like, but when Lord Nicey McNicerson of Not-a-Dbagshire is doing it... well, it just kind of rubs you the wrong way.
This was my nomination for my romance group's holiday-themed read for December - and it won. I'm glad I got it off my Kindle, but I also feel kind of bad that so many others had to suffer with me. ;-(
Do you have a feminist friend with a young daughter? I have the perfect Christmas gift idea for you - THIS BOOK.
The first book I read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS, an excellent little feminist manifesto based on one of her TED talks (which I have seen - it was excellent, and you should definitely watch it, too). WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS is a broad perspective on why feminism is important, and how its tenets benefit society.
DEAR IJEAWELE, as the name suggests, is much more personal. It's Adichie's letter to a friend who has just given birth to a baby girl, and who wants to know how to raise her baby as a feminist in Nigeria, a somewhat patriarchal and conservative society. In DEAR IJEAWELE, Adichie gives her friend fifteen suggestions to raise her daughter in an empowering way.
While I did not enjoy DEAR IJEWAWELE as much as I did WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS, it's still a beautiful and important book. I thought Adichie gave her friend very good advice.
Here are two of my favorites:
Teach her that if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women (17).
Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive. It is misogynistic to suggest that they are (23).
You could just as easily take a highlighter and quote the whole dang thing, though. It's that good, and that relevant. I look forward to seeing what other essays Adichie publishes in the near future. She has a fantastic writing style and always brings up such salient points - and I adore her for it.
Elizabeth Hoyt is an author I keep coming back to again and again. She's like Lisa Kleypas's cooler, edgier older sister: her heroes are just as hot, but she's fonder of antiheroes and perilous situations - and I mean perilous beyond the last-minute murder attempts Lisa Kleypas casually throws into the last acts of her stories for tension.
Unfortunately, Hoyt, like Kleypas, can also be somewhat uneven with regards to the quality of the stories she puts out. I've read several Hoyt novels, and while two of them were five star reads (DUKE OF SIN, THE LEOPARD PRINCE), one of them was a one star read and one of them was a DNF that I'm still not sure I'm ever going to come back to (DUKE OF PLEASURE).
DUKE OF DESIRE starts promisingly enough with a ritualistic sacrifice being run by a depraved cult: The Lords of Chaos, creepy deviants who wear animal masks and have dolphin tattoos. Iris, the object of the sacrifice, was kidnapped for this purpose because everyone thought she was the Duke of Kyle's betrothed. She is shocked when instead of meeting her end then and there, is claimed by a man in a wolf mask who wants to use her for her own purposes.
When he absconds with her in his carriage, allegedly to take her and then kill her, she seizes his pistol and shoots him, nearly killing him. Iris is shocked - yet again - to find out that behind the wolf mask is the Duke of Dyemore, a beautiful but scarred man who appears to be made from ice itself.
As it turns out, the Duke, Raphael, is determined to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and take down their leader, the Dionysus, because of his own tragic history in the cult. He wants revenge. But now with Iris on his hands, he determines that the best course of action to save her from falling into their clutches is to marry her (okay?) and afford her his protection while continuing out his revenge.
It's clear from the beginning that Raphael has suffered terrible abuse, which makes it even more annoying when the heroine immediately and incessantly begins pestering him for sex. That sucked a lot of enjoyment out of this book for me, because it played into the stereotype that men are sex machines who can't say "no." She constantly worked to seduce him, to get him so riled up that he couldn't say "no," badgering him all the while for sex, even when he told her he didn't want to.
Flip the genders on that. Still okay?
Raphael was a wonderful, flawed, and tragic character, and the Lords of Chaos plotline was properly creepy and would have fit into a bodice ripper from the 1970s, it was so dark. But I just couldn't stand Iris, with her sexual bullying and how it was portrayed as "healing." It just felt gross to me. I was originally going to give this book three stars, but I decided to take one off, because I disliked the heroine so much that I didn't really buy their HEA - and what kind of romance is that?
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Here's the thing: the concept is great. Frank owns a record store in the 1980s, when records are beginning to be replaced by CDs. He holds fast to his beloved records, falls in love, and his favorite music becomes the soundtrack to his pursuit of the forbidden woman, interspersed with the memories of the music from his childhood, with his tempestuous, eccentric mother.
I think Rachel Joyce wanted to write the next HIGH FIDELITY, but she doesn't have the charm or the wit of Nick Hornby. Instead, she writes what I call "hand-holding fiction." Maggie Stiefvater does this, too. The prose is lovely but often overly precious, and everything is explained to you in great detail, as if the author doesn't trust the readers enough to let them figure it out for themselves. We must always be told what a character is feeling, and why, instead of being allowed to infer that ourselves.
It's. So. Freaking. Annoying.
Another thing that really galled me about this book is the manic pixie dreamgirl element. Frank is lost, adrift, and it's the entrance of a tortured, quirkygirl that grounds him and gives him meaning. I hate the manic pixie dreamgirl trope, because in such stories the heroine becomes a means to an end: a reward to the male character for dutifully completing his character arc. As if that weren't enough, they're both pretentious AF. Frank gives her "music lessons" where he mansplains to her for hours about what musicians are good and what the records mean (kindly eff off, Frank), and Ilse is flighty and mysterious and utterly flat, apart from having a fancy accent and fancy clothes.
If you ever wondered what the little shits in John Green novels would be like in middle age, pick up this book and satisfy your curiosity, because these characters are totally the little shits in John Green novels all grown up and in the midst of a mid-life crisis.
YA has lost its edge for me lately. There are only so many wallpaper fantasy novels and "first love" romance novels that I can handle before I start to feel like I've eaten too much Halloween candy. I used to read YA exclusively but lately I've mostly limited myself to romance novels and, of course, nonfiction.
But 13 MINUTES, with its unique premise, called to me. What if a girl died for 13 minutes, only to be brought back, and couldn't remember what killed her? What if she was supposed to have been murdered? What if she remembers who did it?
If I had to describe 13 MINUTES using one of those stupid marketese "X MEETS Y"-type formats, I'd describe it as Gone Girl meets Mean Girls. It has the same razor-sharp tension and suspense as Gone Girl, with the same cutting social satire and surprisingly deep analysis of teen girl culture that made Mean Girls so hilarious, and yet so meaningful for so many women.
13 MINUTES has multiple POVs, described in interviews, text messages, diary excerpts, as well as the more traditional fixed narrative style. Natasha is the leader of the "Barbies," the beautiful and popular rich girl who nearly died. Hayley and Jenny are her two friends: Hayley is the sporty one and Jenny is the glamorous one. Both of them start acting strange when they find out that Natasha isn't actually dead. Becca is one of the outsiders, who isn't popular or unpopular. She has one good friend of her own and spends most of her time having sex and smoking pot with her older boyfriend. She used to be Natasha's friend when they were kids, but was kicked to the curb to make room for Jenny, because she was heavier, not as cool, and didn't have the correct social capital to fit in any longer.
The accident ends up bringing Becca and Natasha together again because Natasha isn't sure she can trust Jenny and Hayley. Even though Becca still has bitter feelings about Natasha, she didn't have the motive or the means to push Natasha into the frozen river - unlike Jenny and Hayley. Their relationship becomes increasingly intimate as more and more clues surface, and Becca is determined to race the clock and find Natasha's possible killer before she gets her memory back -
Before it's too late.
13 MINUTES took a while to get into because of the unusual format of the story. For the first 2/3 of the book it was a gritty but fairly straightforward YA thriller. I rolled my eyes a bit at the predictability of the storyline, but appreciated the realness of the portrayal of sex, drugs, and mental health among English teens. Even if it was a bit cliche, that realism made it extra interesting. And then, in the last 1/3 of the book everything changed and I had no idea what was going on.
Don't you love it when a book surprises you, when it completely turns you on your head? I do, too. I did NOT see that twist coming, and it turned a 3-star read into a solid 4.
If you enjoy gritty YA and good mystery/thrillers, you will enjoy this book.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I received SLUT in a bundle of free books to review from Instafreebie a couple years ago and am only just now getting around to it. I think the romances in question were supposed to be empowering, a change from the typical alpha dude meets submissive chick and find love through sex-type storyline.
SLUT might make you do a double-take because of the title, but it's actually a surprisingly deep story. Rebecca ("Bex") used to be overweight. Her father is impersonal and her mother committed suicide, and after her mother's death, he decided to make Bex his special project so she wouldn't do the same. He forced her to have bariatric surgery (stomach staple) and then, while she was under anesthesia from the surgery, had the doctor sneak in a nose job.
Bex comes from a family of wealth and privilege, but inside she always feels like the fat girl, and she compensates for her emotional issues with sex. What makes this story more interesting than the usual "promiscuous heroine" story is her attitude towards sex: she doesn't actually like it that much - it's the pursuit that gets her off, that feeling of being wanted. The act itself just makes her feel numb, because it's utterly impersonal: there's no affection in the act.
That's something else this story does well: it really highlights the difference between sex and intimacy. Ideally, you have both - together - but you can also have intimate relationships that are platonic, and sexual relationships that are unfeeling. This book covers pretty much every combination of that, all over the spectrum, and it gave SLUT a density that many other new adult books don't have.
SLUT also tackles other topics, like bisexuality, self-esteem, love, rape culture, abuse, and age gaps. There's a lot of conversation among the characters about important things - things actual couples would actually talk about before sex or before dating. Some of these things were really insightful and had me nodding along, because it felt pitch-perfect as opposed to like totally unrealistic fantasy.
I'm giving it three stars because it's really short and I feel that development would have been better in a full-length novel. It's also rather outrageously expensive for a book that's scarcely over 100 pages - $3.99 for such a small book feels like way too much money, she said, while purchasing a $3.99 small macaron ice cream sandwich from an overpriced San Francisco bakery. But seriously, I'd like to see this author write a longer book. The short format here doesn't really do her stories justice. Also, sometimes the messages could come across as a little heavy handed. SO SWEET, by Rebekah Weatherspoon, another book in this selection, had similar problems.
If you're tired of the usual NA tropes and want something besides "girl-with-first-world-problems solves self-induced conflict by licking hawt boyfriend's abs," you'll want to give this one a try.
People love to ask that question: what would you do if you had a billion dollars? The first thing I'd do is start a scholarship in my name and then probably donate money to the local schools. The second thing I'd do is spend way too much money on ebooks that I'm not going to read. I AM SO BAD AT READING THE BOOKS I ALREADY OWN - and yet, like a magpie, I'm constantly on the lookout for more lovely, shiny books to feather my nest.
UNDER A RAGING MOON is one of those books. I snagged it from the freebie section of the Kindle store, along with a selection of other works by this author. I'd liked most of what I'd read by V.J. Chambers, with one exception - although, with this particular book, there's a catch... it's a serial. Meaning only the first book is free. Subsequent installments in the series must be paid for. I have always sneered slightly at serials - it seems like the book equivalent of a "freemium" app.
I know what you're thinking. "Nenia, you got a book for free and you're going to complain about it?"
Piper is a private detective (who is also a werewolf) currently investigating this man (who is also a werewolf) whose girlfriend died. She had a necklace, which was a family heirloom with magical Werewolfy Powers™ and the parents of the dead girlfriend want it back. Also, it's worth mentioning that werewolf man's name is Kale, like the vegetable. KALE.
Her plan to get into his house to steal the necklace is to sabotage her own car, flaunt her assets (and breastets - old joke, I know), and then finagle an invitation to spend the night in his guestroom by playing the helpless girl. Only Kale - *snort* - seems determined to resist her.
Weirdly, she's also attracted to the repairman of the tow truck, who is NOT immune to her charms, and they almost end up doing it in the front seat of his car. There's this weirdly uncomfortable, predatory vibe at first that gave me horrific flashbacks to the ONE and only Alexa Riley book I read, which involved alternative forms of payment in exchange for services rendered, and suddenly I was like, "OH GOD, THIS IS GONNA TURN INTO SOME SORT OF WEIRD BREEDING EROTICA." Because I have been down that road, and it's a dark and scary road.
But no, this was not breeding erotica.
Honestly, for what it was, there were some pretty hot scenes in here. I also liked that it appears to be set in the same universe as her other werewolf series, Cole & Dana, because I really liked THE KILLING MOON - although the shortness of the book kind of just made me wish that I was reading that book instead. But hey, it's free, and it's inoffensive. How often can you say that of a book found in the freebie section? Word of warning, though: it ends on a major cliffhanger.
The concept behind PostSecret is pretty cool. Mail in an anonymous, decorated postcard with your secret. Wait and see if it ends up on the website and rejoice in the fact that you have lessened your own burden, just a little bit.
I bought this book several years ago from a used bookstore for $1. I guess this particular version is intended for teenagers...maybe it's the way the postcards inside are written, maybe it's the bubble stickers in the back (mine still had most of them intact on the sheet, even after buying it used). When I bought this book I was only a little older than most of the people writing the cards, and I wasn't as happy with my lot in life as I am now. As I read through the postcard entries, I was astounded at how many people's secrets sounded like they could have just as easily been my own - or, if not my own, how unusual and interesting people can be behind the facades we wear for the world, and how reading something that is posted anonymously is somehow much more acceptable and less shocking than blurting it out during a conversation. I think many people are silenced by the constraints of social mores; we can't be honest because it's rude or weird, so we keep our secrets - big and small - to ourselves.
This book was published before things like the Whisper App, or the YouTube equivalent of the Burn Book from Mean Girls, "Story Time," became super popular. It shows in the photographs chosen - most of them look like they were taken with real film. Many are crafted, some elaborate, others scribbled sharpie on torn-out scraps of paper. They're all so different, and yet they form a cohesive whole. There's something beautifully symbolic about that, I think. The secrets themselves also cover a broad spectrum. Some made me laugh, like the clown who took the light-strewn xmas reindeer from his neighbor's lawn and made them "hump" and the person who anonymously mails people e.e. cummings poems. Others, like the person who felt responsible for their friend's drug overdose, or the many survivors of rape who felt like it was their fault or, worse, didn't feel like they felt at fault enough, were heartbreaking. There are contributions on all sorts of thorny topics, like suicide, depression, and sexuality. Some are hopeful, others despondent. There were a few that made my heart hurt and one or two that moved me to tears (the one about the grandmother made me so sad).
MY SECRET is a really amazing book. It made me think about myself in a different way, and also made me feel better about some of the things that were upsetting me at the time. Periodically, I'll dig it out of my "keepers" box and page through it, and each time I read it, different postcards resonate with me depending on how I'm feeling at the time. I think every high school library should have a copy of this - if only so that kids, no matter what or how they're feeling, know they're not alone.
🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Snape: morally grey character. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟
Lots of authors want to write "dark" and "gritty," but few have the muscle to pull it off. Not Tarryn Fisher. Ever since reading MUD VEIN, I've found myself pleasantly surprised by her wide cast of flawed characters and intricately plotted stories. MUD VEIN had some weaknesses, in that it was trying too hard to be twisty and suspenseful to the point where one had to suspend one's disbelief, but the ride was thrilling and beguiling. I wanted to read more.
Like MUD VEIN, MARROW is also built around suspense and features a heroine who is not very likable but is also highly sympathetic. Margo is a girl who lives in a low-income suburb in Seattle called "the Bone." Many of the people there are involved in petty crime of some form or another. They're the types of people who slip through the cracks, who don't report crimes because the deck is stacked against them.
Margo's mother is a prostitute and resents her existence. The two of them live in a house that Margo calls "the eating house" - because it's devouring her slowly, I guess. We follow her from young girl to young woman, and as she gets older, she becomes more and more aware of the injustices that occur in the Bone, and it slowly makes her angrier and angrier - until she loses it, and decides to take matters into her own hands. Her journey is utterly fascinating. I haven't been this engrossed by a heroine since Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL. It's got that same sort of "descent" if you know what I mean.
MARROW is definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy dark stories and tales of suspense, with anti-heroes and revenge, this will be a good story for you. It reminded me of Caroline Kepnes's YOU and Jeff Lindsay's DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER in many ways, and I think there's a lot of crossover appeal for readers who enjoyed those stories. It has that same sense of morality play meets procedural drama. I can't wait to read the rest of this author's books.
P.S. Characters from MUD VEIN appear in this book. I picked up on some of the clues early on and wasn't sure if it was meant to be a sneaky Easter Egg - but it was! And then it turned into a full-on cameo. I was so excited, I literally bounced in my chair. I love it when authors do this.
This book was a bit of a disappointment, and is probably my least favorite of the HQ manga I've read. Tamsin is a member of the nobility, and the daughter of a man who owns a rugby team. When she was a teenager, she had a crush on the star rugby player but due to a misunderstanding following her declaration, her father kicked him off the team and he (the rugby player, Alejandro) never forgave her. Now she's a successful fashion designer and is charged with making the new team uniforms - and he is a businessman who works for the other team.
Usually, if the title of the romance novel could double as a short synopsis of the book, it means that you're probably going to be dealing with an uber alpha hero and this book is no exception. Alejandro is one of those really mean heroes who seems to delight in treating the heroine like garbage, all in the name of "revenge." It was over something so petty, too. Plus, he refers to the heroine as a "virgin flower" 3-4 times over the course of this book, and it's like, dude, stahp.
I thought Tamsin was an interesting heroine, but she wasn't really that well fleshed out. She wasn't irritating or anything, though. Just a dull, standard nice-girl prototype. Honestly, it's the story (lacking) and the hero (mean) where this book loses its stars. I'm sad that I didn't like the story more because the art is completely gorgeous, and utterly wasted on this lackluster effort.
I bought this for 99-cents, so I don't feel like I was ripped off, but I wouldn't pay any more than that for it. There are better HQ manga to start with and this, sadly, isn't one of them. I'll have to make a note to avoid any other India Grey adaptations; something about her stories just feels "off."