Thursday, January 19, 2017

ALAMW17! See you in Atlanta!

I'll be leaving for Atlanta tomorrow morning for a trip to ALA Midwinter combined with a mini-vacation.  I've never been to Atlanta before, and I must go to the aquarium.  I only bought myself an exhibits pass, but if you see me in the Exhibit Hall, feel free to say hi!  I'll be tweeting a lot, too!

Have a fabulous weekend, and GO PACK GO!

Kill the Beast! Kill the Beast! Maybe not?

This book has a very pretty cover but a rather awkward title.

Binary confusion seems to be the running undercurrent of The Beast Is An Animal, with interesting fantasy elements and surprisingly complex characters combatting a dismal sense of pacing and the obligatory romance.  As I read, I kept thinking, "Oh, now I'm loving this!" and then I would turn the page and think, "No!  What is this?  Stop!"  Overall, the ideas were very interesting, and ironically, the book would have benefited from a stronger editor (the author is an editor).  The beast is an animal, the author is an editor, and the plot is kind of a mess.


I cannot dismiss The Beast Is An Animal out of hand, because I really enjoyed parts of it, and I can see the potential in it.  It also led me down an internet rabbit-hole about Welsh and Welsh spelling--but more on that later.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I have lots of books on my bookshelves that are begging to be read, so I'm trying to add those into my usual jam-packed reading routine.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  I checked this out so many times from the library and never read it, so I decided to see if owning it would make me actually crack it open.  I am enjoying it very much so far.  I like the lack of infodumping.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.  I KNOW, OKAY?  I haven't read this but it's a (signed!) ARC that I kind of forgot I had and I was worried it wouldn't stand up to my expectations.  So far, it's holding up nicely.  Also, I had no clue my copy was signed.  Did I have Sabaa sign it and then forget about it?  Unforgivable!

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones.  One of my favorite fantasies is Clare B. Dunkle's The Hollow Kingdom, and this is quite reminiscent of that.  I am, horror of horrors, not a huge fan of Labyrinth.

Want by Cindy Pon.  Literally a story about Haves and Have-nots, this is set in future Taiwan.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mini-Review: The Wages of Sin

Kaite Walsh's debut historical mystery The Wages of Sin is a slick, enthralling mashup of Jane Eyre and the Barker and Llwellyn series.

In London, Sarah Gilchrist had everything a young lady of position and wealth could ask for--dresses, ball invitations, and an admiring suitor.  But when she is raped by the man who supposedly loves her, society casts her out while simultaneously forgiving the rapist as just being a man.  After being raped, her family sends her to an asylum, just in case she were to be pregnant (which would be her fault, of course, because women who are raped are obviously responsible.  Victorians: they sucked).  Sarah endured  unimaginable "treatments" for her crime of being female.  And now, since she can fall no further, she's decided to pursue her true interest: medicine.

It's the end of the 19th century, and universities in the United Kingdom have finally agreed to grant degrees to female students.  Sarah travels to Edinburgh, Scotland to attend the University there, and is a member of the first class of female medical students.

But don't think that the university teaches men and women equally.  Due to their supposedly delicate constitutions, classes for women are taught separately from the men.  The professors sometimes flat-out refuse to teach the female classes.  And despite having chaperones to "protect their virtue," the female students are subject to monstrous harassment from the men.  As the cherry on top, one of Sarah's classmates has singled her out for abuse and taunting about her precarious social status.

So, it's actually a relief when she can leave the university grounds and head to her volunteer work at St. Giles's Infirmary for Women and Children, where she learns from Dr. Fiona Ledbetter.  Although St. Giles's is in a nasty part of town, Sarah's Aunt Emily approves of anything that keeps her niece away from men.  Bonus, all society ladies give a little golf-clap for performing charity work.

Most of the patients at the infirmary are prostitutes.  A girl named Lucy comes in and begs for an abortion, but Fiona refuses.  Something about the girl touches Sarah's heart, but there's really nothing they can do.  And so imagine her shock when Lucy's body ends up as a cadaver in one of her medical classes.  Sarah discovers that Lucy has been murdered, and is determined to find the killer.  At the same time, she has to continue passing her classes and not ticking off one of her more mercurial professors, Merchiston.

But as she digs deeper into the hell of Edinburgh's brothels, she notices Merchiston drunkenly frequenting the house where Lucy worked.  And he does have a temper ... but he is also dashingly dark and brooding and magnetic.  But is he a murderer?  The chemistry between both of them was very well done, and reminded me a lot of Jane and Mr. Rochester, but without the wife in the attic.

The mystery resolves nicely, if a bit predictably, and I almost wish I hadn't read this as an advance copy because now I want the second one in the series.  I hope that Sarah ends up beaning her awful aunt and uncle on the head with a bedpan or something.  Sarah does make some rather cringeworthy mistakes, and is rather a hothead, but I liked her very much as a character.  She possesses something that even her fellow female medical students mostly lack: compassion.

Walsh completely nails the atmosphere of bleak and dirty Dublin at the end of the 19th century (I intend no offense to my Scottish friends).  The muck and filth and rampant disease are portrayed without hesitation, and Sarah often finds herself covered in effluvia--and not during her dissection classes.  Victorian society's hypocrisy when it comes to sexuality comes to the fore when we find that it's completely acceptable for well-to-do men to frequent brothels, but completely unacceptable for a young woman to "ruin" herself by being raped.  I often reflect on the fact that although I very much enjoy reading books set in the 19th century, I would never, ever, ever wish to live back then.

This is an excellent debut--it comes out in March, so preorder now or ask your library to buy a copy!

I received an advance copy of this title from Edelweiss.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Girls Are Made Of

"Sugar and spice and everything nice / that's what little girls are made of."

This rhyme was obviously written by a man who likes his ladies subservient, bland, and about as threatening as a wobbly blancmange pudding.  The kind of man who takes advantage of girls every chance he gets, and then blames them for being easy or loose or just too tempting.

I did not think that Elana K. Arnold's writing could surpass the pitch-black brilliance of Infandous, but, well, here we are.  I am once again stunned.  This has some of the most frank yet sensitive talk about Pap smears, birth control, abortion, and sex that I've ever read.  Arnold ruthlessly exposes the injustices and cruelty that girls rationalize as normal, and leaves the reader just a little bit broken inside.

Nina loves Seth.  She must, right?  She's his girlfriend.  She's had sex with him.  Against her own better judgment, she's fallen for him.  Seth is gorgeous and sly and ... he's a really awful boyfriend.

Nina's mother has told her that there is no such thing as unconditional love.  With a snap of her fingers, she could stop loving her daughter.  Nothing is promised or absolute.  Everything is loss.  The loss of all the babies before Nina, and the loss of all the babies who came after.

But when Nina refuses to pass some sort of obscure Seth man-test--when she refuses to shed her own skin completely in order to be subsumed by him, he casts her aside.  And Nina is pregnant.

Nina is very lucky--she is a girl who can afford to make informed choices.  And her choice to have a medical abortion, her choice to get an implant as birth control, and her choice to ask herself what she wants and what she desires model the choices that all women should have.  We don't.  For so many people on this earth, the worst thing they could be is not a Nazi or a terrorist or a murderer or a rapist: it's a woman.  We are held to an impossible double standard and punished for our existence.

Interspersed with Nina's personal narrative is her English project: a chronicle of female saints.  Unfortunately, in order to be a saint, you have to be dead, and generally the gruesomer said death, the saintlier the saint.  Nina chronicles the women who defied patriarchal norms by choosing their own beliefs over the desires of a man.  By honoring their own bodies.  By affirming their faith.  And soon, this chronicle is not only about women who have lived and died, but about a girl who was cocooned in a shell, half-grown and underdeveloped.  Viewed as a delicacy to be consumed by men.

With one crack of the egg, everything changes.  With one choice, we can be reborn.  Wobbly on our spindly legs at first, wet and weak-looking.  But we feather our nests with lessons learned and choices dared, and we grow.  And we fly.

There is no one right way to be a girl.  I might not have made some of the choices Nina did, but that doesn't make her wrong or me wrong.  We are both girls, finding out what we are made of.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.