Wednesday, June 28, 2017

DNF: Mask of Shadows

I had a great-aunt by marriage named Opal. She was the quintessential German Wisconsin lady. Snow white hair permed into a cottonball cloud, she was a bundle of energy swathed in at least one animal print. Her bright pink lipstick--at least five coats--formed a halo around her lips and somehow always smudged on the faces of any child who crossed her path. In short, she was pretty fabulous. And because of the associative nature of memory, I kept picturing my loud, brassy Aunt Opal whenever characters discussed the fearsome assassin of Our Queen's Left Hand in Mask of Shadows.

That is not the book's failing; it is my own. However, I believe that is the one problem I had with this book that I cannot pin down to murky prose, a generic plot, or weak worldbuilding.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I've Read in 2017 (so far)

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today's theme is, well, it's the title of the post.

Well, if this isn't a daunting post, I'll eat my hat. I already feel anxious about the books I have to leave out. Oh nooooo. The ones I feature on this list will be 2017 releases only, but can include future releases.

Okay. Breathe.

This is in no particular order:

1. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee. I'm still working on crafting a review of this that isn't just me flailing and yelling "ahhhhhh!" because of how frighteningly good this is. If you love snarky narrators, kick butt ladies, Chinese mythology, superpowers, and complicated relationships with parents: you will adore Genie Lo. So, basically, if you are a human who reads, you will love Genie Lo.

2. Want by Cindy Pon. Take notes, because a near-future commercial dystopia revolving around the collapse of the environment and the war between the haves and the have-nots is definitely a possibility. Also, Jason Zhou is a red-hot protagonist. Also also: that cover!

3. Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore. This is another one that I'm working on a review for, but I did discuss it with Andrea over on Teen Services Underground. Be warned: that review is chock full o'spoilers! But seriously: a book that has literary homages up the wazoo and the multiverse??? Yes, please!

4. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. This is a fluffy, fun, and smile-inducing romance with a lot of fabulous diversity rep.

5. Lady Killers by Tori Telfer. Nothing distracts from impending doom in the world like reading about mass murderesses of times past. You feel a little better about your life when you realize, "Hey, at least I don't work for someone who literally beats people until they explode!"

6. The Valiant by Lesley Livingston. Yet another hit from this year's selection of Reader Vs. Reader books. Kick-butt girl gladiators in ancient Rome? Oh yeah.

7.Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I want to describe this as epic, because a story spanning centuries naturally is. Anderson has managed to write a magical, slightly weird, utterly beautiful epic in under 300 pages. Wow.

8. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. This is a fabulous examination of the intersection of fandom, anxiety, family, and friends. BONUS: you can now read The Children of Hypnos, the popular YA series featured in Eliza on Wattpad!!!

9. Heartstone by Elle Katharine White. This book was so unbelievably good that my reviews for it consisted of walls of text generated by me slamming my hands on the keyboard in simultaneous frustration and utter delight. If I reread this, which I probably will, I will make a second attempt at a review. Basically, this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice BUT WITH DRAGONS. YOU ARE WELCOME. READ IT.

10. A Season of Daring Greatly by Ellen Emerson White. Andrea and I read this for Reader Vs. Reader on TSU, and it's a total sleeper that deserves far more recognition than it's getting. If you are sad that Pitch didn't get renewed, check out this book! I'm hoping against hope that White turns this into a series!

What have been your favorite reads of 2017 so far? Have I missed anything that's absolutely brilliant?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Skitter (The Hatching #2)

The one thing I do miss about the frigid weather up north is that it is an effective pesticide. Sure, we get those awful hairy centipedes in the winter, and mosquitoes in the summer (it's more humid there than a lot of people think) and the usual bees, ants, and other insectidae et arachnidae. However, the general state of frigidity from October through May kills off all but the hardiest bugs.

Alas, this is not the case here in the Carolinas. There are bugs everywhere.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I am not at ALA and I'm trying to be okay with that

I've been waiting for ALA to come back to Chicago for so long ... and then I moved out of the Midwest and to the East Coast. What with a new job and very little time off and not a lot of money, I skipped ALA this year.

I'd be lying if I said that I feel sad looking at everyone's tweets and FB updates from the conference. So, I decided to do a pros and cons list of the ALA conference in relation to my circumstances right now. This is mostly for me to work out my anxiety, but if it helps you, then that's awesome too! 

Pros of being at ALA:

  • I see my friends and meet people I regularly engage with on Twitter. Oddly (or perhaps not?) my relationships with these people are more transparent and easy than friends I know in real life. This is probably because on Twitter, I say what I feel pretty much all the time. This is me. And if you do the same thing, that is you, and that is why I follow you. 

  • I meet new people. I am definitely introverted, but I like big crowds because I can lose myself in them. However, at ALA, I make a point to go up to someone if I recognize them and introduce myself. I put on my No-Shame hat (the one I wear during storytimes as I wiggle and shake around the room) and go for it.

  • I pick up ARCs, not just for myself, but for my coworkers and the teens at the library. Yup, it's awesome to get an ARC of a book you've been on tenterhooks for, but it's even better when you give it to a teen who didn't even know ARCs were a thing and their face lights up and you feel all warm and fluffy inside. Try it--you'll like it!

  • It's in Chicago this year, which is one of my favorite cities. I would totally live there if I a) could find a decent-paying job in the area and b) didn't have to go back to the Winters of Doom. However, if any well-read, Chicago-based millionaires who appreciate my wit and don't mind that I look kinda weird want to marry me, I'll consider applications. Ha! Just kidding. Marriage sounds awfully difficult and I am probably too selfish to make that work.
Cons of being at ALA:

  • It's exhausting and over-stimulating. There is just SO MUCH STUFF. I always worry about missing the really good sessions or the author appearances.

  • I hype myself up for a session and it turns out to be Not That Great.

  • Pursuant to the last point, sometimes sessions are flat-out insulting and not good, like the one I was at last year which basically involved a person presenting about how much they disliked a specific coworker. This had nothing to do with the theme, and since we knew where the presenter worked, it's highly likely someone at the conference knew the coworker in question. Or like this year, where I saw someone was already trying to make #infobesity into a thing. How is that a thing? How could you ever think that's okay???

  • It's pricey. If you don't have library financial support, it's really expensive, especially if you stay in an ALA hotel. And shocker! Not all of us work at libraries that have the money to pay for you to go to ALA. Or even if you do, they make you feel like a greedy person for asking. Or they punish you for going by making you write an essay. (Note: this is NOT my current job. I love my new library! They could have sent me but I wanted someone else to go, especially because I'm new and I am still learning my own job)

  • Somehow everyone else gets the invitations to all the parties with the swag and free food and champagne, and you're sitting on the outside wondering how to be with the Cool Kids. Because yes, Virginia, there are library world Cool Kids. For them, it's effortless (or directly tied to being a dude, but that's another blog post). They simply exist and publishers are like "Hey, want to come to the Newbery Gala?" And then I feel awful about myself for not being a Cool Librarian and for not getting invited to anything.

Huh. That did make me feel a little better about not being there this year. For the librarians who are there: enjoy it! Have fun in Chicago (you can hit me up for restaurant recommendations and/or directions to most places on the CTA because I'm pretty good at public transportation in Chicago)! See the Bean! Go to the Art Institute! Live Ferris Bueller's Day Off!

And with that, I might go to the beach. It's my only true rebuttal.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Tuesdays: Series I've Been Meaning to Start

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Hello procrastination, my old friend.

Clearly, Simon and Garfunkel had better rhythm, but I don't so much have an issue with darkness of the soul as I do lassitude of the mind. I can talk myself out of almost anything, which is probably why I'll never make any Really Big Decisions like getting married or buying a house. I will always find a way to not do something because I've brainstormed all of the ways it could go horrifically wrong.

Or I'm just feeling tired and not that into it at the moment. Either one, really, is a normal scenario.

Take blogging, for example. I love writing while I am writing, but staring at a blank screen trying to come up with Words so I can talk about my Feelings is extremely difficult. Therefore, I tend to go off and do other things, and by "other things," I mean "play Star Wars games on my tablet."

Generally, if I am interested in a series but haven't started it yet, it's for two reasons:

  1. I want to know I can at least jump into book two right after book one if the series is good.
  2. I am afraid of the Feels that I will experience and so avoid the book so as to cut out awkward and messy Feels.

Uh, that's about it. Without further ado, I present you with ten series I've been meaning to start but haven't:

  1. Dune by Frank Herbert. I suppose one could argue that Dune is Dune and need not be taken as a series opener, but it is, and I do, and this one is still looking at me balefully from the shelf. I have one of those pretty leather editions, too.

  2. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. If GRRM isn't going to finish it any time soon, I'm not sure I want to put my time into starting the series. I am also freaked out by what seems to be a lot of, er, interfamilial relationships.

  3. Dreadnaught (The Lost Fleet:Beyond the Frontier) by Jack Campbell. I read The Lost Fleet by Campbell, and I really enjoy the character of Black Jack Geary, the man revived to lead a war that he finds himself an accidental hero in. Of? Dangling prepositions? Crap. Anyway, I am worried that the neat little arc in The Lost Fleet will bleed out with Black Jack taking on new adventures and fighting new battles.

  4. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. I adored Three Dark Crowns, and all of my friends equally adored Anna, so I'm not sure why I'm hesitating.

  5. Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes. Honestly, I just like the cover of this one and it sounds pretty good. I think.

  6. On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington) by David Weber. As a young person in the library, I remember marveling that people read books as long as the Honor Harrington ones. After working my way through a decent amount of military sci-fi, I think she's next on my list.

  7. Can You Forgive Her (Palliser) by Anthony Trollope. I've been meaning to read Trollope for at least a decade and I keep putting it off. I like so many of his quotations out of context that hopefully, I'll like them in context even more!

  8. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier. I love a good time-travel story. I only pray that this is a good time-travel story.

  9. Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark Is Rising) by Susan Cooper. I KNOW, OKAY? I HAVEN'T READ THIS. YET.

  10. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. This first blipped my radar when I saw it was a twist on the good/evil fairy trope, but after hearing Soman speak at ALA Midwinter and tell the story of his fabulous Auntie Mame-esque grandmother, it really shot up in the rankings. If you want to read more about Soman's grandma, check out his story in Flying Lessons.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Repost: Top Ten Tuesday: Fraught Relationships with Dad

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I wanted to do a feature on the top ten dads in fiction, but I found that all of the most compelling father-child relationships in books that I read have been more complicated than "he's a good dad." Usually, it's something like, "he's a messed-up guy, but loves his kids in a weird sort of way anyway" or "he's a turd." So here are some dads with complex, and often turbulent, relationships with their families:

1. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King. I am often at a loss for words when it comes to the brilliance of King's books, but this one explores domestic violence in an utterly unique way. Sarah's relationship with her dad is almost non-existent--or at least, she pretends that it is. Short vignettes from the point of view of Sarah's mom are simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. This is a fantastic rumination on art, trauma, and memory.

2. The Shining by Stephen King. This book is so many things: horror novel, exploration of writing as catharsis, psychological study, and portrait of a flawed father. When it comes right down to it, Jack Torrance's actions are influenced by his love of his son, but whether that love is pure or twisted--ah, the Outlook decides that.

3. The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge. So you've been exiled to a tiny, rocky island in the North Sea because your dad lied about his fossil findings? Cool--the reason why he did it will blow your mind. Will Faith's desire to be loved and appreciated by her father blind her to his true nature?

4. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. When your dad is addicted to meth, and you hate what that does to your family, but he's still family.

5. Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston. Generally anything that involves intensive brainwashing by dear ol' Dad is going to be an issue. In this case, it's that the government killed Val's mother. After Dad perishes in a fire, Val becomes the avenging angel sent with a bomb strapped to her chest in order to make things right.

6. Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr. Gem and Dixie's dad is a washed-up Cool Guy who disappears for years at a time but then reappears all hunky-dory with a very suspicious backpack full of small bills. Hmmm.

7. Rotters by Daniel Kraus. This book is so terrifying that I couldn't even finish it. Honest, hand to the sky could not stomach it, which is saying a lot. Joey Crouch's dad, Harnett, is the Garbage Man of his isolated Iowa town--but what he really gets up to at night is so much worse.

8. Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts. The entire premise of the book is that a group of, ahem, royal bastards see their dads (and one mom) murdering another ruler and planning to blame the illegitimate kids for the crime! Cold, man. That's cold.

9. Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson. When your dad kills your little brother and locks you into a torture closet ... yeah, that's messed up.

10. William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare, and George Lucas (sort of). Come on, I had to find a way to include Darth Vader.
Any of these dads make your list too? Do you have favorite dads in literature?

Pandemic (Infected #3)

This book is a conundrum. It was a page-turner--I can't remember the last time I whipped through a 600+ page book in such a short period of time--but it also basically had lost all momentum and the characters were two-dimensional. I suppose I kept reading because of the aliens, and also because of the brilliance of the first book in the series--but this book lacked what made Infected so special: one "Scary" Perry Dawsey, ex-linebacker and anti-hero.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Unexpected Beach Reads

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're all about that beach, 'bout that beach with a beach reads freebie. I know for some parts of the country (hey, former home state of Wisconsin) it's not really beach time yet, but it will be Memorial Day in six days, and that's the official kick-off to summer. I'm not sure who decided that (probably some scheming executive in a mega corporation), but I'll take it.

Much like chick-lit, "beach reads" is often a term used with derision. I see no reason why deeming a book a "beach read" automatically reduces its value, but that often is the case. When you stop and consider that not all beach reads are fluffy--thrillers make the cut a lot--I do think it is a gendered attack on female authors. But beach reads, like beach bodies, should have no stigma attached to them. A beach body is a body on a beach. A beach read is a book you read while you happen to be at the beach. Because I take this view, I read whatever I want when I'm at the beach. I'm looking for a gripping story, but I wouldn't necessarily bring my Balzac or Victor Hugo to the beach. I need some respite from tragedy, after all.

Here, in no particular order, are some non-traditional beach reads to try out this summer:

1.  Misery by Stephen King. This is my current beach read, and the contrast between Paul Sheldon's confinement and the open spaces of the ocean is interesting to contemplate. And, you know, it's terrifying. Also, it will keep strange people away from you if you're an introvert like me and crave solitude.

2.  Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It's a toss-up between this one and The Cabinet of Curiosities for my favorite Pendergast novel, but if you must start, start at the beginning. Bonus: count how many times the beast has a "goatlike" odor and how often it "ululates."

3.  Heartstone by Elle Katharine White. If you lean more toward the romance spectrum in your reading preferences, give this fantasy retelling of Pride and Prejudice a spin. I am quite sure that I had a silly grin plastered to my face while reading the whole thing, and man, I shipped the ship so hard that I shattered into all the feels.

4.  The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi. With prose as fluid and graceful as waves, this book will sweep you away on a romantic, magical journey with a feisty heroine and a demon horse with a wicked sense of humor. It's achingly beautiful and perfect for sunsets.

5.  Thunderstruck by Erik Larsen. Most people are familiar with The Devil in the White City (and if you haven't read it, you MUST!), but this tale of murder, scientific quarrels, and police chases in Victorian England will hold you captive until the last page. You may have quite a sunburn from trying to finish this in one day.

6.  Sweet by Emmy Laybourne. If you feel sad that all of your friends are going on a cruise and you aren't, then have I got the book for you! You'll be super excited about all the money you saved and get a hefty dose of body positivity to boot. If Carnival Cruises were renamed Cannibal Cruises, this would be their promo guide.

7.  Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey. Kick-butt female protagonist, horselike companions, and fantasy intrigue combine in this, one of my favorite Valdemar books.

8.  Zero World by Jason Hough. A twisty, mind-bending story of alternate timelines and universes, this book moves quickly but is hefty enough to provide food for thought.

9.  Close Reach by Jonathan Moore. Again, this will make you think twice about that sailboat you may have been eyeing. A brutal, psychological thriller about a couple's really, really, really bad sailing vacation.

10.  Meg by Steve Alten. Sure, this one is hokey as all get out, but it's a novel about a dinosaur shark. How can you go wrong with "giant dinosaur shark" while you're at the beach? The new cover is garish and I love it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen

Historically, I've not had a good track record with Disney's reworkings of fairy tales. However, good things happened with their Journey to The Force Awakens marketing push for TFA (see my reviews of Alex Bracken and Tom Angleberger's take on Epidodes IV and VI, respectively), and I was willing to give them another shot. In spite of my suffering through A Whole New World, I am drawn, moth to the flame, to the Braswell retellings series. It's my literary masochism rearing its ugly head again.

I was at the local Barnes and Noble* right before going to see the live action version of Beauty and the Beast, and the teen section was decked out with Beauty and the Beast swag, along with piles of Disney ephemera. Tables with Braswell's retellings abounded, but they were side-by-side with some other, more middle-grade focused titles with really lovely artwork. I am a sucker for a pretty cover, and if the book has special touches like beautiful endpapers or gilded pages, I will make almost any excuse to buy it. However, because of the thorough burn I had received from the hokey Aladdin retelling, I talked myself out of buying any of the Disney Villains retellings, turned firmly on my heel, and went to the movie.

About a month later, I was perusing the offerings on Kindle Prime** and saw the first book in the series was available. Since I didn't have to pay for it (discounting the fact that I do pay for a Prime membership and therefore it isn't wholly free, but if you divide the savings I've gotten from Prime plus the free items into the actual cost of them membership, I feel like I've come out ahead, so it's like more-than-free), I happily downloaded it, envisioning an evening of oohing and aahing over stilted prose and banging out a cranky review, which is the surest way to restore my mental equilibrium.

Except ... I was rather enjoying this tale of Snow White's stepmother. While some of the prose veered dangererously violet at times, it wasn't bad, nor was it a word-by-word recreation of the film (thank goodness!). In a short novel aimed at higher elementary and middle grade students, Serena Valentino managed to create a rather astounding amount of pathos in the Queen's character and a commentary on the way men treat women's looks as an indicator of their worth as a person.

Daughter of a talented mirror maker, the Queen never expected to, well, to become Queen. Why should the King notice her? Her father told her often enough how very unattractive she was. Is the King playing a cruel trick? But it seems as if he has truly fallen in love with her, and she with him. Additionally, the Queen cares deeply about his daughter, Snow. Like the Queen, Snow has lost her mother, and the Queen is determined to be a stable and loving influence in Snow's life.

But odd things happen in the castle, particularly when the King is away on a military campaign. His three cousins come to visit and threaten both Snow and the Queen. The King gives her a mirror made by her hated father, and there is something--or someone--inside. Watching her. Waiting for her to slip up. Alone, with only Snow and her faithful attendant Verona, the Queen's hold on sanity begins to break.

The king's cousins (who aren't really his cousins, of course) return and offer her something tempting: power over the mirror, which is magic, and the knowledge that she truly is beautiful--fairest in all the land, even. After the King dies in battle, the Queen retreats into herself, brooding on her beauty and cutting out anyone and everyone who should challenge her. In a way, she still loves Snow, but the corrupting influence of her father's wicked spirit in the mirror and the three cruel sisters turns the Queen's uncertainty and self-loathing into a hatred for others' happiness.

At the end of the book, we pick up the story where the Queen creates the poisoned apple and gives it to Snow, but in her guilt and horror at what she has become, throws herself over the precipice during her flight from the furious dwarfs.

My favorite part of the book is when the Queen confides in her husband and tells him the whole story of her childhood. "A day of my childhood didn't pass when my father didn't tell me how unattractive I was, how ugly, and that is how I saw myself." The emotional abuse of a child leaves deep scars, and here, the Queen's father directly related her worth as a person to her physical appearance. Is that not what society does to us today? Your selfies better be at just the right angle, otherwise you are ugly. If you don't have a body that conforms to the currently worshipped aesthetic, you're worthless. Who would ever love you? And yet, the Queen is loved. She is beautiful, yes, but when we first meet her in the book, it is her kindness and unwavering love for Snow that shines. It is only when she turns her focus to her outward appearance that her inner beauty is poisoned and dies.

As I'll further explain in my review for the Beast book in this series, I prefer to think of these as AU retellings, and not necessarily canon (although I suppose that by publishing them, Disney has made them canon, in a way). They offer a glimpse of what might have been or what could have happened to make things turn out the way they did.

The books in this series are quick reads, and not poorly written. They are also quite lovely in physical form--I may go purchase the Ursula volume to read as it's not available for free online yet. Surprisingly thought-provoking for movie tie-ins.

*It's right by the cinema, so please don't blast me for not hanging at the indie bookstores more often. Also I can get gluten free cheesecake there.

**I know this is coming off like RAH RAH BIG CORPORATIONS THAT ARE EEEEVILLLL but honestly there are only so many fights I can fight, and I like the discounts I get on gluten free stuff on Amazon. Also the two-day shipping. If that makes me a bad person, then okay. I am a bad person.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Fifth House of the Heart

Treasures and monks and vampires: oh my!

No, it's not the latest Dan Brown book. It's a quirky Van Helsing-esque horror novel featuring a cowardly antiques dealer as the unlikely leader of a band of vampire hunters. And I'm using Van Helsing in a positive way, because I thought it was a fun movie, and also because Hugh Jackman. So if you didn't like that film, you may not enjoy The Fifth House of the Heart. Caveat lector and all that jazz. All that Latin? Whatever.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Mommie Dearest

Wooo, it's Top Ten Tuesday again! TTT is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. It's super fun because it combines two of my favorite activities: reading and compulsively making lists! Yay!

This week's theme is a Mother's Day freebie.

I love my mom. I love her even more after finishing a book where the mother/child relationship is ... shall we say, less than ideal? I'm not a fan of the phrase "bad mom," just because ascribing a moral judgement to a person I don't know makes me feel icky, so I'll call these ladies Moms You Probably Shouldn't Make Your #goals.

1. The Commandant in An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir). Because nothing says "I love you, son" like scourging him and repeatedly trying to kill him. Mwah!

2. Jeannette's mom in The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls). Another book that made me go to my parents and say, "Thank you for not making us live in a coal town in West Virginia with no heat and also make us eat garbage while you hoard Hershey's bars."

3. Gem and Dixie's mom in Gem and Dixie (Sara Zarr). Because making your fifteen-year-old daughter buy painkillers at school so you can take them to get high is amazing parenting.

4. Gertrude in Hamlet (William Shakespeare). Gotta give a shout-out to the Queen of Denmark, who marries her dead husband's brother and wonders why Ham is in a sulk.

5. Erica Milbourn in Wild Swans (Jessica Spotswood). Self-absorbed? Check. Fat-shaming? Check. Oooh, my top two indicators of a NOPE mom.

6. Myrtle Sunderly in The Lie Tree (Francis Hardinge). I understand why she does what she does, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

7. Mary Addison's mom in Allegedly (Tiffany D. Jackson). So many reasons. So many. Most of them are spoilers.

8. Gervaise Macquart in L'assommoir (Émile Zola). You know, throwing your life away for drink because life sucks (unofficial motto of Zola).

9. Maddy's mom in Everything, Everything (Nicola Yoon). I am one of the few people who disliked this book, but Maddy's mom was really something else.

10. Lane's grandma in The Roanoke Girls (Amy Engel). I know, technically this is a grandmother, but her complicity in the acts of the book is astounding, nauseating, and terrifying.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History

Lady Killers is a strangely delightful compendium of lady murderesses (specifically serial killers) throughout the ages. Obviously, that comes with some caveats, such as:

  • History was written by men. (And some cultures' history isn't written at all, but passed down orally, but that's for another time) These men were Not Happy about women with power, even if that power was, you know, murder. Many of the women in this book had some sort of social or financial power that was extraordinary for their time, and this certainly would have colored the judicial narrative.
  • Our knowledge of the nature of the crimes is limited by the scientific progress of the time period during which the murder occurred; modern readers can speculate that someone in the 1300s poisoned her husband, but since those bodies are long gone and people back then would have accepted "The evil goat looked at me sideways and so I got sick" as a perfectly plausible pathology, we don't have much hard evidence at all. 
However, Tori Telfer (a staff writer for Jezebel, which, while not the exceedingly smart and funny publication of my college days, is still sometimes relatively decent) does a competent and witty job with the female serial killers that we know about from History, As Written By Old White Men. She regularly and consistently acknowledges the almost-definite bias in the stories we have about these women, but also doesn't ignore the scientific and judicial evidence convicting these women of some really heinous crimes. If you want to know more about the last woman profiled, La Brinvilliers, grab a copy of City of Light, City of Poison, a fascinating examination of l'affaire des poisons in Louis XIV's court.

I hesitate to say that any of the women within were favorites, but I was particularly intrigued by the stories of Erzsébet, Countess Báthory; Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova; and Raya and Sakina Mouet, two Egyptian sisters in the 1920s.

Báthory is rather a given--tales of her bathing in virgins' blood to keep her complexion clear run rampant on the internet and in pop culture in general, but she probably didn't do that. She did have a monomania for murdering her young female servants, however, and did so with a measure of cruelty that would have curled Vlad Ţepeş' moustache. Poor, droopy thing. The other problem, of course, is that she was one of the most powerful women in her part of the world, since the King of Hungary basically owed her all the money. Combine that with a view of servants as less than worthless, and you've got conditions ripe for a very, very unhealthy release of rage. This woman's torture methods make her sound like the mastermind behind the Spanish Inquisition. I mean, she literally beat someone until their body exploded. She would be so bloody during a torture session that there would be a wardrobe change before Act II. How can such people exist?

Similarly, Darya Nikolayevna's systematic murder of serfs went pretty much unnoticed and virtually condoned by the system of the day because serfs were just property to Russian nobles. If you haven't read Dead Souls by Gogol, please do! It makes Darya Nikolayevna's story even more horrific. In between pilgrimages, Darya Nikolayevna beat her serfs to death, occasionally boiling the flesh from their bones for a little spice. To her, the serfs were less than animals. They were her possessions to do with as she pleased, and since (as she believed) God put her on earth as a noble, she had a sort of divine right to punish them with impunity. This is droit du seigneur gone very, very, very wrong. She slipped up, however, when she decided to punish her lover and his mistress by blowing them up in a miniature version of the Gunpowder Plot against Parliament. This was too much for her serfs to bear, even with the threat of being bashed against a stone wall or smashed with a fireplace log (one of Darya's favorite weapons). Eventually, the police arrested her, but she never confessed to a single thing.

Early reviewers have been complaining that the women featured in this book are not contemporary (so what?) and all white (not exactly true, but I'll get to that in a moment). I had never heard of Raya and Sakina, the two Egyptian sisters who murdered scads of people in post-WWI Alexandria. They killed the prostitutes in their employ when they got to be too rich for the sisters' liking, although they did also kill a poultry vendor. I am unsure whether it was over the state of the chicken or if Raya and Sakina just felt like it. This is a fascinating account of two women making it as madams in a city wracked with corruption and unrest, and could easily have been one of those rah-rah-go-ladies stories, except for the gruesome murders. Raya and Sakina had hustle, sure, but they also suffocated women and stuffed them inside of clay home walls. Body disposal was not their forte, and eventually led to their arrest.

Interestingly, the women profiled in this book span economic statuses from very poor to "Hi, the King owes me money" rich. But with the exception of Raya and Sakina, they are all white. This matches the data collected on male serial killers--again,  overwhelmingly white. I am no social anthropologist, nor am I a criminologist or, indeed, any other sort of ologist, so I can't comment on what that means. But Telfer notes that any accounts of women of color who were also serial killers were either obviously exaggerated as racist propaganda, or so lacking in any evidence whatsoever that she could not in good conscience include them in this book.

Telfer keeps the tone relatively light, but she takes care to examine the cases from multiple angles, and gives weight to the way women have been systematically abused by men (and therefore, by society). She does not condone their actions, but her research helps you to try and understand them. Then again, some evil is simply beyond comprehension.

This is a must for library collections, as well as for history buffs.

I received an ARC of Lady Killers from Edelweiss.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Royal Bastards

Royal Bastards is one of the freshest fantasy books that I've read in a long time. It's snappy and sarcastic, but it's not fluffy. The body count in this book is pretty high, and treachery abounds. This is one of my favorite new fantasies of 2017, and I'm so excited that it's going to be a series.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

April Diversity Challenge

For all that we (and by "we," I mean bloggers and librarians and authors and people on Twitter) talk about needing diverse books for kids and teens, adult literature is ... also not diverse*. I took a critical step back and said to myself, "Hey, critically-thinking-librarian lady, how many adult authors have you read that are marginalized? How many of the mysteries you read lately featured POC characters who didn't get cast as redshirts?"

And then I heard crickets in my mind and I was ashamed.

It really hit me when I was reading Ezekiel Boone's The Hatching that everyone who matters to the narrative in this particular book is white. Every one. Sure, there's a black buddy cop and two scientists in India, but one is conveniently shot and sidelined, and the others are creature fodder. The female lead thrillers I've read all feature white women who are attractive (The Woman in Cabin 10 and Under the Harrow). Even though we have so far to go, reading these popular adult novels made me realize how much more diverse even relatively average YA novels are.

I only filled up one square on my bingo card this month, and that's with An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.

May will be better! I will make it better!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Le rouge et le noir

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

My reading has ground to a screeching halt (just like the noise my rear passenger brake rotor makes all the time when I drive, so hooray for $500 car repairs!), so I figured I'd have a go at one of these blogging memes. I love The Broke and The Bookish, and I love lists, so their Top Ten Tuesday meme was right up my alley.

This week's theme is: A cover theme freebie!!!

So ... I guess I get to write something about ten covers I love/hate/would like to rub on my face? Cool!

Coverlove or coverlust or whatever your level of cover-admiration is has generally been pooh-poohed by certain among the eliterati, But covers sell books. You could have the most amazing book ever, and if the cover looks like I drew it in MS Paint, people will be like "LOL NO" (and I don't mean that in a "Hey, this Millennial can't express emotions properly" way, I mean that quite literally).

As I was going through some of my favorite colors, I noticed that many of them shared a specific color scheme.

1. Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Not only is this a brilliant book (review here), but the cover is drop-dead Art Deco/ war poster gorgeousness.

2. Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I haven't read it yet, but I am a sucker for stylized flowers. 

3. Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

Ugh, I loved this book. I loved it SO MUCH. Review here. The goddess figure on the cover exudes power.

4. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

If you haven't read this yet, you must. Subversive and feminist and wonderful.

5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

I am currently reading this for the first time (I KNOW. I'm handing in my feminist librarian card--not really. You'll pry it from my cold, dead fingers) and it is so freaking brilliant that I am frightened. 

Also, it's clearly not a coincidence that books dealing with violence against women and women fighting back have this blood-red and pitch black color scheme.

6. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I have loved this cover since the moment I saw it. It's deceptively simple, with the delicate transparency of Cinder's flesh revealing the cyborg mechanics within, topped off with a glossy shoe like a maraschino cherry.

7. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

This has a dragon eye, dragon claws, and something that looks rather a lot like the medallion from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is also an amazing book.

8. Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

A Depression-era retelling of "Snow White" that's almost painfully beautiful. Review here.

9. MARTians by Blythe Woolston

This book doesn't get nearly as much love as it should. Life in a capitalist dystopian society? Like ... shouldn't everyone be reading this? Woolston always blows me away with her writing. Review here.

10. The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch: At the Edge of Empire by Daniel Kraus

Bloody, dark, and ornate, just like the story within. This one went rather under the radar, but I deem it a must-read. Also, I would be worried if I were one of Dan Kraus' coworkers at Booklist. Review here.

Have you read any of these? Are you drawn to a particular color scheme when it comes to covers?