Feminism in Cold Storage

Feminism in Cold Storage

A blog about feminism and books. 

4 Stars
Bald Is Better with Earrings: A Survivor's Guide to Getting Through Breast Cancer
Bald Is Better with Earrings: A Survivor's Guide to Getting Through Breast Cancer - Andrea Hutton
I don't know about you, but I found this title irresistible. It perfectly conveys the attitude and topic of the book. With so many risk factors for breast cancer and so many women diagnosed every year, I can't see how it's ever too early to learn a bit about it. I knew the basics on what people do after being diagnosed, like get treatment and that it will likely involvement radiation, but I never knew the little things about it. Like what do people go through when they get radiation treatment?

This book does a little bit of the scientific and medical speak to get the reader familiar with what's going on in the body of a patient, but that's not what it's really about. Bald is Better with Earrings is really about getting through it as best you can. I had listened to the audiobook, which is a short 5 hours, and loved the way she broke down getting through it all. Each chapter covers a different part of the process and includes personal tips on how to get through each part.

To be specific, the book is broken down into 10 chapters that covers everything from suspecting that there's a problem to the last day of treatment. My favorite part was the way she talks about talking to other people. Okay, I haven't had cancer, but I have dealt with the insane things people say when they don't know what to say. She has tips for that too. While Hutton does consistently relay her experiences with breast cancer, this isn't a memoir. It's definitely a guide.

I can't speak to how great it is for helping someone newly diagnosed get through their treatment, but Goodreads has plenty of reviews that are #ownvoices and quite favorable. For those of us who have not had cancer, it's a great insight into what it's like and how people deal with it and just might help us help them more. There's even a section on the support caregivers need and what those of us who are not the direct caregivers can do to support the family.
5 Stars
My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile
My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile - Isabel Allende, Margaret Sayers Peden
My Invented Country is a different kind of memoir. Allende's personal memoir was Paula, but as it says in the title, this one is about Chile. Don't confuse it with a history of Chile either. This is written in a memoir style and is simply Allende's experience of her country. It's the way she remembers things and the way she remembers feeling things. There is history here, but written in a way that reminds the reader that history is experienced by those who live it.

My favorite thing about the book was Allende's tone. The book was tinged with nostalgia and it made her way of writing feel almost playful most of the time. I particularly loved when she talked about being a feminist because it was so on the nose to the way that I have felt before. My favorite was this line:

I realized that to wait to be respected for being a feminist was like expecting the bull not to charge because you’re a vegetarian.
Her experience of machismo and patriarchy in Chile was very similar to what I grew up around in Miami. Also that she shared that moment that so many of us feminists have when we learn about the history of patriarchal treatment beyond our own experiences:

When I look back at the past, I realize that my mother was dealt a difficult destiny and in fact confronted it with great bravery, but at the time I judged her as being weak because she was dependent on the men around her, like her father and her brother Pablo, who controlled the money and gave the orders.
When we look at the whole picture, no single generation could really have gotten it's gains without the generation before it which promptly takes those gains for granted while not properly appreciating what the women before them went through. Or, at least, that's how it always looks to me.

Allende talks a bit about the US interfering in Latin American politics, which was and is unacceptable and I hope we never do again except I can't escape the feeling that we could be doing it somewhere at this very moment. We may be learning from our mistakes to not interfere in these kinds of affairs of others (specifically supporting the overthrow of elected governments because we are definitely interfering in other things) but I'm not as optimistic. Sorry if that sounds a bit harsh but we, as a country, can't seem to get it together on when it is or isn't a good time. We kept out of two world wars for too long, only to be told that was a bad policy and then interfered in every conflict since then and that isn't working out for us or the other countries either. But, alas, that's not what this book is about and I apologize for the tangent.

Eventually, Allende had to leave Chile for understandable reasons, much like some of the other women I've read about who fled their own countries. I also understand what her dissenters mean when they say those who fled should have stayed and fought for the improvement of the country. I can't imagine being put into such a situation but there will always be people who do both and I imagine that will consistently breed resentment as well.

Mostly, I loved that this was a memoir about Allende's lived experience in relation to her country, whether in it or in exile. She wrote about her country as she experienced it in her youth and continues to experience it on visits back home. She wrote about her experience in exile from Chile as it relates to being Chilean. All of that just makes me love the title all the more because if I wrote about my experience in the US and what living here is like for me, there would be tons of people coming out to tell me how that's not the real US. I imagine there is at least some similarity to the way other Chileans experience this book, but everyone's experience of their country and their town is different from even the others who live in their homes. At that it all seems that no two siblings ever seem to have grown up in the same house with the same parents either. Calling it her "invented" country simply reminds us not to judge that this is just one experience of Chile.
4 Stars
Sultana's Dream
Sultana's Dream - Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
Sultana's Dream is actually a short story and not a whole book, which I didn't realize until it came to an abrupt end. It's about a woman's dream of an utopian society of women who took over the running of their from the men after they suffered a massive military defeat. The story of how the women came to power is my favorite part of the story but it also goes into how they live and what it was like before the women took over.

I love the idea of these old feminist utopian stories but I also get the fault in their ideas. Women are not inherently better than men, we are simply socialized to think of community and family before ourselves, to be as docile as society can get away with making us, and that giving of ourselves is a higher virtue than taking power. Not all women listen to society and we have come a long way away from this as a gender in Western society while some others are still underived more strict patriarchal societies. I appreciated the mention that good leaders who happen to be women improve things over bad leaders who happen to be men, despite internal biases, that was mentioned in Half the Sky. They dont quite put it that way, but that was my take away from their explamation. It's not so much that one gender is better than the other but that those who believe in inherent superiority of any group tend to mistreat those they believe themselves to be superior than. Hence the reversal of roles in this book but not an egalitarian nor a merit based society.

Of course, merit based anything is so biased that I hesitate to believe anyone sees it clearly. There have been studies that those with the most merit are actually those who look and think most like the person making the decision. Perhaps this is how we'be ended up with so many diversity campaigns, we must make a special effort to assess merit in those we are less like because different points of view consistently improve things for the rest of us, even if it's only that they sharpen our argument.

Getting back to the book, though. This is a fun little story about a feminist utopia, a place where women rule over men in the same fashion women were ruled when it was written in 1905.
5 Stars
Things We Lost in the Fire
Things We Lost in the Fire - Mariana Enríquez
 This is an amazing collection of short stories. Normally, I don't read horror but the title is so compelling. I just had to read the whole book as soon as I read the title. It is super creepy. Like, really really creepy. Creeped out at a level that I haven't been since the last time I read a Stephen King collection of short stories.

Normally, I'd list the titles of the short stories and write a little something about each but I have roughly the same thing to say about all of the stories. Brilliant and creepy. Part of what makes it really fun is that these stories are not set in the US. Specifically, they are set in Argentina and introduce a whole new creep factor given the new set of superstitions to deal with, the cultural differences, and a whole new set of historical circumstances. Despite the differences, the women who are Enriquez's protagonists are familiar and relateable as women. They're problems are understandable and their responses are reasonable.

She definitely finishes with the most memorable story, the one that the collection is named after. It's a fantastic display of women's outrage. I'm not sure I'd call this particularly reasonable so much as a statement of women having had enough of the way it is and revolting in the way that was available to them. Again, it's an incredibly creepy response and it gives me chills for the way it is both powerful and helpless. Under the Black Water is the other story that has stayed with me a while. It's also a combination of power made from helplessness. I know it's a strange way to describe something, but it's the best I have.

All together its a great collection and I would love to read more from Enriquez.
4 Stars
Beijing Bastard: Into the Wilds of a Changing China
Beijing Bastard: Into the Wilds of a Changing China - Val Wang, Emily Woo Zeller
I have to admit, I love the idea of finding yourself by going back to the place that your parents fled. While that may not have been the actual reason for Wang to go back to China, it certainly seemed to be what she got out of it. I listened to the audiobook, read by Emily Woo Zeller, who's voice was familiar from when I listened to The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness last year.

There's actually a lot to love in this book. As with Najla Said in Looking for Palestine, Wang grows up stuck between the culture she is growing up in and the culture her parents are pushing upon her. She is dragged to Chinese school, told what Chinese do, and doesn't seem to ever quite feel Chinese. She's Chinese-American, which seems to become an ever greater distinction as other try to force her identity onto her rather than let her identify herself.

I've been through a little of that too as people have tried to tell me just how Hispanic I am and what I should or shouldn't do on account of it. I've tried to gently remind them that there is this whole other half of me and that perhaps Hispanics are more nuanced they are giving themselves credit for (the person, not all Hispanics because this only seems to happen with people who think we should all be some monolithic group that all dance perfectly, among other things). Nevertheless, I have never gone back to Cuba, where my mother is from, but I would only hope for a similar kind of experience.

While in China, for reasons that are more a gut feeling than rational, Wang realizes quite a bit about her family, where they came from, what they ran from, and why they are the way they are. She seems to get there just in time as China begins to capitalize and modernize. While the exact China of her parents' past was already gone, trampled under 50 years of communist regime, she gets to look in and see  a part of what made their culture and lifestyle so different from life in the US and a little of why they worked so hard to preserve it.

My favorite part about stories like this, that start in the US and involve traveling to parental homes abroad, is that it tends to have the same feel of a hero's journey into an unknown world in science fiction or fantasy. The lone hero embarks upon an adventure of discovery into a culture that is new to their lived experience, maybe they've learned something about them, maybe not. Either way, the lived experience is entirely different and the awkward moments of figuring out what's normal and who's taking advantage of you and what isn't normal is all fun to read about.

I loved the way her views on her parents and China and Chinese culture and different kinds of attachments evolve throughout the book. At my age now, and reading through books like this, I have to wonder if we all cringe at the thought of what our 20 year old selves thought and did and thought our lives were going to be like. Big ideas and no idea how to get there.

For me, the most poignant moment can be summed up in a line she quotes from an interview:

His history, after all, is mine too.
I suppose that's true for us all. Our parents are a part of our history, and what they went through is a part of how they raised us.
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4 Stars
The Warrior Woman
The Woman Warrior - Maxine Hong Kingston

In the world of memoirs, this one was a little difficult for me to rate. I was confused for a decent portion of it, not sure whether this was fiction or nonfiction at times. I had chosen it as part of the Read Harder Challenge for this year, task 17: read a classic by a woman of color. I suppose I could have counted Kindred but I didn't realize that it was written in 1979 until I was actually reading it and had already listed this memoir as my option for the challenge. Besides, I prefer using nonfiction for challenges anyway.

That said, I did eventually wander back over to the Goodreads and Amazon pages for this book and get it figured out.

As a whole, the book really was an amazing look into being the first US-born children of Chinese immigrants. There are flavors to the story that are familiar with my own experience of being the first US-born generation in my family too. The stories from where the family is from that don't make quite make sense in the US and the feeling of having lost so much in the migration are things that I grew up with too. I could relate to it without feeling like I already knew what was going to happen.

Here is a little bit about each story:

No Name Woman - this is the story of an aunt of Kingston's who had died back in China. She had been scorned for becoming pregnant while her husband was away and the entire family was forced to deal with the aftermath. Her mother told her of the story as a morality tale but Kingston also offers quite a bit of introspection about what it must have been like to be her aunt and what it must have been like to be a woman in China under those circumstances. She decomposes the story a bit too, rooting through for wholes in her mother's account. Set in China, it is one of the stories that showcase her heritage and the way that heritage can continue to effect even those of us not born in those countries.

White Tigers - this is the one that totally threw me for a loop. It's also written in the introspective memoir style but is actually one of the "talk stories" her mother told her and is delivered in the first person. I was so confused and kept looking at the info to make sure that this was definitely listed as non-fiction. I don't know, maybe I was just not paying an adequate amount of attention to catch it at the time because I hadn't realized from the last story that she wasn't even born in China and the entire story also takes place there. It's a great story and one that I understand her being captivated by, but it isn't her story nor does it appear to be based on one of her ancestors.

Shaman - I think this was my favorite. I love the idea of women making a great situation out of something that begins less than favorable. This takes place before Kingston is born and is about her mother deciding to be a doctor in China while her father is in the US making money. He makes more than enough to send home and for the mom to be comfortable at home, but she wants to do more with the money. Not only can I appreciate that sentiment but the very idea of going back to school after so long and how she becomes a great doctor are intriguing and uplifting.

At the Western Palace - I just love her mother so much. I get how it may have been a little hard to live her sometimes, but I love her attitude about things. My mother was much the same way. Go get what's yours. Don't take an unnecessary amount of crap from people. If life disappoints you, figure it out and move on. This story isn't actually about her mother, it's about an aunt but her mother is the larger image in it. She brings the aunt to the US after her husband never asks her to and then there's a some drama about the husband and the story is told from the point of view of Kingston herself who is just a little too young to really understand what's happening.

She understands, but doesn't grasp the gravity of the situation. She doesn't understand why it's such a big deal for the aunt and why she is so timid and so broken. Still, she gives the reader enough to see it and to feel for her aunt while also giving us a feeling of how alone she must have been with the rest of the family not understanding her. It says a lot about how culture does or does not migrate with the people who come from it.

A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe - finally we get to Kingston's own story. I did appreciate her story being the last once I understood the format because I can also understand the people around her. It would have been like reading the New Testament of the Bible without reading the Old Testament first, or even know what the Ten Commandments were. Her family and the other Chinese around her would have made less sense. I was a little horrified in the scene with the silent girl but kids can be cruel. On the other hand, I loved everything that came after her yelling at her parents to not marry her off. I cracked up at her mother's response to that.

I had looked over some other reviews when I was trying to figure out what was going on and it seems like this is generally a love it or hate it kind of book. I loved each story and would have loved for it to be advertised more as a collection of personal stories or life stories from a single person. It does paint a good overall picture of what the experience can be like to migrate to the US from China in that timeframe. It can be hard to remember what the threat of communism was like then and how countries that were engrossed with it treated their people. I am just old enough to remember seeing coverage of the Berlin Wall going down. I am also the first US born of people who came here to escape the devastating effects of communism. It's hard to explain to the younger generation now just what it meant. For that, I will endlessly appreciate this book and that it appears to have been brought into American literature classes.

Not only is the book about figuring out culture and heritage and what it means to live somewhere that you don't share the heritage, but it's also entirely about relationships among women. It's about her unnamed aunt and society and the ways that she is allowed to be remembered or not. It's about her relationship with her mother, her relationship to other Chinese children, her mother's relationship with both her own sister and her niece, her relationship to the legends of past Chinese women and the hopes of Chinese women contemporary to her.

There is one tiny problem though, and it's pointed out by almost every single person who I saw that didn't like this book. She does have a way of generalizing the Chinese. I get it, though, because I have generalized Cubans. I actually had to be taught to not do it by people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the danger of a single story. I had lumped all Cubans into a single version of the refugee story and that's just grossly untrue. Likewise, Kingston makes it sound like all Chinese do this or that or don't do this or that.

But then again, this was written well before my time. I also recognize that there have been times in the US when it was hard to set a people behind unifying themes and ideas. I recognize that there have been times when it has been necessary to make distinctions that WE are like this and not that. Perhaps that was a part of the intended purposes of all those generalizations. Perhaps, it was important to Kingston to make a claim on what is or can be Chinese vice what is or can be Asian as a whole or vice what is or can be any other group. I don't know.

4 Stars
Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine
Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine - Tim Hanley
I read The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore some years ago, so I was familiar with the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, and his proclivities and motivations, but this book goes beyond the creation of Wonder Woman and brings us a full history of her legacy. It dives deeper into the way that Wonder Woman has been received by the masses and talks about each of her writers, in comics and on screen. Except, of course, for the new movie that is still out in theaters.

I'd been wanting to read this book for a while and had been waiting on hold for it. I've also been a follower of Tim Hanley here on Wordpress and his blog, Straightened Circumstances, which was how I came to be familiar with this book in the first place. He's actually written on Lois Lane and recently published a book on Catwoman as well. In this book, and I imagine the others, he takes a really deep look into the feminism that Wonder Woman has had and that she hasn't had. He looks at the way her character has been idealized at times and turned into a role model at other times and what exactly she's modeling.

There's a lot to love here. First of all, Hanley goes into the evolution of Wonder Woman, which means that he starts at the beginning and works through each writer and artist and discusses them and their growth as writers of Wonder Woman. Second, in order to do this he also displays some great feminist terminology and herstory. I get that Wonder Woman's compatibility with feminism isn't always the greatest but I like to think of her as a Bad Feminist in much the same way so many of us are. Imperfect at what we do but always striving toward progress, even when we hit a few snags. There's also the way he paints the contrasts with other characters throughout the years to give context to what was happening with Wonder Woman and why it was or wasn't the most palatable thing for audiences. I love the delineation of the Ages of Comics, which was not something I was well versed in and would have been lost without. Also, the many changing origins are annoying and seem to have digressed, especially having watched the movie and seen what they did there. I like the original better.

Overall, a great book about a great character. I look forward to reading the other two and probably whatever else he puts out. Hanley does post reviews for new Wonder Woman comics as they come out on his earlier mentioned blog and if you read this and get curious about his take on the movie, he's got a review up there too. For a preview of his writing, he has been posting about the new Catwoman book, but here's a link to the movie review.
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2 Stars
Zodiac - Romina Russell

I'll be honest, I was with this book for about the first three quarters of it. And then it lost me. Actually, I was really enjoying it, despite the typical YA love triangle and a nobody who becomes the last hope of civilization. It's YA, I get it.

(Disclaimer: I LOVE young adult books, but there are those who happen to be coming of age stories but are mature and anyone could love and then there are those that are very specifically written for a teen audience. No judgement, but this is among the second kind.)

Don't get me wrong, the book isn't a total waste. I had originally chosen it for the gorgeous cover and that it's among the few titles with a "Z" in it for Litsy A to Z. It also perfect fit Read Harder's Task 12: Read a fantasy novel. I prefer science fiction over fantasy but this teeters in both so it was going to be a win. It almost was.

For starters, the world building is spectacular and I almost wish they would bring a world this well built to the big screen just so the graphic artists can play in it. I loved the way the cultures differed but were still based on the Zodiac the way that we have it now. I love the way the politics differed based on the cultures. I loved the way the Guardians form a sort of UN or something. Just spectacular.

I didn't mind Rho or her insecurities. Everyone has insecurities and this was obviously going to be a series so she needed to start off in a way that gave her enough room to grow into the powerhouse that is always the endgame for these kinds of books. I didn't mind Mathias and his brooding Edward-like qualities. Of all the Edwardesque characters I've seen over the years, he's my favorite. Even over Edward himself. Yes, I'm refering to Twilight because it makes an easy comparison as most people are still familiar with it. And then there was Hysan, who I thought of as more of a Gale from the Hunger Games. He's gorgeous and accessible and maybe hiding things but probably all wrong for some reason. They were decent characters but not as developed as some other books while not being entirely two dimensional either. Okay, they were close to two dimensional but they peaked into a third dimension that might come about in another book but this was told in the first person so perhaps it's meant to be Rho's point of view that restricts them. Given her title, I can see only anyone wanting to display only one dimension.

Then the plot. It's a little thin and the villain isn't exactly developed by the end but I also get that as an intentional part of the plot. It was in that last quarter though, that I would have thrown the book had it not been audio on my phone.

I don't want to spoil what happens but it irritated me. I still finished because I was too far along and I thought that since so much of the story was so YA that maybe it was a fake out. I felt like it happened just to avoid an awkward or uncomfortable scene that otherwise had to happen. There had to be better ways to get where the author wanted to go. It felt almost lazy to handle it this way.

And then I thought, maybe it is a fake out of a greater magnitude. I realized that this was also not a good enough reason to stick with the series. If it was a longer fake out, I would just be more annoyed when it resolved. So I'm left with this feeling of so much potential and disappointment.

Again, this is a YA book that is actually directed at a YA audience, so maybe they haven't read the umpteen million YA books that I have already and don't feel like this story has been played out. Maybe they'll love it anyway. I probably would have adored this book in my youth when love triangles didn't make me want to gag. The world building is really of a calibur that far outdoes the rest of the book. Most of the plot plays out enjoyable enough to make it worth reading until that moment in the last quarter that pissed me right off. It was going to be a solid three stars until that point. If you look over my rating scale, 3 stars are respectable here. They are still great books. 2 stars aren't common here but it's not entirely bad either. I was just really tweaked by that thing at the end. Maybe some of you will like that about it, but it's about to keep me from finishing the series.

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5 Stars
The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls

To say that Walls had an unusual childhood would be a massive understatement. She didn't have any of the stability with a roof over her head or meals to eat that most children in the US take for granted, but she did have some amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to do things that many of us will never do.

I'd like to say that this is due to that her parents rarely followed the rules (or, you know, laws) and gave her and her siblings even fewer to follow. She was a child of people who had the kind of wandering existence that I've known some to pine for, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows.

In fact, it seems like it was hardly ever sunshine and rainbows. They'd have long stretches of okay times with fairly regular meals and then periods of near starvation where they had to go through the trash to eat. But their parents did have an odd splendor in the way they dealt with such an extreme level of poverty. They weren't perfect, but Walls manages to tell the story in a way that never quite judges them. They were who they were and she seems to have accepted that, even when it embarrassed her.

There were a few stories I really loved, one of which I am totally keeping in my pocket just in case I'm ever at that point with my own family. There were also lots of points in the story where my heart broke for Walls and her siblings. Some people are well suited to "adulting" and others are not, her parents are just not those people. Their hearts appeared to be in the right places though. Or maybe it's just the way Walls tells the story.

She tells the story as she encountered it, not inserting knowledge from later in life to situations, not guessing what may have been in their minds based on information she had down the road. She doesn't seem to be protecting them either, never shying away from their less attractive traits.

The movie based on her life will be out soon (August 11) and I'm thinking about seeing it, though not in the theater. We don't normally go to the theater for movies we can't take the six year old to. After reading the book, I'm not 100% sure I want to see it, but the cast intrigues me. Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson both have the ability to be heartbreakingly vulnerable about the worst parts of a person and I'm not sure how they're going to portray it. It would be easy for any director with these actors to make it heart-warming or heart-wrenching. I'd be happy with a combination. The book left me with that Good Will Hunting feeling where they went for the heart but it left me with a good feeling overall. I hope the movie does that to.

Have you read the book? Are you planning on watching the movie?

5 Stars
Island Beneath the Sea
Island Beneath the Sea - Isabel Allende, Margaret Sayers Peden
This is an astounding story that revolves around the life of Zarite, a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue.

With a total length just under 18 hours, this is a bit more of an audiobook than I typically prefer to bite off, but the story is well worth the time it takes to read or listen to. It probably would have been broken down into two or even three books had it come from a less reliable author. As it is, Allende has a long and illustrious list of best-sellers that I believe comes to 22 books that have been translated into many languages. She has a full list of books, with all their international editions on her website: Isabel Allende. Let me stop before I go too far down the rabbit hole on how awesome she is (but seriously check out her TEDtalks, one is about tales of passion and the other is about living passionately).

I adore Zarite. She's a great protagonist for several reasons but as with all great protagonists, these reasons center around her being a well developed character with love she shouldn't feel, actions that aren't good for her, trusting the wrong people at times, and a belief system that has needed to be reconciled over and over again with the world around her.

The story is told mostly in the third person but chapters occasionally veer into her first person perspective and are generally named after her so it's not a surprise when it happens. It begins well before we meet Zarite, when the world that she must inhabit is being formed by the elder people around her. Before we meet Zarite, we meet her owner, Toulouse Valmorain, his wife Eugenia, and the woman who helps Valmorain obtain her and who trains her for him, Violette Boisier. Each character is developed, given reasons for what they do and are stuck in traps by class and society or of their own making at some point. None are entirely good or bad, though they have varying degrees of corruption. I loved Zarite's growth arc and as well as each of the secondary characters.

The world building and setting are amazing, looking back at times that are often called "simpler" but couldn't have been. It begins on a plantation in Saint-Domingue not too long before it becomes the slave revolt that changes it to Haiti and then migrates to New Orleans during turbulent times there as well.

For me, much of the story serves as a prosaic reminder that the times we have romanticized in the US were not actually romantic. They were riddled with personal strife of a different ilk, though not without their own versions of hope. There was also a lot more nuance to the experiences of the people living in those times than we like to credit them for when we put romantic labels on them, even when they are bad ones. Somehow, none of this stopped the story and it's characters from having a gorgeous growth arc and leaving on a realistically high note.
3 Stars
The Archived
The Archived - Victoria Schwab

This is an entertaining YA fantasy. I put it on my Read Harder 2017 list for task 15: Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+. To discover author's that fit into this category, I took advice from the Goodreads group on the Read Harder challenge which has Schwab mentioned as an author who is LGBTQ+. 

I've been wanting to read her Shades of Magic series as well but I had it in my head at the time that this was a stand alone. I have no idea why. It is part of a series and the next book is The Unbound, which I will be reading to finish the series at some point down the road. My library had this one but not the next one quite yet.

Like I said above, I did enjoy it. It's quintessentially YA with an ass-kicking strong female lead and a touch of a love-triangle. Unlike some other YA, our heroine, Mackenzie Bishop, has a good head on her shoulders. She usually makes good decisions but is recently rocked by a family tragedy that contributes to setting the story in motion. She's flawed but not so much that the reader can't feel sure she'll get back on track provided nothing too drastic happens. Of course, it's a novel by a good writer, so drastic things are bound to happen, right?

The two male leads are interesting and different from each other in great ways. They may even be swoon worthy if I were close enough to my YA years to not make that super-creepy. As it is, I merely recognize that they are suitably matched for Mackenzie as love interests. Mackenzie's parents are great. They're recovering from the same tragedy that she is and are handling it in understandable ways. I love the details on fakeness of Mom's smile. Parents have a tendency to try to make things okay before they are. It's the way of the world. Still, I loved their efforts. I wish I knew more about Da, though.

Now for the really fun part. The world building was my favorite part! I love the Archive and the Narrows and the way Schwab plunges right into them. The people who work at the Archive are nuanced but only as far as Mackenzie would reasonably know them. The Coronado is a great old building with lots of stories and nooks and crannies and interesting little things about it. I loved the other residents that Mackenzie meets. Most of all, the story held layers of secrets of it's own and while some were eventually revealed, they only caused more questions about what secrets were still held. I'll be interested to see where the rest of the series goes but I also appreciate that the story had a solid ending. I could stop here and feel pretty satisfied with the story. I won't, but I could.

5 Stars
Difficult Women
Difficult Women - Roxane Gay
This book is pretty fantastic on the whole even though it routinely tore my heart out. The epigraph is among my favorites:

"For difficult women, who should be celebrated for their very nature."
The theme of difficult women was well represented and I loved all these women, specifically for their flaws. Most of them are broken somehow and it is this part of the theme that I feel is way too underrated in modern writing. Many of these women lead difficult lives and many of the circumstances in the stories were likewise difficult. This is not a book about prima donnas or women that give men a hard time for kicks. It's not a book about women who generally have it easy but dare to complain about this or that discomfort. They are difficult. Life is difficult.

I don't want to sound cliche about it, but they are the real women of the world, the women with all their baggage from dealing with the hardships of life, the realities of life that isn't a sitcom or a romcom. Life can be tragic and it's this aspect of it that we sometimes fail to showcase in literature because we'd rather everything be larger than life with problems that seem great but that everyone will essentially survive in the end. It is when people write women like this that literature takes a turn for the far more interesting for me and I have a feeling I'm not the only one who feels that way. It's a book for anyone who ever enjoyed Kindred or Antigone or Madame Bovary, which all had difficult women.

The writing in each is amazing and there was one that I couldn't finish because it was a triggering about a personal event. You'll see which later. I don't do well with some stories about child deaths. I can get through some, but others bring me back to a place that it isn't worth going for me. Similarly, if you are triggered by sexual assault or rape or abusive relationships, don't read this book.

While I'll easily recommend the book as a whole to anyone else, here are some notes on the individual stories:

I Will Follow You - beautifully heartbreaking in a way that makes me feel like women can get through anything, particularly when we have another woman to stick with.
Water, All Its Weight - strange and sad, the imagery is great and there is an undercurrent that keeps the fantasy side from running away with the idea of how anything could weigh you down.
The Mark of Cain - unusual but it was great to see a switch on the typical way this kind of story is written.
Difficult Women - the format is a little unusual, but this is something I do when I see women that others call difficult
FLORIDA - again with a different unusual format but along the same lines as the last, making stories for people we see everyday
Le Negra Blanca - this one just infuriates me. it's all of the problems of women, particularly women of color, and the way society looks at us wrapped into one story
Baby Arm - this is easily my favorite! It's weird and gory and I could never imagine being at this best friend level but it's intriguing nonetheless.
North Country - this is a welcome reprieve after some of the others but complete with it's own issues
How - the format is a little strange because it's laid out in a how-did-this-happen kind of way that helped that story along despite that it was just sad in that way that brings you down but doesn't break your heart.
Requiem for a Glass Heart - beautiful imagery for some of life's problems.
In the Event of My Father's Death - I just appreciate that this one exists in all it's messiness, not because I particularly like any character but that I know they are out there and should be written about too.
Break All the Way Down - this is the one I couldn't finish. It seemed written as well as the others but was tearing me down.
Bad Priest - more fun than I anticipated though horribly irreverent and sacreligious in a way would be delightful if I wasn't a Christian. Still kinda fun to read though.
Open Marriage - adorable
A Pat - I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the story part but it has a sentiment that I can totally get with.
Best Features - another story that's sad but not unusual in the world of women
Bone Density - sometimes marriages work in the strangest of ways. I've heard of some women making it work just like this.
I Am a Knife - this one totally grossed me out over and over again.
The Sacrifice of Darkness - I really like this one, it was odd but uplifting overall
Noble Things - this one had to be a crazy exercise in imagining just how the country may eventually fall apart and just what the fallout would look like. Their struggles weren't all that unusual, just the setting
Strange Gods - the worst of the heartbreak was here. I think it's because I had already read Bad Feminist and I had a feeling where some of this was going.
Many of the scenarios in the stories weren't beyond my ability to imagine. Some are the very worst of the female experience, the things that makes us fear walking the streets alone at night but sometimes more afraid of trusting some men enough to take them with us. Others were just sad because, like men, we can get stuck in lives we never intended to live. There were also those few that were either uplifting or adorable or fun. I'd be willing to watch a movie that expands on the idea of Baby Arm, Noble Things, Bad Priest or The Sacrifice of Darkness.

Overall, Gay is right. Difficult women do need to be celebrated more. Fortunately, I think we've started to do that more in our media. We've gotten some television shows in recent years that have started to pay more attention to us and I've been really enjoying it. I hope it continues and we find more difficult women to celebrate.
4 Stars
The Unseen World: A Novel
The Unseen World: A Novel - Liz Moore
I have really started to love the Audible Channels. Much like the reading challenges I've begun to do in recent years, it brings me books that I wouldn't have thought to read or authors I'd been apprehensive about. It brought me Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and Bloodchild and other Stories by Octavia E. Butler and now The Unseen World, read by Lisa Flanagan. This was so much more than I expected when I choose it. The description available from Amazon doesn't quite prepare the reader for everything the book is about and I appreciated that about it.

This is a story about a father and daughter in the 1980's. Both are unusual and rather introverted but brilliant. What seems like a fairy-tale existence for such a smart girl in the beginning soon begins to deteriorate when her father becomes ill and is no longer capable of taking care of her. Their support network rallies behind them and though life stays relatively on course, things will never be the same.

Every time things begin to seem like they are going to settle down, an interesting new revelation comes to light and the characters are rocked off course again. I loved the fairly unpredictable nature of the story, though I did see some things coming. I especially loved the way it all played out and the father's intentions and his backstory. It's especially his backstory that makes this unique story for me. It's not just what it consists of but the way it plays out and the way that others supported him. It's beautiful, really.

The daughter's progress through life and the coming-of-age part of the story is interesting in that she is a unique character and doesn't have typical responses to the world. I loved that it was written from her deep POV and there were cues for the reader to pick up on that left her character in the dark about what was going on with those around her. I appreciated that though she was incredibly smart, that didn't make her extraordinarily perceptive and that she still stumbled. It brought up a lot of feelings similar to Everything I Never Told You, where there was also no specific bad guy, just life and loss and struggle and hope and family.

I loved it all and look forward to reading Liz Moore again.
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5 Stars
An Indigenous People's History of the United States
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History) - Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

It's amazing how hearing the same story from a different perspective makes you see it all a little differently. While there are some bits that I'm not familiar with from American history classes throughout the years, most of the information isn't entirely new. This book just does something with the information that no American history class I've ever taken has done. It added in the impact those actions had on the Native Americans.

It reminded me that carrying out an action against a people and then going home, doesn't make that the end of what happens there. Many war stories also include this, but again, we forget in the US because we go in, fight it out, destroy everything, call the people liberated, and then go home. At least, that's been our way for a long time. Even countries that we occupied for a time weren't in the main consciousness of the rest of the country and the troops that have occupied those countries weren't there for so long that they joined in or cared about the community in a general way. Yes, some troops will do that but its not the mission and most just get homesick the longer they are anywhere. We don't have to pick up the pieces. I remember also reading a beautiful poem by Wislawa Szymborska called The End and the Beginning, it can be found at the Poetry Foundation here. There is always work to be done to recover from the all the "growing" out west that the US did.

While there's no argument that what the US did to the Native Americans as a whole is tragic, I can't help but notice the irony in having called them the "uncivilized" as our civilization continues to kill all things natural around us, especially when they always strove to protect it all. I also read this book far too close to my reading of Looking for Palestine to not notice the parallel situation we would find ourselves in as a country were the UN to look at us and say that we have to abide by the treaties that we signed with the many indigenous peoples' of the US. The people currently living in those areas would revolt as if the land hadn't been misappropriated in the first place. It's not as if the account here of how it was taken is strikingly different from what I remember of high school history. Again, the difference mainly surrounds that this book includes the effect on the Native Americans.

It did make me cringe a little to hear her call us "colonialists". It's not that the moniker is really wrong, especially once you've heard her case for it, but that it's so right it hurts a little. We, as a country, did all this while denouncing the form of colonialism that we had been under. We still managed to feel absolutely nothing about putting ourselves upon those who we could after having been so put upon by the English. It barely makes sense except for the tendency for people to take out their inability to control their own destinies on those who they can control. Like an abused child abusing their smaller sibling. It was also disappointingly true to hear her talk about our actions towards people of other countries with less military might than ours. I've read a few other books that would completely agree with this assessment of what we do when we aim to "liberate" other peoples*. It's more of a mess than anything else, but it's a mess of a way to handle things that we inherited and maybe one day we'll come up with the right way or at least a better way to handle it all but I won't hold my breath.

The book does note some promising changes to the way Native Americans are viewed and treated in the US but which can be easily seen in the divided responses people had to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Stand with Standing Rock protests and campaign. The controversy received a lot of media attention and was a hot topic for part of the election but the direction of the election and that the pipeline stands and has already leaked oil show just how much further we have to go. Still, it gives me hope for the future.

My only problem with the book, though I completely understand it in the perspective, is the general way she talks about the troops. I get that it was exponentially easier in worse times to get the troops feeling hateful and then drunk and then just let them loose on society. I also get that incidents like Abu Ghraib doesn't inspire confidence in our present situation. The difference is that the Armed Forces themselves take great pains these days to prevent rather than inspire such behavior. I get that it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to the people that are on the other end of our weapons and I get that the present change in administration is troubling to many world-wide. Still, I felt I would be remiss in my review to not mention this attitude toward US troops for the benefit of future readers who may or may not have affiliation with the present Armed Forces. It makes the information here, though not generally untrue, a little harder to swallow at times.

Above all, I hope this book finds it's way into classrooms and churches and hearts. I hope we act on the actual virtues of Christianity and go back and decide without being further told to abide by those treaties, that we treat our neighbor better than we would treat ourselves, and find a way to coexist that's good for all of us. We can't fix the past but we can make a future that embodies what our ancestors should have done to begin with. Maybe we will one day. It's one of the things I'll be working toward in whatever ways I find.

I listened to the audiobook on Scribd, read by Laural Merlington.

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5 Stars
Kindred - Octavia E. Butler

I know, it's about time right? It seemed like everyone was reading this a while back and I know that it isn't exactly a new book to begin with. I wanted to read it because of all the reviews and rave it was getting but had this gnawing fear that I would hate it. But then I listened to Bloodchild and other Stories by Octavia E. Butler and fell a little in love with her. I realized, though I should have trusted all the good reviews flooding in, that this was not about to be the same fictionalized book set in the antebellum South designed to make me feel sorry for slaves, hate slave owners, or convince me that there were really plenty of really nice slave owners. Butler goes a long way to introduce a lot of nuance and dimension to her antebellum characters that I'm not accustomed to reading about.

*And that's about all that I can muster for a spoiler free section of this review. Proceed if you've already read it or know the story.*

I loved the way Butler used Rufus and Dana to show the dynamic of both slave and slave owner and the ways they could play off each other. I appreciated that Rufus grew into his atrocities as he learned that being like his father could get him what he wanted. He learned how to manipulate and abuse along the way while somehow maintaining the delusion that his way was overall best. At the same time, I love that he listened to Dana for so long and that he didn't want to sell off slaves or separate families. He didn't really have compassion but he was also wading into being monster instead of jumping in like its easy to assume. We got to watch him descend into it because he could, which I always thought of as one of the scary things about living in an environment like that.

I loved Dana's introspection on everything in the past and how she felt it was easier to assimilate than she anticipated but I also loved Kevin's disgust with the family and his inability to tolerate people of the time while he was left behind. It was interesting that he had been alone there for so long and that the changes he went through didn't seem to change his feelings for Dana or about the beliefs of the time but that it all did affect him. I loved that he kept searching for a place for himself because nothing there fit while maintaining communications with the family in hopes of Dana's return.

For as much as the story revolved around Dana and Rufus, most of the slaves were well developed. Butler made it easy to understand how one might stay in that environment and what made running so much more dangerous even while staying was slowly killing you (or not so slowly in some cases). But I also appreciated that she introduced slave owners worse than Rufus's father to not ignore the range of the atrocities committed against the slaves and free blacks to not ignore that they existed either. Not that Rufus's father was depicted as a particularly benevolent slave owner like they are in many books written at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Then there's the story and the time travel. The involuntary nature of the time travel was great for moving the story forward and for getting Dana to where she needed to be. I wouldn't imagine the antebellum South would be an intentional destination for any time traveler who could oppressed in it's time, so I get that it had to be involuntary. At the same time, the involuntary way she came back to her present seemed to make every conflict more tense.

The delicate balance that Dana had to ride in the past between her need to be born in the first place and to preserve the life that she had made her decisions more interesting. I appreciated that she didn't want to tell Alice to go to Rufus or not to. She left her survival up to Alice's horrible decision alone. While it may have been tempting to influence Alice for her own survival, she knew she'd regret it. She probably knew that Alice was going to do it anyway because it was the unfortunate best alternative in her situation, even though it was horrible. When I first read that Rufus was white and her ancestor, a big part of me hoped that it was going in a different, less believable direction. The story really resonates with honesty in a way that none of the other antebellum South stories I've read ever have, not when it comes to the slave/slave owner dynamic.

5 Stars
The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Audio)
The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Audio) - Jeannette Walls
To say that Walls had an unusual childhood would be a massive understatement. She didn't have any of the stability with a roof over her head or meals to eat that most children in the US take for granted, but she did have some amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to do things that many of us will never do.

I'd like to say that this is due to that her parents rarely followed the rules (or, you know, laws) and gave her and her siblings even fewer to follow. She was a child of people who had the kind of wandering existence that I've known some to pine for, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows.

In fact, it seems like it was hardly ever sunshine and rainbows. They'd have long stretches of okay times with fairly regular meals and then periods of near starvation where they had to go through the trash to eat. But their parents did have an odd splendor in the way they dealt with such an extreme level of poverty. They weren't perfect, but Walls manages to tell the story in a way that never quite judges them. They were who they were and she seems to have accepted that, even when it embarrassed her.

There were a few stories I really loved, one of which I am totally keeping in my pocket just in case I'm ever at that point with my own family. There were also lots of points in the story where my heart broke for Walls and her siblings. Some people are well suited to "adulting" and others are not, her parents are just not those people. Their hearts appeared to be in the right places though. Or maybe it's just the way Walls tells the story.

She tells the story as she encountered it, not inserting knowledge from later in life to situations, not guessing what may have been in their minds based on information she had down the road. She doesn't seem to be protecting them either, never shying away from their less attractive traits.

The movie based on her life will be out soon (August 11) and I'm thinking about seeing it, though not in the theater. We don't normally go to the theater for movies we can't take the six year old to. After reading the book, I'm not 100% sure I want to see it, but the cast intrigues me. Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson both have the ability to be heartbreakingly vulnerable about the worst parts of a person and I'm not sure how they're going to portray it. It would be easy for any director with these actors to make it heart-warming or heart-wrenching. I'd be happy with a combination. The book left me with that Good Will Hunting feeling where they went for the heart but it left me with a good feeling overall. I hope the movie does that to.

Have you read the book? Are you planning on watching the movie?

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