Category: Women’s Studies

Apr 22

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Contemporary Fiction, Women's Studies 18

Greetings Bookworms,

Wow. Am I ever behind on telling y’all about what I’m reading. 99 percent of the time when I’m running behind, it’s because I’m pretty lazy. This time, though, I really needed to sit on my thoughts for a while before I could put together a blog post. That’s mostly because reading Dietland by Sarai Walker felt so… Explosive.

dietlandPlum Kettle goes through life trying to keep a low profile. Her lifelong weight struggle has instilled a desperate desire to blend into the background, a feat she never quite accomplishes. Plum works from home or a local cafe answering the fan mail and advice requests for a popular teen girl’s magazine. After years of failed diets, Plum has decided to undergo weight loss surgery.

She’s confident in her decision until she acquires something of a stalker in a college age girl wearing brightly colored tights and combat boots. When Plum tries to investigate the odd girl that’s been following her, she falls into a collective of women living life outside of society’s terms. All this comes about around the same time as a vigilante group known as “Jennifer” begins dangerous attacks on a world that’s hostile toward women.

Dietland takes a no holds barred approach to eviscerating the beauty industry, gender inequality, rape culture, society’s obsession with weight loss, and the general nastiness that surrounds being overweight.

You guys, I have so many complicated feelings about this book. Every time I wanted to high five the author for making an incredible point, something happened that made me want to rescind my hand. I was all about the take down of diet culture. It sucks and this book disembowled it. High five right there. Of course, I wanted that high five right back when I read the way the author treated Plum’s antidepressant use. Are anti-depressants over-prescribed? Maybe. But are there a lot of people who NEED medication to manage their mental illnesses? Abso-freaking-lutely. Is this sort of characterization helpful? Nope. Not even a little. Then there’s the beauty industry. Does it feed on women’s insecurities? Totally. But the book slammed the beauty industry SO HARD that it made me feel like a crap feminist for enjoying wearing makeup and shaving my armpits. And as much as there’s a part of me that would love to see rapists and other horrible human beings punished when the criminal justice system fails, I just can’t with the vigilante stuff.

Are you starting to get a clearer picture of why I’m such a muddled mess over this book? The cognitive dissonance is STRONG with this one. Even though I didn’t agree with every little stance, I still think that Dietland starts all sorts of incredible and important conversations. It would make a stellar book club pick, especially if debates are your group’s jam.

Alright Bookworms. As you can see I’m a hot steaming pile of emotions here. What was the last book you read that left your feelings all a roiling?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive small commission.*

 

Divider

Jan 28

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Audio Books, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Studies 14

G’Day, Bookworms!

Man, do I ever love audio books. The last time I read a book by Liane Moriarty, I spent the first few chapters thinking the What Alice Forgot (review) was set in England only to be jarred when a mention of Sydney forced me to re-align my mental accent. I’m sure I would have remembered that Liane Moriarty is Australian and had that carry over into my reading of Big Little Lies, but if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have gotten to listen to a delicious Aussie accent for hours. That would have been tragic, I think. But, oh, this book!!!

biglittleliesBig Little Lies tracks the lives and scandals of the kindergarten class parents of Pirriwee Public, a beachfront Australian suburb. While a number of parents chime in, the story primarily follows three women. Madeline is a feisty 40 year old mother juggling a part time job, her three kids, and a complicated relationship with her ex husband (including his new yogi wife, and the teenage daughter they share.) Celeste is mother to a set of twin boys. She and her extremely wealthy husband cut an impressive figure at school functions, and appear near perfection… On the surface. Jane is a very young mother, new to the area. She does her best to fly under the radar with her son Ziggy, but circumstance renders that difficult.

Holy crap on a cracker, this book was amazing. I wouldn’t ordinarily go for a book so entrenched in the Mommy Wars and schoolyard scandal, but I could not get enough. Madeline, Celeste, and Jane contributed such compelling narratives to the story. It was fascinating and well crafted and deliciously deviant. A wicked sense of humor underscored some of the more traumatic story lines, making me laugh and gasp and sigh and scowl. This would make for brilliant book club fodder, my friends. Take note! (I’ve heard this is going to be made into a limited TV series for HBO. You can bet I’ll be watching!)

Talk to me Bookworms! Have any of you read this book? Those who have and are parents of school age kids, does the gossip mill portrayed in this book ring true to you?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

Divider

Sep 08

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

Asia, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 4

Good Day, Bookworms!

It probably says troubling things about my character that I love hooker books so ding dang much, but I do, I so so do. The circumstances that lead young women into lives of prostitution are endlessly fascinating, and it’s a profession that transcends time and culture. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, this revelation comes as no surprise. If you’re new here, I really dig books about prostitutes. From a cultural perspective, not a porn-ish one, in case that wasn’t obvious. This is a long weird intro, so I should get to the point! Today we’re talking about The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry. *I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. It is not at all like prostitution because there is zero promise of a favorable review (or any review) involved. That said, the way to my heart is through hooker books, so. Yeah.*

thecourtesanThe Courtesan is the fictionalized account of an actual historical figure, one Sai Jinhua. The novel opens with the execution of Jinhua’s beloved father, an unjust punishment for political dissent. At merely seven years old, she is left in the care of her stepmother (her mother having passed away before the book begins) and unceremoniously sold to a brothel. Though Jinhua suffers the horrors of foot binding and forced prostitution, she finds kinship with the brothel’s maid. Eventually Jinhua’s fortunes change as she is purchased (again) this time to live as a concubine to a wealthy diplomat. She goes on to accompany him on a lengthy trip abroad in Europe, through Austria-Hungary (you know, back when it was an empire?), Prussia (back before it was Germany), and Russia (back when Romanovs were still Czar-ing it up.) I was pretty stoked to see that another famous historical figure made an appearance in this novel, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, whom I feel like I know rather well after reading Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter (review). Worlds colliding all up in this piece.

This book kind of tore my guts out, in any number of instances. I mean, how could it not? There were times I cried for Jinhua and times I wanted to give her a good smack. The fact that she lived such a large life in a time and place where women’s lives tended to be secluded was fascinating. As with any piece of historical fiction based on a real person, I have no doubt that many liberties were taken for dramatic effect, but it all swirled together into a rather lovely package. If you’re like me and dig hooker books, The Courtesan would make an excellent addition to your collection.

Talk to me, Bookworms! Do you like it when real historical figures make cameos in books?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

Divider

Jul 06

Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway

Asia, Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 11

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

I hope all of you in the US had a safe and enjoyable 4th of July weekend. I know I did. I read TWO BOOKS! I know. It’s been a while since I’ve had the luxury of pure binge reading with no real obligations and it was glorious. The first of the books I devoured was Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway. Two of Dilloway’s earlier books, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns (review) and How to Be an American Housewife (review) were winners for me, so I was stoked when the publisher emailed me with an offer to read and review her latest book. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influences the content of my review, though it does influence my ability to pass books along to friends and family. Yay for that.*

sisters of heart and snowDrew and Rachel Snow are sisters with a strained relationship. Rachel is a married mother of two in suburbia. A rather surprising outcome given that her wild teenage antics led to her being expelled from her childhood home. Drew is a bit of a drifter, a musician who follows her passion but never quite manages a semblance of adult stability. The girls haven’t been especially close thanks to the familial rift, but they’re thrown back into each other’s lives when their mother, a Japanese immigrant, begins to suffer from dementia. Though she requires constant care, while she was still lucid, Hikari awarded her elder daughter Rachel power of attorney, enraging her douchebag father, Killian.

During one of Rachel’s visits to the nursing home, Hikari asks Rachel to locate a book she kept in her sewing room. The book and its contents lead Rachel and Drew on a journey back into each other’s lives and shed light on their mother’s difficult past. The book tells the story of Tomoe Gozen, a badass lady samurai in twelfth century Japan, an unlikely tale that resonates across time.

You guys, I love me some Margaret Dilloway! Her inclusion of the badass lady samurai was just the icing on the cake. Drew and Rachel’s relationship was beautifully rendered. The crazy Snow family dynamic was masterfully portrayed even though I wanted to PUMMEL Killian. OMG. PUMMEL. Is it okay to want to pummel a very old man in a walker? I don’t care, he’s fictional and so are my punches. But I hate him. Luckily his awfulness didn’t rub off on his daughters. Long story short? You should probably read Sisters of Heart and Snow.

Talk to me Bookworms. How often do you want to punch fictional characters? Is this a thing that happens to other people?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will make a small commission.*

Divider

Jun 01

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 13

Greetings Bookworms,

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ll probably know that I have a penchant for what I lovingly refer to as “hooker books.” That’s right, kids, I love a good book about prostitution. Not in a pornographic way, but a historical fiction way. I find them absolutely fascinating to the point where I made a list of them while discussing the brilliant Emma Donoghue’s book, Astray. To my astonishment, EMMA FRIGGIN DONOGHUE read my post. Then she left a comment in which she recommended I read Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. Of course, it took me almost 3 years to get around to reading it, but I finally did, and wahooooooo hooker books!

crimsonpetalandthewhiteSugar is a 19 year old prostitute in Victorian England. She was forced into the world’s oldest profession by her mother (of all people) and spends her free time penning revenge fantasy novels. Her life takes an interesting turn one night when she meets up and coming perfume magnate William Rackham. Rackham soon becomes obsessed with Sugar and pays to keep her at his personal disposal. Sugar’s rise in fortune lands her in a new world- one very different yet nearly as dangerous as the one she’s just left.

The Crimson Petal and the White was a big, fat chunkster. It was quite good, if you like hooker books, but it wasn’t the speediest of reads. It had other perks for me, of course. On Facebook, I saw a friend discussing how multi-layered sheets and waterproof pads on crib mattresses are a life saver for late night blowouts. Whipping off the top sheet once a child spews vile secretions is apparently much less trouble than remaking a crib in the middle of the night. Obviously, I had to chime in that I’d heard great things about the method… In a book about a Victorian era prostitute. Because you KNOW Sugar totes used that method in her back alley days. I’m pretty lucky in that my friends aren’t easily offended when I inadvertently compare their children to prostitutes, but I wouldn’t recommend the habit, as a general rule.

Talk to me, Bookworms! What’s your most recent incident of spurting out an inappropriate book factoid?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

Divider

Apr 06

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Contemporary Fiction, Women's Studies 12

Salutations, Bookworms!

In case you hadn’t already seen it EVERYWHERE, Hausfrauby Jill Alexander Essbaum is the new “IT” book. I’m not great at being “in the know” but sometimes news even reaches under my personal rock. I’m going to try to keep this post spoiler-free, but if you’ve read Hausfrau and want to discuss all the dirty details, head over to The Socratic Salon and check out their fabulous discussion. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley for review consideration.*

hausfrauAnna Benz is an American woman living in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland. She and her husband Bruno are raising three children, and Anna is a stay-at-home parent. Beneath the veneer of their picture perfect family, Anna is struggling. As an expatriate with a very limited command of the local language, Anna finds herself isolated and lonely. When Anna finds her German language classes and psychotherapy unfulfilling, she falls into a series of extra-marital affairs. Anna’s life spins utterly out of control and chaos ensues.

You know the opening credits of Mad Men, where this cartoon dude is just free falling and there’s nothing around to catch him? That’s kind of what Hausfrau reminded me of. Holy crap, Anna. This book has been compared to a lot of your typical classic tales of philandering women (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, The Awakening, A Doll’s House, etc.) but because it’s set in the present, it adds a new element. Yes, Anna is depressed. Yes, she’s isolated and living in a foreign country. Yes, she (sort of) loves her husband. But unlike the heroines of these classic novels, Anna has options. I mean, divorce is totally a thing that can happen nowadays when marriages are as miserable as Anna and Bruno’s. I think that’s what makes her so fascinating. She’s not really a victim of circumstance, she’s a victim of her own passivity. There is so much complex and meaty commentary on the human condition in this book that it would make phenomenal book club fodder. I mean, as long as you don’t mind arguing, because Anna is one polarizing lady.

I don’t normally discuss prose or writing style because I don’t feel qualified to do so, but Essbaum does some gorgeous work with her words. Maybe it’s her background in poetry, but homegirl can turn a phrase, y’all. I also usually don’t mention when a book contains a lot of sexy-times, because when I’m usually talking about a romance when such things come up and it’s pretty much expected there. This is one of the, um, naked-est pieces of literary fiction I’ve encountered in a while, so if that sort of thing really bugs you, this might not be the book for you. However, if you’re looking for an awesome and fiery book club discussion or just a lot of moral dilemma brain chewing, Hausfrau delivers.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Are you the sort of person who enjoys a lively debate in book club discussion?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

Divider

Mar 23

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Audio Books, Non Fiction, Women's Studies 8

Salutations Darling Bookworms!

I love learning new things. I think that’s sort of a bookworm thing, no? Unfortunately, a lot of times I struggle with reading non fiction (with the exception of memoirs.) Thank heaven that audio books exist! I recently downloaded Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff from my local library and holy cats! I went into this book knowing virtually nothing about Cleopatra and came out of it feeling like an expert. Seriously, I hope Cleopatra is an entire category at my next trivia night because I will OWN it.

cleopatraPrior to reading this book, Cleopatra evoked images of cheesy Halloween costumes and Elizabeth Taylor. I knew she had flings with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, and that she maybe killed herself with the help of a snake, but that was the extent of my knowledge. What a fascinating life this woman led! She was a brilliant and occasionally ruthless politician. Born into an incestuous dynasty any Targaryen would approve of, Cleopatra’s rule was often mired by familial infighting and assassinations. She became the paramour of two famous Roman rulers and deftly juggled an insane political climate.

Why is it that this powerful woman went down in history as little more than a temptress and minimalist Halloween costume? Stacy Schiff explores the historical records through a modern lense. Schiff strips away some of the cultural bias and explores what Cleopatra’s life and motivations truly were in a historical context. Ancient male historians were pretty quick to dismiss women’s achievements or chalk them up to feminine wiles and witchcraft. Also, the whole snakebite on the boob thing probably didn’t happen. Talk about your inefficient means of suicide. Our girl was smarter than that, y’all. If you have any interest in the life of Cleopatra, I cannot recommend this book enough!

Alright Bookworms, let’s experiment. What is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the name “Cleopatra”?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I do not have Cleopatra’s insane wealth, so, you know. Every penny goes back into keeping me in books!*

Divider

Mar 12

How to Be an American Housewife (And Other Upsetting Historical Things.)

Audio Books, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 21

Konnichiwa Bookworms!

Today you get a Japanese greeting because the main character in today’s book hails from Japan. I’m terribly appropriate, I know. A couple of years ago I read a book called The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns (review) that knocked the socks right off my feet and halfway around the room. I made a mental note to check out ALL THE BOOKS by Margaret Dilloway, and in typical Katie fashion, it took me forever to do it. But do it I did! When I saw that How to Be an American Housewife was available from my library’s audio book section, I decided to give it a shot.

howtobeanamericanhousewifeHow to Be an American Housewife tells the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who marries an American serviceman. The novel features a (fictional, thank heaven) instructional document that attempts to educate Japanese women emigrating to the US in their new country’s cultural expectations and domestic duties. It is, as you would expect, astonishingly offensive, but very telling of the time period’s social mores. Shoko is encouraged to cut ties with Japan and focus on assimilation. As is the case with most novels focusing on Asian immigrant mothers and their American born daughters, Shoko and her daughter Sue have a rather rocky relationship. As Shoko ages and her health fails, she desperately wants to make a trip back to Japan to mend fences with her brother. Because she is too frail to do so, she enlists Sue’s help to make the trip in her stead. Family secrets and heartbreak dovetail with hope and warmth making How to Be an American Housewife an enjoyable read.

I think that listening to this book was a good move, as Shoko’s English is very fragmented. I often struggle with reading heavily accented language, but listening to it is always a treat. In listening to the acknowledgements, I learned that Dilloway’s mother was, like Shoko, a Japanese immigrant married to an American GI. It’s clear that Shoko’s story was heavily influenced by her mother’s experience, which struck me as a beautiful tribute. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the mushy stuff. If you’re in the mood for a mother-daughter story with that Asian immigration twist, How to Be an American Housewife is not to be missed. Fans of Lisa See and Amy Tan, take note!

Talk to me, Bookworms! Have any of you lived in a country other than the one you were born and raised in? Did you experience culture shock? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

Divider

Jul 24

Just Your Typical Prototype (Prototype by MD Waters)

Contemporary Fiction, Dystopian, Women's Studies 5

Greetings, Bookworms!

If you’re not singing No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” right now based on the title of this post, please, by all means, put it on as background music. Now that I’m done foisting 90s ear worms on you, we can get down to business. Earlier this year I read and really enjoyed Archetype by MD Waters. I was overjoyed when I was offered a complimentary copy of the sequel, Prototype, by the publisher for review consideration. *The manner in which this book was received in no way influences the honesty of the following review.*

PrototypeI can’t really accurately describe much about this book without giving away at least a few spoilers for the preceding novel. I’m going to try REALLY hard to be good, but if you’re really sensitive about such things, maybe come back after you’ve read Archetype just to be on the safe side. SPOILER ALERT! You still here? Excellent. Prototype begins about a year after Archetype‘s close. During the course of Archetype our heroine Emma learns through a series of unfortunate events that she was sold into slavery as a young girl, as fertile women have become an extremely valuable commodity. Her life is not at all what’s been presented to her during her recovery from a mysterious “accident.” Emma is, in fact, not who she thinks she is at all. Well. She is. And she isn’t. It’s COMPLICATED.

Anyhow, not everyone in the world is thrilled with the idea that women be sold as breeding stock, so there’s a big underground resistance operation that occasionally raids the training camps where they keep the girls and generally work to undermine the system. SUBVERT THE PATRIARCHY. Wooo! Emma learned of her own ties to the resistance, but because of REASONS, she chooses to leave on a quest to find her parents. Parents she can’t remember. Who sold her into slavery. Because that makes sense, Emma! Fictional characters can be terribly illogical.

In any case, adventures ensue, battles commence, and love threatens to unravel everything (as love is wont to do.) I liked this book, but some of the characters who were fairly complex in the first book took a decidedly Bond villain turn in this one. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good villain, but it seemed like a bit of a ploy to wrap up some complicated emotional baggage in a neat little bow. (To be clear, I wasn’t bothered by the tidy ending, just the Bond villains. I like my bad guys with layers.) While I didn’t love Prototype as much as Archetype, I thought it was a strong sequel and wrapped up the story in a satisfying manner. If you read and enjoyed ArchetypePrototype will give you the closure you crave.

Alright Bookworms. Time to sound off. Do like neatly packaged book conclusions, or do you prefer something a bit messier and open ended?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

Divider

Jun 23

Let’s Get Lewd: Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue

Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 38

Greetings Bookworms!

You’re in for a treat today, because we’re talking about Emma Donoghue. Again. She’s awesome, what can I say? After reading and loving Frog Music a while back (review) I decided I needed MORE of Emma Donoghue’s historical fiction, and if prostitutes were involved, all the better. Luckily, Emma Donoghue’s back list offered me Slammerkinand oh my stars, I’m glad of it!

slammerkinSlammerkin tells the sordid tale of Mary Saunders. Born into the working class of 18th Century London, Mary’s prospects are limited. Though she is afforded the advantage of attending school, she is prepared only to work in domestic service or follow in her seamstress mother’s footsteps. Disheartened by her lack of opportunity, Mary soon chases a fancy into dire circumstances and is forced to take up prostitution as a means to support herself. Oh yeah. I should probably mention that she’s all of 14 at the time. 14!

Selling your body isn’t glamorous work by any means, but Mary finds it offers her a sense liberty she wouldn’t have enjoyed in a “virtuous” occupation. She becomes obsessed with clothing- the flashier the better. It was her lust for a red ribbon that started her down her path to depravity, after all.

THIS BOOK, you guys! Holy cow, I loved it so hard! Mary’s story was so captivating. And!!! I didn’t realize until the end that it was based on a true story! Donoghue did a glorious job of capturing 18th Century London’s underworld, and didn’t sugar coat the grimy details (STDs are no joke, y’all, especially before antibiotics. Yowza.) I am endlessly fascinated by the plight of women throughout the ages. Even though the current world is far from perfect, I’m SO GRATEFUL to have opportunities beyond becoming a servant or a prostitute. Sheesh.

My love for hooker books has been very well documented. I feel a little creepy about it, to be honest, but I suppose everyone has their fixations. Is there a controversial/tragic/less than savory topic that you simply can’t get enough of, Bookworms? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site I will receive a small commission.*

Divider