No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Heartstrikers, Book 3)

Monday, August 29, 2016

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Heartstrikers, Book 3)
Rachel Aaron, 2016

Premise: Julius is on top for the moment, but political turmoil in a dragon clan brings out a lot of opportunists. Sequel to Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another.

Oof. I was so looking forward to this book, that I think it really suffered from my heightened expectations. It’s not bad, per se, it’s just not what I wanted.

It’s still well written, in an interesting world. I liked the new characters and the new things we learned about established characters. But I also got two things I wasn’t expecting from this author: realism over story and book six syndrome.

In the first case, the book is bogged down by a lot of machinations and conversations and plot points that don’t really progress the bigger plot enough. I felt like a number of the twists and happenings weren’t essential, even though they were things that would have happened in ‘reality,’ given the set-up as it was.

It isn’t a lack of action, it’s the presence of repetitive action: this person says or does something very similar to the last three attacks/arguments/etc.

I also didn't know, going into this book, that it is not the end of the story. In fact, this book is more of a cliffhanger than books one or two. So I had one problem, which was that for some reason I was expecting a trilogy, and it’s annoying that I still have to wait to get to the actual end. The other problem was the aforementioned book six syndrome.

I call it that because it’s more likely in long series. (See: Song of Susannah, Half-Blood Prince) It’s when the penultimate book in a series is spent lining up all the characters to where they need to be for the end of the plot (or the next part of the plot, if the next book isn't the last). It’s sometimes necessary action, but it leaves the book in question thin and frustrating.

I’ll still turn in for part four, because I do really like this world, I love the characters, and I trust the author, and maybe I'll like this volume better on some future reread, but for now I’m a little disappointed in it.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

Monday, August 22, 2016

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
Julia Serano, 2007, 2016 (new edition)

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender

Premise: Scholarship and personal perspective on the interrelationship between attitudes around femininity and discrimination against trans women.

I borrowed this book from the library and got only a few chapters in before I decided that I had to buy my own copy so I could highlight all the best passages.

I’ve been looking for a book like this, one that articulates so clearly the need to empower femininity. In feminist and liberal spaces, we already question the idea that women can be equal to men only if they act like men (but not too much like men). Yet somehow many of us tend to miss that so much of this attitude can be connected to dismissing girls, along with denigrating traditionally feminine attitudes, interests, and practices.

Getting a fantastic analysis of issues facing the transgender population is just icing on the feminism cake. Serano uses her personal experiences, her conversations with others in the trans, queer, and lesbian communities, and extensive scholarship to explore the many facets of gender and types of sexism.

This book was originally written in 2007, so some of the terminology she uses is not what is most common today, and some of the issues are already changing. These elements are acknowledged in the preface to the 2016 edition.

Some of the most enlightening chapters for me explored the sexism inherent in most media representation of trans women and the double-bind in terms of gender expression that faced (and may still face) those seeking to transition.

Serano’s personal account explores the nuanced possibilities surrounding how much our gender expressions and sexual selves are shaped by hormones, intrinsic inclinations, and/or socialization. Overall her book is impressive in stating a firm, strong position for holding a nuanced, subtle view of gender and sex.

The only criticism I have is that a few of the chapters late in the book are jarringly different in tone. They aren’t bad, just different than the rest.

The book begins and ends with the call to empower femininity and for those who consider themselves feminists to dismantle attitudes which damage all feminine people - whether those feminine people consider themselves male or female or other.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Every Heart a Doorway

Monday, August 15, 2016

Every Heart a Doorway
Seanan McGuire, 2016

Premise: Nancy found the place she belonged. The place she loved more than anything. But she isn’t there anymore, and her parents have sent her to this school, because they don’t believe her when she tells them where she’s been.

This fantasy-horror novella is lovely, both heartbreaking and uplifting. The story is about outsiders and belonging, about ideas of good and bad, about compassion and fanaticism. All in under 200 pages.

Eleanor West runs a school for children who have returned from journeying in other realms. These latter-day kin to Alice and Dorothy don’t want to adjust to “real” life, they want to go back to the fairylands and underworlds.

Each character is intriguing; they each have a reason they went traveling and were changed by their experiences. The ideas and abilities that followed them back to Earth are only part of what makes them different. Nancy can go still as a statue and subsist on little food due to her travels, but she was out of place in the world before she ever left it.

We mainly follow those students who came through darker, more dangerous worlds, although every glimpse we get of any of the kids’ experiences is fascinating. The inciting plot is violent and gruesome, hence why these kids are the best-suited to handle it.

I’ve been dancing around it, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention that Every Heart a Doorway features LGBTQA representation in a delightfully matter-of-fact style.

It’s overall a wonderful read, and while it’s the right length for this story, I would love more in this world.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Goblin Emperor

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Goblin Emperor
Katherine Addison, 2014

Premise: There’s been a terrible accident. Maia has never lived at court and hasn’t seen his father since the death of his mother a decade ago. And now they expect him to be emperor.

The Goblin Emperor was a runner-up for the Hugo and on more than a few best-of-the-year lists. So it went onto my TBR pile, and there it sat, even months after I picked up a copy on sale last December.

I finally read it, and it was marvelous - just a joy to read start to end.

I think this is going to be a book I return to, to savor the little details and enjoy subtleties that escaped me on the first read.

I adore Maia; he’s an honestly good person muddling through a difficult situation. I love the cast surrounding him, each feels like a real person with a complicated history and motivation.

The book deals in highly complicated naming conventions, which would normally drive me up the walls. However, in this case I feel that they fit tonally with the overwhelming situation Maia is up against.

I loved that while there is some mystery and some danger, this is fundamentally a book about politics and society. It’s the magic and the elves and goblins that make it a fantasy world, not the plot. There’s no epic fate or dragon to defeat; riding herd over the fractious nobles of the Elflands is enough trouble.

It’s an old-fashioned society quietly moving toward transformation. [Minor characters include lady scholars, progressive inventors, and LGBT folks.] While nothing is changing quickly, it’s a book full of hope.

If a half-goblin can rule the elven empire, after all, what else could happen?

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

The Feminine Mystique

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Feminine Mystique
Betty Friedan, 1963

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes

I don’t make it easy on myself sometimes. This isn’t a perfect book, but it’s important and it’s fascinating.

If you only know a little about The Feminine Mystique, you might know that it was a big catalyst for aspects of the female liberation movement in the 60s and 70s. You might know that it’s about the unhappiness of housewives: the “problem with no name.” If you haven’t read it, you might not know that it’s less a polemic than it is a dissertation.

That’s not to say that it isn’t passionate and full of the anger at the forces in society that convinced a generation of women that they could only be fulfilled as a wife and mother. It’s just a balanced, banked anger that I wasn’t expecting. Friedan wasn’t sure how many people would be on her side; she backs up her points with extensive quotes and cited sources.

Parts of it are definitely dated. She spends a chapter taking apart the gendered assumptions created by the then-popular acceptance of Freudian theory, then later uses pieces of Freud to support some odd declarations about parenting. And trust me, it’s better if you just skip everything related to homosexuality. Yes, it’s mostly concerned with the problems of middle-class white women.

That all said, parts of it are not dated at all. The conviction that no matter what you choose it’s wrong, especially when it comes to parenting. The call for a balance between motherhood, career, love and purpose. Most of the section on homosexuality is cringeworthy, but she makes the connection between homophobia and misogyny.

She questions claims for biological instincts related to gender roles and makes a case that to be human is to have a purpose beyond oneself, and to reach one’s full intellectual capacity.

The most interesting parts for me were the parts that really clarified how society has both changed and not changed since the book was written. Some trends have reversed (some more than others) and some have merely metamorphosed. One great chapter was full of quotes from sales consultants about their strategies to convince women to be, not just housewives, but exceptional housewives, so they could sell them ever-more-time-consuming THINGS.

Some of the quoted language around why some people believe women don’t need x (where x is the vote, schooling, jobs, self-determination…) wouldn’t be out of place in the “reverse sexism” claims among certain people in the men’s rights movement of today.

The idea that if you care too much about ideas or your career, that you’ll never get married? That idea hasn’t fully left us.

Overall I found this book dry/academic and inspiring by turns. Although my favorite part may have been the afterwords. I have the 50th anniversary edition, and it includes both a heartfelt afterword by journalist Anna Quindlen and a reflection by Friedan from 1997. This final word from her recounts how her life changed after the book and shares her account of the foundation of NOW and the women’s strike of 1970. It chronicles how far she thinks we’ve come, how far we have to go, and what the next great hurdle would be.

She was right again, because we’re still facing that hurdle today: it’s breaking down the masculine mystique so that rather than growing ever more frustrated at the loss of power, men can work toward authenticity and self-determination alongside women as equal partners in humanity.

4 Stars - Not perfect, but important.

Also! Friedan noted that part of why women in her time were vulnerable to these messages and cultural constructs was that women forgot what their mothers and grandmothers had fought for (the vote, etc.). It’s easy to take the past for granted. I highly HIGHLY recommend the recent documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, for first-hand accounts of the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s. Available on DVD and streaming.