Let’s Never Talk About Women’s Fiction Again

There have been so many articles and blog posts in every newspaper in the world about women’s writing that I can’t even bother to list them. David Gilmour poo-poos the ladies’ books. What are ladies writing about anyway? Oh the domestic, the feelings, the uteruses (uteri?). So many doilies cluttering up the place. How is a manly man supposed to read about that stuff?

Stop. Right. There.

I just read a book written by a man (The Book of Strange New Things) in which there are not one but two thorough descriptions of semen. What it looks like, how it smells, how much there is (a lot).

gross

If I can read that without my eyeballs bleeding, I think the manly men can handle the domestic interludes in women’s fiction.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (Audiobook): Review

strange new things

Peter, a British minister, has the opportunity of a lifetime by becoming a missionary. Not here on Earth, but on the planet Oasis only reachable through the technology of a company called USIC. Peter leaves his wife and their beloved cat behind to minister the native inhabitants, Oasians, of this planet. These beings are all about Jesus. They call themselves Jesus Lovers: Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Two, etc. They want to hear more about their friend Jesus and his miraculous adventures by having Peter read to them from The Book of Strange New Things (The Bible).

Peter’s wife Bea can only communicate with him through a device called The Shoot. It’s a magic typewriter of sorts. Peter is enjoying his time with the Jesus Lovers, but back on Earth things are quickly going to shit. Bea sends him increasingly disturbing messages about natural disasters and economic upheaval. Bea is not in great shape herself. Her apartment is coming apart, the cat is stressed, and her job as a nurse is the last job anyone would want during the end of the world.

Peter seems to believe Bea is exaggerating, or being hormonal, or possibly drunk. None of the human inhabitants on Oasis, the USIC workers, are too upset about the happenings on Earth, or about anything for that matter. The only exception is a pharmacist named Granger. She’s in charge of supplying the Jesus Lovers with medication, which is exchanged for food. She’s sceptical of everything, including Peter’s role as minister.

With the Earth so far away and life on Oasis so peaceful, Peter has a difficult time imagining what Bea is going through. It’s not until Peter is jolted into reality that he begins to question not only what is really happening on Oasis but his own faith.

The Book of Strange New Things is a difficult book to categorize and I struggled with where it was going. Is it a commentary on colonialism? Not really. The Oasians, even the Jesus Lovers, are getting along fine with the humans and aren’t changed by their presence. Other than trading with them, they have little contact. Is it science fiction? Not really. There’s a sort of ordinariness about the situation despite the setting. Human beings living away from their families on a project in an isolated land isn’t a foreign idea to me. So what is it all about? Mostly it’s about Peter and his journey of faith. And this was a bit of a problem for me.

Peter got in my nerves, which is the intention, I think. Peter is unknowingly a jerk to his wife. He’s somewhat preachy, even when he’s trying not to be. He struggles with being a good shepherd to his flock, and I sympathized with him, but ultimately I didn’t care about him. I cared more about Bea and Joshua the cat. I cared about Jesus Lover Five way more than I cared about Peter and his journey.

There were some great moments in The Book of Strange New Things. Moments, as I was listening to the audiobook at work, I needed to keep myself together. “Don’t you cry, dammit!” I told myself. There was a part that made me want to BURN EVERYTHING!

daenerys-targaryen-fire-explosion

In the end, I was disappointed by the answers to the questions I had. There were things I just didn’t buy. Although so many people are loving The Book of Strange New Things, I thought it was only okay. It left me wanting more but not in a good way.

About the audio: The Book of Strange New Things is narrated by Josh Cohen. One of the weirdest experiences listening to this book is the voices of the Oasians. I can’t even explain it. At first, it was annoying, but eventually I got used to it. There is a long speech at the end of the novel that is in their language and it wasn’t translated so who knows what was going on there. It was an interesting experience anyway!

audiobook review

Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Girl Runner by Carrie Synder: Review

girl runner

Get ready for one-of-those reviews, where I can’t decide what if I liked a book or not.

Aganetha* “Aggie” Smart is an 104 year Olympian living in a home for the elderly. She is taken on a joyride by an Olympic hopeful and her brother/filmmaker. While Aggie wonders what they want of her, she thinks back to her life as a runner, from her childhood on the farm to her time training in Toronto and beyond. The sibling pair just think of Aggie as a means to their own ends and never realize the secrets she’s been carrying around inside her for decades.

Girl Runner was quick out of the gate. Aggie has a complicated family. Lots of death and secrets. For me, the novel was great until after Aggie came back from the 1928 Olympics. The Olympic Games should have been a much bigger part of the novel. Aggie trained hard and she was one of the first women allowed to participate. (FYI, Aggie is fictional.) Instead of revelling in her success, Aggie has such angst over beating her friend. I found this fretful woman hard to reconcile with the girl who did hand stands on her barn roof. Aggie was reckless and loved attention as a child, but wants to give it all to her friend as an adult? It didn’t add up for me. Years later, she’s still torn up about it, even after her friend did something really shitty to her.

The book fell apart for me after A Man appears. He’s not even remotely interesting. He’s so typical and the plot goes in an obvious direction at this point. I was disappointed. Maybe I’ve read too much Sarah Waters, but I thought things with Aggie were going to go in an entirely different direction. It really seemed that way to me! Take this paragraph, for example:

Glad seems very near to me, although she isn’t, not really. We are staring at each other and I can’t read her eyes. They aren’t laughing, like they almost always are. This does not seem, suddenly, to be a joke.

SEE?!

Then there are the secrets. So many secrets. Everybody’s got a secret. Secrets that aren’t even necessary. Secrets that are not even that secretive. It created a false sense of suspense.

secrets

I might be giving the impression that I didn’t like Girl Runner at all but that’s not true. I did like Aggie and her compulsion to run. I think that her creator, Carrie Synder, piled on the suffering too much. I know that’s it’s a Canadian thing to make characters suffer over and over, but Aggie should have been allowed to have fun sometimes too. The Olympics should have been fun. She was doing what she loved to do! Let her have that. The time period and the difficulties of women, or any athlete, training during that time was fascinating and I wanted more of that.

Girl Runner is told in first person from Aggie’s point of view. Aggie is 104 years old and sometimes she can’t remember what has recently happened. She can remember everything that’s happened far in her past. That feels very realistic. The plot isn’t linear, it leaps in and out of the past. It can be discombobulating. I didn’t mind it too much. I didn’t like the little foreshadowing statements sometimes made, “considering what happened later…” etc. Those kind of things always take me out of the present, whenever that happens to be.

So, in the end, I recommend Girl Runner, but with tempered enthusiasm.

*Thankfully, she’s called Aggie. I can neither say nor spell Agneathaha.

Kobo Chat: It’s Been a Long Time

kobo chat2

What’s new on your Kobo or other ebook device? First, let’s take a look at the electronic reading I’ve been up to lately. I’ll talk about what I’ve finished, what I’ve downloaded (bought or borrowed), and how that’s working out for me. Grab a coffee and let’s chat!

Finished

Wow, I haven’t finished anything since The Lake way back in September. I blame work. I am seriously going to read a book this weekend. For real.

New to the Kobo

  • Bought. Kobo had another 70% off sale, so of course I had to have a peek. This time around I bought Let’s Bring Back- An Encyclopedia of Forgotten- Yet- Delightful, Chic, Useful, Curious, and Otherwise Commendable Things from Times Gone By by Lesley M M Blume and They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer.
  • Borrowed from library. Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

 

 

Let’s Talk

I’ve been reading Girl Runner off and on the past couple of weeks. Even though it’s good, I’m taking forever to read it. It’s not even that long!

I’m still on the waiting list on the library site for The Paying Guests. Just 10 more people in front of me. Yay.

As for the ones I bought, Let’s Bring Back, etc. was a book I heard about years ago and then forgot. It was $1.99 so why not? And Georgette Heyer is always delightful.

How about you? Are you reading anything interesting on your device? Find any good deals? Tell me about it!

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore: Review

wonder woman

When I was very young, I would watch Wonder Woman (also the Bionic Woman. I was all about the strong female protagonist.) I can’t say I was ever into the comic books but Lynda Carter with her long dark hair and red boots was my heroine. I didn’t remember much about Wonder Woman when The Secret History of Wonder Woman came onto my radar, but the description mentioned feminism and suffrage so really how could I say no?

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore isn’t so much about Wonder Woman herself but her creator and the women who influenced him. William Marston doesn’t seem like a man that would be the driving force behind a comic book hero. His life is a labyrinth of failures and accomplishments that lead up to the creation of Wonder Woman. He was the inventor of the polygraph, a psychologist who wrote The Emotions of Normal People, and scriptwriter for Hollywood. He was an intellectual Jack of All Trades, which meant he was Master of None. He was a professional failure by the time the opportunity to shape the character of Wonder Woman came around.

In his personal life, he was into Free Love, bondage, and sex parties. He had a long term polyamorous relationship with his wife, Elizabeth Holloway, and Olive Byrnes, the niece of Margaret Sanger. I love the irony of Marston’s DC Comics wiki page: Personal History of William Marston is unknown. Or do they not want to try and sum up that part of his life? Elizabeth herself was a successful psychologist. Olive had aspirations of an academic career but because of their circumstances couldn’t pursue them.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman meanders into Greek mythology, experimental science, suffrage, birth control activism, and first wave feminism. It’s often hard to see how these things connect with Wonder Woman until Lepore points it out. What I got from it was that when Marston didn’t have a say in what Wonder Woman did on the pages of her comic, she wasn’t the strong, bad ass, feminist protagonist that we know. Instead, she was reverted into what men believed was womanly at the time: a powerless damsel, an accessory, or simply disposable. Marston created a physically powerful character who didn’t need men and believed in justice for all.

Jill Lepore must have done a ton of research for The Secret History of Wonder Woman. That story must be a book in itself! It was worth it because The Secret History of Wonder Woman is quite the education. I could have done without most of the polygraph stuff though.

About the Audio: Jill Lepore herself does the narration. I was on the fence about listening to the audio version but am glad I did. Her narration adds so much to the book. She’s an excellent speaker.

Now go back in time to 1975 and relive some great moments from the TV series.

Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Media Madness Monday: Bob and Boudica

media madness monday 1

I'm a media junkie, not just books, but TV, movies, music, podcasts, and internet nonsense. Every Monday I discuss something that's caught my interest this past week.

On the TV

bob's burgers

Do you watch Bob’s Burgers? If not, why not? It’s the best animated comedy on TV. The Belcher’s are a typical family of five just trying to keep the family business running. Bob is a hamburger artist, his wife Linda and three kids: Tina, Gene, and Louise, help out when they can. They’re all a little kooky but I can relate to them all. Bob begrudgingly gets involved in his family’s antics. Linda is always bubbly and encourages the family to have fun, usually with singing and dancing. Tina is a hormonal teen, Louise a terrifyingly angry and devious little kid. And Gene is…Gene. 

Last week, Tina fell in love with a ghost Louise convinced her lived in a shoebox. Meanwhile, ghosthunters invaded the restaurant. The kids often have separate adventures from their parents but everyone meets up at the end of every episode. It’s just a lot of offbeat fun.

Podcasting

stuff history

I've been binge listening to Stuff You Missed in History Class during work. This is a fantastic podcast for anyone who loves history. All episodes are around 30 mins so you can listen to one on the bus, in the car or wherever. I’ve already gone through Growing Up Bronte, Les Filles du Roi, New England Vampire Panic, Hypatia, and Boudica. There are so many more on countless topics. Check it out!

 

On the Web

If you can’t get enough of Hypatia and Boudica in the podcast, have a look Rejected Princesses. Those ladies, along with many other great women of history, are reimagined as cartoon characters. The women are rejected princesses because their stories wouldn’t translate into 90 minute movies for children. Some of the brightly coloured illustrations feature happily smiling heroines decapitating their enemies. So, yeah. But it’s great!

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Novembering

november

Hello, November-inos! I probably complain about November every year but November is the worst. It is also the month that I think to myself, “I really have to get my Christmas shopping started.” So, I did…for myself…I ordered a bunch of books as presents for ME.

I picked up some books at Value Village a few weeks ago. Books were 50% off that day! I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. The selection wasn’t super but I did get these gems.

books

I now have two copies of The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery. I bought Christina Queen of Sweden because of the title (Queen Me!). I’ve been waiting to read something from Natsuo Kirino for some time now so I grabbed that copy of Grotesque right quick. The Moonstone I bought just because.

A Book Blogger’s Dilemma

Twice this week while I was reading (actually listening to) two different books, some interesting tidbit captivated my attention. It was something that got my mind going in a million different directions but when I sat down to write my reviews, I couldn’t find a place for them in the post. One piece of information is developing into a possible discussion post, but the other is just a small thing that I can’t see going anywhere other than “Guys, look it this!”

I’ll tell you that it was from The Secret History of Wonder Woman, and was a passage where some dude was quoted as saying, “Women should be willing to die in childbirth every time they have sex.” There is quite a bit about the birth control movement in the early 20th century in the book. I thought to myself, “Dude, if it were that simple the human race would have died out ages ago.” Other than me thinking about how things haven’t changed much with the mindset of some people in a hundred years, I didn’t have anywhere to go with it. It was just a snippet that stayed with me.

Bloggers, does this ever happen to you? What do you do with it? Do you tweet about it? Read it to your spouse while he/she is trying to watch Scandal and demand some kind of reaction? Do you lock it away in the vault of your mind until it develops into something you can write about? Let me know.

That’s it for my thoughts this week. I bought a new lens for my camera but yesterday was such an icky day that I could only take pictures inside. That’s why I took that photo of my tree from my kitchen window. I think it turned out pretty good though.

Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers

bride of new france

Laure, an orphan from the streets, lives in the Salpetriere, a prison for the poor of Paris. She has dreams of becoming a wealthy seamstress with the help of her friend Madeleine but due to her own bad decisions is chosen to become a Fille de roi, one of the women sent to Canada to marry and bear lots of children with a stranger in a dangerous country. New France is full of bachelors, but light on eligible women. For a successful colony, the King needs to populate the country with his own loyal subjects.

Armed with a dowry from the King, Laure and her friend Madeleine cross the ocean to meet their destiny in the Canadian wilderness. There are plenty of men, but either they have little interest in Frenchwomen, since they’ve been with the native women for years, or they lie about their own circumstances. The men have been given land but farming requires different skills from soldiering. Most of the men have little more than a tent to offer their new wives. As an incentive, if the new families produce some tiny French babies, they’ll receive more money from the King.

As the title suggests, Laure becomes a bride, but things are far from Happily Ever After.

I knew a little about the Filles de roi from my high school history. They breezed over that bit because ladies, am I right? If you aren’t a dude putting a flag in something, who cares? The Filles de roi only populated New France, after all.

Desrochers starts Bride of New France in one of the worst places in 16th century Paris, the Salpetriere, where Laure works as a lacemaker. A girl literary dies of scurvy. SCURVY. Still, no one wants to go to Canada. It’s like moving to Mars. The plot at this point moves about as fast as a herd of turtles. There were details that didn’t advance the plot, like the prayers and such. I had to speed up the narration on the audiobook or I would have fallen asleep.

louise

Once Laure gets off the boat (not a cruise ship), things get a little quicker though not much happier. Death, starvation, general terribleness continues. Some of the characters suffer from Helen Burns Syndrome; they’re too good to live. As for Laure, she’s sort of a jerk, which would be okay if she was interesting, but she wasn’t. She is awful to a dying girl and manipulates her friend into going to Canada with her. There is a reason no one likes you, Laure.

Although I had issues with Bride of New France, it’s a valiant attempt to fill out a little known piece of history and the unknown women who were an important part of it. 

About the Audio: Emma Bering does the narration. She has a lovely accent but she’s slooooooooow. I increased the speed and barely noticed. She also over pronounced certain words, like prostitute, and it made me crazy.

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters: Review

last policemanBen Winters writes a lot of books for Quirk: those weird Jane Austen books (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters), the itchy Bed Bugs, and the Last Policeman series. I’ve somehow collected a bunch of his titles without even realizing it. For the 24 Hour Readathon I finally took on The Last Policeman.

It’s the end of the world… or at least the last six months until the end of the world. People are quitting their jobs and fulfilling their bucket lists before life as we know it ends. Not Detective Hank Palace. It was his dream to be a detective and even though he’s come into the job by default, he’s going to do it right.

With the end nigh, it’s not a surprising to find a corpse hung in a McDonald’s bathroom; Concord is known as Hangertown. It’s the preferred method of self-disposal. This situation doesn’t look like the usual to Detective Palace. He suspects murder and he’s willing to hunt for a killer when everyone else is happy to call it suicide and go home to their loved ones.

The Last Policeman is not your usual detective story. Along with the need to solve the case, there’s the psychological pressure on the characters of knowing that everyone on earth is going to die soon. How will they handle this fact? It’s the last six months, society is still pretty much intact. There are people who have decided to do all the things they’ve meant to do, and people who end their lives before a giant chunk of ice ends it for them. The news of where an asteroid will hit the earth hasn’t been revealed yet. It’s still a bit of an abstract idea. Slowly, reality begins to hit the characters over the course of the novel. How they react to this realization is one of the most interesting parts of the story. What would we do? Just go on with our lives?

Detective Hank Palace doesn’t dwell on the incoming space rock too much. He’s a man with a one track mind which makes him somewhat socially awkward.  He can recite parts of Criminal Investigation but will bend the rules when he feels he’s right.

The mystery was of secondary interest to me. It was clunky and I knew who the killer was when they showed up on the page, just not the why. There is a subplot involving Hank’s sister that have potential. I’m very curious to read the rest of the series.

Media Madness Monday: Canadaland and Eddie Rochester

media madness monday 1

I'm a media junkie, not just books, but TV, movies, music, podcasts, and internet nonsense. Every Monday I discuss something that's caught my interest this past week.

Oh hi! Happy Week After Tiny Chocolate Bars and Leaping Backward In Time. I blame both of these on this late edition of Media Madness Monday.

 

Podcasting

So, before that bombshell about Jian Ghomeshi hit, all I knew about Jesse Brown was that he hosted Canadaland. Actually, I didn’t pay much attention to the show until I saw in the podcast show list that he’d interviewed Kate Beaton recently. It is such a great interview. First, she talks about her website and its success, how even if it seems to be a specific kind of comedy, it attracts all types of people (Canadian topics, American audience) Then she discussed her time at Fort McMurray. If you are Canadian, you know at least something about the oil sands and Fort Mc. It’s where the money is but it’s got problems. What Kate Beaton has to say about it made me very emotional since so many people I know have worked there at some time.

 

On the Web

On a lighter note, for the lols follow Mr Edward Rochester on his Tumblr. Read his rants about his first wife and Jane leaving him. Also, thoughts on how awesome he is. The notes include arguments from Jane, Heathcliff, and Catherine Earnshaw.

See you next time!