Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

This was a book I read for my book club. It is about Merricat, Constance and Uncle Julian Blackwood. They are the last the illustrious Blackwood clan. They live in the family manor. Constance has not left the house in six years and Uncle Julian is in a wheelchair because of a terrible incident that has befallen the family.

Merricat goes to the store and the library once a week. But, everything is about to be turned on its head.

The incident that befell the family is that the rest of the family was poisoned and Constance was put on trial for their murders. Uncle Julian is in his wheel chair because of the poisoning incident. They are visited by Cousin Charles, who befriends Constance. They start to talk about Constance trying to reintegrate into society. From here a chain reaction of sorts leads to the revelation of who really killed the rest of the Blackwood Clan and why. This all leads up to a second incident that changes their lives forever.

 

At first, I wasn’t into this novel. But, the more I read it, the creepier and more interesting it got. It was a fun little read.

 

So, if you’re interested in families with secrets, sympathetic magic, and creepy narratives, I recommend you pick this one up.

 

 

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Review: Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Everyone, I have a confession to make. I don’t think I like Margaret Atwood’s writing. (Although, I’ve been told I’ve only read the meh ones). I’ve read Oryx and Crake and The Penelopiad and now the(I think I may have also read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school but I don’t remember how it ends so I’m not counting it.) And, I’ve not been super enthused about any of them.

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The Blind Assassin seems to be going for a certain kind of style and I think it succeeds. So, I can recognize that it is technically a good piece of writing. But, the main narrative which was focused on the lives of two sisters, did not keep my interest at all. The story is told by Iris, an old woman recounting her life in letters. She tells the story of her childhood as the daughter of button magnate in Ontario. World War I happens. The business booms. the depression happens. The business fails. She and her sister fall in love with a communist or anarchist or writer or artist. Iris marries another manufacturing giant to help the family stay afloat. Her sister Laura publishes a book called The Blind Assassin that becomes a huge scandal and therefore a huge hit.

The sub-plot (sub-story?) about the Blind Assassin was awesome. I wanted to read the Blind Assassin. More of that, please. But, the main narrative itself…well, I could see where it was going and I wasn’t interested enough to be excited that as the plot revealed itself and I was right in my guesses.

So, there you have it. I feel like I should have loved this. And, I didn’t. It wasn’t terrible. But, it also wasn’t life-changing. I don’t recommend it but I also don’t not recommend it.

Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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Oof. I’ve been letting the team down. And, it hasn’t been because I haven’t been reading (as anyone who follows me on goodreads knows). It also hasn’t been because I haven’t been writing. This review has been in draft for a month. But, this review has been a long time coming for the following reason: I can’t believe I’m going to review this amazing book with a narrative that centers on the experiences of an African-American woman talking about a white male character. But, I am.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler is the story of a woman named Dana who is sent back in time to the antebellum South. She is pulled there by an ancestor who is, to put it mildly, not very good at taking care of himself. Over the course of the narrative, we are introduced over and over again to the horrors of slavery in an intimate and heartbreaking way. This book was amazing for it’s tension and suspense. I loved Dana and I wanted to know what happened to her. I was scared for her and I wanted there to be a happy ending. But, it is also uncomfortable. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “but there were good slave owners”, this fictional story might be a good way into interrogating those feelings because, even when an overseer or owner was fair, any outcome that involves owning another person is horrific.

Spoilers behind the cut.

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Gratitude 2015

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Image from Books on the Nightstand

 

Yesterday, Beth gave us her list of things she is grateful for this year and now I am going to share what I am grateful for.  I am so grateful for this blog.  Having this space to share my thoughts about the books I’m reading and knowing that other people actually read it is surprising and humbling and wonderful.  I love reading and I love talking about books and I’m so happy to have a place to do that.  Thank you for stopping by!

 

I am grateful for audible. In this past year I have doubled the number of books in my audio book library and I’ve listened to more books but I have read.  Being able to listen while I drive, cook, clean and work out at the gym has been a nice distraction from a whole bunch of necessary activity I don’t normally enjoy. As a PhD student, audio books have given me a way to keep up with something I love without feeling guilty about eating into time I could be working on my dissertation.  Multi-tasking, FTW!

 

I am grateful for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries. Like Beth, I have eleventy billion books in my house and I do not need any more books in my house.  For now. The library has helped me keep my book habit in check by giving me so many options to check out. I love the library! I love the library’s website! I (mostly) have loved the books I have borrowed this year!

 

I am thankful for book groups and reading assignments.  I wouldn’t have read All the Light We Cannot See, Beauty Queens, Who Fears Death? (even though it was my pick for book club!), and all of Rainbow Rowell’s books if it had not been for book club and the pop culture homework assignment. I am so grateful for both of those things because I really enjoyed all of those books.

We hope that you have a happy holiday season! We also wish you happy reading! Thank you for sharing our reads with us!

Beauty Queens and Music Videos

I’ve found myself thinking about Libbi Bray’s Beauty Queens a lot in the past few days. (That link is to Beth’s awesome review of the book.) As Beth mentions in the review, Bray does a good job of capturing certain expectations about women. (spoilers ahead). In the book, there is a subplot about the Corporation, a mega-company bent on continuing to push into illegal markets and trades, and the beauty queens throw a wrench in the works by crash landing in the middle of the operation. From the moment of the crash landing, the queens are completely underestimated. As Beth said, “They are just girls so they are not that important. They won’t survive long. Right?” This part of the book captures how old ideas about gender still cling on even though advancements have been made. But, Bray did a good portraying another dynamic as well and this is what I want to talk about today. Changing norms have made some space at the top of many fields for women to succeed, but it hasn’t really leveled the playing field. Some women have an advantage over other women because of other ways our societies are unfair. This plays out in the book through the interactions of two non-white characters Nicole, an African American woman, and Shanti, an Indian immigrant. In the book, they know that there is only room in the top ten for one non-white contestant and that makes them leery of each other. They also know that their faults will be scrutinized more than their white counterparts, a subplot seen through the eyes of Nicole as she remembers the last time an African American contestant had a sex scandal and it ruined her chances of success (even though the consequences for white contestants wouldn’t be as severe).

This has been on my mind because some of those dynamics have been in the news recently. If you are at all interested in pop culture, you may have heard that the 2015 MTV VMA award nominations are out and that Nicki Minaj is not happy with them. After the release of the nominations she took to twitter and stated that she felt that her videos for Anaconda and Feeling Myself were slighted because of the type of artist she is and that other artists doing what she does in her videos are rewarded. She also stated that because she wasn’t celebrating particular types of bodies, she wasn’t getting as much love from the awards committee. I don’t watch a lot of music videos, any really, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of the videos nominated (although, I have seen Anaconda). Then, Taylor Swift took Minaj’s comments personally. I would like to suggest that part of the reason why Swift might take Minaj’s comments personally is that she knows that there is a limited amount of space for women at the top of her field and she works hard and is unwilling to give up that space. Minaj’s twitter criticisms are valid: as a society we do value certain bodies higher than other bodies and this is not only seen in how we reward people but also in how treat people in general.

Beauty Queen was an interesting book because it brought intersectionalism, the idea that people may be operating in a space under more than one type of oppression, into the conversation meant for teen audiences about how women are treated. And, while I found the book to be funny and moving, this broadening of the conversation of what feminism is and who it best serves might be the most important part of the book.

What I’m Reading Now: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Beth and I are in the same book club. I’m a little behind everyone else this month. I’m a little embarrassed by that because I recommended this book!

Quick Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Featured imageI’m going to be brief because I don’t want to be spoilery and also want to wait until Kate finishes it to talk in more detail. I will say it was a truly powerful novel.  A dystopian novel set on the African continent.  Onyesonwu is born from rape and because of it is an outcast but she has a destiny that will change the world. I admit that I haven’t ready many books that take place in Africa so this was a new voice for me. At times it confusing and it was also horrifying.  Nnedi Okorafor does not shy away from the ugliest and violent moments of the novel and it’s equal parts terrifying as it is uncomfortable.  It’s an unflinching portrait of racism and sexism and how both corrupt a society.  Onye is not only a woman but also Ewu, a child born of violence from an Okeke women and Nuru man.  She is shunned by most and seen as both worthless by many more.  When it becomes clear that she is more then normal, she repeatedly turned away from the local sorcerer not because she isn’t extraordinary but because she is a woman.  One has to wonder, how differently things would have turned out if she started training when she first asked to but I guess we will never know.  When she finally unleashes her power and saves the day it’s a sight to see.  My favorite part of the novel is the friendship from Onye and Luyu.  At first, they are just two girls who are in the same class, who are forced together thanks to a common experience shall we say but as they grow they become closer.  They give each other strength and support.  They each show bravery and different ways.  I truly don’t believe that Onye would have made it through without her.  Mwita may be the love her life and soulmate, more then a soulmate really but it’s Luyu who is the back bone.  She keeps everyone grounded in a way.  Her bravery is truly inspiring because unlike Onye and Mwita who have varying degree of powers, Luyu is nothing but human but she knows there are bad things happening and will do anything to help Onye stop them.  This isn’t an easy book to read but what the characters go through are not meant to be easy.  If you feel uncomfortable because it’s supposed to be uncomfortable.  You should be horrified at the lengths people will go for an idea and belief.  It truly was a great book.

What I’m Listening to: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beth and I are in the same book club.  The reader on this audio book is knocking it out of the park.  Each girl has her own voice and it is wonderful!  I checked this out from my public library.  Shout out to the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries!