Monday, February 27, 2012

Miscellaneous Mondays: Is This Sexist?

I'm going to preface this entire post with a simple statement: I don't consider myself a feminist. I consider myself an equalist of sorts, because I firmly believe that everyone should have the same rights across all genders, races, and sexualities. I don't like to go around pointing out every stupid thing I think might be sexist--that way lies madness and hatred.

That being said, after seeing this video from Feminist Frequency, I think there's an interesting point to discus. If you have ten minutes to spare, I recommend watching the video HERE. In sum, the video talks about evaluating representation of women in big name Hollywood movies by applying the Bechdel test to 2012 Oscar nominees. To pass the Bechdel test, a movie need only have two female characters, that have names, and talk to each other about something other then a man. Hollywood, by the way, seems to be failing.

I find the concept of the test to be fascinating, and I wonder what would happen if we applied it to main stream popular books. The problem, of course, is that I intentionally read mostly female centered books. they pass? Let's think about some of the strongest female leads out there.

Kate Daniels? Sure, she talks to Andrea, about weapons, and killing, and attack poodles. Prior to Andrea's appearance in book 2, however, I don't think Kate talked to to many women. So book 1 probably passes by the skin of it's teeth.

Mercy Thompson? In River Marked, which is the book I remember most distinctly because I read it most recently, there really aren't any other female characters involved in the conflict for Mercy to talk to. She talks to Jesse, for example, but it's about Jesse's father, so I'm thinking that doesn't count.

What about a romance novel? Indigo is my most recent traditional romance novel. It passes because Hester talks to various other women about the underground railroad stuff. But the thing is, there are a lot of romance novels that I don't think would pass, because the main plot centers around a romance with a man.

Look at Sea Change. We have a female lead dressing up as a man, surrounded by a male cast. The only time she talks to other women, it's to prostitutes about sex...with men.

What about the really popular stuff? Twilight? I'm pretty sure that would fail. Hunger Games? I'll let you know after I read it. Harry Potter? Fail. Vampire Diaries? From the one book I read, fail.

So here's where I come to my main point, which is that while none of these books pass with flying colors, none of them are inherently sexist or anti-feminist. Well...maybe Twilight. But the rest of them are fine. Even books written by women, about women, for women, will sometimes fail this test. If we used them to evaluate the popular fiction industry, as the video does with Hollywood movies, we might end up seeing a problem that isn't there. The test is inherently flawed.

I think the tidbit I get caught up on is the conversation with other women part. Growing up, all of my friends were boys. If they made a day of my life into a movie it would have failed the test. My life story is sexist?

All of that being said, I do agree that strong women are under represented in main stream Hollywood. All I'm really asking for is to have female characters engage in meaningful, plot relevant dialogue or action, not involving sex or romance, with any character of any gender. Books, or at least 90% of the ones I've read, do a good job at this. A lot of movies still fail. So yes, there's some room for work there.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think we need more meaningful female characters? How do we measure that? Share your thoughts in the comments. Happy Monday, everyone!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

On Lykans: A Review of Moon Spell by Samantha Young

I'm not sure how I ended up reading this one, other than the fact that I DNFed so many books this month that I felt I HAD to read something I was pretty sure I'd like. Werewolves usually do the trick. Werewolves are comfort reading for me.

This is, essentially, your atypical werewolf pack story. Caia has been in hiding most of her life, ostensibly because she is a potential target of the Midnight Coven (i.e. the evil magic folk). Finally, at the age of eighteen, she is returning to her pack for the first time. Learning to live among them isn't easy, especially with her growing attraction to Lucien, the pack's brooding leader. On top of this, Caia quickly starts to realize that there's something different about her, something tied to a dark past that's been kept from her for far too long.

Positive Comments

I'd compare this book (favorably) to Bitten by Kelly Armstrong or Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books. No, it's not quite as good as either of those, but it has a lot of the same elements that keep those books in my personal favorites list: pack dynamics, the outsider/misfit heroine, the slightly overbearing hero, their struggle to deal with an bond they don't necessarily want, the hints at a larger magical world.

I liked the mythology. Using Greek gods in urban fantasy is far from a unique idea, but in this book it's done with a good spin that adds to the richness of the story.

Caia is at least reasonably likable. She's not a doormat, but she's not a stubborn bitch either. She's extraordinarily powerful, which makes sense in the context of her being this series' Chosen One. Her development throughout the book follows fairly predictable lines, but I didn't mind that too much. There are only so many ways to grow up, after all.

The author made some interesting choices as far as romance and relationship development go. First of all, this is a fated mates book. I know that's a deal breaker for some readers. To me, it all depends on how the author handles the story. Young did a decent job. She explores the devastating side of fated mates, how it takes away choice. She sets up the idea that there can be love outside of the mated relationships, but those couples will never have children. She leaves some room for her characters to rebel against the bond, which I find interesting.

Critical Comments

The second point about this book as a romance is that it is, by description, for young adults, with a character who is barely old enough to vote. The hero is in his mid-twenties. That sets them up for this weird, almost guardian/ward type of relationship, where he is older and more mature and thinks he knows best, and she is rebellious and defiant. It's kind of hot. It's also kind of uncomfortable. And just in case you think I'm projecting my own feelings here, this issue is actually commented on in the book, with the hero repeatedly saying he can't believe he's stuck dealing with this kid, and so on. And yet things do get physical, in a scene that is somewhat explicit. While I'm not too bothered by it, I do think it potential readers should be aware and exercise caution. If this kind of thing might creep you out, don't read this book.

Finally, I was frustrated by Caia's attitude toward Lucien. I thought she was a bit harsh toward him. She makes a series of decisions regarding what to do with her life, which come across as contrived and nonsensical. Not only does she seem to be going out of her way to misunderstand, hurt, and defy Lucien, but her reasons for doing so don't really fit her character or the plot. To me it seemed like a forced way to create tension, and I don't care for that.


If you like werewolves, if you like magic, and if you like mature YA romance, you will like this book. It isn't anything ground breaking or particularly memorable, but it's entertaining and easy to read. 3 stars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Zombies: A Review of Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

 Dearly, Departed was, I believe, the first book I've ever read where the zombies are the heroes. I've read plenty of books with zombie villains or, more specifically, scary zombie monsters. But this is the first I've seen anyone try to romanticize them. Bravo for that, Lia Habel.

Nora is a proper New Victorian girl: she wheres floor length skirts, drinks tea, and attends a prestigious school for girls. Never mind that her best friend is the daughter of a baker, or her unladylike affinity for war stories, or her ability to wield a shot gun: ignore all of that, and you have a perfect young lady. But when Nora is kidnapped by a troop of zombies, who claim a surprising connection to her father, Nora is thrown into a world that is anything but proper. Nora soon befriends several of the zombies. In particular, she forms an attachment to Bram, a zombie boy who serves as the captain of their band.

Positive Comments

Obviously, I love the idea behind this book. I love that is straddles so many genres. It's sort of...Victorian/Steampunk/Cyberpunk/Futuristic/Urban Fantasy/Romance. With a side of sci-fi. It sounds crowded and awful, but the author actually forms it into a very cohesive and entertaining story.

I loved Nora. She's got a lot of spirit. She's a survivor, and a fighter. I liked her acceptance of the zombies and her affection for Bram. I liked Bram, as well. I'm a sucker for the dutiful soldier types. I enjoyed his back story (tortured, of course). I liked his attitude toward life. I really liked the supporting cast, even though the rest of  them are pretty two dimensional.

I liked the culture/class issues that the story presents. Nora comes from a society where your born into your class, and any attempt at social climbing is frowned upon. Bram, on the other hand, comes from a society where wealth and status are earned by virtue of creative or scientific achievement. In affect you get to see two different ideals, neither perfect.  

Critical Comments

There are pacing issues. The plot crawls forward throughout most of the middle. Thank God the narrative is clever, or I would have been bored out of my mind.

It's a first person narrative where the point of view switches every chapter. That's a risky little game for an author to play, because usually I find myself liking some narrators more than others. That was true here. Pamela, Nora's best friend, was fine as a supporting character, but I found myself totally losing interest whenever she was the narrator.


It's tough to make a hard and fast recommendation because, again, this book doesn't fit neatly into one genre. But I'd say those who like steampunk, paranormal romance, and YA in general will like this book. Those looking for hardcore zombie horror should probably look elsewhere. Unless you want the romantic tragedy version of the walking dead. 3.5 stars.

On Abolition: A Review of Indigo by Beverley Jenkins

Originally published in 1998, Indigo only entered my personal reading radar this past month when it was selected as February's book club pick on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Just as I've been whining about there not being enough diversity in my historical romance, this falls into my lap.

In short, this book is about Hester, a woman who spent her childhood as a slave and, now a free woman, dedicates a large part of her life to helping with the Underground Railroad in during the pre-Civil War turmoil. When Galen, aka the Black Daniel, a most honored member of the Underground Railroad, arrives on her doorstep gravely injured and in need of care, Hester considers it her duty to hide him in her cellar. She is not, however, prepared for the strong attraction she has to her charge. Galen is in turn captivated by Hester, and ultimately uses all of his wealth and influence to seduce the woman he's begun to care for.

Positive Comments

A black couple, in pre-Civil War United States, in an honest to God romance novel? So awesome, and definitely a first for me. Maybe there are more books like this out there, and I just need to get off my lazy ass and find them. Or maybe my suspicions are true, and the market is currently flooded with wealthy dukes and proper English ladies. Either way, I deeply enjoyed reading something in such a unique, tumultuous era, from the perspective of character's who's lives are both different from my own, and different from what I would have expected.

Hester is a brave and vibrant female lead. I enjoyed learning about her painful childhood, all of the hard work it took to overcome it, and the motivations that lead her to take part in the railroad. She has insecurities and uncertainties that I felt were both very real and very easy to relate to.

Galen felt a little on the wish fulfillment side of heroes to me. He's handsome, daring, honorable, and disgustingly rich. His faults are mainly stubbornness and irritability while injured. Otherwise, he's basically perfect. And while that makes him less well developed, and I could name that as a fault, I can't deny that he was the perfect male lead for a feel good, escapist romance novel.

Critical Comments

The author takes a lot of time to set up conflicts that are knocked down with great ease. For example, there's a great deal of concern for Hester that she won't fit in with Galen's social circle, since he is from a wealthier and higher class family. But, upon being faced with them, both she and Galen find that they don't care that much and the entire thing is shrugged off. Pretty much all of the conflicts in this book are like that--glazed over, and fixed before you know it.


You definitely have to like romance novels to like this book, as it's filled with sexy, sappy relationship building. That said, if you are in the least bit inclined toward historical romance, I would certainly recommend this one. It was a page turner and a feel good book for me. 4 stars.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Miscellaneous Monday: The Return of the Penguin, and Other Updates

Hello, and welcome back to Misc. Monday! I have at long last fixed my world...or at least, my internet world. Sometimes technology just likes to screw with me, and last week was one of those times.

So here's the deal: I am now behind on EVERYTHING. Look at this list on priorities.

1) School Stuff: Caught up, by the skin of my teeth.
2) Work Stuff: Caught up, until Tuesday.
3)Wedding Stuff: Got my invitations! But the rest...I don't even want to think about it. I should have eloped...
4) Reading: At least 3 books behind. Yeah, we won't be making our goals this month. I'm so bummed, because I was doing really, really well. I was ahead. And I will be again, if it means reading while I eat lunch and walk to class.
5)Blogging: Major fail here for the past week. Not only have my posts been sparse, but I haven't managed to visit any other blogs since who knows when. I usually try to read and comment on at least 2 or 3 a day as time and interest allows. I need to make that a habit again.
6) TV: Supernatural was fantastic this week! I always love the demon episodes. That's literally all the TV I've gotten to watch though. TV is always the thing I'm most willing to give up, but it's always a shame to miss good shows.

I think I need to get better organized and plan ahead so that the next time something blows up in my face I don't have to worry about falling behind in every project. What about you? Are you good at prioritizing and planning ahead? Have any tips to share? Disasters to share? Misery does love company.

Anyway, thank you to everyone for being patient with me. Check back for reviews and updates soon. Happy Reading!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On Famine: A Review of Asenath by Anna Patricio

I recieved a review copy of this book from the author last month, and I must say, I was really excited to read it. Asenath is the wife of Joseph (of the coat of many colors) in the Bible. A little known fact about me: I attended 10 years of Catholic school, preschool to 8th grade. I heard (the sanitized version) of every Bible story my teachers could possibly fit in. Joseph was actually part of a fifth grade assignment that involved putting on a short reinactment. The point is, Joseph and I have some history.

Asenath gets only a small mention in the Bible, as far as I recall, so that left the author a lot of room to imagine a story for her. In this short novel, we learn how Asenath grew up in a fishing village in Egypt, was adopted by nobility, became a priestess, and eventually met and married Joseph.

Positive Comments:

I really like the idea of taking a character from obscure biblical history and giving her a love story. I'm always complaining that their aren't enough historical romances that feature time periods and places other than Victorian England (though I love those, too). Asenath is certainly one good example of how well this can work out, and I would love to see more authors try this sort of thing.

Asenath is strong and independent. She's given a life history, hobbies, and even a job, that make her feel like a character a modern woman could connect with. Yes, I'll admit, I expected her to be a priestess that sat in a garden temple all day doing...priestess things.

I liked the sweet, quiet romance between Asenath and Joseph. It's not a sexy book or a passionate book by any means, but it is a really nice love story.

Critical Comments:

There seems to be very little effort at period accuracy. The descriptions, thoughts, and dialogue between the characters are all fairly modern. I found phrases like "Uh, thanks." and "They used to hang out." a little jarring, considering we're supposed to be in Egypt 2000+ years ago. I've got to cut the author some slack here, because I don't think anyone alive actually knows how people in ancient Egypt talked, well enough to reproduce it in English for a modern audience. But, the result is that the story does not feel like it takes place in ancient Egypt. I found this slightly disapointing.

My other complaint is that there's a love triangle with Asenath, Joseph, and a friend that Asenath has known forever. Initially I the friend was a nice guy who Asenath just didn't love romantically, and that she would ultimately break his heart. But instead he ends up demonized and...shows rape tendencies? Making him into such a crappy character out of know where struck me as a lazy way of keeping Asenath from ever being at fault for anything.


It's a short, light biblical love story. If you like that sort of thing, this book is worth spending an evening on. If your looking for a more serious, in depth historical novel, look elsewhere. 3 stars.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Absent Penguin

Some of you may have noticed the lack of Misc. Mondays yesterday. That was mostly because Sunday was my anniversary, so I was busy doing couple stuff. Then I returned to an apartment where the internet has gone on the fritz. Oh no!

Until my home internet is functional again, I have to rely on these public computers, so if you don't see me about the internet as much as usual, it's because I didn't want to walk through the snow and ice to get to it (I'm a pampered penguin) But fear not! I have Asenath almost read, and I recently started Dearly, Departed: A Zombie Novel, so I should be posting reviews of both of those by the end of the week, come hell or high water. In the mean time, happy reading!

Friday, February 10, 2012

On Carriers: A Review of Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

I'm going to be honest right from the start: I hate this book. Quite a bit. And while I don't usually write ranting reviews, sometimes one is called for...I'm trying not to go over board. But I really hate this book.

First off, whats the plot? Bella Megan is a teenage girl who lives with her single father, Charlie Caleb. The two have just moved to Forks Kinsale. Megan makes instant, close friendships on her first day of school, despite having a fairly bland personality. More importantly, she finds herself helplessly drawn to Edward Adam, a mysterious boy from a mysterious family. There are a lot of rumors surrounding Adam's family, rumors that suggest he's a vampire werewolf magic user. Adam seems to have influence over water. His sister, Alice Aine has earth powers and can sense the future, but not at any point where it becomes useful. Their older brother, Rian, mostly broods and smolders. Anyway, it seems that Megan is their missing link--the final member in their magic team, which is destined to complete the alignment and bring balance to...something. But first, Megan has to accept her power, and a destiny that might prevent her from being with Adam romantically.

Positive Comments:

The use of magic approached interesting on one or two occasions. And I like that this book was set in Ireland. And...the cover is nice.

Critical Comments:

In case I didn't make it clear above, this book has very strong parallels to Twilight. And, remember, I skimmed through Twilight only once a few years ago, and I've seen the movie twice, so I'm far from an expert, but even I could not stop spotting the similarities. This strikes me as lazy and unoriginal. Though, I guess if you are a big Twilight fan this would probably be a plus for you.

Megan is unlikeable. She's the blank slate, average girl character that author's write because they want every reader to be able to relate to her directly. I don't like that trope, because I think it makes the characters boring. But that's not even the worst of it. As described above, Megan has powers that she needs to evoke, an action that by all accounts would be good for the whole world. The catch is, if she evokes them, she might not get to be with Adam romantically. She decides she doesn't want her powers, because she can't bear not being with Adam. She's willing to sacrifice the power that is hers by right, thereby potentially endangering or screwing over the world, all so that she can keep her boyfriend. Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen!

Now, I could have gotten in Megan's corner about the whole "Love is more important than anything" idea, if I actually believed for one second that Adam and Megan were in love. But I just didn't buy it. It's insta-love, which is irritating enough by itself. There's no relationship development. There's no real "meet cute" or "getting to know each other" phase. There's no chemistry. The author tells us they're in love, but fails utterly at actually showing us.

This brings me to my final complaint, which is all of the telling and info-dumping that goes on in this book. The exposition goes on and on. The action is sparse and uncreative. The author feeds us all of the world building in character dialogue, instead of finding an exciting way of showing us the world. It's very bland and very boring.


I'd recommend this book to those who really love Twilight and want more of the same, and those who like the insta-love trope. Personally, I despised this book. 1 star.

Buy Carrier of the Mark from Amazon

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Following Friday 22

Q: What would your prefer: reading your favorite book over and over again until you got sick of it OR reading 100s of mediocre books? And why?

Favorite book...why settle for less?


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