Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Month: June 2021

Life’s a lottery

Sophie Mackintosh’s Blue Ticket, published 30 June 2020.

In Mackintosh’s dystopian novel girls can’t wait to enter puberty and have their first period. Their menses are a joyous event. Girls dress up and are taken to the lottery where they will draw either a blue ticket or a white ticket.

Calla grew up without her mother. She grew up being regularly measured at the clinic. She grew up knowing that her mother would want her to get a blue ticket.

A blue ticket means, you get a career and freedom. Or in other words, you don’t get to have children. You are destined to become a loose woman. Not necessarily a prostitute, but men still like to take advantage of you. Whereas a white ticket means, you’ll be a wife and mother. You’ll be cherished.

Calla is a blue ticket who wants to be a mother. Hence, she takes her fate into her own hands. She removes the IUD that was planted in her on lottery day and finds herself a nice man to start a family with. Of course it’s not going to be so easy. She has to conceal her pregnancy from everyone, even her doctor. But once the cat is out of the bag, Calla has to flee from her home. At that point she’s five months pregnant. She begins a trek north, first at random. When she meets other women, other pregnant blue tickets, they band together; protection in numbers. They know, beyond the border in the north they will be free.

The story’s morale compass shouts 1950/60s. Women are either devout mothers, or sluts. Sluts, by the way, like to party hard. They like to go out a lot. Have sex with multiple partners. They drink lots of alcohol and smoke like chimneys. Nearly everyone who’s not a white ticket smokes and drinks, it seems. At first I thought this was because this was some sort of control mechanism, but that was not the case. It’s not explained at all.

Blue ticketed women seem to know only the basics about how their bodies work. They know they have periods, and have to report back about their periods at their weekly meetings with their doctors, who seem to be shrink and GP in one. They know that they cannot have children, know how to get pregnant, but have absolutely zilch knowledge about pregnancy; they don’t know anything about food restrictions, gestation stages, or birth – didn’t they go to school? Is this an alternate history?

Babies are a rarity. Seems logical, when you think that at Calla’s lottery there was only one girl from among a group of girls that got a white ticket. So there are probably more blue ticket women out there. Made me wonder whether this ticket lottery is some sort of control mechanism to prevent overpopulation. Anyway, apparently mothers, white ticketed women, are something so special, you’ll never see them outside with their children. It’s the fathers who can be seen with large prams. It’s the fathers who get gifts when they are perambulating their child around; gifts can be baby clothing, money, baby care products. People might ask for a glimpse at the baby, after giving the fathers a gift.

So, we’re back to women being used for casual – sometimes very brutal – sex. Or women being hidden at home where they are baby factories and home makers. Men being in control of women and their reproductive organs; being the ones slapped on the back for a job well done.

Yes, we can make an argument that this book is ‘[a]n urgent inquiry into free will, social expectation, and the fraught space of motherhood’. Maybe in the 1950s. But in the early 21st century? I’d say we have come a lot further than how women are but a sliver above farm animals. I want to see female empowerment, not oppression.

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Why’s there a pirate ship on the cover?

That’s more or less what I am taking from reading The Beholder by Anna Bright, published 19 June 2019.

This YA just shows me, again, that YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi should no longer make it onto my TBR. In other words, I had so many issues with this book, …

The main character, Selah, is the Seneschal-Elect of Potomac. That means she’ll be the leader of her people once her father dies. Her task is it, as the future leader, female but definitely NOT feminist, to find herself a husband. Since The One she fell for at home doesn’t want her, her stepmother is sending Selah to Europe to find her match. Fairy tale retellings ahead. Selah seems to see herself as Snow White, since her step-mother will certainly kill her father now that she has sent Selah out to never come back home one way or another. Either she’ll marry one of her suitors and then stay in Europe, or the Baba Yaga will eat(?) her; that irrational fear is based on a fairy tale and a nursery rhyme Selah keeps repeating.

Selah is the perfect pawn of her story; literally, plot happens to her not because of her. She’s naive and trusts people too easily. She wears her feelings on her sleeve, and her tongue, unwisely telling everyone and their grandmother what she thinks and feels. And she feels a lot, especially very fast for the members of her crew and the suitors she meets. Hello insta-love.

The story is supposedly set in something similar to the late 18th or early 19th century. Which means, I was annoyed at the anachronistic use of words like “barf”. I was further annoyed at how ignorant Selah was. For a YA heroine she had no backbone whatsoever. She ranted about one of her suitors being nine years older than her, but a nearly arranged marriage for diplomatic reasons was obviously alright to her; why then is the age difference important? And why, oh why, do we see a tiny sliver of feminism when her friend wants to choose her own husband, but Selah is unaware that her situation is the same?

The writing is nothing to write home about. There’s more tell than show throughout the book, and the retellings of fairy tales do not always work advantageously.

To come back to my initial question. Why is there a picture of a ship on the cover? Especially an artfully carved one that immediately reminded me of the TV series Black Sails, and hence of pirates. Not to mention the title of the book being the name of the ship, yet most of the story doesn’t even take place on the ship. I was definitely blindsided by the cover. Shame on me!

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Little Red Riding Hood Retelling

For The Wolf by Hannah F. Whitten is the first book in the Wilderwoods series and was published on 1st June 2021.

As some of you might know that I am struggling with fairy tale retellings, especially YA, it might come as a surprise that I picked this up. Well, I picked it because it was hailed as a dark fantasy fairy tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that is not Young Adult.

Does it deliver? A resounding no! On so many levels. Quite contrary to some YA fantasy stories, where the characters seem to be much more mature than their late teenage years, this book’s heroine is supposed to be 20 years old but behaves like a moody teenager. Also, the story is more of a Beauty and the Beast retelling than LRRH. The parallels are very limited the heroine’s name, Red(arys), who wears a red cloak when she enters the Wilderwood to encounter the wolf; who’s actually just a young man.

I was very underwhelmed by this book. The characters are rather flat. The plot is not fully developed, neither is the magic system; the author seems to have added to the magic system whenever she needed another twist to the story, and so at around 90% I still hadn’t quite grasped all of the aspects. Furthermore, the writing, although good, is convoluted with a lot of repetitions of certain actions (people were slouching in door frames, or rubbing their faces with their palms,…) – this might have been added out of the final version, though.

1/5 Harpy Eagles for at least trying to write a Little Red Riding Hood retelling that’s not YA.

All Hail the Squirrel Cat, the Finale

Crownbreaker is the final installment in Sebastien de Castell’s Spellslinger series. As mentioned in a previous post about it, this series stands out for not tending to the ‘special one’ trope. In this finale, war is brewing and our no-good mage Kellen has to step up to prevent it.

This book feels like the end of a TV series, as basically every major side character we encountered throughout the other books makes an appearance. It is fun to see them all again, especially his Argosi mentor Ferius. As the conflict is culminating in a single city, it makes sense that everyone of importance gathers there. It still feels a bit too convenient, though.

One of my favourite aspects of the series is Kellen’s friendsh…. business relationship with the squirrel cat Reichis. This cursing furball just has a place in my heart. And Reichis making a big entrance riding on the back of a hyena really made my day.

At over 500 pages, this is still a fast read. It clearly is a fairwell to all the characters and their development throught the series, as the plot feels like it’s taking a backseat. Considering the book on its own, it is really not mind blowing, but as a conclusion it is absolutely fitting.

I thought that after reading this book, I would finally be able to tick off a series as finished. That would be quite the accomplishment, as I’m very good at picking up book one but really bad at following up with the rest. But I just saw on Goodreads that there will be two full-length spinoffs centered on Kellen’s mentor Ferius. I really liked her character, so I’ll have to pick them up. The first one, Way of the Argosi, is out already, the second one is supposed to be released in October.

4/5 Magpies, as it is a decent wrap-up of the series

Black Water Sister

Our May Buddyread was Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, a contemporary fantasy novel set in Penang. Our main character Jessamyn probably has enough problems to struggle with when moving back to Malaysia. She has to find a job, and the distance is really taking a toll on the relationship with her girlfriend. Especially, since her parents know nothing about said girlfriend. On top of that, the voice in her head is not there due to stress, but because her dead grandmother has unfinished business.

Instead of taking time to sort out her life, Jessamyn is pulled into a conflict between a local gang boss and the deity her grandmother used to be a medium for – the titular Black Water Sister. The Sister is definitely not a quiet and benevolent one and quite a good match for the Malaysian gang members.

The first part of the book starts out quite slow, but once the first deity shows up things really get moving. Seeing a wider range of deities one may not be familiar with was really interesting. Jess’ grandmother is a really fun character, as she’s a snarky, ruthless old lady. You wouldn’t want her in your head, or to be on her bad side, yet her appearances were always very entertaining.

The resolution was slightly predictable, but still fitted the story’s development and made sense that way. The Malaysian setting was really refreshing and plays a very important part in the story. Overall, this was an entertaining and fast read.

4/5 Magpies

It’s that time of the month…

… when I wonder how I can avoid getting sunscreen onto my books. It is a serious problem, you know. What with the sun suddenly appearing and reading outside being much more attractive. And then there is lotion on my hands that makes turning the pages difficult and leaves oily marks on the covers and pages.

May was a very good reading month, I didn’t think so on the outset, but I managed to read a whooping twenty-seven books. I went to Victorian London, England, Paris, Italy, … with the Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas (five books, so far) and Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series. Spent time in space with a Murderbot short story, Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera; and time on distopian Earth with Valente’s The Past Is Red and Django Wexler’s Hard Reboot. Not to forget, my time in an alternate history Cairo of the early 1900s, where djinn are part and parcel of the steampunkish city: P. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn. All these armchair travels were interspersed with some YA reads, some contemporary romance, a rather dull trip to the French Revolution, and the May Sceptre Buddyread.

So?! Where am I going to travel to in June? I have absolutely no clue yet. I might continue reading Victorian era mysteries, might crawl into a fantasy world, might travel in space. Or I might stay here on Earth and read a lot of non-fiction. What I know is, the Sceptres have each compiled a summer reading list. We’ll keep you updated on how exceedingly well sticking to these TBRs goes in the next weeks – watch our Instagram, Twitter and our individual Litsy accounts, apart from this place here.

Right this moment my currently reading shelf holds a few ongoing and hibernating buddyreads with my kids, as well as a book about swearing – a linguistic pet project of mine – Nine Nasty Words by John McWhorter, a contemporary romance, another cozy Victorian mystery with Lady Julia Grey (s.a.), and Kit Rocha’s Deal with the Devil.

Those are, of course, just a few of the books I am trying to read/ignore in June. Whatever books I will choose in the end, will certainly depend on how well they can handle the generous amounts of SPF 1.000 lotion I am using; ’cause this Harpy Eagle has Scandinavian (book) dragon skin.

Sceptre Summer Reading Program

Welcome to our self-organized, highly individual, just for fun summer reading program. Each of us has created a list of books we really want to read, but somehow haven’t picked up yet. So, picking them for our summer reading seemed entirely logical. Given our success with challenges or reading lists so far, it’s highly unlikely we will follow through with them. But, as we all know, planning is half the fun.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom:

  • Fortune’s Pawn
  • Rule of Wolves
  • Seven of Infinities
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  • Dark Archive
  • The Reluctant Queen
  • American Hippo
  • Neon Birds
  • A Longer Fall
  • A Question of Navigation
  • The Outside
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
  • Way of Thorns
  • The Autumn Republic
  • How To
  • Velocity Weapon
  • Merciful Crow
  • Carpe Jugulum
  • Sisters of the Vast Black
  • Deal with the Devil
  • Bridge of Souls
  • One Day All This Will Be Yours
  • Shards of Earth
  • United States of Japan
  • The Thief
  • Ashes of the Sun
  • A Big Ship at the End of the Universe

TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle:

  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
  • Bridge of Souls
  • The Thief
  • Deal with the Devil
  • Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen
  • For the Wolf
  • Nine Nasty Words
  • Arsenic and Adobo
  • The Dictionary of Lost Words
  • Master of Revels
  • Prime Deceptions
  • The Calculating Stars
  • The Butterfly Effect
  • The Beholder
  • Just One Damn Thing After Another
  • The Devil’s Thief
  • The Library of the Dead
  • A History of What Comes Next
  • Firebreak
  • How to Mars
  • Daughter of the Salt King
  • Swearing is Good For You
  • The Octunnumi

TheMarquessMagpie:

  • Iron Gold Reread, for….
  • Dark Age
  • The Final Empire
  • Temper
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors
  • The Outsider
  • The Blade Itself
  • Snuff (Discworld)
  • King of Scars
  • Sins of Empire
  • Hyperion

  • Tyll
  • She Would Be King
  • Orfeia
  • Harrow the Ninth
  • Identitti
  • Life on Mars
  • Dune Messiah
  • The Betrayals
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January

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