Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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Quick Reviews – August ’21

Prime Deceptions by Valerie Valdes, 8 September 2020.

Second book in the Chilling Effect series. Unfortunately, I was annoyed with the characters pretty soon. Eva’s past is catching up with her, just as much as Vakar’s smells/feelings are catching up with the reader in nearly every scene. The main part of the story felt like Pokemon Go on a planet far far away.

The cover is cool, though.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris, first published 31 October 2017.

The right book for you if you like history of medicine and have a stomach that can handle descriptions of amputations and wound infection. You’ll learn how terrible the hygienic situations were in Victorian hospitals, called ‘death houses’ for obvious reasons, and how Joseph Lister worked ceaselessly to turn them into safe hospitals.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell, published 15 June 2021.

Wow, this was eye-opening. I thought I knew about religious cults, but that was just surface knowledge. Montell dives into the language used not only in cults that have become (in)famous, like Scientology and Heaven’s Gate. She also explores the language of fitness cults like Peloton, social media, and pyramid schemes/multilevel marketing plans.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

You Sexy Think by Cat Rambo, publishing date 16 November 2021.

I was hooked by the description “Farscape meets The Great British Bake Off.” Alas, I was bored from the beginning where nothing much happens but character introductions. I get that they are necessary and I do enjoy them normally, but it just didn’t gel with me. I wanted to see the living ship. I wanted the Space Opera to get going. So, once I got there -to the living ship- (at about 21%), I didn’t care anymore and I skimmed to the end. [ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley.com]

2/5 Harpy Eagles

How Not To Die On A Mountain

… is not really something this book will teach you. Touching the Void is Joe Simpson’s account of his highly improbable survival in the Peruvian Andes. Together with his climbing partner Simon Yates, Joe set out to reach the summit of the Siula Grande via the West face. While the ascent was a struggle, bad weather turned the descent into a nightmare.

When preparing for their trip in the base camp (where they left their non-climber companion Richard Hawkins to wait for them, the poor guy), they did not pack enough gas to account for a delay in their progress. Sounds like a bad idea, right? Combine it with terrible weather and you get two very exhausted, cold and dehydrated climbers with no way to melt snow and ice for drinking water.

Disaster strikes on an ice cliff, when Joe breaks his leg in a fall. The descriptions are not for the faint of heart, let’s just say that his tibia ended up in his knee joint which is not a decent place to be. They both know that this is a death sentence for him. Simon’s chances of descending alone would be slim enough, without attempting to rescue Joe. They try it anyway, and Simon lowers Joe by using two ropes tied together to increase their length. Sounds scary? Now try to imagine that they have to repeatedly stop to switch the belaying device from one side of the know to the other, while Joe had to balance on his one good leg.

This works quite well for them. But one disaster just is not enough. Almost having reached safer ground, Joe is lowered over a cliff edge, hanging free with his whole weight on the rope. There was no way to let him down any lower, and he could not climb back up. After supporting Joe’s weight for the longest possible time and with his belaying seat disintegrating underneath him, Simon was forced to make the brutal decision of cutting the rope to save his own life. Traumatized, he reached the base camp alone and had to tell Richard that Joe was presumably dead.

Joe, meanwhile, had survived his fall into a crevasse and began the mind-boggling process of hopping and crawling towards the base camp. His injured leg was completely destroyed and useless by then. Nothing short of a miracle, he reached them mere hours before their departure back to Lima.

This book is filled with technical descriptions of the climb itself and the gear they used, but also offers a very interesting psychological angle. Simon Yates faced a lot of criticism for his decision to cut the rope. People argued that he should have decided to (probably) die with his friend instead of cutting Joe loose to save himself. Joe shows a huge strength of character. He offered comfort and voiced his complete support and understanding to Simon before being even remotely recovered.

Dead Mountain

As mentioned in a previous post, I am (perhaps weirdly) fascinated by mountaineering books and the disasters that often accompany them. Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar falls firmly into that category. It is an account of a mystery that leads to the death of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains.

In 1959, nine university students – all of them experienced hikers – set out on a trip that was supposed to earn them the next hiking grade. The group surrounding Igor Dyatlov died under circumstances that still lead to confusions decades later. The bodies of the hikers were found outside their tent, all of them without shoes and proper clothing. Their tent was cut open from the inside, giving the impression that all of them fled into the night in a panic. While most of them died from spending the pitch-black night in freezing temperatures, violent injuries were found on some of the bodies.

In his book Eichar tries to find a plausible explanation for the events on the titular Dead Mountain that does not involve conspiracy theories. In 1959, the investigation was wrapped up with the explanation that the hikers left their tent because of an “unknown compelling force”, after all. We are talking about Soviet cover-ups, rocket launches, strange lights in the sky and radiation readings. A big part of my fascination with this book was caused by the photographs reproduced from the hiker’s cameras, supported by translations of their journal entries. This made following their story almost a personal matter.

I was very satisfied with the (scientific) conclusion Eichar provides in the end, although probably only one of the hikers could have told us what really happened that night.

Wordslut

Wordslut. A feminist guide to taking back the English language by Amanda Montell, published 28 May 2019.

I was made aware of this sociolinguistic book by a friend, who knows that I like to learn about words, their origins, their (current) usage – in short, that I am a hedge-linguist and a wordslut. Said friend and I then did a buddy listen of the book; we both listened to the audiobook and had a Zoom meeting to talk about it. We both liked the narration by the author herself, she is snarky and has a lot of serious things to say about the English language.

Montell talks about how words lost their original meanings and how, instead of being all encompassing or empowering, they are now used against women and marginalised groups, to keep women from power; how gendered insults, like calling someone a ‘sissy’, work and should be overcome; why women should curse more, in which situations women curse and whether we need gender specific curse words – does ‘clitfuck’ work? Apart from concentrating on vocabulary alone, there is also information about grammar, for example how gender neutral pronouns work in other languages and how they might work in English. An entire chapter is dedicated to specific pronunciation and the voice women use when talking, how women can sound more authoritative and whether women should embrace phenomenons like vocal fry and up-talk.

Some of the topics stuck more with me, like the gendered insults, gossiping, women’s voice/pronunciation patterns. Some I hardly remember what Montell was talking about, gay language for example. I am not certain why, I know I listened to this chapter attentively, but my brain might have filed it under “that must be a US thing”.

I recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about how language is used against women, how women themselves struggle with coming to terms with language, and people fighting for the equality of all people – no matter what assigned gender at birth, skin colour, or cultural background.

4/5 Goodreads stars

More Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World by Elena Favilli. Pub Date: 13 Oct 2020

I was invited to review an early copy of the third instalment of the bestselling Good Night Stories series. This time the stories and illustrations concentrate on women who emigrated from their country of birth. Among those 100 women are very well known names such as Rihanna or Madeleine Albright.

Personally, I enjoyed the stories of less well-known-to-me women like Lupe Gonzalo (Migrant Farmer and Labour Organiser from Guatemala), or football referee Jawahir Jewels Roble (from Somalia) far more than the stories of Diane von Fürstenberg or Gloria Estefan.

The outstanding illustrations in this book were made by 70 artists identifying as women from all over the world. A list of all the names is included in the back of the book.

An empowering read that shouldn’t be missing on any shelf.

Another View at Victorian Asylums

I was recently able to read an ARC on Life in the Victorian Asylum by Mark Stevens. When I think about asylum in the Victorian age, I always see rather gruesome pictures in my head, and countless horrors come to mind. This book casts a rather different light on asylums and mental health care in the Victorian age. The author, Mark Stevens, is a professional archivist working with asylum records.

This book consists mostly of a “Welcome Guide”, written as if the reader themselves were admitted to an asylum. The details in this book are many, and they make, to be honest, for a rather dull read. As you would expect from a welcome guide. The last 20% or so of the book are about the development of asylums until today.

Personally, I feel the author should have changed his choice of words, referring only inside the “guide” to the asylum patients as “lunatics”. It feels a very insensitive in the second part of the book.

I actually was surprised by the description of life in an asylum. There is a huge difference to the depiction in today’s media. I am intrigued to research more about the topic, where do the horror stories originate? Surely the actual asylums were partly very good institutions, and in part very bad, and most somewhere in between. The author does not claim to be debunking myths. It was an interesting read though, if incredibly dull to get through. The insensitivity depicted by the author causes another star to be deleted.

2/5 Goodreads stars.

Proud to be a Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is one of those books that pops up on every ‘feminist books you need to read’ list. I’ve read and loved Hunger and An Untamed State, so I was familiar with some of her background story and her gut-punching writing style.

While circling through different topics, this essay collection opens and closes with pieces on what it means to be a ‘Bad Feminist’ and I whole-heartedly agree with them. Gay’s bottom line in her last essay is this: ‘I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all’, summarizing my thoughts on the matter exactly. There are so many inaccurate myths about feminism that do not offer enough room for all the contradictions day-to-day life presents. Just because I identify as a feminist does not mean I can’t listen to bad rap lyrics or that I have to stop shaving immediately.

This essay collection covers more topics than I would have expected and I especially appreciated the section about race & entertainment. I remember enjoying Kathryn Stockett’s The Help a lot, but Gay’s essay about it really made me wonder if my brain was even turned on back when I read the book. Everyone of us needs more eye-opening moments like that.

Also, if you ever wanted to know something about the hidden depths of competitive scrabble, this collection has something for you.

This was only a 4/5 star read because I missed out on some of the political or pop culture references, but that might be different for readers from the US.

Tea? Scones? Victoria Sponge?

The Official Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Cookbook with a foreword by Gareth Neame, publishing date July 07th, 2020.

Battenberg Cake p.56

It was a delight to browse through this review copy. It’s full of wonderful pictures and quotes from the TV series Downton Abbey, mouthwatering pictures of delicacies and recipes, and lots of information about the British Afternoon Tea. Like, what to wear, which blend of tea to drink, which culinary delights to offer for which sort of afternoon tea event, and which tea service to use.

5/5 Goodreads stars

Sketching Super-Cute Doodle Scenes with Pic Candle

Kawaii Doodle World. Sketching Super-Cute Doodle Scenes with Cuddly Characters, Fun Decorations, Whimsical Patterns, and More by Pic Candle, Zainab Khan, publisher Quarto Publishing Group – Rock Point, publishing date: August 18th, 2020.

Pic Candle is a household name in my family, we’ve been following the YouTube videos of tiny cute drawings for felt ages. When I was approved for this ARC, I read it at once. Though, can you really read a book that shows you how to draw little mushrooms and stars and cactus and flowerpots?

You will learn how to draw the Pic Candle iconic doodles with pictured step-by-step instructions on how to draw a single cute doodle, as well as fill a whole page with cute clouds or donuts or office supplies.

Of course, I got itchy fingers and had to try to sketch a few cute doodles. Here’s what I came up with on a piece of scrap paper.

4/5 Goodreads stars

Colourful Fun Embroidery

By Clare Albans, publisher Pen&Sword, publishing date: August 20th, 2020.

Clare Albans promises 24 fun projects, suitable for beginners and experienced crafters; some that can be finished in one afternoon, others might take a little longer. That is exactly what you get with this book.

Each design includes detailed step-by-step instructions, not to mention that the book offers a section on the basic steps, embroidery stitches and material needed to finish these projects.

4/5 Goodreads stars

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