Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: To read or not to read?

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

If a thief takes a long walk

…you might expect a long story. The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman, publishing day 25 May 2021.

Buehlman’s fantasy story about a thief in training is reminiscent of Sword and Sorcery stories. Kinch, our main character, is in debt with the thief guild that trained him. In order to continue his training to rise in rank, he has to pay off his debts. To do so the guild sets him off on a ‘quest’ to a certain northern city that was raided by giants. Needless to say, perils await Kinch on the way.

The strong start to the story loses momentum due to Kinch’s meanderings and explanations, which not only slow down the pacing, but make the whole narration feel like short stories being glued together with witty banter. I kept skipping pages because nothing relevant happened.

2.5 – so 3/5 Harpies

March Buddyread

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox, originally published September 2019, is an absolute brick of a book. With 630 pages, you get a lot to read and think about.

Warning: This is more a rant than a review, and as such it contains what some people might consider spoilers.

To be honest, neither of the three of us liked the book. Reading the first part of the book we all agreed that it gave us a sense of Déjà-Vu. We were reminded of The Da Vinci Code -we even went so far as to say Da Vinci Code with Fairies-, American Gods, The Starless Sea and a bit of Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery series.

The second part then picked up some speed when a detective, Jacob, was on the main character Taryn’s heels. He was looking into the murder of Taryn’s sister’s murderer. Taryn also introduces her book. A book about books, but the only really important part in Taryn’s book is a scroll box named the Firestarter. When Taryn and the detective get plunged into fairy land, we didn’t bat an eyelash, we were still fully on board. But then,… then the book just took a turn for the worse.

What followed were long descriptions that more often that not seemed to make no sense at all and just bogged down the main story. Also: Can someone please explain why we have this mishmash of different believe systems? What’s the Christian concept of Hell to do with Celtic mythology? And what the BH do Hugin and Munin and Odin and Mimir have to do with this? And since when is Mimir a norn? Without prior knowledge about these systems, we would have been even more confused.

Naturally, we started discussing this. We could not come up with a reasonable explanation other than, it’s weird, we might have to live with it.

Ploughing on, and that is what it felt from then on, we went back and forth within the chapters we were reading and re-read passages, just to still be confused by events and discussions that seemed to have happened off the page.

We considered bailing. Then TheLadyDuckOfDoom went ahead and skimread to the end. Pre-warning that we’d encounter a passage where over more than ten pages nothing much happens but Taryn and Jacob trying to lift something. No wonder the book is so long!

In the end, we find out what is inside the Firestarter scroll box and why it is so bloody important – ridiculously anticlimactic. We finally find out what The Absolute Book, the book is named after, actually is. And there is an interesting and rather weird attempt at solving climate change with magic.

Final conclusion. The Absolute Book was absolutely not our cup of tea, but lots of tea was drunk during the reading process, and gin. From a certain point on tea just didn’t do it anymore.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom: This book tries to be everything at once. It gets so lost during that. It should have focused on fewer things.

Not so invisible

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab, published 06 October, 2020.

Addie LaRue was born in the late 17th century. On the day of her wedding, or better after dusk has fallen, she strikes a Faustian bargain with an ancient god. A bargain that will grant her immortal life, but she will not be able to be remembered by anyone. And then, after 300 years of being unremembered, Addie meets Henry, and Henry remembers her.

I’m going to be honest here. I wanted to read the book so very much. Schwab herself said, she’d been working on the story for about ten years. So, as soon as the first ARCs were made available, I requested one. I was actually very sad when I first didn’t get an ARC and then didn’t even get a pre-ordered signed copy, because somehow the book-gods effed up.

Now, I have to say, I am no longer so sorry that I didn’t get a signed copy. The story was okay. But after all the raving I had read about it, after all the anticipation that Schwab herself built up with her posts about how much she loved the characters and the story, I was quite underwhelmed.

Throughout the book, Addie points out over and over that people meeting her have a sense of Déjà-vu. Just like these minor characters in the book, the whole story reminded me of so many other books I had recently read, but also of books/stories I hadn’t thought about for a very long time. It’s a story of possibilities, not unlike The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, or Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Addie’s musings about the advantages of men’s clothes and her wearing a tricorn hat that she pulls low over her face reminded me of Lilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic; only to realise a second later that this novel was also by VE Schwab. I gave myself a face palm and a huge eye-roll while chuckling. Furthermore and moreover, Addie and the Darkness and even Henry reminded me of Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

It will not come as a big surprise when I say that I anticipated the big plot twist and the ending of the book long before I got there. It was as predictable as Addie’s memories of her life throughout the 323 years of her existence. The reader is constantly reminded that she had encounters with people who forget her soon after meeting her.

Although the writing of the book is good, and clearly shows how much affection the author has for her main character, a blatantly obvious historical inaccuracy kept throwing me out of the story. No, I don’t mean the anachronistic white wedding dress. I can forgive this blunder since it might have been white for a thousand reasons other than wedding dresses today being white. My peeve are the chapters set in Paris in the 18th century.

Soon after becoming immortal, in 1714, Addie goes to Paris. There Addie at first lives a life on the margins of society. All of this is depicted relatively historically accurate, but Addie mentions Paris’s Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre. In one scene she even sits on the steps of the church. A church that wasn’t built until the late 19th century though. It kept hurting my brain every time it was mentioned. I understand that rewriting those scenes would have thrown the whole story, but it was an avoidable mistake from the start. Or should have been worth a mention of the author taking artistic license.

Pirates on a Sea of Grass

The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson, published 19 January 2021, is the first book in a new environmental fantasy series.

Imagine yourself on a ship in the middle of a sea of miles deep prairie grass, pirates, a war over water between two floating cities. These are the ideas I had, when I read the blurb and saw the cover of the book.

Alas, that’s not what I got. Instead of a fantasy adventure, I got a Bildungsroman with a heavy climate change moral tale that could have been so much better with a bit of pruning from an experienced editor.

Kindred, the main character, is a hearth keeper on a harvesting vessel crossing the Forever Sea harvesting grasses and wildflowers used for food, medicine, or magic. She has to take care of the magical fire burning bones harvested from captains that keeps the ship afloat and propels it forwards. When she receives a missive from her grandmother – a larger than life figure which the reader is reminded of over and over – Kindred wants to follow her grandmother into the depths below the prairie grass that makes up the Forever Sea. Something must still be down there, something other than monsters.

For years there has been a war over the water stores between Arcadia, an island city which basically enslaved nature, and the Once-City, a floating ship like city travelling endlessly along the edges of the Forever Sea which “lived with the world,” acting in tune with nature. The ship Kindred had signed onto has to flee Arcadia, the crew is badly injured in a fight and has to seek the Once-City for help. Unsurprisingly, neither city is the refuge it seems to be.

What didn’t work for me:

  • Miles deep grass and wildflowers? I would really liked to have seen an explanation of how this is supposed to work. Even knowing I’m reading a fantasy novel it was very hard to ignore this. Plants need light to grow. It is very hard to imagine plants growing miles in length to reach the light. Not to mention that these plants need water that makes its way miles up within tiny capillaries?
  • Water shortage. These above mentioned plants get their water from the ground. So why not dive down into the depth of the grass ocean and find the ground water? Yes, there are terrible monsters down there, but obviously they can be fought. In an ocean of grass you don’t have to worry about not having enough oxygen for your dive.
  • The framing story. It certainly has a purpose other than adding to the page count of the book.
  • The pacing. Even in the middle of a fight we get ruminations about Kindred’s past. In another already slow spot of the story we get descriptions of each individual blade of grass as the light is reflected off it.

Some of the ideas of this book where really good. But, I would have liked a faster pacing and less repetition, also of the moral tale.

Ugh, so cliché!

One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London, published 07 July, 2020.

Unpopular opinion! Contains spoilers!

The premise: plus size woman, who is body positive and fashionable, is looking for love on a The Bachelorette-like show.

Bea is a plus size fashion blogger. She’s been pining after her best friend for years. They share one night together after which Ray, who’s engaged, basically ghosts Bea. After a wine induced social media rant about a reality TV show, the producers of the show want Bea to be their next bachelorette to find love among 25 contestants.

Bea is hesitant to go on the show, knowing what kind of trolling she might have to deal with due to it. She still signs the contract and meets the initial 25 men. The majority of them are handsome and not at all what Bea had expected. Here we get my first big issue: although body positive on the outside, Bea is not very positive on the inside. She’s insecure and despite the evidence pointing to the opposite she thinks the men despise her for her size.

I have the feeling that the author had a list of boxes that needed ticking while writing this book. Include a gay person, a black person, an asian person, someone asexual, someone who’s gender non-conform, someone with a fat-fetish, … They are all there! Are they handled well? Nope! Scratched at the surface of what would have been possible. Used as cliché? You bet!

Same for the body positivity. Do we get to see Bea eat healthy? Enjoy a dance lesson? Nope! We are being told that she eats healthy, but then her shopping list contains only snacks, not a single veggie. She tells us she does yoga and cross fit, but nearly freaks out when some of the love interests are personal trainers. Perfect opportunity to show that you don’t have to be stick thin to be fit.

Ray! Bleurgh! A guy who cheats on his fiancée with his best friend? Then there is radio silence? And she keeps pining after this guy?! A girl who takes her best friend to bed knowing he’s engaged to another woman? *hand me a bucket, please* Suddenly he shows up, a week before the finale show, to make sure she knows he loves her before she accepts the hand of another man. Bea’s best friend Skypes in and tries to reason with Bea, but, of course, they argue about the idiot who has been stringing Bea on for the past decade. And, of course, on their date Ray has lots of arguments why he suddenly noticed that Bea is the woman he wants to spend his life with. *where’s that bucket?*

Cue the very predictable finale!

2 very generous Goodreads stars

Sapphic Love and Pirates

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, publishing date 5 May, 2020.

YA standalone about pirates, mermaids, the Sea as an entity, witches, imperialism, slavery, misogyny, arranged marriage, torture, …

A story about love between two women from very different sides of the tracks, the love of a mother for her children, the love of two siblings, the love between a found family, the love of profit. But it fell very flat.

There is Evelyn, a high born woman sailing towards her arranged marriage. She’s leaving behind her servant/lover/best friend without a care about the girl’s future. There is no love between her and her parents, she feels like a pawn in their game.

There is Flora/Florian, a black orphan, who, together with her brother, became a member of the crew of the Dove out of desperation. She turns a blind eye on the captain’s plans to sell the passengers into slavery once they are far enough from their port of departure.

The world-building is a Japan-inspired imperialistic world. There is lots of commentary about colonialism and misogyny.

Witchcraft is introduced in the second part of the book. It was intriguing, but there are only a few instances where magic is used.

The Sea as a mother caring for her children and plotting revenge on the men who kill her offspring is as interesting as the witchcraft element. It’s elaborated on similarly, too.

The romance between Evelyn and Florian is a set thing, soulmates, match made in heaven, why elaborate and show how they fall for each other? I didn’t buy the insta-love. Further, their love for each other is supposed to be what the whole plot rotates about, but we hardly see the two of them have meaningful dialogue.

The middle of the book was rather boring, compared to the interesting and well-paced first part and the rushed ending. Not all issues were resolved.

I wanted to like this book very much. It had a lot of potential. The execution though disappointed me.

2.5/5 Goodreads stars (that’s 3 stars then)

Spies and Aliens in Cold War East Berlin?

That’s basically what made me request the ARC for this GN Strange Skies Over East Berlin by Jeff Loveness and Lisandro Estherren, publisher Boom!, publishing date: August 18th, 2020.

The premise was very interesting, 1973 in East Berlin, a hot-spot of spies from both sides of the Cold War. Some of these spies so deep undercover that they themselves don’t remember who they really are. Into this keg of powder crashes an alien.

This is where the tropes start. Spies distrust each other and everyone else. Aliens are bad and drive the humans crazy. We never get to know why the alien crashed here on Earth, nor how it can and why it would draw out the secrets from a human’s mind.

It feels like two different stories, forced together; or one story where a large part of the plot is missing.

The story doesn’t contain any fresh elements to the tropes mentioned. The artwork is okay-ish, but nothing outstanding. There is nothing new here but the setting.

2/5 Goodreads stars

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén