Archive for the ‘CannonballReadX 2018’ Category

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no price? it must be free!

In Biography,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Non Fiction,websites on September 9, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Photo Collage_20180916_160714037.jpgI am lucky enough to live in a city that holds a biannual literary festival, so every two years I get to spend three days immersed in a different world; meeting new people, listening, reading, writing, getting new author & book recommendations and generally just existing in a state of bliss, I thoroughly enjoyed my self at this years WORD! Christchurch ( https://wordchristchurch.co.nz/ )and longingly look forward to 2020.

An event I wholeheartedly enjoyed was Shaun Bythell ( in conversation with Brian Phillips ) speaking about his first work; Diary of A Bookseller. Held at one of Christchurch’s newer post earthquake venues; The Piano, Bythell addressed a capacity crowd in outstanding surroundings.

Diary of a Bookseller is a memoir that crosses boundaries, it is difficult to categorize and very cleverly demonstrates the real pleasure of reading. The Diary is the day to day life of Bythell – owning and running the largest second hand Bookshop in Scotland, ( https://www.the-bookshop.com/ )  and all the the wild, weird and wonderful escapades that entails. Its a book about books, a book about buying and selling books, a book about the buyers and sellers of books but most importantly, a book about owning a bookshop in the age of Amazon.  

Bythell’s writing is dry, quick witted and full of chuckle worthy asides that just keep you reading. In the book Bythell states that he “took a calculated risk and decided to focus on customer behavior, particularly the stupid questions and rude comments” ( Bythell, 2017, p. 29 ) In this moment he was referring to the Bookshops facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/thebookshopwigtown/ ) but it most certainly translates to the Diary and will carry over to the sequel due in 2019.

The portrayal of the shops clientele is where the book finds its heart, even though they are quirky, odd and somewhat lovable, it is the customers that keep the Bookshop alive and kicking. Bythells’ Diary is a down to earth, sensible yet visceral rant against the Goliath that is Amazon, it is a message to all of us – Go out and support your local bookshop, our communities will be much less interesting places if we were to lose them.

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“you sexist piece of . . . “

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Feminism,Non Fiction,websites on August 12, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

20180902_133525.jpgAt 32 Laura Bates is an accomplished woman, Cambridge Graduate, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, holder of the British Empire Medal, author of three works tackling gender inequality and columnist for the Guardian ( https://www.theguardian.com/profile/laura-bates ) the Independent ( https://www.independent.co.uk/author/laura-bates ) and Los Angles based Women’s Media Center. ( http://www.womensmediacenter.com/ )

Bates founded The Everyday Sexism Project ( https://everydaysexism.com/ ) in 2012 – Her goal was to crowdsource women’s stories of discrimination, harassment and violence. Her latest book Misogynation is a collection of previously published columns which attempt to put The Everyday Sexism Project into a broader social, cultural and political context – Bates is helping her readers to gain an understanding of the magnitude of the issues at hand, to see both the detail and the big picture all at once.

To give you an idea of the scope of the work there are chapters titled; Everyday and Insidious, Harassment vs. Free Speech vs. Banter, Our Bodies Our Battlegrounds, #NotAllMen. Because of the structurally ingrained inequality in the society we exist in; economically, professionally, socially, incidents of sexism experienced by women tend to have a much more far reaching impact on their daily lives.

Bates writing is strong, evocative, fast paced & eye opening – brimming with well structured pithy responses to so many everyday insidious issues that are so often overlooked or ignored as unimportant. If you are already comfortable within your feminism this book will still be an interesting read, Bates’ work may not necessarily introduce you to any new topics but perhaps it might just ask you to look at one from a different perspective.

Bates demonstrates the frightening reality of the inequality continuum, with major and minor incidents irrevocably related to one another – the ideas & attitudes that underpin one allow another to flourish. Bates draws attention to the sexism that exists everywhere, from payroll to pavement, from schoolyard to supermarket, from medical office to movie screen.

Its time to recognize everyday sexism and its time to call it out. It’s time to change.

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Precarious Merging.

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction,YA literature on August 1, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

20180501_181111.jpgThe Dangerous Art of Blending In is powerful young adult fiction – it’s a compelling, heartbreaking, coming of age tale with a strong sense of social responsibility, It’s realistic straightforward queer fiction. I wanted to love it, but I just didn’t – don’t get me wrong, there was a lot I liked about it but there were just some pieces in the puzzle that didn’t fit.

The Dangerous Art is a book about complicity, its about how seemingly normal people can get away with bad behavior over long periods of time and never be brought to account. The protagonist, Evan, suffers constantly at the hands of his mother, her church, his friends and classmates – it is a tough read, watching Evan’s community not intervene is utterly heartbreaking.

The Dangerous Art. . . is Surmelis’ debut, it’s based on his own childhood experiences to some extent and is a harrowing read in places. I sincerely hope he continues to write as his storytelling is so open and honest I am sure he has plenty of stories to tell. It was, at times, fairly easy to tell Surmelis is a first time author, his writing can be a little clunky and some of the conversational / text language just didn’t ring true.

I am a passionate believer in the need for diversity & representation within young adult writing, kids of all shapes and sizes need to be reading about themselves and their circle of friends. Finding issues with this title frustrated me, I wanted so badly to just love it but I couldn’t – the characters lacked depth, there were consent issues and the friendship/relationship our protagonist finds himself entangled in appears to be quite toxic.

I wonder whether the issues I’m having with this title are the result of life experience, after all I am most assuredly not the target audience for this title, Its one for teen readers looking for a different perspective, a different outlook and a challenging point of view.

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I’ll be gone in the dark. . . but leave the light on.

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Celebrity Endorsed,Non Fiction,websites on July 22, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Ill be gone in the darkI’ll Be Gone In The Dark is part true crime, part autobiography and part social history – Author Michelle McNamara delves into the hunt for the individual that was at first the East Area Rapist and then became known as the Golden State Killer. McNamara details the investigations that came together in pursuit of a twisted murderer and the growth of neighbourhoods he lived, worked and played in across the golden state. The story becomes so integral to her way of living it becomes part of her psyche and eventually kills her. I’ll be Gone. . . is her story and much as it is his.

McNamara’s hunch that the perpetrator had a military or law enforcement background proved true when Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested almost two years to the day that McNamara passed away. DeAngelo has been charged with 13 Homicides and is also accused of in excess of 50 rapes

McNamara died before she could finish her seminal work, it was completed by her close friend and research assistant Paul Haynes and acclaimed investigative journalist Billy Jensen. It is a compelling work but a sense of what might have been hangs over the work as a whole as McNamara’s chapters shine through, Her writing is crisp and unwavering, the way is which she tells a story is lavish, over the top and very giving.

McNamara’s gift within true crime is that she was not interested in sensationalism, excess bothered her, someone elses tragedy was not for us to drool over, it was never presented in a salacious way for us to stare at. Her voice was an easy one for us to follow, it assured readers ( and listeners of her blog/podcasts truecrimediary.com ) despite the subject matter they had waded into. I’ll be Gone. . . gives us true crime readers a glimpse into McNamara’s psyche. and the toll it can take on someone to be so tirelessly passionate, she reminds us that we too are fragile.

The Golden State Killer would not be in the realm of public conversation if it had not been for Michelle McNamara – I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is a look at what we are willing to go through, in fact, what we are willing to sacrifice, to get to the truth. It is also a stark reminder that we lost a brilliant mind and an incredible woman far too soon – so, get reading, its smart, clever, scary and much too quickly finished.

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Powerful.

In Book Club Pick,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Feminism,Fiction on April 29, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

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The Power is an instant classic, one they will teach in school in years to come. It is groundbreaking feminist speculative fiction – it is a work of genius, it is intelligent, uncomfortable, unflappable and thought provoking, there are few works it can be compared to.

Alderman’s work begins at an unidentified point in time at which teenage girls have begun to develop a skein that produces electricity within their bodies, they can then channel this power and shock others, they have the power to maim and to kill instantly. Alderman has created a world in which women, literally, hold the balance of power – every interaction becomes predicated on female supremacy.

Before Alderman’s narrative even begins we are shown part of a communication between two authors Naomi & Neil ( similar in style to Margaret Atwood’s a Handmaids Tale ) In these two letters she places the work in somewhat of a historical context, drawing comparisons with biblical literature and discussing a time before the Cataclysm, A time before the event, before women had a power which we, as of now, no nothing about. Neil, the male author on the receiving end on the letters shyly and submissively invites Naomi’s approval and advice on his manuscript. An enthralling way to open a book and perhaps a taste of what Alderman brings to the table, a sly clever hint of what is to come.

The comparison with Atwood is not accidental – Alderman won a place o the the Rolex mentorship program. The program aims to bring together rising stars with distinguished artists already established in their fields of dance, film, music, theater, the visual arts and literature. The program bought Alderman & Atwood together for a year of creative one to one exchanges.

With an effortless hook Naomi Alderman has created a work that both illuminates and terrifies, she has considered how a world with the power structures reversed might look. She takes a look at the horrors that exist within today’s sexual politics and flips the script. Her writing is unflinching, gritty and fearless – she takes short sharp satirical punches at the patriarchy – one scene stands out in particular, the newscast hosted by a serious woman and her good looking but dim sidekick.

The world that has been created is ours but the locations within the narrative are somewhat vague implying that the setting could be anywhere worldwide – the globe spanning ambition of Alderman’s work could have been its undoing but instead it keeps her story focused and on point. She depicts a systemic upheaval of gender dynamics across the globe that could have occurred anywhere at any point in history or perhaps it is still awaiting us.

Alderman’s story focuses on four characters that inhabit this hypothetical world – each character provides an opportunity to offer a different viewpoint within the narrative; we see how ingrained systems change and adapt, how they learn to operate in a different space. Roxy, the daughter of a London crime lord shows us that organized crime continues to prosper, we see politics & the military-industrial complex through Margot, an American politician and Allie, a teen girl who shows us how Religion renews itself and Tunde a young Nigerian reporter who shows us the scope of these visions colliding across the known world.

What a male reader understands as a horrifying dystopia a woman reads as a fairly accurate portrayal of the world we live in – There is an Atwood quote that discusses the male view of harassment juxtaposed against the female perception of the same harassment; she said “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them.” It is not enough to put yourself in a woman’s place because you will never understand the underlying imminent fear within those interactions – it is that underlying imminent fear that Alderman has created.

In western liberal countries the transition is much more measured, much more refined – women are counseled to control their power and channel it in positive ways, schools teach classes in abstinence and control – so, it is probably a little unpredictable that the action converges in a newly female centric controlled country within what appears to be eastern European country.

The most radical elements of Alderman’s dystopian creation are the subtleties – at points within the narrative it feels like you are witnessing the oppression you have suffered for years being inflicted on someone else, it feels vindictive, but positively so, not nasty but honest – Alderman depicts a world where women find themselves capable of the same cruelty & greed as their male counterparts. It is a seductive idea for those of us on the losing side of the worlds prevailing gender hierarchy. Alderman’s first 100 pages placates the reader who is uncomfortable with this apparent transition of power, she then starts to ramp up the horror, women with active skeins are rounded up and considered for extermination and Men’s rights groups start to become prevalent online – in fact something women have been putting up with for too long.

Alderman’s writing style is unique yet common place, she juxtaposes brash cocksure dialogue against thought provoking prose, Writing which is elegant yet efficient, so beautiful it combines ideas about the tenets of power, possibility, hope and change. Superficially The Power is about women having the edge over men but Alderman appears to be interested in power dynamics across the spectrum. How people come by power and how they abuse it – just because they can. A bleak truth but not a bleak book. . . .

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Burned; charred, scorched, parched.

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,YA literature on April 22, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , ,

 

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I adore a young adult novel that is well written, well thought out and makes me think – Burned did all of that and more. This novel is written in free verse which, at first, can feel daunting, but is a refreshing way to have a story told. Communicated in first person we really get inside the protagonists head, we understand her motivations on an intimate level, we relate to her drive and her desperation. Pattyn’s story is not lost in verse, if anything it serves to make us connect with the story more effectively. Hopkins creates an opportunity for us to invest emotionally in our protagonist Pattyn’s struggle, her voice is authentic, powerful and the story is utterly original.

The textual layout is constantly changing, visually striking and deliberately provocative at points, Hopkins highlights thematic words and phrases to enhance them within our train of thought – I’ve added an example ( pg. 90 in edition 9781442494619 ) so that you can better understand what the hell im talking about;

lied

               my way out of the house.

cheated

               certain punishment.

Stolen

               moments with Derek

invaded

               every waking thought

infiltrated

               every dream.”

Burned is Pattyn’s story but it is also the story of her family, her father, in particular and the way in which he functions within their society. Pattyn is damaged, she is broken by the way she is brought up, by her father – by his upbringing, by his military involvement, by his very damaged past. Pattyn is thrown out of home for committing transgressions against her Mormon faith, she is driven to the middle of the Nevada dessert to find salvation and redemption whilst living with her Aunt Jeanette.

Hopkins has painted the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints ( Mormons ) in an atrocious light, very early on ( p. 26 ) she depicts the church as teaching that women are second class citizens – “the message came through loud & clear: Women are inferior and god likes it that way.” and this is perpetuated by the way the LDS bishop behaves towards Pattyn, and by default, her mother. I wonder, if perhaps the message Hopkins was trying to convey was that domestic violence can happens everywhere, it is disturbing and it is horrific but if it can happen is a very tight knit community like the one depicted then it can happen absolutely anywhere and that is a message I can get behind.

One final part of the narrative I would be remiss not to mention is a controversial underlying theme – the defiant beauty that is Nevada’s Yucca mountain range and the devastating Nuclear testing that occurred there during the latter part of the 20th Century. Hopkins mentions the test watching parties held in the 1950s and the effects they had on her characters family, the surrounding area and indeed the nation as a whole. ( Time Magazine details the party craze http://time.com/3676511/nevada-nuclear-test/ ) – Burned is Ellen Hopkins love letter to the Yucca Mountains and her passion for the Nevada area shines through.

Pattyn’s experience is an emotional roller coaster ride, she makes one mistake after another the whole way through the narrative. We see her loneliness, her rebellion, lust, domestic violence, anxiety, peace, acceptance, love. . . I won’t spoil the ending for you. . . just read it. Burned ( 2007 ) is the first in a duology – the second book Smoke was published in 2013.

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Toxic.

In Book Club Pick,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Celebrity Endorsed,Feminism,Fiction,YA literature on April 8, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

20180408_190609.jpgLouise O’Neill is an accomplished Young Adult writer with two award winning novels under her belt, Almost Love is her first foray in Adult fiction. ( Her third YA book; a feminist re-telling of the little mermaid – The Surface Breaks is due out in May 2018 )

Almost Love follows Sarah Fitzpatrick; Then: In a toxic and manipulative relationship with Matthew and now: Sarah can be found mistreating her current boyfriend Oisín and longing after a man that made her nothing but miserable.

O’Neill is an unashamedly feminist writer and that shines through in her work. Once again she breaks through barriers in women’s fiction, she continues to write about topics that are shied away from, not talked about, brushed under the rug. . . She believes that even toxic people deserve to have their stories told, once again, she has written a ground breaking novel that everyone should read.

Almost Love shines a light on the painful, debilitating and isolating toxic relationships that women allow themselves to be a part of. O’Neill writes a compelling, thought provoking drama that encourages young women to consider the choices they make, to value the genuine friendships they create and most of all to value themselves.

The protagonist, Sarah Fitzgerald is so utterly unlikeable it is very hard to keep rooting for her, we are given little opportunity to love or even like our heroine. She is petty, nasty and about as cruel as they come – but for some reason I just kept wanting the best for her. O’Neill paints Sarah in the context of her relationships to others and that connection is nearly always negative, she doesn’t appear to know how to love anyone, especially herself. We’ve all had tunnel vision about someone we’ve loved, we’ve all made mistakes, we’ve all ignored advice from friends and family – Sarah isn’t unique but O’Neill’s portrait of her is so raw, and so honest – it is at times uncomfortable.

The antagonist in this cautionary tale, Matthew Brennan, is a rich, successful, handsome older man but he comes across as an odious, repugnant excuse of a human being – he treats Sarah as a plaything, he affords her no respect, no dignity and no humanity. He finds comfort, even pleasure, in her neediness. O’Neill’s depiction of his behavior almost eclipses how absolutely horrible Sarah is – there is an underlying question that will not leave me alone. . . Does Brennan treat Sarah badly because he is a knob-end or because Sarah allows herself to be treated that way?

O’Neill forces us to confront the parts of ourselves we want to keep hidden – the vulnerability, the obsessiveness, the irrationality and the desperation, that uncontrollable drive to be loved. She forces us to ask why are we not enough? Why are we so preoccupied with being loved and why does society mold young women to compete for that love? Sarah espouses the idea that she is not interesting enough or not sexy enough to keep Brennan interested. . . Why do we teach young women that they need to be either? Or both?

This book broke me, it had me in tears wishing for years of my life back. It was powerful, moving and utterly heartbreaking. For me relating to Sarah wasn’t actually that hard – I was her or some form of her, for quite a number of years. I fell entirely, obsessively in love with someone who treated me no better than the dirt on the bottom of his shoe. I loved him so unconditionally, I failed to see that it was to the detriment of everyone and everything else in my life. My hope with Almost Love is that it stops one girl from falling down that rabbit hole.