17

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – A collection of stories as subversive and complex as its female protagonists

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

My biggest thanks to Hachette New Zealand, for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The more and more I think about it, the more certain I am that Difficult Women is a masterful collection of short stories.

To describe it simply,¬†Difficult Women¬†is about just that – it is a collection of twenty-one short stories that are about the so-called ‘difficult women’. Underneath that though is a nuanced and complex portrayal of women in modernity – and the images are haunting and riveting, and will inevitably sear your memory.

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11

Kindred by Octavia Butler – A powerful historical/sci-fi; absolutely exceptional in every way

kindred

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Kindred is a truly outstanding book. Not only is it the first science-fiction written by a black author Рmaking it an incredible piece of black American literature Рbut it is an amazing book by its own merits. And there are many.

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27

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam

hitchhikers

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy¬†is a masterpiece – or, at least, I think it is.

For this book, I’m going to do something a little different. For this book, I’m going to set aside the ‘serious’ tone that I adopt for my reviews. This book is widely read and there are many reviews of this book – most more eloquent than I could ever hope to be! – instead of a conventional review, I’m going to¬†lay out¬†three reasons why you should read this science-fiction classic.

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14

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

beauty-queens

When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition. Written by Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

Beauty Queens¬†delighted me in every way possible. Brandishing dark comedy and satire, it elucidates and explores complex themes such as feminism, racism, ethnicity, identity, disabilities, gender, sexuality, prejudice, and social standards. That’s a¬†lot¬†of themes to explore, but Bray has done it fantastically. Paired with its plot – when a plane crashes on a remote island, thirteen beauty pageant contestants are the only survivors –¬†the result is an excellent¬†book that manages to be ridiculous¬†but also incredibly intelligent,¬†honest and genuine.

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29

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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My sincerest thanks to Hachette New Zealand, for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters your homes at will. She stands next to your bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting, but in so doing send the town spiraling into the dark, medieval practices of the past.

Hex creeped me the heck out.

I don’t like anything horror,¬†especially¬†horror movies. I am the sort of person who, while walking in the dead of night to the kitchen, will think of something scary and then scare myself. I am a big, big wuss.¬†Despite – and surprisingly – I enjoyed¬†Hex¬†very much. I was told that¬†Hex¬†‘exposes how psychological fear can make a modern society spiral into dark, medieval practices’. And after much reflection, this is a perfect description of the novel in a sentence.

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18

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

therosesociety

Adelina Amouteru’s heart has suffered at the hands of both family and friends, turning her down the bitter path of revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she flees Kenettra with her sister to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army of allies. Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.

But Adelina is no heroine. Her powers, fed only by fear and hate, have started to grow beyond her control. She does not trust her newfound Elite friends. Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead. And her former friends, Raffaele and the Dagger Society, want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good when her very existence depends on darkness?

Wow, wow, wow.

The Rose Society is deliciously wild, exciting, and a monster of a book. It is not a book that suffers from middle-book syndrome; it is fast-paced with meaningful action, it introduces incredible new characters, and the story grows thicker and darker. The Young Elites was good, but The Rose Society was, without a spot of doubt in my body, better in every way.

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31

Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead

succubus blues

When it comes to jobs in hell, being a succubus seems pretty glamorous. A girl can be anything she wants, the wardrobe is killer, and mortal men will do anything just for a touch. Granted, they often pay with their souls, but why get technical?

But Seattle succubus Georgina Kincaid’s life is far less exotic. At least there’s her day job at a local bookstore–free books; all the white chocolate mochas she can drink; and easy access to bestselling, sexy writer, Seth Mortensen, aka He Whom She Would Give Anything to Touch but Can’t.

But dreaming about Seth will have to wait. Something wicked is at work in Seattle’s demon underground. And for once, all of her hot charms and drop-dead one-liners won’t help because Georgina’s about to discover there are some creatures out there that both heaven and hell want to deny. . .

I first picked up the¬†Georgina Kincaid series when I was young¬†and naive¬†about my sexuality. Because of the former, I picked up this book, read parts of it, and felt too embarrassed to continue. Now that I’m much older and mature and can appreciate its contents, Succubus Blues¬†turned out to be perfect escapist material. Succubus Blues¬†has everything that I love: Read’s writing and characterization, a compelling romance, paranormal and urban fantasy elements, and subtle exploration of ideas of mortality and love.

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