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Review-Big Fat Bitch by Ginger Voight

Buy here on kindle for 2.99

5/5*

Published September 2018

 

I received a free copy of Big Fat Bitch from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

CW/TW–there is a scene with a graphic sexual assault in the book. It is part of a larger #metoo subplot, but could prove hard for victims of sexual assault.

Sofie Vincent has clawed her way to the top, and is now Queen Iron Britches, showrunner and writer of Vindication, the hottest show on television. Everyone jumps to do what she says out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.

Fletcher Sullivan is a divorced single dad of Ava (12) and a hospice nurse. Together, he and Ava read to the residents of the hospice. One day, they read to a new patient with dementia, Rose, and she calls Ava “Pudgie.” When Fletcher mentions it to Rose’s nurse, she tells him that Rose is the author of a famous series of books about a girl named Pudgie. Fletcher decides to find Pudgie–her daughter.

Sofie ensures that Fletcher gets fired. Then ends up hiring him herself out of fear that he might spill her secret.

Big Fat Bitch is a romance, but it’s a slow, slow, slow burn. There are no sex scenes.

I had considered giving Big Fat Bitch a 4/5*, but the complexity and slow changes that Fletcher inspires in Sofie earned it the 5/5. Sofie is smart, successful, and scared. So scared of being found out to be Pudgie–who she views as her mother’s favorite child, the one who succeeded where she, Sofie, failed. Sofie has a huge mansion, a fat bank account, and very little else.

As a plus-sized woman, it meant a lot for me to see her be all of those complex things, and also a size fourteen. She doesn’t lose weight to be happy and that’s a big deal.

Fletcher is a less complex character–he wants to provide for Ava, and he wants to make the world kinder. He could have outed Sofie for revenge, but doesn’t. He only takes the job Sofie offers because his ex-wife is threatening to take away more of his time with Ava. But being Sofie’s assistant, and respecting her an employer doesn’t mean he isn’t going to go toe to toe with her.

This is a story of mothers and daughters, and of the kind of love that never dies.

I think the love story that really twisted my heartstrings, though, isn’t the one between Fletcher and Sofie. It’s the one between Sofie’s parents. Her father has lived on a boat since her parents divorced when she was a tween. When Fletcher can’t find Pudgie, he does manage to track down Rose’s former husband. Rose and Vincent had a hell of a love story, and the end of it made me sob.

In another author’s hands, Fletcher and Sofie would’ve sparked off each other and it would’ve been a concussive explosion. Which is what I kept expecting. But by keeping it slow, Voight gives us more time to get to know the characters and see why we should want them together beyond “the plot demands it.” It means there’s no magic kiss to wake the Beast from her slumber–instead, she has to make the changes herself. The changes are slow and there are several steps backward.

I invoke Beauty and the Beast because at its heart, this is a retelling of that story where Sofie is the beast and Fletcher the beauty. Which isn’t an obvious retelling, but there are just enough breadcrumbs for the reader.

I think this is a great romance that subverts the expectations of what a reader might think a romance “should” be. I can’t wait to read more by this author.

Review–Kissing Frogs by Tori Turnbull

Buy here on Kindle for 2.99

5/5*

Published June 2018

 

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Twenty-nine year old Kate is “riding the euphoric wave of successful shoe shopping” when she is exiting the Tube. Until the escalator reaches the top, and Kate is faced with an incredibly unflattering picture of Kate captioned “Date my daughter.” Yes, her mother has used her pension to pay for the humiliating digital posters. Worse, after Kate is arrested for trying to damage the posters, she is picked up by her childhood nemesis Mark who eggs her mother on. Kate agrees to date for two months to get her mother off her back. Even more worse, it turns out Mark is going to be sharing her flat in exchange for doing home improvements for her mother, who owns the building.

Things go about as well as expected. There’s the stalker. The one who flees. The one on the cover who won’t let go of her legs even as she’s beating him with carnations.

I couldn’t put the book down. Between the hilariously bad dates and the growing sexual tension between Kate and Mark it was irresistible. It’s obvious to the reader that they belong together and that Mark is trying to pursue her. The end result is a sleek, funny romance.

Written in the first person voice, Kate comes through loud and clear. At first I thought it was a bit of a riff on the whole Bridget Jones thing, especially with an antagonist she’s known since childhood named Mark, but Bridget and Kate are very distinct and different voices, although fans of Bridget Jones should check this book out..

Even though you don’t get Mark’s inner voice, he’s well written. His personality comes across clearly, as does his interest in Kate. The secondary characters are developed enough. If there was more side story for them, I think it would take away from Kate and Mark’s story and make it flabby.

There are only a few sex scenes, but they’re worth the wait. Turnbull builds the tension so well that the reader is plenty turned on and ready to go by the time Kate and Mark are. From the moment Kate sees Mark coming out of the shower in just a towel, the chemistry sparks. When Mark begins to date someone, Turnbull ensures that we’re just as irritated by it as Kate, although she’s blind as to why she’s so jealous.

Turnbull has another book, and the highest compliment I can give her is that I’ve already bought her other book.

 

 

 

Review–Mating the Huntress by Talia Hibbert

Get it here on kindle for $0.99.

5/5*

Pub October 2018

 

This hot Halloween erotic romance can be devoured in one bite (pun intended).

Chastity identifies the hot stranger who keeps coming into her family’s coffee shop as a werewolf right away. But she doesn’t warn her family of huntresses, or even any of the men in her family. When he finally asks her out, she says yes. If she can kill him, she’ll prove to her family that she can be a huntress, too. The problem is that he’s not a mindless beast, like she’d been warned. He seems like a….a guy. An artist, even. Can a monster make art? Worse, can a monster inspire feelings other than hate….like lust?

Luke is a werewolf. But like most weres, he’s a solitary creature who likes his meat raw–and the forest behind his house keeps him perfectly happy via plenty of rabbits and such. But on a full moon, he’s chased by a group of huntresses…only to catch the scent of something primal. His mate. But the woman wearing the sweatshirt isn’t her. Instead she’s this shy, sweet girl who works in a coffee shop. Or so he thinks…until she tries to kill him.

Luke and Chas have chemistry that sparks right off the page. They’re easy to root for because it’s blindingly obvious that they should be together. Their banter is hot, and their fighting even more so. When they finally get together, I was squirming.

I love the idea of huntresses being obsessed with killing mindless monsters versus the very civilized but solitary werewolf who just wants to meet and commit to his mate for life. The dichotomy makes their story sparkle.

Luke is very much an alpha character. He doesn’t hesitate to take control or make a move. But he’s also committed to consent, which is really sexy. There’s an instance where the consent is blurry and he pulls away immediately. This only makes him hotter.

I wish it were longer, but I always wish a Talia Hibbert book were longer–she’s such a talented writer that I am always sorry when the story finishes. There’s such a great glimpse into the world of the huntresses and the world of werewolves. She has a unique take on what can be a really tiresome trope. Kudos, Talia!

It’s October 1, which means it’s on sale TODAY!

Book Review-Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

autoboyography

Buy Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

5/5*

Published September 2017

Tanner is a bisexual teenage boy. This was not a big deal in Palo Alto, California, where he used to live. But in Mormon Provo, Utah, it is his family’s secret. He’s made it to his final semester of senior year, and is looking to the future when he can leave Utah for a more liberal and accepting environment. Then he signs up for The Seminar–a challenge to write a book in a year–and everything changes. The Seminar’s TA is Sebastian Brother, a freshman at BYU, and the most famous graduate of The Seminar whose book has been sold and is being published very soon from the start of the book.

Sebastian is everything Tanner should stay away from–handsome, straight (right?), and Mormon. But when Fujita, The Seminar’s teacher assigns Sebastian to help Tanner, something begins to bloom between them. Something deep, and forbidden.

I loved this book. The language and descriptions are so beautiful that they just transport you to the world of the book.

As he faces the class from the front now, his eyes flash when they meet mine–for a tine flicker of a second, and then again, like a prism catching light, because he does a double take. That fraction of a heartbeat is long enough for him to register my immediate infatuation. Holy shit, how quickly he recognizes it. This must happen to him all the time–an adoring gaze from across the room–but to me, being so instantly infatuated is entirely foreign. Inside my chest, my lungs are wild animals, clawing at the cage.

Tanner is a very likeable character. Your hearts bleeds with him, and breaks for him, and rejoices with his because you become so emotionally invested in the book. He is still three dimensional with faults and blindspots, though. Sebastian is an equally engaging and complex character–to the point where I would buy the same book written from his point of view and I always scorn those as cheap cash grabs (coughGREYcough). He is the Bishop’s son, expected to leave for his mission right after his book tour, with the expectation that he’ll return in two years to finish up at BYU and get married to a woman and start having kids.

That Tanner’s mom is a former Mormon only adds depth to the story. She left after her parents kicked her sister out of the house for being gay. So when her son falls for a Mormon boy, her own wounds re-open and she is scared for him.

The author clearly researched Mormonism. I used to be close with a Mormon family, and even investigated joining the church and this feels very honest.

I feel like this is one of a growing trend of YA books that is creating queer love stories in a mainstream environment. Romance publishing isn’t that progressive unless you go to the smaller houses. Adult fiction in general doesn’t have a lot of queer representation. So congrats to YA for moving that ball forward. And this isn’t just a YA book–I think the adult market would emotionally engage with the book. (The person who recommended the book as well as I are both around 40, for example.)

I honestly struggle to find a fault or area of improvement for this book, so it’s getting a rare 5* review from me.

 

 

 

Snarking Nostaligic: Prom Dress by Lael Littke

I delayed posting this in hopes that I could find the fraction of a story I wrote in 1994 called “The Curse of the Silver Teddy Bear” about a cursed necklace with a teddy bear charm.  I’m pretty sure I was ripping off Prom Dress, “Friday the 13th: The Series,” and all the other cursed item media I consumed in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Sadly, while I know it still exists, I have not been able to locate it.  I do promise, though, that I will share it in all its terrible glory one day.

prom dressProm Dress by Lael Littke

Originally Published 1989

Robin is too poor to buy a new dress for the prom.  Then she finds a perfect, beautiful dress in the attic of her mysterious employer’s house.  She “borrows” it to wear to the prom…and dances into her worst nightmare.

Then Felicia finds the dress.  The price she pays for wearing it is more than any girl should pay…

But Nicole is too smart to be caught by the dress.  Isn’t she?  Poor Nicole!

And then there’s Gabrielle, Robin’s little sister.  Did she find the dress?  Or did the dress find Gabrielle?

Can anyone stop the fatal attraction of the…Prom Dress?

OHMIGOD you guys—could this book BE any better?  Maybe, but only if it were longer.  I LOVED it.  So much love I can’t stop with the CAPSLOCK.!!!!111!!!!111!!!!1!!

I hope you guys were all fans of soap operas back in the day because this plot has a lot of run-on explanations that only work if you’re willing to pretend we’re in Salem/Pine Valley/Port Charles.

Robin is a new-to-town gold digging social climber dating the hottest/richest boy in school–Tyler.  Tyler drives a red Trans Am, which I think is supposed to compensate for him saying things like “Between your dancing and your working, I hardly get to see you.  Where do I rate on your list of priorities?”

Alas, Robin must work because Daddy’s dead and college tuition doesn’t grow on trees.  Apparently, though, new houses DO grow on trees.  Right around when Robin’s Dad died, her mother inherited a house from a family member who also died at the same time which is great because they couldn’t afford the mortage on the old house they’d lived in with her dad, and so they moved because this house was free because there are no inheritance or property taxes and who the hell knows—just go with it.  Dad died, they moved, they’re broke–but they live in a mansion next to an even bigger mansion.

gold diggerHe’s talking about you, Robin

How very lucky for all of us that Tyler ‘s girlfriend needn’t slum it at McDonalds.  In the mysterious mansion next door lives Miss Catherine.  She’s an elderly recluse with a scarred cheek from when her twin sister Rowena threw acid on Catherine’s face because Rowena was jealous of Catherine’s hot boyfriend Michael who never looked at Rowena even though Rowena had all kinds of lustful thoughts for him.  Robin is Miss Catherine’s lackey, and her job duties seem to consist of keeping Miss Catherine company and talking about how hot Miss Catherine used to be before “the accident.”

One day Miss Catherine and Robin get to talking about how Robin is going to be in some dance show doing the Charleston and there might be college scouts there to give out college scholarships.  She has to find her own costume–and Miss Catherine has the perfect dress.  All Robin has to do is go upstairs, find the secret closet, and take out the flapper dresses—being certain to NOT TOUCH the white prom dress that JUST HAPPENS to be the only other thing in that closet.  Don’t even LOOK at it, Robin.

Duh, of course Robin looks at it, and instantly wants it. She’s going to be Tyler’s prom date and if she shows up in anything less than the perfect dress, he’ll dump her because she won’t be worthy of being seen with him or something.

The dress was made of deep scallops of creamy lace.  It had long sleeves and a high lace collar.  Like the flame colored dress, it had a dropped waistline, but the two dresses were worlds apart.  While the red one called out blatantly for excitement and dancing the braying of horns, the lace one spoke softly of elegance and muted music and romance.

puffed sleevesWhat girl wouldn’t want to sport this while dancing to Milli Vanilla and New Kids on the block ?

She asks Miss Catherine if she can borrow the Prom Dress.  HELLZ NO, Miss Catherine says.  She got the scar on her cheek while wearing that dress–it’s BAD.    Robin decides that the ends will justify the means and when she borrows the flapper dress, she “borrows” the prom dress.  Did she see a shadow on her cheek when she took it?  Nah, it was just a trick of the light.

Apparently Robin looks smokin’ in the red flapper dress at the Charleston contest.  Tyler tells her that his dad thought Robin was so hot that he’s sending them to a top shelf restaurant before prom, and is going to throw a limo their way.  Robin says she could get used to this lifestyle, and I contemplate that she’s chasing the wrong man–it’s Tyler’s dad who controls the purse strings.

They go to Prom—many more mentions of how the dress is so gorgeous that every girl there is jealous of it and that Robin is so bodacious–and are crowned Prom King and Queen.  But just as Robin is about to take her throne and accept the pinnacle of high school success, the stairs crumble and she falls.  The throne she was about to sit on falls too and lands on her legs and feet, crushing them.

No more dancing for Robin.

Robin is taken to a hospital, where her nurse is a woman named Felicia.  Felicia is a reformed slut who is now in love with a divinity student named Mark.  She wants to grow up and be Mrs. Mark, future minister’s wife.  The first major hurdle in reaching her goal is impressing Dean Goudy at a special dinner he throws for his divinity students.  Apparently the dean evaluates all potential spouses, and if the spouse doesn’t measure up the marriage isn’t going to happen and the student will be penalized for even thinking about dating such an unworthy candidate.  No pressure.

If only Felicia had the right dress…

It was to be a dress-up affair, and the only fancy dresses she owned were bare backed or off the shoulder or spaghetti-strapped.  What she needed was something sweet and demure.

Something like Robin Wilson’s dress.

slutty nun dressSadly, this little number will need to stay in Felicia’s closet.

Felicia asks Robin if she can borrow the dress.  Robin says no.  But during a drugged out dream, Robin’s eyes flicker open and she sees Felicia holding the dress up to herself.

Felicia is looking in the mirror–and thinks she sees a smudge on her cheek.  Gee–is it shadowing or FOREshadowing?  Felicia steals the dress.

Felicia goes to the dinner and is all demure and shit.  But the dress keeps feeling tighter and tighter.  So tight she can’t breathe.  But when she looks in the mirror, the dress looks just like it did–it’s not too tight at all.  But she can’t breathe.  Finally, she excuses herself and goes upstairs to the “bathroom.”  Felicia goes into the Dean’s bedroom and rips the dress off her body.

Oh noes!  Now she’s in her underwear and the dress HAS to get back to Robin tonight because otherwise she’d be a bad person or something.  So instead she steals some clothes from Mrs. Goudy to wear.  But why stop there?  She steals a bag to carry the dress back to Robin.  She tries to sneak out, but Mrs. Goudy shouts that someone is fleeing the house with her BLUE BAG!

Felicia runs for the bus stop and the RIGHT bus just HAPPENS by at the RIGHT MOMENT.  What luck!  She hops on the bus and feels so lost and upset.  Now what can she do?  Telling the truth is clearly out of the questions–it is a FAR better solution to change back into the dress, sneak back into the house, and go back downstairs saying that she had glimpsed a man running off with a blue bag.  NO!  NO!  What she should REALLY do is go to the hospital and return the dress and throw out the clothes and….I don’t know, say that God had taken her from the house to the hospital because she was more needed at the hospital?

Before she can get off the bus, Felicia needs her shoes.  She reaches into the bag for her shoes…and discovers a velvet bag with pearls in it.  I know I leave my expensive jewels in a random bag in my closet instead of a jewelry box or a safe.  Oh NOES!!!

People get onto the bus–and it’s Mark and another guy from the party.  Rather than confess and do penance or say some hail marys or whatever, she says

“Mark.  The man with the cap….  He took it.  He made me take the dress off at the house and he put it in a blue bag that he found in a closet….  He got off a few stops back.  ….  He made me come with him.  He said he’d hurt me if I didn’t come.  He threatened all sorts of awful things.  I didn’t dare call out or anything.  I just did what he said.  I’m sorry he got away.  But I was afraid.  See, I’m still shaking.”

Mark is incredibly dumb and believes her.  He escorts her from the bus, while she plays sad maiden.

The bag is left on the bus.

No more integrity for Felicia.

Nicole is a genius.  Her high school academic decathalon team is taking the exact same city bus to a rival high school for a major competition.  Her foot bumps something under the seat, and she finds THE BLUE BAG.  Inside is the dress and some gorgeous pearls.  It’s just what she needs for the dance that night.  Maybe then her teacher will notice her and become her boy toy and they’ll live happily ever after.

snapeI will open to page 394 any day of the week, Professor Snape….

That night she goes to the dance, and she looks totally gnarly.  She thinks she sees a shadow on her cheek momentarily, and only the dullest reader can’t see what kind of karma is heading her way.

Mr. Waring asks her to dance and they flirt.

School would be out soon; that would end the student-teacher track they were stuck in right now, which of course would never allow dating.  Mr. Waring’s strong code of ethics would never allow it.  But, after graduation, they’d be free to date.  Nicole could help him get over the terrible pain of losing his wife and child, and they could be married.  She wondered if he’d mind if she went to college after their marriage.  Very likely he’d insist on it.  Maybe he’d go back for more graduate work.  Maybe they’d both go to college.

Nicole was thinking happily of a wedding gown very much like the dress she was wearing.

Just then, Nicole sees her frenemy talking to someone and pointing at her.  Proving she’s the Girl Computer with the giant brain, she makes the obvious intellectual leap that the cops must be here for her.  They must have figured out….somehow…that the dress and jewelery weren’t hers.  She runs away and bumps into a very tall pedestal.  The bust of Einstein falls off and smacks her in the head.

Poor Nicole, no more brains–it’s amnesia town for you.

Luckily for Felicia, Nicole is brought to her hospital.  She’s able to put the dress back into Robin’s closet.  She confesses everything to Mark and surrenders the jewelry back to Mrs. Goudy.  Mark dumps her lying ass.

Felicia and Robin have a heart to heart about the evil of the dress.  Felicia thinks they should destroy it–her first smart choice of the book.  Robin persists in being a moron and says it must go back to Miss Catherine.

Robin tells her little sister Gabrielle to take the dress back to Miss Catherine.

Did I mention that Gabrielle thinks that Tyler is totally choice?  Gabrielle loves to play piano and Tyler sometimes accompanies her when he’s waiting around for Robin.  So she jumps at the chance to get a ride home from him, and asks him to come play piano with her.  They could even do a duet FOR ROBIN when she finally comes home.

sister's boyfriendThat boy is mine, yo

Robin finally comes home and it’s so sweet how Gabrielle and Tyler have clearly practiced playing together over and over and over and over.  In fact, they’ve gotten so used to playing together that they’re going to do a paid job playing together.  Playing PIANO—stop with your filthy minds.

Robin takes the garment bag with the dress inside it back to Miss Catherine and confesses.  Miss Catherine begins to laugh hysterically and confesses that it was her evil plan all along!  BWAHAHA–she’s not even Miss Catherine….she’s ROWENA.

“I cursed every stitch of that dress.  I started it for myself, you know.  I thought Michael was going to ask me to the prom.  But I had the birthmark, you see, and Catherine was the beauty.  That was the most important thing in the world to her, just as Michael was to me.  I saw them sneak around together, and when he asked her to the prom I finished up the dress for her, because I knew it was the last time she would ever be beautiful.”

Rowena jiggled up and down.  “When they came home, I threw acid on her face.  But not on the dress.  I didn’t want to ruin the dress.  She was wearing a cloak, so it didn’t get on the dress.  I didn’t want to hurt the dress.  I did it right there, in the foyer, on our little stage,” Rowena gave her a mirthless laugh.  “And after that she was even uglier than I was.”

And just look–there goes Gabrielle to her job, with Robin’s boyfriend….WEARING THE DRESS!!!  Rowena taunts Robin to just let her go, that the dress will punish her sister just as it did Rowena’s so long ago.

Robin suddenly develops a backbone and ethics and struggles to her feet, even though they’re both in casts and she’s supposed to be in a wheelchair, and even standing hurts with the fury of a thousand suns she struggles to the door, screaming even though Gabrielle and Tyler can’t hear her.  As she gets to the door, throws it open, and screams her sister’s name one last time just as Gabrielle is about to get into the Trans Am, and passes out from the sheer pain of it all.

She wakes up in the hospital—her fall stopped whatever tragedy was about to befall Gabrielle.

Rowena was taken away and the full story comes out.  After her stay in a mental hospital post-acid throwing, she was released into Catherine’s custody.  The two women went away and were recluses.  “Rowena” died in a fire, tragically.  “Catherine” came back to the hometown and the old house.  But “Catherine” was really “Rowena”–and the scar was from her gouging out her own birthmark so that it would scar and look like the acid burn.  She was the EVIL TWIN!

evil twinEVIL TWINS….EVIL TWINS EVERYWHERE.

The book closes with an epilogue all in italics.  A woman buys the dresses for her second hand store.  A girl named Natalie goes shopping at said store, and sees the dress.  She’s an aspiring actress and it’s perfect for the upcoming audition.  But it costs too much.  So she slips it into her bag and steals it.

Tomorrow she would wear the dress!

The book ends, and I stand up and applaud.

This.

Was.

AWESOME.

 

Next week we’re back to Stoneybrook.  It’s time for Mary Anne’s book….I wonder if we’ll hear about how her mother is dead?

Book Review: The Good Women of China by Xinrin

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.49.29 AMThe Good Women of China by Xinran

Rating 4/5 stars

I read a different book by Xinran earlier this year–Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother–that ripped my heart out and left me sobbing at various points.  I approached this book with caution because of that.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother tells one woman’s story per chapter.  Eventually, so does The Good Women of China.  However, the start is much slower, and less engaging.  I picked up and put this one down a few times, easily distracted by other books.  However, once I got to roughly 1/3 of the way through the book, I was sucked in and found myself crying time and time again.

Xinran was, for a time, a presenter of a highly popular radio show in China in the 80’s and early 90’s called “Whispers on the Night Breeze” which focused on the stories of everyday women (or rather, that is what it evolved into).  This is the source material for this book and others.  The stories she shares are most often those of her generation and that of her mothers–the generation that were children during the cultural revolution, and that of the mothers of those children.

My bachelor’s degree is in History.  I have a deep attachment to learning about race, class and gender history.  The thing about studying women’s history, though, is that for every fascinating and empowering story about women, there is often a much larger number of truly depressing stories.

One of the most common experiences that occurs in women’s history, and in this book, is that of rape.  To the point where I would firmly caution that this book needs a trigger warning for rape.  Girls are raped by their fathers.  Girls are raped in the cause of “re-educating” them during the Cultural Revolution.  Girls are raped in the chaos after an earthquake.  Girls who wish for death after rape, who are institutionalized, whose mothers commit suicide after they are raped. 

It is also the story of how a moment of deep change–the Cultural Revolution–impacted not just the wealthy or the well born, but the every day woman as well.  These are stories we almost never hear.  The Japanese expatriate who was in China to teach at a university, and is jailed as a counter-revolutionary.  The daughter of wealthy capitalists who gets to her family’s home too late–they have fled to Taiwan–and has to pose as the illegitimate daughter of her aunt, hoping that the truth will never be revealed.  The women who began an orphanage after their own children were killed by an earthquake–an earthquake the government didn’t find out about for weeks because there was no modern means of communication in the impoverished mountain villages.  A woman who was separated from her love by duty to the party, only to find him again 40 years later—and that he’d married after being told that she was dead.  Weaved throughout the other stories is Xinran’s.  Her parents were accused of being counter-revolutionary, and she and her brother were brought up by the party.  Peasant children were taught to insult them, and treat them as subhuman.  Her deeply complicated relationship with her parents, and with her own past is shown as the book progresses.

We also see Xinran’s growing dissatisfaction with trying to toe the party line as a media representative.  Stories must be edited, others not told (no need to embarrass the party with a story about highly educated women being given to party elite as new wives, or the village wives they left behind).

As an American, I learned very little modern era Asian History in any of my classes.  I was vaguely aware of how Mao had gained power, but I had no context for what that looked like for a woman living in China.  Xinran lends us those voices, which when paired with other resources can help paint a more complete pictures of the experience.

If you have an interest in Asian History, in women’s history, or in women’s studies, this book is definitely one you should make time to read.  But allow yourself to read as fast (can’t put it down) or as slow (too emotional, need a break) as you need.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy read.

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 8.03.53 PMFeed by Mira Grant

Rating 4/5 stars

I have a weakness for dystopian YA fiction,and have since I read Pretties by Scott Westerfeld.  I have a new fondness for zombies thanks to The Walking Dead.  Dystopian YA Fiction WITH Zombies?  YES PLEASE!

Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot–in this case, my brother Shaun–deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.  As if we didn’t already know what happens when you mess with a zombie: The zombie turns around and bites you, and you become the thing you poked.  This isn’t a surprise.  It hasn’t been a surprise for more than twenty years, and if you want to be technical, it wasn’t a surprise then.

When the infected first appeared–heralded by screams that the dead were rising and judgment day was at hand–they behaved just like the horror movies had been telling us for decades that they would behave.  The only surprise was that this time it was really happening.

There was no warning before the outbreaks began.  One day, things were normal; the next, people who were supposedly dead were getting up and attacking anything that came into range.  This was upsetting for everyone involved, except for the infected, who were past being upset about that sort of thing.  The initial shock was followed by running and screaming, which eventually devolved into more infection and attacking , that being the way of things.  So what do we have now, in this enlightened age twenty-six years after the Rising?  We have idiots prodding zombies with sticks, which brings us full circle to my brother and why he probably won’t live a long and fulfilling life.

This has to be one of the better openings to a book I’ve run into recently.  I knew I probably wasn’t going to put my phone down until I was done with the book, if it lived up to those first few paragraphs.  It did, and I cheerfully spent the next week or so devouring all 3 “Newsflesh” novels and the 3 Newsflesh Novellas.

George (Georgia) Mason is our main narrator.  She’s a newsie (non fiction news and op/ed piece blogger).  Along with her brother Shaun Mason, an Irwin (named after the croc hunter Steve Irwin)-a blogger who takes risks for blog hits and ratings, and their friend Buffy (Fiction and all things Tech), they run the website After the End Times.  Buffy is actually Georgette (all derivations on George became the most popular names post zombies, in honor of George Romero, whose zombie movies were suddenly like instruction manuals) but in her own words “I’m cute, blonde, and living in a world of zombies.  What do you think I should call myself?”  She’s a Joss Whedon fangirl, and sighs that no one seems to get it.  (Side note, one of the Newsflesh novellas takes place at Comicon 2014 and features a booth of browncoats–referencing the fans of Whedon’s Firefly–Grant is obviously a fellow Whedonite.)

The zombie apocalypse began in 2014 (yay, something to look forward to this year!).  Two viruses (the cure for the common cold and the cure for cancer) combine and infect the world with what becomes known as Kellis-Amberlee. No one gets cancer, no one gets a cold, but everyone turns into a zombie after death.  While the trope of “we were trying to cure cancer and made monsters” is an old one, Newsflesh does it well.  I like the competing viruses setup, and over time we learn more and more about them and how we got from cures to zombies.  Grant is a student of virology and her knowledge shows in the material…and her spin on the trope comes off as plausible.

Zombies, however, aren’t the only danger in a post-Rising world.  The US (where the book is set) has reacted with what feels like a very realistic set of  “safety measures.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 9.29.42 PMsource

Some of the ways the US has given itself over to fear include…..

  • Lots of places have blood tests at the entryway.  All blood tests are rigged to send an automatic signal to the CDC if they come up positive, so that you can be rounded up/shot before you finish amplifying and go on a little terror spree.
  • Public schools require 3 blood tests per day.
  • The government has declared certain towns and the state of Alaska lost.  They are impossible to secure, so you don’t go there (or need permits to go there and understand you’re not likely to make it out alive).
  • There is a law-The Biological Mass Pet Ownership Restrictions–currently under debate to outlaw animals over 40 pounds (the minimum before you can be turned into a zombie–so horses, cows, moose, etc can become zombies, but the average housecat or chicken can’t).
  • Lots of houses have voice prints.  The Mason’s also requires that you read a non sequitor sentence on a pad to prove you still have higher cognitive function.  If you fail, the house’s system will incinerate you.
  • Clothes are washed in industrial grade bleach.  People are also hosed off with bleach.  George is contrary in that rather than accept the inevitable blonde hair due to the bleach, she keeps dyeing it brown.
  • The country is divided into biohazard zones.  Rules are different in each of thezones.
  • Apple has branched out into blood tests, and makes the most expensive/high end ones–because of course they have.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 8.57.05 PMGeorge Cosplay suggestions by Shaylabauwf

George and Shaun are the adopted children of the Masons–originally a Berkley professor and his wife–who lost their child in the early days of the outbreak.  They were some of the earliest blog star to come out of the Rising.  Everything they’ve done since then, including adopting George and Shaun has been done with an eye toward ratings.

Numbers slipping?  Go for a field trip to a zoo.  That’ll get you right back to the top.

After the End Times is chosen to join with the Ryman Presidential Campaign as bloggers.  They’ll be trailblazing as bloggers haven’t ever been invited to be part of the process before..  Although bloggers have become the more reliable media post-rising, official things like campaigns have used the traditional print and video mediums.  Ryman (who comes off in the spirit of all young presidential hopefuls–the JFK/Obama/Clintons) has decided to invite them along as sponsored media.

Since the blogs and website are such an important part of the book, we see Grant talking about  things like blog comments, traffic, editing in a way that feels authentic to the characters and part of the narrative, rather than expository blather.  This is a refreshing change from authors who info dump in the most boring way possible.

Peter Ryman comes off as smooth.

Shaun settled with his back to the wall, affording him the best view of the room.  He may seem like an idiot, but in some ways, he’s the most careful of us all.  You can’t be an Irwin and not learn somet things about keeping your exits open.  If the zombies ever mob en masse again, he’ll be ready.  And filming.

Buffy took the seat nearest the light, where the cameras studded through her jewelry would get the best pickup shots.  her portables work on the principles defined during the big pre-Rising wireless boom; they transmit data to the server on a constant basis, allowing her to come back and later and edit at her leisure.  I once tried to figure out how many transmitter she actually had on her ,but wound up giving up and wandering to do something more productive like answering Shaun’s fan mail.

……

–His tone easy and assured “I’m not going to beat around the bush.  I read your public reports, you op-ed pieces, everything before I agreed to your application.  I know you’re smart and won’t forgive bullshit.  That doesn’t,” he held up a finger, “mean I’m going to be one hundred percent straight with you, because there are some things no reporter ever gets to be privy to.  Mostly having to do with my home life and my family, but still, there are no-go zones.”

The first major campaign covered is an event in a civic center, where Georgia notes that the press outnumber the public two to one because the public doesn’t really like things like political rallies with a bunch of strangers anymore.  Or being anywhere with a large group of people.  We see some of the various segments of the population like the woman who asks him about the Rapture–the zombie outbreak has inspired some to religious fanaticism.  Another asks about the death penalty (especially given that that death penalty is a little different post zombies).  Another brings up public health-because again, this is a different level of priority post-zombies.  And so forth.

However, we see exactly why the public is scared of this sort of event when a zombie outbreak happens post meeting.  None of the alarm systems function correctly, and George is almost taken out among others.  It’s the first in a series of sketchy events that eventually mean our intrepid reporters have a conspiracy to report upon….

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 9.43.55 PMMira Grant’s author picture, which is one of the better I’ve seen.

If you like your books smart, skeptical of the government, and full of zombies, you’ll enjoy Feed and the rest of the Newflesh books….