#AWW2019 // Book Review: “Women of Wasps and War” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: Women of Wasps and War
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 11/08/19 – 12/08/19
Rating:
★★★☆

Review:

Oof. This was a powerful book. I read about 20% of it one night and then the rest of it the following day because I couldn’t put it down. A lot of my reactions were simply “Argh!” or “Mmngnng” and could probably be summed up better in reaction gifs than a proper review, but I’ll try my best. Here goes.

D’este has crafted a believable patriarchal fantasy world where men do not question their authority and women know their place. This arrangement has been interrupted by war, and many of the women who ran Ambrovna in the men’s absence are not so keen to see it go back to the way it was before.

I was constantly frustrated by the men’s inability to see the women’s point of view, and I appreciated the way D’Este explored the fact that you can love an individual dearly while still not recognising your privilege overall, or conoversely while knowing that your loved one is the oppressor.

Some of the women did terrible things in the hopes of earning their place back as head of the household, and I have to admit that it generally felt completely justified. Of course, these things come at a price and a foreboding feeling I had about one incident turned out to be correct.

I have to admit I did feel the epilogue took away from the power of the final chapter, but that it really the only complaint I had. This book is addicitve.

Trigger warnings for graphic physical and emotional abuse.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“It’s always darkest before the ultimate sparkle.” // Review of “Beauty Queens” by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Audio Book Narrator:
Libba Bray
Genre:
YA/dystopia/satire
Date Read: 26/01/2017 – 08/02/2017
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review:

You’re going to have to forgive me if I gush a lot about this book. It was just so very clever. It’s quite a dark satire, which was right up my alley, and it touched on so many issues that affect teenager girls, while never straying from the larger plot.

In a slightly alternate America where nearly everything, including the Presidency, is a product of The CorporationTM, a plane carrying the 50 State Finalists of the Miss Teen Dream pageant crashes on a tropical island, killing all but 12 of the Beauty Queens and all of their attendants. Now the girls have to survive not only what the jungle throws at them, but also a secret plot to use their deaths to start a war.

The thing about this book is that in the hands of many another author, it would have turned into one of those books where the girls all turn on each other in complete bitchiness. There is a little bit of bitchiness, but the girls rise above it, knowing that they need to survive. These girls are capable! And they learn huge amounts about themselves and each other while they do it all, including that sex is not a dirty word and that they can be more than just pretty. They all have their own reasons for joining the pageant, and these come out as the book goes on. The girls all have individual personalities, and I was really impressed with the way Bray handled a large ensemble cast without any of the characters falling into two-dimensions. That’s not to say they’re not stereotypical. They are, because the book addressing those stereotypes, but I came to sympathise with these girls anyway as I learnedtheir stories and watch them evolve.

The book also covers so many issues that teen girls have to face, including body image/positivity, , female sexuality, transexuality, racism, rape culture, the way women are expected to apologise for existing and a whole host of others that I am forgetting right now.

I admit that it did disappoint me a bit when a group of ridiculously attractive boys showed up to help save the day. For a book that was so much about female empowerment, having that did lessen the effect a bit. It’s not that boys aren’t allowed or anything, and their presence did serve as a vehicle to address some of the sexuality issues that the book was interested in, but it would have been nice for a book like this to have the girls save the day on their own.

I am often a bit wary when I see that an author is narrating their own book (a writer is not necessarily a performer) but Libba Bray’s narration is brilliant and I can’t recommend it enough. True, I did download the ebook in order to finish a bit quicker, but if you can find the time to listen to it, do!

Disclaimer: this book’s brand of humour will not be for everyone. I’m a very sarcastic, deadpan person, so the fact that so much of the satire was delivered in that form really appealed to me. Judging by other reviews, some people have found it completely over the top and unrealistic. And it is, to a point. The footnotes, “commerical breaks” and “words from your sponsor” (the Corporation) also make the format a unique one that won’t appeal to all readers. But I hope you won’t let all that put you off giving this book a chance.


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“Representation matters everywhere, not just in fiction, but also in our everyday IRL lives” // Review of “Wonder Women” by Sam Maggs

Title: Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
Author: Sam Maggs
Genre:
non-fiction
Date Read:
28/06/2016 – 20/07/2016
Rating: ★★★☆

Review:

(Thanks to NetGalley and Quirk Books for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review).

Represenation matters. This is a huge thing. This goes for history class as much as it goes for Hollywood, and it is pretty appalling that the women featured in ths book have been completely ignored by history. So I have to thank Sam Maggs for bringing them to my attention, and I’ll definitely be going back through the book again to make notes of biographies and books written by the featured women to educate myself even more.

This book is divided into five broad chaptesr, Women of Science, Women of Medicine, Women of Espionage, Women of Innovation and Women of Adventure. Within each chapter, there are several longer biographies of five women, followed by shorter ones of several more, and at the end, an interview with a woman in each field. I had heard of very few of them, and hope this book gets a wide audience so that many more can also experience the wide range of incredible work done by these women. I really appreciated also the fact that while there probably were more Americans featured than any other nationalities, the book was not completely US-focused.

The one thing that did bother me was the writing style. In her acknowledgements, Sam Maggs thanks her editor for helping her strike the right balance between textbook and Tumblr, but for me, the writing was much closer to the Tumblr end of the spectrum than textbook. The very, very, very conversational tone was grating a lot of the time, especially given the number of authorial asides that I did not find as funny as I think the author hoped. I do wonder, however, if this is just a case of being the wrong age group for the book; I think it is probably aimed at younger girls, around the age of 15, and maybe it wouldn’t annoy the target audience quite as much.

In conclusion, I think everyone should take a look at this book, or at least take note of the names featured therein. Just be prepared to cringe a little.

Wonder Women will be available October 4th, 2016


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“Our sex need not primarily define who we are, what we are capable of.” // Review of “The Fictional Woman” by Tara Moss #aww2016

Title: The Fictional Woman
Author: Tara Moss
Audio book narrator: Tara Moss
Genre: Memoir/Non-fiction
Date Read: 20/06/2016 – 26/06/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I had been thinking for a while now that I really should be including a bit more non-fiction in my reading, and when I saw Tara Moss’ memoir available through my digital lending library, it seemed like a good place to start. It was a blog post written by Moss on the gender bias in book reviewing in Australia that gave rise to the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, so even when I was getting a little bored with some of the content of this book, I felt I should push through in order to be able to review it properly.

Tara Moss was born in Canada and embarked on an international modelling career at the age of 16. At 25, she quit modelling and published the first in a successful crime series, and has since followed that up with many other novels. Her experiences as a woman have been many and varied, and she discusses both the labels she gives herself and the labels others have imposed upon her over her career. She combines this with social commentary on the ways women are represented in media, and provides stats and significant backup for her arguments.

I found that the strength of this book were Tara’s personal anecdotes. It was both horrifying and fascinating to hear of the ins and outs of the modelling world, the sexism she experienced in different places she was sent to work, and some other entertaining stories that she included along the way. I am fairly sure I could hear her voice breaking as she talked about being raped at age 20, by a friend (as is actually statistically more likely that the narrative of the stranger in a dark alley), and I felt a lump in my own throat as I listened to her talk about the two miscarriages she experienced, and how miscarriage is so much more common than anyone realises.

The data that she also uses in her book is extremely important and is material that should be common knowledge for everyone. If this book leads someone to the startling surprises regarding such issues as pay gaps and other gendered issues, then that is great. But for someone like me, with even a passing interest in feminism already, I found that a lot of it was stuff I already knew, and in the chapters that were more social commentary than memoir, I found myself getting bored, as I was treading familiar ground. There were times when Tara’s points of view and arguments did not entirely line up with my own, and I appreciated the opportunity to consider why I disagreed with what she said. However, this was fairly rare.

Having said that, I realise that change happens very slowly, and that with movements such as feminism, often things have to be repeated over and over before those in power really get it. So from that perspective, I do appreciate and applaud Tara Moss weighing in on this important subject.


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(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

#ROW80 Check-in #5: In which dragons have been distracting

I mean actual dragons, that’s not a metaphor or anything. Actual dragons, in the book I’m reading. The book is Temeraire by Naomi Novik, and I like it so much I’ve been reading it on all my breaks at work, even though I usually use at least some of my break time as writing time. It has dragons (fierce ones and adorable just hatched ones, and everything in between), and battles and men in uniforms really and ships of the line and plucky female characters and really, what else does one want?

row80So there’s that, but I have managed to keep up with my writing. I ended up not needing to do much brainstorming; once I worked out where I was going with one particular scene, the rest just followed. The first 10,500 or so words can be read from beginning to end with no gaps, which is nice. My feminist tendencies are sneaking in more than I planned, not that I see this as an issue; at first, my MFC just got annoyed that my MMC was a bit of a dick sometimes and didn’t seem to think it was worth figuring out the proper way to treat her, but now a whole other character I hadn’t even planned has turned up in her workplace and is being an actual dick who will not learn, so she’s going to have to complain about him. I don’t envisage this particular little subplot taking up too much of the story, but it will add a bit of length I hadn’t expected. That’s where I’m up to at the moment. At time of writing this post, I have added 2524 words to the WIP this week, and will probably edge it up to 3000 before I go to bed tonight, since I’m halfway through a scene.

Incidentally, I think I have been converted to Scrivener this week. I put all my scenes into separate text parts in Scrivener so I could work out what I still needed and what needed to be reworked, and now I’ve realised I actually quite like formatting things to look like a real manuscript and the corkboards and lots of the other features as well. Guess I’ll actually be getting my money’s worth from it in the future.

As to other goals, well, choir started back on Thursday, and I went, so… check? While my uni courses don’t officially start until March 4, both course outlines have been put online, and if the course material starts getting uploaded, I’m thinking I will start getting to the library a bit earlier than March just to get a head start for myself. Assignments don’t sound too bad, but probably won’t be that much fun. Well, maybe the course on local history and archive collections might be fun, since that’s sort of the industry I work in (though my work is on a more national level without going into much detail). But these courses have a tendency to sound all right and then suck to do. Too bad I need the piece of paper to get any further, really. If I’m really lucky, my WIP will be just about finished by the time crunch time for assignments rolls around (in about mid-April), at which point writing will unfortunately fall off the radar for a bit.

Also,  just randomly, I will be changing my “official” Writing Night from Tuesday to Wednesday. I am starting Italian lessons with my friend Casey (whose family is Italian, though she second-generation Australian, so she’s never really had to learn) and since they are from 6-8 on a Tuesday, it’s unlikely I’ll feel like doing an hour of writing afterward, particularly considering we will have to travel a little afterward to get home. Learning the basics of Italian is one of my 101 Things in 1001 Days goals, so I’m pretty excited, even if I have felt poor this entire pay period after spending $330 on the course plus textbook (luckily they use the same textbook right through all their courses, it’ll “only” be $260 for any subsequent courses).

That’s it from me this week, I’ll see y’all at the Linky!~ Emily