When She Woke By Hillary Jordan
Published October 4, 2011
Mode read: Hardcover
Summary: Set in the future United States when the extreme right has taken over, When She Woke tells the story of a woman who has committed the crime of abortion but refuses to disclose the name of the father. It follows much the same story as The Scarlet Letter but instead of Hester Prynne’s scarlet A Hannah Payne is forced to have all of her skin turned scarlet. This “melachroming” is the government’s answer to crowded prisons and results in many deaths by citizens who don’t want criminals in their midst. Rather than risk death by vigilantes Hannah chooses to flee the country and soon learns the difficulties of keeping silent.
Bechdel Test?: Passes with flying colors (if you’ll pardon the pun). Hannah lives in a halfway house for the melachromed and has intense conversations about life and death with her housemates.
There are no words for how much I liked this book. From the opening scenes that are reminiscent of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to the brief mentions of Bowling Green, KY, this book had me turning the pages furiously. Hannah is a loveable character because she doesn’t complain about her circumstances but accepts that her choices have consequences. Though I don’t like to discuss political issues on my blog, this book seems to me to be a must read before the upcoming elections both for its discussion of women’s reproductive issues and its focus on what happens when you take away funding for the arts/start censoring.
Warnings: This book contains very strong political statements and discusses LGBTQ, reproductive rights, and religious issues.
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City of Women by David R. Gillham
Published August 7, 2012
Mode read: ARC
Summary: City of Women is set in Germany during the Second World War and tells the story of a young woman whose circumstances suddenly make it impossible to ignore Hitler’s mission. Sigrid appears to be the perfect Aryan woman, working for the cause and attending Party meetings, but when she begins an affair with an undercover Jew and meets a reckless girl with a death wish she becomes a link in the chain to move Jews out of the country.
Bechdel Test?: The title couldn’t be more appropriate. Filled with anecdotes of powerful women, there are many opportunities for them to discuss politics, religion, family life, and their innermost thoughts. My favorite scenes were when Gillham showed us the ways that the “city of women” learned to function independent of men — developing a new currency, language, and way of doing things.
I positively adored this book! Sorry if I seem to be gushing but I was so pleasantly surprised by this novel. War novels, even when they leave out a great deal of the combat, have never been my thing. I find long descriptions of battle tedious. However this portrayal of life on the ground, of what happens for everyone not on the front lines was exactly what I wanted.
The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams
Published August 7, 2012
Mode read: ARC
Summary: Bored with her life in Victorian London, Catherine Sorgeiul begins following a set of recent brutal murders in the newspaper. Her troubled past gives her insight into the killer’s motives so she begins writing an account of the crimes. When the killer begins leaving notes on her manuscript, Catherine must make a choice about how close to the murders she wants to get.
Bechdel Test?: Catherine talks to a lot of her female friends about the murders but the conversations seem wooden. This could just be from Catherine’s distaste for Victorian society but it quickly frustrated me.
Williams tries to create a connection between Catherine and the shadowy Jack the Ripper-type figure but ultimately fails. I was frustrated at how long it took for Catherine’s past to be revealed and when it finally was it was underwhelming. I was looking forward to a strong female character who took charge of a situation — either by having a serial killer past or detective skills, I’m not picky! — but what I got was a teenager with an overactive imagination who dramatized her past.
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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Published July 24, 2012
Mode read: ARC
Summary: The book follows the story of one middle-aged man’s journey across England by foot. When Harold Fry finds out that an old co-worker is dying, he immediately leaves his home and begins the journey to say goodbye. Though many people think Harold is crazy — including his wife — he continues his journey, largely without outside help. When the media begins following Harold the purpose of his walk gets distorted and he has to fight to remember why he started his journey in the first place.
Bechdel Test?: With a male main character, this doesn’t really come up. So much of the book is focused on Harold’s inner journey that there isn’t much time to see women conversing.
There are so many things to love about this book: the English countryside, a lovable (if a little silly) man, a broken family, an epic journey and a sweet premise. I was definitely pulled along for the ride (or walk as it were) with Harold Fry and I found myself wanting even more. If I am not mistaken, this is Joyce’s first novel and a rather amazing one at that! The only thing that would’ve made it more enjoyable for me is a little more action during certain chapters; at times I felt as though the contemplative silence Fry was feeling wasn’t quite enough to keep the story going.
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Shadow of Night: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy)
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Published July 10, 2012
*There are spoilers for A Discovery of Witches ahead.*
Summary: This book picks up just where A Discovery of Witches left off — Matthew and Diana have been forced to flee the present because the Congregation doesn’t approve of their interspecies relationship. Though she performed the spell, Diana wasn’t sure what time they were traveling too until they got there. Elizabethan England is everything that Diana hopes it will be and more. Because it is her area of study at Oxford, she easily becomes wrapped up in experiencing life in the past and in historical inquiry. However, it’s not all fun and games in the past (and really what fun would that be for a book?) Matthew and Diana have jobs to do while in the 1500s: they must find Ashmole 782 and Diana must learn to control her magic. All of this becomes more complicated when Matthew quickly reverts to his not-so-nice sixteenth-century behaviors in the past! Everyone in the present (Ysebeau, Sarah, Marcus, etc) quickly notices that by going back the two disrupted the timeline.
It should come as no surprise that I loved this book as much as Harkness’s last! Her characters are believable supernaturally, something that is not generally the case in the “Twilight” era. Diana is the scholar that I always wanted to be and I too always dreamed of going back to Elizabethan England. Everything that Diana and Matthew experience in the 1500s feels new and exciting, which is mostly due to Harkness’s own research interests. Deborah Harkness, like her fictional counterpart Diana, is an Elizabethan scholar. She wrote The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. I was taken with not only the historical setting but also the complex ways in which Harkness weaves together her characters. She knows so much about their back stories that it sometimes took me a little while to catch on to how certain people were connected (and it was a good thing!). I love a little challenge, and a history lesson, with my book.
Blogger’s Note: I received a review copy of this book from Viking.
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