Review: Ree Reyes Series by Michael R. Underwood

Geekomancy coverTitle: Geekomancy (Ree Reyes #1)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2012

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire the Slayer in this original urban fantasy eBook about Geekomancers—humans that derive supernatural powers from pop culture.

Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop slave to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.

When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic BOOM echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.

Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?

My review: 

There’s a lot to appreciate about this book, it revels in geekery in a way I can completely get behind. However, it is definitely a debut novel and suffers from some of the clunky-ness that I’ve associated with those at times. I liked this book, enjoyed reading it, but didn’t love it. I grabbed it from Google Books because I was invited to review the third book and wanted to read the others beforehand. It was definitely worth reading! And I definitely enjoyed it enough to keep reading the series.

I love Ree as a character, she came across really realistically to me. City mid-twenties woman, working, trying to become a screen writer, huge geek, dealing with the aftermath of a breakup. I loved the way she interacted with her friends over this – the way her friendships came across was one of my favourite parts of this novel! I loved the Rhyming Ladies and really enjoyed their supporting roles in the story. I also loved Ree’s Dad and I adore how supportive he is, takes the supernatural in his stride and supports his daughter. Ree is entirely the reason I kept reading, even though the initial writing was quite clunky and explained more than showed me and let me immerse myself in the story – that did improve. Ree is absolutely the kind of urban fantasy heroine that I can really get behind, she’s unique and interesting, her own person and not a cut out of anything – but I love that she recognises all the tropes and pop cultural references, it’s a bit tongue in cheek and I was quite amused by it.

I hated Eastwood’s character, if he’d been the protagonist or if Ree had liked him more I’d have been put off the series entirely. However, I adored Drake! He’s interesting, unique and I love the way he comes to this x-mancy world with his own brand of steampunk and science from a kind of Victorian era. Drake rocks. Drake is everything I ever want in a support character, and he’s not the burly hyper-masculine type of character either, he’s a much more interesting, unique male character that doesn’t rely on tropes of masculinity – it’s not his strength that matches up well with Ree, but his willingness to work with her, listen and be an awesome team capitalising on their mutual strengths. This was my other favourite aspect of this book (and series).

I really enjoyed this, it was so much fun and even though I didn’t get half the references, I appreciated the book being utterly full of them and I revelled in Ree’s enjoyment of pop culture. My geek is different to her geek but it definitely left me feeling somewhat validated in my own experience of geekery.

 

Celebromancy coverTitle: Celebromancy (Ree Reyes #2)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Fame has a magic all its own in the no-gossip-barred follow-up to Geekomancy. Ree Reyes gets her big screenwriting break, only to discover just how broken Hollywood actually is.

Things are looking up for urban fantasista Ree Reyes. She’s using her love of pop culture to fight monsters and protect her hometown as a Geekomancer, and now a real-live production company is shooting her television pilot script.

But nothing is easy in show business. When an invisible figure attacks the leading lady of the show, former-child star-turned-current-hot-mess Jane Konrad, Ree begins a school-of-hard-knocks education in the power of Celebromancy.

Attempting to help Jane Geekomancy-style with Jedi mind tricks and X-Men infiltration techniques, Ree learns more about movie magic than she ever intended. She also learns that real life has the craziest plots: not only must she lift a Hollywood-strength curse, but she needs to save her pilot, negotiate a bizarre love rhombus, and fight monsters straight out of the silver screen. All this without anyone getting killed or, worse, banished to the D-List.

My review: 

This book picks up soon after events in Geekomancy finish. One of Ree’s major dreams looks like it’s about to become true with a screenplay of hers having been picked up to shoot a pilot for pitching. I love that the show itself is not as much the focus and instead the business of getting it made is. I love Jane as a character and I found the magic division of celebromancy really interesting – and seems way too close to the truth of the cult of celebrity we see in play via  the media. Well played Underwood!

Ree and Drake continue to be one of my favourite hero pairings, they work so well together. I found the romantic tension believable and I loved the way Ree made a point of dealing with her issues herself and not making them someone else’s problem. I also really loved the romantic fling she ends up in with Jane – I loved the spontaneity of how it happened, I could really picture them together as the story unfolded. In this story Ree is mostly the hero of the story messing with her tv show and big deal, she does call Drake in to help, and others but it’s mostly about Ree saving the day and actually, I really fucking love that. I love Ree.

I continue to love the geekery – I love the way it’s pointed out that different people with different focuses to their x-mancy have a different set of specialised knowledge. That little moment was one of my favourite things. I also think that Underwood hits a better writing stride here, it’s far less clunky and explainy, things just happen and you’re taken up for the ride.  The queerness included in the book is delightful, it’s underplayed where necessary which comes across very genuine and natural, but it’s also a key part of what drives Ree’s motivation for the plot and saving Jane – I think it just works without being heavy handed.

Another great thing was a distinct minimising of Eastwood. I just dislike his character so much – I think that we’re actually supposed to do that, but it doesn’t really make for fun reading. On the other hand, I really liked Grognard and the tavern and that Ree gets to have another job that’s not with Eastwood. I’d absolutely frequent a tavern like this (not that I’d drink beer… but the cider sounds nice).

 

Attack the Geek coverTitle: Attack the Geek (Ree Reyes #2.5)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A side quest novella in the bestselling Geekomancy urban fantasy series—when D&D style adventures go from the tabletop to real life, look out!

Ree Reyes, urban fantasy heroine of Geekomancy, is working her regular barista/drink-slinger shift at Grognard’s when it all goes wrong. Everything.

As with Geekomancy (pop culture magic!) and its sequel Celebromancy (celebrity magic!), Attack of the Geek is perfect for anyone who wants to visit a world “where all the books and shows and movies and games [that you] love are a source of power, not only in psychological terms, but in practical, villain-pounding ones” (Marie Brennan, award-winning author of the Onyx Court Series).

My review: 

I really enjoyed this side quest, I especially liked the epic wave battling with all the other characters helping out. I adored getting to know Grognard better too! This was an out and out hero battle story and these are not usually to my taste, but I really enjoyed this. Ree continues to be an awesome protagonist and I adore her massively! I still hate Eastwood.

I was surprised when Lucretia turned out to be the villain, but not surprised that she used someone else to give up the rest of the crew – I was surprised that she involved so many that weren’t directly related to her grievances – it kind of goes against the way the community manages itself. However, I did like how people reacted and banded together.

This isn’t a big plotty novel, that’s not it’s point, it’s a fun little tangent that does further the overall story, but without taking itself too seriously. It’s a chance to see Ree demonstrate her awesomeness (and the others too).

 

Hexomancy coverTitle: Hexomancy (Ree Reyes #3)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

When Ree’s long time nemesis Lucretia is finally brought to trial and found guilty for the deadly attack on Grognard’s, the Geekomancer community breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Ree and her crew soon discover that Lucretia has three very angry, very dangerous sisters who won’t rest until Eastwood—a fellow Geekomancer—is killed.

What follows is an adventure packed with epic battles, a bit of romance, and enough geeky W00t moments to fill your monthly quota of adventure and fun.

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Finally I reached the book that I set out to review in the first place! I’m not sorry though because I enjoyed the ride so very much. While the first book in this series was quite clunky, as the series and the writer developed it improved greatly – as is often the case. I’m almost always willing to forgive first-book-clunk, if the story or characters are worth it. Ree is definitely one of those characters, she’s become a favourite for me and I love reading about her adventures!

Hexomancy picks up not long after the battle at Grognard’s in Attack the Geek. While Lucretia is held accountable for her actions (via a rather epic duel fought by Ree), trouble soon escalates as Lucretia has sisters who keep coming to finish off Eastwood. Now, personally, I don’t mind this – because I still really dislike his character. Part of how much I like Ree is that she also doesn’t like him much and trusts him even less. The plot of this book is as epic as the one in Celebromancy, and that really works for the kind of magic we’re talking about here – no half measures. I loved the differences in attack style between the different sisters and once again it was great to see Ree and Drake teamed together.

I’m also delighted that the romantic tension was address more directly in this book, I’m impressed at the way the breakup was handled and how Ree comes clean about her new secret life with her friends. I like their reactions too – it really came across to me as believable. Love, connection, and expectation of honesty and respect – and making amends, showing forgiveness when people mess up, recognising that inevitably, they do. It was great. Loved Drake’s realisations and love the way there’s still such a culture clash between Drake and Ree. This book spans much more time than the previous ones – months, almost a year as opposed to a few days or weeks and so it was nice to see the way Ree and Drake’s relationship developed over this time as well as how they were working to beat the sisters.

I appreciated the way the end game became cyber, from Eastwood’s old life. I am also pretty impressed with how one of the long story threads was incorporated into the is book arc and was resolved. The demon was back and was defeated, but not without a price – but it’s also one that makes sense and is one I like given the rest of what has come before in the story. Eastwood redeems himself here (but I still don’t like him).

Ree grows as a character, so does Drake. Grognard opens up more and the whole universe just becomes so much more like an old friend. This is not a standalone book, it benefits from being read as a series and I’m glad I decided to grab the books via Google Books to read them before reviewing book 3. The writing and voice in this book is much more confident, much smoother. I still really enjoy all the pop culture references – and I really like that Ree is developing her style of geekomancy with the media and power ups that she finds most useful – and I love that they’re the in between ones for maximal effect and not about showing off for the sake of it.

This is a great urban fantasy series, especially if you enjoy geek humour – I would suggest that you don’t have to get all the in-jokes or references to appreciate it, but that might be just me. If that kind of thing does bother you, this might not be for you. This book, this series was epic, awesome, fluffy, entertaining and satisfying on both story and character levels. I also really liked the covers, they look like how I’d imagine Ree to look and she’s not dressed or posed in ways that make me angry – she looks like a hero, my kind of hero.

AWW15: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Beast's Garden coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #7

Title: The Beast’s Garden

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Random House Australia, 2015

Genre: historical fiction, romance, fantasy, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.

 

My review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Beast’s Garden is one of my best books of 2015. This book is superbly written, deeply researched and provides insight into a time in history that is both complicated and horrifying. This is also my seventh review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015, which might be my most number of reviews yet!

Personally, I’m easily disturbed which leaves me unable to sleep and I avoid stimulus that is likely to put me into that state of upset and insomnia. World War II (and war in general) is one of those topics that I try to avoid more than passing detail on. However, being a fan of Forsyth’s writing meant that I took a chance on this book and its World War II setting – right in the heart of the action, Berlin no less! What a chance to take, it was so rewarding. This is not an easy book to read, this is not a comforting book to read, and it shouldn’t be. That’s not it’s purpose. It’s a retelling of a fairytale, but it’s not lighthearted and it’s much more in the tradition of the traditional cautional tales approach to fairytales. This book is not for everyone, but it is a book that is well worth reading. It tells of the atrocities of the war, of the concentration camps, of the dehumanising of Jewish people in Germany and Nazi occupied territory. While the telling is not gratuitous, it is honest and does not shy away from the genuine telling of these horrors. Despite my usual tendency to avoid this kind of experience, I am grateful to have read this book, it’s so meticulously researched, so carefully and beautifully written. It gives some small insight into events from a time that is in many ways removed from where we find ourselves today.

What I loved about this book was that through this story about these characters and these historical events, I got a much deeper understanding of history that was much more personal than what is covered in history classes generally. I got a tiny sense of what it might have been like to live through this war in Berlin, some understanding of how slowly and quickly things changed, what horror and endurance was involved in survival, the way Jewish people were demonised and made to be less than human beings. I got some tiny insight into real comprehension of the word ‘holocaust’ and ‘genocide’. I got insight into the realness of people involved in the various events, willing and unwilling. The normalcy of people carrying out orders was in many ways striking, although the mere idea of the Gestapo remains a faceless/nameless horror to me and that I cannot comprehend.

The success of this story comes from how it is told. It is a story of Ava and her family, her friends, and eventually of her husband. Through Ava’s eyes everything unfolds and I felt very connected to her experiences  and emotional responses to events. I could almost picture sitting in rooms with her where political rebellion – treason – was planned, anguish wailed, and silence kept lest discovery be made. Leo is the ‘Beast’ of this tale, and he’s an interesting character – through him I could see the twisted nature of political ideals, being in too deep, but trying to do the right thing covertly.

Leo and Ava’s romance is a thread of gentleness and beauty amongst the rest of the events surrounding them. It unfolds awkwardly and with obvious difficulty being that Leo is a Nazi and Ava questions her ability to trust him at all. What I really found interesting about their relationship and it seemed very realistic for the time events taking place is that they married in haste, they knew each other but not deeply – they cared, perhaps were smitten, but it was largely a means to protect Ava from persecution. As the war and their early marriage unfolds, they keep secrets from one another – secrets they each believe are a necessity and yet it is so very satisfying for the reader when they come to terms and realise they are on the same side together, they believe the same things and are committed to the same goals. This kind of experience gives a depth to this romance that can be lacking in other books, it’s partly about trust and commitment, about communication but also about growing together, deliberately.

World War II was a true horror visited upon the human race, it was gratuitous and obscene, it seems from here so much a dark time. And although it seems so very far removed from where we are today, I cannot help but look at what we in Australia are doing to our First Peoples and refugees and asylum seekers. That’s another aspect of what I got out of this book, the inescapable sense of how deep an impact that war had on people, on families, societies, cultures… surely it is a lesson we’ve learned and should not need to learn again. I hope that I do not hope in vain.

The Beast’s Garden is a deep book, a demanding book, and it is so very rewarding to read. Although I tried to discipline myself to not read it before going to sleep at night, I honestly couldn’t put it down once I started, it was so compelling. I originally finished this book in mid-September, but I loved it so much, and felt so strongly about it that it’s only now that I’ve had the brain space to be able to do justice to a review (I hope!). I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

 

 

More Recent Meal Plans

This time I’m going to try and bunch them up in the general fortnightish organisation that they started out in… we’ll see how that goes. The point of meal planning for me, for our little poly family comes down to a few things:

  • Saving money on groceries
  • Eating really well, really delicious food that is exciting, and doesn’t make us feel like we’re missing out on eating out by being poor.
  • Avoiding the temptation of takeaway which invariably is not as satisfying as going out to a proper restaurant and/or I could have made a decent version myself.
  • Teaching Fox to cook, hoping he comes to enjoy it as much as I do in his own way.
  • Getting to try out awesome recipes and enjoy the results, also to devise my own recipes and improvements on things.

19th September Meal Plan:

  • Pasta Piselli – pasta, peas, chicken broth and parmesan. A simple pasta, but not my favourite of these although it was perfectly tasty.
  • Spiced lamb cutlets with sweet potato and spinach risotto – this was in part to use up a sweet potato and spinach I had, but also I had lamb racks in the freezer I’d gotten cheap on a previous shop. It turned out really well and reminded me why I love lamb cutlets so much even if they’re usually too expensive to indulge in. Delicious little morsals – ours were spiced with a lavender salt that goes so well with either lamb or beef.
  • Yottam Ottolenghi’s Pastitsio – this recipe took a bit for me to get to, but my goodness, when I did…. Wow. On the strength of how good this tasted, I bought his new recipe book Nopi (on special). This was glorious – first time I think I’ve ever made a ‘proper’ Bechamel sauce, and now I get why you may want to bother with that. The sauce was beautifully flavoured and uniquely flavoured – not like any cottage pie or Bolognaise I’ve seen in other recipes or made before. I *highly* recommend this recipe, it’s so delicious and worth the effort. We used maccaroni as that’s what we had, and it worked well – any small tube like pasta works well I think. (The other recipes on this link are also intriguing).
  • Boosted JookBoosted Jook – this is the first time I’ve really tried any kind of congee, because mostly the options on offer involve seafood which is not appealing at all to me. I used the leftover Christmas turkey carcass I’d been saving and looking to use up, as the bone flavouring and wow it was delicious. We added Chinese sausage in ours with coriander and chilli – it was just so unbelievably good. I can absolutely see why people have this as a go-to thing for when they’re sick, it’s perfect for it. Also easy to make and really variable depending on the flavourings you have on hand, or are inspired by.
  • Proscuitto and Mushroom Spaghetti Bolognaise – this was a great recipe, simple and a nice twice on the usual Bolognaise pasta, but not in ways that are super expensive as the amount of prosciutto is pretty small, and it’s fairly cheap from the markets.
  • Chicken Peratal – interesting looking curry in a different style from those we’ve made before. It was really flavourful and I really love making things from whole spices rather than ‘use x curry paste’.
  • Cacio e Pepe – one of the simple pastas that is often a last minute ‘cbf’ lifesaver. It’s simple, flavourful and there’s very little to it – somehow these recipes are always the ones that pack more flavour from tiny beginnings. Love it.
  • Lamb Shanks with Creamy Parmesan Risoni – this is one that we didn’t do because the weather turned too hot to contemplate shanks and slow cooking. It is still a recipe I want to make though.
  • Chicken Provencale – This was a great recipe, flavourful and worth the effort of roasting the capsicums (I say this even though I didn’t have to do the roasting – Ral cooked most of this fortnight as I was in essay hell).
  • Indian Lamb Curry, with goat – we didn’t get to this for the same reason we didn’t make the lamb shanks. The weather was hot enough that the idea just didn’t work. Dear Melbourne, never change with your mercurial weather, I love you so.
  • Balsamic Lamb Salad – this remains on the meal plan – it’s been pushed forward a couple of times now, no particular reason, it just hasn’t appealed to make specifically yet.
  • Blood Orange and Vanilla Panna Cotta – a dessert I made because blood oranges are in season and are glorious! Also, creamy gelled desserts are the best – this one made with agar is also vegetarian friendly. My first time using agar and it’s awesome, would love some agar powder rather than the bars though.

3rd October Meal Plan

  • Open Lasange with Mushrooms, Tarragon and Goat's CurdOpen Lasagne with Mushrooms, Tarragon and Goat’s Curd – this was glorious! We made our own pasta and everything, it was just amazing. The mushrooms were so flavourful, the tarragon and goats cheese a perfect compliment. I want to try this style of lasagne with other flavourings too as it was both light and satisfying, but a much better style of lasagne for Summer.
  • Beef skewers with broccoli, capsicum and red onion on the BBQ, turned out fantastic, despite the fact that we forgot that we’d planned to drizzle them after cooking with balsamic vinegar. Served with a classic potato salad – so very good on a warm night.
  • Ricotta and Chive Gnocchi – we finally got to making this! We’d planned to fry it, but I didn’t in the end as the sauce I’d made to go with it was ready – I’d planned to brown butter and sage, but didn’t have any sage or pumpkin at the time. We had *heaps* of gnocchi left over too.
  • Citrus, Ginger and Tofu Salad – we tweaked this a bit and it was a stir fry rather than a salad but it was really tasty, the tofu was baked and took in the flavourings really well, definitely want to make this again over the warmer months.
  • Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Corn and Cilantro – or red capsicum soup with corn and coriander. This came together on a day where nothing seemed to quite go smoothly, but it was so worth it once we served it up. All the flavour came together beautifully and the lightly sautéed corn was just perfect.
  • Petits Pois à la Française Redux – this recipe has become a new favourite, grilled lettuce? Who knew?! We managed to get fresh peas for this and some really nice free range bacon. The creamy buttermilk dressing was light and brought everything together and it was just such a good dinner. Especially when we added poached chicken breast to it – want to make this again and again!
  • Gluten Free Peanut Sauce – the plan was to make this into something impromptu, but it’s still on the list at present and we haven’t made it yet. It’s a good option for ‘cbf’ nights as it’s easy and generally we have the ingredients for it to hand, and something to add to it to make it a meal.
  • Pomegranate Roast Lamb – we used pomegranate molasses instead of the fruit for this. The roast was cooked perfectly but the marinade didn’t really penetrate and so this was a little average for my taste. The dinner was overall great though because of the quality of the roast, but it wasn’t because of the recipe.
  • Chicken Marsala – this was fantastic, the chicken and sauce went perfectly with the spaghetti and I felt like I was eating from an Italian restaurant.
  • Roy Finamore’s Broccoli Cooked Forever – which I served on homemade pizza bases with buffalo mozarella added just as it came out of the oven. This broccoli recipe is divine – it’s rich and flavourful, decadent and with a hint of spice. I made mine with capers instead of anchovies so it’s also vegetarian (and easily vegan if you forgo the cheese).
  • Spanish Tomato Soup with Serrano HamSalmorejo – Cold Spanish Soup with Serrano Ham – I tweaked my approach to this recipe as I was using canned tomatoes, and so I cooked it up together for a bit and then let it come down pretty much to room temperature while I made the garnishes. It’s a great texture and flavoured soup, the garnishes really add to it and I can imagine that actually served cold that it’d be amazing!

I’ve just done the meal plan for the next fortnight, but mostly the recipes are from recipe books in the house and are not easy to link to. Maybe I’ll write a few up if I like them well enough. I also think I’ve finally managed to find the one place in my house to photograph meals that doesn’t yield an overt yellowing of the light. No idea why it happens but anyway, hopefully I’ll get better at photographing things and making them prettier (soft goal, I’m not attached to this, only to actually taking pictures and sharing them).

Review: Nirvana by J.R. Stewart

Nirvana coverTitle: Nirvana (Nirvana #1)

Author: J.R. Stewart

Publisher and Year: Blue Moon Publishers, 2015

Genre: YA, dystopian science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?

Animal activist and punk rock star Larissa Kenders lives in a dystopian world where the real and the virtual intermingle. After the disappearance of her soulmate, Andrew, Kenders finds solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world controlled by Hexagon. In Nirvana, anyone’s deepest desires may be realized – even visits with Andrew.

Although Kenders knows that this version of Andrew is virtual, when he asks for her assistance revealing Hexagon’s dark secret, she cannot help but comply. Soon after, Kenders and her closest allies find themselves in a battle with Hexagon, the very institution they have been taught to trust. After uncovering much more than she expected, Kenders’ biggest challenge is determining what is real – and what is virtual.

Nirvana is a fast-paced, page-turning young adult novel combining elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance. Part of a trilogy, this book introduces readers to a young woman who refuses to give up on the man she loves, even if it means taking on an entire government to do so.

My review: 

I loved the sound of this book, and I love the cover art. It’s gorgeous. I also really love the premise and synopsis – this is a great example of a book that captures the interest of the idle browser.

I liked the book and enjoyed reading it, the unique dystopian view is compelling and interesting, I liked the world building and would enjoy reading more in this world. Stewart has done an excellent job presenting a possible future governed by corporate interests over civil governance and environmental disaster. I thought that it was a little confused as to the fact that the ‘Enemy’ and the war was a propaganda campaign, but once that became clear I stopped wondering why the story was one-sided and why I hadn’t seen any interaction with the so-called enemy yet.

The narrative about the corporate secrecy, control, and profiteering is what worked best with this book, this element of the plot worked brilliantly. Unfortunately, it’s hard to connect with Kenders as a protagonist because despite her being the first person narrator of the story, she remains largely presented only through the eyes of the other male characters. From her dead husband, to the Corporal, her long time best friend Serge.

What affects connection with Kenders the most is that her crushing grief leaves her one dimensional – everything is about Andrew and it becomes much more his story, despite his absence than Kenders’. I also didn’t like the creepy control interaction going on with Serge trying to ‘protect’ her but also manipulate her into accepting a deeper relationship with him. I could do with much less creepy relationship dynamics in general in YA books – but since they’re a real threat every day I can get past that, but not without seeing better, healthier dynamics demonstrated – and relationships with dead/missing partners doesn’t really count for that. I really loved the setup of the book, the setup of the romance, Kenders and her band, Andrew trying to get to know her and get past crappy one-liners. I like how they connected and spent time together, and how the love between them blossomed was gorgeous! What I didn’t like is that by the time the present-day story takes place, that romance has subsumed all of Kenders feelings and personality – I know from the first part of the book that she’s not cardboard, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that. I don’t feel like she got to be as awesome as she was set up to be.

I really wanted the intrigue of the story to take me deeper and to bring Kenders out of her grief, have her discover more, and act on the knowledge she uncovers, the book focuses too much on the romantic plot element which to a point is satisfying and believable, but becomes forced and takes over what is really engaging and interesting about the story. I wanted to know more about Nirvana, about Hexagon, about how things got the way they are and what the other secondary characters like the Corporal, the psychologist and Serge think of things – it was there, but I wanted more of that and less of Kenders’ pining. Also, her familial backstory as a motivator is relevant but it was dwelt on in a way that I didn’t find that relevant to the central story. The presentation of this dystopia seems highly plausible, but other than Andrew’s disappearance I wonder what the big threat is – is it further environmental catastrophe and even scarcer resources, is it from Hexagon? Throughout the book that remained unclear to me.

While some books get by purely on characters, this book relies heavily on plot, which Stewert executes deftly. I’m left wanting answers to questions raised by the book and I look forward to the next book.

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Kricket Series by Amy A. Bartol, books 1-3

NetGalley Review

An eARC of these books was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I do have to note outright that I do not recommend these books, they are problematic in ways that are never resolved. It’s not romance, it’s rape culture with badly drawn tropes. These are directed toward a YA market, and given my issues with the story and characters, find this quite disturbing. 

Under Different Stars coverTitle: Under Different Stars (Kricket #1)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2013

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kricket Hollowell is normally not one to wish upon stars; she believes they’re rarely in her favor. Well versed at dodging caseworkers from Chicago’s foster care system, the past few years on her own have made Kricket an expert at the art of survival and blending in. With her 18th birthday fast approaching, she dreams of the day when she can stop running and find what her heart needs most: a home.

Trey Allairis hates Earth and doubts that anyone from his world can thrive here. What he’s learning of Kricket and her existence away from her true home only confirms his theory. But, when he and Kricket lie together under the stars of Ethar, counting them all may be easier than letting her go.

Kyon Ensin’s secrets number the stars; he knows more about Kricket’s gifts than anyone and plans to possess her because of them. He also knows she’s more valuable than any fire in the night sky. He’ll move the heavens and align them all in order to make her his own.

When everything in their world can be broken, will Kricket rely upon love to save her under different stars?

My review: 

Kricket is an interesting heroine, although seems to hit all the tropes for both looks and intelligence, plus a hard-luck past. Still, I like the way she engages, like the way the story begins. The writing tends toward info dumping, and it’s a bit slow in places, filled with tropes but not well done. I love tropes done well, but a lot of these made me cringe. Overall I quite liked the alternate universe in which Kricket finds herself. I read this because I was invested in her struggles (despite the make up of her character – although that was tempered somewhat by the fact that apparently that’s run of the mill in this alternate universe. Yes, I’m applying ‘handwavium’* with abandon here).

I kept reading this book (and the subsequent ones) because of some of the more disturbing plot elements and relationship dynamics that I hoped would be addressed. Relevant to my review for this book is the way that Kricket doesn’t seem to be able to make choices for herself and she ends up in various situations that aren’t great because of others’ who make decisions on her behalf. It’s very overtly gender essentialist although Kricket says all the right things about demanding independence – practically all the characters she meets who are male fall over themselves to be with her or have sex with her, and few end up having any genuine respect for her. Add that to the overdone over-protective streak of some of the characters once they decide she’s not the enemy and that they actually like/love her and want to look out for her, it doesn’t sit well. Kricket may not be a damsel in distress, but the other characters in the story try very hard to put her in that box.

And although in her own voice she rails against this – it’s frustrating to read. It’s also not an example I’d like to pass onto young people about how to navigate that kind of thing. Secondly, the development of the romance between Kricket and Trey is frankly unbelievable, I didn’t get the connection between them much at all – healthy respect and even friendship the way the other soldiers treated her, sure. But not romance. And on that note, while I’m good at handwaving and I’ve definitely done so for relationships I found problematic in other books, this romance didn’t sit right with me because of the differences in power dynamics as well as age and experience. Age and experience I can overlook in various contexts if it’s handled well, but I don’t think it was here and as such it came across as creepy – if less creepy than Kyon’s obsession with Kricket.

Overall I kept reading because I desperately wanted to read how things were addressed, dealt with, acknowledged, how Kricket empowered herself and what she did to get there. I could absolutely have gotten behind that. But… that’s not what happened in the first book. So I went onto the second, hoping that it was a bigger story building into something I could enjoy more and appreciate better.

 


Sea of Stars coverTitle: 
Sea of Stars (Kricket #2)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Kricket Hollowell was looking for her place in the world when she discovered that the universe was bigger—and more dangerous—than she had ever dreamed. Now, whisked across space to the planet Ethar, Kricket learns that her genetic ability to see the future makes her a sought-after commodity…and the catalyst for war between her star-crossed parents’ clans. According to Alameedan prophecy, one house will rise to power and the other will be completely wiped out, and Kricket’s precognition is believed to be the weapon that will tip the scales.

A target of both the Rafe and the Alameeda houses, Kricket finds protection—and a home—in the arms of Trey, her Etharian bodyguard-turned-boyfriend. But her visions of what’s to come disturb her deeply, especially since she must discover whether the gift of foresight will allow her to rewrite the future, or if her fate is as immovable as the stars.

My review: 

Book 2 of this series starts off looking up, but I felt like by the end it doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some nice character interaction moments, and I liked that Kricket got to save everyone once. I enjoyed that Kricket’s meeting with Charisma – Trey’s ex partner – was positive, although it did come across as a little saccharine. Also what the actual fuck is with the patriarchal nature of this worldset? It’s not actually worse than Earth on Ethar, but some of the overt views are really crap and again… it’s not something I’d want to give to other young adults as an example of dealing with this kind of stuff.

Aside from the few moments early on where Kricket gets to save herself and the others, she remains very much a commodity and I feel like this fact is reinforced well and truly above and beyond what is necessary. I don’t feel like her companions were effective in objecting to her status as someone seen as a commodity by others in their world. Also, in the end she ends up in the hands of the violent sociopath Kyon anyway. And is coerced into being a reluctant informant. I read speculative fiction because there’s enough of the real world to deal with on a daily basis, but this is straight out of something in my news feed. It’s nasty and insidious and is presented as though Kricket is a heroine for dealing with things, Kyon is presented as being insane but also as something of an antihero to sympathise with, Giffen is out to use her straight up – but at least he’s honest about it. Kricket’s so-called father is essentially meaningless in the story and the writing failed to give me any investment in the war at large overall – it was too impersonal and Kricket’s experiences were largely too removed from the war happening for it to be meaningful.

Again in reading this book I was left with a desperate sense of wanting it to be part of a larger story where Kricket gets to triumph for herself and the nasty, insidious, rape culture aspects of the story would be owned and dealt with in some way I could stomach. It didn’t happen, but I proceeded to the third book hoping, because it does read as though there’s a build up to some momentous event.

 

Darken the Stars coverTitle: Darken the Stars (Kricket #3)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kyon Ensin finally has what he’s always wanted: possession of Kricket Hollowell, the priestess who foresees the future. Together, their combined power will be unrivaled. Kricket, however, doesn’t crave the crown of Ethar—she has an unbreakable desire to live life on her own terms, a life that she desperately wants to share with her love, Trey Allairis.

As conspiracies rage in the war for Ethar, Kricket’s so-called allies want to use her as a spy. Even those held closest cannot be trusted—including Astrid, her sister, and Giffen, a member of a mysterious order with a hidden agenda. But Kricket’s resolve will not allow her to be used as anyone’s pawn, even as the Brotherhood sharpens its plans to cut out her heart.

As the destiny prophesied by her mother approaches, Kricket will backtrack through her fiery future to reshape it. For she knows one thing above all else: the only person she can truly count on is herself.

My review: 

I very nearly did not finish this book because the rape culture and romanticising of domestic/intimate partner violence was a significant part of the story throughout most of the book. It sat really uncomfortably with me. At this point having invested two previous books, I was quite invested in Kricket as a character (having long handwaved the badly drawn tropes of her character make up), but it was just grim to read – and not in a good way. It’s like watching some of the worst elements of society unfold before you, but painted in pretty colours as though it will hide the ugliness. Plenty of people think these books are the best ever, that they’re super romantic and so on so clearly that’s worked but I’m reading this with constant discomfort.

I liked that Kricket managed to escape with another of the priestesses back to Earth. The ending is both satisfying and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth – it’s not the empowerment I’d wanted for Kricket, but it is freedom and one she’s chosen. At no point do any of the relationships that Kricket is invested in really come through for her, not her sister, not her father, not Trey or the soldiers, certainly not Kyon. It’s just her surrounded by a whole lot of betrayal and sacrificial expectations. I feel like Kricket both simultaneously rejected and embraced the martyrdom of the story outcome, it’s part of the bad taste I think.

I doubt this is the end of the series, but I doubt I can be convinced to read any others. I can deal with this ending and write this whole experience of this series off as a bad idea, and evidence that just because you can read a book, and just because you hope that it will all come out in the wash, doesn’t mean you should read it, doesn’t mean the crap will be addressed. I should know that already, but apparently it’s one of those lessons you need to learn more than once.

I do not recommend these books at all. They do not take you to a good place, they do not leave you in a good place. They are not good examples of pretty much anything for young adult readers. The tropes are badly drawn and anything interesting is overwhelmed by the creepy rape culture factor. I’ve gone to the trouble to share my reviews and write up this post because I think it is incredibly important to challenge problematic things and to say what’s not okay about them.

 

*Handwavium refers to my ability and perceived need to handwave elements of something that I either find unbelievable, out of place, badly used tropes, or sometimes even offensive. (If I stopped watching and reading anything that was problematic well, I would read and watch very little, and that’s not how I roll, considered criticism and engagement for the win.)

AWW15: Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres

Mythmaker coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #6

Title: Mythmaker (Peacemaker 2)

Author: Marianne de Pierres

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, environmental fiction, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets… untidy.

My review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What a great continuation from PeacemakerMythmaker is the new book in this series and it picks up where the last book left off with Birrimun Park still under threat by Mythos, a largely unknown enemy. This book, this series has such grand style about it! Fantastic characters that live up to their outlandish names, government conspiracy, political intrigue, environmental dystopia, the unknown alien enemy, tiny hints of romance – but nothing trite or easy. This book reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold in the way it blends different sub-genres to get the best telling of a story, and I devoured every word and was left desperately wishing for more! Book two of a series, Mythmaker benefits greatly from reading Peacemaker first, as it builds on the story begun in book one and is clearly working towards a grand conclusion. Having read much of de Pierres’ work, it will be well worth the wait! I reviewed Peacemaker  not long ago if the sound of this series interests you.

This book evokes a believable imagining of a near-future Australian not-quite dystopia. The supercity setting with overpopulation and one remaining nature reserve in Birrimun Park seems real enough to send chills down your spine. One of the elements I particularly liked about Mythmaker was how technology was both an ally and an enemy. Issues with lack of citizen privacy exist, there’s a sense of constant surveillance or close to it, but it also seems to be something that can be manoeuvred around. And similarly, there are limits to the information that can be easily obtained by the agency Virgin is working for with Nate Sixkiller. In this book, technology is used as tool and not as a crutch for the story, something that isn’t always done well but here it’s quite apparent. It’s also clear that the government agency that Virgin is forced to join forces with isn’t telling her everything, but she has great friends and the odd unlikely ally or two that help her get to the bottom of things. This too is what is satisfying, a cast of characters and not one lone hero with the weight of the world on their shoulders – there are always other people involved.

I love the way Virgin isn’t satisfied with being put in a place and told to do a certain thing. She takes the role she’s been given and the constraints and uses them to do things her own way. Also, I really love the way Caro’s role in the story and as Virgin’s friend is continued and expanded as it feels very real to me. This is something that I’ve noticed particularly with de Pierres’ writing is that she writes friendship beautifully, it’s deeply satisfying. If you’re someone who reads for great friendship, then you can’t go past the friendships and character dynamics created in this book, and others by the author (I’d particularly recommend the Tara Sharp books for friendship dynamics, and the Sentients of Orion series for intricate, complex and compelling character dynamics).  All of the characters and not just the protagonists in this series are colourful and so deftly written I can almost picture them as I read, almost hear their voices when they speak – like Papa Brise, Chef Dab, Caro and Greta. I love this and it’s often what has me fall in love with a book or series.

More and more this style of urban fantasy is what I’m drawn to. Stories of a city, stories of a place, but not an old-world foreign, medieval style place. I love the weave of fantasy with modernity! And I love the way that books like this can project into the future the concerns of the present, the consequences of our lack of environmental foresight, the threat of corporate and government oversight and what that change in the context of citizenship and freedom may look like. I love the Australia that is at the heart of this book, it’s a layered mythology that is anything but stereotypical. Instead, it comes across as familiar to those of us who live here, and I think creates an inside view and sense of knowing for readers from beyond Australia’s shores; not in a way that evokes typical imagery or landmarks, it’s deeper and more subtle than that.

If you are looking for unique, beautifully written urban fantasy. This series is for you, Peacemaker and Mythmaker are visionary and deeply satisfying books to read. Mythmaker continues what Peacemaker started ramping up the action, with even higher stakes, doesn’t let up and definitely doesn’t disappoint.

 

Recent Listening

I work in an agency doing content things, it’s a dynamic place to work and is busy and quite open – very collaborative and has lots of informal space usage encouraged. I *love* this about it. I also love that most of us use headphones for when we want to get stuck into something and not engage outwardly (also useful for when the music playing is not to your taste).  That means that aside from my Pandora stations, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. I’ve been loving this so much! So I thought I’d share what I’d happened upon recently. Feel free to tell me if you find something new you love, or if you already love these things squee with me about how amazing and wonderful they are!

The Wheeler Centre Podcasts

Walking the Walk: Next Steps Against Family Violence: Such amazing women speakers, speaking candidly and critically,  in detail about family violence and how it is so very gendered.  There was also a great question at the end about family violence that happens in non hetero- or gender- normative situations and that was well asked, and well acknowledged by the speakers I thought. The whole issue is layered and complex, it’s not as simple as any of the slogans would have us believe. At the root of it is entitlement, and that invariably almost always leads back to sociocultural norms that are taught, learned and reinforced at every turn.

The F Word: Aboriginality: I loved this podcast, it was so interesting to listen to the speakers and it is glad to see Aboriginal speakers prioritised here and having the chance to speak from their experiences about what is important to them. It’s hard to describe how this was different from what is generally a very white feminism in Australia, I don’t quite have the words, but it was there and it was awesome – more feminism like this. More everything that includes and celebrates Indigenous Australian perspectives and expertise.

Galactic Suburbia

I love this podcast and it’s the first one I ever fell in love with. I devoured three episodes recently, not quite in order as I’m saving the Tiptree Spoilerifics for when I’ve read the books (I know it’s not necessary, but it’s helpful incentive to read the books and I want to do it this way). Speculative fiction and feminism, discussed by three brilliant, articulate women. So fucking awesome. Galactic Suburbia has a Patreon campaign, maybe you’d be interested in supporting it?

126: Hugos!: All the Hugos Ceremony aftermath! I watched the twitterstream live, but not the actual livestream (I am edging my way back into awards gently). It was awesome to be on twitter and experiencing all the interaction and brilliant commentary by so many people! I loved that part of it. Also, I am really pleased about the results, and it’s gone a reasonably long way to restoring my faith in fandom for awards, which has been (a lot) lacking for a few years.

128: 2 September 2015: Interesting data thanks to work by Nicola Griffiths crunching numbers relating to awards shortlists and winners, discussions about diversity panels and how after a certain point they’re not the conversation you need to be having and putting those ‘diverse’ labelled people on – they’re the people you should be including on all the OTHER discussions, because actually, that’s what diversity genuinely looks like. Lots of smart discussion, as usual. I love it.

129: 16 September 2015: Discussion of Australian politics and the recent Spill which has given us Malcolm Turnbull as our new Prime Minister. It’s a great discussion of our political system at present and how, it’s a bit of a joke. I’m sure there was some great commentary about the ability to win elections is not an indication of competency to govern – but I’m seeing a bunch of similar commentary around in relation to our government at present so it’s all a bit blurred together. In particular listening to the politics discussion, I love that sense of knowing that I was far from alone being glued to the coverage that night. Also acknowledgement of that thing where, nothing has really changed with the change of who’s in the top job – but so many of us have *hated* Abbott for so long and so much, that seeing him gone couldn’t be anything other than a pleasant relief. Even if you wake up to something of an ongoing hangover the next day.

Fangirl Happy Hour

It’s all thanks to Galactic Suburbia that I came across Fangirl Happy Hour, but I’m so glad I did! I love Ana and Renay! They’re so great to listen to! I love their enthusiasm! I love that they have such different and similar tastes and that they support this for each other so delightfully! It’s so charming! Speculative fiction in all it’s genre awesomeness from a perspective that brings things to my attention that I am actually interested in, with recommendations that I can trust in whether I’ll like something or not. I just can’t get enough, I inhaled four episodes:

14: ALL the Recommendations: Wow! So many recommendations! It is still one of the things on my to-do list to go through the show notes and add a bunch of the things to my reading/watching list! Not the least of which is their list of 81 cool podcasts… apparently I’ve plunged deeply back into podcast listening without even trying!

15: Three Out of Five Space Bees: This was a great episode, I almost wanted to read the ‘Hawkeye’ comic (I am not a comics person at this point in time). I really enjoyed the discussion of ‘Uprooted’ which is Naomi Novik’s new book and sounds fantastic.

16: Kate Elliott: Panel Rebel: This was such a fun podcast to listen to! Kate Elliott was a marvellous guest and I am now wondering how I never read any of her stuff before – she writes right within the genre spaces that I love. So, pretty much all her books are on my to-read list now.

17: Sigourney Weavering: I felt so much for Ana in this episode – I would have been equally upset by the treatment by the staffer at the con when she was trying to find out about the photo shoot stuff. How fucking rude. I really loved the discussion in this episode about the weight of history in the fandom/umbrella genre – and how sometimes it can be nice to try and read that, but it should never be imperative. Also, sometimes you have to make your own historical touchstones, and share them – hopefully others will also appreciate them, but saying something IS like this and that X book IS quintessential and you’re not a ‘real’ fan without it, is crap. I’m not buying. I’ve still never read Asimov or Heinlein, or Clark, or a bunch of others and honestly… I probably won’t. It’s not relevant history for me – it doesn’t enhance my experience of reading in this fandom/genre umbrella.

Feminist Frequency

Today I got around to listening to the latest in Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency series about Tropes in Video Games. The most recent topic of discussion is women as reward, how that works and what it looks like, what it means in the context of gaming, designer/developer respect for women, and perpetuating and reinforcing through creating incentives out of women as objects/rewards, the sense of male entitlement that is prevalent in our patriarchal society. It’s a brilliant critique, I really loved the way she ties it all into that entitlement and how it differs in effect in gaming rather than movies, television, books or comics – the nature is the challenge, achievement and reward – interactivity and making women rewards. Not people. Rewards. Which is to say, the games make a massive assumption that gamers are pretty much cis, male, straight, and not for example women, or non-binary gendered, or queer. Anita says it much better than I do, go watch her awesome videos:

 

The Misandry Hour:

First episode just dropped of Clementine Ford’s new project and IT’S AWESOME. It’s so awesome. In case you weren’t sure, the title is a tongue in cheek poke at the whole idea and myth surrounding misandry. There is a reasonable portion of the episode devoted to addressing this idea of misandry and what it comes down to is that any cultural level hatred that any group of women could level against men, cannot bring to bear the same influence, power and social inequality experienced by women. It’s not the same playing field, and to suggest that it is, frankly is part of the problem. The guests that Clementine invites along this episode are awesome, they’re interesting to listen to and the whole conversation is in depth crunchy feminism – it’s confronting and uncomfortable in places about our individual thinking processes, our own conditioning and how we engage and why. I didn’t know that I was desperate for this until I listened to it, but wow, it was so very much what I needed. This podcast is the product of a Patreon campaign for the express purpose of valuing women’s work and time, so maybe consider supporting it if you’d like?

Sharing ongoing meal planning experiences

So the whole meal planning thing has taken root in our household, and this is something I’m glad about as I think it makes a bunch of things easier – especially given my particular role in our three person household is managing of food decisions and a large chunk of the cooking. I’ve been using a Pinterest board to track my cooking and recipes so that both the result and the recipe are in roughly the same location, so take a look there if you’re interested. Below is a few dot points on general things I’ve learned in this meal planning process, mostly particular to our own situation but maybe useful for readers too, and below that a bunch of recipes and my commentary about making them, or not, and what worked and didn’t.

  • You need to work out what you need out of your food – do you just need it to do dinner and not have leftovers cluttering up the fridge. or do you actually need leftovers for lunches and frozen meals for later?
  • The last point is a necessary thing to try and figure out about your needs because that influences how many recipes/meals you need and also what kind of things you might pick for the fortnight. Roughly I’ve worked out that including some leftovers for lunches/frozen meals (either or) we need 10-12 meals/recipes per fortnight.
  • This is dependent on the activities of the fortnight, if 2 of us are out every day at uni and need lunches, that’s a factor, but if one of us is home most of the time, different provisions are more useful.
  • It’s probably important to build in some flexibility – you can plot out a plan for what most nights are going to look like, but having gaps where you can either eat leftovers, or do something spontaneous can be useful (especially if you have back up super cheap/easy options on hand).
  • This is hard but worth it, but I really notice that having a well stocked pantry helps with variety and awesomeness of things I can make cheaply. The hard part of this is knowing what particular ingredients like vinegars, sauces, spices etc are useful for you and how you like to cook and eat. Then the next thing is to spread out across shopping trips buying and maintaining those things so that they’re generally on hand, but not an onerous expense.
  • I’m still noticing and marvelling at the difference it makes to have homemade frozen stock on hand, it saves a massive amount of time because they’ve already simmered for ages, plus the ingredients are super cheap and often can be done using up a bunch of kitchen scraps that would otherwise go to waste.
  • We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to divest from supermarket meat, mostly we were avoiding it anyway but convenience kept us hooked for a while. The straw was just the lack of quality and the limited range/flexibility. Also, it’s not really cheaper than the cost of meat at butchers I can find at markets near to me – this may differ for you. I’d love to do a free range meat delivery but I’m not that organised yet, plus it’s a bit more expensive than I can afford right now. Still, we’re enjoying the bounty of better quality meat, and I’ve had some great luck with specials on cuts of meat that I really love – like lamb racks/cutlets.

So some of the meal planning I have done in the recent months – note this is the plan and not it’s execution. These links are from mid July through until the end of August. There’s a bunch of stuff here and I initially tried to plot it out by meal plan sections but it’s been a bit too long for that to make sense. I’ll try and do it for the current fortnight’s plan in another post.

  • Salmon fillets with blender Bearnaise – this didn’t happen and the ‘recipe’ was mostly just to fuel an idea that would work better from us (I like some fish, but not salmon generally).
  • ‘No Time’ bread – currently my favourite go-to bread. I do it a long way because we don’t have a microwave, but the rising time is a fraction of what is needed otherwise. Also the texture is great and flavour really pleasing.
  • Asparagus with Sage Butter Pasta – this pre-dates my plan to try and focus on more seasonal fruit and veg, but wasn’t my favourite asparagus or buttered pasta recipe.Asparagus and Sage Butter Pasta
  • Pasta with Lemony Sauce – I haven’t yet made my own pasta for this, although the recipe suggests doing so (I think it will be awesome and plan to do so at some point). This is another simple sauce that does a lot with very little. Love this one.
  • Buttermilk and Oatmeal bread – I had buttermilk to use up and I was curious. Also, this is a period in which I was home a lot, so had time to bake. This was a great bread – a little sweet for my taste as an every day bread but it was *delicious*.
  • Butter Chicken – one recipe I found that looked like it was worth trying – and it definitely produced a good butter chicken-y type flavour, which was reminiscent of getting good Indian food, but not really there at all as far as the overall look and feel go. I now have two other recipes from friends who say they are awesome, so I’m keen to try those at some stage too.
  • Broccoli, Parmesan and Lemon Soup – had leftover broccoli and this was a spectacularly good use for it! Great soup, so much flavour and each element was apparent! Easy and delicious to make, will definitely become part of the winter soup staples.
  • Spiced Lamb Casserole with Thyme Dumplings – made this with kangaroo which worked really well, the dumplings were light and fluffy. I used quince jam I had in the fridge instead of quince paste which was great. This is a recipe that appealed to me as a stew but especially because it doesn’t rely on tomato for flavour (I was a bit over tomato dominated flavour things at this point).
  • Pork with Cider and Cream – this recipe was fantastic! So good, so tasty! Loved it from start to finish! We had the pork cheap from a previous market shop where pork was on sale, used frozen broad beans and easily justified a bottle of cider to try this out – so worth it. Highly recommended.
  • Made roast chicken – had originally intended to make Barbara Kafka’s Simplest Roast Chicken, but it was a night where I was with Fox in the kitchen and I just showed him how to make a roast chicken on the fly by feel – not intentionally, but getting him to touch the chicken took enough effort that I didn’t want to fuss with a recipe – I’d still like to try this one though.Fox's First Roast Chicken Dinner
  • Made pull-apart rolls in preparation for making these Panko crusted fish sticks with lime and tarragon aioli into fish burgers, but they were tiny – so we had sliders! They were so cute, but next time I’ll make bigger rolls (the recipe did indicate they were dinner rolls, I should have realised).
  • Red Currant and Rosemary Lamb Shanks – this was another recipe that I was drawn to because of the lack of tomato dominance. It was a bit of a hunt for the red currant sauce (which had been in the supermarket the week before!) but it all worked out. The sauce didn’t thicken as much as I’d have liked for this so I’ll tweak that to try and have that happen next time, but it was flavourful and I do want to make it again.
  • Ginger’s Lamb Vadouvan Chili – this recipe was on the list but didn’t get made, it’s still one I’d really like to make, but it might be getting a bit too warm in the year for it.
  • In this fortnight, I also made chicken stock, which turned out to be a particularly good batch.
  • More baking, I made Bette’s Best Sour Cream Cake – which lasted the entire week and was *delicious* It was moist and flavourful, plus was versatile. We had it with cream and cherries one night as dessert.Bette's Best Sour Cream Cake with cherries and cream
  • One of my partners from Perth was visiting, is vegetarian and wanted to learn to cook. So we spent a chunk of time on that for his benefit. One of the things we cooked was Jane Grigson’s Celery Soup, which even if you don’t like celery, is utterly gorgeous and well worth trying.
  • Another dish that I tried to teach my partner is Andrew Feinberg’s Roasted Broccoli Frittata which is absolutely one of my favourite recipe finds. This is gorgeous, glorious, utterly incredible. Do it as the recipe suggests, cutting corners means you miss out on the delicious custard-y texture which would be a shame indeed.
  • We were out with friends and there were burgers, so we needed to come home and make burgers. Ral made *amazing* homemade burgers, with Wonder Fries – and it was just so so so good. (Vegetarian partner was off exploring Melbourne this night).
  • Broccoli Pasta Bake – my own recipe, that I want to write up at some point because my cheese sauce rocked, and it’s gotten better and better each time I do it. When all else fails for inspiration, fresh broccoli and cauliflower (including the stems), cheese sauce and cheese with breadcrumbs on top.
  • Another easy pasta dish, Easiest Alfredo Sauce, aimed at teaching my visiting partner – but he was struggling with this idea of what cooking consistently meant so he begged off for this. We made this sauce for a fresh pasta we bought from the markets – goats cheese and truffle ravioli. We added the broccoli for freshness and it came together beautifully.
  • I had on my list of meal plans for quite a while to make this Traditional Beef Daube, it gave me the runaround with ingredients and being tired and not reading the preparation properly – I totally flaked on it. But, it was so worth it in the end, rich flavours that just made us all happy. Would definitely make this again.
  • More pasta – it’s a staple in our house and an easy way to get Fox to cook as it’s the kind of cooking he’s most comfortable with. So we made Donna Hay’s Pasta with Pumpkin and Sage Brown Butter. That and we had sage to use up. This pasta with sage was much better than the other one – I think I’ll use this brown butter technique with the asparagus recipe in order to bring out the best in it next time.
  • There was in August this magical day that heralded the warmer weather to come and it was all the excuse we needed! We barbecued a flat chicken a seasoning mix called ‘Duck Duck Goose’ that had fennel, juniper berries, cassia, star anise, Sichuan pepper, orange peel, cloves and marjoram. It went on the charcoal BBQ and was so delicious! For sides I made these Roasted Pomegranate Carrots, and Lemony Roasted Cauliflower with Oregano and Garlic – both of these were absolute winners as sides, I’ve made both again since.
  • I love that soup has become such an easy go-to recipe. This Speedy Tuscan White Bean Soup came together really well – despite the canned beans (which can sometimes have a weird flavour from being canned). We added bacon to the top of this and Ral fried slices of bread that were so thin they became these delicious crouton slices – it felt like a much fancier dinner than it actually was, which is always nice in a fortnight where the food budget is a bit gloomy.

Presenting the 88th Down Under Feminists Carnival

DUFC LogoGreetings all! I have sumptuous carnival for you to feast upon this month! You may remember that I said this month I was running with a theme where I wanted to do a retrospective of past DUFC posts, and posts from previous months and years that might have been missed. People have been so generous in their submissions to me both for this current month and the retrospective and I’m humbled and delighted. And now, onto the feast!

 

DUFC Retrospective

Chally of Zero at the Bone wrote in 2012 about working towards the positive and how feminism shaped her view to think of people individually and to try and avoid assumptions as well as being more conscious of people’s boundaries.

Shae of Free Range in Suburbia blogged in 2014 this great post titled Live Louder where she talks about the trolls that try to bring her down and that she’s actually enjoying being a happy person, raising her kids and being herself fully. Love it!

In 2011 Bluebec wrote about Islamaphobia, prejudice, and discrimination faced by Muslim people in the US at the time, it seems rather timely to share her post How to radicalise your population now.

From Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town in 2007, Parenting While Female: “It’s not about you”, on breastfeeding in public and the default male gaze.

Earlier this year, Stephanie of No Award wrote about China through the looking glass about the way Western approval for fashion, design and success is apparently necessary. This post is also about how Western interpretations of certain Chinese fashion particularly period pieces can be appropriative and offensive. The best bit: Stephanie highlights the work of some Chinese designers and wow, their designs are gorgeous!

From Bluemilk in 2010, a post looking at rape and responsibility: ‘But why shouldn’t she take some responsibility too for the rape?’ This post is powerful, it’s written to be confrontational, to paint a crude comparison that absolutely covers all the standard arguments for why women should take *more* responsibility, only when you change that context only slightly and place a man in that same similar kind of situation, it no longer makes sense that he too is to blame. Moral of the story: women need to take *less* responsibility, not more.

Deborah from A Bee of a Certain Age wrote in 2013 some pointed remarks about research and the pregnancy police and our tendency to infantalise pregnant women.

In February, Emily of Mama Said wrote about this idea that as a parent you’re supposed to be grateful *all the time* when sometimes it’s actually perfectly reasonable to want your own bed to yourself. Especially if that’s not likely to happen.

Earlier this year Liz from No Award wrote about Melbourne and Chinese Pirates courtesy of The Argus, once Melbourne’s premier newspaper which has apparently since been digitised for all of you whom are interested in history.

Also 2011 by Bluebec is this post Dan Savage is still biphobic – I’m sure he means well but given the authority with which he speaks after all this time, it’s not really good enough by a long shot.

An extended transcript of Scarlett Harris’ interview with The Sex Myth author Rachel Hills,  originally featured in last month’s carnival (all very good links if you missed it).

Chally at Zero at the Bone in 2012 wrote about Nourishment and how food can bring us joy and connection, it’s not about being a good person or about denying and punishing yourself.

I love this semi-satirical post from Emily at Mama Said from July this year about how getting your baby to sleep. It’s all the things that you’re told from experts, and from every other parent and a few other things besides, it’s a spectacular rant, enjoy it and feel vindicated as needed.

No Award’s Stephanie on her own site back in 2014 about Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: Feminist Ghosts and Monstrous Women of Asia, in Stephanie’s own words: “8000 words on the monstrous women of Asia, feminism, and colonialism”.

This 2014 repost from Bluemilk, her Meanjin piece,  is a beautiful reflective piece on reading and re-reading, on consideration of the self in situations and moving forward.

In 2013, Stephanie from No Award wrote about solidarity for white women and the (white) face of aUStralian feminism regarding interracial narratives and Australia. This is particularly in relation to Australian consumption of US media amongst other things. There’s no perfect way to be across everything, but as always it’s important for us to examine what we’re consuming and why. There are some great links in this post.

And finally, one last piece from Bluebec, The legacy we leave, on sheltering our children from the hatefulness in the world – not from all knowledge of, but the hatefulness itself in the hope that we do not pass this along to them, that they may be better than us.

In May this year, Kate Iselin wrote for Kill Your Darlings about that catch all phrase ‘women’s interests’ which signals to us as always that men’s interests are the public interest and that anyone else remains ‘other’.

Back in 2011 Chally of Zero at the Bone wrote about when resistance looks like capitulation, talking about this idea of the feminine and not refusing it altogether, but making it optional, being able to play with it. Honestly I’m a fan of any post that quotes Luce Irigaray…

Also from Liz of No Award and earlier this year, was this excellent post about attending the #loveOzYA event as someone passionately invested in Australian YA books.

In 2012, Blue Milk wrote a piece on 10 rules for women blogging about their relationship woes. It’s a little bit depressing how relevant these ‘rules’ remain today.

A momentary break if you will, for my favourite cute kitten picture:

Fluffiest grey kitten, cleaning his paws. Text: 'Here we see a tiny wigglefloof cleaning his tiny squishbeans'

 

 

 

And now a varied selection of headings under which the rest of our carnival resides.

 

 

Connection and Community

Brocklesnitch writes about how sharing of news when someone has died has changed, how you can seem to map the spread of the news through people’s reactions across different modes of social media, {broken link removed} and how it’s unique and important and helps in its own way.

Deirdre Fidge writes for ABC’s The Drum about introversion and stereotypes, how it doesn’t always look like cats, naps and social stress.

Anna writes on Hoyden About Town calling for a brainstorming session on organising a festival to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, apparently the 300th anniversary coincided with the first ANZAC celebration but so far nothing is planned for this centenary.

 

Race and Racism

TigTog from Hoyden About Town posted a media circus about the use of Vegemite for brewing alcohol, pointing out that at best it’s incorrect and misguided and worst, is old fashioned racism. No points for guessing which localities would be affected by a ‘crackdown’ on shelves of Vegemite.

Writing in Water is a New Zealander living in the United States and writes about what New Zealand can learn from the United States about confronting racism. Writing in Water is a new voice to the carnival and very welcome.

Stephanie of No Award writes about fantasy worlds and real world commentary and how while she’d love to see less white-centric landscapes used in fantasy, she also doesn’t want to see non-white landscapes reduced to stereotypes or used to judge from an outside perspective.

A guest post from Daniel Jack on Celeste Liddle’s blog Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist talks about Adam Goodes and the racism that shows its ugly face when he dared to show his pride in his Aboriginal heritage, while also drawing attention to issues faced by Aboriginal people in Australia.

 

Marriage Equality

In Daily Life, Ali Benton looks at the personal cost to her family with the delay on marriage equality and the way in which Australian politics has generally handled the issue in recent years.

No Place For Sheep writes about the hypocrisy of Abbott saying that the same-sex marriage debate is a deeply personal issue, but then declined to allow Coalition MPs the opportunity for a conscience vote.

Rebecca Shaw writes for Crikey about how the blocking of marriage equality is frustrating, hurtful, incredibly exhausting and deeply personal.

Cristy Clark writes about the spurious arguments against marriage equality including our old favourite ‘won’t somebody think of the children?!’

Celeste Liddle of Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist writes about the Uluru Bark Petition how incensed she was that a small group of Aboriginal people who do not support marriage equality, claim to speak for all Arrernte people in this matter and how they do not speak for her.  (This post is equal parts about marriage equality and racism but since the racism is reflected in response to marriage equality, I’ve placed it here in the carnival.)

Bluebec wrote about marriage equality in Australia and in particular about the five hour meeting held by The Liberal Party on whether to allow a Party conscience vote. It took five hours to decide to maintain the same position (a decision that surprised exactly no one).

Sarah Johnson writes for The Conversation about how a constitutional referendum is a ‘Hail Mary’ for those opposed to same-sex marriage.

Luddite Journo writes for The Hand Mirror about biphobia and Radio New Zealand on the subject of marriage equality. Bi-erasure continues to be a thing all over the place I’ve noticed, it gets so tiresome.

 

Gaby Baby Outcry

Maeve Marsden writes for Daily Life about being a ‘gaby baby’ and how her family is normal in response to the homophobic backlash against the Gaby Baby film which portrays same-sex families and is being screened across Australia as part of Wear it Purple Day.

Rebecca Shaw writes for The Age about how following the homophobic reaction to ‘Gaby Baby’ in NSW that tolerance is no longer the benchmark, and instead the LGBTIQA now requires acceptance. The time has past where society simply must ‘put up with’ queer people, they (we) are fully fledged members of society and should be included and treated as such.

 

Motherhood, Maternity and Childcare

Emily of Mama Said writes about how she’s saying no to experts because while it may be that as a parent she wants to do everything possible to do the best for her kids, no one knows them like she does and she doesn’t need a $150 consultation about how to love them and raise them better, she’s already doing an amazing job.

@datakid23 and @solovii wrote for Open Knowledge Foundation about childcare at Govhack and how it got done.  So awesome!

Andie Fox (of Blue Milk) writes for Essential Baby trying to answer a range of common questions about extended breastfeeding. The post is personal, candid, honest and insightful about the topic.

Emily of Mama Said wrote this beautiful and insightful post about dealing with prenatal depression, there’s a content note for this as it’s dealing with anxiety and depression which may be triggering for some.

This anonymous guest post on Mama Said is sharp and to the point about being a lesbian parent and all the awful ways in which people assume they have the right to ask questions including and perhaps especially, offensive ones.

Blue Milk writes about conversations with children, different snippets and moments that are so lovely when shared. I love posts like these, they always make me smile.

Also about conversations with children, Emily of Mama Said writes about her two year old and the dreaded why stage – this too is lovely to read.

 

Media Reflections

Jo from A Life Unexamined talks about her love for Legend of Korra and how glad she is that the way the show created the relationship between Korra and Asami left things open to interpretation and specifically didn’t push things in an obvious romantic direction.

Alayna Cole writes for Marianne de Pierres blog (there are many worthy reviews of all kinds of stuff here) reviewing Far from the Madding Crowd. Although the movie promises feminist themes, it instead overtly signals independence and empowerment without ever actually exploring or delivering on these elements. This review is insightful and highlights a common issue that happens when popular media tries to assert itself as feminist or diverse but doesn’t really deliver and seems surprised when people react as such.

Stephanie of No Award writes about The Prison Island of Sodor and how Thomas the Tank Engine is not nearly as innocent as we might have supposed. This is a brilliant post exposing the creepiness of a children’s television show with a dystopian flair.

Anwen Crawford writes in Kill Your Darlings about how the experience of watching television  has changed dramatically for many of us – once a central and often social activity, it can now also be a private personal experience streaming directly to our laptops. She talks about how sometimes by screen light you can feel less alone.

Liz writes about No Award watching Glitch, which is apparently not bad, and even quite good in parts and involves dead people, a love triangle, the good of the people, a gothic Australian small town setting and all of the eye rolling that is Australia being afraid of media and the supernatural.

 

Women, Feminism and Meta

This post on comfortable misogyny by Kari Sperring is a special inclusion. This post is not a post from an Australian or New Zealand blogger, or from someone living elsewhere and is originally from around here. However, it is a post that speaks to an experience that is familiar to me, and familiar to many of the women around me in Science Fiction and Fantasy/Speculative Fiction circles. It’s about the insidious aspect of misogyny and the fatigue that goes along with trying to fight against it year after year.

Jemma from stuff.co.nz writes about the importance of normalising swearing for women as it is wrongly seen as the purview of men and that being a woman, credible, delightful and other things as well as swearing isn’t possible. I’m with Jemma because quite frankly, fuck that. (Fuck remains one of my favourite words to say).

Deborah from A Bee of a Certain Age spoke to Radio NZ’s The Panel talking about how what really matters is what a woman looks like.  Jacinda Ardern, a highly regarded New Zealand MP was described as a “pretty little thing” on national TV.

Brocklesnitch writes this awesome succinct post about don’ts and do’s {broken link removed} – the list of things we’re not supposed to do grows ever longer and an awesome response to that.

Also from Deborah of A Bee of a Certain Age is this discussion of diversity in prime time and how representation on prime time television and radio is very white, very male, and very middle class.

Stephanie of No Award writes about the role models of No Award, this is a little bit irreverent but there are some marvellous examples here to appreciate.

Kasey Edwards writes for Daily Life talking to a Melbourne based beauty therapist and the most sexist requests for beauty treatments, and how those often come from male partners and are accompanied by a distinct lack of respect, sense of entitlement with the desire to control women’s behaviour.

Scarlett Harris wrote In Defence of Cosmopolitan in the wake of the magazine being put behind blinders in some U.S. drug and department stores.

Georgina Dent writes for Women’s Agenda about Mark Latham’s resignation from the Australian Financial Review amid ‘controversy’ and how this victory is hollow.

Bluebec writes about mortality, not dying but also being aware of not being afraid of dying.

Fat Heffalump writes about how there are always experts, experts everywhere and they all have an opinion on others’ health.

 

Disability

Sonia writes for the ABC on Open Drum talking about career in transit and the difficulty in commuting and with transport generally if you have a disability and getting to work. This is an insightful piece and it highlights something often overlooked: the energy cost of travel that may be what makes employment difficult or impossible for some people, but that assistance and support for those who need it is limited.

Also on accessibility to transportation is this article from The Standard by Rachel Houlihan about how disability advocate Jax Jacki Brown was left hanging by V-Line after planning ahead for accessible train travel to Warnambool failed to eventuate and ended in an offer of a taxi. This was not the solution it pretended to be.

 

Politics

Over at The Hand Mirror, Julie is starting a series of posts encouraging women to run for local government in 2016 in New Zealand. The point is not only getting involved in your community, but working to make a difference and increasing diverse representation in local government.

No Place For Sheep writes about the bias and ethics  scandal surrounding Dyson Heydon as head of the Royal Commission investigating trade unions and with them the Labor Party. Impartiality and ethical integrity appear to be concepts unfamiliar to Hedon or his supporters which include Abbott, Pyne and Brandis.

Also from No Place For Sheep is a great piece on government by distraction, The post criticises the failed Operation Fortitude where it was proposed that the Australian Border Force would saturate Melbourne CBD asking people ‘randomly’ for their identification paperwork seeking to specifically catch out visa offenders.

 

Violence Against Women

Please note that there is a content warning with this topic as it may be triggering for some people.

This month I wrote about domestic violence after my student midwife lectures on the subject stirred up a bunch of memories and feelings. Domestic violence is such a huge issue in our current society – for everyone and I don’t understand why we’re doing so little do change that.

No Place For Sheep wrote about domestic violence and the bourgeoisie, criticising commentary on the issue by Martin McKenzie-Murray and Mark Latham where they deny that domestic violence is an issue that affects women across all backgrounds, race, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on.

Rosie Batty writes from her blog at Never Alone about attending the Royal Commission on Family Violence in Victoria recently and how cultural change around this issue is imperative.

 

Books, Reading, Writing, and Reviews

On the 24th of October in Canberra, Marianne de Pierres is running a Writing Masterclass, it’s a paid event with concession prices available and bookings are necessary. The class will include how to address some of the key issues in writing speculative fiction, including how to build convincing worlds, maintain narrative drive, and effectively blend sub-genres. Perhaps seems like an advert, but part of feminism is maintaining that women should be paid for their work and their expertise and in the spirit of that understanding, sharing this opportunity to work with such an experienced author seems relevant.

Alex of Randomly Yours, reviews Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway describing a story of those who’ve come back from fairyland and wish they hadn’t. This story features a boarding school, a murder, explorations of trust and insecurity and characters who are not all heteronormative. Hopefully this review makes you want to read this novella too – I’m certainly hooked!

Another book review by Alex that I thought might be of interest is a review of Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. This book is of an entire planet as a university with a story about a character whose parents don’t want her to go and study there. I’m really intrigued by Alex’s description of the world and it’s depth, not to mention this author has been on my to-read list for a long time.

I wrote two book reviews  this month for books that I highly recommend. Firstly I reviewed Nalo Hopkinson’s ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ which was such a pleasure to read. It’s my first time reading Hopkinson and I can’t wait to read more! Secondly, I reviewed ‘Cranky Ladies of History’ edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts, which I am also proud to have helped crowdfund. It’s a gorgeous collection of stories about women worth remembering and appreciating, women who’ve been hard done by historical record keeping.

Stephanie of No Award wrote up a great post reviewing a bunch of anthologies including Phantazein by small press Fablecroft and Eat the Sky Drink the Ocean by Allen and Unwin, and Dead Sea Fruit a collection by Kaaron Warren that is great food for thought.

Bluebec wrote up two reviews which are of interest, the first a post-apocalyptic review of Coda by Emma Trevayne and another post-apocalyptic review, this time of Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley.

 

James Tiptree Jr.

There were a couple of posts about Alice Sheldon’s 100th birthday this month which coincided with a small press release honouring her alter ego James Tiptree Jr, so I’ve put these posts together in their own category.

Firstly Laurdehel from Hoyden About Town talks about her delight about the release of ‘Letters to Tiptree’, it’s a great overview of the book.

Secondly, Alex of Randomly Yours, Alex, one of the editors for the book has also blogged about the book and has shared several other links that may be of interest, including a selection of the letters published in the book that are freely available as a taste test.

And finally, Tansy of tansyrr.com shares her appreciation for Alice Sheldon’s other alter ego Raccoona Sheldon as part of her ‘Women of the 20th Century’ series.

Many thanks go to Chally of Zero at the Bone for her ongoing coordination of the Down Under Feminist Carnival. Maybe you’d be interested in hosting a carnival? It’s easy and people send you lots of links, plus new voices bring other new voices to the conversation which is always awesome. If you’re interested, you can contact Chally via the Down Under Feminist Carnival site. The Eighty-Ninth Edition is planned for 5 October, 2015 hosted by Rebecca at at Opinions @ bluebec.com. Submissions to rebecca [dot] dominguez [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thoughts on domestic violence

Content warning: discussion of domestic violence, memories and experiences of violence.

 

 

The title for this post was a little tricky because this is not just one term, there are several and they’re all relevant. However, the domestic element of the violence is one of the things that has stayed with me this week and it’s one of the reasons I’m writing so I’m going to use domestic violence as short hand for all these terms: intimate partner violence, family violence, men’s violence towards women and children, violence towards women and children.

I’m writing about this topic now not because I am new to it, but because of some of my classes this week. As a student  midwife, my training involves learning about how to support women who have experienced, or are experiencing domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. There is an intimacy about midwifery that makes this topic of how to care critical for us. Long after the lectures have finished, tutorial discussions had, thoughts continue to simmer in my mind.

There is at present a national conversation taking place about domestic violence. In large part this is thanks to Rosie Batty, whose personal bravery and commitment to changing the status quo on this issue is well known. Destroy the Joint (Facebook link) is also working to bring awareness to this issue, by counting dead women. Their approach isn’t perfect: they count all women killed through violence, but there have been exceptions to this. So violence in general, not just domestic violence – although unsurprisingly it features as one of the main contributors to the deaths of 59 Australian women so far this year (also a Facebook link).

This post isn’t so much about facts and statistics, but my experience of those both this week and across my life. I think that it’s important to contextualise statistics – they’re not just numbers, they have real people, real lives and stories behind them. Sometimes that gets forgotten. I am someone who as a child witnessed domestic violence by my father towards my mother. This has had a lingering effect on me, for a start I remember very little of my childhood as my childhood self just blocked the memories and dissociated. As a teenager, my mother answered my questions about that time in her life honestly. She shared with me the copies of hospital reports she had kept that had said that she feared for her life. She told me that in the end she left not for herself, but for my brother and I. At the time she followed a Catholic faith and was told by her priest that she had made her bed and must lie in it.

I keep thinking about my mother in her early 20s dealing with this horror. I am almost in my mid-30s and can’t imagine dealing with it! She had (we have) a very supportive extended family who supported her but up until she left my father had isolated her significantly. It was hard to get out. She has occasionally  mentioned that she needed to steal money from him when he was drunk to buy necessities – like medicine for us children. I remember that all the blinds were always down in the house – there was no sunlight that ever came in. This was true even after she left and I remember my father constantly talking about people who were nosey and who interfered. He was referring to people who helped my mother get away.

These are some of the snippets that circled my mind all day following our lectures/discussions in class. I was thinking and wondering how it was possible that in 2015, some 20-30 years after this had happened to my mother, we were still looking at prevalence statistics that were the same. That 1 in 3 women had experienced physical violence, 1 in 5 had experienced sexual violence and that this was most likely at the hands of a current or former partner. Most of the perpetrators of violence toward women are male¹.

It’s also generally held that these numbers are conservative, that they represent only what has been reported and that there are many and varied reasons why violence of this kind is not reported. Or witnessed. And so never comes to light. In decades the conversation has barely shifted. The only positive thing to say is that the conversation is being had more out loud and more forcefully than before. In Victoria, there is a Royal Commission into Family Violence currently taking place. It should be a national project, I’m angry that it isn’t. We are failing so many people with this – not just the women being hurt and killed, or children traumatised, but the toxic masculinity that fuels male violence in our society.

And then my mind wandered further. Because discussion of emotional abuse occurred and this too has been recognised as a form of domestic violence. And although I’ve never lived in a partnered situation where I experienced domestic violence directed to myself by a current or former partner, I have had a partner, who I didn’t live with, who did emotionally abuse me for some two years of our four year relationship. And coming to terms with that being the reality really only happened this week – although the experience happened some years ago now. It was only when the fact of it was staring me in the face that I truly realised that’s what had taken place. I always dismissed it because nothing so terrible ever really came of it – as though the emotional anguish wasn’t harm in and of itself. Remembering, I cringed inwardly and felt all of the shame from back then all over again – and I remember feeling so ashamed that I’d gotten hurt. I felt like I should have known better. I should have done more. That’s crap of course, this person shouldn’t have been abusive. End of story. Even now I feel anger and fear towards them. They are still connected to one of my social communities and every so often I see them socially. I hate it and battle the fear and anger every single time.

From the lecture one of the things that had been discussed was the fact that leaving a violent relationship was one of the escalating factors that can lead to life-threatening situations, or even death. Domestic violence is reported as one of the leading causes of death and disability for women in Australia. It’s chilling to think that the biggest threat to my life is from someone I love or once loved as a partner. This realisation stays with me and still haunts me. And I still fear it even though I’ve never lived with anyone who was domestically violent toward me, none of my partners have ever been abusive toward me with that one exception above. The difference there is that I never lived with this person, and that was never part of the plan, so I was never isolated and cut off and never at risk of greater harm than what my emotional self suffered. And yet, my heart still caught in my throat when I wondered how many other women had thought similar things.

So this is just me, and just my experiences. And as I was immersed in all these complicated feelings new and old, another truth occurred to me. I remembered sitting in my lecture theatre and in my tutorial classroom, surrounded by at least 20 – 30 other women. And I was reminded of the prevalence statistics all over again and was horrified to consider that in the room, other than myself, other classmates are likely to have experienced or were perhaps experiencing domestic violence. And I wouldn’t know.

So it wasn’t just about the hypothetical women I’d be caring about in my professional capacity as a midwife, but a really strong reminder that at any time when I’m out in the world, this is surrounding me. This is happening and it’s largely invisible. And, as a society, Australia remains resigned to it. There seems to be so little action on a national level seeking to change the culture that allows domestic violence to thrive and visit such horror upon so many people.

One final acknowledgement. I’m speaking from my own experience here, and while I generally identify as a genderqueer person, there was something about this week and these experiences that really resonated with me in a way where I felt distinctly female. A woman. A genderqueer woman, but still a woman. And this blog post and things I’ve linked to are very cisgendered in their approach. I know that violence towards transgendered and genderqueer people is also a huge issue – and one that doesn’t have great statistics or funded research organisations looking into it at all. There should be these things happening, and the experiences of non-gender-binary people should be included in discussions about this issue and in strategies to address it.

Also, As an Anglo-white person, this is also a very white-centric view, where the rates of domestic violence experienced by Australian Indigenous women, for example have a much higher prevalence and are linked to effects of colonisation and intergenerational oppression. In short, racism compounds the effect exponentially. And this is just one consideration, women from a Cultural and Linguistically Diverse background who are immigrants or refugee women (link no longer available so removed) also have different rates and experiences with domestic violence (and other violence particularly in the context of refugees), and similarly we don’t really prioritise that, especially not in culturally safe ways.

My point is, this post has it’s focus and it’s limited. There are also other really important aspects of this issue that need more attention and need to be discussed and it’s imperative that we seek to address all aspects of domestic violence, not just the cisgendered white face of it. There’s no one strategy that will encompass everything and everyone. Responses must be tailored, must be respectful, and must be culturally safe in order to be effective and make a sustainable difference.

When I qualify as a midwife, I will do my best to make a difference in this area. I’m not sure how that will work, or what will be involved but I can promise to do my best. I can be informed, I can be respectful, I can be kind and I can care about this issue and the effects it has on women, children, men and society at large.

  1. These statistics come from resources published by the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).

Review: Cranky Ladies of History, anthology edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Cranky Ladies of History - coverReview for Reviews Sake

Title: Cranky Ladies of History

Editors: Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Publisher and Year: Fablecroft Publishing, 2015

Genre: Historical fiction, speculative fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

My review:

I love living in the future! To have the privilege of participating in the funding of a book to really get behind books I want to see in print, to demonstrate with my frugal spending what I really want to read. I am proudly one of those who backed the Pozible campaign that was responsible for funding this book. What an extraordinary time in publishing, to be a reader and hooked into communities and networks!  I funded at the level where I received a gorgeous hardcover book, and I have to compliment Kathleen Jennings on her gorgeous cover and internal illustrations. From first glance at the cover you can see what this book is about, what kind of stories about ladies it tells, and it whets your appetite marvellously.

Historical fiction is one of those things I dabble in, historical non-fiction I just haven’t done remotely enough reading of. But there was no way I could resist an anthology like this that highlights the interesting lives of historical women, imagining how they lived, what they thought and looking at the impact they made – not always for the greater good. And that too is a strength of this anthology, it features all kinds of cranky ladies, from those who seek to improve the moral good, to those who are remembered with horror and fear, daring women, wronged women, women I’ve heard of and those who are brand new to me. This book is both a pleasure to read, and gives you some small insight into the historical significance of several women, mostly those who are forgotten by modern history. It’s not that the book is educational exactly, but it does make you want to learn more, to study these women and their lives.

Stories that particularly resonated with me, and it was hard to pick just a few I promise:

Bright Moon by Foz Meadows:

A woman who is determined not to submit to any man unless he can best her in wrestling, and because she is so fierce and talented, she wins thousands of horses from them as they fail to beat her. I love Khutulun’s fierce spirit and that she is herself and doesn’t have to hide from her father, that he supports her even if he is surprised by her declarations and strength of character. It’s these two things, her strength and his love that really resonated for me in this story.

Due Care and Attention by Sylvia Kelso:

I love the writing tone of this story, it plays in my mind almost as though I’m watching an episode of period drama like ‘Call the Midwife’ or ‘Downton Abbey’ or similar. I love Lilian’s dedication to medicine and care, and reading about the early use of cars in Brisbane was really interesting – particularly including the Royal Automobile Club. I loved in particular her discovery about the water treatment for burns. The whole story was just gorgeous, I’d read a whole novel about Lilian, absolutely.

Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier:

What a gorgeous story of piety, commitment and activism. Sister Hildegard has such quiet strength and Marillier’s writing truly brings her to life. I love the quiet opposition, the use of letters and negotiation with logic that Sister Hildegard uses. I love that although she has visions that the story isn’t really centred around them but about her own perseverance in developing her virtues. Trying to better oneself, trying to better the world around you. Such a beautiful story.

The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai:

The storytelling voice in this story is unique, it’s different and I found that unlike most of the other stories which I read in a single sitting, this one I savoured over several sittings because each word and sentence seemed to be so layered. I loved the character of the Dragon, that she was so ruthless and yet operated within her own rules. I love that she had family, children and that this clearly didn’t stop her being both terrifying and powerful. This was one of the stand out stories in the anthology for me.

The Company of Women by Garth Nix:

Another favourite from the anthology, Nix’s story captivated me. I love the mythology behind this story and that Lady Godiva was a saviour in partnership with the bees. I loved the way the story was centred around women’s business in tending the bees, that became the saving of everyone else. This was a perfect short story for me – completely self contained, gave me every satisfaction and left me content.

Charmed Life by Joyce Ching

Queerness and silk discovery, choosing love over a certain kind of elevation into prosperity/wealth/power. This story was sweetness, it was delightful, and I loved that Leizu got to be with her lady love and that nothing tragic happened. Maybe it was different in history, but I’m in love with this story where the story ends on such a perfect note.

The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat

Strength and determination, proving one self to be just as good as the men who never had to question why they didn’t get to be the best and brightest. Earning the approval of one’s father. Trying to hold out against invasion, this story has everything – as I read the words, it seemed like an action movie was playing in my head! Nora reminds me of every young heroine I’ve read and loved, through this story and seeing her gr