50 Shades of Feminism – Lisa Appignanesi, Susie Orbach, Rachel Holmes (Ed)


Possibly the best thing to come from the 50 Shades of Grey tripe aside of the below Sinfest cartoon (relevant and related):


( http://www.sinfest.net/archive_page.php?comicID=4307 )

50 Shades of Feminism is a series of personal accounts from fifty different women – activists, professionals, mothers, sisters, lesbian, straight, from all cultures and walks of life. It raised interesting issues: brown women vs white in feminism, and the potential that women of colour can perceive such top-down approaches to helping as an attack on cultural autonomy, which can result in a knee-jerk regression into practices that might have been tapering off naturally within a culture, such as female genital mutilation.

There are some extremely hard-hitting personal stories in 50 Shades of Feminism. An account of the young woman raised in a conservative family whose son joined the Taliban; she was beaten to death by her father for daring to write poetry, and her mother committed suicide afterwards. Reading over the vast spectrum of different experiences reinforced to me how lucky I feel to live where I do, in a country where my personal freedom is a legal right, and reiterated throughout 50 Shades of feminism was that all the women’s voices ultimately expressed desire for the same things: personal autonomy, respect and equality.

The book isn’t just a skin-deep exploration of female experiences either; many of the personal accounts provide leads for investigating further the stories and information imparted. Linda Hilsum made a video in Afghanistan, about a project to train up young women as teachers, complete with interviews with the girls about their aspirations. Isabel Hilton raised an interesting topic in referring to a TED talk by a female executive in Silicon Valley – “(P)ower correlates positively to likeability in men and negatively in women.” This does link to the account in Women Warriors (a separate book by Robin Cross & Rosalind Miles)of Brunhilde, the Flemish queen tortured for days after her overthrow, more ferociously it seems due to her female impertinence in assuming the throne at all. Hilton focuses on female rulers through Chinese history and their postmortem vilification, contrasting this with the near-deification of some male rulers.

The entries are not all autobiographical; some women write of women they have known (a war correspondent, killed by shrapnel whilst sheltering from a bomb blast), others have imaginary accounts of conversations with influential historical women (such as Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx).

50 Shades of Feminism is also incredibly contemporary, having been conceived of, prepared, edited and published in the end months of 2012. Liz Kelly covers the sexual violence debates regarding Julian Assange, Jimmy Savile and the immortal horror of American Republicans with their ignorant references to “legitimate rape” (informative, shocking video mocking this term and its implications here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtzqvqzBdUQ ), and their declaration that conception following rape being a “gift from God.”

A great mix of sincere, down-to-earth, inspiring, angering, thoughtful, provocative pieces from a veritable stampede of intelligent feminists.  I am keen to see more books published in this vein.

K.L gives 50 Shades of Feminism 5 out of 5 pants-wearing, kicking and cussing suffragettes.

Soulless – Gail Carriger


 A steampunk novel. Incurable curmudgeon of a spinster Alessandra Tarrabotti doesn’t just have Italian blood to rend her unpalatable to the London elite, she is also soulless, a walking antithesis to the soul-abundant immortals of society: vampires, werewolves and ghosts. The entire novel feels like a walking pratfall, which was an entertainingly humorous approach, though it makes the reader looking over the narrators’ shoulder feel like they are constantly on the lookout for a hurled custard tart.

When unfamiliar vampires begin appearing, starved and weak, in London, ascerbic Miss Tarrabotti unwillingly joins forces with brusque, savage werewolf Lord Maccon to track down the source…blah, blah, blah. Dear reader, I am too tired to even bother finishing that formulaic description; you can do it for yourself, and you probably won’t guess wrong. Insert tab A into slot B and pull the lever for a formulaic romance inserted into the story as uncomfortably as a hand into a three-fingered glove. It’s so tiresomely familiar. Tempestuoustly argumentative man and woman fall for each other as passionately as they fight each other. A romantic trope which is incredibly annoying. Just consider someone who you cannot stand, who puts your teeth on edge, who you are forced to associate with in a professional manner. You possibly work with someone like that, and I would suggest practically never do such feelings transform into a mild romantic fondness, let alone a Rome and Julietesque, panting passion.

So forgive me if I skip over that aspect of the storyline, and bid you examine the social fabric of Carriger’s universe.

Because that is a brocade worth going weak at the knees over. Vampires and werewolves have been a part of the fabric of Great Britain since their open acceptance in the Dark Ages; vampire congregate in hives, with a queen in each the only vampire able to even attempt to transform humans, whilst in the werewolf packs, only an Alpha able to assume the ‘Anubis form’ is able to bite and potentially convert a human. This rather neatly explains why an immortal population remains so small; the ability to survive the transformation is dependant upon a human possessing an excess of soul, which is not known until they die whilst being literally torn apart by the immortal attempting the transformation.

Due to their long presence in society, all three classes of supernatural have been absorbed into the woodwork of bureaucracy, rather more interesting than the common ‘outsider, hiding in the ignorant masses’ approach to supernaturals in fiction. When these supernatural classes are threatened, members going missing, the Empire shudders upon its foundations. Werewolves command the armies; Vampires enforce fashion and foreign policy. Diverse plots ensue…

In summary, I heartily recommend Soulless for the world it constructs, and the personalities involved, but did not enjoy the apparently inevitable romancing. 

Still, it sets the series up nicely for the next book to come…

K.L gives Soulless 3 out of 5 trifle-covered vampire dandies.





Ugh. Brusque Alpha werewolf Lord Maccon. Why does no one ever fall for the sensible, capable, second-in-charge? Are we all still limited by the fairytale idea that we must become princesses by making ourselves limpets to a man more powerful?


The Philip K. Dick Megapack – Philip K. Dick

It has been a long time between drinks, so to speak – my apologies on the delays in posting reviews! A month or so of either being very busy, or being sick, left me with little motivation to write reviews. The reading continued unabated, of course (except for one week of ‘ick’).

So, without further ado, let us resume our perusals of high and low literature.

Yours sincerely,




Philip K. Dick was the creator of science fiction short stories and novels which have been adapted into some of the great classics (and flops, let’s admit) of science fiction cinema. Bladerunner; Total Recall; Minority Report; The Adjustment Bureau; Paycheck; A Scanner Darkly and even the Terminator series of android assassins was inspired by the humanoid killing machines portrayed in the short story ‘Second Variety’.

This so-called megapack (the first in a series of about # megapacks; Dick was a prolific author) features a collection of fifteen of Dick’s short stories.

Dystopian futures, alien invasions, machine-rebellions, interspecies cultural conflict and robotic evolution are all featured. The range is broad, and there is even a brief touch of classical mythology in one story, ‘Strange Eden’.

A feature of Dick’s short stories is that nearly all of them seem to possess a ‘sting in the tail’, upon which the entire story turns, like a fish just realising it has been hooked. They are largely brilliantly imaginative and original.

Some favourites from this collection:

‘The Defenders’ – in which humanity has fled underground, leaving robots to fight for the mastery of Earth, with unexpected results. Possibly my favourite, possibly because it has a happy ending.

‘Second Variety’ – a chilling account of robotic evolution, with the machines following the same patterns of competition and conflict as the masters.

‘The Hanging Stranger’ – an almost 1984 flavour to the story, as though an intelligent, omniscient virus has infected your family and friends, and is using society to trap you.

Dick’s style is spare and almost journalistic; the stories mirror the Cold War preoccupations of the time, each story thrumming with an ominous sense that someone had started the countdown to annihilation.


If you read only one of these stories, let it be ‘Second Variety’.


K.L gives The Philip K. Dick Megapack 5 out of 5 nuclear apocalypses.


The Crippled God – Steven Erikson


The Malazan Book of the Fallen series (10 books in total) has, to be honest, been on something of a hiatus on my reading horizons this last year. Book 1, Gardens of the Moon slapped me in the face with an uncompromisingly complicated plot, and a complete lack of exposition. Who were these people? Who were these other people? What were they doing? How were they linked? Why were they fighting?, and etc.

Having been spoon-fed the backstory on a number of recent reading endeavours, it was refreshing to find an author whose basic version of narration was ‘sink or swim’ and didn’t appear to give a damn which way the readers went. That said, I soon gave up trying to swim against the current, and simply let the stories carry me along, a result of which was not remembering many names, and instead picking the characters by the context of the narrative thread in which they roamed.

The scope of series is geological in its timescale, and roams at will through worlds and warrens (magical semi-universes, accessible only by using that particular branch of magic). Some characters have existed for millennia; others have been created freshly from the traumas of war. Gods can be killed, and mortals can ascend to deityhood. A sword is simultaneously a gigantic cart, to whom are chained the souls of its victims; they drag the device on, in an endless toil to escape the forces of chaos which eat away at their heels.


It is an amazing series, and owes more of its influence to fantasy roleplaying games than to Tolkien’s ilk. Unfortunately – or fortunately, for the craftsmanship of the novel – Erikson shows a positive fondness for making one fall in love with a character, and then, one book or five later, killing them. A sense of despair and pathos imbues the otherwise workaday scenes of battle with the angry futility of a veteran, orphaned by the vicissitudes of war.

As a result, I only just returned to complete the tenth book, The Crippled God. It was everything I hoped for; some of my most recent favourites even survived the novel, and I witnessed the return of the Master of the Deck of Dragons, whose company I had missed for the preceding few novels.


True to reality, the final battle of The Crippled God simply meant the end of war for some of the characters; they are left to find their own happy endings, but a vignette with one hoary old Bridgeburner at the end reminds the reader that there is always another war brewing, and another young fool yearning to die for glory. It was a difficult series to understand, because it really is one constant, dragging, battle from start to finish.

Possibly the best way to visualise it is this: imagine a fantasy boardgame. Populate it richly, with fantastic cultures and creatures. Give the armies names. Then, using many-sided dice, march them across the world you have created, and write down every battle fought, the death tolls from fighting and from forced marches through deserts or rents in the fabric of reality. Repeat this process six or so times. And then layer them atop one another, and create Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Simple, really.



K.L gives The Crippled God 4 out of 5 well-drawn world maps.







I’m sorry. I’m just so excited. Tehol survives! Brys survives! Udinaas survives! Onos T’oolan gets his family back! Yaaaaaaaay!!

But really. I’m still pissed. How could you kill Anomander Rake?! I’ll never forgive you for that, Erikson.



1Q84: books one and two – Haruki Murakami


Aomame is stuck in Tokyo traffic on the Metropolitan Expressway, on her way to a meeting she cannot miss. When she leaves the taxi to climb down a partially-blocked emergency exit, Janacek’s Sinfonietta is playing (it is to be a recurrent theme), and the taxi driver tells her, “remember: things are not what they seem…but don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”

Leaving the expressway, Aomame sees a policeman in new uniform, with a new gun, and is informed that the changes occurred after a violent gun battle in the mountains, two years previously. And then she notices that there are two moons in the sky. Aomame is no longer living in 1984, but in the alternate year of 19Q4, where both history and the rules have changed – possibly enough to threaten her life.


Tengo is a part-time tutor in maths at a Tokyo cram school. He writes short stories, meets his married lover once a week, and has no friends. His editor, Komatsu, convinces him to take part in an audacious deception: rewrite a potentially brilliant short story by 17 year old Fuka-Eri, and enter it in a prestigious literary competition, where it is guaranteed to become first famous, and then a bestseller.


From here, events slowly spiral out of control. It becomes apparent that Fuka-Eri did not write the novel herself – she is dyslexic – and she did not submit it to the competition. She escaped from the Takashima commune seven years previously, and has not heard from her parents since.

As curiosity mounts about the best-selling novel’s reticent young author, Aomame accepts a task. She must deliver retribution to a man who has been abusing small children in the name of enlightenment. The Leader of a militaristic commune, deep in the mountains, similar to the subject of a short story recently published about mystical beings known as the Little People…


The tale of 1Q84 unwinds languorously, referencing its namesake, Orwell’s 1984, in the interpretation of thought crimes, and the use of controlling, omniscient authorities in a society for whom the notion of a Big Brother has become blasé and disinteresting. Musical and cultural references link the two separate characters, drawing together a story which might otherwise become dislocated.


Characters are interesting, and the reader is drip-fed facts as they become relevant; there is no overwhelming deluge of exposition here. You will crave it, for the entire story, but Murakami dispenses it carefully, keeping you thirsty until the very end.


Having read it, I am very keen to move onto Murakami’s unexpected sequel, 1Q84: book three. My only objection to 1Q84 is that I think it moves past the institutionalised abuse of the children within the cult a little too quickly, but that in itself works well as the lens of narrative shifts focus.


K.L gives 1Q84 4 out of 5 oddly recurrent themes.






I don’t know. You’ll finish it, and you won’t know, either. It’s why I have to read the third book… Murakami’s mind control is working well.

The Riddle of the Sands – Erskine Childer


An excercise in patience; The Riddle of the Sands is set to a pace completely unlike that of most contemporary novels; and for a work of spy-thriller fiction, it focusses heavily upon the owrkaday activities of the two central characters, the almost-innocent, enthusiastic sailor Davies; and the book’s narrator, the urbane Carruthers, a minor official of the British Foreign Office, who condescends to join his old school friend on a sailing holiday, and gets rather more (and less) than he bargained for.


Being published in 1903, Childers’ work is a very interesting sketch of relations (and suspicions) between the Imperialist Britain and Germany; in their discussions on the prospect of war, Davies lays out the contemporary view of a man looking across the Channel at a burgeoning empire with fledgling naval capabilities, which is “a new thing with them, but it’s going strong and that Emperor of theirs is running it for all it’s worth. He’s a splendid chap, and anyone can see he’s right. They’ve got no colonies to speak of, and must have them, like us…The command of the sea is the thing nowadays, isn’t it?” The book is also credited with being part of the reason why the British Empire began to improve upon their naval defences pre-World War One. That fun fact is from Wiki, however, so take it with a pinch of sea salt.


The exhaustive detailing of their ‘holiday’ aboard the Dulcibella helped to establish the plausibility of the novel, and set the standard for many authors to follow in the spy thriller genre. The historical value of the novel for this reason, and its fantastic level of detail as regards the voyage along the Frisian coasts up towards the Baltic, make it worth reading. However, it fails to carry the reader forward at any significant pace; your own efforts to finish it will be the only means of propulsion.


The characters were genuine enough, though Carruthers’ cosmopolitan brattishness can wear thin. The eventual realization that the secret German military plans are directed at offence, not defence, fail to titillate a post-Wars reader, when the speculative fiction has long since become similar to historical fact. The ‘grand denouement’ is more than a few decades late in providing a thrill; my response upon learning the twist was more of a, “Well duh, Childers,” than a “By Jiminy!”


I would suggest that The Riddle of the Sands has greater value as a dry accoutn of small-yachting in the Baltic coastal region than it does as a spy thriller.


K.L gives The Riddle of the Sands 2 out of 5 handfuls of Frisian mud.

Etiquette & Espionage – Gail Carriger

Etiquette and Espionage

A delightful lark. Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Angelina Temminnick has driven her mother to the end of her manicured wits.

After an unfortunate incident involveing a sabotaged dumbwaiter, a plate of trifle, Mrs. Barnaclegoose’s head, and of course, Sophronia as Exibit A, The Condemned, she is packed off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

It is not the fate worse than death that Sophronia expects. Firstly, the Academy is a vast dirigible which floats its way across the moors of Dartmouth, rather than being sensibly anchored to the ground, and secondly, its students learn not merely the arts of flirtation, dance and household management, but also espionage and assassination. Their shadowy agents have been watching Sophronia for some time, and her predilection for investigation and chaos have resulted in her becoming covertly recruited to join the academy.

The normal pace of lessons aboard the flying academy is somewhat unhinged when Sophronia arrives, accompanied by resident mean-girl, the beautiful Monique de Pelouse. Partnering up with Dimity, who brother Pillover is in training to become an evil genius, Sophronia must discover what Monique is hiding from the Academy, before her actions ensure its destruction by dastardly Picklemen, who will stop at nothing to obtain The Prototype.

Set in a Steampunk 1800’s England, Etiquette & Espionage is fun, well-paced, with interesting and lively characters. The references to ladylike behaviour and dress seem to be refreshingly tongue-in-cheek, and Sophronia’s chracter is intelligent, curious, and shows no qualms about breaking stuffy rules to achieve her goals.

I look forward to reading the sequel when it comes out.

K.L gives Etiquette & Espionage 3.5 out of 5 werewolves in top-hats.

Scary Mary – S.A. Hunter


A pedestrian novel: Outcaste high school girl meets highly desirable new kid. They fall in love. Her mysterious secret threatens to destroy them, until she faces catharsis by first confessing her dark secret (mandatory rejection at this point), then proving that things really do go bump in the night, and finally by saving everyone’s lives, vindicating herself and rekindling the romance.

If that is a mouthful, then let me summarise even more briefly by comparing it to Stephen King’s novel Carrie, but replacing mind-bending powers with mere clairaudience, and bullying ostracism with…well, more bullying and ostracism. Unlike Carrie, Mary rallies a sense of self-preservation and is the of-course-pretty Goth girl that everyone at school loves to hate.

Once more, pedestrian. I need to stop reading literary fast-food; it causes nothing but indigestion. No more slumming it in the $0.00-.99 range of ebooks, K.L.

For once, I would like to read a story about an outcaste school girl (or boy) who is:

a. Genuinely ugly

b. Has really bad acne from all the white face paint she cakes on, and,

c. Is not the target of unrealistic levels of bullying.

I’m not saying that such things don’t happen – but let’s try and find a protagonist who doesn’t force us to like them by virtue of being at the bottom of the schoolyard pecking order. It’s a boring, over-utilised trope that is indicative of a lazy imagination. An ultimately uninspiring read.

(To segue back to Carrie; that book is a brilliant depiction of a character who you start out repulsed by. King doesn’t want you to like her, and you don’t. Not until she starts learning to respect and assert herself, and in the end, you wish for her to get a little slice of happiness. The chance of which is masterfully ripped apart by the forces of her own mind, fractured by one practical joke too many.)

K.L gives Scary Mary 1 out of 5 well-used black makeup pencils.

A Job from Hell

A job from hell

A Job From Hell – Jayde Scott


This book is so awful (well, it is free) that I deleted it from my reader halfway through, then went back, re-downloaded and skim-read it just so that I could be scathing about it later, and warn you, dear reader.


That might sound cruel, but I have a number of objective criticisms of the story.


A self-described fat girl “with chubby arms and stumpy legs,” Amber takes on a job as housekeeper in a remote mansion in Scotland, to earn money for college the following year. She has been dumped by her boyfriend, Cameron, for putting on a few pounds, and is still mooning over him, determined that he simply needs a break, that their relationship will rekindle, and he will finally introduce her to his parents.

Having established her unflattering physical characteristics early on, the author then proceeds to tell the readers at every opportunity about her attractiveness, an irksome and repetitive inconsistency. “The blue skinny jeans looked really good on me, making my legs seem so much longer,”…. “After slipping into a black, long-sleeved top that emphasized my narrow waist and a pair of blue skinny jeans…”


The protagonist, Aidan, Amber’s erstwhile employer, is a sizzlingly hot half-millenia-old vampire, who refuses to drink human blood, or harm humans, whilst fighting his battles against the forces of darkness. Anne Rice’s Lestat was the first “vegetarian” vampire, and possibly should have stayed the only one; if not, then the Cullens should have been the last such group featured. It is unoriginal these days, to a stunning degree, made more so by Aidan’s special ability; he can control peoples’ thoughts, but has difficulty influencing or hearing Amber’s own; the most he can do is send her to sleep. Someone tell Stephanie Meyer that Edward has been wandering across novels…

That aside, he is the stereotypical romantic protagonist: filthily rich, good-looking, domineering, perpetually eighteen and emotionally scarred; Aidan has not been romantically involved since his last love interest betrayed him. This gives Amber a number of incentives to “win” him, and the act of breaking down his emotional shields immediately qualifies her to be the recipient of his affluence. Aidan is aware when they first meet that he and Amber are destined to be soul-mates, a fact which somehow vindicates his forcing her to fall asleep after a night out with him by using his vampire mental-judo, and then kissing her while she is unconscious, unable to provide or withhold consent.

That is known by adults as “date rape,” but she is ok with it (and so, apparently, is he); Amber immediately starts puzzling over her feelings for Aidan versus her ex, Cameron. She spends pages of dreary monologue, both internal and external (with her new BFF Cass), consistently failing the Bechdel Test, a pattern which is duplicated in most girl on girl conversations throughout the book.


Amber is consistently demonstrated to be both spineless and stupid. She lets herself be bullied by her brother into robbing a shack in the woods (stealing some magical gemstones which brings her to the attention of the supernatural community), and allows herself to be manhandled and sexually harassed by Kieran, Aidan’s brother without a single vocalised objection.

Her friends and associates in the book consist largely of a troupe of Aidan’s vampire and demonic buddies, who are quite happy to imprison her inside the house with no means of external contact, for her own safety. This illegal imprisonment at the hands of Kieran is described, “Why couldn’t Cameron pay me this much attention? If only he knew, surely he’d come to his senses. He’d know what a huge mistake he made by dumping me and he’d spend the rest of his life making it up to me because we belonged together…”

This is after Kieran physically bars her from leaving the house, stops her from using a phone, threatens to tie her up or handcuff her to the bed, flirts consistently (and unwelcomely), and then starts suggesting a sexual romp, stroking her cheek and telling her that his brother, Aidan, the love interest, doesn’t need to know. And Kieran is a Good Guy.

Her objections to curtailment of personal liberties are weak, as though she is a puppet whose existence is defined by those who control her; the possibility of leaving the Stockholmian manse and fleeing back to reality in London is considered objectionable.

Adrian’s (an occasional first-person narrator; how else would we get our exposition?) inner dialogue confirms this. Amber is his possession – “she was mine”, “my mate” etc; and as a result, imprisoning her and sexually touching her against her will is ok, because she’s bound to get over it one day.


If I met Amber in reality, the main descriptive term used would be “dangerously obsessive bunny boiler.” After her second kiss (because being kissed while semiconscious by an employer is what most people consider a positive), Amber reflects, “I had let him kiss me again. Seduced by the rich kid, only to be pushed away when he had enough of me. Apparently taking care of business in the middle of the night was more important than finding out whether the attraction between us was real.”


My objections could go on for pages. There were no redeeming qualities to this book.


K.L gives A Job from Hell 0 out of 5 juvenile wish-fulfilment fantasies.







Of course she gets turned into a vampire, in a blame-absolving, “It was that or you’d die!” turn of events. And some conveniently-timed magical spell allows them to walk in daylight and not require blood to survive.

Now all they need to do is sparkle.


How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

How to Be a Woman

I just finished reading How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran.

It’s hilarious. Breathtakingly funny, occasionally cringeworthy, and utterly sensible discussions of issues people face in everyday life; albeit this book is directed at those who (for the most part) possess a vagina.

It’s feminism defined as the right to be ‘one of the guys’, and a guide to picking out misogynistic or even our own sexist behaviour as ‘Dude. Rude. Would you say that or do that to another man?’ and ‘Is this something a guy would do, or is it just a bunch of bullshit we shouldn’t give a second glance?’

Reading How To Be A Woman is like sitting down with your favourite Disreputable Aunt – the one who’s still young enough to totally get you, who got drunk with Lady GaGa, writes columns on contemporary society, and speaks honestly and happily about both her two daughters, and about having had an abortion.

She’s so geeky, so upbeat, so clever and so unwilling to accept any of the facets or farces of life at face value – Brazilians? High heels? Having children? Not having children? Having to stay young? Sexism? Abortions? Menstruation? – that I want to be her.


And for the guys, who may be backing away from this post in fear, I say: “Dudebro. Read it. Read it now. This book may be the most honest conversation you will ever have with a woman, and you will understand so much.”


It’s an exhilarated, happy book. It’s not a rage, or a tantrum, or a sulk. I’m sure Moran, being human, has experienced all those things. But only briefly, and then she picks herself back up and jumps onboard the good ship HMAS Gosh, Isn’t This All Awesome? What Comes Next?!, and sails cheerfully off for warmer waters.

It’s inspiring, and makes me think that yes, we should have the lady-balls to say, ‘Yeah – I like the look of this world. And I’ve been here for a good while, watching. Now, here’s how I’d tweak it. Because we’re all in this together. We’re all just, you know. The Guys.’


If I could set a mandatory reading list for everyone, everywhere, I’m pretty sure this would be on it.


K.L gives How To Be A Woman 5 out of 5 tipsy friends dancing badly in public.