And I Darken

And I Darken by Kiersten White

I liked White’s paranormal romance series, so I was interested to pick up this historical/fantasy series as well. This story is about a brother and sister, children of an Eastern European prince in the Middle Ages. They are sent to live in the court of the Ottoman Empire as assurance of their father’s cooperation. There they befriend the sultan’s son and take part in many intrigues and adventures, from an aborted coup to a failed siege. The story is dark and violent, with Lada, the sister, as a particularly prickly and tough warrior-princess. Her insistence on receiving military training, and on assuming command of a regiment, pushes gender boundaries. The climax is exciting, and the ending bittersweet. It’s YA, but probably on the ‘mature’ end of the genre.

The sequel, Now I Rise, comes out this year.

The Trespasser

The Trespasser by Tana French

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I love the Dublin Murder Squad series, but the latest book is probably my new favorite. The narrator of The Trespasser is Antoinette Conway, the tough, prickly detective who teamed up with Stephen Moran in the most recent book, The Secret Place. Conway has been continuously sexually harassed since joining the murder squad, and it has made her paranoid and distrustful of her fellow detectives. She’s constantly wondering whether other detectives are undermining her investigation, but in this case she might be right. “Daddy issues” are also a theme, as a missing father turns out to be one thing Conway has in common with the victim. The majority of the action plays out in extended interviews of the suspects and witnesses, delving deep into each subject’s psyche, as Conway instantly analyzes each answer and tweaks her role-playing accordingly.

Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter

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This book has been on my list to read ever since I heard that the author of the widely shared Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” got a book deal. It lived up to my anticipation, presenting an analysis of American work/family issues that goes beyond issues of gender.

Slaughter’s main thesis is that American society has a widespread bias against care work and caregivers, which has historically disadvantaged women in the workplace. She argues that gender discrimination is often discrimination against people with family responsibilities, or people who are otherwise unable to be the ideal worker/corporate drone that companies prefer to hire and advance. She wants flexible workplaces and career tracks, more pay and respect for caregiving professions, and a shift in attitudes and policies to truly value caregiving, and not just pay lip service to it.

I found myself nodding along with the book frequently, agreeing with Slaughter’s analysis almost always. She studiously avoids gender essentialism while acknowledging historical inequities between men and women’s experiences of work and home. She places the blame for our current situation primarily on institutions and cultural narratives rather than on individuals, while advising women and men on how to deal with today’s reality and work toward improving things for everybody.

My main critique is just that Slaughter is perhaps too pro-capitalist. In my opinion she’s overly enthusiastic about freelance work and companies like Uber and Thumbtack, especially in the absence of national health care, which she acknowledges we need. I think flexibility is not enough, and would prefer companies and clients simply to require less slavish dedication of workers. Slaughter buys in too wholeheartedly to the necessity of overwork, accepting too readily the idea that long hours are necessary to advance in most fields. She doesn’t even bring up ideas for slowing the pace of work for everybody, for example, by disabling after-hours email, outlawing overtime, or limiting the work day to six hours, as some European countries and companies are experimenting with now. But these critiques are perhaps a little radical.

Slaughter worked for the State department under Hillary Clinton, reporting directly to her and calling her a great, understanding boss. Had Clinton won the electoral vote, and not only the popular vote, Slaughter would almost surely have had the president’s ear and might have been able to advance these ideas toward creating concrete policies that would help families. But now, even if Democrats win the next congressional and presidential elections, it might be too late for me to enjoy more generous family policies, like paid parental leave. This is one of the many things I continually mourn  as we watch the current administration’s plans unfold.

The Runaway Princess and The Runaway Dragon

These two children’s books take a lot of fairy tale tropes and give them a feminist spin. I’d recommend them to any parent of a princess-obsessed girl.

The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs

This story begins with a typical princess setup: the king and queen lock a princess in a tower and call for princes to compete for her hand in marriage. But this princess isn’t having it: she escapes and works to complete the tasks set by the king so that she can win her own hand. She befriends the witch and the bandits that the princes were told to defeat, and reveals the cheating committed by the princes. She finds a baby dragon, that becomes her pet. It’s a bright and happy story with a satisfying ending.

The Runaway Dragon by Kate Coombs

This sequel begins with the almost grown, somewhat neglected dragon running away, and Meg going off on a quest to find it. Her parents make her take a bunch of royal guards, and the party gets lost in an enchanted forest, where a dwarf who is knowledgeable of fairy tale tropes gives them lots of advice. Meg’s friends end up in a giant’s castle, while she and her magician outwit an evil sorceress. I like how a romantic subplot is a bit of an afterthought, rather than the main point. The focus is on Meg’s desire for adventure, her worry for her pet dragon, and solving the problems that she and her friends get themselves into.

Mediocre Mysteries

I recently read the first books in a couple mystery series, and they didn’t impress me. It’s possible that the later books improve, but I won’t be continuing the series.

Still Life by Louise Penny

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In this mystery, murder comes to a small town in Quebec and wise Inspector Gamache comes down to investigate. Paintings are a major clue and plot device as a surprising number of the characters are artists. The setting is preciously picturesque, and the portrayal of gay characters seems a bit stereotyped. The villain, when finally revealed, is almost cartoonishly evil. I was constantly annoyed by the too-stupid-to-live new girl on the team, who never listened, learned or improved. It’s also possible that dour, plodding voice of the audiobook reader soured me on this one.

In the Last Analysis by Amanda Cross

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The detective in this book is an English professor whose close friend is a phychoanalyst who has had a patient murdered on his couch. The characters talk about psychoanalysis in a way that seemed very stigmatizing to me. I was intrigued by this series because I like the idea of an academic as a detective. But the thing that bugged me the most about this book is that all the characters talk the same way–like they were all English professors, full of pontificating allusions and SAT vocab words. And the solution to the mystery is convoluted in a way that seemed silly and unrealistic to me.

We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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In this contemporary YA novel, Cady Sinclair’s rich, privileged, severely emotionally repressed family spends every summer on a private island, where she and her cousins enjoy sun, sand, and each other’s friendship. Then Cady is injured mysteriously and can’t remember what happened. Two years later she returns to the island and tries to make sense of her family’s tragedy. I was very intrigued by the fairy tales Cady tells to make sense of her relatives and her place among them. As the cracks in the WASPy family’s façade start showing, I could barely put the book down. But ultimately I found the amnesia clichéd, and was a little disappointed by the revelation of the mystery–it was a bit too Sixth Sense for me. I liked the book, but not as much as Lockhart’s other two that I’ve read, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and Dramarama.

I Wrote a Guest Post on Dad Gone Wild

I wrote something about my experience in an alternative teacher licensure program and sent it to TC Webber of Dad Gone Wild. He posted it and hopefully it will get the conversation going about teacher training. Here’s a permanent link. I’m super excited that Diane Ravitch retweeted me!

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