Book Review 2021

2021 probably marks the shortest book review post since I started this blog! Still unable to travel or go to book club, but now fully into the swing of managing projects from home, my reading reached an all-time low. Here’s the handful of stories I managed to take in:

Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

✮ ✮ ✮

Last year, I read Parable of the Sower and loved it. Octavia Butler is said to have been the mother of ‘Afrofuturism,’ imagining alternate futures. The series set in a socially and economically depressed California, where society has collapsed and religious fanatics are trying to take over – and, for once, features a strong, female, black protagonist.

This sequel however never gripped me in the same way as the Sower. I put it down for well over 6 months before finally rushing through the last couple of chapters, just to know the end of the story and be done with it. I think it is in part because the novel very quickly gets very dark and violent. Probably not surprising, but: who enjoys reading about torture and rape? No matter how impressive the writing is, it is not for me. I looked up some reviews after to see if anyone felt the same at all, and mostly came across 5 stars and awards… so my criticism really is just personal.

With that said, there’s some interesting future-predicting elements to the story, which is set mostly in the 2020s and 30s. It features a President who wants to ‘Make America Great Again‘ (note, this novel was published in 1998!). It illustrates how minorities are hit harder by crises. The question whether we should be investing in Earth, or in space travel. I’m not sure what to recommend. Read at your own risk.

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

✮ ✮

I’m a big fan of the Pillars of the Earth series, so I was really looking forward to this one. The Morning and the Evening is set at the end of the 10th century CE, peak Viking-invasion time. It features a builder (originally boat builder, but apparently we swiftly move on from that), a French princess (who knows how to wield power, and is generally a pretty cool character) and a gay monk (who wants to transform the town that will become Kingsbridge).

However, this prequel is probably my least favourite one in the series so far. There was a lot less historic architecture than in the other novels, which was the main draw for me. In addition, the love story was almost the same as the other novels! I won’t spoil it, but Ken Follett seems to have a thing for unanswered romance spanning decades. Lastly, I also took a 6 month break from reading this book. It got very dark about 2/3 of the way through and as I usually read before bed I just couldn’t continue. I did finish it in the end though, and if I hadn’t read the other stories I would have probably thought this one was quite captivating… so maybe I should have been managing my expectations a bit differently.

I had a quick look on Goodreads to see if anyone else had similar thoughts, and came across the comment “… I had realized that in the end you only write the same book all the time, send the same characters on the journey, that even the end of their journey always remains the same.”

Spot the theme.
Spot the theme.

Raising Feminist Boys by Bobbi Wegner

✮ ✮

I had high expectations for this book, but throughout it seemed to work on the assumption that feminism + raising boys is something unusual or something that may be perceived negatively… which is an odd premise to start from. A lot of the time the author writes ‘boys’ where really it should be ‘people’. For example, she writes “boys can have empathy”. Do you see what I mean? That whole statement assumes that girls have empathy and boys don’t. What? For a feminist book, this is a major language red flag.

The author also describes dance class as an activity for girls that boys could participate in… but then she writes “it is our job as parents to help our kids unlearn this divisiveness”. Does she not see that she is perpetuating this divisiveness by mentioning it and highlighting it? Obviously, I do see what she means and I agree. However I think I would have rated this book a bit higher if it went a bit deeper instead of just skimming the surface. Next on my to-read list is ‘How to Raise a Feminist Son’ by Sonora Jha. I wonder if she has a different take on this.

How to Give Birth Like a Feminist by Milli Hill

✮ ✮

The main thing I took away from this book was that you should not ‘hide’ behind “as long as the baby is okay”. People should not use this as an excuse, explanation, or comfort. Yeah, it is ultimately the most important thing that the baby is healthy – but that does not mean any less attention should be paid to its parents. To use a bunch of interventions for the benefit of the baby has a huge impact on the person birthing the baby. And recovery is a massive deal, both physically and mentally – plus has a much more long-term impact than just the ‘fourth trimester’. Indeed, after a complicated labour almost everyone I encountered responded with “ah but the baby is fine at least” which, despite the best (ignorant and polite) intentions is really both insulting and unhelpful.

There were a few bits and bops in this book that didn’t apply to me, or that I philosophically didn’t agree with. For example, it seemed a bit anti-modern-medicine in the way some things were phrased, with some assumptions made about the scenarios we were likely familiar with – plus wording that seemed intentional towards rejecting those. There was a lot of emphasis on natural homebirth, which I think you have to be very careful with because it may create unrealistic expectations. Overall, I do think it’s a good ‘intro’ to the intersection of birth and feminism – but anyone with more experience with the subject matter will find some flaws.

Taking up a bit of space (get it) in the bookcase...
Taking up a bit of space (get it) in the bookcase…

Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper 1-6 by Nathan Lowell

✮ ✮

Ok to be fair this means I read 6 books! But I am not going to write separate entries. This was a recommendation from my sister. It is a series of stories about a guy who works his way up the ranks on a space ship. Fairly literally, with references to sails and captains – but in space. There’s satisfying visits to different space stations (although not any planets), different ships, different crews. And for some reason, really good descriptions of food? Regular food-you-find-in-the-US-right-now though, nothing futuristic. I really like how this reviewer puts it.

I loved turning the pages on these. They were all so easy to read, and I enjoyed the characters. That said, character development was very poor and not terribly diverse (apart from some obvious attempts). The hero’s actions were all extremely predictable, as was the plot of each story. Sometimes that is just not a big deal though, when you want some low-effort bed-time reading. Nothing was particularly offensive and although there were some plot-holes they were not hugely frustrating. In addition, I quite liked the timelessness of the series. For sci-fi, there wasn’t a massive emphasis on technology, so this could easily be read 10 years ago as well as 10 years from now.

Author: Zen

Archaeologist & adventurer. Interested in vegetarian street-food, avoiding tourists and road-trips into the unknown. Originally from Holland - then Durham, Cambridge, Würzburg, Istanbul, Erbil - now London. Always learning a new language.

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