Tag: book club pick


Magnificent Monday: The Invaders (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 8 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Magnificent Monday: The Invaders (A Tournament of Books Selection)The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
Published by Simon and Schuster on July 7th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 240
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Over the course of a summer in a wealthy Connecticut community, a forty-something woman and her college-age stepson’s lives fall apart in a series of violent shocks.
Cheryl has never been the right kind of country-club wife. She's always felt like an outsider, and now, in her mid-forties—facing the harsh realities of aging while her marriage disintegrates and her troubled stepson, Teddy, is kicked out of college—she feels cast adrift by the sparkling seaside community of Little Neck Cove, Connecticut. So when Teddy shows up at home just as a storm brewing off the coast threatens to destroy the precarious safe haven of the cove, she joins him in an epic downward spiral.

The Invaders, in a word, is magnificent. It’s a modern day rendering (I suspect intentionally…) of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.

I love the parallels that it brings out in modern society (and U.S. politics) Lori, the neighbor in the upper-upper middle class neighborhood with more money than sense erecting a fence the keep ‘the Mexicans’ out. The idea that being poor is equivocal with being dangerous and the upsetting idea of people pooping in the ocean. Despite touching on points of white privilege, isolationism, and class politics it’s also a story about family and marriage.

Told through the voices of Cheryl, the second wife of a man who has lived his life behind the walls of white country club money and privilege, and Teddy, the son from his first marriage. Both voices are equally heartbreaking and at times, equally unlikable.

Despite having been married to Jeffery for ten years, Cheryl is still an outsider and wonders how these people who seemingly have nothing to be unhappy about — as they have everything — are.

I wanted to know which of these women were still having sex with their husbands. I wanted to know if I was pathetic of if this was just how it turned out for everybody.

As Cheryl’s isolation becomes more palpable, a hurricane moves in.

At the same time we have Teddy, who should be an ‘insider’ being born and raised in the country club enclave, but still somehow ends up as an ‘invader’. He has his own demons to conquer and ways of battling them that drag out in the open the idea that we can literally give our kids everything and despite that (or perhaps because of it) they will still have their problems and there’s nothing that we as parents can do to help.

For sure, The Invaders is a dark book, but it’s highly readable, with fully fleshed out, complex characters. What I don’t understand is the poor ratings that The Invaders has on Goodreads and Amazon. My only guess is that it was badly marketed as ‘women’s lit’, which I think that if you pick it up with that mindset, of course, you’re going to hate it.

What do you think, Readers? Has anyone out there read this one? I obviously think that it’s highly underrated… what about you? How do you think it will fare in the Tournament of Books?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: The Beautiful Bureaucrat

Posted 10 August, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: The Beautiful BureaucratThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Published by Henry Holt and Company on August 11th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Thrillers
Pages: 192
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as The Database. After a long period of joblessness, she's not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings-the office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond.

I just finished this little tome and holy poop on a stick guys – it knocked my socks off. I feel like The Beautiful Bureaucrat has something for everyone. It’s full of intrigue, a dash of magical realism,  and a whole lot of excellent writing.

It felt a little bit like a grown-up Wrinkle in Time, though why exactly it felt that way — I can’t exactly put my finger on it. But I loved the slightly science fiction feel that didn’t necessarily go overboard and take The Beautiful Bureaucrat into the realm of genre fiction. Admittedly, the characters are a bit flat, but because of the slimness and the surreal feeling of the novel, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I love the wordplay within the novel, which screams of symbolism – perhaps Josephine’s descent into madness working her job. I love how she eventually started referring to her husband by his social security number. I love the Every Place feeling of The City vs. The Hinterlands.

Some reviewers found The Beautiful Bureaucrat to be somewhat Orwellian, I didn’t necessarily have that feeling — though there was definitely the sense that Josephine was being watched.

Anyway, I don’t want to oversell The Beautiful Bureaucrat, but I think that the length of the novel makes it accessible to everyone and to me it was completely delightful.

What do you think, Reader? Does this sound like something that might be up your alley? 

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Best Books: 2014

Posted 30 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in books and publishing

best books 2014

It’s that time of year y’all! If you were here ’round this time last year, you know that I don’t do my best of list until the end of June, mostly because everyone is so sick of best of lists in December that they want to throw up. So, here’s my best twelve books of 2014 list while you’re fresh and ready!

  • The Word Exchange by: Alena Graedon – Mostly this list is in no particular order, but The Word Exchange blew my socks off so early in the year that very little else came close to me. I love dystopia, I especially love a near future dystopia where words are at stake. I loved this book.
  • Pro by: Katha Pollitt – This might have been the most important book published in 2014. It’s a call to stop shaming women who choose abortion and how access to abortion for all is not only something that women should never feel guilty about — it’s actually a morally righteous decision. Anyone who is on the fence about abortion or who thinks that exceptions for abortion are okay in rape and incest situations need to read this book.
  • The Magician’s Trilogy by: Lev Grossman – Okay, so only The Magician’s Land was actually published in 2014, but I gobbled up the whole 1,200 page trilogy in a matter of two weeks. I hate that I had the opportunity to see Lev Grossman speak (and did!) at The Decatur Book Festival last year but did not secure myself a signed copy of The Magician’s Land. Hailed as a ‘grown up Harry Potter’, I absolutely must agree. Except maybe it’s all the best parts of Harry Potter and all the best parts of the Narnia series. Go forth, read them all. Immediately.
  • Revival by: Stephen King – I loved the slow burn of this novel and the feeling of creepiness slowly coming up on you, along with the balls to the walls scareded-ness that come at the end. Yes. Absolutely a must read for Stephen King fans young and old.
  • Bellweather Rhapsody by: Kate Racculia – If you’re a band nerd, former or current, or if you love some crazy, quirky, mysteries this is a fabulous book for you. There was so much about this book that rang true to me — from being a former band nerd to the fact that it had almost a Stephen King-eqsue feel with the hotel (The Shining is what I’m thinking of) this book is unique and wonderful.
  • Dear Committee Members by: Julie Schumacher – Are you sick of the rash of epistolatory novels? DON’T BE! Dear Committee Members is delightful and laugh out loud funny at times. Anyone who has worked in an office setting or especially  in higher education in an underfunded department will find plenty of delight and fabulousness in this novel.
  • Station Eleven by: Emily St. John Mandel – Won the Rooster in this year’s Tournament of Books. It was a fantastic and beautiful literary dystopian novel that was absolutely enchanting.
  • How to Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran – The most important coming-of-age novel since Judy Blume. I adored this novel. I laughed, I teared up, I was always team Johanna.
  • The Bone Clocks by: David Mitchell – Yes. Just do it.
  • An Untamed State by: Roxane Gay – I was completely entrenched into this novel, the most important part of it wasn’t, for me, the rape of a woman of color, but it was dealing with the aftermath of that rape and finding hope and understanding in the most unlikely places. A fabulous debut novel by Gay.
  • Yes Please by: Amy Poehler – YES PLEASE! A fabulous feminist manifesto full of positivity and laughter. Poehler’s memoir was everything I wanted to to be, and more.
  • All the Birds, Singing by: Evie Wyld – Another book that I read thanks to the Tournament of Books. I found this book to be so beautifully complex and such a great puzzle. So much for discussion in a book club, so much symbolism and such great writing.

So, Reader, what were your favorite books of 2014? 

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Fabulous Feminist Friday: Dietland

Posted 12 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Feminist Friday: DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 272
Goodreads
five-stars

The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed. Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin. But when Plum notices she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots, she finds herself falling down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms. Reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerilla group begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her own personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive. Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.

As the memes say, Dietland was so much win for me. It’s possible that part of the win came from the fact that I almost didn’t read it. Shannon at River City Reading sent me her copy and I wasn’t really arrested by the description, but I am a feminist so I thought I might as well give it a whirl, if for no other reason Shannon spent $4.07 mailing it to me.

Guys. This book will change your life. Or at the very least will have you re-examining so many parts of our culture. This book touched me in a very personal way so,  before I get to the book review we’re going sit down and have a little fireside chat. Move in closer, I’m going to get a little personal.

Growing up, through my twenties, up until the point that I had The Girl four years ago, I was that girl. I was the girl who could eat as much of anything that she wanted and never gain an ounce. I fluctuated between 115 – 120 or so, never exercised until I joined the Air Force and never gained weight. Well, as so often happens once women pop out that first baby they find their bodies inexorably changed forever. I now fluctuate between 160 – 170 and it’s taken me a long time to recognize that this is my new body. Well, this is my new body unless I want to live in Dietland.

Foxy, hot, fuckable. Whatever it was called, that’s what I’d wanted  – to be hot, to elicit desire in men and envy in women. But I realized I didn’t want that anymore. That required living in Dietland, which meant control, constriction – paralysis, even – but above all it meant obedience. I was tired of being obedient.”

I freakin’ love to eat guys. I love it. I’m terrible at exercising regularly, which I should do for health reasons but that’s a different issue. Do you know what this book did for me? It set me free from Dietland. I’m a size 12, I’m going to stay that way, and I am okay with that. Okay seriously, the review now.

Dietland takes on all the issues. Gender inequality, fat shaming being one of the last acceptable prejudices, beauty culture. The writing is good, there are some characters that seem a little underdeveloped, but I almost wonder if this was intentional – if these characters are less characters and more caricatures. For me that worked with the satire and social commentary that Walker was creating.

I enjoyed every facet of this book with the sole exception being the treatment of anti-depressants in the novel. Monika mentions this in her review as well (linked below), and it’s just unclear what statement Walker was trying to make about the use of anti-depressants – but I’m uncomfortable with negativity expressed towards their use, just because the stigma against mental health treatment is so high.

The timing of the publication of this novel is perfect, the novel itself is light and airy while still packing a substantive punch of social commentary that the world needs to hear. This might be the best book I’ve read this year.

Other Opinions:

River City Reading

A Lovely Bookshelf

Books Speak Volumes

A quote for the road:

“On the Nola and Nedra Show, Nola Larson King said: “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, Nedra, and I agree with you. I don’t think that this is terrorism or lady terrorism. Do you know what I think it is?”

“I’m dying to know,” said Nedra Feldstein-Delany.

“I think it’s a response to terrorism. From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad men who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves late at night, not to dress in a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”

What do you think, Reader? Too subversive? Too weird? Let’s chat! Also – expect to see this broken down completely at The Socratic Salon some day soon!

April

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Boo

Posted 11 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: BooBoo by Neil Smith
on May 19, 2015
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

It is the first week of school in 1979, and Oliver "Boo" Dalrymple—ghostly pale eighth-grader, aspiring scientist, social pariah—is standing next to his locker, reciting the periodic table. The next thing he knows, he is finds himself lying in a strange bed in a strange land. He is a new resident of Town—an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds. Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel, a fellow classmate, who brings with him a piece of surprising news about the circumstances of the boys' death.

In Town, there are no trees or animals, just endless rows of redbrick dormitories surrounded by unscalable walls. No one grows or ages, but everyone arrives just slightly altered from who he or she was before. To Boo's great surprise, the qualities that made him an outcast at home win him friends, and he finds himself capable of a joy he has never experienced. But there is a darker side to life after death—and as Boo and Johnny attempt to learn what happened that fateful day, they discover and disturbing truth that will have profound repercussions for both of them.

Every part of this book just charmed the pants off of me. From the unique idea that there is a heaven that is populated completely of 13 year-old Americans. To the characters of Boo and Johnny and the repercussions that their quest to find their killer has on them – and the Town itself. While no one ever physically ages in the town, for the fifty years in which they are allowed to stay there the characters age emotionally. It was a stroke of genius for Smith to call ‘heaven’ The Town rather than heaven – because clearly in the novel it’s not.

I know that a book full of dead kids doesn’t exactly sound charming or appealing, but you’re going to have to trust me that as weird as this premise sounds, Smith makes it work. There are many twists in this book that I saw coming, there were a few that I didn’t. The surprising tenderness of the prose along with the affability and friendship of the main characters leaves the reader thinking about this book long after finishing it. 

Despite being about a ‘heaven’ populated by thirteen year olds – this novel is on no level a YA book. Perhaps it could be an appropriate read for kids of upper ages, but I really feel like the tone, style, and themes make this a book that easily fits into the literary fiction category. 

Smith should feel proud of his debut novel, it’s unique, funny, tender, and absolutely enthralling. Go read it, trust me.

Does this book sound too weird for you, Reader? (It’s not, just trust me and go get it.) What do you have this lovely Monday that I must read?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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What Was That? Wednesday: All the Birds, Singing (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 18 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

What Was That? Wednesday: All the Birds, Singing (A Tournament of Books Selection)All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on April 15th 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Family Life, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 240
Goodreads
five-stars

Jake Whyte is living on her own in an old farmhouse on a craggy British island, a place of ceaseless rain and battering wind. Her disobedient collie, Dog, and a flock of sheep are her sole companions, which is how she wants it to be. But every few nights something—or someone—picks off one of the sheep and sounds a new deep pulse of terror. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, and rumors of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is also Jake’s past, hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, held in the silences about her family and the scars that stripe her back—a past that threatens to break into the present. With exceptional artistry and empathy, All the Birds, Singing reveals an isolated life in all its struggles and stubborn hopes, unexpected beauty, and hard-won redemption.

This was one of the most enjoyable novels that I read for Tournament of Books. The prose is gorgeous and I found the structure to be really unique. Though it only has one narrator (technically) the chapters alternate between telling the story of Jake’s present and telling the story of Jake’s past – backwards. It’s a delightful and surprising structure that made the novel really enjoyable for me. 

This is another one of those books (kind of like Annihilation) that defies hard categorization. Though it is a suspenseful novel I have a hard time calling it a suspense novel. If that makes any sense at all. As I said above – the structure of this book is what makes it so unique – it really gives the reader a sense of push and pull, dread and understanding, of what Jake is going through. 

The ending is a point of contention for many readers (I’m going to just leave it there), but no matter how you feel about it, All the Birds, Singing is one of those novels that sticks with you for a long time after you’ve read it. 

Unique and thoroughly enjoyable, I think that readers of literary fiction (and yes, suspense novels) are likely to really appreciate this book. This would also make an EXCELLENT book club pick because it’s relatively short and there are lots of things to talk about.

As far as the Tournament goes, (brackets came out today!) I have a hard time predicting how it will do up against A Brief History of Seven Killings, I’m only about a quarter of the way through that one and while it feels deep and important – it’s not very readable.

Excellent reviews also from:
Michael at Literary Exploration
Shannon at River City Reading
Katie at Bookish Tendencies

What was the last book that you read that really stuck with you, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Us Conductors

Posted 9 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Us ConductorsUs Conductors by Sean Michaels
Published by Tin House Books on May 19th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 464
Goodreads
five-stars

Us Conductors is the imagined story of Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin--one of the first electric musical instruments--and his unrequited love for Clara Rockmore, its greatest player. A tale of espionage and electricity, it takes readers from the gardens of St. Petersburg to the Jazz-Age nightclubs of New York, through concert halls, speakeasies, and the Siberian wastes. Sean Michaels’s debut novel is based on the true events of Termen’s life: his invention of the theremin, in Russia, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution; his decade as a Manhattan celebrity and secret spy, jostling with Gershwin and building weapon detectors for Alcatraz; and his eventual return to Stalin’s USSR. As the novel reaches its devastating climax, Termen is sent out into the Gulag--first to a forced labor camp and then to a prison for scientists—and bears witness to some of the Cold War’s deepest atrocities. But like the theremin, Us Conductors is also an eerie and magical invention. Subtle, thrilling, and melancholy, it is a story of secrets, of human ingenuity, of the lengths one goes to survive, and, ultimately, of the undiminishing hope for love that keeps us alive.

This book has been flying under the radars of U.S. (and possibly most international) readers. Despite having won the Giller Prize in Canada, for some reason it has not managed to ‘make it’ outside of that country. I will forever be indebted to Tanya at 52 Books or Bust for convincing me to read this with her brilliant review of this novel.

This book meets at the intersection of music, science, history, and unrequited love. Despite the blurb, this is not a epistolary novel. It is one long narrative presented in two parts. Michaels veers between sections that are clearly written to Clara and expository sections where most of the action takes place. 

I found myself delighted with the ‘name dropping’ of 20’s and 30’s musicians that are now a part of classical and jazz music canon. There are discussions on Shostakovich, meetings with Glenn Miller. Many classical composers attended concerts by Termen while he was in New York – and quite frankly – it’s impressive that this man and his instrument that I had only vague knowledge of made such a huge impact on the music world at the time. His instrument, the theremin, is a testament to how closely music and science can intersect. 

But wait, there’s more. So you’re not interested in music or science? That’s okay too. This book covers the USSR’s cold war espionage and the horrors of the gulags under Stalin. While this is still primarily what I would consider a character driven novel, there is plenty of action and intrigue to go with it. The story is immensely readable and highly enjoyable. Despite this being a Canadian novel, it feels remarkably American. (Which is part of the reason I don’t understand why it hasn’t been more successful in the U.S.) 

This is a fabulous novel that transcends all the categories you want to try to put it in. Absolutely, without a doubt, you should read it. Since it is a true piece of historical fiction I found myself promptly ordering the non-fiction title Theremin: Ether, Music, and Espionage by: Albert Glinsky and requesting from the library the DVD for the 1993 documentary on the subject Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey.

I’ll leave you with this clip of Clara Rockmore (Termen’s unrequited love interest) playing Saint-Saën’s ‘The Swan’ which is one of the first pieces that Termen introduced to listeners when demonstrating his new instrument.

 
If you’re further interested in the theremin, here’s a Ted Talk/performance on it!
 
So, Reader, have you read anything that seems to be under the radar that is absolutely brilliant lately? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Let’s Talk About It Tuesday: The Children Act

Posted 16 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Let’s Talk About It Tuesday: The Children ActThe Children Act by Ian McEwan
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 9th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Legal, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 240
Goodreads
four-stars

Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital—an encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.

McEwan’s The Children Act is a fascinating novel with themes that sit at the intersection of law and freedom. Being an attorney I was most interested in what Fiona’s ruling would be on the case set forth in the book.

While McEwan’s novel is set in British courts, the set of facts that is brought forth in the novel is one that American courts have to grapple with all too often as well. Adam, a seventeen year old Jehovah’s Witness (born and bred) is diagnosed with a common form of leukemia. A simple blood transfusion is virtually all that is needed to save the boy’s life. Without it, he will surely die. Yet Adam, weeks from his eighteenth birthday, wants to refuse the transfusion. The issue? Can the law compel a minor (so close to the age of majority) to accept life saving medical treatment against his wishes and the wishes of his parents? 

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists have always fascinated me in a morbid way because of their refusal to accept modern medical treatment, even in dire situations where lives are at stake. In the U.S., courts have consistently held that a competent adult has the right to refuse life-saving medical treatment and the Supreme Court has upheld it several times as a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause.

However, as you may suspect, juvenile and family courts don’t deal with competent adults, they deal with minors. When dealing with decisions about a child’s well-being and the law in the U.S., courts nearly always use the ‘best interest of the child’ standard. So even though it’s well established that parents have a fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit, (Wisconsin v. Yoder, if you’re interested) it’s not a right that is absolute. In the seminal case Prince v. Massachusetts, Justice Rutledge wrote for the majority:

“Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”

But with the ‘best interest of the child’ standard there are many factors that courts will consider and they vary greatly state to state. Currently (and historically) there are hundreds if not thousands of cases where the courts have overruled the parent’s aversion to treatment for young minor children. However, the older the child is, the more likely the court will give his or her opinion weight. What makes the case in The Children Act so very close is Adam’s age and at the crux of the situation is truly his maturity level.

There were two cases that I could find that dealt with similar situations. In both cases the court held that despite the fact that the minors were very close to the age of majority, it was also deemed necessary that the court evaluate the maturity of the children in considering their wishes. In the end the courts ruled that it was acceptable to provide life-saving blood transfusions over the objections of the 17 year old patients and their parents.

At the same time I ran across a case of a 12 year old who was considered a ‘mature minor’ by the hospital, the hospital’s ethics committee opted not to pursue a court order to force life-saving treatment on the child and she subsequently died.

Clearly, I find this to be a fascinating point of law. I’ve run on too long with my legal history and background here but I still want to talk about the actual book a bit. The half concerning Fiona’s rationale in reaching her ruling is extraordinary. McEwan’s prose brings through simple truths about the law with his usual eloquence.

“This court is a court of law, not of morals, and our task has been to find, and our duty is then to apply, the relevant principles of law to the situation before us – a situation which is unique.”

It is a truth known to those in the legal profession that too often the law is not about morality or justice, the law is about… the law.

The second half of the novel was disappointing. I didn’t particularly care about Fiona’s marital problems or strife and I found some of her actions at the end to be incongruous with the character that she displayed at the beginning.

Overall this is a fascinating novel, though I would have liked to see more on Adam’s case and less on Fiona’s personal life. Highly recommended to people interested in the place where law and religion intersect and general fans of McEwan. It’s not Atonement, but it’s still an excellent read.

Edit: I should add that Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books has a most excellent review that doesn’t focus so heavily on the legal aspect here.

Any interest in this one Reader? What do you think if you’ve read it? How do you feel about the state of U.S. jurisprudence regarding forced treatment of children over the religious objections of the parents? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 13 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 9th 2014
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

2014 National Book Award Finalist. Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.   One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.   Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.   Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I picked up this book after reading Catherine’s review (The Gilmore Guide to Books). I have been a long time enthusiast of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian novels… dare I say it, before they were cool. So while I find myself a little bored with the massive number of YA books in this genre that carry all too familiar tropes, I always jump on adult novels in the genre (maybe with the noted exception of zombie apocalypse novels). 

This book is beautifully written. It’s character driven, which may sound like an odd combination with the apocalyptic setting but St. John Mandel pulls it off beautifully. It’s elegant and literary. There are points with action, but it never overtakes the characters or dumbs the book down. I especially enjoyed the shifting perspectives in time, people, and places. It’s like a beautifully crafted jigsaw puzzle that you put together in your head, seeing where each character fits.

The characters are well fleshed out and believable (I kept seeing Arthur as Richard Gere, no idea why). There were a few times where a character had been gone for so long from the narrative I had to check myself with a ‘wait, who?’. Other than that, this is a fantastic book. 

I highly recommend it to literary fiction lovers, even if they feel ‘done’ with this particular genre. This book is everything I wanted Lighthouse Island to be, and more. This is not just a genre novel, it’s incredibly literary with deeper themes, symbolism and plot devices that could be great for a book club discussion.

For a more spoiler-y professional review that I agree with, pointing out some of the weaknesses of the novel, I direct you to none other than the New York Times.

So, Reader, have you been ‘done’ with this genre for awhile? Do you have any suggestions for literary novels within this genre for me? I will eat them up.

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Terrific Tuesday: How to Build a Girl

Posted 7 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: How to Build a GirlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Published by Harper Collins on September 23rd 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Humorous, Literary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn't enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.It's 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there's no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.By sixteen, she's smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She's writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.But what happens when Johanna realizes she's built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

I read this book as part of a read-along with a number of other bloggers a few months back. I adored it. This book is going to piss some people off, lots of people are going to be put off by the opening scene, fourteen year old Johanna Morrigan masturbating in bed.
But what’s great about How to Build a Girl is, for the most part it’s an incredibly real book. It’s a book that finally gives a narrative voice to teenage girls about growing up as teenage girls. Sex, drugs, poverty, and welfare are all explored by Moran in such an expert way that I have half of the book highlighted. Moran shies away from none of these things. There is no misty lighting when describing Johanna’s sexual experiences – it’s done very matter-of-factly, there is nothing titillating or pornographic about it. I would love to see this book in high school libraries. I’d love to see it taught to high school students (but it’s never ever going to happen). There’s plenty of laughter and places to feel the feels.
I know other readers are bothered by some tense shifting within the novel. Most of the time we’re hearing the voice of 14 – 17 year old Johanna, but every now and then the tense shifts and the words seem to be coming from an older, wiser narrator. This didn’t bother me in the least, but there are plenty of readers I know who it drove crazy. Which is a bit weird to me, because I’ve read plenty of books since (which some of these same bloggers have also read) that had the same tense shifting and no one said boo about it…
Moran has written a novel here, that, for the first time since Judy Blume, has given teenage girls a voice. But for all the good it could do for teenagers to read this book, it’s not really a YA novel. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it’s a highly relatable coming of age novel that women and girls have needed for a long time now. I applaud Moran for writing this and her publishers for not shying away from the hard topics.
How to Build a Girl is the perfect balance of levity, heart-break, and reality. I highly recommend this to well… everyone. But those most likely to enjoy it will be people with an open mind and understanding of feminism who are willing to stretch just a tiny bit outside of what they perceive their comfort zone to be. It’s worth it.
What do you think, Reader? Could you venture just a little (or a lot) outside of your comfort zone to read this revolutionary book? Or does this sound completely out of bounds for you? I can’t help but shout it from the rooftops. It’s so good.

 

 

 

P.S. If you’ve already read the book, or have no intentions of reading it I might highly recommend my read-along posts:
Part One
Chapters 5 – 10
Chapters 11 – 15
Chapters 16 – 20
Endings

I’m excited to be participating in the tour for Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl, be sure to check out the entire tour schedule here, it runs through 22 October. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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