Review: A Game of Thrones

Title: A Game of Thrones

Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #1

Author: George R.R. Martin

Image

Holly

We’re a day late on posting, but that’s because Amanda and I, plus one (grand)mother and one toddler, were running around Chicago yesterday being ladies who shop and lunch. It was amazing. And now, A Game of Thrones.

I’m struggling to articulate how I feel about A Game of Thrones. I liked the story, and the characters, and the world created – and in fact, I hardly moved from the couch for several days while finishing it. At the same time, there was one glaring thread throughout the book that made me intensely intensely dislike it.

That thread is this – the entire time I was reading the book, I just kept asking myself, does George R.R. Martin hate women, or what?

(Disclaimer #1: There may be a few slight spoilers ahead, but let’s be real – this book was published in 2005 and the TV show has been on for 3 seasons, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away here. Disclaimer #2: I really haven’t read anything about George R.R. Martin’s life or how he feels about women. He may very well be a stand-up guy, but I hated how he portrayed most all the womenfolk in this book.)

Allow me to elaborate – the very first page of the book establishes how women are treated throughout – as a sum of their various body parts, rather than as complete beings. “Never believe anything you hear at woman’s tit…” quips a minor character. 800+ pages later, the book ends with a very, er, unusual breastfeeding scene. I’m pretty sure that it’s no accident that the book starts and finishes with boobs.

In between, women are unnecessarily naked, like when a message arrives when Ned and Catelyn are, um, preoccupied. Ned “slipped on a heavy robe,” but Catelyn wraps herself up in blankets, until “the furs dropped away from her nakedness, forgotten” – in front of the messenger, because that’s not weird, right George? Women are raped all.the.time. Seriously George? There is a lot of raping in this book, notably at the wedding of Danyrs and Khal Drogo. There’s a lot of public gang-raping among the Dothraki, but also a lot of “rapers” exiled to protect the Wall. With notable exceptions, throughout the story, the women are whores or nuisances or pawns for the men.

Perhaps I’m not being fair – after all, several of the main characters are strong female characters, right? But what bugged me so much is that for those characters, their femaleness was their number one characteristic, with their strength or smarts as secondary. It’s like this – Ned, he is honorable and integritous (to a fault, it turns out). Catelyn, she is fiercely protective of her family, but she has the glaring hangup of knowing that her husband fathered a bastard (also, everyone is obsessed with bastards in this book. I laughed out loud when the term “grandbastards” was introduced). So, she just can’t *quite* be on the same level of decency as her husband, because she can’t bring herself to accept Jon Snow. (Ned can’t keep it in his pants, and she ends up with this cross to bear? That hardly seems just.)

Arya, their daughter, is a kick-ass female character, but only because she doesn’t act like a girl at all. And, she is balanced by her airheaded sister Sansa, who clearly represents what girls are actually like. Cersei Lannister is a cold and calculating woman – but she’s also got a father, brother(s), and a son to pull strings behind the scenes. She’s not calling the shots.

The men – and boys – in the story are not necessarily better or more likeable, but their flaws are part of their characters, rather than in inherent quality of their gender. It seemed like over and over in the book the women are used, abused, or manipulated while the men are the ones who truly act.

After all that, I have to admit that I finished the book, and I am intrigued enough to read the next one. For comparison though, I feel like I need to cleanse my reading palate with a fantasy novel which really does have real and whole female character. Any suggestions? (Note: Amanda read my draft and then tweeted that I was looking for a “real and whole female.” I’m pretty sure it sounded like I needed a mail-order bride. I do not.)

Parting words: This sums up how women are perceived (ostensibly among the Dothraki, but I would say throughout the book): “The heart of a stallion would make her son strong and swift and fearless, or so the Dothraki believed, but only if the mother could eat it all. If she choked on the book or retched up the flesh, the omens were less favorable: the child might be stillborn, or come forth weak, deformed, or female.”

Rating: Three Stars

Our Best Reads in 2013

Amanda

These are the books that I think have best stuck with me this year-though there are definitely others.  

#1 Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  This was just a beautiful love story.  I can’t find the words to describe it so here is the Goodreads blurb.

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

This was the kind of book that makes me do a happy dance.  The characters are well written, the story surprises you and I found a new author with a collection of books to look forward to trying.  I loved seeing Will and Lou first see each other as more than they appeared and then finding out how strong they each were.  Read this!

#2 Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta.  This is the conclusion of Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles. At my polite request (ahem), Holly just read and reviewed Book #1, Finnikin of the Rock which is also a 5 star book for me.  Quintana wraps up the Lumatere Chronicles beautifully and this is another book that made me cry. Read them!!

# 3 My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor.  Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor is just freaking amazing.  She’s brilliant and she rose into her position against pretty overwhelming odds.  My friend Kara said in her review of this book, “She is what America is about;” which is a perfect summation.  I feel good having a woman like this on the bench. I hope she can write another memoir to share what her years as a judge were like.

#4 Chimes at Midnight by Seanan Maguire.  This is book 7 of Maguire October Daye series, which I highly recommend if you like urban fantasy/paranormal. October is a changeling, half human and half fae and is something of a detective in the fae world.  The series has only gotten stronger as it continues and this last book brought me to tears– I didn’t know a pie could break my heart let me tell you.  Its really hard to say something about just one book of a series! So I’ll just say to give Toby a try.  She’s not perfect, but she is a champion at heart.  Rosemary & Rue is the first book so start here!

Honorable Mention – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.  I heard the author on the NYT Book Review podcast discussing how she wanted to write a love story intermixing her culture with that of her husband.  And so Chava -our golem and Ahmad-the jinni were born.  I loved the movement of this book, from Europe to New York, from ancient Syria to 1899 in New York again.  Clearly I like fantasy books, but I didn’t find this to be too “fantastic”.  There was so much realism brought out I thought in the setting and in the cultural influences of Judaism and the Syrian immigrant community.  I recommend this for just a really different book-also a good story of of how strong relationships can be and what love is like even without the physical. (Pssst – Goodreads is giving this book away -sign up!  https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/72308-the-golem-and-the-jinni) 

Holly

When Amanda said, “oh, we should write a post on the best books we’ve read in 2013,” I had to really think about what I’ve read this year that I loved. This was a much easier task for Amanda, I’m sure, because a) she reads books basically by osmosis, so she’s got a plethora of books to choose from for the year, and because b) she tracks everything on Goodreads. I, on the other hand, read a fraction of what my sister does in a year, and just started to get the hang of Goodreads sometime in the last few weeks (admittedly, I am now hooked).

So, what did I read this year that really stood out to me?

# 1 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I LOVED this book. When I finished it, I posted something on Facebook about how I was probably (as always) behind the times, but that if you hadn’t read this book yet, you should. I got lots of agreement from friends about how fascinating the content is, but also some mixed reviews about the writing style. I however, was completely drawn into the book, and I appreciated the mix of science and personal narrative that Skloot used, including her discomfort as she got more and more involved with the Lacks family. Do I have to add that Amanda was the one who told me to read this book? I swear, she is (almost) always right-on. You should listen to her too.

#2 Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. I know I have already waxed poetic about how much I loved Devil in the White City, and I never would have picked up Thunderstruck if not for my complete obsession with that book and Larson’s writing style. This one is different, and it did take a bit to get into, but this book has definitely stayed with me. What I love about Larson’s books is the level of detail about people and places and trends during the period he’s writing about. I started Thunderstruck just after reading Alice I Have Been (a novel based on the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland), and I remember noticing (and recognizing) a reference to Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) as the book opens with an 1894 (I did not remember this fact 6 months later…I had to look it up) scientific lecture in London, and Dodgson was a member of the hosting body. I appreciate the facts and all the context, though looking at reviews of this book on Goodreads, I see things like “an interesting book but often slowed by side journeys into minutia,” so I guess that’s not for everyone. I say, bring on the minutia!

#3 Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Since I just told you about how much I love this book, I’ll spare you the details – but I will link to my review! Just read it, because I am not going to shut up about this one anytime soon. Or ever.

Honorable Mention  – The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster. Yes, after writing a pretty awful review of Jeneration X, I am giving The Tao of Martha an honorable mention for my best of 2013, and I’ve even rated it 5-stars on Goodreads. I really liked this book, and  I’ve  given unsolicited recommendations of this one on more than one occasion.  One of my best friends went through a phase of being fascinated with organizing – not actually doing the organizing, but wondering why there are so many organizing gurus and organizing step-by-step workbooks and organizing professionals who will manage your life and your closet, etc. And this book, through Jen’s style of writing memoirs about her (repeated) attempts to not be an asshole, gets to that point – that having yourself slightly pulled together in one area of your life, often makes other areas work better. That’s a pretty solid message for the end of one year and the start of a new, no?

Review: The Divergent Trilogy

Titles: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant

Author: Veronica Roth

Reviewed by Amanda and Holly

SPOILER ALERT!!! We’re covering all three books here, so while we try not to give away too many details, read at your own risk if you haven’t finished the triology yet. / end warning

Divergent

Holly:  Welcome to my life – G-Chat from Amanda on 5/1/2012: “Have you read Divergent? The sequel came out today and I am itching to buy it.” “G-Chat from Amanda on 9/27/2013: “Have you read Divergent yet? You did right?” I did not (for shame) actually read Divergent until October 2013 – quickly followed by Insurgent, and then Allegiant as soon as it came out. Oh, how the tables turned, because then I was dying to discuss the conclusion with Amanda, who suddenly had 12 books to finish ahead of Allegiant. So, starting with Divergent: I loved it. I loved the idea of the factions – that people had to follow these guiding principles, but also had a choice in their faction. I liked that everyone had to take the aptitude test, but you were not required to choose based solely on your results. Of course, it was pretty clear that Beatrice was not going to stay in Abnegation.

Amanda: You know you love it when I tell you what to do Holly.  You always have.  And I’m ALWAYS right right?  RIGHT?  At least maybe when it comes to books?!  I just reread Divergent to refamiliarize myself before reading Allegiant and I’m so glad I did.  I forgot the nerves I felt every time Tris did something crazy or something Dauntless.  And oh, poor Tris, that ending.  You’re so sad and yet so in love with Four.  I would have forgotten important things like poor Will and how Tris’s mom had sent her to Caleb.  Most importantly I would have forgotten Eric and Jeannine Matthews and the set up for Insurgent.

Insurgent

Holly: I jumped immediately from Divergent to Insurgent – possibly on the same evening. I was so caught up in the story. Okay, Tris’s family – and the city – was falling apart, but at least she had Four. And her brother. Surely they would figure something out, right? I knew that the third book was coming, so obviously everything would not get resolved, but I was not expecting the cliffhanger ending. I MUST KNOW WHAT’S OUTSIDE THE CITY! Book three followed just a few days later, for me.

Amanda: Oh Insurgent.  I was so hopeful for change.  There’s so much potential and then just so much more evil.  I forgot how annoying Tris and Four are in this book. Lies, truth, anger; rinse and repeat.  But yes, as Holly said-that ending– Oh my goodness! What is outside the city?

Allegiant

Amanda: What a bummer.  This was so clearly the weak link in the trilogy.  I don’t know why the serums overall in this book just did me in.  I bought into them in Divergent and Insurgent and then boom! They’re at the bureau and there is a serum for everything. Really? There couldn’t be another answer? And they have cameras-with sound no less– hidden all over the city of Chicago and yet have no cameras within the Bureau?  So those in charge have no concept of what’s happening in the very building they operate in?  And really, that ending?  Did you have to do that to my heart Veronica Roth?!  Sigh. I just didn’t  think Four could turn into that weak of a person.  I did not like him at all.

Holly: When I finished Allegiant, I could not say one thing about the book to my sister, lest I give away just how much I hated it. Okay, okay, reading teenage dystopian novels (or any fantasy stories) obviously requires a suspension of disbelief, but nothing in this book made sense to me, even within the confines of the world that Roth created in the first two books. I mean, there is a whole system outside the city walls, setting up these “experiments,” yet apparently there is no plan to receive people who make their way out from the experiments? And, I don’t know, maybe offer the teenage runaways some psychiatric treatment, and something to do besides roaming the compound? This book was just such a buzzkill for me. When Amanda finished, she chided me for not warning her not to read Allegiant on the el (hey, that’s the same train the Dauntless used! How poetic!), because she is crier. I pointed out that I didn’t even think about that, because a) I have a heart of stone and don’t cry at books/movies/sappy commercials, and b) I didn’t really care what happened to anyone at the end of the book. I just wanted it to be over.

Amanda: On further reflection, I do think that Roth was very brave with that ending.  I think she was setting herself up for some brutal reactions from her fandom, and she had to have known it.  I don’t think that it had to end that way, and yes I was sad-but I swear I didn’t cry on the el.  I don’t cry nearly as much as Holly thinks I do.

Holly Ratings: Divergent: 4/ Insurgent: 3/ Allegiant 1

Amanda Ratings: Divergent: 5/ Insurgent: 4/ Allegiant 2

Why Blog About Books?

Or, Why I’ll Be a Terrible Book Blogger

By Holly

Some confessions: I didn’t even know that so many book blogs existed until just a couple months ago. I have, thus far, proven terrible at keeping up with a Goodreads account. I have an aversion to giving number ratings to books, because usually the way I feel about a good book is far too complex to summarize in a simple number. And, I am not nearly hip enough to keep up with reading books that are just barely published, let alone not even released yet. (When I started checking out book blogs, I kept seeing the term ARC everywhere, and I first thought that must be some e-book format until I finally realized what it meant). Also, I have no interest in limiting my reading to one particular genre, or in spending too much time trying to get a hold of what’s hot in books. I love paperbackswap.com, and I also want to express my heartfelt appreciation for whoever came up with the system where you can request library books when you’re at home in your PJs and pick them up when they are available. In short, I am probably not a trendy enough reader to be a blogger.

However, I do think this book blog is the best idea that Amanda and I have had since we decided (or I decided for us) to go kayaking on the fjords in New Zealand. I love to read. I really love to write. I have thought about blogging a zillion times since blogging became a thing, but the kind of blogs I like to read are not the kind of things I would like to write, so I keep finding myself stuck in this loop in which I want to write but I don’t know what I can write about regularly and consistently and, most important, interestingly.

Enter books.

Amanda has some book blogger friends, and, if I have not mentioned already, her reading is analogous to the running of Kenyans from the Kelejin region. She is crazy speedy, and always looking for more good books. She’s also insightful and willing to share her recommendations, even when sometimes it takes me years to make it through them. On a recent visit, Amanda was telling me about her book blogger buddies and how there are book expos and free copies (that ARC thing, again) and lots of opportunities to connect with other people on the subject of good books. I was hooked from the get-go.

Writing about books with my sister is perfect – she is much better than me about knowing what’s out there and what’s good and she will surely figure out a way to get us to book expos and events. For me, writing about books is an opportunity to write about just about anything – because really, no matter what I’m dwelling on, I can link it to the book I’m currently reading. That link might be the subject matter, because I often look for books related to places I’ve been or things I want to learn, or it might be the fact that I lost myself in a particular novel because the character’s troubles helped put some situation of my own in perspective.

So, with this book blog, I’ve got a new reason to read more, and read more discerningly. I get to write, and I have some measure of accountability (I mean to my sister. Don’t worry – I’m not counting on a flock of readers, since, as I have self-deprecatingly titled this post, I will be a terrible book blogger). And, the most fun part is setting this up with my sister, aka my BFF, giving us plenty to talk about and to crack up about and enough communication to tide us over between visits.

What’s going on here?

By Amanda

Why start yet another book blog, you ask? I had gotten into the habit of sending my sister emails with lists of her “Required Reading” (really see my Goodreads shelves) so that we could discuss books over wine when we get to visit. Sadly, grown up life is too busy for frequent travel between Chicago and Virginia and we don’t get to have wine and book club as often as we would like. So we decided we needed a book blog so we can chat (probably still drinking wine) and get other opinions too. I can say for me that I will try any book you put in front of me. If its outside of the genres I gravitate to- mystery, YA, fantasy, women’s fiction– then as long as it has a good recommendation I’ll try it. I just love a good story!

What’s with the gun on the wall, you ask? We had the same brilliant and terrifying English teacher in high school (RIP Brother Ruhl) and one of the lessons that was imparted was from Chekhov “If there’s a gun on the wall in Act One, it’s going to go off by Act Five.” Wikipedia even tells me Chekhov said: “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there”. Holly and I realized we couldn’t keep referencing the gun on the wall– starting our own blog– without actually breaking down and doing it, so here we are. Holly and I can text across the miles and have a toast to Brother Ruhl, Anton Chekov and lots of good books to come. Still no guns on our walls though, just book shelves.