Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

quicksand

I really wanted to like this one. After all, it’s about a school shooting in another country, one you wouldn’t quite expect a school shooting to take place in: Sweden. And yet, there are so many problems with this one, and after trying to read it for a couple of months, I managed to finish it and endured one of the most rage-inducing endings I’ve ever fucking read.

So yes, there will be spoilers. I’m doing you a favor, though. Life is way too short to slog through five-hundred pages of some psychopath bitching about her shitty little rich girl life.

The story is rather simple for such a long novel: eighteen year old Maria Norberg, aka Maja, is charged with murdering her friend, Amanda, and inciting the murder of her boyfriend’s father, Claes Fagerman, richest man in Sweden. The school shooting in question was largely staged by her boyfriend, Sebastian, and for some stupid reason she came along for the ride, and ended up shooting Amanda before turning her gun on Sebastian.

The story starts at the beginning of her trial, which is, undoubtedtly the most interesting part of the novel. A great deal of it consists of flashbacks that are supposed to establish who Maja is as a person and the deterioration of her relationship with Sebastian. However, these sections are deathly boring and far too much is spent on the mundane, irrelevant details of Maja and Sebastian’s lives.

Maja is like a typical European teenager, I guess – highly atheist and promiscuous. Friendly with drugs. Very, very leftist and self-righteous. Sebastian is the Ugly Racist European.

The author has a massive cornucopia of issues in this novel – immigration, mental illness, family dynamics, drug use, blah blah blah. You’d think you were reading some Swedish chick’s personal Tumblr or something with the way it’s written, because it’s written entirely in the first person perspective – from Maja’s point of view, naturally. So we, the unfortunate reader, are stuck with Maja’s stupid and uninformed opinion about EVERYTHING – the way her legal team looks, the way the prosecution looks, how her prison cell is, etc.

There’s also a lot of bitchy one-liners that I guess are supposed to come off as clever and funny, but aren’t. Maja, if she were a real person, would be the last person I’d ever want to be friends with.

Also, near the end she keeps going on and on about how she regrets shooting Amanda, and reminisces about the things they did together, but honestly, it comes across as a sociopath trying to fucking emote. Like a sociopath trying to convince us that they have feelings and empathy, and failing miserably. Not once was I ever convinced that she even gave a shit about Amanda or Sebastian and his severe problems with his father. All she ever seemed to care about was avoiding a life sentence, and everything she said and did was in service to that.

Not only that, Maja was quite obviously offended at anyone that didn’t actually believe in her “innocence.” She would actually address the reader, telling us we’re not good people and that we don’t have empathy if we think she could seriously and honestly kill her friend.

I had to roll my eyes at the inclusion of the character Samir Said. Now, I’m an eeeeevil right-winger, and I know all about the horrible problems Sweden’s having with their charming and wonderful Muslim migrants. The author, rather predictably, paints Samir as a virtuous, super smart angel. There is one scene in which Sebastian, Maja and Samir are all in the school lecture hall or whatever, listening to some American woman give a lecture about something. Samir speaks up and spouts a whole bunch of standard leftist talking points on immigration and racism. Sebastian, predictably, acts like the Ugly and Angry White Guy. Maja gets super wet for Samir and ends up sleeping with him. Sebastian knows, and tells her to wear a condom. Not that he’s happy about it, obviously, but Maja doesn’t care. Chicks can’t resist that hawt leftist propaganda, after all!

BIG SPOILER INCOMING

Okay, that’s your last warning. So, after the handful of scenes concerning the trial, what is the court’s verdict? Well, no thanks to Samir’s disastrous testimony (he testified for the prosecution; presumably upset at Maja deciding to ditch him for her Rich White Boyfriend), the court finds our little atheist slut INNOCENT of all charges.

Yep. Even though it’s pretty damn obvious that while Sebastian likely kinda-sorta goaded her into picking up the gun, she still shot her best friend and tried to pass it off as “like, I was trying to find the safety switch.”

Really?

You were going to try to find the safety switch. Why? Because you “accidentally” shot your friend, and then shot your boyfriend. Were you going to find the safety switch, or were you going to shoot Sebastian?

Whatever. It’s just a fucking novel, and it hardly matters, I guess. Plus, I only paid about two dollars for this (as of this writing, it’s still on sale for $1.99, so go for it if you’re a masochist).

If you want to read a good book about a school shooting, read Hate List by Jennifer Brown. It’s a YA novel, but it’s GOOD. So very good. I read it a few years ago, and I might have to re-read it.

Anyway, this five-hundred page novel was turned into a six-episode miniseries, of which is on Netflix. I plan on watching it. Given that it’s only six episodes I figure it’ll be better than the book.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Grace-Year-by-Kim-Liggett

So when I first heard of this book, it was via the NetGalley newsletter. It was on a brief “Read Now” status, which meant that for a certain amount of time – usually 48 hours – you could access the galley without having to be approved by the publisher.

I thought, “oh, it’s more feminist oppression porn” and figured it would be an amusing read. And for the most part, especially at the beginning, it was an amusing, eyeroll-worthy read.

But it eventually got pretty good…well, it turned into a mostly-female retelling of Lord of the Flies peppered with the main character’s incessant feminist talking points, but was good enough to keep me reading. At least, for the past week. I first grabbed the galley a couple of months ago, and stopped reading because the setting was just flat-out irritating, but I felt guilty about not reading it, and as the book’s release date got closer, I sucked it up and finished it.

So, what’s it about? Briefly, it’s about a teenage girl named Tierney, who lives in Garner County – not sure where it is, exactly, but they seem to have Scandinavian roots, so who knows…it feels like New England to me. Garner County is pretty much every single feminist’s nightmare – women are considered mere property of men, they’re not allowed to have pets, they’re not allowed to have rose-scented baths or wear perfume, they’re not allowed to choose their spouse and, of course, not allowed to have premarital sex or homosexual relationships. Any violation of the rules results in severe punishments, from beatings to hangings to being burned alive. You know, Salem, Massachusetts shit. In fact, the story seems to take place in that time frame, judging by the technology – or lack thereof.

The eeeeeevil white patriarchy that rules Garner County believes that women have dangerous magic, and have decreed that all girls of marrying age – roughly around seventeen, and after they’ve started their period – must be sent off to an island to “spend” their magic. Oh, but the eligible men of the county are allowed to choose one of them to marry, and this happens the night before they’re shipped off to this island wilderness.

Does this sound mind-numbingly dumb? Well, it does to me. The real reason for this silly ritual – called the grace year – is theorized but is never really revealed. Tierney believes it’s to break the girls. Another character (cannot remember) theorizes that it’s to cull the herd. Given that men are obviously prized above women, it’s not surprising that there’s a desire to limit the amount of women in this society. It seems like Garner County has a problem similar to China and India – women prefer to keep baby boys, rather than baby girls. Anyhow, abortion is obviously not allowed in Garner County, but the author, thankfully, never even mentions the issue of abortion.

So, it’s Tierney’s turn to go on this grace year journey. She has only one friend – Michael, son of the council leader. To her utter surprise, he chooses her to be his wife, being so nice as to say, “you don’t have to change for me.” Like any self-respecting feminist, Tierney is absolutely pissed off at him, given that she had told him of her desire to not marry and just work in the fields or something.

I thought about how the other girls weren’t lucky enough to be chosen by someone that actually liked and valued them as people, and how lucky Tierney was to be chosen by a man who didn’t even require her to change for him, and she was mad about it. I mean, I get it – arranged or forced marriages are bad, but I would have felt as if I had won the freaking lottery if my best friend chose me to be his wife. Just saying.

So Tierney and about thirty-two other girls are packed off and sent to their island hell, and even the journey there is horrifying because of the poachers who grab weaker girls and skin them alive before harvesting their parts to be sold at the apothecary back home.

A lot of the first chapter, I guess you could call it (the book is divided into like, five different parts, mostly designated by the seasons, except for the final part, of which is labeled “Return” or something) is annoying feminist drivel, because the evil society of Garner County is just so overwhelmingly European and Christian. Like we haven’t seen this before eighty quadrillion times.

But once the girls get to the camp, things get interesting. Of course, Tierney, who is skeptical of the girls’ magic from the get go, is the smartest girl in the room, so to speak. And, of course, the other girls just don’t listen to her. They want to purge themselves of their magic so they can go back to the county and be good wives and workers.

A blonde-haired, blue eyed girl named Kiersten serves as the archetypical Mean Girl. She is also a True Believer, completely convinced that she’s got powerful magic, and punishes anyone that isn’t willing to embrace their magic before working to purge themselves of said magic.

Meanwhile, Tierney keeps going on and on and ON about how there’s no magic. Well, it turns out she was right. The water in the well they drank from was full of hemlock silt, of which made the girls seriously ill, but because she kept challenging Kiersten’s rule, she was banished to the woods.

Every spooky occurrence ends up having some sort of rational or logical explanation. Tierney is not stupid – she was taught how to survive by her father, and does manage to survive out in the woods on her own. She ends up trying to escape and comes face-to-face with a poacher named Ryker, who she encountered on the way to the camp.

So, instead of spoiling the whole book, let’s say Ryker saves her life rather than skins her alive, they fall in love, have sex, and Tierney realizes that not all men are utter scum. Ryker does bring out the best in her, helping her see that Michael isn’t the villain she thinks he is, and offering valuable insight on her father’s character.

Tierney eventually becomes less self-centered and self-righteous, channeling her rage against the system into helping the other girls wean themselves off of the effects of the hemlock. She survives and returns home with a surprise that could have well gotten her killed if it weren’t for the intervention of Michael and the grace year survivors.

I thought the end was pretty strong as Tierney realized that there were a lot of people in the county – mostly women – fed up with the current state of affairs. She also learns that change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and you might not even live to see its benefits, but you can at least pass these lessons down to your children, so that perhaps they can enact change. I think this is a good message for the people the book is aimed at – teenagers.

I started reading this, fully prepared to totally hate it and while I do not hate it, I don’t outright love it either. This would have been awesome if it weren’t for the obvious anti-Christian, anti-European angle. Feminists will love this, but eeeeeevil right-wingers like me will roll their eyes at it, at least in the beginning, and some might not even bother with the rest. I won’t recommend anything either way – I’ll leave that entirely up to you.

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

wicked saints

Wow, that was one very interesting book. It starts out rather slowly, but the end is fantastic.

So anyway, this is about a girl, Nadya, who is the last cleric of Kalyazin. Her nation is at war with neighboring Tranavia, and up until now her life has been uneventful but full of dread, for she has been raised in a monastery, learning to use the power bestowed upon her by the gods.

Then the Tranavians invade the monastery and Nadya flees, meeting up with a guy and a girl from another country, and a mysterious Tranavian soldier. Together they decide to head to the capital of Tranavia to assassinate their king, and hopefully end the war.

Meanwhile, the Tranavian High Prince, who had invaded Nadya’s monastery, wants to catch her and bring her back, but his father the King of Tranavia calls him home for a tournament designed to find him a bride. When he gets home, things are suspicious, and he soon realizes that his father wants to get him out of the way.

I liked that the main character, Nadya, had such a close relationship with the gods. She prays to them, and they answer. Sometimes she has brief conversations with them, and they all have their own personalities.

I also liked the vast and rich world-building, especially the little quotes from the book of saints that preface every chapter. The use of blood magic is kind of gory – blood mages, of which are all from Tranavia, basically have to cut themselves and bleed on pages of their spellbooks. This kind of magic is forbidden in Kalyazin, and to Nadya, blood mages are heretics. Tranavia is a nation that has turned its back on the gods, complete with a blood magic powered veil to keep their influence at bay.

I also think the book has a fantastic villain, one that kept me guessing, as you don’t realize he is the villain until late in the book. At first, I thought, oh maybe he’s going to be a good guy and we’ll get the old Crisis of Faith trope, but no.

Nadya does get cut off from the gods, and she does do things that defy their will, and she also ignores the warnings they give her, which culminates in that brief Crisis of Faith. She does not turn away from the Gods, even after she’s tainted with dark blood magic, but her relationship with them, and her regard for the people of Tranavia is changed.

I think this is the first of a series, so it does have a satisfying ending, but still ends on a cliffhanger. Serefin, the High Prince that burned her monastery might just become an ally, and that will be interesting.

I want to thank the publisher for providing me a review copy through NetGalley, and I am sorry for taking so long to review this.

A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson

 

Well, you may have heard about this book – a gay YA romance/thriller was supposed to be published either in late March or early April, got a lot of backlash because of supposed insensitivities to Muslims given its setting, and was withdrawn from publication by the author.

I, like many others, was granted an eARC by the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, shortly before the author withdrew the book from publication.  I just finished the book last night, since my copy was still valid, and this is my honest review.  It may not necessarily be unbiased, but it is honest.

First, I will simply assess the book itself.  Then I will talk about the controversy surrounding the book.  This book was a little over 300 pages.  It is told from the perspective of James Mills, a black boy who is also gay and adopted.  His parents are highly educated aid workers – his mother is a doctor, and his father is an engineer.  They travel around the world offering their expertise, and they’ve brought their kids, Anna and James, along, so James has been around the world already.  In the novel, however, Anna has already gone to college at Georgetown.  He and his boyfriend wake up one day to find that James’s parents have gone missing, their home ransacked, and the town completely empty.  A letter left behind reveals that his parents have been abducted, and that James and his boyfriend need to get to the embassy.  This story is their attempted journey to safety.

The book alternates between James’s present-tense narrative and the letters he writes to Anna.  It is in the letters we learn about James’s life before the Kosovo War and how his relationship with Tomas Sousa, his Brazilian boyfriend, started.

James’s voice is good and he is witty at times.  The action in the present-day narrative is a stark contrast to the letters he sends to his sister, since life seemed very normal – going to school, exploring the town and surrounding area, hanging out with his classmates and slowly falling love with Tomas.  His narrative is quite dark, as the story, at its core, is one of survival.  James ends up killing at least two people on their journey to the embassy.

There is also violence, and it is graphically described.  I thought it was kind of slow at the beginning, but picked up about halfway through the book.

The villain is suitably powerful and infuriating…and also brutal.  Not much is said about the actual conflict that the boys get caught up in – the main antagonists are members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, an organization that existed in real life, and we see foreshadowing of the villain himself and their slow takeover of the town in James’s letters to Anna.

There isn’t a whole lot of what I would call SJW preaching, except for one incident with a stereotypically blond-haired, blue-eyed, sharp-jawed German boy named Georg, who basically calls Tomas a faggot in German, or something.  James punches his lights out, and is disciplined by his parents for it.  Also, James uses the phrase “toxic masculinity” in one of his letters, and I am pretty sure I didn’t hear that phrase until recently.  Based on where James is at the time of the Kosovo War, which was in the late 90s, he and I would be roughly the same age, give or take a couple of years.  I also read a lot of teen and women’s magazines…and no mention of “toxic masculinity.”

Since this was an eARC, there were some punctuation errors and other problems, most notably some incorrect word usage that I found a bit confusing.  I had to guess at what the author actually meant.

As I said, it picks up about halfway through, and is quickly-paced, but that pacing seems to be interrupted by the letters to Anna.  Near the end, you’ll just want to know what happens next, not the weird shit James wanted to share with his sister (such as the first time he and Tomas have sex…I don’t know about anyone else, but I have two sisters and we didn’t talk about our sex lives with each other…that would have been weird).

So the end…the climax is good and satisfying, but the actual resolution left me wanting.  The Epilogue is told in the third-person, from Anna’s perspective, and then it ends.

I also read through the Author’s Note, and I pretty much agreed with what the author was trying to say – that, often times in conflicts such as the Kosovo War, nobody is totally innocent or totally evil.  Not all Serbians were evil, and not all KLA members were good.  I was, however, surprised that the author’s research was done with only three or four resources, all of which were listed at the end of the author’s note.

Not only that, I still don’t know why the author thought this particular incident warranted a YA thriller, beyond wanting more people to know about it.  Did he have any sort of connection to the Kosovo War?

I would normally give this book three stars on the GoodReads scale…maybe three and a half, but I gave it four stars for having a nuanced message on the nature of war and such.

So now that’s the review of the book.  Now I want to discuss the issues surrounding the book.

It is said that this book is insensitive to the Albanian Muslims that were supposedly genocided by the Serbians.  The book doesn’t go heavily into the conflict, which makes sense, since James and Tomas are there as its happening.  Furthermore, they’re both foreigners to the land.  They probably wouldn’t have the deeper understanding of a native who’s been living there for a long time or their whole lives.  I wondered why the author chose to make an American kid his main character, other than the whole “staying in one’s lane” nonsense.  I thought it was even more baffling that he chose another foreigner as the love interest.  It might have been more interesting if James’s love interest had been a local boy.  That would have also required a lot more research, and might have made it far too political for a YA novel, so I dunno.

None of that warrants cancelling the publication of this book, however.  The conflict itself is handled well and not in an offensive way.  The only time we really get a whole lot of romance is in James’s letters to Anna.  Whenever they are romantic to each other in the present-tense narrative, it’s in the context of, “we might die here, so we should die together” or “I am not leaving you behind.”  Since they’re both trying to get to the embassy (and later on, to rescue James’s mother), there isn’t much time for making out or having sex.  They’re trying not to get their shoes stolen, or shot by KLA goons, etc.  They’re trying to survive in a foreign country during a violent conflict in the dead of winter.  That’s how gritty it is.  Oh, and both boys wisely stay as far away from potential spots of conflict, and for good reason, so we don’t really see much of the conflict – just their attempts to survive.

I don’t think it is insensitive to the people that suffered through it, unless you count a couple of foreigners being present during the conflict insensitive.  I think the people that complained about this book were making a big deal out of nothing.

Now, about the villain.  We first meet the villain in James’s letters.  He describes his new teacher, Professor Beqiri, as an Oxford-educated snob who, nonetheless, is a good teacher and expects a lot of his students.  His teacher is also very anti-Serbian and expects his political beliefs to be reflected in the work he assigns to his students.  Yeah, we Conservatives won’t be surprised at that.  After all, a great deal of our public school teachers basically parrot their political beliefs to their students and expect those students to regurgitate those beliefs in their schoolwork.

So, it turns out that his well-dressed, well-groomed teacher abducted his parents and some of the other foreigners, including Clara, a German girl with an ambassador for a father, to help in the KLA’s efforts.  He became a professor to these foreigners so that he could get closer to them.

Beqiri is an extremist and a zealot, but for the KLA’s cause, which is independence.  At no point in the novel is it ever indicated that Beqiri is religious, much less Muslim.  His one and only goal is that of the KLA’s goal – independence for Kosovo.  He’s not a Muslim terrorist, and in fact, I don’t think Beqiri is religious at all, especially given that he’s Oxford-educated.  Now, I am sure that a great deal of the KLA might have been Muslim, but that does not mean all of them were religious.

Then again, the left seems to think that Islam is an ethnicity or race.  It is not.  A white, red-haired dude can be Muslim, you know.  Anybody can be Muslim.  It is a religion, not a race or ethnicity.

So, in conclusion, the critics are utterly full of shit.  This wasn’t insulting to Muslims.  It took a nuanced view of the Kosovo War, and since, in the eyes of these people, Muslims can do no wrong, because they’re rather high on the Progressive Stack of Victimhood.  This is also one reason why they find 9/11 memorials so offensive.  Who gives a shit about the people murdered by Muslim fanatics – Muslims everywhere might feel discriminated against, and that’s clearly more important than the memory of our countrymen!

Make no mistake – the attack on the book was politically motivated.  The author did not show the proper deference to one of the left’s pet victim groups.  The author, though he can claim Black and Gay Victimhood Points, did not check his Privilege.  Therefore, he had to be punished.

I want to thank NetGalley and the publisher for granting me a copy of this book.

Captive by Catherine Oxenberg

captive
This is a book by actress Catherine Oxenberg and her attempt to save her daughter India from the NXIVM cult – you know, the one actress Allison Mack was involved in.
She had help writing it, as you can see on the cover, and it is very chatty and conversational, but still very riveting.  I remember watching Catherine’s reality show I Married a Princess, which she did with her ex-husband Casper Van Dien.  India was just a tween on that show, and I was saddened to hear that she got caught up in this horrible cult.  Catherine does reveal quite a bit of details too.
She also goes into her own life, including an instance of abuse in her own childhood, her eating disorder and her own #MeToo moments as an actress.  She even reveals some political leanings, such has her stance on abortion.  She’s had one (I think more than one) and while she acknowledges that it’s a horrible decision to make, she wouldn’t “take” that “choice” away from anyone.  Well, I, obviously, disagree with her stance on abortion.  It is the taking of innocent life, and while she seems to know and understand that, she still thinks that the choice is more important.  I don’t understand that at all.
Through her persistence and connections, the New York Times did a story on the cult, and this actually spurred the police and politicians – including the governor of New York and that slimy sack of shit, Sen. Schumer, to do something about this cult already.  She made a swipe at how only extremists use the term “fake news” – an obvious swipe at Trump without actually naming him.  After all, the cult did brand the NYT article as “fake news”.
Comparing Keith Raniere, the cult’s founder and leader, to President Trump is shitty.  But I wouldn’t necessarily dissuade anyone from reading this book, because aside from that, it’s still pretty good.  The exposure and dismantling of any cult is a good thing.
At the risk of spoiling it, her daughter still seemed caught up in the cult, even after Keith and Allison got arrested for the things they did.  I hope that they all heal from this awful experience.
If you want to know more about cults beyond Scientology and Peoples Temple, this is a good choice.  I do admire Catherine for going above and beyond for her daughter, as any decent mother would.