Men and Their Machismo

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Men. It’s difficult to easily summarize what it means to be a man as there are many, often conflicting, ideas that come to mind in describing what a man is and how he should behave. Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man self-reflectively looks at masculinity.

A rather quick text of the current state of affairs of how men are perceived by themselves and by others, it does not mount an attack or turn whiny but instead approaches the concept of masculinity with an aim toward highlighting the role that society inevitably plays in forming an “acceptable” version of masculinity and how that can modify attitudes and behaviors relating to equality.

While there was research presented on the subject of various gendered topics, much of what was presented seemed more personal or anecdotal in nature, which helped to contextualize the points being made into more of a “here’s how this manifests and plays a role in your life,” but failed to progress a dialogue on the issues regarding masculinity that were initially raised. This was an enjoyable read but didn’t present much new material to foster more meaningful discussions to progress thoughts and actions on the subject; rather it offered readers a rehashing of things they likely already knew.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Collective Child Cultivation

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The adage “it takes a village” is taken to a new level in Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson where ten sets of parents take part of an experiment to raise their children in a collective.

After graduating from high school and finding out that she’s pregnant with her mentally unstable art teacher’s child, Izzy has limited options on how to proceed. With practically no support structure in her life to raise her son, Izzy opts to pursue her best option and become part of the Infinity Family Project, where her son will be co-raised with nine other children by eighteen other parents for ten years. As the group develops over the years, there are fractures within their ranks that threaten the harmonic balance of this extended family and the research being pursued.

Conceptually, the premise of this story was a rather intriguing and it was rather well executed through a type of time lapse narrative. I found Izzy to be a bit strange and aloof at times; while I do understand a predisposition toward older men, the fact that Izzy makes decisions that involve them regardless of the potential consequences made her less likable. The whole concept of the role of nurture in child rearing was well explored in this novel, both the positive and negative methods and results. There was an element of predictability to the narrative trajectory, particularly the ending, which felt a bit forced.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Overcoming an Anxious Adolescent Mind

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That little voice in your head can sometimes be deafening – particularly when it’s forcing your thoughts to take a morbid turn. 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac demonstrates the severely anxious thoughts that can reside in the mind of a teenage girl.

Maeve has dealt with severe anxiety for most of her life and with her mother’s long trip to Haiti with her boyfriend Raymond, Maeve is about to travel to her father’s home to spend time with him, his pregnant wife, and their twin sons.  As her mind drifts toward thoughts that spell out various impending dooms, Maeve is brought back to reality in a calm state by her brothers and Salix, a violin-playing girl she keeps seeing across Vancouver. In navigating the struggles of those around her – her father’s issue with sobriety, her stepmom’s impending home delivery – Maeve is forced to confront events in her past as she works gain some control over her anxiety.

A rather quick read that has elements of stream-of-consciousness with the worst-case-scenario type statistics and downward spiraling that Maeve’s thoughts on seemingly basic, every day life things, which people with overactive minds (such as myself) will easily recognize. I was impressed through much of the book with the distinct qualities offered to the twin boys Corbin and Owen, but just as the story was about to finish there was a broken arm was attributed to the wrong twin, which as a narrative mistake pulled me out of the story in a big way. While the story was entertaining, I was struggling to pin down the audience for this book aside from “young readers,” as some parts seemed to have been written for a younger YA reader (particularly areas around the twins) but then others were written for a slightly older YA reader (with Salix, Maeve, and her various parental figures) without much to easily or functionally bridge connect them for the rather different reader groups.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Deadly Doctor

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The feeling of being aware of what’s happening to you but not being able to do anything about it is simultaneously frightening and frustrating. For one doctor in Liz Lawler’s Don’t Wake Up making her colleagues and the police believe her story seems to be a tall order.

Dr. Alex Turner is quite accomplished for one so young. Waking up on an operating table to blinding lights that leave details about her abductor obscured, Alex is frightened about what they might do to her. After waking up again in the hospital surrounded by her colleagues, she relates to them her abduction. Having had some traumatic experiences recently at work, her colleagues are reluctant to believe her story and instead pin it on post-traumatic stress. As more and more deadly occurrences take place in suspicious proximity to Alex’s life, she’s concerned that she’s being targeted while the police seem convinced she’s the culprit behind it all. Determined to prove herself, Alex faces down her haunting past and reveals the truth in the process.

Well-written and quickly paced, this psychologically compelling narrative is filled with plenty of plausible doubts raised periodically to keep the suspense up and reader interest piqued. I found some of the actions of the police a bit hard to believe, particularly some of their rather lax behavior toward gathering evidence and conducting interviews, but it could be part of playing into the image of a less sophisticated police force in a quieter area. As the reliability and sanity of Alex’s character is constantly in question, the facts of the case become extremely important; the details presented throughout the story help to build a potential case against multiple characters as the true culprit deflects attention from themselves, depicting an impressive and psychologically unstable orchestrator.

Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

A Mix of Moments and Memories

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Family histories can be patched together from the memories of family members, but it might not be an entirely accurate account. A Million Junes by Emily Henry delves into the memories and tales of the O’Donnells and Angerts, which had started a long-standing family feud.

June O’Donnell, legally named Jack after all the men in her family before her, has been raised in the Michigan town her family helped to found with the Angert family. But a feud between the families keep them apart, at least until Saul Angert, son of her father’s enemy, comes back to town and June can’t seem to avoid him – thanks in large part to her best friend’s romantic escapades. After spending some time together, magical things start happening that show June and Saul the truth about their families’ history, which leaves them reconsidering the tales they were told growing up and whether to cling to the historic fight or move forward.

With the core of this story pulling largely from Romeo and Juliet with a sprinkling of Hatfield-McCoy, the elements of magical realism that were interwoven through the Whites that showed glimpses of memories to June, the ghosts, and coywolves helped this narrative to stand apart from the familiar arc of forbidden love. The relationships between characters felt natural and changing dynamics developed realistically over some time and contemplation; however, the creative writing teacher was the one exception that felt a bit forced, both in her character and role in pushing the plot. I thoroughly enjoyed the snarky and witty remarks that June and Saul made, despite how it wasn’t entirely believable (although a personal ideal for conversation).

Overall, I’d give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.