Review: ‘The Wife Drought’ by Annabel Crabb

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‘I need a wife.’

It’s a common joke among women juggling work and family. But it’s not actually a joke. Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It’s a potent economic asset on the work front. And it’s an advantage enjoyed – even in our modern society – by vastly more men than women.

Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain.

But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don’t men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that – for men – still block the exits?

The Wife Drought is about women, men, family and work. Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.

Crabb’s call is for a ceasefire in the gender wars. Rather than a shout of rage, The Wife Drought is the thoughtful, engaging catalyst for a conversation that’s long overdue.

I’ve had a bit of a crush on journalist Annabel Crabb for years, something that was crystalised when I saw her speak at an event last year. She’s an incredibly engaging and intelligent speaker, both funny and charming. At the time, the audiobook of The Wife Drought wasn’t yet available, and I never quite got around to buying the paperback. I was therefore very excited at the end of last month to discover that the audiobook had finally been released and that Annabel herself was the narrator.

The Wife Drought is both demoralising and insightful, often at the same time. It defines a “wife” as a part time or stay at home partner who does the bulk of the domestic duties — cleaning, school drop offs, dealing with tradies — so as to free the other partner up to pursue earning a crust. A “wife” can be a man by this definition, but the truth is that it is almost always a woman. And it’s a huge economic benefit to have one.

Annabel is a journalist, and you can see her thoroughness in this book: she draws on a number of studies that talk about pay gap trends, division of housework, divorce rates in relationships where women become suddenly successful, women in politics, social expectations on both the husband and the wife*, and much more. Interspersed throughout are often lighthearted and always illustrative anecdotes. A lot of the conclusions she draws seemed obvious to me once she’d pointed them out, but as I haven’t read a lot of feminist literature they were a bit of a revelation.

(* Note that this book is about the male and female partner dynamic. While Annabel acknowledges the wonderfully diverse society that we live in, The Wife Drought tackles the most common relationship structure. I am a single parent — no wife for me! — and I still found it fascinating.)

As one example, the book considers the idea that women are better at raising kids in light of the concept of specialisation and the human tendency to seek the most efficient or economical solution. Given that women usually stay at home with the baby in the first few months, they are the ones who get the early child-rearing experience. It’s not that they are genetically predisposed towards changing nappies; they just get more practice. As for why they stay home, Annabel points to the typical difference in pay between a man and a woman as the primary explanation. (She doesn’t touch at all on the push for women to breastfeed and how difficult that can be if a woman returns to work, which I thought was a curious omission.)

Another point that Annabel makes is that the expectation that fathers will go back to work after their children are born and, if anything, work even harder to support them is actually just as detrimental to dads and their relationship with their kids as it is to their wife’s career. The judgement (and condescending praise) heaped on men who do traditionally feminine childcare duties is a barrier to men who also want to “have it all”.

The overarching argument of the book is that women have seen a huge change in the way we get to live our lives. We are not banned from working while married anymore (yes, it used to be a thing). We are permitted — and often encouraged — to work and have children. But men haven’t seen a concurrent revolution in what society expects of them.

There isn’t an earth-shattering revelation for how to achieve this, of course. It’s a slow process, where men have to not only be given access to the same leave conditions but not be punished in the workplace for exercising the rights that they do have. The change is coming, enabled in part by the digital revolution and an increased ability to work from home. But it is slow.

Four stars


Review: ‘A Corner of White’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

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The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!

This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).

Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.

As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…

At the end of last year, fabulous teen blogger Emily Mead did a huge post with a mini-review of the 100+ books that she read in 2016. I added a bunch of books to my TBR pile as a result (curse you, Emily), and the first of these was A Corner of White.

This is actually quite a difficult book to review. It’s a parallel world story  (partly set in our world and partly in a fantastical other world — think Alice in Wonderland or, well, a bunch of other books). But it’s even more of a parallel world story than usual, in that the main characters, Madeline and Elliot, live very similar lives. Both live away from their fathers and are missing them. Both come to see what they believe are problematic elements of their fathers in their own personalities. Both of them are dissatisfied with their situation and want to leave it for one reason or another. Both are charming and loved by those around them.

But in some other ways, this book is quite baffling. I spent maybe the first third of it being dissatisfied and somewhat unengaged by Madeline’s real-world antics and her life, which was so quirky that it seemed, well, unrealistic. By comparison, Elliot’s life — in the magical kingdom of Cello — actually seemed more normal. Certainly he had more things going on than strange “homeschooling” classes and slightly deranged (albeit generally well-meaning) friends. His world and story were kept me guessing, whereas Madeline’s, well, didn’t.

If you’d asked me at 100 pages how I thought I’d be rating A Corner of White, it would have been three-star at best, despite the lovely prose and the unique world of Cello. Which made me sad, because I wanted to love it. Luckily for me, it turns out that once Moriarty got the bit in her teeth and got going, the story picked up and I raced through the rest of it. I didn’t see the plot twists coming, and I loved the way that Moriarty wove them all together at the end. I loved how Madeline’s introspective rambling about science and history drove Elliot nuts, but also taught him something valuable about his own world.

The way that the book ended, while not exactly cliff-hanger-y, definitely left me wanting more. Happily books two and three have already been released! Yay! (Now, hurry up, Mr Postman!)

Overall, this was a four-star read for me, based  on simple maths: three for the start, five for the end. I feel like Madeline would approve of that approach.

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Four stars


Bookstagramming Aussie books

Today on Instagram I decided (on a bit of a whim) to post pics of Aussie books. Because Aussie books are the prettiest — and they look even better when placed beside Funko PopVinyl figures (of which I have, err, rather a lot).

So, on a similar whim, I decided to share some of them here too. Taking bookstagram pics is one of my new favourite hobbies! I could post a ton more, but these are some of my most-recent photos. I decided to stick to those, primarily because I’m really digging this style of pic. Angles! Origami stars! Pops! Yay!

… and yes, I snuck a pic of some of my own books in there. I couldn’t resist. And it is a pretty picture! (In case you weren’t already aware, the first ebook in my Isla’s Inheritance trilogy is available for freeeee! The links are up there, at the top of the screen. *points*)

For my Australian friends, have an awesome public holiday … especially if you’re working. For everyone else, HAPPY THURSDAY!

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AussieOwned_ContributorToday over at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking why we love being an Aussie writer, and why we set our books where we do. Check it out!


Australian Women Writers Challenge – 2016 wrap up

AWW2016he Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is part of a world-wide movement to raise awareness of excellent writing by women. It helps readers to challenge the subconscious stereotypes that govern our choice of books to read. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only.

This is my third year doing the Australian Women Writers challenge — I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 15 books, the same as I achieved last year. Again, I managed to get there, but only by a hair’s breadth. Well, a day. Which could be construed as a hair in some circles, I suppose.

I also did the Goodreads challenge, which I completed a while back. I’ll do a post on that in the next day or two. (I don’t want too many posts in a row; given I’ve been AWOL lately, I don’t want to frighten you all!)

Here is a link to each review, as well as my star rating for each book. They are listed in chronological order.

You’ll note that the link to Undivided is to my review on Goodreads; I originally reviewed the book a couple of years ago when it had another name, but I re-read it before I read Shattered. I updated the Goodreads review, but not the one on the blog. You’ll also note that I couldn’t find a paperback cover anywhere for The Firebird (which I listened to as an audiobook, or I would’ve scanned it!). This fact still pains me… :S

It has been a good year. I can’t wait to see what awesome books I discover in 2017!


Review: ‘Darkness Unbound’ by Keri Arthur

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The fight against darkness rages on for the next generation—in New York Times bestselling author Keri Arthur’s exciting new series set in the world of the Guardians.

Being half werewolf and half Aedh, Risa Jones can enter the twilight realms between life and death and see the reapers, supernatural beings that collect the souls of the dead. But she soon makes a terrifying discovery: Some sinister force is stealing souls, preventing the dead from ever knowing the afterlife.

Reapers escort souls — not snatch them — but Risa is still unnerved when a reaper shadows her in search of someone Risa has never met: her own father, an Aedh priest, who is rumored to be tampering with the gates of hell for a dark purpose. With the help of her “aunt” — half-werewolf, half-vampire Riley Jenson — and an Aedh named Lucian who may have lost his wings but none of his sex appeal, Risa must pursue whatever shadowy practitioner of blood magic is seizing souls, and somehow stop her father . . . before all hell breaks loose.

I had a vague idea that this was the first book in a series set in a world already established by a previous series. But, because it was the first book, I figured I’d be safe not to read the other series first. I was only partially correct in that assumption.

Keri Arthur’s world is … complicated. By way of example, her main character, Risa, is the daughter of a woman who is a cloned werewolf psychic consultant to celebrities; her father is an Aedh (a spirit being roughly akin to an angel). Her housemates and business partners are a horse shapeshifter who is a powerful witch, and a half-werewolf with pyrokinetic powers.

I managed to wrap my head around that part, but then you have all of Risa’s “aunts” and “uncles” (who I thought were really her aunts and uncles until towards the end of the book, when I realised they were her mother’s friends, presumably from the first series). They include half vampires, werewolves, guardians and I don’t even know what else. There were so many names and supernatural backstories that they blurred together. But I found once we got past the cameos and associated info dumps and I decided it didn’t matter, Darkness Unbound was an easier read.

The other thing I had to put to one side was that Risa is a bit of a Mary Sue character: gorgeous, with a selection of awesome superpowers and scad-loads of money. She even describes herself as “obscenely wealthy” at one point, and she had her housemates co-run a successful restaurant. I found her a little hard to relate to, because she never seems to really struggle for anything in her day-to-day life (and her restaurant income doesn’t seem to explain her alleged wealth). Again, this might be a symptom of the second-generation nature of the story — maybe her mother and the aunts and uncles already did the struggling so that Risa could benefit? I don’t know.

All of that being said, I still gave Darkness Unbound three stars, which is “I liked it” on the Goodreads scale (which I use because I’m lazy!). There are redeeming features in the story itself: there are bad guys with dastardly plans that Risa gets drawn into investigating. There’s a fair amount of shirtless eye candy (although a baffling lack of regular humans given the story is set in Melbourne!). Risa does get her ass handed to her on occasion, but she is also competent and quick-thinking when she gets into a jam, and can kick a decent amount of butt in her own right. That’s my favourite kind of heroine, so she gets points for that too.

One thing I should point out that didn’t bother me but that may not be to everyone’s taste is that werewolves in this world have the morals and sexual drive of a cat on heat. It may be related to the moon being full? I wasn’t clear on the details, but the upshot is that Risa is part-werewolf and casual sex is a thing. (I gather she has also used male werewolf sex workers in the past to satisfy her lusts — I personally like that girl power angle!) There’s even an orgy at one point. We’re not talking “Anita Blake later in that series” numbers of sexual encounters, thank goodness — it’s not the point of the story by any means. But the sex scenes in Darkness Unbound are explicit to the point of being erotica.

The last quarter of the book is where things really pick up pace and get more interesting, and that’s what saved Darkness Unbound somewhat for me. But there is less closure than some might like. The plot involving the “gates of hell” mentioned in the blurb is obviously the meta-plot for the series, and — although some questions are answered and there’s a twist that I found motivating (if not that surprising as it was well foreshadowed) — there are a lot of threads left unresolved.

If you’re looking for a complex urban fantasy world with some steamy sex, then I’d recommend this series. Actually, no, I think I’d recommend the other series first. That way this one will be less of a shock to the system.

(Edited to add: Goodreads tells me the first book in the original series has a lot more sex than this one … if that influences your decision-making one way or the other! 😉 )

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Three stars


Three of my 2016 Australian Women Writer reads that you should definitely check out

Like I did in 2015, I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing fifteen books by Australian women writers. I’m currently at fourteen and on my last read now — hopefully I’ll be able to get it finished in the next couple of days, despite various holiday commitments. I’ll review it and then post a wrap-up post when I’m done.

Still, I’m confident in being able to recommend three reads from these fifteen books already. I was originally going to make this a top five for 2016, but that got too hard. I’ve already listed my top five YA reads over at Aussie Owned and Read; three of those were by Australian women writers — Gemina, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, and Every Word (as well as Every Move in the same series) — and I didn’t want to be repetitive. Consider all three of them already heartily endorsed.

I’ve also excluded the Aussie Owned and Read girls’ books because I am friends with them (though you should check out Fame, Pretend and Shattered).

So, with that in mind — and noting that I’m basically recommending nine books here, not three 🙂 — here are three you should definitely check out.

‘Heart of Brass’ by Felicity Banks

Regular readers of my blog will know that I only reviewed this one last month. It’s by a Canberra writer who I only just discovered, and is a steampunk set in gold rush Victoria. In the space of a couple-hundred words, we get to see the main character, Emmeline, go from proper society lady who conforms to (most) social expectations while chaffing at the restrictions they impose to convict and criminal rebelling against an unfair system.  The last 100 pages of the paperback are a Choose Your Own Adventure. Seriously!

‘Faking It’ by Gabrielle Tozer

Faking It is the sequel to The Intern, which I reviewed last year; however, it stands alone. It’s very light, fun and easy to read, with a fair number of cringe-worthy moments. But, for me, the shining treasure in this book is the dialogue, especially Josie’s. Her intermittent verbal filter meant that she often came out with lines that had me giggling, and at other times were raw in their honesty. The other thing I really enjoyed was catching a glimpse of Josie’s mother recovering from her shattered relationship and starting to date again. Even though Josie was quietly horrified, I was all, “You go, Josie’s mum!”

‘Their Fractured Light’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

This is the third and final book in the Starbound series; I also read the second book this year, but I enjoyed the third one more. However, unlike with Faking It, you really need to read the entire series to fully appreciate the conclusion to the meta-plot that flows through all three books. You won’t regret it, though. (By the way, I know that Meagan Spooner isn’t Australian, but Amie is — in the same way that I included Gemina as an AWW read despite the fact that Jay Kristoff is a dude. It totally counts!)

Now, since I’m planning on doing the AWW challenge again in 2017, this is your chance to recommend me some awesome books by Aussie women from your own reading lists. Please leave a comment! 🙂

 


Review: ‘The Firebird’ by Sophie Masson

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I had the devil’s own time finding a decent image of the book cover. Sad. 😦

Ivan, youngest son of the powerful, greedy Tsar Demyan, is resigned to a life of misery and humiliation at the hands of his brothers, brutal Yuri and sly Igor. And to add to his torment, Yuri has been promised in marriage to the girl Ivan has loved all his life — the bold and beautiful Princess Tamara, daughter of a neighboring king.

Then one day, Ivan sees the legendary Firebird in his father’s garden. The tsar, obsessed with the beautiful creature, orders his sons out in a quest to capture it and bring it back to the palace. Determined to find the bird before his brothers do, Ivan embarks on a thrilling journey of reckless endeavor and strange magic.

The Firebird is a sweet little story that draws on Russian folklore — not something I’ve read a huge amount of, although a lot of the tropes were familiar (such as the kind and honest younger son suffering from abuse at the hands of his cruel and conniving older brothers).

I found The Firebird an interesting but somewhat straightforward tale; there was only one plot twist that I didn’t see very far in advance, and that was because we are only told the relevant information shortly beforehand.

Ivan, said youngest son, is passive and mopey to the point that I wanted to shake him. Once his quest begins, he shows a little more strength of character, but he is intuitive, rather than logical, and kind to the point of naiveté. Because The Firebird is a fairytale, that naiveté becomes a strength rather than the debilitating weakness it would be in a more-realistic genre. (Is that too cynical of me?)

I quite like Tamara, who is betrothed to Ivan’s evil oldest brother in order to save her kingdom, a betrothal that is the cause of Ivan’s moping. I think I’d have preferred this story if more of it were from her perspective.

A lot of the chapters are unfortunately from the perspective of Ivan’s brothers, Yuri (the cruel one) and Igor (the conniving one). They are irredeemably evil — though, again, they would have been worse in a different genre — and I didn’t really enjoy their chapters very much. It was entertaining seeing them being led around by the nose by a bunch of elderly Russian magicians, though.

What kept me reading (well, listening to my audiobook) was that Sophie Masson’s writing is delightful: her descriptions are as vivid and beautiful as her story is whimsical. At the end of the day, I think this is a “it’s not you, it’s me” situation — I did like The Firebird but I didn’t love it as much as others who dig this genre will.

PS I felt a bit the same about Stardust, which is a similar story, with a similar protagonist. I think maybe “fairytale” isn’t my thing? I’ll stick to “fairytale retellings” instead.

Three stars


shutterstock_166209737_smlIn case you missed it, earlier in the month  I was over at Aussie Owned and Read, with my four tips for ways to see your writing anew.